by Paul Goldman
Don’t let anger at Eric Cantor, the new star of the national GOP, blind you to the this fact: the Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, isn’t trying to do Democrats any favors by “saving” the country from a default. What are Democratic Congressional leaders thinking by indicating they could back this plan (fortunately the President has not joined this chorus)?
The plan, if accepted, requires the President to identify $2.5 trillion in cuts as a condition for setting in motion an automatic increase in the debt ceiling by the same aggregate amount in three steps, at three scheduled dates, through 2012. The convoluted process automatically raises the debt ceiling by this amount, whether or not the President actually makes the cuts.
It is a very clever ploy by Mr. McConnell to put every Democrat running for the Senate next year in a no-win bind. It forces Democrats to go first in proposing, as the President himself has conceded, very unpopular cuts in entitlements and other programs. Thus, in terms of the big mistake the GOP made on Medicare, the McConnell “compromise” totally takes his party off the hook and puts Democratic candidates like Tim Kaine on it.
Fact: Whoever has to go first, loses politically, as the GOP found out with the Paul Ryan plan for Medicare. That’s a fact of political life.
Plus: The pressure on the President to take the “money” – the right to borrow trillions more – and forget about the cuts (he isn’t required to even make them under the McConnell plan), will be immense as Democrats figure out next year how unpopular the required cuts will be.
Remember: The McConnell plan takes the repeal of Bushonomics off the table, since his plan requires only cuts. As the President knows, at this level, if you can’t raise revenues, then you would need to cut entitlements big time in order to reduce the budget deficit.
In addition: By opting for the McConnell plan, Democrats have missed the chance to add a JOBS component to the debt ceiling agreement, something very possible as I show in my co-authored article in today’s Politico. And in that regard, I think it is noteworthy that EJ Dionne, the Washington Post columnist with the best ties to the White House, independently agrees with the basic analysis in my piece.
Bottom line: With all due respect, the Republican minority leader of the U.S. Senate has NOT suddenly become bipartisan. Remember, this is the guy who has said he will do nothing that might help Obama get re-elected. Along the same lines, he certainly isn’t going to be trying to do Tim Kaine any favors between now and election day either.