Sen. Mitch McConnell says GOP deserves credit for economic uptick

 Sen. Mitch McConnell says GOP deserves credit for economic uptick
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reenacts his oath of office for a sixth term with Vice President Joe Biden in the Old Senate Chamber at the Capitol in Washington. (Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg)

As President Obama sets out on a new public campaign to highlight positive economic trends during his administration, the Senate's top Republican on Wednesday signaled how his party will seek to blunt that message — and even take a measure of credit for good news themselves.

Making his first extended remarks since becoming Senate majority leader, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell said the first priority of a new Republican-led Congress would be pursuing "common-sense jobs ideas" like a tax overhaul and new infrastructure projects. He invited the president to support their efforts rather than stand in the way.

"Americans are challenging this Congress and this president," he said. "They're challenging lawmakers in Washington to work for jobs for Americans, not just jobs for themselves. Seems simple enough. But in the era of divided government control, we're going to have to work hard to meet expectations, and we're going to have to work together."

McConnell said Congress needed to focus on jobs "and the real concerns of the middle class" and that new economic data offer a "glimmer of hope" after years of sluggish growth. But notably, he attributed the economic uptick not to any of the president's actions, but to "the expectation of a new Republican Congress."

While he promised to try to find bipartisan consensus, some of the specific proposals McConnell identified, like building the Keystone XL pipeline, count only a small number of Democrats among their backers. The White House on Tuesday said Obama would veto the bill if it reached his desk.

McConnell lashed out at the president for issuing the veto threat only moments into the new Congress, calling the action "anything but productive." He said he was concerned that the president had misread the message from voters last fall.

"I appreciate that bipartisan compromise may not come easily for the president, not his first inclination," he said. "The president's supporters are pressing for militancy these days, not compromise .... But now is the time to accept reality."

McConnell also promised to follow through on his promise to restore the Senate to a body that produces consensus legislation rather than endless gridlock. It might require longer work hours and beget tense moments, he warned.

"It doesn't mean everything will be perfect. It doesn't mean we'll never come up against a deadline. And it doesn't mean we'll always agree," he said. "But together we can commit to changing the way Washington operates. This can be done."

Reading a statement from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who is recovering from injuries suffered during an accident while exercising in Nevada last week, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said Democrats would join Republicans in trying to send meaningful legislation to the president.

"The mistakes of the past, the gratuitous obstruction, and wanton filibustering will not be a hallmark of the minority in the 114th Congress," Reid, through Durbin, said. But, he added, Democrats "have no intention of just rolling over," and would fight any Republican efforts to undo Wall Street reforms or undercut Obamacare.

"There's plenty of common ground for bipartisan compromise if Republicans are willing," he said.

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