Is it possible Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t get the memo, or did he simply choose to ignore it? After days of conciliatory post-election talk from House Speaker John Boehner and other Republican leaders, the Kentucky conservative delivered a discordant message to President Obama as Congress returned Tuesday for a crucial post-election session to deal with the fiscal cliff.
“In politics, there is always a temptation among those who win office to think they have a mandate to do what they will,” McConnell said in a floor speech. “But it’s important to remember that in this case the voters also re-elected a Republican-controlled House last week, and a closely divided Senate. And in a government of three equal branches, that’s hardly irrelevant.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., still celebrating his party’s strong showing in the presidential and Senate contests, did his best to try to echo Boehner’s message of bonhomie and cooperation.
“The challenges are too great for our political differences to stand in the way of success,” Reid declared while standing near McConnell’s desk in the otherwise empty Senate chamber at the start of the lame duck session. “It’s time for Democrats and Republicans to go forward together . . . and show the American people we are equal to the challenge we face.”
But the stern-faced McConnell was having none of that. “Look out across the heartland, and you’ll see vast regions of the country wary of the President’s vision for the future,” McConnell said. “The country is sharply divided about the right path forward. Simply saying – as the President has – that he wants a ‘balanced approach’ in which the wealthy pay ‘their fair share,’ is not a plan but tedious, poll-tested talking points”.
McConnell’s message hasn’t varied much since election night last week, when his party suffered a decisive setback in its once promising drive to oust the president and reclaim control of the Senate. Republicans are willing to take their lead from the newly reelected Democratic president, provided that doesn’t require raising tax rates on high income earners, as the president is insisting, but does require deep spending cuts and entitlement reforms than many liberal Democrats and labor groups are attempting to prevent.
“The President needs to lead,” McConnell declared. “And that means offering a concrete plan that takes into account the fact that half the Congress opposes tax hikes. Not because we’re selfish or stubborn. But because we know it’s the wrong thing to do, because we know it will hurt the economy and destroy jobs.”
“This isn’t partisan politics. It’s economics,” he added. “As the President might say, it’s math.”
Last week, Boehner seemingly extended the olive branch to Obama the day after the election: “The American people have spoken. They have re-elected President Obama. And they have again elected a Republican majority in the House of Representatives. If there is a mandate in yesterday’s results, it is a mandate for us to find a way to work together on solutions to the challenges we face together as a nation.”
The substance of his message wasn’t all that different from what McConnell is saying – that the GOP wants the Bush era tax cuts extended for all income groups, including the wealthiest two percent. They claim the increased revenues the president was demanding to help reduce the deficit could be generated through reform of the tax code and elimination of tax deductions and loopholes – and not an increase in rates.
The tone of his message, however, was far more positive than McConnell’s mostly snarly speech yesterday. "We aren't seeking to impose our will on the president,” the speaker said. “We're asking him to make good on his 'balanced' approach."