Sen. Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellThis week: Zika, Puerto Rico fights loom ahead of recess Trump flexes new digital muscle Juan Williams: GOP sounds the sirens over Trump MORE’s (R-Ky.) primary opponent suggested that he would use the debt-ceiling fight this spring as leverage to defund ObamaCare.
In an interview with The Hill, Republican Matt Bevin (Ky.) reiterated his disappointment with congressional GOP leaders, especially their condemnation of outside conservative groups, and said he was “strongly, strongly in favor of doing anything possible” to repeal the healthcare law.
“I do not think we should increase the debt ceiling without significant concessions, and if one of them is the repeal of ObamaCare, then terrific,” Bevin said.
Congress raised the debt ceiling as part of the deal to end the government shutdown in October. The increase runs until February, though it is expected that the Treasury Department could use extraordinary measures so Congress would not need to raise it again until March.
Bevin rejected the premise that demanding concessions for raising the debt ceiling could lead to a default on the debt.
“There is no threat of default. We have more than 10 times the amount of money needed to service our loans,” he said.
Asked what other concessions he wants to see during the debt-limit fight, Bevin said “real, targeted, specific, significant” spending cuts, adding that there are no “sacred cows” in the budget.
But he did say that Social Security and Medicare should be off-limits, because “we should honor our promises” to retirees.
McConnell helped negotiate the deal that raised the debt ceiling and ended the government shutdown standoff. Outside conservative groups and their allies in Congress triggered the fight, which led to plummeting poll numbers for Republicans.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) made headlines last week by criticizing outside conservative pressure groups for their role in the shutdown fight.
Bevin, a businessman from Louisville, Ky., lambasted Boehner for his criticism, suggesting it reflected that the Speaker had been in Washington for too long.
“[Boehner] felt that he had enough votes that he could get a little bit cocky with people. And I think the smugness and arrogance with which he spoke, about some of his colleagues and the people that support his colleagues and about some of his constituents in Ohio, indicate a man that’s out of touch with the polls and with America,” Bevin said.
He added: “He showed an arrogance and smugness that comes with being in office for too long.”
McConnell’s campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore dismissed Bevin’s comments, suggesting he’s simply making things up on the campaign trail.
“If you listen to what Bevin says on a day-to-day basis, you would conclude that this campaign has driven him into an alternate reality. But then you look at his fake MIT diploma, his representations about his business dealings, and his contentions about his own background that he’s made for years, and you realize that he’s always been making it up as he goes along,” she said.
Bevin is trying to make McConnell’s tenure in Washington a big issue in the primary fight. He argues that he’d be a stronger candidate in the fall against likely Democratic nominee Allison Lundergan Grimes.
A Democratic poll out Tuesday showed McConnell nearly as unpopular as President Obama in Kentucky, with 61 percent of respondents disapproving of his job performance.
Bevin said those numbers mean McConnell can’t win, and that “the only way” Republicans will hold McConnell’s seat is if he’s the GOP nominee.
Lundergan Grimes has come under fire from Republicans in recent weeks for refusing to offer specific comments on issues ranging from the farm bill to Senate Democrats’ decision to unilaterally gut the minority party’s ability to filibuster most executive branch nominations.
Bevin said Lundergan Grimes is avoiding those discussions because she has a built-in advantage as an anti-McConnell candidate.
“She can beat him without ever talking about issues,” he said “She’s young, she’s new, she’s a woman, and she’s not Mitch McConnell. Those four things alone, in some form or fashion, are what she says when she’s out on the campaign trail.
“I negate essentially the bulk of all of her competitive advantages against him,” he added, arguing that he, too, is a young, fresh face in the race.
McConnell has long been viewed with suspicion by Tea Party groups because of his deal-making ability and history as an appropriator.
But, Bevin remains the heavy underdog in the race. McConnell is expected to double or triple what the challenger can raise, and Bevin has already been pummeled by McConnell’s allies for appearing to include misleading details on his résumé.
Those attacks seem to be taking a toll on Bevin — a new poll out Tuesday showed him slightly underwater with voters. But he insisted he was heartened by the fact that a vast majority of Kentuckians still don’t have an opinion of him, as he sees an opportunity there.
“We know what we need to do,” he said. “Come Election Day, no one’s going to head to the polls not knowing who I am.”
UPDATE at 2:34 p.m. Following the publication of this piece, Bevin's campaign reached out to clarify that the candidate does support entitlement reform, but opposes any changes that would affect current retirees' benefits.