Washington — Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas) is busy at the Capitol this afternoon, where the Senate is debating on whether to proceed to roll-call votes on the DREAM Act, the 9/11 responders bill and the defense-authorization bill. Before hustling to the floor, Cornyn reflected on the lame-duck session thus far in an interview with National Review Online.
“It’s a mixed bag,” Cornyn says. “In an ideal world, we’d be able to avoid all of the chaos, but that’s just part of the process — you get down here to the very end, and people are desperate to throw a Hail Mary pass on a variety of issues.”
“The Republican position has been that there are only two things we really have to do,” Cornyn explains. “One, we have to keep the lights on and fund the federal government until we can come back in January; secondly, we have to keep this tax increase from occurring.” With Democrats apparently “resigned to the inevitable” on President Obama’s tax deal, Cornyn predicts that it will be able move forward.
On the tax deal, Cornyn notes that any chance to offer amendments will likely be “extraordinarily limited,” since the “basic deal has already been negotiated between the president and Republicans, and I don’t think that’ll be subject to change.”
Still, Cornyn is working to bring up an amendment that will address the deal’s deficit-spending provisions, to “tee the issue up.” Republicans and the White House, he says, beyond their agreement to extend Bush-era tax rates, have to “come to grips” with the country’s “spending and unsustainable debt.”
In this sense, Cornyn says he understands why Sen. Jim DeMint (R., S.C.) has opposed the tax deal. Though he backs the agreement, Cornyn agrees with DeMint, and other Republicans, that the extension of unemployment benefits, without corresponding budget offsets, is a “dangerous sign” that “the Congress has not yet won its battle against the addiction to deficit spending.”
In recent days, President Obama has used heated rhetoric — calling Senate Republicans “hostage-takers” — as he’s defended the tax deal. Nevertheless, Cornyn sees a glimmer of hope on Pennsylvania Avenue. “To the extent that this demonstrates a willingness to negotiate with Republicans and come up with a bipartisan agreement, if this is the beginning of a new trend, I think that’s positive. But the truth is, I don’t think that he had much choice — Democrats got themselves in a real box. They should have done this much earlier, and they would have had more leverage, but they couldn’t decide amongst themselves before the election.”
Looking ahead, Cornyn, who directs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, says that the upcoming tax vote will be a campaign issue for Senate Democrats running in 2012. “It’s hard to know how pivotal this particular vote would be,” he says. “But if Democrats somehow decided to reject the deal, it would have a negative impact on unemployment, and we’d find ourselves still with very high unemployment rates, which would make the reelection chances for the president and Senate Democrats very tough indeed.”
As we part, Cornyn cautions that the Democrats’ December legislating may be far from over. “There is going to be an attempt to offer an omnibus appropriations bill on the continuing resolution, which will, of course, contain a lot of earmarks and things like that,” he says. “So it’s pretty ugly, to be honest with you.”