HH: We begin with the Republican leader in the United States Senate, Mitch McConnell. Senator, welcome, good to have you back.
MM: Glad to be with you.
HH: Hope you’ve avoided the nasty bug I picked up when I was inside the Beltway.
MM: Yeah, sorry about that. I’m feeling just fine.
HH: Well, you should be after last week’s thumping of the Democrats. I want to congratulate you on that. Will that ease the passage of the supplemental, Senator McConnell, when it comes before the Senate?
MM: Well, first of all, thank you for the compliment. It was a sweet win. They would have needed to get sixty. They only got to 48, and we got to 50. So I don’t know whether it’ll discourage the Democrats from trying to put that restrictive language in the supplemental for the troops or not, but we are going to try to strip it out. If people stay where they were last week, we won’t be sending a memo to our enemy telling them when we intend to give up.
HH: Now you had Senator Pryor, Lieberman and Nelson from the Democratic side join you last week. Are there others who might join pro-victory coalitions in the future on the other side of the aisle?
MM: I don’t know. I don’t see any. Hopefully, that will develop, but I wouldn’t bet on it. They’re pretty dug in, they really want to give up, they really want to come home, and of course, we all believe on our side of the aisle, and I think many Americans believe as well, that if we give up too soon and come home, they’ll be back here in the streets of Washington and New York again like they were on 9/11.
HH: Any conversations underway, Senator McConnell, with any of those three Democrats about possibly pulling a reverse of the Jim Jeffords jump?
MM: Even if we had had conversations, I really wouldn’t want to talk about it publicly. We’re not anticipating the Senate flipping, but it is close, and certainly at least one of their members is exceedingly independent, particularly on the Iraq issue, and that’s Senator Lieberman.
HH: Now today, the President has announced that Karl Rove and Harriet Miers will be made available to the Senate for conversations, but not under oath, and not with transcription occurring. Is that going to be enough?
MM: I don’t know whether the Democrats will settle for that proposal, or whether they really just want to issue subpoenas and have a confrontation. If I were a betting man, I’d bet the latter.
HH: Now do you believe that those subpoenas have to be complied with?
MM: Well, it’s a big argument between the branches. It’s gone on for years under both parties. I think that kind of thing would probably ultimately be decided in the courts, and I don’t have a clue which way the courts would go. Typically, these things are worked out, but the Democrats are in such a froth. And of course, any time they hear the word Karl Rove, it inspires them to take the most extreme positions, and we’ll see. I think the administration’s made a reasonable offer to give them the information that they say they want, and we’ll see if they’re willing to take that.
HH: And so it’s your expectation that subpoenas will issue?
MM: I’d…yeah, I’d be surprised if they don’t do that.
HH: Last week, a 3rd Circuit judge was confirmed by the Senate. Is the Judiciary Committee doing its job, according to your expectation, Senator McConnell?
MM: So far, so good. We’ve gotten two circuit judges. We hope to get a third one shortly. I’ve mentioned to you before what I think the definition of fair is for the last two years of the Bush administration at 17. I’m not going to start complaining unless we don’t seem to be making progress. And so far, so good.
HH: I think that’s fair. Is Peter Keisler still doable?
MM: I believe he is, yes.
HH: The Democratic budget, let’s turn to that now. They’ve proposed another deficit hike, didn’t take long, of $440 billion. Were you surprised by what the Democrats came up with in their first run at running the majority budget?
MM: I am a little surprised. They made, basically, four budget promises last year during the election. They promised not to raise taxes, they promised to reform entitlements, they promised to cut spending, and they promised to reduce the debt. And this budget doesn’t do any of those things.
HH: Let’s walk through each of those promises. Are they raising taxes?
MM: Yeah, absolutely. They’re trying to deny it on the floor. It’s really laughable. By letting the Bush tax cuts expire in 2010, which they do expire without any effort to make them permanent, the Democrats are raising taxes by $900 billion dollars. Now let’s put that in context. That’s four times larger than the Clinton tax hike in 1993, which was the biggest tax increase in American history, four times larger than that. Now there’s no denying that this budget is a tax and spend budget, the biggest tax increase in history times four.
HH: When does that begin to impact the way that businesses plan for the future? 2010 is not that far away.
MM: No, it’s not. I think businesses will begin to plan on it now, and it’s bound to lead to a slowdown. You can’t take that much money out of the economy without having an impact on it. And even worse, Hugh, you know, they promised to have some entitlement reform. We know that both social security and Medicare are in trouble. There’s nothing, not a word, not a penny, no nothing, no language change, no entitlement reform.
HH: So the earliest we’re going to look at entitlement reform, then, is going to be 2009, and probably not even then. It will take a while to get…2010, and that’s another five…
MM: Well, it’s clear that it’s not even on their agenda. Now if the biggest tax increase in history times four, and no entitlement reform is not enough, then on spending, this Democratic budget increases spending by $146 billion dollars over what President Bush requested, and spends a trillion dollars of the social security surplus. So in addition to the biggest tax increase in history times four, in addition to no entitlement reform, they also didn’t cut spending. They dramatically increase spending, and of course, all of that adds up to a broken promise again, their fourth promise, which is to reduce the debt. Of course, it doesn’t do that at all. This budget will increase the budget deficit by $440 billion dollars, and the gross debt by $2.2 trillion. Let me just sum it up by saying nothing really illustrates the differences between the two parties more than the annual budget resolution debate. That’s the debate we’re having this week, this is a tax and spend budget, this is a budget that goes back on the four promises they made last year during the general election. I am hoping, we’ll see whether we have the same kind of unity we did last week on the Iraq withdrawal prevision, but we’re hoping that all Republicans will oppose this budget.
HH: What are they proposing to spend the additional $146 billion dollars on?
MM: You know, various and sordid domestic programs, all of which I’m sure test quite well in the polls, and will be satisfying to one constituency or another.
HH: It’s not on the military? It’s not on the expansion of the Department of Defense that the President has called for?
MM: No, no, no.
HH: Any chance of getting a few Democrats to cross over towards fiscal sanity as they did on the war?
MM: I don’t know. You know, these budget battles are typically pretty partisan. One Democrat is unable to attend to his duties right now, so they have 50, we have 49. They could pass it. They would need total unity, assuming I can get total unity on our side, which we’re working very hard to achieve.
HH: Does…is there any legislative maneuvering to allow you to filibuster this in any way?
MM: Not on this bill. This is one of the few things…in fact, the budget resolution is really the only thing they can do that doesn’t, isn’t subject to a filibuster, and also doesn’t have to be signed by the President. Now once they establish the budget resolution, each of the spending bills is subject to the filibuster, and is subject to the presidential veto. So only this resolution, the budget resolution, the blueprint, is not filibusterable, and not subject to presidential veto.
HH: Well, you would think that some of the senators who are from red states and up for reelection, like Max Baucus and Mary Landrieu and Mark Pryor would be keeping an eye on raising taxes and letting spending get out of control.
MM: You would think so. Conrad, Kent Conrad, the Budget Committee chairman, the Democrat chairman, is trying to convince everybody that somehow, they aren’t raising taxes. That’s just not credible. So I don’t know. We’ll see whether there’s queasiness on the other side. I’m right now just working on trying to unify my own people, and I think we have a good chance at it.
HH: Last question, Senator McConnell. I turn on the morning news, and I think Chuck Schumer has a camera in his townhouse, because he’s on all the time, and he’s throwing hammers all the time. Did you expect this to start this soon?
MM: Well, he’s chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and that’s a very political job, and I think everything Senator Schumer says should be viewed through that prism. He’s the campaign chairman. He’s sort of…any Senate business that he does should make some alarms go off in people to understand that basically, this is the Senate Democratic campaign chairman.
HH: Does he succeed in forcing Alberto Gonzales to resign, do you think?
MM: The President has indicated today, as you probably know, that he has…the Attorney General has his full support. He works for the President, and I think that’ll be the end of it.
HH: And is that something that Republicans should step up and support the President on at this point?
MM: Yeah. I mean, the President decides who the Attorney General’s going to be. He indicates he’s satisfied with this Attorney General, and I think that’s the last word on the subject.
HH: Senator Mitch McConnell, always a pleasure. Congratulations on last week, good luck on this week.
End of interview.