Set aside the Planned Parenthood conversation, the silly talk about “messaging” and the like, and get back the Why of “Why are we here?”. Why are we dealing with the current CR-based shutdown conversation? It’s not because of Boehner’s actions, but because of McConnell’s decision about how to deal with recalcitrant Democrats. It goes back to when Democrats decided in June to filibuster the Defense appropriations bill, as part of their strategy to filibuster any and all appropriations bills until Republicans were willing to renegotiate the sequester. This was a golden opportunity for McConnell: Democrats weren’t filibustering just any bill, they were filibustering a bill that does things like, well, pay the troops. It was an extremely aggressive and perhaps unsustainable step. Democrats took it only because they were confident McConnell would gripe about it, but ultimately cave.

To understand the missed opportunity here, consider what could have happened if McConnell was not so dedicated to keeping the Senate “open for business” and working with the president on other priorities. Imagine instead what would have happened if McConnell saw the opportunity to break Reid and isolate the president on spending. He could have canceled all other Senate business, canceled the recesses, and forced the Democrats to block the Defense appropriations bill every 72 hours until September 30^th. No weekends off, no holidays, keeping 75 year old men up all night for days, allowing no personal comforts until the filibuster is broken. In stark comparison to the media’s willingness to hide the ball on Planned Parenthood, Republicans would have been gifted with three months of messaging on “Democrats are so angry at the American people for taking away their majority, they are refusing to pay the troops.”