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.
It’s possible that Mitch may get a bill put through to do a bit of pruning on Obamacare. It might be the medical device tax or the employer mandate. Assuming he can calm the waters enough, that one would go into the W column also. But some of his members will be quick to remind him of that long ago time in October of 2014 when he told Ms. Grimes that he was going to eliminate the Affordable Care Act root and branch. Obviously McConnell never intended to do any such thing, but there are more than a few in the conservative section of the bleachers who actually want to see it done.
This brings us back to the aforementioned sweet words being whispered in their ears. There are brave voices out there that are seriously ready to take a run at the president and put a bill on his desk scrapping the entire thing. And in the dark corners of their hearts, the Democrats are praying to every obscure god in the pantheon that McConnell does just that, because too much of the middle of America is not brave. They have gotten a taste of a new entitlement program and listened to the shrill words of MSNBC evening hosts telling them that millions of them will wake up one morning in February to find their new health insurance gone, their old plans cancelled, and a hoard of Vandals outside their door.
In the Washington Game of Thrones, this earns you both the fame and fate of Ned Stark.
What of the other big ticket items we expected to find under the tree? Significant tax reform? There will be a “study group” on it and then it will disappear until the late spring or summer of 2016 just as it always does. Actual security on the southern border? Well, that would be wonderful but it sounds awfully complicated and expensive, doesn’t it? Defunding the EPA to undo the president’s oppressive energy regulations? Absolutely! (Just as soon as we find someone who actually understands how that works in terms of crafting a bill we’ll get right back to you on that one.) Exposing the truth about Fast and Furious or Benghazi once and for all? Well… Holder’s on his way out the door anyway, and if we did manage to do it, what would we have to talk about on the Sunday shows?
Having considered all of these factors, Mitch McConnell may not be in for as much of a rough ride as I’d first imagined. In fact, when you desperately need to get almost nothing done, there isn’t a better crack team to call than the Democrats and Republicans on the Hill. Sure, there will be angry conservatives screaming their lungs out at Mitch, but I’m fairly sure he’s gotten used to that by now.
But don’t worry. November of 2016 is only 22 short months away. We’ll get ‘em next time, guys.