McConnell: I'll make Senate work

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday made his case for how he would make the Senate work again if Republicans win majority control in November.

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McConnell, the senior senator from Kentucky, said he would simply force his colleagues to put in longer hours and even work Fridays — a rarity in the 113th Congress — to produce consensus.

His plan is to grind colleagues down with exhaustion, a tactic used by past majority leaders that has fallen out of favor under Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

“We’d work longer days and weeks using the clock to force consensus,” McConnell said at a speech at the American Enterprise Institute.

“If the leader brings up a bill on Monday and really wants to finish it, the fatigue factor is the best tool you have,” he said. “Rather than try to shut everybody out and making everybody mad, you just run the clock.”

McConnell says as senators are forced to work later and later into the evening, they usually begin to withdraw their proposals to amend legislation and allow bills to proceed to final votes.

Senate Republicans have blocked many bills this year, such as a bipartisan energy efficiency measure that failed this month and a package of niche tax cuts that stalled last week, because Reid has refused to give them free rein to offer amendments.

The GOP leader noted that Reid has allowed votes on only nine Republican amendments and seven Democratic amendments since July.

Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Reid, said McConnell himself is the biggest obstacle to getting work done in the Senate.

“With 540 filibusters under his leadership, Senator McConnell — the self-declared ‘proud guardian of gridlock’ — has done more to bring gridlock and obstruction to Washington than any single individual in Senate history,” he said.

Jentleson argued that the Senate has voted on more amendments and on minority-sponsored amendments at a higher rate than under Republican Senate Majority Leaders Bill Frist (Tenn.) and Trent Lott (Miss.).

“Senator McConnell’s desperate plea of, ‘This time I’ll change, I swear,’ is belied by his long record as the leading force for gridlock and obstruction in Washington,” he said.

McConnell has also said he plans to give committee chairmen more power to bring legislation to the floor. Republicans contend Reid has shut down the chamber’s committees, while Reid blames his GOP colleagues for blocking panel-passed measures from coming up for floor votes.

The main items of the Senate Democratic agenda, an unemployment benefits package, a minimum wage increase and the Paycheck Fairness Act, came straight to the floor without going through committee markups.

McConnell pledged to send bills through committees, even if it might upset members of his own conference.

“This approach would lead to its own frustrations. Members who have good ideas of their own may or may not like going through the committee process or allowing amendments to their otherwise pristine proposals,” he said.

He pledged to stand up to Republican colleagues who might ask him as majority leader to shield them from taking tough votes, as Reid has done to protect his vulnerable incumbents.

“My answer will be, 'you came to the Senate to cast votes,' ” he said.

McConnell also ruled out the possibility of Republicans lowering the 60-vote threshold for ending filibusters on bills and bringing them to a final up-or-down vote.

“The supermajority requirement in the Senate has been important to the country,” he said.

“If you think back over the history of the country, I think probably the biggest service the Senate has provided to America has been the things that have not passed,” he said.

“Some of the proudest moments I can think of in my own career have been the things that I stopped,” he added.

McConnell said Republicans would make a decision after the November election about whether to restore the 60-vote threshold for ending filibusters of nominees to the judicial and executive branches.

Reid lowered changed the filibuster rule last year to enable Democrats to confirm Obama’s nominees with only the support of a simple majority of the Senate. The change did not apply to Supreme Court nominees.