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

Interview

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CROWLEY: Joining me now from his home state of Kentucky is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Senator, thank you so much for being here this morning. Give me a state of play. Is this, as far as Republicans are concerned, at least as far as you are concerned, are these budget cuts a done deal? They are now in place and you have no intention of having any kind of discussion about ameliorating them in some way?

MCCONNELL: Look, Candy, the question is are we going to keep the commitment we made to the American people a year and a half ago, a bipartisan agreement signed by the president, that we would reduce spending without raising taxes by this amount of money in this fiscal year?

And here we are, a year and a half later, with the president trying to walk away from the commitment we made to the American people.

Let's talk about the larger issue just for a moment. We now have a $16 trillion national debt. Our debt is as big as our economy. That alone makes us look a lot like a Western European country.

We've had four straight years of a trillion-dollar annual deficit. This modest reduction of 2.4 percent in spending over the next six months is a little more than the average American experienced just two months ago, when their own pay went down when the payroll tax holiday expired.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: You call it modest, Senator ---

MCCONNELL: Look, if we can't --

CROWLEY: -- can I just for a second, just get back to that one word you used, and that's you call this a modest cut. And yet you know the CBO has said, well, it will cost about 750,000 jobs. It will probably ding gross domestic product by about a half a percent.

We have heard that policemen will be laid off, firemen will be laid off, teachers will be laid off, crime's going to go up, the military will be hollowed out. You know, your own Republicans are so worried about the Defense Department and yet you're calling it modest.

So there's this complete disconnect, it seems to me, about what's actually going on here, when you look at what Democrats say is going on and what Republicans say is going on.

MCCONNELL: Well, but by any objective standard, cutting 2.4 percent out of $3.6 trillion is certainly something we can do.

CROWLEY: Over a short period of time, albeit.

MCCONNELL: Well, we promised the American people we would do this a year and a half ago. And here we are, already walking away from the spending reductions that we promised to make without tax increases, the president signed just a year and a half ago.

Bob Woodward certified that the sequester was actually the president's idea. He knows that we were not going to raise taxes to achieve this spending reduction this year.

And so I think the American people need to know that we have a spending addiction in Washington. We're exploding our spending. We've added $6 trillion to the national debt in just four years.

CROWLEY: Am I hearing you right?

MCCONNELL: We've got to begin to cut spending. And we promised the American people we'd do it a year and a half ago and we're going to do it.

CROWLEY: And yet the polling shows that the American people actually, when talking about the sequester -- and pretty much any other kind of budget showdown you all have had -- has said they do want to have more tax increases in it.

But beyond that, are you saying to me that, yes, you believe that these sequester cuts or these budget cuts are going to stay in place? That there will be no search for an alternative by the Republican leadership?

MCCONNELL: Well, I'm absolutely confident we're going to reduce spending the amount of money that we promised the American people we would in a law the president signed a year and a half ago. We have said we're open to discussing how to reconfigure those spending reductions without raising taxes.

CROWLEY: So keeping the top line.

MCCONNELL: The president seems -- the president seems to be not interested in reducing this amount of spending, even though we signed the bill a year and a half ago.

CROWLEY: And yet we are --

MCCONNELL: We think it's important to the American people to keep this commitment. And we're going to do it. We're willing to talk to him about reconfiguring the same amount of spending reduction over the next six months.

The American people look at this and say, gee, I've had to cut my budget more than this, probably on numerous occasions over the last four years, because we've had such a tepid economy now for four long years. I think they expect us to keep the commitment that we made. CROWLEY: So we are told that the president has called in recent days since your meeting with him on Friday; some Republicans and Democrats he thinks are willing to look at tax revenues on the side of sequestration to get rid of these automatic budget cuts.

I'm going to assume that you are not one of the Republicans he called, and neither is Speaker Boehner.

Do you think that there is a fracture inside the Republican Party that could undermine your adamant position and that of the Speaker that you will not agree to any sort of tax increase?

MCCONNELL: You know, so far I haven't heard a single Senate Republican say they would be willing to raise a dime in taxes to turn off the sequester. The president is free to call whoever he chooses to. He doesn't have to go through the Speaker and myself to talk to our members. And I fully expect him to do that.

But so far I haven't heard a single Senate Republican say they're willing to raise one dime in taxes in order to avoid a spending reduction commitment that we made on a bipartisan basis just a year and a half ago.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about the upcoming continuing resolution, where the government will run out of funding.

Are you committed to not having a government showdown? We seem to hear that from Speaker Boehner; we seem to hear it from the president, that you believe --

MCCONNELL: We're also --

CROWLEY: Go ahead.

MCCONNELL: I'm sorry.

CROWLEY: Do you believe there will be a government shutdown? Have you ruled that out?

MCCONNELL: Senate Democrats have indicated they are not interested in that, either. I believe we're going to be able to work out passing the continuing resolution later in March on a bipartisan basis through both the House and the Senate.

CROWLEY: Let me turn to some political questions for you. The first is Chris Christie, arguably the most popular Republican in the country, was not invited to CPAC, which is a collection of conservative groups.

Is it a mistake for the conservatives not to have invited someone who right now has shown an ability to bring together independents, Republicans and Democrats?

MCCONNELL: Oh, my goodness. I don't have any advice to give to outside organizations about who they choose to invite. I've been invited to go to the CPAC conference. I'm happy to be there and looking forward to speaking there. But I -- they don't consult me on their invitation list.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you then about your own race. Lots of talk about Ashley Judd, the actress and political activist, getting into the race to challenge you.

I'm wondering, since we've now already seen ads from some groups that support you against her, they seem a little worried that she might be a big challenge to you.

Will she?

MCCONNELL: Well, look, the race will take care of itself in 2014. But I must say it has kind of started early. There's a left- wing group down here in Kentucky that's already issued racial slurs against my wife and already questioned my own patriotism.

So the Left is fully engaged down here in Kentucky. They would love to take out the Republican leader of the Senate. We expect a spirited race from whomever they ultimately choose.

CROWLEY: What did -- what did you think of that -- you're referring to a tweet by a progressive group in Kentucky that talked about your wife's ethnicity.

How did you take that? I mean, what -- why do you think they did that?

MCCONNELL: Well, it's happened before. The chairman of the Democratic Party, a few years back, engaged in the same kind of thing. My wife is a proud Chinese American, as you know. She was Secretary of Labor during Bush administration. Her family escaped from the Communists in mainland China, made their way to America and have lived the American dream.

And for that, racial slurs by the Democrats in Kentucky, it sort of goes with the turf at home. So we expect a spirited race. And of course there are a lot of left-wingers around the country who believe that the 2014 Senate race in Kentucky is the only race of national significance. And they would love to take out the Republican leader of the Senate. We'll be ready for them.

CROWLEY: OK. Yes or no, can you take Ashley Judd?

MCCONNELL: We'll see who they nominate and we'll be happy to run against whomever is chosen.

CROWLEY: And as far as your wife, Elaine Chao, we, of course, have had her on this show recently as the former Secretary of Labor under George Bush.

Thank you so much for joining us today.

MCCONNELL: Thank you.


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