WASHINGTON, Oct. 18 (UPI) -- Attempts to defund the Affordable Care Act as a condition to reopen government had no chance of succeeding, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said.
McConnell worked with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to craft a deal that ended the government shutdown and averted hitting the U.S. government's debt limit hours before the debt ceiling would have been reached. The measure cleared both congressional houses by wide margins and was signed into law by President Obama early Thursday.
McConnell said Republicans diverted their focus from what was achievable in negotiating over government funding and raising the debt limit, Politico reported Thursday.
"We got off track with a tactical error ... starting in July and August that diverted our attention away from what was achievable," McConnell said bluntly of the push by some in his caucus to defund Obamacare -- the colloquial name for the ACA. "And so we'll be back at it in January and February, which is why the best you can say is, 'It's a punt.'"
McConnell said he had no real options available to him in the government shutdown fight that began Oct. 1 and was butting against a potentially disastrous default on the nation's debt.
A push by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to use a shutdown to defund the Affordable Care Act was "not a smart play," McConnell said.
Facing a primary challenge from the right and a credible Democratic candidate in the 2014 midterm election, McConnell said any political pain for the GOP will be "short-term."
He took a swipe at his Democratic opponent, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, saying there was "no chance" a freshman senator could come up with the bargain he and Reid crafted to end the shutdown and raise the debt limit.
"What happened ... completely steps on the whole rationale for her candidacy, which is that somehow I'm part of what she calls the dysfunction in Washington," McConnell said. "Look, I demonstrated on four occasions ... that when the country is in crisis and something needs to be done on a bipartisan basis, I can step forward and get an agreement."
McConnell declined to comment on his primary contest against conservative businessman Matt Bevin.
McConnell has "cut and run from yet another fight ... making deals with Washington Democrats like Harry Reid to raise the debt limit without consideration for defunding or even delaying Obamacare," Bevin said in a campaign video released Thursday.
McConnell also is being attacked for a $2.9 billion allocation for a Kentucky lock-and-dam project, Politico said. Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairwoman and ranking Republican of an Appropriations Committee subcommittee, took responsibility for the provision, which was also requested by the Obama administration.