WASHINGTON — A move to embarrass Democrats backfired on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell Thursday as the Kentucky Republican proposed a vote on raising the nation’s debt ceiling — then filibustered it when the Democrats tried to take him up on the offer.
On Thursday morning McConnell had made a motion for the vote on legislation that would let the president extend the country’s borrowing limit on his own. Congress would then have the option to disapprove such hikes, in a fashion similar to one that McConnell first suggested during last year’s standoff over the debt ceiling.
The minority leader apparently did not think Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would take him up on his offer, which would have allowed McConnell to portray President Barack Obama’s desire for such authority as something even Democrats opposed.
Reid objected at first, but told McConnell he thought it might be a good idea. After Senate staff reviewed the proposal, Reid came back to the floor and proposed a straight up-or-down vote on the idea.
McConnell was forced to say no.
“What we’re talking about here is a perpetual debt ceiling grant, in effect, to the president, ” McConnell said. “Matters of this level of controversy always require 60 votes.”
Sixty votes are required to end a filibuster during debate on a bill and hold a vote.
Democrats immediately seized on McConnell’s reversal, noting it was the sort of obstruction that they think warrants changes to the rules on filibusters.
“What we have here is a case of the Republicans here in the Senate once again not taking yes for an answer,” Reid said. “This morning the Republican leader asked consent to have a vote on his proposal. Just now I told everyone we’re willing to have that vote, an up-or-down vote, and now the Republican leader objects to his own idea, so I guess we have a filibuser of his own bill.”
Democrats piled on.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters that McConnell thought he’d thrown Democrats for a loop. “It was a little too clever by half,” Schumer said, adding that it “would have been a great moment.”
“Sen. McConnell’s usually astute political radar was a bit off today,” Schumer said.
“This may be a moment in Senate history when a senator made a proposal and, when given an opportunity for a vote on that proposal, filibustered his own proposal,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “I think we have reached a new spot in the history of the Senate we’ve never seen before.”
Democrats did, however, take up a previous offer by McConnell on a vote that he seemed to think would fail, which he then declined to filibuster. In July the Senate voted to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for 98 percent of earners, but not for the richest 2 percent.
The passage of the bill has put significant pressure on Republicans in the House, who are opposed to letting any of the tax cuts expire.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
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