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Monday, December 09, 2019

Will This Man Cut A Deal With Obama?

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 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 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.

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Republicans need the political press to do a lot of bad journalism in order to carry out their strategy of forcing through devastating spending cuts by leveraging the prospect of a calamitous default on U.S. debt. They need political journalists to produce wishy-washy “both sides” coverage that hides the party’s ultimate culpability and shields it from blame. And the latest coverage from The New York Times shows that their plan may already be working.

It shouldn’t be difficult to acknowledge that Republicans will be the ones at fault if the U.S. breaches the statutory limit on federal borrowing in June. Members of Congress of both parties routinely voted for clean debt limit hikes during Donald Trump’s presidency, which also saw record debt increases. But with Joe Biden in the White House, GOP leaders startedsaying last fall that they would require significant spending cuts – including to Social Security and Medicare – alongside further debt limit increases if their party won the House.

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