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McConnell: “I refuse to… have co-ownership of a bad economy”

In case people were still surprised with Mitch McConnnell’s surrender plan, he came out and explained it in the bluntest terms possible. Basically, he can’t stomach a deal because it could help Obama’s re-election campaign.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday that his fallback plan for the debt-ceiling negotiations would prevent President Obama from blaming Republicans for the economic fallout from a default.

“If we go into default, [the president] will say that Republicans are making the economy worse … The president will have the bully pulpit to blame the Republicans for all of this destruction,” McConnell said, indicating that default would hand the reelection to Obama.

“I refuse to help Barack Obama get reelected by marching Republicans into a position where we have co-ownership of a bad economy,” McConnell said.

This is as true on the downside as it is on the upside. McConnell doesn’t want Republicans stuck with the responsibility for default. He also doesn’t want Republicans in a signing ceremony with the President on something – cutting spending – that he considers broadly popular. We’re so around the bend on this debt limit discussion that a leading Republican wants to abandon a long-sought Republican goal for decades because a Democratic President happens to agree with the goal. I don’t think you need any more evidence that Republicans don’t give a damn about the deficit one iota.

This has always been McConnell’s desire. He wants a clear choice between the parties. He probably doesn’t think an actual bipartisan deal would work, and may tarnish the idea of spending reductions. Or he knows enough economic theory to realize that spending cuts would get blamed if the economy tanked in the wake of the deal. I’m not a mind reader. What I know is what McConnell says out loud. He doesn’t want to take ownership of the economy. He thinks the election should be a referendum on Obama’s stewardship of the economy. Whether you agree with him that Obama alone, and not George W. Bush before him, has sole ownership of our painful economic state is immaterial.

Sam Stein has the full interview with McConnell on Laura Ingraham’s show. McConnell is a “heighten the contradictions” Yippie, after all. He wants a clear choice between the parties, and is apparently frustrated that Obama isn’t complying on that. So he’s taking the choice where he can get it, focusing on the paltry tax increases the President is asking for on a grand bargain, focusing on the economy.

But conservatives who don’t remember the 1995 government shutdown, which has clearly honed McConnell’s thinking on this, are not yet on board.

Republicans are divided. A source close to Senator Jim DeMint tells TWS that he is “opposed” to the McConnell plan. Orrin Hatch tweeted that the only plan he supports is “Cut, Cap and Balance.” Senator Ron Johnson declined to endorse the McConnell plan and offered a similar statement. “I will continue to focus on getting the Cut, Cap and Balance legislation passed – which does increase the debt ceiling but only contingent upon us actually fixing the problem.” Sources close to two other senators tell TWS their bosses oppose the plan.

As one might expect, the House Republican reaction to the McConnell plan was almost uniformly negative. “The rank-and-file were ripping him today,” says one House Republican. Although Boehner told Fox News Channel’s Bret Baier that he did not feel undercut by the McConnell proposal, other sources suggest he does. One Republican source tells TWS that House leadership “made it clear that it would be tough sledding in the House and among conservatives, but he wanted to float it anyway.” Asked repeatedly about the McConnell plan, House majority leader Eric Cantor praised the Senate leader and his resolve but noted that it was clear it had little to no chance to passing the House.

So again, this is not over. But in the absence of an alternative, McConnell’s plan may be the only one left on the shelf. And Republicans can go back to telling the story that Obama wrecked the economy, when they passed up a golden opportunity to enact their agenda, which they say is the cure.

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David Dayen

David Dayen