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MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript


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MATTHEWS: You know, Senator, one of the big car companies says that, Quality"s our job number one, I think it is. His number one job is to defeat his opponent. Is that--is that a beginning for a positive conversation on how to fix this country"s economic problem?

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: Well, obviously not. It would be great if we could quit worrying about elections for 10 minutes and get to of those some serious policy questions. And the problem is just saying no and not being willing to work with us and try to figure out how we extend some of these tax cuts to the hardest-working people in America means that the tax cuts won"t remain in place.

So hopefully, the compromises will not be out of the question. Hopefully, we"ll be able to sit down and work together. I know we"re going to try very hard to work on serious policy and helping this economy prosper, as opposed to just trying to do political posturing over the next few months.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask, Senator Gregg, is there a way for a fiscally conservative guy like Mitch McConnell--the Tea Partiers are now part of the equation to some extent--and a progressive president like Obama to cut a deal that would reduce the debt in a long run, create some kind of economic advantage to business especially in the short run? Can you put it all together into one equation?

SEN. JUDD GREGG ®, NEW HAMPSHIRE: Yes. Yes, I think there is.

MATTHEWS: Is there a deal there?

GREGG: Absolutely. I think there are a variety of places where that could be accomplished. Number one, in energy. We shift $300 billion a year overseas to buy oil and other forms of energy from people who don"t like us. We should take aggressive action to try to stop that and keep that money here, keep it invested here.

We should have major tax reform. Ron Wyden, who"s a pretty progressive guy and a liberal--I suspect he"s been on your show--and myself have put together a major overhaul of the tax laws along the lines of what President Reagan and Senator Bradley did in 1986 --


GREGG: -- which would bring all rates down, create a huge incentive. I think that could be accomplished. I think there"s areas for cooperation on immigration reform so that we start bringing the best and brightest people from around the world to the United States to work instead of having them be job creators overseas. That creates revenue because it creates economic activity.

So I think there are a lot of places where you can reach consensus here and where we can move this country forward in a positive way. And we do have to address the issues the American people spoke out on rather definitively on Tuesday about, which is stop the spending, get the deficit under control and start to move this debt down so we pass down a more prosperous nation on to our children and not a nation that"s totally riddled with the debt.

MATTHEWS: Let"s take a look at the Republican Senate leader. Here"s how he"s taking about it. Again, a bit more from him at the conservative Heritage Foundation today. Let"s listen.

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MCCONNELL: We will stop the liberal onslaught. We will make the case for repeal of the health spending bill even as we vote to eliminate its worst parts. We will work hard to ensure Democrats don"t raise taxes on anybody. We will scrutinize Democrat legislation and force them to defend it. None of this is to say that Republicans have given up cooperating with the president. But as I see it, the White House has a choice. They can change course, or they can double down on a vision of government that the American people have roundly rejected. If they choose the former, they"ll find a partner in Republicans. If they don"t, we"ll have more disagreements ahead.


MATTHEWS: You know, Senator McCaskill, years ago--it seems like forever ago, 30-something years ago--I worked for Tip O"Neill when he was Speaker and they--coming out of a very difficult congressional mid-term in 1982, President Reagan met with Tip O"Neill on the back lawn, I hear, of the White House. and they basically agreed to disagree about how to do it, but they agreed basically on a compromise on how to save Social Security for 30 or 40 years. And it involved some tax increases. It involved some changes in funding and benefit levels and standards.

But this time around, it seems to me that the Republicans do have an advantage. They have a right to sort of push their version of it and the other side has its right to sign on as junior partners. If you do the same exact thing now after these elections that they did back then, Tip O"Neill and Ronald Reagan, it seems to me you could cut a deal on long-term entitlement reform, with perhaps the advantage to the Republicans because they will get more benefit cuts and much less of a revenue adjustment because, basically, the Republicans have the high cards right now.

Is that your view of it, or do the Democrats have to get this 50/50 at this point? I mean, where do you cut the cards? Where do you agree now? Who has a right to say, A little more my version than yours this time?

MCCASKILL: Well, I think that there are a number of us, especially a lot of the moderates in the Democratic Party, that are willing to sit down and try to find that common ground. And I think--I"m open to compromise on a lot of different subjects. What I"m worried about--I mean, Judd"s going home. I hate it that he"s going home because Judd is somebody who was willing to sit down and talk with common sense. He and Kent Conrad have worked very closely together in a bipartisan way on the budget.

But what I worry about is that Mitch McConnell has had political success with secret holds, with "Just say no," with blocking everything, and I"m worried that that pace of success through obstructionism has taken root and we"re not going to get any compromise or cooperation. And that will be a problem.

MATTHEWS: Do you think the bargaining position of your party, Senator Gregg, will be, yes, we can fix entitlements. We can fix Social Security. We can fix other programs that are going to perhaps break us over a long time, as people my age start to retire. But we"re not going to touch taxes. If you go that route, not going to touch taxes, not going to touch taxation of benefits or anything that says tax or even looks like it, will there ever be a deal, if that"s the party"s position?

GREGG: Well, you know, you can"t fix Social Security or Medicare or even Medicaid, in my opinion, unless you have a consensus bipartisan position. These are programs that are so huge and affect so many people that the American people won"t accept as fair fixes that they see as being one party. That was the problem with the health care bill. The American people take a look at this and they said, This thing was just rammed through. It was misdirected in lots of ways, including growing the government by such a huge amount. And we don"t trust it because we don"t believe that it"s going to work and we don"t think it was fair. I think we should have--

MATTHEWS: Well, wait a minute--

GREGG: -- learned something from that.


GREGG: -- learn from that that the best way to approach this type of an issue is to put everybody in the room and see if you can"t resolve it. Now, Social Security is an extraordinarily fixable problem. I mean, there are only four or five moving parts to Social Security, and we don"t have to affect anybody who"s on the system today to put it into a glide path to solvency over the long term, and we need to do that.


GREGG: And the simple fact is it"s going to have to have both parties working on it.

MATTHEWS: Well, the thing is about health care--I don"t know where it broke down, but I was watching it, as you were as a member of Senate, and I was watching it from here, and Senator McCaskill was certainly involved. And I was looking at what happened. You had a lot of Republicans like Grassley and Orrin Hatch, and you had Enzi from Wyoming. They were all aboard, discussing the bill in the Finance Committee. We were all waiting for that.

GREGG: I was in that room, actually.

MATTHEWS: Right. And the chairman of that committee is no lefty and yet--and he was trying to hold the horses so that the Republicans could get aboard the boat--the wagon, if you will, and everybody was sort of talking together. Then all of a sudden, the Tea Partiers showed up. Grassley was gone. Orrin Hatch saw that Bennett was gone, or about to be gone, so he was gone. I don"t know what got Enzi to run scared. I thought he was going to--he"s a CPA. I thought he was going to watch it and make the numbers better. So your party fled the scene.

GREGG: Oh, I--I--

MATTHEWS: It wasn"t like the--what happened to the--what happened in that committee?

GREGG: Chris, I don"t see a lot of use in us regurgitating that, but I would disagree 180 degrees from your assessment as to why we weren"t, in the end, in the room. But let"s talk about going forward because that"s what we really have to deal with. We"re facing--

MATTHEWS: OK, I just don"t want to have to--

GREGG: -- a deficit and a debt--

MATTHEWS: -- start with the idea that--

GREGG: -- that"s going to break this country.

MATTHEWS: OK, let"s go forward here. Will the debt commission that comes out December 1st give enough cover to, A, the Tea Partiers, B, Democrats, C, Republicans who want to get reelected again next time--will it give them enough cover so you get 218 in the House and 51 in the Senate, or 60 or whatever it takes now? Will it--you have enough--will it give you enough cover--you first, Senator Gregg. Will it give you enough cover, members of the Congress, to vote for it if you have the president"s commission saying, This is the right thing to do?

GREGG: It should, if we can reach an agreement. You got to remember, the people on this commission come from a very diverse group. You got Tom Coburn, you got myself, and then you"ve got folks on the other--


GREGG: -- end of the spectrum. So you got a lot of people in this room who--if we come to agreement, my view is we should have an up or down vote on that without amendments. And it"s going to be bipartisan and it"s going to--hopefully--it"s not going to fix the whole problem. It won"t be a global fix, but at least say to the American people and the world, for that matter, that America"s serious about fixing its debt and its deficit problems. And it should be enough cover for everybody to take comfort with, if that"s what they want to call it. But in any event, it should be an effective action which actually gets us down the road towards addressing our fundamental problem in this nation, which is our deficit and our debt.

MATTHEWS: Senator McCaskill, does it give enough cover to people running for reelection?

MCCASKILL: The make-up of that--

MATTHEWS: To go for a bipartisan presidential commission.

MCCASKILL: Absolutely. The make-up of that commission, if they reach an agreement, we should all fall on our knees and thank God because you do have from one end to the other. And if they reach an agreement, then the American people are going to be the benefit of some people putting aside political advantage for the good and future of this nation. And I"m hoping that Judd Gregg uses his very best smile and persuasive ability to get his fellow Republicans, along with the Democrats on that commission, to come to a conclusion and a compromise that allows us to do something about long-term entitlement debt in this country.

MATTHEWS: Well, maybe the best thing--


MATTHEWS: Can you vote on it this year? Can we vote on it this year instead of waiting until next year and more politics, Senator Gregg?

GREGG: We should. We absolutely should. That was the understanding.

That was the commitment.


GREGG: We should vote on it this year. Now, the problem, of course, is going to be the House. We never got a commitment out of Speaker Pelosi to vote on it this year. We did get a commitment out of Majority Leader Reid that there"d be an up or down vote without amendments in the Senate. The House, of course, is going through this huge transition, change in parties. It"s going to--that just physically is a hugely time-consuming event. But the best thing to do, if we get an agreement--now, I"m not representing we"re going to get an agreement, but certainly, everybody on this commission"s working hard--


GREGG: -- and they"re sincere, but--


MATTHEWS: It could be the biggest thing in 10 years. Thank you so much, Senator Judd Gregg.

GREGG: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: And thank you, Senator Claire McCaskill.

MCCASKILL: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Coming up: President Obama"s been talking about President Clinton"s big mid-term losses back in 1994. There he is yesterday. Well, Clinton rebounded and came back strong, got reelected and was a very successful president, except for one little problem near the end. But certainly, history looks very kindly on President Clinton, after all. Can President Obama achieve the same historic mark? We"ll see.

You"re watching HARDBALL, only on--well, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: Well, we told you yesterday how well Republicans did winning governorships across the country. They also did very well with state legislatures, and those victories could translate down the road into big Republican gains for years to come.

Get this. Republicans will now be able to unilaterally draw the maps in 190 congressional districts. That"s 190 seats they could conceivably redistrict favorably to Republicans. Democrats will only be able to do that alone in 70 districts at the most. A lot of power from redistricting down the road. Elections have consequences.

HARDBALL back after this.


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