LOUISVILLE — U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Friday that "no action is not a solution" to the solvency threat facing Medicare.
When asked if he favored raising the retirement age for Medicare, McConnell cited government estimates warning of looming problems and said the entitlement program will "tank in 10 years" if measures aren't taken to put it on more solid footing.
He did not specify what changes should be made, but in late 2012, as McConnell and other congressional leaders wrangled over a budget deal to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, The Wall Street Journal reported that McConnell pushed to include an increase in the Medicare eligibility age and higher Medicare premiums for the wealthy.
Medicare became a flashpoint in the U.S. Senate race this week after Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes on Tuesday released an ad that accused McConnell of trying to bankrupt seniors by voting for changes that would increase the cost of Medicare. (The ad was labeled false by multiple fact checkers.)
In the days that followed, McConnell released an ad accusing Grimes of supporting a $700 billion cut to Medicare (fact checkers called the ad misleading), and Grimes responded with an online video ad that accused McConnell of trying to destroy Medicare and highlighting his desire to consider raising the program's eligibility age.
On Friday, the Grimes campaign circulated articles that suggested McConnell was trying to back away from his previous support for U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan's 2011 budget, which would have created an avenue to privatize Medicare and was at the core of Grimes' criticism of McConnell.
The articles noted that McConnell's campaign told FactCheck.org that "there is no way to speculate if (McConnell) would have voted for final passage without having debated amendments."
However, the senator voted in favor of advancing the non-binding budget resolution in a procedural vote, and as the Grimes campaign pointed out this week, McConnell said on "Meet the Press" that "I voted for the Ryan budget."
When asked Friday if he still supports the approach he backed in 2011, McConnell said that "what the voters of this state need to know is that no one currently receiving Medicare or likely to be receiving it in the near future would be impacted by any of the changes that we're talking about."
"To fail to make changes that make the eligibility fit the demographics of America, for our children and grandchildren, means Medicare is going to tank in 10 years," McConnell said.
McConnell's remarks to reporters followed a speech to a convention of county judge-executives, commissioners and magistrates in which McConnell revealed what is perhaps his most direct appeal yet for Kentucky to re-elect him, giving the crowd examples of "how my position makes a difference for our state and helps save jobs."
"If you want to trade one of two party leaders we've had in the history of our state for someone new, prepare for a dramatic reduction in influence in the Senate, not to mention a vote for Harry Reid and the status quo in the Senate," McConnell said. "I think it's time to change America."
Grimes addressed the same group on Thursday and twice told the crowd that the November election is not about party control of the Senate, saying instead that McConnell's three decades in Washington had left him out of touch with the needs of Kentucky voters.
McConnell, who could potentially become Senate majority leader if he were to win and Republicans were to retake the Senate, focused most of his remarks on a stinging critique of President Barack Obama.
"I can't think of a worse time to have less influence for Kentucky in Washington than under this administration," McConnell said. He added: "The Obama administration's been bad for America, bad for Kentucky and starting in November, we're going to put America on a different path."
Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.