LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is expressing optimism about Afghanistan's future and hoping for a "new seriousness" from President Barack Obama to address the national debt.
McConnell (R-Kentucky) spoke to reporters on a conference call from Aviano Air Force Base in Italy after a trip to Israel and Afghanistan.
"Based upon what I have learned on this trip, I'm optimistic that (Afghanistan) will be able to maintain itself after we are largely gone," McConnell said.
It was McConnell's seventh trip to Afghanistan since 2003.
"This is the first time I have left there with a sense of optimism," he said.
After a Sunday meeting with General John Allen, the Commander of the International Security Assistance Force, McConnell says there is a growing belief among military leaders that Afghanistan will be able to control its own security after 2014 -- yet will still need U.S. help.
"We're going to need a minimum of about 10,000 troops here to provide adequate training and counterterrorism in the post-2014 period," McConnell said, offering his opinion. "And we anticipate there will be forces from other countries who will remain here beyond 2014 as well."
McConnell also said he discussed Iran's nuclear threat with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel.
McConnell spoke with reporters shortly before a White House news conference in which President Barack Obama chastised congressional Republicans for linking spending cuts to an often routine vote to raise the nation's debt limit.
"What we will not do is to have that negotiation with a gun at the head of the American people," Obama said.
The fiscal cliff deal reached between McConnell and Vice-President Biden on December 31 delayed the question of spending cuts until next month's debt limit debate. McConnnell said it is the perfect time to talk spending cuts.
"We're hoping for a new seriousness on the part of the president with regard to the single biggest issue confronting the country," McConnell said. "And we look forward to working with him to do something about this huge, huge problem."
Despite allowing spending cuts to be a part of debt ceiling negotiations in 2011, and voting against raising the nation's debt limit when he was a U.S. Senator, Obama insisted he will not allow the two to be intermingled, now.
"What we’re not going to do is put ourselves in a position where in order to pay for spending that we’ve already incurred, that our two options are we’re either going to profoundly hurt the economy and hurt middle-class families and hurt seniors and hurt kids who are trying to go to college, or, alternatively, we’re going to blow up the economy. We’re not going to do that," the president said.
Obama also suggested that a solution may be found in a proposal made by McConnell during the last debt ceiling showdown. Referred to as the "McConnell Provision," it would have allowed the president to raise the debt limit a set amount without congressional approval. Such a move would be subject to congressional review and a veto override process.
"If the House and the Senate want to give me the authority so that they don’t have to take these tough votes, if they want to put the responsibility on me to raise the debt ceiling, I’m happy to take it," Obama said. "Mitch McConnell, the Republican Leader in the Senate, had a proposal like that last year, and I’m happy to accept it. But if they want to keep this responsibility, then they need to go ahead and get it done.
McConnell's 2011 proposal, part of Budget Control Act negotiations, was attached to $2 trillion in spending cuts.
"Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize us to spend more," Obama said. "All it does is say that America will pay its bills. And we are not a dead-beat nation. And the consequences of us not paying our bills, as I outlined in my opening statement, would be disastrous."
“The President and his allies need to get serious about spending, and the debt-limit debate is the perfect time for it," McConnell said in a statement. “I do know that the most important issue confronting the future of our country is our deficit and debt."