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Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl on prospects to block the stimulus pork bill and some of the troubled Obama nominees

Thursday, January 22, 2009

HH: Right now, I’m joined by the Republican Minority Whip of the United States Senate, the great Senator from Arizona, a wonderful state, Jon Kyl. Senator Kyl, welcome.

JK: Thank you, Hugh.

HH: Your state has a brand new governor today in Arizona.

JK: Yes, indeed, and it’s interesting we had a Democrat governor who has now been sworn in as Secretary of Homeland Security, and she’s being replaced with a Republican governor, which is ordinarily not the way that it would be done. But our secretary of state, which is the equivalent of the lieutenant governor, is a Republican, and now she’s the governor, Jan Brewer.

HH: And that gives her, you’re going to get a lot done in Arizona. You’ve got Republicans in charge of both the upper and lower house. Maybe Arizona’s going to be the place we look for new innovations in policy.

JK: Well, I sure hope so, because we’ve got good leaders in both the house and senate, and there’s a great opportunity there. You’re right.

HH: Now Senator Kyl, let’s turn to the real work. Yesterday was the speechifying and the partying, and I’ve done a lot of that, and I’ll talk to more people about it. I’m concerned about this stimulus bill that came out of the House. It’s completely ridiculous, and an awful waste of money. What’s your assessment of it? And what are its prospects of getting through the Senate?

JK: Well, you’re too kind to it.

HH: (laughing)

JK: It’s at least as bad as you say. The prospects of getting through the Senate are, I would assess, the following: It probably will be a little bit different, because it’s not going to be the exact same bill as passed, or that the House is considering. But I’m not sure that we’re going to be able to get the votes to stop it. We have exactly 41 votes. Every Republican would have to hang together on this, or we’d have to pick up a Democrat to stop it. But hopefully, we can shape it and make it better, because it is not a good bill, and I say that primarily not because I don’t think we need to do some things to stimulate the economy, but because what they’ve offered up is not stimulative for the most part. It just spends a lot more money, adds a lot to the size of our government, and does very little to help people, and this is all about individual people, keep a job and have money to take care of their family.

HH: Now Senator Kyl, you sit on two key committees: Finance and Judiciary, and you’ve had high profile nominees. But Geitner has been in front of your committee, the nominee for the secretary of the Treasury. He’s had his tax problems, et cetera, but did you get anything out of him about what the thinking is behind this, well, extraordinarily ill-conceived stimulus package?

JK: Well, it’s one of the two things that concern me about his testimony today. He’s being the good soldier and spouting the party line that every bit of this bill will actually help stimulate the economy. I’m not sure I believe that he believes that. I know he’s very smart, and I’ve talked to him privately about his views on tax policy and other things, and I think he understands that much of what’s being proposed here will have very little stimulative, if any, effect. But he’s defending it, as he must as a member of the Obama administration. So he didn’t win any points from me on that score.

HH: Now I have understood them to promise relief for the housing industry, meaning a sort of tax credit, maybe a demand side push on the car side. But I don’t see any of that in this bill, Senator Kyl. Have I read it too casually?

JK: No, there may be potentially some benefits on the housing side, but most of that’s going to be considered as part of the TARP legislation, the $350 billion dollars that will be devoted, maybe at least $50 billion dollars worth, to housing. This bill is in generally category. First of all, there’s about $180 billion dollar so-called tax credit. Well, the last tax rebate that we had was not stimulative at all. Between 12 and 20% of it got spent. The rest simply added to the deficit. There’s nothing in this that promises to be any different, so I think you can chalk that up to not successful. Then the next big chunk is on spending for so-called infrastructure and energy projects. The Congressional Budget Office just came out with a report that says that over half of the money for construction won’t even be spent within a four year period. Well, if we’re not through this recession within four years, we’re in a lot worse shape than I think. So the bottom line is there’s much about this bill that may or may not be good, but it’s not stimulative.

HH: I’m talking with Senator Jon Kyl. In the United States Senate, he is the Republican Whip, the number two Republican in the upper chamber. Given these flaws, Senator Kyl, what kind of a time frame do you see? And what kind of leverage do the Republicans have with their small but hearty band of 41?

JK: The House intends to get the bill over at I think the end of the first week in February. That leaves only one week for the Senate to act on it before the so-called February or Lincoln recess. And what the leaders on the other side have said is that if we don’t finish it by the recess, then there won’t be a recess. Well, that’s a nice technique, you know, put it right up against the time when we’re supposed to go home and be with our constituents. But it would be very hard for me to think this bill could be done in one week in the U.S. Senate, if we’re to have any opportunity to amend it or debate it. So that’s where it stands.

HH: Has the majority leader, or any of the Obama administration officials, begun any kind of serious engagement with Republicans about how you would modify the bill were you given the opportunity to have input?

JK: We had one meeting in the Finance Committee on which I sit in which the chairman thought that we had been briefed by staff. We had not. So we were told at that meeting for the first time what was likely to be in the package, from…over which the Finance Committee has jurisdiction. And we were invited to give our comments. Well, each of us spoke for a little while, but it was really only a matter of getting one time around the table to say what you thought about it. So the reality is no, there has not been a sufficient negotiation. And I frankly really doubt that the Democrats want to engage in a bipartisan way on this. There are a couple of bills coming up before then, one of which is called the SCHIP bill for the children’s health insurance program. And instead of working on a bipartisan way the way we’d done in the past on that bill, they said we’re going to write it, it’s going to be a Democrat bill, and you guys are going to either have to take it or leave it. And so people who had supported it in the past, last week in the Committee voted against it because it’s purely a partisan bill, and will add greatly to costs and entitlements, and to waste, fraud, and abuse and wasteful spending in Washington.

HH: My guess is, though, Senator Kyl, you haven’t got the votes to filibuster SCHIP given Republican defections in the past. Do you have the votes to slow down the stimulus?

JK: We do have the votes to slow it down, and at the end of the day, I’m just not certain whether everybody will stick with it to the point that we can defeat cloture. I think they’re going to have to promise that we will have an opportunity to fully amend and debate it. If they cut that short, even if they support the stimulus, would support the right of their colleagues to be able to fully debate and amend the bill.

HH: Last question, Senator Kyl, we’re getting some interference here, but I do want to ask you about Eric Holder. You said on this program last week you were worried about this confirmation. It has been delayed according to the Politico’s John Bresnaham. Is this in serious trouble in Judiciary?

JK: I think that at the end of the day, Eric Holder will have enough votes to be confirmed. Obviously, very serious questions were raised. But if the question is will he be confirmed, I think enough Republicans will vote for him that he will be confirmed.

HH: And will he have made any commitments about the U.S. attorney in Chicago to your satisfaction, Senator Kyl?

JK: I did not ask him about that, and I don’t remember that he made a commitment related to that. But I will say this. I asked him questions in about seven or eight or nine areas that are very, very important. And he made quite strong commitments in those areas that, and you would recognize, and in fact, I hope we can have a chance to talk about them perhaps another day, made very strong commitments in those areas to do what I consider to be the right thing. So in that regard, I thought he acquitted himself very well.

HH: We will look up the transcript, we will carry on that conversation, Senator Kyl. Thank you for joining us. As always, very informative, Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona.

End of interview.

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