Since Barack Obama was inaugurated at the end of last month, we Kentuckians have been used to seeing our senior Senator, Mitch McConnell, grab lots of media attention as the Senate Minority Leader. (Nevermind our junior Senator, Jim Bunning, whose actions over the past month seem like what could charitably be described as a “senior moment” — link to today’s Joseph Gerth column in the Courier-Journal.)
Unfortunately for Kentucky, not all of McConnell’s time in the spotlight has been positive. Some of Mitch’s actions and comments in the public eye have been downright tone-deaf to the overall mood of the nation. Case in point, today Mitch is calling for a provision in Obama’s stimulus package that would require government to buy American iron and steel to be stripped (from the Associated Press):
The US Senate should strip a “Buy American” clause from President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plan, the chamber’s top Republican said Monday amid anger at the restriction from US allies.
“I don’t think we ought to use a measure that is supposed to be timely, temporary, and targeted to set off trade wars when the entire world is experiencing a downturn in the economy,” said Senator Mitch McConnell.
Asked whether he would support trying to strip the measure from what is now roughly an 888-billion-dollar economic stimulus package, the Republican minority leader told reporters: “I think it’s a bad idea to put it in a bill like this, which is supposed to be about jump starting the economy, yes.”
The House of Representatives last week voted to require that public works projects funded by its 819-billion-dollar stimulus bill to use only US iron and steel. The Senate version extends that restriction to all manufactured goods.
McConnell’s comments came as Canada Trade Minister Stockwell Day warned that US protectionism “can only trigger retaliatory action” as he urged Obama to fight the provision.
The Republican leader also urged Obama to lean on his Democratic allies in the US Congress to accept or at least accommodate Republican ideas for how best to pull the US economy out of a paralyzing recession.
“I hope he can get through to them that the way to build this package is, indeed, to do it on a bipartisan basis, which doesn’t mean just talking to us, but including ideas that we think would work,” said McConnell.
That would include plans for government-backed, four percent fixed mortgages to qualified homebuyers, and cutting the bottom two income tax bracket rates from 15 percent to 10 percent and from 10 percent to five percent, he said.
McConnell also denounced the amount of social safety net spending in the stimulus plan and indicated Republicans would like to see fewer zeros on the overall price tag.
“We’ve been throwing figures around like it was paper money,” he said. “We all agree that we need to do something, but I don’t think we should just completely act like the amount is irrelevant.”
While Senate procedures give the minority Republicans powers to slow or stall legislation, McConnell made clear his party’s goal is not to stymie passage of a bill that might revive the US economy.
“Nobody that I know of is trying to keep a package from passing. You know, we’re not trying to prevent a package from passing. We’re trying to reform it — reformulate it — put it in a different place,” he said.
Given how the US steel industry has been decimated over the past twenty years, McConnell’s comments seem downright mean. Though to be fair to Mitch and his fellow Republicans, the only thing that kept the industry alive in the past eight years was the weak dollar. Still, we gotta wonder what Mitch is thinking here. Telling American workers that their own government shouldn’t buy their products isn’t exactly a confidence-boosting measure.