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McCaskill blasts state GOP as she laments 'party of No' will make gains this fall

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 7, 2010 - U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., appeared to exude more optimism today about St. Louis' chances of landing a transit hub with China than she was about her party's chances in this fall's election.

Addressing members of the St. Louis Chamber and Growth Association, McCaskill said that the latest talks with China indicate Lambert Field should be seeing two Chinese cargo flights a week by next summer.

McCaskill had just returned Monday from China, where she was part of a bipartisan delegation of regional civic, business and political leaders lobbying for the "Big Idea" -- the quest to persuade China to locate its Midwest transit hub at Lambert St. Louis International Airport.

But most of the senator's comments, and her answers to audience questions, dealt with what she called "the silly season" -- the final months leading up to the Nov. 2 election.

McCaskill was pessimistic about much being done during the final weeks of this congressional session, because she said national Republicans want to block any Democratic initiatives..

Take, for example, President Barack Obama's proposal Monday for a $50 billion infrastructure proposal, and the broader proposal -- already before the Senate -- to offer tax cuts for small businesses.

The business tax-cut plan, said McCaskill, should "pass easily" -- but she feared that Republicans will press to delay any vote until after the Nov. 2 election. Obama's infrastructure proposal also should get wide support, she said, if he makes clear where the $50 billion will come from.

In an interview later, McCaskill offered a similar assessment on virtually every other issue before Congress. Republicans, she said, will "block action on anything that make us (Democrats) look like we care about business."

The GOP is taking that stance, she continued, because it has been successful with its "party of 'No' " campaign.

"I know the country is anxious, and cynical and distrustful right now because of the economy," McCaskill said. And the party in power "traditionally gets blamed for all the economic woes. I'm sure we'll pay a price in November. I just don't know how big a price."

She acknowledged that Democrats have failed to adequately explain how their policies and new measures -- such as the new health care law and stimulus spending -- have helped the country.

"The message of 'No' is very simple, it's very succinct," the senator said., "The message on the other side is a little more complicated. It involves getting into the weeds'' of government.

"If you look objectively at the stimulus, it worked," McCaskill said, by preventing the nation's economy from getting worse. The new federal health care law isn't perfect, she said, but supporters aren't adequately explaining how it includes tax cuts to help small businesses provide insurance for their workers, and how the mandate for all Americans to buy insurance by 2014 ahould lower their premiums with a larger pool.

The GOP quest to repeal the law, she said, "we'll be back where we were, with a shrinking pool of insured people paying for the uninsured'' through higher hospital and insurance costs.

She also asserted that the high-income tax cuts put in place during the Bush administration "did not create economic growth in this country,'' failed to boost job growth and instead led to overspending and budget deficit. (She emphasized that she and other Democrats did back the middle-class tax cuts.)

"I just want to remind people that we're cleaning up the other guy's mess,'' McCaskill said.

Still, she acknowledged that it was unclear if the public will buy the Democrats' argument at this late stage, even if it is presented more aggressively and passionately.

Said McCaskill: "Right now, the people are in the mood for 'No.' "

For all her gripes about national Republicans, McCaskill was far more critical of Missouri Republicans controlling the Legislature in Jefferson City.

The senator told the RCGA that Republican legislators were "talking out of both sides of their mouths'' when it comes to abiding with the will of Missouri voters and the public.

For all their emphasis on the overwhelming statewide vote in August in favor of Proposition C, which seeks to exempt Missouri from the federal health care changes, McCaskill said that state Republicans ignored the will of Missourians when it came to campaign donation limits.

"I think it's terribile for Missouri to have no limits,'' the senator said, particularly since more than 70 percent of Missouri voters backed limits in the 1992 statewide vote.

Instead, as soon as the Missouri GOP took control of the state Legislature, she said, "they immediately gave the public the back of their hand on campaign donation limits."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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