This week the House is expected to vote on a “resolution of disapproval” to condemn President Obama for increasing the nation’s debt ceiling. But the president is only doing so pursuant to specific legislative approval from. It’s all part of the “McConnell Plan,” which was designed to increase the debt ceiling while allowing Republicans to pretend to oppose it.

Last August, when conservatives were pushing hard to use the leverage created by the debt ceiling showdown to force real spending cuts and reforms through the Cut, Cap, and Balance strategy, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.) undermined their efforts by floating a plan whose supposed virtues were entirely political.

Instead of forcing a real change in direction to get spending under control, the McConnell Plan suggested allowing an increase in the debt ceiling – or more precisely, several such increases – as long as they could be blamed on the president by permitting Republicans to vote against them via so-called resolutions of disapproval. The problem is that those resolutions could be vetoed, meaning that even if they could pass the House and Senate they would fall well short of the two thirds needed for a veto override.
Along with the Super Committee and various other provisions, the McConnell Plan became a centerpiece of the deal that ultimately passed in early August.

The plan seemed too clever by half. How could the American people be fooled to believe that a given member of Congress who voted for the deal to authorize the increase in the debt ceiling in the first place actually opposed it just because he subsequently voted for these meaningless resolutions? And just a few months later? The answer: we can’t.

Nobody believes that this week’s vote will make any difference for the level of federal government spending and debt going forward.

Fortunately, there is a real and meaningful fight over federal spending and debt coming in a matter of weeks. A fight that will genuinely help define the course of the country and could put us on a path to fiscal responsibility. It’s the fight over the budget, and in particular the comparison between the president’s forthcoming budget and the alternative that will be presented by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.

Last year, Ryan was pilloried for putting a serious plan on the table that tried to tackle our long-term fiscal challenges. Obama, on the other hand, put forward a budget so laughable that it failed on a 97 to 0 vote in the U.S. Senate.

Now, in an election year, Obama will have to submit a budget that at least passes the laugh test if he wants voters to believe he is taking the country’s fiscal challenges seriously. Unfortunately, his budget will almost certainly rely heavily on tax hikes that would undermine our weak economic recovery and give Congress even more money to spend when they need to be spending less.

The budget fight will define the priorities of the president and the House Republicans. Senate Democrats, who next week will hit the milestone of 1,000 days without passing a budget, will remain missing in action. Nonetheless, the budget fight will give the American people a choice between two very different visions: a Ryan plan that cuts spending and reforms federal programs to restore fiscal sanity, and an Obama plan that will allow the galloping growth of federal spending to continue bankrupting America.

Moreover, depending on the outcome of the presidential and congressional elections, this year the competing budgets will likely define the substantive agenda starting in 2013. For that reason the real budget fight is much too important to be distracted by this week’s cheap debt ceiling political theater.

Phil Kerpen is vice president for policy at Americans for Prosperity and author of “Democracy Denied: How Obama is Ignoring You and Bypassing Congress to Radically Transform America – and How to Stop Him,” available at www.DemocracyDenied.org.