For hours, nobody in Washington knew what to make of this idea. Some Democratic aides, bruised by McConnell's past acts of cunning, smelled a trap. White House spokesman Jay Carney left the idea on the table but said that Obama would continue to pursue a grand deal on the debt and deficits. Most conservatives, on and off the Hill, reacted angrily. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) tweeted "Don't know what in the world McConnell in the Senate is thinking. Wow. Stupid idea."
Grover Norquist took it pretty easy on McConnelll -- but with good reason. McConnell's plan may not shrink the government, but it means his "pledge," and his goal of no tax hikes, remain inviolate.
But GOP leadership -- including House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) -- understood what the Wall Street Journal recognized, but few others did: A fiscal crisis is much too hefty a price for the party and the country to pay, even if it's to purchase the holy grails of conservatism.
In that sense, yesterday's development undermined the basic vision of the conservative movement: that decoupling taxes and spending would cause revenue and outlay arrows to diverge; and that when faced with the resulting unsustainable debt load, the country's representatives, pushed by powerful interest groups, would keep the tax rates and scotch social programs. Choose the corporate state over the entitlement state.
That didn't happen.
President Obama could use the next three weeks -- the window before the government is expected to default -- to highlight that failure and press once and for all for an end to the GOP's anti-tax orthodoxy. What's unclear now is whether Democrats will capitalize on this moment of weakness for the GOP and its leaders, or squirm out through the same escape hatch right behind them.
Congressional leaders will convene at the White House again on Wednesday afternoon, presumably to keep working toward a deal. We shall see.