BENTON – Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell put a twist on the sports cliché “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
Sometimes, McConnell said, the times of greatest division among elected officials is the time when they do their best and most effective work.
The Kentucky Republican offered that observation in impromptu remarks during a visit to Benton Friday. The occasion was the recognition of Heritage Bank as the Chamber of Commerce’s Business of the Month.
“Sometimes, the best time to do really challenging stuff is when you have a divided government,” McConnell said, citing the work of presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton with legislative bodies controlled by the opposite party.
McConnell praised the collaboration of Reagan and liberal Democratic House Speaker of Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, who worked together to overhaul Social Security in 1983. Passage of the bipartisan compromise came just a few years after the Senate had delivered a stinging 96-0 defeat of a reform measure Reagan had promoted early in his first term.
Likewise, Clinton was able to find common ground with conservative Republican speaker Newt Gingrich and Senate majority leader Trent Lott on welfare reform, resulting in passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996.
McConnell noted that Reagan and the Democrat-controlled Congress also achieved significant tax reform and that Clinton was able to work with a GOP-dominated legislature to balance the federal budget in 1998.
McConnell dismissed the appearance of divisiveness that is apparent in government nowadays, comparing the behavior of contemporary elected officials to the clashes of political figures of the early days of American politics, when disagreements sometimes escalated to the point of pistol duels.
“We have always had robust debate,” McConnell said. “These are debates worth having. Of course it’s going to be spirited.”
McConnell, now serving his fifth six-year term as Kentucky senator, was blunt in his assessment of the efforts of the Obama administration to stimulate the economy.
“If government borrowing and spending would stimulate growth, we’d be in a boom,” he said. “The only way we’re going to get out of this trough is through private sector growth.”