Top Democrats: McConnell's proposal is now our Plan B

If they’re serious, i.e. this isn’t some form of kabuki, then they’re awfully, awfully stupid to be chattering about it. No matter how much they sweeten the deal, the more the plan reeks of Democratic approval, the harder it’ll be to get through the House.

“Some version of it is definitely the plan B if these larger discussions don’t pan out,” a senior Senate Democratic aide tells me.

Democrats see McConnell’s proposal as a key opening, largely because it constitutes an acknowledgment on McConnell’s part that the debt ceiling must be lifted — a display of urgency that from the point of view of Dems has been alarmingly lacking in other Republicans.

“We are relieved that at least someone on the GOP side says that if nothing else happens, the debt ceiling still needs to be lifted,” the aide continues. “Here you have McConnell siding with Democrats on the urgency of the situation.”

There is, in fact, a sweetener:

The plan, which is being hatched by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), would ensure that over $1.5 trillion in cuts over ten years be passed into law. It would also grant President Obama the authority to extend the debt ceiling through the 2012 election season while requiring him to propose — but allowing him to ultimately veto — cuts beyond those initial $1.5 trillion.

Additionally, the deal would create a new “deficit commission” comprised solely of lawmakers who would be tasked with finding additional savings in the budget. The commission’s recommendations would be given automatic, amendment-free votes in both chambers of Congress.

Why, that sounds a lot like Cantor’s idea for a short-term deal involving $1.5 trillion in cuts — with the important caveat that this wouldn’t be a short-term deal. McConnell’s plan would get Obama through the election on the debt-ceiling issue, albeit at the price of him taking greater ownership of it by kinda sorta unilaterally raising the ceiling himself. Is that good enough for Boehner and the House leadership, who vowed that any debt-ceiling hike would be dollar-for-dollar? $1.5 trillion in cuts would, per their pledge, limit the debt-ceiling increase to $1.5 trillion, which means we’d have to deal with this again before election day. Unless the amount of cuts can be increased, the pledge would have to be quietly dropped. Is Boehner prepared for that? Maybe!

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, just told reporters that he thought Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s so-called “last resort” option for resolving the debt ceiling stalemate should be left on the table.

“Mitch described it as a ‘last ditch,'” Boehner said, adding that whatever people think of it at the moment, if no deal is reached, “it might look pretty good a few weeks from now.”

Paul Ryan, in an interview with Guy Benson, also conspicuously refused to rule out McConnell’s plan while acknowledging that he’s “not a fan.” Maybe it’s the House GOP leadership, in fact, that’s engaged in a little kabuki here: The more they treat McConnell’s plan, which tea partiers hate, as a viable alternative, the more the caucus might be willing to accept a deal with the Democrats, be it Cantor’s short-term debt-ceiling hike in exchange for $1.5 trillion in cuts or some other compromise.

As for McConnell’s new partner in the Senate, he’s sure of only two things. One: McConnell’s plan is constitutional, so shut up, wingnuts. And two: He gets really uncomfortable when you ask him whether tax hikes are more important to Democrats than avoiding a default. Exit quotation: “I am not going to get into a bunch of hypotheticals.”