Infrastructure, healthcare, judges on U.S. Senate agenda

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday infrastructure, healthcare and judicial appointments would be on the agenda in 2019, after Republicans widened their majority in the Senate but lost control of the House of Representatives in Tuesday’s elections.

McConnell told reporters that senators likely would tackle fixes to the 2010 Obamacare healthcare law and prescription drug prices but that changes to the Medicare healthcare and Social Security retirement programs were unlikely. Additionally, any new tax legislation would need bipartisan support, he said.

Confirming Trump’s conservative judicial appointments — a job the Senate undertakes without any House role — is another top priority, McConnell said.

Republicans and Democrats have battled each other fiercely in the near-decade since Democratic healthcare legislation that became known as Obamacare began moving through Congress.

Once it became law in 2010 without Republican support, Republicans launched a long drive to repeal the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. Their effort came to a halt in 2017 with Senate defeat of a repeal bill.

Last month, in an interview with Reuters, McConnell said he would be willing to try another Obamacare repeal if he had the votes. But one day after Democrats regained control of the House in Tuesday’s elections, McConnell spoke in softer tones.

“I think it’s pretty obvious the Democratic House is not going to be interested in that,” McConnell said at a news conference. While there are “serious problems” with Obamacare, he said, “We’re going to have to obviously now address those on a bipartisan basis.”

On another controversial topic, funding President Donald Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall proposal, McConnell said he is “going to try to help the president achieve what he’d like.” But again, he said there would have to be “some kind of bipartisan discussion.”

Last month, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is likely to become House speaker next year, said she was not interested in negotiating any deal that would include building the border wall, which Democrats and some Republicans have described as a waste of money.

One of McConnell’s biggest achievements in the first two years of the Trump administration has been the record-breaking pace in confirming the president’s judicial nominees, especially those for the influential appeals courts. The Senate has confirmed 84 judges, including 29 to the appeals courts, as well as Trump’s two Supreme Court nominees.

“The president, I think, has done an excellent job in picking young men and women who believe the job of the judge is to follow the law,” McConnell said. “And we intend to keep confirming as many as we possibly can for as long as we’re in a position to do it.”

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