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Re-elected McCaskill outlines her Senate agenda

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 14, 2012 - WASHINGTON – Expanding her panel’s oversight of fraud and abuse in government contracting, finding a compromise solution to avoid the “fiscal cliff” and approving the defense and farm bills are among U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill’s priorities in Congress.

Not to mention getting a more spacious women’s restroom near the chamber of the Senate, which will have a record 20 women senators starting in January.

In her first session with reporters since her reelection this month to a second six-year term, McCaskill, D-Mo., said Wednesday that one clear message from voters in this fall’s election is that the wealthiest Americans should contribute more to helping solve the fiscal problems that have worsened the federal debt.

“There has to be revenue in any package” to tackle deficits realistically, she said. “I have voted in the past – and would vote again – to raise tax rates on those at the very top, whether the line is $250,000 or the line is $500,000 or $1 million. A lot will depend on whether revenue can be realized from other places.”

While McCaskill said she supports closing some tax loopholes as part of a wider package to avert the "fiscal cliff," she said some Republicans have not been realistic in contending that such a step alone would make much of a difference in the debt crisis.

“It’s great to talk about how you just close loopholes and magically the revenue appears. But I’ve yet to see a real plan by any Republican that shows how, in fact, that happens,” McCaskill said. “It needs to be more than just a symbolic gesture. We need to get to $4 trillion to $5 trillion in debt reduction here.”

Touching on some of her priorities, McCaskill – who chairs a subcommittee on contracting oversight – told journalists that she was starting “to work on agenda for next year . . . trying to hopefully expand the work I’ve done on contracting oversight to more areas of government oversight.”

The Missouri senator, who also chairs an Armed Services subcommittee, said she hoped to contribute to finding ways to make the budget more efficient – while protecting the military’s strength and maintaining a strong commitment to veterans.

“As we navigate the need for national security with tightened budgets, we’re going to have to be very smart with our money,” McCaskill said. “And that’s a great place to dovetail my work on government accountability with my principle desire to make sure that we keep the strongest and most effective military in the world.”

Concerned about 'politicizing' Benghazi tragedy

On a day when Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and two other GOP senators called for Watergate-style hearings on the Sept. 11 Benghazi attacks, McCaskill – who had just come from a classified Senate briefing on the issue – said she was “a little troubled with what feels like politicizing this issue more than it should be politicized.”

“I have no problem with aggressive oversight. I just want to make sure that we don’t go past the line of aggressive oversight into politicizing what was a tragedy for our State Department, for our American military and for our intelligence community,” said McCaskill.

She added that “instead of playing a blame game ... I want to make sure that we fix the problems that we recognize may have occurred.”

Instead of a “select committee” that would focus exclusively on the Benghazi debacle, McCaskill suggested “allowing the [four] committees of jurisdiction to work on this… I would have to understand what the purpose of the select committee is. It appears to me that we have aggressive oversight ongoing right now in a bipartisan way. And I think that’s what we should continue to do.”

McCaskill added: “There’s a natural conflict and tension here between making sure the American people were not misled intentionally and making sure that these agencies are accountable for what happened, and making sure that we keep America safe” by not releasing classified information that might damage national security.

Hopes women will be positive force in Senate

With five new women senators – four Democrats and one Republican – joining the Senate in January, McCaskill said she is excited about the potential for more cooperation among female lawmakers in the new Congress.

“It’s great to have this many women and I look forward to getting to know the new women better who will join the Senate,” she said, adding that she had not yet had a chance to talk much with GOP Sen.-elect Deb Fischer of Nebraska.

She said that, in the new Congress, a third of the Democratic Senate caucus will be women. “We’re going to have to get along pretty well,” she quipped, noting how small the women’s restroom is near the Senate chamber.

In fact, when newly elected Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Fischer entered that restroom on Wednesday morning, they found McCaskill and two other senators already there. “I said we’re going to have to have a bigger bathroom,” McCaskill joked.

Easing gridlock in new Congress

With the current Senate often frozen by a series of Republican filibusters, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nv., has said he plans to try to tighten the filibuster-related rules in the new Congress in January. But McCaskill is cautious about such changes, which would restrict the power of the minority party.

First, she said she would rather strike a deal for an “open amendment” process that would “allow the minority to put in more amendments and therefore they are not stubborn about requiring 60 votes on everything from motherhood to apple pie.”

Also, why not make those who filibuster actually spend hours in the Senate chamber – a la “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” – rather than just threatening to stall a bill, which requires 60 votes to overcome?

“I’m not against the notion of a requirement of a ‘talking filibuster,’ so the American people can see very clearly – through our arcane and Byzantine rules and procedures – who is actually being obstructionist,” she said.

“One of the problems over the past few years is that this obstructionism was so acute, but it was not necessarily transparent for people,” McCaskill said.

“Clearly, it didn’t work out for [Republicans] very well … as a political strategy. Maybe the lack of success they had in the election will encourage a more open dialogue about our ability to actually legislate.” 

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