Mitch McConnell has had enough of shutdowns and standoffs, in large part because they don’t work to Republican advantage in the current political environment. When National Review’s Robert Costa asked whether Republicans will push the next budget deadlines to another shutdown, McConnell explicitly rejected the idea, and said, “There’s no education in the second kick of a mule.” Instead, the Senate Minority Leader plans to protect the sequester savings and look for other ways to cut deficit spending in the next round without giving Democrats a PR opportunity closer to the midterms:
COSTA: You said we’d be back here in January and February dealing with the same issues. Is another shutdown possible?
MCCONNELL: No. 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. We’re not going to do it. …
COSTA: How does the party get beyond this mess? It seems like you’re having a civil war over tactics.
MCCONNELL: Well, for one, we’re not going to do this again in connection with the debt ceiling or with a government shutdown. Look, it’s unlikely the Democratic Senate or Democratic president will do much on Obamacare. We did a minor little income-verification thing, an anti-fraud thing, but beyond that, it’s unlikely. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it’s front and center for the 2014 election. Of the things we can predict for 2014, Obamacare will be front and center, especially in the red states where we could pick up seats.
That will take some expectation-setting, and not just among Republicans on Capitol Hill:
COSTA: Looking ahead, what’s your message to your colleagues about reasonable expectations for divided government?
MCCONNELL: Thanks to the nature of the Senate, unless you’re at 40, you’re not irrelevant. We were irrelevant a few years ago, frankly, except for keeping unity for things we opposed, like Obamacare. But since then, we’ve been a consequential minority. But you’re only a consequential minority if you can hold together 41 people. Thanks to my colleagues, we’ve had the ability at these critical moments to try to get as good an outcome as we could, given the cards that we’ve been dealt. But 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.
The question might be whether there was education in the first kick. Heritage Action, one of the groups that pushed the defund/shutdown strategy, isn’t so sure that Republicans should take it off the table. Conn Carroll interviewed Heritage Action communications director Dan Holler, who didn’t want to get pinned down on that strategy:
Townhall: So are you going to push to defund and shutdown the government again in January?
Holler: You know one of the things I think that became clear over the past several weeks is that Democrats have tremendous political unity. And somehow, contrary to what the politics of their state would dictate, these guys held together.
They need to feel pressure so they can begin to crack. I don’t think you can apply real pressure to them without some sort of legislative strategy, because the grassroots outside of Washington are not going to be engaged without real action. So there has to be a legislative component to that.
I think it is too early to say what that strategy should look like. There is a lot of stuff in flux right now. The Ryan-Murray budget conference. What comes out of that, if anything. That puts things in a holding pattern right now. But we’ll see.
There will undoubtedly be opportunities where leverage exists to do something about Obamacare. And when they arise, we have to take them.
Townhall: So, that’s a “we’ll see” on a shutdown in January?
Holler: Yeah, I mean I don’t think anybody has really figured out beyond this week what is going to happen. If there is an opportunity to leverage a situation, to try and protect the American people from Obamacare, I think that is worth doing.
Before you can do that though, you have to move opinion and put pressure on these red state Democrats. Maybe over the next 90 days they will hear so many horror stories from constituents that they will realize their position is unsustainable. Hopefully that is the case. We don’t know.
Larry Kudlow notes in this interview with Costa that the sequester is the Republican ace in the hole — and one authored in part by McConnell himself, so he’s not likely to fold on it. Costa reaffirms, though, that McConnell has no desire to do another shutdown, either in the near future or even further out:
Heading into the midterms, Republicans have to re-establish their bona fides as a responsible governing party. The shutdown wasn’t so much of the problem as flirting with the debt ceiling was, in terms of perception — and that’s what counts in elections. One can argue that a shutdown can demonstrate the arbitrary nature of federal power, as well as the ways in which it can be maliciously wielded for its own sake, and this shutdown certainly did that much. But a return engagement won’t play well for Republicans, and Democrats are simply not going to dismantle ObamaCare under any conditions, not through defunding or repeal. By that time, though, they may wish they could.