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Floor statement: Sen. Mitch McConnell on the DISCLOSE Act

updated 8:54 PM EDT, Tue July 17, 2012

(CNN) -- Senate Republicans again Tuesday blocked Democratic legislation that would require greater transparency into who is behind much of the secretive, often negative campaign advertising filling the airwaves this election season.

Read more on Senate Republicans blocking DISCLOSE Act

Supporters of the DISCLOSE Act mustered 53 votes in an effort to advance the bill, but fell short of the 60 needed to break a GOP filibuster.

What follows is the statement made by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, Monday on the Senate floor, provided by his press office:

"Later today, Senate Democrats will show where their legislative priorities truly lie. At a moment when the American people are reeling from the slowest economic recovery in modern times, and just five and a half months away from a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts already being referred to around the world as America's fiscal cliff, Senate Democrats want us to waste our time on the DISCLOSE Act, a bill that has only two discernible purposes: to create the impression of mischief where there is none, and to send a signal to unions that Democrats are just as eager to do their legislative bidding as ever.

"Think about it: we've had 41 straight months of unemployment above eight percent; it's been more than three years since Democrats passed a budget, but this is what they want to do.

"For months, Republicans have been urging Democrats to do something about the approaching fiscal cliff now, before it's too late. The American people don't expect us to see every crisis that comes around the corner, but they should be able to expect us to do something about the problems we do see. Yet last week, President Obama signaled that he and his campaign advisors think it's good politics to keep the threat of these looming tax hikes on everyone on the table as supposed leverage, in an effort to raise taxes on nearly a million business owners now.

"And as the Washington Post reported this morning, not only do Democrats in Congress agree with him — they're ready and willing to go right off the fiscal cliff if they don't get their way.

"In their near-fanatical crusade to inflict even more pain on American businesses, Democrats are now openly admitting that they plan to wait until this debate reaches full throttle and Americans are panicked about the outcome to do anything, because they think it will make it likelier they'll get their way.

"And if they don't, then so be it. They're ready to accept the economic and fiscal consequences. They see a crisis coming, and they don't want to waste it. The Congressional Budget Office has said that not doing anything and walking off this fiscal cliff would lead to a recession; the IMF chief says it would threaten the global economy; and yet Senate Democrats today are announcing they're perfectly ready and willing to accept all that if Republicans don't allow them to raise taxes on the very businesses we're counting on to create the jobs we need.

"This is what passes for governance among Democrats these days: put the American people up against a wall, pick their pockets, and hope that in the midst of the scuffle they blame it — and the recession that would follow — on Republicans.

"Make no mistake: what the Democrats are proposing today is an entirely avoidable high-stakes game of chicken with the single-minded goal of taking more money from those who earn it, for government to waste. The President made it very clear over the weekend that he doesn't think entrepreneurs are responsible for their own success. They owe it to government. That's the attitude driving everything this President and his Democrat allies in Washington do right now. Their one-point plan for getting America back on track is clear: you earn, we take. And if they don't get to impose it, then they'll welcome a recession.

"They're so single-mindedly focused on taking the earning of others for themselves and spreading it around, in the President's famous phrase, that they're recklessly ignoring any proposal to prevent the coming crisis in order to achieve it.

"Last week, Senate Republicans proposed a legislative solution which ensured that no one sees their income taxes go up — no one — at the end of the year, that creates a path for the kind of fair, broad-based, and comprehensive tax reform members of both parties claim they want, and which would give individuals and businesses the certainty that they've been asking us for since the very beginning of this administration. We could have passed this completely reasonable proposal last week, and put the anxieties of millions of Americans at ease with a single vote.

"But Democrats refused. They'd rather keep the crisis unresolved, keep it looming out there on the horizon.

"They think it gives them a political edge. They think it's good politics. And they should be ashamed.

"Consider this: it's been nearly a year since the President demanded half a trillion dollars in automatic cuts to defense at the end of this year — and yet with the date now fast-approaching, we still don't know how he intends to handle it.

"The President's campaign wants people asking whether his opponent is hiding something on a 10 year-old tax return. How about what this President is actually concealing about his plans to slash defense? With just a few months to go before these cuts devastate communities all across the country, the President has yet to outline his plans.

"Republicans in the House have already passed and Republicans in the Senate have proposed concrete plans to avoid these devastating cuts to our national defense. Our uniformed military deserve the certainty that their operations, training, support, and weapons systems will be fully funded. Meanwhile, the President hasn't demonstrated the least bit of interest in this issue. He hasn't said a thing. He's apparently more interested in blowing smoke about his opponent's tax returns than in talking about the tax hike he actually plans to impose on the very businesses we're counting on to create the jobs Americans need right now.

"He'd rather spend his time raising unfounded suspicions about a guy whose entire professional career has been a dress rehearsal for bringing order to a government that's become so bloated, inefficient, and bureaucratic that it's crying out for the kind leadership and reform Democrats refuse to provide. He'd rather attack a guy who has succeeded at just about everything he's ever done than propose a solution himself.

"And the reason is clear: Washington Democrats are worried he might succeed at reforming government too, they don't want to give him the chance. Think about it: the economy is flat on its back, millions are struggling to find work, and Democrats aren't outlining a solution: they're plotting about how to take advantage of it to advance an ideological agenda most American oppose, and to cast doubt about anybody who poses a serious threat to the crony-capitalist, bureaucratic favor factory in Washington.

"Where the rest of us see the worst economic recovery in modern times, Democrats see another opportunity to use a crisis to grow government, and that's what they're focused on — not on providing hope and relief for already-struggling Americans, but providing more tax dollars for the government to waste and misdirect. And in the meantime, they'll waste our time with bills like this one, which they know won't pass but which give them a chance to make a fuss about a problem that doesn't exist and blow a kiss to the unions for good measure.

"But if we are going to have a vote on proceeding to this bill, I'd like to take a moment to explain why it's not only Exhibit A in how completely irresponsible Democrats are being right now, but why it's such a terrible idea in itself.

"First, a point on process.

"When the history books are written, the 112th Congress may well be known as the Congress of Irrelevant Committees. There once was a day when committees held hearings on bills, debated them, offered amendments and reported them out for full Senate consideration. Now it's find a bill, put it on the calendar, move to proceed, and file cloture, lose and repeat. Committees aren't being used to generate good legislation, in other words, they're viewed as an obstacle to overcome in the effort to make a point in front of the cameras on the Senate floor. And the latest such effort is the DISCLOSE act — a bill aimed at "doing something" about people exercising their First Amendment right to participate in the process.

"Well, my question is, do something about what?

"Do something about races which previously would not have been competitive but now are? Do something about individuals and organizations criticizing unpopular positions and policies?

"Do something about groups advocating on behalf of their members to promote or oppose the very positions for which those members joined? As George Will has pointed out, the political process isn't a private club with the parties and candidates controlling membership. And under the Citizens United decision of 2010, independent groups are now able to speak again under the First Amendment — regardless of who, when, and what they're speaking about. This is something Democrats should be celebrating, not excoriating. The Founders envisioned a nation in which speech would be promoted as widely as possible. That's what the First Amendment is all about, particularly when it comes to the political process.

"The purpose of this legislation is clear: after Citizens United, Democrats realized they couldn't shut up their critics. So they decided to go after the microphone instead, by trying to scare off the funders. As Senator Schumer put it during debate on an earlier version of this bill, '...the deterrent effect should not be underestimated.' Just as with the DISCLOSE act of 2010, this amounts to nothing more than member and donor harassment and intimidation, and it's all part of a broader government-led intimidation effort by this administration; there are parallel efforts at the FCC, SEC, IRS, DOJ and the White House itself to silence its critics.

"The creation of a modern day Nixonian enemies list is currently in full swing and, frankly, the American people should not stand for it. As I've said before, no individual or group in this country should have to face harassment or intimidation, or incur crippling expenses defending themselves again their own government, simply because that government doesn't like the message they're advocating. But that's what we're seeing.

"My own view has always been that if you can't convince people of the wisdom of your policies, then you need to come up with better arguments. Instead, the left has resorted to tactics like the pending legislation. This legislation is an unprecedented requirement for groups to publicly disclose their donors, stripping a protection recognized and solidified by the courts.

"As a result of this legislation, advocacy groups ranging from the NAACP, to the Sierra Club, to the Chamber of Commerce — all of whom already disclose their donors to the IRS — would now be forced to subject their members to public intimidation and harassment. Why? For supporting organizations and groups whose goals they agree with. Predictably, unions are exempted from the kind of disclosure Democrats now want to impose on others. The so-called Stand by Your Ad provision in an earlier version has done a David Copperfield and vanished. I'm not advocating for the provision, but simply to note its absence, which proves that the primary goal of this bill is not good government or transparency, but targeted speech suppression.

"I give the authors credit, whoever they are; they actually list labor unions as a 'covered organization' in the bill. However, through an elaborate scheme of thresholds and triggers, they might as well have saved the ink, since unions are largely given a free pass by this bill, despite the fact that they're by far the biggest players in political campaigns in this country — almost all of it on the Democrat side. As The Wall Street Journal reported last week, labor unions spent a total of $4.4 billion — that's billion with a b — on campaigns from 2005 to 2011; a staggering amount of money, and perfectly within their rights under the First Amendment.

"So let's be clear: the other side may be able to whip the media up into a lather over the increased participation of individuals and groups who don't like the direction this President has taken our country, but the really big money is coming from the Left in the form of mandatory dues to labor unions. To the Left, big money from individuals and corporations is a problem, but the nearly $800 million spent by unions in 2008 is just fine and dandy — as long as nearly 100 percent of it goes to their own campaigns.

"As supporters of this legislation have readily admitted, the real target of this bill is to protect themselves from criticism over their wildly unpopular policies and positions. This is precisely why this legislation has been opposed by business groups from coast to coast and opposed by everybody from the NRA to the ACLU to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And I greatly appreciate all the effort these folks have put into educating and advocating on this issue. So Mr. President, I will do everything in my power to protect the First Amendment rights from DISCLOSE, the sequel, and I ask my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join with me in voting no. We have many serious problems in this country. An overabundance of free speech is not one of them.

"Democrats can call this bill whatever they want, but they can't conceal its true intent, which is to encourage their allies and discourage their critics from exercising their First Amendment right to speak their minds. If Democrats don't like the level playing field ensured by the First Amendment and reaffirmed by Citizens United, they should do a better job convincing the American people of the wisdom of their policies. And focus on real problems, instead of inventing problems that don't exist.

"To this point, I would once again urge our friends to put the political games aside and do something now about the fiscal cliff that's approaching, before it's too late. Our nation has been mired in an economic coma for years, more people signed up for disability last month than found a job, the number of Americans on food stamps continues to climb, it's all about to get worse — and we've got a President who's on a single-minded crusade to punish business owners even more.

"Republicans have proposed serious, concrete ideas for addressing the problems we face. But we can't do any of it if the President and his Democrat allies in Congress refuse to join us.

"Unfortunately, that's where we are. Democrats have made their priorities clear. And sadly, the American people they were elected to serve appear to be very much at the bottom of the list."

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