National Press Club

McConnell Pledges Cooperation, Predicts Prompt Stimulus Passage

January 26, 2009 | By Lorna Aldrich

Sen. Mitch McConnell

Sen. Mitch McConnell

Photo/Image: Marshall Cohen

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, Senate Republican leader, echoed President Barack Obama’s inaugural pledge of bipartisanship at a Jan. 23 Club Luncheon but didn’t hesitate to make his own points as well.

He expressed disapproval of the plan to close the Guantanamo prison and advocated loans, not grants, to states in the stimulus package.

McConnell reminded the audience why the president needs Congressional cooperation: He can’t sign a bill until Congress passes it or spend money unless Congress appropriates it. Of the issues on which Republicans can cooperate with Congressional Democrats and the president, the senator cited “reducing the national debt, increasing energy independence and lowering taxes.”

He presented his own bipartisan credentials by noting his work with Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif, on human rights abuses in Burma, with Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn, on voting rights, and on the financial rescue package just before his own reelection bid in 2008.

However, he expressed partisan resentment that his role in the rescue package was used in ads against him during his campaign by a Democratic negotiator of the plan, calling the act “beyond the pale.” On the other hand, his relationship with Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev, the Senate Democratic leader, is “great,” he said.

His urged Democrats to address the “looming crisis” of entitlement spending. He pledged that if they do, “they can expect more cooperation from Republicans than the last president received from them.”

During the question period, the senator predicted passage of the economic stimulus package before the congressional break in February. He favored giving states loans rather than grants under the plan because “everybody’s making a list and checking it twice” and he believes money to be repaid will be more carefully spent. There’s “bipartisan enthusiasm for this money,” he added.

Furthermore, a successful economic recovery plan needs to address the housing issue where, he said, the current economic problems arose. He described the financial rescue plan as a “necessary detour.”

McConnell parted company with the Obama administration on its plan to close the prison at Guantanamo because there isn’t, he suggested, a good place to put the prisoners. He called Guantanamo the “perfect place” for “these people.” He favored “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which he distinguished from torture, illegal under U.S. laws.

In response to a question about the USDA tobacco program, he digressed to express pride in his role in changing the tobacco culture in Kentucky by supporting a tobacco farmers’ buyout program. When he came to the Senate in 1984, he said, there were 100,000 tobacco producers in the state and public attitudes supported smoking. Consequently, he noted, Kentucky turned in high rates of heart disease and cancer. Because of the tobacco buyout program, he continued, the producer numbers have dropped to 6,000 and attitudes have changed. The public health argument is over in Kentucky, he said.