Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday that Medicare must be part of any deal on the debt limit to get his vote — and dismissed concerns that the Republican drive to reform the program would hurt the party at the polls in 2012.
"All this silly talk about how Medicare is not going to be a part of the solution is nonsense," the Kentucky Republican said. He quoted recent comments from former President Bill Clinton and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) that changes need to be made in the program.
"Medicare will be a part of any agreement to begin to reduce our long-term debt," McConnell said.
As for the political implications of pushing a change in Medicare, he said simply: "I think the 2012 election will take care of itself."
McConnell said he hopes that by Election Day 2012, Republicans and Democrats will have reached an agreement on how to deal with the long-term costs of Medicare.
"The American people (can) decide whether to punish both sides for having done that, because it will take both sides to do it," he said. "Anything that we agree to together will not be an issue in next year's election."
McConnell said Republicans can easily talk about the need to reform the program.
"I don't think it's that hard. I'm going to quote Bill Clinton, and I'm going to quote Steny Hoyer and I'm going to quote Erskine Bowles. ... I don't think this is an issue that we should be apprehensive about," McConnell said. "I think everybody in America is concerned about whether or not we're going to have the same kind of country for our kids that our parents left behind for us."
McConnell also chided the press for highlighting the special election in New York, where Democrat Kathy Hochul won an upset in a deep-red district.
"I think drawing a whole lot of conclusions out of a three-way race in New York a year and a half before the election is ... kind of foolish," McConnell said.
Asked if he would oppose a deal that included trillions of dollars in savings but no Medicare reform, McConnell said he would.
McConnell said he would prefer to also be dealing with Social Security, but does not expect that to be in the package because President Barack Obama hasn't shown a willingness to reform it.
McConnell also did not soften his opposition to increasing tax revenues.
"I'm confident taxes are not going to be a part of this," he said.