LEXINGTON, Ky (WHAS11) -- Before hundreds of Lexington business leaders and with about 25 protesters rallying against him outside Lexington's Hyatt Hotel, Kentucky senior senator Mitch McConnell on Friday explained how and why he brokered a fiscal cliff deal and insisted that any future deals must include spending cuts.
"My opinion is these last minute deals are no way to run the government," McConnell said, calling the national debt the single biggest issue of our time.
In late December, after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) failed to respond to President Obama's urging to make a proposal, McConnell said he reached out to Vice-President Joe Biden for the deadline deal.
"At 2am on January 1, the Senate voted to provide permanent, permanent tax relief for 99 percent of American taxpayers," McConnell said.
Until then, "No one in the Republican Party had any leverage anyway," McConnell said, "because rates we're going up."
McConnell is insisting on spending cuts, not more tax increases in the next budget showdown, triggering one challenging question from the the friendly Lexington Chamber crowd.
"Your position is now, that one half of the equation is not even up for discussion," a luncheon guest said to McConnell during a question and answer session.
"Well I wish it were one half of the equation," McConnell responded. "You may have heard me also say that if the President had gotten everything he wanted, that is, rates above ($250,000 per year in income), that would have paid for the government for eight days. I mean, the point is, it doesn't have anything serious to do with the problem. This is not a revenue problem. It's a spending problem."
With signs reading "Mighty Mitch Failed the Day," and "Not a Fiscal Cliff Hero," a protest organized by Progress Kentucky, a liberal political action committee, railed against McConnell's narrative of the fiscal cliff deal.
"You can't give credit to the villain that got us on the fiscal cliff for getting us on the fiscal cliff," said Cherise Williams of Louisville.
The super-pac's characterizations of McConnell as a self-serving obstructionist coincided with McConnell's cooperation with the Obama administration.
"Our big issue with McConnell on the fiscal cliff deal is that he is now trying to take credit for solving the very crisis that he created," said Shawn Reilly, Progress Kentucky's Executive Director. "And to us it's akin to a hostage taker then releasing his hostages and saying 'I deserve credit. I released the hostages. Aren't I such a great guy?'"
"When the American people choose to have divided government, that means you're going to get a result... neither side can totally get it their way," McConnell told the Lexington Chamber crowd.
"I don't know how that came about," said Rebecca Lorenzo of Lawrenceburg. "But it wasn't to serve the American people. It wasn't to serve Kentucky. It was to serve Mitch McConnell."
"Senator McConnell enjoyed a very productive discussion with Kentuckians about job creation, economic growth, and the need to cut Washington spending to reduce the debt," countered a statement from McConnell's office. "A handful of professional protesters may be too much for the local media to resist but they won't divert Senator McConnell's attention away from the economic concerns of Kentuckians.”
McConnell acknowledged that some fellow Republicans were not happy with the fiscal cliff dead.
"The constitution itself was a series of compromises so I don't believe compromise is a bad word," he said.
No primary challenger from the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party in Kentucky has surfaced for the 2014 race. On the Democratic Party side, only Owensboro contractor Ed Marksberry has officially entered the race.
"Our sole focus is on electing a new U.S. Senator to represent Kentucky," Reilly said.
Yet the search for a bonafide candidate has resembled a scavenger hunt. Progress Kentucky launched an online petition drive asking 22 politicians to enter the race.
"I bet we have plenty of people who come and run against him an I think that we are encouraging that to happen right here," Lorenzo said.
"Right now, the two names I have heard are Tom Massie on the right and then Alison Lundergan Grimes on the left,"p Reilly said.
While newly elected U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie has said he would not mount a primary challenge, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes has not ruled out challenging McConnell.
"A challenger needs to come out by the end of February and then a real big name candidate can probably wait until March," Reilly said. "But we need somebody now and we need somebody fast.
And, Kentucky Democrats are holding their breath for a game changer.
Could that be Ashley Judd?
Judd has only said that she is "very honored" by the consideration.
WHAS11 News has learned that Judd plans to attend the Kentucky Society's Inauguration Bluegrass Ball Saturday night in Washington, D.C..
Kentucky Society President Winn Williams said the group had been negotiating with Judd's representatives regarding her desire to speak at the event, perhaps honoring her for her humanitarian work.
Democrats will be hanging on her every word.