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Bill Straub: A smoldering relationship spells trouble for McCarthy/McConnell; Mitch keeps his head

History is full of stories about people who worked closely in pursuit of a common goal yet couldn’t stand one another. In the arts, for instance, Gilbert could hardly tolerate occupying the same room as Sullivan. Simon and Garfunkle have been smearing each other for years. Ray and Dave Davies knocked off hit after hit as The Kinks but it didn’t stop them from throwing punches at each other on stage. And they’re brothers.

Now we may be looking at a similar smoldering relationship, American political style. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-CA., who has proved himself well over his head in his first few days on the job, will have to work in tandem, somehow, with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Louisville, who has held that responsibility longer than anyone in the nation’s history and, despite obvious and oftentimes staggering liabilities, is nobody’s fool, an attribute that can’t be used to describe McCarthy.

Neither man finds himself in a particularly advantageous position. Republicans hold a precarious 10-seat advantage in the 435-member House, meaning minority Democrats need to attract only six GOP votes to thwart McCarthy’s agenda, whatever that might be. It took McCarthy 15 rounds of voting to win the job he feels he’s entitled to, and in doing so sold the keys to the kingdom to his party’s Atilla the Hun faction, essentially providing the tinfoil had brigade carte blanche in its effort to grind the country to a halt.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

McCarthy’s ridiculous pledges became obvious this week with the announcement of appointments to the newly-retitled House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, chaired by Kentucky’s own Rep. Jamie Comer, R-Whereverhehangshishatishishome, a crackpot who aspires to become a full-tilt boogie zealot himself.

Comer hasn’t sought to camouflage his intent to investigate, agitate and persecute President Biden for anything and everything, up to and including throwing a gum wrapper on the sidewalk. To assist him in this endeavor, McCarthy has cleared the bench of the party’s crazies and stuck them on the committee. Here you will find Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-GA, Rep. Paul Gosar, R-AZ, Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-CO, and Rep. Scott Perry, R-PA.

Among the member of what Comer characterized as an “all start lineup,” you’ll find, according to the Congressional Integrity Project, “more than a dozen members who voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election, 10 who have already called for impeaching a Biden administration official and a trio of folks who disagreed with subpoenas issued by the Jan. 6 select committee in the last Congress.”

Adding to the glory, Greene and Gosar have advocated for violence to be used against their political enemies and circulated with white supremists.

This should give you a snapshot of where the House is headed under McCarthy’s skewed view of leadership. It can’t be something Mitch is looking forward to confronting.

McConnell, the record shows, is not averse to throwing a monkey wrench into congressional proceedings when it serves his political purposes. But he doesn’t generally do it for sport. And he most definitely would urge caution faced with the opportunity to reclaim the Senate majority two years hence and perhaps even retake the White House.

McConnell endorsed McCarthy for the speakership but he really had little choice. There was no obvious alternative and any other contender could have proved even more inane than the dude who got the job. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

Now the headlines are filled with references to how well McCarthy and McConnell get along even though they aren’t that close and maintain sometimes conflicting views on the nation’s direction. McConnell is forever portraying himself as buddy-buddy with whomever he’s paired with. Mitch always insisted he got along well with the late Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, which was the bunk. He always tried to convince folks he was pals with his Kentucky cohort, Sen. Rand Paul, R-TedYass, but that fable crashed and burned over an appointment to a federal judgeship.

It has already been established that McConnell is wary of McCarthy’s leadership, or lack thereof. During the closing days of the recently completed 117th Congress, with Democrats holding slight edges in both the House and Senate, McConnell supported during the lame duck session an omnibus appropriations measure to fund the government through Nov. 1, much to McCarthy’s chagrin and outrage.

So, why did he do it? As Senate Republican leader, McConnell could have stalled, delaying consideration of any spending measure until fellow Republicans assumed control of the House, a move that conceivably could have wrung concessions from Democrats.

Odd for the fabled master strategist. But it likely could be summed up in one word – Ukraine.

To his everlasting credit, McConnell has been a strong supporter of Ukraine in its war with Russia, urging the U.S. to dispatch arms and billions of dollars in aid to the Zelenskyy government, which was contained in the omnibus.

McCarthy? Not so much. As far back as October he predicted cuts in aid to Ukraine if Republicans took the House. Bloomberg and other news agencies are reporting that, as part of the deal with the radical, far-right members of the GOP caucus to install him as speaker, McCarthy agreed to cut fiscal year 2024 discretionary spending across government to 2022 levels. That would mean defense spending, which rose to $857 billion in the omnibus, would be cut back to $782 billion, threatening Ukraine support.

A growing number of members of the Khmer Rouge faction within the Republican caucus, the folks McCarthy keeps kowtowing to, don’t care if Ukraine is blown to Kingdom Come.

“We serve AMERICA NOT UKRAINE!” Greene belched on Twitter earlier this month.

Confronted with the prospect of either bolstering Ukraine or permitting House Republicans to cut it off at the knees, it’s fair to conclude McConnell struck an agreement with the White House and dealt McCarthy out.

Regardless, things are going to come to a head soon. The Treasury Department announced on Wednesday that the federal government had reached its debt limit of $31.4 trillion, meaning it could no longer borrow money to pay its bills without congressional consent to raise or suspend that limit. The U.S. is therefore employing various fiscal maneuvers – probably the type that would land any Tom, Dick or Harry in jail – to keep the government humming until it hits sand at the bottom of the well.

Treasury estimates to will be able to fulfill some financial obligations, like paying the federal workforce, investors who hold U.S. debt and others slated to receive payments from federal coffers, at least until early June. After that, if Congress fails to act, the nation’s full faith and credit will essentially be destroyed and a recession would almost certainly commence, sparking a global financial crisis.

McCarthy and House Republicans insist they will not raise the debt limit unless Biden agrees to as yet unidentified cuts in federal spending.

“Every government has to do this,” McCarthy said on Fox News. “Every state has to balance their budget, county, city. For the White House to say they won’t even look at it, that they can’t find one penny out of $1 of eliminating waste, I think they’re just trying to put us into bankruptcy.”

Biden has responded by telling the radicals to take a hike, maintaining that the federal government is obligated to finance the spending already approved by Congress.

Interestingly, McConnell isn’t sweating it.

“In the end, I think the important thing to remember is that America must never default on its debt,” McConnell told The New York Times. “It never has and it never will. But we will end up in some kind of negotiation with the administration over what are the circumstances or conditions under which the debt ceiling be raised.”

He added: “I would not be concerned with a financial crisis.”

Raise your hand if you ever thought Addison Mitchell McConnell would emerge as the responsible voice of the Republican Party.

My hands are firmly in my pockets.

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