Wall Street Journal Hides Senator McConnell's Past Support For Presidential Authority On Debt Ceiling

The Wall Street Journal covered up Sen. Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) original authorship of a proposal to give the president authority to take steps to avoid a federal government default in an article reporting that McConnell now opposes such a plan.

In negotiations between President Obama and congressional Republicans over how to deal with federal spending and taxes, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner proposed that the president should have the authority to raise the federal debt ceiling in order to avoid the federal government defaulting on its obligations. The president's authority would be subject to a vote of disapproval by Congress.

An Journal article on the debt ceiling quoted Sen. McConnell attacking the proposition “a nonstarter” for anyone who cares about the federal debt:

Republicans in public responded angrily to Mr. Obama's position on the debt ceiling and reiterated their opposition to a plan Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has floated that would make it much harder for lawmakers to block future increases in the debt ceiling.

“It may be a good idea if you don't care about the debt, but it's a nonstarter for those of us who do,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said. “It also represents a dangerous attempt by a president to grab more power over spending, power that Congress must not and will not cede.”

But the Journal omitted the fact that McConnell himself came up with the idea of granting the president this power in 2011 to avoid a costly default.

McConnell's 2011 idea -- which was enacted into law as part of an agreement over the debt ceiling -- had some differences with Geithner's proposal. McConnell's proposal granted the president the ability to raise the debt ceiling only three times, and it required that the president introduce a package of spending cuts along with a debt ceiling increase. Geithner's proposal makes McConnell's idea permanent and does not require the president to send Congress a spending cuts package. But the mechanism is largely the same: The president can raise the debt ceiling, but Congress can stop such an action by voting against a debt ceiling increase, subject to the president's right to veto the legislation and Congress' ability to override a presidential veto.

And experts say that making McConnell's idea permanent is a smart move. Jim Horney, vice president for federal fiscal policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told the Washington Post that limiting Congress' power to hold the debt ceiling hostage “is a terrific idea.” Slate's Matt Yglesias also wrote that handling the debt ceiling in this way was all but necessary after Republicans played brinkmanship over the issue in 2011:

[I]n the winter of 2010-11 the debt ceiling became dangerous. Some combination of malign intent on the part of John Boehner and strategic miscalculation on the part of Barack Obama weaponized it. Rather than simply subjecting the president to a verbal lashing over his desire to raise the debt ceiling, Boehner ended up using the threat of a potentially economy-destroying fiasco to extract concrete policy concessions. Once that tactic's been put on the table, no leader of either party can afford not to use it. But if you play the brinksmanship game too many times, sooner or later someone is going to go over the edge. That's a risk the country shouldn't be running, and over the long term it's to nobody's advantage to keep playing the game.