Friday, July 15, 2011

WSJ: McConnell Plan Forces Obama to Own the Debt, Economy

The Wall Street Journal has a great piece today that lays out the choice for Republicans and concludes that the McConnell plan will force the Obama administration to own the consequences for its profligate spending and borrowing.  The Boehner approach, in contrast, has not worked and cannot work so long as Republicans only control the House.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is taking heat from some in his caucus for "caving" on debt-limit talks. They might instead be thanking him for finally laying out the real choice Republicans face in this debate: 2012 or 2010.

Put another way: With President Obama now committed only to bad options, does the GOP allow him to unilaterally take ownership of his spending mess going into the 2012 election? Or does the party remain so rigidly committed to its own 2010 promises of spending cuts that it joins the president in irresponsibility?

Republicans took a flyer on the debt debate, betting that the high stakes gave them enough leverage to force Mr. Obama to accede to spending cuts. It was bold. It was a potential shot at serious spending reform. It hasn't worked.. . .

Option No. 1 is for the GOP to do a $4 trillion "big deal," in which it gets some cuts, including to Medicare, though only in return for agreeing to significant tax hikes. The president forces Republicans to make a mockery of their own tax promises, and he gets cover for what's been his goal all along. He also gets to brag to his base about that victory, even as he demoralizes conservative voters.

Option No. 2 is the smaller, $2 trillion Biden deal. Even here the White House is demanding some tax increases, while Democrats insist a significant chunk of the cuts take place in future Congresses (which can ignore them). The conservative base will deride this as budget gimmickry, and the GOP will get little credit. The president, however, will boast to the rest of America that he has clocked "significant" spending reductions, and he'll run as a deficit-cutter.

Option No. 3 is for the GOP to go to the brink and share the turmoil or shutdown that follows default. Ask Newt Gingrich how that worked out for him in 1995. Mr. Obama today owns a failing economy. Republicans are begging for joint custody. Come turmoil in August, the president will lay every unemployment uptick, every poor economic statistic, at the foot of whatever panic or pain came out of the debt-ceiling mess—and the Republicans who helped push it to that point.

All this is why Mr. McConnell earlier this week proposed to step back and give the president authority to raise the debt ceiling. If he's so committed to his positions, let him swim in them. Let him own a deficit that's on track to hit $1 trillion for his third presidential year running. Let him tell America why he's cut nothing. Let him explain a credit downgrade caused by his failure to get serious about American debt.

Let him explain the slowing economy, the high unemployment and his proposals for new taxes—next summer. Let the Democrats up for re-election have to vote (as Mr. McConnell's proposal requires) to back up Mr. Obama's profligacy. Let Americans understand, clearly, that this is what they will continue to get if they re-elect him.

Resisting this position are dozens of House Republicans who were elected in 2010 on the promise that they would get America's spending problem under control immediately. This promise has been the animating principle behind all of Speaker John Boehner's and Mr. Cantor's negotiations with the White House. This crowd is aching for a giant spending-cut number to flaunt to the base, proving they are as good as their 2010 campaign word.

Yet despite campaigning on the Constitution, most appear to have missed the whole "separation of powers" bit. You know, the part that provides a presidential veto. Republicans cannot run government from the House alone, yet many have bought into their own debt-limit rhetoric. Rather than see this as the failed gamble it is, they truly believe they have the leverage to make this president give them all they want. "Call his bluff," goes the cry.

These are the same Republicans who have spent years rightly describing Mr. Obama as ideologically committed to giant government—the architect of stimulus, ObamaCare, blowout budgets. The same Republicans who believe Mr. Obama is pursuing a deliberate strategy to turn America into a European entitlement state. Yet now they believe he'll just roll over and give up all he's attained?

If the GOP is so eager to call an Obama bluff, how about this: Call him on his argument that he is acting like a leader, working to fix the debt problem, offering the GOP the opportunity to go big. That's the story line Americans are being fed right now, and the GOP shores it up every time it agrees to another White House summit. A shame, since in fact the only Obama offers are for mediocre cuts, higher taxes, and the opportunity for Republicans to help permanently enshrine big government. That, or for joint ownership of a failing economy and/or shutdown turmoil.

Let him own it. 

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