Politics & Government

Sen. Mitch McConnell says Medicare, Social Security must change to fix U.S. debt

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), left and House Speaker John Boehner, (R-Ohio)
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), left and House Speaker John Boehner, (R-Ohio) MCT

The nation's debt is its biggest problem, and the only way to fix it is to make changes in entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell said Friday.

McConnell, speaking to several hundred people during Commerce Lexington's Public Policy Luncheon at the Hyatt Regency, said those changes should include raising eligibility ages over time.

"Only one thing can save this country, and that's to get a handle on this deficit and debt issue," said McConnell, the Senate minority leader.

"No action means the demise" of entitlement programs, he said. "We have to assure they will be there for future generations."

McConnell focused on three subjects in his speech: the national debt, his role in recent negotiations involving the so-called fiscal cliff and his recent trip to Afghanistan.

He made no mention of gun control and declined to take questions from reporters after the speech.

President Barack Obama and Congress are at odds on the nation's debt limit.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, said Friday that the GOP-controlled House will vote next week to permit the government to borrow more money to meet its obligations. The action would give the government about three more months of borrowing authority beyond a deadline expected to hit as early as mid-February.

The Associated Press said the legislation would not require immediate spending cuts as earlier promised by Republican leaders. Instead, it is designed to force the Democrat-controlled Senate to join the House in debating the federal budget by tying Congressional pay with passing a budget.

The White House press secretary's office, in a statement, said Congress "must pay its bills and pass a clean debt limit increase without further delay." It added that Obama remains committed to reducing the deficit in a balanced way.

McConnell released a statement later in the day, after Cantor's announcement, calling on Senate Democrats to approve a budget.

"It's time to stop governing by crisis and stop-gap measure," he said. "The American people expect the Senate to finally pass a budget."

McConnell said during his speech that the $16.4 trillion national debt cannot be solved with more revenue. "We have a spending addiction," he said.

The 70-year-old senator also recalled his role last month in brokering a deal to avoid going over the fiscal cliff.

McConnell, who has represented Kentucky since 1985, negotiated with his old Senate colleague, Democratic Vice President Joe Biden, to get a deal that was approved by Congress. The compromise killed planned income tax hikes on most Americans and postponed deep federal spending cuts. It raised income taxes on families making $450,000 or more.

McConnell told the Lexington crowd he has never objected to compromise.

Concerning his recent trip to Afghanistan, McConnell said America will need to keep a residual force in the country to train the country's army and to maintain a counterterrorism unit.

"This has the potential for a pretty happy ending," he said of America's troop withdrawal there.

McConnell apparently did not see about 25 protesters in front of the Hyatt who do not want to see him re-elected next year. The rally was sponsored by a group called "Progress Kentucky."

Shawn Reilly, its executive director, said the group has a website urging about 20 Democrats and Republicans to run against McConnell next year.

Protester Phillip Hatfield Stahlman, a semi-retired antique architectural restorer, said he is "disgusted" with McConnell for his unwillingness to put more limits on campaign contributions and proclaiming his No. 1 goal was to keep Obama from being re-elected.

Stahlman said he has no favorite to replace McConnell but that his mother wants "to draft George Clooney, not Ashley Judd."