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Senators Chris Dodd and Mitch McConnell Discuss Tax Cuts, the Economy and Iraq

Location: Washington, DC

January 26, 2003 Sunday

HEADLINE: Senators Chris Dodd and Mitch McConnell discuss tax cuts, the economy and Iraq

SEN. MITCH McCONNELL, (R-KY): Well, look, the dilemma we found ourselves in in North Korea illustrates why we need to finish the job of disarming Saddam Hussein. Obviously, Chuck Hagel is correct. It would be better to be able to do this with a large group of allies. But it's important to get this job done, as we just heard this morning from Secretary Powell, there is evidence of connections between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. We have no doubt that he has weapons of mass destruction. It's clear that we haven't found them yet. It's pretty hard to discover weapons of mass destruction if there is not, Tim, a lot of cooperation on the part of those being inspected. And it appears as if there is a limited cooperation in that regard. We need to complete the job of disarming Saddam Hussein. In my judgment, we need to bring about regime change, which was the same policy of the Clinton administration.

MR. RUSSERT: Should the president allow inspectors a few more weeks, a few more months?

SEN. McCONNELL: I think that's up to the president. We have a very competent national security team—Secretary Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Secretary Powell. I think they know what they're doing. I don't think they know what they're doing; I know they know what they're doing. I think we've got a very competent team here. They're going to give us the best advice about when to proceed. But proceed we must. Because weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein is simply unacceptable.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Dodd, Senator McConnell just cited Secretary Powell again of a direct link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. Have you seen any evidence of that?

SEN. DODD: I haven't. And again, it wasn't brought up the other day. Now, I know those statements have been made. And if there is evidence, then I think, again, this is another example, making the statement saying it exists and being more demonstrative in demonstrating what that evidence is. Now, I understand methods and sources have to be protected a bit. You can't just have a laying out of all your information. But I have yet to see that connection. Now, there have been some reports of members of al-Qaeda going to Iraq. But the connection, per se, between this organization and the promotion of terrorism—that's not to say that Saddam Hussein does not support terrorist organizations. He does. But al-Qaeda, specifically, I haven't seen that yet. Now, if they have, then I think they ought to lay it out in pretty clear detail for the American public.

MR. RUSSERT: Have you seen it, Senator McConnell?

SEN. McCONNELL: I think Secretary Powell is a man of his word. And if there's evidence of this connection, that's—further illustrates further the need to disarm Saddam Hussein, which is our policy, and I think the president will carry that out.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Dodd, let me show you, again, our Wall Street Journal/NBC poll about which party is better suited to deal, war on terrorism and Saddam Hussein/Iraq. Look at those numbers. Overwhelmingly people have more confidence in George Bush and Republicans than the Democrats. Why is that?

SEN. DODD: Well, certainly, I think the president of the United States is commander in chief. Automatically gets, I think, tremendous amount of support, as he should. I'm fully expecting that on Tuesday night the president will make a strong speech in the State of the Union, laying out a case here. And I expect there will be a jump in support for some military action. Maybe more quickly than others might like. But I think, generally, people, when they talk about security here, they see a broader spectrum than just military issues. They talk about economic security, as well. But I would attribute a lot of those numbers having to do with the fact that the president is Republican, he is commander in chief, and people rally to the commander in chief in times like this.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you, Senator McConnell, on the economy and tax policy. The difference between the parties has narrowed dramatically. People now having almost equal confidence in Democrats and Republicans. Is the president's plan to eliminate taxation on stock dividends dead?

SEN. McCONNELL: No, I don't think so. The president wants to get the economy growing. We had a recession. It was compounded by the 9/11 attack. We are growing but we are not growing as we should. And unemployment is entirely too high. The president believes we should act. And his $670 billion tax reduction package, of which the dividend exclusion is just one portion, is an overall effort to reinvigorate the stock market and to get the economy growing again. And, clearly, the president is asking the Congress to act, and act, I believe, we will.

MR. RUSSERT: The president pledged a year ago the deficits would be small and short term. They are now approaching $350 billion. Why are the Republicans accepting such deficit spending?

SEN. McCONNELL: Well, we're not accepting it. Our idea is to get the economy growing again. The reason we had a surplus a few years in the late '90s was because the economy was robust. There's only one thing that will grow revenues for the federal government and for state governments, and that's a robust economy. And that's what the president's growth package is about. And this is not a time for a tepid growth package. We need a robust growth package. And that's exactly what the president has recommended.

MR. RUSSERT: How about the $300 stipend to every man, woman and child the Democrats are proposing?

SEN. McCONNELL: Well, it strikes me as somewhat like a welfare check from the IRS. I mean, that may be fine for those who are receiving the $300, but does that really have any impact on the economy long term? I think not. What the president is doing is trying to deal with the situation both short term and long term by putting together a growth package that gets the economy moving in the direction that will eliminate the deficits for both the federal government and the state government.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator McConnell.

SEN. McCONNELL: Let's talk about deficits a minute. Just in the last two weeks, the Republican Senate passed 11 appropriation bills in two weeks that the Democrats couldn't get passed in 12 months. And Chris and his colleagues offered amendments that would have engaged in $300 billion of deficit spending. Fortunately, we were able to defeat that. Spending too much contributes to deficits as well. And most of the Democrats have never met a spending item they were not in favor of.

So let's look at the tax-cut part. They want to spend which contributes to the deficit; we want to grow the economy. So let's look at this tax cut, Tim, that Chris is talking about being so unfair. We looked in The Buffalo News Friday in the want ads for jobs. There's a job in there for a local delivery truck driver and for his wife who's a clerk. It adds up to about $40,000 a year. Now, 97 percent of the income tax revenue for the federal government is paid for, is provided by people making in the mid-$40,000 a year and up. These good folks right now, if they were both employed in those jobs, would be paying $1,100 in income taxes. Under President Bush's plans, they would be paying no income taxes. This income tax cut by advancing the across-the-board marginal relief, by advancing the child-care tax credit, by advancing getting rid of the marriage penalty produces real dollars for real people who are paying the freight and providing the funds for the federal government. That is not a windfall for the rich.

MR. RUSSERT: What about Social Security? Will we have to cut benefits, raise taxes or raise the retirement age?

SEN. McCONNELL: The only way to make sure we don't have to make those kinds of choices is to have a robust economy, which gets back to how do you get the economy growing rapidly. The president has the right plan to get that done, and that's what we hope to get through to Congress this year.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the issue of Title IX. You saw the proposals that are being made by some within the Department of Education task force. Do you believe the president risks political damage if he tinkers with Title IX?

SEN. DODD: Well, I think so. I mean, I—this is a program that's worked tremendously well. I represent the state of Connecticut, and you start talking about Title IX in Connecticut, and the University of Connecticut women's basketball team, you're going to get into a lot of trouble. We had 18,000 people, I think, yesterday were watching—or close to that number over the last number of weeks—watching the UConn women's basketball team play in Connecticut. But putting that aside, this has been a tremendously effective program for women. And equalization, giving opportunities to young women to be able to develop their bodies, to participate in athletic programs, the statistics you pointed out earlier, 55 percent of students in colleges are women—I think it's very important that we sustain and maintain this program. And whether or not you're fooling around with affirmative action or Title IX, there's a general sense here this administration seems to want to undercut a lot of efforts that have actually made this country more diverse and stronger over the years on a variety of fronts. And this is one of them.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator McConnell, the Republicans have traditionally had a problem with the so-called gender gap, attracting women voters. Do you think the president should tinker with Title IX?

SEN. McCONNELL: Look, Title IX's done a lot of good, but I don't think we ought to overreact to a study that is apparently under way over in the Education Department. Let's see what they come up with. I agree with Chris. I think Title IX has done a lot of good, and we don't want to go back in that area.
SEN. McCONNELL: I think all Democratic senators should run for president this year.

MR. RUSSERT: Aren't they?

SEN. McCONNELL: Almost all of them are. The rest of them should get in.

MR. RUSSERT: What do you think of the Democratic field so far, Senator McConnell?

SEN. McCONNELL: Growing. Growing.

SEN. DODD: Growing.

SEN. McCONNELL: And I think you ought to jump right in, Chris. The water's fine.

MR. RUSSERT: Why are you encouraging your colleague to get in?

SEN. McCONNELL: I think it creates an interesting dynamic, shall I say, in the Senate, Tim, to have a great number of Democrat senators running for president.

SEN. DODD: Well, it's an indication, Tim, of what the concern is in the country. There are real problems here on the foreign policy front and the domestic front we've been talking about, and they seem to be getting worse. And I think people are nervous. There's a great sense of anxiety and unease about the direction we're going in as a nation. So I'll be interested to hear what the president has to say Tuesday night. But the reason that people are talking about this is because they're worried about the direction we're going.

MR. RUSSERT: Before we go, Raiders or Bucs?

SEN. DODD: Well, I'm going with the Raiders this year.

SEN. McCONNELL: Raiders.

MR. RUSSERT: My God, the over the hill gang, there they are, pushing them out, huh? Maybe because George Allen, the senator of Virginia's brother, Bruce Allen...

SEN. DODD: That's right.

MR. RUSSERT: ...runs the Raiders.

SEN. DODD: Yeah.

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