U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell plans to limit EPA funding, hopes to find consensus on taxes and other issues

12/06/2014 01:43 PM

With Congress facing a deadline to fund the federal government next week, Kentucky U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell again pledged on Saturday he would not risk a government shutdown once Republicans take control of the U.S. Senate in January.

But the incoming Senate majority leader said he would hold President Barack Obama’s administration accountable throughout budget negotiations, particularly by limiting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to implement new regulations.

McConnell spoke to Kentucky Farm Bureau members during the group’s annual meeting at the Galt House. While the senator railed against the EPA’s proposed regulations on carbon dioxide emissions on the campaign trail this election cycle, he also included the agency’s proposal to broaden its jurisdiction on water in his remarks to the agriculturally minded crowd.

In order to limit the EPA’s scope, McConnell said he would prefer sending government spending legislation to Obama’s desk piecemeal rather than in one large appropriation bill. The EPA’s appropriation, he said, “is going to be a major target of our efforts to go after these ridiculous, overreaching” regulations.

That’s a strategy attempted by Kentucky U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, a Somerset Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which has been stymied by the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate, McConnell said.

“When a big clump of bills goes down to the president, he’s got a big hand then because if he doesn’t sign it, you’ve got a government-shutdown scenario,” he said. “But if you pass each of the 12 bills separately and you have a dispute with whoever’s in the Oval Office over the bill, even if you can’t resolve the dispute you only deal with part of the government.”

Obama could veto the bill providing EPA’s funds, but McConnell said that would at least bring the president “back to the table” to find a compromise.

The senator believes enough Democrats in the U.S. Senate “are really angry at the EPA” and will back his approach once he becomes majority leader in January.

“The president has a lot of power in our system and he can veto bills, but by passing individual appropriation bills you don’t precipitate the certain governmentwide shutdown scenario, which really empowers the president,” McConnell told reporters after his remarks. “We’re not going to do that, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to capitulate.”

Despite his differences with Obama, McConnell said he hopes to build some consensus in three areas: tax reform, infrastructure funding and trade agreement.

The only time McConnell applauded the president during his State of the Union address came when Obama said the country needs to pursue trade agreements. He said he’s willing to give the administration trade promotion authority, “an enormous grant of power” to Obama and “something I’m not routinely inclined to do, as you can imagine.” That would give the president the ability to present trade agreements that would be voted on by Congress without amendments.

“Here you’re looking at the majority leader of the Senate who is telling you I’m prepared to give to this president, a person with whom I have very few agreements, the authority to negotiate a trade agreement that I think will be in best interest of our country, and in particular agriculture, and send it up to a Republican Congress, which will not be able to amend it,” McConnell said at 2:35 in the video below. “That’s how serious your senator is about trade.”

When discussing the complicated issue of tax reform, McConnell targeted the U.S. corporate tax rate, which he called “the single biggest job exporter in America.”

But in the give and take of negotiating a tax proposal, there are some philosophical divides. While he’s seeking lower tax rates, McConnell told reporters that Obama “likes the high rates on individuals, so that’s a sticking point.”

Another area of contention, McConnell said, is whether a tax proposal would be revenue neutral for the government.

“The stumbling block on getting started on tax reform is whether or not you’re trying to get more money for the government,” he said. “When (Republican President Ronald) Reagan and (Democratic House Speaker) Tip O’Neill did this 30 years ago, they had an agreement at the beginning that it was revenue neutral for the government. In other words it wasn’t trying to get more revenue for the government, it was trying to get the code more rational to make the country more competitive.

“We’ve still got some discussions to engage in on the issue of revenue neutrality to the government — that’s a big issue. If we can agree that this is not about growing the government but about growing the economy, then I think we’ve got a way forward.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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