Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., met Wednesday with the conservative Republican Study Committee and its staff in a packed Capitol basement conference room, multiple sources confirmed.
McConnell was invited by Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., to speak to the group about campaign finance issues. But the Republican leader also addressed the most pressing items of the day, from the GOP position on the expiring tax cuts and looming discretionary cuts to filibuster reform.
When discussing the ongoing fiscal cliff negotiations between Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and the White House, McConnell said: “In the past, Democrats have always tried to get revenue up front for cuts that don’t happen. Not this time,” according to a source in the room.
Larger talks on a deal have stalled, with most lawmakers and staff on holiday last week and the president set to hit the road later this week for campaign-style events on the expiring tax cuts and slashes to the discretionary spending budget. McConnell has said publicly that negotiations are at an “impasse” and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday that the parties are making “little progress.”
The primary purpose of McConnell’s visit, however, was to discuss campaign finance changes. The Kentucky Republican has been an ardent supporter of campaign giving as free speech and an opponent of overhaul efforts aimed at stifling election financing.
Democrats, especially in the Senate, have been threatening to reintroduce the DISCLOSE Act, a twice-failed bill that would impose stricter transparency and reporting rules on corporate entities that engage in the electoral process.
McConnell warned the group of conservatives not to agree to a discharge petition that would bring any campaign finance bill to the House floor. That’s what happened with the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, when a Democrat-controlled Senate and GOP-controlled House approved changes.
“I’ve been the designated spear catcher on this issue for 25 years and it’s never hurt me in an election, not even close,” McConnell told the room about campaign finance changes, according to the source. He added about the DISCLOSE Act, “I don’t think we need to tinker with the First Amendment. My view is, it ain’t broke, it doesn’t need fixing.”
Boehner’s office confirmed that the leader was aware that McConnell was addressing the House conservatives.
The tea-party-infused RSC has long been skeptical of the GOP establishment and its leaders, which makes the about 170 member-strong group’s invitation all the more interesting as Congress grapples with how to deal with the fiscal cliff. In the 2011 budget battle, these same conservative House members were the drivers of the larger spending cuts debate, as well as a thorn in the side of leadership.
“Over the past few months, I’ve gotten to know Leader McConnell, and I invited him to join us for an RSC meeting. I appreciate him taking a few minutes out of his schedule to meet with us,” Griffin said in an email to Roll Call.