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CNN "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" - Transcript - Sequester

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CROWLEY: The nation's top military leaders raising the alarm bell before automatic budget cuts go into effect March 1st.

Joining me now, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Congressman Mike Rogers of Michigan, thank you both so much.

It's -- we had sort of two different versions here so far on the show, and that is Senator Schumer saying oh, I think we'll get a deal, and it will include a tax on the wealthy.

And we heard Senator Barrasso say it's not going to happen. These cuts are going into effect. It is hard for me to believe that things are as dire as these military men lay out, and Congress is going to let it happen.

REED: Well, these are serious challenges to the military. Secretary Carter, General Odierno, General Dempsey all made a very compelling case before the Budget -- the Op Services Committee and the Appropriations Committee.

I don't think it has to happen. Senator Reid, Harry Reid, proposed legislation that would defer the sequestration to the next year. It would be paid for in a balanced way by additional revenue as well as additional reduction --

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Tax hikes.

REED: -- spending -- indeed. And that, I think, is the way to proceed, avoiding the blunt across-the-board cuts and also giving us chance to get back into regular order, proposing a budget, doing an appropriations bill.

CROWLEY: And we should point out, that it's been the Democrats who have been in charge of the Senate, who haven't come up with a budget for the last four years, so that's why we haven't had a regular one.

(CROSSTALK)

REED: (Inaudible) budget. We had the Budget Control Act of 2011, which set the caps, which is actually statutory, not just a resolution between the two houses. Senator Murray is working on a budget right now and we hope we can get that done. But we need time. So the sequestration will prevent -- preempt us from getting a budget done and other factors.

CROWLEY: It's kind of always -- it's kind of always that you guys need more time and that -- can we put it off until next year. And I guess what's -- to me it's a little bit like the fiscal cliff only now it involves the military, and these men saying, oh, well, you know, we'll -- we won't be able to do this, and the force will be hollowed out, et cetera, et cetera.

CROWLEY: Answer me this: if these cuts not just go into effect but are allowed to stay in effect -- let's say nothing gets done even after that March 1st deadline, will the U.S. be less safe as a result of these across-the-board cuts?

ROGERS: A couple of things. First of all, the president lined this up in a way that put us in this problem by calling for across- the-boards cuts in the military and in intelligence business. That's dangerous. It means that they can't manage --

CROWLEY: Can I just say you all agreed to it?

ROGERS: Well, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: (Inaudible), OK.

ROGERS: But this was the proposal by the president. So some notion that it has been shifted to the Republicans, I want to see a way out of this for the simple reason that when you have that across- the-board cut, it is damaging to our national security and our national defense, for the simple reason that they can't manage the reductions in spending.

I argue the best way to go through this sequester -- and I do believe we're going to go into this -- is give the agencies the ability to manage those reductions, so that they can move money around without across-the-board cuts, because it could mean things like the second carrier group doesn't show up in the Med. It means that some thousands of intelligence professionals --

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: So take the overall number and then allow the various departments to say, OK, you're going to -- this program goes away but that saves this program, et cetera?

(CROSSTALK)

REED: But I think there's another aspect here, too, is that even if you are -- give flexibility, you still have significant reduction. It's not just defense. It's education, it's border security.

CROWLEY: Sure. REED: Et cetera, so there's a better try do this, and that's the way we propose by simply arithmetic. If it it's all cuts, then it's going to be very, very difficult. That's why I think you need additional revenue.

CROWLEY: Senator McConnell called it a political stunt, the Democrats' proposal, because it includes that millionaires' tax -- which, frankly, I don't know how many votes you all have had in the Senate on the millionaires' tax, but it never passes.

REED: It's something I think that most Americans would be extremely supportive of. It would essentially say people making over $1 million would be paying roughly the same rate as those middle class Americans who are working very hard. That's fair, and it also will allow us --

CROWLEY: But they also just got a tax hike as well though.

(CROSSTALK)

REED: For $1 million and above, it would preserve the charitable deductions.

ROGERS: The challenge here, though, is the president made the argument that everything will be fine if we get the wealthier to pay more in taxes. He got that. You can't get that and then come right back and say, well, the wealthier need to pay more in taxes.

So he's gone after seniors that are doing better. Now he's going after Americans who have -- who are doing better in the economy. He got that.

Now he's coming back and saying if I spend -- if you -- if I can tax more -- and then he proposed in his State of the Union address more spending -- and the problem here is, Candy, the greatest threat to our national security is the debt and the deficit long term.

That's why those of us who are very interested in national security, trying to get this right, trying to make sure we posture ourselves, put ourselves in a position to defend the country, are so worried about the debt and deficit debate.

We can get through this. We can do it in a way, I think, that is respectful to what America's priorities are, but you have to do it in a way that doesn't hurt us long term.

REED: I think it's important, though, to say that we've had about $2.4 trillion in cuts from the approved baseline; $1.7 trillion of those are spending cuts, $700 billion are revenue.

Unless we get back to a more balanced approach, we're going to -- we can't cut our way to national security. We can't cut our way to investing in education, research and development. We just have to get back to a balance, and I think the American people understand that.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you -- I want to just ask you a quick question about Chuck Hagel and the problems that he's had getting his nomination through, and that is a strictly political question.

The president knew going in that this would be a tough fight for him, that Chuck Hagel is not the most popular guy on capitol hill. Do you think that the president -- and yes, he liked Chuck Hagel and his work with him, et cetera, also did this because they would rather have a Republican do these kind of cuts to the Pentagon than a Democrat?

ROGERS: Boy, I don't think that was his -- he worked for something called a PIAB (ph), which was in the national security space at the White House, Chuck Hagel did, for some period of time. I think he built a relationship with the president.

He is a Vietnam veteran, a decorated Vietnam veteran at that, and I think that's why the president selected him.

The problem was, I think the Senate now -- and certainly Senator Reed can talk to this better than I can -- are having some difficulty, both sides of the aisle, seeing if he is able and ready to lead the Pentagon in what's some very difficult times ahead.

REED: I think Mike is exactly right about why he was chosen. He's got the experience; not only is a combat veteran, but as a business leader, as the second deputy head of V.A. in the Reagan administration. And he's got the confidence of the president.

So I don't think this was designed to provoke a fight. I think, in fact, what's happened is a very unusual, unprecedented review, asking for speeches, asked -- going back five years, asking for all sorts of material we've never requested of a confirmation before.

We're -- I'm confident we're going to get the confirmation concluded when we return at the end of the week.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Yes .

I need a sort of a quick yes or no from you, as the question about drones and the use of them targeting Americans overseas. Al- Awlaki, known terrorist but an American citizen, as well as his son were killed. You have talked about oversight. You think there's plenty of oversight for this drone program.

Were you told in advance of those two killings?

ROGERS: For the planning purposes of airstrikes against terrorist and enemy combatants overseas? Yes.

CROWLEY: These specific men?

ROGERS: If they're -- if people make the target list, we know that in advance. There's appropriate oversight. And then how we target those individuals changes from day to day. But airstrikes are certainly a part that have.

CROWLEY: Congressman Rogers, Senator Reed, thanks for joining us this morning.

REED: Thank you very much.


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