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WALLACE: Now, that the House had approved a measure with deep cuts to keep the federal government in business until the fall, attention turns to the Senate, and we're joined by two senators who will be key players in the budget fight.
From Muskogee, Oklahoma, Republican Tom Coburn; and from St. Louis, Democrat Claire McCaskill.
Senators, the House passed a budget bill early Saturday morning that would cut current spending by $61 billion, and let's look at some of the key provisions. It would ban all funding to implement healthcare reform, ban all funding for Planned Parenthood. It would cut spending for the National Institutes of Health by $1.6 billion, and job training by $2 billion.
Senator McCaskill does the House bill stand a chance in the Senate or is it dead on arrival?
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL, D-MO.: Well, I wouldn't call it dead. I think the Democrats in the Senate and I think the White House are committed to making cuts. I think cuts have to happen.
The question is what are the priorities here? Are we going to take a weed whacker to education funding in this country while we let millionaires continue to deduct interest on their second home? That doesn't seem to be the right priority.
So I hope everyone's willing to compromise. I think we're all going to -- I hope everyone is going to sit down and work this out. I'm a little worried that the Republicans in the House are so anxious to threaten shutting down the government.
WALLACE: But -- but if you say that you're willing to cut, all right, and -- and there's certainly an argument to be made about what should -- what you're going to cut. They want $61 billion from current spending. How much are you willing to cut from current spending?
MCCASKILL: Well, I think certainly there's on the table a $41 billion cut. I think that --
WALLACE: Wait, wait, Senator, that's a -- that's a phony cut because that is $41 billion from the president's budget, that's -- that which hasn't ever been enacted. It -- it would actually not cut at all from current spending.
They want to cut $61 billion from current spending. How much are you willing to cut?
MCCASKILL: I think -- I can't speak for the entire Senate, Chris. I can tell you I'm willing to cut. I've been working on trying to get the federal government spending reined in along with Senator Sessions from Alabama for over a year. So certainly I know there's a lot of us that are willing to cut, and we're sitting -- willing to sit down and negotiate.
We might want some different cuts than the ones in education that the House has done. I, for one, am not happy about the cuts in border security. I mean, for gosh sakes, we've had everybody talking about secure the borders, secure the borders, secure the borders, and then instead of making some reasonable adjustments in checks we write to oil companies, they're cutting border security.
WALLACE: All right, let me --
MCCASKILL: So I think we need to look at the priorities.
WALLACE: Let me bring in Senator Coburn. Do you support the overall level of $61 billion in cuts from current spending, and what about senator McCaskill saying well, look, we need to argue about what we cut?
SEN. TOM COBURN, R-OKLA.: Well, first of all, I don't think that's a severe cut. The federal government in terms of discretionary spending is 93 percent bigger than it was in 2001. We're essentially cutting on -- in terms of inflation adjusted dollars, five percent of that growth over the last nine and a half years.
What seems big in Washington when you lay it out for the American people is small. There is so much waste in the federal government that it will be easy. There's no question there's going to be controversy about what the House has done. We can easily cut $61 billion. We should be cutting $100 billion, and we should be reforming other major programs.
And I would just say Claire McCaskill has agreed to work on a lot of these issues when some of her colleagues haven't because she recognizes that we're going to -- we're going to make these cuts, Chris, sooner or later.
COBURN: We can say they're extraordinary, but we're either going to make them or we're going to be told to make them by the people that own our bonds.
WALLACE: What we're talking about here is a measure that would extend the continuing resolution which funds the government, which runs out on March 4th. And let's take a look at the calendar because this becomes all-important now. The continuing resolution, as I say, runs out March 4, a week from Friday, but the Senate in your infinite wisdom is on recess all this week until next Monday, February 28, which means you'll have only four days before the CR expires.
Senator McCaskill, is the Senate going to be able to pass a new budget plan and work out a deal with the House in four days, or are you going to need an extension of the continuing resolution?
MCCASKILL: I think we're serious about making cuts. I think we're serious about negotiating. I think we can sit down immediately and begin working on that. We may need to extend slightly the current situation for a few days to get a compromise that works for the American people.
You know, keep in mind, Chris, that the cuts have come in a very small part of the budget. Give Tom Coburn credit. As a member of the fiscal commission, he stepped up, along with Democrats Durbin and Conrad, and said, you know, we've got to look at the entire budget, not just 18 percent of the budget. We've got to look at the whole shebang, and I hope that we do this in a comprehensive way, not just take a weed whacker to the discretionary domestic budget while letting the Pentagon off scot-free.
WALLACE: All right. But I want to keep a focus on this issue. What you just said is we're probably going to need an extension of the CR for a period of time to try to work out a deal.
Speaker Boehner of the House this week said if there's an extension, there have to be real cuts in it. Let's watch what Boehner said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE JOHN BOEHNER, R-OHIO: I am not going to move any kind of short-term CR at current levels. When we say we're going to cut spending, read my lips, we're going to cut spending.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Senator Coburn, will there have to be cuts in any extension of the CR? And, if not, are we headed for a government shutdown?
COBURN: I don't think we are. I think nobody wants that to happen, and I think everybody realizes that we have to make some significant cuts. And you can't play the waiting game saying, well, we don't want to agree to this now. Give us a month, and we'll get it done in the next month. The fact is, you'll get waited out and you'll still spend the $61 billion this year that we don't need to spend.
So, you know, it's good for political rhetoric to talk about a government shutdown. But I don't know anybody that wants that to happen. And I think cooler heads if, in fact, everybody says, hey, we have to do this and we have to accomplish this, that, hopefully, we'll have some leadership --
WALLACE: But, Senator --
COBURN: -- on both sides of the aisle that will do that.
WALLACE: But, Senator, if I may, I mean, one of two things are going to happen. Either the Democrats and the Senate and the White House are going to have to agree to current cuts in spending -- cuts in current spending, maybe not the whole $61 billion, but some cuts to get an extension, or Boehner's going to have to back off what you just heard him say. Which is it?
COBURN: Well, you know, I can't answer that question for you. But I can tell you that 75 percent of the American public wants us to cut the size and scope of the federal government. And that Democrat and Republican. That's libertarian and conservative and liberal.
So if you deny the American people what they know to be true, is that we cannot continue living beyond our means and that we're getting ready to collapse in terms of our financial financing of our debt, then it is ridiculous to say that the children in Washington can't come together and cut some spending.
WALLACE: So let me put this to you, Senator McCaskill, are you willing to agree to some cuts in an extension of the continuing resolution or are Democrats going to say, no, we won't do that and we'll have a government shutdown?
MCCASKILL: Well, I'm going to be optimistic that everyone behaves like adults here and we can sit down and get this worked out. But the person who brought up a government shutdown was John Boehner and the House Republicans. They're the ones that are trying to --
WALLACE: Well, he just says he wants to have cuts. He's not calling for a government shutdown. He says, I want cuts.
MCCASKILL: We -- we all want cuts. He is the one that's saying that he won't even do a week or two days or four days. It's silly. The bottom line is we all want cuts. We can find a compromise. We can make serious and significant cuts in this government with some wasteful programs without going out at the heart of education funding, without cutting border security. We can do that.
Now, if we don't want to make political points and if we're not posturing for the extreme elements of our party, we can all sit down and find those compromises, and that's Boehner ought to be emphasizing, not saying I refuse anything. He should say, let's negotiate and make some real cuts. We all want to do that.
WALLACE: Senator Coburn, what we've been talking about so far is just the budget for the last -- next seven months of this year. And then we got to deal with 2012, which starts in October, and there are reports that you, Senator Coburn, are working with a bipartisan group, senators from both parties, to try to put the debt commission for trillions of dollars in cuts into effect. That you would set targets for cuts in spending, in entitlements, in tax deductions and if you don't reach them, there would be automatic triggers. How's that going?
COBURN: Well, we're working at it. You hear a lot of stuff assumed in the press that isn't necessarily true. But I can tell you that there's some intellectual honesty in that room and recognizing what some of the political realities are.
But I think a large number of people are committed to try to do it. But it has to be everything. Everything has to be on the table from Social Security to the Defense Department.
You know, I'm convinced there's $50 billion a year in waste in the Defense Department. We can go get it. I am convinced there's hundreds of billions of dollars in waste across a ton of government programs. We can go it.
So I think -- I think there's a commitment to try to get something done. Whether we will or not, I don't know. But -- the mandate on us is, is do we want to make these decisions ourselves, Chris, or do we ultimately want to have the people who own our debt tell us what we're going to do. And I'd much rather be in the process of making those decisions ourselves.
WALLACE: Senator McCaskill, and we're beginning to run out of time so I'm going to ask you both to try to keep your answers short.
You've become something of a deficit hawk, but Republicans note that you voted for the stimulus plan. You voted for the Obama health care plan. Are you now willing to cut entitlements, including Social Security, which some of your top Democratic leaders say off the table? Are you willing to cut those and is it, as the GOP claims, because you face a tough reelection fight in 2012?
MCCASKILL: Well, I decided that earmarking was not for this former auditor on the day I got there, Chris. I started working on trying to rein in government contracting the day I got there. And Tom Coburn and I have worked together on that for every day I've been in the United States Senate.
So, yes, I voted for big things when our economy was in a crisis, but I've always had an eye on the pivot to make sure that we get to the serious work of cutting our spending and looking long term at our entitlements.
We've got to protect Social Security long term. We would never cut benefits for current recipients. I can only speak for myself. I agree with Tom Coburn. I think we've got to look at everything and be responsible and intellectually honest. The American people are ready for us to be honest with them about the fact that our debt is too high and we've got to get a handle on it.
WALLACE: Folks, we got a minute left, and I want you both to be honest with me about this. Because it's amazing, the president unveiled his three plus trillion dollar budget and we're just getting to it now. And one of the reasons why it's been so widely dismissed on Capitol Hill is because while he says it would cut spending -- the debt by a trillion dollars over the next decade, the fact is it would add $7 trillion dollars to the debt.
So let me ask you both, and let me start with you, Senator Coburn, was the president's budget a failure of presidential leadership?
COBURN: I think so. Look, the savings in that budget won't even pay the interest costs over the deficits of the first three years of the budget. That budget puts us in a tremendously greater hole than where we are today. It's a failure. It's dead. Everybody knows it dead. The question is can Congress come up with one or are we going to run the next year under a continuing resolution?
WALLACE: Senator McCaskill, you say you want to be honest, let me ask you. I know it's going to step on some Democratic toes. Is the president's budget a failure in leadership?
MCCASKILL: He laid down a starter mark. We've got a lot more work to do.
WALLACE: But do you think that it addresses the problem?
MCCASKILL: I think it was a starter mark. Frankly, no matter what budget the president laid down, it was going to be attacked. I think he laid down some significant cuts. I think we've got a lot more work to do and I'm willing to get at the table and get it done.
WALLACE: Senator McCaskill, Senator Coburn, we're going to have to leave it there. We want to thank you both so much for talking with us and both of you please come back.
COBURN: All right, Chris, see you.
MCCASKILL: Thank you.
COBURN: Bye, Claire.
WALLACE: Up next, protests across the Middle East and authorities using lethal force to contain the uprising. We'll have an update from the region and ask our Sunday group to explain what's going on.
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