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Interview with Senator Lindsey Graham

Interview with Senator Lindsey Graham

By The Situation Room - February 25, 2013

BLITZER: All right. So time is running out. Only four days left until those $85 billion in forced across-the-board budget cuts go into effect. Let's talk about the impact of chances of a compromise. We're joined by Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

BOLDUAN: Hey, Senator.

BLITZER: Senator, thanks for coming in.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I love the set.

BOLDUAN: Thanks very much.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. So the Defense Department, hundreds of thousands of people are going to be furloughed, meaning they'll work four-day workweeks to 15. They're not going to get paid. How do we get out of this mess?

GRAHAM: I think the only way out's a big deal. Republicans are not going to raise revenue to pay for sequestration. And I don't believe that we can do anything in the short-term.

BLITZER: Are you talking -- you say raise revenue, you know raise taxes...

GRAHAM: Yes. Eliminating deductions and loopholes, count me in for that, but put the money on the debt.

BLITZER: So you're saying there has to be a big deal, a grand bargain, entitlement reform and tax reform. But you can't do that in four days.

GRAHAM: So sequestration's going to happen. Hopefully, the pressure from sequestration will wake us up to the big deal. We don't need new taxes to run the government; we need new taxes to get out of debt.

BOLDUAN: I want to ask about the impact of sequestration or you these forced budget cuts, as we prefer to call them. Because the term means nothing to our viewers.

Listen to the fellow Republican, Tom Coburn. He was on FOX yesterday talking about how some Republicans think the impact of these budget cuts is exaggerated. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: What sequestration is, it's a terrible way to cut spending. I don't disagree with that, but to not cut 2 1/2 percent out of the total budget over a year when it's twice the size it was ten years ago? Give me a break.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: What I heard from you in the past, you think that these cuts would be very damaging, especially to defense. Do you agree with Tom Coburn this is -- that the president's kind of blowing this out of proportion to sell how bad it would be?

GRAHAM: Taking four and a half million dollars out of the Defense Department, and if you don't, if you exempt personnel, it's got to come out of modernization and readiness. So that means you'd have to cancel contracts that would have the ripple effect. So a 10- year, $600 billion cut to Defense would be devastating.

If you start it, it's hard to start it. And once you start it, you have to start cancelling contracts and, as you say, laying people off, interrupting modernization programs.

If you're leaving the personnel cost, which is the largest, out of the mix, by presidential decree, the only thing left you have to cut is modernization and readiness.

So I like Tom Coburn, but from the defense perspective, we already cut 480...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Here's an idea. Here's an idea. Eighty-five billion dollars, you know how you save it very quickly with the Defense Department?

GRAHAM: How's that?

BLITZER: Get out of Afghanistan this year instead of next year.

GRAHAM: Yes?

BLITZER: We're spending 80 -- $88 billion this year to maintain, what, 60,000 trips. You pull them out at the end of this year, as opposed to the end of 2014. I don't know, in the long run, if it's going to make much of a difference in the big picture, but you'll save taxpayers $100 billion.

GRAHAM: Yes, and you'll start another war.

BLITZER: Why will you start another war?

GRAHAM: Afghanistan will fail, and Pakistan can't survive.

BLITZER: But what's the difference this year or next year? You keep a little presence like you're going to do after 2014. You do that next year instead of the year after.

GRAHAM: Our military commanders say that we can go down to 34,000 by the end of this year, and we'll have a residual force post- 2014 made up of NATO troops, U.S. troops, to make sure the place doesn't fall apart.

If you change the military commander's recommendation to save money, not only will you screw up Afghanistan. You're going to screw up Iran and Pakistan, because people are watching us. And if it looks like we can't defend America because we've got budget problems, our allies are going to be uncertain, and our friends -- our enemies are going to be on steroids. That's not the way to save money.

BLITZER: I'm just not sure that it's going to make much of a difference in the long run whether we get out in 2013 or 2014.

GRAHAM: I think it makes all the difference in the world as to whether or not we're successful or we lose.

BOLDUAN: What about in the media? What do you think of this idea that's being discussed, about passing kind of a bill to give the president more leeway to find the cuts needed but to not have them be the draconian across-the-board cuts. Give a little more flexibility to cut them with a scalpel.

GRAHAM: Here's what I don't understand. We're the party of fiscal conservatism. Have we put a plan together to cut $85 billion between March and October? No, the House passed a plan to substitute sequestration. The Senate Republicans have yet to offer a plan.

BOLDUAN: But the House would have to pass it again.

GRAHAM: Yes, but the House used savings outside of the 2013 window. If you think this is that easy, I challenge any member of Congress to come up with a proposal to cut $85 billion out of the federal budget between March 1 and October 1.

BLITZER: Why not just give the president the leeway, the flexibility? You know what? This is an awful way to cut $85 billion.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: It's going to be painful. Come up with a way that is not going to deal with air-traffic controllers and...

BOLDUAN: You think it's a cop-out to do that? GRAHAM: We'll criticize everything he does. We'll say, "Mr. President, it is now up to you to find this $85 billion in savings," and we'll see it's to make it easier for you, but every decision he'll make, we'll criticize.

To me, this is a bipartisan problem. I voted against this deal, because it will destroy Defense. It's a lousy way to cut -- cut $1.2 trillion, which is imminently achievable.

This is the chance to do the big deal. I'm willing to raise revenue. I'm willing to raise $600 billion in new revenue if my Democratic friends would be willing to reform entitlement so we can fix sequestration together. Because if you don't think it's that bad, why don't you come up with your own plan?

BLITZER: The president invited you and John McCain to the White House tomorrow?

GRAHAM: Yes.

BLITZER: That doesn't happen -- that doesn't happen every day.

GRAHAM: It doesn't happen every day. Yes, we're going to talk about immigration. And I hope we'll talk about this. Now is the time to grow up. Both parties need to grow up. We need to find a chance to do the big deal. I'll challenge the president.

Mr. President, let's do things that will straighten out the long- term indebtedness of the country. Stop talking about between March and October. Talk about the next 30 years. I'll raise revenue. Will you reform entitlements? And both together, we'll set aside sequestration in a way that won't disrupt the economy and hurt the Defense Department.

BOLDUAN: Other big news happening on Capitol Hill this week is the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be the next secretary of defense. You've been very strongly, not against him, per se, but you want more information about him. Are you satisfied?

GRAHAM: I voted against him. I think he's an outlier when it comes to our policy regarding Iran and Israel. You'll have a hard time finding anybody more antagonistic to the state of Israel than Chuck Hagel, in terms of the way he votes, and more soft on Iran. But it's the president's choice.

BLITZER: Doesn't the president have a right to pick his defense secretary?

GRAHAM: Yes. Within certain limits.

BLITZER: He'll be confirmed. He's got the votes, right?

GRAHAM: The question is, will we vote for cloture? Will Lindsey Graham vote for cloture? I haven't found anything in the last 10 days that will make it an extraordinary circumstance for me to vote against cloture. BOLDUAN: So you're going to allow that final vote to go through. But you won't vote to support him?

GRAHAM: That's the way it looks as of right now, about whatever time it is, that I intend to vote for cloture, unless something changes, and vote against him, and he'll become the secretary of defense, and if I can help him, I will.

BLITZER: When you say you'll vote for cloture. Just to explain to our viewers, that means you will not allow a filibuster to go through. He will need 51 votes to be confirmed, as opposed to 60.

GRAHAM: That's exactly right.

BOLDUAN: Senator, great to see you. Thank you. A lot going on on Capitol Hill this week.

BLITZER: Always good to have you in our studio.

GRAHAM: First chance, by the way.

BOLDUAN: Any time. Any time. 

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