Aaron P. Bernstein / Getty Images

Mitch McConnell's plan to end gridlock

Hint: It will happen only if you vote Republican

November 4, 2014 2:00AM ET

Most Democrats probably didn’t hear Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., deliver the argument for a Republican Senate in the final GOP weekly address before the midterm elections. That’s lucky for them. If they had been listening, they might still be fulminating.

The minority leader was leading in his re-election bid against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes and, given the latest polling for races across the country, he could be on the verge of becoming majority leader. So it’s worth listening to McConnell’s view of a Senate controlled by his party. Elect Republicans if you want a less partisan, more functional Senate, he says. Elect Republicans, and they will bring gridlock to “a merciful end.”

The apocryphal tale of the boy who kills his parents and then begs the court for mercy because he’s an orphan is a cliché, but I’m going to use it anyway. There’s simply no other way to characterize a Republican Party that has set records for trying to block President Barack Obama’s nominations, voted against its own proposals after he embraced them and refused to stimulate the economy in ways that both parties used to support.

There’s a lot of devil in McConnell’s (missing) details. He commiserates with “working moms and dads” who find it “almost impossible to balance the demands of work with the needs of a family.” But the United States is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t offer paid maternity leave to take care of a newborn or newly adopted child. Will Republicans get on board with that or a broader 2013 bill that offers paid family leave to caretakers and new parents? So far the signs are not encouraging.

McConnell condemns Democrats for “unworkable ideas that often make the problem worse.” But his examples are questionable. What he calls “a failed ‘stimulus’” reversed a frightening decline. He rails against Obama’s “ideological war on coal,” but many fact checkers, including a TV station in coal-dependent West Virginia, have deemed the charge largely off base.

As for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), McConnell dismisses it as “a health law that cancels policies and too often makes health care even less affordable for you and your family.” Through its premium subsidies, Medicaid expansions and competitive marketplaces, the law has provided affordable or free coverage for millions, but there are no statistics yet on whether the winners outnumber the losers. There are, however, some numbers that McConnell would have to reckon with in any repeal scenario: The number of Americans without insurance declined by 10.3 million as a result of the law, and the uninsured rate dropped from 21 percent to 16.3 percent. His Kentucky, the only state in the South that both expanded Medicaid and set up its own insurance marketplace, saw its uninsured rate drop 8.5 percentage points — the second steepest in the country, after Arkansas.

When McConnell says the GOP won’t succumb to gridlock, does that also apply to Obama’s Supreme Court and lower court nominations?

The capstone of McConnell’s argument is that “President Obama and his party have held power in Washington for almost six years now. And for a long time, they were able to enact nearly anything they wanted.” Yet even during the first two years of Obama’s time in office, when Democrats controlled the House and the Senate, they fell well short of control because of Senate rules, a Minnesota recount that delayed Democrat Al Franken’s arrival until July 2009, Sen. Edward Kennedy’s death in August 2009 and relentless GOP opposition, no matter what the issue.

For instance, after Obama backed a bipartisan proposal for a debt-reduction commission, McConnell and six other Republicans voted against it — even though they had co-sponsored it. Republicans for months blocked a vote on Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau because they didn’t like the new bureau or the law that created it.

“That’s not a reason to deny someone their appointment.” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said after a deal finally was reached to confirm Cordray. “We were wrong.”

In no area have Republicans worked harder to thwart Obama than on the economy. “Even the president admits that wages and incomes have been stagnant during his time in the White House,” McConnell said in his weekly address. What he didn’t say is that Republicans blocked a bill to raise the minimum wage despite past GOP support for doing so. They blocked extended unemployment benefits that they had championed under other presidents. When Obama proposed tax cuts, infrastructure investment and aid to keep teachers and other employees on state and local payrolls, they blocked all that too. 

To be fair, the Republican-run House has passed “at least 46” measures it says are jobs bills that would help the economy but are “stuck” in the Senate because Majority Leader Harry Reid refuses to bring them up. But what constitutes a jobs bill? Almost all the Republican bills advance conservative goals such as slashing federal spending, repealing the ACA and helping gas, oil and coal producers — and economists say they wouldn’t even create many jobs.

If those bills did win House and Senate approval, Obama would veto most of them. So if McConnell puts the Senate on that course, he’ll simply perpetuate gridlock of a different kind. And when he says the GOP won’t succumb to gridlock, does that also apply to Obama’s Supreme Court and lower court nominations?

Conservatives such as George Will and Jennifer Rubin believe McConnell has within him the seeds of greatness and the will to resist a confrontational tea party contingent likely to have new members and new energy in 2015. Even if that’s not wishful thinking, Democrats are going to have a hard time forgiving and forgetting after the last six years.

Jill Lawrence, the author of the Brookings Institution’s Profiles in Negotiation series, is a U.S. News & World Report contributing editor and a member of USA Today’s board of contributors.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America's editorial policy.

Related News

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter