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Voters didn't suddenly fall in love with Republicans, they fell out of love with Democrats: Mitch McConnell

November 5, 2010 |  6:24 am

Kentucky Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell at the Heritage Foundation 11-4-10

Even not so keen observers of American politics are aware that a major promise of candidate Barack Obama in 2007-08 was to end the partisan gridlock of Washington and moderate its harsh partisan tone by bringing people together.

No one pointed out at the time that George W. Bush had repeatedly made the very same campaign promise back in 1999-00 when everyone thought the word Chad referred to a country in central Africa. Of course, that idea of D.C. harmony had as much real chance of success as the Beagle Boys and Scrooge McDuck helping the same charity.

Still despite their numerous disagreements, Bush had Sen. Edward M. Kennedy to the White House regularly and they joined on education reform, for example.

So it was quite surprising to learn the other day that despite the ongoing appeals for bipartisanship President Obama, he did not have the time or inclination to seek a face-to-face Oval Office with the Senate's top Republican Mitch McConnell until Aug. 4 of this year, fully 561 days into his presidency.

The Kentucky senator obviously survived that sinkhole in his social schedule just fine. And Thursday he....

...told CNN he'd been phoned twice by the president in 24 hours. "I'm on speed-dial now," McConnell said.

But the tardiness and lack of personal communication does help explain the lack of bipartisanship. So does Obama, Reid and Pelosi having such whopping majorities in both houses of Congress they had to worry more about keeping their own Blue Dogs in line than getting any Republican support.

As a result of Tuesday's historic midterm elections, that all changes come January when the House majority is on the right foot, not the left.

As one result, on Thursday the president, who leaves Friday for India and Asia, called a White House politics summit for Nov. 18. He wants to appear to brokering some compromises among McConnell, Harry Reid, about-to-be Speaker John Boehner and about-to-be ex-Speaker Nancy Pelosi. We discussed that strategy here on Thursday.

Boehner has laid out his toughest line of thinking here.

Now, McConnell has done the same. (See full text below) McConnell says Tuesday's "shellacking" of Obama, to use the president's word, is not a time for GOP gloating. But McConnell said, "It’s a time for both parties to realize who’s really in charge — the people — and to be grateful for the opportunity we now have to begin to turn this ship around. Tuesday was a referendum, not a choice."

McConnell, who still leads a legislative minority, albeit one enlarged by six, vowed to work with Democrats when they are doing what Americans want and to resist them when they are not. Which, like most things in American politics, leaves ample room for interpretation, negotiation and aftermath arguments.

But here's another hopeful McConnell quote that indicates his party's leadership is perhaps realistically thinking longer term (like the 2012 cycle) than the next news cycle:

The voters didn’t suddenly fall in love with Republicans; they fell out of love with Democrats. And while they may have voted to send more Republicans to Washington, they’re sending them here with clear marching orders: stop the big-government freight train and respect the will of the people who sent you there.

Now, the question becomes can the veterans McConnell and Boehner control and productively steer the energies of the enthused rookies arriving among Washington's monuments with their newly-stamped ideological idealism? If you wear a hat, hold on to it. And scroll down for McConnell's full remarks.

Related Items:

Speaker-elect John Boehner willing to talk but not compromise yet

In his own words: Obama's regrets and lessons at the halfway point

Speaker-elect John Boehner's top three priorities

Obama doesn't recommend midterm 'shellackings' to other presidents-Full news conference transcript

Look what the GOP also pulled off at the state level

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Remarks by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, as provided by his office 

Over the past two years, the American people looked at what was going on in Washington and they became increasingly worried. Not only were Democratic leaders ignoring our nation’s ongoing job crisis; their big-government policies and out-of-control spending was causing some to wonder about the future of the American dream itself.

Americans worried about the consequences of a $14 trillion debt; about a health care bill that creates 159 new bureaucratic entities, including two massive new entitlement programs; they worried about all the bailouts, and they worried about every other piece of legislation that seemed like it was designed to kill jobs rather than create them.

Most of all, they worried that what some have called the Europeanization of America would continue unchecked, and that, as a result, our children and grandchildren could no longer expect to have the same opportunities that we’ve had.

Two days ago, those worries gave way to a new optimism. For the past two years, Democrat lawmakers chose to ignore the American people, so on Tuesday the American people chose new lawmakers. They held their elected representatives to account. And they demonstrated to all of us that Constitutional conservatism is alive and well.

This isn’t a reason for Republicans to gloat; rather, it’s a time for both parties to realize who’s really in charge — the people — and to be grateful for the opportunity we now have to begin to turn this ship around. Tuesday was a referendum, not a choice. It was a report card on the administration and anyone who supported its agenda, plain and simple.

It doesn’t take a roomful of political scientists to figure it out. Americans voted for change in the last two elections because of two long and difficult wars and because they hoped a changing of the guard would stabilize the economy and get America moving again. And then the people they elected set about dismantling the free market, handing out political favors at taxpayer expense, expanding government, and creating a more precarious future for our children. In other words, Democrat leaders used the crisis of the moment to advance an agenda Americans didn’t ask for and couldn’t afford. And then they ignored and dismissed anyone who dared to speak out against it.
Another Oval Office meeting of Democrats president Barack Obama and Senator Harry Reid
So the voters didn’t suddenly fall in love with Republicans; they fell out of love with Democrats. And while they may have voted to send more Republicans to Washington, they’re sending them here with clear marching orders: stop the big-government freight train and respect the will of the people who sent you there.

As Churchill once observed, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; [and] courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” And I can’t think of a better way to sum up Tuesday’s election than that.

This morning, I would like to talk a little bit more about how we got here, and the task ahead. And I wanted to do it here at the Heritage Foundation, because for nearly 40 years Heritage has played a crucial role in promoting and defending the principles of free enterprise, limited government, freedom and a strong defense — in other words, the very principles the American people voted to uphold in Tuesday’s historic election.

First: how we got here. Let’s cast our minds back for a moment to early 2009. I think a “Newsweek” cover from early February sums up the conventional wisdom in Washington at the time, at least among a lot of Democrats. It read, “We’re All Socialists Now”. And I’ll just note parenthetically that “Newsweek” was recently sold for less than the cover price of a single copy of the magazine. Hopefully the Democrats don’t bail them out too.

Anyway, while the media was still groping to define the 2008 election, Republicans were taking stock. We knew the principles that had made our party great were the same principles that had made America great, and that if we were going to solve the problems of the day, we would have to embrace and explain those principles, not discard or conceal them. So we renewed our commitment to our core principles — win, lose, or draw.

If we had not done this, the administration would never suffer the consequences for pushing policies Americans opposed, and Americans wouldn’t have a clear alternative. And that is why this, in my view, was the single most important thing Republicans in Congress did to prepare the ground for Tuesday’s election. By sticking together in principled opposition to policies we viewed as harmful, we made it perfectly clear to the American people where we stood. And we gave voters a real choice on Election Day.

At the same time, we made it perfectly clear from the beginning that if President Obama proposed policies that were consistent with our principles, we’d work with him. Just two days after the Inauguration, in fact, I made a public offer at the National Press Club to accept the President’s campaign promise of post-partisanship by proposing to work with him on a number of goals that he himself had suggested, such as reforming entitlements, reducing the debt, increasing our energy independence, and lowering taxes to create jobs. 

But it turned out the White House had different plans. Their strategy from the start, as I said, was to govern hard-left and use their big majorities to push through the most left-wing agenda possible, squeezing unpopular proposals through Congress by the slimmest majorities and hoping Americans would forget the details and the unseemly process over time. The Democrats’ idea of consensus was for Republicans to do whatever the administration wanted us to. And that’s why they plowed ahead from the very beginning with one piece of legislation after another written by liberals for liberals.

And so by the spring of 2009, they had given us ample opportunity to stand up for the principles of limited government, lower taxes, and a strong defense. First, they called for closing Guantanamo without any plan for housing the terrorists who were held there; they had forced through their trillion dollar Stimulus; proposed a federal budget that would double the national debt in five years and triple it in 10; and bailed out automakers that should have been allowed to reorganize or fail. And it shouldn’t be lost on anybody, by the way, that the only one that refused a bailout, Ford, is the one that’s doing best today.

As Democrats governed left, Republicans stood together time and again, making the case for conservative alternatives. And over the course of 19 months, Democrats added $3 trillion to the debt, more than 2.5 million Americans would lose their jobs … and Republicans would win races in states that had gone solidly for Democrats in 2008 —states like Virginia, New Jersey, and, of all places, Massachusetts. Clearly, the Democrat agenda was not the change Americans had hoped for. And Republicans were offering a clear alternative. That was the message of those races. And that was the message on Tuesday.

The question now is whether Americans were wise to entrust Republicans with the task of reversing the damage. In answer, I would argue that Republicans can be entrusted with the task voters have given us — not because we say so, but because we’ve already been at it for two years. We have shown that we share the priorities the people have voiced. We have fought to defend them. Now we’re ready to get back to work on their behalf.

Which raises a practical question: what can Americans expect from Republicans now?

Let’s start with the big picture. Over the past week, some have said it was indelicate of me to suggest that our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term in office. But the fact is, if our primary legislative goals are to repeal and replace the health spending bill; to end the bailouts; cut spending; and shrink the size and scope of government, the only way to do all these things it is to put someone in the White House who won’t veto any of these things. We can hope the President will start listening to the electorate after Tuesday’s election. But we can’t plan on it. And it would be foolish to expect that Republicans will be able to completely reverse the damage Democrats have done as long as a Democrat holds the veto pen.

There’s just no getting around it.

By their own admission, leaders of the Republican Revolution of 1994 think their greatest mistake was overlooking the power of the veto. They gave the impression they were somehow in charge when they weren’t. And after President Clinton vetoed their bills, making it impossible for them to accomplish all their goals, they ended up being viewed as failures, sellouts, or both. Today, Democrats not only have the White House. They have the Senate too. So we have to be realistic about what we can and cannot achieve, while at the same recognizing that realism should never be confused with capitulation.

On health care, that means we can — and should — propose and vote on straight repeal, repeatedly. But we can’t expect the president to sign it. So we’ll also have to work, in the House, on denying funds for implementation, and, in the Senate, on votes against its most egregious provisions. At the same time, we’ll need to continue educating the public about the ill-effects of this bill on individuals young and old, families, and small businesses.

And this is why oversight will play a crucial role in Republican efforts going forward.

We may not be able to bring about straight repeal in the next two years, and we may not win every vote against targeted provisions, even though we should have bipartisan support for some. But we can compel administration officials to attempt to defend this indefensible health spending bill and other costly, government-driven measures, like the Stimulus and financial reform. We also need groups like Heritage to continue studying the ill-effects of the health care bill, and to show how its implementation is hurting families, seniors, and small businesses, limiting choices and making us less competitive. We welcome any help we can get in reversing the damage this bill has done and will do.

Through oversight we’ll also keep a spotlight on the various agencies the administration will now use to advance through regulation what it can’t through legislation. Potential backdoor efforts in this area could include imposing a new national energy tax through the EPA now that cap-and-trade is dead, additional health care provisions through HHS, Card Check through the National Labor Relations Board, and some form of immigration change through the use of administrative amnesty and the selective enforcement of our laws.

Good oversight can also make more accountable all the policy czars the administration has installed without any accountability to Congress or the American people.

Another obstacle is the temptation to over-read our task. It’s my view that Americans are no more interested in a Republican plan for using government to reengineer society than they were in the Democrats’ plan to do so. Government has limits, thank heavens, and voters want us to respect them. That’s why Republicans will focus on doing a few things well.

We will stop the liberal onslaught. We will make the case for repeal of the health spending bill even as we vote to eliminate its worst parts. We will vote to freeze and cut discretionary spending. We will fight to make sure that any spending bill that reaches the Senate floor is amendable, so members can vote for the spending cuts Americans are asking for. We will push to bring up and vote for House passed spending rescission bills.

On the economy, we will work hard to ensure Democrats don’t raise taxes on anybody, especially in the middle of a recession. We will loudly oppose future stimulus bills that only stimulate the deficit and fight any further job-killing regulations. We will fight tooth and nail on behalf of Americans struggling to find and create jobs.

And when it comes to educating the public about the effects of Democrat legislation, we will fulfill our constitutional duty to oversee the Executive Branch through smart, aggressive oversight.

We will scrutinize Democrat legislation and force them to defend it. And we will continue to make the case that the Democrats’ big-government vision hinders freedom, prosperity, and opportunity — and that while it may benefit some in the short-term, it exposes everyone to calamity down the road.

If we do these things well over the next two years, I believe the voters will be pleased with what they did on Tuesday, and Republicans will be in a much better position to reverse the worst excesses of the past two years and lay the groundwork for the kind of change we want and need. Meanwhile, Republican governors will help by showing at the state level that the kind of change we want is not only possible but also effective in cutting waste, creating jobs, and showing that government can work for people, not against them. Think tanks like Heritage will help too by arming us with ideas and tools like this week’s Checklist for getting America back on track. And Tea Party activists will continue to energize our party and challenge us to follow through on our commitments.

None of this is to say that Republicans have given up cooperating with the President. The American people reminded us this week that we work for them, and we owe it to them and future generations to work together to find solutions to present troubles and to help guide our nation to better days. But, as I see it, the White House has a choice: they can change course, or they can double down on a vision of government that the American people have roundly rejected. If they choose the former, they’ll find a partner in Republicans. If they don’t, we will have more disagreements ahead.

The formula is simple, really: when the administration agrees with the American people, we will agree with the administration. When it disagrees with the American people, we won’t. This has been our posture from the beginning of this administration. And we intend to stick with it. If the administration wants cooperation, it will have to begin to move in our direction.

There is no reason we can’t work together to prevent a tax hike on small businesses. There’s no reason we can’t work together on energy independence, cutting spending, or increasing American exports by completing free trade agreements. And we can continue to work together to give our armed forces in Afghanistan, Iraq and around the world whatever they need to accomplish their mission.

So this morning I re-extend an offer that’s been on the table for two years to cooperate on shared goals — because ultimately this isn’t about an election; it’s about doing what’s best for our country. The American people want us to put aside the left-wing wish list and work together on helping to create jobs and restore the economy to health and prosperity. There is no reason the two parties can’t work together on achieving these goals.

But whether or not the administration has a mid-course correction, Republicans have a plan for following through on the wishes of the American people. It starts with gratitude and a certain humility for the task we’ve been handed. It means sticking ever more closely to the conservative principles that got us here. It means learning the lessons of history. And, above all, it means listening to the people who sent us here. If we do all this, we will finish the job.”    ####

Photo: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters; White House (another Oval Office meeting between Obama and Reid).

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