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Where is McConnell's sense of leadership?

Sen. Mitch McConnell, joined by Sens. Jon Kyl, left, and John Cornyn, discussing the GOP's agenda with reporters last week.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, joined by Sens. Jon Kyl, left, and John Cornyn, discussing the GOP's agenda with reporters last week. (J. Scott Applewhite/associated Press)
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By Fred Hiatt
Monday, February 1, 2010

"As I have said many times before, the best way to address the crisis is the Conrad-Gregg proposal."

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-- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

No single vote by any single senator could possibly illustrate everything that is wrong with Washington today. No single vote could embody the full cynicism and cowardice of our political elite at its worst, or explain by itself why problems do not get solved.

But here's one that comes close.

For a long time it's been clear that, unless the government changes course, the nation will accumulate so much debt that prosperity will decline, future generations will suffer and America will forfeit its role as a global leader.

It's also been clear that both spending and revenue have to be adjusted -- entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security reined in, taxes raised.

Politicians don't like to do either. In particular, Democrats can't support entitlement reform without angering their base and giving up a club with which they like to beat Republicans. Republicans can't raise taxes without angering their base and giving up a club to beat Democrats.

A possible solution, proposed by Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), chairman and ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, respectively, came before the Senate last week: a bipartisan commission that would craft fiscal reforms that Congress would then have to vote on as a package -- yes or no, but no picking it to pieces.

Principled people can oppose this idea (as an abdication of congressional responsibility) or support it (as a necessary evil given Congress's inability to act).

But here's the thing: There's been no question about Mitch McConnell's position of ardent, unwavering support. Last spring he needled President Obama for not backing it. He endorsed it numerous times.

Here, for example, is what McConnell had to say last May:

"We must address the issue of entitlement spending now before it is too late. As I have said many times before, the best way to address the crisis is the Conrad-Gregg proposal, which would provide an expedited pathway for fixing these profound long-term challenges. This plan would force us to get debt and spending under control. It deserves support from both sides of the aisle."


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