Mitch McConnell appeared on Laura Ingraham’s radio show today to explain the thinking behind his proposed debt-ceiling deal:
[W]e knew shutting down the government in 1995 was not going to work for us. It helped Bill Clinton get reelected. I refuse to help Barack Obama get reelected by marching Republicans into a position where we have co-ownership of a bad economy. It didn’t work in 1995. What will happen is the administration will send out notices to 80 million Social Security recipients and to military families and they will all start attacking members of Congress. That is not a useful place to take us. And the president will have the bully pulpit to blame Republicans for all this disruption.
If we go into default he will say Republicans are making the economy worse. And all of a sudden we have co-ownership of a bad economy. That is a very bad position going into an election. My first choice was to do something important for the country. But my second obligation is to my party and my conference to prevent them from being sucked into a horrible position politically that would allow the president, probably, to get reelected because we didn’t handle this difficult situation correctly.
Whether you believe this depends on whether you believe that catastrophic delay on the debt ceiling would hurt Obama or the Republicans. Political scientist John Sides says Obama would pay the price. “Presidents suffer the consequences of a bad economy,” he writes.
That’s true. But I don’t think the aftermath would read to voters as “a bad economy.” I think this would look more like calculated economic sabotage on the part of the Republicans. Wall Street would turn on them. The business community would turn on them. The media has already turned on them. And as Social Security checks stop going out and doctors stop taking Medicare because the federal government isn’t paying its bills, the public would turn on them, too.
The Republicans’ inability to agree to anything has allowed the president to offer them almost everything. That’s left Democrats on the wrong side of the deal, if one ever passes, but Republicans on the wrong side of a debt-ceiling catastrophe, if one comes to pass.
All of which leaves Republicans with an interesting choice to make. McConnell is arguing that the true conservative position in this debate is to favor whichever policy is likeliest to lead to Obama’s defeat in 2012. Others in his party are saying that the true conservative position is to force the largest possible cuts in spending while preventing any increases in revenue. I’d still put my money on McConnell losing this one. But as a longtime admirer of his political analysis, I would be very careful about dismissing his assessment of the situation.