Politico

By MANU RAJU | 8/20/14 5:07 AM EDT Updated: 8/20/14 7:29 PM EDT

HENDERSON, Ky. — Mitch McConnell has a game plan to confront President Barack Obama with a stark choice next year: Accept bills reining in the administration’s policies or veto them and risk a government shutdown.

In an extensive interview here, the typically reserved McConnell laid out his clearest thinking yet of how he would lead the Senate if Republicans gain control of the chamber. The emerging strategy: Attach riders to spending bills that would limit Obama policies on everything from the environment to health care, consider using an arcane budget tactic to circumvent Democratic filibusters and force the president to “move to the center” if he wants to get any new legislation through Congress.

In short, it’s a recipe for a confrontational end to the Obama presidency.

“We’re going to pass spending bills, and they’re going to have a lot of restrictions on the activities of the bureaucracy,” McConnell said in an interview aboard his campaign bus traveling through Western Kentucky coal country. “That’s something he won’t like, but that will be done. I guarantee it.”

McConnell is facing one of the toughest reelection battles of his three-decade Senate career. But Republicans are tantalizingly close to winning majorities in both houses of Congress for the first time in nearly a decade, and McConnell is making an aggressive pitch to voters here that they have the chance to pick the Senate’s next majority leader.

But there are clear risks for McConnell. First, he must defeat a spirited Democratic challenger in November, while hoping that the class of Senate candidates he helped recruit doesn’t blow the GOP’s best chance in years to retake the majority. And, perhaps just as challenging, McConnell would need to bring unity to a party that is struggling to overcome divisions between establishment stalwarts like himself and young GOP upstarts pushing for conservative purity.

One of the Senate’s leading GOP firebrands — Ted Cruz of Texas — isn’t committing to supporting McConnell as majority leader, signaling the challenges that could lie ahead.

“That will be a decision for the conference to make,” Cruz said in an interview, after pausing eight seconds, when asked if he’d back McConnell as majority leader. “I’m hopeful come January we have a Republican majority.”

Meanwhile, McConnell risks overreaching if he follows through with his pledge to attach policy riders to spending bills. If Obama refuses to accept such measures, a government shutdown could ensue. Republicans bore much of the blame for last year’s government shutdown, which was prompted by conservative tactics McConnell opposed, and their fortunes rebounded only when the administration bungled the rollout of Obamacare.

But asked about the potential that his approach could spark another shutdown, McConnell said it would be up to the president to decide whether to veto spending bills that would keep the government open.

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