Last week, Jonathan noted one advantage Democrats have had so far in the debt ceiling debate: message unity. Republicans, on the other hand, were dealing with a constant flow of stories about GOP dissonance. Who was in charge of the party? Are the Tea Partiers or moderates calling the shots? The Democrats were happy to use the perception of a lack of discipline to erode the public’s faith in the GOP’s willingness to find solutions.
Today, however, I think Mitch McConnell found a way to turn it around. McConnell took to the floor today to urge Democrats to pass the House GOP’s “Cut, Cap, and Balance” bill, which would cut spending, cap federal spending limits at 18 percent of GDP, and enact a constitutional balanced budget amendment (BBA). The House was to vote on the measure today, despite threats from President Obama that he will veto the bill.
Conservative groups have been pushing a “Cut, Cap, and Balance” pledge to encourage lawmakers to commit to passing such a bill. FreedomWorks was among the first groups to sponsor the pledge. Last month Dean Clancy, FreedomWorks’ legislative counsel and vice president for health care policy, warned in an op-ed that without a BBA, “spending reductions could be easily undone, after the next election, in fact.”
Of course, the House would be voting on the measure with or without McConnell’s involvement, but the minority leader was happy to remind Democrats in the Senate that they claim to support the principles behind the legislation. Florida Democrat Bill Nelson, for example, has said this: “Over the years, I have supported a balanced budget amendment, spending caps, and spending cuts”—sounds an awful lot like what the GOP is bringing to the floor. McConnell has been making it clear that he prefers the “Cut, Cap, and Balance” approach. His Plan B, the proposal that would allow Obama to raise the debt ceiling without reforms but without Republican approval, is a last resort.
There’s no question the Tea Party is still relevant. This is their issue, and they represent a significant organic movement of Americans who oppose Obama’s approach to the debt. They remain utterly unconvinced the debt ceiling should be raised without structural reforms. The GOP is going to offer serious cuts and force Obama to veto it. They’ve also got McConnell’s plan in his back pocket, which forces the president to own the consequences of raising the debt ceiling without cuts. Both position the GOP to effectively push back against the claims they aren’t prepared to solve the problems of the debt ceiling and the debt itself.