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MR. GREGORY: Good morning. President Obama will spend next week talking up his proposals to improve the economy and lower the 9.6 percent jobless rate. The New York Times reporting this morning that in his speech in Cleveland on Wednesday he will ask Congress to increase and permanently extend a corporate tax credit for research and development. With the election season officially under way now this Labor Day weekend, the president must convince voters that Democrats will offer the best prescription for turning the economy around and creating jobs.
With us now from his home state of South Carolina, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.
Senator, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Thank you. Good morning.
MR. GREGORY: I want to start on the economy. The president, reacting to the latest jobs numbers...
SEN. GRAHAM: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: ...in the Rose Garden on Friday offered this assessment of where things stand. Let's show that.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: But the, the key point I'm making right now is that the economy is moving in a positive direction, jobs are being created, they're just not being created as fast as they need to given the big hole that we experienced. And we're going to have to continue to work with Republicans and Democrats to come up with ideas that can further accelerate that job growth.
MR. GREGORY: So, Senator, what more should be done, and would you support what the president appears to be talking about, which is an extension of that R and D tax credit for corporations?
SEN. GRAHAM: Yes, I would. We need to extend all the tax cuts. Now's not the time to raise taxes. The president has openly said that he wants to increase taxes to 39.6, the top rate, let some of the Bush tax cuts expire. Let's look at the healthcare bill. The centerpiece of the Democratic agenda for the first two years has been the healthcare bill. Not one candidate on the campaign trail is talking about it. The stimulus bill that was supposed to keep us at 8 percent or below unemployment has been an absolute disaster. It grew the government instead of creating private sector jobs. Let's go into the stimulus bill, cancel a lot of the big-spending government programs in the stimulus bill, look at health care, get it off the, the public's back, and extend all the tax cuts.
MR. GREGORY: Well, we'll talk about tax cuts in a moment. You talk about the healthcare bill. Should Republicans be out there talking about a repeal of health care in this campaign season?
SEN. GRAHAM: Yes, they should be talking about replacing the healthcare bill. It's going to lead to a government monopoly in health care. It's going to bend the cost curve up, not down. It's going to increase--it's going to make it harder for private sector people to offer health care to the employees. I talked to Ron Wyden about an opt-out provision where states could opt out of this massive healthcare bill and have more flexibility. The key to this is that no Democrat is talking about healthcare bill, no Democrat is talking about the stimulus bill. You know, President Obama ran in the center as a centrist, and he's governed from the left ditch. He turned his agenda over to the liberals in the House, and here we are a few months before the election and it's all caught up with him.
MR. GREGORY: If Republicans are so concerned about the deficit and the overall spending picture in Washington, as Republican leaders say they are, when you talk about extending the Bush tax cuts, yes, it's existing tax policy, but is there a responsibility for Republicans to say, if you want to extend all the cuts, that somehow you have to pay for what the impact will be going forward, beyond the expiration date, on the Treasury?
SEN. GRAHAM: Only if you believe that America taxes too little. I think America taxes too much, and we certainly spend too much. So I would extend the tax cuts to create private sector jobs. If you increase taxes now on--at any level, it's going to make it harder to create jobs. And we've lost 2 1/2 million jobs since the stimulus package passed. We're at 9.6 unemployment. So I don't think we tax too little, I think we spend too much.
MR. GREGORY: Is there room for compromise on tax cuts? Say, if the president were to extend all the tax cuts for a period of a couple of years, would that be able to attract Republican support?
SEN. GRAHAM: It might. There's certainly some room to compromise on the death tax. In January it goes back to 55 percent, at the end of this year it's at 0. So maybe you could find a way to compromise on the death tax to have something below 55 percent, a $5 or $6 million exemption for American families out there that would prevent devastation to small business and family farms. But if the--the idea of increasing taxes now, David, makes no sense to most people. And the agenda the president and his Democratic colleagues has offered the country has increased the deficit, increased the role of the federal government. And he ran as a centrist, and most Americans would say, "Well, I never believed he would do all this." And everything has been so partisan. There was a bipartisan bill on health care, Wyden-Bennett, that was rejected. Senator McCain had a $450 billion stimulus bill. But we didn't go down any of these compromise roses--roads, just big government, more spending. And the Democrats don't have a whole lot to talk about going into November other than more debt and more government.
MR. GREGORY: Well, let's talk about November and let's talk about the political landscape. Do you think there is irrational exuberance among Republicans who think they're going to take over the House and perhaps even the Senate? Or do you think the Democratic control is indeed in jeopardy?
SEN. GRAHAM: I think if we voted tomorrow we would do very well. But the truth of the matter is that most of this is a rejection of a Democratic agenda that did not meet the expectations that President Obama created about a new way of doing business. The healthcare bill not only is a monstrosity in terms of growing the government and cutting out the private sector, the way it was passed was sleazy. Every old Washington trick was used to pass the healthcare bill. But, from a Republican point of view, we need to bring checks and balances, tell the American people if we get back in control, we're going to check this Obama agenda that has no limits and we're going to bring about balance by controlling spending, relooking at the healthcare bill, and trying to be more fiscally responsible. But a lot of this has to do without people saying--with people saying no to the Democrats, not saying yes to the Republicans.
MR. GREGORY: Well, so what happens then in the fall? Do you think Republican control--or rather, Democratic control is in jeopardy?
SEN. GRAHAM: Yes. I think if the election were held tomorrow, it would be. There's a couple of months to go, and at the end of the day, I don't know what their agenda's going to be between now and November. But what they've done in the past no one seems to like. The healthcare bill is not being talked about by any Democrat. The stimulus bill has been an absolute flop. So I don't know what they do between now and November other than run against us.
MR. GREGORY: Right. Isn't part of the issue, though--you talk about the ways of Washington. Do you think anybody's going to look at Washington and absolve Republicans for opposing just about everything the president proposed?
SEN. GRAHAM: I'm glad we--well, there was a better way. There was a bipartisan approach to health care that was rejected. There was a $450 billion stimulus package that cut taxes, helped the unemployed, and did infrastructure projects. They've rejected this approach. They've gone hard to the left, and now they have nothing to show for their efforts but bigger government and more debt. There was a better way; they chose not to go that way. Now they own this agenda that I think has been the most liberal agenda in modern times. And, at the end of the day, the public is not in the left ditch, they're not in the right ditch, they're in the right center of the road. And the only way the president can possibly survive is come back to the middle. He's tone deaf. Putting KSM on trial in New York City made no sense. Interjecting himself into the mosque debate made no sense. He's tone deaf on terrorism issues, and he's certainly tone deaf on the economy.
MR. GREGORY: Let, let me ask you about troubles within the Republican Party. It's got a 46 percent negative rating right now, hardly a sweeping mandate for power. And you said this to The New York Times Magazine...
SEN. GRAHAM: Right.
MR. GREGORY: ...back in July, in terms of the state of the Republican Party, I'll put it up on the screen: "In a previous conversation," the magazine reports, "Graham said, `The problem with the Tea Party,'" a big force in the party right now, "`I think it's just unsustainable because they can never come up with a coherent vision for governing the country. It will die out.' Now he said, in a tone" casual--"in a tone of casual lament, `We don't have a lot of Reagan-type leaders in our party. Remember Ronald Reagan Democrats? I want a Republican that can attract Democrats.' Chortling, he added, `Ronald Reagan would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican today.'" Is this a Republican Party prepared for the majority to--prepared to actually lead and not just oppose?
SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah, I think so. I think we can unite with our tea party friends and say no to the Obama agenda; but we also can say yes to fiscal control. We could have a spending freeze in nondefense areas. We could offer a constitutional amendment to balance the budget that would make both parties have to get their fiscal house in order. There's a lot of things we can do on health care that would expand coverage and limit the government--not have this government monopoly. So I think with the tea party, independent groups, we can come up with a fiscally sound and try to help the president on foreign policy matters where we can.
MR. GREGORY: But you've tried to position yourself as something of a maverick within the party. You talk about Ronald Reagan not being able to get elected at this point. The tea partiers have called you a "Republican in name only." Do you think the Republicans have some, some work to do before they can really achieve majority status?
SEN. GRAHAM: Well I think what we have to do is come up with a uniting--an agenda, sort of a contract with America. What would we do different on spending? What would we--you know, I, I support the line-item veto. I would give President Obama the line-item veto. But let's look at the, the healthcare bill. Let's replace it with something that expands coverage in the private sector. Let's look at the stimulus bill that doubled the Department of Education's budget and redo the stimulus bill to create jobs. There's a lot of things we can do to balance out what Obama's done and going forward show the American people the Republican Party can govern. I want a coalition of tea party people, independents, moderate Democrats trying to find a way to move this country forward before we become Greece.
MR. GREGORY: Senator, I want to conclude by asking you a question about Iraq and Afghanistan. The president, of course, ended Operation Iraqi Freedom with an Oval Office address, addressing the nation on that point on the end of the war. Our own chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, who covered the war throughout and has covered the war in Afghanistan as well, offered some analysis during an appearance with Ann Curry on the "Today" show about the legacy of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I'd like you to listen and react to it.
(Videotape, Tuesday, "Today")
MR. RICHARD ENGEL: If there had been no invasion, Saddam would still be in power. He was probably getting more moderate. He was being welcomed into the--into--by, by a lot of European countries. He was being welcomed into Eastern Europe in particular. He as heading in a, in a direction of, of accommodation. The, the sanctioned regime that was holding him in place was starting to fail. So I think he would--it would be somewhat of a, a basket case, but it would still--it would be--Iran would be a lot more contained.
MS. ANN CURRY: Hm.
MR. ENGEL: So it would be a dictatorship that was trying to break out of its box, but Iran would not be as dangerous as it, as it is today.
MS. CURRY: And had the United States not invaded Iraq, would we be done in Afghanistan?
Mr. ENGEL: Probably. That was a giant distraction of resources, of intelligence assets. That war would probably be over.
MR. GREGORY: Senator, what do you say?
SEN. GRAHAM: Completely rewriting history. Our planes were being shot at in the no-fly zones, Saddam Hussein was violating every U.N. resolution to account for his weapons program, he was openly defying the international community when it came to controlling Iraq. He was not becoming a good citizen, he was becoming a more dangerous dictator. The world is better with him dead. If we can get a government together soon in Iraq and it becomes stable and secure, we'll have a democracy between Iran and Syria. Iran's biggest nightmare is to have a neighbor on their border who practices democracy. So the 4,400 young men and women who've died have done this country a great service by securing Iraq and making...
MR. GREGORY: Well, nobody's disputing whether they've done the country a great service. But even our current...
SEN. GRAHAM: We're safer.
MR. GREGORY: ...defense secretary, who's a Republican says, "Iraq will always be clouded by how it began." Three-quarters of the American people think it was not worth the cost.
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, I can tell you, we will be safer by how it ends. History will judge us, not by what we did wrong at the beginning, but what we got right at the end. If we can get the government stable in--and, and President Obama, it is now his job to finish out Iraq. If it finishes out well and it becomes secure and stable, allied with us on the war on terror--this is the place al-Qaeda was beat by fellow Muslims. I can't underestimate how important that was. Al-Qaeda went into Iraq to topple our efforts to bring about stability and representative government, and they were, they were beaten by Muslims with our help. That is a huge win in the war on terror. So Afghanistan is a--we're getting things better, we got a long ways to go, but I am glad we did what we did in Iraq. America will be safer and history will record this as a big event in the Mideast where a dictatorship was replaced by a democracy in the heart of the Arab world.
MR. GREGORY: All right. But, Senator, before, before you go, on Afghanistan, do you believe that the president withdrawal timeline of next summer, July of 2011, do you now think that that can be met?
SEN. GRAHAM: I think it's wrong for the president to say we're going to withdraw next summer no matter what. I do believe with surge forces some areas of Afghanistan are going to be able to transition safely. But the president's insistence that we're going to withdraw without--no matter what the conditions are...
MR. GREGORY: But that's not, that's not accurate.
SEN. GRAHAM: ...is hurting our efforts in Afghanistan.
MR. GREGORY: He has said it's going to be conditions-based.
SEN. GRAHAM: No, here's what he said, "We're going to withdraw no matter what. How quickly we withdraw will be conditions-based." That's different than saying, "We're going to evaluate next summer and make the best decision." I do see a pathway forward for some limited withdrawal, but the president has announced to the world we're going to begin to leave next summer, the only thing in question is how quick. That is a different way of approaching it. I would rather say, "Our goal is to transition next summer. We'll see what the conditions are." At the end of the day, his statements has hurt. But there is progress in Afghanistan. The surge is beginning to show some benefits in the area of security. The corruption issue looms large in Afghanistan. It's as big an enemy to the Afghan people as the Taliban, and we must be able to fight corruption as effectively as the Taliban. That is a work in progress.
MR. GREGORY: Right. Senator Graham, we will leave it there. Thank you as always for being here.
SEN. GRAHAM: Thank you. And extend the Bush tax cuts.
MR. GREGORY: OK, a final salvo there.
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