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CNN "American Morning" - Transcript

Interview

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SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Carol, it's good to be with you.

If there's one thing we should agree on as congressmen and senators, is to stop spending more than we're bringing in. But, unless we have a constitutional requirement to do it, I'm afraid we're going to bankrupt our country in the next year or two.

COSTELLO: And by constitutional requirement, you're talking about an amendment to balance the budget.

I also want to go over this pledge and what's in the pledge that you want lawmakers and also the Republican presidential candidates to sign. Included in the debt pledge is substantial spending cuts, spending caps and, of course, that balanced budget amendment.

And, you know, the thing is when you sign a pledge like that or require a signature, it doesn't leave much room for compromise. And isn't compromise what we really need to come to some conclusion with how to deal with the debt in this country?

DEMINT: Carol, first of all, it's not my pledge. There are dozens of outside groups representing millions of Americans who want Congress to take a stand. And there's plenty of room to negotiate how much we cut, what the caps look like over the next several years.

But the one point we really can't negotiate is this idea of balancing the budget, that we will balance the budget.

This gives us a lot of room to operate, because if we pass it, then the states have to ratify it. That's likely to take two or three years and then it takes effect five years after the states ratify it. So, we're not talking about anything draconian or immediate, other than some cuts this year, and some controls on spending in the out- years that will bring us towards a balanced budget.

COSTELLO: Why do we need this pledge then? I mean, if it doesn't involve anything draconian and there's some wiggle room and maybe a compromise can be reached, why a pledge? Why do you need to sign a pledge?

DEMINT: Well, Carol, it comes from a lot of experience here. There's really an addiction to spending here in Washington. We've tried before with laws like Gramm-Rudman and what they call PAYGO and budget points of order. But every new Congress, they come in and change it and blow through it.

We've got more debt as a nation than we can sustain. The president apparently doesn't even see it as a problem because his budget doubles it. In the negotiations we've had so far with the Democrats, no significant cuts have been achieved. The only --

COSTELLO: See, Senator, it seems that we keep hearing the same things from both sides of the aisles, the same arguments. There's no room for compromise. And a lot of people accuse Congress, senators and the president, of playing games with the debt ceiling.

I mean, the treasury secretary said, like, if you don't raise the debt ceiling, the country will go into fault. The Treasury Secretary Geithner, he said, "Default would cause irrevocable damage." Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, said it would be catastrophic. The head of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said it could add $100 billion to our debt.

So, why play games with this? Because that's what people see this pledge as, just another political game.

DEMINT: Carol, it's no game. It's deadly serious. If we keep spending, we're going to bankrupt our country.

We're not going to default on our loans. If we never raise the debt ceiling again, we would not default on our loans. We would have to cut back on spending in a lot of places.

But that doesn't need to happen if the president and Democrats will work with the millions of Americans to simply say, OK, six or eight years out, we're going to balance our budget. But we need to raise the debt ceiling today. I think you'd find a lot of people at the table discussing that if they would come around.

But we can't just -- this is the fourth time the president has asked us to increase the amount that we can borrow as a country, a fourth time. And so -- if we keep blowing through these debt ceilings which are supposed to restrain our spending, we will bankrupt our country.

We owe it to the American people to tell --

COSTELLO: I'm sure a lot of the American voters are with you and they understand that. But I think that some feel that by signing a pledge, and especially Tea Party conservatives, you know, they won't allow for any wiggle room and doesn't that make it difficult for the House speaker, John Boehner, to come to any sort of compromise with the president. You know, they played the golf game. They're trying.

But, aren't you tying John Boehner's hands tighter by doing this?

DEMINT: Well, Carol, this isn't a partisan idea. Balancing the budget is not a partisan idea. We can agree on a lot of things. But --

COSTELLO: But ways to balance the budget has become partisan.

DEMINT: The ways to balance it, we've tried a lot of things. But the reason 49 states have to balance their budget, the reason we've seen Governor Walker in Wisconsin and Chris Christie in New Jersey, is their constitutions require that they balance it. So, they have to set priorities. They have to cut spending.

We don't have to do that in Washington. We're borrowing 43 cents on every dollar we spend and there's no indication we're going to stop that. So, unless, we have a requirement, a constitutional requirement, we're going to destroy our country. So, the reason to sign the pledge is to show Americans where we stand. What we're willing to do.

If we really won't stand for anything, I'm afraid as the old country song says, we're going to fall for anything.

COSTELLO: I also just want to ask you quickly -- the Republicans running for president, you want them to sign this pledge. Unless they sign this pledge, you won't support them. I understand Ron Paul has signed it, right?

DEMINT: Yes. I think -- I think Tim Pawlenty will sign it as what he indicated to me.

I think it's a good signal that we've got folks who are willing to take a stand and we've gotten e-mails from a lot of people running for Congress and Senate, who want to show their constituents that they're willing to stand up for some kind of fiscal sanity. So, I think you'll see this catch on.

But, again, it's not something that's originated here inside Congress. This is something the American people are doing. It's not just the Tea Parties. I think you'll see a lot of Democrats out there saying, hey, we need to balance our budget.

COSTELLO: All right. Well, we're going to talk to Jon Huntsman later and you're going to tell him to sign the pledge or?

DEMINT: Well, if any presidential candidate is looking for my support or the support of millions of Americans who are part of this pledge, they're not going to get that support if they're not willing to take a stand on this very common sense issue.

COSTELLO: Senator DeMint, thank you for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.

DEMINT: Thanks, Carol.

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