The McConnell Plan Saving Face Without Saving Money

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) plan for dealing with the debt ceiling imbroglio has been described in detail — or at least as much detail as is possible when there’s no legislative language — just about everywhere (take a look at Jackie Calmes piece in the New York Times and Lori Montgomery’s/Paul Kane’s story in the Washington Post, for example) so there’s no need for me to repeat it here.

Two quick comments:

1. The proposal absolutely is a punt by the GOP. It may be a way of saving face by claiming that it forces the White House to take sole responsibility for the debt ceiling, but it eliminates virtually all likelihood that any of the the spending cuts congressional Republicans have been insisting are the prerequisite for a debt ceiling deal will be enacted. It’s hard to see how that will play well with the tea party base that isn’t likely to accept a procedural gimmick as a substitute for actual spending changes. If this proposal is adopted, it could easily lead to a dramatic reduction in voter turnout by the base or tea party folks running as third party candidates. Either possibility would spell disaster for the GOP in 2012.

2. McConnell is hanging his political hat on the fact that his proposal would require that the president send Congress a list of spending cuts equal to the increase in the government’s borrowing authority he’s requesting. The presumption, of course, is that the president will take significant political heat for specific proposals.

But this is easy to get around. What happens if, instead of sending Congress a specific list of proposed cuts, the White House simply sends a list of every program in the budget and says that the savings could come from any combination it — that is, Congress — chooses?

The answer is that the debt ceiling would be raised and nothing would have changed politically,

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