Posted on January 1, 2013
Mitch McConnell is the big winner in the fiscal cliff showdown.
After Speaker John Boehner folded his cards last month, McConnell was left as the only deal-maker who could possibly close a deal.
He picked the person he wanted to negotiate (Joe Biden), he picked the best timing to conclude the most favorable deal (New Years Day), and he picked the strategy that he most wanted to complete.
McConnell’s approach was wildly different than John Boehner’s approach.
Boehner wanted a grand bargain with Obama. He wanted a package that included both spending cuts and tax provisions.
McConnell, on the other hand, shied away from a grand bargain.
He has been consistent. He wanted to do taxes separately from spending cuts.
To McConnell, the President had the advantage on taxes, and by mixing up the two issues, the President would be most able to press his advantage.
So the Senate Minority leader waited patiently for the Boehner-Obama talks to collapse (which they inevitably would, because Obama is a terrible negotiator), and then, when given the chance, he put his plan in place.
He elbowed out Harry Reid of the negotiating room in favor of the Vice President, who McConnell sees as a much easier mark.
And once he got Biden to himself, he took the VP to the cleaners.
Let’s not forget, people, that taxes were going to go up on everybody. By making 98 percent of the tax cuts permanent and by including a permanent fix for the death tax provisions, McConnell won the argument on many levels.
And let’s face it, the tax increases on rich people (those now defined as making more than $450,000) were inevitable. There was no getting around that fact. But by bumping the threshold up, McConnell did a special service for his constituents and for people who live in Red States. If you are making $450,000 and you live in Red State, you are actually very wealthy. Not so much if you live in New York City.
With the tax provisions off the table, McConnell can now turn to the spending side of the equation. Obama can no longer distract the attention of the voters by mixing up spending cuts with his class warfare rhetoric on taxes. For the Senate Minority leader, this is a big strategic victory.
McConnell believes that he has real leverage on the debt ceiling to get a real spending cut deal. That, combined with the pressure that comes from sequestration means that Republicans should be able to get more favorable deal out of the White House (and Joe Biden).
McConnell is in re-election mode and he is campaigning as if he will have a challenge from the right. He probably needs to worry, because it is awfully hard to talk sense to the hard right of the party. But McConnell has once again shown his value as a hard-nosed negotiator and as leader who knows how to get things done for the country.