HH: Joined now by senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the United States Senate. Merry Christmas to you, Senator McConnell, great to have you on.
MM: Hey, Hugh, looks like we’re going to be here about that long.
HH: I think you are. I also think Secretary Geithner and the President must think you’re the Cleveland Indians, because only the Cleveland Indians would make this bad of a deal that they’ve offered you. I see in the news reports, $400 billion in unspecified entitlement cuts in exchange for $1.6 trillion in tax increases. Is that about right?
MM: Yeah, I’m not even sure the $400 billion, I think, would come out of entitlements. You know, I did in fact laugh at him. I mean, it was, I wasn’t trying to embarrass him. It was a spontaneous report to an absolutely absurd suggestion. They’ve actually gone in the wrong direction over the last two weeks. $1.6 trillion dollars in tax increases, let’s take a look at it. The top two rates that they talk about all the time will only get you about $800 billion over ten years. They got $800 billion on top of that.
HH: Did he outline what other taxes he wants to raise?
MM: Yeah, you know, it’s all on the usual poll-tested, oil and gas, raise the estate tax, there’s hardly anything they missed. It is a massive, whopping punch right in the nose to the American economy. I can’t imagine the Democrats would support it. I mean, Max Baucus, the chairman of the Finance Committee, is certainly not going to support the estate tax proposal, Mary Landrieu, the Democrats from Louisiana, is not going to support the gas tax. Neither is Mark Begich of Alaska, completely unserious, and here we are witnessing the President running around the country thinking the campaign is not over yet. And they’re presenting laughable suggestions from the Secretary of the Treasury. He ought to be embarrassed to be asked to go up here and do something like that. It’s a serious blow to his credibility.
HH: Do you think, Senator, that the President is actually interested in a deal? Or does he really want the Clinton tax rates back, and it’s just to be able to blame you guys for having them imposed on the lowest brackets?
MM: You know, I don’t know. Two weeks ago in a meeting, he said a lot of the right things, but then you know, President Reagan of course has said trust but verify. The verification process has been, shall I say, disturbing.
HH: There are a lot of people on the conservative side of the media who are beginning to say, and I discussed this with your colleague, Jon Kyl, yesterday, and he says it’s really risky that we just ought to wait and see what happens in the new year. And Senator Kyl is worried about that because of the impact, obviously, on the national defense in the sequestration. But if they’re not serious, what choice do you have, Senator?
MM: Well, it’s certainly true that they could get what they have claimed for years they wanted to do by doing nothing. They could get a big Defense cut, and they could get a massive tax increase. But of course, they don’t want to get a tax increase on everybody, only on the top two rates. Also, do they really think it would be good for the economy for all of this to kick in? I tell you, I think the fundamental observation I would make about all of this right now, whether it’s this totally unserious proposal from the Secretary of the Treasury or the attempt by the majority leader to break the rules to change the rules of the Senate, they’re strutting their stuff after the election. They’re still celebrating, and they’re having a hard time noticing that they don’t have a super majority stranglehold on the Senate, and they don’t control the House.
HH: Senator, there are at least nine, maybe ten or more Democrat seats up in 2014. You named some of them – Senator Landrieu, Senator Begich, but also Senator Rockefeller’s seat is up, Senator Hagan, you’ve got Senator Baucus himself, Tim Johnson, Mark Udall, Mark Pryor. Are these Democrats who are…
MM: Alaska, very red state, Democrat in Alaska up…
HH: Are they not concerned that their constituents are watching, and they’re going to remember this brinksmanship?
MM: Oh, I can’t imagine that they would vote for what the Secretary of the Treasury showed the Speaker and myself today. I can’t imagine it. And so that underscores what a totally unserious…this proposal, you know, Hugh, it wouldn’t have passed the House with Nancy Pelosi as speaker. This is, you know, absurd.
HH: So if you have to do something, I mean, are you expecting them to send up something else? Or are they just trying to make it look as though you folks are refusing to respond to an offer?
MM: Yeah, I think it’s all game playing. They want to make us look unreasonable. And you have to ask the question, to what end? There’s not an election for two years. The election is over. This is time to be governing. The posturing, the endless campaign, the never-ceasing finger pointing and blaming, you know, I know he’s upset about it, but he’s got a Republican House to deal with, and he’s got a non-inconsequential Republican minority in the Senate. He doesn’t own this Congress like he did the Congress in 2009 and 2010. He can’t get anything he wants. Those days are over.
HH: Last question, Senator, you mentioned the filibuster, and I talked about it with Senator Kyl yesterday. Where does that stand? And obviously, this is the reverse image of the Gang of 14/nuclear option under Leader Frist form 2005. Is there going to be a resolution of this? Or are they actually going to push the button and destroy a hundred years of Senate tradition?
MM: Well, you’re correct that we contemplated this a number of years ago, but decided not to do it. They have the same option to contemplate it and decide not to do it. It would destroy the Senate as it has operated for 235 years. And to what end? You know, the Speaker said today that any bill that passed the Senate under this process would be DOA in the House.
MM: So, I mean, what is the gain they get out of this? And, you know, it’s so short-sided. Who knows? You may be talking to the majority leader two years from now. It comes back to bite them.
HH: Last…did they leave a meeting scheduled? Are you getting back together again with the Secretary or the President anytime soon?
MM: No, he gave us this outlandish proposal, and we’ll wait to hear from him. I think they pretty well understand that it’s not something we view as a serious effort. But we’ve gone backward, Hugh, over the last two weeks. We’ve actually gone backwards.
HH: Onus on them, then, to come up with something?
MM: Yeah, I mean, we need to have a serious discussion, not this kind of silliness.
HH: Leader McConnell, thank you, and I hope by the time that Christmas does roll around that we have averted the fiscal cliff, but not on those terms. Thanks for joining us, Mitch McConnell from Kentucky.
End of interview.