Robert Costa of National Review, who has aced coverage of the fiscal showdown over the last three weeks, has a new interview with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. It offers an uncommonly blunt assessment of what went wrong for the Republicans in the most recent standoff, and with it comes hints of where the party's leaders are going from here.
McConnell is scathing in his criticism of the House Republican caucus, arguing that it is their unwillingness to coalesce around a plan that limited his ability to win concessions from Senate Democrats and the White House. Said McConnell: "I’m in a weaker position when the House can’t act. . . . one thing that’s made it hard is the inability of the House of Representatives, on these occasions, to send us legislation that’s more robust, proposals that have more of the things that I and my colleagues would prefer. We’d have been in a much stronger position if they had been able to do that."
In other words, if House Republicans had been able to unify and pass bills like Speaker Boehner's "Plan B" during the fiscal cliff negotiations of late last year, or a last-ditch plan in the recent negotiations earlier this week that would have achieved more of Republican goals, McConnell would have had better leverage to force Senate Democrats to negotiate a deal more to Republicans' liking. But Boehner has been unable to pass those alternate plans because a significant contingent of his caucus views them as not conservative enough. That leaves Boehner needing Democratic votes to pass any ultimate plan, and McConnell, who has only a minority of the Senate, with little leverage.
On the substance of policy, McConnell cracks the door open a little to a deal that might replace some of the cuts to discretionary spending under sequestration with cuts to longer-term entitlement programs, though he remains doubtful that will be workable so long as President Obama insists on tax increases as part of such a deal.
He also suggests that when the government needs to be funded again this winter, another shutdown will be out of the question, from his point of view at least. "One of my favorite sayings is an old Kentucky saying, 'There’s no education in the second kick of a mule.' The first kick of the mule was in 1995; the second one was the last 16 days. A government shutdown is off the table," McConnell told Costa.
The Kentucky Republican was less blunt in discussing his colleague Ted Cruz, though in his silence McConnell said plenty. "What’s your take on Senator Ted Cruz, who led the 'quixotic venture'?" Costa asked.
Said McConnell: "I don’t have any observations to make on that."