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Bill Straub: If it’s true that you reap what you sow, McConnell could be dining on thin gruel

It has taken Sen. Mitch McConnell 30 years to grab the only job he has ever coveted — Senate majority leader — and the biggest parlor game in the nation’s capital right now is predicting what he’ll do with this particular tiger now that he’s got it by the tail.

Since achieving his dream on election night — it became official on Thursday — McConnell has agreed to work with President Obama while simultaneously issuing dire warnings if the president proceeds in a manner with which he disagrees. He has vowed there will be no government shutdown under his leadership and that Congress will vote to kill Obamacare, two promises that look to be at odds we each other

Mitch McConnell

Mitch McConnell

In the minority as Senate Republican Leader, McConnell adopted a philosophy first verbalized by a man identified as a U.S. Army major during the Vietnam War — “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” Indeed, McConnell has managed to soil the legislative nest so successfully over the first six years of the Obama administration that he finally, and ironically, managed to wrest the majority away.

McConnell is quite open in declaring that his grand goal was to deny Obama and Senate Democrats any veneer of bipartisanship, standing athwart some of the administration’s most chaste measures to create an atmosphere of congressional chaos and gridlock to the antipathy of the public.

This being the week of Veterans Day, a period when everyone falls over each other expressing their admiration for the men and women who have served in uniform while ignoring their true needs, it might do to remember that it was the Senate Republicans, led by McConnell who staged a successful filibuster over an omnibus bill offered by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, directing billions of dollars to meet the educational and health needs of those who served.

It wasn’t until reports circulated about those ill-served by the Veterans Administration’s health service that McConnell finally acquiesced, lest he be caught holding the bag. The legislation wasn’t as good as the original but at least it was something — and McConnell couldn’t be blamed for turning his back on veterans.

Like the Wizard of Oz, McConnell didn’t want anyone looking behind the curtain lest they discover who is really pulling the strings. Unlike Dorothy Gale, voters pretty much obliged him on Nov. 4, blaming the White House and his fellow Democrats for the nation’s setbacks, placing him in the position of obtaining the one thing he has yearned for his entire political life.

For this he is lauded as a mastermind and a strategic genius, a veritable Napoleon, a conclusion that can only be reached if one is disposed to ignore the collateral damage his actions have caused the body politic. The public’s faith in the federal government to achieve great heights has practically vanished — it may not have hit rock bottom but the hull of the ship of state is certainly scraping the seabed. The approval of Congress likely would wind up in negative territory if pollsters could count that low.

In fairness it should be noted that McConnell was abetted in portraying Congress as the 21st century version of the Keystone Kops. Obama, despite his obvious political talents, isn’t one to get his hands dirty in the political process, preferring to leave the wet work to Vice President Joe Biden among others. On the occasions when a personal touch is needed, the president can frequently be located with his cronies at the nearest golf course.

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And Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, ultimately has to be viewed as a failure. During his tenure in the majority the Senate rarely accomplished its primary task — adopting a budget. And his strategy of blocking votes on certain controversial issues in an effort to protect vulnerable Democrats this year certainly didn’t achieve the results he desired.

But it was McConnell who proved recalcitrant from the get-go, placing his own personal ambitions to a large degree ahead of the nation’s needs. If, as they say, you reap what you sow, McConnell could find himself dining on some thin gruel over the next two years.

McConnell will start the 114th Congress with 54 Republicans. Under current Senate rules he’ll need 60 votes to get most measures through. While a couple of Democrats could provide some assistance on certain bills — Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, of North Dakota, come to mind –Democrats will almost certainly return the favors McConnell bestowed upon them over the past six years and respond with a hearty no.

Even if McConnell succeeds in passing certain GOP measures – the Keystone pipeline might be a go – he will constantly face the prospects of a presidential veto. In those instances he will have to round up 67 votes, a nearly impossible task under current conditions.

McConnell may look to do some good, old-fashioned horse trading but he doesn’t have a lot to offer as bait, and the right flank in his majority, led by Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas, likely can be counted on to cry foul whenever he attempts to cut a deal.

In fact some observers insist Cruz and his allies are likely to cause McConnell angina to a greater degree than Obama. With a presidential election coming up in 2016, and the White House on Cruz’s radar, the new majority leader will have his hands full.

There’s no doubting that McConnell possesses some political skills, and there may be some method for achieving his wants and needs. He serves as the prime example of a political chameleon, always able to develop defenses against those who would do him harm and crawl forward as his principles change with the wind.

The smart bet is that McConnell will face essentially the same prospects as Reid and arrive at the same results — a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. And he likely will complain about a lack of Democratic cooperation, recalling the old saw about the man pleading for mercy before the court after killing his parents because he’s an orphan.


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KyForward Washington correspondent Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. He currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

To read more from Bill Straub, click here.

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