McConnell blames dysfunction on Dems

McConnell blames dysfunction on Dems
© Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan Frustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' New Yorker cover titled 'The Shining' shows Graham, McConnell, Barr polishing Trump's shoes MORE (R-Ky.) blamed Democrats Thursday for Congress’s dysfunctional appropriations process.

He accused the minority party of having “balled up” spending bills with filibusters.

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“The one area of dysfunction is clearly attributable to the minority,” McConnell said at a press conference closing up business for the Senate before Election Day.

“It was obvious to me they did not want to have a normal appropriations process. It’s pretty darn clear,” he said, noting he set aside six weeks on the calendar to move spending bills but made little progress.

“They had an obvious desire to ball up the appropriations process and put us in a CR/omnibus situation,” he said, referring to the continuing resolution Congress passed on Wednesday to keep the government funded through Dec. 9.

Congress will return for a lame-duck session after the election to figure out how to keep the government open.

None of the regular appropriations bills funding government for fiscal 2017 had been signed into law when McConnell spoke to reporters. 

Obama signed the first one, a measure funding military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs, at 2:40 p.m. Thursday.

 McConnell expressed hope that some of them might be packaged into multiple "mini-buses" in the lame-duck session to avoid having to pass a massive, year-end omnibus spending bill, as has become regular practice in recent years.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAmash storm hits Capitol Hill Debate with Donald Trump? Just say no Ex-Trump adviser says GOP needs a better health-care message for 2020 MORE (R-Wis.) has also called for the passage of mini-buses, which would each include several appropriations bills, as the best way to avoid year-end talks with President Obama on a spending bill exceeding $1 trillion.

Overall, McConnell hailed the 114th Congress as a success under Republican leadership in both chambers. It was the first time since 2006, Republicans controlled the Senate.

Democratic leaders took a more sour view of McConnell’s track record at a press conference held moments before the GOP leader spoke to the media.

Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidLobbying World Mitch McConnell is not invincible Seven big decisions facing Biden in 2020 primary MORE (D-Nev.) and his deputy, New York Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerNo agreement on budget caps in sight ahead of Memorial Day recess Ex-White House photographer roasts Trump: 'This is what a cover up looked like' under Obama Pelosi: Trump 'is engaged in a cover-up' MORE (D-N.Y.), panned the 114th Congress as “a flop” and lambasted Republicans for working the fewest days this year since 1955.

“This Republican Senate has been a flop and that’s an understatement,” Reid said.

“They should be hanging their heads in shame for how [few] days they’ve worked,” Schumer added.

The Democrats were especially frustrated by McConnell’s refusal to hold hearings or votes on Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court. They complained the Senate GOP majority confirmed only 20 of Obama’s judicial nominees in the 114th Congress.

McConnell shot back that Obama has seen just as many of his judicial picks confirmed over his eight-year administration as previous presidents.

“The president has gotten more judges over his eight years than President Bush did over his eight years. There was a rush of confirmations toward the end of 2014 when the majority flipped. I think President Obama has been treated very fairly by any objective standard over his eight-year period,” he noted.

He challenged reporters to hold Democrats accountable for blocking spending bills.

“Who filibustered the defense bill? Does anybody in here have any doubt about who balled up the appropriations process?” he asked. “This is not a finger-pointing thing, this is a fact. You saw it time after time after time.”

McConnell said one of his biggest accomplishments was to restore the Senate into a body that regularly debates and holds votes. He called it a clear contrast in function compared to the previous Congress, the 113th, when Senate Democrats kept a tight grip on amendments and McConnell said only 15 votes were held on amendments in 2014.

“I said we needed to open the place up and let people participate to the maximum extent possible in both the majority and the minority,” he said, pointing out the Senate has had over 200 votes on amendments since he took over as majority leader at the start of last year.

He lauded that approach for increasing bipartisan cooperation on a slew of bills that became law, such as a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind education authorization, a five-year highway bill — the first one passed in years — a permanent fix to schedule cuts to doctors’ Medicare reimbursements, and legislation granting fast-track trade negotiating authority to the president.

“I don’t like omnibuses and I don’t like CRs either,” McConnell said. “And the only place you can go with this amount of limited time left would be several mini-buses and we’ll just have to see what we can move.”

He said moving funding legislation and a biomedical research funding measure are his top priorities when Congress comes back after the election to finish its work.

“My own personal priorities are funding the government and the 21st Century Cures bill, which I think could end being the most significant piece of legislation we pass in the whole Congress,” McConnell said.

But he downplayed the likelihood of action in the lame-duck on criminal justice reform, a bill backed by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyTrump-Pelosi fight threatens drug pricing talks Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Senators unveil sweeping bipartisan health care package | House lawmakers float Medicare pricing reforms | Dems offer bill to guarantee abortion access Bipartisan senators reveal sweeping health care package MORE (R-Iowa), explaining the GOP conference is starkly divided over it.

McConnell steadfastly refused to comment on Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpNASA exec leading moon mission quits weeks after appointment The Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan Frustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' MORE or the presidential race, explaining the impact on down-ballot Senate races is impossible to predict. 

He ruled out the possibility of moving the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal in the Senate after the election, something he has done several times already.

“America has been a great trading country going back to the founding of the country but right now it’s politically toxic and I don’t think the Congress is ready to tackle it in any positive ways,” he said.

- Updated on Sept. 30.