Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) excoriated Democrats on Tuesday for pushing what he called a "shockingly bad" amendment to the Constitution that would put new limits on the right to exercise political free speech.
McConnell testified at the Senate Judiciary Committee in a hearing over a proposed Democratic amendment that let the federal government write rules about how money is raised and spent in political campaigns. Democrats have said an amendment is needed in the wake of two Supreme Court decisions.
One of these, the Citizens United case, said the government can't limit how companies, labor unions or other groups spend money on campaigns. The other, the McCutcheon case, said the government can't put a total limit on how much people can spend during a two-year congressional cycle.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) testified before the committee that those decisions are flooding political campaigns with "dark money," and said Congress should pass the Democratic amendment to the Constitution so Congress can limit campaign spending.
"We must undo the damage done by the Supreme Court's recent campaign finance decision, and we need to do it now," Reid said. "I support this constitutional amendment."
Reid said in May on the Senate floor that the Judiciary Committee would soon meet to discuss the legislation creating an amendment to the Constitution, and said "the Senate will vote on that legislation."
But Reid was followed by McConnell, who said Democrats have reached a new low by considering changes to the cherished First Amendment.
"This is embarrassingly bad, to be advocating for the first time in our history that we amend the First Amendment to restrict the rights of citizens to speak," he said.
McConnell said most Americans realize that the free exchange of ideas and the ability to criticize the government is "necessary for our democracy to survive." But he said the Democratic proposal to change the Constitution goes in the opposite direction.
"It would empower incumbent politicians in Congress and in the states to write the rules… on who gets to speak and who doesn't," he said. "And the American people should be concerned, and many are already, that those in power would use this extraordinary authority to suppress speech that is critical of them.
"I understand that no politician likes to be criticized, and some of us are criticized more often than the rest of us," he added. "But the recourse to being criticized is not to shut up your fellow citizens, which believe me, this is designed to do.
"The solution to this is to defend your ideas… more ably in the political marketplace."