“The things I’m talking about have already been studied to death. We don’t need any more hearings,” McConnell said at a Capitol Hill news conference. “We know what the options are. The only question remaining is what will we pick up and agree to on a bipartisan basis.”
McConnell repeatedly stressed that he was speaking “only for myself.” But he has emerged as a key legislative dealmakersince Republicans took over the House in January, maintaining close ties to House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) while establishing a direct channel to the White House through Vice President Biden, his former Senate colleague.
“Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell are working closely together” and “everything Senator McConnell discussed today” is consistent with the House GOP budget, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said.
McConnell’s assistance is also critical to Senate Democrats. Unless they can win Republican votes, they would have to approve one of the largest debt-limit increases in U.S. history entirely on their own — an unappetizing prospect for up to a dozen potentially vulnerable incumbents who are up for reelection next year.
In recent days, McConnell has made clear that he is willing to cooperate with the White House in drafting a “grand bargain” to help push a debt-limit increase through a reluctant Congress, as long as it includes sharp cuts in both agency and entitlement spending. McConnell said he views the debt-limit debate as a critical opportunity for the parties to work together to accomplish something that would otherwise be impossible politically.
“If there is a grand bargain of some kind with the president of the United States, none of it will be usable for either side in next year’s election — none of it,” McConnell said. “We can do something important for the country together, and this is the opportunity.”
In addition to cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, McConnell called for an agreement to reduce spending at federal agencies over the next two years, a move that would defuse a battle over agency appropriations and lessen the risk of a government shutdown before the 2012 election.
McConnell said he also wants to see limits on spending set for 2014 and beyond, although he acknowledged that caps are often breached and are therefore a less reliable tool for debt reduction.
A major rewrite of the tax code, while popular with both parties, “will not be accomplished” as part of the debt-limit debate, nor will Republicans agree to tax increases of any kind, McConnell said. But he said he would not press Obama to reduce spending on Social Security, a major objective for three GOP senators working to draft a separate debt-reduction deal as part of the Gang of Six.