Facing a far-right primary challenger, Mitch McConnell can do nothing to avert a government shutdown
THIS GUY‘s highest priority is political self-preservation:
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s re-election battle against a credible conservative opponent upends congressional politics in a way that makes it harder to avoid a government shutdown and debt default. In recent years, the Kentucky Republican has had a knack for cutting deals at the last minute to break impasses and avert fiscal crises.
This time around — as federal government funding expires Sept. 30 and as the U.S. brushes up against the debt limit in the fall — playing that role could end his career.
“I’ve watched McConnell closely and after the fiscal cliff resolution he’s taken on a very different role, including last week sabotaging Susan Collins on the transportation bill. He’s very fearful of a challenger to his renomination,” said Norm Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “And stepping in at the last minute to do a budget deal or save us from breaching the debt limit would be disastrous for him.”
Senate Democratic leaders also worry that his re-election dynamics make crisis likelier, especially with Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) more powerless than usual, having promised his ultraconservative members he won’t negotiate privately with President Obama.
“His lurch to the right and his desperation to portray himself to the Tea Party as the chief opponent of the President absolutely makes it more difficult to get a deal,” said a senior Democratic aide, speaking anonymously to discuss internal matters. “In the past he would swoop in at the end and negotiate, and now we just can’t be sure he will be able to do that.”
In the final hours of 2012, McConnell negotiated a resolution to avoid tax hikes as part of the so-called fiscal cliff. At the end of 2011, he negotiated the agreement to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits. And earlier that year the White House relied on him to iron out a deal to avert a catastrophic default with just two days to spare. Conservatives fought against all of those deals, demanding deeper spending cuts and zero tax hikes every step of the way. McConnell wasn’t running for re-election then, but he is now.
A McConnell campaign spokesman didn’t return a request for comment.