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Mitch McConnell already running the show for the GOP

Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers feel pressure on guns Bipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees Curbelo Dem rival lashes out over immigration failure MORE won’t become majority leader until next month, but he’s already acting the part.

The Kentucky Republican, who will visit President Obama Wednesday at the White House, has taken the lead on a variety of thorny issues, spelled out his agenda for the next Congress and is working to protect the Senate GOP majority in 2016.

McConnell on Tuesday laid out his vision for immigration, taxes and healthcare reform.

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He wants to change ObamaCare by repealing the medical device tax and setting a 40-hour threshold for requiring employers to provide health coverage. 

Corporate tax reform will happen in the next Congress, McConnell said, if lawmakers agree to lower tax rates for small businesses as well as major corporations.

Lawmakers have noticed that McConnell is using his newfound power.

“He certainly is because the people have spoken,” said Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainLawmakers worry about rise of fake video technology Democrats put Dreamers and their party in danger by playing hardball Trump set a good defense budget, but here is how to make it better MORE (Ariz.), a senior member of the GOP caucus.

Senate Republicans say that McConnell has new strength following his party’s strong performance in the November midterm elections, which McConnell described Tuesday as a “butt-kicking” for Democrats.

“He’s going to have a big job come January and we want to be prepared when the time comes and set the stage a little bit,” said Senate Republican Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneFlake to try to force vote on DACA stopgap plan Congress punts fight over Dreamers to March The 14 GOP senators who voted against Trump’s immigration framework MORE (S.D.). “I think that the leader is trying to tee things up a little bit and give an idea of how he’d lead the Senate.”

President Obama and McConnell have long had an icy relationship, but the Kentucky Republican has repeatedly stressed that he is willing to work with the White House on trade and rewriting the tax code. Still, McConnell has made sure to rip the president on a regular basis.

On Tuesday, McConnell said he’s “been perplexed by [Obama’s] reaction since the election, the sort of in-your-face, dramatic move to the left.”

In this Congress, the GOP-led House has been, by and large, silent on immigration reform. McConnell, who enjoys a close working relationship with Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRestoring fiscal sanity requires bipartisan courage GOP congressman slams primary rival for Ryan donations Speculation swirls about Kevin McCarthy’s future MORE (R-Ohio), is vowing the Senate will be active next year.

McConnell said Tuesday that Congress should “bust up” comprehensive immigration reform legislation and pass a series of bills, beginning with a measure strengthening border security.

McCain, who has been pushing for immigration reform for a decade, told The Hill Tuesday that he supports McConnell’s strategy to proceed piecemeal — but insisted the House should act first in the next Congress.

Elected to the Senate in 1984, McConnell has held several leadership posts, but he has never been majority leader. While Republicans in the Senate have a lot of confidence in McConnell, keeping party unity in the majority will not be easy.

He also must deal with a tough Senate map in 2016, where Republicans will be defending 24 seats to the Democrats’ 10.

McConnell is no stranger to dealmaking. In the minority, McConnell often played a central role in putting together major bipartisan agreements.

For example, he was instrumental in negotiating the deal that raised the debt limit in August of 2011 and avoided a federal default. He also put together the tax deal that made most of the Bush-era rates permanent, and hashed out an agreement that ended a 16-day government shutdown last year.

But often McConnell’s role did not come to light until the final moments before a deal was announced.

He took charge immediately after this year’s election by vowing there would be no government shutdown or default on the federal debt. That was a clear message to Tea Party members of his own caucus, most notably Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Health Care: Trump eases rules on insurance outside ObamaCare | HHS office on religious rights gets 300 complaints in a month | GOP chair eyes opioid bill vote by Memorial Day HHS official put on leave amid probe into social media posts Trump, Pence to address CPAC this week MORE (R-Texas).

BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRestoring fiscal sanity requires bipartisan courage GOP congressman slams primary rival for Ryan donations Speculation swirls about Kevin McCarthy’s future MORE, by contrast, shied away from taking such a definitive stand. Last month, he declined to rule out a possible shutdown, saying that “all of the options are on the table.”

Anticipating Obama’s executive order protecting millions of illegal immigrants from deportation, McConnell sternly urged his colleagues not to “take the bait” and provoke a shutdown, according to one GOP senator.

His arguments have proven persuasive.

“He’s already been urging restraint,” said the lawmaker, who requested anonymity. “Obviously some of the folks who would like to see this as an opportunity to elevate their profile for a potential presidential run will not use restraint but I think the bulk of the caucus will use restraint.”

In the run-up to the elections, McConnell was already preparing for the lame-duck session. He signaled to colleagues that he wanted to clear the decks to give what he expected to be a new Senate Republican majority a clean slate in 2015.

On Tuesday, McConnell announced his priorities for the December session: pass a government-funding bill, renew expired tax breaks and clear an authorization for the Defense Department.

He also revealed his plans for reforming ObamaCare. If the Supreme Court rules that the 2010 law does not authorize the federal government to set up health insurance marketplaces in states that don’t have them, Congress “is back in the business of looking at healthcare in a comprehensive way,” McConnell said.

Regardless how the high court rules, he predicts the Senate will vote on changing or eliminating the mandate requiring individuals to buy health insurance, as well as the health insurance premium tax.

On the subject of tax reform, he said it should be “revenue neutral.” He said no bill would pass unless Obama dropped his demand that tax reform include hundreds of billions of dollars in new revenue.