For anyone who thought Congress might accomplish something in 2016, this dose of cold water comes from the Hill's Alexander Bolton, who reports that probably ain't happening:
"Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (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."
So, for example, that bipartisan criminal justice reform bill that looked so promising, the one Republicans and Democrats had worked so hard on to reach a compromise. Yeah, the Senate won't be voting on that. Or the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Or the Authorization for Use of Military Force. Or really anything. Because why force anybody to take tough votes?
Bolton quotes a "a senior Republican aide" who notes that "McConnell is smart to wait on issues that divide us until such time as we can achieve a consensus."
Presumably, what he means is that McConnell wants to wait it out until 2017, when he hopes to have a Republican in the White House and retain his majority in the Senate. But that's a gamble. He could equally well lose the Senate, and Clinton could become president.
To be fair, Harry Reid was in the same position in 2014. He faced some pressure within his caucus to open up more votes. But, worried that controversial votes on health care, energy, and social issues might hurt vulnerable incumbents, Reid kept the agenda tight.
But nota bene: Democrats lost a bunch of seats in 2014. Reid bottling up the agenda didn't make any difference.
One of those Democratic senators who lost in 2014 was Alaska's Mark Begich. Here's what Begich said in June 2014:
"Does it mean increased risks? Sure. That's what voting is about. At the end of the day, you are not going to say you're not going to vote for things because you're afraid of how that vote will look. The vote will look bad if you don't take the vote, so why not take the vote so people know where you stand?"
With the Senate majority going back and forth between the two parties several times over the past decade, I understand why party leaders are sensitive about holding their majorities, particularly if they see unified control within in reach. And this partisan agenda suppression has been ongoing on for years.
But at what point does Begich's position become the mainstream position among even swing-state incumbents? Among Republicans, three incumbents — Mark Kirk (IL), Kelly Ayotte (NH), and Ron Johnson (WI) — face tossups. Richard Burr (NC), Rob Portman (OH), and Pat Toomey (PA) are also vulnerable.
More than likely, these senators' fortunes will depend on the presidential election dynamics, particularly the turnout. There are few swing voters anymore. And whatever swing voters exist are not particularly likely to be weighing particular votes anyway, since they tend to follow politics less closely, voting more on general conditions and feelings than on policy.
Given that these senators' reelection chances probably will have little to do with particular votes, why wouldn't they at least want the chance to do something in what could be their final year as senator? What's the point of keeping the job if it just means doing nothing?
I know, I'm not going to convince anybody. McConnell understands perfectly what he is doing. And he's a brilliant partisan tactician.
But clearly something is wrong when the Senate majority leader announces that he intends to bottle up bills with bipartisan support because there is an election in nine months. This just isn't how the Senate is supposed to work.