McConnell's fiscal cliff deal sparks praise, ire and an 'opportunity'


by Joe Arnold

Posted on January 2, 2013 at 6:14 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 2 at 6:44 PM

(WHAS11 Political Blog) -- In brokering a deal with Vice-President Joe Biden to steer the nation away from the "fiscal cliff's" massive tax increases and budget cuts, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell displayed unparalleled savvy and influence in Washington, yet at the risk of alienating his fiscal conservative base back home.

"I think it's odd when our Congress makes decisions at two o'clock in the morning," said Jonah Sage of Louisville. 

"I think at some point, someone is going to have to stand up and say, 'Hey.  We can't spend more than we bring in," Sage continued.  "How high do want taxes to go?  We're going to have to make fundamental changes to how we operate."

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, McConnell agreed, explaining that the cliffhanger deal offers an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to mount "a serious effort to reduce Washington’s out-of-control spending."

"That’s a debate the American people want. It’s the debate we’ll have next. And it’s a debate Republicans are ready for," McConnell said.

"We have an immediate opportunity to act: the debt ceiling. Washington’s credit card has reached its limit again, and the Senate majority must act on legislation early in February—rather than waiting until the last minute, abdicating responsibility and hoping someone else will step in once again to craft a last-minute solution for them," Mcconnell continued.  "Once the Senate passes bipartisan legislation, we can conference with the House on a solution. But this time the entire Senate must have an opportunity to act.”

The bipartisan agreement won McConnell praise from one of his harshest local critics.

"I compliment Sen. McConnell, which I rarely do, because they basically decided to deal with the things that were doable," said U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY), "and that's always the sign of intelligent government if not necessarily the, again, the most desirable process."

McConnell's end game, however, may have been lost on the talk radio audience in his hometown of Louisville.

"John Boehner caved on everything with the help of Mitch McConnell let's not forget," said WHAS radio host Mandy Connell on her Wednesday morning call-in show.

A litany of disillusioned callers expressed frustration with McConnell's role in the legislation.

"A one to 41 ratio, one dollar of maybe spending cuts to $41 in tax increases, that's not negotiating," added 'Bob,' "That's bending over and taking it, if you know what I mean.

"I think Mitch McConnell, I always kind of stood up for him," said 'Dan,' "but I'm a Republican and I think think next time I'm going to vote him out.  We need to get more people in there like Rand Paul."

Paul, Kentucky's junior U.S. Senator, was one of five Republicans to vote against the deal in the U.S. Senate.

Yet, national conservative voices suggest that McConnell pulled off another shrewd move in his storied  career.

“Fume at Speaker Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell all you want," wrote Jim Geraghty of the National Review.  "But here's the problem: The chance to gain leverage in these negotiations was on Election Day, and the GOP came up with bubkes that day. Sequestration and the expiration of all of the Bush tax cuts presented an awful status quo to begin with, and there was really no better alternative that would get A) passed in a Senate controlled by Harry Reid and B) signed by President Obama.”

Even tax crusader Grover Norquist of Americans For Tax Reform saw a silver lining.

"When Dems wake up they will realize they just made most of the Bush tax cuts permanent and lost their leverage for the next 4 yrs,” Norquist tweeted after the House approved the measure.

Norquist added that because the Bush tax cuts lapsed at midnight, January 1, every Republican who voted for the Senate bill actually voted to cut taxes and kept their anti-tax pledge.

Using similar reasoning, McConnell can point to several effects of his bargain on Kentucky:

•    Without action, taxes would have been raised on every taxpayer in Kentucky.
•    More than 99% of Kentucky taxpayers do not see an income tax increase under the terms.
•    The deal makes permanent the capital gains, dividends, and death tax policy that Republicans were unable to achieve under a GOP President, House, and Senate.
•    McConnell's deal repeals the Class Act, a long-term care entitlement that was included in the Affordable Care Act.
•    Ft. Campbell and Ft. Knox are spared the sequester's defense funding reductions.