Mitch McConnell: Senate Republicans have to pick their battles wisely

posted at 1:55 pm on February 9, 2012 by Tina Korbe

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell today suggested Democrats’ unwillingness to pass a budget will reflect poorly on them — unless Republicans allow Democrats to draw them into another projected battle to reduce the deficit like the standoff that consumed Congress last summer.

Realistically, McConnell said, the discretionary spending levels that were negotiated during the debt ceiling deal in the Budget Control Act are the lowest Democrats will go.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has argued that the Senate has essentially already passed a budget because it agreed on discretionary spending levels, which is enough to allow the appropriations committee to do its work — but not enough to establish a long-term plan for the fiscal future of the country. In fact, the Senate hasn’t passed a budget in more than 1,000 days, even though The Congressional Budget Act requires it.

Given Republicans’ minority status, though, McConnell said, they won’t be able to squeeze much more out of Reid.

“The discretionary spending levels that were negotiated are the best we’re going to be able to pass,” McConnell. “I think we will  move forward with the limit that was agreed to. Now, I wish it were lower, but I think it’s important to remember we have a Democratic Senate and a Democratic president. And you have a choice between trying to squeeze them down as much as you can or being completely dysfunctional.”

In other words, another battle enables the Democrats to blame Republicans for inaction.

“Our goal is to keep the focus on [the president's] record,” McConnell said. “We’re not going to let them let us be a foil.”

But, on another issue, McConnell said the Senate is ready to fight — and that’s the contraception insurance coverage mandate recently reiterated by the Department of Health and Human Services.

McConnell, who is expected to speak on the subject on the Senate floor soon, echoed Boehner when he said, “This is not just a Catholic issue … This is an issue of religious freedom.”

There are three ways the mandate could be repealed, McConnell said: The president could have an epiphany and realize he went in the wrong direction, he could sign a repeal bill passed by Congress or the U.S. could elect a new president.

No matter what, the Senate will take action on a bill to reverse the mandate — and McConnell expects at least some Democratic support. Because, for all practical purposes, it usually takes at least 60 votes to accomplish anything in the Senate, Republicans will need more than a handful of Democrats, but McConnell said he’s optimistic.


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