Saturday, July 16, 2011

Congress--not the President--makes law; a constitutional solution to the legislative impasse on the debt ceiling

Is it just me, or does this entire debt ceiling discussion business seem odd and bizarre? The President has stepped into a legislative conflict between the House of Representatives (240 Republicans to 192 Democrats, 3 empty seats) and the Senate (51 Democrats, 47 Republicans and 2 liberal Independents). The President, as far as law-making goes, can merely propose ideas and has a limited veto power. Given the statements of his Treasury Secretary, and his own statements, it seems obvious to me that if any bill makes it to his desk--and by definition any such bill has to have at least some bipartisan support--he will have absolutely no choice but to sign it.

Now, the trick, as far as I can tell, is gaining enough Democratic Senators for a bill out of the House to make an up-or-down vote certain to pass. Would Harry Reid, at that point, actually allow a filibuster to prevent a bill that solved the current impasse from coming to a vote on the floor? I don't think that's credible--he'll be seen, rightly, as blocking it purely out of partisan motives and a default will be placed purely on his shoulders. Which Democratic Senators might be induced to join some small package (probably between $2.5 and $3 trillion of debt limit increase paired with some manner of spending cuts) deal? Below is a cursory list of the people I think are most vulnerable to political pressures in their home states to get on board a solution which the President, at the end of the day, could never veto without taking full ownership of blame--which is his anyway.

This list includes only the 13 most obvious targets, many of whom face tough re-election battles where sticking it to the President will help them substantially next year when they try to make the case in their right-leaning states for being sent back to Washington. If all the Republicans held and all of these Senators joined them, it would, of course, make filibuster impossible, but if even half of this list could be brought on board, I'm convinced that the Senate would have an up-or-down vote and the President would have absolutely nothing to do but sign the bill or look like a petulant fraud.

Mark Begich - Alaska
Mark Pryor - Arkansas
Mark Udall - Colorado
Michael Bennet - Colorado
Joe Lieberman - Connecticut
Bill Nelson - Florida
Mary Landrieu - Louisiana
Claire McCaskill - Missouri
John Tester - Montana
Kay Hagan - North Carolina
Tim Johnson - South Dakota
Jim Webb - Virginia
Joe Manchin - West Virginia