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Bob Franken: Getting kicks with Machiavelli Mitch
Bob Franken.jpg
Bob Franken is an Emmy winning, syndicated columnist. - photo by File photo

“The (plug in random NFL team) play Radio City Rockettes offense. One, two, three, kick.” That’s an old football joke. If you don’t understand the finer points of the game, ask your wife.

And if you don’t get how Washington deals with crises, it’s the same thing.

The politicians just punt the ball a short distance away. This way, they keep attention on themselves by never leaving crisis mode.

Every game they play ends in overtime.

The congressional and White House gladiators have done it again, taking their backstabbing match beyond regulation and into December. I should say “matches,” since they have managed to combine two budgetary shambles into the same holiday month: December, the month of Christmas, Hanukkah and now the month of fiscal drama.

First off, there is the traditional nail-biter over a federal government shutdown. Remember that one? The original deadline for funding operations was supposed to be the end of September, but the tradition now includes the punt that stretches the boundary to Dec. 3, just when some federal employees were worrying about being able to afford holiday inflation this year because of supply chain issues caused by the year-round fear of COVID.

Head coaches Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell have their work cut out for them. Will their strategy include still another kick of the ball (called a “can,” as in “kick the can down the road”)?

Note that I said Head Coach Biden, who’s running the administration team with McConnell leading the congressional unit. “But he’s the Senate minority leader,” you say.

“How could he be controlling the Capitol Hill unit?” Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi manage the majority Democrats. Because there are actually too many Democratic squads to control, Mitch assumes his accustomed role of puppeteer on behalf of GOP team owner Donald Trump. Trump pretends he should be running the White House team. If he were in charge, they would be named the Autocrats, and we wouldn’t have to go through all these games -- by now he would be President for Life and he’d rule by decree, just like those he admires so much, his buddies Vlad and Xi and Kim.

Until then, it’s Mitch versus Joe. While the advantage would seem to be held by Joe, it’s Machiavelli Mitch who runs this show.

Says a competing senior Senate Democrat, “Mitch McConnell loves chaos.”

Note the way Mitch played Pelosi and Schumer into December with that even bigger fiasco, the debt ceiling vote. Sometime in December the United States of America will welch on its debts, near $30 trillion worth. That is, unless Congress votes to raise the debt limit. Mitch managed to somehow snap the ball at the last minute – being the holder and kicker at the same time – and send it through the uprights, contriving the current overtime situation. Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and all the rest are little more than spectators. Biden could initiate a change in the Senate rules and get rid of the filibuster (if you don’t understand the Senate rules, ask a parliamentarian). But he doesn’t want to get rid of the filibuster.

As a former senator, for decades he maneuvered through the incomprehensible maze of the U.S. Senate, dealing with people like Mitch. He loves the Senate, as does McConnell, while a sane person finds it boring.

Paradoxically, that experience of moving through quicksand is how the two of them and most of the players will find some way out of this mess. Just when everybody throws up his or her hands and screams “It’s hopeless!” someone may find an obscure way out and the game will kick off still again.

Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN.

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