Mitch McConnell bearish on earmark moratorium, GOP goals (updated)

At a speech at the Heritage Foundation, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made clear his skepticism about an earmark moratorium, saying that “it’s really just a question about discretion.” He didn’t want to give the president a “blank check,” which he believes would occur once the Senate passes an earmark moratorium.

(Added at 2:26 PM, all blockquotes)

Every president would like to have a blank check to do whatever he chose to do on every single issue. And we’ll  be discussing the appropriateness of giving the president that kind of blank check in the coming weeks. Because that’s really what that issue is really about.

Because I think all of you know you can eliminate every congressional earmark and you would save no money. It’s really an argument about discretion.

We decide how much we’re going to spend either when we pass a budget or in the case of this year, when we don’t pass a budget and we produce a topline for discretionary spending.

That topline determines what gets spent. Beneath the topline there are arguments going back to Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson between the executive branch and the legislative branch over sayso if you will.

And that’s been a much-discussed issue on the campaign trail and we’ll take a look at it when we get back. But I’m sure the president would love to have a legislative blank check.

McConnell also said that he would be willing to work with the president and Democrats on “energy independence,” which may just mean that he would support providing more subsidies to American energy producers:

On energy, the president said he’s for nuclear power, we’re for nuclear power. The president said he’s for clean-coal technology, we’re for clean-coal technology. There is bipartisan enthusiasm for things like plug-in hybrid cars, reducing carbon emissions by automobile changes, those are areas of potential cooperation.

He did say that he wanted to vote, repeatedly, to repeal Obamacare, knowing full well that President Obama would veto.

This presents an awkward situation. The only strong pledges from McConnell were on tougher oversight, preventing Obama from hiking taxes, and at least having votes on Obamacare. The first two might be easy enough, but the final one isn’t a real goal given that Obama will just veto any attempt. So what? While McConnell said that he understood Tuesday’s GOP blowout wasn’t about Republicans but rather about the failure of Democrats, it doesn’t sound like he’s stepping up either.

When asked what he felt about grousing from Lindsay Graham and other Republican senators about how the Tea Party candidates might have cost the GOP a majority in the Senate, McConnell’s voice actually breaks when he says, “We’re… pretty… happy with that outcome”:

Look we had a good day. And we went you know from 41 to 47 at least we’ll see what happens in Washington state … but we will have at least 47. I think that’s a pretty good day. And you know , you can go back and secondguess whether youc ould have had a better candidate here or there, but the primaries decided those outcomes and … we’re… pretty… happy with that outcome.

And I would remind everyone that there are 23 Democrats and only 9 Republicans up in the next cycle and we have a very realistic real shot of getting into the majority in the near future.”

McConnell opened the speech with a jab at Democrats who might want to “bail out” Newsweek. Ironically, McConnell supported the Troubled Asset Relief Program, and later in October 2009, said that it was successful with a few reservations. He also admitted he didn’t have an opinion on the Federal Reserve’s decision to purchase $600 billion in Treasury notes.

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