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Stakeout Media Availability with Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Majority Leader; Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ); and other Republican Senators Following the Senate Policy Luncheons


Location: Washington, DC

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SEN. MCCONNELL: Good afternoon, everyone. We'd like to just discuss briefly sort of a potpourri of different subjects.

Let me say a word about the Colombia free trade agreement. I noticed one of our Democratic Senate colleagues recently referred to the president and, I guess, Republicans in general as responding to the economic slowdown like Herbert Hoover might. I think it's important for our friends on the other side of the aisle to read a little history. What did Hoover do in the wake of the collapse of the economy in the early '30s -- a much more dramatic collapse than we have now. We have a slowing of the economy, is all we know at the point -- at this point. First of all, he advocated a tax increase. And second, he signed Smoot-Hawley. So he raised taxes and launched America on a protectionist path.

What are our Democratic friends advocating? They passed a budget that recommends a tax increase three times as large as the previous tax increase in history and they apparently violate the law and refuse to take up the Colombia free trade agreement in the House.

Supporting the Colombia free trade agreement is about as close to a no-brainer as you're going to get. Colombian goods already come into the United States virtually duty-free. This would open up their markets for us, for -- that is, for people who are working in the United States to produce products for export.

Secondly, it has serious foreign policy implications. They're our best ally in South America. President Uribe has done a spectacular job of reducing violence across the board, particularly against union members, as well as taking on the drug cartels, to the point where now it's pretty safe to be in Medellin and other places that were very, very dangerous in just the recent past.

So for all of those reasons, we ought to be approving the Colombia free agreement. But at the very least, we ought not to violate U.S. law and prevent a vote.

So with that, let me turn to Senator Kyl.

SEN. KYL: Thank you, leader.

Another subject that's on the minds of a lot of Americans is what's happened to the nominees for judgeships that President Bush has sent up to the Senate, many of which are languishing, especially in those courts where judicial emergencies have been declared. Why isn't the Senate acting to fill these positions?

You'll hear Republican senators continue to talk about this, including, perhaps, this afternoon and this evening. We've written letters to the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. We had conversation in the Judiciary Committee itself. We did some speaking on the floor last week about the issue. But apparently we have to talk about it some more in order to get the attention of the leader and the chairman of the committee.

Just this morning, The Washington Post has another editorial asking the same question that we're asking and making the same point, entitled "Judges, and Justice, Delayed." And they point out the fact that we need to move faster on judicial nominees. They select two in particular that they say are worthy of a vote, up or down, by the Senate. The first one is Peter Keisler, who's described as a -- well, let me just read it to you.

Peter Keisler has been nominated to the District of Columbia Circuit Court, and they say, "It is a travesty that he has yet to get a vote from the Senate Judiciary Committee." He's been pending now almost two years. And they say the "Democrats have held up Mr. Keisler's nomination over a squabble about whether the D.C. Circuit needs 12 full-time judges. That dispute is over: Congress eliminated the 12th seat this year. Mr. Keisler should be confirmed forthwith." And the Post is correct.

So you'll hear Republican senators talking about the need to fill these seats, to confirm the judges that the president has sent up or at least have a vote on them. And to conclude, with this point: If we did something we'd never done before, and that is, to confirm two judges in April to the circuit courts, two more in May, two more in June and two more in July -- probably the last time that we'll have an opportunity to vote on circuit court nominees -- we would still not have confirmed as many judges as were confirmed in the last two years of the Clinton administration, when Republicans were in charge. So we have a long way to go, a lot of work to do. And as the Post editorialized this morning, it's time to get on with the confirmation of the president's judicial nominees.

SEN. : On tax day, April 15, Republican senators want to remind the country that Republican senators will do everything we can to stop the largest tax increase in history as one way to protect the family budget. The largest tax increase in history is included within the new Democratic budget which was just adopted by virtually a party- line vote.

The American people know that taxes are high. They work 113 days a year to pay their federal, state and local taxes. The tax increase that the Democrats have included in their budget would pay for groceries for the average American family for eight months. It would pay for electric bills for a year and a half to two years. These are costs that family budgets in America can't stand.

So Republican senators will do all we can to protect the family budget by stopping the largest tax increase in history. In addition on April 15th, we have a variety of proposals to simplify taxes. Senator McCain mentioned one today. I've introduced, as have several Republicans in the House, a one-page alternative 17 percent flat tax in lieu of the full tax system that we have today.

SEN. : Well, I think it's important on April 15th, tax day -- most Americans are thinking about how much they're paying in taxes. Most American families today have to work an average of four months just to pay the bills to the government, to the local, state and federal government. So it's a good day to remind the American people which party stands for higher taxes, which party stands for lower taxes.

The Democrats are very clear, their presidential nominees are very clear that they want to raise taxes. The Democrats in the Senate are very clear that they want to raise taxes. The Republican nominee for president wants to lower taxes. He's come out with a proposal today, including lowering the corporate tax rate to 25 percent. I'm in support of that. I think it helps make us more competitive in the world.

But we also have to look at what will the individual tax rates do to small businesses. I was a small-business owner. If you -- at a time where you're in an economic crunch, if you're paying higher and higher taxes, you can't hire that next employee. You can't expand your business. So we have to look at taxes not only on the corporate side but also on the individual side because it affects small businesses especially in America. And small businesses are the engine which drives our economy.

So, while we have this kind of perfect storm, with energy prices being at an all-time high, as well as the housing crunch, we need to be looking at things that will help our economy. And with the Democrats' prescription of raising taxes, it is exactly the wrong prescription, I believe, along with protectionism, just like Senator McConnell talked about. The Great Depression was made much worse than it otherwise would have been because of protectionism and higher taxes.

We are at a critical point now. I believe the economy is in trouble out there. I believe that things are fairly serious. To make sure that they get better instead of much worse, we need to be looking at lowering taxes, not raising taxes.

Q Mr. Leader?


Q Do you think that there's no need for any further non- housing economic stimulus spending before you leave for Memorial Day?

SEN. MCCONNELL: I think we'll be talking about what additional steps should be taken. You know, there may be some need for additional legislation. We're open to discussing that with our Democratic colleagues as we move forward. We've already acted twice this year. This is April. We've already passed two measures, an economic stimulus package, signed by the president. Those rebate checks should land in May. We acted a second time in the Senate by housing -- passing a housing package. So we've not exactly been taking no action. And we'll see what might be appropriate in the coming months.

Q So what will you be bringing to the table in those meetings? What would be appropriate -- (off mike)?

SEN. MCCONNELL: We'll be talking on a bipartisan basis with what -- about what additional steps might be taken.

Q Are you in talks about planning to start slowing down work on the floor over these nominations? Is that still something that there's not --

SEN. MCCONNELL: I'm having a hard time hearing you.

Q Are you in the conference prepared now to start slowing down its work on the floor on legislation in response to --

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, we're on the highway technical corrections bill. It's open for amendments. We were discussing various amendments in our lunch earlier, and I assume amendments are going to be offered and dealt with.

Q So in terms of the judicial nomination issue, though -- (off mike) -- some threats that y'all slow some bills down or hold things off the floor?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Judicial nominations, as Senator Kyl indicated, are a matter of very strong interest among my members, an issue upon which we are unanimous. And we do not feel that the Judiciary Committee has handled the circuit court nominations fairly. We're going to do everything we can to encourage them to report out -- you know, it's been a glacial pace. I mean, we've had one circuit judge since last September. There have only been seven confirmed to date. As Senator Kyl indicated, the previous lowest number was 15 during the last two years of President Clinton. The average for each of the last three presidents was 17 in the last two years. The last two years, each of these presidents ended up with the opposition party in control of the Senate. You know, this is simply unacceptable and a terrible precedent to set for the future.

Q Senator, you talk about global warming legislation. The president is talking about putting together something. What do you expect from the president on that? And do you see -- and do Republicans want in the Senate -- major global warming legislation to pass this year?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, we've had a lot of discussion about the global warming issue. The administration can speak for itself. I have a variety of members in different places on that issue.

I don't know whether the majority leader plans to schedule global warming this summer or not. But we'll certainly be prepared to participate in that. And there will be a variety of different approaches recommended.

Q Do you support the Coburn amendment -- (off mike)?

SEN. MCCONNELL: We'll have to see what's offered. I really haven't looked at it yet.


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