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Mitch McConnell Promises More Open Process

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has a message for his Conference: Prepare to take tough floor votes beginning next year if Republicans win control of the chamber this November.

In an interview with Roll Call, McConnell declined to predict a GOP takeover and set modest goals for what Republicans can achieve if they’re in charge — promising only that he could set a conservative agenda, not guarantee an outcome. But in a message aimed at making the case for GOP governance to general election voters, McConnell sketched a strategy for running the Senate that he described as markedly different from that of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

“There are occasions when filling up the tree is appropriate and majority leaders of both parties have done that from time to time. But usually it’s the exception, not the rule. And, I believe that the downside of being in the majority is that you have to take tough votes to get a measure across the floor,” McConnell said during a 25-minute discussion in his Capitol office.

“If we’re in the majority again,” he continued, “our goal is not to prevent the minority from speaking — from having their opportunity to have amendments — our obligation is to defeat them in a collegial and hopefully decisive way and move legislation that we think is good for the American people.”

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said McConnell could have the open process he craves immediately, if Republicans would stop insisting on politically charged votes on amendments that have nothing to do with the legislation under consideration at any given time. Durbin also pushed back against McConnell’s discussion of a possible Republican majority in 2013, indicating that he fully expects his party to retain control of the Senate.

“I am one who favors debate and votes even when I lose them. I mean, I really believe that we’re brought here to deliberate and to debate and to have our day on the Senate floor,” Durbin said. “Unfortunately, the process has become so distorted that now every time any measure comes up, there’s a litany of Republican amendments — take-it-or-leave-it amendments — most of which have nothing to do with the bill at hand. And that has been frustrating, and I think Sen. McConnell could change that now.”

Control of the Senate requires 51 seats. But with a filibuster-proof 60 votes needed to pass almost any piece of legislation, both Democratic and Republican majorities have been stymied over the past several years in their efforts to push through major legislation. McConnell, an experienced legislative tactician who recognizes the limits of majority control, is attempting not to overpromise what a GOP majority can deliver, while promoting the importance of being able to control the floor.

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