Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tees up the next round of fiscal follies with this statement:
Now that the House and Senate have acted in a bipartisan way to prevent tax increases on 99 percent of the American people, Democrats now have the opportunity — and the responsibility — to join Republicans in a serious effort to reduce Washington’s out-of-control spending. That’s a debate the American people want. It’s the debate we’ll have next. And it’s a debate Republicans are ready for. Despite the President’s call for more and more Americans to send even more of their paychecks to Washington, the federal government will still have another trillion-dollar deficit this year. But in the upcoming months, we will have the opportunity to put our country back on sound financial footing — and there’s no excuse not to seize it.
The President claims to want a balanced approach to solve our problems. And now that he has the tax rates he wants, his calls for “balance” mean he must join us in our efforts to achieve meaningful spending and government reform. We have an immediate opportunity to act: the debt ceiling. Washington’s credit card has reached its limit again, and the Senate majority must act on legislation early in February — rather than waiting until the last minute, abdicating responsibility and hoping someone else will step in once again to craft a last-minute solution for them. Once the Senate passes bipartisan legislation, we can conference with the House on a solution. But this time the entire Senate must have an opportunity to act.
The most important part of that may be the assertion that the regular order of business should prevail. In other words, no more private, opaque talks.
The question remains whether, after two failed attempts and much bad blood spilled, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will insist on the same fruitless one-on-one meetings with the president. Frankly, it would be far more productive to meet, if he insists on meeting with the White House, with Vice President Biden. To his credit, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, Jeff Sessions (Ala.), has been arguing for this approach — abide by legislative procedure in full view of the public — for years now.
If House Republicans want to help the process and have a greater role in the next fiscal battle, they should ask Boehner to refrain from closed-door talks, at least until both the House and Senate have passed bills.
Meanwhile, after a huge outcry from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and their House contingents, Boehner agreed to hold a quick vote Friday on $9 billion of Hurricane Sandy relief, followed Jan. 15 by a vote on $51 billion. Wait, these were the people hollering about no spending cuts in the fiscal cliff deal. Anyhoo, that resolves a needless kerfuffle and makes clear that all those Republican members (plus virtually all the rest) will reelect Boehner as speaker. (What in the world did he do to deserve this job?)
Boehner emerges bruised but in full control of the speakership. It is unclear how his relationship with the House majority leader and whip (both of whom voted no on the fiscal-cliff deal) will be affected. In any event, Republicans would do well to but the intraparty fights behind them and come up with a unified strategy on the debt ceiling.
As Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) put it earlier today on MSNBC with regard to pushing up to the debt limit: “I am absolutely convinced that the downgrade and the chaos come when the market sees an unwillingness to solve the fundamental unsustainable fiscal situation that we’re in. That’s the problem. A temporary disruption because we have to furlough the workers at the Department of Education or close down some national parks or not cut the grass on the mall – that’s not optimal; that’s disruptive, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the path that we’re on and the crisis we’re going to have if we think that we can just keep giving this president unlimited debt.”
I suspect he will have unanimity on that proposition among House and Senate Republicans.
UPDATE (5:35 p.m.): The Hill reports that Boehner has sworn off one-on-one talks with Obama.