Kentucky Politics

Kentucky’s top Republican and Democrat in Washington both voted for the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, but they diverge on whether to move forward with a more expansive social spending package put forward by President Joe Biden.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth are central players in the battle over the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better plan, which includes funding for universal pre-K, another year of the expanded child tax credit, affordable housing and health care and combating climate change.

Yarmuth is the chair of the U.S. House Budget Committee and one of the bill’s main architects. McConnell is the chief signal caller of the effort to block it in the evenly-divided Senate.

Both saw signs supporting their causes in the outcome of last week’s gubernatorial election in Virginia.

McConnell said the contest, narrowly won by Republican Glenn Youngkin, was a referendum against Biden’s policies.

“The American people basically said last Tuesday: stop. Enough is enough,” McConnell said at an event in Covington, Ky. on Tuesday. “We had a chance here for the American people to express themselves in those states that had some sort of elections this year about how they feel about what’s going on.”

In an interview on CNBC Thursday morning, Yarmuth said the election showed Democratic voters are frustrated and want more to be done.

“The people who gave us the majority in the House, gave us a tie in the Senate, gave us President Biden last year were expecting action a little faster,” Yarmuth said. “We have to convince the American people we have acted.”

The split between McConnell and Yarmuth, who have known each other for decades and both live in Louisville, is nothing new.

Yarmuth has long been a critic of McConnell on issues like gun violence, support for Donald Trump and the Affordable Care Act.

But this fight comes at a new critical point, as Yarmuth, who is retiring next year, tries to cap his career with a major legislative achievement, and McConnell tries to help Republicans at the ballot box and regain his role as majority leader of the Senate.

McConnell says he’s optimistic about Republicans’ chances during the midterm elections next year.

“I think the wind is going to be at our back in both the House and Senate, I think there’s a great likelihood of a pretty good election next year,” McConnell said.

Yarmuth said Democrats need to do a better job explaining the recently passed infrastructure bill and the more expansive social safety net bill.

“That’s the kind of thing that they’ll feel immediately, and again, we have to make sure they know we did it and Republicans opposed it. That’s our responsibility, and if we don’t do a good job of it, we’ll take a beating next year,” Yarmuth said.

Yarmuth told CNN last week that the official cost estimate of the Build Back Better Act would come before Thanksgiving, setting it up for a vote in the Democratic-led House.

Meanwhile in the Senate, support for the bill hit a roadblock after West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin announced he doesn’t back the measure yet, citing concerns over inflation.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.