Published: January 04, 2007
Robert Siegel talks with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), about his party's agenda in the new Congress.
McConnell says that a divided government can be productive, and he expects that big things can be done in the upcoming session.
But, he says, he wishes the Democrats' agenda included comprehensive immigration changes or Social Security initiatives. McConnell also discusses the minimum wage, Iraq, and immigration. [Copyright 2013 NPR]
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And now a view from the Republican side of the Senate aisle. I sat down earlier with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and I asked him to sum up his party's perspective.
Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Minority Leader and Republican, Kentucky): First of all, it's a rather robust minority of 49 out of a 100, and body where it requires 60 votes to do almost anything. I have high hopes for this new Congress, and a divided government has frequently produced great accomplishments.
I think of the Social Security fix in 1983, which was basically brokered between President Reagan, a Republican, and Tip O'Neill, a Democrat. And I think of Welfare Reform, a conspicuous success of the mid-‘90s, a product of the Republican Congress and President Clinton. So I would challenge our good friends in the new majority in the House and Senate to reach for important things - for example, social security and immigration.
SIEGEL: Let's talk about some of the things that are likely to pass the Democratic House pretty quickly and what they look to you like from where you sit in the Senate - an increase in the minimum wage, ending all tax subsidies for big oil - the words of the House Democrats, perhaps - requiring inspection of all cargo entering the country to comply with 9/11 recommendations.
Sen. MCCONNELL: Well, we've been willing to raise the minimum wage for quite some time. The problem is we haven't been able to do it in a bipartisan way. We offered a package when we were in the majority last Congress that raised to a minimum wage as Senator Kennedy had suggested, but also modify the death tax, which is something the Republican majority cared a lot about.
The president's indicated and we agree that the raising of the minimum wage is a good idea. We would like to, however, package that with some small businesses tax and regulatory relief to minimize the job loss that is the inevitable result of raising the minimum wage. But this is a deal that I think we ought to be able to make.
SIEGEL: And subsidies for big oil. Are there 60 votes in the Senate, do you think, to go along with the House Democrats on a provision?
Sen. MCCONNELL: If raising taxes on big oil means raising the taxes on consumers, we would want to certainly look at that. You know, big oil is an interesting term, a pejorative term. The bottom line for us is we don't think we ought to raise taxes on consumers. And so we'll see what they want to do. We're open to discussing it. We're not interested in trying to raise the price of gasoline. It's already entirely too high.
SIEGEL: Do you think that this Democratic Congress can approve the kind of immigration legislation that President Bush sought in the last Congress, and they more difficultly with that on your side of the isle than with the Democrats?
Sen. MCCONNELL: I do. I think that is an example of an issue that I'm sorry is not on their original list of things that they'd like to push during the first 100 hours. I had hoped that it would be.
SIEGEL: A big issue for the entire country is Iraq, and your colleague, Senator Lugar - who will now be the ranking minority member on foreign relations - says the president should pay more mind to what Congress has to say about the war in Iraq. Do you agree with that?
Sen. MCCONNELL: Well, Congress has many voices on Iraq in both parties. You have, for example, Senator Lieberman, a Democrat, arguing for a troop buildup. You have Republican senators arguing the opposite, and I'm sure that all of those views will be - will take the form of amendments to various measures that come through here. I, for one, am waiting to see what the president recommends, which I think will be forthcoming in the next week or so.
SIEGEL: I'm just curious. As you say, in some cases, a divided government has been productive, and we've seen some big changes approved in that situation. What's your sense of the - of the mood right now of Washington, between the administration and the Congress. Is it the kind of mood that makes you think big things will be done? Or is it much more combative in positioning for 2008?
Sen. MCCONNELL: Well, the new Democratic majority promised the American people it would do important things. And I would like for them to. And I would define important things as something really significant, like comprehensive immigration reform, or, since the baby boomers started turned 60 last year -and we all know that's a huge problem, saving social security - now is a good time to step up to the plate and do something important for the country on a bipartisan basis.
SIEGEL: Does it affect the operations in the Senate to have an unusual number of potential presidential candidates here right now?
Sen. MCCONNELL: Well, it may impact getting a quorum from time to time. We do have a large number of members seeking the presidency - that's not unusual. And the Senate will function quite nicely and we hope they'll all be here when we need them to vote.
SIEGEL: I heard a member of the house say that so long as the Senate draws breath, there will be of dozens presidential candidates in Washington.
Sen. MCCONNELL: I think in that's a pretty accurate assessment of the situation.
SIEGEL: Senator McConnell, thank you very much.
Sen. MCCONNELL: Thank you.
SIEGEL: Are you're ruling yourself out, by the way, if you're running in 2000…
Sen. MCCONNELL: I'm rooting myself out. I have a big job right here.
SIEGEL: So, good luck in doing it.
Sen. MCCONNELL: Thank you.
SIEGEL: Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Minority Leader of the Senate Republicans. And Michele, much attention is on the House today, where there is a changeover of historic proportions. But we should remember that even while that is the case, the Democratic House will propose, the Senate will dispose, meaning that the relatively thin Democratic Senate majority - very thin majority - it's a very uphill slide to get to 60 votes for closure in the upper house.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
So Robert, all that talk we heard today about cooperation - will that hold up in the future?
SIEGEL: Well, I'll go out on the same limb our colleague Andrea Seabrook, who covers this building - only time can shall tell.
NORRIS: A-ha. Thank you, Robert.
SIEGEL: You bet.
NORRIS: I look forward to hearing more from you at the Capitol later in the show.
And there's a analysis of the new Senate and House at our Web site, npr.org.
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NORRIS: Security and the possibility of a so-called surge of U.S. troops in Iraq - that's when we continue with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.