McConnell gets no ransom for his hostage this time (besides a giant earmark he disavows…)

In the first manufactured debt ceiling crisis of 2011, Republicans managed to extract what became the federal sequestration cuts of 2013, in exchange for their threat of making America default on its debt. Following the deal, Sen. Mitch McConnell explained his rationale:

“I think some of our members may have thought the default issue was a hostage you might take a chance at shooting. Most of us didn’t think that. What we did learn is this — it’s a hostage that’s worth ransoming. And it focuses the Congress on something that must be done.”

Two days later, Standard & Poor’s downgraded America’s debt for the first time in 70 years, citing the fact that some members of Congress actually felt that ransoming the American economy was a clever political strategy. Actions have consequences, and whatnot…

Last night, America once again dodged the bullet of default, as McConnell and congressional Republicans once more tried to extract a laundry list of policy victories, only to retreat in defeat at the last moment and win absolutely nothing. No Obamacare defunding, no Obamacare delay… absolutely nothing. Below, from Rachel Maddow’s show last night, is the total list of ransom demands from the Republicans that got the Willy Wonka treatment from a 100 percent united front of Democrats:

maddow demands

While the GOP got no ransom this time, the American people certainly got something from the two-week manufactured hostage crisis: an estimated $24 billion loss to the economy from the government shutdown, along with furloughed workers and a huge decrease in needed government services. The Republicans — and the Tea Party caucus that now runs them — got something, too: Their brand is now toxic, with record high unfavorable ratings.

While many GOP Senators and a handful of House members publicly labeled Sen. Ted Cruz’s defund-Obamacare crusade as idiotic and pointless, McConnell kept his criticism behind the scenes, refusing to call out the Cruz crowd publicly while somehow blaming Democrats repeatedly for the shutdown. Republican senators called out McConnell for being missing in action and creating a “leadership vacuum” by his public silence and unwillingness to reign in the Cruzers, but McConnell was too afraid — see: Matt Bevin, 2014 GOP primary — to step up and call out the Tea Party caucus, deciding to lay low until America was already devastated by two weeks of the shutdown and on the brink of default.

While Sen. Rand Paul told McConnell during the infamous hot mic moment that “we can win this,” by this weekend McConnell knew this was false — those poll numbers making this perfectly clear — and that the American public would blame him and his party for the catastrophe of default. That’s when Mitch swooped in to surrender to Sen. Harry Reid — though not before he convinced House Speaker John Boehner to once more attempt a ransom bill at the last second for more “leverage,” which failed.

So now that we have avoided default and the stopped the economic wreckage of the government shutdown, guess who is swooping in to take credit for saving the day? McConnell, of course. And while it’s true that McConnell could have stood firm with Team Cruz and plunged the economy and his party’s chance of ever being competitive into the garbage — hence the thanks from the likes of Reid and Sen. Chuck Schumer — we know exactly who McConnell is: A cold strategist whose only focus is acquiring power. He knew the game was up, and he had no choice other than to surrender, and hope that he could be the hero.

All of which makes McConnell’s media tour today remarkable, casting the blame on the “quixotic” caucus for the entire mess. Where was he three weeks ago when he could have publicly called out Cruz and ended the madness? As his GOP Senate colleagues complained, he was hiding from leadership, publicly blaming Democrats and hoping things turned around so he could extract a ransom.

Here’s what Gov. Steve Beshear had to say about McConnell swooping in to “save the day” yesterday:

“I suppose that we should be thankful that after about 3 months of being missing in action, (McConnell) has surfaced here in the last couple of days and is helping some deal out… A firefighter shouldn’t be getting credit for helping put out a fire when he helped start the fire.”

On that topic, a 1994 FBI investigation of firefighters who actually started fires came to this conclusion for their motives:

“The primary motive among the 75 firefighters, who alone or in groups were responsible for 182 fires, was a need for power and excitement, Mr. Huff found.”

I don’t think McConnell’s motive was excitement — it’s hard to imagine him getting excited about anything other than raising campaign contributions, playing whack-a-mole and winning elections — but power? Yes, as he makes the rounds today portraying himself as the hero who suddenly has clout again, I’ll buy that theory.

But maybe McConnell actually got something out of this? Like, say, that giant earmark increasing the budget by over $1 billion for his longtime pet project, the Olmsted Lock and Dam?

Once the news of this hidden gem within the McConnell-Reid deal came out — dubbed the “Kentucky Kickback” by critics — McConnell and his staff claimed to have nothing at all to do with it, which sounds perfectly reasonable if you’re hopelessly naive and possess no shred of cynicism. Just like the hidden $500 million giveaway to Amgen in the fiscal cliff deal he negotiated in December — less than two weeks after the pharmaceutical company threw a big fundraiser for his campaign — was a total coincidence that he had absolutely nothing to do with. McConnell would never do such a thing, we should remember.

McConnell’s not taking claim for the Olmsted deal right now, so he doesn’t appear to be collecting that as ransom booty. We’ll see if that changes in the general election shortly after he defeats Bevin, though.

Oh wait, Sarah Palin is going to come to Kentucky to help defeat McConnell for selling out her fellow Cruzers yeasterday? Well, I guess if he beats Bevin, I should say.


  1. Greg Leichty
    Posted October 19, 2013 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

    Watching McConnell in action is a pretty amusing show if you ONLY consider the theatrics of it.

  2. Ryan
    Posted October 21, 2013 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Agreed. McConnell represents all that has been traditionally bad about establishment politics ‘on both sides of the aisle’ as they say. The implication of course is that there are only two sides to the aisle. Much like a Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi; McConnell, along with Eric Cantor and John Boehner are traditionalists in the sense that there will never be a push from these types for serious alterations in modern state capitalism, or the subsequent social and ethical norms that accompany such an edifice. A serious reconciling of economic differences needs to be made between the so-called libertarian right, and the libertarian left if we are to ever make any progress toward a structural change in the way we conduct governance. The concept that we can cut the public sector at this point and leave a litany of corporate power centers in it’s wake is callous and idealistic. Likewise, the trust in a powerful public sector with little checks on bureaucratic advances will be equally detrimental to the working class and poor, again behind the veil of idealism. Until the common citizen realizes their power, and their faculties, decentralized collectivization will continue to be perceived as a Utopian notion.

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