Mitch McConnell vows confrontation if GOP wins Senate. Serious?

Mitch McConnell, in a tight reelection race, says if he becomes Senate majority leader, he wouldn't rule out shutting down the government in a showdown with President Obama.

Mike Lawrence/The Gleaner/AP
Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell talks to supporters Aug. 11, 2014, at a campaign stopover at the new Republican headquarters in downtown Henderson, Ky.

Mitch McConnell has begun talking about how he’d run the Senate if his Republican Party wins control of the chamber in the 2014 midterm elections.

On Tuesday Senator McConnell, currently the minority leader, told Politico’s Manu Raju that if he becomes majority leader he’ll attach riders to appropriations bills in an effort to reverse or modify Obama administration positions on a wide range of issues, from the environment to health care.

This tactic would allow the GOP to maneuver around Senate rules and avoid Democratic filibusters.

“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 Raju. “That’s something he won’t like, but that will be done. I guarantee it.”

Saying Obama “won’t like” such an approach, if it actually comes to pass, may be a bit of an understatement. Raju is correct in noting that using money bills in such a manner is “a recipe for a confrontational end to the Obama presidency.”

The question would be how far McConnell is willing to go. The Kentucky senator frames the move as a means to get Obama to “move toward the center,” and if, in fact, the riders are tweaks or changes to such large efforts as Obamacare, they could be successful in that regard.

But if the riders are a backdoor means to repeal Obamacare or effect similar large shifts in US priorities, then the president is likely to veto the bills. This could lead to rolling shutdowns of the government that make similar previous fights look like skirmishes.

Democrats seized on this possibility Wednesday and ran with it, framing McConnell’s words as a warning that if the GOP wins back the Senate there will be even more gridlock in Washington, if that’s possible.

“McConnell’s case for a GOP Senate – more shutdowns, more brinkmanship, more gridlock, less progress,” tweeted Obama aide Dan Pfeiffer Wednesday.

Dems have a vested interest in portraying a GOP Senate takeover as the door to chaos, of course. Voters disapprove of Obama’s performance as president, but they dislike congressional dysfunction even more.

“If there is anything that can get voters to channel that hatred of Washington towards Republicans in ways that could actually impact the outcome of the elections, it is the sort of reckless brinkmanship we saw during last fall’s government shutdown and debt ceiling standoff,” writes the left-leaning Greg Sargent Wednesday on his “Plum Line” Washington Post blog.

It’s possible that McConnell is just talking tough, however. He’s locked in a tight race for his Senate seat in Kentucky with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, and he may just be trying to motivate a conservative base that’s not overly excited about his reelection.

Tea party conservatives are suspicious of McConnell, after all. They see him as an establishment figure committed to compromise with the administration instead of confrontation.

At the conservative Red State site this morning Erick Erickson titled his post on McConnell’s words “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH,” and called the Politico piece “the funniest thing I’ve read today”.

The last time the government shut down, McConnell was eager to blame Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas and other firebrands, as opposed to the administration, writes Erickson. Then he agreed to reopen federal offices.

“McConnell and his team made it clear that the Congress will always get the blame,” writes Erickson.

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