The 112th Congress may be in the rear-view mirror, but partisan battles fought over the last two years seem to have left their mark.
Opening the 113th Congress, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made sure to clarify “that the marks that people see on my face… has nothing to do with the fiscal cliff or the disagreements that Speaker Boehner and I had.”
The Nevada Democrat was referencing reports that tensions boiled over between the leaders of each chamber during negotiations over a budget deal to avoid the fiscal cliff. Reid, speaking from the Senate floor last week, had called Boehner a dictator and suggested he wanted to make sure he was re-elected speaker before doing anything serious about the deficit. Boehner, observers report, had more direct recommendation for Boehner about what he might do with himself when they met at the White House.
The spots on the former boxer’s face weren’t from a fist fight, Reid said today, but come “from being very pale and living in the desert most of my life.”
As the new Congress opened with declarations of bipartisanship and hopes for avoiding another self-created fiscal crisis, the two leaders of the Senate fired the first shots in what should be a drawn out battle for leverage in negotiations over raising the federal debt limit and avoiding mandatory budget cuts.
Lamenting the one-sided nature of the House of Representatives, Reid added, “Too many good pieces of legislation died over the last two years because House Republican leaders insisted on passing legislation with a majority of a majority. That is, only Republicans. Democrats were ignored most of the time.”
Similar complaints about partisanship were echoed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as he began the new Congress asking the Senate, “If we can’t stop spending taxpayer dollars on robo-squirrels and dancing robots or hot-air balloon rides for Smokey the Bear, then there’s no hope at all. If we can’t fix the easy stuff, the robot squirrels and the robots, the things most of us agree on, how are we ever going to get at the hard stuff?”
The Kentucky Republican suggested that bipartisan agreement on fiscal issues is not impossible. Widely credited with crafting a compromise with Vice President Joe Biden on the New Year’s Day budget deal, McConnell may in fact be the key to any “grand bargain.”
But alas, even though the new Senate carries a shiny new number and plenty of new faces, the familiar sound of politics filled the chamber. McConnell, like Reid, put the onus for cooperation on the opposition party — the them:
“The first step in this debate is for Democrats to get over their fanatical commitment to guarding every single dime the government ever got its hands on.”