Updated 9:35 p.m. | Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says Republicans won't be able to repeal Obamacare anytime soon.
Tempering the expectations of conservatives a week before the elections that could install him as the first Republican majority leader in eight years, the Kentucky Republican said in a Fox News interview Tuesday a repeal of the health care law simply wasn't in the cards for now.
He wasn't telling Fox News anything that close observers of the Senate and the budget process didn't already know, but it serves as a reminder of the limitations Republicans should expect even if they net six or seven seats, given the obvious reality that President Barack Obama is still in the White House.
McConnell said repealing Obamacare remains at the top of his priority list.
"But remember who's in the White House for two more years. Obviously he's not going to sign a full repeal, but there are pieces of it that are extremely unpopular with the American public and that the Senate ought to have a chance to vote on," he said.
McConnell also noted Democrats could filibuster a repeal effort.
"It would take 60 votes in the Senate. No one thinks we're going to have 60 Republicans, and it would take a presidential signature," McConnell said. "I'd like to put the Senate Democrats in the position of voting on the most unpopular parts of this law and see if we can put it on the president's desk."
That suggests McConnell isn't about to pull a nuclear option of his own and do away with the filibuster just for the sake of repealing the law.
Republicans including McConnell have talked about rolling back much of the Affordable Care Act through the budget reconciliation process — which would allow them to bypass a filibuster. That route is difficult to traverse and forbids the inclusion of items that are not budget-related. Such a bill could also still be vetoed, making the whole process a symbolic exercise without a Republican president.
Other smaller pieces might get super-majorities, such as repealing the 2 percent excise tax on medical devices. McConnell also mentioned nixing the individual mandate as another target. McConnell again suggested Republicans would try to use the appropriations bills to rein in the Obama administration.
Asked about what a GOP-led Senate might do to blunt executive action on immigration policy that President Barack Obama is planning, McConnell used the example of environmental regulations. "I think it's a bad mistake for the president to try and assume powers for himself that many people feel he should not be assuming. You know, we've seen that on full display with the EPA and the war on coal," McConnell said. "That's not a result of any legislation that Congress passed. It's just something the president wants to do on his own and uses the people who work for him to achieve. I think that's a big mistake."
Those spending restrictions could get to Obama's desk, leaving the president to decide whether to use his veto authority.
Speaking to Fox from the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky., during a campaign stop, McConnell counted the potential move on immigration as one such mistake. McConnell himself must overcome a challenge from Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, with a variety of public and internal polls showing the race competitive in the closing week. The Kentucky Senate race is rated Leans Republican by the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.
"If the American people do change the Senate, and give the Republicans control of Congress, we certainly are, through the spending process, going to try to restrain the overactive bureaucracy that's been attacking virtually every business in America," McConnell said. "And we intend to push back against executive orders that we think aren't warranted by ... trying to control the amount of money that is allocated."
But there's only so much the GOP is going to be able to accomplish.
"He is the president of the United States, and he'll be there until January 2017," McConnell said of Obama.
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