Mitch McConnell never set out to be President Barack Obama’s go-to negotiating partner.
Yet the top Senate Republican cemented his role as the bridge between the Democratic president and an estranged Congress when he struck a New Year’s Eve agreement that averted most of more than $600 billion in automatic tax increases and spending cuts. That compromise marked the third time McConnell, 70, stepped in to end an exercise of political brinkmanship over fiscal issues.
“The Obama administration has been slow to recognize it, but even though they have a majority in the Senate, and even though it’s a Democratic presidency, they’re not going to get anything done unless the minority leader agrees with it,” said Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican and McConnell ally. “He is the grown-up, and he is the one they need to have an agreement with if they want to get a result.”
Although House Speaker John Boehner and his Republican majority control the U.S. House, McConnell, who leads the minority in the Senate, is emerging as the party’s most powerful leader in Washington by virtue of his ability to manage his own members while dealing with Democrats. As debates unfold next month over raising the government’s $16.4 trillion debt ceiling and in March over funding the government, the soft-spoken, bespectacled senator will be one of the most pivotal players in an era when partisan stalemate is the norm.
McConnell’s success in working with the Obama administration is presenting the fifth-term Kentucky senator with a dilemma: how to maintain his increasingly influential position without further antagonizing anti-tax Tea Party groups back home that are threatening to recruit a primary challenger for his re-election race next year.
“I just want to get the problems fixed, and to do that, we have to talk to the other side,” McConnell said in a Jan. 9 interview in his Capitol office.
See the full story on Obama and McConnell at Bloomberg.com.