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January 03, 2013 12:59 PM McConnell Declares War

By Ed Kilgore

In a pronouncement that’s only surprising because it has emanated first from Senate rather than House Republicans, Mitch McConnell has ruled out any tax measures as part of a deal to boost the debt limit. Not just increases in tax rates, it appears, but anything that touches on taxes:

Predictably, the President is already claiming that his tax hike on the “rich” isn’t enough. I have news for him: the moment that he and virtually every elected Democrat in Washington signed off on the terms of the current arrangement, it was the last word on taxes. That debate is over. Now the conversation turns to cutting spending on the government programs that are the real source of the nation’s fiscal imbalance. And the upcoming debate on the debt limit is the perfect time to have that discussion.

Aside from the arrogance of McConnell presuming to tell not just the president or Members of Congress, but the whole country, that any debate over taxes “is over,” he’s rather obviously trying to narrow the scope of any spending debate to domestic, not defense spending. And then there’s this howler:

While most Washington Democrats may want to deny it, the truth is, the only thing we can do to solve the nation’s fiscal problem is to tackle government spending head on — and particularly, spending on health care programs, which appear to take off like a fighter jet on every chart available that details current trends in federal spending.

Which is why, of course, Republicans remain committed to an insane degree to the repeal and obstruction of Obamacare, the only thing Congress has done in years to effectively curtail the long-term upward trend in health care costs, and why they spent much of the last three years complaining about Obama’s Medicare “cuts.”

I’m not a big fan of counter-polarization theories, or more generally, of the political value of puerile bully-boy posturing by pols. But Obama needs to publicly and if possible instantly remind Mitch McConnell that he’s not in a position to issue unconditional edicts about the scope of negotiations that haven’t even begun. And if this insufferable man continues to assert he’s happy to plunge the national and perhaps even global economy into chaos if he doesn’t get his way, the White House should reconsider its eschewal of the “14th amendment option” for boosting the debt limit without congressional action. It’s one thing to negotiate with hostage-takers. It’s another altogether to treat them with respect when they refuse to negotiate.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • T-Rex on January 03, 2013 1:18 PM:

    McConnell is grandstanding for his base, because he knows he's likely to get primaried from the right. I hope he does, by some wingnut who can't possibly win a general election.

  • Mark-NC on January 03, 2013 1:18 PM:

    "Republicans remain committed to an insane degree to the repeal and obstruction of Obamacare"

    Because - when implemented people will see it as a good thing. That's something Republicans loathe above all others

  • boatboy_srq on January 03, 2013 1:23 PM:

    While most Washington Democrats may want to deny it, the truth is, the only thing we can do to solve the nationís fiscal problem is to tackle government spending head on ó and particularly, spending on health care programs, which appear to take off like a fighter jet on every chart available that details current trends in federal spending.

    And yet McConnell has been one of the loudest voices opposing the AHA, as you pointed out, and one of the ones complaining about "Medicare 'cuts'" to anyone who'd listen.

    Of course it's true that if you spend less on something then your budget line item for that thing is smaller. But (especially in terms of healthcare) the cost isn't measured exclusively in dollars: there's the reduced health of the populace, the increase in preventable deaths, the rise of infections disease and other quantifiable detriments. The budget for a given item may be shrunk, but the costs (in lost productivity, lost wages - and hence tax revenue, lower quality of life and other metrics) will be higher - and around for at least a generation.

    There's a cluelessness exhibited, either as evidence of blithe ignorance or proof of deliberate efforts to mislead the electorate, by the GOTea. One is reminded of the AbFab episode when Edina is forced to sell her Jaguar because it's too big and expensive to keep in London - and buys an Alfa Romeo Spyder because "it's absolutely the smallest car I could find, sweetie." Their stated goals are all too often completely voided by the decisions they make to achieve them.

    It would be amusing to watch their faces if the Democrats started finding "waste and fraud" in the Pentagon budget items - and began using those as the first requirements for budget cutting. In terms of the seequestration such cuts could even be made to look like spending increases just like the domestic spending the GOTea has been raging against.

  • Josef K on January 03, 2013 1:34 PM:

    But Obama needs to publicly and if possible instantly remind Mitch McConnell that heís not in a position to issue unconditional edicts about the scope of negotiations that havenít even begun.

    So much for working with Congress to get stuff done, eh? I think we should all be prepared hitting the debt ceiling.

    Wonder what affect this will have on any reform measure Senator Reid is going to present.

  • c u n d gulag on January 03, 2013 1:37 PM:

    Ok, Mitch "Yertle, The Anti-gay, Gay Turtle" McConnell, we Liberals will be MORE than happy to accomodate you, and not to raise any more taxes on your riches pals!

    We'll tell ya what, Yertle - after you Republicans pay the country back for not paying attention to the lead-up to 9/11, the two Bush wars and occupations, the tax give-away to the richest, the gift to Big Pharma, and the damage from almost a decade of deregulation - culminating in the Lesser Depression, and subsequent loss of jobs, housing values, 401K and other retirement fund devaluation, and pension-robbing by your corporate pals, and the need for President Obama and the Democrats to INcrease the deficit to save the feckin' countries, and possibly the world's economy, we'll be happy to forego any additional taxes on the wealthiest among us.

    Deal?

    I think that's about 16 Trillion dollars you owe us!
    Hmm...
    Why, that's about what our national deficit is right now!
    What a koinky-dink, eh?

  • Mimikatz on January 03, 2013 1:38 PM:

    First, I suggest we dub this one the fiscal BLUFF. That really encapsulates the issue.

    Second, the WH should ignore McConnell and go about their business, proposing legislation on gun safety and immigration, challenging the House to adopt a budget that details their preferred spending cuts, and not engaging on the debt issue at all. Just go forward assuming that if government functions there will be minimal problems. Don't rise to the bait. Except that Obama should also devel a proposal for tax reform that has appealing loophole-reducing measures and maybe some reduction in overall corporate taxes in return for repealing special breaks. Everything possible to divert the discussion. Then when McConnell and Boehner scream about Medicare and SS spending cuts in return for raising the debt ceiling they look ridiculous.

    The template here is the SS privatization fight in 2005, when the Dems just refused to put forward a counter to Bush's privatization plan and it finally fell of it's own weight.

  • martin on January 03, 2013 1:38 PM:

    Unless Harry and the Dems do something significant right now about the filibuster, McConnell is adsolutely in a position to issue unconditional edicts.

  • Anonymous on January 03, 2013 1:56 PM:

    So Mr McConnell let's get this straight. Your side lowered taxes, started two wars, and increaesed medicare costs and thaaaat was supposed to make the economy better? It didn't work. In fact it made things much worse. Now we're supposed to listen to you? Your either stark raving mad or the american people are.

  • Just Dropping By on January 03, 2013 1:59 PM:

    The platinum coin option that Yglesias pushes seems more legally plausible than the "14th Amendment option." Issuing the coins is completely within the bounds of an already-passed statute and the Supreme Court would have to bend over backwards to find it improper, whereas the 14th Amendment option requires getting the Court to accept a novel reading of the 14th Amendment that I suspect even many of the liberal judges would find problematic. (For that matter, it would probably also be a better argument to contend that when Congress passes spending resolutions after imposing a debt limit, the later-enacted spending resolution works an implied repeal of the debt limit.)

  • T2 on January 03, 2013 2:22 PM:

    @ anonymous, for the GOP, history stopped the day George W. Bush left office and everything that happened before that day was erased as if it never happened, including 9//11 (remember- there were no terror attacks under Bush!). In the dictionary, under Republican, the definition is "no responsibility".

  • Epicurus on January 03, 2013 2:23 PM:

    But of course, President McConnell should have the option to stifle any and all debate, shouldn't he? I distinctly remember that part of the Constitution...not. Please ignore any future blathering from "The Turtle." He really doesn't know what he's talking about.

  • alex on January 03, 2013 2:23 PM:

    Two ways to fight republican obstructionism: #1 If republicans will not raise debt ceiling, Obama should vow to selectively furlough federal employees, infrasturcture projects etc in Republican districts. #2 Filibuster reform will incapicitate Senate republicans.

  • rrk1 on January 03, 2013 2:50 PM:

    There are basically two changes that will if not stop the obstructionism seriously curtail it:

    1) meaningful fillibuster reform, and

    2) Obama needs to grow a spine and a pair, and give up on his windmill-tilting need for an ever elusive 'grand bipartisan bargain'.

    If spending cuts have to be made as part of any deal, then they should be concentrated in the red states, and particularly the districts of the craziest. Only hardball is going to work, and Obama is clueless about hardball. The Rethugs play it instinctively. Obama brings a ping-pong paddle to a knife fight.

  • Doug on January 03, 2013 2:59 PM:

    I know there's been a bit of chatter about Senator Reid and whatever form filibster reform will take (see Lunch Buffet), but this makes me wonder if Reid hasn't basically made his decision and this is McConnell daring the Majority Leader to go ahead?
    Which could mean this is McConnell's attempt to prove that he is TOO (insert foot stamping here) still a force to be reckoned with!

  • biggerbox on January 03, 2013 3:35 PM:

    The White House should immediately issue the following response: "Predictably, the Senate Majority Leader is already claiming that the cuts on the middle class isnít enough. I have news for him: the moment that he and virtually every elected Republican in Washington signed off on the terms of the current arrangement, it was the last word on domestic spending cuts. That debate is over. Now the conversation turns to cutting spending on the wasteful defense programs, corporate subsidies, and tax breaks for the wealthy that are the real source of the nationís fiscal imbalance. And the upcoming debate on the debt limit is the perfect time to have that discussion."

    I have found that often, when confronted with a screaming baby, mirroring the screaming behavior right back at it will shock it into silence. It seems appropriate to try it here.

  • Josef K on January 03, 2013 3:40 PM:

    From biggerbox at 3:35 PM:

    I have found that often, when confronted with a screaming baby, mirroring the screaming behavior right back at it will shock it into silence. It seems appropriate to try it here.

    It certainly works with my four year-old daughter, whose emotional maturity seems decades more advanced than the Republican conference right now.

  • Justin on January 03, 2013 3:48 PM:

    He's right. Taxes shouldn't be touched in any bill to increase the debt ceiling. Neither should spending. Let's move on from this silly brinkmanship.

  • jjm on January 03, 2013 3:57 PM:

    "I'll huff and I'll puff till I blow your house down!" the big bad wolf boasted...

    McConnell's impotent threats are simply becoming pathetic.

  • exlibra on January 03, 2013 4:03 PM:

    "Predictably, the Senate Majority Leader is already claiming [...] -- biggerbox, @3:35PM

    *Majority* leader??? Bite your tongue, box.

  • boatboy_srq on January 03, 2013 4:16 PM:

    @biggerbox:

    Ditto exlibra.

    "Predictably, the Senate Minority Leader, who seems to believe he is actually Majority Leader, is already claiming that the cuts on the middle class arenít enough."

    FIFY.

  • Ron Byers on January 03, 2013 6:43 PM:

    McConnell is pissed because the President said he isn't going to negotiate the debt ceiling. He should be, its as though our senatorial hostage taker-in-chief has been told to go f*** himself.

  • James M on January 03, 2013 9:28 PM:

    Professor Krugman has said as much, but if BO gives in on the debt ceiling his presidency is essentially over. This is, as I believe some pundits have alluded to, fundamentally a constitutional crisis: whether a determined minority group consisting of reactionary radicals will be allowed to hijack the legislative process.

    If the Tea Party is really crazy enough to refuse to raise the debt limit, I say let them do it. Sure, it will cause great pain and suffering to pretty much everyone, but it would also effectively destroy the current GOP. Hopefully, a more rational conservative party could then rise from the ashes.

    If you think I am being irresponsible, consider the alternative. One unnecessary crisis after another will be manufactured on a 3 to 6 month cycle for the remainder of BO's term, each carrying the threat of economic ruin. The only way to prevent this would then be to systematically dismantle the social safety network. We have to make a stand while we still can!

  • Yellowdog on January 04, 2013 12:20 AM:

    Let us hope that Ashley Judd is a good candidate... Or someone who can make McTurtle pay after he gets primaried. He will essentially be running on deep Medicare cuts while counting on the votes of a lot of people who depend on Medicare... Kentucky will have to decide whether his views make sense. Ashley Judd may have enough charisma to help voters see that they don't.