McConnell Shoots An Airball

Dec 7, 2012

Michael Bitzer

When introducing students to the idea of “politics,” I often use the idea of a “game”: think of politics with players, rules, teams, fields to play on, equipment, goals, strategies and objectives.

Most politicians describe their involvement in “game-like” ways as well. And sometimes their actions fit into game descriptors, and in that vein, a recent move by the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell could be called a serious “air ball.”

One of the battles in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations is over which branch of government should have the power to increase the nation’s debt ceiling. President Obama wants that authority to avoid the debilitating Congressional fiasco of 2011. 

Congressional Republicans have balked at the proposal, and McConnell thought he could show-up the opposing team by proposing that, yes, the President be granted the power to raise the debt ceiling, subject to congressional approval or disapproval.

McConnell believed that by forcing Democrats to vote on granting the president such an extraordinary power, the Republicans would score an easy touchdown against the Democrats. Fearing the potential public backlash at such a blatant power grab by the chief executive, Democrats would be boxed into a corner and Republicans would score an easy point.

In a defensive move, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at first objected to McConnell’s plan, but then decided to allow McConnell to have his run and called for a simple up-or-down vote on McConnell’s trick play (51 votes were needed for passage; Democrats currently hold 53 votes).

And in an arena where strange things are known to occur, McConnell was forced to object to his own motion, something that many Senate observers have never seen before.

Ironically, McConnell was backed into the corner and ended up requiring a vote of 60 senators to prevent the “talk-to-death” filibuster, or at least a threatened filibuster.

Granted, this may be purely “inside-baseball” talk about the arcane rules and procedures of the U.S. Senate, but when a senate leader tries to outmaneuver the other side, it is often the same as a team trying to run a trick play. And often, the only ones who get tricked are those trying to pull the fast one. 

The country is facing serious issues, not the least of which is the pending “fiscal cliff” and the various components of that financial storm. Sometimes, politicians would be wise to play smart on the sidelines and not try to gimmick the other side; otherwise, their trick plays might backfire on their own team.