Editor’s note: Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Republican who represents Kentucky, is the new Senate Majority Leader. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
Mitch McConnell: Americans expect Washington to work for them
He says divided government can still yield historic achievement
Yesterday, members of the 114th Congress took the oath of office and ushered in a new Republican majority. It’s a fresh beginning for our country, and I’m optimistic. A lot can be achieved if President Obama and his party work with us to advance common-sense jobs ideas for the middle class.
In the Senate, we welcome many new senators determined to achieve serious results. These men and women share my party’s resolve to end Washington’s dysfunction and get things done for the middle class again.
The truth is, the American people no longer trust Washington to do the right thing. For many, it’s never seemed harder just to get by. Many faced the reality of losing their health plan after being told they could keep it. Many continue to struggle with rising medical costs that the president and his allies in Congress repeatedly told us would fall.
Confidence in the American Dream wanes at home, while the world seems filled with chaos overseas. Americans are rightly concerned. And yet, for years Washington has seemed uninterested or incapable of addressing their concerns; for years, Washington seemed to be working for itself instead of for them.
That changes today.
Because the message voters sent in November was clear. They want the administration to change course and move to the middle, and they want dysfunction in the Senate to come to an end. The American people didn’t ask for a government that tries to do everything and they didn’t ask for a government that aims to do nothing. They want a government that works again.
They want us to focus on more jobs, more opportunity, and more flexibility for a middle class that feels squeezed.
Jobs ideas with strong bipartisan support – like simplifying our broken tax system, opening more markets to American-made products, and approving bipartisan infrastructure projects like the Keystone Pipeline – provide a strong foundation for success. We plan to work to send that kind of common-sense legislation to the president for his signature.
But to ensure the best outcome, two things will be needed.
First, we need a Congress that functions again.
Having an effective Congress will help us move beyond an age of government by crisis. But it’s going to take significant changes to the way the Senate’s been operating. The era we’ve just been through – with bipartisan jobs bills sent over from the House routinely killed, and senators’ serious jobs ideas regularly silenced — has to change.
Second, both parties need to make divided government work. This is where President Obama really comes in.
His recent actions, including threatening to veto a bipartisan jobs project like the Keystone XL pipeline within minutes of the new Congress being sworn in, have been anything but productive. The President himself has noted that the American people are counting on him to work with the Congress they elected to get things accomplished. Now it’s time to show he meant it I hope he will. As we’ve seen in the past, divided government isn’t a reason to do nothing; it’s often been a spur to achieve big things.
Reagan worked with Democratic leaders to pass bold reforms to taxes and Social Security. A Republican Congress worked with Clinton to pass groundbreaking welfare reform. And if President Obama is interested in historic achievement, this can be his time, too.
But bipartisan progress can only be achieved if President Obama is interested in it. He’s the only one who can bring his party on board or sign what Congress passes.
It won’t be easy for him. The president’s supporters are pressing for militancy, not compromise. But they need to understand that democracy isn’t about what you can get away with, it’s about what you can achieve together.
Whatever the president decides, this Congress is going to function again. It’s going to legislate again for the people we were sent here to serve. Some of the things we pass may seem significant; some may seem more modest. That’s okay. And while we’re always going to be looking for areas where we can agree, it’s also okay if the president doesn’t love every bill Congress passes. Few presidents do.
The point is, our job is not to protect the President from good ideas. Our job is to get the Senate back to work. Our job is to focus on serious ideas designed to boost the middle class and help restore our nation’s promise for future generations.
And that’s just what we plan to do.