CNN "State Of The Union With John King" - Transcript

Interview

By:  Lindsey Graham
Date: Dec. 20, 2009
Location: Unknown

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KING: You just heard from the White House. Now let's get the view from one of the Senate's leading Republicans, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Welcome.

GRAHAM: Good morning.

KING: You just heard David Axelrod. He says they're deep in the red zone at the one-yard line in the fight for health care reform. Can the Republicans mount a goal line stand or is the president going to get his bill? GRAHAM: Well, our best player is the American people, so we're in the fourth quarter. This is far from over. The House and Senate bills are in many ways irreconcilable. But you know, I like David. He ran a brilliant campaign, but they're doing a lousy job governing the country, in my view. You know, change you can believe in, after this health care bill debacle, is now becoming an empty slogan.

And it's really been replaced by seedy Chicago politics, when you think about it, backroom deals that amount to bribes.

KING: Bribes -- that's a strong word.

GRAHAM: Well, it is, oh, absolutely, it's a strong word. It was meant to be strong; principled compromised -- I mean, a compromise sold as a principled solution to an emotional problem like abortion that's fallen flat; Enron accounting techniques -- everything that people were upset with about Washington has gotten worse. And this bill personifies the worst of Washington.

You know, I thought we were going to negotiate health care on C- SPAN. Well, somewhere between doing that and a closed room in Washington where no Republican was invited and most Democrats didn't know what was going on, Senator Nelson's -- he's a good friend, but he's lost a lot of...

KING: He's going -- he's going to be here later in the program.

GRAHAM: Well, quite frankly, you know, he took up the challenge of the pro-life community. He became their standard-bearer. And he said, "I will not let this bill leave the Senate." And he negotiated a compromise that no pro-life group believes works. He didn't talk to any pro-life group...

KING: Because you don't believe you should leave it up to the states?

The compromise allows the states to opt out and then has some firewall that, at least, he says -- Senator Nelson says -- satisfies his concern that federal dollars will not go to funding an abortion.

GRAHAM: He's what you need to understand. There's a tale of two Democrats here, one in the House -- Bart Stupak, from a blue state, got the support of every pro-life group in the country and brought the House to its knees and didn't get a thing for it.

Then you've got Senator Nelson, who's had a good pro-life record, championed this issue, said "I will not let the Senate bill become a federally funded abortion bill."

GRAHAM: He gets a compromise; he never runs it by anybody; he gives a press conference saying he solved the problem. And when everyone who cares about it, including Bart Stupak, look at it, they say it's unacceptable.

So that's really disappointing. I think Senator Nelson's lost a lot of trust of the pro-life community for pushing a compromise that no one on our side believes works.

KING: Well, you used the word "bribery," "Enron-style accounting."

GRAHAM: Yes.

KING: Those are pretty -- pretty strong words in condemning the process, here.

David Axelrod was right here. He says this bends the cost curve, that you want to do in health care. He says -- and he's using Congressional Budget Office numbers -- that it will reduce the deficit by somewhere in the ball park -- the Senate version -- of about $130 billion over 10 years.

GRAHAM: What David didn't tell you is that the doctor fix -- the 1997 balanced budget agreement reduced Medicare payments to doctors. Every year since then, we have been forgiving those cuts that are double digits.

There is nothing in the bill that will take care of the doctor fixes, $247 billion over the next 10 years.

You and I know -- you've been around this town a long time -- that the Senate and the House is not going to impose those cuts. So when you put that into the health care mix, this thing doesn't save money; it costs money. And that's phony.

And you know just as well as I do -- you've been around a long time -- no Congress is going to allow Medicare to be cut $470 billion. We will start forgiving those cuts to doctors and hospitals. And that's how you pay for the bill.

So it is Enron-accounting. It is a sham. You collect taxes for 10 years and you pay out benefits for six years, and the Class Act, which no one's talking about, is a completely new government entitlement.

KING: This is the long-term care proposal that is the legacy of the late Senator Edward Kennedy?

GRAHAM: Here's what Senator Conrad said. The Class Act, that allows long-term health care insurance to be subsidized by the government and offered by the government, is a Ponzi scheme of the first order that Bernie Madoff would have been proud of. It is still in the bill. So any Democratic senator who votes for this bill is a co-conspirator to one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in the history of Washington.

KING: Are you confident the Republicans can say no, make all those points you just made, and benefit politically next year, or do the Republicans need to do more?

GRAHAM: We need to offer solutions. But the Medicaid deal, for Senator Nelson -- there's one state in the union where new enrollees for Medicaid will be signed up, and it won't cost anybody in that state money. It's not my state. I've got 30 percent African-American population, a lot of low-income African-Americans on Medicaid. I don't know what the numbers are in Nebraska, but I want my attorney general -- there are a lot of people, Republicans and Democrats, are upset by this.

Is it constitutional? I want the attorney general of South Carolina to look at this.

They allowed Senator Nelson a Nebraska a deal that none of us get, just to get a vote. Now is that change?

KING: Let me shift subjects because you need to go soon -- in the sense of, you have been one of the Republicans taking a lot of heat from your conservative friends for being out there pushing for some action on climate change.

GRAHAM: Yes.

KING: The president went to Copenhagen. He did get a global deal. It does not have mandatory cuts. This does not have verification. It does not have punishment, sanctions if you don't meet the goal.

Is it, as David Axelrod and the White House say, a good first step or is it a hollow deal?

GRAHAM: Well, I think, in many ways, it's going to be seen as ineffective, but it is some transparency that we don't have today.

The issue of energy independence drives my train. I would like to have the cleanest air and the purest water in America of any place on the planet. That's a noble goal.

But, more than anything else, I want to break our addiction to foreign oil. We sent $400 billion overseas to buy oil and gas from people who don't like us very much. When Hugo Chavez got a standing ovation in Copenhagen, it made me sick to my stomach. But the only way he's relevant is because of the oil revenues. We're sending money overseas. We need to stop that. Let's find fossil fuels here. KING: But can you get a bill through Congress if the global agreement as it now stands does not have any mechanism to make China, to make India cut their emissions?

GRAHAM: The bill would have to have provisions to protect American workers from the consequences of any failure in Copenhagen. That's become essential.

The bill I'm looking for is to find gas and oil here in America. Every barrel we find at home we don't have to buy overseas, to create a renaissance in nuclear power and clean coal and control carbon emissions, put a price on carbon so the green economy will come.

To me, it's about jobs, not about polar bears. It's about national security. But at the end of the day, I want to work with this administration. But this health care proposal has made it very hard for Republicans to sit down at the table with these guys because of the way they've run over us.

But at the end of the day, we've got more problems than just health care. I want to help solve hard problems. This health care bill has made a hard problem worse.

KING: Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, we appreciate your time today. And we will have you back. Whenever you want to come in, please do.

And next, a look at the top stories making headlines this morning. Then, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg share their thoughts on what the United States needs to do about global climate change.

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