Mitch McConnell: No Deal On Debt Ceiling Without Medicare Cuts
As Congress left town for the long weekend, the Senate Minority Leader threw a grenade into the budget negotiations.
With negotiations between the White House, Congressional Democrats, and the GOP apparently going nowhere at the moment, Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell is doubling down:
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says substantial Medicare cuts must be part of a spending and deficit cut package to get his support to raise the debt limit.
In a Capitol briefing with reporters Friday, McConnell declared affirmatively that unspecified Medicare cuts are on the table in bipartisan debt limit negotiations, led by Vice President Joe Biden, and he expects they’ll be part of the final deal. But in response to a question from TPM, he went further than he has in the past in laying down a marker on that issue. Medicare cuts must be part of that deal to get his support, he says — even if negotiators manage to find trillions of dollars in savings elsewhere, even if his other priorities are met.
“To get my vote, for me, it’s going to take short term [cuts, via spending caps]… Both medium and long-term, entitlements.,” McConnell said. “Medicare will be part of the solution.”
To clarify, I asked “[I]f [the Biden group] comes up with big cuts, trillions of dollars worth of cuts, but without substantially addressing Medicare, it won’t get your vote?”
“Correct,” McConnell said.
That’s not a filibuster threat, but it is a clear indication of what the GOP is demanding in private deliberations. McConnell repeatedly cited Bill Clinton and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, who this week acknowledged — as have many Democrats — that resolving the long-term deficit problem will require addressing Medicare. Hoyer in particular said that Medicare will be on the table in current debt negotiations, and with revenues off the table — that means they’re talking politically dangerous cuts. And for Republicans, that’s the point.
It may not be a filibuster threat, but if whatever comes out of these negotiations doesn’t get the support of the Senate Minority Leader, there’s virtually no chance that its going to make it through Congress. Harry Reid has already accused McConnell of holding the debt ceiling vote hostage:
Republicans are holding the United States’ credit hostage to ram through their plan to end Medicare. They are now saying they won’t accept any plan to reduce the deficit unless it also cuts Medicare. Voters have resoundingly rejected this ideological agenda. Republicans should drop it and move on.”
Is McConnell serious? Is the GOP really willing to stand its ground in the debt ceiling fight over something as unpopular as cutting Medicare?
Obviously, this is just a negotiating tactic at this point, but it should give us a pretty good idea of what’s going on behind the scenes in the budget negotiations and, quite honestly, it doesn’t bode well for how things will go over the next six weeks or so. The Democrats have been convinced by the victory in NY-26 that they can win by running against the Ryan Plan. Republicans don’t seem to think that NY-26 means anything, but they also haven’t done a very good public relations job of selling the Ryan Plan, or even the very idea that Medicare reform is necessary, to the public. At this point, it becomes a question of which side blinks first and, right now, both sides are sending signals suggesting that they aren’t going to blink at all.
Steve Benen notes:
The Senate’s leading Republican is saying, publicly and on the record, that without Medicare cuts, he’ll try to create an economic calamity on purpose.
The obvious question, at this point, is what kind of cuts McConnell has in mind, and whether (and how much) it would affect benefits for the elderly. Maybe the Senate Minority Leader doesn’t have the policy chops to talk about his ideas for reductions in any depth, or maybe he’s just saving it for the negotiating table.
Either way, it’s a fairly big deal.
Whichever side of the Medicare debate you’re on, you’ve got to admit that last observation is true.