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Interview with Rick Santorum

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Location: Fox News

Here to discuss the president's agenda, Senator Rick Santorum, chairman of the Senate Republican conference.

Senator Santorum, we don't -- nobody really knows yet exactly what the president's proposing, but it's widely expected that he's going to accelerate, as we just mentioned, tax cuts that are scheduled to begin next year.

Should those tax cuts be effective for everybody, or should the rich not receive them?

SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, first off, you've got to start out with the fact that about 37 percent of the people in this country don't pay federal income taxes. So when you say we're going to provide tax cuts for the working poor, many of the working poor already don't pay federal income taxes.

And so, when you start out that the top two-thirds of the people in this country are the folks who pay taxes, those are the folks you're going to have to give tax cuts to.

And so, when the president talks about reducing taxes, by definition you're going to reduce it on the top two-thirds of the people in this country.

SNOW: Well, let me put it a little more precisely. There's been talk about taking the top 10 percent or even the top 1 percent and saying, look, you don't get a tax cut this time around.

SANTORUM: Well, the fact of the matter is, when you provide tax relief, you want to do two things.

Number one, you want to try to do something to help stimulate the economy. The people who are doing the investing, doing the job creation, are employers and are people who pay at the top rate. Those are folks who are the small-business folks who pay at that top rate, and it's important for them to get tax reductions so they can employ people.

And I think most people would say that the best way you can help someone at the lower end of the tax scale is not to give them $25 a year or $50 or $100, but to give them a better job or, in some cases, give them a job in the first place.

SNOW: So you would not support proposals that have been linked to some in the White House that in fact would have an exemption for the top income brackets?

SANTORUM: Look, when you pay the amount of taxes and you're going to give an across-the-board tax cut, you give it across the board. And that's the second thing. You ought to be fair about it.

People who are at the top rates right now are paying the disproportionate share, and if we're going to do across-the-board we should do it fairly and equitably. And I think the economic benefits, particularly those at the lower end, are much more profound if you do include the top rates.

SNOW: Think the president gets that?

SANTORUM: I think the president should fight for and I'm hopeful that we will get it. We did get it, if you recall, just two years ago when no one thought we would be able to get it then. We were talking about, oh, it's just a small version could pass, the president wouldn't even get that through.

Look, we understand, I think, in America that to have employees you have to have strong employers. And to help employers, you've got to include the top rates.

SNOW: Characterize the economy right now.

SANTORUM: Struggling to recover. And I think, you know, this economy has been hit with blow after blow. Obviously the war, the September 11th event. We had nine years of a pretty good run, and we had a big bust.

And the impact, I think, of the markets has really been a confounding one. It's really unlike any one we've had in the past. You have over half of America now invested in the market, and so when the market continues to drag, it has a much bigger effect on the overall economy than we've seen in the past.

And that's why I think the president's idea of doing something on dividends is not only good to get an immediate boost to the market, which I think will give a better feeling of confidence to the consumer out there, which is obviously important for our spending economy, but the other thing is it will help business make better long-term decisions. And that's also very, very important. We saw a lot of speculation which led to some of the problems that we're in right now.

SNOW: Last year the president resisted Democratic attempts to extend unemployment insurance. Everybody left town, and he said, "We need to extend unemployment insurance, and we need to do it right away."

SANTORUM: Yes.

SNOW: Did he wait too long on that one?

SANTORUM: No, I don't think he did. We tried to extend unemployment benefits, and we got into the games that, unfortunately, we were into too much in the Senate last year. We had a package that I thought the House had passed, the president said he would support, and the Senate Democrats just refused to go along with it.

And we could have had something passed and done for people. And there were a group of Democrats, led by Hillary Clinton, that said, "No, we're going to have a broader expansion of benefits. We're going to redo this unemployment benefits system."

We did pass something. The House refused to take it up, simply because it was much more expensive than what was originally passed.

SNOW: Both parties agree it's important to juice up the economy. Democrats, at least John Kerry and others, say the best way to do that is to have a holiday on the payroll tax, because, you pointed out, one-third of the American public pays no income taxes and the vast majority is paid by the top 50 percent.

But having said that, it means that there's no special relief for people who aren't paying taxes other than the payroll tax. What's wrong with that?

SANTORUM: Well, several things wrong with that. Number one, and first and foremost, it decouples what Franklin Roosevelt put in stone as the reason that Social Security will survive forever in America, and that is that contributions are related to the benefits that you receive.

This is not a social welfare system; this is not a system where we're just taxing people to pay benefits to somebody else. But your contribution is related to the amount of money that you get back out.

What they're going to do here, attempting to do, for the first time ever is decouple your contribution to the benefits you receive. That is a very dangerous precedent and could lead to, I would argue, abuses on the other side, which is now using Social Security money for other purposes other than Social Security.

Once you turn Social Security into just another government program that is fungibly funded, you destroy the whole essence of Social Security. And I find it incredible that people who will advocate for relieving payroll taxes are the same people who are opposed to personal retirement accounts and Social Security.

SNOW: Does this mean -- should this come to the floor, and my guess is you have ways of preventing that from happening, but should it come to the floor, would the Republicans filibuster it so it wouldn't get through?

SANTORUM: Well, I think we could defeat it. I don't think we'd have to filibuster. I think the whole point of Social Security being an insurance program as well as a government benefit is vital to its survival, and breaking that pact would, I think, be devastating to Social Security.

SNOW: You mentioned a couple of minutes ago that the president got some tax concessions that nobody thought he'd get a couple of years ago.

SANTORUM: Right.

SNOW: Republicans now control the Senate. Is it going to be easier or harder for him this time?

SANTORUM: Well, if you recall, we controlled the Senate when we passed the original tax bill. And I think that's one of the reasons we were able to get it done. We got it scheduled promptly. We were able to move it through, and we got a bipartisan budget passed which allowed us to put together a bipartisan tax package. We're going to try to do the same thing.

SNOW: But easier or tougher for the president?

SANTORUM: I think it'll be -- well, we're under the same regime, if you will. We had Republican control when we passed the tax cut the first time. We're going to be back in the same thing. I think it'll be relatively the same.

I'm very hopeful that we'll get a package passed that will do something to help this economy and, more importantly, help lower- income workers get better jobs, as well as provide them unemployment benefits for those who can't get jobs.

SNOW: Will the Senate pass a ban on partial-birth abortion?

SANTORUM: Absolutely. That's one of the things that we could not get scheduled under Senator Daschle last session of Congress. It will be scheduled relatively promptly this session of Congress, as well as other important things that didn't see the light of day, like cloning.

Now, we're seeing the impact of the Senate not dealing with the issue of cloning. The House passed a ban on cloning. The Senate wouldn't even allow it to be considered. Senator Daschle blocked consideration of that.

SNOW: So the Senate will vote on a ban on cloning?

SANTORUM: We will vote on a ban on cloning, whether we can get a ban or a moratorium. But the Senate has to speak, it has to debate this vitally important issue. This is an issue that has enormous ramifications for the future of our world, not just our country.

SNOW: Has the president taken a position that you can discern on this?

SANTORUM: Oh, I think the president's been very clear on the issue of cloning, and he is very much against it and would support a ban and a moratorium.

SNOW: OK. And so no research cloning as well?

SANTORUM: There is no such thing as research cloning. When you create a new human being, what you do with it at that point becomes irrelevant.

SNOW: Let me be more precise then. Stem cell research. There's been a talk by the President's Council on Bioethics to have a four- year moratorium while people sort through the issues.

SANTORUM: Right.

SNOW: Will the Senate take that up?

SANTORUM: I think, at this point, the Senate will probably just defer to the president as we did last session of Congress and let this play out.

But the cloning is not a neutral issue. We are -- right now, the law in the land is you can clone anybody, you can do whatever you want to do. The Senate needs to speak on this, and hopefully we'll do so in the right ethical context.

SNOW: What do you make of the Raelians?

SANTORUM: You know, the good scientists that I've seen and read suggest that this is a hoax, and my guess is it is.

SNOW: When the Senate reconvenes, should it take up nominations that did not make it through the Senate Judiciary Committee for Judges Charles Pickering and Priscilla Owen?

SANTORUM: Well, the president has to, as you know, the president has to renominate them in the new session.

SNOW: The nominations, yes, but the nominations are still alive. He didn't withdraw them. Should he put them before the Senate?

SANTORUM: I think, certainly in the case of Priscilla Owen, there's no question that he should put Priscilla Owen -- what was done to her was really unconscionable.

And I would argue that he should do the same for Judge Pickering. Again, this is a man who has an impeccable record, is someone who actually moved the ball forward tremendously in Mississippi when it came to race relations, had the support of every African-American group in the state of Mississippi, and they all came up here to advocate for him.

I think you need to set the record straight, frankly, for this man who was done a tremendous injustice. And so bringing the nomination back up, having a full debate on the Senate floor, I think he will be confirmed, and I think he will be confirmed rather easily.

SNOW: Is war with Iraq inevitable?

SANTORUM: I would say that at this point we're pretty close to inevitability. You know, the lack of cooperation and the continuing to lie about their weapons of mass destruction, clearly a material breach of the United Nations, and one that this country and the world should not stand for.

SNOW: If the Security Council doesn't agree, should we go ahead, or would it be better to get the Security Council to go with us?

SANTORUM: It's obviously better if you can get, you know, more people on your team than less, but we have an obligation to the national security of this country, as well as the international security of the world, to move forward if we believe that Saddam continues to be a material threat.

SNOW: Let me get your reaction to a quote from one of your former colleagues when you were in the House of Representatives, Dick Gephardt. He said this yesterday, actually: "President Bush is leaving the country either down the wrong path or not leading at all. Too many unmet promises and too much empty rhetoric has left us a nation unsure of our own economic security and still vulnerable here at home to the threats we faced over a year ago on September 11th."

SANTORUM: Well, I don't -- you can say a lot about the president. Lacking leadership, I don't think, is one of the legitimate criticisms. This president has not been afraid to lead on a variety of fronts and has taken on the critics internationally and here at home. Internationally, obviously, with this war on terrorism and the potential war with Iraq.

He has a very definite plan as to what is in the national security interests of this country, and he's pursuing it. And I think the fact that we have not had a major terrorist incident now in over a year suggests that the war on terrorism is doing pretty well, given the results.

SNOW: The Democrats have been arguing that his homeland security plan has a lot of holes in it. Do you think this is a politically smart way to proceed?

SANTORUM: You know, it's politically smart if you're running for president and if you're trying to find wedge issues and if you go out there and say things and then hopefully something down the road, you know, lightning strikes and you look like you knew something nobody else knew.

But I don't think it's a legitimate criticism, and the fact is that the president has done a great job on this war on terrorism. He is very focused on the national security interests of this country and when it comes to the threat that Iraq poses, and he's going to pursue that too.

SNOW: You're scheduled to be chairman of the Rules Committee, very important committee -- people outside the Beltway may not now that -- but now Senator Trent Lott, former majority leader, is going to assume that position. You stepped aside.

Why should Senator Lott be chairman of the Rules Committee?

SANTORUM: One of the things I believe very strongly is that we need to put our best team on the field. And a few years ago, when I was on the Ag Committee, I was scheduled to be a subcommittee chairman, and Pat Roberts was a new senator coming from Kansas, was chairman of the Ag Committee, and I stepped aside to allow him to serve on the important subcommittee ...

SNOW: So you think Trent Lott's better qualified than you would be?

SANTORUM: Well, the Rules Committee is an institutional committee. It basically runs the Capitol, if you will. It's sort of the mayor of Capitol Hill is the chairman of the Rules Committee. And I think someone with his tremendous experience as leader in running the operations of the Senate would bring a lot to the table.

And so, yes, I mean I've got enough to do on the other duties that I have, and I think that Senator Lott can make a contribution and would be a good member of the team.

SNOW: You predicted a few weeks ago that he would actually stay on as majority leader. You think that he got a bum deal?

SANTORUM: You know, that's old news. I think his comments were certainly taken out of context. But, you know, he said some things he knows that he shouldn't have said, and he suffered, you know, he suffered the ultimate consequences of making those statements.

I think Trent realizes that, you know, that's the consequences he suffered, and it's time to move on. And I think that we as a Senate will move on and hopefully learn from that experience.

SNOW: And it's time for us to move on. Senator Rick Santorum, thanks for joining us.

SANTORUM: Thank you, Tony.

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