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CNN "Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees" - Transcript

Interview

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BLITZER: Let's bring in Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison. He was just reelected as co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

There are reports out there right now that a deal may be taking shape that involves $400 billion, maybe even more, in what they call entitlement cuts over 10 years, mostly from Medicare. The Progressive Caucus, you're the chairman. You have drawn a line in the sand saying it simply won't support entitlement cuts. Here's the question. How far would you go to oppose this?

REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: Well, you know, I got to know exactly what the composition of this deal is. I really have only heard the reports you just repeated, so it's difficult to know exactly what they're talking about.

I mean, really, so we're making -- you're calling on me to make a decision with very limited information, but I can tell you this. We're not going to stand back and let seniors, people with disabilities, most low-income vulnerable people in this country, bear the brunt of this fiscal entanglement.

What we have here is a number of tax provisions expiring and we have a sequester. That is what is right in front of us. The fact that we are going to address programs that will ultimately reduce the benefits to people who really need them is disturbing to me.

I am concerned, but I want to be fair to the people proposing this deal and take a strong look at it before I really start planning on how to oppose it.

BLITZER: Would you be willing, Congressman, to allow the country to go over the fiscal cliff? Would you vote against the president's plan if he were to come up with a compromise along these lines?

ELLISON: Well, let me tell you this. You know, it's not really a cliff. It is a deadline. We want to meet the deadline. We need to negotiate in good faith to make sure that we make the deadline, but one thing I will not do, I will not sacrifice the interests of seniors and low-income, poor Americans with disabilities just to come up with some deal.

I mean, it needs to be a good deal. It needs to be a fair deal. Let me tell you, going over the deadline is bad. Here's what's worse, having low-income people, poor people with disabilities in the street without enough to eat, with no adequate health care, you know, struggling to get by even worse than they are now.

So that's -- this is a choice. The question is not is it good or is it bad. It's, is it bad compared to what? It's worse -- this alternative going past the deadline is worse than -- may be worse than what will happen to Americans with disabilities and our older Americans if I don't stand firm and fight for them at this time.

BLITZER: We know where the liberals don't want the cuts to come from, Congressman. What is the alternative here? What cuts would you make to get a deal with the Republicans? I know the caucus has suggested some specific defense-related cuts, but there are not enough to get to the magic number, are they?

ELLISON: Well, the magic number is also a myth. What are we actually aiming for? What we need is a sustainable ratio between our nation's GDP and its deficit. That's what we need.

To try to slam the brakes right now and get to balance tomorrow is not desirable. Economists will come on your show and tell you that that would not be good for the economy. So I think we're dealing with a degree of artificiality right there.

BLITZER: Congressman Keith Ellison, thanks for joining us.

ELLISON: Any time. Thank you.

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