It can perhaps best be described as offering the President the authority to not not raise the debt limit ceiling. Apart from the fact that this really ridiculous idea entails having Congressional Republicans give up any leverage that they may have in order to bring about a budget deal that may help alleviate the country’s long term fiscal problems (we have apparently gone from a grand bargain, to a mini-bargain, to a proposal that amounts to no bargain at all), I have to wonder about the plan’s constitutionality. I haven’t done much legal research on this issue, but off the top of my head, I have to wonder how it can be possible that Congress can delegate the ability to raise the borrowing limit to the President, and only check the President if two-thirds vote to block the proposal to raise the debt limit ceiling.
Congress is given the ability to borrow money on the credit of the United States, via Art. I, Sec. 8 of the Constitution. It is per this power that the Second Liberty Bond Act of 1917 (31 U.S.C. § 3101) was passed, establishing a debt limit ceiling. Essentially, under the McConnell plan, Congress is delegating its power to borrow money to the President, with Congress only able to stop him if two-thirds disapprove. How McConnell was able to come up with this plan in light of Art. I, Sec. 8 grant of borrowing power to Congress–and maintain a straight face in the process–is anyone’s guess.
Other portions of the Constitution may be violated as well by this plan, as pointed out here:
. . . Depending on exactly how the legislative language is drafted, it well might violate the Bicameralism and Presentment Clauses for the making of law, the separation of powers regarding Congress’s control over the budget and spending, the legislative Recommendations Clause, and it might also be struck down as an attempt to grant the President the equivalent of a line-item veto. It is also unclear whether the unconstitutional portion would be struck down by the courts and severed from the rest of the statute (which would eliminate Congress’s ability to veto the cuts) or if the entire scheme would be struck down. But, at a minimum, the proposal is highly dubious as a matter of constitutional law.
Quite so; the McConnell plan would allow the President to raise the debt limit ceiling in stages, and Congress would only be able to stop him with a resolution of disapproval that would require two-thirds of the House and Senate to agree. I can’t see how this would comply with the requirements listed in the Presentment Clause of the Constitution, and as mentioned above, I can’t see how this comports with Art. I, Sec. 8′s grant of power to Congress–and to Congress alone–to borrow money on the credit of the United States.
Even if we put aside the Constitutional issues, the McConnell plan is a really cowardly way to resolve the debt ceiling debate. It is being put forward because Representatives and Senators don’t want to have to vote on whether the debt limit ceiling should be increased, even though in their heart of hearts, the vast majority of them–Republican and Democrat–know that the debt limit ceiling needs to be increased in order to avoid financial calamity. Of course, it is the job of Representatives and Senators to vote on the issues of the day. That’s what they are paid to do, and while some of those votes may produce whining, tears, and table-pounding frustration regarding how very hard the job of a member of Congress is, that’s not a sufficient excuse for Congress to abrogate its responsibility to take those tough votes. It should surprise no one that members from both parties are latching–if tentatively–onto the McConnell proposal as a way to get them out of the debt limit ceiling dead-end in which they find themselves. The instinct for self-preservation appears to be alive and well in Congress. Too bad the instinct for responsibility appears to be all but dead.