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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript

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BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

DAVID GREGORY:
--Kaine and Coburn, let me start with you.

MALE VOICE:
Uh-huh (AFFIRM).

DAVID GREGORY:
Because we talk tactics, let's talk about the news, that we've got the potential for a budget deal by July, Senator Coburn? That's what the president would like. How real do you think that is as a prospect?

SEN. TOM COBURN:
Well, I think if something's going to get done-- before the political-- political ramifications of 2014 start playing, you've got other have somewhat of an agreement or an outline before that. The-- but-- David, one of the points I'd make is the fact that this is news, it is news in itself because it shouldn't be news that the president is reaching out in a bipartisan fashion to try to solve problems for the country. And it just shows you-- that he is moving in the right direction. I'm proud of him for doing it and I think it's a great thing. But it shouldn't be news.

DAVID GREGORY:
What about the substance of it though, Senator Coburn? What did you hear this week? What are s-- where are some of the discussions going that give you an actually path for a real solution that's been elusive on a big budget deal?

SEN. TOM COBURN:
Well, I think-- the-- the one thing I heard is-- the first indication is the president's going to start talking to the American public about the problem. I mean, we all know that you-- you use-- put in $1 for Medicare and get out $3.30. We understand that. But nobody's ever talked to the American public about that.
Nobody's led on this issue as-- as far as the president wanting to change it. So-- it-- it-- I am welcoming with open arms, I think the president's tremendously sincere. I don't think this is just a political change in tactic. I think he actually would like to solve the problems of the country and it would be to his benefit and certainly every American's benefit if he did that.
So-- it's time to start leading. And the way you do that is quit pr-- poking your finger in people's eyes and start building relationships and I think he's got a great chance to accomplish a big deal.

DAVID GREGORY:
Senator Kaine, I do-- I don't want to just focus on tactics. I want to focus on-- on news, on developments--

SEN. TIM KAINE:
You bet.

DAVID GREGORY:
Where in the budget deal is there room for compromise?

SEN. TIM KAINE:
David, first I think it is important to-- to look at the steps that all the sides are taking toward one another. So at your end-- you know, much not to like about the Bush tax cut deal, but it was compromised. The House-- early in the year decided they weren't going to use the debt c-- the threat of repudiating debt as leverage anymore.

That was positive. The Senate said, "We'll write a budget again," for the first time in ordinary course since 2009. I think this week you're going to find us working out-- an FY 13 budget. You know, we've been working up C.R. because we couldn't reach an agreement. You're going to see both sides work that out.
And you're going to start to see both Houses put out their budgets-- laying out visions for how to keep the economy strong and also deal with the deficit. The two House budgets will be different. We put our paychecks on the line. If we don't pass budgets off the House floors by mid April, we'll all stop getting paid.
And then we'll have a conference where we can put the two visions on the table. But I-- but I do agree with what-- you know, with what Tom said at the end of the day, we're going to have to find a balanced solution, and it will involve all elements. It will involve talking about revenues, talking about expenses, talking about entitlements, we have to do that.

DAVID GREGORY:
So Joe Scarborough is-- a elder statesman in your party in many ways--

(OVERTALK)

JOE SCARBOROUGH:
--before. (LAUGH)

DAVID GREGORY:
I know, I can't believe I just said that. No, but if somebody (LAUGH) who's trying to think differently about the party and where it goes. Why did it change? Here was the president earlier this year being asked about socializing with Congress, but about reaching across the aisle, about trying to form different kinds of-- coalitions. This is what he said then?

(Videotape)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I like Speaker Boehner personally. And, you know, when we went out and played golf, we had a great time. But that didn't get a deal done in 2011.

(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:
And so-- but now it changed. Now he's trying something different. Why do you think he's changing it up?

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
He's been here long enough.

JOE SCARBOROUGH:
To figure it out. To figure out that actually the things that he brushed aside schmoozing or golfing or that special sauce that he was talking about derisively, he understands that governors like Tim Kaine and governors like Chris Christie have to do that every day. He's known Tom Coburn for a very long time, he's starting to talk to Tom again. I think that's very important.

But it matters. You know, I always go back to the 1990s and talk about the fact-- I-- I-- I remember the first time I met Erskine Bowles. I said, "Man, I can't stand your boss," he was Chief of Staff for Bill Clinton. He said, "That's all right, Congressman. He hates you too." But, you know, look what we did together, Tom, myself.
We didn't care for the president. The president didn't care for us. We didn't understand each other. Yet, we balanced the budget for the first time in a generation, four years in a row for the first time since the '20s, welfare reform, tax reform, I mean, you've-- you've got to do that. And I remember talking to Bill Clinton this past year, because David Axelrod-- this always made David Axelrod angry when we'd talk about how Bill Clinton and Congress. He'd always go, "But you impeached him."

And Bill Clinton said, "Yeah, but even on that day, I was talking to Newt Gingrich on the phone about Iraq and protecting the American people." That's what we have to do today, even if the president doesn't like Congress and vice versa, they can get along and put the country's interest ahead of their own party--

DAVID GREGORY:
So let's talk to, you know-- a couple members of Congress, a little bit newer-- to Washington, Congresswoman, again, if there's a negotiation that's going on in a slightly cooler atmosphere where we're not in the middle of fiscal crisis, do you sense more inclination to get something done?

REP. TULSI GABBARD:
Absolutely. I-- I really see great opportunity here-- for a few reasons. One is because you don't have these kind of created crises that are constantly happening. It creates an opportunity for those of us who have come here with a very clear mandate from people in our districts, both Republicans and Democrats that we want to see action. We want to see you guys sit down, spend some time together, and talk through things.
And in order for that to happen, there has to be a basic level of respect, sincere-- discussion, listening, and consideration. And there will be things of course we disagree on, but there will be things that we can agree on. And that's really where the opportunity I see that lies ahead.

DAVID GREGORY:
But Congressman, I would gather on some of this budget talk, particularly it-- well, let me ask it this way. Is there any-- any ratio of spending cuts to tax increases that you could accept or vote for?

REP. CORY GARDNER:
Well, the president got over $600 billion worth of taxes at the beginning of this year. We know that this town has a spending problem. We're going to have record revenues in 2013 as the-- the ec-- economics have already shown, the economists have already shown. And so the bottom line is this: what can we do to bring spending under control? We've spent it, we have record revenue this year, it's already been taxed, now it's time to reduce spending and get this country growing economically again.

DAVID GREGORY:

And-- and Senator Coburn, this-- this question of spending and even the impact of this sequester is something that you've taken on-- with-- on Twitter and elsewhere where we're talking about sequester, you've identified lots of areas where spending can be cut. And this is where you disagree with the president who thinks that ultimately the sequester is going to have economic-- harm, that there's no way around it.

SEN. TOM COBURN:
Well-- you know, that's just-- a difference of opinion. We need to give the president and his administration some flexibility with the sequester. But I-- I've spent eight years looking at every spending item in the federal government. And we waste easily $200 billion a year in totally ineffective of duplicative programs.
So-- to say-- and I-- look, I'm not going to stop peppering them. I've got an ammo drawer full of things to complain about when they're going to say, "We're not going to have enough people in the F.A.A. towers." Or they can't-- get a ship back refueled, I can-- I can show them all the things-- the stupid things they've done over the last two years that we can stop doing that we can do everything that we need to do in this country.
So-- the-- look, the real problem, David, is-- Washington's dysfunctional, but it's dysfunctional in a dysfunctional way. Members of Congress and the administration agree on too much. We agree on spending money we don't have, we agree on not oversighting the programs that should be oversight. We agree on continuing to spend money on programs that don't work or are ineffective.

I mean, we-- basically, we agree on too much. We need to-- move back and start agreeing about how-- what's the long-term plan and how do we oversight this government to get real value of the things that are legitimate roles for the government for the American people--

JOE SCARBOROUGH:
You know, I think Tom Coburn and I both wrote a book in 2004 separately without knowing about, complaining about in 2004 how Republicans were spending too much. We've gotten to where we've gotten, because as Tom said, both sides have agreed for too long over the past decade on the same things. Spending a lot of money without paying for it.

You know, Barack Obama, I-- I've got to say, and I-- I agree with Tom again, I think a great sign is that the president is now talking privately about Medicare and the crisis that we face in Medicare. Because remember during the State of the-- Union, he said, "Oh, well, we can make some modest adjustments to Medicare."
Go back and see what he said in 2006, 2007, 2008. When he said Medicare was the real crisis. Social security was the real crisis. He said we were stealing from future generations. If the president will talk about that, if we will get-- a grand bargain that's going to take care of the generational theft that's going on, Republicans will-- will agree--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
--Congresswoman, that the-- the president hasn't talked about it. I mean, the president has been talking about it, he's been talking about it with Republican leadership, but ultimately has not been committing to anything that-- that even his own party could-- could agree to and in some ways has committed to some things that the party disagrees with on--

REP. TULSI GABBARD:
Right-- and--

DAVID GREGORY:
--reducing benefits.

REP. TULSI GABBARD:
Exactly. And I think that's why it's important that the-- first of all, these conversations are happening. I think frustration by the American people and frustration by members of Congress of-- as well have stemmed from the fact that a lot of these debates have taken place on TV or on the House floor and not had-- very meaningful discussion so we can figure out areas we can agree on.

Areas that Senator Coburn has identified, waste within Medicare that we can agree needs to be cut. Issues like prescription drug negotiations from Medicare to bring the cost down. I think everyone agrees that the-- the rising cost of healthcare is the driver, one of the main--

DAVID GREGORY:
But how do you--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
But how do you react to your own colleague here who is saying as many conservatives do, "We're done. We're done on revenue." And that's why I keep asking this question, I mean, there's really no ratio, no matter how much there is-- you know, of spending cuts, that Republicans in your chamber will agree to in any new revenues, even if it comes from tax reform. How do you try to bridge that divide?

REP. TULSI GABBARD:
Well, I think that's where we really have to be creative and talk through what are the options that are out there. When we talk about-- making it so that Medicare nego-- can negotiate with these pe-- prescription drug companies. That right there is on average around $14 billion a year. We look at some of the major tax loopholes that exist. Again, I-- I appreciate the work that Senator Coburn has done and-- and read a lot of it to see where are these areas that we can agree that we can cut back.

SEN. TIM KAINE:
But Da-- but--

(OVERTALK)

SEN. TIM KAINE:
--working on a budget right now, just, you know, if they're going to talk about spending, and we need to, and as a governor, I had to cut a lot of spending, we ought to look at the spending through the tax code as well. And that does offer us an opportunity. Senator Coburn has done some really good work to point out we are giving away in the tax code about $1.3 trillion a year in a series of loopholes, deductions, credits, exceptions. I mean, if you just reduce that loophole amount by a modest percentage, then you can find a balanced way to start to deal with the deficits--

JOE SCARBOROUGH:

But, if you--

(OVERTALK)

SEN. TIM KAINE:
And-- and many Republicans in the Senate are open to that strategy.

JOE SCARBOROUGH:
David, if you're a House Republican though, or even a Senate Republican, and you go home this spring to town hall meetings, and you're already talking about raising taxes again, your-- your people are going to say to you, "Wait, well hold on a second. You already raised taxes once this year. And then you cut defense spending." And the president's still saying, "We don't have to do anything about Medicare, about Medicaid, about social security? I'm sorry, it's the president's move. He needs to stay publicly and give--

(OVERTALK)

JOE SCARBOROUGH:
--congressmen and congresswomen, getting -- got to give them some cover. And the president won't do that publicly. When he does, then anything's possible.

REP. CORY GARDNER:
And for the past-- two months, we've been going through-- the fights over the sequester, across-the-board spending cuts. The American people saw their taxes increase by 2%. Eighty percent of households, nearly 80% of households across this country saw their taxes increase by 2%, some by far more than that. And now government's just asking itself to reduce its spending by a little over 2%.

And yet that has been a paralyzing fight in this town. I think what-- what time will tell whether this overture, whether the president's attempt to rebuild relationships, or to in many cases build relationships with Congress for the first time, is truly genuine. I hope they are. But the last time that-- we witnessed-- Paul Ryan be invited to-- a speech that the amer-- the-- the president was giving before-- the American public, he then turned around and chastised him. The last time we went over to the White House, the president lectured us. And so I hope that he's genuine, but I don't think we're going to be doing the Harlem Shake any time soon thing. I think we can actually--

SEN. TIM KAINE:
No.

REP. CORY GARDNER:
--use this chance to see what's going to happen.

SEN. TIM KAINE:
I think the big issue though, you know, we can-- we can ask the president to do more, but the only fix of Congress is Congress's to fix. And most Americans, they don't look at the president-- cy and say, "It's broken," or, "The judicial branch is broken." But they do look at Congress and say that it's broken. And so that means it's up to Cory and Tulsi and Tom and me and our colleagues to finally get off the gimmicks, the-- you know, the sequesters, the C.R.'s, the super committees, and get back to formal--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
Senator Coburn, I want to go back to you. You know-- we-- I'm-- I'm struck by your line that-- that-- that Washington can't even get dysfunction right, which is really a sad state of affairs. But, you know, there was also a tendency to-- to hand-wring in Washington, talk about how bad it is. And I remember at one of the-- more contentious things I covered back in the Senate, and that was-- in 1856 in the Kansas-Nebraska Act--

JOE SCARBOROUGH:
Yeah, yeah.

DAVID GREGORY:
--when there was an actual caning. And you have the image of a caning on the Senate floor, and of this contentious debate and-- Sumner involved, of course, and there was a speech that was-- critical of someone's cousin. And there was a caning on the Senate floor. You fast forward and what gets attention these days is the use of the filibuster. Here was Rand Paul-- this week on the drone policy, here's a piece of what he did.

(Videotape)

RAND PAUL:
I rise today to begin to filibuster John Brennan's nomination for the C.I.A. I will speak until I can no s-- no longer speak. I will speak as long as it takes.

(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:
And it was 13 plus hours. He got pretty high marks actually--

JOE SCARBOROUGH:
He's a rookie.

(OVERTALK)

JOE SCARBOROUGH:
--thirteen hours? Come on.

DAVID GREGORY:
And there was some bipartisan support, if not substantively, at least for the use of the filibuster. Are we really as bad as we say we are, Senator?

SEN. TOM COBURN:
No, but-- but the-- the first thing you heard was because he filibustered, and he actually did it the way they want him to do it, they actually go out there and spent the time and speak-- complaining about the filibuster again. The-- look-- Adams talked about and Madison talked about the tyranny of the majority. The reason the Senate is designed the way it is is to make sure that minority rights are always protected.
And, you know, quite frankly, is we've gone from a little bit of being spoiled when you have 60-plus Senators to not get in your way every time, and then when the rules are used to actually create an issue that is important to senator like Rand Paul and spend time on it, I think was very-- regardless what you think about the issue, it's very important American people see the human side and the issues and the debates about important-- whether it's a civil liberty, or whether-- an issue on spending, that we actually spend the time to do it.
You know, the-- the-- the Senate spends 70% of its time in-- in-- a quorum call, which is nothing positive. So, you know, I th-- I think this was a great opportunity for some-- a young, new-- two-year-- two-- a sophomore senator to make his point. And he got a lot of support for it, whether you agree with him or not. That's what the Senate was designed to do.

DAVID GREGORY:
Let me ask--

(OVERTALK)

SEN. TOM COBURN:
--to actually come out there--

MALE VOICE:
That-- no longer--

DAVID GREGORY:
--to-- to two members of Congress who were not actually around after the attacks of 9/11, you weren't in Congress yet. And this whole debate about drones and presidential power, would you as members of Congress like to see Congress have a real debate about whether the president still should have the same level of authority he has in this realm of executive power, national security, to fight this War on Terror, as President Bush got from Congress? Should Congress have the guts to step up and have that debate?

REP. CORY GARDNER:
Well, I'd like to see a real debate on many things in Congress, especially this issue.

DAVID GREGORY:
Yes.

REP. CORY GARDNER:
I think the issue over drones, authority of the president when it comes to war powers, executive powers-- actions in Iraq, Iran, what's happening in the United States with drones and-- and the failure of this administration to answer-- Senator Paul's questions in a timely fashion. And so I would like to see that debate. And I think Congress needs to reinsert itself into its constitutional role.

DAVID GREGORY:
As a veteran, Congresswoman, do you think the president should have all the authority that President Bush first received after 9/11?

REP. TULSI GABBARD:
Well, and-- and see, this-- this is-- an area where Cory and I agree. We have a great responsibility in Congress. And-- and-- from my background and my experience, I obviously come in-- with-- with a first-hand perspective on the value of these counterterrorism tactics and strategies-- during a time of war overseas in enemy territory.
And that being the appropriate place for them, not here on American soil. And-- and it is our responsibility to hold hearings, because it's an important discussion that the American people are very concerned about, as are we. And we have to set the parameters for what the-- what the measures will be.

REP. CORY GARDNER:
I actually thought that was one of the highlights of what I've seen coming out of the Senate in quite some time, where you had somebody going on the floor, and it wasn't about tactics, it was about an issue that matters a lot to a lot of us. You know, I've been concerned for some time that the president has been able to-- to have drone attacks, again, with very little supervision. The New York Times reported he's got a kill list.

He decides who he's going to-- to target and who he's not. You not only had an American citizen killed overseas, you then had an American citizen's son killed overseas while-- who's at a restaurant. The response as to why he was killed was be-- from-- from a White House official was "Because he should've had a better father," this is problematic.

And when Rand Paul asks, "Does the United St--" and asks-- "Is-- is-- Eric Holder, does the United States have the right to kill an American citizen on American soil with a drone?" And the White House drags their feet, that's really problematic--

(OVERTALK)

REP. CORY GARDNER:
--I think Rand Paul did a great service.

DAVID GREGORY:
Let me get in, I have about a minute left here, and I want to-- I just-- bring in another thing that has to do with tone, my conversation with Jeb Bush. And-- and we talked about-- the-- the tone that a president can set, but it also speaks to whether and how-- the minority party should compromise at this particular juncture. Let me show you a piece of that interview.

(Videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:
Isn't it interesting though, you're sitting at the Reagan Library as we talk-- today, and yet the president you speak of and so many conservatives do, raised taxes, was for immigration reform, that a lot of modern-day conservatives would-- would find quite distasteful. Could he exist? Could he get elected in today's Republican party? Or would he be seen as a liberal?

JEB BUSH:
He also stopped the-- the advancement of the federal government's overreach, he cut taxes-- in a dramatic way, he had-- he found common ground to extend the-- the life of social security. He did all this in a way that didn't violate his principles, but he was-- he also didn't try to demonize his opponent-- he embraced them. He embraced his opponents and-- and because of that, found a lot more common ground. So the-- the-- the climate was different then than it is today, but we could restore that climate. And I think that'd be very positive for our country.

(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:
The rest of that interview coming up in a few minutes. Senator Kaine, I think it's an appropriate note to end on.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
Has President Obama learned from that?

SEN. TIM KAINE:
I th-- I think he does. And look, I think this has been a good discussion, and I'm seeing it in the Senate now. Don't demonize your opponents, stand up for your principles. But Virginians tell me everywhere I go around sequester or anything else, "Just go to Washington and make a deal." You know, w-- however the deal is cut, if you can compromise and work together with the other side, I had to do it with two Republican House w-- when I was governor, and that's what we all ought to be doing together. And, you know, hey, spring is in the air. So maybe--

DAVID GREGORY:
So Senator Coburn, is there something different? I know you've been critical of the president for demonizing Republicans. Do you sense anything is different? I'm not just talking about one dinner. But I'm talking about different portals for discussion and-- and compromise?

SEN. TOM COBURN:
Well, I think-- you know, I think-- if you sit back and look at where we are and-- and the problems in front of us and whether or not this president, my friend, is going to lead the country in solving problems that will make a major difference in everybody's life ten years from now, and for him not to do everything to try to solve that-- is ridiculous. So I, you know, I think he gets it.

And I think he's genuinely reaching out. But-- you know, you got a lot of-- you got a lot to scabs and sores on people that it's going to take some li-- a while for that to heal. And-- if-- if we're consistently reaching out and consistently working, people in the Senate-- the Senate's not near as dysfunctional as it's made out to be, because there's great relationships in the Senate. Our problem in the Senate is the leadership of the Senate-- not the members of the Senate.

DAVID GREGORY:
All right, I'm going to have to make that the last word. Thank you all very much, to be--

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT


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