WASHINGTON -- In the aftermath of the October 2013 government shutdown -- as each side took stock of its gains and losses -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) gave one of the saga’s more memorable quotes.
“One of my favorite sayings is an old Kentucky saying, ‘There’s no education in the second kick of a mule.' The first kick of the mule was in 1995; the second one was the last 16 days,” he said when asked whether the Republican Party would bring the government to a halt again. “A government shutdown is off the table. We’re not going to do it.”
The regret in those words reflected the GOP’s mood at the time. The shutdown had backfired, leaving the president’s health care law intact and hurting the GOP brand. And in order to end it, McConnell and other Senate Republicans had been forced to swoop in at the last minute and cast difficult votes to clean up the House’s mess.
But political calculations change over time. Ten months later, the notion that the government could be pushed toward a shutdown is something McConnell is leaning into rather than running away from.
In an interview with Politico, the Minority Leader pledged that if Republicans took control of the Senate after the 2014 election, he would attach policy riders to spending bills that would either encumber or fully restrict the president’s bureaucratic leeway. These riders could come in different forms and scopes, from abortion policy to the implementation of health care reform. So it’s impossible to know just how confrontational McConnell wants to be. But Politico’s report suggests he would be willing to see the standoff all the way to a shutdown.
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.”
This could be a bit of campaign-induced bravado from McConnell. Stuck in a tight re-election race, he certainly benefits from placing himself at the vanguard of the wars with the White House should the GOP take control of the Senate. And his bravado may, in fact, be a whole lot of nothing. Attaching riders to appropriation bills doesn’t necessarily mean the government will suddenly stop. President Obama could veto the bill and Congress could negotiate a resolution or override the veto. Deals can, in fact, be struck.
But with the way Congress has operated recently -- waiting until the last minute to pass spending bills to keep the government operating -- McConnell's promise of confrontational riders does suggest high-drama budget battles in the offing. And it raises the stakes both for his own Senate race and the others that will determine Senate leadership in 2014.
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