SIX POINT PLAN -- (Senate - August 03, 2007)
Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, 7 months ago I opened this session by reminding myself and my colleagues that the work we do and the way we do it will be judged not only by the voters but by history.
Future generations are not likely to remember our names, but they will inherit the laws that we pass, the problems we ignore, and the solutions we leave behind. So I rise tonight to take stock of how we have done, to offer an honest assessment of our work, and to propose a course of correction.
When the gavel fell in January, a new party had taken over. It had a simple six-point plan of action involving a list of items that were thought to have popular support. As the majority whip put it last fall, Democrats did not want to overpromise, so they came up with a list that was concise, understandable, and attainable.
He added that if the Democrats were fortunate enough to win the majority, they would be judged primarily on their ability to deliver on those six legislative goals. So by the majority's own standard, our report card should begin with a so-called 6 for '06. They have had more than a half a year to enact them, and so it is fair to ask: How have they done?
We started with lobby reform. As an early gesture of the bipartisanship I hoped would mark this session, I cosponsored the bill along with the majority leader. But less than 2 weeks into the session, the majority decided to cut off debate. It forced an early vote on an unfinished bill, and it failed. After Republicans were allowed to add a vital amendment that protected the grassroots organizations from burdensome oversight, we voted again, and the bill passed easily 96 to 2.
Minimum wage was next. Republicans supported an increase that included tax relief for the business owners who would have to pay for it. At first the majority balked. They wanted a bill without any tax relief, without any Republican input. It failed. But when they finally agreed to cooperate by including tax relief for small businesses, the bill sailed through by a vote of 94 to 3. Four weeks, two accomplishments, a good start.
Then we turned to the 9/11 bill, and here the tide began to turn. Republicans supported this bill from the start. We saw it as a welcome opportunity to strengthen security, but the majority rejected our efforts to improve it with amendments, and then weakened the bill by inserting a dangerous provision at the insistence of their labor union supporters.
They wanted to give airport security workers at U.S. airports veto power over the Government's rapid response plan to a terrorist attack. It was an absurd request.
Congress rejected a similar provision 5 years earlier on the grounds that it threatened national security. The President promised to veto it this time around as well. The bill ended up passing the Senate, and the provision was ultimately stripped in conference. But by refusing input at the start, both parties would have to wait until just last week to finish this important bill, and the centerpiece of the Democratic plan for improving national security would sit on the shelf literally for months.
Now, there is a pattern here. When the majority has agreed to let Republicans participate and shape legislation, we have achieved good bipartisan results. When they have blocked that cooperation, they have failed. But just like a fly that keeps slamming its head into the same windowpane trying to get outside, the Democratic majority has spent most of the year since those small, early gestures at cooperation trying and failing to advance its agenda by insisting on the path of political advantage.
The problem took root early on. Soon after the 9/11 bill came the first attempt to set a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. Our Democratic friends knew it had no chance of passing the Senate, let alone being signed into law.
Two weeks earlier, they had forced a vote on the Petraeus plan for securing Baghdad and lost. The President had made clear his opposition to timelines, and Republicans insisted that Congress should not be in the business of literally micromanaging a war.
Yet our friends on the other side persisted anyway, and the first timeline vote failed. It was followed by 14 more political messaging votes on the war, votes that promised to have no practical impact on our military conduct. The Senate would spend 2 months debating legislation that in every case was bound to fail. For the entire spring and summer, the majority insisted on political votes, culminating in the theatrical crescendo of an all-night debate that even Democrats admitted was a stunt.
What seems to have happened here is that at some point in February, after the minimum wage vote, the political left put a hand on the steering wheel, and the unfortunate result was that nearly 5 months would pass before a single item on the 6 for '06 agenda would become law, and even that had to be tacked on to a must-pass emergency spending bill that the Democrats had been slow-rolling for months.
Now it was during those early months that an alternative, harder edged, 6 for '06 agenda seemed to emerge. Indeed, the biggest Senate fights this year have not been over the original 6 for '06 at all. They revolved around the policy proposals of the far left. Fortunately, Republicans have held together to keep these bad ideas from becoming law.
For example, they wanted to eliminate secret ballot elections from union drives. They wanted to spend valuable floor time on a nonbinding resolution about the Attorney General, despite weeks of print and television interviews on the topic already.
They wanted to revive the so-called fairness doctrine, a kind of Federal speech code that was abolished more than two decades ago because it violates the first amendment. They even proposed closing the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and sending the inmates to the States.
Then there were the politically motivated investigations which, between the House and Senate, break down to about six hearings a day since the first day of the session. Some seemed to see a plot being hatched behind every filing cabinet in Washington. Others seem ready to hold a White House sofa in contempt for bad fabric. And, of course, there was the endless political grandstanding on Iraq that I have already mentioned.
Now, predictably, this alternative agenda went nowhere. In the effort to get both, they ended up with neither. Editorial writers started to grumble about the lack of achievement. The public took note, too, sending the new Congress's approval ratings to new subterranean lows.
The lesson that emerged was clear. Politics yields headlines; cooperation yields results.
Republicans warned the other side about the consequences of unilateralism early on. We argued for months that the majority had been engaged in a months-long power play by invoking cloture with astonishing frequency. My staff commissioned a CRS study on the issue and found that the majority was on pace to shatter the record for cloture filings in a single Congress.
Yet the cloture stories that started to appear argued that record cloture filings were somehow the fault of the Republicans, as if we had forced the majority to try to cut off debate. This was classic spin, as anyone who has been in the Senate for more than a week will tell you. The majority knows that more than 40 cloture votes in 6 months is not a sign of minority obstruction. It is a sign of a majority that does not like the rules.
The opportunity costs of this failed strategy have been immense. Because it has refused to cooperate with the other side, the majority hasn't brought a single piece of legislation to the floor that would reduce the income tax burden on working Americans. The Senate has not done a thing to address entitlements, despite a looming financial catastrophe. It has done nothing to address the rising cost of health care. Only 1 appropriations bill out of 12 has passed the Senate, and none has been signed into law.
On the first day of the session, the majority whip said the American people had put Democrats in the majority to find solutions, not to play to a draw with nothing to show for it.
Yet at times over the last 7 months those words have seemed quaint. The Democratic majority had the right idea early on. It made an early mistake, in my opinion, by succumbing to a round-the-clock political campaign. As any sailor knows, a small deviation at the start takes you far off course over time.
Over the last week, we have seen some conspicuous signs of bipartisan cooperation, including tonight, when the majority chose the road of cooperation to fix a gap in our national intelligence before we left for the August recess. Americans are grateful to the majority for joining us on this critical issue. Under the leadership of my friend the majority leader, Congress has acted on the sound principle that cooperation is a better recipe for success than confrontation and political theater. All of us should be glad about that.
We have seen that we can accomplish good things by working together and cooperating on legislation that Americans support. Politics certainly has its place, but it doesn't steer this ship, at least it shouldn't. There is simply too much to be done, and we have seen the results when it does.
So I would not offer a grade for this Congress. Others have already done that. But I will say that at the beginning of this session, I staked my party to a pledge: When faced with an urgent issue, we would act. When faced with a problem, we would seek solutions, not mere political advantage. That pledge still stands. We have seen what we can do. We have actually seen it tonight. And we have reason to hope we will see it still.
I suggest the absence of a quorum.