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


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CROWLEY: Joining me from his home state of Oklahoma, Republican Senator Tom Coburn. And here in Washington, Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia. Both are members of the "gang of six."

Gentlemen, thank you both. First to you, Senator Coburn. That gang of six actually seemed to get along fairly well. We always thought they looked kind of close to some kind of debt reduction, the gang of six, three Republicans, three Democrats in the Senate, looking for a debt solution.

With that in mind, can you look at what's going on in the super committee and tell me what your level of confidence is that they're going to get something done where you all couldn't quite get it done?

SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: Oh, I think they will. I think, you know, as the time pressure builds and they get towards a deadline, I think they'll get something done. The question is will they do enough if they only do the $1.2 trillion, we're going to have to start over as soon as that's passed and find another $3 trillion or $4 trillion just to buy us five years in time -- you know, the time to work out of our problems.

CROWLEY: And, Senator Warner, if my memory is correct, I believe Senator Coburn had like an $8 trillion package where he thought he could reduce $8 trillion. What is your level of confidence here that they're going to get something done? I didn't think Congressman Hensarling sounded at all optimistic.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Well, listen, I'm hopeful. We're trying to root them on. We've got 45 senators now. Tom and I have helped organize this group, bipartisan senators, 100 members of the House saying if they will step up and be bold, we got their back, we'll try to give them that cover.

And as Tom has indicated, you know, we really need to be shooting for more like a $4 trillion deficit reduction plan. If there's one thing we've seen from the last few months in Europe, it is when you take these incremental steps, the market comes back and burns you time and again. At some point we're going to have to face that same kind of abyss that the Greeks faced, now the Italians are facing. And I believe we need to get ahead of it. Frankly, if the super committee doesn't come up with a result, I would go back to our gang of six. That had $4 trillion of deficit reduction. It had balance. Maybe that ought to get a vote if the super committee can't produce.

CROWLEY: And let me -- I want to -- after a committee produces a product, of course, the entire Senate and entire House has to pass it. I want to play you something Grover Norquist, who is a very influence Republican, he is the one that passed around a so-called no tax increase pledge on Capitol Hill, which got quite a bit of Republican takers.

So here's something he had to say last Sunday.


GROVER NORQUIST, PRESIDENT, AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM: There's not going to be a tax increase. Part of the reason is the Democrats have decided they're going to blow this process up in order to blame the Republicans for nothing happening.


CROWLEY: So let me ask you first, Senator Coburn. Norquist says flatly there is not going to be a tax increase. In your opinion, can there be a deal if there's no tax increase anywhere?

COBURN: Well, you know, I go back to what Chairman Bernanke said. We're not going to have the big deficits in the future because people aren't going to loan us the money. And if there were 60 Tom Coburns in the Senate, there wouldn't be a tax increase.

But to get where we need to be as a country, there's going to be required some compromise. And you can call something a tax increase or you can call it a revenue increase. Most of us would rather see revenue increases by reforming the tax code.

But I would tell you that there's just as much pressure on the other side when you see the commercials on television from AARP saying you can't touch Medicare. Well, I want to tell you, we're going to touch Medicare because there's no way we can borrow the money five years from now to run Medicare the way it is today. So the question really is, is will politicians do what is best for the country or best for their party and their position? And hopefully we'll start looking to do what is best for our country.

CROWLEY: And, Senator Warner, we have heard a lot about this from both sides lately. We've had the president suggest that the Republicans are doing -- totally don't want an agreement. They don't want do what's best for this country. They're only interested in politics and defeating him.

We have Norquist here saying, listen, Democrats have decided they're going to blow this process up so that the Republicans can be blamed. We're certainly in an election cycle, but isn't that what really is holding this up, is everybody trying to get a political advantage?

WARNER: Well, I do think there's a lot of back-and-forth. And that's why, you know, Tom and I and the group of us who have spent a year-and-a-half working on this, we decided to check our Democrat and Republican hats and put our country first. And we had to make those kind of compromises.

I think that's what the vast majority of Americans want us to get. You know, there's going to need to be revenues, I believe through tax reform. There is going to need to be entitlement reform, so there is really a Medicare, a Medicaid, a Social Security program 20, 30, 40 years from now. That's going to take some changes.

And what frustrates I think a lot of us is, you know, we've got to be willing to probably make some folks mad on both ends of the political extreme. And you'll know this super committee is getting close if you hear folks on both ends of the political extreme scream the loudest, because that will show that there's actually movement being made.

CROWLEY: So, Senator Coburn, I guess what frustrates so many Americans when they look at this is that you and Senator Warner and your colleagues, four other colleagues, Republicans and Democrats on this committee, worked for a year-and-a-half and couldn't come up with anything. And yet I know you all got along and you were...

WARNER: And yet we did come up with something, Candy. That's -- I mean, I'll let Tom answer this, but we had a product. We had a product.

CROWLEY: But you had a product you couldn't sell. Right?

WARNER: We had a product that we had 40 senators say we will support that. That's more than anything else that has been put out on the table.

CROWLEY: But you need 60, Senator Coburn, in the Senate.

COBURN: Well, I think that the important thing is, had you put together what we had, a ratio of about 3 to 1, 2.7 to 1, entitlement reform and spending reductions with revenue increases, that's the sweet spot that I think you could move people in the House and the Senate to.

The question is, is will you do what's best for the country. You know, Candy, we have $30 billion a year in indirect payments, credits, subsidies, and government programs for people that are grossing $1 million or more a year.

We ought to be getting rid of that. That's $300 billion over the next 10 years. Why wouldn't we do that? Most people can come together and do that. So the question comes as, what is the motive? And you alluded to it. Is it political or is it the country? The fact is, is if you go back and look two years ago at what they were writing about Greece, it is exactly what they're writing about us today.

COBURN: And if in fact we don't make these very difficult decisions that calls on every American to come and contribute to solving the problem, then we're going to be in very serious trouble and it will come very quickly.

We can fix our problems, but we require leadership from the president and the leaders of the House and the Senate and say we're going to do this and we have not seen that, on both sides of the aisle. And that's what's so disappointing.

CROWLEY: Picking up on what Senator Coburn just said, this is from Alice Rivlin, who as you know, former CBO but was also on the national commission on fiscal responsibility. And she said in the New York Times Wednesday, "I fear the president is missing a huge opportunity for leadership at a crucial moment. The president could greatly enhance the chances of such a bargain by getting visibly involved. It is not only the right thing to do, it is his only chance of getting his jobs program."

Has the president -- we have not seen the president 's fingerprints at all on the debt commission, not much on his jobs program, though he's been out campaigning. He is now with ten days left gone overseas to attend to his commander in chief duties and leader of the free world and all of that, but should he be more involved?

WARNER: Well, I think we saw the president and the speaker try to weigh in at the end of the debt debacle in early August. It didn't end up producing a result.


WARNER: And we saw the president come forward saying he would support the Gang of Six. I do think with this president, whatever he comes up with, there's going to be a series of folks that will reject that categorically just out of hand. So we've tried this congressional process. I think we need to let that play itself out. We want to be there to support it. We want that super committee to be successful, but if they're not successful we think that the Simpson-Bowles approach, and the Gang of Six, something that has got that $4 trillion number, that ought at least get a vote as well.

CROWLEY: Or be a back-stop.

Senator Warner, Senator Coburn, I have to end it here but thank you both so much for coming in. Two debates in the span of just four days. How did the Republican presidential candidates fare? We will ask a key party official, RNC chairman, Reince Priebus next.


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