Senator Mitch McConnell would make an excellent magician. He has a penchant for disappearing during the toughest moments of a battle and deftly distracting attention to an issue not in contention at the time.
During the summer, when conservatives were marshaling support for a unified message of funding the government minus Obamacare, McConnell was completely absent. When cornered by the media to comment on the defund fight, he would always talk about the importance of keeping the spending cuts from the Budget Control Act - the issue that was not in dispute at the moment.
Over the past few weeks, the point of contention indeed revolved around the replacement of sequestration. From day one, it was clear that there was a bipartisan agreement to countermand the spending cuts, with the only dispute centering on which offsets would be used in the budget chicanery. After speaking so strongly about the importance of the sequester cuts during the defund fight, one would have expected McConnell to use his magnificent power to stop this deal in its tracks.
Yet, not only did he decline to say a word during the formulation of the deal, he waited until after the bill passed the House and Senate (at least the critical cloture vote) to even put out a statement opposing it. Needless to say, he never whipped against the vote, allowing Democrats to easily pick off enough Republicans to ensure that the spending cuts would be eliminated, paving the road for a permanent repeal of the sequester in the future.
How else do we know that McConnell’s no vote on Ryan-Murray was more a function of a ‘hope yes, vote no’ strategy? At the same time he is telling defense contractors to help him beat back tea party challengers who will cut defense spending, McConnell votes against the deal that will reinstate some funding for defense contractors (on the backs of disabled veterans)!
Now after disappearing from the scene of the crime during the fight over the budget, McConnell is feeling the pressure to, once again, project illusions onto a future battle. He is actually saying that Republicans will fight hard on the debt ceiling:
“I doubt if the House, or for that matter the Senate, is willing to give the president a clean debt-ceiling increase," McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, said. "The debt ceiling legislation is a time that brings everyone together and gets the president’s attention."
This is akin to the arsonist giving advice on how to extinguish a fire. McConnell completely destroyed our leverage with Democrats in October. He has made it clear that he is so scared of brinkmanship he is even willing to clamp down on those in the party who push for it. He created the “McConnell plan,” which gives members a defacto non-binding protest vote against the debt ceiling as a popular concession for giving Obama what he wants. Democrats have already made it clear that the McConnell plan will serve as the baseline for future negotiations.
Either way, why should Democrats fear a fight with McConnell when they know his Wall Street bundlers are pushing their very own fallacious talking points about defaulting on our credit and crashing the stock market?
Moreover, when McConnell surrendered to Harry Reid in October and gave him a clean debt ceiling increase, he failed to ask for one concession – that the Treasury be denied the ability to circumvent the debt ceiling law with “extraordinary measures.” Consequently, the real deadline is not on February 7, but as late as June or July. There is no way in the world McConnell would have the moxie to pick a fight that close to the midterm elections. And assuming the debt ceiling goes past McConnell's May 20 primary, he will have no need to pretend to be conservative anyway.
But fear not, wait until the summer and Mitch McConnell will have another trick up his sleeve to distract from his capricious leadership.