LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Friday suggested President Barack Obama seems willing to take the country over the "fiscal cliff," arguing that the president wants everything his way in talks to avoid automatic tax increases and spending cuts from taking effect next month.
McConnell described Obama's negotiating tactic with Republican congressional leaders as: "Give me everything I want." The Kentucky Republican sounded downbeat about prospects for averting the fiscal cliff that some economists warn could plunge the country back into recession.
"I'd love to tell you that privately it's a lot better; you know that's just public posturing," McConnell said at the Kentucky Farm Bureau's convention. "Privately, it isn't any better. It leads me to believe that the president would like to drive us right off the cliff. How I think that benefits him is beyond me. ... Does anybody really believe that's good for the economy? I think what his problem is, he's having a hard time turning off the campaign."
Obama has insisted that any deal must include an increase in rates for high earners. Republican leaders say they will agree to measures that would bring in more revenue, but they say it should be done by closing loopholes or reducing tax breaks rather than raising tax rates for the wealthy. The president contends this wouldn't adequately rein in budget deficits.
"He is bound and determined to get his way, and the way the law is constructed, it's sort of stacked in his favor," McConnell said.
That's because Bush-era tax cuts for everyone are set to expire on Jan. 1, with automatic, across-the-board spending cuts set to kick in the next day, he said.
McConnell, who is up for re-election in 2014, has had a frosty relationship with Obama. Within hours of the president's re-election, McConnell said, "The voters have not endorsed the failures or excesses of the president's first term. Now it's time for the president to propose solutions that actually have a chance of passing the Republican-controlled House and deliver in a way that he did not in his first four years in office."
And he kept it up in his speech Friday.
"It's kind of amazing really that the president was able to get re-elected given what a terrible job he did," McConnell said. "But I have to salute him and say 'Congratulations, you ran a great race,' but I don't think his victory had anything to do with his performance."
Despite his harsh tone toward Obama, McConnell said what's needed is to "lower the temperature and see if we can't meet in the middle" to reach a deal.
McConnell said divided government has produced big achievements in the past. He noted the deal brokered by President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Thomas "Tip" O'Neill, a Democrat, in the 1980s to preserve Social Security's solvency for another generation, and the welfare reform legislation fashioned a decade later by President Bill Clinton and GOP congressional leaders.
In return for their willingness to bring in new revenue, McConnell said GOP lawmakers would like to see long-term changes to Social Security and Medicare, government programs for seniors.
He said the popular entitlements are "heading into the tank" because people drawing the benefits are living longer.
McConnell said he thinks Congress still has time this year to make changes to the programs. He didn't offer specifics, but said the changes wouldn't affect people close to retirement. The changes would be directed toward younger people, he said.
"You don't have to do anything particularly drastic," he said. "You just change the programs to meet the demographics of the country tomorrow, so that the programs are still there for them."