10/09/2013 04:33 pm ET Updated Oct 10, 2013

Mitch McConnell Was Against Using Government Shutdown As Leverage

WASHINGTON -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell worked last month to put the breaks on a government shutdown. The reason why: He's probably scarred from the '90s.

The Kentucky Republican was one of the lead voices on keeping the government open after the last shutdown in 1995-1996.

In a Senate floor speech from April 1997, McConnell spoke candidly about the lessons learned after the GOP was blamed for shutting down the government under President Bill Clinton.

"We had a pretty contentious discussion in the last Congress about how best to get a balanced budget. It led to a conclusion that no one was happy with," McConnell said in the speech. "We think it is important that that be avoided for the future. Everybody now understands that was not a good result."

The Kentucky senator delivered his remarks while advocating for the Government Shutdown Prevention Act, a bill proposed by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas). The bill would have averted future shutdowns in the absence of an agreement by funding the government at 98 percent of the fiscal appropriations level from the previous year.

"It makes it clear that those on my side who thought the government shutdown might be good leverage in the past decided that it isn't and that it should not be pursued," McConnell said, adding the bill was a "good-government proposal."

Watch the video below.

McConnell tried to fend off the current shutdown by opposing Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) strategy to defund Obamacare as part of a government funding bill. And as the government looked all but certain to close on Sept. 30, he floated a one-week continuing resolution to keep operations running until an agreement was reached.

But since the federal government closed more than a week ago, McConnell hasn't exactly led the fight over government funding. Faced with a tough primary challenge in his 2014 reelection battle, McConnell has taken a less prominent role in deliberations on how to end the current federal government shutdown.

McConnell has joined House GOP leadership in calling for negotiations, which include anti-Obamacare riders, before reopening the government and raising the debt ceiling. He also urged Senate Democrats this week to take up a series of targeted bills passed by House Republicans that would restore funding to select parts of the government, even though Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has the votes to end the shutdown.

It's not uncommon for lawmakers to change their tone depending on the political climate. Republicans have repeatedly pointed to a 2006 floor speech from then-Sen. Barack Obama opposing a debt ceiling increase, though the White House has stated the president regrets his vote.

But their analogy is false equivalence, in that Obama may have ranted against raising the nation's borrowing limit but didn't try to hold the country hostage to advance his own political agenda, as Slate's Matt Yglesias points out. Congressional Republicans, on the other hand, have continued to demand concessions that would bring the country dangerously close to default.

Video credit: Eva Hill


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