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What we learned from McConnell's failed gambit

Associated Press

As Laura noted yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), usually a master of floor procedure and strategy, looked pretty ridiculous when he was forced to filibuster his own proposal. And while that was no doubt unpleasant for him, as the day progressed, it became clear that we'd learned something important from McConnell's failure.

To briefly recap for those who missed it, President Obama has proposed shifting the responsibility for raising the debt ceiling from Congress to the White House, making it impossible for either party to use default and/or the threat of a global economic catastrophe as a hostage. Under Obama's plan, the debt limit would still exist, and Congress would still be able to block a presidential increase, if lawmakers wanted to force default on purpose.

McConnell assumed that Senate Democrats -- at least a big chunk of the caucus, anyway -- would balk at Obama's proposal, so he introduced the plan himself. The point was to have Dems object to McConnell's effort, so the Minority Leader could get a new talking point: the president's offer is so offensive that even his own party isn't willing to support it.

Except, McConnell's little stunt backfired -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and his caucus immediately endorsed the idea, leaving the Kentucky Republican to have to filibuster his own bill before it could pass. As Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) put it, the gambit was "a little too clever by half." Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) suggested there's no recent precedent for a senator filibustering his or her own proposal.

But the larger point isn't to just point and laugh at McConnell's misfortune and mistaken assumptions. Rather, the point is we learned something important in the midst of this failed stunt: Democrats are entirely united on debt-ceiling strategy and want this looming threat to the country and its economy taken off the table, permanently.

In other words, what was a long-shot White House idea is, at least for now, the official position of the Democratic Party and a majority of the Senate. It's the sort of revelation that's likely to influence the negotiating process as congressional Republicans once again threaten to hurt the nation, on purpose, unless their demands are met.