This week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sought to correct the record with Kentucky news outlets after an editorial and political cartoon cast the blame on him for a new tax on a local college that prides itself on its Christian values and helping low-income students.
McConnell wrote opinion pieces for both the Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader to explain that the new tax impacting Berea College as a result of the tax overhaul spearheaded by GOP leadership should be pinned on the "hypocrisy coming from Senate Democrats" and not himself.
Berea College, a small liberal arts school with a large $1 billion endowment, charges no tuition and enrolls low-income students often from the Appalachia region. Students work part-time to earn their stay.
The provision McConnell supported would have shielded Berea College from the 1.4 percent endowment tax on private universities with language saying it applied to colleges with at least 500 students who pay tuition, according to Politico.
"The measure I championed would have ensured that Berea’s endowment wouldn’t suffer a tax in the same way as schools like Harvard University," McConnell wrote. "It’s illogical that a school like Berea should be taxed like Harvard, whose endowment is almost 30 times larger and isn’t used as aggressively to make tuition more affordable, let alone to pursue a tuition-free mission like Berea’s."
He said Democrats, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., exploited a parliamentary tactic and "took out their hostility to tax reform on schools like Berea and penalized them despite the fact that Berea provides scholarships to low-income students."
Despite this claim, the Lexington Herald-Leader's editorial board asserted that McConnell and his colleagues are still to blame because they rushed to pass the bill before the end of 2017.
"In truth, the historic Kentucky college, which provides tuition-free education to low-income students, got trampled by the Republicans’ rush to enact a plan on strictly party-line votes without public hearings or real vetting," they wrote, echoing a complaint by Democrats in the House and Senate, all who voted against the tax plan.
Meanwhile, a political cartoon by Mark Murphy, a Louisville lawyer and a contributing cartoonist for the Courier Journal, chided McConnell over the Berea tax with a cartoon that suggested the only legislative accomplishment has created a "mess."
In his response piece, McConnell said Murphy's cartoon placing blame on him was "factually incorrect."
To that, Murphy shot back:
"No one knows Senate procedure better than Mitch McConnell does. He knew this was improper but made for good campaign fodder. Democrats properly objected. The Senate parliamentarian ruled that the language violated Senate budget rules that prohibit extraneous matters and policymaking on bills that use a special procedure to avoid filibusters. The bill was McConnell's. The improper exception was McConnell's. Yet he blames the traffic cop for his own reckless driving."
The provision had been secured in an earlier House version of the bill by Rep. Andy Barr, whose district includes Berea. He is said to be working with Berea and McConnell on a legislative fix.
Thank you, @bereacollege President Lyle Roelofs for your acknowledgement and support for our ongoing efforts to permanently exempt work-study colleges like Berea from this tax. We will not give up until this is fixed! https://t.co/J6FrvepSeq— Rep. Andy Barr (@RepAndyBarr) December 22, 2017
When asked for comment on his back-and-forth exchange with the Kentucky news outlets, McConnell's office only pointed the Washington Examiner to the senator's recent opinion pieces and a recent interview he had on Fox News.
During that Dec. 21 exchange, McConnell laughed off what he viewed as the hypocrisy of Sanders for saying he wants every college student in America to have free tuition.
"Apparently not the one school that already has free tuition," McConnell said.