Plan B gives president too much debt power

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is now the man in the hot seat.

Outraged critics on the right condemn his Plan B proposal to end the stalemated debt-ceiling negotiations with President Barack Obama. Critics on the left hail it as a dagger aimed at the heart of limited government. Some on the right wasted no time in branding Plan B a “sellout” that undercuts and isolates House Republicans, and McConnell as a Pontius Pilate.

Others on the right were more measured, noting that the plan isolates House Republicans, undercuts their plan to offer their own aggressive debt-limit proposal and virtually ensures that, in event of a default, Republicans — not the White House — would be blamed.

But The Wall Street Journal editorial page praised Plan B because it would “force Mr. Obama to take ownership of any debt-limit increase. If the President still insists on a tax increase, then Republicans will walk away from the talks.”

Meanwhile, Plan B drew cheers on the left, which lauded McConnell’s proposal because it “undermined the basic vision of the conservative movement: that decoupling taxes and spending would result in an unsustainable debt load, so the country’s representatives, pushed by powerful interest groups, would keep the tax rates and dump social programs.”

Despite its wild inaccuracies, the left’s analysis zeroed in on an  important consideration: Plan B would give the president three opportunities to propose debt-ceiling hikes and identify matching spending cuts. Congress could only stop it with a two-thirds vote for disapproval.

This would effectively cede to the president something very near unilateral power to set the national debt ceiling. Thus, Plan B would accelerate the steady accretion of power away from Congress to the president since the New Deal, and it extends that accretion into the most basic power the Founding Fathers gave Congress: keeper of the federal purse strings.

The Founders purposely gave Congress exclusive power to borrow money and levy taxes, along with final approval on all federal spending. Plan B negates that intent, leaving Congress as little more than an adviser to a chief executive with distinctly imperial powers. This surely is not what McConnell intends, nor is it an outcome that most Americans would desire, regardless of their partisan orientation. But merely not wanting such a result wouldn’t prevent it from happening.

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