During the most recent Republican debt-ceiling crisis, the White House used a provocative word grounded in fact: the GOP was demanding a “ransom” before they’d allow the federal government to pay its bills. In an odd twist, now it’s Republicans trying to flip the script.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sat down with National Review’s Robert Costa last week, and condemned Democratic demands as part of a “grand bargain.” In recent years, the Obama White House has told Republicans that he’d consider entitlement “reforms” if they’d consider new tax revenue as part of a broader compromise. McConnell told Costa, “[W]e don’t think we should have to pay a ransom to do what the country needs.”
Yesterday, McConnell used the same line.
President Barack Obama was holding up a bipartisan fiscal deal by demanding a “ransom” of $1 trillion in new tax revenues, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell charged on Sunday.“Unfortunately, every discussion we’ve had about this in the past has had what I would call a ransom attached to it: $1 trillion in new tax revenues,” the Kentucky Republican said on CBS’s “Face The Nation.”
This reinforces fears that Republican leaders quite literally don’t understand what a compromise is.
If I go to my favorite sandwich shop for lunch, and then try to take the sandwich without paying, the guy behind the counter wouldn’t be too happy. “Let’s complete our transaction,” he’d say. “I’ll give you your lunch and you give me $5.” It’d be kind of odd if I replied, “Why are you demanding a ransom for my sandwich?”
But that’s effectively McConnell’s argument. Obama is prepared to complete the transaction: Democrats will make a concession on entitlements if Republicans make a comparable concession on revenue. The Senate Minority Leader’s argument is that the president is being unreasonable – to insist on a compromise is to insist on a “ransom.”
What is McConnell prepared to trade in exchange for entitlement cuts? By all appearances, nothing, since he’s under the impression that entitlement cuts are necessary anyway.
For one thing, they’re not necessary, at least not right now. For another, demanding something in exchange for nothing usually isn’t a recipe for bipartisan cooperation.
That said, McConnell’s argument seems to be winning some folks over. The editorial board of the Washington Post this morning compares Democrats’ reluctance to cut social-insurance programs to Republicans’ reluctance to raise the debt ceiling.
That’s a deeply unserious argument, but it’s music to McConnell’s ears.