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STEPHANOPOULOS: Tuesday night, the president travels to West Point to announce his new strategy and more troops for Afghanistan. Now, the cadets are likely to be a receptive audience, but will the country rally behind President Obama? Will the new strategy work? And will Congress come up with the cash to pay for it? That's topic A for our roundtable today, and we're going to get to them in just a minute, but we begin with two key senators, Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Gentlemen, welcome, both.
SANDERS: Good to be with you.
GRAHAM: Good morning.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And Senator Sanders, let me begin with you. We've seen the details of this strategy leak out over the last several days. It sounds like President Obama is set to announce about 30,000 new U.S. troops for Afghanistan, supplemented by about 5,000 or 6,000 NATO forces, if they can get them. That appears to give General McChrystal most of what he asked for. Can you support it?
SANDERS: I have real concerns with that, George. You know, if I were to put Afghanistan into the context of what's happening in America today, and what's happening now is not only a $12 trillion national debt; we're in the midst of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The middle class is collapsing. The gap between the rich and the poor is growing wider.
Piece in the paper today, one out of four kids in this country are on food stamps. One out of eight Americans. And when we go Christmas shopping, we're going to be buying our products from China, who are lending us money to fight the war in Afghanistan. So I've got a real problem about expanding this war where the rest of the world is sitting around and saying, isn't it a nice thing that the taxpayers of the United States and the U.S. military are doing the work that the rest of the world should be doing?
So what I want to see is some real international cooperation, not just from Europe, but from Russia and from China, because what happens in Afghanistan impacts what happens in Pakistan. That is enormously important. The world should be involved. We should not be...
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you know the Russians are not going to be going back...
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... to Afghanistan. So does that mean you're not going to support this?
SANDERS: I have a real problem supporting 30,000 or 40,000 more troops and $100 billion more a year for that war on top of what we're spending in Iraq.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Graham?
GRAHAM: Well, I'd like to hear the details from the president Tuesday, but I would support an increase in troops, for the reasons that Bernie just kind of indicated about Pakistan. The whole world is watching what we're doing there. The Iranians are threatening to withdraw from talks regarding their nuclear programs, and we'll be evaluated by some pretty tough characters in the world as to how we handle Afghanistan.
This is not just any place on the planet. This is the place where the Taliban took control after the Russians left, aligned themselves with Al Qaida, and attacked this nation and killed 3,000 Americans, and I hope the president will tell the world, our troops and anybody listening Tuesday, that will never happen again. With this new surge of forces, Taliban will never take back over Afghanistan. We're going to put measurements and benchmarks on the Afghan government, but we're going to have troops in Afghanistan to win the conflict. I hope he says that, without any uncertain terms.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator, how about this question of cost, as Senator Sanders raised? It looks like the cost is going to be about $1 million per year for each additional service member, and a lot of Democrats, like the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, David Obey, talked to our Jon Karl this week, said we ought to pay for it. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBEY: If we have to pay for the health care bill, we should pay for the war as well.
JON KARL, ABC NEWS: How?
OBEY: By having a new war surtax. The problem in this country with this issue is that the only people who have been asked to sacrifice are military families.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Does he have a point there, Senator Graham? If we're going to fight a war, shouldn't the American people pay for it?
GRAHAM: Well, I'd like to see an endeavor to see if we can cut current spending and find some dollars that we're spending today to pay for the war, and prioritize American spending. Where does our national security rate in terms of spending? Are there things that we can do in the stimulus package? Can we trim up the health care bill and other big-ticket items to pay for a war that we can't afford to lose?
So I welcome a debate about how to control government spending and pay for the war. I do want to let Bernie and anyone else listening know that from my point of view, the president is correct in assessing that Afghanistan is a war that must be won because the national security implications of what happens in Afghanistan will follow this country for decades, so I intend to support the president.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to -- I want to ask Senator Sanders to comment on this, but first, let me press you on that. You're against -- let me first get Senator Graham on one point there. So you are against the tax, but you are for cutting spending to pay for this, not increasing the deficit? Senator Graham?
GRAHAM: I think it would be a good exercise for the Congress to look at ways to trim up the spending, which has been out of control since the administration came into power, and prior towards this war, the way it should be. Our national security future depends on getting it right in Afghanistan, and there is no better use of taxpayer dollars than to defend America, in my view.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Sanders?
SANDERS: Well, let's see. We spent perhaps $2 or $3 trillion in the war in Iraq that Bush got us into that we never should have been in, which we didn't pay. We sent that bill to our kids and our grandchildren. And what Senator Graham is now saying is, as I understand it, is hey, we can cut back on education so middle-class families can't afford to send their kids to college. We don't have to rebuild our infrastructure. We don't have to invest in sustainable energy, so we stop importing $350 billion a year of foreign oil. We don't have to do all that stuff. Let's just spend more money in Afghanistan, while Europe and the people of China and the people of Russia watch us do that work. I think that is a very poor set of national priorities.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, Senator Sanders, if I hear you correctly, if you're against -- if you have a big problem with sending more troops, does that also mean that you're against this surtax that Congressman Obey is talking about in order to pay for the troops?
SANDERS: Look, we have a presence in Afghanistan now. No one is talking about bringing the troops home tomorrow. What we need is more international cooperation. We need an Afghan government that resonates with its people, that is not corrupt. But if you're going to have a presence there, you just can't pass the bill on, as we did in Iraq, to our kids and our grandchildren. I think that's wrong. I think that's immoral.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, let me turn to health care now. Senator Graham, there is a new study out by Jonathan Gruber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, based on Congressional Budget Office numbers, which shows that premiums for most Americans are actually going to go down under the Senate health care bill. So then, what you've got lined up now, according to Congressional Budget Office numbers, the deficit goes down over 10 years, costs get under control, and premiums will go down for most Americans. Why can't Republicans support that?
GRAHAM: Well, because I don't believe that's true. To make that happen, we're going to have to reduce Medicare spending by about $400 billion over a 10-year period to get the math right. We haven't reduced Medicare spending by 40 cents, so that's not going to happen. You have to increase taxes to get the revenue neutral. And when you look at the second 10 years, the deficit goes up to $2 trillion, because in the first 10 years, you collect taxes for four years before you pay out any benefits. And when you look at the 10 years to follow, that's when the spending goes up.
This whole idea of have we been spending enough and the Afghan war is the problem to me is ridiculous. We have been spending money on stimulus packages, growing the government in appropriations bills by double digits, now a $2 trillion spending package on health care too, and a half-trillion dollars in the second 10 years. We'll make premiums go up, because taxes go up to pay for it, and we'll never cut Medicare benefits to make it work, nor should we.
So I think the whole thing is a sham. And we've done nothing with the doctor fix. Are we going to let the $200 billion doctor fix go into effect over the next 10 years? The House just passed it without an offset. So when you look at it, it makes an Enron accountant blush the way they're trying to make these numbers work.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What's your answer, Senator Sanders?
SANDERS: I voted for the doctor fix. I don't think that Senator Graham did. Bottom line is...
SANDERS: ... we are the only country in the -- well, we are the only country in the industrialized world that does not guarantee health care to all of its people, and yet we end up spending almost twice as much per person as any other country on earth. We have 45,000 people in this country who are going to die this year because they don't have access to a doctor. Under Bush, the Republicans did virtually nothing about health care, except see 7 million more Americans lose their health insurance.
So of course, we've got to address the health care crisis. Every person in this country is entitled to health care in a comprehensive and cost-effective way.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The question is how, though, Senator Sanders. And last week, I had Senator Ben Nelson. There are still some big differences among Democrats on this bill. Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and he drew a line in the sand. He said he would support a filibuster to block a final vote unless his conditions are met. Here is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NELSON: If the public option is wrong, if the CLASS act is still in it, if there are a whole host of other items that are the same as they are right now, I wouldn't vote to get it off the floor.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, sir, you are a strong supporter of the public option. Will you vote to prevent the bill from getting to a final vote and actually support a filibuster if the public option is not included?
SANDERS: Well, let me just say this, George. The reason I am a strong supporter of it, enhanced public option, is for two basic reasons. Number one, the American people, for all the right reasons, don't trust private insurance companies, because they understand the function of a private insurance company is not to provide health care, it's to make as much money as possible. Second of all, if we are going to control health care costs, we need strong cost containment, and one way -- not the best way, by the way, which would be a Medicare for all single-payer system -- but we're not going to have that -- but one way you control costs if by providing real competition to the private insurance companies by allowing as many people as possible to be in a strong public option. If you don't have that public option, I think you're not going to have the cost containment we need. I would be very reluctant to support legislation that did not have a strong public option.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that's the final action. So will you prevent the bill from getting to a final vote? Will you support a filibuster if it's not included?
SANDERS: We're going to -- well, I've got to see what ends up happening. I've got about 10 separate amendments. Other people have amendments. And I think, George, I'm not just speaking for myself. I'm speaking for other senators, I'm speaking for many members of the House, we're going to fight and demand a public option and a strong one at that.
s: OK, we're just about out of time. Senator Graham, before we go, I want to ask you both about chairman, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. He's got a hearing this week, his confirmation hearing to be reappointed as Fed chair, and Foreign Policy magazine has named him the world's top thinker for 2009. I know that both of you had pretty heated exchanges with the chairman over this past year. Senator Graham, you go first. Is this honor well deserved, and will you vote to confirm him to reappointment as Fed chair? GRAHAM: I think he made some decisive decisions a couple of years ago. At the time, it kept the economy from going into a depression. But like any organization, he needs to have -- we need (ph) to have more transparency and accountability about how the books are being used. I think he's done a very good job, but the Fed needs to be looked at closely in terms of their balance sheet.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Sanders?
SANDERS: No, I absolutely will not vote for Mr. Bernanke. He is part of the problem. He's the smartest guy in the world, why didn't he do anything to prevent us from sinking into this disaster that Wall Street caused and which he was a part of? No, I will not vote for Bernanke to stay on as chairman.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, gentlemen, thank you both very much for your time this morning. Hope you had a good Thanksgiving.
GRAHAM: Thank you.
SANDERS: Thank you.
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