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

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And then, last Tuesday, he voted against it.

What could have changed since May? When I asked, through a spokesman, the senator sent this response: "If people were serious about getting the debt under control, they wouldn't have supported the President's budget which doubles the debt in five years and triples it in ten. Or $2.5 trillion in health spending, or a trillion in stimulus spending. Our problems are not a result of taxing too little, but of spending too much."

But didn't McConnell consider spending the culprit last May, too? Isn't rising debt an argument for the commission?

It's impossible to avoid the conclusion that the only thing that changed since May is the political usefulness of the proposal to McConnell's partisan goals. He was happy to claim fiscal responsibility while beating up Obama for fiscal recklessness. But when Obama endorsed the idea, as he did on the Saturday before the vote -- and when the commission actually, against all odds, had the wisp of a chance of winning the needed 60 Senate votes -- McConnell bailed.

He was hardly the only cynical player. As Mike Allen of Politico pointed out after the vote, a half-dozen Republicans who had co-sponsored the measure voted against it -- including, sadly, former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

Obama, too, was hardly a profile in courage. He endorsed the commission belatedly, to appease Senate fiscal hawks whose votes he would need to increase the debt limit once their commission went down to defeat. Key aides had been arguing against the commission for much of the fall, and the president made no effort as far as I know to twist arms.

Even so, the commission attracted 53 votes. If McConnell had rallied his backsliding colleagues, and joined them, it would have passed.

And McConnell has the word leader before his name. There was a time when that word suggested a responsibility -- not always, maybe not even most of the time, but sometimes, on issues of true national importance -- to put public interest ahead of partisan consideration. For McConnell, evidently that's not what the word means anymore.

As I have said many times before, the best way to address the crisis is the Conrad-Gregg proposal. . . . It deserves support from both sides of the aisle.

fredhiatt@washpost.com


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