LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell's prominent role in fiscal cliff negotiations drew a derisive review back home Thursday from a longtime critic who branded the top Senate Republican as an entrenched obstructionist.
Kentucky State AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan joined a group of McConnell opponents outside the federal courthouse to blame the state's senior senator for a surge in filibusters since Republicans lost power in the Senate.
They pressed McConnell — the Senate minority leader who is up for re-election in 2014 — to support a proposal to put limits on filibusters.
The criticism came days after McConnell negotiated with Vice President Joe Biden, his longtime Senate colleague, to craft an eleventh-hour deal that averted across-the-board tax increases and spending cuts.
Economists warned the combined impact of higher taxes and spending cuts would hurl the economy back into recession.
"If he deserves credit, it's credit that would be forced on him," Londrigan said of McConnell in an interview. "So he pushes us to the brink and he had to negotiate. Gee whiz, it's about time."
The McConnell opponents pointed to a new report from Public Campaign Action Fund, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group, that claims many of McConnell's corporate backers have benefited from the Kentucky Republican's efforts to stall legislation.
A McConnell spokesman responded that it was the senator's opponents who are out of touch.
"The fact that this shameless hack-job is peddled on the same week Sen. McConnell is credited by Republicans and Democrats alike for saving the country from falling off the fiscal cliff shows how partisan and out of touch the authors of this garbage really are," McConnell spokesman Robert Steurer said.
Londrigan accused McConnell of a "strategy of obstructionism" that has led to a spike in Senate filibusters, a procedural tactic that lets the minority party block bills that lack the support of at least 60 senators.
"Congress is broken and isn't working for everyday Americans, but it is working for lobbyists and big-money donors," he said.
In a Senate speech as the new Congress convened Thursday, McConnell sounded eager to tackle budget cuts, saying the recent fiscal cliff deal "settled the revenue debate for good." He said that federal health-care entitlement programs should be part of the equation.
"The best way to reform these programs is to make them work better," he said. "The debt isn't exploding because these programs exist; it's exploding because they're inefficient. They were created in a different era, the era of black-and-white TV. They should be updated for the age of the iPad. And we should want to fix them, not just because we want to lower the debt, but because we want to strengthen and improve these programs themselves."
Meanwhile, Londrigan acknowledged that any Democrat running against McConnell next year will face "a difficult challenge." He said any McConnell challenger will need energy and "guts" to fend off attacks from the Republican senator.
Democrats haven't won a U.S. Senate race in Kentucky since 1992 and have just one seat in the state's six-member U.S. House delegation. McConnell, in his fifth term, is known as a prolific fund-raiser and bare-knuckled political strategist.
The name mentioned most in recent weeks as a challenger to McConnell has been actress Ashley Judd, well-known in Kentucky because of her success in Hollywood and because of her famous mother and sister, country music stars Naomi and Wynonna Judd.