In the past week, Democrats have received an embarrassment of riches from their Republican rivals. President Trump is back to insulting women, reminding female voters why they are fleeing the GOP in droves; he’s shown contempt for facts (e.g., climate change) and for our values (e.g., covering for the Saudis). But it is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) who’s really been on a roll.
In an interview with Bloomberg News on Tuesday, McConnell bemoaned the size of the deficit rung up on his watch, while refusing to accept blame: “It’s disappointing, but it’s not a Republican problem . . . [The deficit] is a bipartisan problem: Unwillingness to address the real drivers of the debt by doing anything to adjust those programs to the demographics of America in the future.” Rather than rethink the massive tax cuts, he took aim at “the three big entitlement programs that are very popular, Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid,” complaining that there has “been a bipartisan reluctance to tackle entitlement changes because of the popularity of those programs. Hopefully, at some point here, we’ll get serious about this.” If one didn’t know it, you’d think the Republicans had been out of power for years — or had elected a Republican whose determination to address entitlements was thwarted by those pesky Democrats.
Minority Leader Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) pounced. “Senator Mitch McConnell, President Trump, and their fellow Republicans blew a 2 trillion dollar hole in the federal deficit to fund a tax cut for the rich, he said in a written statement. “To now suggest cutting earned middle-class programs like Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid as the only fiscally responsible solution to solve the debt problem is nothing short of gaslighting.” He added with relish, “As November approaches, it’s clear Democrats stand for expanding affordable health care and growing the middle class, while Republicans are for stripping away protections for people with pre-existing conditions and cutting Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid to fund their giveaways to corporate executives and the wealthiest few.” He might have sent flowers as well in thanks for delivering a closing message to Democrats who have already been focusing on health care.
McConnell wasn’t done with the assists, however. He vowed to revisit repeal of Obamacare, at a time Republicans are trying to deny their support for repeal of the law’s provisions including protection for preexisting conditions. “If we had the votes to completely start over, we’d do it,” McConnell said. “But that depends on what happens in a couple weeks. . . . We’re not satisfied with the way Obamacare is working.” Once more, Schumer seemed incredulous at Democrats’ good fortune. “Americans should make no mistake about it: If Republicans retain the Senate they will do everything they can to take away families’ health care and raise their costs, whether it be eliminating protections for pre-existing conditions, repealing the health care law, or cutting Medicare and Medicaid,” the minority leader said. “Americans should take Senator McConnell at his word.”
The main GOP policy goals — cutting entitlements, cutting taxes for the rich and repealing protection for preexisting conditions — are extremely unpopular. (Republicans’ positions on climate change, “dreamers,” the wall and plenty else are also out of sync with voters.) In the final stretch before Election Day, Democrats are likely to remind voters of the GOP’s ambitions should they retain control of both houses. With many voters already saying they want a check on Trump, McConnell reiterated the policy stances that voters fear most. Schumer and his party couldn’t have asked for a better “October surprise.”