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Stakeout With Senator Mitch McConnell; Senator Judd Gregg; And Senator Lamar Alexander Following The Weekly Senate Republican Policy Committee Luncheon

Press Conference

Location: Washington, DC

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SEN. MCCONNELL: Okay, good afternoon, everyone.

We'll be going to the supplemental appropriations next week, and this bill will largely be a debate about Guantanamo. We all know the president's indicated he wants to close Guantanamo next January. What the administration's not done is provide any answers to the question, what are we going to do with these terrorists?

Senator Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, has written to the attorney general not once, but twice, reminding him that it's against U.S. law to bring terrorists onto U.S. soil. Those letters have not been responded to. And so the question remains, what are we going to do with these terrorists?

We know that some of those that have been released in the past have gone back out and gotten involved in the war again. We know that a substantial number of the terrorists who are at Guantanamo now are hardened killers. The questions remain.

Others have wanted to close Guantanamo. The difference between this administration and the other one is they put a deadline on it without asking -- without answering the obvious questions.

You've probably noticed that springing up around the country are local governments saying they have no interest in having them. It was big issue over in Alexandria, across the river, when they had the Moussaoui trial. I think the administration's going to be hard pressed to find any community in America that wants to deal with the terrorist problem.

This afternoon the -- on another subject -- the trustees of the -- Social Security and Medicare will be issuing their report, and I'd like to call on our ranking member on the Budget Committee to talk about that.

Senator Gregg.

SEN. GREGG: Thank you, Mr. Leader.

Well, on the heels of announcing the president's budget, which finally acknowledged the honest numbers that we're headed towards in the way of a deficit -- which is going to be well over $1.8 trillion of deficit this year, which translates directly into debt, which is unsustainable and which is overwhelming our country and which is really unconscionable and just unbelievable it's so large, and it'll make our children's lives so much more difficult -- the trustees' reports won't be any more good news. It's very clear the trustees reports are going to reflect the fact that both the Social Security fund and the Medicare funds are in a serious and dire way.

We've been living off the piggy bank of Social Security now for a long time -- maybe the last 20 years -- where we've basically been using the Social Security surpluses to run the government. Well, pretty soon there aren't going to be any surpluses; it's going to be running a deficit on a cash-flow basis.

We've also been living off the Medicare trust funds to some degree here, and they are running a deficit right now, a cash-flow deficit; in other words, more is being put out than taken in. And this will be the fourth year, I believe -- or maybe the third year -- that the trustees will tell us that we have breached the 45 percent line. And there was a law put in place five years ago now, I guess, that said that if the Medicare trust funds start to use more than 45 percent of the general fund in order to fund the Medicare trust funds, Congress is supposed to take action. The president's supposed to send us up proposals. We're supposed to take action.

Under the Bush administration, they got that notice two years ago. They sent up proposals; Congress ignored them, the Democratic Congress. Last year, the Bush administration sent up the proposals again, very reasonable proposals. Again, the Democratic Congress ignored them.

Now we're hearing that even the Democratic presidency is going to ignore that law and simply say it's a recommendation, it's not a law, and we don't have to take action. Well, that's irresponsible. And we're headed into a time when we need make sure that the Medicare and Social Security funds are solvent, as well as the government. And unfortunately, this administration is doing nothing in any of those accounts to accomplish that.

Thank you.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R-TN) (?): After a hundred days, it's time for a presidential report card on education, which I discussed today on the Senate floor. Like a good educator, I looked for the good grades first. And the president earned an A-plus for recruiting Arne Duncan as Education secretary and another A-plus for his focus on rewarding outstanding teaching.

Unfortunately, he earned an F on adding to the debt. The new budget -- on the same day that it announces we have an $1.8 trillion deficit this year, the president recommends adding $300 billion over the next 10 years to mandatory spending for Pell Grants. So I suggested that as a result of the F, the entire administration ought to be required to stay after school and write on a blackboard, "I will never, ever again add to entitlement spending."

It is no gift to our students to give them a scholarship to live in a country whose debt they can't afford.

SEN. GREGG: They should have to write that 290 billion times on the board.

SEN. ALEXANDER (?): Two-hundred-and-ninety billion times -- (chuckles) -- that's a -- that's a good suggestion. Thank you.

Q Senator McConnell?


Q There have been questions raised about what the Democratic leaders heard about the interrogation techniques and when they heard them. What do you think are the prospects for Congress to investigate this, to find out what they heard and when?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, there's no question, if we want to go back and sort of relitigate legal advice to the past, we'll want to know who all was briefed, who all approved such techniques. I think all of those are fair questions.

My own view is, the president had it right initially when he said we ought to be looking forward and not looking backward. The early stages of the war on terror, as you recall, were almost totally bipartisan. Everybody was on the same team. Everybody participated and -- and significant people who count were briefed. So if this is an inquiry we must have, everybody who was involved in it, both on the administration side and the congressional side, will certainly be subject to inquiry.

Q Senator McConnell, what type of advice will you give President Obama tomorrow about whom he's going to pick as Supreme Court -- as the next Supreme Court justice? And do you think that pick can be confirmed by the August recess?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, we haven't seen the nominee yet, but I think, obviously, everyone in the Senate would agree that the nominee ought to be a highly qualified, experienced kind of lawyer. And most people agree that it's clear that judges are supposed to interpret the law, not just sort of make it up as they go along.

As Chief Justice Roberts said during his confirmation hearing -- I think he had it right -- the judges are supposed to be like the umpires at the game. They make the calls; they don't write the rules. And I hope that's the way in which the president will approach this.

Q In the past, Senator Reid, when he was in your position, he suggested names to President Bush for the court. Are you going to suggest names? Are you going to put some names out there?

SEN. MCCONNELL: I don't intend to suggest names. There may be others who do.

But we certainly want to see the nominee treated fairly, and I think there needs to be -- there's a certain amount of time that needs to occur between nomination and confirmation so that you can review the record thoroughly. And we have two recent examples of having done it in an appropriate way, Justice -- Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito. We have records, including the number of days between nomination and hearing and markup and the rest. I think, provided the nominee is thoroughly vetted, consistent with past nominees, the Senate will then be prepared to act one way or the other, based again on the nomination itself.

Q Senator, can you tell us what you like and don't like about the credit-card bill on the floor right now?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Oh, I'm not an expert on the credit-card bill. You know, Senator Shelby and Senator Dodd have gotten together and have produced a compromise measure. I haven't looked closely at it yet, but we tend to defer to the committee, particularly when they've gotten together. And Shelby and Dodd have a proposal which we'll all be looking at before we get to final passage.

Thank you.

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