McConnell not shy about his agenda in Aspen |

McConnell not shy about his agenda in Aspen

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (right) was interviewed by Walter Isaacson at the Aspen Institute Wednesday evening.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

The U.S. Senate’s top Republican didn’t pander to an Aspen audience Wednesday night when he labeled the Affordable Care Act the worst legislation in 50 years, vowed to fight to block the proposed nuclear pact with Iran, dismissed the idea that regulating coal plants is meaningful to slow global warming and defended requiring picture IDs for voters at the polls.

Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell offered quick views on several major topics facing the Senate on Wednesday evening at a packed house at Paepcke Auditorium. He was interviewed by Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson.

The only topic McConnell sidestepped was who his favorite is to secure the GOP nomination for the 2016 presidential race, although he did note that some political figures want to make a point and others want to make a difference.

On the Iran agreement, McConnell said his position gives him the option to bring up a resolution of approval or disapproval for Senate debate. “I’m obviously going to bring up the latter,” he said.

“That, in all likelihood, will pass. It will pass the House. (Obama) will be able to veto that. And he can win if he can get one-third plus one in either the House or the Senate.”

With one vote past one-third, the veto couldn’t be overridden.

“So this is almost all an internal Democratic issue,” McConnell continued. “The reason the president has been so partisan in this discussion is because he knows it’s only Democrats that can deliver him a victory. So he wants to demonize us.”

Colorado residents will be part of a particularly intense debate on the topic, McConnell predicted, because U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet is one of the few Democrats who are decided on the pact.

McConnell claimed the proposed deal with Iran is flawed in numerous ways. The major flaw is it will disrupt stability in an already unstable part of the world.

“He wanted to transform the Middle East. He has, he has,” McConnell said. “The Saudis went to Moscow talking to the Russians about buying arms. I never thought I’d see that.

“So our friends are skittish. Our enemies are emboldened,” McConnell said. “Other than that, I don’t feel strong about this.”

McConnell said sanctions should have been used longer to secure a better bargaining position with the Iranians.

“The president wants to set this up as either this (agreement) or war. Nobody’s advocating that,” McConnell said. “If we spent the last two years trying to ratchet up the sanctions rather than negotiate them away we’d be in a lot better shape in my view,” he added.

Climate change

McConnell has been a leading critic of the Obama administration’s plan to regulate emissions from coal-fired power plants to reduce global warming. In Aspen, he questioned what impact that step will have on a worldwide problem and at what cost to the U.S. economy.

“If this initiative is stopped, it will be stopped in the courts,” he said.

McConnell acknowledged that he believes the world’s climate is changing. However, he said he wouldn’t support proposed solutions such as prohibiting use of coal that hurts miners in Appalachia and hurts working-class people everywhere who are already struggling to pay utility bills. Electricity costs will “skyrocket” because of Obama’s actions, he claimed.

“I’m not going to advocate policies that significantly disadvantage ordinary people in America,” McConnell said.

Voting Rights Act

Isaacson asked McConnell if he was worried that people on the right of the Republican Party were pushing too hard to restrict voting rights.

“Now look,” McConnell immediately answered, “how many of you think it’s offensive to show an ID to get a check cashed — if anybody cashes checks anymore — or to get on an airplane? The notion that a photo ID at the polls is some kind of voter suppression idea is nonsense.”

A large share of the audience applauded. McConnell said the requirement to produce identification was a tool to ensure ballot integrity and combat voter fraud.

“The Voting Rights Act is still intact,” he insisted.

Campaign finance

He defended the rights of individuals to contribute what they want to causes and candidates. The government shouldn’t “micromanage” political discourse, he said.

“I don’t think it’s the government’s business how much you choose to support with your hard-earned money,” he said.

The Citizens United court case decision, he said, rightfully leveled the playing field for corporations and didn’t give an advantage to those that owned a media outlet. Corporations can now go out and support whatever cause they want. They are still limited in contributions to parties and candidates.

If Congress tries to pass a law that eliminates the decision, the parties will try to tailor it to place limits on their traditional enemies, he said.

“Do you want the government to decide that you get to speak and you don’t?” he asked.

Affordable Care Act

“Let me just make sure you know how I feel about this,” he told Isaacson. “I think it was the single-worst piece of legislation that’s been passed in the last half century.”

Rates, co-payments and deductibles have all gone up, he said. Mergers and acquisitions are occurring among insurance companies and hospitals as a result of the government “running all of America’s health care.”

“If it was possible to undo this monstrosity, I would do it.” McConnell said.

He displayed his wit and sense of humor despite the weighty topics. He noted that he and California Sen. Barbara Boxer, one of the more liberal members of Congress, negotiated a highway-funding bill. “Do you get my drift,” he quipped, while making the point that cooperation is occurring despite rhetoric.

McConnell likened his position as senate majority leader to the groundskeeper of a cemetery. Everybody is below you, he said, but nobody listens.