Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is offering a way out of the hostage drama the Republicans orchestrated to defend millionaires and billionaires from having to sacrifice anything to reduce the national debt. The Hill describes it as “a plan that puts the responsibility for increasing the debt limit squarely on President Obama.”
Essentially, if the White House and Congress can't come to terms on a plan to raise the debt ceiling before an expected default August 2, McConnell proposes that President Obama be authorized to raise the debt ceiling in increments between now and the end of 2012, subject to a two-thirds vote of disapproval by Congress.
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The catch, and it's a big one, is that each effort by Obama to raise the debt ceiling would presumably unleash a tsunami of anti-Obama, anti-debt-ceiling campaign ads from the bottomless pit of the right-wing political attack machine.
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Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall's first reaction was to call it “one of the most brazen and open admissions of cynicism I've ever seen.” But, on second thought, he adds:
McConnell's “evil genius” move seems like all it does is make the Democrats go to the public with what they believe is best for the country and be accountable for it. I have a hard time seeing that as being a meaningful threat. Since that's what people who are given the power to govern are supposed to do.
That's why, if I were President Obama, I'd be very tempted to take the deal.
Last month, Robert Borosage sketched out a grand bargain for Obama to strike with Republicans that would similarly turn the debt negotiation into a 2012 referendum on the future direction of the country.
I suggest Democrats make a generous offer. Accept the deficit numbers projected by the budget passed with the unanimous support of House Republicans and supported by all but a handful of Senate Republicans. Since the two sides can't agree on what mix of taxes and spending should be involved in reaching those deficit figures, leave that for appropriators and the political process. Let the American people decide if they want to elect more legislators committed to gutting Medicare or more committed to taxing millionaires.
The dirty secret here, as Borosage pointed out, is that even with the unconscionably deep cuts that the House Republicans passed, the debt ceiling would have to go up in the short run, and the impact on lowering the federal deficit would not be as great as the plan proposed by the House Progressive Caucus, which relies more on cutting unnecessary defense spending and tax expenditures on corporations, reverses the top-end Bush administration tax cuts, and imposes a millionaires' surtax.
Either the deal proposed by Borosage or the escape hatch offered by McConnell would be preferable to a behind-closed-doors “grand bargain” that would cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits as well as dozens of other programs needed by the economically struggling—while asking little or nothing of those who are prospering in the midst of economic stagnation.
That's not how we should treat the progressive legacy that we elected President Obama to protect. If McConnell is sincere about empowering the president to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a financial catastrophe in exchange for a political fight during the next 18 months over the proper role of government, the better response would be, “Bring it on.”