DYCHE | McConnell much better Senate leader than Reid - WDRB 41 Louisville News

DYCHE | McConnell much better Senate leader than Reid

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John David Dyche John David Dyche
By John David Dyche
WDRB Contributor

This time last year the U.S. Senate under the leadership of then-Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada was a dysfunctional disgrace. Putting his party's interests ahead of the country's, Reid ran the Senate with one thing in mind: preventing Democrats from having to cast politically difficult votes.

The Democratic majority was endangered, and Reid was willing to do anything to hold onto power. So the Senate did not do much business, debate was limited, and amendments were often disallowed.

In Kentucky a year ago much of the media, Democrats, and some disgruntled Republicans were convinced they could beat U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell. Defeating McConnell, the Republican leader, was a big part of Democratic hopes of clinging to control of the chamber.

But McConnell handily beat Matt Bevin (now running for governor) in the primary and went on to win a landslide victory over Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes in the general election. He exceeded expectations and discredited erroneous polls in the process.

McConnell, already respected as one of the Senate's best deal-makers, declared that as the new majority leader he would make the Senate work again. He held up the low-key, but highly respected, former Democratic Majority Leader Mike Mansfield as a role model more than the domineering Lyndon Johnson.

He has kept his promise. The Senate is again operating as the Constitution and the Founders contemplated, and as it long did before the regrettable Reid interregnum. National media have had no choice but to notice.

For example, McConnell made legislation on the long-stalled Keystone pipeline an early priority. He employed an open amendment process that was, according to the Christian Science Monitor, "so open that the Senate considered more amendments in one day that it did in a year under the previous regime."

McConnell said that there would be no government shutdown, and guided the body through a situation that could have produced one. Divisions within his own party present as much of a challenge to McConnell on such issues as do Democrats.

He made a deal to pass a human-trafficking bill that Democrats had blocked over abortion language and confirm President Obama's attorney general nominee in the process. The Senate passed a budget for the first time in a long time.

McConnell did recently cut-off debate and amendments on the bipartisan bill to give Congress a say, albeit a very inadequate one, on any deal Obama makes with Iran. But the Democratic minority was determined to block anything stronger, there will be other legislative opportunities to defeat a bad Obama bargain, and the Senate had to move on to other important matters.

He admits to a few early and primarily process mistakes, and there are lots of big challenges looming ahead. Some are policy matters and others are political.

The former include a raft of high profile hot button issues ranging from a trade deal to the Patriot Act, from the No Child Left Behind education measure to a highway bill, and from reauthorizing the controversial Export-Import Bank to raising the federal debt limit again come fall. None of these will be easy, and each will test McConnell's new leadership style.

Then there is the tough electoral map that confronts Republicans next year. With a presidential election also on the ballot, Republicans must defend more than twice as many seats as Democrats, a situation dramatically different than last year when the GOP won big.

If he can keep the Senate functioning well between now and then it gives his Republican candidates another case they can make for retaining them in the majority. In the process, however, McConnell must set up some votes to draw clear political distinctions between the two parties as he did with Keystone.

McConnell's success in leading the Senate should not surprise many, if any, Kentuckians as it has some nationally. His home state voters already knew that he was a highly skilled political operator who keeps his word.

Reid has now had his eyes blacked both literally and symbolically. He hurt himself in what he says was an accident involving exercise equipment, and he suffers by contrast to McConnell's leadership.

The Nevadan recently admitted that he believes that the ends justify the means in politics. Thus he stands by his false statement during the 2012 presidential campaign about Mitt Romney not paying taxes.

Reid is retiring at the end of his current term next year rather than risk being beaten by Republicans as he should have been last time. Good riddance.

John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is jddyche@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.
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