The Corner

McConnell: Geithner ‘Unserious,’ Reid ‘Throwing a Bomb into the Senate Chamber’

In a phone interview this afternoon, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell chuckled and said, “We had a completely unserious visit from the secretary of treasury today.” He declined to provide details except to comment, “It was a completely unserious proposal that was actually worse than where we were two weeks ago. It looks like the campaign continues.”

He dismissed the notion that $1.2 trillion — the midpoint between the $800 billion produced by ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and the president’s latest demand of $1.6 trillion — will likely be the final level of revenue in any negotiation. “The only thing he could guarantee,” he said, speaking of the president, “would be the roughly $800 billion in new taxes that would happen automatically at the end of the year. He could get that by doing nothing, not the higher figure you were talking about.”

On spending cuts, he called changes in entitlement eligibility — things like increases in the retirement age, changes in the CPI, means-testing in Medicare — “the most important thing that could be achieved.” He believes those are “the only credible spending reductions” because levels of discretionary spending are set every year. As an example, he cites “Reagan and Tip O’Neill raising the age of Social Security 25 years ago. We have never touched it, never gone back to it.”

He defends capping deductions as the best option for getting revenue in the current circumstances, although he and his members would prefer not to raise taxes at all. “It avoids raising taxes,” he says, “on a million small businesses and thereby impacting 25 percent of the American work force at a time when we have incredibly tepid growth.”

Are the entitlement-eligibility changes his price for any deal? “There’s a nexus,” he says, “between my willingness to raise revenue and their willingness to make serious entitlement-eligibility reforms.” Does he worry that Republicans will be attacked for refusing to raise taxes on the rich without entitlement cuts? “They’ve talked about our reluctance to raise taxes on high-income people incessantly for a generation.” The main point is that he wants to lock in entitlement changes right away. He wants to “do something other than set up some process where we promise to do something later and it doesn’t happen.” He worries setting up another commission to debate entitlements will give the “AARP and the unions a whole year to beat everybody up so we don’t ever get an outcome.” He emphasizes, “We ought to do it now, right now.”

On the possibility of ending the filibuster, he says, “Harry Reid trying to throw a bomb into the Senate chamber is a curious way to try to set the stage for bringing both sides together to do something important for the country.” He thinks Democrats are “feeling their oats. They just can’t turn off the celebration.” He calls the potential filibuster gambit “breaking the rules to change the rules.” It is “a truly, truly radical thing,” and “not only is it stupid, it’s inflammatory.” 

Rich Lowry — Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: 

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