Politics & Government

Mitch McConnell says U.S. Senate is closing a year of ‘significant accomplishments’

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. gestures during an interview with The Associated Press, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015, in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. gestures during an interview with The Associated Press, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015, in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington. Associated Press

With his first year as U.S. Senate Majority Leader drawing to a close, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell said Wednesday that “by any objective standard, we’ve had a year of significant accomplishments.”

In an interview with the Herald-Leader, McConnell ticked off a list of items the Republican-controlled upper chamber has passed this year, some of which were met with veto threats and actual vetoes from President Barack Obama.

“The Senate is up and running, and members are able to participate and try to make a difference again,” McConnell said. “So I think I can safely say the era of dysfunction is over, but that’s obviously not enough.”

Looking back to the day after his 2014 re-election, the senator recalled that he laid out his two top priorities for the coming year: 1. “No more foolish behavior like shutting down the government or threatening to default on the national debt,” and 2. “Present to the public the image of responsible, right-of-center governing.”

Pointing to the dramatic increase in the number of amendments considered by the Senate this year (almost 200) compared to 2014 (15) and a government that stayed open despite at-times intense Republican infighting, McConnell said he thinks he has accomplished his two biggest goals for the year.

This year, the Senate passed the first bicameral budget since 2009, the first trade promotion authority bill since 2002, the first multi-year highway funding bill since 2005 and the first Social Security reform bill since 1983.

The Senate also approved a five-year highway bill, a revamp of No Child Left Behind, the so-called “doc fix” in Medicare and social security disability reform.

“So as we wrap up the year, I think by any objective standard, we’ve had a year of significant accomplishments,” McConnell said.

I would say my biggest disappointment is the whole climate area.

Sen. Mitch McConnell

The senator said he was gratified that he has heard from senators from both parties who have praised his leadership, including Democrats who had grown weary of gridlock — which a number of McConnell’s critics blame on him — and told the senator they didn’t really like their jobs.

“I don’t think there are any Democrats saying that now,” he said.

“What I did was sort of decentralize the power,” he added. “Try to move all of the decision-making out of the leader’s office — I have enough power; I don’t need anymore — and try to empower people to make a difference.”

McConnell pointed to several bills that will directly impact Kentucky, including a defense authorization bill that includes the start of construction on a new medical clinic at Fort Knox and the Protecting Our Infants Act, which requires a “comprehensive strategy” to address the increase in prenatal opioid addiction.

While proud of his work this year, McConnell did lament his inability so far to stop the president’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

The Senate has passed legislation to stop Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which critics have deemed to be part of the president’s “war on coal,” but Obama will undoubtedly veto those, as well as a bill that would repeal “Obamacare.”

McConnell, who ran hard in 2014 on protecting the coal industry, conceded that the Senate was “unfortunately, not able to get relief for the coal industry,” criticizing the international climate change agreement in Paris last weekend.

“I would say my biggest disappointment is the whole climate area,” McConnell said. “Let me say this though: He has, in our view, no authority to bind any of these agreements he’s agreeing to in Paris.”

And, he noted, “the next president could well take a different view.”

McConnell laughed when asked about how having four members of his caucus running for president has complicated his year, saying that “it hasn’t created a problem.”

“They’ve all been here when we needed them,” he said, adding with a chuckle: “And, occasionally, it was all right with me if they didn’t come back.”

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