Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Republicans Retreat on Debt Limit

They tried to make it look like a planned move, but it’s pretty clear that the Republicans have caved on the budget and debt ceiling talks.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has proposed creating an escape hatch for Congressional Republicans, who have put themselves in a box by threatening not to raise the national debt limit if Democrats don’t agree to trillions of dollars in cuts to popular social programs.

The plan is designed to give President Obama the power to raise the debt limit on his own through the end of his first term, but to force Democrats to take a series of votes on the debt limit in the months leading up to the election. This would stave off the threat of defaulting on national obligations, but keep the charged issues of debt and spending at the center of political debate for months.

The development confirms suspicions that the GOP was unwilling to truly use the looming debt ceiling as leverage to force conservative-friendly changes to popular entitlement programs, but suggests strongly that Republicans plan to continue politicking on fiscal issues through the 2012 elections.

In other words, the GOP realized that they were the ones who couldn’t come up with the goods for their base, and forced into the stark choice of hold out and crash the global economy again, they basically threw down their guns and scattered.

The GOP spin machine is working overtime to put the best face on it, but the move is not fooling anyone, and it is not going over well with the Orcosphere on the right.

“It’s Time to Burn Mitch McConnell in Effigy,” read the headline on a post by Red State’s Erick Erickson. He later changed it, writing “I decided to make the title less incendiary.”

The new version? “Mitch McConnell Just Proposed the ‘Pontius Pilate Pass the Buck Act of 2011.'” A sample:

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.

The generally more polite Heritage Foundation took aim at McConnell’s plan as well.

“The plan that we are reading reports about today is a serious walk back,” Heritage blogger Ashe Schow wrote, “and would seemingly trade the leverage needed to achieve reforms in return for political gains.”

Others on the right are saying similar things. See Michelle Malkin’s “Another mortifying McConnell head-banging-against-the-wall moment,” for example.

What’s also becoming very clear is that the president knew that no matter what he offered, be it cuts in entitlements, raising the age on Medicare, or how big the deal was, as long as it included even the hint of new tax revenues, the Republicans would never budge. Mr. Obama could alienate his base all he wanted and put all his chips on the table safe in the knowledge that there was never going to be a chance that he would lose.

For their part, the hard-core progressives did a service to the president. The more outraged they got at the possibility that Mr. Obama was willing to compromise on such things as Social Security and Medicare, the more the Republicans believed they were isolating the president, so the harder they pushed. The president even gave the Republicans reason to believe he was abandoning the left when he said at his press conference last week that he was willing to risk the wrath of the left in order to raise the debt ceiling. What he knew — and what a lot of folks on the left forgot — is that the right wing will never ever give in on taxes. Period. Social Security and Medicare were never in any danger of any cuts at all.

The progressives may feel a bit used, and some of them who have never truly felt comfortable with President Obama haven’t gained any more trust in him, but in the cold calculation of politics versus the stark reality of the debt limit, the White House felt that their disgruntlement was both worth it and useful if it meant that the Republicans showed that they were in more disarray than the Democrats. The fact that Speaker John Boehner basically turned his job over to the rabble and couldn’t lead his own party is a significant win for the president.

What’s even more interesting is that this whole thing could have been avoided if, as they have done so many times before, the Congress had just passed a simple one-sentence bill that increased the debt limit. It would have been a squib headline on the business page. But the GOP and their teabagger overlords decided to bet the ranch on this one little thing. And they lost.