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CNN "CNN Newsroom" - Transcript

Interview

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SNOWE: Through the self-inflicted travesty of last year's debt- ceiling debacle, that we're facing another manufactured crisis, this year, with the fiscal cliff that never would have existed if the Senate had remained in session, had fewer recesses and maximized every legislative day based on the job that we were elected to do as I have argued virtually throughout this entire Congress.

According to a recent study illustrated by this chart, deferring, last year, the debt ceiling to the 11th hour in August produced the highest level of policy uncertainty of any event that occurred over the last 20 years. That includes 9/11, the financial crisis, the fall of Lehman. It included the Iraq war.

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BALDWIN: Senator Snowe, self-inflicted travesty, manufactured crisis, is it fair that you were saying Congress has blown it?

SNOWE: Basically, that is true and, based on the fact that we failed to address these issues, none of the issues that we are now confronted with in the fiscal cliff, for example, were issues that were a surprise.

They were all anticipated. Even the debt ceiling crisis didn't have to be a crisis. We knew in January 2011 that we had to raise the threshold. In fact, the original deadline was in March.

But it continued to be deferred to the 11th hour in August of that year, creating a crisis and putting the country through emotional travail.

And, so, that's what is such, I think, a travesty and, also, I think, affecting the confidence of the people of this country towards their elected officials and political institutions.

BALDWIN: But, Senator, if I may, and I appreciate your candidness yesterday and let's just be honest here. Who is to blame for this?

SNOWE: Well, you know, obviously there is enough blame to go around, but in the United States Senate and that's what we were addressing yesterday, obviously, the majority -- the Democratic majority controls the Senate, so they control the agenda and how it's established.

It is important to get a legislative agenda at the beginning of the new Congress, work it out with the minority leader, and then sort of lay a plan for how it's going to be addressed, so the debt ceiling was one issue.

We knew the tax rates were going to expire, so we did a temporary extension. And all of these together should have been addressed at the onset of the Congress, in conjunction with the president and, obviously, with the speaker of the House of Representatives.

Bringing them to the table and say, this is the agenda. We know these are the issues that have to be addressed and we want do it in a timely fashion that's thoughtful and deliberate rather than in the 11th hour, bills that crafted behind closed doors, giving very little time to evaluate and to analyze them and, so, thus, we're in this situation in the lame duck session.

BALDWIN: You talk about how it is the Democratic majority in the Senate that sets the agenda, but what about -- you mentioned the fiscal cliff, right? The fiscal cliff is looming. You called it a manufactured crisis. What about the Republicans, though, your party? Do the Republicans need to give in on opposition to raising taxes to help the deficit? Do they need to give in?

SNOWE: You know, the point is here, Brooke, is to have the committees address these issues in a timely fashion, as I mentioned, which would have been, frankly, last year.

You know, assign the committees. We had the tax rates. We should have had tax reform and get everybody on board.

BALDWIN: But that didn't happen, as we well know, so what about now? What about Republicans? Will they give in?

SNOWE: Well, it's a question of what we're -- it is not a question of giving in. It's what is it that we're going to address and how we're going to address it for the future of this country?

What are the ideas and what's the merit of a plan and who is going to be drafting it?

We have to have people who've been elected by their constituents to be participating in the committee process to get this done. That's why I argue with the majority of the leader in the letter.

Have us lay the groundwork on a bipartisan basis and I sent it to Mitch McConnell, as well, that we should lay this out, last April. Let's begin that process so we're prepared for a 36-day lame duck session to deal with all of the big issues.

That hardly seems sensible or reasonable to do the right thing and then we can see where everybody stands in on the questions that you raised. Absolutely.

BALDWIN: Multiple issues -- forgive me, multiple issues left to tackle, not just the fiscal cliff.

But final question to you, Senator, and that is, we have to talk about Mitt Romney. Let me just play some sound. This is what he said late yesterday about Washington and, specifically, President Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I can change Washington. I will change Washington. We'll get the job done from the inside. Republicans and Democrats will come together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Do you have faith that your party's nominee can do that?

SNOWE: Well, I hope so and that's what he has said and that is important.

He had to do that, obviously, in Massachusetts, as governor of Massachusetts, and certainly has to happen here.

Now, I just regret that that hasn't happened to the extent that it should have. That could have, I think, changed the political dynamic and perhaps this dynamic wouldn't have taken hold.

And, now, as to how we go forward and certainly that is something that both, you know, Mitt Romney and the president need to address in this campaign because it is a critical issue and, certainly, I take Mitt Romney at his word.

BALDWIN: You take him at his word, not just hope so, but believe so, as well.

SNOWE: Yes. It is important. Absolutely. And he understands the value of that, and we have to change the dynamic here.

And, also, having the American people participate in that process and that's something I will be addressing once I leave the United States Senate and encouraging people how they can change it in real time, so that this kind of culture doesn't continue to persist.

BALDWIN: Eighteen years.

SNOWE: Yes.

BALDWIN: Eighteen years, three terms, Senator Olympia Snowe, we truly appreciate you coming on. Thank you.

SNOWE: Thank you. Thank you, Brooke.

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