Senators Durbin and Kyl on "This WeeK"

Senators Durbin and Kyl on "This WeeK"

By This Week - July 12, 2009

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Hello, again. It was another whirlwind week abroad for the president and the whole Obama family, touched down in Washington early this morning for what may be the most momentous month of the year on Capitol Hill.

Confirmation hearings for Judge Sotomayor begin tomorrow. But the House and Senate are trying to pass health care by August, but the odds against that going up. And despite calls from some to scale back his agenda, President Obama doubled down this morning, writing in The Washington Post that now is not the time to defer hard decisions.

Here to debate all that is coming up, the two Senate leaders in charge of counting the votes: Democrat Dick Durbin, and Republican Jon Kyl . Welcome both back to "THIS WEEK."

And, Senator Durbin, let me begin with you on the issue that probably most directly affects most Americans, that's health care. Your counterparts, the House Democrats, are carrying forward a piece of legislation that includes a $550 billion tax increase, with a surtax of about 1 percent that starts for individuals earning about $250,000 a year, climbing to 3 percent for individuals earnings a million dollars a year or more.

Can Senate Democrats sign on to that?

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), WHIP: I think we're going to have a different approach. We understand that we have to combine cuts in actual spending on health care, savings from hospitals, from doctors, from health insurance companies, along with some new revenue.

Now this new revenue is not just to cover those who are uninsured today, but to make sure that insurance is affordable for people...


STEPHANOPOULOS: New revenue but not a surtax on millions -- on people earning over $250,000 a year?

DURBIN: The Senate Finance Committee is considering a lot of different options. I don't want to preclude or select any option at this point. But I think what we need to do is to make sure that at the end of the day, we have real health care reform.

The American people are committed to change, George. There is resistance, of course, among some Republicans in the Senate. But this has been a good week. A number of Republican senators came forward, met with Senator Harry Reid , continued to meet with Senator Baucus.

I think we're starting the kind of bipartisan dialogue that's going to work.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to ask Senator Kyl about that bipartisan dialogue. But first, on this tax increase.



STEPHANOPOULOS: Absolutely not.

KYL: No. Here is the problem. We're in a recession. We know that between 75 and 80 percent of the jobs created in the country are created by small business. At least 55 percent of the income that would be generated by this surtax directly hits the entrepreneurs who run these small businesses.

It would be a job killer. It would be exactly the wrong thing to do any time, but especially when we're in the middle of a recession.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How about these bipartisan negotiations? Senator Charles Grassley, your ranking member on the Finance Committee, which you are also a member of, has been negotiating with Senator Baucus and others. He met with Harry Reid , as Senator Durbin just said.

But I have been told that you've had some very tough conversations with Senator Grassley and that you've warned him against giving away too much to the Democrats. Is that true?

KYL: Well, no. I haven't warned him about anything. But it is true that we've had a lot of discussions internally in our Republican Conference, and that senators Hatch and Grassley and Enzi and Olympia Snowe, who did meet with that bipartisan group, I think sent a very strong message.

No on these taxes. No on the kind of mandates that the Democrats are talking about, including a government-run insurance company. So while Republicans all...


KYL: George, can I just make one quick point? Republicans are very committed to reform. But we do not like the ideas of spending and taxing and creation of more deficit in order to achieve these results.

STEPHANOPOULOS: No. But Senator Grassley has talked about other tax increases, not taxing the -- taking away the exclusion for health insurance plans right now. He has also talked about a public insurance plan based on the idea of cooperatives.

On those issues, does he speak for the Republican Conference?

KYL: No. And I certainly disagree with any kind of government- run plan. I don't think it's fair to say that Senator Grassley has supported any of these tax proposals. He has been very wary of the tax proposals.

Think about this, if you have a catastrophic health event in your life, you can take -- if it represents more than 7.5 percent of your gross adjusted income, for income tax purposes, you can take a deduction on that.

They're asking to raise this up to 10 percent. Most of the people hit by that are seniors and 55 percent of them are making under $50,000 a year. These are bad tax policies.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, Senator Durbin, you heard Senator Kyl right there. He says that no public health insurance plan, I hear a no on any kind of revenue enhancement. So is a bipartisan deal really possible? And how necessary is it? DURBIN: Senator Kyl is not ready for change and I guess that's his position. But most Americans are ready for change. They want to keep the health insurance that they have, if it's good policy. But they want us to fix the things that are broken in this system.

When Senator Kyl says he is opposed to any kind of government-run health insurance, is he opposed to Medicare? That covers 45 million Americans today, another 60 million covered by a government plan called Medicaid.

I mean, the fact is overwhelmingly, three out of four Americans say we should have a choice as Americans of a government-run insurance plan. It's a choice we can make voluntarily. It brings competition in the system.

The resistance to this idea comes from the health insurance companies. Those private companies that are making a fortune in profits today, denying coverage to individuals, fighting with our doctors about the cure that we receive.

There should be competition...


DURBIN: We should keep them honest.

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... the talks did at first bog down this week and then seem to pick up again towards the end of the week. Is it still possible for the Senate to pass a bill by the president's deadline of the August recess?

DURBIN: Yes, it is. And I'm glad that President Obama went overseas for critically important meetings with world leaders. Now I'm glad that he's home. He's going to be rolling up his sleeves. We've already been in communication with the White House.

He wants to get this job done. And that means the Senate should move in an expeditious way to finish our committee hearings, bring this bill to the floor before the August recess.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm going to ask Senator Kyl that question as well. But let me broaden it out as well, because there has been a lot of talk this week also about the stimulus and whether or not it has really helped the economy.

You told -- you put out a statement earlier this week, you said that the stimulus ought to be canceled. But your own governor, Republican governor of Arizona, has talked about the successes of the stimulus in the state of Arizona, pointing to 24 highway projects creating 6,000 jobs, a weatherization program creating 1,500 jobs, a series of programs for child care and education that have all helped the state of Arizona.

So why do you want to cancel a program that your own Republican governor said has helped your state? KYL: Well, I don't want to leave that health issue without, first of all, reiterating the fact that Republicans very much want reform, but not on the backs of the American people with the kind of taxes and potential rationing of care...


KYL: ... that would result. There is no chance that it's going to be done by August. President Obama was right about one thing. He said if it's not done quickly, it won't be done at all. Why did he say that? Because the longer it hangs out there, the more the American people are skeptical, anxious, and even in opposition to it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that ties into the complaints you've made about the stimulus.

KYL: That then -- yes.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that brings us right back to that.

KYL: Yes. And with respect to the stimulus, I think it's now acknowledged, it hasn't done what it set out to do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But your government says it has in Arizona.

KYL: No. What our -- look, all governors like "free money" coming to the state. My governor is no different. But the reality is that it has added to our deficit. We're now going to have a $1.8 trillion deficit this year.

It promised to create 4 -- or save 4 million jobs. We've now lost another 2 million jobs. Unemployment is 2 points higher than it was when the president took office. And even with the stimulus, it's higher than they said that it would be without the stimulus.

The reality is it hasn't helped yet. Only about 6.8 percent of the money has actually been spent. What I proposed is, after you complete the contracts that are already committed, the things that are in the pipeline, stop it.

You can spend about half of the money on the stimulus and the last half would be spent during the eight -- last eight years of a 10- year period. Why spend that money when it could be put to better use on other things like health care, for example?

And we're digging this deficit hole even deeper than we have today.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What's the answer, Senator Durbin?

DURBIN: Well, the answer is this, it's a two-year plan and we're four months into it. The Republicans resisted President Obama's efforts to put together the stimulus package. And at the time that he made the proposal, our economy was in freefall.

We were facing a worldwide recession. It's true that we're not out of the woods yet. We still have a long way to go. But we have started to stabilize our economy and the world economy. And that's a move in the right direction.

What Senator Kyl fails to acknowledge is that we have actually written checks so far for $56 billion out of $787 billion. We are going to see the impact of the stimulus package start to grow.



DURBIN: Well, first let me tell you, George. First it means tax breaks for working families. Does Senator Kyl oppose that? Would he cancel those?

Secondly, it means transportation projects across America, in Arizona, in Illinois, and other states, not only creating good-paying jobs but building America's infrastructure for the future.

Does Senator Kyl oppose that?

I think these are good investments in America's future. Let's give it time to work.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I think you (inaudible) answer, but let me just follow up, one more question on this. With the jobs situation and the whole economy being so much worse than everyone expected, several months ago, why not focus on that right now?

Several people have said that President Obama should scale back his agenda, right now, and put all of his focus on the economy.

DURBIN: George, because that president understands that, if we want to build this economy for the future, it isn't just a matter of saving and creating jobs today; it's doing the fundamentals to make sure the American economy is strong at the end of this recession. It's taking care of a health care system.

Senator Kyl said that the idea of health care reform is a job- killer. Let me tell you, health insurance premiums today are job- killers. The cost of health insurance, I'm sure, in Arizona; I can guarantee you, in Illinois, is going up three times faster than the increase in wages. We just can't sustain that.

Secondly, the president says, in addition in to health care reform, do something about America's dependence on foreign energy. Let's not only be sensitive to the environment but sensitive to the fact that economic growth demands a sensible, sustainable energy policy.

KYL: George, I...

DURBIN: We can do these things. KYL: ... I did not say health care reform is a job-killer. I said imposing taxes on small business to pay for health care reform is a job-killer. And it is.

And there's something else fundamental about economic recovery. The government doesn't create jobs, except more government jobs.

It was interesting, a bit amusing, to find that some of the jobs created by the stimulus bill were to hire people to apply for more federal grants. That's not the kind of jobs that we want to create.

The private sector creates jobs. And you don't support the private sector creating jobs by imposing more taxes on it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me switch subjects, here, because there's a pretty startling allegation in this morning's New York Times.

The headline is "Cheney is Linked to Concealment of CIA Project."

And both of you gentlemen have served, in the past, on the Intelligence Committee.

According to this article, the Central Intelligence Agency, at the beginning of this decade, for eight years, withheld information on the secret counterterror program at the direct orders of the vice president.

This is according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter. They say that Leon Panetta told the intelligence committees that.

Senator Durbin, do you think this has to be investigated?

DURBIN: Absolutely, it does. Let me tell you, we have a system of checks and balances. There's accountability in our Constitution. The executive branch of government cannot create programs like these programs and keep Congress in the dark. There is a requirement for disclosure.

It has to be done in an appropriate way so it doesn't jeopardize our national security, but to have a massive program that is concealed from the leaders in Congress is not only inappropriate; it could be illegal.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you want the Intelligence Committee to look into this?

DURBIN: Absolutely.


KYL: I believe they are. And in any event, Leon Panetta, the CIA director, has come forward with information. He said the CIA doesn't mislead the public. And specifically, in response to House Democrat allegations that the CIA had misled, he said that's not true.

So I don't think we should be jumping to any conclusion. Moreover...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But he also said, according to this article...


STEPHANOPOULOS: ... that Cheney ordered this program to be kept secret?

KYL: The Republican leader on the Intelligence Committee in the House described this certainly not as some kind of massive program but something that was on again, off again...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Never got off the ground, actually?

KYL: ... and actually never got off the ground.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But this allegation of the vice president ordering it to be kept secret -- do you believe that should be investigated?

KYL: Look, the president and the vice president are the two people who have responsibility, ultimately, for the national security of the country. It is not out of the ordinary for the vice president to be involved in an issue like this.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But to order it be kept secret?

KYL: What if it's a top-secret program? Of course, he and the president would both be responsible for that. Let's don't jump to conclusions is what I'm saying.


DURBIN: I can just tell you, we know that Vice President Cheney played an unusual role with President Bush in the early days of the administration. That seemed to change over time.

But it is inappropriate for the vice president or the president to be ordering that a program be kept secret and not disclosed at the highest levels of congressional leadership.

We have to have a check and balance in our system. To give to the president unbridled power and authority goes way beyond what our Constitution has in mind.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Also, Attorney General Holder, as reported by Newsweek, Senator Kyl, that he's looking at -- hasn't decided yet, but looking at appointing a criminal prosecutor to investigate whether CIA interrogators went outside the law, went outside their guidance during interrogations.

Would you support that kind of an investigation?

KYL: The president himself has said that it's out of bounds to in any way go after people in the U.S. government who were asked or ordered to do investigations.


STEPHANOPOULOS: ... about this is those who went outside of that guidance.

KYL: Well, it's always a question of whether you pursued the orders that you were given. Obviously we don't want to protect people who have broken the law. But the problem with some of Democratic friends is that they simply believe that people who followed the law should be prosecuted.

The president and the attorney general both have said that's not going to happen because of the effect it would have on the morale of our agents, CIA and other agents who are asked in very dangerous situations to get this information to protect the American people.

We don't want them to be afraid to ask questions that can save lives.


DURBIN: And we don't want the attorney general to be afraid to ask questions when it comes to violations of the law. I agree with Senator Kyl, those who followed the law, followed their directions, did it appropriately, whether in intelligence agencies or military agencies, certainly should not be prosecuted.

But those who went beyond it, those who broke the law need to be held accountable. No on is above the law.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, we're at Judge Sotomayor -- her confirmation hearings begin tomorrow to be Justice Sotomayor on the Supreme Court.

Senator Kyl, you've been described in your hometown newspapers as masterminding the Republican strategy for these confirmation hearings. What is the strategy?

KYL: Well, the strategy is to be as thorough as we can in examining her record, what she has said, and to conduct the hearings in a fair, impartial, and thorough way, and then make our decisions. And I think Republicans have done a good job of that.

It's interesting that I just reviewed the Rasmussen poll, most recent poll about American public opinion about Judge Sotomayor. They oppose her confirmation, only 37 percent support it. And I found it interesting that among women, by a majority of 9, they oppose her confirmation. Hispanics and Asians, by a majority of 11, they oppose...


KYL: Oppose her confirmation. This is the Rasmussen survey that ended June 30th. And even independents by, I think, 23 points, oppose her confirmation.

So these hearings are going to be very important for her to demonstrate that she should be confirmed to sit on the Supreme Court.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Durbin, you get the last word. Are you confident she can quell these questions of bias that have really been the flashpoint for the first several weeks of this process?

DURBIN: Absolutely, she received the highest possible rating from the American Bar Association, has more judicial experience than any nominee in the last 100 years, the support of law enforcement groups.

She has a compelling life story. She is a restrained and moderate jurist who was put on the bench initially by Republican President George Herbert Walker Bush and promoted by President Clinton. She's an exceptional person. I believe she's going to do very well.

And let me tell you, George, give her high marks. She has met face-to-face now with 89 senators, answered all of their questions. I think she has done an exceptional job preparing for this hearing.


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