LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Under fire from the tea party for his part in allowing a senate vote to raise the nation's debt ceiling, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday he had to act in the best interests of the country to avoid default by the United States.
"My job is to protect the country when I can," McConnell said at a campaign appearance in Louisville, "and to step up and lead on those occasions when it's required. That's what I did."
With a filibuster threatened by Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), McConnell and eleven other Republican senators joined with Democrats to reach the 60-vote threshold to end debate on the bill which extends the federal debt limit for one year. The vote prevented another budget showdown such as the October impasse which led to a politically damaging 16 day shutdown of most of the federal government.
Unlike the Budget Control Act McConnell negotiated three years ago, there were no strings attached this time. McConnell ultimately voted against the measure to increase the debt ceiling, but by corralling Republican votes to end debate, caught Cruz' ire.
On the nationally syndicated Mark Levin radio program on Thursday, Cruz ripped the Republicans who thwarted his effort, saying they "wanted to be able to tell what they view as their foolish, gullible constituents back home they didn’t do it and they’re mad because by [Cruz] refusing to consent to that, they had to come out in the open and admit what they are doing and nothing upsets them more."
Asked by WHAS11 about Cruz' comments, McConnell explained that his hands were tied.
"My preference is for a debt ceiling to carry additional legislation that does something about the debt," McConnell replied.
"I've obviously demonstrated that. I negotiated the Budget Control Act with Vice-President Biden in August of 2011. It led to a deficit reduction package that actually reduced government spending for two years in a row, for the first time since right after the Korean War."
"So, my first choice would be to pass a debt ceiling that had something related to doing something about the debt on it," McConnell continued. "But as you know, Joe, the House of Representatives could not pass anything other than a clean debt ceiling."
On an appearance on “Fox News Sunday” in late January, McConnell said it was “unreasonable” for President Barack Obama to expect Congress to approve a new borrowing limit without it being coupled to debt reduction measures.
Yet, after House Speaker John Boehner failed to advance a bill with any such conditions, McConnell said "we were confronted with a clean debt ceiling in the Senate, or default."
"I believe I have to act in the best interests of the country," McConnell said. "And every time we've been confronted with a potential crisis, the guy you're looking at is the one who's stepped up to solve the problem, whether it was the fiscal cliff deal at the end of 2012 when everybody's taxes were going up, whether it was last October and the 16th day of the government shutdown, or (Wednesday's vote) when it was clear that we needed to produce enough procedural votes to get to a debt ceiling vote in order to avoid a default."
Republican primary challenger Matt Bevin echoed Cruz' criticism after Wednesday's vote.
"I wish I could say I am surprised that Mitch McConnell voted to hand President Obama another blank check," Bevin said in a statement. "But sadly, I am not, because this is more of the same from a career politician who has voted for bigger government, multiple bailouts, and now 11 debt ceiling increases."
Seeking a sixth six-year U.S. Senate term, McConnell answered reporters' questions after receiving the endorsement of the National Federation for Independent Business.