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CNN "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" - Transcript


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CROWLEY: Joining me now from his home state of Illinois, the number two Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin. And in Dallas, Texas, Republican congressman Jeb Hensarling, the number four Republican in the House.

Gentleman, thank you both for being here.

Let me start first with you, Senator Durbin, there is a lot of rattling from the left that the president has basically once again caved in this this budget deal that we now have with a $38.5 billion in cuts and that what he has done specifically will hurt the economy at a time when the federal government still needs to at least keep up spending.

DURBIN: I would say to the folks on the right, as well as my friends on the left, there is a budget reality facing both political parties. We need to dramatically reduce the deficit that we are facing. We are borrowing 40 cents for every dollar we spend.

What we're trying to do as Democrats is to make sure that we don't go too far, and so we fought to make sure that we protected early childhood education, Pell grants for kids from low-income families who want to go to college, medical research grants. these are the things which were essential and at the end of the day we won the battle. But we join with the Republicans in cutting spending. That's going to be part of our responsibility in the years to come.

CROWLEY: Congressman Hensarling, let me ask you because we are hearing from the right, in particular I wanted something that Jeff Flake told "The Hill" newspaper on Friday, saying quote, "a lot of us are quite disappointed with the level of spending cuts. It's not very big."

Where are you on this?

HENSARLING: Well, I share the disappointment of my colleagues. I mean on the one hand this is the single largest year-to-year cut in the federal budget. Frankly, in the history of America in absolute terms. And in inflation adjusted terms, it's the biggest since World War II. Probably for that we all deserve medals, the entire congress.

Relative to the size of the problem, it is not even a rounding error. In that case we probably all deserve to be tarred and feathered. I mean $38 billion of savings. In February the deficit alone was over $200 billion. It is the shortest month of the year.

We have a deficit problem that is spending driven and until we get control of spending, we're going to imperil job creation, and frankly we threaten our children's future.

Senator Durbin, you're right, everybody sort of came to this middle and seems to please neither of their wings but it is something, it is movement and you didn't shut down the government. But there is a lot of complaint out there within your own party that the president did not lead on this, he came in at the last moment, sort of swooped in and said, OK, you guys, get together and do something. And that he caved, that this looks a lot less like a progressive president than a guy who's running for re-election that wants to attract the center.

DURBIN: First, the president has a difficult assignment. He's expected to be part of the negotiations but if it looks like he's leading the negotiations he'll get push-back from Congress, Congress will remind him we have several branches of government. So the president was playing an important role here as a facilitator to bring us to agreement, and it worked. Secondly, I would say to those on the progressive side of the agenda, there are things we need to fight for, make sure we end up with a safety net, a progressive system of taxation that makes certain the most vulnerable people in America still have a fighting chance and middle income working families are not being left behind at the expense of tax cuts for wealthy families. That battle is still being led by the president of the united states.

Now comes the next chapter and it goes to another high-drama moment when we're going to face this debt ceiling. Now instead of risking government shutdown we are risking a second recession. I hope -- and I listened to Speaker Boehner's comments earlier in the program -- I hope he understands clearly that if we default on America's debt with this debt ceiling, It will have a dramatic negative impact on America's economy. It will spin us into a second recession. We don't need that.

Let's work together on a bipartisan basis to avoid it. CROWLEY: Congressman Hensarling, the debt ceiling -- and that is that the U.S. government is now up against the Congressionally approved number of the amount of money that it can borrow. I want to first read you something from Jamie Dimon who, as you know, the CEO at JPMorgan Chase who said of the idea of failing to lift the debt ceiling -- "if anyone wants to push that button which I think would be catastrophic and unpredictable, I think they're crazy."

Do you think absolutely this debt ceiling has to be raised?

HENSARLING: What I do think is, yes, it would be catastrophic to have the nation default upon its debt. But I think in some respects it presents a false premise. Dick says he wants to work with us to spend less. We could put America on the path today to spend less. We don't have to default. So nobody wants America to default on its debts, but let's also remember the classic definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

I mean, we've had our nation's first trillion dollar deficit, second trillion dollar deficit, third trillion dollar deficit, highest in the nation's history. At some point you got to quit spending money you don't have.

So Republicans are asking the president -- if I could finish this one point -- we're asking the president one thing. If you want our help to help pay your debt, start to can up the credit cards, work would us to put in place legislation to putting America on a fiscally sustainable path.

CROWLEY: And it does sound like he is going to start talking about long-term deficit reduction in a speech Wednesday, and I want to talk to Senator Durbin about that, because I know you've had some conversations, but let me just follow up, Congressman, not lifting the debt ceiling doesn't mean that the U.S. is any less in debt. It simply means it won't pay its debt. Are you willing to put a clean bill, as the president wants, just lift this debt ceiling and let's deal with the long-term debt and get together with the gang of six and with those people up on the Hill working on long-term deficit.

Will you pass a clean bill or...

HENSARLING: Candy, you say the president is going to make some announcement on Wednesday. I hope he does. But Dick and I served on his fiscal responsibility commission. He introduced a budget that had had zero -- zero recommendations of the fiscal commission in it. House Republicans have put forth their budget. Frankly, we've included a number of their ideas. So it reminds me, I continue to agree with 80% of what the president says, I just disagree with 80% of what he does.

And so I can only say it one more time -- no, we do not want America to default on its debts, but the president is going to have to cut up the credit cards. He's going to have to work with us to cut up the credit cards and put the nation on a fiscally sustainable path, otherwise we're going to continue to lose jobs and we're going to bankrupt our children. It's that simple. At some point you just got to quit spending money you don't have.

CROWLEY: But you're not willing to play chicken with the debt ceiling? Just yes or no, if I could.

HENSARLING: Well, I don't know what you mean by playing chicken. I've said the same thing three times. I do not want America to default on its debt but the president is going to have to start the process of cutting up the credit cards, pure and simple.

CROWLEY: Senator Durbin, let me ask you about the president's plans. He's going to start addressing -- I've got one minute left. Can you tell me what you know about where the president wants to head? We were told by David Plouffe that he will touch on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. What else can you tell us?

DURBIN: I can just tell you in the most general terms, I spoke to the president. And he believes as we did with his deficit commission, which I voted for, he believes that we need to address everything, put it owl an the table in a responsible manner.

I respect Paul Ryan and Jeb Hensarling, but their budget proposal leaves gaps when it comes to this discussion. They do not talk about responsibility for those in the highest income categories. They continue to give them lavish tax cuts. They don't talk about spending cuts and savings in the Pentagon. Well we certainly can save money there. Let's put everything together on the table. I think the president will try to approach this in a comprehensive way, take as much as he can take politics out of it and talk about working together.

For four months there have been six senators -- I'm one of them, three Democrats and three Republicans, sitting at a table back and forth hammering this out. We're very close -- not quite there, but very close.

I hope we can help the president find some guidance for the future.

CROWLEY: Senator Dick Durbin, it will be interesting to see if we can take the politics out of this in a presidential cycle. Thanks so much Senator Durbin. Congressman Hensarling thank you as well. We appreciate it.


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