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CNN "Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees" - Transcript

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BLITZER: Let's get another point of view right now. Joining us, Dick Durbin, the assistant majority leader and the senator from Illinois. Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

We just heard from Grover Norquist. Several Republicans on Capitol Hill this week have said they would consider defying his pledge, but for some of them, raising revenue just means getting rid of loopholes or capping some deductions, not raising tax rates or letting tax cuts expire. Is that good enough?

SENATOR DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Well, I can tell you the president has set a goal, $1.6 trillion in revenue or taxes over the next 10 years. That's about 40 percent of the $4 trillion deficit goal that we have. That's the same thing that Simpson-Bowles had 40 percent revenue.

So the only way you can reach that, incidentally, is to allow the rates to go up. Just this idea of we're going to take a look at the tax code, change some credits and deductions, you can't come up with enough money.

BLITZER: So any deal will have to include at least some hike in the tax rate.

DURBIN: I don't think there's any other way to approach it. That's why the president has taken this position. If we're going to make sure, for example, that we spare families making $250,000 a year or less from any income tax increase.

Then this idea that we're going to go into the tax code and find $1.6 trillion over ten years becomes almost impossible. We need to protect those middle income families.

BLITZER: You said today that Congress should deal with the fiscal cliff crisis now, but tackle entitlements, the entitlement questions, later. Yesterday, Senator Lamar Alexander said the only thing the president has to do to get an agreement from Republicans now is in his words, propose a reasonable way, a reasonable way to control entitlement spending. So is this a catch 22? Who bends here?

DURBIN: I don't expect us to have entitlement reform before December 31st. This is too technical, too important. Let's do it right. But I do believe and I said it, any long term deficit reduction will require entitlement reform for one simple reason.

Medicare untouched, unchanged, runs out of money in 12 years. We need to take a hard look at it to find ways to preserve this important program, have savings that don't hurt the beneficiaries, and actually do reduce the deficit in the process.

BLITZER: What about those Republican critics, Senator, who say it's not possible to make any real progress without -- on spending, shall we say, without seriously addressing the Medicare, the Medicaid, maybe even the social security entitlement program and to do it now?

DURBIN: Social Security doesn't add one penny to the deficit. It's a separate trust fund. I believe it needs reform over a long period, but it should be done separately from this showdown over the fiscal cliff. Medicare as I mentioned will run out of money if we don't do something.

It runs out in 12 years. Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor across America, is critically important. One out of three people in this country are going to rely on Medicare and Medicaid for their health insurance.

So we need to find ways to preserve these programs, not the Paul Ryan budget approach, which at the end of the day would have jeopardized the program, made it too expensive for many seniors.

We can find this. I do think there's a reasonable way for us to reduce the spending there without compromising the integrity of the program.

BLITZER: Do you favor raising the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67 over the next several years?

DURBIN: Let me tell you, I'm concerned about that. What is a person going to do who retires at age 63 or 64, and they don't have the benefit of Medicaid or Medicare coming away at age 65? They're on their own.

If it means that they have to go out and try to find health insurance when they have a bad health record, it becomes impossible or way too expensive. I want to make sure there are no gaps in coverage for those who have retired, waiting for Medicare to kick in.

BLITZER: How confident are you, Senator, we are going to see a deal before the December 31st deadline?

DURBIN: I know we can do it. I absolutely know it. What we need to have is a commitment from Speaker Boehner that whatever we come up with will be considered on a bipartisan basis in the House.

It will be in the Senate. That's the way we work over here. If we get a bipartisanship commitment from both Speaker Boehner and from the Senate side, I know we can come to an agreement with the president.

BLITZER: Senator Durbin, thanks very much for joining us.

DURBIN: Thank you, Wolf.

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