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McConnell and the bloggers
Posted by: McQ on Friday, January 05, 2007

I had an interesting experience yesterday as I got to sit in on a conference call with Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, the new Senate Minority Leader. And yes, I begged Jon to get me into the planned blogger event for today, so there, you have full disclosure.

First let me say I appreciated the fact that Sen. McConnell took time from an extraordinarily busy day, as I'm sure is the first day of any Congress, to speak with bloggers. Proof positive of the seriousness of the intent of Senate Republicans to reach out to the new media.

As these things normally work (wow, sound like an old hand don't I?), there an opening statement and then questions.

The highlights of Sen. McConnell's open boiled down to two statements. While Republicans planned to pursue cooperation civilly, Sen. McConnell said "civility does not mean capitulation". I'm all for the civility and I'm even more for the refusal to capitulate, especially on fiscal matters.

Secondly, Sen. McConnell pointed out that while much is open to compromise, two things were "non-negotiable". No tax increases will be considered and Republicans desire to do what is necessary to aggressively pursue the War on Terror. I hope he can deliver on both, but, as John Hawkins at Rightwing News notes, he already has Republican Senators, like Specter and Hagle wandering off the WoT reservation.

I wish him luck in preventing capitulation, but he's definitely got some wild cards out there on these issues. But then, that's a good test of leadership.

He also mentioned that some things were sure to be amenable to cooperation, such as lobbying and ethics reform. You can catch my take on that below.

Moving into the question and answer period, we discussed campaign finance reform (he'd like to see MF gutted ... good for him) and immigration (he's for a comprehensive type of reform).

Then, when there was a long pause and it seemed as though no one was going to step up, I asked the obvious question. OK, it was obvious to me being from QandO anyway.

"Senator, you just hired a "New Media Director" for the Republican Communication Office. Reading the reaction around the blogosphere, doing so has been seen as mostly positive. My question is, how do you envision this obvious outreach program working?"

OK, not the most brilliant question, but not a Ms. America "world peace" question either. But I was seriously interested in the answer.

And the answer was, well, a serious one. He said the obvious, that they want to do more of what we were doing then. But then he said something that was a bit surprising. He said he wants to use these forums to help everyone better understand how the Senate works. He said it was frustrating at times because people's eyes tend to glaze over when you start talking about some of the rules, etc. But the thing to keep in mind is those rules directly impact outcome and outcome directly impacts your wallet. So he had my attention.

A couple of other things he said which were interesting - he said the Senate is "the only legislative body in the world which isn't run by the majority". I certainly got that impression in the last Congress that's for sure. But it makes sense if you consider it the way he explained it.

To pass just about anything in the Senate takes a vote of 60. With a 51/49 split, the Senate Majority Leader must come up with 9 votes. On the other hand, the Senate Minority Leader can lose up to 8 votes and guarantee negotiation or kill the bill. And Sen. McConnell said he felt the Republican minority was a pretty solid one, meaning, I assume, that Sen. Reid is going to have one hell of a time luring 9 Republicans away to vote with him.

In fact, as Sen. McConnell said, "almost nothing will happen in this Senate without our agreement".

Wow ... seems to put the onus on the Senate Republicans doesn't it?

Anyway, I want to extend my thanks to Sen. McConnell for spending a few minutes with us on such a busy day and for answering our questions very forthrightly. As he promised I hope we can do it again.

In the meantime, for you of the Democratic persuasion, I'm open for participating in Democratic conference calls as well. You guys are all aflutter about reaching out to libertarians, right?

Well, here I am.

UPDATE: Audio of the blogger conference here.
 
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Comments
Thanks for this post - I had no idea that the US Senate requires such an overwhelming margin for votes. If the Australian Senate worked this way there would be no progress in the country at all!

My basic question is: how does anything get done in the US at all?
 
Written By: Rodney
URL: http://
My basic question is: how does anything get done in the US at all?
It doesn’t... that’s what the Founders intended. Note though, IF 60-plus Senators are FOR it it probably means that a whole lot of folks in the US are for it, and therefore is a good ideer. Ask the Axis Powers about how that works...
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Rodney,

That is also one of the reasons the bills they do pass have so much extra, that has nothing to do with the bill, added in. The majority has to bribe the minority with goodies.
 
Written By: SkyWatch
URL: http://
Hey McQ, if any Democrats take you up on it, let them know I am available as well.

And yes, it is the Republicans who will decide the fiscal issues. They are the wild card, we know what the Democrats will do. Spend and spend some more. Spending restraint is almost a purely Republican task. If they are restrained we get restraint. To the extent they are not we lack restraint.

For a detailed analysis of the reason that those who sin less (the Republicans) are the force behind both spending growth and restraint see this and this.
 
Written By: Lance
URL: http://asecondhandconjecture.com
I think gridlock is fine, and "no new taxes" quite good.

However, I wish Pres. Bush had included a statement that, while he doesn’t believe global climate change plus security quite justify a gas tax increase, if the Dems want to pass one, he might not veto it.

Every Al Gore / global warming enthusiast should be asked — "so you favor increasing gas taxes, right?"

They’re one of the most unpopular taxes — and so hard to get around. Stop driving!

I think making Dems increase gas taxes to pay for any and all increased spending is the best way for Reps to minimize spending increases.
Plus increase the chances of Reps in 2008.
Plus make global warming warmongers be identified with an obvious, but unpopular, action to reduce CO2 increases.
And I much prefer gas tax increases, punishing drivers & polluters, than income tax increases, punishing those who peacefully create wealth.
 
Written By: Tom Grey
URL: http://tomgrey.motime.com
"To pass anything in the Senate takes a vote of 60."

I may be flaunting my ignorance, but I was under the impression that it only took a aimple majority, unless there was a filibuster. Where did I go wrong?
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
"He said he wants to use these forums to help everyone better understand how the Senate works."

Well, I’m all for anything that could help to put down the generations-old fable of "representative government".
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
Every Al Gore / global warming enthusiast should be asked — "so you favor increasing gas taxes, right?"
They should also be asked if they favor increasing our usage of nuke power...
 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
To summarize the republicans position ...

Stay the course on the GWOT, don’t reinstate any taxes, leave it to the next generation to pay for it.

Have you guys ever heard of the expression "there is no such thing as a free lunch"? If we do not put our budget into something closer to a fiscally sound footing we will either have inflation or the Chinese will own our county. The republicans were unable to cut spending in their six years of total control. If they couldn’t do it, its unreasonable to expect the dems to with their narrow margin in the senate and the veto of the president.

You guys are mooches. You expect all the security of a big government but expect other to pay.

 
Written By: cindyb
URL: http://
You guys are mooches. You expect all the security of a big government but expect other to pay.
Cindy, grow up and figure out how to read and understand.

The point is that the cost of big government doesn’t come from "security" concerns, it comes from entitlement programs in areas where government has no business ... constitutionally or morally.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Well, I’m all for anything that could help to put down the generations-old fable of "representative government".
Explain this staement please, we don’t have representative government or we SHOULDN’T have it? And please provide support for the clarified assertion. I ask not in a mood of snark, but genuine puzzlement and doubt concerning the meaning of the statement.

Tim, the Senate has at least two (2) rules that make movement difficult and not simply the necessity of having 51 votes. First is filibuster, and obviously McConnell is threatening that at every turn. Secondly, the Senate allows for anonymous "Holds" to be placed on legislation, a SINGLE Senator can hold up legislation for some Aliquot of time, I can’t remember how long, possibly indefinitely.

Lastly, for those libertarians all upset with Popular Election of Senators, I think the period 2000-to present demonstrates the silliness of that complaint. The Senate STILL serves to obstruct the House and the Will of the People, as the Founders intended.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Explain this staement please, we don’t have representative government or we SHOULDN’T have it?
I’ll take a stab at what Billy meant (always a risky endeavor, I know). He’s referring to the 17th Amendment (direct election of Senators). Ever since its passage in 1913, Senators have gravitated from representing their respective states interests in a union of States to representing the interests of their party, their financial backers, and their own interests in maintaining power.
Lastly, for those libertarians all upset with Popular Election of Senators, I think the period 2000-to present demonstrates the silliness of that complaint. The Senate STILL serves to obstruct the House and the Will of the People, as the Founders intended.
The problem is that the Senate tends to serve the interests of the Senators in wielding massive power over the entire nation. Increasingly, individual State interests in the federal government are relegated to mere money-grabbing. The feds suck up as much money into Washington as possible and then fight over how it gets disbursed. Senators have no real incentive to restrict the flow of tax money to Washington, since the only thing they are ever judged on is how much of it they get back (dispensed to favored interests, of course).

That is not representative government.
 
Written By: MichaelW
URL: http://asecondhandconjecture.com
"To pass anything in the Senate takes a vote of 60. With a 51/49 split, the Senate Majority Leader must come up with 9 votes. "
————————
It takes 60 votes to override a filibuster, not to pass a bill. So, he is threatening to filibuster to death anything the Republicans don’t like. When the Democrats were the minority, that was called obsstrucitonism, a very evil thing.

Amazing how the perpsective changes with changing fortunes.







 
Written By: Laime
URL: http://
Senators have gravitated from representing their respective states interests in a union of States to representing the interests of their party, their financial backers, and their own interests in maintaining power.
First do you honestly mean to say that they did not do that prior to the 17th? In fact, I would argue that would have every reason to do it MORE. They were not ELECTED but SELECTED, by the State Legislature... they needed the vote of 50-100 electors, generally of their party, and were beholden to THEM, not the populace of the state. It’s much easier to be bought by 100 voters than 100,000 voters.

As to the rest, I guess I really don’t see how making Senators beholden to the VOTERS, not representatives of the voters made them LESS Representative...DIRECT Election, rather than INDIRECT Election. Sorry this is one area I have never grasped libertarian complaints... plus it’s all moot, because the Constitution was amended, the Body Politic CHANGED the Social COntract, legally, to make the Contract conform to their desires. Somehow it seems that libertarians feel this unjust or not cricket, or so it seems. Any way thanks for your view, even if it isn’t Billy’s.

 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
The point is that the cost of big government doesn’t come from "security" concerns, it comes from entitlement programs in areas where government has no business ... constitutionally or morally.
Exactly we’re currently spending $470 billion dollars per year on our military, largely because it’s wartime. For comparison we’re projected to spend the following on entitlements: $590 billion on Social Security, $390 billion on medicare, $370 billion on unemployment and welfare, and $280 billion on medicaid.

That means entitlement spending is about 3 times the size of the wartime defense budget. Once we hit peacetime, the defense budget will probably be in the low $300 billion dollar range.

Suddenly the defense budget doesn’t look quite so large...
 
Written By: Jeff the Baptist
URL: http://jeffthebaptist.blogspot.com
First do you honestly mean to say that they did not do that prior to the 17th? In fact, I would argue that would have every reason to do it MORE. They were not ELECTED but SELECTED, by the State Legislature... they needed the vote of 50-100 electors, generally of their party, and were beholden to THEM, not the populace of the state. It’s much easier to be bought by 100 voters than 100,000 voters.
The bolded sentence illustrates my point perfectly. You are correct that the Senators needed fewer direct votes to get elected, but so did the State legislators. Certainly you agree that you have more power in a State representative election (1 out of a few 100,000), than in a Senatorial election (1 out of several million). By having more accountability over the State legislator, you also have more accountability over the Senator. A Senator with a bare minimum of votes necessary to get elected by the State legislators does not stand as much chance of getting elected (or re-elected), as one who garners a greater majority (the legislators have to get along on a number of over votes as well, don’t forget).

To be fair, IIRC the impetus behind the 17th Amendment was that bitter fights in State legislatures many times left seats vacant in the Senate. So it wasn’t all roses and tea prior to 1913.
... plus it’s all moot, because the Constitution was amended, the Body Politic CHANGED the Social COntract, legally, to make the Contract conform to their desires. Somehow it seems that libertarians feel this unjust or not cricket, or so it seems.
I don’t know where you get that impression, but I’ve never heard such complaints from libertarians. For myself, I just think the 17th is largely responsible for the death of federalism. I believe that most libertarians have a similar complaint, not that it isn’t fair or some such.
 
Written By: MichaelW
URL: http://asecondhandconjecture.com
By having more accountability over the State legislator, you also have more accountability over the Senator.

I realize we will diagree over this, but NO YOU DON’T. "Ya dance them what brung ya." And prior to the 17th the "wunz what brung ya" were the state legislators, NOT the voters, or Da Peeps. Senators owed allegiance to the LEGISLATURE, not the People OR the "state", which btw, states, nations, whatever never HAVE interests, people have interests, not groups. So I just don’t understand this argument at all... IF you can give Emperical evidence that voter preferences were driven by Legislator Selection Preferences for US Senator, I’ll concede. By that I mean, IF you can show that folks campaigned and WON state legislative seats on the basis of who they would select for US Senator, OK and show that that was a major influence on state legislative make-up, OK your point has merit. My counter-theory is that legislators generally were NOT selected on Senatorial preference, but on issues of taxes, projects and personality. I would argue that today, for example, a pledge by Joe Lieberman or Arlen Specter to vote FOR a certain person on the Supreme COurt has less effect on a voter decision to select or not select them as the candidate for US Senate than a statement on Iraq or Taxes or Abortion.

Bottom-line: prior to 1913 US Senators owed their longevity to maintaining good relations with a majority of their legislatiure, not the People and that they were more concerned about the internal structure and struggles WITHIN their electing body than the overall structure or concerns of their selecting STATE. That those state concerns influenced the makeup of a legislature is a given, but that it’s effect on US Senators was indirect.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
What about gay marriage , late term abortion?
 
Written By: SkyWatch
URL: http://
"Tim, the Senate has at least two (2) rules that make movement difficult and not simply the necessity of having 51 votes....."

Yeah, but where does the number 60 come from? I know there are holds(which are indefinite, as I recall) and such which can prevent a bill from coming to a vote, but they have nothing to do with the number of votes needed to pass legislation.

***************************

"It takes 60 votes to override a filibuster, not to pass a bill."

It takes 2/3, which is 67 votes.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Yeah, but where does the number 60 come from?
Yesterday the number came from Mitch McConnell the Senate minority leader. What wasn’t clear, however, is that it mostly applies to budget provisions:
By Unanimous Consent, the Senate passed a 6-month extension of its expiring "supermajority" 60-vote point of order rules late Wednesday, October 16.

The agreement provides a six-month extension of the Senate’s provision requiring 60 votes to waive certain budget points of order, such as the point of order against any tax cut or spending legislation not provided for in the most recent budget resolution. It also has a six-month extension of the Senate pay-as-you-go rule, requiring 60 votes to pass any tax cut or mandatory spending legislation that would increase the deficit.


That would mean it would expire in April. More here.

It also applies to ending end debate on an issue:
The text of Paragraph 2 of Rule XXII expressly requires 60 Senators (3/5s of Senators duly chosen and sworn) to vote to end debate on “any measure, motion, other matter pending before the Senate,” including a judicial nomination.
Consulting my notes, it appears that Sen McConnell said "it takes 60 votes to pass just about anything in the Senate", the "just about" being key and something I left out of my paraphrase.

My bad.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
""It takes 60 votes to override a filibuster, not to pass a bill."

It takes 2/3, which is 67 votes."


Think again, doofus. It only takes sixty to override a filibuster. For your(my) edification and enlightenment, I give the following link, so that you will not screw up again;
http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Filibuster_Cloture.htm
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Now that I have straightened out my little mixup over the number of votes needed for cloture(only since 1975, I might add), I will assume that McConnell was referring to the filibuster. If he is implying that the Reps. will make extensive use of the filibuster, I think he will find out in 2008 just how small a minority can be. Not a smart move.

********************

McQ, old boy, the first two links you provide lead to documents dated 2002. By my watch, that six month extension expired some time ago. At the risk of seeming indelicate, might I ask if this is related to the picture of the skeleton you posted(which I found entertaining, by the way. Thank you.)? As to your rule XXII link, the only thing I can offer in extenuation or mitigation is *DUUHH???*.

" "it takes 60 votes to pass just about anything in the Senate", the "just about"..."

If that is what he said, he is, in my opinion, not my choice for minority leader. It certainly fits my stereotype of dumbf* Republican politicians, though. I seem to recall that being used as an excuse for not even trying to pass legislation when his party was in the majority.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
McQ, old boy, the first two links you provide lead to documents dated 2002.
They still stand (ie. the rule is still in play). That much I know. I’m still not clear on when it expires, but I’m looking.
At the risk of seeming indelicate, might I ask if this is related to the picture of the skeleton you posted.
You’re coming in a bit muffled in here, what’d you say?
If that is what he said, he is, in my opinion, not my choice for minority leader. It certainly fits my stereotype of dumbf* Republican politicians, though. I seem to recall that being used as an excuse for not even trying to pass legislation when his party was in the majority.
Well with the likes of Lincoln Chaffee, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, its a bit like shooting yourself in the foot if you’re the majority. But now, in the minority (and sans at least Chaffee) it becomes a pretty powerful tool when you’re sitting at 49.

We’re going to see who plays/played the minority the best ... Reid when he had it or McConnell now.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Well McConnell is a capable procedural leader...I will point out that McConnell has overseen the growth of his party in his home state (Kentucky) from a position of impotence to a position that it has taken the Governorship for the first time in 30 years and seen the State Senate become and REMAIN solidly Republican for 6-8 years. The Republican Party runs about 40% registration, with only ONE Senate district actually mustering a Republican majority, in Kentucky. Also, in the mid-1980’s the Senate, in Kentucky was 20% Republican, as I said the Senate is now solidly Republican. So it’s not like he can’t build a party and lead it to victory. The idea that McConnell is not a good candidate for Republican leader is not borne out by his accomplishment in his home state. Will he succeed at the National level, I don’t know. But a simple dismissal of his capcities is not fair either.

Of course, the answer is for there to be another Critical Election akin to 1932, 1964, 1994 (for the House) that over turns the status quo and replaces one governing elite and philosophy with another. Right now, we are at inflection point with neither party nor Left or Right capable of mustering a decisive victory to move forward their agenda, so it becomes a matter of inches and compromise.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Senators owed allegiance to the LEGISLATURE, not the People OR the "state", which btw, states, nations, whatever never HAVE interests, people have interests, not groups.
I see that you’ve never heard of unfunded federal mandates to the States, have you?
 
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
I sure am glad we didn’t use the nuclear option when in the majority!

Never give yourselves power you wanted want your enemies to have.
 
Written By: SkyWatch
URL: http://
I see that you’ve never heard of unfunded federal mandates to the States, have you?
HUH...I don’t follow.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
"You’re coming in a bit muffled in here, what’d you say?"

Never mind, just getting a bit weird. My mind was wandering, and it went too far and got lost. I found it again, though. Most of it, anyway.

"We’re going to see who plays/played the minority the best"

My money is on the Reps. It seems to be where they feel most comfortable and subconsciously wish to be.

********************************
"But a simple dismissal of his capcities is not fair either."

Probably not, but as I said that is my stereotype of all republicans (guilty until proven innocent). Trent Lott, from what I read, was also a good technician. I prefer someone who has an agenda and is willing to put it to a vote, win or lose. I get the impression the Rep. leadership would rather lose at the polls than lose a vote in Congress.


 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Congrats, Jon - you made Town Hall

 
Written By: The Gonzman
URL: http://
I don’t know where you get that impression, but I’ve never heard such complaints from libertarians. For myself, I just think the 17th is largely responsible for the death of federalism. I believe that most libertarians have a similar complaint, not that it isn’t fair or some such.
The Civil War was the death of Federalism, the 17th amendment just threw dirt on the coffin.
 
Written By: DS
URL: http://
DS mouthed the incorrect conventional wisdom to say:
The Civil War was the death of Federalism, the 17th amendment just threw dirt on the coffin.
What BS. Nothing structurally damaged federalism until the 17th amendment. Nothing about the Civil War was any impediment to federalism. Federalism is not the sovereignty or independence of states, but the creation of equivalently sovereign governments having overlapping geographical jurisdictions.

The national government claimed no new powers in the Civil War, nor did the states grant it any.

The Civil War was about the Southern elites’ attempt to remain the biggest fish in their pond by making their pond smaller—and they did treason against allegiances they did owe to do it.

They paid as fairly for their crimes as have any criminals.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
 
Written By: Tom Perkins
URL: http://
First do you honestly mean to say that they did not do that prior to the 17th?
Joe, of course they did that, and that is still no point worth making.

The counterpoint is the Senators had to serve in a manner acceptable to the state legislators who might re-elect them and those state legislators had an interest in themselves retaining the capacity to serve their constituents as legislators of a state government that was to remain sovereign in some areas of law.

The 17th Amendment destroyed that aspect of the Senate which was protective of true federalism. The 17th should be repealed, and more ideally, each state accorded three Senators: one elected by the state populace at large for a four year term, one selected by and serving at the pleasure of the least numerous state legislative body, and one selected by and serving at the pleasure of the state’s executive—with whatever senior Senator of a state who may be present able to tender as they see fit the votes of the other Senatorial positions from their state as may be vacant.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
 
Written By: Tom Perkins
URL: http://

 
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