Mitch McConnell's approval rating here in Kentucky is still somewhere around "lukewarm bacon grease and licorice sandwich" but he figures he can buy another term with a half-billion in spending and another half-billion in corporate tax cuts for the Bluegrass State.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is delivering more than $1 billion worth of federal spending and tax breaks to his Kentucky constituents, just in time for Christmas and ahead of a potentially tough reelection campaign.
McConnell’s biggest obstacle to getting the deal done was not Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) or Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), but President Trump, who proclaimed last year that he was not going to sign another omnibus spending bill and whose White House made rumblings about backing a year-end spending freeze instead.
But McConnell, who is running for his seventh Senate term next year, flexed his political muscle to secure $914.2 million in direct spending for Kentucky in the two year-end omnibus spending bills. The windfall will likely boost his political standing at home in the face of a well-financed Democratic opponent and his perennially low approval ratings.
McConnell touted his spending and tax-relief accomplishments at a press conference in Louisville, and drew a sharp contrast with his Democratic opponent, Amy McGrath, a retired Marine Corps fighter pilot who raised nearly $11 million in the third quarter this year for the 2020 race.
Noting that he’s the only top congressional leader who isn’t from California or New York, McConnell emphasized he was one of four people in the room making final decisions about specifics on the year-end spending and tax deals.
The GOP leader argued that his presence at the high-level talks gave Kentucky “an advantage to punch above its weight.”
“I saw a commercial from my likely opponent indicating that I was all that was wrong with Washington. So I have a question for her here as we go into the new year: In what way would Kentucky have been better off without any of these items that I put in the year-end spending bill?” McConnell said.
It's a powerful argument from a politician who registers a 37 percent approval rating at home, according to a Morning Consult poll from the third quarter.
"He's never had a great level of personal popularity so it's been important for him to deliver for the state, and he does a good job of doing that," said Al Cross, a journalism professor at the University of Kentucky and a longtime commentator on state politics.
Cross said McGrath has enough fundraising prowess to match McConnell on the airwaves next year and noted the GOP leader "never takes anything for granted."
McConnell's wins in the spending legislation included coal miners’ pension benefits; $410 million for the construction of the new Robley Rex Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Louisville; $314 million for cleanup of Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, a $40 million increase over last year’s funding level; a tax break for spirits distillers worth an estimated $426 million in 2020 alone; and $65 million for the construction of the Forage Animal Production Lab at the University of Kentucky.
“I was directly responsible — directly responsible — for these items,” McConnell declared at the press conference.
I'm old enough to remember when pork barrel earmarks were a bad thing all throughout the Bush and Obama presidencies, right up until Trump got in the door. Now it's "You should vote for me because I'm personally responsible for a billion in spending."
And suddenly, "Obama's profligate wasteful spending" no longer matters while Trump is running up trillion-dollar annual deficits with no relief in sight.