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ABC "This Week with Christiane Amanpour" - Transcript

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AMANPOUR: Vintage Barney Frank, one of the most outspoken and distinctive members of Congress. This week, Congressman Frank announced this term, his 16th, will be his last. He's retiring after more than 30 years in the House of Representatives. And he joins me now to discuss the Washington that he will leave behind.

Thank you for joining me, Congressman. Just want to ask you, not just the Washington you're leaving behind, but the Washington that some people hope will get back to work. You have obviously been a partisan for your team. But so many people talk about you also as a skilled negotiator, as somebody who can actually legislate and get deals done. Is that going to be possible over the next, let's say, 12, 11 months until the election?

FRANK: Well, ironically, it will be for the next 12 months, in general the problem is this, and people sometimes forget, you know, if you're in England, and they have an election, whoever gets the majority in the House of Commons on Wednesday is the prime minister on Thursday.

We have a very different Constitution. People seem to forget that. Under the American Constitution, at any one time, we're governed by the people who ran in three elections, 2006, 2008 for the president, 2010. Unusually, the American people made very different decisions, the people who voted, because there was a drop-off in the electorate. The people who got elected in 2008 have very different views from those on the whole from 2010, with a broader difference.

But here's what's happening, those who were elected in 2010, who have generally not wanted the government to play a positive role in our lives, who have felt, whether it's the environment or transportation or health care, collective action is more likely to be damaging than not. I think that's terribly wrong. But there's a great conflict.

They would be the ones who would say, OK, we're not going to let anything happen. We're going say no. We're not going to raise the debt limit. We're not going to do this. In general the people who want to say no, the people who want to do the veto, have a certain leverage, because total inaction, chaos is on their side.

AMANPOUR: So is that what...

FRANK: But unusually, in this coming year...

AMANPOUR: Sorry, I didn't...

FRANK: I was going to say, in this coming year.

AMANPOUR: Is that what you see, gridlock? Do you see gridlock in this coming year? Will some of the business that the people hope...

FRANK: No.

AMANPOUR: ... will happen, will it happen or not?

FRANK: No, that's what I was trying to say is that, unusually this year, inertia has now become a force for action in an odd way. If nothing happens this year, if Congress passes no legislation, two things will happen, all of the Bush tax cuts will expire at the end of the year. Everybody's taxes will go up, lower income, middle income, and the wealthy.

Secondly, the sequestration will go into effect, and there will be broad cuts across the board in which, for the first time in my memory, military spending reductions will be greater than the domestic because of the way it works.

What that means is this, those on the conservative side who control the House, if they continue to say, no deal unless you do everything we want, and we say, fine, we're ready to compromise but we're not just going to give in to you, then taxes go up on everybody and military spending is cut hard.

Therefore, in this unusual circumstance where bad things from the conservative standpoint will happen if nothing happens, there will have to be a deal. So I think there will be a deal. And our position, I believe, the president has articulated it, we are for extending tax cuts for most people, but not for the top 1 or 2 percent where we can make over a 10-year period hundreds of billions.

Secondly, I think Democrats -- I would be ready to live with the military cuts in the sequester, but I think there would be a majority of Democrats saying, you know what, we want some military reductions, we don't need to continue to protect Germany against Stalin, but we'll compromise.

So I think you're going to see this year, because of the consequences of inaction, an unusual situation where there will be action on both an amendment to the sequester and to the taxes.

AMANPOUR: All right, Congressman Frank, and turning to the actual general election right now, you have probably heard our "Roundtable" discussing the ups and downs of the various candidates with Newt Gingrich being most certainly up right now.

Now you did say, and I'm not sure when you said it, but you said that Newt would be the best thing to happen to Democrats since Barry Goldwater. So for the post-Goldwater generation what do you precisely mean there?

FRANK: He would be a very weak candidate. He would lose heavily and lot of Democrats would win races in which there would be a great fall-off. I think Newt Gingrich is the anti-candidate -- the split between the extremely conservative sector of America, which is the Republican presidential primary electorate, and the rest of the country, is very clear.

And I believe that a man with Gingrich's vulnerability -- if he wins the nomination it will be because Mitt Romney is understandably seen as insufficiently conservative, because Mitt insufficiently anything, if you believe in principles. And that will allow Gingrich to overcome a whole lot.

But I have to tell you, Christiane, as I look at the Republican debate, I have been casting "The Wizard of Oz." I mean, obviously Mitt Romney is the tin woodman, without the heart. And Rick Perry is clearly the scarecrow.

Let me just say about Rick Perry, he illustrates the point that what's scary about some people is what -- not what they don't know, but what they know that isn't true. I just heard this ad in which he said, some liberals say faith is a sign of weakness. That is just bizarrely delusional. I don't know any political liberal who thinks faith is a sign of weakness.

AMANPOUR: All right.

FRANK: Newt is the Wizard of Oz.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you...

FRANK: Newt is the one who...

AMANPOUR: Go ahead. FRANK: Newt, there's nothing there. I think he has ginned up this whole big thing. But when people focus on him as opposed to him being the not-Romney, this is a man who served as speaker, was very much an insider, he was twice reprimanded by the House. By the way, I was reprimanded by the House. One of the reasons I wouldn't run for president.

There's the problem with the marriages. There is this incredible hypocrisy of criticizing Chris Dodd and me because we weren't doing anything about Freddie Mac when we were in the minority. We did do when we were in the majority. And he was taking from them when the Republicans were in majority to make sure that nothing happened. I just think he's an obvious weak candidate.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask about the Democratic campaign message and the election message. You also said: "The problem in politics is this, you don't get any credit for disaster averted. Going to the voters and saying, boy things really suck, but if it wasn't for me, they would suck worse, that's not a platform on which anyone has ever gotten elected in the history of the world."

So what is -- how do you think the Obama campaign is going to get re-elected?

FRANK: Well, that is true. And that's our dilemma. We inherited this terrible economy, President Obama did. And clearly the actions taken by President Obama, by Congress when the Democrats controlled it, by the Federal Reserve, a very well-performing institution that has been unfairly demonized, things are better than they would have been.

But you don't win on that. here are two things. First of all, I think this issue of whether or not you continue to -- whether you cut taxes for the wealthiest people and instead of cut back on Social Security, Medicare, environmental protection, that doesn't work.

And, secondly, I think the Republicans are misreading -- they're under cultural lag, attacking Barack Obama for pulling out of Iraq, saying you want to do more in Afghanistan, I think the American people now understand that we are overcommitted internationally, that we don't have in terrorism a threat equivalent to international nuclear- armed communism.

And I think this insistence on more and more military spending at the expense of domestic spending will be a mistake.

AMANPOUR: Congressman Frank, thank you very much, indeed.

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