MSNBC "The Ed Show" - Transcript

Interview

By:  Kent Conrad
Date: Dec. 12, 2012
Location: Unknown

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SCHULTZ: President Obama addressing just one of the many issues voters faced on election day. Now Attorney General Eric Holder is adding his voice to the mix. Speaking at the John F. Kennedy Library, Holder says it`s time to consider national voting standards.

The attorney general pointed to a MacArthur Foundation study that found nearly 90 percent of voters support the creation of national standards. Holder also said election officials should strive to administer elections more efficiently and fairly.

He went on to say "this means taking steps to address long lines at polling places and ensure that every polling place has an adequate number of voting machines. We must acknowledge that giving our fellow citizens access to the voting booth for longer hours and over additional days will enable more of them to cast their ballots without unduly interfering with work or family obligations that so many have."

Well put. In the meantime, the GOP isn`t giving up their fight over voter suppression. Some of the toughest laws in the country have come in swing states with Republican governors. Holder stopped short of supporting specific legislation to create an unverified system, but he did call on leaders to start a dialogue and work toward improving our elections.

So where does this go? As the head of the Justice Department, I believe Holder should be one of those leaders. And as "the New York Times" points out, if Mr. Holder is not going to organize and lead that conversation, then who is? Great question.

Let`s get it on.

Tonight in our survey, I asked you is John Boehner ignoring the American people to save his job as speaker? Ninety eight percent of you say yes; two percent of you say no.

He knows the numbers in the House and the Senate and in this country better than anybody else. Next is Senator Kent Conrad. He will join us on the fiscal cliff talks and reflect on his 26 years in Washington. What is wrong with the Senate?

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SEN. KENT CONRAD (D), NORTH DAKOTA: There are problems here. There are problems in this chamber. As proud as I am of this institution, and I will forever be, I have detected over the 26 years I`ve been here a change. We spend now too much of our time seeking partisan advantage. And it happens on both sides. And it`s all understandable. I understand it. I`m not being critical of individuals.
We spend too little time trying to solve problems.

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SCHULTZ: Welcome back to THE ED SHOW. That was North Dakota Senator Kent Conrad on the floor of the Senate earlier today, reflecting on his 26 years in Washington. Conrad will leave the Senate in January. As chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Conrad understands the numbers better than anyone else.

And the senator predicted the mess we would find ourselves in with the Bush tax cuts a decade ago. Take a look.

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CONRAD: The administration told us that we could have a massive tax cut and they would still be able to have maximum pay down of the debt and protect Social Security. Now what we`re seeing is they got the massive tax cut, but now instead of maximum pay down of the debt, they`re asking for the second biggest increase in the debt in our nation`s history.

And in protecting Social Security, instead of protecting it, under the president`s plan, over the next decade, they will be taking almost two trillion dollars out of Social Security to pay for other things, to pay for his tax cuts, to pay for other spending.

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SCHULTZ: Joining me now is Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota. Senator, good to have you with us. You certainly had your crystal ball out over a decade ago on where the economy was headed. You nailed it. There is no doubt.

What about these fiscal cliff negotiations? Are we close to a deal?

CONRAD: I think we probably are. I`m not in the room, so I can`t say with specificity. But I do believe they`re edging closer from what I`ve heard. And hopefully they can announce something next week.

SCHULTZ: Senator, how can a deal be possible if the Republicans are so bent on protecting the wealthiest Americans? It doesn`t seem like any of them in full force want to move in that direction? Or are you hearing differently?

CONRAD: Well, first of all, they`re in a very bad negotiating position, because as you know, the law is very clear. And the law ends all of the Bush tax cuts at the end of this year. Democrats have passed in the Senate, with some Republican help, an extension of all the middle class tax cuts. And so Republicans are really in an awkward position.

They`re holding 98 percent of the American people hostage to save the two percent who are at the top, those earning more than 250,000 dollars. The problem is the law is going to make those continuing tax cuts for the wealthiest among us end at the end of this month. So they`re running out of room for this negotiation.

SCHULTZ: Senator, you`ve seen the president`s proposal, as we all have. Do the numbers add up? As you called it 10 years ago, do these numbers add up today and head us in the right direction?

CONRAD: Yes, they do. And I think the president, in many ways, has been unfairly treated, sometimes in the media, because people really haven`t delved into what he is saying. He`s got an overall package here. As I said on the Senate floor earlier today, we could take the best of the Republican ideas, the best of the president`s ideas. We could have an overall package of four trillion dollars, which is what we need. And this country could be on its way.

And the cuts would be relatively modest. The revenue increase relatively modest. You know, sometimes we forget to put these things in context. The revenue increase the president is calling for is only four percent of the revenue that we forecast over the next 10 years.

SCHULTZ: So you say his numbers are workable?

CONRAD: Absolutely. Workable and doable.

SCHULTZ: All right. Now you`ve been in Washington for 26 years. Is the art of a deal lost?

CONRAD: You know, sometimes I wonder, Ed. My goodness. When we see the bombs across the barricades in this town, you really wonder if people forgot to listen to each other and to negotiate to conclusion, you know. At the end of the day here, we need to -- we need to have an agreement that is principled and puts the country on a sounder course.

SCHULTZ: Well, I asked that art of a deal, is it lost, because Mitch McConnell`s stated deal was to make Barack Obama a one-term president. The GOP has rallied around this notion of obstruction. How do you break that kind of logjam? And can it be done?

CONRAD: You know, I think it can be done. Look, at the end of the day here, this is a negotiation between the speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Boehner, and the president. And I believe that they will have a framework agreement. I believe they`ll have it early next week.

And I believe it will secure the votes in both the Senate and the House. We may miss some on the wings, but I think the center will hold. And I think it can pass.

SCHULTZ: Senator Kent Conrad, it`s been a pleasure working with you all these years. The Senate is going to miss you. You`re one of the well reasoned ones on the Hill and in that chamber. I appreciate your time and thanks for joining us tonight. All the best to you.

CONRAD: Thank you, Ed. Love your show.

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