By Alexander Bolton – 09/12/14 06:00 AM EDT
Republicans are putting together an agenda for the first 100 days of 2015 in case they win control of the Senate.
Authorizing the Keystone XL oil pipeline, approving “fast-track” trade authority, wiping out proposed environmental regulations and repealing the medical device tax top their list.
“Those would all be positive things. You could come up with a list of very positive things and all of us are thinking about those,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who is poised to become chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee under a GOP takeover.
Other Republicans echoed Corker.
“Those are four things that could happen that I believe would be great for the economy and enable us to move forward on a bipartisan basis,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said during a Thursday breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.
GOP senators insist they are not “measuring the drapes” after six years in the minority.
Still, they’re preparing for what could be a brief, intense window of activity before 2016 presidential politics begin to dominate the landscape.
“We will have to be prepared if we are in a position to govern,” Corker said. “You got to think about those things you’d like to produce.”
To move their objectives, Senate Republicans must win in November and then work with a Democratic minority. Even in a best-case scenario, the party will be well short of a 60-plus majority able to block Democratic filibusters. But Republicans believe many of their priorities could be embraced by Democrats.
Legislation endorsing the Keystone pipeline included Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Jon Tester (Mont.) among its co-sponsors.
And a bill to repeal the medical device tax has six Democratic cosponsors, including Sens. Al Franken (Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Kay Hagan (N.C.) and Donnelly.
“We should be able to do that in the first 30 days,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said of the measure.
On regulatory reform, they note that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) halted action on the energy and water development appropriations bill earlier this year because he feared centrist Democrats were inclined to support an amendment curbing regulations on coal.
Centrist Democrat Joe Manchin (W.Va.) introduced legislation at the beginning of the year requiring that new greenhouse gas standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency be realistically achievable by coal-fired power plants.
Portman has introduced legislation that would require independent agencies to publish the assessed costs and benefits of proposed new rules deemed to be economically significant. Democratic Sen. Mark Warner (D-W.Va.) has co-sponsored the measure.
Trade is another possible area of bipartisanship — with the president.
President Obama called for bipartisan trade promotion authority in his State of the Union address in January, though Reid, who has a close relationship with organized labor, put the kibosh on the request by declaring his opposition to “fast-track.”
Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), a member of the Republican leadership, said Obama might back both Keystone and fast-track legislation approved by a GOP Senate.
“Both of them if they were on his desk would be hard things for the president not to agree on,” he said.
Republicans say they want to pass a budget in the first half of next year that would include special procedural instructions known as reconciliation to smooth the way for broader tax reform and entitlement reform.
Under reconciliation, the majority party can pass legislation through the Senate with only a simple-majority vote instead of the 60 votes usually required. Democrats used it in 2010 to pass changes to the Affordable Care Act.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who is poised to become chairman of the Budget Committee if the Senate flips, said the majority party “has an obligation to lay out a financial plan for America.”
Portman, who served as director of the Office of Management and Budget under former President George W. Bush, said special procedural rules in the budget could “provide for something on the revenue side, which could lead to tax reform [and] something on the spending side, which could lead to some of the necessary changes to our incredibly important but unsustainable entitlement reform.”
Sessions said he hopes Democrats who pursued a grand bargain on tax and entitlement reform in 2011 could be persuaded to sit down at the negotiating table next year.
“We’re going to be working toward it,” he said of entitlement reform. “There’s no doubt about it that serious legislative reform of things like Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlement programs, food stamps, would need some bipartisan support.”
Senate Republicans want to dispel the image painted by Democrats over the past four years that they are obstructionists bent on grinding government to a halt.
They want to show they can get legislation passed after years of frustrating gridlock.
“One guy is blocking all the legislation — that’s the majority leader. If we get rid of him, then the spigot opens an we start passing legislation again,” said a Republican leadership aide, referring to Reid.
Democrats counter that Republicans are to blame for the stalemate. They say Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) intentionally blocked business with several hundred filibusters to enable GOP candidates to run against a dysfunctional institution.