The Senate has once again reached an 11th-hour deal to avert fiscal disaster. And once again, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was at the center of it.
Thanks to negotiations between McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), lawmakers will soon vote on a bill that would reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling. For McConnell, it was an unlikely reprise of past efforts to pull the country back from the brink of disaster.
“This has been a long, challenging few weeks for Congress and for the country,” McConnell said Wednesday on the Senate floor as he announced the deal with Reid.
McConnell has been at the center of at least three other major fiscal compromises in recent years. But there were doubts that he would play a leading role this time because of his political outlook and increasingly uneasy relationship with his Democratic counterpart.
Faced with a looming “fiscal cliff” at the end of 2012, McConnell hashed out a deal with Vice President Biden after talks between other leaders stalled. Over at least 13 phone calls and with just 35 hours left before deadline, McConnell worked with his former Senate colleague to forge a compromise that saved the day.
Rewind to 2011 for a similar story. Biden and McConnell were the architects of a deal during another debt crisis. And in 2010, they negotiated a bipartisan tax deal.
This time, McConnell was in a familiar position. Others channels had yielded nothing. Gridlock was becoming an understatement. Time was running out.
But the pieces around him were different. Instead of Biden, it was Reid who would be his negotiating counterpart. Reid and McConnell have a complex relationship that has grown increasingly strained in recent years.
There was another complicating factor: McConnell faces a conservative primary challenger next year and has been feeling heat from conservative groups.
Matt Bevin, a Louisville businessman, has been pressing McConnell to step up his opposition to President Obama’s health-care law. Meanwhile, the Senate Conservatives Fund, an outside group considering backing Bevin, blasted McConnell for his talks with Reid, a favorite punching bag of the political right.
All of which seemed to suggest that McConnell’s deal-making days might be over, or at least on hiatus.
But they aren’t. And through a back and forth in which both sides were reluctant to cede ground, McConnell and Reid found a way.
What happens next is up to other members of the Senate who will vote, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who must decide how his chamber will proceed.
But this much is clear: When Washington has had a seemingly intractable fiscal problem to solve, McConnell has been there time and again.