CNN — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell denied slipping a special provision into a deal he co-engineered to end the 16-day government shutdown and end a showdown over raising the nation's debt ceiling.
And the longtime Republican Senator from Kentucky had an admonishment for Republicans whose sole focus is the "impossible dream" of ending Obamacare.
Conservative groups like the Senate Conservatives Fund, which has promised to work to unseat lawmakers it doesn't feel are conservative enough, criticized McConnell for working with Democrats to end the shutdown. Senate Conservatives Fund said Wednesday night that the provision in the spending bill that benefits Kentucky was a special bit of pork placed there by McConnell, although the Senator and Democrats denied the claim.
"There was no earmark," McConnell told Lexington, Kentucky radio host Lee Cruse on WVLK radio Thursday morning. McConnell argued the Army Corps of Engineers asked for the money and the White House did too.
The spending bill added more than $2 billion for a system of locks under construction at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and between his home state and Illinois.
McConnell has been a chief backer of the project in past years and has requested earmarks for it in the past.
"Every single member of the Senate had an opportunity to review it and none asked for it to be taken out," McConnell said. He didn't point out that text of the legislation wasn't publicly released until just a few hours before the Senate vote.
Democrats and the White House have backed him up, saying the project needed to be funded or go dormant.
McConnell argued that the provision actually saves money by keeping the project from being shut down. It's pretty rare, McConnell argued, to save money in a spending bill.
McConnell is up for re-election next year and faces a tea party primary challenge as well as a strong Democratic opponent. As of Thursday morning, Matt Bevin, the primary challenger, had not reacted, one way or another, to the $2 billion for the system of locks.
McConnell said it was regretful that the House couldn't pass any legislation in the last week, which put Capitol Hill in a "box canyon," and "spending several weeks on an impossible dream that many of us have."
But the only way to do that is "making me majority leader," said McConnell, added the five term senator.
"It's clear that Democrats are not gonna blink" on Obamacare, he said, although he promised to keep up the fight against the health law.
"It's a disaster," he argued, pointing to the glitches in the healthcare.gov website.
"I'm one of the biggest opponents of the Obama administration, but when the country is on the brink, I've stepped in on four occasions now" and brought the country back, added McConnell.
The other three instances where McConnell brokered deals with Democrats include fights in previous fights over the debt ceiling and also his role in helping bring the country back from the so-called "fiscal cliff" of expiring tax cuts and automatic spending cuts late in 2012. The spending cuts ultimately did kick in earlier this year.
To conservatives frustrated at his deal-making, McConnell said he can understand their frustration.
"I'm sympathetic. It wasn't a very good deal. But it wasn't a very good deal," he admitted. But that was because, McConnell argued, he didn't have much time to make the deal after House Republicans failed to pass their own plan.
"No action, when you're in a government shutdown and facing default, no action is not an option," he said.