McConnell defends debt ceiling vote

Greg Nash

Sen. Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellPuerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate Overnight Healthcare: Momentum on mental health? | Zika bills head to conference | Only 10 ObamaCare co-ops left Trump outlines ‘America First’ energy plan MORE (R-Ky.) is defending his procedural vote that allowed the Senate to approve legislation raising the debt ceiling.

"My job is to protect the country when I can," McConnell said Friday at a campaign event in Louisville, reports. "And to step up and lead on those occasions when it's required. That's what I did."

McConnell faces a tough reelection fight this year and has come under criticism from Tea Party groups for his vote.

McConnell and 11 other Republican senators sided with Democrats in a procedural vote to end debate on the legislation. Tea Party favorite Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzWhat happens when the GOP base abandons the party platform? Fiorina returns to attack Clinton's 'lust for power' Trump clinches GOP nomination MORE (R-Texas) led the filibuster because of his objections that the bill did not include any spending curbs on the government.

The filibuster meant the bill needed 60 votes to proceed, and it might not have met the threshold without McConnell's action. 

The Treasury Department had set a Feb. 27 deadline for raising the debt ceiling, and had warned it might be unable to pay U.S. commitments at that time without congressional action.

The move by McConnell riled Cruz up, who blasted Republicans for squashing his effort.

"[They] wanted to be able to tell what they view as their foolish, gullible constituents back home they didn't do it and they're mad because by me refusing to consent to that, they had to come out in the open and admit what they are doing and nothing upsets them more," Cruz said on the Mark Levin radio show on Thursday.

When questioned about Cruz's comments, McConnell said he had no choice.

"My preference is for a debt ceiling to carry additional legislation that does something about the debt," McConnell said. 

"I've obviously demonstrated that. I negotiated the Budget Control Act with Vice-President Biden in August of 2011. It led to a deficit reduction package that actually reduced government spending for two years in a row, for the first time since right after the Korean War.

"So, my first choice would be to pass a debt ceiling that had something related to doing something about the debt on it," McConnell said.  "But as you know, Joe, the House of Representatives could not pass anything other than a clean debt ceiling."