Text of Opening Remarks by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
As prepared for delivery, Wednesday, January 6, 2011
“First, I’d like to take a moment to welcome back all of my colleagues, but particularly the 13 new Republican senators who make it official today. Americans are looking for creative, principled leaders. I’m confident this impressive class of new Republicans will not disappoint.
“I’d also like to welcome my good friend, the majority leader. At a time when some people think the two parties in Washington can’t even agree on the weather, I’ll note that Senator [Harry] Reid [D-Nev.] and I get along just fine. I expect it’ll stay that way, and I look forward to working together again.
“The big changes today are of course happening across the dome, and I’d like to welcome the many new Republican members of Congress who’ve come to Washington to change the way things are done around here. In this, they’ll be led by a very talented and determined Ohioan whom I’ll now have the great honor of referring to as Speaker [John] Boehner [R-Ohio]. I congratulate Speaker Boehner and the new Republican majority in the House, and I wish them great success in achieving the kinds of reforms and policies the last election was all about.
“Americans want lawmakers to cut Washington spending, tackle the debt, rein in government, and to help create the right conditions for private sector job growth.
“And they also want us to reform the way laws are made. They’re looking to Republicans to provide an alternative to the kind of lawmaking we’ve seen too much of around here in the past few years—a vision that disregards the views of the public in favor of an elite few. A vision that tells people they can look at legislation once it’s passed, that Washington knows best. In short, Americans are looking for a different approach.
“The new Republican majority in the House has shown every sign that they’ve heard the public on all this. And Senate Republicans join them in their efforts, conscious of the limitations and the opportunities that our minority status and the President’s veto pen involve. We will press the majority to do the things the American people clearly want us to do, and we will insist in every possible way that the voices of our constituents are heard, realizing at the same time that the best solutions are forged through consensus, not confrontation.
“Fortunately, the Senate was designed as a place where consensus could and would be reached. Look through modern history. The Social Security Act of 1935 was approved by all but six members of the Senate; the Medicare and Medicaid Acts of 1965 were approved by all but 21; and all but eight senators voted for the Americans with Disabilities Act 21 years ago this year. The lesson is clear: Americans believe that on issues of this importance, one party shouldn’t be allowed to force its will on everyone else. And thanks to the Senate, it rarely has.
“And that’s why a recent proposal to change the Senate’s rules by some on the other side is such a bad idea. For two years, Americans have been telling us that they’re tired of being shut out of the legislative process. They want to be heard. And the response they’re now getting from some on the other side, instead, is a proposal to change the Senate rules so they can continue do exactly what they want with even fewer members than before. Instead of changing their behavior in response to the last election, they want to change the rules.
“Well, I would suggest that this is precisely the kind of approach a supermajority standard is meant to prevent. It exists to preserve the Senate’s role as the one place where the voices of all the people will, in the end, be heard. And, as a result, it has helped ensure that most major agreements enjoy the broad support of the public and the stability that comes with it.
“Regrettably, the current majority has too often lost sight of this important truth. Since assuming control of the Senate in 2007, it has sought to erode the traditional rights of the minority, and by extension, the rights of our constituents. The non-partisan Congressional Research Service has looked into the way the current majority has run the Senate. Its conclusions are revealing.
“Here are just a few.
“The current majority has denied the minority its right to amend legislation a record 44 times, or more often than the last six majorities combined. It has moved to shut down debate the same day measures are considered nearly three times more often, on average, than the previous six majorities. And its unprecedented denial of the rights of the minority to debate and amend on the floor is compounded by its practice of regularly bypassing Senate committees. All too often the majority has chosen to write bills behind closed doors, depriving Americans of yet another opportunity to have a say in the legislative process. The current majority has set the record here as well, bypassing committees 43 times, or double the previous average.