See James Pethokoukis’s new graph for a response to this. There should be plenty of revenue in August to cover entitlement checks and interest on the debt if Treasury has the legal authority to prioritize payments, which isn’t as clear as one would hope. Either way, the more voter angst O can create about default — and given the movement among independents, he’s doing a fine job — the more pressure there is on the GOP to make a deal and the more protected he’ll be politically if we hit X Day on August 2 without an agreement. Which, of course, is the point of McConnell’s gimmick today: If his bill were to pass, responsibility for keeping Social Security flowing coming would shift suddenly from those darned millionaire-hugging Republicans to the debt-loving Obama administration. You are willing to unilaterally order another $2 trillion in debt right before the election in order to keep grandma’s checks coming, aren’t you, champ?
If you’re looking for the case for and against the McConnell gambit, here’s Grover Norquist giving a thumbs up and Philip Klein giving a thumbs down. Norquist’s argument is straightforward: This debt-ceiling showdown has always been about politics for Obama, so let him choke on the politics of it. Force him to finally finally finally put his spending plan in writing after he and his party have ducked the issue for months. In fact, according to Roll Call, McConnell’s only question at yesterday’s debt-ceiling meeting was to ask how much the Biden plan would save in discretionary spending next year. The answer: Two measly billion. It’s time for Democrats to get serious, says Norquist, and this will force them. Au contraire, says Klein, there are lots of ways Obama can gin up phony savings to check the “deficit hawk” box for his campaign. Besides, he argues, the McConnell plan actually weakens the GOP’s ability to reach a real deal because O will read it as a sign of panic in the caucus and will press harder for concessions. I’m not so sure about that, though: To me it looks like a sign that McConnell and others in the caucus have more or less given up on making a deal, which strengthens the GOP’s hand insofar as Obama will either need to make new concessions to get them back to the table or start thinking about a Plan B like McConnell’s plan to avert a default.
I do think Klein was spot on with this post from April, though, about how the GOP promised the base too much in terms of what it could realistically achieve while sharing power with Democrats. For all the sturm and drang about the debt-ceiling deals under consideration, to my knowledge none of them — even the “grand bargain” — would actually reduce the debt over the next 10 years. Even the best-case scenario is merely a slower rate of growth. That’s not a serious solution, or even a half-solution, to such a cataclysmic problem, and yet it’s the very best we can do with the current occupants in Congress and the White House. We’ll have to shuffle the deck next year and hope for better; all McConnell’s doing is acknowledging the bleakness of the situation and trying to maximize the odds of a more favorable hand. Exit question: Given that McConnell’s bill would force Dems to own the debt hike, why would Reid allow it to pass the Senate without changes? And if it did, would Obama sign it or veto it?