McConnell’s First Test

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On Meet the Press yesterday Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell took a victory lap, gloating that he’d forced the administration to bend to Republican will.

We’ve had more conversations in the last two weeks than we’ve had in the last two years, and I think that’s a good sign, a growing awareness that the power’s going to be more symmetrical in the next Congress, and I’m optimistic we’ll be able to come together.

The deal purportedly on the table is a two-year extension of all of Bush’s tax cuts coupled with an extension of unemployment benefits. It was negotiated over the heads of Senate Dems – pleasing new “messenger” Chuck Schumer to no end, I’m sure – and has been greeted this morning with veiled and sometimes open hostility by the progressive base. Some Dems are already saying they won’t stomach the deal unless other sweeteners are added, such as the Making Work Pay tax credit.

So far as I can tell this deal is far from done. If lefty anger continues to mount, enough Democratic senators could defect to bring it down. But the bigger risk still comes from right. McConnell should not be so quick to crow: his chickens aren’t counted. Just last week he made a deal for tax votes with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and a member of his conference objected, leaving Senate Republicans embarrassed. An infuriated Reid forced Saturday votes on the Democratic proposals. McConnell would do well to check with the Jim DeMints of his conference before going on Meet the Press to claim victory.

This deal will be as big a test of McCconnell’s ability to deliver his conference – and keep in mind, Rand Paul, Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio, Mike Lee and Ron Johnson have yet to be been seated — as it is the Administration’s bipartisanship and base-management skills.