What's Mitch McConnell's brilliance? Apparently, it's that he can pack a lot of dishonesty into just a few words, and that he understands how he won't be held accountable for that, in any significant way.
What I’m saying is we ought to attach something significant for the country to [President Obama's] request to increase the debt ceiling…it’s irresponsible not to use the discussion — the request of the President to raise the debt ceiling — to try to accomplish something for the country.
That's right: once again, the Senate minority leader insisted congressional Republicans have to use the debt ceiling to extract concession. McConnell's brilliance is just how much dishonesty he can pack into so few words.
At the heart of McConnell's audacious bull is his reference to "the request of the President to raise the debt ceiling," in order to give the impression that a debt ceiling increase is a favor to President Obama. It's not and he knows it.
This is actually pretty simple. Congress sets revenue levels. Congress sets spending levels. That's how the system works, as laid out in the Constitution.
The Obama administration has to spend at the levels Congress sets. Obama can't just decide to spend more or less or tax more or less. The one quirk is that the Treasury Department technically has to get authorization from Congress to borrow if the spending levels Congress has set are above the revenue levels Congress has set. "The president's request" to raise the debt ceiling is essentially permission to do what Congress -- including McConnell -- has already legally and Constitutionally required the president to do.
McConnell is saying it would be "irresponsible" to allow the President to do what Congress already mandated that he do.
What's more, the failure to raise the debt ceiling really would be a disaster for the economy. Even the temporary suggestion that it might not happen was a huge blow in 2011. Raising the debt ceiling already is "something significant for the country" -- it prevents default. What do Republicans "get" if they raise the debt ceiling? The same thing everyone does: they get a functioning government and a functioning economy. To insist you need a "concession" in exchange for raising the debt ceiling suggests you prefer the alternative.
There's so much that's crazy about this, but there's some brilliance, as well.
The craziest thing is that Congress just passed a budget in January! And Congress sets tax rates, too, of course. President Obama is legally obligated to carry out what Congress has mandated in spending and taxation, so why is this supposed to be a favor to him?
If Congress didn't want our debt to increase, Congress should have raised taxes and/or cut spending. But since they didn't, why are they now threatening not to pay the bills they themselves authorized?
It's like running up your credit card debt and then refusing to pay the bill, with the reasoning being that you shouldn't have bought so much stuff - and that you didn't want to take a part-time job, either. Republicans like McConnell have flatly ruled out increasing taxes, especially on the rich,... but that doesn't give them the right to refuse to pay their bills.
Almost as crazy as this is the fact that Republicans are going to raise the debt ceiling, and everyone knows it. Even the Democrats - as timid as they tend to be - are confident of that. Heck, we just went through this last fall, and it was politically disastrous for the GOP. Even they're not dumb enough to commit suicide in this particular way. (They'd rather commit suicide slowly, gradually.)
President Obama knows this. The Democrats in Congress know this. Everyone knows this, including the Republicans themselves. So why is McConnell even saying something this stupid?
Well, that's where his brilliance comes in - or his desperation. McConnell, you see, is facing a contested Republican primary from the right in his re-election bid this year. Yes, as crazy as Republican leaders have been, they're not crazy enough for today's GOP base.
Today's Republican Party is in pretty much the same situation as the leaders of the French Revolution in the late 18th Century. When fanatics gain control, you just can't be fanatic enough to suit them. In France, the whole country was running to the left so fast that even leftist leaders couldn't keep up (and lost their heads for it - literally).
Today's GOP - created by deliberately wooing white racists in their notorious 'Southern strategy' - has become very similar. Republican leaders thought to use the crazies for their own advantage (mainly, to give tax cuts to the rich). But the inmates have taken control of the asylum. Now, no matter how far right you are, it's never enough for their lunatic base.
Please note that Mitch McConnell is telling House Republicans that they should attach restrictions to raising the debt ceiling, but he's in the Senate. It's not going to affect him in the slightest, because the Democrats have a majority in the Senate, so his 'no' vote will be meaningless. House Republicans, on the other hand, are going to be damned if they do and even more damned if they don't.
Well, as I say, McConnell knows they're going to raise the debt ceiling. Everyone in Washington knows that. But this kind of posturing will be helpful for him politically - not in the general election, but in the Republican primary. (This kind of posturing might actually hurt him in the general election, but probably not much. It's Kentucky, after all.)
And many of his constituents probably don't have a clue about this stuff. As this article concludes, "Mitch McConnell thinks we're stupid enough to let him get away with this." Well, I wouldn't say "stupid," but I do think that most of his constituents are ignorant enough to let him get away with it.
After all, they've been electing and re-electing Mitch McConnell to the Senate since 1984.