Sen. Mitch McConnell
Sen. Mitch McConnell

In his speech today at a meeting of the Louisville Rotary Club, Sen. Mitch McConnell touted his ability and willingness to forge tough compromises with congressional Democrats on important issues — such as the fiscal cliff deal last year and the Budget Control Act of 2011 that led to the steep sequester cuts to the federal budget — and said he would do the same if he became Senate Majority Leader next year.

Though he hasn’t mentioned it much on the campaign trail over the past year, McConnell specifically touted his effort to push President George W. Bush’s plans to reform Social Security in 2005, which would have set up private accounts for retirees.

“After Bush was re-elected in 2004 he wanted us to try to fix Social Security,” said McConnell. “I spent a year trying to get any Democrat in the Senate — even those most reasonable Democrat of all, Joe Lieberman – to help us.”

Bush’s reform plan stalled out, as it polled terribly and Republicans chose not to pursue it. Democrats at the time painted private accounts as a risky scheme that would endanger seniors’ retirement security in the wake of a downturn in the market, make the Social Security program less solvent, and lead to benefit cuts.

Insider Louisville asked McConnell after the event if he would make a push for such reforms to Social Security if he was elected Senate Majority Leader and could set the agenda, but he declined to reveal if he would do so.

“I’m not announcing what the agenda would be in advance,” said McConnell. “We’re not in the majority yet. We’ll have more to say about that later,” assumedly meaning at some point after the election in 12 days.

Both McConnell and his opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes have accused each other of hiding the true agenda they would advocate for if elected. McConnell claims Grimes is hiding her support of President Obama’s policies in order to fool voters and get elected. Grimes’ new ad points to a secretly recorded speech McConnell gave at a private Koch brothers event full of wealthy businessmen earlier this year, where he said he would work on their behalf and block votes on raising the minimum wage, extending unemployment benefits and reducing student loan rates.

At a Louisville retirement community earlier this week, Grimes and Congressman John Yarmuth told the seniors gathered that McConnell would push not only to privatize Medicare for future retirees, but start another push for Social Security privatization.

“What we have now is a senator who says privatizing Social Security is a good thing,” said Grimes. “I don’t want to risk my grandmother’s retirement with gambling her wages … I’m not for turning Medicare into a voucher program, and on my watch we will never privatize Social Security.”

Asked to comment on McConnell’s statements today, the Grimes campaign sent this statement: “Mitch McConnell’s idea of how to ‘fix’ Social Security is to end the program as we have known it for 80 years by privatizing it. Barely three years after he set about this deplorable task in 2005, the economy and stock prices cratered in the Great Recession. How would that have worked out for vulnerable seniors living on a fixed income? ”

Later in McConnell’s speech, he dismissed this week’s Bluegrass Poll showing the race between he and Grimes as a virtual tie, suggesting he has a large lead and the poll was biased against him.

“There’s a lot of confusion about the poll floating around,” said McConnell. “The Bluegrass Poll is always there at the end of my races to make me look bad. And so you saw that in the Courier.”

The Courier-Journal’s Joe Gerth almost immediately pointed out on Twitter that the Bluegrass Poll was actually quite accurate in McConnell’s 2008 race, coming less than 1 percent within his eventual margin of victory. Additionally, the current pollster for the Bluegrass Poll, Survey USA, had McConnell winning by an even greater margin in that race.

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McConnell said people should know he has a comfortable lead because of the types of TV ads both he and Grimes are running, claiming his are mostly positive and hers are mostly negative and false. He quoted directly from a story written today by Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler, who said Grimes’ new ad blaming McConnell for a coal plant in eastern Kentucky shutting down “is likely the worst ad of a nasty campaign year” and that “Grimes should be ashamed of herself.”

“If you want to know where this race stands, watch what the candidates are putting on the air,” said McConnell. “Who’s talking about what they’ve done and who is trying to tear down the other side.”

After his speech, McConnell was asked about recent media reports that his campaign paid volunteers to follow him around on his bus tour this week in order to ensure an “enthusiastic atmosphere.” Yesterday, McConnell deferred the question to his campaign staff, but he attempted to explain the situation today.

“We had some staff people staffing the events with the sound system and that sort of thing,” said McConnell. “Were you there? 95 percent of people were local.”

Veteran Kentucky political reporter Ronnie Ellis was there at each stop on McConnell’s tour and verified McConnell’s percentage at the first stop in Salyersville. However, he told Insider Louisville that locals made up a lower percentage — though still a majority — at the rest of the stops, as the volunteers followed McConnell in separate cars.

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Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]


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