McConnell Vows Tough Action Next Year – Even If it Means Another Shutdown
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The Fiscal Times
August 21, 2014

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) famously told National Journal in November 2010, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

McConnell and the Republicans failed to deliver on that threat but not before the country was treated to repeated budget crises, a near default on U.S. debt, 54 failed efforts in the House to derail Obamacare, and a 16-day government shutdown in late 2013.

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The spectacle of relentless partisan bickering and gridlock has so turned off the public that Congress’s approval rating is now a mere 15 percent, according to Gallup. For the first time in a quarter century, a majority of Americans are blaming their own members of Congress as well Congress as a whole for the unparalleled mess in Washington, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Just when Republicans appear to be edging toward victories in the 2014 mid-term election that could give them control of the Senate, McConnell is at it again, brashly vowing to use a new majority to pummel Obama with poison-pill legislation – even if that strategy could lead to another government shutdown.

In a revealing interview with Politico, McConnell said that a new Republican majority with him at the helm would attach riders to appropriations bills “that would limit Obama policies on everything from the environment to health care.” At the same time, the new GOP overlords would utilize arcane budget tactics like reconciliation to thwart Democratic filibusters and jam their amendments through.

Related: This Could Be Mitch McConnell’s Last Hurrah

“We’re going to pass spending bills, and they’re going to have a lot of restrictions on the activities of the bureaucracy,” McConnell told Politico’s Manu Raju during an interview aboard his campaign bus in Kentucky, where he is facing a tougher than expected re-election fight. “That’s something [Obama] won’t like, but that will be done. I guarantee it.”

McConnell said that a good example of that would be adding restrictions to   Environmental Protection Agency regulations. Adding riders to spending bills would change the “behavior of the bureaucracy, which I think has been the single biggest reason this recovery has been so tepid.” 

It is a strategy that would present Obama with the “stark choice” of either accepting bills that rein in or undercut administration policies “or veto them and risk a government shutdown,” Raju wrote.

“He seems to make these grandiose, bellicose statements which I think don’t reflect well on him,” Ross Baker, a Rutgers University political scientist, said on Wednesday. “I think it contributes to the negative view of Congress as being obsessively fractured and combative and so on. . . .  It confirms in the minds of a lot of people his obstructionism and truculence that I think is unseemly.”

Related: McConnell Brushes Off Attacks from the Right

Jim Manley, a former spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), called McConnell’s comments “heavy handed and odd,” but chalked them up to the Kentucky Republican’s need to rally his conservative base.

“It demonstrates that he may be in a bit more trouble in his reelection effort than most people think,” Manley said in an interview. “I think he was today laying down his cards and trying to demonstrate to the people of Kentucky why it was so important to reelect him.”

McConnell’s interview is extraordinary on a number of counts.

Related: Why the GOP Can’t Count on a Midterm Wave Election

For openers, it’s by no means a given that the 72-year-old veteran of the Senate will actually win a sixth term in November and go on to claim the Majority Leader’s mantle from  Reid.

McConnell  holds a slender lead over Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes in the most recent  Bluegrass Poll, 47 percent to 45 percent, but he suffers from an approval rating of only 36  percent. Grimes, 35, the state treasurer, is trying to capitalize on McConnell’s low approval rating and his image as a fixture of Washington who has contributed to the capital’s toxic political atmosphere.

The Democrats currently hold a 55 to 45 seat majority. The Republicans need to pick up at least six seats to claim control. Polls suggest they are on track to do that, but Republicans have blown previous chances to regain the majority.  

Even if the GOP squeaks by and wins a narrow majority, Democrats could turn the tables on Republicans and filibuster anti-Obama administration measures. And the president could wield his veto pen –- something he has been unwilling to do until now.   

Related: Obamacare Still Likely To Haunt the Midterm Elections 

Manley said McConnell may have hurt himself by “letting the genie out of the bottle” with his latest comments, which will make it more difficult to curb his caucus should the GOP take the Senate in November. “That’s what his conservative base is looking for.”

By late yesterday, McConnell was trying to temper his remarks. Following a Farm Bureau forum in Louisville, he told reporters: “I’m the guy who gets us out of government shutdowns. I don’t believe in government shutdowns.” 

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Washington Editor and D.C. Bureau Chief Eric Pianin is a veteran journalist who has covered the federal government, congressional budget and tax issues, and national politics. He spent over 25 years at The Washington Post.