Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell tried Wednesday to tamp down conservative angst over his proposal to let President Barack Obama raise the debt ceiling — even as Democratic leaders and the White House praised him for offering it.
The Kentucky Republican warned on the “Laura Ingraham Show” that allowing a debt default to occur would “destroy” the GOP brand and help re-elect Obama, just as the 1995 government shutdown helped re-elect President Bill Clinton.
“They want to blame the economy on us, and the reason default is no better idea today than it was when Newt Gingrich tried it in 1995 is it destroys your brand, and [it] would give the president an opportunity to blame Republicans for a bad economy. … I refuse to help Barack Obama get re-elected by marching Republicans into a position where we have co-ownership of a bad economy,” McConnell said.
He warned that as lawmakers press up against the Aug. 2 deadline to raise the debt limit, the administration will send letters to 80 million Social Security recipients and to military families, “and they will all start attacking Members of Congress.”
But McConnell’s defense, which continued at a lunch with fellow Republicans, didn’t win over many conservatives, who consider his plan a near-total capitulation.
“Republicans were elected last November to get control of spending, borrowing and debt,” Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said. “The last thing we should do is make it easier to spend and borrow money.”
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said there was not much difference between voting to increase the debt limit directly and voting to give the president the authority to raise it, as McConnell’s plan would do.
Lee said it would be akin to a Member of Congress voting to give the president the authority to go to war while contending that he didn’t vote for the war itself.
And he said it saps conservatives of leverage on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. “No one would ever signal to a military opponent, if we don’t get what we want, we’re just going to retreat,” Lee said.
A GOP leadership aide said the political advantages of McConnell’s plan are obvious — they force Obama to repeatedly request more debt heading into the election and to publicly list cuts he would support, and the Democrats would have to vote to block disapproval resolutions.
“If you were to go down this route, the public would not be confused about who’s doing more spending,” another GOP leadership aide said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he understood McConnell’s plan had political appeal but that people — particularly House Republican freshmen — are looking for results.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, speaks with reporters in the Capitol after a speech on the Senate floor that accused the CIA of searching computers set up for Congressional staff for their research of interrogation programs.