For weeks, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and other conservatives have been trying to build momentum for reining in spending on Medicare, Medicaid and other safety-net programs, long-standing goals that catapulted Ryan to prominence in the GOP.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) threw cold water on those ambitions Thursday, saying he would rather focus on an issue with potential for bipartisan appeal: an infrastructure initiative that spurs new spending on the nation’s ailing roads, bridges, airports and waterways.

“I don’t think, as a practical matter in the Senate, we can do entitlement reform without bipartisan agreement,” McConnell, who will have only 51 Republicans in his chamber come January, told The Washington Post. “And you can fill in the blanks. I mean, it applies to entitlements in general — Medicare, Social Security, welfare — they’re so doubled down on that, I’m not going to devote floor time to something that has no Democratic support.”