Co-ownership

In mid-July, when it looked as if congressional Republicans were prepared to follow through on their threat to force a national default on purpose, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) presented a complicated procedural solution. The idea was ultimately rejected by his own party, but McConnell’s preliminary pitch to the right is worth revisiting.

Here’s what he said on a conservative radio talk show the day after presenting his plan:

“The president will have the bully pulpit to blame the Republicans for all of this destruction…. I refuse to help Barack Obama get re-elected by marching Republicans into a position where we have co-ownership of a bad economy.”

At the time, McConnell’s comments were refreshingly candid. His principal concerns weren’t the nation’s wellbeing or the health of the economy; the Senate Minority Leader was chiefly concerned about his party getting blamed for causing a recession.

I bring this up now because that same motivating factor — i.e., fear — hasn’t gone away. As the threat of another recession looms, Democrats will apparently be advancing a jobs agenda, starting with a big speech from President Obama in a few weeks. Naturally, Republicans will reflexively oppose any measure intended to help the economy at all. “No jobs, no way,” the GOP leaders will say. (This week, Speaker Boehner denounced the White House plan that does not yet exist.)

But look again at that McConnell quote: he “refuses” to allow Republicans to take “co-ownership of a bad economy.”

Guess what, Mitch? If Democrats are pushing a jobs agenda, while Republicans refuse to invest in infrastructure, refuse to extend the payroll tax break, refuse to extend unemployment benefits, and refuse to even consider any idea to lower unemployment, even the vaunted Conservative Message Machine will find it challenging to avoid “co-ownership” of the economy.

If, on the other hand, Republicans strike a deal with Democrats, and accept long-term debt reduction in exchange for a short-term economic boost, Congress’ approval rating will go up and the wildly unpopular GOP will look pretty good in the public’s eyes.

This won’t happen, of course, because Republicans’ hatred for the president outweighs literally every other consideration, even the standing of their own party, but if GOP leaders want to avoid “co-ownership” of a weak economy and improve their reputations on the nation’s most pressing issue, Obama’s outstretched hand will at least be an opportunity.