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CBS "Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer" - Transcript - Budget Cuts

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SCHIEFFER: And welcome back now to "Page Two" of FACE THE NATION. And joining us first, two new senators, both of whom have served in the House, congressman from Arizona, Jeff Flake, now Senator Flake. He's in Phoenix this morning. And Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy, who was also in the House before coming to the Senate. He is in Hartford this morning. Senator Flake, let me start with you. You heard Nancy Pelosi. You heard Mitch McConnell, it sounds to me like we're in for more of the same. I don't think anything has changed here. Tell me I'm wrong.

FLAKE: Well I'm not sure you are. It does look like we're going to have another high-wire act or two here coming up. But I would have to agree with Mitch McConnell. You know, I just can't see how the president goes back to the well on more tax increases now. We've got to cut spending. We put off the sequester -- the sequester is really only $1.2 trillion over 10 years. That's really just a start. We've got to do actually more than that, and we put that off. So we've got to cut spending now.

SCHIEFFER: Well, Senator Murphy, let me go to you. From the Democratic side of the aisle, what do you see happening here? Do you think that the senate and the House are going to find a way to raise the debt ceiling? That's going to be first hard vote. You've also got what Senator Flake refers to as the sequester, that is these draconian cuts that go in across the board unless the congress finds some way to resolve some of this stuff. What's going to happen here?

MURPHY: Listen, we've got to have a conversation about reducing spending. Jeff's right. There's absolutely no way to take a sizable chunk out of the debt and deficit without reducing spending, but we also have to talk about tax reform as well. And I think that's what the speaker was talking about, about trying to remove some of these deductions and credits which really don't fulfill good public policy goals and end up costing the country money. But we should have this discussion aside from the debt ceiling. I mean, legislative hostage taking just doesn't work. It doesn't work for the American people, it doesn't work for the world economy. And what I hope doesn't happen is that Republicans do what they did a year and a half ago which is essentially hold the entire country's economy hostage to their demands. We need to have a reasonable conversation here separate and aside from this issue of the debt ceiling.

SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, let's just round this out. We want to bring in some new House members who are actually, a couple of them, are some old House members who are back, just kind of kick this around and see where it goes. Arizona Republican Matt Salmon was elected in 1994 as part of the Republican revolution. He left to fulfill a pledge to serve only three terms. He's with us this morning. Also sworn in for a second tour this time around, Minnesota Democrat Rick Nolan. He was elected in 1974. He left congress in 1980 and opened his own business. He's decided to come back. And also with us, Pennsylvania Republican Mike Kelly. He's now in his second term. He joined us on Face the Nation two years ago when he was first elected. And congressman, let me just start with you, last time you were here you said you had come to Washington and you were not at all impressed with the way things were done around here. And some of the other people on the panel said, wait a minute. You're part of the team. You're part of the group now. You've got to take -- you have been here now two years, so you think you got anything done this time around?

KELLY: You know, I think we got a lot accomplished. This is the first time in the history of the country that we actually started about spending cuts, we started about reigning in the size of government. So that was a huge win. Now also, this last debate we just had, getting permanent tax relief to 99.3 percent of the American people was huge. And I go back to Chairman Camp, let's talk about tax reform and we're talking about tax code that's 10 times bigger than the Bible with none of the good stuff. We have to get serious about this spending cut. And getting this trajectory of spending down. And if we don't, we are walking away from a pledge to the American people. Listen, I'm a Republican. Matt and Rick are with me today. But more than anything else, we're Americans. And if we want America's future to be bright, if we want America's future to be the future that we had growing up -- listen my dad was a World War II guy. He didn't want to go fight but it he had to. We're at a point right now where we have to address this spending in a really adult manner. And I keep hearing about we need to get more adults at the table. Well, you can get as many adults at the table as you want but the conversation has to be an adult conversation.

SCHIEFFER: Well, let's see what that conversation is, then. You fellas were here before. Now could you have come back, you've had a chance to look at this thing from afar. What do you think they've been doing wrong since you left?

SALMON: I think we have to take the bull by the horns now. It's been four years under the same administration and we never even really opened a serious discussion about fixing Social Security and Medicare. And that makes me lose sleep. Honestly, we deserve a lot better. Social Security will go bust within about 10 years -- excuse me, Medicare in 10 years, and Social Security not far behind. And we have a responsibility. I have a 90-year-old mother that depends on that. We've got to fix that. And if we don't address these spending issues now when Republicans have the leverage, then when? In the last four years, nothing's been done. There hasn't been a budget passed by the Senate in four years. Trillion-dollar deficits every year. If not now, then when?

NOLAN: Bob, you and others have talked about what's different between now and then. And I think that's a great question. This congress worked 32 out of 52 weeks last year. My first term we worked 48 out of the 52 weeks. There are a couple of things I think we need to do to change the process, to change the way we do politics. First of all, money has become too dominant. We went through $20 million in my election contest. That's toxic. It's obscene. And it's taking away from the time that we were elected to govern. Members of congress now have to be successful or expected to spend 30 hours a week in call time dialing for dollars? That's time that we need to go to work, four, five days a week, like the other people in this country do. Put the legislative process, the committees back together. Have a process where things evolve, and there's cooperation, collaboration, compromise, we get to know each other.

SCHIEFFER: Let me just point this out -- we're talking about you need to get back to work. I never heard of anybody that got a job and the first two weeks they went on vacation. That's exactly what has happened here with the congress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I agree, I agree. SCHIEFFER: Senators, what do you think about that? That doesn't sound like a sense of urgency there. Everybody gets elected and oh, my gosh this thing is just terrible, we have to do something so we'll see you in a couple of weeks. What about that, Senator Flake?

FLAKE: Agreed. I'd love to get back. We talk about having a conversation. I think we've had plenty of conversations. We need to cut spending. And whether it's the framework that Erskine Bowles put forward or any number of frameworks or other reasons to just cut spending. I mean, we've got to do it. We are in control now in the congress. But pretty soon, we won't be. the markets will react. And we'll be looking like and acting like some of these European countries that have an austerity program imposed on them. We want to avoid that and so I think it behooves us to get to work now.

SCHIEFFER: All right, well, Senator Murphy, what's the first thing you ought to do then? If you could just make a magic wish here and get something done, what's the first constructive thing that could be done here to get this thing going again?

MURPHY: Well, listen, I think we should shoot for that grand bargain. I think we should look at a deficit reduction and debt reduction deal that's in the neighborhood of $3 trillion or $4 trillion. And I think the American people are where President Obama is, that they want it to be an equal mix of spending cuts and some increased revenue coming in from people that can afford it. But let's be honest about this conversation about Medicare, right? I mean, Democrats put on the table $500 billion of Medicare spending reductions in the health care reform bill and Republicans went out and attacked Democrats on it in the 2010 election. So Democrats have been willing to have conversations about spending reductions. We just haven't had a lot of partnership on this. I think there's a lot of common ground here on Medicare, Social Security, if we're willing to put politics aside and come to the table. But let's get that big deal done early on. It gets harder to do as you get closer to elections. And if you really want to unlock this economy, if you want to make the United States the place where world capital comes to, let's do a deal and let's do it early.

SCHIEFFER: All right, well, let me just ask you all this. They're talking about now, Senator Cornyn in an op-ed piece yesterday in one of the Houston papers said that Republicans have to be willing to say yes, we're going to shut down part of the government if we can't get the kind of spending cuts we need. Is that really a good idea?

KELLY: You know, I see no reason to shut down the government. Both sides agree spending is a problem. So if we came here to fix things, then let's not polarize it right off the bat. Let's talk about -- the president agrees. He said we need to get spending under control. Both Republicans and Democrats agree. Now let's get started on it now. Let's get work nag that direction. I think when you try to set up an obstacle right away you create a problem. Now, I will tell you this -- spending cuts have got to come in. And if our credit rating goes down, it's not because we didn't pay our bills, it's because we haven't addressed the future and looking at a nation right now, the trajectory of our debt runs us off the cliff much bigger than the fiscal cliff. So we better get that under control. With the assets we have we can do it. It's there.

SCHIEFFER: Nobody disagrees with that, but it's how do you get it done.

SALMON: Bob, I would like to interject maybe a little bit of a different thought, because I was here during the government shutdown in 1995. It was a divide government. We had a Democrat president of the United States, we had a Republican congress.

SALMON: And I believe that that government shutdown actually gave us the impetus, as we went forward, to push toward some real serious compromise. I think it drove Bill Clinton in a different direction, a very bipartisan direction. In fact, we passed welfare reform for the first time ever, and we cut the welfare ranks in the last decade and a half by over 50 percent. These are good things. We also balanced the budget for the first time in 40 years in 1997, 1998, 1999. And when I left, we had over a $230 billion surplus. This was with a Democrat president, a Republican...

SCHIEFFER: So you think that's a good idea?

SALMON: Yes, I do. I think it's...

SCHIEFFER: You really do?

SALMON: Yes, I think it's about time...

NOLAN: Yeah, Bob, I think it would be terribly irresponsible. Every one of these dollars that was spent was approved by the Congress of the united states. And call me old-fashioned. I'm a businessman. You spend the money, you've got to pay the bills. And the last thing we ever want to do is to essentially declare the United States of America bankrupt. That would just be terrible. It would be devastating. We can't do that.

SCHIEFFER: Well, Senators, let me ask you, just yes or no. If it takes shutting down the government to get spending in line, would you -- would you be in favor of that, Senator Flake?

FLAKE: Well, it shouldn't take that. But we've got to cut spending. And we've got to use whatever leverage point. I would agree that the debt limit is not the optimal leverage point to use. But we've got to use everything at our disposal to actually cut spending, and nothing has worked so far. And so whatever we can do to cut spending, we've got to do.

SCHIEFFER: Senator Murphy?

MURPHY: Yeah, absolutely not. I mean, there's way too many people in Washington who, sort of, just view this whole thing as a game. They're going to shut down the government or they're going to abrogate our debt ceiling just to get what they want. Those things have real consequences. There are people that rely on those government programs. There is investment that doesn't come to the United States because of the fiasco that it creates. We should absolutely take the debt ceiling off the table as a leverage points and a government shutdown off the table and just stop viewing this as just political theater and, you know, get down to solving the problem.

SCHIEFFER: Let me -- let me just shift to something else Senator McConnell said this morning. He thought that this is the argument that's going to take up about the first third of the Congress. But you've also got this gun issue out there. What's going to happen on this?

KELLY: Well, listen, I think everybody is concerned about the gun issue. And there's more elements than just one element. In my lifetime, I've seen things change completely. When I was going to school, they used to worry about you chewing gum. Now they worry about you bringing guns into school. We have to address it the same way we've addressed everything else in society. We are much more vulnerable now for a lot of reasons, not just one reason. So I think, when we talk about that, we need to look across the board what the changes could be that would protect the most vulnerable people in our society. Certainly, schools right now are very vulnerable and we have to do things to protect them.

SCHIEFFER: Would you be willing, Congressman, to think about reinstating the ban on assault weapons?

KELLY: You know, Bob, but what I'm interested in -- I'm looking to see what everybody has to say right now. And once we get a chance to look at that, put it all out on the table, look at -- the framework is what's important. How are we going to protect the most vulnerable people in our society?

SCHIEFFER: What about you fellows?

NOLAN: Bob, I grew up in northeastern Minnesota in the forests and lakes, and I was, like, 19 or 20 before I had my first chicken and roast beef. I'm a hunter. I believe in second amendment rights. But you know what? I don't need an assault weapon to shoot a duck. And I think they ought to be banned. And I think we need to put a ban on the amount of shells you can carry in a magazine. And I think we have to strengthen our background checks.

SALMON: There's two things that I use to make decisions back here. One is the...

SCHIEFFER: You're not pulling out a gun there, are you?

(LAUGHTER)

SALMON: No, I'm not pulling out a gun.

(LAUGHTER)

One is this little document, the U.S. Constitution, and the second is, is it going to work? And, first and foremost, it doesn't pass the first test. I can't support anything that violates any of the amendments in the bill of rights. And I do not believe that impeding on people's right to bear arms is the right answer. So, no, I do not support the assault weapon ban. I was here during the assault weapon ban. it happened in 1992. I was here for six years during the assault weapon ban, and I remember when the congressman from Columbine came into my office weeping, and we prayed together that day. It was a terrible time. That happened right in the middle of the assault weapon ban. Let's stop placating the American people and telling them we're doing something when we're really doing nothing.

SCHIEFFER: All right. Senators? Senator Flake?

FLAKE: Well,. Vice President Biden is coming forward with a -- with some thoughts, and I look forward to hearing them. And I think that Senator McConnell is right that debt and deficit are going to dominate the first couple of months of the year. And so that's the priority right now, is debt and deficit.

SCHIEFFER: Senator Murphy, this all -- this latest thing happened in your state. What do you think needs to happen here? What do you think is possible?

MURPHY: Yeah, I -- well, listen, I spent most of the last month in Newtown, Connecticut with those families. And frankly, the most important thing that happened on Thursday was not the swearing in of a new Congress; it was the fact that Sandy Hook Elementary went back to school. Let me assure the representative of two things. One, a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazine clips, the weapon and the cartridge that this young man used in Sandy Hook Elementary, it's constitutional. And it's also possible, because we've done it before and because this country has been transformed by this incident, and they know that, if this guy didn't have an assault weapon; if he only had a cartridge with 10 bullets rather than 30 bullets, there would still be little boys and girls alive today. It absolutely makes a difference. It's common-sense gun legislation. It's supported by hunters all across Connecticut and all across this country. And I disagree with Senator McConnell. I don't think we should wait three months to get this done. I think we should get it done now. And I frankly think that, if we did that, it would save lives.

SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, gentlemen, I want to thank -- you two, I want to congratulate you on coming back.

NOLAN: Thank you very much.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHIEFFER: You knew what you were getting into.

(LAUGHTER)

NOLAN: We should have known better, Bob...

(CROSSTALK)

NOLAN: ... but we're here to make a difference.

SALMON: Mr. Toad's wild ride. We're going to have our own version of March madness here.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, it's nice to have all of you. Senators, it's nice to have you, too, Congressman. We'll be back in a minute with our analysis.


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