- The Washington Times - Friday, December 18, 2015

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell closed out his first year in charge of the Senate with a victory lap Friday, saying bipartisan passage of a spending and tax-relief package caps a productive year in the upper chamber after years of gridlock.

He said Republicans who took charge in January have reignited debate and shepherded a raft of overdue accomplishments.

Some of them were bipartisan, such as a multiyear highway bill and rewrite of the No Child Left Behind education law, while an Obamacare repeal effort grabbed a GOP prize that was five years in the making.

“By any objective standard, I think the Senate is clearly back to work,” Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said.

He quickly pivoted to 2016, saying Congress should not rest because it is a presidential election year. At the very least, he said the body must pass a budget and all 12 appropriations bills.

That way, government spending will be fully vetted and not mashed into a massive “omnibus” package like the one hastily written and approved Friday to avert a Christmastime shutdown, he said.

Mr. McConnell said Democrats appear to be on board with that approach, citing recent comments from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.

“I say, ‘Amen.’ Help us do it, and we’ll do it,” he said.

The GOP would like to pass comprehensive tax reform in the coming year, but it would take “an epiphany” from President Obama to write reforms that become law before 2017, according to Mr. McConnell.

He said the effort should focus on relief for small business owners who file as individuals, or “pass-throughs,” and must be revenue-neutral to the government. That means any savings from reform must be used to lower tax rates for Americans, and not to authorize new spending.

Mr. McConnell said Mr. Obama won’t agree to the latter point, dimming prospects of a deal.

The senator insisted on revenue neutrality mere moments after Congress passed a series of tax breaks for businesses and families that cost the government $620 billion.

“We don’t believe tax cuts ought to be paid for,” he said, saying it’s an “article of faith” among the GOP that cuts will fire up America’s economic engine, creating a net positive for the federal ledger in the long run.

On the political front, Mr. McConnell declined to wade too far into the 2016 presidential campaign that could influence key Senate races further down the ballot, as the GOP clings to its 54-member majority.

But he vowed to offer candidates who can win in key swing states, admitting the party suffered in 2010 and 2012 by nominating candidates who crashed out in general elections, citing Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle, Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin by name.

In 2014, “the people who were nominated were electable,” he said.

“That will happen again in 2016,” Mr. McConnell said. “We will not nominate anybody for the United States Senate on the Republican side who is not appealing to the general election audience.”

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