Press Conference With Senate And House Republican Leaders; Omnibus Spending Bill
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SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, good afternoon, everyone.
Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the Democrats' announcement of their "Six in '06" agenda. One of the items prominently mentioned was middle-class tax relief. We're still wondering when that might be advocated. In fact, the only clear indication we have of what their plans may be on taxes is the budget that they enacted earlier this year, which lays out a blueprint for the next five years and envisions a tax increase that's three times the largest tax increase in history. That presumably means that dividend rates will go up, cap gains rates will go up, marginal rates will go up, the child care credit will go down, thereby causing families with children to have to pay more in taxes.
So I don't know when they plan to meet the lower taxes for middle-class families promise in the "Six in '06" agenda, but we've seen no evidence of it yet, which might be one of the reasons that the approval rating of this Congress is now down to what we believe is the lowest for a recorded point in polling history, having apparently squandered whatever political capital they may have achieved with the American people last November the 7th in a record short period of time.
With that, let me turn it over to Leader John Boehner.
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REP. BOEHNER: Questions?
Q Senator McConnell? Mr. Leader?
SEN. MCCONNELL: Yeah?
Q Sir, do you expect the 9/11 conference and ethics conference to pass? And if so -- (inaudible)?
SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, as you know, there is no ethics conference. We expect an ethics/lobbying bill over from the House at some point later this week or early next week. Regretfully, as I've said to all of you previously, there is no conference. One member of my conference prefers that we not have a conference. It would have been my preference to have a conference and be at the table. So we are largely shut out of that process, even though it began the year on an almost totally bipartisan basis as a Reid-McConnell proposal.
We do expect to be dealing with the 9/11 conference report sometime before we leave. All indications are that it's a measure that's likely to be passed with a large majority.
Q Senator, is it acceptable to the White House? Will the president sign it?
SEN. MCCONNELL: You'll have to ask them.
We're pleased that the collective bargaining for transportation security workers was taken out. All indications are that it's likely to be widely supported on a bipartisan basis.
Q Senator McConnell --
Q Senator McConnell, in --
SEN. MCCONNELL: Me? Me or someone else?
SEN. MCCONNELL: Me? Yeah.
Q There is legislation that -- (inaudible) -- Senator Baucus -- (inaudible) -- the taxation of publicly traded partnerships, hedge funds and (law firms ?). (Inaudible.) I was wondering, is there a leadership position on that? Is --
SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, we have two members of the Senate Finance Committee who are standing behind me. I don't know if either one of them would like to --
SEN. KYL: You've got one.
SEN. MCCONNELL: Oh, one.
SEN. KYL: There is no leadership position. I don't think that any of us have -- at least I had not taken a specific position on it, and it's fairly early in the process.
Q Senator McConnell, you mentioned Congress' rock-bottom approval rating. And the Democrats in Congress do have a very low approval rating; Republicans in Congress have lower approval ratings. And I'm wondering if you can explain that, why you think that the Republicans continue to have very low approval ratings.
SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, our image is largely made by the president, as you know, and the president does enjoy -- (chuckles) -- does suffer from, shall I say, poor standing. However, compared to the Democratic Congress, he looks pretty good. In fact, they'd be in a lot better shape if they had his approval rating up in the mid-30s.
Q Throughout most of the Bush years, Republicans controlled both the House and the Senate, and yet pretty persistently the spending exceeded revenues.
And also the budget process often broke down; last year there was no budget at all. What lessons should Democrats learn from the mistakes that were made during those times? Is there anything that people could do differently this budget cycle?
SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, I think the best way to judge the fiscal situation of the government is what is the deficit as a percentage of gross domestic product. And as you know, some figures came out earlier this week that indicated --
(To Rep. Boehner.) What is it, John? One --
REP. BOEHNER: (Off mike.)
SEN. MCCONNELL: Well below 2 percent, I think, of GDP.
Would we like to have spent less? Yes. But the deficit has continued to come down as we benefitted from a robust economy created by the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, which has provided a raft of new revenue for the federal government.
I really don't think that the government's deficit is going to be reduced by all of these taxes that we've been talking about here today. That's their agenda: higher taxes. The second part of their agenda is more labor unions by getting rid of the secret ballot in labor union elections. The third part of their agenda is no trade agreements -- no TPA, no Colombia, no Peru, no Panama, no South Korea -- protectionism. These guys want to turn the United States into France when even the French are having second thoughts.
So that -- you know, that is their prescription. I don't think that is going to make the deficit come down.
Q What about the budget part of it? What can Democrats do this fall that didn't happen last fall? How can -- (inaudible) -- be different?
SEN. MCCONNELL: I'm not sure I understand your question.
Q Well, the budget process didn't go very smoothly last fall, and I'm just wondering what lessons can they learn from what went wrong last year.
SEN. MCCONNELL: Are you talking about passing appropriation bills?
Q To finally get --
SEN. MCCONNELL: Yeah.
Q To avoid an omnibus and --
SEN. MCCONNELL: Yeah. Like the Democrats when they were in the majority in 2002, we did not complete 11 out of 13 appropriation bills. That's not the way we ought to operate, and you would think the very next year, the Democrats having come to the majority, wouldn't try to replicate that, but they are. We're now on the floor dealing with the very first appropriation bill of 13. Senator Kyl pointed out the train wreck is coming; there's no way we're going to get all the 13 appropriation bills done by September the 30th. It looks to me like we're going to have a malfunction of the appropriations process this year as well. So it doesn't look to me like the Democrats have done any better than we did last year, and I'm certainly not applauding what we did last year.
Q If the president vetoes the inevitable omnibus, do you see potential for a government shutdown, like in --
SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, we're a long way from that. We'll just have to see where we end up. But it's certainly my hope that the president will not swallow a bunch of additional spending and a bunch of extraneous policy issues with which he disagrees as a condition for continuing, you know, the government in that form.
This is -- if we get to that, it will be reminiscent of what you're all thinking about, which was the high-stakes shootout back in 1995. And we'll see whether the Democrats are -- want that fight or whether they want to avoid it.
Q (Off mike) -- the homeland security bill now has the $3 billion that Republicans added --
SEN. MCCONNELL: Our members believe that border security is an emergency, and my members believe that if we declare an emergency for $100 billion to fund the surge in Iraq, securing the border is every bit as much an emergency. And as you know, the Senate has now basically concurred in that position. We think that is an emergency and so designated it.
Q Senator McConnell, does that put you on a collision course with the White House, which has promised to veto anything over the president's number? You're already 2.3 billion (dollars) over the number on the homeland --
SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, I think it's safe to say that, on the issue of border security, Senate Republicans have not been pleased with the administration's progress, and are not particularly reluctant to have a vigorous discussion with the administration about the appropriateness of adequately funding border security. And we just demonstrated that with the Lindsey Graham amendment on the homeland appropriation bill, and we're going to urge the president to understand that this is an emergency that ought to be funded.
Q (Off mike) -- Boehner a question.
REP. BOEHNER: Yeah.
Q Do you plan, sir, on -- do you think you can hold the line on spending, on sustaining a veto, if indeed it does come to that? I mean, are your members not -- some of your members appear to be falling away.
REP. BOEHNER: Well, listen, the coming collision will be faced as being precipitated by the Democratic Congress, who insists on spending well over what the president called for in his budget. The president called for an increase in spending on discretionary domestic programs, but the Democrats decided, well, no, we want $23 billion more. The president's made clear that he will veto such a bill or accumulation of those bills. And yet the Democrats in Congress continue to march down the same path toward a veto. And then what?
I think if Democrats were to get serious about working through these bills, working out spending levels, we could get these bills to the president's desk at the levels he requested. The priorities may change in those bills, but the spending levels, I think, are reasonable. And yet they're continuing to go down the path asking for nothing for trouble.
Q But do you -- do you have the members still on --
REP. BOEHNER: We have the signatures of 150 or so members. We'll have far more votes than that to sustain any veto of the president's.
Q Would that include the homeland security bill that includes the border security language, or will that --
REP. BOEHNER: Until we -- until the bill gets to the president and he makes his decision, we don't really know what it is we're talking about. It's pretty clear that very few spending bills, if any, will get to the president's desk in an individual form. And so let's wait and see what happens in September.
Q Senator McConnell, previously -- (inaudible).
SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, another way of looking at it is there's been an excessive number of cloture petition filed -- in fact, I think a record for recent years. With all due respect to my friend the majority leader, I think he's been a little hasty on the trigger by filing cloture petitions prematurely, which are of course designed to shut out the minority. We did very little of that in the last few Congresses. I don't have the statistics right here with me, but -- (chuckles) -- I wish I did -- but anyway, there are two ways you can get to completion of a bill. You can put the minority in a position of refusing to invoke cloture in order to protect its rights, or you can work a little harder and get there on a cooperative basis.
I'm optimistic, by the way, that on this current bill on the floor that we will finish it in a normal way. I've discouraged the majority leader from filing a cloture petition. He hasn't done that so far, and I think that's good. And I can assure you we'll get through the bill a lot quicker that way than we would by trying to shut out the minority by premature filing of cloture.
Q On taxes, you've spoken generally about these tax increases, but if you look at the specifics, they're talking about a tax hike on tobacco, a tax hike on profits made overseas, a tax hike on billionaire equity investors that are paying 15 percent tax rates right now, and then cut to HMOs involved in Medicare. (Inaudible) -- on each of those specifics, can you make an argument -- (inaudible)?
SEN. MCCONNELL: I think their gameplan, which is what a budget is about, is about raising taxes on virtually everybody. Obviously the implementation of that is sort of one victim at a time.
But the point we're making is that they're after everybody, and there's no way you'll be able to exempt just people who are less likely to vote Democratic.
SEN. KYL: Mr. Minority --
SEN. MCCONNELL: Yeah?
SEN. KYL: I'll add one quick item to that, too. You know, of course, that there's a lot of gimmickry involved. It's always easy to paint one target public enemy and we'll -- (off mike) -- tax them. But the reality is, the money is never enough to pay for the program, and therefore the real tax is going to come on the rest of us at a later point. When you can't take the program away, you're going to have to pay for it somehow, and you've got to go to a broader tax base.