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Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl on Republican options regarding Obama’s spending plan, and possible trouble for Eric Holder’s nomination as AG

Friday, January 9, 2009
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HH: Joined now by our favorite Senator from Arizona, the great state of Arizona, Jon Kyl. Senator Kyl, Happy New Year to you.

JK: Well, and Happy New Year to you and all your listeners, Hugh. Thank you.

HH: Well, I have one bone to pick with you, which is that the Fiesta Tostitos Bowl ended up in an Ohio State loss.

JK: Yeah.

HH: Couldn’t you have done something about that?

JK: (laughing) Actually, no. That’s out of my control.

HH: All right, just checking.

JK: Sorry.

HH: Senator Kyl, I listened to this speech today by President-elect Obama, and I am worried you are going to be looking at a gigantenormous expansion of government. What was your reaction?

JK: Absolutely. I didn’t see the speech, but I’ve had several meetings with his folks that have been nominated to various Cabinet positions, and we met with the President-elect the other night. There’s no question that the things he wants to focus on are huge expansion of government in health care, in education, energy, the environment, and tax policy which is not conservative. Let’s put it that way.

HH: Do you have any hope of any element…for example, are there any nuclear power plants being proposed in this trillion dollars of spending?

JK: No, of course not. The only energy component that we’ve been made aware of is yet another $10 billion dollars for subsidy for wind energy, which was already subsidized dramatically in the last few years.

HH: In the trillion dollar package, or the near trillion dollar package, is there anything to, say, build from 280 ships to 330 ships for the United States Navy?

JK: Nothing yet. No new military spending that’s been brought to our attention, but the details have not yet been made public, and one can hope.

HH: Now of course, people who argue that we’re in a near depression, I’d reject that, forget that we got out of that because of wartime spending that required extraordinary production of armaments. And I just think we’re being led down a rhetorical path, Senator Kyl. What do you think?

JK: I think you’re right. It is true that what really got us out of the Great Depression was the production that was required to sustain the war effort. And there are huge unmet military needs. The Secretary of Defense has indicated about $70 billion dollars of things that he needs right now. And there are additional costs associated with expanding the size of our military that by the way, provides jobs both to the people who get them and the people that have to support them. So there is a lot of military expenditure that would serve two purposes. It would help our nation become more secure, and it would provide a stimulus to the economy. It is still possible that the President-elect would put some of that in his plan, but we haven’t seen any of it in there so far.

HH: Do you have enough votes to slow the plan down?

JK: Not really. The only thing that we have is kind of a moral leverage. The President-elect would like to get a lot more than just Democrat votes for this plan. He’d like to say that it’s a bipartisan, national consensus. He’s talking about getting 80 votes for it in the Senate. Well, the only way he’s going to get that is either if he bamboozles a bunch of folks, or if he accommodates Republican concerns. I personally think it is extraordinarily difficult to accommodate our concerns, because there’s just a fundamental difference between us. We know that rebates don’t work, and yet he’s got another rebate quite similar to the last one that didn’t work as a big part of his plan. We know that it doesn’t stimulate the economy to provide more money to the states in the form of cash grants or provide states with more money to cover more children or adults under the Medicaid program. Those things may be useful in time of a recession when people are hurting, but they certainly don’t stimulate the economy. And every one of those program that you add hundreds of billions of dollars to now, you’re adding to the future baseline. Don’t let anybody tell you those are just going to be temporary extensions of various programs for poor people today.

HH: Senator Kyl, when you and Leader McConnell sit down, obviously you’re going to face a choice of getting rolled or getting something. If you could get some nuclear power plants, you could get some of that $70 billion in immediate needs for the Pentagon, you could get some destroyers, an aircraft carrier, missile defense, would you take that deal? Or would you rather get rolled and just establish that you were opposed to what was happening?

JK: Obviously it depends. If I could get a whole, if I could get some really good defense spending in there, and it was meaningful and significant, and there was some chance that some of the other money would actually have a stimulative effect, and third, that not all of the additional money for the various health and welfare benefits would represent a new baseline, I might be tempted, because we clearly have a problem, and we would like to stimulate the economy, and people are hurting. On the other hand, I cannot conceive of the Clinton folks and the liberals in the Congress, I’m sorry, the Obama folks, and the liberals in the Congress agreeing to enough of that to make it worthwhile for me to support. Now they may get, they will get some Republican votes, but how many they get will really depend upon how forthcoming they are.

HH: Who’s going to negotiate this? Is it going to be you and Senator McConnell? Or is it going to go through the committees?

JK: Well, it’ll be a combination. There are more…the Finance Committee met today, for example, and we talked about several hundred billion dollars worth of stuff that would come out of the Finance Committee, and there are other committees as well. It’ll be negotiated, I suspect, partially with leadership, partially with the committees, and partially go through the regular committee process. But I guarantee you it’s not going to be subject to the kind of debate and amendment that most bills are when it comes to the floor.

HH: All right, switching subject on you, do you see any of his nominees thus far having any serious trouble in the United States Senate?

JK: The one that’s, now that Bill Richardson’s withdrawn, the one that’s most frequently discussed is the Attorney General nomination. And I think Eric Holder will have some problems. He has not been able to stand up to his bosses in the past, President Clinton when he wanted to do pardons that I think Holder must have realized were big mistakes but he facilitated. And he’s also made some very unfortunate statements about our interrogation of prisoners, terrorists, and other things that lead me to believe that he is not going to be supportive of the Patriot Act, the FISA law, and others. And if he can’t be supportive of those laws, then he shouldn’t be Attorney General.

HH: You’re on that committee, Senator Kyl. Do you think you can get a commitment from him to maintain Patrick Fitzgerald in his job as long as Fitzgerald wants it?

JK: Well, I’m not sure I would make that commitment, but you could sure ask him to make the commitment to keep him in that job until, at least until current cases are concluded.

HH: Do you think he’ll give that? Or is that a good thing to demand?

JK: I have no idea. I have no idea what he’ll do in that regard, but he will need to be prepared to make commitments to enforce the law that is on the books regarding terrorists.

HH: Senator Kyl, we’ll watch that with great interest, and we’ll talk to you throughout it. Happy New Year to you and to the Republicans holding the fort up there on Capitol Hill.

End of interview.

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