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MSNBC "Meet The Press" - Transcript

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GREGORY: Well, senator, Lindsey Graham has said in this past week, quote, "No Republican will vote for higher tax rates." Will you?

SEN. BOB CORKER (R-TN): Well, the negotiations are between the president and Speaker Boehner and they will get into the details of that. I think you know I've laid out a plan that has a trillion dollars in revenues coupled with real entitlement reforms and...

GREGORY: But higher tax rates. Look, you heard Treasury Secretary Geithner. I mean, they are going to force this issue and say to Republicans, it's over. The tax fight is over. Rates have to go up. The president won re-election. He made this argument. The American people are behind him. That's what they are going to argue. And they'll say Grover Norquist, forget him, tax rates have to go up. Are you willing to accept that?

SEN. CORKER: Look, Speaker Boehner and-- and Leader McConnell both have put revenues on the table and then told the debate…

GREGORY: Let's just understand.

SEN. CORKER: Yeah, yeah.

GREGORY: Everybody in Washington says revenues. There's increasing your tax rates and there's finding other ways to raise tax revenue.

SEN. CORKER: That's right.

GREGORY: And the distinction is important…

SEN. CORKER: It is.

GREGORY: …because what-- what Republicans object to is raising your tax rates, your actual marginal tax rates. So that's the distinction that you have to answer, right?

SEN. CORKER: Well, you can get there in two ways. One of the ways is the way I propose, which is closing loopholes, that's a pro-growth way getting more revenues from wealthy Americans and I think, David, before this is all over with, there's lots of mathinations--there's capital gains, there's dividends, there's all kinds of ways of looking at this and I think cooler heads will prevail. I think we will resolve this and that's the very best thing we can do to get our economy going.

GREGORY: But, you heard Secretary Geithner. You've heard the president. You can't get enough money in revenue unless you raise marginal rates.

SEN. MCCASKILL: Well…

GREGORY: The president, you know-- I mean…

SEN. MCCASKILL: And here's the deal. Here's-- here's the reality. Let's assume they won't go for any raising in the rates, then all the Bush tax cuts are going to expire and then we would come back in January, first thing…

GREGORY: Right.

SEN. MCCASKILL: …and pass a tax cut for everybody under 250. What, are the Republicans going to vote no on that? Of course, they're going to-- so they are going to get stuck with a raising of the rates of the top two percent either in a very painful way or in a way that we can all suffer a little bit, address all three legs of the stool--entitlements, cuts, and revenues--in a way that makes sense, and does make the very wealthy go back to a tax rate, by the way, in the "90s when we were reigning jobs. Had a lot of prosperity. That little bit in tax rate difference-- I haven't talked to people in the business community that think that's a nonstarter.

GREGORY: But, you know, back in the "90s, you talk about President Clinton's deal. There was a lot of reality there that was tough. First of all, the president believes that Democrats ended up losing the House because of that deal. There were no Republican votes in the House for that deal and there were significant cuts to defense spending as part of that 1993 deal that everybody only remembers as raising taxes.

SEN. MCCASKILL: I know, but I think this deal is important enough. Everybody ought to feel like it's worth going home over. I mean at a certain point in time, we have to quit playing to the cheap seats in politics and frankly that's really what we're waiting on now. It's a game of chicken to put the painful stuff out there. The president has put 600 billion in cuts out there. He has set the tax increases for the top two percent. Now it's time for us all, maybe together, hold hands and say, let's look at some of the things we've got to do structurally…

GREGORY: Right.

SEN. MCCASKILL: …to get this fiscal...

GREGORY: And I want to come back to that. But Senator Corker, let me-- let me show you this reporting from Politico, which kind of bottom-lined it where we are. This is what they write on Friday. "Both sides privately acknowledge that they are playing familiar roles in a largely choreographed drama whose precise end may not be known, but is likely to include a sizeable tax hike on the order of a trillion dollars, spending cuts that get somewhere close to that number and a pledge to come back next year and try really, really hard to do fundamental tax and entitlement reform. Administration officials say privately they were not really surprised at the GOP's frosty reaction to their initial salvo. The White House notes that it has now put its wish list on the table, rallied Democrats to its side, pushed Republicans into the position of having to counter with painful spending cut proposals." So ball's in the Republicans' court in terms of what pain America has to go through in terms of spending cuts.

SEN. CORKER: Well, I think that's right. I mean, the administration has put something out that polls well, taxing the wealthy. What they haven't done is anything to deal with entitlements, which is painful. And you're not going to have a deal until that happens. Most Americans don't realize that the average family in America today pays into Medicare throughout their lifetime 119 thousand dollars in today's dollars. They take out over their lifetime in today's dollars 357 thousand dollars. And so the president has laid nothing out there to change that dynamic, so-- okay.

GREGORY: Right, on Medicare, which is so interesting…

SEN. CORKER: Yeah.

GREGORY: …because what happened the last time, there were cuts that were actually enacted as part of Medicare, we had a presidential campaign, and here was Mitt Romney's ad, targeting the president.

SEN. CORKER: Yeah, all right.

GREGORY: This is what he did.

(Videotape, Campaign Ad)

MAN: You paid into Medicare for years, every paycheck. Now when you need it, Obama has cut 716 billion dollars from Medicare.

(End videotape)

GREGORY: Now, those were not benefit cuts. Those were…

SEN. CORKER: Right.

GREGORY: …provider payments.

SEN. CORKER: Right.

GREGORY: So if you're the president, why specify what cuts you're going to make in Medicare if that's the treatment that Republicans are going to give you?

SEN. CORKER: Well, until we get to entitlements, we're really not having a serious discussion. And, David, all of us know what the options are. They're not going to get more narrow as time goes on. I mean, they're going to get more narrow as time goes on and more draconian. What you mentioned earlier about a deal where we saw this fiscal cliff by creating another fiscal cliff down the road is totally immature. It-- it lacks political courage. We all know what we need to do and let's get it done over the next three weeks. The-- the options are not going to change.

GREGORY: But would you call on your party not to mount that sort of opposition to the president if he specifies how he's going to restructure Medicare?

SEN. CORKER: Well, I think-- I think that both-- look, I have laid out in great detail very painful cuts to-- to Medicare. I just did it in a 242-page bill that I've shared with the White House, shared with Boehner, shared with McConnell, in order to move us beyond this-- this silly debate that's taking place. The fact is--Claire knows this, I know this--there are serious reforms that have to take place in Medicare for our country to become solvent.

GREGORY: All right. Well…

SEN. MCCASKILL: But we have to be careful.

SEN. CORKER: Oh, yeah, yeah.

SEN. MCCASKILL: And you're right about this, David. What is really irresponsible, that 716 billion dollars, that was low-hanging fruit that was fluff in the Medicare system, savings that we had to recover. And by the way, it's the same savings that was in the Ryan plan. The notion that that was used as a political two-by-four in this past election is wrong. We need a mutual…

GREGORY: But Senator, let me press you then.

SEN. MCCASKILL: …we need a mutual détente.

GREGORY: Well, but wait a minute.

SEN. CORKER: And I-- and I actually agree that the ad was not the kind of ad that I would run.

GREGORY: Okay.

SEN. CORKER: Okay. I do think the 716 billion should have been used to make Medicare more solvent that were the-- but what we did was create another entitlement. That was the problem. But the 716 billion in changes should have taken place.

GREGORY: But let me…
SEN. CORKER: We should've just used it for Medicare instead of…

GREGORY: But let me challenge you as Democrats not being more specific about how they would restructure Medicare. Is it really responsible for the president to present a vision for how to move the economy forward by being specific when it comes to tax hikes, but on Medicare saying, well, we'll-- we'll get to a certain number, but we're not going to really specify how to do it. Is it because there's so much pressure on the left not to touch entitlements? Is that as big a fight as taxes are on the right?

SEN. MCCASKILL: Well, I think it's-- it's certainly a fight. And I think we have to be careful. We have to make sure-- I think we can get to means testing fairly easily, more aggressive means testing, some higher co-pays for those people who can afford it. As I've said before, you know, Donald Trump may need medication, but he certainly doesn't need the government to pay for it. I mean, we've got to get to a point where we are really having people who can afford to pay for their health care, having them to take that responsibility instead of the government.

GREGORY: That's a position the president should adopt in your view?

SEN. MCCASKILL: I-- I-- I do. I think aggressive means testing for people who can afford it makes sense as we look at long-term savings in the Medicare program. But here's the thing. Bob and I both know, he and I are talking, I think we can get a deal through the Senate. The question is I feel almost sorry for John Boehner. There is incredible pressure on him from a base of his party that is unreasonable about this. And he's got to decide, is his speakership more important or is the country more important. And in some ways, he has got to deal with this base of the Republican Party who Grover Norquist represents, and, you know, everybody's elevated Grover-- I mean, I met him for the first time this morning. Nice to meet him. But, you know, who is he? Why is he this guy that is-- has-- has captured so much attention in this? Let's talk about our country and…

(Cross talk)

GREGORY: But-- but, senator, I want to get back with-- but senator, let's also talk about spending. Again, I go back, you-- talking about 1993, President Clinton cutting upwards of 250 billion dollars from defense. Name some specific programs that ought to be cut that would cause pain in terms of the role of our government that Democrats are prepared to support.

SEN. MCCASKILL: Well, I think you're going to- I think you can see more cuts-- frankly a lot of us have voted for more cuts in the farm programs. You know, 23 billion dollars in savings in the Farm Bill that's languishing in the house right now, 23 billion a year in deficit savings and actually cutting money out of that program. There are other programs like that-- we can do away with some of the job training programs. There is duplication there.

GREGORY: And defense?

SEN. MCCASKILL: And defense. I mean, I spent a lot of time in the weeds at the Pentagon. If you don't think that there's not more money to be cut in contracting at the Pentagon, you don't understand what has happened at the Pentagon.

GREGORY: Should these sequester cuts on defense be upheld, senator?

SEN. CORKER: David-- but-- and as much as I love Claire, those are not the painful cuts that have to happen. I mean, we'd really have to look at much deeper reforms to entitlements and I would say that Speaker Boehner's biggest problem is not his base. It's having a willing partner on the other side that's really willing to look at these kinds of reforms. And I think that's going to happen. I think there's a possibility anyway but I don't think it's his base. I think the speaker is frustrated right now because as you've mentioned, the White House keeps spiking the ball on-- on tax increases for the wealthy but has not yet been forthcoming on real entitlement reform. And without the two, there really is no deal.

GREGORY: I want to come back to taxes. Grover Norquist, who will be back in just a minute on our roundtable. Look, he has said pointedly, you wouldn't have been elected senator had you not signed that pledge not to raise any taxes. Are you-- are you prepared to break the pledge now?

SEN. CORKER: I was just elected to the Senate three and a half weeks ago with Claire. Everybody in the state of Tennessee that cared about pledges knew that the only pledge I was going to honor is the oath to office. So, that's just categorically not true.

GREGORY: So, you will-- you will vote to raise taxes if that's what it takes to get a deal?

SEN. CORKER: I am not-- I am not obligated to any pledge other than my oath. I want to solve this problem. And where Republicans are today, I mean, we can look at a five trillion dollar tax increase with nothing on entitlement reforms by just being passive and not being…

GREGORY: But you did sign it in the first place. You understood the importance of getting elected and then no tax pledge?

SEN. CORKER: Well, I understood the importance of getting elected the second time. And everyone was fully aware before any votes were cast exactly where I am.

GREGORY: All right. Before I let you two go, I do want to bring up Susan Rice. If she is nominated as Secretary of State, Senator Corker, you've said that she has proven to be more of a kind of political operative than perhaps the nation's top diplomat. Will you support her in the end if-- if she is the nominee of the president?

SEN. CORKER: I don't think she's going to be nominated. I think-- but I've told people certainly I will give her a fair hearing. I do think that the underlying issue here is people have seen her far more as a political operative and not a principal. And I think that's what the White House is-- is witnessing right now.

SEN. MCCASKILL: I think it's-- I thinks it's terribly unfair what has happened to Susan Rice. I do not understand for the life of me the talking points came from the intelligence community. Yet you don't hear one criticism of David Petraeus. It was his shop that produced the talking points that Susan Rice talked about, and she mentioned al Qaeda in the interviews that-- that Sunday morning. And you go back to Condi Rice. I mean, really are-- are-- is there a double standard here? It appears to most of us that there is, a very unfair one. This is a strong, smart, capable, accomplished woman. And I think that there's too many people over there that are looking for a scalp.

GREGORY: So you should say-- you-- you're saying the president should take on this fight.

SEN. MCCASKILL: I-- I-- I don't know whether should take on the fight or not. I know this that what has happened to Susan Rice is terribly unfair. If you really understand what went on, it is terribly unfair that she should be the scapegoat for this when really the failures ought to be at the lap of the head of the intelligence community that produced those talking points, but none of these guys will say a word about David Petraeus.

GREGORY: All right. We're going to leave it here. More to come on this, obviously. Thank you both for being here, very much.

SEN. CORKER: Thank you.

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