WASHINGTON - Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he wanted changes to safety-net programs that focus on altering eligibility requirements, and suggested that if Democrats agreed both sides could move closer to a budget deal to avert the fiscal cliff.As Greg Sargent points out, this isn't much of an offer. Instead, it's what McConnell wants.
In an interview in his Capitol Hill office, Mr. McConnell (R., Ky.) said if the White House agrees to changes such as higher Medicare premiums for the wealthy, an increase in the Medicare eligibility age and a slowing of cost-of-living increases for programs like Social Security, Republicans would agree to include more tax revenue in the deal, though not from higher tax rates.
But there's a big problem with McConnell's formulation: he completely ignores the need to extend middle-class tax cuts, the single biggest individual component of the fiscal cliff. That's understandable: it's where the Republicans are on the weakest ground. So weak, in fact, that the Senate has already passed legislation extending those tax cuts. Not even Mitch McConnell could block it.
When it comes to the fiscal cliff, the big question right now isn't about Medicare or Medicaid or Social Security: it's about those middle-class tax cuts. And given that they've already passed the Senate, Mitch McConnell's position (or lack thereof) on the tax cuts is completely irrelevant, at least until next year.
If House Republicans manage to block middle-class tax cuts into 2013, the Senate will once again become relevant because it will need to pass the tax cuts again. And if we get to that point, you can bet that President Obama will start applying public pressure on Senate Republicans, not just House Republicans. But Mitch McConnell says he's not scared. Why not?
He was dismissive of Mr. Obama's plan to travel the country building support for his position, starting with a visit to Pennsylvania Friday.Okay, fine, let's say three-quarters of McConnell's Republican colleagues couldn't be swayed by President Obama putting public pressure on them. Three-quarters of 45 is 34. So McConnell is proud that he's got 34 senators who are unpersuadable. Congratulations, Mitch. You've got one-third of the Senate solidly in your corner. Guess what, though: that's not enough for a filibuster, let alone a majority. But hey, there's a silver lining: with 34 votes, Mitch McConnell can block any treaty he wants.
"Three-quarters of our members come from states he didn't carry," Mr. McConnell said. "Public opinion in those states probably is not helpful to him."