Mitch McConnell Surrenders

The Kentucky Crying Turtle, Mitch McConnellIf you watched The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell last night, you saw President Obama's masterful political genius in the debt ceiling negotiations. The President has rope-a-doped the Republicans in a position that it's Speaker Boehner who's had to admit that not raising the debt ceiling is not an option. By insisting on a $4 trillion debt reduction package with about $1 trillion in revenue increases (by, say, eliminating corporate jet tax breaks and making the wealthy pay a fair share after 2013), the President exposed that the GOP is not serious about deficit reduction.

As the President continued to tighten that rope, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell became today's white-flag-waver in chief. He proposed giving the President the power to raise the debt ceiling, without needing Congressional approval, if he accompanies the requests to raise the debt limit with equivalent spending reductions. And, he is expiring that authority at the end of President Obama's first term.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., offered a new plan to allow the president to demand up to $2.4 trillion in new borrowing authority by the summer of next year in three separate submissions.

Those increases in the so-called debt limit would automatically take effect unless both the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic Senate enact legislation specifically disapproving it.

Obama would be able to veto such legislation. [...]

The Republican plan would require that Obama submit spending cuts along with his borrowing requests. But unlike the increase in the debt limit, they wouldn't automatically take effect.
Oh, and by the way, House Speaker John Boehner's office sounded pretty sympathetic to this position, and even "raising the debt limit at all is an existential question but I did it six times in the last 10 years anyway" Cantor thinks it could be helpful. Not that the President is ready to loose the knot yet, but if Congress does do this, it is potentially monumental, and I am going to explain why.

Let's digest what this means first. With it, Congress would cede complete power to the president, only for the next year and a half, to raise the debt limit. Since the President would be able to veto any Congressional resolution of disapproval, if one were to even pass - which is an impossibility in and of itself given the Democratic Senate - it leaves Republicans with zero leverage to force anything in terms of cuts. Obama could easily propose deeper cuts than Republicans would like in Defense (contracting), propose to reduce spending by let's say, closing Gitmo, and by eliminating direct cash subsidies to Agribusiness, for example - which would be a spending cut, literally speaking, and not eliminating any tax loopholes.

Congress would of course in turn have veto power over the cuts the President might propose, as those would not automatically take effect (but the debt ceiling will). But as Lawrence O'Donnell reminded us last night, the President's (and Democrats') initial negotiating position was....wait for it, wait for it.... a clean increase in the debt limit without coupling it with anything else at all. McConnell basically just surrendered that position, even if we assume that all the spending cuts proposed by the President will fail to pass Congress, thanks to Republican obstructionism. Once again, the President got a Republican to propose exactly what he wanted in the first place.

There is also added benefits of this. Even if Obama accepts McConnell's "solution," there is no reason to think that the President is giving up on reforming the tax code, as well as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. But the difference is that now, he will get to do it free from the threat of a default, and thus much more on his/Democratic terms (such as doing more payment related reforms in Medicare and Medicaid, and perhaps even raising other dedicated revenue for it, and social security reform with above-poverty minimum benefits and raising the cap in exchange for small COLA calculation adjustments for the upper income earning seniors). The President is already making the Republicans look like morons on their own turf, with the debt limit vote hanging over. What do you think will happen when he is free from that restraint, and takes the case to the American people that we need to close corporate tax havens and make the Hedge Fund managers pay their fair share so that our social safety net and public investments can be sustained?

McConnell didn't just fold like a cheap wallet, he just proposed giving President Obama more credibility, more leverage and a sounder footing to do all of those reforms.

Yeah, that's exactly what's making the Tea Party heads explode as well. That is why conservatives are hopping mad. They know exactly which way things are headed. They know who's winning, and it ain't their guys. They know, as well as Boehner, McConnell, Cantor and the rest of the Republican blowhards on Capitol Hill. They know the President is kicking their proverbial butts, and eating their proverbial lunch. Aww, poor bastards.