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MSNBC "Interview With Senator Debbie Stabenow" - Transcript

Interview

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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MS. MITCHELL: Joining us live from Capitol Hill, Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow on Michigan, ground zero on unemployment. The senator serves on the Budget, Finance and Energy Committees. You've had a a busy day today.

Also at your hearing with Tim Geithner. Talk about ground zero; he's about to head off to Europe. We're looking for more help and more spending, more stimulus from our allies as well. What was your message to him today, given these unemployment numbers?

SEN. STABENOW: Well, Andrea, as you know, Michigan really is ground zero, although it's now the entire country when we look at the numbers.

First of all, I applauded the fact that they came in aggressively into office. They've been in seven weeks now, this administration. We've passed a recovery plan that really does focus on jobs, helping those who are unemployed with additional unemployment benefits, helping them with their health care, jobs in construction rebuilding America and the new green economy. And I'm particularly interested in green manufacturing.

So my message to him is that we need to continue the intense focus on job creation through the budget, as well as getting the financial institutions, the banks in line because so much of this right now depends on available capital for small business or large business, the auto industry to be able to move forward.

MS. MITCHELL: Well, a couple of things there.

I know when you were talking to him today at the hearing, you want them to decouple the cap-and-trade legislation, which it's going to be very hard to get through Congress, and move more quickly with the clean energy components of the stimulus. What was his response to you as to whether that's possible, whether they will do that in budget?

SEN. STABENOW: Well, I do want to see us move very aggressively on clean energy proposals and create a clean energy fund for investments. Again, most of the jobs when we look at green energy come from manufacturing. There's 8,000 parts in a wind turbine, and we can make every one of those in Michigan, and we're ready to do it -- solar panels, electric vehicles. My message to him was that we need to do that right away.

I support the right kind of cap-and-trade program, but I don't want to see the investments in jobs in the new green economy waiting for that. I'd rather turn to people and say, look, there are jobs in green energy, and therefore that's a reason to take the next step in cap-and-trade, rather than waiting for a policy that's going to take us a while to put together.

MS. MITCHELL: And you mentioned the auto industry. General Motors said today that it does not need $2 billion from government -- from the government in March. They already borrowed --

SEN. STABENOW: Right.

MS. MITCHELL: -- 13.4 billion (dollars).

How do you interpret that? From your own understanding, what is the state of General Motors? Is this a positive sign, or is this just an interim step?

SEN. STABENOW: Well, Andrea, this certainly is positive in the sense that it means they're working very hard. They are continually restructuring, cutting costs. And that's allowed them to be able to move forward this month without asking for the additional two billion (dollars). So I think that it's positive in that sense.

There's a lot more to do, but I think it's also noteworthy that Toyota has now met with the auto task force asking them to help GM and Chrysler because of the interrelationship with their suppliers. And this is something I've been saying since we debated this last year: the fact that the suppliers for Toyota, Honda, the other foreign transplants, are the same suppliers as the American auto companies. So if there's a problem in one area, it's going to affect everybody in the country. So I appreciated Toyota stepping up and supporting this effort to help our auto industry get through this credit crunch.

MS. MITCHELL: Now, I know that administration has been under fire from some, including in the Democratic majority, but certainly from Mitch McConnell and others, who have been saying that they're taking on too much. And Tim Geithner addressed that today. Let's listen -- when asked about, you know, the whole possibility of taking on health care and everything else in the middle of this economic crisis.

SECRETARY OF TREASURY TIMOTHY GEITHNER: (From videotape.) To say that this budget proposes to substantially increase the tax burden on any menial fraction of the small businesses in the country is just not a fair representation. But there's very few economists who would not agree that addressing the growth in health care costs, improving educational outcomes, improving our infrastructure, and moving us to a cleaner energy economy are not absolutely necessary conditions for improving the long-term growth potential of this economy.

MS. MITCHELL: Well, that's his point of view. What Mitch McConnell says, on the other side, is that a lot of people are wondering why in the midst of this recession -- when millions of people are losing jobs and homes -- the administration's proposing to spend tax dollars like we're in the middle of the dot-com boom. So you've got Tim Geithner and the administration on one side and Mitch McConnell on the other.

You in the Democratic majority obviously supporting the president, but does this president have full support for his policies right now from the Democrats?

SEN. STABENOW: Well, Andrea, this is really a debate with the old versus the new. The folks that got us where we are are giving the same arguments they always gave, and we know what that got us, frankly.

This is about moving forward on the things that the people of America care about. When someone sits down at the kitchen table, they don't differentiate between what it's going to cost them to be able to pay for gas or the heating bill, send the kids to college, what it's going to cost them for their health care. It's all about their economic well-being. And I think we have to look at it the same way in the budget.

It is aggressive, there's no question about it, but it's necessary. You've had years of neglect, lack of courage to step up and address the issues affecting business, large and small, every single family in America, and frankly, the economy and the federal budget.

So yes, we do need to move on all fronts, and our caucus -- our majority supports doing that. We'll have debates on the specifics of how to get there, but we absolutely believe for a strong economy you've got address health care costs, energy independence and a qualified work force for the new jobs that we're creating.

MS. MITCHELL: Now, according to the Detroit Free Press, Senator, you and your colleague Carl Levin requested a total of $154 million in earmarks in the omnibus bill. I just want to give you a chance to say, how does that jive with what the president's been arguing about earmark reform?

SEN. STABENOW: Well, first of all, I'm very pleased that in this budget there is earmark reform. And I think that's been missed over and over again with all of the loud clatter coming from the other side.

One percent of the budget -- we've been capped at 1 percent of the budget rather than 5 percent under the Republican Congress. And from my standpoint, the fact that we put our name by the project means there's incredible transparency. We -- everyone can now see what's being asked for. There have been abuses in the past, but we're now openly and publicly held accountable for that. And I'm pleased to say that Senator Levin and I have focused on those things that will bring jobs to Michigan, that will increase health care for the people of Michigan, to focus on job training.

What one of the significant things I'm proud of is an effort to bring in dollars for alternative energy job training. We have a coalition of 11 different community colleges that have come together. This is critical for the future of Michigan and the country.

And so, as long we're willing to step up and be able to talk about what these dollars are used for -- and it's transparent, and it's limited to only 1 percent or less of the budget -- I think it makes sense.

MS. MITCHELL: All right.

Senator Stabenow, thank you very much for joining us and in defense of earmarks. Thank you.

SEN. STABENOW: You're welcome. Thanks.


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