Mitch McConnell is feeling the sting from being blindsided by the president’s abrupt short-term debt-limit deal with congressional Democrats. Congressional Republicans, after all, really wanted a debt-limit increase that would extend past the 2018 midterm elections, avoiding another potential intra-party meltdown.
But wily ol’ Mitch is now claiming to have turned the tables in the fine print of the deal, or so he told the New York Times:
Mr. McConnell said that he insisted the newly passed legislation preserve Treasury’s ability to apply “extraordinary measures” and shift money within government accounts to pay off debt and extend federal borrowing power.
That will delay the need for another increase in the debt limit well beyond the December deadline that Democrats have been trumpeting as their big moment of leverage. And Mr. McConnell said he did so over the objections of Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader and aforementioned counterpart.
McConnell was able to make this claim because it’s the Republican Treasury Department that gets to decide when its usual arsenal of “extraordinary measures” (such as suspending regular reinvestment of government funds to “free up” space for other debt) to keep federal borrowing within the debt limit has run out. And it appears Congress can avoid a new debt-limit increase until March of next year.
That’s not exactly a big coup, since March carries the debt-limit debate into an election year, where difficult votes often become even more difficult. But it does decouple the debt-limit and government-funding votes, which might have together provided an irresistible temptation to hostage takers, from Democrats wanting a DREAM Act or an Obamacare fix, to Republicans wanting big domestic spending cuts.
For McConnell himself, the most important thing is that he’s now able to push back against the narrative that his own party’s president preferred to deal with Chuck Schumer. But this involves pulling the wool over the eyes of Trump as well as Schumer. There could still be a price to pay for his deception.