Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell delivered an extraordinary floor speech last week in which he essentially auditioned for the job of Majority Leader – the one currently held by Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada.
For 40 minutes, the Kentucky Republican who is up for reelection this year railed against Reid and the Democratic majority for a take-it-or-leave it brand of governance akin to a “permanent sort of shirts-against-skins contest.”
McConnell outlined three main reforms the Republicans would adopt if they were to win control of the Senate in November: allowing a “more robust” committee process, permitting more amendments on the floor and forcing members to work a longer week in Washington.
“I’m not here to claim that we are without fault,” McConnell declared during the speech. “But I am certain of one thing — I’m absolutely certain of one thing — that the Senate can be better than it is.”
Given the way the political stars are aligning, the veteran Kentucky lawmaker may finally get his wish. The current lineup in the Senate is 53 Democrats, 45 Republicans and two independents who caucus with the Democrats.
Republicans would need a net pickup of six seats to reclaim control of the Senate for the first time since 2007, and many political analysts believe that will be within their reach this fall because of political dynamics and historical trends.
“If there is even a small GOP wave come October, then the party could get to six seats,” said Larry J. Sabato, Director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “By the way, that's the exact average number of seats picked up by the non-White House party since World War II in the sixth year of a two-term administration.”
With at least a half dozen Democratic Senate seats at risk in Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina , South Dakota and West Virginia, Obama is wasting little time tailoring his political and policy agenda to improving the Democrats’ odds in the fall election. The president and his political advisers met at the White House Wednesday evening with all 55 Senate Democrats.
The White House strategy, essentially, is to pitch a populist message of income equality while trying to defuse rampant criticism of the Obamacare rollout and raising a lot of campaign funds, according to Politico.
“He’s committed to helping us,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Senate’s third-ranking Democrat. “And he has been trying to help us in a whole lot of ways . . . including fundraising and helping our candidates getting involved in every way we ask.”
The political stakes of a partisan sea change in Congress go far beyond the niceties of a return to “regular order,” an increase in the number of allowable amendments or the length of the Senate work week, as McConnell suggested.
Republicans are furious over what they consider Reid’s high-handed tactics to marginalize the minority – most notably his use of the “nuclear option” last November to eviscerate the ability of the minority to wage filibusters against judicial and executive branch nominations. They have vowed to take revenge if they win back control in November.
“This is the most important and most dangerous restructuring of Senate rules since Thomas Jefferson wrote them at the beginning of our country,” declared Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee. “It’s another raw exercise of political power to permit the majority to do whatever it wants whenever it wants to do it.”
A newly constituted Senate majority with McConnell at its head might press for an even greater “nuclear option” of doing away with filibusters on all legislative matters – not just administration nominations. Such a move could clear the way for passage of GOP-inspired tax cuts, entitlement reform and government deregulation with a simple majority instead of the current 60-vote super majority required to end a filibuster and pass a bill.