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CBS "Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer" - Transcript

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BOB SCHIEFFER: And good morning again, and welcome to FACE THE NATION.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, is with us this morning from Louisville. Welcome, Senator. I want to start out with this statement by Speaker Boehner because last summer, when Congress got itself all tangled up over extending the debt ceiling and the country was headed toward default, financial securities were-- got their ratings downgraded, you were one of the key players, as it were, who helped structure a compromise that kept all that from happening. Were you surprised when Speaker Boehner said now he's ready to repeat that same fight and-- and go through this whole thing again?

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican Leader/R-Kentucky): Well, let-- let's make sure we got it exactly right what happened. What the speaker and I both said last year was that if the President's going to ask us to raise the debt ceiling, we shouldn't treat it like a motherhood resolution that passes on a voice vote. We ought to try to engage and try to see if we can do something about deficit and debt and so we did. And even no though the agreement ultimately reached was a lot less than I had hoped for and I know a lot less than the Speaker had hoped for, we did agree to reduce two point trillion-- 2.1 trillion dollars in discretionary spending over ten years. Why do we need to use the request of any President to discuss the deficit and debt? Look, we have a debt now bigger than our economy. That alone makes us look a lot like Greece. We've had the-- the-- the lowest labor participation rate in thirty years. We've had thirty-nine straight months of unemployment above eight percent. The country's in a lot of trouble. We have a President who just this weekend at Camp David was advocating a position to the left of the European Central Bank which has been resisting doing an American-type stimulus to solve their problems, and yet the President is arguing that the Europeans should replicate policies that clearly haven't worked here. What the speaker was saying I entirely agree with. If the President is going to ask us to raise the debt ceiling and he-- he will early next year-- we do need to have another serious discussion about trying to do something significant--

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well--

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: --about the deficit and the debt. Yeah.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, Speaker Boehner seemed to suggest that he wanted to do it before the election, and I don't think anybody thinks that that's necessary to-- to raise the debt limit before-- before early next year. But he seemed to suggest that he wanted to do it now. And I take your point of what you just said, but let me just--

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: Yeah.

BOB SCHIEFFER: --read you, here's what the Wall Street Journal said last year-- in fact, I read this quote to you on FACE THE NATION, the morning before you finally worked out the compromise. The Wall Street Journal said then, "The debt-limit hobbits should also realize that at this point, the Washington fracas they are prolonging isn't helping their cause. Republicans are not looking like adults to whom voters can entrust the government." Aren't you just setting yourself up for the same kind of situation again?

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: Let-- let me tell you what isn't adult behavior? You know, how the Democrats raised the debt ceiling in the previous Congress? They airdropped it into Obamacare. Nobody got to vote on it. That's how seriously they take the debt ceiling. Our view is a request of any President to raise the debt ceiling is a serious matter because it underscores the way we have been engaged in excessive spending and borrowing, particularly over the last three and a half years. It is the perfect time, Bob, the perfect time to engage in a discussion about doing something serious about deficit and debt. We could not get this President to do anything serious about entitlement reform, for example, the single biggest threat to future generations, not-- nothing of consequences. My three appointees to the Bowles-Simpson com- Commission voted for it. One of my appointees to the Joint Select Committee later in the year offered our friends on the other side new revenue. That's not something that we lightly offer. We got nothing in return. About the long-term debt problem facing this country, and we all know that it's on the entitlement side. So at some point here, this President needs to become the adult because the speaker and I have been the adults in the room arguing that we ought to do something about the nation's most serious long-term problem.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well-- well, talk to me about the timing here. Are you talking about you'd like to do this, have this argument over whether or not to raise the debt limit before the election or are you willing to let that go until after the election?

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, the timing will be determined by the President. They-- they determine when to request of us that we raise the debt ceiling. We assume that will happen at the end of the year or, early next year.

BOB SCHIEFFER: So-- so, you're not going to do anything until-- until the President brings this up on-- on this particular.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: Look, without presidential leadership, nothing is-- can be accomplished. We didn't have presidential leadership last year. It's pretty clear the President's not going to lead on this any time soon. Unless he engages, you know, we don't control the entire government. We control the House of Representatives only. We'd like to do something about the nation's biggest problem, spending and debt, which is, of course, the reason for this economic melees and this high unemployment. And whenever the President is willing to engage, we're ready to go.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you then, let's talk about something else, whatever the case on all of that. The cuts that you, the Republicans, the Democrats, and the White House agreed on last year will go into effect at the end of this year. It's hundred-- 1.2 trillion dollars across the board cuts to spending. Are those cuts going to stand, or is Congress going to change-- change that situation? What happens?

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: I don't-- yeah, I don't think we ought to cut a penny less than we're pledged to cut. I'm perfectly open to a discussion about how we arrange that-- those reductions. But we promised the American people we were going to get 2.1 trillion dollars over ten years in discretionary spending reductions, and we need to do that. We can have a discussion about how you allocate those. I happen to be among those who think it's much too tough on the Defense Department. Defense of the nation is our single biggest responsibility at the federal level of government in this country. But I don't think we ought to cut a penny less than we promised the American people last year we would.

BOB SCHIEFFER: So, I mean, because Speaker Boehner and-- and House Republicans, as you know, just passed a defense bill that actually raises defense spendings. On the one hand, he's talking about, you know, we've got to cut spending, but on the other hand, they vote to-- to raise defense spending. So you would-- you would go along with that in some fashion? In other words, you don't mind rearranging the cuts, but you're going to make sure that in the end, the cuts that you voted for stay as they are. Is that right?

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: Yeah, that-- that's correct. What the House did was to reconfigure the spending reductions so that it was less impactful on the nation's defense, which is, of course, the most important responsibility of the federal government.

BOB SCHIEFFER: All right, well, Mister Leader, we want to thank you for being with us this morning and for-- for answering questions. That's why we ask you here and you're pretty good about-- about answering them.

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