Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl on the priorities of the lame duck session
HH: And to cover that news, none other than our favorite Senator, Senator Jon Kyl from the great state of Arizona. Merry Christmas to you, Senator, great to have you back.
JK: And Merry Christmas to you, Hugh, and all of your listeners. Thanks you.
HH: I wish you were not having to work in Washington, D.C. right now, but it appears as though your colleagues across the aisle and the President are going to keep you there.
JK: Well, and I remember this time last year, Christmas Eve day we ultimately voted on the health care bill. It looks like we’re up to the same thing this year.
HH: Can you give us the status on what the Republican position is, you’re the whip, you’re the number two guy in the Republican caucus, vis-à-vis the Bush tax rates, and vis-à-vis START?
JK: The Bush tax rates on marginal income tax rates under the IRS code, as well as the rates on capital gains and dividends, and some of the other provisions that have been in existence in the law for the last ten years, will be extended. The only question is for what period of time.
HH: And what’s the position of the caucus on that?
JK: Well, we want them extended permanently. If not permanently, then for a long time. Obviously, the Democrats and the President don’t want them extended at all, except for three of the marginal rates. And so somewhere in between there is the period that they’ll be extended, I suspect.
HH: Now yesterday, you and your colleagues sent a letter, all 42 of you, including the newly-sworn in, your new colleague, Mark Kirk, saying nothing gets done until this gets done or extended. Can you explain to the audience what that is intended to do?
JK: Yes. In fact, there are two things that have to be done, that we said had to be the top priorities. First of all, we have to fund the government for the remaining ten months of the fiscal year. The Democrats never got around to doing that. They didn’t pass a budget, they didn’t pass any appropriation bills to keep the government running. And as much as some of us would like a smaller government, there are still things that have to be done. We’ve got to pay the folks that are defending us in the military, for example. So that has to be done. And secondly, the issue of what tax rates are extended, and how we’re going to deal with the estate tax, and how we’re going to deal with some of the other so-called expiring provisions of law that expire at the end of the year, those things have to be dealt with. That’s the business that the American people want us to do first. Now, if there is time after that to do other things, like the START treaty, if there’s time, then the leader of the Democrats, Harry Reid, has the right to bring that up and try to move it forward. But until these critical things are done, Republicans are saying we will not agree to anything else.
HH: If, in fact, the Bush tax cuts are extended, whether for two, four, or permanently, and I’m sure you know my audience would want the permanent extension, I’m sure, but whatever that resolution is, do you believe if START comes up in this session, there are votes to ratify it?
JK: It depends. If there are…if there is plenty of time to do it. And I would say this all has to, I mean, the START treaty has to be brought up next week in order for there to be time, and I’m talking about the beginning of the week, or no later than the middle of the week, if there is to be time to consider it, to debate it, to adopt the amendments that are needed. And even then, I think it’s probably too short. So if the Democrats keep dragging their feet on the funding of the government and the tax issues, for example, then there just isn’t going to be time. And if they try to bring it up with only three or four days of debate, then I think Republicans, even those who are predisposed to support the treaty, would vote against it simply on the procedural ground that there isn’t enough time to consider everything, and then agree to have it considered, say, next March or so.
HH: Many Americans are looking to you, Senator Kyl, for your opinion on the merits of START. And given what you know about the administration’s position on amendments you have been seeking, what do you think your position is on START right now?
JK: Well, I’m going to make my position crystal clear next week. As of right now, I’m trying to negotiate these tax issues as best I can, and conclude work with the administration in provisions that would have to be added to the resolution of ratification, for example, that would absolutely insure that the United States proceeds with missile defense plans that were announced by the secretary of Defense, but which have been undercut by other announcements of the administration, and some other issues that would have to be done in order to make the treaty even marginally acceptable to any of the members of our conference. And those discussions are ongoing right now. But my position on the treaty will be made crystal clear next week.
HH: Let me ask you a couple of the funding issues that are out there. In the continuing resolution, which has to be passed to keep the government open, will there be funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, NPR, and that particular area of government largesse?
JK: There are two way that this will go forward. Either it will be, as you say, a continuing resolution, which means that we just continue the funding at last year’s level, or the year before, without any policy changes, and that’s the easiest way to do it, and it’s the best way to do it to keep from having a lot of earmarks and other Democrat wish list items included, or, as they are threatening to do, they would present not a continuing resolution, but rather an omnibus appropriation bill, which is one of these giant, pork-laden, policy-filled appropriation bills, and then dare Republicans to vote against it, because otherwise the government will shut down. Well, Republicans will vote against it. My point is that this is not the place to try to do all of the policy changes. The House of Representatives will be in Republican hands next year, and I will predict that one of the first things the House will do is vote to either defund or drastically reduce the funding for Public Broadcasting. And when that happens, it’ll come over to the Senate, and I think there will be a lot of pressure on Democrats to agree with the House-passed bill. If they don’t, then welcome to the new party of no, the Senate Democrats.
HH: Is the Republican caucus united on saying no the omnibus spending bill as it is in saying…
JK: Yeah. Yes, because it is a Democrat-written bill, it’s full of pork, it’s full of bad policy. And Republicans would be committing malpractice to allow that to go through. Now Democrats have by far and away the majority of votes. So every Republican will have to stick together in order to prevent the omnibus from passing. But that’s why I think it makes much more sense for us to simply say in view of the time, and in view of the policy considerations, let’s just do the funding that’s necessary, and not try to make any big policy changes.
HH: Was it difficult to get that letter signed?
JK: No. Republicans understand that one of the messages that came out of this election was attend to important business first. What’s the important business? Making sure the government can do what we want it to do, but stopping all of this notion of tax increases. And that’s what we’re talking…nobody’s talking about tax cuts. There aren’t any tax cuts on the table here. There’s only the question of whether everybody’s taxes are going to go up. And they will automatically go up at the end of this year, on January 1st of next year, unless Congress acts to stop that tax increase from happening. That’s why, Hugh, I hope that you can help lead the effort here to correct the rhetoric. There are no tax cuts. We’re simply talking about maintaining all of the rates that have been in existence for the last decade.
HH: Senator Kyl, the Democrats are trying to throw some smoke in the air on this by saying let’s let the tax hikes go through for people making more than a million a year. Is that on the table in the eyes of anyone in the Republican caucus, that so-called compromise?
HH: All right. In terms of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal, will that happen in this Congress?
HH: Will the DREAM Act pass in this Congress?
HH: Last night, I got back, turned on, and I only saw a partial report, the secretary of Defense saying something about the Joint Strike Fighter, after the cancellation of the F-22, throwing into doubt whether or not we’re going to make the full complement of F-35’s. What was your reaction to this, Senator Kyl?
JK: That’s an issue that has been part of the Defense Authorization bill, which also will not come up this year. And we’ve got to fight it out at some point. But because the Democratic leadership was not able to bring a defense authorization bill to the floor of the Senate any time this year, there’s not going to be time to do it this year now before Christmas. And so it will have to be argued out next year.
HH: Where are the lines on that being drawn? You know, we’ve got this Korean Peninsula crisis. It seems to me to be a very odd time to be defunding our military.
JK: Yeah. There are a lot of complicated questions. First is the question of whether we need both a lot more F-22’s, as well as the F-35’s. There’s a question about whether we need two separate engines, two different companies to make engines for the F-35, or whether it’s a savings to just have one, and what capability these aircraft have, and how they’re going to be made for foreign sales, and a lot of other complicated issues that I frankly don’t think we have time to get into here.
HH: All right.
JK: They’re all very important issues, and the key point is we should have debated that in the Senate. But because the Democratic leadership wasn’t able to get the Defense bill on the floor, we weren’t able to do that.
HH: Last question, Senator Kyl, what is the minimum extension of the current tax rates that the Republicans will accept?
JK: Well, I’m not going to negotiate that on the air here, because as far as I’m concerned, it needs to be permanent.
HH: Senator Kyl, from your lips to the White House ears. Merry Christmas to you, I look forward to talking to you in the new year.
JK: Thanks, Hugh, best to you, too.
HH: Thank you, Jon Kyl from Arizona.
End of interview.