Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a speech at the Heritage Foundation this morning, outlined Republican plans to repeal the health care law enacted by Democrats this year, said Tuesday's results were a vindication of the GOP's insistent opposition to the Democratic agenda, and restated his belief that his party's top priority should be making sure President Obama does not get reelected in 2012.
On health care, McConnell said he will push for a vote on “a straight repeal, repeatedly. But we can’t expect the president to sign it. So we’ll also have to work, in the House, on denying funds for implementation, and, in the Senate, on votes against its most egregious provisions.”
He said the GOP will push Senate votes “to freeze and cut discretionary spending. We will fight to make sure that any spending bill that reaches the Senate floor is amendable, so members can vote for the spending cuts Americans are asking for. We will push to bring up and vote for House-passed spending rescission bills.”
McConnell also responded to criticism of his comments in an interview with National Journal that the GOP's top political priority should be denying Obama a second term.
“The fact is, if our primary legislative goals are to repeal and replace the health spending bill; to end the bailouts; cut spending; and shrink the size and scope of government, the only way to do all these things it is to put someone in the White House who won’t veto any of these things,” he said.
McConnell acknowledged the difficulty of the president's veto powers and discussed how the GOP might combat it.
“By their own admission, leaders of the Republican Revolution of 1994 think their greatest mistake was overlooking the power of the veto," he said. "They gave the impression they were somehow in charge when they weren’t. And after President Clinton vetoed their bills, making it impossible for them to accomplish all their goals, they ended up being viewed as failures, sellouts, or both. Today, Democrats not only have the White House; they have the Senate too. So we have to be realistic about what we can and cannot achieve, while at the same recognizing that realism should never be confused with capitulation."
A day after Democratic Senate leaders said it was up to Republicans to determine what legislation can move in the next Congress, McConnell punted back to the White House.
“The White House has a choice: They can change course, or they can double down on a vision of government that the American people have roundly rejected,” McConnell said.
With Democrats narrowly retaining Senate control, McConnell still cannot dictate the Senate agenda. Instead, he may chose to function as the GOP’s top dealmaker with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Given all the tools available to the Senate minority to derail Democratic plans, McConnell could trade confrontation for cooperation and give Reid some incentive to allow votes on Republican measures coming out of the House.
One such deal is already being discussed for the lame duck session. President Obama yesterday hinted at the idea of allowing the temporary extension of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, even to top earners, if Republicans agree to extend unemployment insurance.
Though Republicans fell short of taking control of the Senate, McConnell said Tuesday’s results were a vindication of the GOP's steady opposition to Obama and the larger Democratic agenda.
“By sticking together in principled opposition to policies we viewed as harmful, we made it perfectly clear to the American people where we stood,” he said.
This article appears in the November 4, 2010, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.