Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday defended his party’s decision to obstruct the Democrats’ agenda in the Senate as best he could by forcing their rivals to get 60 votes for nearly every measure. He described the conflict in the Senate as a great debate over the future of the country.
“The Senate is operating how it should,” he said, explaining that President Obama’s “far-left agenda” forced the Republican conference to try to block what McConnell described as terrible policy.
“There are differences of opinion in a big country,” McConnell added, speaking to reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid lured Republican Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe to his side to reach 60 votes on a measure that will spend $26 billion to help states pay for Medicaid and to retain teachers before the start of the school year. The House has been called back from recess to approve the bill — a rare occurrence that highlights how important Democrats view this emergency spending both politically and substantively.
That battle was just the latest instance in the Senate where Republicans have denied the majority an up or down vote on the president’s agenda without approval by 60 senators to cut off debate. Republicans forced Democrats to reach 60 votes on health care reform and financial reform in the Senate, and a lack votes helped defeat President Obama’s third key agenda item — comprehensive energy legislation that would put a price on carbon emissions. However, it is not just Republicans in the Senate who object to that cap-and-trade plan. Several Democrats from coal-producing states have expressed reservations.
McConnell said the 2010 midterm elections will change the equation in Congress and therefore change his relationship with the president.
“If the election were held today, my side would have a very good election,” he said. “Most people feel there’s going to be a mid-course correction. I think he will be seeing more of me” after the election, McConnell predicted.
McConnell described a private meeting he had with President Obama Wednesday that yielded several areas of agreement: approval of free trade agreements with Central and South American nations, expansion of nuclear power and development of electric cars and trucks.
As McConnell sees it, the Democratic 59-seat Senate majority has forced gridlock in the Senate because Democrats are trying to just collect two Republican votes to pass what he describes as a far-left agenda, instead of governing from the center.
“If you’re between 55 and 45 (seats) you get genuine bipartisan agreement. What I hope we’re gonna have after November is more balance. More balance. Which will give us opportunities to do things together,” McConnell said.
“But, I’m not gonna be very interested in doing things left of center. It’s gonna have to be center right. I think the president a flexible man and I’m hoping he’ll become a born-again moderate,” McConnell added. Watch some of his remarks:
Republicans have a chance of retaking both the House and Senate in the midterm elections. Republicans need to win 10 Senate seats for a majority and 39 House seats. With a struggling economy and record deficits caused in part by spending on economic stimulus by President Obama, McConnell and the GOP have been labeling Democrats as out-of-control spenders bent on controlling the financial and auto industries.
McConnell said that he and House Minority Leader John Boehner are having frequent conversations on a Republican election platform for November they plan to release by the end of September. He already knows how Democrats would run against his party, however.
“They want to run against President Bush one more time, call us ‘the party of no’ and they want to demonize the tea party,” McConnell said. “I don’t think that works.”
Once again defending his leadership of the Senate minority, McConnell added that it matters what policy you’re saying no to.
Highlighting how important spending and the economy might be to voters in November and shying away from a hot-button cultural issue, McConnell said he doesn’t know what impact Wednesday’s ruling by a federal judge that overturned California’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, saying that “spending, debt and Washington takeovers” will be the issues at the forefront of the midterms.