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Monday, December 5, 2016

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is often hailed as one of Washington’s most tactically cunning politicians, and for the most part it’s true. But McConnell does have a serious political flaw: His tendency to actually tell the truth about those tactics.

Senator McConnell did it again in an interview with Politico, published on Wednesday. Previewing a Republican-controlled Senate, McConnell made it clear that he plans to escalate congressional confrontation with the president, potentially leading to another 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.”

When asked if this strategy could force a government shutdown, McConnell “said it would be up to the president to decide whether to veto spending bills that would keep the government open.”

“He could,” McConnell later said of the probability that President Obama would to veto must-pass appropriation bills that are loaded with riders to undo policies that the White House supports. “Yeah, he could.”

It’s difficult to overstate what a horrible idea this is. Although some Republicans may not have noticed it, the last government shutdown was a debacle. The GOP’s hopeless effort to blackmail President Obama into defunding the Affordable Care Act failed miserably, wasting $24 billion and dragging Republicans’ poll numbers into the sewer along the way.

The poll numbers haven’t really recovered, but the combination of President Obama’s own political struggles and a very favorable electoral map still have them set up to make gains in 2014. In fact, Republicans have a good chance of winning the Senate. But promising to ramp up the brinksmanship that caused the last shutdown gives Democrats their best argument for why voters should deny Republicans full control of Congress.

Democrats recognize this, of course; numerous party leaders have already turned McConnell’s remarks against him, and they are certain to resurface in Democratic campaign pitches from now until November. Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrat giving McConnell the fight of his career in Kentucky’s Senate race, surely appreciates the minority leader’s Kinsley gaffe most of all.

If Republicans do manage to win the majority and follow through on McConnell’s threat, it would virtually guarantee that they don’t hold control for long. The 2016 Senate map is as favorable to Democrats as this year’s is to the GOP. It will be difficult enough for Republicans to hold on to seats in blue states like Florida, Illinois, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin; if they spend the next two years threatening vital services for the sole purpose of making a hopeless ideological stand, it will be nearly impossible.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

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