Senate Dems warn GOP not to block legislation

The top three Senate Democrats said the onus was on the newly strengthened GOP conference to cooperate on legislation next year.

Republicans picked up six Senate seats Tuesday night, not enough to take control of the chamber, but the new numbers will make it harder for Democrats to get the necessary 60 votes to proceed on controversial legislation.

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Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) pledged in a conference call with reporters Wednesday to work with the Republicans but also emphasized the GOP’s responsibility to not block legislation.

Reid, especially, renewed a threat he made before, that Republicans must stop obstructing and start cooperating. The majority leader, who survived a close reelection battle, said he spoke early Wednesday afternoon with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
 
“Republicans must take their responsibility to solve the problems of ordinary Americans,” Reid said. “Simply saying ‘no,’ as we’ve had this past Congress … won’t bring jobs back. It won’t strengthen the economy, and it won’t help families who are struggling to make ends meet. ‘No’ is not the answer. It has to be ‘yes.’ Not our ‘yes,’ but a combined ‘yes,’ something we work out — a consensus ‘yes.’”
 
“Playing to a draw in the United States Senate for political score is not acceptable to the American people,” added Durbin. “We need to work together. The Senate will be the crucible for some of the most important issues of our day.”
 
Specifically, Schumer said the 112th Congress will “focus on the middle class like a laser,” and he expects, as per tradition, Republicans will insist on tax cuts and Democrats will defend spending on infrastructure. However, Schumer also acknowledged Democrats “don’t have the monopoly on knowledge.”
 
Asked about the lame-duck session scheduled to start Nov. 15, Reid said “a number of issues” could be taken up and he has begun talks with McConnell on the agenda.
 
Pointedly, however, Reid signaled Democrats would likely vote against a wholesale extension of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts signed by President George W. Bush, which expire at the end of the year. Democrats would agree to extending the cuts for middle-class families, Reid said, but allowing them for wealthy Americans “is not going to happen” because it would cost $4 trillion.

President Obama has pressed for the cuts to be extended for families making $250,000 or less, while Republicans want an across-the-board extension.
 
Pressed on how Congress could function in a divided state in 2011, with a Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate, Reid repeated that the answer lies with GOP leaders.
 
“When this government was set up in the 18th century, they knew that there would be problems … This has all happened before,” he said. “The message I repeat today is that the ball is in their court.
 
“Fifty-three (seats), over my long time in the Senate, is a pretty good majority … We’re comfortable where we are, and we have made the message very clear that we want to work with Republicans. If they’re unwilling to work with us, there’s not a thing we can do about that, but the American people can see that like a very slow curve ball.”

The Senate will have some new members in the lame-duck. The winners of contests in Delaware, West Virginia and Illinois will be sworn-in immediately. Democrats held two of the seats with Chris Coons (D) winning in Delaware and Joe Manchin (D) winning in West Virginia, but Republicans took Illinois with a win by Rep. Mark Kirk.