Congress might be running out of time to raise the $14.3 trillion national debt ceiling, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plan is the biggest disappointment since “Soul Plane.”
The other options blew too. Last month, Joe Biden-led talks hatched a plan for $2 trillion in spending cuts, a few hundred billion in tax hikes and a $2.4 trillion debt-limit increase. But those talks broke down over Rep. Eric Cantor’s refusal to agree to new taxes. Then Cantor countered with a $2.4 trillion debt-limit increase plus dollar-for-dollar spending cuts. The White House shot that down. President Obama himself got involved in the next round, floating a $2.5 trillion debt-limit increase in exchange for $1.5 trillion in cuts. That plan fell short when Democrats balked at the cuts. But McConnell’s plan — giving the president power to raise the debt ceiling three times between now and next summer without a tax hike but without spending cuts either — is perplexing. Even with the $1.5 trillion in guaranteed budget cuts that some Democrats have suggested adding, it’s based on more bad judgment calls than Snookie’s latest Sudoku.
For one thing, it exacerbates the problem — not the debt itself but the spending that got us here. It took the federal government from 1791 to 1981 to run up $1 trillion in debt. But the debt has tripled in the past decade, rising $4 trillion under Obama alone. If it got much bigger, Stedman would date it. The $1.5 trillion in cuts over the next decade that could be part of McConnell’s plan sound like a lot, but the deficit this year alone will be about $1.5 trillion. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The federal government has over $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities, making it impossible to ever get the debt paid off. Even the latest addendum to McConnell’s plan — a bipartisan entitlement commission with a guaranteed congressional vote on its recommendations — has no chance of solving that problem. Who’d vote to cut entitlement spending six months before Election Day?
Fred Barnes writes at The Weekly Standard that Obama “outmaneuvered” Republicans on this issue, and there’s something to that. The government is in no danger of imminent default, per MarketWatch.com’s Kurt Brouwer, because it brings in enough revenue to cover the $15-20 billion per month interest on the debt. And Reuters has reported that the Treasury Department might not be able to stop its computers from sending out three million checks worth $49 billion on August 3, even if it wants to, unless it reprograms them completely. But the White House is predicting Carmageddon — more or less without a GOP rebuttal. Obama told CBS News last Tuesday that Social Security checks might get held up next month if Congress doesn’t reach a deal. If he can scare GOP leaders into backing McConnell’s scheme, he can claim in his re-election bid that he protected the public from potential raids on Medicare and Social Security.
Mitch McConnell’s plan is like “The Paul Reiser Show”: impossible to justify and painful to watch unfold. There has to be a better one out there.
Dorian Davis is a former MTV HITS star turned libertarian writer. He’s been published in Business Week, NY Daily News, XY & more. He’s an NYU graduate and National Journalism Center alum. He teaches journalism at Marymount Manhattan College.