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The McConnell Plan's Pitfalls

12:00 AM, Jul 13, 2011 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Now, the White House has a third option: the McConnell plan. Or, as it’s sure to be known soon, “the bipartisan McConnell plan.” Why would the White House, which originally pushed for a clean debt limit vote, however unrealistic that might have been, agree to real entitlement reform when there is an alternative that allows them to raise the debt ceiling without doing so? Democrats have made clear their willingness to misrepresent Republican plans to reform Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security and their plans to campaign on those mischaracterizations for the next 17 months. And with various Democratic leaders having tried to take entitlements off the table – Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi – what are the chances they’ll make those hard choices without the threat of severe economic disruption? Slim.

Not surprisingly, the proposal has received a warm reception from Democratic leaders. Harry Reid said Tuesday that he was open to considering it. White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the McConnell proposal means “defaulting on America’s past due bills is not an option.” And two sources familiar with the discussions at the White House Tuesday afternoon said that Nancy Pelosi offered McConnell “congratulations.”

Republicans are divided. A source close to Senator Jim DeMint tells TWS that he is “opposed” to the McConnell plan. Orrin Hatch tweeted that the only plan he supports is “Cut, Cap and Balance.” Senator Ron Johnson declined to endorse the McConnell plan and offered a similar statement. “I will continue to focus on getting the Cut, Cap and Balance legislation passed – which does increase the debt ceiling but only contingent upon us actually fixing the problem.” Sources close to two other senators tell TWS their bosses oppose the plan.

As one might expect, the House Republican reaction to the McConnell plan was almost uniformly negative. “The rank-and-file were ripping him today,” says one House Republican. Although Boehner told Fox News Channel’s Bret Baier that he did not feel undercut by the McConnell proposal, other sources suggest he does. One Republican source tells TWS that House leadership “made it clear that it would be tough sledding in the House and among conservatives, but he wanted to float it anyway.” Asked repeatedly about the McConnell plan, House majority leader Eric Cantor praised the Senate leader and his resolve but noted that it was clear it had little to no chance to passing the House.

McConnell’s proposal ensures that Senate Republicans would not be blamed for any of the economic disruptions that would accompany a default – or those caused by the White House in advance of a default. But it also virtually ensures that House Republicans would be.

McConnell seemed to understand this at his press conference Tuesday. A reporter asked: “Why would you agree, why would Republicans in the House agree to essentially raising the debt ceiling without getting spending cuts?”

He responded: “What we’re not going to be a party to – in the Senate, I’m pretty confident – is default.” The “we” in his response does not mean “Republicans,” but “in the Senate.”

But what if, somehow, the McConnell plan does get through the House? Would that be the end of the world? Not really. It would mean Republicans passed on an opportunity to reduce the debt down to $24 trillion by 2020 instead of $26 trillion (or, theoretically, $22 trillion with tax hikes). That’s not much of a difference if you don’t actually reform the programs and put them on a path to sustainability. If we drown in debt, it doesn’t much matter whether the lake is 24 feet or 26 feet deep.

On the other hand, it seems early to cave. As one Republican skeptical of the McConnell plan put it: “If we give up three weeks early just because the president said ‘Social Security checks,’ (which we all knew was coming six months ago), why did voters elect us in the first place? New GOP slogan: ‘Fighting for limited government is too hard, but if you keep electing us, we’ll keep promising to really, truly, finally fight for limited government when we control all three branches with big majorities.’”

“Oh wait, that was the old slogan.”

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