The latest twist in the Kentucky Senate race is a scandalette surrounding Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose campaign has apparently been offering to cover costs for people who agree to attend his rallies in Eastern Kentucky.
The news first surfaced in the beltway, but grabbed the attention of NBC affiliates in Louisville and Western Kentucky, both of which aired segments about the McConnell campaign’s practice. And as you’d expect, the Alison Lundergan Grimes campaign posted videos of those segments on their YouTube channel.
Setting aside the optics, I want to draw your attention to a bit of news both of these correspondents make in passing at the end of their segments. Amid all the clamor surrounding McConnell’s campaign practices, he wouldn’t answer a straightforward question about whether the GOP will resume efforts to privatize Social Security, if they regain control of Congress.
The reporters appear to be referencing this encounter McConnell had at the Louisville Rotary Club with reporter Joe Sonka. At the event, McConnell had expressed remorse that he couldn’t wrangle any Democrats into supporting George W. Bush’s 2005 effort to, as McConnell put it, “fix Social Security.”
Sonka asked him if he’d revisit that effort in 2015, and McConnell said, “I’m not announcing what the agenda would be in advance. We’re not in the majority yet. We’ll have more to say about that later.”
So McConnell dodged a pretty straightforward question about the Republican policy agenda, and, should he become majority leader, his own substantive goals.
A central theme of McConnell’s campaign is that Kentuckians shouldn’t replace a guy who stands to become an agenda setter in Washington with Grimes, who would be a freshman with comparably little power. Vis a vis less politically contentious issues, he’s more than happy to explain how he’d use that power.
McConnell said he will go after EPA who are ruining the economy in this state as Majority Leader. #kysen— Michael Gossum (@fmgossum) October 24, 2014
So it’s inconsistent of him to hold his cards close to the vest when the issue is privatizing Social Security rather than gunning for the EPA. It would’ve been easy enough for him to say that private accounts are going to stay on the shelf, where they’ve been, for all intents and purposes, since 2005. Or that it wouldn’t be worth the hassle, since President Obama would surely veto such a bill. Instead he said the agenda isn’t up for public discussion until he’s granted the agenda-setting power.
McConnell’s campaign manager Josh Holmes explains via email that McConnell’s “been asked frequently to lay out the first bills that he would address and he was responding in that context. I don't think anyone is interested in reviving the '05 debate.”
And it’s true that in other instances, McConnell has declined for strategic reasons to discuss his legislative timetable. That’s a reasonable denial. But declining to disclose the substance of the agenda he intends to pursue, while asking for the power to set the agenda itself, is a different matter.