Right now, Senate caucus leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell are putting their heads together to flesh out the specifics of the Plan Z proposal McConnell floated at the beginning of the week. Reid’s involvement has actually improved the idea, National Review’s Rich Lowry concedes, but that doesn’t give conservative firebrand Senator Jim DeMint any warm fuzzies. On Twitter a few minutes ago, DeMint announced that he would block the McConnell plan if presented to the Senate with “every tool” at his disposal:
JimDeMint: I’ll use every tool in Senate to stop passage of “Plan B” blank check debt limit increase.
JimDeMint: No Republican was elected to give President Obama more power and that’s what this plan does.
Every tool means three in particular: the hold, the filibuster, and withholding unanimous consent. The hold is not a permanent block on consideration, however. Senate rules allow for holds to be overridden, although it takes days of floor votes to do so. It’s actually similar to the filibuster, as the remedy is the cloture vote to end debate as in filibusters. If McConnell and Reid united on a plan, one would presume that they could carry enough votes to reach 60, especially since Democrats in the Senate would probably follow the White House lead on this plan.
Unanimous consent is another matter entirely. One Senator can force a near-stoppage of Senate business by withholding unanimous consent simply by objecting to every time-saving order of business on the floor. Bills would have to be read aloud in their entirety as an example, or roll call votes conducted to bypass those requirements. It’s the tedium option, and in this case DeMint has a big advantage: the calendar. A solution to the debt-ceiling issue is now pressing, and the longer DeMint can stall the Senate on all of its business, the more distant the prospects for this proposal becomes.
DeMint is right that this gives the President more power on the debt ceiling, although it’s not entirely unchecked power, and it is for a limited time only. It comes with a price — the responsibility for unpopular increases and further spending. But politically, DeMint is right that handing more power to Obama is not the kind of action that convinced voters to send more Republicans to Congress.
The better bet would be to have the House pass a short-term debt-ceiling increase with balancing spending cuts, and dare the Senate and the President to kill it. Is Boehner moving on that front yet?