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ABC News "This Week" - Transcript

Interview

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DOWD: We're joined now by the Senate Minority Leader, the point person for the Republicans, Republican Mitch McConnell. Thanks for coming.

MCCONNELL: Good morning. Glad to be with you.

DOWD: Well, in the last few months, Republican have been very successful at winning some elections. Democrats have also taken on quite a bit of water on health care and politically. But we found an interesting graphic that I'd like to talk to you about. This graphic shows who does the American public trusts on health care. 49 percent say they trust President Obama; 37 percent say they trust the Democrats in Congress; and only 32 percent say they trust Republican leaders in Congress. And if you're in third place on this, even though things are politically in a good place, why is that?

MCCONNELL: Well, you see, Matthew, it's about the bill. It's about the policy. Not about the president, not about Senate and House Democrats and Republicans. It's about the bill. The American people are focused on this like a laser. Everybody is interested in health care. Obviously, when you get older, you're more interested in it, but everybody is interested in it. The American people have been deeply involved in this debate. What did they see? They see a bill that cuts Medicare by half a trillion dollars, that raises taxes about half a trillion dollars, and that almost certainly will raise the cost of insurance for those on the individual market.

They also see the way it was passed, the cornhusker kickback, the Louisiana purchase, the gator-aid behind closed doors. They look at this whole package, both in terms of the policy and the process, and they say they don't want it.

And so what you see now, if I may just finish on this point, is an argument not between Democrats and Republicans but it's between Democrats and their own constituents.

DOWD: Well, I think Republicans have obviously put up a blockade to try to keep this from happening at all, even while the Democrats have had a majority in the Senate.

But I, sort of, want to focus on, what Republicans do to change that message in where they get some benefit out of this?

Right now, it's as if the country says "a pox on everyone," including the Republicans, who, as the graph shows, are in third place.

What can Republicans do to affect that and get -- have a better place in the American public?

MCCONNELL: Well, look, you're talking about the election in November. I'm talking about the policy in the country now. What the American people would like us to do is not make this gargantuan mistake, in spite of Secretary Sebelius's best efforts. What we're talking about here is a $2.5 trillion spending program, brand-new entitlement.

We are drowning already in a sea of debt. The Congressional Budget Office numbers just came out Friday. We're looking at $10 trillion in new debt in the next 10 years, Matthew.

People are very, very skeptical about starting a whole new government program when we're drowning in a sea of debt.

DOWD: Well, you know, if you take a look at what the American public's perception on this is, it's hard for them to trust either side on debt and on the deficit and on spending.

They saw the deficit rise dramatically during President Bush's presidency and while you were majority leader. And they see it rise even more today. And in their view, neither party can be trusted on this.

So what makes it -- what makes you seem to feel that they'll trust the Republicans when they talk about the debt as opposed to the Democrats?

MCCONNELL: Well, again, you're talking about what may happen in November. I'm talking about what's happening now. We are -- we are spending -- we are on a gargantuan spending spree. The American people would like for us to stop, quit doing it, quit spending this massive amount of money and racking up these tremendous debts.

That $10 trillion figure added to the debt over the next 10 years -- half of it, over $5 trillion, will simply be interest on the debt.

So what I think the American people are saying to us -- stop this job-killing health care bill; we know it will drive taxes up and that will not be good to help us get out of the recession; step back and terminate the spending spree.

DOWD: Well, do you think the Democrats, at this point, will push through that bill by any means necessary?

So is your expectation that you're going to try as you might to kill the bill but they will end up passing the bill by any means they can?

MCCONNELL: Well, it seems that they're certainly trying to do that. I mean, as everyone understands, if the House passes the Senate bill, it goes straight to the president for signatures. So all of this discussion about the second bill, the reconciliation bill, is really, kind of, irrelevant. If the House passes the Senate bill, it goes to the president for a signature.

That means that every single member of the House who voted for this will have voted for the kickback, the purchase, the gator-aid, all of that, and the Medicare cut.

DOWD: That's an interesting question. So how does -- if the House Democrats pass the Senate bill, it basically, at that point, can go to the president.

How -- what is the procedure, then, that would prevent that from happening?

The House Democrats, I guess, have to trust the Senate Democrats that they'll take it up again?

MCCONNELL: Yes, the House has to trust the Senate that we'll go back in and fix the most egregious political problems.

But let me tell you what won't be fixed. What won't be fixed is the half a trillion in Medicare cuts, a half a trillion in new taxes.

And also, you wanted to talk about the politics of this a minute ago. Let's turn to that. The argument, incredulously, that the Democratic leadership and the president seem to be making to the wavering Democrats is, the best way to deal with this politically is to pass it and get it behind us.

Well, look, the only way to guarantee that it's ahead of you is to pass it. That means that every election this fall will be a referendum on this bill.

DOWD: Well, yes, and I wanted to get to that. You're on record as saying that, if they pass this health care bill, that you and the rest of the Republicans are going to campaign on repealing it.

And will you message be, at that point, that we're going to take away health insurance from 30 million Americans that now have it, based on this bill?

MCCONNELL: Well, as you pointed out to Secretary Sebelius, the benefits don't kick in for four years. All the American people are going to be confronted with in the next four years are these massive cuts to Medicare, not to make Medicare more sustainable -- by the way, we all know Medicare, right now, is going broke in seven years, and they want to turn it into a piggy bank to start a whole new program for a different set of people.

The tax increases kick in immediately. So there's nothing -- just looking at the politics of it, there's nothing but pain here for the next four years. Why in the world would they conclude that that would be popular?

DOWD: Are you worried that what's going on out there in America is not necessarily anti-Democratic, even though they've suffered at the elections?

Your colleague, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, lost pretty dramatically in a primary, and lost primarily based upon her Washington experience.

So as senators and congressmen go out and campaign who are incumbent Republicans, do you think they're in danger as well?

MCCONNELL: Well, I think, you know, everybody knows who's running Washington. There's a Democrat in the White House, a Democrat House, and a Democrat Senate, by very large majorities.

I think the American people are clear about who's running up the debt, who's been on this spending spree for the last 12 months.

DOWD: Well, one of the things, I think, that's complicated it, that's come up in -- recently -- is what's happened with Senator Bunning, and his desire to, sort of, stop the unemployment benefits bill by standing alone in -- in the Senate and getting that done. He also (inaudible) abdicated on that.

What I'm trying to understand is, why, if that principle is a good principle, that we shouldn't add to the deficit, why was he basically told to stand down, by the leadership, and not do that, even though that is supposedly a Republican principle?

MCCONNELL: You obviously don't know Jim Bunning very well. Nobody tells Jim Bunning to stand down.

(LAUGHTER)

He had a good point. I ended up voting with him. His point was -- it wasn't against unemployment insurance. He thought we ought to pay for it, make it deficit-neutral.

And, you know, all of us are deeply concerned about this. There was a fascinating piece in the USA Today, I think it was Friday, about the economy right now, and the only entity that's doing any good is the government. This new administration's added 120,000 government jobs, while the private sector's shedding jobs.

The average government employee now makes $70,000 a year, the average private-sector employee only $40,000 a year. These are boom days if you're a government employee. And the way we're financing that, Matthew, is to borrow money from our grandchildren so we can have more government employees now.

These are the kinds of things that Senator Bunning thought ought to be addressed by making it deficit-neutral.

DOWD: I'd like to turn to one final thing that's been in the news recently, which is this PowerPoint presentation that the RNC had put together about raising money.

It's very controversial. I'd like to show it to you, if you could take a look at this. They basically, as you can see -- it's how they're going to -- they're going to appeal to fear, extreme negative feelings, "reactionary," and, basically, in a very cynical way, most of the public would think, and in a very crass way, how they're going to appeal to them.

Is that something -- the kind of messaging that you think is going to be helpful in the course of this next year?

MCCONNELL: Well, its -- that sort of thing is uncertainly not helpful. I can't imagine why anybody would have thought that was helpful.

I mean, typically, the way parties raise money is because people believe in the causes that they advocate. I think the way we raise money from donors across America is to stand for things that are important for the country.

DOWD: You think somebody should be held accountable for that?

MCCONNELL: Well, look, I don't run the RNC. That's up to them. But I don't like it, and I don't know anybody who does.

DOWD: Well, I think that's all we have for today. I appreciate you being here, and thanks for coming.

MCCONNELL: Thank you.


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