POLITICS
12/11/2013 05:26 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Mitch McConnell Conspicuously Absent From Budget Deal Bandwagon

WASHINGTON -- One member of Republican congressional leadership is conspicuously absent from those who are praising the new budget agreement crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) came out emphatically in favor of the deal on Wednesday, even bucking the outside conservative groups that seem to have held the House in thrall in recent years. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) have both also backed Boehner.

The only top-ranking member of the GOP missing is McConnell, who for the past three years has been known as one of Congress' top deal-makers, deeply steeped in the arcana and minutiae of legislation and legislative procedure.

When asked by HuffPost whether he supports the deal, which replaces about two-thirds of the across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration while cutting some $23 billion from the deficit, McConnell was noncommittal.

"I haven't really looked at it yet," McConnell said, although one unconfirmed report suggests he is leaning against it. McConnell did not discuss the spending plan at all in his first remarks from the Senate floor since the deal was announced Tuesday night. Instead McConnell opted to rail against Obamacare and changes to the Senate's filibuster rules.

Senate Democratic leaders don't necessarily need McConnell's support to move the budget plan through the Senate, where they are likely to find plenty of more moderate GOP members to back it.

But should the high-profile leader oppose the deal, it would place the senior Kentucky senator at odds with Boehner and conservative darling Ryan, but in line with outside conservative groups like Heritage Action and the Club for Growth, which are lobbying hard against the deal in the House.

Most House Republicans, when leaving their caucus meeting Wednesday morning, expressed some level of support for the deal, but many sounded unconvinced, while others were already opposed.

"It is a first step. It's a baby step and it's a little tiny baby step. I think we could have made maybe a toddler step," said Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), who said he was disappointed with and inclined to vote against the deal when it hits the floor, likely on Thursday.

"It seems as though we had incredible leverage with sequestration, and I'm not sure we used it to its full extent," Salmon added.

Another eight conservative members held an event in opposition to the scheme at the Heritage Foundation Wednesday.

Salmon predicted that the budget would pass with Democratic votes. Yet Democratic House leaders sounded less than enthusiastic about the deal, which lacks the extension of emergency unemployment benefits they've been seeking.

McConnell has brokered a number of key agreements in recent years, helping to craft a resolution to the 2011 budget standoff, as well as helping end the recent government shutdown showdown. If McConnell, who is facing a tea party challenger in his reelection bid, takes up a position strongly against the new budget measure, it could sway enough House Republicans to make passage an extremely dicey proposition. And make McConnell a deal breaker, instead of a savior.

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.

ALSO ON HUFFPOST:

Obama's Handshakes Around The World
Subscribe to the Politics email.
How will Trump’s administration impact you?

CONVERSATIONS