A Modest Agenda: Keep the GOP Senate Majority from Being 'Scary'

Spending a midterm election year hoping for a shiny new Senate majority is akin to working all summer and saving up your money to buy a used car. Sure, it’s exciting, and you’re really looking forward to taking it out on the highway for the first time. But you also have to feel just a tad bit of trepidation when you finally hit the on-ramp and put her through her paces. Will this be the next great automotive love of your life? Or have you wound up with a lemon?

Republicans, having a long history of learning to be careful what they wish for, now have Mitch McConnell idling in the parking lot and preparing to put the new Senate majority in gear. But rather than preparing to burn through some rubber at Nürburgring, the 72-year-old boss of the upper chamber sounds as if he’s preparing to drive like, well… a 72 year old.

When asked recently about his agenda after taking the big chair, McConnell told a reporter that one of his chief goals was to ensure that the American public didn’t begin to think “that if they add a Republican president to a Republican Congress, that’s going to be a scary outcome.” He went on from there to express some rather call-of-the-mild concerns about looking responsible while remaining “right of center.”

For a considerable swath of voters tooling along near the nation’s demographic double yellow line, that probably sounds like a little slice of heaven… or at least the closest they could hope to get. Unfortunately, just as with his co-pilot John Boehner, McConnell’s caucus isn’t composed entirely of people who enjoy cruising in the slow lane. Contained within his ranks are a merry band of larrikins who have every intention of putting the pedal to the metal and seeing just how well this baby handles the curves.

These upstarts -- perhaps best exemplified by (but certainly not limited to) Ted Cruz and Mike Lee -- have been frustrated to the point of conniptions by years of Harry Reid refusing to bring their legislation to the floor. They are ready to rumble and are listening to the sweet words being whispered to them by the bloggers and talk radio hosts who play the emotions of the basest of the base like a fiddle.

McConnell faces a seemingly Sisyphean task in trying to keep everyone happy, to say nothing of achieving his modest goal of not scaring the bejesus out of an anxious group of 2016 voters who are nervously waiting to see what sort of dog they just brought home from the pound. In his effort to not “mess up the playing field” for the GOP’s 2016 nominee, he may expend the patience and good will of his more ambitious colleagues.

The first step or two should be fairly simple. He’ll put forward a bill to approve the Keystone Pipeline in cooperation with Boehner’s crew and it will pass with at least some trimmings of bipartisan support. The president has already “officially” threatened to veto it (whatever that means) and he may well carry through on that promise. For the Republicans in both the House and the Senate, it doesn’t matter much either way. If he signs it, they put an immediate victory in their pocket and crow to the public that they are finally Doing the Work of the People now that Harry Reid is safely stuffed in his school locker. If Barack Obama vetoes it, the only headlines will be that the president is now the sole source of obstruction in the federal government. Whether any oil ever actually makes it to the coast is of little consequence to the denizens of DC. In the Washington Game of Thrones, that situation works out to a win in either scenario.