Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell challenged President Obama’s claim to support trillions in serious spending cuts as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling – cuts the president says show he’s ready to anger Democrats to get a deal.
In a sharply worded speech on the Senate floor today, McConnell labeled the Obama cuts a sham. “We all saw how it worked,” he said. “The administration leaked to the media, without any details, the idea that it was willing to go along with trillions in spending cuts.”
But the cuts are largely illusory, McConnell indicated. Obama hoped “the budget gimmicks and deferred decision-making they actually supported would have the appearance of serious belt-tightening.”
In truth, the effect would be “at most about a couple billion dollars in cuts up front with empty promises of more to follow.” McConnell called it “sleight of hand governing.” And Republicans “will not be party to something that claims to save trillions but leaves it to future generations to pick up the tabs and to future Congress to reverse it with a simple vote.”
Now, in the negotiations between Republicans and the White House, Obama “has presented us with three choices: smoke and mirrors, tax hikes, or default,” McConnell said. “Republicans choose none of the above. I hoped to do good, but I refuse to do harm.”
Here’s the full text of McConnell’s speech:
“For more than two years now, Republicans in Washington have stood united in the belief that America would never recover from the economic crisis that struck our nation three years ago, so long as some in Washington persisted in the mistaken belief that government had the cure.
“For most clear-eyed observers, that view has found its clearest vindication in the daily drumbeat of news about lost jobs, shuttered businesses, and slumping home values; and in the stories that each of us hears from our constituents about the economic hardships that they continue to face.
“If anyone was still looking for proof that the President’s economic policies have been a failure, they don’t have to look any further than the morning papers or their constituent mail.
“Indeed, the more the administration insisted on spending and debt as the solution to our problems, the worse those problems became, and the more Americans demanded that the status quo in Washington had to change. But the administration was slow to get the message.
“After an election that any honest observer saw as a repudiation of its policies, the White House continued to cling to its playbook. As concerns about our debt and deficits grew, the President presented a budget so unequal to the task that not a single Democrat voted for it, not one. And as the nation inched closer to a potential default, the President focused his attention elsewhere.
“Meanwhile, Republicans were offering detailed solutions to the approaching crisis. We offered detailed budgets of our own. We offered to work out a compromise that lowered the debt and protected entitlements from bankruptcy. And here’s what we got in return: silence.
“And that’s where the debate over the debt limit came in. If Democrats would not agree on their own to do something about their addiction to spending and debt, then we’d refuse to enable it.
“If they wanted our votes to increase the debt limit, then they would have to do something to restrain the size and scope of government first.
“For awhile there, there weren’t many takers. Democrats from the President on down insisted that we simply raise the debt limit and endorse the status quo on spending without any reforms.
“That changed a couple months ago when the President agreed to delegate bipartisan debt reduction talks to the Vice President. Then, a couple weeks ago, the President broke his own silence on the debt ceiling debate and got personally involved himself.
“Incredibly, for those of us who had been calling for action on this issue day in and day out for about two years, the President tried to put the burden on us. With the nation edging closer to the debt limit deadline, the President retreated behind the poll-tested rhetoric of class warfare.
“At a moment when we needed leadership the most, we got the least. The financial security of the nation was being gambled on the President's wager that he could convince people our problems would be solved if we just all agreed to take it out on the guy in the fancy house down the street.
“In my view, that was the saddest commentary on the status of the leadership at the White House.
“And I’m proud of the fact that Republicans refused to play along.
“We stood our ground. We know that what Americans need right now is for government to make job creation easier, not harder. And we said so. At a time when 14 million Americans are looking for work, we refused to support a tax hike. We supported jobs and economic growth instead.
“When Democrats saw that we wouldn’t budge, they proposed one last offer to craft a deal.
“They asked us to join them in another Washington effort to pull the wool over the eyes of the American people. They offered us the opportunity to participate in the kind of deliberate deception of the public that has given public service such a bad name in recent years.
“We all saw how it worked. The Administration carefully leaked to the media, without any details, the idea that it was willing to go along with trillions of dollars in spending cuts.
“The lack of detail concealed the fact that the savings they were supposedly willing to support was at best smoke and mirrors. The hope here was that the budget gimmicks and deferred decision-making they actually supported would have the appearance of serious belt-tightening.
“But the practical effect would have been at most about a couple of billion dollars in cuts up front with empty promises of more to follow. We've seen this kind of thing before. It’s just this kind of sleight of hand governing that’s put our nation more than $14 trillion in debt. And I will not associate myself with it. I refuse to join in an effort to fool the American people.
“Republicans have told the President we're not interested in business as usual in Washington. We mean it. We will not be party to something that claims to save trillions but leaves it to future generations to pick up the tab, and to future Congresses to reverse it with a simple vote.
“We will not pretend that a bad deal is a good one. Which brings me to a larger point.
“The suggestion has been made that this debate has hinged on the question of whether or not the two parties could find a solution to our economic problems without raising taxes.
“We could have done that without breaking a sweat.
“The truth is, the Democrats saw this debate as a unique opportunity to impose the type of tax hikes they want so badly but couldn’t pass even in a Democrat-controlled Senate last year.
“So let’s not be fooled by a false choice.
“This was not, in the end, a debate about whether taxes needed to be raised.
“It was a debate about the kind of government we want. This was a debate between those who believe that Washington doesn’t have enough money to spend, and those, like me, who believe that Washington has become too big, too expensive, and too burdensome already.
“If you think that the federal government isn’t big enough, then the only responsible thing to do is to support higher taxes. For those who are honest about that, I appreciate their candor.
“But for those of us who don’t think the federal government should be in charge of banks, the auto industry, the housing business, the student loan business, health care, and regulating everything else under the sun, we’re not about to further enable that model of government by shaking down the American people for more money at a time when they can least afford it.
“That’s what this debate is about. It’s about saying Washington has gotten too big, and that if it can’t afford its commitments, then it needs to find a way to cut back on them. But don’t demand that the American people pay more so Washington can make its bad habits permanent.
“I read an article yesterday that said two out of every ten dollars Americans spend right now comes from the federal government. Is this really the model we want?
“Mr. President, I have a lot of meetings with constituents and I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone say, `The problem with Washington is that they don’t have enough money to spend.’
“It was my hope that the two parties could reach a meaningful, bipartisan agreement. And I have to say, I was initially encouraged by the prospect of the bipartisan discussions led by the Vice President. Although I disagree with him on most issues, Vice President Biden is a man I've come to respect as a straight shooting negotiator. We found common ground last December to prevent a tax hike on the American people, and my hope was we could find a solution again.
“Sadly, these discussions started with shared goal of reducing the debt but quickly regressed to public a sideshow in which the price of admission became an insistence that we raise taxes on job creators and on millions of American families who do not have yachts or corporate jets.
“At a time when jobs are few and far between, that's not a price the American people can afford.
“So Republicans searched in good faith for common ground. But the goal posts just kept moving.
“We trudged on, hoping the administration would at some point realize that the crisis we face demands a clear change in direction, a departure from the government-driven policies of the past two years. But our hopes for a grand bargain eventually ran into the bitter reality that this Administration is just not interested in a meaningful and lasting solution to our mounting debt.
“It’s too committed to big government.
“We showed a willingness to sacrifice all along, even as we made it crystal clear from the outset that tax increases would not be a part of any agreement.
“It was their commitment to big government that stood in the way of a grand bargain.
“It was their determination to freeze the policies of the past two years in place, permanently.
“The American people don’t want that, and Republicans won’t be seduced into enabling it.
“An ideological commitment to big government has outweighed the White House’s commitment to find a meaningful compromise that does not damage our fragile economy in the process.
“Rather than find a way to bring government back to the people, the Administration has committed itself to protecting the size and scope of government at the cost of job creation, economic growth, and America’s status in the global economy.
“The tragedy is that we all know what’s necessary to solve the economic crises we face.
“The answer is to cut spending.
“It’s no secret how to solve our entitlement crisis either. Any one of the people involved in these discussions could write it out on the back of an envelope.
“But it’s also no secret that Democrats would rather demagogue any solution Republicans propose in next year’s election than join us in seriously reforming them, despite what some Democrats started to say once it became clear that Republicans wouldn’t agree to a plan that raises taxes.
“We all saw the news stories yesterday about how senior Democrats have been worried that reforming Medicare now would make it harder for them to campaign against Republicans later. Evidently, they’d rather save their own jobs than save these programs from insolvency.
“I truly believed we could get this done.
“I truly believed, perhaps naively, that this Administration would see the necessity of preserving Social Security and Medicare for future generations.
“In the end, it appears that the perceived electoral success of demagogueing a solution proved its undoing.
“Or perhaps it was just the ideological commitment to preserving the size of government by the most stridently liberal members of the other side.
“Whatever the reasons, it’s a tragic missed opportunity for the country.
“I hope the economists are wrong, and that our economy will continue to grow over the next year and a half to buy us time to tackle the problems we face. But after years of discussions and months of negotiations, I have little question that as long as this President is in the Oval Office, a real solution is unattainable.
“This was not an easy decision for me.
“From my first day as Republican Leader in the Senate, I have called on Presidents from both parties to work with Congress on real solutions to the problems we face. And for more than two years I have had conversations with the Administration about working together to accomplish something big for the country. On each occasion, I've been met initially with encouraging words that gradually give way to moving goal posts.
“In the end, they have always expressed a fundamental unwillingness to engage in a meaningful effort to reduce spending as means to rein in the debt.
“Despite our stagnant economy, and the dire warnings of economic and security experts that we cannot sustain our mounting debt or unfunded liabilities, this President has proven that he will do almost anything to protect the size and scope of Washington, D.C.'s burgeoning bureaucracy.
“Including to threaten the economic security of every American by backing us up to the edge of default.
“I have heard some on the other side of the aisle suggest that Republicans have put us in this position by refusing to accept what they call a balanced approach.
“My response is that if the American people have learned one thing over the past few years, it’s that they need to bring their decoder rings to any debate in Washington these days.
“When Democrats say investment, they mean government spending.
“When they say revenue, they mean higher taxes.
“And when they say shared sacrifice, they mean they want you to take the hit, not Washington.
“It starts with the so-called rich, with the owners of the corporate jets, but pretty soon it hits the family flying in coach. Eventually everyone gets fleeced.
“Well, Americans have had enough. They think it’s time Washington shares in the sacrifice.
“Republicans invited Democrats into these discussions about finding a solution to our problems, and while we approached them with clear, unwavering principles, we also brought an open mind.
“The record reflects that.
“I won’t betray the confidence of those who were willing to negotiate with us, but there can be no question by anyone involved in those discussions that Republicans were willing to make tough choices.
“Where do we go from here?
“Well, I was one of those who had long hoped we could do something big for the country. But in my view the President has presented us with three choices: smoke and mirrors, tax hikes, or default. Republicans choose none of the above. I hoped to do good; but I refuse to do harm.
“So Republicans will choose a path that actually reflects the will of the people — which is to do the responsible thing and ensure the government doesn’t default on its obligations.
“And to continue to press the administration to rein in Washington.
“Not to freeze it in place.
“That’s why I will continue to urge the President to rein in our deficits and debt in a way that puts the short and long-term health of our economy ahead of his personal vision of government.
“That’s what the American people want. That’s what Republicans will continue to insist on.
“Nothing less will solve the crises we face. Nothing less will do.”