It’s hard to decipher what Mitch McConnell’s plan to deal with the debt ceiling even is, if you just go by the vague news reports and the wildly opposed or enthusiastic descriptions of it by both advocates and foes, both of whom exist among both Republicans and Democrats. Essentially, as I understand it, McConnell’s plan is for Congress to pass a resolution that will put the onus of requesting debt hikes, which must be accompanied by spending cuts, onto the President. Here is a relatively lucid explanation of what it is:
The McConnell approach is convoluted because it is intended to allow Republicans to avoid bringing down the U.S. economy without having to cast politically unpopular votes to raise the debt ceiling. Mr. McConnell proposes a series of maneuvers that would end up authorizing a $2.5 trillion increase in the debt limit, enough to take the country past the 2012 election. He contemplates that President Obama will seek an increase in three installments — $700 billion, $900 billion and $900 billion. Congress would have a chance to vote against each of these. The president would, presumably, veto those resolutions of disapproval and, presumably, enough Democrats would stand by him to uphold the vetoes.
Meanwhile, the president would have to specify — although he wouldn’t be required to implement — spending cuts equivalent to the amount of increase requested in the debt ceiling. It’s not hard to imagine Republicans putting this list of cuts to good political use. However, the political sting is softened by the fact that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would not need the votes of the most endangered members of his caucus to sustain the president’s vetoes, which may explain some of his expressions of interest in the arrangement.
Here is how conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin explains the measure and the controversies:
If you go onto Twitter or check some Web sites (right and left) you will find loads of chatter about the McConnell debt disapproval plan. Most of it is wrong. Members of the chattering class are so anxious to chatter that they feel compelled to do so without understanding the subject matter at hand. Throw in some bad faith (certain right-wing bloggers would declare the GOP leadership traitors if they proposed only $4 trillion in cuts and got President Obama to decline to run for reelection), add in some liberal suspicion (warranted since this is not the first time that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has eaten their lunch), and presto: You get some of the worst “reporting” in recent memory.
The concept isn’t that hard to understand. 1. McConnell had enough of the phony White House talks. The White House offered a paltry $2 billion in actual, immediate cuts. 2. McConnell gave a speech to make clear that wasn’t enough and that the debt limit would be raised only with real cuts and without tax hikes. 3. McConnell could sit back and wait for default. 4. But he comes up with a mechanism to force Obama to put up cuts, send them to Congress and face “default” if the president’s cuts don’t get through. 5. In the process he makes 34 Democratic senators vote over and over again on cuts. (The sound you hear in the background is the conga line at the Senate Republican Committee headquarters.)
There are no tax increases in the plan. The onus is on the president to send a request for a debt-ceiling increase and the cuts to go along with it. If he doesn’t do it or if the Congress disapproves of what he sends up (and sustains a veto) the debt ceiling remains in place. But the Senate Democrats will have the power to sustain a veto (and thereby allow phony cuts to be used to raise the debt ceiling), right? Which 34 senators exactly are going to do this? Certainly not the ones in unsafe seats with voters clamoring for real spending cuts.
The critics who dimly understand the plan forget that the alternatives are limited. What are the alternatives? Default. Or accept the tax hike offer from the White House. Or maybe Obama will cave. McConnell is more than happy to keep on trying to get rid of the tax hikes and get the White House to cough up real spending cuts.
But if there is no deal (grand or otherwise) then the default will not be on the shoulders of the Republicans. McConnell is providing them with a backstop to avoid default.
The plan gives up on trying to get spending cuts without tax hikes from the President, but it also attempts a kind of political jui jitzu, by which Republicans will be put in the position of opposing higher debt and Democrats will shoulder all of the blame. Indeed, it seems, as things now stand, that these negotiations and every possible outcome will make the Republicans look bad. If the compromises go through, they will be blamed for cutting spending on popular programs, such as Medicare, while also being blamed for obstructionist tactics that put the country on the edge of default. McConnell would seem to get the Republicans out of that mess, but now he is being accused of blowing the chance to cut spending and caving in to the Democrats, who, suspiciously, are voicing support for the plan.
What is your analysis?