So this afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made an explicit proposal to raise the debt ceiling three times before the next election in an almost automatic fashion. The proposal separates the entire question of the credit-worthiness of the United States—the threat to which is the disaster the president and Tim Geithner have been warning about—from the partisan struggles over spending cuts and tax hikes. (Jen Rubin lays out how it works here.) In almost fiendishly clever fashion, McConnell is calling the president’s bluff. He is agreeing that the immediate crisis must be resolved, and so is taking steps to resolve it. And he is saying that the parties are just too far apart on questions of core principle to make a bigger deal.
McConnell’s ploy has the Left spluttering—”This proposal from McConnell is DC at its absolute worst. Screw solving problems; let’s see how to blame the other guy for my fecklessness,” writes one liberal think-tanker on Twitter. And it has some of the Right, notably Erick Erickson of Red State, screaming like banshees over McConnell’s “capitulation”—Erickson believing, apparently, that conservatives can somehow compel Obama and the Democrats, who hold the the majority in the Senate, to do their bidding.
The problem with the outrage is this: There is no consensus on deep spending cuts or tax increases. If it were otherwise, there would be a deal tonight.
Obama won’t say what spending cuts he will support; Republicans won’t say what form of tax increases they might accept. In other words, no deal is possible. The notion of using the threat of the debt ceiling to compel the other side to make a deal—originally a conservative conceit before Obama decided to use it for his own ends as well—was too clever by half. People can scream all they like, but some form of the McConnell proposal is what is almost certainly going to be the way we go. The 2012 election is the venue where this will all get sorted out.