On Tuesday afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office floated a “last-ditch contingency plan” for dealing with the debt ceiling crisis.
Rich Lowry at National Review posted extensive details, but in essence, the plan boils down to handing sole responsibility for increasing the federal debt limit to the President, who could increase it at his own discretion, by up to $900 billion, as many as three times per year.
The only requirement placed on him in return is that he must “submit a plan” to cut spending by a greater amount. You know who else had “plans to cut spending?” The Democrats who betrayed their tax-increases-for-spending-cuts deals with Ronald Reagan and the first President Bush.
Congress would have the ability to disapprove the President’s request, using the kind of expedited voting procedure that proposals to reduce the size of government never receive. However, the President could veto the Resolution of Disapproval, and it would take a nearly-impossible 2/3 majority vote in Congress to override the veto.
This is exactly what it sounds like: surrender. Obama gets all the debt he wants. Republicans get to go on the record as ineffectually opposing his unstoppable demands.
Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) swiftly pronounced “I can guarantee that plan is going nowhere” on Mark Levin’s radio show. However, observers in some quarters praised McConnell for smart political strategy, or at least trying to make lemonade from debt-ceiling lemons. It is said that under the McConnell plan, Obama and the Democrats will bear sole responsibility for our rising national debt, with Republicans waving their futile dissenting votes as certification of their blamelessness. This would supposedly cost the Democrats dearly at the polls in 2012.
Meanwhile, Democrat intransigence on meaningful spending cuts means nothing can really be done until they lose the White House and Senate next year. The only alternative is for Republicans to stand their ground and refuse to raise the debt ceiling, since they won’t get any of the fiscal-sanity measures they have been insisting on – such as a balanced budget amendment, serious spending cuts, or a federal spending cap.
If the debt ceiling stays put, it is thought the Republicans are more likely to be blamed for the resulting chaos, as the partisan media whips public anger against them. McConnell’s plan is therefore described by some as a wise political strategy, a concession to inevitability that gives the GOP an alibi for the next election.
I have a few problems with these positive appraisals of the McConnell Last-Ditch Contingency Plan.
First and foremost, while it’s true the Republicans have a political problem, America has an existential one. Our unsustainable government is on a crash dive to insolvency. I’m not eager to watch the co-pilot and flight attendants strap on parachutes, while assuring us the disaster to come is the sole responsibility of the insane captain, who can be heard muttering about sacred cows, Band-Aids, peas, and how much he dislikes corporate aircraft.
We’ve gotten to this desperate moment through decades of irresponsibility and political games. This is the hour for leadership. What inspiration will the GOP provide in 2012, when their last significant act involved backing into a corner and wailing that nothing is their fault… and they’ve got some paperwork that proves it? That’s cowardice, not leadership.
How would the 2010 midterms had gone, if Republicans had campaigned on the proposal McConnell is advancing now? Is that what the Tea Party fought for? It’s time for us to take the debt ceiling more seriously, not essentially abolish it.
Obama’s last attempt at a budget saddled us with trillion-dollar deficits for years, and $500 billion deficits forever. He lied outrageously about the cost of his signature ObamaCare legislation, can’t account for much of his trillion-dollar “stimulus,” and estimated that unemployment without the stimulus would be lower than it is now. I don’t trust his judgment to decide what the national debt should be. No one should.
McConnell’s proposal also betrays an almost childlike naivete about the permanence of spending increases, which is most unbecoming for someone who has been in Washington as long as he has. New spending is a weed that instantly plants deep roots. Let Obama run wild with spending today, and tomorrow the GOP will face the feral constituents of every new outlay, howling for their blood at the merest suggestion of program cuts.
Those people will view the new $16 trillion national debt not as a reason to punish Obama, but as a more urgent reason to raise taxes on the Evil Rich and Greedy Corporations. A higher national debt means a more indentured America, and even less fertile ground for the flowering of liberty.
I strongly doubt any of the political benefits advanced by McConnell plan supporters would be realized. Just for starters, an abject debt-ceiling surrender will make serious fiscal reformers, including Jim DeMint, look like irrelevant fools who wasted their breath, and give the media a “Barack the Invincible” narrative to write all the way through 2012.
Obama would essentially be getting the “clean” debt ceiling increase he wanted in the first place. The notion that the Republican leadership could somehow spin that narrative away on Meet the Press and Face the Nation is utterly laughable. Obama wouldn’t have to ride the bin Laden kill any more. The media would have a new “gutsy call” to talk about.
The idea that a $16 trillion national debt would automatically bounce Obama out of office, while a $14 trillion debt left him favored for re-election, is simply delusional. The only reason much of the public is paying attention to the debt right now is because the approach of the debt ceiling has plastered it all over the evening news. The comforting fantasy that Obama has a limitless stash of magic money to spend on benevolent programs would soon return. $16 trillion is an incomprehensibly huge number, just like $14 trillion was. Nobody can count that high.
A year of automatic debt increases will not put Obama and the Democrats in a weaker position than they hold today. On Tuesday, Obama threatened that he “cannot guarantee” Social Security checks will go out on August 3rd, if he doesn’t get more debt on August 2nd. If Republicans think they can’t hold him accountable for that menacing dereliction of duty now, who on Earth really thinks they’ll be able to beat him by whining about how many times he cranked up the already absurd national debt?
The only way automatic debt increases would really come back to bite Obama would be if his irresponsible spending provoked our doomsday “Great Crash” in the next year, perhaps by costing America its AAA debt rating, and causing the interest payments on the national debt to skyrocket. That’s much more likely to happen after his re-election in 2012… but even if it doesn’t, it’s the kind of catastrophe we are looking to the Republicans to prevent, not capitalize on.
We don’t need to hear Mitch McConnell tell me how tough it is to discharge his fiscal duties, and how he’d rather hand the tough decisions off to someone else, and deal with the consequences later. We get more than enough of that from Barack Obama.