Before launching into a diatribe against the Environmental Protection Agency and accusing the Obama administration of turning America into a second-rate European nation, Sen. Mitch McConnell was making a lot of sense.
The Senate minority leader kicked off his remarks to the Kentucky Coal Association in Lexington last week with a sober assessment of the political challenges of taming the debt.
"The most rabid 'stop-spending-now' people in America don't want you to touch" Medicare and Social Security, he said. (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid make up about half of the federal budget.)
He also offered a hopeful view that the "moment has come" for an historic agreement on deficit reduction by early August when Congress must vote on raising the debt ceiling.
"If the adults take over, and we do what needs to be done for the country and we do it together, people will say 'I wasn't crazy about that, but if both sides agreed it must be the right thing for the country.'"
Insisting that the best time to get things done is under "divided government," McConnell cited several examples: tax and Social Security reform by Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill, welfare reform by Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress and achieving a federal budget surplus during the second Clinton term.
Negotiations are underway between the White House, represented by Vice President Joe Biden, and Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
The goal is to have a plan ready in time for an early August vote on raising the debt ceiling. Congress has raised the debt ceiling 11 times since 1996, but some Tea Party-inspired Republicans, especially in the GOP-controlled House, are threatening to let the government go into default unless Democrats meet their demands for spending cuts and a makeover of Medicare.
Republicans have vowed to reject any tax increases. But a serious discussion of balancing the budget has to include the revenue side.
There's no way to trim the $14.3 trillion debt without bringing in more revenue by at least ending the Bush-era tax cuts and returning tax levels to, say, those of the late 1990s when the government was running a surplus and more Americans than ever were working.
Asked after his speech how you could have an "adult discussion" and leave out tax increases, McConnell trotted out that old supply side voodo, insisting that increased economic activity would increase government revenues. (Note to Mitch: Check with David Stockman, Reagan's budget director, on how that worked.)
McConnell seems sincerely excited about the prospect of accomplishing something as opposed to obstructing. But all those bipartisan successes he cites required both sides to give. Negotiation, by definition, is built on compromise.
As the debt ceiling deadline nears, the Republican leader should rise above partisan talking points and lead.