Byron York in effect defends Mitch McConnell here from my various recent criticisms. Now Byron is a superb reporter. First rate. He gets “scoops” frequently, and knows his stuff, and is utterly tireless. But in this post, part of his logic is, well, illogical. And as for how McConnell weighs his priorities, that’s a value judgment on McConnell’s part, but as a value judgment, I would argue that it stinks. I certainly disagree with Byron’s conclusion that McConnell used his supposedly weak bargaining position to “get as much as he could.”
First, the logic: Somehow, it is supposed to make it better that “It was Reid who wanted to leave more than McConnell.” But that is exactly my point: IF it were Reid who wanted to leave early, then it gave McConnell LOTS of bargaining power. If McConnell had said, okay, if you want to leave early, I WILL insist on finishing the full 30 hours of debate when we get back after Christmas — i.e., not have a vote on Christmas Eve — then Reid either would have had to push the vote beyond Christmas, or hold it late on Christmas Eve, NEITHER of which he wanted to do. The whole point is that, as I clearly wrote, “if the Dems want to get out of town before the ice storm, then make them do so without passing this Obamacare bill. Make it THEIR tough choice. Make THEM face the consequences of not being able to get out of town.”
Byron reports (as did a commenter named “Andrew” on this site yesterday) that in return for leaving early, McConnell scored the supposed coup of forcing a series of votes related to TARP and the debt limit when the Senate returns in January. Gee, that’s nice. We’re fighting over one-sixth of the economy, and major philosophical and constitutional issues, and McConnell is happy about another show vote or two on something, the debt limit, that NEVER EVER EVER pays big political dividends, because most of the public understands it is a pro forma vote. Again and again and again through the years the GOP makes a big deal out of the debt limit vote, and again and again and again it causes a momentary blip for about 12 hours and then people forget about it. Of course the debt matters — but Americans object not so much to the debt as to the size and intrusiveness of government, and to all the actual laws, policies, and spending decisions that cause the debt to go up.They know the debt limit vote is an effect of bad policy, not the bad policy itself.
A Senate aide says this: “We’re going to force them to vote on ending TARP, deficit control — things they don’t want to do. And it’ll be on the first day back, when everybody’s paying attention.” That’s tactically goofy. Everybody is paying attention NOW. People resent the hell out of a bill being forced down their throats without adequate time to read it, just before Christmas. This thing could have been portrayed as the Christmas Eve Massacre. NOTHING is more dramatic than a Senate leadership so bound and determined to shove a vastly unpopular major bill down the throats of the public that it forces the vote at 9 p.m. on Christmas Eve. THAT’s drama for you. THAT makes people angry. That’s like putting a lump of coal, AND a lump of dog droppings, in the stockings of the 60 percent of the public that is against this monstrosity. Instead, McConnell and company fold their tents, make no dramatic fuss, and fail to drive the point home.
Now, think about this. What would have happened to the debt limit vote if McConnell had stuck to his guns? As Byron himself reports, “The Senate has still not voted on a bill to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. It has to do so by tomorrow, before lawmakers leave for the year.” So… if the debt limit MUST be raised before Christmas, too, then why not fight on that front, too? Play hardball on BOTH. Hold the debt limit hostage to the health care bill by agreeing to the debt limit vote ONLY if the final health vote is pushed off until after the New Year.
Priorities, priorities. The debt limit gets voted on about twice a year. Totally screwing up the health care laws of the country for eternity happens, oh, one time and one time only in the history of the United States. This health care bill isn’t just another piece of legislation. It’s Horatio at the Bridge. The threat of it has inspired millions of people to go to TEA Parties and town hall meetings and to write and email and call their congressmen. It is not the debt limit that has people up in arms; it’s health care. People are scared. People are not just angry but furious. And they see a congressional leadership that originally shunned them at the TEA Parties, that rode the public’s energy and leadership during this health care fight so far rather than being ahead of the curve, and that refused to do scorched-Earth tactics in the Senate to beat it.
Reid and Obama now have nearly a month to figure out how to massage the supposedly dreaded votes on the debt limit. And they also get to celebrate a HUGE HUGE victory on health care, and celebrate it now, without paying quite the same price they would have paid if the GOP had stood firm.
As a supposed tactical victory for McConnell, this is like Napoleon getting off of Elba and thinking he would return to glory. Anybody who knows history knows what happened to Napoleon next.
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