"So here we are as a result of this suggestion that we employ a 'nuclear option,' [arguing] about arcane rules changes, when we ought to be sitting down together and trying to solve the nation's huge, huge deficit and debt problems," the Kentucky Republican said during a nearly hourlong feud on the Senate floor over a proposal by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to eliminate some filibusters.
"This is exactly the wrong way to start off on a new year and end an old year with a ton of problems that we have to deal with," McConnell said.
The nuclear option, known by proponents as the constitutional option, is a filibuster-reform plan for the majority party to change Senate precedents and end a filibuster or other delaying tactic with a 51-vote simple majority instead of a 60-vote supermajority now needed.
Reid proposes the option be included in a Democratic rewrite of the chamber rules planned for early next year.
Former Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., first called the option "nuclear" in March 2003, suggesting the metaphor of a nuclear strike if the majority party unilaterally imposes a change to the filibuster rule, which might provoke retaliation by the minority party.
"The Republicans have increased the numbers of filibusters so out of proportion to any changes here in the Senate. It is hard to comprehend," Reid said in Tuesday's feud. "The Senate is not working as it should."
The Senate leaders' roles are reversed from early 2005, when Republicans, led by a large bloc of junior senators, demanded filibuster reform to speed up Senate action, The Washington Post said. Now junior Democratic senators are demanding reform.
"I mean, I'm just perplexed about the judgment on display here, blowing up the Senate at a time when the election is behind us," McConnell said.
He said the best way to reach a bipartisan deal to avoid the fiscal cliff's more than $500 billion in annual automatic tax hikes and spending cuts set to kick in after New Year's Day would be to strengthen bipartisan relations.
"I hope we can put all this divisiveness behind us and build confidence and relationships on a bipartisan basis, which would help us get there at the end of the year," he said.