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MADDOW: Joining us tonight for the interview is Congressman Barney Frank.
Congressman Frank, it is great to have you here today. Thanks for being with us.
FRANK: Thank you, Rachel. That was very moving and very generous of you.
MADDOW: Well, I am invested in your legacy because I feel like it`s a big part of the legacy of what liberal Americans think is possible in Congress. When you think about ending 30 years in Congress, what are you -
- what do you want to be appreciated about what you do?
FRANK: Well, there are a couple of things. The -- I had the opportunity, it will be 25 years ago this coming May, to be the first member of Congress to volunteer that I`m gay. And, you know, that was an easy one, because when you have prejudice which is based on ignorance, there`s an easy way to combat it. You just be real. You just be who you are.
And you just let the contrast between who you are and how you live and the vicious myths that are being used against people, and they erode.
I`m proud of the role I played in helping derail the impeachment of Bill Clinton, being led by that exemplar of conventional morality and defender of the family, Newt Gingrich, who was impeaching Bill Clinton. I am proud of the financial reform bill.
Interestingly, today, Standard & Poor`s, the rating agency which often gets things wrong, but this time they got it right. They had been rating the big banks in this country as safer than other banks because of the view
that the government would bail them out, that they were too big to fail.
Today, Standard & Poor`s downgraded 37 of the large banks in America because they finally read our bill and understood and said correctly the government is now not willing to bail out these banks. That`s in the law.
And it took people some time to get it. I`m pleased with that.
And I am pleased that we have finally got on the table your most recent set of quotes, about reducing military spending. You know, Rachel, if our intervention in the world, if we really could bring the Kurds and
the Arabs together, if we could bring people in Afghanistan together, if we could resolve these longstanding ethnic and religious disputes by sending heavily armed, well trained young Americans, I guess I feel we`d have to do it.
But the point is that we waste tens and tens of billions of dollars in these disputes and we make things worse. Here`s a deal -- we have a fine, superb military. They`re great people and are very well-trained. They
can`t keep bad things from happening. A military can make good things happen.
I`m proud I`m frankly one of the ones who helped put that on the table.
MADDOW: Right now, at this moment in American politics -- I wonder if you see any movement toward that position. You`re one of the only people articulating that position on a national stage for a long time, but now
with these automatic cuts in defense maybe triggered by the supercommittee, the anti-spending mantra on the right, are people moving toward that position?
FRANK: They are. Actually, Ron Paul and I were working on that. Although at some point, I got word Ron had to be careful because I was hurting him in Iowa. So -- but, yes, the answer is exactly as you said it.
In fact, we got ourselves -- those of us who think the government should play a constructive role in improving the quality of life. The government is just a word for what happens when we fool our pool our
resources to do things together we can`t do individually. You know, in 45 years, I`ve never seen a tax cut put out a fire or repair a bridge. So, we need these revenues.
But here`s the situation. They, the right wing, which has dominated the Congress since the election in 2010, dominated the House and had a lot of influence in the Senate, they`ve been successful because they can keep things from happening.
Inertia has been on their side. So, people said, well, why were you guys outmaneuvered? Because the people willing to cut the baby in half beat the people who don`t want to cut the baby in half.
But now, by a train of events that was probably, I give the president credit for, probably maybe serendipitous, here`s where we are: if nothing happens in the next year, that the next year of Congress is no more productive than this past year two things were happen. All the Bush tax cuts will expire and military tax spending will be seriously cut.
In other words, inertia has switched sides. It`s now our ally. I don`t want to see all the Bush tax cuts expire. I don`t think people in the middle income ought to have taxes raised right now. I don`t want to
cut as much necessarily as a sequester would to the military.
But they have to deal with us now and I hope the president will stay firm. I think he is taking this position. He will not sign a bill that re-extends all the Bush tax cuts and he won`t sign a bill that alters the sequester to cut Medicare and Social Security instead of the full hit on the military.
That means they`ve got to negotiate with us.
By the way, we can raise taxes on the military -- on the rich. We can see taxes raised on the rich without anybody having to vote for it. All we need to do is vote for a bill that continues the tax cuts for everybody but
the top 2 percent. And we`ll have hundreds of billions of dollars and a fairer tax system.
Similarly, we can put a bill through that these right wingers can vote for on the grounds that they are reducing to the hit to the military and wind up with very serious military reductions.
We have this argument, oh, we just -- we`ve got to keep spending because we`re going to hallow out the military. Rachel, I just want to -- this is one last point.
We are told by Leon Panetta, who`s done a good job elsewhere. By the way, the chief of staff of the Marines today admitted that he was wrong in predicting that the repeal of "don`t ask, don`t tell" would be a problem. He`s acknowledged that it worked very well.
But Panetta has done a good job, I`ve been pointing that. But he`s made this incredible statement that if we cut anymore from the military than has already been cut, we`re somehow going to hollow out the military. And he said we made the mistake of hollowing out the military after all these wars and after the Cold War.
The problem is after the Cold War, Bill Clinton was the president and Leon Panetta was his budget director. So, we have the most extraordinary confession in American history of Leon Panetta who used to take credit of balancing the budget now saying, oh, we hollowed out the military.
We did no such thing. It was a very active military. And as I said, we`re in the good position, as you said, if nothing happens, taxes go up and the military gets cut. We can now negotiate with them and say, if
you`re willing to be reasonable, we`ll modify those things and I think that`s going to be a good thing.
MADDOW: You have always felt free to speak your mind. That`s one of the things people appreciate you. You are even freer than ever now.
When you`re looking ahead at the year of policy, like you were describing and all this things that are going to have to be decided and fought over, of course, the other thing happening in politics is that the
2012 race is going on. You have expressed some delight about the prospects of Newt Gingrich being the Republican nominee.
But I wonder if from your position right now, having announced your retirement, if you have advice for your fellow Democrats in how to get stuff done in this year ahead, particularly given that it`s election season. And given you can really say anything even if you haven`t in the past.
FRANK: Yes, I think it is along the lines that I just spoke about. I -- look, there is cultural lag among some of my political colleagues. There are a number of issues where my colleagues just lag the public.
I mean, one is where you throw in the (INAUDIBLE) -- the legalization of marijuana. Most people don`t think you`re going to lock people up for smoking marijuana. My colleagues in Congress and other places are afraid to say so and they`re wrong.
You have this view that, oh, a Democratic president must always appear to be tough and can`t cut back on the military. And that`s Mike Dukakis, a great man, who would have been a great president, wound up on a tank, his political disadvantage, because they thought, oh, you got to show how tough you can be.
The public is over that. The American public understands there`s no more Stalinist threat to Germany. They understand we do not have to deploy large amounts of American ships to keep open the shipping lanes between us and China and to prevent China from shutting down shipping lanes over which China makes an enormous amount of money.
And so, what the Democrats need to do is say, look, we`re going to spend wisely here. We`re going reduce the deficit by some restrictions on excessive spending domestically, by raising taxes on wealthy people and by
cutting the military.
By the way, the last time the budget was balanced was under Bill Clinton. And that was the three-legged stool that did it. And what we can say is, you know what, we can increase the fairness in this system, at the
same time reduce the deficit -- reduce the deficit by cutting the military so we have more money to spend on the quality of life and then finally take them head-on on financial reform.
This notion that the Republicans are putting forward that the Independent Consumer Bureau is a bad idea, that what we really need is a return to unregulated derivatives -- those issues, consumer financial
reform, consumer protection of financial reform, taking military spending from Western Europe and putting some in the deficit and some in the production of good things at home, and raising taxes on the very wealthy, I think that`s a very winning combination.
There`s one final thing we have. You saw this in the referenda that occurred last election day. Look, I think there are probably a lot of people in Ohio who thought the unions had gone too far. But when Kasich
put through this extreme bill to wipe them out altogether, he lost. There are people in Mississippi who don`t like abortion, but when they put through this extreme amendment about personhood, it lost.
I think what we have to say to people is, yes, we understand there are problems, we regret the fact that we haven`t been able to make more progress. But they`re nuts. And I think that is so patently obvious given
the Republican presidential circus that you win on that.
MADDOW: Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts, ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee, congratulations on your retirement announcement. I hope we`ll still see a lot of you particularly this next year.
FRANK: Even more, Rachel. I thank you for your generosity tonight.
MADDOW: Thank you. That`s really kind. Thanks.
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