Political Hay

McConnell Is Handing Obama a Rope, Not a White Flag

Pundits, rest assured: Mitch McConnell is not one to surrender.

By 7.19.11

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When word got out about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's compromise proposal on the debt ceiling, many conservatives hit the roof. Consider but several of these blistering critiques. Let's begin with Erick Erickson from Red State.com: "Mitch McConnell is right now talking about making a historic capitulation. So fearful of being blamed for a default, McConnell is proposing a compromise that lets Barack Obama raise the debt ceiling without making any spending cuts at all. Consider sending McConnell a weasel as testament to his treachery."

It is worth noting that Erickson's original headline was, "It's Time to Burn Mitch McConnell in Effigy." However, upon further reflection, Erickson thought it would be wise to make the headline "less incendiary." So Erickson amended the headline to read "Mitch McConnell Just Proposed the 'Pontius Pilate Pass the Buck Act of 2011.'" Ah yes, invoking the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is always the route to take when making an effort to be far less incendiary. But if McConnell is Pilate then who exactly is being nailed to the cross?

Then there's my American Spectator colleague Quin Hillyer. While he manages to refrain from Biblical invocations, his contempt for McConnell's plan is clear as his headline, "Not Only 'No', But NONONONONO on McConnell’s Plan," would attest: "I think Mitch McConnell's back-up plan presented today is an absolute capitulation and a gift of power to Obama. Forget all the complicated procedural details. None of them matter. All that matters is that the end result is that Obama can, in effect, raise the debt limit several more times, for a total of about two trillion dollars, unilaterally. After all of the success in getting Obama to not just commit rhetorically to well over a trillion dollars in cuts, but to actually put on the table some specific entitlement savings (reportedly), it would be far worse to forfeit any spending cuts than it would be to allow a few minor tax loopholes to be closed. The McConnell plan effectively forecloses real opportunities for major savings."

Then as we flip the channel, we see Brent Bozell, president of ForAmerica, throw in his two cents: "If Mitch McConnell thinks caving to President Obama and allowing him to raise the debt ceiling without cuts is the way to become Senate majority leader, he is sorely mistaken. The American people elected him to serve as a check on Obama’s appetite for out-of-control spending, not to write him a blank check to continue the binge. It's these sorts of shenanigans that got Republicans thrown out of power in 2006."

When examining the commentary of Messrs Erickson, Hillyer, Bozell and others who object to McConnell's proposal there emerge two common themes: a) McConnell has capitulated on spending cuts and b) has given President Obama undue power.

Now while it is true that the McConnell plan in the short term effectively takes spending cuts off the table and bestows near unilateral authority upon Obama to raise the debt ceiling up to three times over the next year, it would be a mistake to view it as an act of surrender. McConnell is not waving a white flag to Obama. On the contrary, he is giving Obama the rope necessary on which to hang his presidency. Just because Obama could be given the authority to thrice raise the debt ceiling over the next twelve months doesn't mean he actually has to do so. But McConnell knows full well that Obama cannot help himself and has never met a government program he thought unworthy of borrowing more money to finance. McConnell is banking that Obama will raise the debt ceiling three times over the next year. And if Obama does so, it will ensure that the President's irresponsible fiscal policy remains in the spotlight through next year's presidential election and all the while Republicans remain free to object to his ways and means.

Unfortunately, some conservatives are so blinded by their hatred of President Obama that they cannot see the trees for the forest. The idea of Obama having more power is such anathema that they cannot consider the possibility that giving Obama more power would actually prove to be his undoing. Naturally, Erickson, Hillyer and Bozell are free to criticize Senator McConnell's proposal as they see fit. But if McConnell's plans are so objectionable then what are their alternatives? If they have a better idea, then let's hear it. Somehow I suspect if Erickson, Hillyer and Bozell each came up with a debt ceiling proposal none of them would be the same and each would criticize the other for their various shortcomings. Even House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, normally chock full of alternatives, doesn't have anything to put forward. While not enthusiastic about McConnell's plan, Ryan hasn't ruled out giving it his support.

McConnell's Senate colleague Marco Rubio is also critical of the plan. In objecting to President Obama's ability to raise the debt ceiling, Rubio told Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation, "(T)he debt limit's not really the problem here. The problem is the debt." That's all well and good from the Junior Senator from Florida but consider what McConnell said shortly before putting his proposal forward. Speaking on the Senate floor, McConnell stated, "But after years of discussions and months of negotiations, I have little question that as long as this president is in the Oval Office, a real solution is unattainable." In other words, if President Obama is all that stands between the American people and the debt then why not put forward a plan designed to clear the obstruction?

Or let me put it this way. If the cost of giving Obama more power today results in Obama not having any power eighteen months from now, then wouldn’t it be a price worth paying? Let’s give him the rope.

Updated to correct identification of ForAmerica president Brent Bozell. 

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About the Author
Aaron Goldstein writes from Boston, Massachusetts.