Will: Tea Party Should Support McConnell Plan

by Andrew Stiles

In his column today, George Will makes the case for why the Tea Party should get behind Mitch McConnell’s debt ceiling proposal.

The Tea Party, which he calls “the most welcome political development since the Goldwater insurgency in 1964,” is an impatient bunch, Will argues. “If Washington’s trajectory could be turned as quickly as Tea Partyers wish — while conservatives control only one-half of one of the two political branches — their movement would not be as necessary as it is,” he writes. “Fortunately, not much patience is required.”

By that he means that in just 16 moths, the Tea Party can score a critical victory by helping to elect a Republican president who will not, presumably, continue Obama’s march to massive government and insolvency. But to achieve that goal, Will cautions, “Tea Partyers must not help the incumbent achieve his objectives in the debt-ceiling dispute.”

He writes:

One of those is to strike a splashy bargain involving big — but hypothetical and nonbinding — numbers. This would enable President Obama to run away from his record and run as a debt-reducing centrist. Another Obama objective is tax increases that shatter Republican unity and dampen the Tea Party’s election-turning intensity. Because he probably can achieve neither, he might want market chaos in coming days so Republicans henceforth can be cast as complicit in the wretched recovery that is his administration’s ugly signature.

Here is where McConnell’s plan could provide a way forward for Republicans, Will argues. McConnell’s plan “would not enhance presidential power,” rather it would “put a harness on the president, tightly confining him within a one-time process.” Furthermore:

Congressional primacy would be further enhanced by McConnell’s proposed special congressional committee. It would not be another commission; it would have no administration members or other outsiders. Its proposals would be unamendable, and would be voted on this year.

This is essentially the argument McConnell himself made when he unveiled his plan. He explained that it was an ideal strategy in pursuit of an ultimate goal of making Obama a one-term president (and making Mitch McConnell Senate Majority Leader). In short, the plan would avoid default by raising the debt ceiling, but force Obama to assume all of the political responsibility for doing so, and subsequently deny him the political benefit of a “grand bargain.”

I wouldn’t be all that surprised (okay, maybe a bit surprised) if Obama ends up signing off on a deal that looks pretty favorable for Republicans. The political environment, having been drastically altered by the Tea Party in 2010, simply demands that Obama cede some ground. And it’s not like he genuinely fears a revolt from liberal Democrats, not after he explains to them that striking a deal that lets him run as a “debt-reducing centrist” will dramatically boost his chances to win reelection, after which he’ll push for major tax increases to fund Stimulus 2.0, etc. Consider this line from a Politico story:

. . . White House officials have privately told Hill Democrats that this is “the transformational moment” for Obama, and an agreement with Boehner and McConnell would send a clear signal that he is changing the way politics is done in Washington.

Republicans may ultimately have to choose between accepting some moderate policy gains — exchange for giving Obama his “transformational moment.” Either way, the Tea Party is unlikely to support any form of compromise. To many, the House-passed “Cut, Cap and Balance” legislation is the compromise.

But if they really want to effect change, Will reasons, conservatives should bite the bullet and proceed with the McConnell plan, and exercise a little patience along the way, at least until 2013 and the inauguration of President Not-Obama. It’s an argument — “We’ll get ’em next time!” — that the Tea Party loathes, but one that could start to resonate with some House conservatives nervous about the prospect of a credit downgrade, even though they have been fairly adamant that McConnell’s plan is going nowhere, even if it includes as much as $2.5 trillion in spending cuts (over ten years) and no tax increases.

Meanwhile, in the Capitol on Friday, McConnell hosted a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) to discuss a way forward in the Senate. A House GOP leadership aide says the McConnell plan remains “a very, very, very last resort,” but it’s hard to see how a riotous revolt would not ensue if Boehner were to bring it up for a vote. On his way out of a morning conference meeting, House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) told reporters: “There was a lot of talk of how much we don’t like the senators sticking their nose in and screwing things up.”

Whatever the end result turns out to be, something has to give. And soon. Boehner told members Friday that a vote on a debt-reduction deal could come as early as next Wednesday, and Reid has said he would need “seven to eight days” to bring the measure to a vote in the Senate, which would bring us right up to the August 2 deadline. “We are going to get a result,” McConnell told reporters Friday. “We are not going to default.”

Will is certainly right that one of Obama’s objectives is to “shatter Republican unity and dampen the Tea Party’s election-turning intensity.” But at this rate, he might not even have to raise taxes in order to accomplish it. (See here for more on the GOP civil war that could lie ahead).