McConnell wary of divisive 2016 fights

McConnell wary of divisive 2016 fights
© Cameron Lancaster

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellMedicaid becomes big threat to GOP’s healthcare revival Unresolved issues, very little time for Senate GOP Valerie Jarrett slams GOP for not including women in healthcare discussions MORE (R-Ky.), seeking to protect his majority in a tough cycle for Republicans, is leaning toward holding back several measures that have bipartisan support but are divisive in his conference.

McConnell, who will meet in the Oval Office on Tuesday with President Obama and Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanTea Party favorite to lead conservative think tank Unresolved issues, very little time for Senate GOP Tougher Russia sanctions bill facing another setback MORE (R-Wis.), is under pressure from some in his conference to take action this year on a sweeping Pacific Rim trade deal, criminal justice reform legislation and an authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

ADVERTISEMENT
Others in McConnell’s conference are not keen to tackle any of those issues, however, and Senate GOP sources say McConnell is likely to take the safe route and not advance any bills that divide his ­conference.

“McConnell is smart to wait on issues that divide us until such time as we can achieve a consensus,” said a senior Republican aide. “There’s no question that some members want to turn to some things sooner than others. But McConnell’s duty is to do what’s best for the entire conference. Seems what’s best for the conference is to focus on the things that unite us.”

McConnell’s toughest conundrum may be over what to do about a budget.

He often bashed Democrats for not passing a budget, which is required by law, when they controlled the upper chamber.

Drafting a document that will win 51 GOP votes — a task made more difficult by projections of rising deficit numbers over the next decade — is hard enough. But passing it would require a marathon voting session that would force vulnerable incumbents to vote on politically dangerous ­amendments.

Endangered Republicans such as Sens. Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonHealthcare wish lists: What moderates, conservatives want Overnight Healthcare: GOP infighting erupts over bill | How Republican governors could bring down ObamaCare repeal | Schumer asks Trump to meet with Dems GOP infighting erupts over healthcare bill MORE (Wis.) and Rob PortmanRob PortmanMedicaid becomes big threat to GOP’s healthcare revival Healthcare wish lists: What moderates, conservatives want GOP infighting erupts over healthcare bill MORE (Ohio) say passing a budget is not necessary since congressional leaders struck a deal last year setting the top-line spending level for the fiscal 2017 appropriations bills.

McConnell vowed earlier this year that he would make a concerted effort to pass a budget but left himself some wiggle room by stopping short of guaranteeing it.

McConnell is sticking to the safe plan of concentrating on the 12 annual appropriations bills. If he can move them individually and avoid a year-end omnibus spending package, he’ll declare the year a legislative success.

“McConnell has always focused on having the Senate be productive and for it not to get bogged down into a never ending gripe-fest between senators,” said Josh Holmes, a GOP strategist and former senior aide to McConnell.

“One of the things he encouraged going into the majority and still encourages is for people to work through their differences in committee and not have extremely divisive issues amongst Republicans come to the Senate floor unless they are must-pass reauthorizations and spending bills, in which case you don’t have any choice,” he added. 

Republicans are also divided over whether to enact filibuster reform and whether to cut a deal on overseas corporate tax reform.

Business groups have ramped up pressure on Congress to vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership before the summer, something that Ryan and other Republicans support. Ryan said in December he wants the House to “move as soon as we can.”

But Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin HatchMedicaid becomes big threat to GOP’s healthcare revival Unresolved issues, very little time for Senate GOP Overnight Regulation: Trump pick would swing labor board to GOP | House panel advances bill to slow ozone regs | Funding bill puts restrictions on financial regulators MORE (R-Utah) has serious concerns with the trade deal because it would limit the exclusive rights of pharmaceutical companies to clinical trial data.

North Carolina Sens. Richard BurrRichard BurrOvernight Cybersecurity: New questions about 'ransomware' attack | Tensions between NSA chief, Trump over Russia | Senate panel asks states to publicize election hacks Trump trolling of Comey — Not presidential Senate panel to get Comey memos: report MORE (R) and Thom Tillis (R) have balked at language that would allow member countries to regulate manufactured tobacco products. The tobacco industry supports 22,000 jobs in their home state.

Criminal justice reform also divides the conference. Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynUnresolved issues, very little time for Senate GOP GOP infighting erupts over healthcare bill Senators urge Trump to do right thing with arms sales to Taiwan MORE (Texas) is pushing an overhaul bill that would narrow the scope of mandatory minimum sentencing laws and give judges more discretion to impose penalties. It has the support of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyCoal, nuclear vie for supremacy in key Energy Department study GOP senators want surveillance requests from FBI Russia probe Overnight Cybersecurity: New ransomware attack spreads globally | US pharma giant hit | House intel panel interviews Podesta | US, Kenya deepen cyber partnership MORE (R-Iowa) and Republican Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamGOP senators want surveillance requests from FBI Russia probe Overnight Cybersecurity: New ransomware attack spreads globally | US pharma giant hit | House intel panel interviews Podesta | US, Kenya deepen cyber partnership Graham gets frustrated in public ‘unmasking’ debate MORE (S.C.) and Mike LeeMike LeeMedicaid becomes big threat to GOP’s healthcare revival Healthcare wish lists: What moderates, conservatives want GOP infighting erupts over healthcare bill MORE (Utah).

But conservatives led by Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzKoch-backed group launches new ads on tax reform Healthcare wish lists: What moderates, conservatives want Overnight Healthcare: GOP infighting erupts over bill | How Republican governors could bring down ObamaCare repeal | Schumer asks Trump to meet with Dems MORE (R-Texas), who is at the front of the pack in the GOP presidential primary, and Sen. Tom CottonTom CottonPuerto Rico’s statehood win was a ruse House bill threatens Russia with nuclear treaty suspension Cotton: US policy should be regime change in Iran MORE (R-Ark.) warn it would put thousands of dangerous felons on the streets.

On the ISIS war authorization, GOP Sens. Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeOPINION: ObamaCare by another name is still ObamaCare Senate should seek to retain its 'blue slip' tradition for judicial nominees Progressives target Heller and Flake on Senate GOP bill MORE (Ariz.), Graham and Rand PaulRand PaulHealthcare wish lists: What moderates, conservatives want GOP infighting erupts over healthcare bill GOP senator on resolving healthcare differences: 'Even porcupines make love' MORE (Ky.), who is running for president, want Congress to take action. Other Republicans fear doing so would tie the next president’s hands to order military action.

While McConnell last month put Graham’s proposed AUMF on the fast-track for the Senate calendar, it is not expected to move anytime soon.

Portman, who faces a tough reelection in November, wants to tackle overseas corporate tax reform this year. He and Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerTougher Russia sanctions bill facing another setback Trump claims GOP has a 'big surprise' on healthcare Senate Dems step up protests ahead of ObamaCare repeal vote MORE (D-N.Y.) unveiled a bipartisan agreement on a detailed set of principles last year, but other Republicans want to postpone the debate until 2017.

McConnell is putting it on the back burner for now. He doesn’t want to sign off on any deal that spends revenue from taxing overseas corporate profits on infrastructure or other programs.