Merkley, Kaine: The McConnell Debt Ceiling Plan was a Good Solution, Remains a Good Solution

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley and Virginia’s U.S. Senator Tim Kaine penned an op-ed in today’s Washington Post about their Protect our Citizens from Reckless Extortion of our Debt and Irresponsible Tactics (Protect Our CREDIT) Act of 2023—legislation aimed at ending Congress’ abuse of the debt ceiling as a political hostage. Merkley and Kaine present The Protect our CREDIT Act as a common-sense, middle ground approach to solving the looming debt ceiling standoff – based on Mitch McConnell’s own solution for defusing a past debt crisis.

Click here to read Merkley and Kaine’s op-ed in the Washington Post. 

The Protect Our CREDIT Act – cosponsored by Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) – would reform the process of raising the debt ceiling by making the following changes: 

  • Requiring the President to initiate a process, prior to the beginning of the fiscal year, to determine the amount of debt necessary for that year and propose a new debt limit based on the amount of spending authorized and appropriated by Congress. 
  • Raising the debt ceiling to the proposed limit unless, within 15 legislative days, Congress passes and the President signs into law a joint resolution of disapproval. A Congressional joint resolution of disapproval would receive special fast track consideration, as it would be placed on the legislative calendar within 5 days and receive expedited consideration by both chambers. 
  • If, during the year, the federal debt gets within $250 billion of the limit, the President shall submit another written certification, explaining what drove the need for additional debt and proposing a new debt limit for the remainder of the fiscal year, subject to the same congressional disapproval process. 

The idea of having the President increase the debt ceiling, subject to a vote of congressional disapproval, was originally proposed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2011 to allow the debt limit increase to go forward without requiring Republicans to take an affirmative vote. McConnell’s proposal was incorporated into the Budget Control Act of 2011, which passed in August 2011 and authorized the President to increase the debt ceiling in three installments. While the broader Budget Control Act had numerous flaws, the mechanism proposed under the McConnell plan was a key to avoiding a disastrous debt default.

Making this process for raising the debt ceiling permanent would end the use of the debt ceiling as a tool for political blackmail, and protect the United States from the dire ramifications of a potential default. This procedural move is needed to save the economy, and Congress should embrace it. 

Bill text of the Protect Our CREDIT Act can be found here

Merkley and Kaine’s op-ed can be read on the Washington Post’s website or below:

Mitch McConnell offered a debt-ceiling fix in 2011. We should do it now.

By Jeff Merkley and Tim Kaine

With the United States on the verge of yet another debt limit crisis, numerous paths to avoid default are being floated, including a trillion-dollar coin, steep cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and challenging the constitutionality of the debt limit altogether.

These proposals ignore a simple solution that, conveniently, already exists: the McConnell plan.

In 2011, during the last major debt limit standoff, circumstances were very similar to those of today: a Republican-controlled House, Democratic-controlled Senate and Democratic president, and the risk of default looming because House Republicans refused to raise the debt limit and pay bills that past Congresses had already incurred. When talks between House Republicans and the president faltered, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) proposed a plan for the debt ceiling.

His proposal, which was later included in the Budget Control Act of 2011, allowed President Barack Obama to increase the debt ceiling, subject to a potential override by Congress. If lawmakers wanted to stop it, Congress could pass a joint resolution of congressional disapproval. Congress still had oversight, but the McConnell plan took the weaponization of the debt ceiling off the table.

While the broader Budget Control Act had numerous flaws, the McConnell plan itself was a good solution then, and it remains a good solution today.

This month, we introduced the Protect Our Credit Act of 2023, which would make McConnell’s fix permanent.

This legislation would put the power to prevent default in the hands of the president, with Congress acting as a check. In other words — just as McConnell proposed, the bipartisan Congress passed and the Obama administration implemented in 2011 — Congress could only stop the president from raising the debt ceiling if a veto-proof two-thirds majority of lawmakers agreed it was the right thing to do.

In 2011, McConnell himself said: “It’s extremely important that the country reassure the markets that default is not an option, and reassure Social Security recipients and families of military veterans that default is not an option.”

McConnell had it right in 2011. A dozen years later, the clock is ticking to protect jobs; interest rates for mortgages, car loans and student loans; and our broader economy from unnecessary and self-inflicted disaster. We would do well to make this proposal permanent. We could finally end this episodic crisis by putting a stop to using the debt ceiling as a tool for political blackmail.