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Congressional Republicans are getting credit for temporarily abandoning their insistence on holding America’s economy hostage, but their latest proposal is more shrewd politics borne out of political necessity than serious policy. Americans haven’t been buying the GOP spin that it’s OK not to pay our bills, like a deadbeat, shutting down the government and potentially endangering the global economy in order to force cuts to programs like Social Security and Medicare while protecting corporate welfare in the form of tax cuts for oil companies.

mitch mcconnell

As the latest NBC news/Wall Street Journal poll indicated, 49 percent of Americans view the GOP negatively, compared to only 26 percent positively; additionally, a plurality says it will blame the GOP if talks fail. According to the latest CBS News/New York Times poll, 47 percent of Americans blame congressional Republicans for the difficulties of the “fiscal cliff” deal than they do President Obama (31 percent); only 30 percent of Republicans approve of the job congressional Republicans are doing, with 65 percent opposed, versus 59 percent of Democrats who approve of the job of congressional Democrats are doing, with 31 percent opposed. Pressure has mounted on the GOP as concerns about America defaulting on its debt have raised growing concerns from Wall Street to Main Street.

Backs to the wall, Republicans came up with the bold idea to kick the can down the road for another three months. The GOP is attempting to force a pivot from the debt-ceiling conversation they are losing to a revised legislative sequence they think they can win: handling the budget first, then the sequester, rather than incur further damage with threats to shut down the government. As they also tried (and failed) to do with the fiscal-cliff talks, the proposal attempts to shift the blame for inaction from the Republican-controlled House to the Democratically-controlled Senate.
To make the proposal sound serious to audiences outside the Beltway, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced a “no budget, no pay” plan as part of the deal, requiring that no member of the of the House or Senate get paid if a budget isn’t passed by the new April 15 deadline. Yet, given that the 27th Amendment to the Constitution makes clear that any changes in pay for members of the House of Representatives or Senate cannot take effect until after the next election in 2014, it’s a fairly hollow promise.

For his part, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also attempted to be seen as at least trying to work with the president while trying to pivot to a conversation about spending instead of shutdowns, calling on Obama in an op-ed for The Hill last week to talk about spending and the debt in his inaugural address. The president wisely chose instead to focus on the strength of our union and the shared values enshrined in his oath.

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As a statement from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and comments from Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) have made clear over the last few days, Democrats aren’t taking the bait. Refusing to let the GOP off the hook, the clear message sent back indicates that any budget blueprint from the Senate will include revenues and tax reforms that will call on the wealthiest Americans, oil-and-gas companies and multinational corporations to do their part. Which means that congressional Republicans will again have to decide in the context of the budget conversation whether they are willing to be seen as defending oil companies with record profits over the concerns of the middle class.

karen finney

Karen Finney
The Hill

Monday, 21 January 2013