McConnell, left, has long been a target of anti-establishment conservatives, and the tea party’s latest offensive criticizes the Kentucky Republican’s failure to secure funding for a deteriorating bridge over the Ohio River.
Some individuals in the tea party movement will try anything to undermine Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, even going so far as to question the Republican’s tenacity in bringing money back to Kentucky.
It’s an unusual stance for a conservative movement best known for opposing federal spending on just about everything. But McConnell has long been a target of anti-establishment conservatives, and their latest attack on his failure to secure funding for a deteriorating bridge over the Ohio River would seem to bring them closer to President Barack Obama’s position on federal infrastructure spending.
After all, Obama used the Brent Spence Bridge as a backdrop for a September 2011 event in an attempt to pressure Republicans to back more infrastructure spending. That Obama picked a “functionally obsolete” bridge which carries motorists between Cincinnati, Ohio, and Covington, Ky., for the photo-op was no surprise. It connects the congressional district of Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, with McConnell’s Kentucky.
Despite the notoriety the president brought to it, efforts to upgrade the bridge remain delayed. So last month, a former Northern Kentucky Tea Party leader named Cathy Flaig used the deferred construction to criticize McConnell, questioning, “What has he done for Kentucky?”
“The federal government can build a bridge in Afghanistan in eight months without tolls. Why not in Northern Kentucky?” Flaig told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “He’s Senate minority leader. It seems like he could do something to help Kentucky.”
Kentucky’s junior GOP senator, Rand Paul, expressed skepticism about that particular line of attack.
“We’re not doing earmarks anymore, so I don’t know that that’s valid criticism,” Paul said. “I know that one of the things I’ve promoted is that we should try to set up a federal fund for bridges and repair bridges, but I would do it by taking money from some other programs, like, I think, the money we spend on Department of Energy loans for solar panels — I’d take that money and put it into bridges.”
In a brief interview, Paul also offered other creative, non-earmark options to fund bridge repairs, including a tax on repatriation of capital and reallocating funding from streetscapes and highway beautification projects.
Paul is backing McConnell’s re-election effort, and the leader has made many overtures to his junior counterpart’s conservative base. Jesse Benton, the campaign manager for McConnell’s 2014 re-election bid and a former longtime aide to the Paul family, said McConnell’s message is that he is doing everything he can.