Alabama Jeff Sessions Worries About The Supercommittee Deal
HH: Joined now by United States Senator Jeff Sessions of the great state of Alabama. Senator, I hope you have a great Thanksgiving next week.
JS: Thank you, I’m looking forward to it.
HH: I want to talk to you about this Supercommittee. I know that your colleague, Pat Toomey, is a friend, but I just hate this deal that he put forward. What do you think about it? And what’s its status right now?
JS: Well, what I’m hearing is that Pat’s proposal did offer revenue increases, but also had a lot of tax reform and things in it, but the Democrats just walked away. They said that’s not nearly enough revenue increase, tax increases, and basically ended the discussions. I’m not sure that they’ve had very much discussion since, frankly. Hopefully, they can produce something. Monday night is the night they’re supposed to produce a document that lays out their plan to reduce spending over a decade, ten years, by about $1.2 trillion dollars. Now we’re going to grow spending every year for ten years under this plan. And we’ll spend $45 trillion dollars. This committee’s asked to reduce that growth level, total $45 trillion, to $44 [trillion], I guess, which is a 2% reduction in spending. And that’s not a cut in spending. As I said, it’s just a reduction by 2% of the projected growth in spending. This is not too much to ask. And plainly, Hugh, it’s not nearly enough to put our country on a sound basis, because the deficits will still be humongous.
HH: It’s not nearly enough in terms of spending cuts, but it’s way too much in terms of tax hikes. I’ve been doing this all week, Senator, and I would say it’s 7, 8, 9, maybe even 10 to 1 against monkeying with the home mortgage interest deduction, the charitable deduction, and the deduction for state and local taxes. It will slaughter a lot of people. Now I know Senator Toomey says no, it won’t hurt anyone, if you’re a two income family, and you’re under $212,000, nothing changes. People don’t believe it, and they’ve built their lives around these deductions. I think it’s a shattering thing for the Republicans to touch this.
JS: I take very seriously what you’ve just said. I do. I take that very seriously, and my view is I’m absolutely certain that we do not have to raise taxes. And I think the American people are absolutely correct to say don’t you ask us for more money until you take care of the money we are already giving you. I call it the Solyndra rule.
JS: Don’t keep wasting my money while asking for more.
HH: That…I mean, if you’re still funding NPR, and you’re trying to raise revenue, I don’t get it, Senator. But I think we’re on the same page.
JS: I’m really worried about it. So this thing, we’ve wasted all year, Hugh. The Democrats, let me just frame the situation.
JS: The Republican House honestly produced a courageous, historic budget that would have altered the debt course in America, and put us on a sound path. Not enough, but it was a real big change. The Democrats refused to even bring up a budget in the Senate. We’ve now gone 933 days without a budget. The President’s budget was the most irresponsible budget in history. It had big increases in taxes, even more increases in spending, making the debt larger than if he had done nothing over ten years. Interest payment last year was $240 billion dollars on our total debt. You know, it hit $15 trillion just recently.
HH: Yup, this week.
JS: The interest payment in ten years, according to the Congressional Budget Office, of President Obama’s budget, would in one year would be $940 billion. So this is where you get in a Greece-like situation. If your interest rates were to surge unexpectedly, as has happened in Italy right now, it’s up to 7%, came quickly. A great country even like the United States can be severely damaged. We’ve got to reduce spending. That’s the number one thing we have to do.
HH: Now if the sequestration happens, I just taped an interview last hour with Governor Romney, and he said if he’s the nominee, he’ll campaign to reverse that $600 billion dollar cut, and indeed the cuts that have already occurred. I think that’s a take-it-to-the-people kind of campaign that the Republicans and the conservatives win, Senator Sessions. What do you think?
JS: I agree. I mean, we cannot allow the sequestration, which hammers the Defense Department. Former Secretary Gates said just a couple of days ago that this secret committee process was a complete abdication of the responsibility of Congress. It’s put a sword of Damocles over the military, and would be a catastrophe for our defense if it were to be implemented. And that’s correct, because we would never vote to cut the Defense Department six times what we are cutting other programs by. But this is the way this automatic sequester would play out if the committee does not reach an agreement.
HH: So if in fact you and I both believe the country would rise up and punish anyone who sustained or accommodated, or even endorsed this sequestration, it’s not really something to be afraid of, is it, as the debt…you wouldn’t take a bad deal from the supercommittee, would you, Senator Session, in order to avoid that sequestration?
JS: Hugh, you always raise good questions. That’s something I’ve thought about, and shared in a luncheon with some of my Republican colleagues just a few days ago. I don’t believe this will stick. We cannot assume that if we don’t vote for a bad bill that this Defense Department is going to be hurt this badly, because I believe if we fight and take it to the American people, they would help us. As a matter of fact, Lindsey Graham has suggested that, and already drafting, I think, legislation that would reduce spending across the board in lieu of just hammering the Defense Department. So we don’t need to be intimidated by that, in my opinion.
HH: All right, in terms of going forward, I know you’ve got some of the best minds on that committee in Rob Portman and Pat Toomey, and of course your long time friend and colleague, Senator Kyl. But at what point do you just say this was the worst idea we ever had, and you can’t make it work, and we’re just, we’re going to go forward and try and fix it? When do you give up, because they’ll try and play this out longer. The Democrats will try and play this out and get tax hikes until Christmas.
JS: Well, it’s next week. If they don’t reach an agreement next week, the sequester takes place, as I understand it. And actually, Monday night they’re supposed to honor the agreement, and produce a plan. The American public is supposed to be able to see it for two days with no opportunity to amend it, and then they vote on it, I guess, November 23rd, Wednesday, before Thanksgiving. That’s their plan, and then if it’s vote on, there’s no ability to amend it. It’s an up or down vote. It’s an abdication of Congressional responsibility. I’m one of the few people that had the perverseness to express my concern over this from the beginning.
HH: I’ve got to ask you…
JS: I’ve said it was irresponsible, I was afraid it wouldn’t work, it certainly diminishes the public right to know about matters involving trillions of their dollars.
HH: I’ve got to ask you, your old colleague from across the aisle, Robert Byrd, was a great believer in the prerogatives of the Senate. What do you think that Democrat would have thought of this deal?
JS: (laughing) I don’t believe Robert Byrd would like this, because this is a huge, major policy decision for the United States of America. It would come to the Senate, would have a limited number of hours of debate, nobody would be able to offer an amendment, it would only be an up or down vote, it diminishes the Senate dramatically. As a matter of fact, what the Senate should have done all year is to be talking about the greatest threat this nation faces, and it’s our debt. And we should have been talking to the American people about it. And you know, in the past, the Senate’s been a great place for a national debate to occur. And I thought it would have been a healthy thing for us to do that. Instead, we’ve had secret committee after secret committee.
HH: Last question, Senator Sessions, do you think the Republicans, the six, three from the House, three from the Senate, will all hang together? Or will one or two of them split off and provide the Democrats with a vote? Or do you have confidence that they’ll stick together?
JS: Well, it seems they’re sticking together on both sides right now, and sort of negotiating in blocs. And it may result that nothing occurs. I would hope that the Democrats and Republicans, I guess, together and sort of reach something that would take $1 trillion, could be $2 trillion, could be more. They have the ability to actually propose serious reforms on some of our more intractable problems. But it doesn’t look like that’s happening right now, frankly. I mean, we can always hope, but I think there is a growing pessimism around Capitol Hill.
HH: Well, if it involved clipping the home mortgage interest deduction, the charitable deduction, may it die a quick death. Senator Sessions, Happy Thanksgiving to you.
End of interview.