Mitch McConnell Dragged Into Game of Fiscal Cliff Chicken

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WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 27:  U.S. Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) answers reporters' questions during his weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol May 27, 2011 in Washington, DC. McConnell said everything is still on the table in budget negotiations and that Medicare reform must be a part of any bipartisan agreement.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/2011 Getty Images

When President Obama and members of the Senate get back to work on Thursday, there will be a new player in their last ditch effort to prevent the country from hurdling over the fiscal cliff. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has managed to stay out of the budget showdown for the most part, but on Wednesday he came under pressure from the White House and members of both parties. An Obama administration official said the issue is now "up to two people: the Senate minority leader to not block a vote and the House speaker to allow a vote." In a joint statement, Boehner and other House Republican leaders pointed to the Senate. “The House will take ... action on whatever the Senate can pass, but the Senate first must act," they said. A Senate Democratic leadership aide told the Huffington Post that they can't move a plan through Congress because "We need cooperation from Republicans ... and that hasn't materialized yet." If McConnell is planning to swoop in and save the day, his staff wasn't letting on. On Wednesday, spokesman Don Stewart said, "There has been no outreach from Democrats here or at the White House,” adding that Senate Republicans can't do much "until Senator Reid proposes something."

As Bloomberg notes, if Senate Democrats do introduce a fiscal package, McConnell has three choices:  He can do nothing, try to block the proposal, or work to find a bipartisan deal. In the past, McConnell might have gone for the last option. He was a key player in resolving last year's disputes over the debt ceiling and extending the expiring payroll tax break. He also worked on Boehner's Plan B effort behind the scenes, but after it flopped last week, many say it's unlikely he'll work to forge a new deal. “Unless Sen. McConnell radically changes his tune and agrees to substantive compromises, we are headed over the cliff,” said Jim Manley, a former aide to Harry Reid. “But Sen. McConnell wants to ensure that whatever happens doesn't have his fingerprints on it.”

Part of the problem may be that McConnell is focused on his 2014 reelection bid. Actress Ashley Judd is still only considering a run against McConnell, but he's concerned enough that he's already doing polling to identify her weaknesses. Being hailed as the man who saved America from the fiscal cliff doesn't sound so bad, but it could make trouble for McConnell back home in Kentucky. The Club for Growth has vowed to oppose any compromise that includes a tax hike, and if the group gets behind a primary challenger, McConnell could lose before he even gets a chance to use his dirt on Judd.