Oh, c'mon. I know we're well into the campaign silly season, and I suppose that Republicans have earned what they're getting today with their ill-considered government shutdown strategy last fall and other brinkmanship since taking the House majority in the 2010 elections, but reactions to Mitch McConnell's latest comments are totally ridiculous.
Here's what the Republican Senate minority leader said to Politico: "We're going to pass spending bills, and they're going to have a lot of restrictions on the activities of the bureaucracy."
That was then transformed in the story into "Accept bills reining in the administration's policies or veto them and risk a government shutdown." The headline became "McConnell's plan to shut down Obama." First Read's summary ran with "Mitch McConnell's suggestion that Republicans, if they win control of the Senate, would possibly threaten to shutdown the government to force policy changes from President Barack Obama." And there are more examples.
These articles have produced cries from Democrats that McConnell is going to shut down the government.
Look, I have no problem at all with Democrats reminding voters that Republicans shut down the government and suggesting that it might happen again.
But McConnell did not, in fact, say he would shut down the government to get what he wanted, and the "neutral" news media shouldn't imply that he did. There's nothing wrong with a congressional majority including veto-bait in bills, including in must-pass spending bills. In the normal course of things, the next step is that Congress either removes the offending provisions after a veto, or perhaps negotiates with the White House over which measures the president can actually accept. The president would have some leverage here, but Congress -- especially in a party-unified-Congress scenario McConnell is talking about -- hardly needs to automatically roll over for presidents.
McConnell, at least according to his quotes in Politico, doesn't imply a take-it-or-leave-it shutdown threat. It's just as likely he intends to push Republican issues as far as he can take them, and then hold Obama and the Democrats responsible for whatever they oppose -- and force vetoes to generate publicity over their differences. All McConnell says when pressed about a shutdown is that the president "needs to be challenged, and the best way to do that is through the funding process. ... He would have to make a decision on a given bill, whether there's more in it that he likes than dislikes."
The real question is whether Republicans would (as they did last year and during the 1995-1996 shutdown) seek a shutdown as a way to gain more leverage. Government shutdowns don't happen by accident. As long as Republican Senator Ted Cruz and other radicals are involved, that's a real possibility, and fair game for Democrats to run on. But there's nothing wrong with what Politico calls "confrontation" as long as it stops short of deliberately going over the brink.
Nor is there anything wrong with using reconciliation as a tactic, despite Politico's clear and inaccurate suggestion that there's something unusual or illegitimate about it. For clear-headed budget analysis that assumes that Republicans would use reconciliation -- but that also foresees the difficulties that the party will face if it does have House and Senate majorities -- see Stan Collender's solid column today. It's an excellent antidote for the media hype and the campaign talking points being tossed around.
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To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at firstname.lastname@example.org