The Kentucky Republican said at an event Thursday he "would not expect to see" the Senate tackle entitlement reform next year, signaling a break from his counterpart in the House on the Republican agenda in 2018.
"I think that Democrats will not be interested in entitlement reform," McConnell said
at the event. "So I would not expect to see that on the agenda."
Instead, he said Congress needs to move on to issues that will get some Democratic support, like infrastructure. "To do something in that area, we're going to have to have Democratic participation," he added.
McConnell was more direct in an interview also on Thursday with NPR
, where he downplayed reforming entitlements and said that repealing or replacing Obamacare would be difficult given Senate rules that meant such a move would require 60 votes.
"Well, we obviously were unable to completely repeal and replace with a 52-48 Senate," McConnell told NPR. "We'll have to take a look at what that looks like with a 51-49 Senate. But I think we'll probably move on to other issues."
Following his comments, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina pushed for GOP senators not to move on yet from Obamacare.
"To those who believe -- including Senate Republican leadership -- that in 2018 there will not be another effort to Repeal and Replace Obamacare -- you are sadly mistaken," Graham said in a statement, adding later, "I'm fully committed to Repealing and Replacing Obamacare in 2018 by block-granting the money back to the states and away from Washington bureaucrats who are completely unaccountable to the patients of America."
Republicans were able to pass their tax overhaul without Democratic votes, but only because they used a procedural tactic to avoid a filibuster, a maneuver that can only be used once every fiscal year. Among those changes in the tax bill was a repeal of Obamacare's individual mandate that Americans have health insurance.
Graham said that change is not enough.
"By eliminating the individual mandate in the tax bill we have pulled one of the pillars of Obamacare out. But by no means has Obamacare been repealed or replaced," Graham said in his statement.
On entitlements, House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a radio interview the House would be working
to reform health care entitlements in 2018, calling them "the big drivers of our debt."
Ryan specifically mentioned Medicare as being the "biggest entitlement that's got to have reform."
"Really, what it is is we need to convert our health care system to a patient-centered system, so that people have more choices, we have more competition," Ryan later said.