By David Lightman and Jack Brammer, McClatchy Newspapers –
WASHINGTON — Day after day in the last 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, while 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 in an interview Thursday in his Capitol Hill office. “The secretary of the treasury came here today with what only could be characterized as an unserious proposal.”
To him, the Geithner visit was part of a pattern. “Here’s the picture,” McConnell said. “The president is out continuing to campaign, the secretary of the treasury is coming in here and making completely unrealistic proposals, and the majority leader is out trying to blow the Senate up at a time when we ought to be trying to narrow our differences and come together and do something important for the country.
“It’s mind-boggling. It’s hard to understand, but they obviously still want to celebrate the election.”
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 Barack Obama’s meeting recently with liberal groups and his reluctance to make major changes in Medicare and Social Security.
But Kentucky analysts see his eye squarely on the 2014 election, when the 70-year-old five-term veteran 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, Secretary of State Trey Grayson, in the party primary.
McConnell said 2014 wasn’t foremost on his mind. “I don’t want to be overly confident here. I don’t own my seat,” he said. “My only concern right now is not what might happen in 2014 but what might happen in the next three or four weeks.”
“First and foremost, Senator McConnell realizes that he is Kentucky’s senator. That’s where he starts in all of his political dealings,” said Ted Jackson, a Republican political consultant in Kentucky. “But he knows he also has a national role to fulfill, and I don’t think those two roles are inconsistent for him. He’s a very pragmatic politician.”