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McConnell Remains Washington's Essential, if Reluctant, Deal-Maker

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
McConnell has been the indispensable deal-maker from two years of “grand bargain” talks, managing to forge compromises with relatively minimal grumbling from Republicans.

And McConnell stayed focused on getting a result while many of his colleagues were making speeches or wringing their hands over what wasn’t in the deal. When the president on New Year’s Eve made a blatantly partisan appearance with middle-class Americans, adding a call for even more tax hikes next year, many Republicans bristled with outrage and warned that Obama’s speech threatened to kill the deal. McConnell remained the picture of restraint.

He wasn’t unaware of the political mileage that Democrats could have gotten with an accusation that Republicans were forcing a tax hike on everyone to protect millionaires.

But according to GOP aides, McConnell told his members that if they didn’t cut a deal, the focus of future negotiations would remain on taxes, and they would never get to spending and entitlements.

The strategy became readily apparent in a statement he made Wednesday.

“Now that the House and Senate have acted in a bipartisan way to prevent tax increases on 99 percent of the American people, Democrats now have the opportunity — and the responsibility — to join Republicans in a serious effort to reduce Washington’s out-of-control spending,” McConnell said.

Now that Obama “has the tax rates he wants, his calls for ‘balance’ mean he must join us in our efforts to achieve meaningful spending and government reform.”

With Boehner continuing to face a defiant conference, McConnell may well end up in the same power-broker position a couple of months from now, when Congress and the White House stare down the next cliff of their own making.

That’s something he suggests he’d like to avoid.

In his statement, McConnell pointedly said that Senate Democrats — who have been unable to pass a budget resolution for three years running — must act, “rather than waiting until the last minute, abdicating responsibility and hoping someone else will step in once again to craft a last-minute solution for them.”

It’s now pretty clear to everyone who that someone might be.

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