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1 on 1 with McConnell on spending, taxes, VA Hospital and U of L in the Big 12

by Joe Arnold


Posted on May 29, 2012 at 5:28 PM

Updated Tuesday, May 29 at 10:42 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- In a wide-ranging interview addressing national and Kentucky issues, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans will enforce deep spending cuts promised in a 2011 debt limit deal, but defense spending should be spared budget cuts. 

In an interview with WHAS11, McConnell (R-Kentucky) predicted that he would be re-elected as the Republican Leader of the U.S. Senate and that Mitt Romney has "an excellent chance of winning" the presidency.

Kentucky's longest serving senator said he is "exasperated" with the delay by the Veterans Administration to build a new hospital in Louisville and is hopeful that the University of Louisville has the opportunity to move athletic conferences to the Big 12, where the Cardinals would be a "natural fit."

"Be aware, that when you hear all this loose talk about raising taxes on people making a lot of money, it's probably you," McConnell told a group of small business owners at a Tuesday Google conference in downtown Louisville.

"We have to be business friendly," McConnell continued.  "And the notion that somehow through additional spending and debt we're going to get our economy going again is - I think - been proven to be inaccurate."

At issue are the Bush-era tax cuts due to expire at the end of 2012.

"The notion that it's a good idea in this tepid economy with very, very slow if any growth, that we raise taxes on the biggest job generator in America strikes me as crazy," McConnell said to reporters.

Also due at the end of the year is $1.2 trillion (over ten years) in automatic spending cuts if Washington cannot agree on an alternative plan to reduce the nation's debt.

McConnell said Congress ought to change the terms of that deal to prevent $50 billion in cuts to the defense budget.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) has said that the defense cuts will stand.

"We can reconfigure with the so-called sequester the reduction to have less impact on defense," McConnell said. "Defense, after all it is the nation's most important responsibility at the federal level. And so I do think we ought to reconfigure the cut.  But we ought not to cut any less spending than we promised the American people."

The attack on spending reflects the priorities of the Tea Party wing of the Republican party.  As the Tea Party flexes its muscle after recent primary victories in Indiana and Kentucky, some political observers wonder if McConnell running out of wiggle room to compromise.

Asked if he feels that he is being hampered at all by the footsteps on the right, McConnell repeated, "No."

"The issue that motivates the folks that you are referring to are spending and debt," McConnell said.  "And on spending and debt we have broad unity in our party from the most moderate members who tend to get elected in the Northeast and the most conservative who tend to be in the South and West."

"It has not been an issue," McConnell said.  "I think it's an issue for the Democrats who saw how badly they did in the 2010 election because a lot of enthusiasm brought about by these new people involved in politics."

Yet, does the Tea Party have enthusiasm for McConnell?  Republican Senate nominee Richard Mourdock, for instance, has declined to endorse McConnell as Republican Leader.

"I'll be the leader of the Republicans," McConnell said on Tuesday.  "I can't guarantee in the majority."

McConnell said the margin in the 2013-14 U.S. Senate will be "really close."

"I think the Democrats will either have a narrow edge or we'll have a very narrow edge," McConnell said.  "It's going to be a closely divided Senate. I'm increasingly optimistic we may have a new President which would be a wonderful thing for the country, but on the Senate, I think it's a coin toss as to who's going to be in the majority."

McConnell said Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has "an excellent chance of winning."

"You saw how quickly the race came back into parity as soon as the family fight over the nomination came to an end," he said.

"The president's gone out of his way to talk about anything but his record. You know, he wants to make this campaign about anything else: the tsunami in Japan, the debt crisis in Europe, of course the Republicans in Congress, rich people, Wall Street, the Supreme Court, there's a war on women and - by the way - Mitt Romney is Gordon Gecko."

"None of that has anything to do with his record," McConnell continued, "and the reason he doesn't want to talk about his record is the American people don't think it's very good.  43 percent added to the debt, Obamacare, 8 percent unemployment for 39 straight months.  He's got a pretty sorry record and that's why he doesn't want to talk about it."

McConnell said it is a "tough sell" for President Obama when an incumbent's race for president is about rehiring the incumbent and whether the electorate wants four more years of the same.

Asked about the heated debate over where to build a new Veterans Hospital in Louisville, the senator rolled his eyes.

"It's been six years.  Six years since the V-A announced we were going to get a new hospital.  They haven't even picked a site yet," McConnell said, "It's completely exasperating."

"These veterans deserve a timely decision which they have not had, on location.  And, until the V-A does that, they can't start construction."

McConnell blames federal bureaucracy for the delay.

"I mean, the elected officials have been pounding on them for years," McConnell continued, "Make a decision, get started, I don't think any of us took a decision on location.  We just wanted to get it done."

"I don't think there is a perfect site," he said.  "I think almost any site they pick somebody's going to object to it, but you need to get going.  You know, making decisions is difficult.  You make some people happy and some people sad but you make decisions and you move on.  They have been unable to do that and it is completely exasperating."

McConnell also weighed in on a decision by the Big 12 Conference whether to admit the University of Louisville as a member institution. 

In 2011, McConnell contacted the leaders of several Big 12 member institutions to lobby for Louisville's admission.  Ultimately, the University of West Virginia was admitted, instead.

"I hope that U of L has the opportunity to go to the Big 12," McConnell said.  "It would be a wonderful thing for the incredible athletic department that Tom Jurich has built over the last 15 years."

Though McConnell declined to say whether he was involved in those conversations again, he made a strong pitch for the university during the interview.

"You know, when (Jurich) came to U of L, the athletic budget was about 15 or 16 million.  It's about 85 million (now). If U of L were fortunate enough to go to the Big 12, they'd have the third largest athletic budget in the league."

"I think it's a natural fit, but obviously the Big 12 is going to have to decide whether they want to expand."