No, Mitch McConnell didn’t come out against a government shutdown push

August 13, 2013

There’s a bit of excitement among political operatives on all sides over this quote from Mitch McConnell at an event today, flagged by WYMT’s Tanner Hesterberg:

“I’m for stopping Obamacare, but shutting down the government will not stop Obamacare.”

McConnell is under pressure from his Tea Party challenger, businessman Matt Bevin, to say whether he supports a government shutdown confrontation to force the defunding of Obamacare — which is backed by conservative Senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and others. Thus far, McConnell has refused say.

So, did McConnell come out against the defunding push just now? Actually, no.

McConnell’s office confirms to me that the Senate GOP leader, in his remarks today, did not take sides in the dispute over whether to stage a shutdown confrontation. He was merely stating a fact — that even if the government is shut down, it won’t stop the funding of Obamacare. Indeed, even the head ringleader of the defund-Obamacare gang, Ted Cruz, has admitted this to be the case.

At some point, McConnell will probably have to take a position on this dispute. Presumably, McConnell knows the idea is dangerous and insane, as GOP leaders seem to have concluded on the House side (which is why they are furiously sending out signals that the idea is a nonstarter, while mostly refraining from saying so on the record). McConnell is facing a primary challenge, and conservative groups are standing by without taking sides, tacitly threatening to back McConnell’s challenger if he proves himself to be weak-kneed in the coming confrontations this fall. So McConnell will probably try to refrain from taking a stand in the argument until he absolutely has to.

The odd thing is that you’d think the notion that shutting down the government won’t stop Obamacare — acknowledged by McConnell and Cruz alike — would be enough to end this debate. But, of course, it isn’t. Cruz admits this to be the case, but he’s going further still, arguing that Republicans must force a government shutdown and then use that to leverage Senate Democrats and Obama into supporting a law that defunds both discretionary and mandatory spending on Obama’s signature domestic initiative. Yes, that is what Cruz has actually said. Anything short of embracing this mission constitutes insufficient opposition to the law, apparently.

It’s hard to imagine McConnell thinks that this strategy is going to work. We’ll know more of what McConnell thinks when WYMT posts its full interview with McConnell. But for now, it seems clear that Republican leaders remain unwilling to resolve the central tension driving this whole dispute, which is over whether they are finally going to level with the GOP base on the fact that Obamacare is here to stay, after years of feeding impressions to the contrary.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.
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Greg Sargent | August 13, 2013