What, Me Filibuster? McConnell Plays it Cool, Suggesting Strong Position on Stimulus

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) just finished briefing reporters about his party’s strategy on the stimulus bill, and he declined to address the question on everyone’s lips: Will the GOP mount a filibuster of the economic recovery package?

Instead, McConnell sent one strong message and one mixed message. The strong one came on the filibuster question; the senior Republican clearly feels that “considerable Democratic senatorial unrest” over the stimulus bill leaves him well-positioned to gum up the works without an overt rebellion.

How do we know that McConnell feels he’s hitting a political sweet spot? When he was asked a fairly traditional, Beltway-navel-gazing query about how to keep moderate Republicans in the fold of opposition, the GOP leader practically sang “Kumbaya.” What, me filibuster? …

Our goal is to produce a bill that makes a difference; not to kill the measure. So the goal is entirely different from what your question seems to suggest. The goal is to make it better. And we go into this with an open mind. We have two, I think, really good ideas that are entirely in line with what the president I think wants to do.

If you believe that Republicans don’t want to kill the stimulus — in the form that the president and Democrats have envisioned it — there’s a bridge I’d like to sell you.

But McConnell’s less clear message came on housing. The GOP has suggested since last week that the stimulus’ lack of attention to the mortgage crisis would be their new talking point (never mind that they fought the Bush administration on adding foreclosure aid to last year’s housing bill).

McConnell began his appearance by hewing to that line, promoting an emerging GOP proposal that would cut mortgage rates to 4%. But when pressed on why mortgage money should be attached to the stimulus rather than the second round of the banking bailout, as the Obama team would prefer, McConnell demurred. Here was his response:

Well, I had an opportunity to talk to the secretary of the treasury over the weekend, and I … believe they understand the importance of stabilizing the financial system. And most people don’t believe we’re quite there yet. So I’m not going to predict what a new [bailout] recommendation would look like.