Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
March 27, 2015

McConnell Quietly Begins CR, Debt Limit Talks

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Hyper-aware of a challenge from the right back home in Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has embraced a stealthier role in talks to deal with the government shutdown and a potential breach of the debt ceiling.

McConnell has helped coordinate and lead two meetings in the past 48 hours — a senators-only session and a bicameral GOP session, according to a Republican source familiar with the meetings.

On the Senate side — where members have largely taken backseat to the House circus — conversation about a possible resolution the budget impasse has started to gain momentum. Senators recognize they are straddling a fine line between ending a politically catastrophic shutdown and making House GOP leaders’ jobs more difficult by meddling in their affairs, multiple sources said Friday. But they also understand that the longer the stand-off stretches, the more politically problematic it will be for them as the clock ticks toward the Oct. 17 deadline to raise the debt limit.

Senate Republican aides said newest line of thought is to merge the continuing resolution negotiations with talks to raise the debt limit.

McConnell has been attending strategy meetings and has had a “leading role” in organizing them, according one aide. House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., also has been taking a significant role in these talks, the aide added. But it’s not yet unclear how successful Senate Republicans can be in swaying their intransigent colleagues.

Some of the topics discussed in the bicameral meeting this week resulted in a trial balloon that was leaked to the conservative National Review, which first detailed the plan that GOP leaders see as a potential compromise with Democrats. However, sources said that framework largely came from Ryan and the House GOP.

From the National Review story, here are the provisions being considered, in addition to funding the government and extending the debt limit:

There will be a “mechanism” for revenue-neutral tax reform, ushered by Ryan and Michigan’s Dave Camp, that will encourage deeper congressional talks in the coming year. There will be entitlement-reform proposals, most likely chained CPI and means testing Social Security; there will also be some health-care provisions, such as a repeal of the medical-device tax, which has bipartisan support in both chambers. Boehner, sources say, is expected to go as far as he can with his offer. Anything too small will earn conservative ire; anything too big will turn off Democrats.

McConnell spokesman John Ashbrook acknowledged that the Kentucky Republican has been meeting with lawmakers, but he did not speak to the leader’s role in those talks.

“Sen. McConnell has a lot of meetings with other members and since the government is in the midst of a shutdown, it’s a natural topic of discussion,” said Ashbrook.

That careful statement is understandable, because even if McConnell has a significant influence on any final agreement, he likely won’t want his fingerprints on it. Anything he does to broker a compromise that re-opens the government could be used as fodder by Matt Bevin, McConnell’s conservative primary challenger.

McConnell, however, has been making joint appearances with tea-party-favorite and early in-state backer Rand Paul, including a local TV interview Wednesday where the two were caught on a hot mic discussing messaging strategy.

McConnell’s office is quick to point out the leader’s public role both in the lead-up to the shutdown and since it began Monday. He has taken to television, radio and the Senate floor, railing on Obamacare and attempting to pin the shutdown on Democrats.

Though McConnell has defended his role in previous budget deals — noting on the floor multiple times his phone calls with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. — his office also highlights that those proclamations did not come until shortly before deals were struck and were not telegraphed days in advance.

  • beckdella

    Cmon Kentucky!!! Surely, you won’t get fooled again, will ya???

  • aconservativeteacher

    Why won’t these Republicans roll over and give in everything to President Obama just because he won the Presidency? The Democrats did so when the Republicans won the House, Senate, and President for a decade- they quietly and happily went along with the most conservative of the Republican proposals, and President Obama himself voted for them all. I don’t understand why the Republicans now insist on compromising and winning small concessions- is it just because they captured by a large amount one of the 3 houses of government? Don’t they know that winning the House means nothing- only being Lord and King matters now and Obama won this position and so we should all submit to his glory and greatness and obvious intelligence. KOCH BROTHERS… somehow it has to be a giant conspiracy, probably by Jews, involving money, with the intent on empowering all of us to evilly be more free, more secure in our property, and to have life better protected. RACIST Republicans just want people to have less government over them, incoherent thoughts follow from that. Obama 2016!

    • EZwriter

      Actually of the 27 Jews in Congress only one is a Republican for very obvious reasons.

      • aconservativeteacher

        I assume you are referencing the fact that most Jews are liberal? Norman Podhoretz’s masterful book, Why Are Jews Liberals does a good job of making this fact, and it is indeed a curious fact, especially in light of the obvious hostility that President Obama and many Democrats hold towards Israel.

    • mabramso

      Actually, the Republicans never had a decade of control (at least not in the lifetime of any person alive today). During the Bush years, the GOP controlled the Senate for 6 months, after which Jeffords switched parties, giving the Dems control until Jan 2003. The GOP controlled the Senate from Jan 2003-Jan 2007, but until Jan 2005, they only had a 51-49 advantage.

  • aquinas215

    It is only Congress who has the power to borrow money on the credit of the United States. Reference Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution.

  • EZwriter

    Would it be inappropriate to suggest that the Senate Minority Leader should … come out of his shell?

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