“I am just going to give you my take on the last 18 months,” McConnell told the full room at the East Kentucky Expo Center. “When President Obama was elected, he had a very high approval rating, 65 percent. There was an economic situation that was not good. They saw an opportunity to turn the country in the direction they thought it should go.”
McConnell said the current administration passed legislation, including a stimulus package and healthcare reform, that has led to a trillion dollar deficit.
“As a leader, my option is to have a debate about the direction of the country,” he explained. “I don't think people knew, 18 months ago, that they were getting a liberal president. My members have opposed [legislation] because we thought it was the wrong thing to do.”
McConnell said he hoped for what he termed a “mid-course correction” with the upcoming elections.
Questions raised by those attending the luncheon touched on issues at both the local and the national level.
He said he felt certain the cap-and-trade is a dead issue in Congress.
“Cap-and-trade is nonsense. It has been suggested the administration could try to accomplish it with an executive order,” the senator said. “But I doubt that. It would be the height of arrogance for the administration to do this without Congress.”
Sen. McConnell said he realized it is a good idea to reduce carbon emissions, but cap-and-trade legislation was not the way to accomplish that.
“We all know its a good idea to reduce emissions,” he said. “We need to use everything available - clean coal technology, nuclear power, hybrid cars. But cap-and-trade would put clamps on the economy.”
He went on to say carbon emissions is a global problem.
“China and India are also contributing to the problem,” McConnell said. “Some countries are reducing emissions, and some aren't.”
Asked about the current senate campaign taking place in the Commonwealth between Jack Conway and Republican candidate and Tea Party favorite Rand Paul, McConnell said he expects Paul to win.
“Each candidate has different views on which direction Kentucky should take,” McConnell said. “We are up in the Gallup polls, it is a better landscape for Republicans. We were on the defensive, but now we are competitive.”
On immigration, Sen. McConnell said he felt all the debate about the issue hinges on enforcing the current immigration laws.
“Until we secure the border, the talk is academic,” he said. “We should take amnesty [for those already in the country illegally] off the table. We shouldn't reward people who got here illegally, they should get in line with those who are waiting.”
Not surprisingly, McConnell said he felt healthcare reform legislation passed by the current administration was a mistake.
“It is the worst single piece of legislation I have seen since I have been in Washington,” he said. “I would like to repeal it, and replace it. What can we do? We can make narrow targeted efforts to go after the cost problems. Without the president, we can't repeal it, but we can go after portions of it aggressively. It was the wrong thing, but it is the President's signature accomplishment.”
McConnell said he felt the biggest problem currently facing government is spending. He suggested two solutions to the issue, a annual appropriations freeze and deficit reduction for unfunded long term unsustainable growth programs. He said there was currently a deficit reduction commission working on the issue, and he feels they could come up with a serious and credible recommendation.
Another local issue addressed by McConnell was the Environmental Protection Agency's policies which have caused mining permits to be delayed or revoked.
“There are environmental people who are now in the White House, and they have a hostile agenda in many ways,” the senator said. “We have aggressive regulators, and this is an example that elections have consequences.”
When asked who he felt might be the next Republican Presidential nominee, McConnell said he was at a loss.
“Who knows? For someone out of the blue, I like John Thune from South Dakota, but its wide open. It will be very competitive. I know I have the job I want, even though I would like to have a majority.”
One issue Sen. McConnell refused to address was the upcoming University of Kentucky/University of Louisville football game, scheduled for Sept. 4. McConnell graduated from U of L, and attended law school at UK.
“I have been elected five times,” the senator laughed. “Do you really think I would answer that?”