Does McConnell Really Want The GOP To Win The White House in 2012?

What was Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) doing last week when he announced…proudly…that he would not allow an increase in the debt ceiling without significant cuts in Medicare?

At first blush this may not seem like that big of a deal given the continuing demands from the GOP leadership in the House for substantial spending cuts before it will allow a debt ceiling increase. But it is. This is not a call for reductions in general; it’s insisting on cuts in an exceedingly popular specific program. And it’s not just any specific program: It’s Medicare, the currently most politically sensitive program of all and the one that, because of the Republican plan to make substantial reductions, cost the GOP a House seat in upstate New York just barely a week ago.

Possible conclusions:

  1. McConnell likely can’t stay as minority leader without unequivocal support from the GOP’s tea party-like base and, in the wake of the widespread criticism of Newt Gingrich for abandoning the House GOP Medicare reduction plan (Newt was against it before he was for it), he used this statement and extreme position to shore up his own bona fides with that wing of the party.
  2. McConnell wants to be majority leader if the GOP takes over the Senate and needs the base to do that.
  3. McConnell is from the state that also elected Rand Paul to the Senate and he runs the chance of looking like a liberal Democrat in comparison to his junior senator if he doesn’t make statements like this.

But the one that’s most intriguing is that McConnell has decided that the GOP winning the White House in 2012 isn’t as important to him as the GOP getting the majority in the Senate and that requires continually energizing the base rather than trying to win over independents and Democrats.

If Obama wins and the GOP takes over the Senate, (Roger Ailes aside) McConnell will be the most important and powerful Republican in the United States. That won’t be true if there’s a Republican president, of course. But if all of the best known GOP candidates lose the Republican nomination in 2012 and the 2012 nominee then loses in the general election, the next tranche of potential Republican presidential candidates will be at least two years away. In the meantime, McConnell will be the one negotiating with the White House and stopping its initiatives.

The McConnell statement makes a great deal of sense in this context. Openly attacking Medicare as he did strengthens his credentials with the base even if it weakens them with everyone else. But that’s okay because it’s the base that’s needed to elect Republicans to the Senate next year and that would strengthen McConnell even if it makes life harder…or impossible…for the GOP presidential candidate.

If this is true, the implications for what can and will happen between now and November 2012 will be clear and extreme: No compromises on any issues, especially those having to do with taxes, spending, the deficit, and national debt; further criticism of the Federal Reserve, especially if it tries to do something that improves the economy in the short-term; and little to no progress on anything that would look like a win for the White House.

About Stan Collender 126 Articles

Affiliation: Qorvis Communications

Stan Collender is a former New Yorker who, after getting a degree from the University of California, Berkeley, moved to Washington to get it out of his system. That was more than 30 years ago.

During most of his career, Collender has worked on the federal budget and congressional budget process, including stints on the staff of the House and Senate Budget Committees; founding the Federal Budget Report, a newsletter that was published for almost two decades; and for the past 11 years writing a weekly column for NationalJournal.com and now RollCall.com.

He is currently a managing director for Qorvis Communications, where he spends most of his time working with and for financial services clients.

Visit: Capital Gains and Games

1 Comment on Does McConnell Really Want The GOP To Win The White House in 2012?

  1. It is interesting that the Republican minority leader says “he announced…proudly…that he would not allow an increase in the debt ceiling without significant cuts in Medicare.” because the Republicans spent the last year and a half complaining that Pres. Obama was implementing cuts in Medicare.

    It is interesting the the Republican minority leader is very happy to use cuts in Medicare to provide tax cuts for business and high income earners.

    It is interesting that the Republican minority leader is very happy to use cuts in Medicare to provide funding for the $85.5 billion dollars worth of tax subsidies to the energy sector.

    It is also interesting the Republican minority leader is very happy to talk about cutting Medicare while his party is uninterested in asking why 30 or more industrialized nations can provide cradle-to-grave healthcare for their entire populations at 50% – 60% of what we spend.

    It is interesting the the Republican minority leader is very happy to use cuts in Medicare to avoid discussing cuts in Medicare and the resulting $5.2 trillion dollars of deficits they created from tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 and their two-year extension in 2010.

    In short, Sen. McConnell and the Reublican regularly walk around multiple instances of borrowing hundreds of billions of dollars for programs they wanted to complain about Medicare.

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