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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript

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I want to bring in our roundtable for some reaction. Joining me here at the table, former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Columnist for The Washington Post our friend E.J. Dionne.
Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Congressman Xavier Becerra. Sorry I butchered your name just a minute ago. I should have known better as a Californian. Vice chair of the National Republican Senatorial committee former head of Hewlett Packard, Carly Fiorina. And joining us for the first time, the newly elected freshman independent senator from Maine, Angus King, succeeding the retiring Olympia Snowe. He's the former governor of the state and has said that he will caucus with the Democrats. And, by the way, he's a big Redskins fan, which is particularly important today as they play Seattle.
Senator, welcome, and all of you welcome back to the program and happy new year. Senator, let me start with you. Based on everything you've heard this morning. Doesn't seem like a great way to run the government or solve big problems, does it?

SEN. ANGUS KING:
Well, I think one of the things that comes out of this is of course the budget is important. The deficit is important. Because I think there's an underlying sort of structural issue that's affecting the economy and the market. And that is people have lost confidence in the ability of our government to do anything.
This whole fiasco with the fiscal cliff going two hours over the deadline, coming back, how it finally worked out. And Simpson and Bowles are right. It's a very small piece of the solution. It's not much of a solution at all. It was, in effect, the easy part. So I think the discussion you had with Senator McConnell is very important because it's the inability of our government to work in a way to solve these problems that itself I think is a big drag on the economy.

DAVID GREGORY:
But as you approach the job newly here, how do you propose to break that sort of impasse?

SEN. ANGUS KING:
Well, I hope I can do-- listen, I'm not arrogant enough or naive enough to think that one guy from Maine is going to change the way the U.S. Senate works. But clearly I think there have got to be some people that come in and say, "Look, the solutions are more important than the parties. The pragmatic solutions to these issues really transcend ideology. Let's try to solve some of these things and make some decisions." And I think that's a big part of what we just saw. By the way, I once asked Erskine Bowles why it was always called Simpson Bowles. He said because they realized if it was Bowles Simpson the initials might have thrown people off.

DAVID GREGORY:
Fair enough. Speaker Gingrich, you thought this fiscal cliff deal was a disaster for the Republicans. I asked Leader McConnell about the division within the Republican party. How severe do you think that is and what's the impact of it?

NEWT GINGRICH:
Yeah, I think there's a real internal argument underway and it's partially over the very nature, which we're setting up once again, of these kind of negotiations. We're now going to spend 60 days or 90 days totally fixated in the media on the next big crisis. And then the crisis will go down to the White House. And then there will be secret meetings. And then at the last minute we'll once again produce 2,400 pages no one will have read.
It is exactly the opposite of healthy self government. And I think that people are fed up. If you're a House member and you thought you've won an election and you came here to do something and you're told, "Actually, your job is to sit around for two or three weeks while all the real work is done by three people in some room you're not allowed in." You inherently build up the hostility. And I think that we're seeing the same dance start over again. I said 11 months ago we will end up at the last minute doing something in secret which no one will have read, because you could just see the dance.

DAVID GREGORY:
Well, and Congressman, you voted against this. You thought this fiscal cliff deal was a bad one. Why?

REP. XAVIER BECERRA:
Well, I think Newt just gave the explanation for my no vote. These political showdowns don't work. This is no way to run government. You can't give anyone any kind of certainty about where to go, whether it's the markets or the average American family. And we have to get to the point of dealing with these tough decisions with big deals.
You can't keep hitting singles or hope to be walked to first base and win the game. You have to go for the big deal. And it's time for us to sit down, lock ourselves all in a room, not just a couple of folks, and come out with a deal. And at the end of the day you had to do what ultimately happened, which is if you can't agree because you've got these extreme sides, then put your best proposal on the table and let the best proposal win.

DAVID GREGORY:
E.J., you have a dissenting view. I mean you think that view is too narrow. This is a better deal than it's gotten credit for.

E.J. DIONNE:
I think I'm the only person here who thinks it is a better deal than it's gotten credit for. The Congressman and I both love baseball. If you keep hitting singles and actually start scoring runs you could win the game. And I think to say that this was the easy part, since when is raising taxes, $620 billion, the easy part?
I agree that there were flaws in this deal. There were things I wish it had done. The real question is what we do now. And in a sense, I'd like to challenge the whole premise of this conversation, because we can spend all our time arguing about how to fix the debt in 2035 and what to do about 2035, or we can stabilize the debt at a rate that's way below Greece, way below most countries with a deal of about $600 billion in revenue, $600 billion in spending.
And then we can start dealing with the problems we face now. Getting more job growth, above all. Broadly shared economic growth. And dealing with problems like gun violence and immigration and education and infrastructure. We've got to stop being accountants. I think if we're going to keep talking like these we might as well have a Constitutional amendment requiring all members of Congress to be accountants, because all we're going to be--

DAVID GREGORY:
But--

E.J. DIONNE:
--doing for four years is talking about budget.

DAVID GREGORY:
Carly Fiorina, there is some cynoture (PH) here. The White House would argue that, "Look, 2010 elections happened. Republicans have big gains. Trillion dollars in cuts in the Budget Control Act of last year. President wins reelection. He gets his tax hikes. Now we've got a debt ceiling negotiation. They're going to push for additional spending cuts." Is this the right balance to get ultimately to where we have to go?

CARLY FIORINA:
Well, unfortunately, I think, this will sound like a crazy thing to say, but everyone in Washington is spending way too much time talking about the politics and not enough time talking about the pragmatic facts. Here the are pragmatic facts.
The economy has been in a slow growth mode for now three years, reconfirmed by the latest job report. The deal that just got done adds $4 trillion to the debt. It will cut 1.5 points from economic growth according to Goldman Sachs economists. We have not solved a single problem that is real. We cannot focus on growth until we deal with some of these problems.
So forget who's winning politically and who's losing. The only way to change the current trajectory is, unfortunately, for someone to lead. And the president, as he is want to remind us frequently, won and he is the president. And therefore the obligation and the opportunity to lead falls mostly on his shoulders. And he has to--

DAVID GREGORY:
But he's got to have--

CARLY FIORINA:
--step forward--

DAVID GREGORY:
--somebody to negotiate with.

CARLY FIORINA:
Absolutely. But he has to be willing to negotiate as well. And he wasn't truly willing to--

DAVID GREGORY:
Well--

CARLY FIORINA:
--negotiate. I've negotiated many deals in my life and here's what they take. A win-win and a willingness to treat your opponents with respect. Not a constant win-lose and a denigration of your opponent at every opportunity. You're not going to get a good deal that way.

REP. XAVIER BECERRA:
David, the president put several proposals on the table and at the end of the day Republicans, once again, Speaker Boehner, walked away from the deal and just washed his hands of this. All of this. And at the end of the day the president did everything he could to fulfill his commitment to not let middle class Americans take a tax hit. But this is not the way to do it.
Let me show you the level of dysfunction in the House of Representatives on the Republican side. The same week we were supposed to vote to provide the victims of Hurricane Super Storm Sandy relief, they're all suffering, millions of folks, a bipartisan bill passed in the Senate with over 60 votes, Republicans and Democrats, to provide the $60 billion in relief debt.
Governor Cuomo and Governor Christie, Democrat and Republican say we need. Republicans in the House would not allow that bill to come to a vote. And today we're watching the victims in those four states, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and I forgot the fourth state, I apologize--

CARLY FIORINA:
And why--

REP. XAVIER BECERRA:
--suffer. Connecticut suffer as a result of this.

CARLY FIORINA:
And why is there no outrage that politicians, as usual, use a real disaster to lard up a bill with a bunch of special interest gimmes that have nothing to do with the victims of Sandy. Why isn't there any outrage about that?

NEWT GINGRICH:
I think it's, this will clearly distinguish the two parties. That bill, 64% of it did not spend out in the next two years. 31% of it had nothing, nothing, zero, to do. The train came through and the boys said, "Let's throw the pork on the train." It came out of the Senate as-- exactly why the country's now sick. This is not emergency spending.

E.J. DIONNE:
Okay, but Governor--

NEWT GINGRICH:
What the House should have done--

E.J. DIONNE:
--Christie and collected the Republican members in the House from those states--

NEWT GINGRICH:
Sure.

E.J. DIONNE:
--four states, who said they needed that bill--

NEWT GINGRICH:
Yeah, they of course they want any bill. They don't care how much extra the rest of the country spends as long as they get what they want. I understand that. That's local politics in a crisis. I think the House should have passed a purely stripped down reform bill that met everything for Sandy and nothing for the pork. Now the country would have understood clearly doing that. And I think the House is not moving at the speed it needs to.
But I also want to say one other thing, David. Republicans ought to quit worrying about President Obama. The president's going to be president. The House ought to worry about being the House. Senate Republicans ought to worry about being Senate Republicans. Let the president deal with reality from their side.
The House has no obligation to pass a C.R., a continued resolution, on the president's terms. It has no obligation to pass a sequester in the president's terms. I think those are both much better fights than the debt ceiling. And the debt ceiling guarantees a crisis. It guarantees that the markets will cave in on the Republicans. And the Republicans in the end will give up.

(OFF-MIC CONVERSATION)

DAVID GREGORY:
We're back with our roundtable and we're talking about the coming fights, E.J., which include the threat from some Republicans of a government shutdown, or at least using the debt ceiling debate as ransom. You heard Leader McConnell not back away from that. Is that the future here? The near term future of the president's second term?

E.J. DIONNE:
I just want to say on Sandy relief I don't understand why the House walked away from something that Congress does, has done in every other disaster. But I almost never get a chance to do this, so I want to say that I hope Republicans listen to Newt Gingrich, because Newt Gingrich is absolutely right when he says that using the debt ceiling as part of this fight would be an absolute catastrophe for the country.
People talk about hostage taking. Who's the hostage here? The hostage here is the American economy. The hostage here are the American people. We're saying, "If you don't give us what we want, we will risk wrecking the economy." That's bad substantively and it's dumb politics--

SEN. ANGUS KING:
And--

E.J. DIONNE:
And I know that Mr. McConnell did not answer your question, which made me wonder where is he on this.

DAVID GREGORY:
Senator?

SEN. ANGUS KING:
David, it's important to talk about what the debt ceiling really is. The debt ceiling has nothing to do with the future. It has to do with the past. The debt ceiling is allowing us to borrow money to pay money that we've already borrowed. It's as if we spend money on our credit card, at the end of the month say, "Well, I'm not going to pay it." And that wrecks your credit.
And that's really we're talking about. It's not about future opportunity to borrow. It's spending that's already been incurred. And if you look back at 2011 you can see the job numbers dip in the summer of 2011 when we went through that hostage taking.

DAVID GREGORY:
And just as a matter of politics, Carly, I mean the reality is you've got the business community that the White House will try to line up in a way that they haven't before to say, "Uh-uh (NEGATIVE). Don't mess with this." John Engler, who I quoted earlier in the program, saying, "Don't play around with the debt ceiling. You saw what happened last time." That could give the president a little bit more strength, could it not here?

CARLY FIORINA:
I agree. And I also agree that it is not wise to fool around with the debt ceiling. On the other hand, let us be realistic once again. If the debt ceiling is increased and there is no progress on solving these fundamental problems that Erskine and Bowles spoke of, Moody's will still downgrade our credit, as they have been very clear in saying.
And so I would argue that if the president is serious about not wanting an argument about the debt ceiling, then what he should put forward is a substantive and sincere process where planned spending is going to be on the table. Because so far we've had a commission--

(OVERTALK)

CARLY FIORINA:
--we've had a task force, we've had a fiscal cliff. Nothing has put spending on the table.

NEWT GINGRICH:
Let me ask you this. And I appreciate E.J.'s support here. But I want to make a point that probably he may not be as enthusiastic about. They have two vehicles. They have a continuing resolution, which is at the end of March, and they have the sequester bill.
Now, these are legitimate government spending bills. The debt ceiling is different because it triggers all of these international financial problems and triggers the credit of the United States. They don't have to say, "We're going to be wimps." I've helped closed the government twice. It actually worked. Bill Clinton came in and said, "The era of big government's over," after two closings. Not before.

DAVID GREGORY:
You also wrote in your memoir that you regretted it from the point of view, you relied too much on the enthusiasm of the activists and didn't factor in the disdain of the American people.

NEWT GINGRICH:
But, no, we got reelected for the first time since 1928. And we would argue we would never have gotten to a balanced budget and we would have never have gotten welfare reform without that fight. So I think if the Congressional Republicans want to say, "You're going to have a really hard time with continuing resolution," that's perfectly legitimate. And it's a exactly the right grounds. And then take the president's speech from yesterday in which he said, "Once you have spent it, you have an obligation." And that's when I say, "Terrific. We agree."

DAVID GREGORY:
Can I--

NEWT GINGRICH:
"We're not going to spend it."

DAVID GREGORY:
Can I just come back to the Senate for a second. As an independent voice, you said you'd caucus with the Democrats, but as an independent coming in to the Senate how do you think you can have a real impact on these debates and on the strategy and on the politics?

SEN. ANGUS KING:
Well, in the first couple of weeks after I was elected, before even being sworn in, I came down here and had a series of meetings with a variety of senators. In fact I met with 30 different senators. I think it was 11 Republicans, 19 Democrats.
And what I found was my peculiar status as an independent, I could have frank discussions with both sides without being viewed as a member of the enemy camp. And we talked, for example, a lot about the filibuster. And I heard the Democratic side about abuse in the filibuster. I heard the Republican side about the abuse of the amendment process. And I feel I came up with a view that was more balanced than it might have otherwise been.
I hope I can play that role. And that's certainly the role I hope to play. I'm going to be on the Rules committee, for example, to talk about things like campaign finance reform. This budget thing, the reason it's not being resolved is the hard part is left to do. There's got to be more revenues. There's got to be more significant cuts. And there's no way-- I spent a good deal of the campaign sort of digging into this. We're not going to grow our way out of it. There are going to be painful cuts. And I think that's why it's so hard. Nobody wants to do it. I agree, though.

(OVERTALK)

SEN. ANGUS KING:
Here's where I agree with Senator McConnell. I think the president needs to take an affirmative step and say, "Look, we've got to do something here." He keeps saying it's going to involve revenues and cuts. Call some people together, I don't know who they are, and start working on it. We've all seen Lincoln. Lincoln got his hands dirty negotiating the 13th amendment. And the president can't do it by remote control. I think he ought to call them up to Camp David, lock the door and say, "Let's get it done."

REP. XAVIER BECERRA:
David, I agree with a lot of what the senator just said, because you do have to have this balanced approach, which includes everything. Painful cuts, some additional revenue. But we have to be honest, Carly. Put everything on the table, we have already had over a trillion and a half dollars in spending cuts. Not taxes. Spending cuts in the last year's deal.
We had over $700 billion in savings to Medicare under the Affordable Care Act that in fact a lot of Democrats got pounded on by Republicans during the campaign. And on top of that we've got an additional trillion, 200 billion dollars in spending cuts that will take place unless we figure out a way to deal with the sequester in a more smart way. So that's over $2 trillion. That's close to $3 trillion in spending cuts--

CARLY FIORINA:
But it--

REP. XAVIER BECERRA:
--that are in place now, without us having to do--

DAVID GREGORY:
All right.

REP. XAVIER BECERRA:
--a thing.

DAVID GREGORY:
So Carly and then--

CARLY FIORINA:
But it doesn't change the fact--

DAVID GREGORY:
--E.J.

CARLY FIORINA:
It doesn't change the fact that everyone agrees that the fundamental issues sit in front of us. Reforming the tax code so it was simpler. Broaden the base, lower the rates. Deal with healthcare costs. Stabilize Social Security. Get out of control spending under control. Grow the economy. Those fundamental problems are still in front of us, despite good work by many--

(OVERTALK)

CARLY FIORINA:
--on both sides.

REP. XAVIER BECERRA:
--we have done.

CARLY FIORINA:
In the deal that we just--

REP. XAVIER BECERRA:
And taxes. We've got to keep doing it--

E.J. DIONNE:
Right.

REP. XAVIER BECERRA:
--in a balanced way.

DAVID GREGORY:
E.J.

E.J. DIONNE:
First, I want to underscore something that both Ms. Fiorina and Newt Gingrich said, which is let us right now, why don't the Republicans announce. "We will take the debt ceiling off the table. We've got other power we can use. Let's get rid of that issue right now." That would be great for the economy, because there would be some certainty--

SEN. ANGUS KING:
If--

E.J. DIONNE:
--that we're not going down this crazy road (UNINTEL)--

SEN. ANGUS KING:
I bet if Senator McConnell had said that this morning the markets would have gone up 200 points.

E.J. DIONNE:
Right. And then we could deal in a rational way. We would argue with each other. Newt Gingrich and I probably disagree quite radically on what needs to be done because I think we need more revenue than we got in this deal. And the other thing is we forget how much we've already done. There has been one deal after another after another that has cut spending very significantly. And that's why to say it's now only about spending and no more revenue on the table is just a big mistake.

(OVERTALK)

CARLY FIORINA:
You would get broad, widespread agreement if the revenue argument was, as Simpson Bowles have suggested, a vast simplification of the tax code. This latest deal complicated the tax code, continued corporate welfare. Simplify the tax code, close the loopholes, lower the rates. You would get broad agreement.

E.J. DIONNE:
Where is the--

(OVERTALK)

CARLY FIORINA:
--unfortunately--

MALE VOICE:
--tax reform easier (UNINTEL).

CARLY FIORINA:
Unfortunately, that has never been close--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
All right. Let me come over to--

MALE VOICE:
You're right. That's what we need to do.

NEWT GINGRICH:
Well, let me come back to exactly the point that E.J. just said. Because the media plays a major role in this mess. Okay? We went through a fiscal cliff. Oh my god. You're sure that somebody from Bloomberg said it's--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
Let's not bash your media here.

NEWT GINGRICH:
No, no, no. Well, it's not a question of bashing. It's a question of mutual responsibility. The fact is fiscal cliff became a way to hypnotize all of us to avoid thought. And we all sat around and said, "What are we going to do? What are we going to do?" Now we have the crisis of the debt ceiling. And that will allow us to avoid that. The House Republicans should meet with the 30 Republican governors who have vastly more of the majority of the population in their states--

MALE VOICE:
Who all have to balance their budgets.

NEWT GINGRICH:
Who all have to balance their budgets. They should spend the next month and a half on hearings. We have a $4 trillion government. Does anybody at this table seriously believe we couldn't find things to eliminate that in fact the country would be overwhelmingly happy with? Sometimes first steps towards success are doing easier things, not harder things.

DAVID GREGORY:
Can I ask, I have about 30 seconds left, Senator. I want to put you on the spot in a couple quick ways. Senator Hagel. Could you vote to confirm him as defense secretary?

SEN. ANGUS KING:
Well, I'm going to be on the armed services committee, so I'm going to reserve judgment, but let me just share my standard, because I have thought about this. I start with the premise that the president should be able to appoint his own people. As a member of the cabinet. I think the standard is different for a cabinet member than it is for a judge who's in for life. So I start with that premise. But I'm going to want to ask some serious questions, hear from Senator Hagel about the issues. He's a guy with a distinguished record and I'm going to listen to the answers.

(OFF-MIC CONVERSATION)

DAVID GREGORY:
Thank you all for a terrific discussion this morning. That is all for today.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT


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