McConnell proposes Faustian bargain

Unless stepmother lets us eat all the cake we want?

As the August 3rd deadline to either raise the federal debt ceiling or submit to our Chinese masters nigh approaches, Mitch McConnell has proposed a new solution: Congress could authorize President Obama to increase the borrowing limit himself. The Senate Minority Leader suggested that the President be given the authority to allow an additional $2.4 trillion in debt over the next year, provided he specifies an equal amount in spending cuts. It’s an odd move, given that negotiations have foundered for weeks on Republican demands that the President agree to cuts before the ceiling is raised. Unless you are a Republican, in which case negotiations have foundered on the President’s insistence that 25% of the increase be covered by taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

The logical compromise seems like it would be to raise the ceiling, require compensatory cuts and increase revenue, but that’s because you’re picturing yourself and your conservative friend sitting at the negotiating table. To really get into everybody’s head, here, you need to picture the dog negotiating with the vacuum cleaner. “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 probably unattainable,” McConnell said Tuesday morning. He was speaking to the Senate, and he was asking them to give the President all the authority he wants.

Does that seem odd to you? If pre-approved spending cuts are so important to congressional Republicans that they’re willing to risk federal default, why cede the authority to demand them? There is only one difference between the unacceptable scenario in which the GOP agrees to raise the ceiling without prior cuts and the acceptable one in which we raise the ceiling on the promise of cuts later. In the second one, the President is in charge of increasing the debt limit himself.

There are two ways to interpret such a move from McConnell, who said after the midterm elections that the goal of the Republican Party was to make Obama a single-term president. It’s possible that, like other senior GOP congressmen, the Minority Leader thinks the existing cuts/ceiling deal is acceptable—but he doesn’t think he can get his delegation to agree to it. Certain blocs of the current Congress, who will remain nameless but may be named after authors of one-dimensional novels, are so committed to drastic cuts in spending as to make Republican agreement to a sensible compromise impossible. In this light, McConnell’s proposal suggests that the GOP is too internally divided to work effectively. The kids keep fish-hooking him from the back seat, so he’s going to let the President drive us to the mortgage office.

That’s the charitable interpretation. The less charitable interpretation is that, for all his talk about the looming disaster posed by our national deficit, Mitch McConnell would rather preserve the problem as a weapon against the President than solve it. The prospect of Congress raising the debt ceiling with no strings attached is unacceptable, thwarts American prosperity, mortgages our children’s future et cetera, but if Obama did it that would be just ducky. Authorizing the President to raise the debt ceiling unilaterally allows McConnell and the Republican caucus to wash their hands of the disaster, like when Bobby Brown let Whitney have as much coke as she wanted.

If that is McConnell’s plan, it is a disgusting abdication of responsibility. Regardless of how you feel about the roles of spending cuts, revenue increases and potential default in negotiations on the debt ceiling, you have to agree that it is the role of Congress to address the problem. To refuse to compromise with the President and then suggest that he be given the power to draft the package himself is to place politics above the basic functions of government. Unlimited deficit spending would be a disaster, unless it’s Barack Obama’s disaster. Then it becomes a goal.

I sincerely hope that is not Mitch McConnel’s thinking. If it is, he has given a clear indication that the Republican Party would rather preside over a broken America than share power in a functioning one. “Better to reign in hell,” says Milton’s Satan, “than serve in heaven.” One hopes that Senator McConnell’s attraction to the throne is not so powerful as to pull us all down there with him.

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  1. There’s no doubt the cynical interpretation is the right one. You nailed it with the Milton quote–anything that can be used as a weapon against the president is fair game, the country be damned. I have no clue what they think they can gain from all of this ridiculous posturing and playground politicking, but meanwhile I’m going to have an aneurysm.

    I still think the reason they’re attacking so incessantly and with such venom is because of everything Obama represents, not Obama himself or his actually very reasonable policies. They know the tide is turning in this country and the angry old white guys’ turn at power is basically over, but still they’re going to fight tooth and nail to hang onto any remnant of the stranglehold they’ve always had on us.

  2. yea, I tend to think the second interpretation is the correct one too. I heard a guy on Hannity’s radio show today, who I’m pretty sure was Karl Rove, basically saying McConnell’s purpose was to force Obama to be accountable for any debt crisis that he causes. It’s bizarre how much more acceptable their tactic sounds when phrased that way as opposed to how Dan said it.

  3. Yeah, I didn’t get what Dan was saying while providing the charitable explanation because the only option my brain was allowing was the cynical one.

    It’s easy behavior to understand. We’ve all been there, speaking nothing but sense and responsibility while the party we’re negotiating against has their head either in the clouds or up their asses. After giving it your best shot, finally, you say “enough,” and let persistent ignorance have its way. “But,” you say for the record, “when this thing fails, it’s your fucking fault.”

    It’s a means to admit defeat while washing your hands of the consequences. It’s a judge’s dissenting opinion. It’s a marriage. And it’s not really Machiavellian to try and pin it on the President, that’s just making the most of a shitty situation and trying to cultivate weaknesses in the enemy so that you might rise from the ashes with more power than before.

  4. I believe Ronald Reagan raised the debt ceiling more than a dozen times during his presidency. George W Bush raised it nine times during his.

    Now it’s anathema?

    The cynical beauty of Mitch McConnell’s proposal is “Heads you lose” (Obama doesn’t raise the ceiling and we have economic disaster); and “Tails you lose” (Obama raises the ceiling and is hung with every debt excess since Hoover.)

  5. Don’t forget that Reagan also raised taxes several times. This current incarnation of conservatism is well to the right of Reagan.

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