Congressional conservatives skeptical of McConnell's fallback debt-limit plan

Conservatives in the House and Senate voiced opposition Wednesday to the fallback plan to raise the debt limit, proffered by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), raising questions over whether it is a viable alternative.

Criticism came from Tea Party favorites in both chambers, including Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a frequent antagonist of McConnell’s, and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), a presidential candidate thought to be a favorite in the Iowa GOP caucuses.

DeMint said the McConnell plan would allow Republicans to shirk responsibility for raising the debt limit by placing almost full authority for the decision in the president's hands. Voting for the plan therefore would be tantamount to voting for raising the debt limit, without literally doing it.

“This idea that Republicans will not vote to increase the debt limit [by approving the McConnell plan] is wrong,” DeMint said.

ADVERTISEMENT
The criticism raises questions about whether McConnell’s plan has any chance of moving through Congress — particularly the House, where a huge class of GOP freshmen promised to make severe cuts to federal spending.

McConnell’s proposal would authorize President Obama to request an increase in the debt ceiling, which Congress could block only with a resolution of disapproval. 

McConnell’s plan has won some compliments from Senate Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), suggesting it might pass muster in the upper chamber.

In the House, however, the proposal is seen as having a tougher climb, and Bachmann ruled herself a no vote.

“I’ve been here long enough that I’ve seen a lot of smoke and mirrors, but I haven’t been here long enough to forget who I serve or where I come from,” she said at a press conference. “And again, all I can reiterate is that people across America are saying the spending is what has to be addressed — it’s too much, it’s got to be limited,” she said.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), an ally of Bachmann’s, said he's "really apprehensive" about McConnell's proposal.


“I just think that's the fox in the hen house,” the conservative lawmaker said.


DeMint offered scathing criticism a day later that echoed opposition from conservative blogs.

“Republicans weren't elected last November to make it easier to spend and borrow and add to our debt," DeMint said.

Other Senate conservatives in addition to DeMint also declined to offer support for the plan.

"My focus is to take a different approach," said Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who offered a budget plan earlier this year that would cut hundreds of billions of dollars in spending.

The reaction from GOP House leaders has been more measured. They have credited McConnell for his work while saying they’re not sure if it could be approved by the House.

Democrats like House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) have criticized McConnell’s proposal as a punt, but have not ruled it out all together, suggesting it might still be an option if no progress is made on a deficit-reduction package.

Congressional leaders are headed back to the White House at 4 p.m. Wednesday for a meeting with Obama, the fourth consecutive day in which these parties have met on the debt talks.

White House press secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday called McConnell’s suggestion an “acknowledgment” that “there is no alternative” to raising the debt ceiling, but added “this is not the preferred option.” 

Molly K. Hooper and Alicia M. Cohn contributed to this story.