Senate GOP leader reveals plans to roll back president's successes

  • Article by: JONATHAN WEISMAN , New York Times
  • Updated: August 27, 2014 - 9:26 PM

Audio recordings lay out the Senate leader’s plans should the GOP take the Senate.

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FILE -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) listens to speeches at the annual Fancy Farm picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky., Aug. 2, 2014. In an audio recording leaked to The Undercurrent, a liberal-leaning YouTube channel, McConnell said that if the Republicans gain control of the Senate and retain control of the House in November, Congress could use the budget process to force the president to roll back his priorities.

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– At a private conclave with the billionaire Koch brothers’ political apparatus this summer, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell laid out a confrontational agenda for a GOP-controlled Senate aimed at dismantling President Obama’s legislative successes through the federal budget.

In an audio recording leaked to the Undercurrent, a liberal-leaning YouTube channel, McConnell told the June 16 gathering in Dana Point, Calif., that if the Republicans gain control of the Senate and retain control of the House in November, Congress could use the budget process to force the president to roll back his priorities.

“In the House and Senate, we own the budget,” he said, explaining that the initial blueprint on taxes and spending does not require the president’s signature. “So what does that mean? That means that we can pass the spending bill. We will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what’s called placing riders in the bill. No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We’re going to go after them on health care, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board. All across the federal government, we’re going to go after it.”

The channel released audio of three other Republicans in tough Senate races — Reps. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Cory Gardner of Colorado, and Joni Ernst, a state senator in Iowa — all of whom also praised Charles and David Koch and the millions of dollars they have provided to help the GOP.

More bluster than plan?

To a large extent, McCon­nell’s promises are more bluster for the GOP donor base than a foolproof plan. Through a budget procedure called reconciliation, Republicans could clear a path to tax legislation or changes to entitlement programs that could pass later in the year with simple majorities in the House and the Senate.

But unless a GOP majority plans to end the filibuster on legislation as Democrats ended it on some presidential nominees, spending bills with “riders” would need 60 votes in the Senate. If the Republicans win control of the Senate, their majority is almost certain to be short of 60.

Republicans said the recordings were insignificant. A senior McConnell campaign aide said the senator was in no way suggesting a strategy to shut down the government unless Obama capitulates.

Nonetheless, the audio recordings are likely fodder for the campaigns in Kentucky, Arkansas, Colorado and Iowa. Democrats, most notably Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have tried to demonize contributions by the Koch brothers as corruptive to the political system.

In Arkansas, especially, the audio could touch a nerve. Cotton, a freshman House member, skipped a popular political event in his state, the Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival, to attend the Koch brothers’ meeting in California. According to the audio, he was repaid with praise for his willingness to hew to the most conservative line, even if it meant voting against legislation popular in his state.

“There are times when the candidate is running, and frankly, it’s just someone that, you know, there’s no better alternative, right?” said Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, the flagship of the Koch brothers’ political empire. “That’s not the case in Arkansas. Tom Cotton is a champion. This guy is running for the Senate, actually voting with 61 Republicans to vote against the farm bill in Arkansas.”

The crowd applauded. He added, “He did that knowing he was in a tough race.”

McConnell also gave some ammunition to his Democratic opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, when he promised that “we’re not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals.” “That’s all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage,” he added. McCon­nell called the 2002 passage of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law “the worst day of my political life.”

The Grimes campaign responded almost immediately, saying, “Shockingly, Mitch McConnell will do and say anything it takes to secure his grip on personal power, including promising to hurt Kentuckians to benefit billionaires.”

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