Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) gave a post-election news conference Wednesday, outlining his legislative priorities both for the lame-duck session starting next week and the 115th Congress which convenes in January 2017.
First on the agenda for both Republican and Democratic congressional leaders is to pass appropriations bills to fund the government before the Dec. 9 deadline. However, there is some disagreement within GOP conferences in the House and Senate on what form the spending measures will take.
Leader McConnell said the decision of whether to pursue a continuing resolution to fund the government through March or April of 2017, or a comprehensive omnibus package, has yet to be made. However, the Kentucky Senator said Wednesday he prefers legislation that would secure federal spending for the rest of this fiscal year, ending Sept. 30, 2017.
Other conservative House and Senate Republicans said this week that a full-year spending bill should be off the table until president-elect Donald Trump takes office and has time to settle in and get his administration up and running.
Sen. McConnell also specifically mentioned the 21st Century Cures Act as a top legislative priority before President Obama leaves office. A seemingly bi-partisan bill which passed the House in 2015, Cures would increase funding level to the National Institutes of Health agency and create an “Innovation Fund” to subsidize biomedical research.
McConnell said he, President Obama and Vice President Biden all have particular interests in the bill, including funds for the White House’s Cancer Moonshot 2020 initiative being led by Biden. The program’s goal is to incentivize medical companies and research institutions to find vaccine-based immunotherapies to treat cancer.
As far as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, McConnell said the international trade agreement “is certainly not going to be brought up [in the Senate] this year.”
At the beginning of the 115th Congress’ first legislative session, McConnell intimated Republican Senate members plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act and lower taxes for corporations and small businesses.
“I think this is really important,” he said in regard to tax reform. “The current president was not interested in making (the budget) revenue neutral . . . If we want to make America truly competitive, the goal ought to be when revenue is produced by the elimination of preferences, use that to bid down the rates.”
As far as the incoming administration is concerned, McConnell said he hopes Trump will roll back environmental regulations enacted unilaterally by President Obama that have stifled America’s energy industry, including coal mining, that is vital to the economy in areas such as eastern Kentucky and West Virginia.
“Over-regulation is the principle reason why I’m pretty confident the president didn’t have one year of over three percent growth,” he continued. “And you saw a whole lot of people who voted for (Trump) yesterday frustrated . . . the lack of growth is the reason for the lack of opportunity and jobs.”
The Majority Leader also made some notable remarks about other items on Trump’s agenda. McConnell said he was in favor of increasing border security, but stopped short of endorsing the president-elect’s campaign proposal to build a wall.
On Trump’s plan to enact congressional term limits, McConnell was almost defiant in his tone, saying that they already exist. “They’re called elections,” he said. “And it will not be on the agenda in the Senate.”
Asked about Trump’s threat to withdraw from NATO, McConnell did not seem amused by that particular bit of loose talk. “The NATO alliance is every bit as important today as it ever was,” he warned. “I think Article 5 means something. You attack any member of NATO you have us to deal with. I want the Russians to understand that fully.”
On Thursday, the president-elect met with both McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan to discuss issues and put forward their respective agendas for 2017. After meeting with the Senate Majority Leader, Trump told the media that the top three priorities for his administration will be immigration and border security, healthcare and jobs.
Watch the Senate Majority Leader’s Wednesday press conference in its entirety below.
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