Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday dismissed the emerging "Washington is broken" mantra being used by Democratic lawmakers, strategists and pundits to cast Republicans as obstructionists to progress.
To make his point, he opened the door to Republicans signing on to a Democratic jobs bill this week.
"Look, in terms of whether or not we're at a gridlock, I would like to quote the president of the United States himself, who said just a couple of months ago, 'If we stop today' - this is the president - 'If we stop today, this legislative session would have been one of the most productive in a generation," Mr. McConnell said on Fox News.
"They are trying to spin the notion that we are stymieing everything they're doing. It is simply not true, based on the president's own words," he said.
But the Kentucky Republican said his party, along with a sizable majority of Americans, oppose Mr. Obama's trillion-dollar health care reform proposal and new global warming legislation, and that Republican senators have a duty to their constituents.
"We oppose the government taking over the health care system, one-sixth of our economy, and we oppose a national energy tax, commonly referred to around here as cap and trade. We think those are terrible ideas," he said, responding to Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh's claim that he is retiring because of the futility of lawmaking.
"But my members were not sent here to do nothing, and the president knows that and he has said it. We have accomplished much for the American people; it's just that we are unwilling to approve their partisan agenda to take over health care and raise energy taxes," he said.
Mr. McConnell said that while Republicans were not ecstatic about a bipartisan $85 million jobs package pulled last week by Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, he added that Republicans "may well" support a new $15 billion jobs bill, $13 billion of which is for a payroll tax holiday for companies that hire unemployed workers.
"What was a mystery to us is how the bipartisan bill got shelved. I thought it was moving along a bipartisan path. Many of my members were going to support it and, all of a sudden the majority leader decided to skinny it down," he said.
But disagreement over the health care debate has injected partisanship into everything that comes before the Senate and the House. Mr. Obama on Saturday sought to pave the way for fruitful bipartisan discussions on Thursday.
"I don't want to see this meeting turn into political theater, with each side simply reciting talking points and trying to score political points," the president said in his radio and Internet address. "What's being tested here is not just our ability to solve this one problem, but our ability to solve any problem."
Mr. McConnell said he likely will participate in the health care summit, but he expressed pessimism that the session would produce a bipartisan compromise over the contentious issue.
The president on Monday is expected to publish his health care plan, which congressional aides say will combine features of the two Democratic bills already passed in the House and Senate. That move does not fill Mr. McConnell with optimism.
"Apparently we're going to be there most of the day and have an opportunity to have a lot of discussion. But if they're going to lay out the plan they want to pass four days in advance, then why are - what are we discussing on Thursday?" Mr. McConnell asked.
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