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story.lead_photo.caption Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump attend a rally Saturday in Richmond,Ky. McConnell said Tuesday that “entitlement changes” were “the real driver” of the rising budget deficit and could only be contained if the Democrats controlled at least one chamber of Congress.

WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday called the ballooning budget deficit "very disturbing" but said large federal spending programs were to blame, dismissing criticism that the GOP's tax-cut law is saddling the country with more debt.

McConnell, in a Bloomberg interview, also said there was little chance Republicans would be able to cut government spending next year if they retained control of Congress, as any changes would need leadership from Democrats.

"It's disappointing, but it's not a Republican problem," McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday. "It's a bipartisan problem: unwillingness to address the real drivers of the debt by doing anything to adjust those programs to the demographics of America in the future."

McConnell's comments came a day after the White House reported that the government ran a deficit of $779 billion in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. That's a 17 percent increase from the year before and a 77 percent increase from the $439 billion deficit in fiscal 2015, when McConnell became majority leader. Higher spending and stagnating tax revenue pushed the nation's debt burden higher. Business tax revenue fell sharply in the first nine months of this year because tax rates were cut under the new law.

Three weeks before midterm elections, McConnell said tackling the mandatory spending programs like Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid could not be done by Republicans alone, suggesting it was unlikely to occur unless Democrats controlled at least one chamber of Congress.

"I think it's pretty safe to say that entitlement changes, which is the real driver of the debt by any objective standard, may well be difficult if not impossible to achieve when you have unified government," McConnell told Bloomberg.

McConnell said he had many conversations on the issue with former President Barack Obama, a Democrat.

"He was a very smart guy, understood exactly what the problem was, understood divided government was the time to do it, but didn't want to, because it was not part of his agenda," McConnell said.

"I think it would be safe to say that the single biggest disappointment of my time in Congress has been our failure to address the entitlement issue, and it's a shame, because now the Democrats are promising 'Medicare for all,"' he said. "I mean, my gosh, we can't sustain the Medicare we have at the rate we're going, and that's the height of irresponsibility."

McConnell said the last major deal to overhaul entitlements occurred in the Ronald Reagan administration, when a Social Security package including a rise in the retirement age passed under divided government.

McConnell said he was the GOP Senate whip in 2005 when Republican President George W. Bush attempted a Social Security overhaul and couldn't find any Democratic supporters.

"Their view was, you want to fix Social Security, you've got the presidency, you've got the White House, you've got the Senate, you go right ahead," McConnell said. The effort collapsed.

The Office of Management and Budget has projected a deficit in the coming year of $1.085 trillion despite a healthy economy. The Congressional Budget Office has forecast a return to trillion-dollar deficits by fiscal 2020.

It is unusual for the deficit to grow when the economy is strong, but the White House and GOP leaders have pursued policies that increase spending and cut tax rates, as President Donald Trump has said he is trying to rev the economy to encourage more growth.

Democrats warned during the tax-cut debate that Republicans would widen the deficit through tax reductions and then seek to recoup the losses by cutting programs like Medicaid, a health care program for the poor and for low-income families, and they seized on McConnell's comments Tuesday.

"Like clockwork, Republicans in Congress are setting in motion their plan to destroy the Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security that seniors and families rely on, just months after they exploded the deficit by $2 trillion with their tax scam for the rich," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks during a news conference about the tax cut on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, June 22, 2018.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks during a news conference about the tax cut on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, June 22, 2018.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York echoed Pelosi's statement Tuesday, saying that McConnell and other Republicans "blew a $2 trillion hole in the federal deficit to fund a tax cut for the rich. To now suggest cutting earned middle-class programs like Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid as the only fiscally responsible solution to solve the debt problem is nothing short of gaslighting."

Republicans spent most of the Obama administration complaining about budget deficits, but they have largely backed down during the Trump administration, supporting his proposals to raise spending and cut taxes.

The U.S. government has more than $21 trillion in debt by some measures, and the aging population, combined with rising health care costs and large debt interest payments, are projected to make the debt grow even faster in the near future.

McConnell blamed the recent acceleration in deficit spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, but there haven't been policy changes in those programs to explain the major run-up in the debt in the past two years. The bigger changes have instead been in bipartisan agreements to remove spending caps on things like the military, as well as last year's tax-cut legislation.

National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said last month that the White House planned to try to address high levels of government spending next year, but he wouldn't offer details.

National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow speaks to reporters outside the White House, in Washington, Oct. 12, 2018.
National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow speaks to reporters outside the White House, in Washington, Oct. 12, 2018.

"I don't want to be specific, I don't want to get ahead of our own budgeting, but we'll get there," Kudlow said at the Economic Club of New York. "But I agree, we have to be tougher on spending."

During the 2016 campaign, Trump vowed not to cut Medicare, Social Security or Medicaid if he became president. He has largely stuck to his promise not to cut Medicare, but he has proposed Medicaid cuts. His advisers have also sought to make cuts in Social Security disability spending.

These proposals have largely fallen flat in Congress, however, as the White House didn't signal it planned to make any changes a priority, and lawmakers are often reticent to take on divisive political issues without presidential leadership.

"I think this issue still resonates with Republican voters and independent voters," said Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., who last year led an unsuccessful effort to make big changes to Medicaid during Republican attempts to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. "Individual candidates may well be focused on other issues, but there are many of us who still feel very strongly about this."

Sen. Patrick Toomey (left), R-Pa., is shown with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (right) in this file photo.
Sen. Patrick Toomey (left), R-Pa., is shown with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (right) in this file photo.

As to whether Trump will be helpful going forward on that front, "it's unclear," Toomey said. "I think the president did indicate he was not interested in taking on big entitlement programs early on. Under the right circumstances, I think he could be an ally."

Information for this article was contributed by Damian Paletta of The Washington Post; by Steven T. Dennis and Erik Wasson of Bloomberg News; and by Jennifer Steinhauer of The New York Times.

A Section on 10/17/2018

Print Headline: McConnell expresses worry as deficit swells


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  • RBear
    October 17, 2018 at 6:21 a.m.

    There are so many things to pick apart in McConnell's interview with Bloomberg. Let's start with this statement, "It's disappointing, but it's not a Republican problem," McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday. Guess what Mitch, it IS a Republican problem. Most, even those on the conservative side, knew this was where the discussion would head when the unnecessary tax cuts were proposed. We knew it would explode the debt. We knew it provide only nominal growth to the economy that was already in expansion and had been since 2010.
    But Republicans sold those cuts with the promise that the economic growth they would provide would more than pay for the cuts. Now we see that was just a false promise by them to sell the idea to independents who were wary of the rationale, knowing that in times of prosperity you PAY DOWN your debt, not expand it. But that goes against Trump's idiotic economic proposals.
    Trump even said he would eliminate the national debt in eight years in an interview with WaPo in April, 2016. Yet another promise broken on the campaign trail by the Great Liar in Chief. Now, McConnell is wanting to drop the other shoe in an effort to cut programs that help our nation's most needy including the elderly who are on fixed incomes. McConnell is all about giving tax relief to the wealthy, but cutting funding to the elderly and disabled.
    This is what you get from a Republican Congress. Even though Republicans hawked about deficits and debt, they imposed tremendous degrees of both at a time when it was unnecessary. Now, they see the looming problem they will face in 2020 and start hinting at it in 2018 right before the mid-terms. This is why Hutchinson wants to kick so many off Medicaid without helping them find ways to find work. It's the Republican lazy way of dealing with our nation's problems. Just write them off and ignore them.

    October 17, 2018 at 6:42 a.m.

    It's a RINO problem. Too much go along to get along. Tax cuts are good - but only if they have spending cuts to go with them. And they didn't.

    Congress must tackle entitlement programs. Social Security and Medicare are not entitlements - they are (or were before Congress robbed the piggy bank) paid for retirement and insurance programs. Medicare and SNAP and similar programs have turned into giant entitlements. Safety net programs are good and needed but the abuse is now so large that they are sinking the ship. There are billions in fraud that should be easy to stop - but, no - Congress has no will to do the right thing.

    The Dems and the RINOs are in the business of using entitlements (and other unneeded federal programs long since outlived) for political gain. Just one of the problems with professional, lifetime politicians. That's what the DC Beltway Club does.

  • 23cal
    October 17, 2018 at 6:46 a.m.

    RBear: Bingo.

  • Knuckleball1
    October 17, 2018 at 7:20 a.m.

    Nero was fiddling while Rome burned, McConnell and the rest of his party are doing the same thing while the Roads crumple, bridges fail, power lines are outdated, water and sewer lines are over a 100 years old and a 10 year old can hack into most of the systems in this country because they are not secure. But we are going to cut taxes for the rich, because they are going to take that extra money and increase their spending so that all is well with the Country.

    Yet, they want to blame all the problems on Social Security and call it an entitlement. When as MBAIV stated Congress raided the piggy bank because they could not stand all that money sitting there not being used. They have spent the money and now want to rob Grandma and Grandpa of the money that they are due for their retirement. As stated many times before if that money from our employers along with what we payed into Social Security had been but into a bank and the same interest paid on a savings account for over 40 years and not touched (the key here is not touched) the Social Security Administration would not be worrying about have to find the money to pay what was promised.

    It is going to hurt for a few years but the infrastructure needs to be rebuilt NOW, not later and the rich needs to be paying their fair share and to hell with worrying about the stockholders and their bottom line. American Board Rooms have made China rich by moving factories there because of the cheap labor and letting this country go down the tubes and complaining about the taxes they have to pay.

    Yes, Mr. McConnell this is a Republican problem and all you want to do is point fingers instead of trying to fix the problems.

  • RBear
    October 17, 2018 at 7:27 a.m.

    MBAIV I can find fraud in many areas of government spending, including the recent entitlements Trump promised farmers to buffer them from the harmful impact of his tariffs. DoD fraud is another big hitter. We all remember the $500 toilet seats. In fact, defense spending is probably the biggest challenge for combating fraud as most contractors bury the costs in "technical details." With regards to Medicaid fraud, it's actually lower than you think. It's an easy target for conservatives who don't see it as productive measures. I would counter that defense spending isn't that productive either. A lot of money to blow up another country 20x over.
    The point is that Republicans like to throw around the social programs as easy targets when there are even bigger issues to face. For one, McConnell didn't even mention our nation's infrastructure which will blow the debt out of the water IF Congress ever gets around to dealing with it. My guess is they won't and our nation's highways continue to crumble, our ports are overtaxed, and our waterways are in dire need of renewal.
    I hope you see where I'm going. This is just an easy target for McConnell and Republicans to shoot at to attempt to justify the tax cuts after it's become apparent the "economic payback" won't cover them. Yet another lie by the right.

  • RobertBolt
    October 17, 2018 at 8:11 a.m.

    "Some sneaky miscreant is stealing our chickens," Sen. Fox said, ”but you can bet I'm the answer to your problem."

  • condoleezza
    October 17, 2018 at 8:52 a.m.

    We could spend 255 less on the military and ridiculous wars, and pay for everything.

  • hah406
    October 17, 2018 at 8:55 a.m.

    McConnell is a joke and needs to retire. Deficits up 77% since he became majority leader. The senate has gone from a place of bipartisan debate and compromise to another MMA octagon. What do you think is going to happen when you cut the amount of money you are bringing in without cutting spending? If Medicare and Social Security are the problems, the GOP has all the power right now. Grab that third rail, hold on tight, and solve it you cowards.

  • PopMom
    October 17, 2018 at 9:50 a.m.

    Kick the rascals out. The Republicans are mostly to blame for the latest fiasco--cutting taxes for the most extreme wealthy and slightly cutting them for most of the middle class. We need large increases in estate taxes for large estates and less government spending. Make Trump stop traveling so much to play golf. His grown children should not be covered.

  • mrcharles
    October 17, 2018 at 10:38 a.m.

    The answer is like the old days, the colonial powers can just with their great military take over a country and take their resources. With the spins that fox/gop/ADG put out, facts dont matter just appeal to anti commie , real religion and fear the DT lemmings will say OK, go for it.

    McConnell's statement we all knew was coming. Like faith healers , just give me some money and we know things will get better, then the person who thought medical care was the way to go, having sold their soul to the ones who take from the poor and give to the rich [ with their cut of course] say, well they died but their own fault they just didnt believe enough and/or hard enough.

    The young, elderly and disabled can be the sacrificial lamb, after all many are going to die anyway and , hey the rich need more summer homes.

    if there are in fact those goats talked about, since it is clear the gop politicians and their followers are the philosophized goats, they may find a rude result coming, say for Delta123 ILKS who speaks neither the word nor the deed... it is not enough to walk humbly with the deity [ of course that does not happen] but the weightier matters of to do right and love goodness are ignored. many warnings of Ezekiel are ignored and the resident alien and widows and orphans are abused. Amos tells you woe. Gop , samaria did not commit half your sins.