GOP leader responds to Boehner’s “denial” charge, says Obama “knows this election was about him.”
Says the president has called him twice since the election, jokes “I’m on speed dial now.”
JOHN KING, HOST, “JOHN KING USA”: Republican Senator Mitch McConnell will still be the minority leader when the new Congress convenes in January, but he will have a larger, more conservative Republican Conference. And in a speech here in Washington today, Senator McConnell defined compromise as the president giving ground and vowed over the next two years to stop, quote, “the liberal onslaught.” Leader McConnell is here with us to go “One-on-One.” Well, let me start with your relationship with the president. We’ve talked about this many times over the past two years. He called you after the election. He made a point of noting that today —
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Twice.
KING: Twice? Well, that’s pro —
MCCONNELL: In the last 24 hours.
KING: That’s progress right there.
MCCONNELL: I’m on speed dial now.
KING: Yes. Your fellow leader in the House, the man who will be speaker, John Boehner, says he thinks the president is still in denial. Do you?
MCCONNELL: Well, I don’t know. But I — I think, clearly, the president isn’t fooling himself. He knows this election was about him and about the majority and the American people saying they want to go in a different direction. And there’s a game plan there immediately apparent to President Obama. We saw what President Clinton did in reaction to a midcourse correction. He went in a different direction and some important things were accomplished for the country. And my view is, if the president will simply listen to the American people, we can do some business.
KING: Well, you have said you’re willing to do some business, that you’re willing to compromise if he listens to the American people, as you just put it there. I believe you also mean if he listens to Republicans. But you’ve also made clear you don’t have overly high expectations and you have made clear before, and you did again today, that you think the only path to get done most of what you want to get done is to get rid of him. Let’s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCONNELL: But the fact is, if our primary legislative goals are to repeal and replace the health spending bill, to end the bailouts, cut spending and shrink the size and scope of government, the only way to do all of those things is to put someone in the White House who won’t veto any of these things.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now, of course, the Democratic president knows the Republican Senate leader doesn’t want him in the White House —
KING: — but when you say these things so — some would say — combatively and so soon after the election, why should he think that’s going to be a relationship of trust here, when he knows that you’re looking in every negotiation to get him?
MCCONNELL: Yes, but you shouldn’t cherry pick my remarks. I have also said the president says he’s for trade agreements. And, in fact, today, we talked about the Korea Free Trade Agreement. Most of my members are for trade agreements. We’ve got three pending — with Colombia, with Panama, with South Korea. We ought to work on them together and ratify them.
He says he’s for nuclear power. I’m for nuclear power. He says he’s for clean coal technology. I’m for clean coal technology.
It could well be, John, that he will take a message out of Tuesday’s election that maybe we ought to reduce spending and debt. And if he does that, I think he’s going to find more people willing to help him on my side of the aisle than on his.
So I think it is not particularly noteworthy that I would like to elect a Republican president in ’12 and he would like to have a second term in ’12. What is more important to the American people is what are we going to do between now and then.
KING: Well, one of the things he says is he’s absolutely willing to negotiate on the Bush tax cuts. He doesn’t want to extend all of them. Some Democrats have talked about instead of $250,000 of going up as high as $1 million. Is that acceptable to you or is the Republican position no, extend them all?
MCCONNELL: Well, everybody in my Conference thinks that we ought not to be raising taxes on anybody, particularly in the middle of what most Americans think is a recession. That is also the view of a significant number of Democrats. So there’s a bipartisan majority for extending the current tax rates beyond the end of this year. I think that’s a logical thing to do. We can fight out in the future — if he wants to do some kind of extension for a period of time, we can fight out in the future the next step. But the important thing right now is to understand that we ought not to be raising taxes on anybody.
KING: It sounds like you’re saying extend them through 2012 and fight about it in the presidential election.
MCCONNELL: Well, we can discuss that. But, you know, what I’m not going to do is go along with raising anybody’s taxes in the middle of a recession. I think that’s the view of a significant number of his own members, of his own party. And as you said, he has suggested he’s open to discussing it and we’re going to discuss it, because this is one of those issues that has to be dealt with during the lame duck. That is, before the end of the year.
KING: One of the things that even your fiercest critics would say is that Mitch McConnell can count votes. And you made clear in your speech again today that while you don’t like the health care bill, you also see the reality, that with a still — a narrow Democratic majority and a president with a veto pen —
KING: — you cannot repeal the health care bill. But I want you to listen to what you said today, because it’s significant.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCONNELL: So we’ll also have to work in the House on denying funds for implementation and in the Senate on votes against its most egregious provisions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Would you take that to the point of shutting down the government or not passing a budget, if that’s the only way to deny funding for the health care bill?
MCCONNELL: No. I think we’re not talking about shutting down the government. What we’re — we’re doing here is talking about responding to the American people’s desire that this bill not become law.
And my first choice, obviously, would be to put a full repeal on his desk. If we are unable to do that or if we are — were able to do it, he would certainly veto it. Then you come back and you go after it piece by piece.
For example, he conceded just the other day at his press conference that this stupid 1099 requirement, that a businessperson would have to send out a 1099 form to anybody he did $600 worth of business with and to the IRS — and, by the way, the IRS has said they couldn’t handle the paper. Those are the — this bill is 2,700 pages long, it is replete with those kinds of problems. We need to try to fix as many of them as we can. Some of them, he indicated, he might even go along with.
KING: Well, let’s be very specific on this, because some provisions in the health care bill are unpopular. Others are popular or they might be 50-50. If you were to get the power to start to repeal some of it, can you guarantee the American people right now that before you took away parts you don’t like, would you leave in place, for example, the ban on denying somebody coverage for preexisting conditions?
MCCONNELL: That was not particularly controversial. I mean, that’s — that’s one of the parts of the bill that everybody liked.
KING: But under no circumstances —
MCCONNELL: But the price —
KING: Under no circumstances —
MCCONNELL: The price for that —
KING: — would Republicans make that go away?
MCCONNELL: The price for that is we had to swallow 2,700 pages of a government takeover of American health care. What we would like to do is to get rid of this — we know that’s not possible with him in the White House — and start over and do it right. Those were the arguments we made throughout the health care debate. The American people ended up siding with us.
KING: But you know what they’re —
MCCONNELL: In fact, I —
KING: — you know what they’re saying. They’re saying the Republicans want to repeal — and that means no preexisting conditions —
KING: — no children can stay on their parents’ until they’re 26 years old. No — the lifting of the lifetime caps on coverage. If you are successful, whether it’s now or in the future —
KING: — would Republicans leave those provisions and say here, here, we’re going to leave those, here’s a new law that puts those in place, now we’re going to take away this part?
MCCONNELL: Yes. What — what I’m not going to do is to negotiate what the substitute would look like. But we’re going to target things like the individual mandate that were extremely unpopular, the $500 billion cuts in Medicare to start this new entitlement. There are way more parts of this bill that are unfortunate and unpopular and should be done away with than a few portions of it that had pretty broad bipartisan support. Those were the kinds of things we were arguing back during the debate we should have done instead of having the government take over one-sixth of the economy.
KING: So answer — answer somebody out there, whether they’re a Democrat or an Independent or maybe just even some Republican who’s doing the math, who says, OK, this Republican leadership says they want to reduce the deficit. But if you extend the Bush tax cuts — I understand your policy argument and people can agree or disagree with it — that would, in the short term, at least, maybe if the economy roars back, it would change it, but in the short term, that would add to the deficit, somewhere in the ballpark of $700 billion, $800 billion. The Congressional Budget Office says the Obama health care bill, for all the policy disagreements you have with it, reduces the budget deficit by $143 billion over the next 10 years or so. How can you — those —
MCCONNELL: Well —
KING: Are those just inconsistent?
MCCONNELL: Well, the assumptions are all wrong. The — the fact of the matter is, if you raise taxes in the middle of a recession, the government is going to get less revenue. Not more, less. Because you slow down — I mean the — to do that right now, John, would raise taxes on 750,000 small businesses, which represents 50 percent of small business income, 25 percent of the workforce in the middle of a recession. You’re going to get less revenue, not more.
Nobody seriously believes the health care bill is actually going to save money. Nobody believes that. So don’t assume that you’re going to exacerbate the deficit by doing any of those things.
What we need to do is to get a handle on domestic discretionary. We’ve already made some steps in that direction right now in this current Congress. Senate Republicans insisted on a close to a freeze on this year’s appropriations bills. The Democrats have already conceded that point. It’s not a small matter. It would save $300 billion over 10 years.
Then, with regard to entitlements, we’re anticipating a report from the president’s deficit reduction commission December 1st, a month from now, about how to go forward on a bipartisan basis to address the long-term unfunded liabilities, the big ones, Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security. I hope that’s the kind of thing we can support and that he will embrace it and we can embrace it.
KING: Republicans just had a very good year among senior citizens, a record year in recent history among senior citizens. Are you saying that you — if the report comes forward, are you willing to sit down and say, yes, if we’re going to have serious long-term deficit reduction, we’re going to put Social Security and Medicare on the table?
MCCONNELL: Yes, let me tell you why — why Republicans had a very good year with senior citizens, because of that health care bill and the $500 billion in Medicare cuts in that bill, not to make Medicare last longer, but to start an entitlement program for a whole different set of — of — of people.
KING: But looking forward, do they need to know that this Republican leadership is —
MCCONNELL: I think —
KING: — has to put Social Security and Medicare on the table?
MCCONNELL: If — if both Republicans and Democrats agree to something that can be afforded by the future generations, I think today’s receipts will be grateful that their grandchildren are not going to be hampered in such a way.
KING: Let me ask you lastly about some politics. People very close to you — and I’m told you believe this, I’m not sure how much you will say publicly — say that you get mad a little at times when you look at the map, because right now, you’re going to be shy of 51. You will not be the majority leader.
But if you look at Delaware, you had an establishment candidate that was beaten in the primary. Everyone believes he would have won. If you look at Colorado, most Republicans believe the candidate that was beaten in the primary by Tea Parties and conservative support, just lost the election, they believe your establishment candidate would have won.
Nevada, they believe, again, that the Tea Party candidate lost. The establishment candidate could have won.
Washington State is still out there being counted. If that one goes Republican and you lose those three, that’s your — that denies Mitch McConnell the majority.
MCCONNELL: Well, you can play “what if” forever. I mean these nominations are decided in the primaries. Let me give you the good news. After the ’06 election, I had one freshman Republican. After the ’08 election, I had two freshmen Republicans. I’m going to have 13, and we are at a very robust minority in a body that requires 60 to do anything. I think we have a lot to be grateful for. The — the outcome of the election was really quite satisfying.
KING: Is one of your challenges, though, as the leader, whether it’s with Senator DeMint in your own conference or with others out there who supported those candidates who knocked off your favorite candidates, to say, look, if we are going to grow going forward, we need to figure out a way not to do this?
MCCONNELL: I — I don’t think we need to lecture anybody. We’re going to have a larger number, a lot of experienced people, some brand new people. I’m going to be the leader of a much larger army and that’s a great problem to have. When you’re the leader of a mere 41, you have a scarcity problem. I’d rather manage abundance than scarcity.
KING: Senator McConnell, thanks for your time today.
MCCONNELL: Thank you, John.
KING: Appreciate it. Thank you.