Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned Wednesday that a default on the nation’s debt would not only be dangerous for the country, but could also have damaging political repercussions for the Republican Party.
Ahead of the latest meeting between congressional leaders and the White House on Wednesday, however, Republicans appeared to be of two minds when it came to McConnell’s proposed “back-up plan” for raising the county’s debt limit.
“(Democrats) want to blame the economy on us and the reason default is no better an idea today than when Newt Gingrich tried it in 1995 is that it destroys your brand. It would give the president an opportunity to blame Republicans for a bad economy,” McConnell told conservative commentator Laura Ingraham in a Wednesday morning radio interview. “Look, he owns the economy. He’s been in office almost three years now, and we refuse to let him entice us into co-ownership of a bad economy.”
McConnell said that while his “first choice was to do something important for the country” in drafting a back-up plan, he also believed that default could devastate the Republican Party politically, “just like we knew shutting down the government in 1995 was not going to work for us; it helped Bill Clinton get re-elected.”
“I refuse to help Barack Obama get re-elected by marching Republicans into a position where we have co-ownership of a bad economy. ... If we go into default, he will say that Republicans are making the economy worse and try to convince the public -- maybe with some merit, if people stop getting their Social Security checks and military families start getting letters saying servicepeople overseas don’t get paid. It’s an argument he could have a good chance of winning, and all of the sudden we have co-ownership of a bad economy,” he said. “That is very bad positioning going into an election.”
Shortly before heading to the White House for the latest round of debt-limit talks, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) issued a statement in which he implicitly rejected the McConnell plan.
“Currently, there is not a single debt limit proposal that can pass the House of Representatives, but I believe the path forward is to focus on what we can agree upon, and though it doesn’t go as far as our budget, House Republicans can likely agree with the general spending cuts and entitlement changes in the ‘big deal’ proposed by the President,” Cantor said in the statement.
But McConnell did receive the support of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who said in a statement that the fallback plan would “ensure that Republicans aren’t unduly blamed for failure to raise the debt ceiling.”
“The last-case emergency proposal that Sen. McConnell outlined yesterday is a smart, forward-looking plan to make clear to all Americans that should we get to August 2nd without an agreement, it is President Obama alone – and not Republicans in Congress – who decides whether to raise the debt limit, and owns the economic consequences of any default,” McCain said.
Democrats seized on the reactions from Republicans to McConnell’s proposal to make the case that they are in disarray in the debt-limit talks.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had been “close to entering a framework agreement with the president of the United States (and walked) out because the Republicans in the House undercut him, and now you have Republicans trashing a proposal put forward by the Republican leader in the Senate.”
“I just think people need to wake up to the fact that these guys, the message they’re sending is that ‘We’re prepared to tank the entire economy, put millions of jobs at risk unless we get things one-hundred percent our way,’” Van Hollen said. “And that’s just irresponsible. We want the American people to take a look at what their position is.”
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