Mitch McConnell Cites a GOP Tax Hike Deal to Say GOP Won’t Hike Taxes

Mitch McConnell has a selective memory of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill’s deal on Social Security.

Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Man of the hour Robert Costa sits down with Mitch McConnell, and most of the early reaction to their chat seems to focus on the Senate minority leader’s precognition. When did he realize the shutdown strategy would end in capitulation? July! Good on him, and good on Rand Paul for slinking out of the picture and allowing McConnell to operate without new pressure on his right.

What I take from the interview is that the coming budget conference is beginning where the last round died.

When the speaker has had conversations with the president over the last three years, they have always insisted on a $1 trillion tax increase — revenue scored by the Congressional Budget Office. That’s their demand for any major entitlement reform. But we don’t think we should have to pay a ransom to do what the country needs. And until you adjust the eligibility for entitlements to fit the demographics of our country, you can’t ever solve the problem. You can’t tax your way out of it.

The “ransom” is tax increases, now—excellent shifting of the frames. McConnell is suggesting, as Paul Ryan suggests, that the only tax reforms worth discussing are revenue-neutral or “dynamically scored,” meaning tax cuts that can be interpreted as possible economy-growers. The argument is sort of undermined when McConnell says this.

Take the decision by Reagan and Tip O’Neill to raise the age of Social Security; we never went back and revisited it, and it saved Social Security for a generation. 

Wait—that’s not all that happened in the Reagan/O’Neill deal! Their compromise raised the retirement age, yes, but it also raised taxes. It moved up the schedule for employer/employee tax hikes, and it made up to half of Social Security benefits taxable as income. That was the point—Democrats had to swallow entitlement cuts, while Republicans (in those pre-Norquist days) had to swallow tax increases.

While I was writing this post, I got a queasy rush of déjà vu. A quick search reminds me that McConnell said the exact same thing about Reagan/O’Neill in May of 2011, before the Budget Control Act passed.