Senator McConnell was my guest today. The transcript:
HH: Joined now by GOP leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Senator McConnell, always a pleasure, welcome.
MM: Glad to be with you.
HH: How did it go at the White House today?
MM: Well, we continue to talk. You know, I think that it’s going to be very difficult to get this president to do the kind of spending reduction package that we really need, without tax increases. He will only go so far without insisting on tax increases in order to get a bigger package. And that’s a place where I don’t believe a single Republicans in the House or Senate are willing to go. So the question is, can we get him to sign enough spending reductions without tax increases to make it a big enough deal to be worth passing. And it’s been a challenge.
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HH: Now there’s an unusual coalition of people supporting the idea you unveiled a couple of days ago. It includes John Podhoretz and myself, Ann Coulter last night on Hannity’s program, of course, the Wall Street Journal. Are you gaining traction for that approach, Senator McConnell? Or is everything still in flux?
MM: Well, I think we are. That’s not, by the way, the only thing I want to do. I want to reassure the markets that we’re not going to default. That’s important. From a purely political point of view, we’ve structured an approach that will require the President to ask for the debt ceiling, and frankly, I think it’s not likely any Republican in the House and Senate will vote for it. We’re also working on a deficit reduction committee, not a commission, no outsiders, no administration officials, members of the House and Senate, equally balanced with Republican House and Democratic Senate. Neither side would have an advantage, with a mandatory report back requirement by the end of the year to deal with entitlement reform, which we’ve not been able to get without tax increases from this president. So we’re going to try to go at it another way, and have an expedited procedure. I don’t want to get overly technical here for your listeners, but I mean one of the problems around here is how do you get a result. You know, even if you come up with a good idea, how do you get something passed. And that is why an expedited procedure’s so important. That’ll probably be a part of the bill as well. And then it would go over to the House, and we hope that some kind of spending reduction package without tax increases will be agreed to between the House Republican majority and the President. And that would be added to the package.
HH: Now Senator McConnell, I want to make very, very clear, there’s no support, in your opinion, for any tax hike whatsoever in the Senate or the House?
HH: So today, Dick Durbin came out, your colleague from Illinois, Senator Durbin, and relayed a message from the President that if there’s no deal by tomorrow, we’re going to need a Plan B. And I thought yesterday, he pushed away from the table, and kind of left the room in a huff because Eric Cantor was suggesting a Plan B?
MM: Well, it was a little more cordial today, and I wouldn’t say that it’s going to be over within 24 hours. I think that the key here to the spending reduction package is will the President agree to something that the House Republican majority can pass? And we’re simply not, they’re not, and Senate Republicans are not, either, even though we’re not in the majority, going to vote to raise taxes. We’re just not going to do it. We don’t think we have a deficit because we tax too little. We think it’s because we spend too much, and we’re going to stick with that.
HH: Senator McConnell, I want to focus in on discretionary spending for next year.
HH: How much, in terms of cuts, have the President’s team identified that they’re willing to put on the table, just on the discretionary side, next year?
MM: Well, so far, it’s been pretty puny. I mean, $2 billion dollars before a freeze, and our response to that is the government borrowed $4 billion dollars today. And so that’s why we’re still talking, because we have not been able to get them to a place that we’re comfortable makes a serious difference in getting our spending trajectory headed downward.
HH: Do you see any evidence on the President’s part, Senator McConnell, that he understands the depth of the problem of this kind of deficit spending? Does he ever talk…
MM: Yeah, I think actually he does, Hugh. It’s just that he wants to deal with it by an approach that we think helps finance a bigger government. I mean, he has driven spending as a percentage of gross domestic product from 21% up to 24.5%, and we think he’s trying to force us to raise taxes to help keep it that big in perpetuity. We’re not going to do that. We do not believe that this level of government is appropriate for America’s future. I mean, for the last two or three decades, government spending as a percentage of GDP has been about 21%. Revenue’s been a little bit short of that. Revenue is down now because of the bad economy. What he wants to do is to get us to force revenue up to finance a much bigger government in perpetuity. That beings to make you look a lot like a Western European country.