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Boehner And McConnell: Which Parts Of Obama's Agenda Are Dead Or Alive?

SCOTT PELLEY, CBS NEWS: For the first time, the president faces a House and Senate controlled by the Republican Party. Two men will decide which part of President Obama's agenda becomes law. They are the Speaker of the House, John Boehner of Ohio, and the new Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. This past week we sat down with them at the Capitol for their first joint interview since the big Republican gains in the midterm election. They had just heard the president lay out his vision.

BARACK OBAMA: I have no more campaigns to run. My only agenda... (applause) I know because I won both of 'em.

PELLEY: What was your impression of the president's State of the Union speech?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: My first thought it was it sounded like he was running for a third term. He seemed to have-- completely forgotten or chose to ignore-- the election last November. He was looking out at an audience that had 80 more Republicans in it than his first State of the Union.

PELLEY: Mr. Speaker, I think your reaction to the State of the Union was written all over your face. It must be a hell of a thing to sit behind the president knowing that 30 million Americans are watching you for an hour. Do you practice that scowl?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER: No. I stare at the back of the president's head. And my goal is to make no news. This is the president's night and so I sit there and try to make no news. Although, inside, I've got a lotta things rollin' through my mind.

[Obama: Our deficit's cut by two thirds. A stock market that has doubled and health care inflation at its lowest rate in 50 years. This is good news people.]

PELLEY: Unemployment has fallen to 5.6 percent, gasoline prices are down, the stock markets are up. The economy grew by five percent in the third quarter. That's the fastest rate in more than a decade. You don't congratulate the president for that?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Look, things are getting better. But the point is who is benefiting from this? This has been a top of the income recovery-- the so-called one percent that the president's always talking about have done quite well. But middle and lower income Americans are about $3,000 a year worse off than they were when he came to office.

PELLEY: Is income inequality a problem in this country? Is it a problem that Republicans want to address?

REP. BOEHNER: It is. And frankly the president's policies have made income inequality worse. All the regulations that are coming out of Washington make it more difficult for employers to hire more people, chief amongst those, I would argue is Obamacare-- which basically puts a penalty or a tax on employers for every new job they create.

PELLEY: From the president's State of the Union address let me ask you, dead or alive, raise taxes on the wealthy?

REP. BOEHNER: Why would he want to raise taxes on people?

PELLEY: I'll take that as a dead.

REP. BOEHNER: Dead, real dead.

PELLEY: Make community college free of charge, dead or alive?

SEN. MCCONNELL: We added more debt during the Obama years than all the presidents from George Washington down to George Bush. And giving away free tuition strikes me as something we can't afford.

PELLEY: I'll put that down as dead as well. Increasing the federal minimum wage?

REP. BOEHNER: Bad idea.


REP. BOEHNER: It's a bad idea. I've had every kinda rotten job you can imagine growin' up and gettin' myself through school. And-- and I wouldn't have had a chance at half those jobs if the federal government had kept imposing higher minimum wage. You take the bottom rungs off the economic ladder.

PELLEY: Finally, dead or alive, tripling the childcare tax credit for working families?

REP. BOEHNER: We're all for helping working class families around America. I think we'll take a look at this when he sends his budget up, something that could be looked at in the overall context of simplifying our tax code and bringing rates down for everyone.

SEN. MCCONNELL: I would just add trade. Virtually every Republican in the audience the other night stood up and applauded when the president talked about trade.
Scott Pelley: Speaking to folks at the White House the other day, they told us that one of the areas they thought there was a chance for progress is on infrastructure in this country; roads and bridges. What do you think?

REP. BOEHNER: We agree. You know, the biggest problem I have is that the Highway Trust Fund, which is funded by gasoline taxes, continues to shrink as cars get more and better mileage standards. And so the money that's in the Highway Trust Fund isn't sufficient to meet the infrastructure needs of the country.

PELLEY: You can fix that. You can raise the gas tax. Hasn't been raised in decades.

REP. BOEHNER: Well, listen. When the Democrats controlled the House, the Senate, and the White House, they couldn't increase the gas tax. We believe that through tax reform, a couple of other options that are being looked at, we can find the funds to fund a long-term, highway bill. It's critically important to the country.

The Republicans leaders also told us they intend to take initiative on foreign policy.

PELLEY: Will you pass additional sanctions on Iran to stop their nuclear program?

REP. BOEHNER: Very concerned about the Iranians, the threat that they could be developing a nuclear weapon. And I believe, and I think, the House believes that more sanctions, if they don't come to an agreement, are in order.

PELLEY: The president said in his speech that you will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails if you do that.

REP. BOEHNER: I disagree with the president.

SEN. MCCONNELL: Under the proposal we're considering those enhanced sanctions would only occur if a deal is not reached. In other words it further incentivizes the Iranians to reach an agreement because they know things could get considerably worse if they did not.

PELLEY: Mr. Speaker, the day after the State of the Union Address, you invited the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a critic of the president's foreign policy, to come to speak to a joint session of Congress. You blindsided the White House with that.

REP. BOEHNER: I gave 'em a heads up that morning. But there's nobody in the world who can talk about the threat of radical terrorism, nobody can talk about the threat that the Iranians pose, not just to the Middle East and to and to Israel, our longest ally but to the entire world, but Bibi Netanyahu.

PELLEY: Was that some kind of a brush back pitch, sort of telling the president, "Look, if you're gonna go your own way on foreign policy, two can play at that game"?

REP. BOEHNER: The president didn't spend but a few seconds talking about the threat, the terrorist threat that we as Americans face. This problem is growing all over the world. And you know, the president is trying to act like it's not there. But it is there. And it's going to be a threat to our homeland if we don't address it in a bigger way.

[Obama: And, tonight I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL.]

PELLEY: Will you pass a measure authorizing the use of force against ISIS?

REP. BOEHNER: We will.

PELLEY: Will your measure outlaw ground troops?

REP. BOEHNER: Well, we'll have a discussion with the members and with the White House on whether that's appropriate. But I don't want to limit the president's ability to take on the terrorist threat directly.

SEN. MCCONNELL: I think what is required is that we defeat ISIS. And, as John indicated, it will require boots on the ground. The question is whose boots? And I think it'd be a very foolish mistake for us to say in advance what we won't do. And nobody's advocating a use of American ground troops there at this point. But why in the world would we want to send a message to our enemies what we will or won't do in the future?

[Obama: Today our immigration system is broken.]

We also wondered about the president's decision to by-pass Congress with his own immigration reform.

PELLEY: The president has temporarily protected about 5 million illegal immigrants in this country from deportation. The House just passed a bill to block that. And I wonder, Mr. Leader, are you gonna pass a similar bill in the Senate?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, you know, the president said on 22 different occasions that he didn't have the authority to do what he did. Of course the 22 occasions occurred before last November's election. Since the election's outta the way, he did exactly what he said he didn't have the authority to do. So we will try to pass the House bill when it comes over to us. And I think it'll be vigorously supported by the vast majority of my members.

PELLEY: He's gonna veto that bill if it reaches his desk. Is that governing, just sending bills up to the White House that are gonna get vetoed?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Look, can I say something about vetoes? The president's vetoed two bills in six years. Two little bills over technicalities. The reason was the Senate never sent him anything that caused him any discomfort. In our system it's, it's gonna happen occasionally. Presidents veto bills there are differences of opinion between Congress and presidents that's not unheard of in our system.

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