The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY)

Mcconnell seizes on debt standoff to undermine Biden agenda

- By Lisa Mascaro

WASHINGTON » In the frantic bid to avert a default on the nation’s debt, Senate Republican leader Mitch Mcconnell held a position of unusual power — as the one who orchestrat­ed both the problem and the solution.

Mcconnell is no longer the majority leader, but he is exerting his minority status in convoluted and uncharted ways, all in an effort to stop President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda and even if doing so pushes the country toward grave economic uncertaint­y.

All said, the outcome of this debt crisis leaves zero confidence there won’t be a next one. In fact, Mcconnell engineered an end to the standoff that ensures Congress will be in the same spot in December when funding to pay America’s bills next runs out. That means another potentiall­y dev

astating debt showdown, all as the COVID-19 crisis lingers and the economy struggles to recover.

“Mitch Mcconnell loves chaos,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-ohio, chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. “He’s a very smart tactician and strategist, but the country pays the price so often for what he does.”

The crisis has cemented Mcconnell’s legacy as a master of misdirecti­on. He’s the architect of the impasse and the one who resolved it, if only for the short term. More battles are to come as Democrats narrow Biden’s big agenda, a now-$2 trillion expansion of health,

child care and climate change programs, all paid for with taxes on corporatio­ns and the wealthy that Republican­s oppose.

To some Republican­s, Mcconnell is a shrewd leader, using every tool at his disposal to leverage power and undermine Biden’s priorities. To others, including Donald Trump, he is weak, having “caved” too soon. To Democrats, Mcconnell remains an infuriatin­g rival who has shown again he is willing to break one institutio­nal norm after another to pursue Republican power.

“Mcconnell’s role is to be the leader of the opposition and it’s his job to push back on what the majority wants to do,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist.

“Nobody should be surprised to see the leader of

the Republican­s making the Democrats’ job harder,” he said.

Biden, in comments made via video Saturday to the Democratic National Committee’s fall meeting, hinted at the damage Mcconnell could inflict not just on that agenda but also on the party’s broader case to the electorate. The president urged activists at virtual meeting to keep making the case for government solutions, even as Republican­s try to undercut that message.

“Just as the Republican Party today offers nothing but fear, lies and broken promises, we have to keep cutting through the Republican fog that government is the problem, and show that we the people are always the solution,” Biden said.

The debt showdown left Democrats, who control

Washington, portrayed as big spenders, willing to boost the nation’s now-$28.4 trillion debt to pay the bills. But both parties have contribute­d to that load because of past decisions that leave the government rarely operating in the black.

Republican­s risk recriminat­ions from all sides of their deeply divided party. In easing off the crisis, Mcconnell insulated his Republican­s from further blame, but infuriated Trump and his allies, who are eager to skewer the Kentucky senator for giving in.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-texas, said he told his colleagues during a private meeting before the debt vote that it was “a mistake for Republican leadership to agree to this deal.”

Once a routine vote to ensure the nation’s bills

are paid, raising the debt limit has become a political weapon, particular­ly for Republican­s, to rail against government spending. The tea party class of Republican­s a decade ago brought the nation to the brink of default over the issue and set a new GOP strategy.

In this case, Mcconnell made it clear he had no demands other than to disrupt Biden’s domestic agenda, the now-$2 trillion package that is the president’s signature legislatio­n but is derided by Republican­s as a “socialist tax-and-spending spree.”

In muscling Biden’s agenda to passage, Democrats are relying on a complicate­d procedure, the budget reconcilia­tion process, which allows 51 votes for approval, rather than the 60 typically needed to overcome

Senate objections. In the 50-50 split Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris gives Democrats the majority with her ability to cast a tiebreakin­g vote.

Mcconnell seized on the Democratic budget strategy as a way to conflate the issues, announcing months ago he wanted Democrats to increase the debt limit on their own using the same procedure. It was his way of linking Biden’s big federal government overhaul with the nation’s rising debt load, even though they are separate and most of Biden’s agenda hasn’t been enacted.

The debt raising vote has rarely been popular, and both parties have had to do it on their own, at times. But Mcconnell struck new legislativ­e ground trying to dictate the terms to Democrats.

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Mitch Mcconnell

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