Mitch McConnell has a game plan to confront President Barack Obama with a stark choice next year: Accept bills reining in the administration's policies or risk a 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.
It's tempting to think the 2014 midterms may not matter much. Assuming Republicans keep their House majority, which seems very likely, the legislative process in 2015 and 2016 will probably look an awful lot like the legislative process since 2011 -- congressional inaction. GOP lawmakers will continue to reject compromises and negotiations no matter who controls the upper chamber.
As this line of thought goes, the part that enjoys the Senate majority will have the power to watch the other party filibuster, and little more.
But there's a flaw in these assumptions: if rewarded by voters with their first Senate majority in a decade, Republicans don't intend to use their new-found congressional power to just spin their wheels. Manu Raju reports today that GOP leaders have a very different kind of plan in mind.
McConnell told Politico, "We're going to pass spending bills, and they're going to have a lot of restrictions on the activities of the bureaucracy. That's something [President Obama] won't like, but that will be done. I guarantee it."
There's no reason to think this is campaign-season bluster. McConnell is more than comfortable making demonstrably false claims about public policy and his partisan rivals, but when it comes to process and legislative strategy, the Kentucky Republican is one of Capitol Hill's most candid officials.
The result, however, is a curious pitch: just 76 days before this year's midterm elections, the Senate's top GOP leader wants the voting public to know that a vote for Republicans is a vote for government shutdowns.
Indeed, McConnell isn't even being subtle about it. If his party is rewarded by voters in the fall, GOP senators, working with a Republican House majority, will add measures to spending bills that undo the progress of the last several years. If the White House refuses to go along, Republicans will simply shut down the government -- yes, again -- until the president gives the new GOP majority what it wants.
In other words, the 2014 midterms do matter. As ridiculous as Congress has become of late, McConnell has mapped out a deliberate strategy to make things considerably worse. The question isn't whether he'll follow through on his threats; the question is whether voters will empower him to do so.
Update: I should add that McConnell's strategy is an interesting departure from four years ago, when GOP leaders suggested that they'd still govern if Republican took the House majority. At the time, some pundits even believed them. Now, however, McConnell isn't even bothering with the pretense.