Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday bemoaned the state of the Senate as a consensus-seeking body, urging colleagues to consider several proposals he said would encourage bipartisan compromise within the chamber.
McConnell, R-Ky., and his fellow Republicans have themselves contributed to the partisan paralysis that beset the Senate -- as McConnell himself acknowledged -- and to the lack of legislative progress made by a historically chummy Senate.
"On some level, every single one of us has to be at least a little bit uneasy about what happened here last November," McConnell said in a 30-minute speech on the Senate floor, referring to Democrats' use of the 'nuclear option' to limit use of the filibuster, reducing the minority party's clout in the chamber. "None of us should be happy with the trajectory the Senate was on even before that day."
McConnell said the Senate should increase the authority of committee chairmen and ranking members, permit more debate on legislative issues, allow a greater number of minority amendments and extend the length of the Senate's work week.
Using the Senate only to score political points "cheapens the service we've sworn to provide," said McConnell, whose speech included a political jab at the "unapologetically liberal president."
Partisanship has always been a part of the Senate, the Kentucky senator argued, but it should not be allowed to reach the point where it has undermined the chamber's ability to create consensus.
"What have we become?" McConnell asked.
In a rebuttal issued even before McConnell spoke, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said there was "simply no merit to Republicans' claim that there has been a departure from the norm on minority amendments under Senator Reid's leadership." He blamed the need for a rule change on Republicans' unprecedented use of "partisan tactics" and the filibuster.
Reid himself went to the Senate floor to respond to McConnell's speech, arguing that Republicans are only trying to focus public attention on the internal problems of the Senate to distract them from the current debate over whether to extend unemployment benefits for more than 1 million Americans who have been without a job for more than 26 weeks.
"Republicans don't want to talk about the problems faced by the middle class," Reid said. "My Republican colleagues are looking for a distraction, a diversion."