Senators Conrad & Chambliss on the Debt Ceiling

Senators Conrad & Chambliss on the Debt Ceiling

By John King, USA - July 19, 2011

JOHN KING: So, let's go up to Capitol Hill to check in with two members of this so-called "gang of six": Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota is a Democrat. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia is a Republican.

Gentlemen, I want to start. I've just explained some of the details in the plan. But I want to start by listening to the president today. He came into the White House briefing room. He didn't say he loved everything, but he did offer some high praise.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And so, for us to see Democratic senators acknowledge that we've got to deal with the long-term debt problems that arise out of our various e entitlement programs and for Republican senators to acknowledge that revenues will have to be part of a balanced package that makes sure that nobody is disproportionately hurt from us making progress on the debt and deficits, I think is a very significant step.


KING: And yet, Senator Conrad, let me start with you first, the Democrats control the Senate. The number two, Dick Durbin, says this plan, while he might like parts of it is, quote, "not ready for primetime" and can't be considered as part of the train we're on right now that's approaching this August 2nd deadline for possible default.

Why not?

SEN. KENT CONRAD (D), NORTH DAKOTA: The point that he's making is to get it scored, to get it in legislative draft language within two weeks. That's a challenge. But he has come up with a number of innovative and creative ideas about how it might be included in what's considered.

So, look, the important thing is Republicans and Democrats have come together around a comprehensive plan that reforms the entitlements, reforms the tax code of the United States, and cuts spending. It reduces the debt by almost $4 trillion over the next 10 years. And, you know, you had 50 senators at a meeting this morning, the vast majority saying, hey, this is headed in the right direction.

KING: The problem is the other side of the Capitol, where as you know the House Republican majority has said flat out, no way. And a lot of those new members, more than 200 of them, have signed pledges say we will not under any circumstances raise taxes.

How would you walk across the Capitol, Senator Chambliss, and say, "Look, I know you don't want to do it, but here's why you have to do it"?

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), GEORGIA: Well, John, what they've said is, the same thing I've said, that they don't like tax increases. This is actually going to be a huge tax rate decrease. And under current law, it's going to be scored as a cut tax, almost $1 trillion dollar tax cut.

But at the same time, when you reform the tax code, just like Kent was just saying, what we've been able to do is to make major reductions in tax rates, by the elimination of tax expenditures and tax credits, lower the corporate rate so that we can take some of this capital that's sitting on the sidelines and have it reinvested in America, create more jobs, energize the economy, that's the way we need to get to raise revenue -- get to raise revenues and that's what our proposal's going to do.

KING: And so, why -- let me stay with the Republican in the group here. Why, then, on the other side won't they have that conversation and say as long as we get that, as long as we get that now, we're willing to go along? You've seen what's happened over the past couple weeks, Senator, everyone is back in their corner.

CHAMBLISS: Well, I think it is incumbent on the House to look at this. And they may not pass exactly the bill that we may pass over here. That's their prerogative.

But this is a foundation. This is a way forward. Not just for the debt ceiling, because we have never been focused on that.

Kent and the other four members and I have always been focused, John, on the long-term issue of trying to figure out a way to not require our children and grandchildren to pay this $14.5 trillion back. It just so happens that we have kind of come to the apex at the same time that the debt ceiling discussions were really reaching their end of the road.

So, whether it's a part of the debt ceiling or not, we are not saying that must be done. The House may still be able to take a different approach and if -- with respect to the debt ceiling itself.

KING:, a statement out this evening, "The gang of six proposal appears to ask seniors and the middle-class and the poor to bear the burden of deficit reduction, with cuts to Social Security benefits, billions in stealth cuts to be named later, no real effort to make corporations and millionaires pay their fair share."

So, you have the very same reaction on the left. Are we ever going to get anything done, whether it's the debt ceiling or this plan, if you have reflexive, ideological reactions on both extremes?

CONRAD: Can I just say -- almost nothing that they said is right about this plan. This plan is balanced. It's comprehensive. All of the Social Security savings go for extending the solvency of Social Security. None of it goes for deficit reduction.

This talk about balancing the budget on the backs of the poor and the disabled and seniors, that is -- they certainly are not reporting our plan because our plan specifically protects the most vulnerable among us. It does it in every program.

Look, at the end of the day both sides are going to have to figure out how we going to change a course in which we borrow 41 cents of every dollar that we spend.

These ideas that we don't have to make any changes, don't need change any entitlement, don't change any revenue program, don't change any spending program, are just wrong and they are leading our country toward the fiscal cliff and a collapse that would damage everyone. No one would be more hurt than the most vulnerable among us.

So, everybody needs to sober up, right, left, center. Let's get together and do what's good for America.

KING: Senator Conrad, to you first. Do you believe the president will broker this deal, dealing ceiling specific at the end? Or is it best for the president to maybe to step back and let, whether it's the McConnell plan, whether it's McConnell plus, whether it's pieces of your plan, something else, let Congress deal with this?

CONRAD: You know, I always believed this would have to start in the United States Senate. It started here today -- six of us, three Democrats, three Republicans, representing the broad cross section of the United States Senate in terms of philosophy and background. We took that plan to 50 members of the United States Senate this morning, about evenly divided, overwhelmingly positive reaction.

So, we intend to keep pushing, to try to make certain that this plan gets before our colleagues.

KING: Senator Chambliss, let me close with you. I've been in this town for a couple decades now. Neither of are you new to this process. There are some people who say they have never seen quite the gulf, not just ideologically, but in how they perceive the temperament and the like between the House and the Senate that we have right now.

Do you agree with that?

CHAMBLISS: Yes. I think there is a pretty significant divide and sometimes that makes for good government, though. So I'm not discouraged by what we're hearing from colleagues on the other side of the capital.

Look, they are smart people. They are elected representatives. And they deserve to be part of the mix. And we're going to do our best to incorporate them into the mix and listen to their ideas.

KING: Gentlemen, appreciate your time tonight.

CHAMBLISS: Good to be with you.

CONRAD: Good to be with you.


John King, USA

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