Yesterday the Senate, a chamber that is entering its 224th year of existence, enjoyed a historical first as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell filibustered a bill he had introduced. No one had ever thought of filibustering themselves before. Its almost as if McConnell took delight in discovering the only method of being more obstructionist.
McConnell had put forward a bill expanding the President’s power to extend the debt ceiling unilaterally, a move that could be overturned by Congress — a proposal similar to one President Obama put forward in the initial fiscal cliff resolution offer. This role reversal would hopefully avoid a crisis like the political theater kicked off by Republicans last summer that cost taxpayers $18.9 billion. McConnell ended up launching a filibuster when he was shocked to learn that Democrats largely agreed with the measure.
What in the world was McConnell thinking in proposing this bill? Let’s walk through his options:
Option 1: Introduce the bill and when Democrats vote no use this as a bludgeon to portray President Obama as out of step with his own party. Apparently this was McConnell’s “plan.” It’s not dissimilar to the oft-cited canard that “no Democrat even voted for President Obama’s budget” which is true if you assume that the budget they voted on was, in fact, the President’s budget. But it wasn’t, it was a budget with the same top line numbers with all the details deleted. Imagine someone offering to take over your finances by pledging only the total they plan to spend but not what they plan to spend it on. Would you take that deal? Anyway, if this was McConnell’s plan, it was probably the least likely outcome because…
Option 2: Introduce the bill and Democrats filibuster it. If Democrats really opposed the bill, it never would see the light of day. McConnell could claim that this represented a rejection by Democrats, but it would have been a fuzzy message to sell. Plus this option, like the one before, rests on the assumption that Democrats roundly disagreed with the President. Why would he assume that? See how this sounds like a plan devised by an 8-year old?
Option 3: Introduce the bill and Democrats pass it. Democrats want the debt ceiling off the table and would clearly vote for this once they understood the bill. There’s no downside for the Democrats to cede this power to the presidency because even if a Republican were to control the White House, the Democrats have never shown any interest using this phony device to hold the country hostage. If this bill passed, McConnell will have just unintentionally slit the throats of the Tea Party activists the GOP relies upon. Some Tea Party primary challenger would file papers today. The House would kill the measure, meaning the only impact would be McConnell screwing himself.
Option 4: Introduce the bill and filibuster it yourself. This is ultimately what happened and its the worst of all worlds for McConnell. Filibustering his own bill has done nothing but supercharge Harry Reid’s favorite argument these days — “the Republicans are abusing the filibuster and we need reform.”
These were the only four options McConnell needed to consider. I mean, this isn’t Three-Dimensional Chess, this is Candy Land. Note to Ashley Judd: if you’re seriously planning to challenge McConnell in 2014, the campaign needs to start now by blasting him for the fact that these tactics are both petty and poorly planned.