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Roll Call - We Senators Must Put Our Great Institution to Good Use in 110th

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Roll Call - We Senators Must Put Our Great Institution to Good Use in 110th

By Sen. Mitch McConnell,

Special to Roll Call

Thoughts on the 110th

At its best, the Senate is an institution where America's most difficult challenges are faced squarely and addressed with careful, principled agreement. At a time when so many difficult issues face us as a nation, the 110th Congress, which opens today, must be nothing less. Republicans and Democrats can share the blame for a partisan spirit that has made principled agreement a rarity in recent years. This shortsighted approach ignores history. Great accomplishments in the Senate always have required cooperation. We would do well to remember this as we look forward to the work ahead.

Examples of cooperation abound. In the early 1980s, we worked together to pass President Ronald Reagan's tax cuts. That cooperative accomplishment led to the greatest economic expansion in our history. We saw it again in the 1990s, when a Republican-led Senate worked with Democrats, including President Bill Clinton, to reform welfare.

We saw it in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, with the USA PATRIOT Act, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and other measures aimed at bolstering security. All of these passed with wide, bipartisan support. And we saw it in the past Congress, when the Senate confirmed Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito even after some Members hinted at an unwise filibuster.

Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-Maine) once called the Senate a single body made up of 100 independent contractors. Yet he earned the respect of his colleagues because of his willingness to listen, to work together, to take risks. He knew the role of the Senate. He put it to use.

As a sign that some already have recognized the need for greater civility and cooperation, Democrats and Republicans will meet this morning in the Old Senate Chamber. This ensures that the first meeting of the 110th Congress will be a friendly one. I see in this small act of bipartisanship a sign of good things to come.

This Congress will start with achievable goals. A lobbying reform bill will be the first measure to pass in the new Senate. This and other proposals that we will consider early on are within our grasp, even though they have eluded us in the past. By passing them quickly, we already will have gone a long way toward restoring our purpose as a body.

After these early victories, my hope is that the Senate will be daring. The Senate has no claim to greatness unless its power is used for great ends. Divided government invites us to work together, and we will. But we should do so not only for ends that are achievable but also for ends that truly challenge us.

Issues such as Social Security, energy independence, and immigration reform and border security demand action. And on the issue of the Iraq War, it is my hope, and my challenge to the Senate, that our debate will be based on what is best for the future of our nation and for Iraq, not what's best for the Republican Party or the Democratic Party.

Republicans are eager to work with Democrats to find bold solutions to big problems. Yet we will not yield on principles. We will not agree to proposals that weaken our security at home or the capabilities of our armed forces abroad. Nor will we agree to a tax increase on working families or small businesses. Our economy is strong because of hard work and enterprise. We will not undermine that spirit by taxing it.

The voters sent strong signals of impatience to Democrats and Republicans in the November elections. They want us to work together to find solutions on issues that are too urgent to neglect. The right place, perhaps the only place, to address them is the Senate. We neglect our duty to the voters and the Senate as an institution by forgetting that.

Today is a good day to ask what historians will say about the 110th Congress. My hope is that we work hard together to ensure that they applaud us, above all, for restoring a sense of civility and bipartisan cooperation to the Senate, for deciding once again to put this great institution to good use.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is the incoming Minority Leader.

http://mcconnell.senate.gov/record.cfm?id=267214&start=1

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