WASHINGTON -- There was a lot of back-patting among Democratic leaders Wednesday after the Senate passed its bill to end the government shutdown and avert a debt default. But some of their most effusive praise was for the leader of the other party, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who cut a deal with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) at the eleventh hour to avoid catastrophe.
"The Republican leader's cooperation was essential to reach an accord," Reid told reporters, noting his sometimes rocky relationship with the GOP leader. "I've worked with McConnell for many years. The last bit has not been ... [long pause] good."
McConnell "stepped up to be [Reid's] partner when it really counted," said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.).
"My hat goes off to Sen. McConnell," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee. "He's in a very difficult situation politically. Once he saw that Speaker Boehner and the House were tied in a total knot, he knew he had an obligation to step up, even if it might hurt him in his campaign. I respect that."
Across the Capitol, even House Democrats expressed gratitude for McConnell's role in helping reach a deal to end the 16-day shutdown and avoid a default.
"God bless that senator from Kentucky," said Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.), highlighting "the courage he had to step forward in a bipartisan way."
Schumer is right that McConnell faces political challenges -- and accolades from Democrats may be the last thing he needs. He's up for reelection in 2014, and he's under pressure to prove his conservative credentials to fend off attacks from a tea party challenger, Matt Bevin. He's also got a Democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes, who out-raised McConnell in the last quarter.
Nonetheless, McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said the GOP leader was pleased with the deal he and Reid hatched, particularly since it reflects the levels of funding that Republicans have wanted all along.
"Clearly there was wide bipartisan support for Sen. McConnell’s efforts to maintain sequester-level funding in the C.R.," Stewart said.