Thursday, July 14, 2011

The McConnell Escape Plan

Poor Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is getting slammed for what he has called "a sort of last-choice option[in the debt debate]."  The senate minority leader has proposed what seems to be a reasonable way for the Republicans to escape from the stalled negotiations over the debt limit, while putting the Democrats on the defensive.  Yet, very few seem to be thrilled with McConnell's proposal.
The proposed plan would allow Obama to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling at set times and set amounts with Congress possessing the right to prevent an increase with a 2/3 vote.  This would go into effect without any deal on taxes, entitlement reform, or spending cuts.
At first glance, such a proposal appears to be a timid withdrawal and much of the far right base is livid.  Over at RedState, Erick Erickson calls McConnell "Pontius Pilate" for his "historic capitulation".  Michelle Malkin howls that it is "another mortifying McConnell head-banging-against-the-wall moment."

While the base is right to be angry at missing the opportunity to really reform the system, their anger is woefully misplaced.  McConnell's plan certainly is not optimal.  Any ideal plan should reform both the tax and entitlement systems.  However, it is a second-best backup plan - one that is preferable to realizing too late that the Democrat's truly are willing to sink the country's economy in order to maintain a surfeit of entitlements.

The Wall Street Journal spells out the logic the best.
Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said yesterday he's concluded that no deal to raise the debt ceiling in return for serious spending restraint is possible with President Obama, and who can blame him? 
The debt ceiling is going to be increased one way or another, and the only question has been what if anything Republicans could get in return. If Mr. Obama insists on a tax increase, and Republicans won't vote for one, then what's the alternative to Mr. McConnell's maneuver?  
Republicans who say they can use the debt limit to force Democrats to agree to a balanced budget amendment are dreaming. Such an amendment won't get the two-thirds vote to pass the Senate, but it would give every Democrat running for re-election next year a chance to vote for it and claim to be a fiscal conservative.  
Even if Mr. Obama gets his debt-limit increase without any spending cuts, he will pay a price for the privilege. He'll have reinforced his well-earned reputation as a spender with no modern peer. He'll own the record deficits and fast-rising debt. And he'll own the U.S. credit-rating downgrade to AA if Standard & Poor's so decides.  
We'd far prefer a bipartisan deal to cut spending and reform entitlements without a tax increase. But if Mr. Obama won't go along, there's no reason Republicans should help him dodge the political consequences by committing debt-limit harakiri.
Essentially, if no deal is possible then McConnell's plan lets Obama take the fall for raising the debt ceiling without cuts (a surefire way to look like an economic dunce), absolve the Republicans of charges of being obstinate and causing economic turmoil, and salvage the economy in the short-run in order to fight the entitlement battle another day.  The alternatives?  Sign on to the Democrat's plan or allow the economy to run off a cliff.  If a deal with the Democrats truly isn't possible, the McConnell plan seems like a healthy way out.

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