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WALLACE: Congress passed a compromise this week to keep the government running for two more weeks. But the threat of a partial shutdown is still there, and so are the major differences between the two parties. So what happens now?
For answers, we turn to the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin, who comes to us from Chicago, and the head of the House Republican Conference, Jeb Hensarling, who joins us from Dallas.
Gentlemen, Vice President Biden held talks with congressional leaders this week. Republicans want a total of $61 billion in actual spending cuts. Democrats are offering, at this point, $10.5 billion in actual spending cuts.
Senator Durbin, let me start with you. Where do the talks stand, and are Democrats willing to agree to more cuts?
SEN. DICK DURBIN, D-ILL.: Well, I can tell you that we're going to have a vote. I think we have to demonstrate to the House Republicans and to Speaker Boehner what will happen to their proposal when it comes to the Senate. And my guess is it will not come close to passage.
It's an indication that we need to get very serious, act like adults, sit down and not lurch from one week or two weeks to two weeks in funding our government. We need to try to reach an agreement on a bipartisan basis. And I hope that after our vote in the Senate, that will happen.
WALLACE: All right. Congressman Hensarling, same question. Where do the talks stand? And are Republicans willing to agree to less than $61 billion in cuts?
REP. JEB HENSARLING, R-TEXAS: Well, first, Chris, as you know, we wouldn't in this place in the first place if the previous Democratic Congress taken care of their business, passed a budget, passed a spending bill. It's the first time since, I believe, 1974 that the House hasn't even passed a budget. So that's point No. 1.
Point No. 2, if we're going to help create more jobs in America, if we're going to help save our children from bankruptcy, we've got to take America off of this fiscally irresponsible path. Here, we're borrowing almost 40 cents on the dollar, much of it from the Chinese, and sending the bill to our children and grandchildren.
So House Republicans put forth a proposal that would keep the government open. The Senate, frankly, has had plenty of time to consider it. They wanted more time, so we gave them two more weeks, but I hope that they would join us. And I agree with Dick. I would hope we can work on a bipartisan basis to put this nation on a fiscally sustainable path.
WALLACE: Let me break in, if I may. I might note that, in my [SIC] answer to my question, neither of you said, Democrats, whether you're willing to accept more cuts, Republicans, whether you're willing to accept less cuts.
Senator Durbin, you and other Democratic leaders keep talking about meeting the Republicans halfway. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOUSE MINORITY LEADER NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF.: Democrats stand ready to meet the Republicans halfway on this. That would be fair.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My administration has already put forward specific cuts that meet congressional Republicans halfway.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: But several major news organizations say that talk about meeting the Republicans halfway is a phony. To get there, you claim $41 billion in cuts from President Obama's budget, which was never passed, so you're not actually cutting anything.
Let's take a look at the real numbers. Republicans want $61 billion in actual cuts from current spending. Between the extension you passed last week and the next one, you're offering $10 billion in actual cuts, $10.5 billion in actual cuts from current spending. Associated Press says this: "The White House is arguably meeting the GOP just one-sixth of the way, not halfway at all."
DURBIN: Well, let me say this. We can talk about numbers, and I'm willing to, but let's get down to the bottom. The bottom line is this: if we went ahead with the House Republican budget, if we decided to cut education the way they want to cut it, take the money out of Head Start, put hundreds of thousands of poor kids out of the program, and dismiss ten or 20,000 teachers and staff; if we want to cut the Pell grants and force young people from families of limited means to leave college; if we want to cut research, medical research at the National Institutes of Health, which is what they propose; and if we want to cut one-third of the staff at the Oregon National Laboratory and the laboratories around the United States; if we want to cut the infrastructure project, putting people to work...
WALLACE: Senator, I think we -- I think we get the idea. You don't like their cuts. And...
DURBIN: Let me finish this, Chris. Chris.
WALLACE: And if you may -- if I may, I'm going to ask Congressman Hensarling about it, but I want to ask you about your own actions.
WALLACE: Because in fact, Democrats are proposing -- and let's put it up on the screen -- $10.5 billion in real cuts from current spending. That's from total spending of $3.7 trillion.
Senator Durbin, that represents a cut of .28 percent. That's less than one-third of 1 percent. Is that really the best the Democrats can do?
DURBIN: Chris -- Chris, if I could finish my answer.
WALLACE: I ask you, is .28 percent the best the Democrats can do?
DURBIN: The House Republican budget...
WALLACE: I'm asking you about your spending cuts.
DURBIN: Chris, may I answer?
WALLACE: Yes, I'm asking you -- I'm asking you to answer my question, which is, is that the best Democrats can do?
DURBIN: I'm going to finish one way or the other here, Chris. The House Republican budget takes all of its cuts out of 12 percent of our budget. Jeb Hensarling and I sat on the commission, an honest commission that said we need to put everything on the table. You can't balance the budget of America by cutting education, research and innovation, and basic...
WALLACE: Are you willing to accept more cuts in discretionary spending, sir?
DURBIN: It can't be done. What I'm saying is, if you believe that you're going to balance the budget by cutting just 12 percent of the budget down to balance, it is literally, figuratively impossible. If you want the bragging rights for who can cut the most out of education, I'm...
WALLACE: I get it. But you didn't answer the question, sir. And I gave you a chance to answer, and you didn't answer it.
Congressman Hensarling, let me try again with you. Let's look at some of the GOP's proposed cuts that Senator Durbin keeps talking about: $2 billion from jobs training in the middle of a weak recovery; $1.6 billion from the National Institutes of Health; $600 million from border security and immigration enforcement. Really? Cuts in job training and border security?
HENSARLING: Well, a couple of things, Chris. No. 1, at some point you've got to quit spending money that you don't have. We've just come off our first trillion-dollar deficit. Our second trillion- dollar deficit now under President Obama and the Democrats, the single largest deficit in America's history.
Now Dick says everything has to be on the table, but under their plan, nothing is on the table.
Now here's what we have done as House Republicans. We know that the best housing program, the best education program, the best nutrition program is a job. And there's still millions of our fellow Americans who are out of work due to the economic policies of his party and President Obama.
You talk to any of the job creators, and they'll tell you one of the things that concerns them the most is the debt. And so high levels of indebtedness are going to lead to high levels of taxation, which lead to high level of unemployment.
If you really want to get people to have paychecks instead of government checks, we've got to put the nation on a fiscally sustainable course. And when Dick talks about, or accuses us of draconian cuts, yes, this is 2.5 percent, roughly, of the entire federal budget. They're willing to do nothing. Again if you want to help people (ph) today and save children from bankruptcy tomorrow...
WALLACE: Let me -- let me break in -- Congressmen, I've got to break -- Congressman -- Congressman, I've got to break in. Because one of the points that Senator Durbin made, and a lot of people would say this, is that the problem is that you're focusing on 15 percent of the budget, non-defense, discretionary spending, and you're ignoring all the big money in entitlements.
Now Speaker of the House John Boehner spoke to the Wall Street Journal this week. And he said, and this is their paraphrase, "the budget is likely to contain cost containment goals for entitlements but no specific ideas on how to achieve them."
Congressman Hensarling, is that the best Republicans can do? Containment goals but no specific plans?
HENSARLING: Well, what I'd like to do is be able to work with Democrats to reform current entitlement programs for future generations, grandfathering all the grandparents.
And yes, Dick and I were appointees to the president's Fiscal Responsibility Commission. I hope he would agree with me that, if you're ever going to put America on a fiscally sustainable path where we don't destroy the American dream for our children, which means giving them less opportunity than we've had, these have got to be addressed. I mean, Republicans have already done this. For example, Paul Ryan in Wisconsin putting forth his particular plan, which I have co- sponsored, Roadmap for America's Future.
WALLACE: But let me...
HENSARLING: And yet, we have a president who has not led. We only have one president, and instead, all he presents us is trillions of dollars of more debt.
WALLACE: But let me ask about that, Senator Durbin. Because in his new budget, the president, in fact, ignores the debt commission that both you and Jeb Hensarling were a part of and offers no entitlement savings. Is that presidential leadership?
DURBIN: I can just tell you, -- I'm still here, Chris. I can just tell you, that when it came to that deficit commission, I was proud to vote for it, even though I disagreed with some of the particulars. Not a single House Republican voted for the deficit commission report, including Jeb and Paul Ryan and Dave Camp from the House Ways and Means Committee.
And what we believe is you can't cut your way out of our crisis; you can't tax your way out of our crisis. You have to deal with this, in its -- in its entirety, and we have to think our way out of it. We have to come up with the kind of answers that show both sides -- both sides are willing to give.
Chris, one point I want to make to you: we are continuing the work of this deficit commission on a bipartisan basis. There are six senators sitting down. Three Democrats, three Republicans. And they really represent the whole spectrum. We are trying to come up with a comprehensive way to do it. Not about the bragging rights for the next six or seven months...
DURBIN: ... but whether we can have a sensible way that brings us down to the point that Jeb and I agree on.
WALLACE: OK. We've got a couple of minutes left, and I'm going to try again with the question that I asked at the very beginning, which I didn't get an answer to, quite frankly, gentlemen, from either of you.
Congressman Hensarling, as part of the GOP -- House GOP leadership, you not only have to deal with the Democrats; you also have to deal with your Tea Party freshmen. If you come back to them with a compromise as a result of these budget talks, a compromise of less than $61 billion in cuts, in real spending, this year, will they support it, and will you support it?
HENSARLING: Well, all I can say is here's what we're going to fight for. I'm not going to negotiate this on national television today. We're going to fight for, again, is putting America on a fiscally sustainable path to help create jobs today, save our children from bankruptcy tomorrow.
Unfortunately, we well know Republicans only control one of three levers of law-making. The Democrats have the Senate. The Democrats have the White House. Nobody wants to shut down the government.
But one thing is non-negotiable, as our speaker said. We will not pass bills that don't create savings for the American people, create confidence for American job creators...
HENSARLING: ... so we can start creating more jobs in the economy. That simple.
WALLACE: And Senator Durbin, in the time we have left, and it's less than a minute, I'm going to try again with you. You're at this point of $10.5 billion. The White House and Senate Democrats. Are you willing to accept more in cuts than $10.5 billion?
DURBIN: I can tell you personally I'm willing to see more deficit reduction but not out of domestic discretionary spending. When you're cutting education, innovation and infrastructure, you're not dealing with the reality of this recession. Paul Zandy (ph) has basically told us we're going to have 700,000 Americans out of work because of the House Republican budget. That doesn't help us get out of the recession.
WALLACE: OK. Just real quickly, then you're saying $10.5 billion in domestic, non-defense discretionary spending, that's it?
DURBIN: I think we've pushed this to the limit. To go any further is to push more kids out of school, to stifle the innovation which small businesses and large alike need to create more jobs. And it stops the investment of infrastructure, which kills good-paying jobs right here in the United States.
WALLACE: Gentlemen, I'm going to have to leave it there. I want to thank you both so much. Congressman Hensarling, Senator Durbin, thank you both for coming in and talking with us. And we'll stay on top of these budget negotiations. Thanks, gentlemen.
DURBIN: Thank, Chris.
HENSARLING: Thank you.
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