By Alexander Bolton - 05/12/11 06:06 PM EDT
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday that he will oppose increasing the debt ceiling unless President Obama and the Democrats agree to short-term cuts in discretionary spending, as well as cuts in entitlement programs over the medium and long terms.
“In the long term, we all know — long-term — we have over 50 trillion in unfunded liabilities and very popular programs that Americans depend on, Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, that are simply on an unsustainable path," McConnell said.
McConnell said that, while Medicare and Medicaid were discussed at the meeting in the context of spending cuts, Social Security was hardly spoken of.
Obama took questions and comments from every GOP senator who wanted to express his or her views and won praise from McConnell for taking a productive first step in talks to raise the national debt ceiling.
“Candidly, I was a little skeptical whether this meeting was worth having but I actually think it was a very good meeting,” McConnell said. “It gave the president an opportunity to have Republican senators tell him directly how they see this.”
Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Bob Corker (Tenn.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Pat Toomey (Pa.) and John Hoeven (N.D.) were a few of the lawmakers who expressed their views.
Like House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), McConnell has said tax increases should be taken off the negotiating table.
“There will be no tax increases in connection with raising the debt ceiling,” he said.
In the short term, McConnell wants Obama and Democrats to agree to setting the top-line number for all federal discretionary spending over the next two years.
For the three- or eight-year period beyond 2013, McConnell wants to see the projected levels of discretionary and entitlement spending curbed further downward. He said he wants spending caps on discretionary and mandatory spending for the medium-term.
Senate Republicans want trillions of dollars in spending cuts, far beyond the $38.5 billion in cuts that lawmakers haggled over earlier this year.
“We’re looking for trillions, not billions,” McConnell said, noting that the $2.2 trillion the federal government will collect this year will go entirely to pay for entitlement programs and interest on the national debt.
McConnell said Obama and GOP senators hardly discussed Social Security reform in tacit acknowledgement that cutting benefits for the popular program cannot win approval.
Instead, the Republican senators and Obama discussed discretionary spending caps and entitlement reforms that would focus on Medicare and Medicaid.
McConnell declined to reveal how much higher he is willing to raise the debt limit, which now stands at $14.3 trillion. He said whether Republicans agree to extend federal borrowing authority by another six months, year or two years will be a matter for negotiation.
McConnell did not appear much interested in raising the debt limit just enough to give negotiators more time beyond the early August deadline to reach an agreement.
“The things I’m talking about have already been studied to death, we don’t need to have any more hearings,” he said.
Obama and Republican senators discussed tax reform briefly.
But McConnell said comprehensive tax reform would not be a part of a deal because there is not enough time over the next two and a half months to overhaul the complex tax code.
“You can’t do tax reform in two months,” he said. “It’s worth doing, it’s just so complex you can’t do tax reform between now and August.”
McConnell argued that significant spending cuts can be agreed to quickly because Obama’s fiscal commission looked at an array of proposals “very thoroughly, very recently.”
McConnell, however, declined to name any specific entitlement reforms he favors over the middle-term.