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The Key to a Working Majority

At BPC’s most recent Agenda Setters Series event, Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) asked the audience to, “Imagine if Speaker Boehner had to wake up every morning and get to 261 to get anything done in the House.”

Sen. Daines, a fifth-generation Montanan and former cloud-computing executive, is a fan of facts and math. Noting that it takes 60 votes to move legislation in the Senate, Sen. Daines explained that 261 was the comparable hurdle if all legislation in the House was held to the 60 percent threshold. “That is really the challenge we face in the Senate, and why the bipartisan cooperation is really essential there.”

Sen. Daines, a self-described “true conservative,” is also a pragmatist, which explains his enthusiasm for collaborating with people from across the ideological spectrum. In his first months in office, Sen. Daines has already co-sponsored legislation with liberals like Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

Throughout the conversation, Sen. Daines expressed enthusiasm for efforts in both parties to return to more active deliberation and debate. He particularly praised Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for opening up the process for amendments and empowering congressional committees.

“All of us (freshmen) were surprised at how warmly welcomed we were… they not only welcomed us, but put us right into debates.” In the very first piece of legislation considered this term, Sen. Daines was able to offer and debate two amendments. “Just to contrast that,” Sen. Daines noted, “former Senator Mark Begich served for six years and never had an amendment vote.”

Does all this debate put a strain on the system? Sen. Daines argues that it is a good problem to have and hopes the new deliberative mood in Congress will enable progress on two of his priorities: privacy and energy policy.

Sen. Daines recently returned from a trip to Israel, Jordan, Iraq and Afghanistan where he heard from leaders who said that “they have never seen such turmoil in the Middle East in their lifetimes.” Coming from a military family, he emphasized his commitment to national security. However, Sen. Daines strongly opposes the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection program and has co-sponsored the American Freedom Act, which would halt the program.

Expressing the concern that many Americans have lost trust in government, he argued that we need to, “make sure we are guarding the privacy of the American people while ensuring expeditious ways to get the intelligence needed to fight the War on Terror.” He believes that legislative progress is possible, but will require “careful deliberation” to cut through the sound bites including, for each legislator, a “full classified briefing… and full access to what these programs do… and don’t do.”

Sen. Daines also sees an opportunity for a bipartisan approach to energy policy. “We have this ability from a geopolitical viewpoint now to really make the world more secure… as well as grow our economy,” he said. Yet with the prospective lifting of Iran sanctions, the U.S. would be the only country in the world with a ban on crude oil exports.

Unlike Germany, which moved abruptly to cut off nuclear power and has now moved back to importing more coal-powered electricity, Sen. Daines noted, “We need to have a thoughtful debate in the United States Senate… we have truly the ability to lead with this ‘all-of-the-above’ energy portfolio.”

Both Presidents Jefferson and Jackson are variously credited with saying, “One man with courage makes a majority.” But our discussion with Sen. Daines reinforces that in today’s legislative environment, one senator with the right kind of courage—blending adherence to principle with common sense and a creative desire to work across the aisle despite broad ideological differences—can be the key to a working majority.

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