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Senate Republicans propose debt ceiling fallback option

By the CNN Wire Staff
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McConnell: 'Smoke and mirrors'
  • NEW: The White House continues to call for a comprehensive deal
  • Sen. Durbin says the McConnell plan is a possible option
  • A conservative website criticizes the Republican proposal
  • The Republican plan would give Obama power to increase the debt ceiling

Washington (CNN) -- Senate Republicans offered a politically inspired fallback option to the debt ceiling impasse Tuesday, proposing three short-term increases in the amount the government can borrow while at the same time registering the disapproval of Congress for such a move.

The proposal would give President Barack Obama power to raise the debt ceiling, but also would require three congressional votes on the issue before the 2012 general election. Obama said Monday he would reject any short-term extension of the debt ceiling, as called for in the Senate Republican plan.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, told reporters that the proposal was intended to ensure a debt ceiling increase if no agreement is reached to raise the borrowing limit by August 2 to avoid a government default.

"If we're unable to come together, we think it's extremely important that the country reassure the markets that default is not an option," McConnell said.

However, Republican senators briefed on the plan described it as more of a political messaging device than a viable option to avoid default. In addition, the conservative website criticized the plan as a capitulation by McConnell in a posting with the headline: "Mitch McConnell Just Proposed the 'Pontius Pilate Pass the Buck Act of 2011.' "

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After the latest round of negotiations Tuesday involving Obama and congressional leaders, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin told CNN that the Republican plan was being discussed "as one of the options."

According to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, the Senate Republican proposal showed that party leaders realize the need to avoid defaulting on the nation's obligations. Carney reiterated Obama's call for a comprehensive agreement, saying in a statement that "it is time for our leaders to find common ground and reduce our deficit in a way that will strengthen our economy."

Under the plan described by McConnell, Congress would change the law to allow Obama to increase the amount of money the government can borrow. Obama also would have to provide a list of recommended spending cuts equal to the amount the debt ceiling was being raised, the senator said.

At the same time, Congress would adopt a resolution of disapproval over the increased borrowing, McConnell said. Obama would likely veto the resolution, with congressional Democrats defeating any effort to override the president's action, according to McConnell.

The proposal would involve three separate measures to raise the debt ceiling by the amount the government says it needs to cover already accrued bills through 2012, McConnell said. The first would bring a $700 billion raise, and the next two would each add another $900 billion to the debt ceiling, he said.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson of Connecticut said he was unaware of the details of the plans, but hearing it came from McConnell, Larson added: "Color me suspect."

If Republicans are concerned about not reaching a deal before the default deadline, they should do what they've done in the past: Agree to vote to raise the debt ceiling without preconditions, Larson said.

The posting by conservative blogger Eric Erickson said that McConnell "is right now talking about making a historic capitulation."

"So fearful of being blamed for a default, McConnell is proposing a compromise that lets Barack Obama raise the debt ceiling without making any spending cuts at all," Erickson's blog post said.

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich also criticized the plan announced by McConnell, saying in a Twitter post that it "is an irresponsible surrender" to big government and continued overspending.

"The answer to Obama's irresponsibility is a principled 'no,' not a blank check," the former House speaker wrote in another tweet.

CNN's Ted Barrett, Lisa Desjardins, Deirdre Walsh and Tom Cohen contributed to this report.