Former Rep. Barney Frank has some words of wisdom for Sen. Mitch McConnell, should the Kentucky Republican claim the majority leader's job in January.
"I think his choice will be whether or not he's going to govern responsibly. It's one thing to be in opposition and try to undercut the government. But when you're a majority leader, I think you have a responsibility to do some things that might not be popular," Frank said. "That's not just a matter of his duty, it's an electoral thing. I think if he becomes majority leader and does not stand up to his more right-wing elements, it's going to be bad for his party as well as for the country.
McConnell probably will not be seeking the counsel of Frank, but the liberal Democrat from Massachusetts and former chairman of the House Financial Services Committee spent some time this summer with a pair of men who've held the job McConnell covets, one Republican and one Democrat.
Frank spoke with CQ Roll Call in conjunction with the release of a report from Esquire magazine with 22 recommendations from a bipartisan group pushing for changes in the way Congress works. Former Senate Majority Leaders Tom Daschle and Trent Lott, former Rep. Bob Livingston and MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell joined Frank in the effort.
O'Donnell, who Esquire said moderated the meetings that led to the report, worked on Capitol Hill as a senior aide to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., including as staff director of the Finance Committee.
The suggestions included many that have been floated before, including a return the practice of congressional earmarking (provided the spending is disclosed). In terms of Senate operations, the panel said the ability to filibuster the motion to proceed to legislation should be done away with, as should the tactic known as "filling the tree" through which the majority leader can block the offering of amendments. The Esquire brain-trust settled on 10 as the minimum number of amendments to be permitted.
Frank said he did not expect current leadership on Capitol Hill to suddenly embrace the ideas.
"But in terms of the general conversation, I think over time it could have an effect," Frank said. "This is an ongoing debate. This is not, 'Oh, let's raise these for the first time.'"
As he noted in a story accompanying the Esquire report, Frank is of the view that a primary problem has been a rightward shift among Republicans. Frank conceded the magazine may very well not have expected to get a detailed treatise of suggestions about parliamentary practice in response to the underlying question.
"I don't think they necessarily anticipated what they were going to get. I'm not surprised that they were interested in the question of how can we get Congress to work better," Frank said.
The features appear in November's edition of the magazine.
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