If you watched the respective press conferences of Barack Obama and Mitch McConnell yesterday, you would be forgiven for thinking that the Democrats had just picked up a bunch of seats in the House and Senate, and the Republicans had just suffered a humiliating defeat. While President Obama was defiant and borderline delusional, claiming that the American people had not repudiated him and boldly proclaiming that he still had a mandate, and openly declaring that he would veto everything the Republicans sent his way and act on his own, Mitch McConnell was ruling out the use of the most potent weapons in his arsenal:
(Reuters) – U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who is expected to become the Senate majority leader in January when Republicans take control of the chamber, on Wednesday ruled out government shutdowns or any default on the national debt on his watch.
Republicans scored major gains in congressional elections on Tuesday and will have majorities in both houses when the new Congress takes office early in the new year.
“We’re not going to be shutting down the government or defaulting on the national debt,” McConnell said in his first news conference since winning re-election on Tuesday.
McConnell’s pre-emptive capitulation on this issue is baffling for a number of reasons. First, contrary to the predictions of the naysayers in the Republican caucus, the GOP paid no apparent political price at all for shutting down the government in 2013, even though then they were in much weaker bargaining position.
Second, it makes zero tactical sense, especially during a confrontation with a defiant and delusional enemy, to declare that you are pre-emptively removing a weapon from your arsenal. I think that I, like a lot of people, think that shutdown/default should probably not be used over the next two years. I think that there are some potentially disastrous consequences that could occur if either is utilized. It is much the same as being a country that is armed with nuclear weapons: probably, you are never ever going to use one, almost no matter what. But you dare not announce this to your enemy beforehand because 99% of the reason for having them in the first place is keeping the thought in the back of his mind that if he pushes you far enough, or launches a nuke at you first, you will return fire.
What will Mitch McConnell do if Obama declares that he will veto literally any budget that is not his own? What if both chambers pass 5 or 6 consecutive budgets only to have them vetoed by Obama? What if he vetoes literally any debt limit extension that is not 100% clean? What will McConnell do? Will he turn over the mandate the American people gave the GOP to Obama and let him dictate policy because he is too cowardly to risk another shutdown or a default? Or will he have to come back to the American people in March and explain why he lied just 4 months ago about never doing this?
President Obama clearly signaled to the GOP yesterday that he intends to spend the last two years of his presidency trolling them. He will intentionally overstep his authority at every turn and dare them to either impeach him or force a shutdown. And if Republicans have any intention of not allowing Obama to run the Senate for the next two years, they have to at least keep the possibility of shutdown or default on the table.
The American people elected Republicans so they would actually do something to stop the Obama agenda, not just so a different class of people could be the beneficiaries of crony capitalism. And sooner or later it is probably going to be incumbent on Mitch McConnell to take a drastic measure or two to fulfill that mandate. In light of this, it is madness for him to take two of those options off the table before the fight has even begun.