McConnell’s Shutdown Conundrum

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., looks over the crowd at his victory celebration over Alison Lundergan Grimes to retain his senate, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
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There is “no possibility of a government shutdown” in the new Republican Congress, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told TIME magazine after his party’s blowout victory on Tuesday night.

But the Kentucky Republican simultaneously promised to use government funding bills to rein in President Barack Obama’s regulations and executive actions, saying there will be “prescriptions of certain things that we think he ought not to be doing by either reducing the funding or restricting the funding.”

These two stances — expressed by McConnell throughout the 2014 campaign — expose a strategic dilemma. President Barack Obama will carry the veto pen for another two years, which means the only foolproof leverage the new Republican Congress will have to force policy reforms he opposes is the threat of a government shutdown, through the power of the purse.

Without that, there would be little downside to vetoing legislation.

Asked about the possibility of executive action on immigration, McConnell told TIME that “the way that you push back on executive overreach is through the funding process.” Republicans have also expressed enthusiasm for using the funding process to unwind environmental regulations and health care reforms.

The conundrum: if there’s no threat of a shutdown, there’s no clear motivation for Obama to sign legislation that unwinds his main achievements. Conservatives like Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) recognized this in 2013 when they led the Republican House into a shutdown over the prospect of defunding Obamacare. But it failed because Obama refused to budge.

It’s plausible that Obama will be more inclined to accept Republican-led legislation that’s passed by the new Congress. Without the “firewall” of a Democratic-led Senate, he’s likely to see more bills on his desk that he doesn’t like. But when it comes to his signature executive moves, the most powerful weapon in McConnell’s arsenal sounds like one he’s hesitant to use.

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Notable Replies

  1. Did anyone notice that McConnell was reading heavily from a teleprompter. The horror! When will the pundits and Obama catcallers call him out on that! ??

  2. I’m actually (despite my disappointment) quite curious to see what the Republicans get up to now. Will the actually attempt to govern (with the occasional political vote, as any party in power does)? Or will they fall prey to the Cruz wing and find themselves scattered between egos and ambitions and Tea Party demands?

    In any case, we have a silver lining: the R’s either shape up and govern, which we all agree is necessary in a two-party system (even if we don’t agree with them, we still need a viable second party, not a nihilist group of obstructionists); or they continue to act like buffoons, in which case the 2016 Democratic nominee can steamroll into office on a reverse wave.

    I honestly don’t know which party we’ll see. It will be interesting.

  3. The Senate map for 2016 is worse for the GOP than the 2014 map was for the Dem’s. The majority will surely flip back in two years. Plus the built-in edge for Dem’s in every presidential year means yet more Dem wave.

    Frankly, the most interesting result this year for me was Brownback in Kansas. His economic experiment is failing, and a Dem governor would have salved some of the fallout. But now it all the GOP’s problem. That little government example might be the lesson everyone needs to see to repudiate “tax-cuts-for-the-rich” once and forever.

  4. Avatar for dnl dnl says:

    Shut-down of the government assured Jan 20, 2015…

  5. Avatar for haggie haggie says:

    The GOP Senate efforts over the next two years can be explained in one word: Bloviate

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