With it looking fairly likely that the Republicans will take control of the Senate after the November midterm elections, Sen. Mitch McConnell, who would then be majority leader, has laid out his plan for “governing” if that should happen. It involves a strategy that has never worked before.
Mitch McConnell has a game plan to confront President Barack Obama with a stark choice next year: Accept bills reining in the administration’s policies or veto them and risk a government 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.”
In other words, the same blackmail strategy that failed for Gingrich in 1995 and for Ted Cruz in 2013: Concede to our wishes on laws that were already passed or we will shut down the government. Ezra Klein points out the obvious result:
So McConnell intends to unleash a tactic that will almost inevitably end with shutdowns — whether he wants them or not. This might make sense if Barack Obama were running for reelection in 2016: the shutdown hurt his popularity, too, and perhaps it would make sense for congressional Republicans to mount a kamikaze mission against his third term.
But Obama isn’t up for reelection in 2016. These shutdowns will be a disaster for the Republican Party that will help elect Hillary Clinton — and help Harry Reid retake the Senate. Republicans will end up backing controversial positions with wildly unpopular tactics and the Democrats will take full advantage when they face the friendlier presidential electorate.
For that reason, winning the Senate in 2014 will be a double-edged sword for Republicans. All else equal, it’s of course better to hold more seats than fewer. But all else isn’t equal. The internal pressures of the Republican Party are such that if Republicans win the Senate in 2014 they’ll probably chart a course that makes it likelier they’ll lose both the Senate and the White House in 2016.
As Klein points out, if they do use this tactic and Obama vetoes the bill, the Republicans will have two choices: They can either shut down the government (which is wildly unpopular, as past experience has shown) or they can strip out the language that triggered the veto and pass the spending bills again. That second option will trigger a huge outcry from the Tea Party base, which will prompt more challenges from the right in the 2016 election. And with people like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul trying to position themselves for the presidential primary, which requires appealing to the base, they’ll be in full revolt over it. The Republicans will find themselves in the middle of the same shitstorm that hit them last year.