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Mitch McConnell Promising More Showdowns And Shutdowns If The GOP Wins The Senate

Mitch-McConnell-Boehner

If there’s one thing that has epitomized the relationship between the White House and the Republican controlled House over the past three and a half years, it has been the extent to which showdown politics has become a regular part of governing in Washington. Less than six months after the GOP took control of the lower chamber of Congress, Washington was gripped by a showdown over the budget and the extension of the debt ceiling that lasted right up until the last minute and resulted in a deal that nobody really liked, but which supposedly would never really be implemented because of the “Super Committee” that would solve all our budget problems. When that Super Committee failed, we ended up with budget cuts that nobody really liked and which ended up being the catalyst for further showdowns. We also saw showdowns over the extension of the Bush Tax Cuts, the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and pretty much every high profile nomination requiring Senate confirmation. Most famously, of course, the showdown strategy resulted last year in a sixteen day long government shutdown that only seemed to happen because the GOP Leadership was out manuvered by a Tea Party that had decided that shutting down the government would be a good idea when every indication was saying otherwise.

As we approach the 2014 midterms with the prospect of the GOP winning control of the Senate well within the realm of possibility, speculation is naturally turning to what the GOP would do with its Senate majority during the last two years of the Obama Presidency.  In a new Politico interview, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell seems to be promising more showdowns, and perhaps even another shutdown:

In an extensive interview here, the typically reserved McConnell laid out his clearest thinking yet of how he would lead the Senate if Republicans gain control of the chamber. The emerging strategy: Attach riders to spending bills that would limit Obama policies on everything from the environment to health care, consider using an arcane budget tactic to circumvent Democratic filibusters and force the president to “move to the center” if he wants to get any new legislation through Congress.

In short, it’s a recipe for a confrontational end to the Obama presidency.

“We’re going to pass spending bills, and they’re going to have a lot of restrictions on the activities of the bureaucracy,” McConnell said in an interview aboard his campaign bus traveling through Western Kentucky coal country. “That’s something he won’t like, but that will be done. I guarantee it.”

McConnell is facing one of the toughest reelection battles of his three-decade Senate career. But Republicans are tantalizingly close to winning majorities in both houses of Congress for the first time in nearly a decade, and McConnell is making an aggressive pitch to voters here that they have the chance to pick the Senate’s next majority leader.

But there are clear risks for McConnell. First, he must defeat a spirited Democratic challenger in November, while hoping that the class of Senate candidates he helped recruit doesn’t blow the GOP’s best chance in years to retake the majority. And, perhaps just as challenging, McConnell would need to bring unity to a party that is struggling to overcome divisions between establishment stalwarts like himself and young GOP upstarts pushing for conservative purity.

One of the Senate’s leading GOP firebrands — Ted Cruz of Texas — isn’t committing to supporting McConnell as majority leader, signaling the challenges that could lie ahead.

“That will be a decision for the conference to make,” Cruz said in an interview, after pausing eight seconds, when asked if he’d back McConnell as majority leader. “I’m hopeful come January we have a Republican majority.”

Meanwhile, McConnell risks overreaching if he follows through with his pledge to attach policy riders to spending bills. If Obama refuses to accept such measures, a government shutdown could ensue. Republicans bore much of the blame for last year’s government shutdown, which was prompted by conservative tactics McConnell opposed, and their fortunes rebounded only when the administration bungled the rollout of Obamacare.

But asked about the potential that his approach could spark another shutdown, McConnell said it would be up to the president to decide whether to veto spending bills that would keep the government open.

Obama “needs to be challenged, and the best way to do that is through the funding process,” McConnell said. “He would have to make a decision on a given bill, whether there’s more in it that he likes than dislikes.”

None of this should come as a surprise, of course. Nobody expects that the GOP would suddenly decide to cooperate with the President on issues like immigration reform, or the budget, or anything else, if they gained control of the Senate. This is especially true given the fact that the beginning of the 114th Congress will coincide with the effective beginning of the 2016 Presidential election process. Both parties in Washington are going to be far more interested in using their time in Washington to shape the agenda for the upcoming election than actually getting anything done, and this will be especially true for a GOP seeking to gain back the White House after eight years of Democratic control. Additionally, political rhetoric like this is obviously something that will appeal to the base voters that Republicans want to get to the polls in November. From that perspective, then, making a promise like this does make some political sense for McConnell.

At the same time, though, I have to wonder if the GOP would actually be helping itself if it followed a strategy like this assuming that it does win the Senate in November. Polling in recent years has shown fairly consistently that the public has a very low opinion of Congress in general, and that one of the main reasons for that is the perception that members are unable to get anything done because they are pursuing partisan agendas rather than actually trying to solve problems. If Republicans spend the two years between 2014 and the Presidential election engaging in exactly that kind of strategy, then they face the prospect of turning voters off even more to the point that it does real harm to whomever ends up being the party’s nominee in 2016. Given the fact that the GOP is already facing the prospect of real Electoral College problems based on the results of Presidential elections going as far back as 1992, the prospect of annoying the voters that they need to attract in states like Virginia, Florida, and Ohio ought to concern them.

Republicans don’t see things this way, of course, and the McConnell strategy outlined in this interview is therefore likely to appeal to them. They believe that if they engage in the kind of strategy that McConnell talks about here by attaching controversial policy issues to budget bills and forcing the President to veto them, they will end up gaining support among the public.  On some of these issues, such as the Keystone XL Pipeline, they are correct to point out that the public does seem to support the GOP position. Additionally, the fact that the President’s job approval is quite low and unlikely to get any better over the next two years would seem to argue that picking fights with him over issues like this isn’t necessarily political risky.  Nonetheless, given three years worth of polling showing that the public isn’t exactly thrilled by the kind of delay and gridlock that McConnell seems to be promising, I’m not sure that this kind of legislative strategy is in the GOP’s long term interests.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Stan says:

    David Frum explains the Republican predicament very clearly in http://tinyurl.com/o92pd8p
    To me, this is the key sentence:

    “What boomers mean when they call themselves conservative is that they have begun to demand massive cutbacks to spending programs that do not directly benefit them.”

    All the cutbacks in McConnell’s program exempt people over 55. Above that age, nothing will be touched — not Medicare, not Medicare Advantage, and definitely not Social Security. Below it, cost shifting reigns supreme.

    Is this a winning strategy? To me the answer is no, because I can’t see my age cohort as being willing to beggar their children. But who knows?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 36 Thumb down 0

  2. Tillman says:

    “If I am elected again to the Senate, I promise you nothing will happen!

    That’s a winning pledge right there.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 0

  3. al-Ameda says:

    Only Mitch McConnell can make Harry Reid seem like Mr. Sunshine.

    @Stan:

    “What boomers mean when they call themselves conservative is that they have begun to demand massive cutbacks to spending programs that do not directly benefit them.”@<a

    It’s true, conservative boomers hypothetically want cuts to Medicare and Social Security, until they realize that those earned benefit programs are important to them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  4. Scott says:

    If I were the Democrats I will run hard against McConnell and other Republicans for pledging not to do their jobs, for not participating in governing IAW the Constitution, etc.

    Unfortunately, that won’t happen because there is no courage among any non far right politicians.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  5. gVOR08 says:

    As I commented at POLITICO. (You don’t appreciate the commentariat over here, try them for awhile.):

    It’s McConnell, and he’s campaigning. Ergo, he’s lying. He’s not ideological. He’ll add riders for whatever his lobbyists want, nothing more, nothing less.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 1

  6. gVOR08 says:

    @Stan:

    …demand massive cutbacks to spending programs that do not directly benefit them.

    That’s what all conservatives mean, not just boomers. Except. of course, the Tea Party types – who simply don’t understand what benefits them.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 1

  7. Gustopher says:

    Imagine the terror that the Republican congress critters must face when the contemplate that they might actually have to govern, rather than just grandstand.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  8. SC_Birdflyte says:

    Ted Cruz (to use one egregious example) certainly understands what benefits him. It may not be enough to get him elected President, but even an unsuccessful attempt might be a lifetime ticket on the Washington gravy train.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  9. Tom Hilton says:

    @Stan: Yup. My other favorite sentence from that piece:

    Boomers’ conservatism is founded on their apprehension that there’s not enough to go around — and on their conviction that what little resources there are should accrue to them.

    Kind of sums up the moral bankruptcy of the whole thing right there.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 1

  10. stonetools says:

    If this doesn’t get any sentient Democrat to the polls…
    My slender hope that the Democrats will hang on is based on the fact that the Republican’s advantage is still based mostly on the “fundamentals” and the “map” , not so much on polls of actual voters, which mostly will emerge after Labor Day, so fingers crossed…
    It would be ironic if the Republicans gain the Senate, but McConnell loses his seat, but that could happen. Grimes is giving him a run for his money. And the more he panders to the right by promising shutdowns, the better for Grimes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  11. Jr says:

    @Tom Hilton: Yup, the boomers are a selfish lot.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  12. Ron Beasley says:

    @gVOR08: I agree, this is just political posturing to stir up the base before the November election. There is of course a real possibility it could backfire.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  13. Stan says:

    @Stan: No, I’m not arguing with myself.

    It occurred to me after reading Frum’s article that the Republicans are now our strongest defenders of the New Deal and the Great Society, at least as they apply to the affluent elderly. The failure of George W. Bush’s Social Security reforms and the stirring defense of Medicare by Senator Charles (Death Panel) Grassley warmed my heart. Will we see pictures of FDR and LBJ at the next Republican National Convention?

    Of course, the Republican defense of entitlement programs isn’t unconditional. A lot of Medicaid money is used to keeping the not affluent elderly in nursing homes, and we know what Republicans think about Medicaid (and the not affluent). So the Grandpa Simpsons, like the rest of us, are divided into makers and takers, the elect and the reprobates. Frum should have noticed this.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  14. Bokonon says:

    People had a very low opinion of the previous shutdowns … but that all seems to have disappeared down the memory hole. So has the rest of the awful legislative results from the last several years.

    I can’t think of any other reason why the GOP’s national candidates are running so well in the polls, or why the GOP has a chance to win control of the Senate – in spite of McConnell’s promise to make this past misery the new norm, and make it happen over and over again …

    Why is there this disconnect between the actual results in national politics and the candidates people support in individual house and senate races?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  15. C. Clavin says:

    If you have nothing to offer…then this is all you have to offer.
    Anyone surprised?
    You shouldn’t be.
    Obama passed Republican Health Care Reform…a Stimulus bill laden with ineffective tax cuts Republucans insisted on…and he taking the minimum steps he can in other areas where Republicans agree but refuse to act.
    Obama is right of center….but Republicans are so far off the starboard rail that they can’t navigate any longer.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 4

  16. Eric Florack says:

    How fortunate that when the GOP takes the Senate, it won’t be with McConnel as ML. This promise of his now is too little and years too late.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 8

  17. Eric Florack says:

    @Jr: actually, not true. The boomers are a generous lot.
    They just recognise government isn’t charity… it is force.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 27

  18. Stan says:

    @Eric Florack: Is Social Security force? Is Medicare? A friend of mine has two children, both severely disabled, both in their 20’s, and both supported by SSI. Is that force? I’m interested in your answer.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  19. anjin-san says:

    @ Stan

    I have a disabled adult child who gets SSI. Florack once told me that this is theft, and it makes me a parasite.

    Of course he seems to have no trouble rationalizing the education his children got at public expense, and the fact that people who are childless helped pick up the tab. His brand of “conservative” has no problem benefiting from various pubic services, they just can’t stand it when anyone else does..

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 44 Thumb down 1

  20. Jr says:

    @Eric Florack: Please, boomers, especially the ones who vote GOP are a selfish and hypocritical bunch. They don’t mind these government programs as long as they are the only reaping the benefits.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  21. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @Stan:

    I can’t see my age cohort as being willing to beggar their children.

    I wish I had your confidence in my age cohort. I see them as more the “you can’t make an omelette…” types.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  22. wr says:

    @Jr: “Please, boomers, especially the ones who vote GOP are a selfish and hypocritical bunch”

    “Boomers” describes every American born within a roughly 15-yeear period. To say that we are all anything is as lazy and useless as thinking gets — right up there with predicting personality by birthdate.

    And yes, this goes for all the other generations as well.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

  23. MarkedMan says:

    It is a sad state of affairs when the leader of the Republicans, when contemplating assuming positive power (i.e. a majority), can only come up with ways to block someone else. He literally has nothing concrete to offer in the way of positive accomplishments, only negative ones. Obama would be willing to work with the Republicans on any number of issues, but the Republicans only care about keeping the ‘other team’ from scoring a run. And this has become so ingrained that only Gustopher even commented about it.

    The modern Republican party has really devolved to a squabbling, petty mess. They have no relationship to the pre-Reagan party.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  24. Barry says:

    @al-Ameda: “It’s true, conservative boomers hypothetically want cuts to Medicare and Social Security, until they realize that those earned benefit programs are important to them.”

    From polls I’ve seen, the overwhelming majority of Americans do not want cuts to those programs, and a majority want them increased.

    The elites want to gut them, and constantly put out propaganda accordingly.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  25. Lenoxus says:

    Polling in recent years has shown fairly consistently that the public has a very low opinion of Congress in general, and that one of the main reasons for that is the perception that members are unable to get anything done because they are pursuing partisan agendas rather than actually trying to solve problems.

    I don’t disagree that that’s the perception, but this framing is a pet peeve of mine. When a politician says “My opponent is just playing politics, whereas I am working for common-sense solutions“, they’re not being honest. Everything politicians do is “politics”, even if some of those things eventually become “common sense” in the general American mindset. It’s wrong to pretend that your own political views have already attained that status, especially so long as significant opposition exists among your fellow representatives. (It also carries an implication that your opponents know your solution is the right one — after all, it’s the “common sense” one — but they’re just being perversely stubborn.)

    Relatedly, if a certain political position or activity is within the mainstream, then opposition to it becomes “political”, even if the effect is seemingly preposterous, like making “Keep the government open” into a politically charged position. Or more precisely, “Don’t close the government as leverage against Obamacare”. (Although Republicans would rarely frame it that way, making them even more dishonest.) I do think the shutdown was beyond the realm of acceptable political action, but that doesn’t mean opposing it was apolitical.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  26. Joe says:

    McConnell needs to go. Period. Any Kentuckian that re-elects this fool is a joke.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  27. Pinky says:

    Less than six months after the GOP took control of the lower chamber of Congress, Washington was gripped by a showdown over the budget and the extension of the debt ceiling that lasted right up until the last minute and resulted in a deal that nobody really liked, but which supposedly would never really be implemented because of the “Super Committee” that would solve all our budget problems. When that Super Committee failed, we ended up with budget cuts that nobody really liked and which ended up being the catalyst for further showdowns. We also saw showdowns over the extension of the Bush Tax Cuts, the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and pretty much every high profile nomination requiring Senate confirmation.

    Not true. There has been a total of one government shutdown during the Obama years.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  28. Pinky says:

    @Pinky: You dummy, it said “showdowns”, not “shutdowns”!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  29. Stan says:

    @Just ‘nutha’ ig’rant cracker: My age cohort is nicer than your age cohort.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  30. James in Silverdale, WA says:

    It’s all they have. It’s all they know. The seeds of what comes after have yet to be sown.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  31. Moosebreath says:

    @Pinky:

    “@Pinky: You dummy”

    I thought we were not supposed to use ad hominems. ;-)

    That said, this should be hung around the neck of every Republican. That by electing the Republican you are electing someone who is going to play games with our country’s credit rating for partisan political advantage.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  32. Pinky says:

    @Moosebreath: When someone messes up that badly, I’m gonna call him out on it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  33. Mu says:

    I guess he’s trying to threaten us with “if you vote for Hilary you’re going to get another 8 years of this”. I’d read that as “if you like a working government, don’t vote for me or any other GOP candidate”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  34. Jeremy says:

    @Stan: Well, if you don’t pay your taxes…

    PS: I’m not saying that we can’t have any government services and that anarchy would be better. I’m not. Just pointing out, though, that it is force to take from the people and give it to others (usually more of the bureaucrats than other citizens.) That’s why we must make sure the force is limited as much as possible.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5

  35. Tillman says:

    @Pinky: Yeah, that threw me off in reading this as well. I just stuck to some bland one-liners as a result.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  36. Stan says:

    @Jeremy: I can’t disagree. But without that force life is solitary, nasty, brutish, and short.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  37. Pinky says:

    @Tillman: I think I’m still trying to process the idea that Politico is accusing McConnell of threatening to legislate the functioning of government.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  38. Rob in CT says:

    If the public rewards their behavior, why would they change it?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  39. Anonne says:

    @gVOR08:
    He is not just campaigning and that is not just red meat. That is exactly what they are going to do – everything will be a showdown and “President Obama is not listening to the will of the people” will be what will be drilled into the proles’ heads on Fox News. That has been true ever since they got control of the House. Haven’t you been paying attention?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  40. gVOR08 says:

    @Anonne: I’ve been paying a fair amount of attention. The TP may drive McConnell to acting crazy. On his own he’s a perfectly rational self serving as…. (Sorry, family friendly language required here).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  41. C. Clavin says:
  42. PAUL HOOSON says:

    Who votes for this guy for senator anyway? Jon Stewart encouraged his listeners to submit funny songs to match goofy campaign scenes by this guy.- His wife is a piece of work as well. As Secretary Of Labor under George W. Bush, Elaine Chao, sought to have McDonalds employees who “assemble” a hamburger re-classified as manufacturing workers rather than food service workers so it would appear that the rapid collapse of high paying industrial and manufacturing jobs in the United States in the Bush years would not appear to be so bad. – Unbelievable bit of government propaganda to bias statistics to make it falsely appear that the economy under Bush was not nearly as bad as it actually was. – You know what they say….there’s lies, damn lies, and statistics….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  43. wr says:

    @Jeremy: You might as well say that it’s only force that keeps us from randomly killing, stealing and raping whenever we want to. People working together to make a better world is not the same as tyranny, and I feel profoundly sorry for anyone who is unable to understand that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0