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July 15, 2011 8:00 AM All eyes turn to McConnell’s Plan B

By Steve Benen

After a tense discussion on Wednesday, White House and congressional leaders reconvened yesterday for another 80 minutes of talks. The negotiations were less confrontational — Eric Cantor literally didn’t say a word — but no more productive. By the end of the session, President Obama told lawmakers to talk to their caucuses and each other to “figure out what can get done” over the next 36 hours.

And at this point, “what can get done” appears to be Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) fall-back plan, which folks are now calling “Plan B.”

Putting aside, for now, the byzantine procedural steps, McConnell’s plan would empower Obama to raise the debt ceiling on his own, while suggesting possible budget cuts, which Congress could then ignore. This plan, unveiled Tuesday, has been described as “Clean McConnell” because it’s a stripped down, straightforward plan.

As of yesterday, McConnell was in direct talks with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and the two appeared to be working on details that would make the plan far less clean.

Details of the Senate approach were sketchy…. Reid confirmed, however, that discussions are focused on what McConnell has called “Plan B”: an elaborate legal framework to raise the debt limit by $2.5 trillion that would place the entire political burden for the unpopular move on Obama.

Unveiled earlier this week, McConnell’s plan included no mechanism to force the sharp spending cuts that Republicans have demanded in exchange for voting to lift the debt limit. But in a sign of the unusual political times, Democrats said they were reluctant to go along with that proposal and are pressing to add roughly $1.5 trillion in cuts to government agencies to the measure.

Now, it seemed odd that McConnell would unveil a plan Dems could support, only to have Harry Reid make it deliberately worse. As I understand it, though, Reid is principally concerned with crafting an agreement that can pass. The odds of “Clean McConnell” quickly passing the House are awful, so the Reid/McConnell discussions are about threading the partisan needle.

And what about Dems, who aren’t likely to approve of a Plan B that includes $1.5 trillion in cuts but nothing in the way of new revenue? Rumor has it the plan will include a few sweeteners for the left, including a possible extension of unemployment benefits, while shielding entitlements from the list of cuts.

It’s easy to imagine Plan B gathering some momentum very quickly today. Indeed, if there’s a solid bipartisan Senate majority on board with its details, the White House signals its grudging support, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) gives it his seal of approval (as appears likely), the plan would start to look like the life-preserver Washington has been waiting for.

But that doesn’t answer questions about the radicalized House Republican caucus, much of which doesn’t consider drowning to be dangerous. They’d get $1.5 trillion in cuts and the opportunity to whine incessantly about the Obama White House raising the debt limit, while saying they were able to kill “Clean McConnell,” which the GOP base finds offensive. Whether that’s enough will come into focus over the next 36 hours.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • c u n d gulag on July 15, 2011 8:09 AM:

    One sentence.

    That's all that's needed, as I understand it, for Congress to approve raising the debt limit.

    Unfortunately for many Republicans, and ALL Teabaggers, that one sentence is too complicated.

    They prefer pages and pages of cuts to the old, the sick, the poor and the disabled.

    And they'll signt THAT without even understanding it, let alone reading it (the reason is obvious).

    But let there be ONE tax increase, even, let's say, a small tax on platinum commodes with golden toilet lids on Lear jets, and they won't sign it, and let the nation crash into the ground.

    They'd rather rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.

  • DAY on July 15, 2011 8:13 AM:

    A gentle reminder:

    "My goal is to make Obama o one term president."

    Mr President, SHUN the frumious bandersnatch!

  • km on July 15, 2011 8:16 AM:

    Let's see. Extension of unemployment benefits got us a continuation of the Bush tax cuts and now extension of unemployment benefits is about to get us $1.5 trillion in cuts to social safety net programs.

    I'm beginning to think that extension of unemployment benefits is not worth the price.

  • FRP on July 15, 2011 8:16 AM:

    Obeisance to the mighty Tee Pee urs .

    Home Boys

    One last hill and we are home boys

    Then the Hearings on Rupert's Way
    Oh Rupert was a very nice girl
    But by gosh he had an awful lot to say
    Yes Rupert was a very nice girl
    But he got meaner from day to day
    One day I'm gonna spill my guts
    From getting such a bellyfull of vile
    But until that day he is a very nice girl
    That has way way way to much sway

  • bob h on July 15, 2011 8:19 AM:

    $1.5 trillion is probably an acceptably small fraction of the more than $40 trillion the government will spend over the next 10 years. Democrats should also assume that the Bush tax cuts will be allowed to expire, providing the revenue they want in time. I say take the $1.5 trillion in cuts.

    One wonders whether the discomfiture of some Republicans has to do with the message they are getting from Wall St. and other business leaders and the implications for funding in 2012.

  • Bob M on July 15, 2011 8:20 AM:

    The McConnell plan is childish in format and racist in tone, for the President has to ask Congress, "May I raise the debt ceiling?" and Congress gets to say "No" because he didn't say "Please". That doesn't sound too good, a bit like Obama being a black servant for old white grouches.

    Plus it's childish. It's Simon Says, a game for children. I stopped playing that when I was eight.

  • zandru on July 15, 2011 8:23 AM:

    "extension of unemployment benefits"

    Yeah - it's a 14 weeks extension. And the filthy rich get to continue their Bush tax cuts.

    I'm with Raul Grijalva on this one.

    "been sinsitse" - for too long, brother.

  • berttheclock on July 15, 2011 8:24 AM:

    @DAY, yes, that is his first goal, but, don't forget his second one which is to become Senate Majority Leader. Negotiating with Mitch is akin to trying to negotiate with a smart Timber Rattler from the hills of Kentucky.

  • bignose on July 15, 2011 8:29 AM:

    It's called Plan B because it's kinda like an abortion.

  • square1 on July 15, 2011 8:54 AM:

    Remember when Obama was "itching" to get in a fight over the Bush tax cuts? What a joke.

    A strong President would have told the GOP to fuck off months ago. A strong President would have used every opportunity to point out how many times these partisan hypocrites had voted for clean debt limit increases in the past. A strong President would have relentlessly pointed out that any increase in interest rates caused by the GOP's threats would add billions in interest to the debt and would be constantly refererring to that interest as "Adding Republican interest to the deficit".

    And now we have Reid negotiating with McConnell over how to get the GOP of the hook and let them blame Democrats for the entire debt?

    Reid and Obama should have channelled Michael Corleone months ago
    "You can have my answer now, if you like. My final offer is this: nothing."

  • Josef K on July 15, 2011 9:06 AM:

    I wonder how solid McConnell's count of his caucus is. One annonymous hold, and Plan B dies.

    Not that I'd weep any tears there, nor do I think for an instant default will be a good thing. The short-selling pirates on Wall Street might like it, but the rest of us have had enough recession and pain for a lifetime.

    This 'plan' may not even be enough to keep S&P or Moody's from downgrading the US anyway. I understand they're communicating a need to see an ambitious deficit reduction plan to be reassured. Another wasted effort, which may well lead us to default anyway.

    And if a second recession does hit? I'm not convinced President Obama has it in him to be FDR or offer a modern 'New Deal'. More's the pity.

  • berttheclock on July 15, 2011 9:10 AM:

    In Bastogne, Belguim, there is a very solid reason why there is a Nuts Museum instead of a "Plan B" Museum.

  • PQuincy on July 15, 2011 9:12 AM:

    It's all well and good to talk about "protecting entitlements" as though that were the key concession that Progressives want, but it's not that simple.

    Protecting entitlements, after all, means deep deep cuts in lots of other Federal discretionary funding, which has already been shrinking because of past deals and the endless growth of military spending. Meanwhile, there is some entitlement spending that is clearly wasteful -- Medicare Part D's banning of drug price negotiation, for example, or various details of Medicare Parts A and B, and so forth.

    To illustrate, in my area of interest, education, important programs supporting research are being devastated. Fulbright-Hayes grants, which allow research in countries around the world, were abruptly cancelled, recently. Teaching American History grants, which supported junior high and high school teachers to enrich their knowledge and teaching strategies, were cancelled (except for a few extensions of existing grants). These are not big programs, and one could argue that they are not 'essential spending'...fair enough.

    But assuming that all 'progressives' want is to protect entitlements, while allowing draconian cuts to these programs, and public broadcasting support, and the NEH and NEA and NIH and NSF, and all the other ways the Federal government supports learning and research and innovation, is way too simplistic.

    That's why revenue restoration must be on the table. I'm all for cuts in programs that simply subsidize private enterprise, but many discretionary programs that are not entitlements nevertheless deserve support.

  • FRP on July 15, 2011 9:17 AM:

    PQuincy

    Well Yeaah

    Almost like governing a state ...

  • June on July 15, 2011 10:31 AM:

    I don't like the "Clean McConnell" plan. To me, it appears to be the "McConnell Covers His Ass and Continues to Shift 100% of the Blame and Responsibility for the Massive Debt and Deficit Caused by the Republicans onto President Obama and the Democratic Party, which McConnell Then Plans to Exploit Through a Koch-Bros-Funded Massive Disinformation Campaign. Total win for McConnell!"

    Am I wrong?

  • kindness on July 15, 2011 10:33 AM:

    I sincerely hope this isn't how it goes. To me, this is nothing other than Republicans demanding Democrats hand over a large baseball bat to them so they can beat the Democrats with it during elections, and Democrats going along with it. The fact that people in the Democratic leadership don't see this scares the crap out of me.

    No, I'd prefer Obama took the 14th Amendment route and let Republicans try to impeach him.

  • BrianTH on July 15, 2011 12:18 PM:

    $1.5 trillion in discretionary spending cuts scheduled over ten years in exchange for more stimulus would be fine with me--in part because there is actually no way for this Congress to bind future Congresses to any such long-term spending deal anyway.

  • June on July 15, 2011 12:30 PM:

    Same here, @BrianTH. I do hope they tell McConnell, though, to go take a long walk off a short pier if he thinks he's going to get the GOP's carefully-orchestrated series of votes that will be exploited against Democrats (read: lied about) going into, and right up to, the 2012 election.

    Reading the various comments coming out of the Republican side of the aisle, it looks like they're just about ready to blink. I hope my beloved Dems don't give away the farm just before that happens.

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