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The Other Kentucky Derby

Will Mitch McConnell prevail on a muddy track?

Mar 3, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 24 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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The Senate Conservatives Fund denounced the bill that ended the government shutdown in October for including a “Kentucky Kickback”—more than $2 billion in funding for a lock and dam project on the Ohio River. But Bevin told me he “absolutely” supports that “critical” project, though he thinks it was inappropriate to include it in the bill to end the shutdown. Bevin opposed the 2014 McConnell-backed farm bill, but supports the law’s crop insurance program—the government’s “most expensive farm program,” according to the Heritage Foundation.

When it comes to entitlements, the biggest driver of the debt, Bevin said that Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to reform Medicare (which McConnell voted for) is simply a “step in the right direction”; he wouldn’t say what more needs to be done. “We have to take a look at, basically develop actuarial tables, and risk pools, and statistical models that basically allow us to make sure that it’s financially feasible.”

Then there’s the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program, which McConnell called one of the Senate’s “finest moments” and Bevin denounced as a Wall Street bailout in one of his first ads attacking McConnell. On February 11, Politico reported that Bevin signed a 2008 letter to shareholders calling TARP a “positive” development—“don’t call it a bailout,” the letter read.

Bevin said his signature was a mere formality required by law, and the opinions expressed were not his, but those of a colleague who wrote and also signed the letter. According to securities law experts, if Bevin didn’t hold the opinions expressed in the letter he signed, he was violating the law.

Even if Bevin were able to draw a clear contrast on these issues, there’s still the problem that they’re mostly old Bush-era grievances. During Obama’s tenure, McConnell has been reviled by the left for working to obstruct the Democratic agenda at almost every turn. The current complaints against McConnell from the right rest mostly on the theory that his unwillingness to “hold the line” or “stand firm”—not the fact that Democrats control the Senate and White House—prevented conservative policy victories on the debt, taxes, and Obamacare.

In Bevin’s telling, Republicans could have stopped the 2013 “fiscal cliff” tax hikes if they’d simply let all rates rise, as they were automatically scheduled to do by law, and then wait for Democrats and President Obama to give in to Republican demands. McConnell instead cut a deal with Vice President Joe Biden that permanently preserved the Bush income tax rates for individuals who earn $400,000 or less and repealed a part of Obamacare known as the CLASS Act.

The “stand firm” theory of legislative negotiation was tested in October, when the government shut down following a failed effort to defund Obamacare. According to Bevin, the problem was that the plan wasn’t carried out flawlessly. He believes that President Obama and enough Democratic senators would have eventually caved if McConnell and his Republican colleagues had filibustered the bill to defund Obamacare until Senate Democrats agreed to vote for it. “By voting for cloture, you guaranteed there would never be a debate, there would never be a discussion,” Bevin said. “McConnell doesn’t really oppose Obamacare.”

Bevin, an Iraq war opponent who voted for a third-party presidential candidate in 2004 (the Constitution party’s Michael Peroutka), claims that McConnell also secretly supported U.S. military intervention in Syria last year, even though McConnell said he’d vote against it. “[H]e was for it because a lot of these special interests are people that pay good money to him to make sure that he’s for everything that ever moves we’re going to shoot at. I disagree. I’m a former military officer. I understand the purpose of our military, and it’s not to engage in wars for the benefit of large corporations in this country.”

Asked what should be done about the global resurgence of al Qaeda, Bevin said: “You cut them off financially, economically, you do everything you can diplomatically to marginalize them, to box them out, to ostracize them, to keep them in a small space. To the extent they come out and they get on our soil and they want to cause trouble, smack them down.” What about George W. Bush’s contention that we need to defeat terrorists abroad before they reach the United States? “Bad idea,” he said.

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