NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript

Interview

By:  Mitch McConnell
Date: Jan. 6, 2013
Location: Unknown

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Leader McConnell, happy new year. Welcome back to Meet The Press.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:
Good morning, David.

DAVID GREGORY:
Let me talk about a preview of coming attractions and the friends ahead, including the debt ceiling that was so bitterly contested back in the summer of 2011. And here's something you said in August of 2011 that I wanted to show our viewers and have you respond to. You said then, "I think some of our members may have thought the default on paying America's bills issue was a hostage you might take a chance at shooting. Most of us don't think that. What we did learn is this: it's a hostage that's worth ransoming." Is that the strategy for the coming fight over the debt ceiling?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:
Well, first, these last minute deals are no way to run the government, I can tell you that. We know what the problem is. You're going to have Al Simpson and Erskine Bowles on. They've talked about this for a couple of years now. We have a spending problem.
We have a debt the size of our economy, which makes us look a lot like Greece. This administration's driven spending as a percentage of our economy from 21% up to almost 25%. We've resolved the tax issue now. It's over. It's behind us. We were able to get permanent tax relief for 99% of American taxpayers and for 500,000 small businesses, so that's behind us.
What's left to be dealt with is the spending. And it's a shame that the president doesn't embrace the effort to reduce spending. None of us like using situations like the sequester or the debt ceiling or the operation of government to try to engage the president to deal with this.

DAVID GREGORY:
But Leader--

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:
And he's a great campaigner--

DAVID GREGORY:
--you said that that was a strategy, that's what you learned. So I want to come back to the question. "It's a hostage that's worth ransoming." The debt ceiling of the United States government. Is that the strategy that you would ransom that here again to force the kind of spending cuts that you think are necessary?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:
It's a shame that we have to use whatever leverage we have in Congress to get the president to deal with the biggest problem confronting our future. And that's our excessive spending.

DAVID GREGORY:
All right. But you're--

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:
We have a spending--

DAVID GREGORY:
--conceding that that may be the strategy this time?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:
Well, what the strategy ought to be is we ought to be doing something about the problem.

DAVID GREGORY:
Well, I understand that--

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:
You know, why we have to drag--

DAVID GREGORY:
--but there are additional problems as well that flow from that. As you know, after the debt ceiling was resolved in the summer of 2011, America's credit rating was downgraded. John Engler, who was a Republican governor of Michigan, said the following. He's the president of the business roundtable as you know.
He said this to Bloomberg News, "It's a terribly blunt, clumsy instrument to try to use. It's not a good weapon for anything except destroying our own credit rating." So I understand your views about spending, and we can continue on that, but just as a matter of how you try to force those spending cuts. You heard the president. He said he will not negotiate over increasing the debt ceiling. You're saying despite whatever the business community thinks, you may have to push it to the brink once again.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:
What we're saying here is the biggest problem confronting the country is our excessive spending. If we're not going to deal with it now, when are we going to deal with it? And we've watched the government explode over the last four years. We've dealt with the revenue issue.
Now the question is will the president lead? Why should we have to be bringing him to the table? Why isn't he leading us in the direction of beginning to solve our long-term debt and deficit problem? It's perplexing to me that the president of the United States, elected to lead the country, is so reluctant to engage on the most important issue confronting--

DAVID GREGORY:
But--

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:
--our future.

DAVID GREGORY:
--Leader, you understand, of course, what the president told me last week and what other Democrats have said. They say, "Look, the Republicans had a chance to say yes to a number of things, in addition to the trillion dollars of spending cuts that were enacted as part of the budget control act of last year.
They could have had significant cuts in entitlement programs had they agreed on the revenue issue before you did it in this temporary measure. Going back to the summer of 2011 it's the president who said, "Hey, to all of you Republican leaders, if you didn't have such a hard time saying yes to me, the president, we could have solved some of these problems." Why is he off base about that?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:
You can re-litigate the past if you want to. Where we are now is we have resolved the revenue issue and the question is what are we going to do about spending. I wish the president would lead us in this discussion rather than putting himself in a position of having to be dragged kicking and screaming to the table to discuss the single biggest issue confronting our future.
Until we adjust the entitlements so that they meet the demographics of our country we can't ever solve this problem. The time to solve it is now. Presidential leadership is desperately needed. Now we know he's good at campaigning, but when does he put the campaign aside and start governing and addressing the single biggest issue confronting America and its future?

DAVID GREGORY:
You've said, Leader, a couple of times so far that the revenue question is over. The president doesn't agree. He thinks that additional revenue needs to be looked at. And maybe it's part of tax reform. Closing loopholes. Raising additional revenue, if not through direct tax increases, through other means. Simpson Bowles, as you know, also think you have to look more at deductions. Is that your final answer? That the revenue question is solved, done, you won't look at it again?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:
Yeah, that's over. I'm in favor of doing tax reform, but I think tax reform ought to be revenue neutral as it was back during the Reagan years. We've resolved this issue. Look, we don't have this problem because we tax too little. We have it because we spend way, way too much.
So we've settled the tax issue. And the question is now can we address the single biggest threat to America's future. And that's our excessive spending. I would like for the president to lead. It is a shame that we have to kind of drag him to the table to get him to discuss the single biggest issue confronting the future of our country.

DAVID GREGORY:
But, again, I think that people would push back at the idea that you would have to lead him. The president proposed significant entitlement cuts. Simpson and Bowles said he did it, though they would have liked him to have gone farther. But Republicans would not agree on revenues. Going back to last summer. You say you don't want to re-litigate it but you can't say he's been dragged kicking and screaming when he has proposed those entitlement cuts. Has he not? Is that not a true statement?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:
No, he has not. He didn't even embrace Simpson Bowles. Ask Simpson Bowles why he didn't embrace Simpson Bowles. He hasn't embraced any specific proposal here in public to deal with significant entitlement changes. He has suggested he might be for chained CPI, which would be an important step in the right direction. I'd like to see and actually put that on the table in any kind of negotiation. He's mentioned it publicly but is unwilling to do it privately.

DAVID GREGORY:
All right. So on entitlements for you--

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:
Until the president leads--

DAVID GREGORY:
For you, though--

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:
I'm sorry?

DAVID GREGORY:
--on Medicare. You're the leader of the Republicans. What do you put on the table right now to solve this problem?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:
I've said repeatedly publicly, and other members have, that until you adjust the eligibility for entitlements, do things like raising the age for Medicare for future beneficiaries. Not for those currently receiving or those about to receive. Have serious means testing for high income people. You know Warren Buffett's always complaining about not paying enough taxes. And what I'm complaining about is we're paying for his Medicare. We ought not to be providing these kinds of benefits for millionaires and billionaires.
We ought to make sure that the eligibility for entitlements meets the demographics of America. You know, when Social Security was passed back in the '30s I think the average American lived to be about 61. This year the average male, 79. The average female, 81.
Now, we need to adjust these programs for the future so that they'll still be there. The trustees of Medicare and Social Security say that Medicare is going to tank in 10 years. The question is are we going to preserve these programs for future beneficiaries? The president should be leading, not being dragged to the table by Republicans who want to solve the biggest problem confronting the future of our nation.

DAVID GREGORY:
If you are not satisfied that you're dealing with the spending issue, the entitlement issue, the way that you think it ought to be dealt with, would you rule out a government shutdown to achieve your goals?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:
What I think we ought to do is to encourage the president to actually be president. Address the single biggest--

DAVID GREGORY:
I understand that's your view, but--.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:
--issue confronting the future--

DAVID GREGORY:
My question is--

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:
--of our country.

DAVID GREGORY:
--would you rule out a government shutdown?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:
I know what your question is. What I'm telling you is I haven't given up on the president stepping up to the plate and tackling the single biggest issue confronting the country.

DAVID GREGORY:
But you are--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
--senators like Senator Toomey and Cornyn are saying that they would consider a government shutdown. As the leader of the Republicans, would you rule it out?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:
As the leader of the Republicans what I'm telling you is we elected the president to be president. It's time for him to step up to the plate and lead us in the direction of reducing our excessive spending.

DAVID GREGORY:
As a senator, as the leader who's also facing reelection next year-- yes, next year now. I'm losing track of my dates. I want to get some of your reactions to some of the criticism from the right to this fiscal cliff deal, which, as you know, doesn't deal with spending. It's a temporary measure and taxes are going up.
Charles Krauthammer said in The Washington Post, "It's a complete surrender on everything." Erick Erickson, the blogger from Red State, wrote this. "Dear members of the press. Yes, you can all refer to this as the Mitch McConnell tax hike. Red State approves."
The Tea Party of Louisville, the president saying this week, "The next test will come with the debt ceiling debate. Let's hope McConnell's compromise isn't giving in while getting nothing in return. However, if his fiscal cliff negotiations are any indication we'll most likely see him wave the white flag again." What's your reaction, Senator?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:
Well, the election'll take care of itself in 2014. The question is what are we going to do now? We know that everybody's taxes were going up a couple of days ago. What we did was prevent tax increases on 99% of the American public. Nobody in the Senate, not the 90% of Senate Republicans who voted for this, voted to raise anybody's taxes.
And the arbiter of whether something is a tax increase or not is Americans for Tax Reform. The head of Americans for Tax Reform said it was not a tax increase. And he had been a senator he would have voted for it. Look, this was not a tax increase.
It was not the kind of complete deal we'd like, because we want to cut spending. But we did stabilize taxes. The tax issue's behind us. And now we move forward to try to see if we can get a reluctant president to do something about reducing our excessive spending.

DAVID GREGORY:
What do you say about all the division, though, within the Republican party? I mean look at the difference between Senate Republicans and House Republicans. The fact that Speaker Boehner doesn't seem to be in a position to negotiate with the White House any further. That seems to be falling all to you. How much damage does it do to your goals for the government that the Republican party seems to be so divided over what you've just done on the fiscal cliff and continues to be divided over the way forward on taxes and spending?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:
Well, there're divisions among Senate Democrats as well. In fact, I don't think there is a bipartisan majority in the Senate for not raising taxes further. In other words, taking the same view that I do, which is that the tax issue has been resolved. It's behind us. So there are divisions on both sides. I mean we can spend a lot of time talking about that, but the question is what are we going to do for the country in the meantime?
The American people chose divided government. We have a Democratic president, a Democratic Senate and a Republican house. They expected us to figure out some way to make progress for the country. And that's my view. I wouldn't have chosen this government. I voted for Mitt Romney. If Mitt Romney had been elected, nobody's taxes would have gone up. But this is the government we have. And can we make some progress for the country over the next two years? I'm hopeful we can.

DAVID GREGORY:
You said notably in the president's first term that your number one political goal was to make him a one term president. He's now a two term president. What's your number one political goal today?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:
Well, as Bob Woodward pointed out, all of you left out the second part of that discussion which was that that was a long time off in the future and in the meantime we needed to do important things for the country. My goal is always to try to accomplish progress. To achieve things for the American people.
The single biggest issue we have right now is this massive, massive debt hanging over the heads of our children and grandchildren. We need to address it. And the American people elected divided government. They expect us to deal with the problems, even though they are hard to deal with when you have different points of view. I would hope the president would step up to the plate here and say, "We need to do something about this spending addiction and I'm going to lead the way."

DAVID GREGORY:
Couple of quick ones, Leader. Chuck Hagel appears to be all set to be nominated as defense secretary for the president's second term. Will he be confirmed, do you believe?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:
Well, I think he'll be subjected to same kinds of oversight hearings that any nominee for such an important position would expect. And his views with regard to Israel, for example, and Iran and all the other positions that he's taken over the years will be I think very much a matter of discussion during the confirmation process.

DAVID GREGORY:
So you're not predicting smooth sailing for Chuck Hagel?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:
I think it will be a lot of tough questions of Senator Hagel but he'll be treated fairly by Republicans in the Senate.

DAVID GREGORY:
As you know, I spent the holidays in Kentucky, in your home state, and I know full well there's a much different view of gun regulations in your state than in other parts of the country. Nevertheless, the president appears to be poised to push ahead on a series of gun regulations but a more comprehensive approach that's being reported this morning in The Washington Post that deals with mental health, that deals with other kinds of background checks. Have your views changed at all after the Newtown massacre? Are you willing to entertain the idea of new gun regulations?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:
Well, I think what we need to do first is see what the Vice President's group comes up with. What their recommendations are. There'll be plenty of time to take a look at their recommendations once they come forward. What's going to dominate Washington for the next three months here is going to be spending and debt.

DAVID GREGORY:
Before I let you go, you talked about your reelection next year. There's talk that Ashley Judd, the actress, might indeed try to challenge you for your Senate seat. I know you've said you're a fan of her movies. Do you actually think she'd be a formidable opponent if it comes to that?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:
Look, the election's going to occur in 2014. In the meantime I've got my hands full trying to deal with all the issues that we've been discussing here this morning. We'll worry about the election in 2014.

DAVID GREGORY:
All right, Leader McConnell. Thank you very much as always.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:
Thank you.

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