The following post is by Joe Conason, National Memo’s editor-in-chief.
Nothing becomes Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, like his silence after meeting with President Obama to negotiate an increase in the debt ceiling – especially when compared with his belligerent remarks on the Senate floor just before he went to the White House on Monday afternoon.
“A little later today, I’ll sit down with President Obama to discuss his request to raise the nation’s debt ceiling,” he said brusquely. “And when I do, I intend to make a request of my own: I intend to ask the President what he’s prepared to do, outside of raising taxes, about the massive deficits and debt that have accumulated on his watch. I will tell him what Republicans are looking for in this debate: to cut spending now, cap runaway spending in the future, save our entitlements from bankruptcy, and to get our economy moving.”
Of course, McConnell is a pork-chopping politician of the old school, who has long since developed the bad habit of using taxpayer funds to glorify himself over many years. There are at least as many federal, state and local projects in Kentucky named after him as there are in New York bearing the name of Rep. Charles Rangel – in fact, there is even a Mitch McConnell “leadership institute” at the University of Louisville much like the City University center that got Rangel in so much trouble. The notion that he is now a protector of the public purse is amusing indeed.
But now McConnell’s office put out no statement after his encounter with Obama, which is encouraging not just because he isn’t saying anything – but because he must now keep quiet if the Republicans are finally going to make a deal.
It was always hard to imagine that McConnell — as faithful a servant of big business and big finance as exists in Washington – would permit the kind of economic disruption that would ensue if the United States Treasury failed to fulfill its obligations. He pretends to agree with the craziness and brinksmanship that has seized his party, but like John Boehner, the Speaker of the House neutered by his own Tea Party faction, McConnell knows that a deal must be done.
As a Senator whose service goes back to the Clinton and Reagan eras, he also knows that tax increases don’t necessarily damage the economy. He was among the minority when the Clinton tax increases passed on a strictly partisan vote, in the spring of 1993, amid Republican warnings of an economic disaster. What followed, as McConnell and his colleagues now seem unable to remember, were not only an unprecedented period of growth but the first balanced federal budget in three decades. Rather than constantly pandering to McConnell’s phony pleas for thrift, Obama should remind him just how ridiculously wrong the Republicans were back then.