If you go onto Twitter or check some Web sites (right and left) you will find loads of chatter about the McConnell debt disapproval plan. Most of it is wrong. Members of the chattering class are so anxious to chatter that they feel compelled to do so without understanding the subject matter at hand. Throw in some bad faith (certain right-wing bloggers would declare the GOP leadership traitors if they proposed only $4 trillion in cuts and got President Obama to decline to run for reelection), add in some liberal suspicion (warranted since this is not the first time that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has eaten their lunch), and presto: You get some of the worst “reporting” in recent memory.
The concept isn’t that hard to understand. 1. McConnell had enough of the phony White House talks. The White House offered a paltry $2 billion in actual, immediate cuts. 2. McConnell gave a speech to make clear that wasn’t enough and that the debt limit would be raised only with real cuts and without tax hikes. 3. McConnell could sit back and wait for default. 4. But he comes up with a mechanism to force Obama to put up cuts, send them to Congress and face “default” if the president’s cuts don't get through. 5. In the process he makes 34 Democratic senators vote over and over again on cuts. (The sound you hear in the background is the conga line at the Senate Republican Committee headquarters.)
There are no tax increases in the plan. The onus is on the president to send a request for a debt-ceiling increase and the cuts to go along with it. If he doesn’t do it or if the Congress disapproves of what he sends up (and sustains a veto) the debt ceiling remains in place. But the Senate Democrats will have the power to sustain a veto (and thereby allow phony cuts to be used to raise the debt ceiling), right? Which 34 senators exactly are going to do this? Certainly not the ones in unsafe seats with voters clamoring for real spending cuts.
The critics who dimly understand the plan forget that the alternatives are limited. What are the alternatives? Default. Or accept the tax hike offer from the White House. Or maybe Obama will cave. McConnell is more than happy to keep on trying to get rid of the tax hikes and get the White House to cough up real spending cuts.
But if there is no deal (grand or otherwise) then the default will not be on the shoulders of the Republicans. McConnell is providing them with a backstop to avoid default. If they don’t take it? Then the debt ceiling doesn’t go up. Ah well, time to prioritize the spending (and stop scaring granny that she won’t get her Social Security check).
If there is a criticism of the McConnell plan it is that he vastly overestimated the ability of the political class to understand an out-of-the-box proposal. Maybe he could come up with a chart or a video. For now, expect another speech on the Senate floor tomorrow and some talk-radio appearances. And guess what? If no one likes the plan we can go back to the main ring, where Obama is offering only $2 billion in real spending cuts.