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CNN "The Situation Room" Trancript: The Fiscal Cliff Debate


Location: Washington, DC

BLITZER: Yes, there's potentially a real danger out there.

Dana, we will get back to you. As soon as you get more, let us now.

The California Republican congressman, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Darrell Issa, went to the House floor today to voice his concerns about the Senate's fiscal cliff bill.


REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: When faced with a mountain of debt that we were heading for, like an airplane, did we climb over it? No. What we're going to do in the present plan is put nearly another trillion dollars worth of debt on the American people.


BLITZER: So will the congressman vote for it?

Congressman Issa is joining us now live from Capitol Hill.

Congressman, thanks very much.

If it just comes up the way it passed the Senate, could you live with it?

ISSA: I think in its current form, this opportunity, this once-in-a- lifetime opportunity to do real spending cuts has to be seized, meaning I'm with Eric Cantor.

I can't vote for it in its current form and for a good reason. The Senate, the president and the vice president failed to meet their obligation, their own stated obligation which was to bring us a balanced bill, one that had tax adjustment, yes, but also had spending cuts. This one fails at that and fails badly. BLITZER: So where are the spending cuts you will seek as part of an amendment to the Senate-passed legislation?

ISSA: Well, the very first one we debated on the floor this morning, the $11 billion that would be saved by, among other things, not increasing the pay of members of Congress.

We certainly would like to see that one included. We believe the president's executive order throwing $11 billion in new spending on just a few days ago was inappropriate, to say the least. We also -- our committee has passed over $80 billion over a year worth of changes that we believe could be there. Some of them could be adopted in this package. Some of the tax extenders could be adjusted.

As you know, Wolf, there's a complex amount of possible areas, and if you can't find it -- and, oh, by the way, if you're saying that less than two month from now or approximately two months from now we're going to be dealing with sequestration avoidance, then you have really failed to meet your requirement.

This bill should take care of sequestration for at least a year and it very clearly spell out what changes need to be paid for as part of a nearly $4 trillion tax cut.

BLITZER: You realize, of course, Congressman, if you don't pass legislation, similar -- actual legislation that the Senate passes between now and noon on Thursday, millions of your constituents out there, all across the country, are going to see a significant tax increase, not just rich people making more than $400,000 a year, but middle-class families will immediately start paying more.

ISSA: Well, as you know, Wolf, starting January 1, the Obamacare tax increase kick cans in and 21 different taxes increase that Speaker Pelosi passed when she had the role under this president.

But let's also remember that if we get it right on January 2, 3, 4 or 5, we ultimately still will not have these kick in. It's already passed the 1st. Technically, the taxes have gone up. The market will open. I would like it to open with a resolution, but if we don't signal that we're willing to cut this $1.3 trillion per year deficit meaningfully, then in fact the American people aren't getting a tax cut.

They are getting a tax deferral, meaning they eventually will have to pay these taxes because the money will still be owed. It will simply be next year or the next generation. Either way, I think we have to put a down payment, as the president said, on real reduction, something he hasn't done with the Senate in this bill.

BLITZER: You know, a lot of your constituents, though, Congressman, they are going to hate you. They are going to hate your fellow Republicans in the House of Representatives if you don't allow new legislation to go forward and they are going to be paying a whole lot more in taxes.

ISSA: Well, Wolf, I only have one voting card and I was instructed by my voters when I was reelected to vote my conscience, to vote their best interest, not for one day, but for the rest of their lives.

The only way I can do my job is use my best judgment to make sure that we're not passing on debts that we can't pay in the future. Dealing with Social Security, dealing with Medicare, some of these things are complex and would take more time. But some of the spending cuts that have already been voted through the House that simply aren't in the Senate bill could be dealt with in a matter of hours.

And I think the Senate knows that although they passed a bill on a very bipartisan basis, they didn't do the heavy lifting. The heavy lifting is adding some additional spending cuts and sending it back over. My voters want a tax cut if they can have it, but they want a tax cut that is real, not one that you don't pay today, but you owe it tomorrow.

BLITZER: So all those Republicans -- it was an 89-vote majority, 89-8 vote, only eight Democrats and Republicans in the Senate voted against it. There were three senators who were not present, did not vote in this vote in the middle of the night. All of those 89, including all of the conservative Republicans, like Pat Toomey and others, they were wrong?

ISSA: You know, Wolf, I can't account for what happens after midnight and all of that partying and revelry and drinking that goes on New Year's Eve at 2:00 in the morning.

What I can tell you is they did half of a bill. The half of the bill certainly is going to be popular certainly in the way of holding down taxes, but the other half is there's no spending reductions. As a matter of fact, there is additional spending. The president has packed this bill with some items he wanted, including tens and billions of dollars for unemployment extension, which is going to have to be paid for. Hurricane Sandy relief, which is somewhere between $27 billion and $60 billion comes right behind it. That's new spending.

The American people told all of us to deal with the deficit. Sure, we'd like lower taxes, but again I think what Republicans realize is that a lower tax that is only temporary because ultimately you're borrowing the money is not lower tax. It's a tax deferral.

When Speaker Pelosi and when Democrats were in charge, as a matter of fact, even when Bush was in and they were not in charge, they used the word pay-go constantly. In other words, is there an offsetting pay for what you do?

President Bush's tax cuts were not paid for. They were anticipated to be grown out of. These are not anticipated to be grown out of. CBO has already said 3.967. In other words, $4 trillion will be added to the debt over 10 years with this tax cut unless we do some spending cuts to help offset it.

Right now, the president's still in a spending mood. We need to get him in a savings mood.

BLITZER: I just want to clarify one point. You said it was after the New Year's and they were partying. Are you suggesting that Mitch McConnell and your fellow Republicans in the Senate, they were a little bit drunk when they voted on this last night?

ISSA: Of course not. I was having a little bit of fun with you, Wolf.

The fact is that it was after midnight. It was a piece of legislation that was intended to be passable, not necessarily to be right. And this was in fact something that Joe Biden found a way to get the art of the possible. In other words, send something from the Senate that the House could consider.

Now it's in the House. And what we find missing from it is any kind of reasonable spending reduction, something that the House has dealt with in committee. We have bubbled it up. We have a lot of figures. And also, quite frankly, the lack of any fix on sequestration -- the idea that in the next two months, in addition to this, we are going to be dealing with, if you will, the cliff in defense, the sequestration, and the cliff in the sense that if we don't raise the debt limit, I don't think those should be put off.

I think they could easily be dealt with today. I don't know if I will get my way, but I'm with Eric Cantor. This bill in its present form is not good enough because it doesn't deal with spending reduction in any way, shape or form. And the American people are smart enough to know that what you don't pay today, but owe tomorrow, you will have to pay tomorrow.

BLITZER: We have got to go, Congressman. But you still have confidence in the speaker?

ISSA: I have confidence in the speaker. He's listening. He's making the process open, but, of course, that includes people like myself and Leader Cantor who say we have got to be open to change and we want to see them.

BLITZER: Darrell Issa, the congressman from California, Congressman, thanks very much.

ISSA: Thank you, Wolf.

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