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McConnell gets last laugh on Democrats on the debt ceiling

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may have outsmarted Democrats in writing the debt ceiling bill. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wrote in some "extraordinary" provisions to the debt ceiling bill that could mean there won't be another debt ceiling fight in 2017 after all, he revealed on "The New Washington" podcast Monday.

McConnell insisted, in the face of Democrats' objections, that the bill be written to preserve the Treasury's ability to extend federal borrowing power by moving money around within government accounts. In layman's terms, that means the Republicans can work around the December debt limit deadline and push that issue into 2018.

So the debt ceiling is pushed back. What's the big deal?

Getting the debt ceiling deadline out of December is important for Republicans, who don't want it to be used as leverage for the spending bill talks that will happen that month.

The Democrats celebrated enthusiastically after the deal last week, when President Donald Trump agreed to only push the debt ceiling back three months instead of six or 18 months, as most conservatives would have preferred.

“Since I was in charge of drafting the debt ceiling provision that we inserted into the flood bill we likely — almost certainly — are not going to have another debt ceiling discussion until well into 2018,” McConnell said on the podcast.

Are we sure this plan is going to work?

Not entirely, although McConnell seems to be in control of that. According to the New York Times, some Democrats have their doubts that McConnell will follow through with his stated plan because it means two separate, potentially difficult votes for the Republicans, who have not had much legislative success recently.

Still, just having the option on the table of delaying the debt ceiling changes the entire narrative for Republicans, many of whom were lambasting Trump for dealing with the Democrats and chastising McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) for not anticipating the deal and preventing it.

In McConnell's words, the Democrats "spiked the ball in the end zone a little too early."

“One of the advantages of being the majority leader is you control the paper,” McConnell said. “I wrote it in such a way that it does not prevent what is frequently done, which is the use of extraordinary measures. The minority leader and his team were trying to get us not to write it that way, but I did write it that way and that is the way it passed.”

Did Trump know this would happen?

McConnell did not mention whether he and the president had discussed this particular bill provision ahead of time, but we should allow for at least some possibility that Trump understood the options Republicans had when he reached across the aisle to make a deal with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Either way, this revelation by McConnell serves as some much-needed positive news for Republican lawmakers as this pivotal section of the legislative calendar continues.

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