Interview with Senator Kelly Ayotte, Rep. Charlie Bass

Interview with Senator Kelly Ayotte, Rep. Charlie Bass

By State of the Union - June 12, 2011

CROWLEY: Joining me now, two Republican members of the U.S. Congress from here in New Hampshire, Senator Kelly Ayotte, a member of the Armed Services Committee; and Congressman Charlie Bass, who is on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Welcome both.

AYOTTE: Thank you, great to be here with you, Candy.

BASS: Good to be here with you.

CROWLEY: Let me start out with some Washington business, and that is the debt ceiling, which we are told by August the treasury secretary will run out of ways to move the money around and we're going to begin to default on some of our debts. Are you all willing to go into default on some debts if you do not get budget cuts or a balanced budget amendment?

AYOTTE: Well, Candy, here's the issue. We can't continue to kick the can when it comes to the fiscal state of this country. And I think what Republicans are saying, nobody wants anyone to default, but what we're saying is we need real spending reforms. I think that's what the American people want to get us on a sustainable trajectory so spending cuts, dealing with the issue of entitlements to preserve them, and some reforms on Congress, like spending caps.

CROWLEY: So far it's looking like a game of chicken. It's looking as though the Democrats are saying there is never -- the Republicans are not going to let us default. And you're saying it looks like the Democrats are not going to let us default and there doesn't seem to be anybody kind of working toward getting an agreement.

BASS: Well, this isn't like the continuing resolution where midnight on Friday is it. Default is defined as being unable to pay a bill because you don't have cash. But that doesn't necessarily mean that we can't make payments on Treasury bills or other obligations. It means that the U.S. doesn't have enough money to meet every obligation.

And this is probably our only best or greatest opportunity in this cycle to do anything significant about changing the direction of spending in Washington, which is what Kelly alluded to.

CROWLEY: So, to the question, are you willing to let default happen in some places or they begin to move around and money gets very tight, are you willing to go into that phase if the Democrats just say, look, no cuts?

BASS: There is a difference between strategic or technical default and default where you really don't have the economy to support the spending. We are not at that point yet. We could be. We could be, like some European nations.

But I think the global economy will understand that the United States has the ability to meet its obligations. But it's not going to be able to do it over the long term if we can't control the growth of government.

CROWLEY: Isn't the risk that -- the risk is the signal to the rest of the world, isn't it? The risk is the signal to Wall Street.

AYOTTE: Well, Candy, I think that the real -- what we've heard is that the president really needs to step forward here. Where's the presidential leadership? We've got signals from Washington. We heard from the S&P, the negative outlook on our credit rating.

It is time for him to step forward and come up with real reforms that are going to address this fiscal crisis and he has the opportunity here. This is an opportunity for us to come together with real reforms to reduce spending, to deal with entitlements, to get this country on the right track. So I think this is his time.

BASS: By the way, there's plenty of precedent for that. Most of the major increases in the debt ceiling have been accompanied by structural changes in the way we raise and spend money.

CROWLEY: Congressman, let me ask you specifically, because you heard Jon Huntsman say, yes, he thinks all subsidies ought to be phased out. He's against ethanol subsidies. I asked him specifically about subsidies to the oil - or tax loopholes, tax breaks for the oil and gas companies.

Republicans have been against that. Isn't it time to re-look at some of these things? I mean, given the state of our budget, given that the Republicans want to make some major changes to try to do savings with Medicare, isn't it time to look at these oil and gas subsidies? BASS: Well, first of all, if you really segregate oil and gas subsidies alone, just those, not other taxes, it comes to about $1.9 billion a year in savings. We're running a $250 billion a month deficit. So I'm perfectly...

CROWLEY: Have to start somewhere, though, right?

BASS: Yes, exactly. And I'm willing to vote to end that subsidy if it's part of a recognition on the part of the Democrats or those who support this, that they're willing to look at the real issues, which is getting from $250 billion a month of deficit down to 0. They have no plan for that. There's plan out of the Senate, there's no plan out of the White House.

CROWLEY: Senator, oil and gas?

AYOTTE: Well, I have to tell you, first of all, ethanol, that is going to come up for a vote this week, I think, in the senate. And there are many of us on the Republican side, Tom Coburn is leading that effort to repeal that subsidy.

On oil the gas, here we are, the Democrats brought up oil and gas subsidies at a time when we have skyrocketing gas prices. I think the timing of this, we should review all subsidies and not single out any one industry, and particularly when we know that that's going to cause an increase in gas prices. So that was one of the concerns I had about it.

But, again, I'm going to vote to repeal the ethanol subsidy this week.

CROWLEY: Another thing, and sort of turning to foreign policy and related to the budget, and that is, you heard Jon Huntsman say he questioned the Libyan effort from the very beginning, what's our strategic interest here, that everything needs to be looked at in terms of, is there a strategic interest and do we really have the money to do it?

CROWLEY: So far about $664 million, it is estimated, we've spent in Libya. How long are you willing to go ahead to keep that going?

AYOTTE: Well, I'm actually co-sponsoring a resolution brought forward by Senator Cornyn. I think that the president should have come to Congress to seek approval for Libya, and in addition to that, I think we haven't had a clear plan from the administration on what is it that they're hoping to accomplish. The last thing we want in Libya is stalemate, so I think it is time for the administration to come forward with a concrete plan, how much is this going to cost, what is it that you hope to accomplish, especially since --


CROWLEY: -- pull out and leave the rest of NATO there? Let me put that to you, Congressman.

BASS: We have stalemate for all intents and purposes in Libya. This is the third or fourth engagement that we've had with an Islamic nation. We don't -- we never had a plan to begin with. We never had an exit strategy. And now NATO and tangentially us are involved there. We should not be there.

CROWLEY: And are you willing to pull out and leave the rest of NATO there?

BASS: I'm willing to make -- I'm willing to make Libya a European problem, not a U.S. problem.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about Afghanistan, because we've got Osama bin Laden, there are now voices in the party, among them Jon Huntsman, saying it's time to get a speedier pull-out. Should there be?

BASS: I voted for that very idea last week. I think that the time has come with the assassination of Osama bin Laden and all these other -- for which, by the way, the president deserves significant credit. It's time for a new mission in Afghanistan, and it can't be about nation building, it can't be about establishing a western-style representative democracy. It has to be about limiting the terrorist threat without having the kind of cost and forestructure there. And I would support an exit strategy that is as quick but organized and safe as possible for our troops.


AYOTTE: Candy, I would say, first of all, conditions on the ground have to dictate this, and we've already --


CROWLEY: You've had Petraeus and Gates saying--

AYOTTE: We heard Petraeus and Gates say this is premature. And the last thing we want to do is to pull out prematurely and to lose all -- any progress that we've made there. And with all the sacrifice that our troops have made.

So I believe that we need to listen to our military leaders on this, and I think that we captured and killed Osama bin Laden, that was very, very important. But there are other terrorists who are still out there and obviously in Pakistan, the Taliban, we have the Haqqani network, we have members of al Qaeda there still out there. We have to continue our mission right there.

CROWLEY: And finally, an issue that's consumed certainly the House, Congressman Anthony Weiner at this moment saying I'm going to go get treatment, and he wants a kind of a leave of absence. Is that acceptable?

BASS: Well, I haven't made any comments about Congressman Weiner. He's got to sort out his own life. I can't -- I find it hard to believe what's -- I just can't -- it's beyond anything I can comprehend what's happened here with him. And if I were he, I would resign from the Congress and make -- try to rebuild my life and move on.

CROWLEY: Congressman Bass. I'm going to give you a pass on that, Senator.

AYOTTE: Oh, OK. That's fine.


CROWLEY: Unless you have something you want to say. You think he ought to leave?

AYOTTE: I think that, yes, because he is a distraction from the issues that we should be focusing on.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much, Senator Kelly Ayotte and Congressman Bass. Thank you so much for joining us.

BASS: Thank you.

AYOTTE: Thank you so much, Candy.


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