Pros and Cons for Obama in McConnell's Debt Ceiling Deal

What looks like a Republican giveaway—or a white flag—isn't necessarily so.

By + More

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's "backup" plan (or white flag, if you ask conservative GOP activists) to raise the nation's debt limit without a broad deal has its pros and cons. Whether it has a chance to pass with his fellow Republicans is another story. The proposal would allow the president to raise the limit by $2.5 trillion in increments over the next year, allowing Congress the chance to stop them only through protest votes that would have to survive a presidential veto. But for Democrats, it could mean merely putting off debate on controversial cuts until closer to the 2012 election, when GOP allegations of big spending could hurt their chances at the polls. For now, the White House is keeping the idea at arm's length, waiting to see whether House Republicans could get behind what is being characterized as a potential GOP flinch in the game of debt-ceiling chicken. But as the talks continue to spiral out of control, especially after the flare-up Wednesday night between President Obama and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, it may soon be the only option out there. If it ever does become a serious offer, should Obama take the deal?

[Vote now: Will there be a debt ceiling deal?]

DEAL! No Concessions on Policy

The proposal would require some procedural votes, but it's all political theater. If you take away the bells and whistles, McConnell's plan is really a "clean" debt ceiling vote, without any deficit reduction measures attached. Republicans would be forced to go back to their constituencies empty-handed, without the pound of flesh they had hoped to extract from the Obama administration through the debt ceiling standoff. Seen through that lens, McConnell's plan would be an undeniable victory for Obama, and would likely energize liberals depressed that the president yields too easily to Republican demands.

DEAL! Lets Obama Live to Cut Another Day

But if Congress and the White House can pass a debt ceiling deal without any major spending cuts, when will they ever cut spending? It's a good question. The debt ceiling, although a relic of a vastly different time in history, is still a unique opportunity to force Democrats and Republicans to come together and look at America's long-term fiscal future. This debate hasn't gotten bogged down by the social issues that have derailed budget battles in the past. But it's not the only opportunity. Democrats and Republicans will stand off again this year over the 2012 budget. If Obama is serious about wanting to get the government's fiscal house in order, he'll have other chances.

NO DEAL! When will deficit reduction happen?

True, as noted earlier, there would be other chances to cut the deficit. But this debt ceiling standoff, with its focus on long-term savings, may be the last, best chance for a true debt reduction measure. Obama seems to be at his strongest and most confident when he acts as an adult broker willing to deal fairly with both sides. Some type of debt reduction measure with Republicans would help him gain some ground with voters on troublesome fiscal issues. And, if he somehow manages to pull off the grand bargain he's been looking for, it could help him cement his presidential legacy.