McConnell aims for Obama, 2014 electionsWASHINGTON — Day after day in the past month, Mitch McConnell’s angry words, aimed squarely at Democrats and their “hard left” constituency, pierced the congressional calm.
By: David Lightman and Jack Brammer, McClatchy Newspapers
WASHINGTON — Day after day in the past month, Mitch McConnell’s angry words, aimed squarely at Democrats and their “hard left” constituency, pierced the congressional calm.
The Senate Republican leader’s daily blasts at Democrats on the Senate floor contrast sharply with the let’s-get-along attitude that’s wafted through the Capitol since Election Day. While House Speaker John Boehner,
R-Ohio, has publicly preached cooperation, McConnell plays bulldog.
Part of his hard charge may be a concession to 2014, when he’s up for re-election in a state where he might fear a Tea Party primary challenge if he’s not forceful enough standing up to a Democratic president who didn’t do well in Kentucky. Part of his style also is standard for savvy insiders such as McConnell: Talk and act tough but be willing to cut a deal at the right time.
McConnell says he remains eager for a compromise on avoiding the “fiscal cliff,” including new tax revenues. He met Thursday with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and he said he’d back capping income-tax deductions for the wealthy. Geithner offered a $1.6 trillion, 10-year revenue package that included higher rates for the wealthy, and he proposed $50 billion in new spending in one year.
McConnell seemed disgusted.
“All we hear from them is raising taxes, and I think they’re going to get even more spending here at the end of the year,” McConnell said Thursday in his Capitol Hill office. “The secretary of the treasury came here today with what only could be characterized as an unserious proposal.”
McConnell insists he hasn’t changed his tone.
“I’m just stating what I read in the paper. They’re having all the hard left down at the White House and promising them they won’t do anything about entitlements,” he said, referring to President Obama’s recent meeting with liberal groups and his reluctance to make big changes in Medicare and Social Security.
But Kentucky analysts see his eye on the 2014 election, when the five-term 70-year-old plans to seek another term.
McConnell’s biggest concern is probably his own party. No major Democrat is likely to challenge him, but in 2010 the more conservative Rand Paul trounced McConnell’s handpicked choice for the state’s other Senate seat in the party primary.
McConnell said 2014 wasn’t foremost on his mind. “My only concern right now is not what might happen in 2014 but what might happen in the next three or four weeks.”
Some Democrats in the state see a man reinventing himself to ward off a challenge from the right.
“Mitch McConnell is lizardlike. He can change his colors to match his surroundings,” said Dale Emmons, a Democratic consultant in Kentucky.
For years, McConnell had his eye on gaining a Senate majority and having a Republican win the White House in 2012.
In October 2010, he sparked Democratic fury when he told the National Journal: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
McConnell had reason for optimism heading into this year’s elections. Obama’s re-election bid seemed shaky, and of the 33 Senate seats up for re-election, 23 were controlled by Democrats. Democrats scored a net gain of two Senate seats.
Meanwhile, key players in a looming budget crisis talked to news cameras Friday rather than each other, accusing the other side of blocking progress.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Friday that budget talks with the White House were “nowhere.” Obama visited a Pennsylvania toy factory, where he accused Republicans of holding lower income-tax rates for the middle class “hostage” to prevent tax hikes on higher incomes.