McConnell’s True Colors

Yesterday Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made a new, and complex, proposal regarding the debt ceiling. The proposal boils down to this: Congress would give the President authority to raise the debt ceiling in increments over the coming year. The only check to this power would be a joint congressional resolution halting the raise, but that would be subject to a presidential veto. In other words, McConnell’s suggested solution is that Congress act to temporarily cede it’s authority on this matter to the president while reserving the opportunity to vote against an increase in the debt ceiling three times in the lead up to the 2012 election.

There’s so much wrong with this proposal I hardly know where to begin. To wit:

  • This gives the lie to earlier claims that the deficit was of primary significance. Republicans are, after all, the ones who decided to hold the debt ceiling hostage unless a favorable budget deal was negotiated. Having pledged  not to raise the debt ceiling until they got what they wanted (enormous spending cuts and zero tax increases), are they now willing to pass a law with the practical effect of guaranteeing that the debt ceiling will be raised? I can hardly think of a clearer sign of their un-seriousness about the whole matter.
  • McConnell and his fellow Republicans are still using the debt ceiling to hold the government hostage, despite the New York Times‘ conclusion to the contrary. Their earlier message to Obama was: “We won’t vote for an increase in the debt ceiling unless we get all we want and you get nothing you want.” Now it’s: “We won’t vote for to raise the debt ceiling unless we can shift the blame for the increased deficit to you, repeatedly.” At least the first message had a patina of fiscal responsibility – linking the debt ceiling to long-term budgetary changes is a concept embrace by both sides. But the new message is pure political theater – the Congressional Republicans would, in practical terms, be voting for the debt ceiling increase before they vote against it, three times.
  • A structural change that only lasts for a single Congress and the term of one president is among the worst forms of legislation. If McConnell and other Republicans have come to the conclusion that the debt ceiling is an artificial, pointless, budgetary line-in-the-sand, they should eliminate it permanently. Or, if they’ve decided that it’s worth keeping but not entrusted to Congress, then they should hand the power to the president permanently, not just to this particular president for the next year.
  • For the above reasons, anyone who signs on to this idea should be ashamed. Which brings me to the last problem: it may not even have enough Republican support to pass. Some of the rank and file Republicans really meant it when they pledged not to raise the debt ceiling without substantial cuts. So McConnell, having chastised the President for asking the impossible (passing a budget deal that included tax increases through a Republican House) has seized the moment to propose a new impossibility (passing a bill effectively raising the debt ceiling increase through a Republican House).

Real leadership would involve convincing skeptical Republicans to take the deal on the table (which leans heavily toward their own goals), not throwing up your hands and looking for ways to shift blame. Here’s to hoping the Republicans abandon McConnell on this proposal. If we’re lucky that will strengthen Boehner’s hand to negotiate in good faith with the Democrats and his own House caucus.

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