Video: One-on-one with Sen. DeMint, Sen. Durbin

  1. Transcript of: One-on-one with Sen. DeMint, Sen. Durbin

    MR. GREGORY: Appreciate your time. And the conversation continues now. Joining me, Assistant Majority Leader of the Senate , Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois , and Republican senator from South Carolina , author of "The

    Great American Awakening: Two Years That Changed America , Washington and Me," Senator Jim DeMint . Welcome both.

    SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): Thank you.

    SEN. JIM DeMINT (R-SC): Good morning, David .

    MR. GREGORY: Tim Geithner , the Treasury secretary, was here last Sunday. I asked him about this ongoing deliberation, and he was emphatic about the outcome. This is what he said.

    SEC'Y TIM GEITHNER: Let me make this clear, David . The United States is not going to default . We are a country that pays its bills. We're going to meet our obligations. And the leadership in Congress , Republicans and Democrats , House and Senate , understand that. ... There's no alternative for Congress to act by the 2nd, and they recognize it, and I'm very confident they're going to do that.

    MR. GREGORY: Senator DeMint , is he right, no alternative but to raise the debt ceiling ?

    SEN. DeMINT: Well, he's probably right on that. But there's only one plan in Congress right now to do it in a way that the credit agencies say won't turn us towards a negative rating. And that's the cut cap and balance plan in the House that gives the president the increase in the debt limit, but it does with those credible, long-term deficit reduction measures that both Moody's and S&P have said we have to do or they will lower or credit rating .

    MR. GREGORY: Well, what, what is in that? Be specific about what that would do.

    SEN. DeMINT: Well, it does -- the three things that we have to do: We cut spending significantly, but reasonably in this budget year; we cap spending over the next 10 years to bring us towards a balance ; but probably most importantly and to have any kind of permanent reform, we send to the States a constitutional amendment that would force Congress to balance the budget . Let's let the states and the American people decide. It wouldn't happen until about 10 years out, but it gives us time to fix our tax code, to fix Social Security and Medicare .

    MR. GREGORY: It...

    SEN. DeMINT: And that's what we have to do.

    MR. GREGORY: Senator Durbin , there aren't votes for what Senator DeMint is talking about. That's just a legislative reality. However, and the president made the point, look, you don't need a constitutional amendment to balance the budget , for us to do our job. But is he wrong? Maybe you do need something to force you guys to do your job because it's not being done now.

    SEN. DURBIN: Let me just tell you about the constitutional amendment . It does not have the votes in the Senate . I don't know about the House of Representatives . And this notion that we somehow have to change the Constitution to do what we were elected to do is just plain wrong. Bottom line is, those who want to push a balanced budget amendment are saying, "I can't promise you that I won't steal again, but I will vote for the Ten Commandments ." That isn't a good, solid approach. I've sat through a year and a half dealing with this whole deficit crisis, both with the Bowles-Simpson Commission and the Gang of Five, bipartisan efforts, both, and I can tell you the president has put on the table a reasonable list of alternatives that can bring us to $4 trillion in deficit reduction, and we don't have to wait for the states to ratify a constitutional amendment . Let's get our job done now.

    MR. GREGORY: Senator DeMint , what's going on here? I mean, so many people I talk to are, frankly, disgusted with Washington . You know, you have on the one side people saying that, that Republicans are, are just crazy, that they won't negotiate, that they're being unreasonable, that they're denying the prospect of a default . Michele Bachmann saying it's a misnomer when the Fed chief says it would be economic calamity. And on the other side , you've, you know, you've got Republicans saying, "Look, somebody's got to draw a line in the sand here. It's the Democrats who have run up the debt since President Obama got into office." But the reality is, nobody is really willing to compromise and to make a deal.

    SEN. DeMINT: Well, David , we certainly are willing to compromise. We're willing to give the president an increase in the debt limit, and you'll see the House pass that bill this, this week. But Senator Durbin and 20 other Democrats in the Senate are on record supporting a balanced budget amendment . And that is a place that we have to get to. But we need to realize, setting all politics aside, that our country is on course for a financial disaster. We can't take another $10 trillion in debt that the president has proposed. So it is absurd to say that we cannot agree that sometime in the next decade that we have to stop spending more than we're bringing in. You'll see in the next week, Republicans are more than willing to work with the president.

    MR. GREGORY: But...

    SEN. DeMINT: The only proposal that the president has sent to Congress , David , is a budget that increases the debt another $10 trillion.

    MR. GREGORY: All right. But, Senator DeMint , let's be realistic.

    SEN. DeMINT: Now the...

    MR. GREGORY: Bottom line here, if a balanced budget amendment is not passed, which it -- you've heard Senator Durbin say is not going to be passed -- will Republicans still vote to raise the debt ceiling ? And if not, are you prepared for the consequences on this economy and for the country ?

    SEN. DeMINT: Well, I hope the president won't take us through that. And I hope Senator DeMint won't. But we've got to draw a line in the, in the sand now because a day of reckoning is going to come and the longer we put it off, the bigger the problems are going to be for our country . I mean, Moody's , Standard Poor 's, these agencies are telling us, if we increase this debt limit without credible and long-term deficit reduction, that they're going to lower our ratings. That means it's going to be harder and more expensive to borrow money. And we can't borrow another $10 trillion that the president's proposed.

    MR. GREGORY: Right. But, Senator, I'm sorry...

    SEN. DeMINT: And again, the president is not...

    MR. GREGORY: ...I'm not getting an answer, though. But what's going to happen? How does this end? I know what your position is. How does this end? Are you saying that you would put the country into default by not raising the debt ceiling unless you get this balanced budget amendment ?

    SEN. DeMINT: Well, David , we're not going to default . And if you listen to your previous guest, he said we won't meet some obligations, but he didn't say we were going to default . I don't want to put the country through that, but the fact is, Republicans and Democrats have been irresponsible. They've brought our debt to the point where we literally can't borrow much more money without bankrupting our country . So now is the time for the president, Senator Durbin , and the Democrats to work with us and at least agree that we can make some cuts now and cap spending over 10 years, and let the states decide if sometime over the next decade that we'll balance our budget .

    MR. GREGORY: You know, Senator...

    SEN. DeMINT: That's hardly a radical idea.

    MR. GREGORY: Senator Durbin , you and others have described what Senator DeMint just said as intransigence, a stubbornness, an unwillingness to negotiate. The reality is, it's exactly what Democrats said about President Bush when he wanted to raise the debt ceiling for bringing up too much debt. And the scale was completely different there. I mean, now you want $2.4 trillion in additional debt ceiling , then it was $800 billion. So you can understand why Republicans are saying enough has got to be enough.

    SEN. DURBIN: Well, I can understand it, but keep in mind that it was the economic policies of the Bush administration that led us into a situation where we more than doubled the national debt under President George W. Bush . Now I hear from Senator DeMint and others, let's stick with those same policies, giving tax breaks to the wealthiest people in America and not facing reality . David , let me tell you, those people who minimize the impact of a default on the debt ceiling , a default on America 's debt in our full faith and credit , really have said some things that are outrageous. Some of the Republican presidential candidates in Iowa , one of them says he's praying for a default . Another one said she is opposed to extending the debt ceiling . And others are saying, "Well, listen, maybe we can't make Social Security payments for a month or two, maybe we can't pay our veterans what we promised, but we'll work it out ." That is highly irresponsible. What we need to do is to sit down and work together. The president has laid out a big plan. Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats have said we want to work toward a big plan to reduce this deficit by at least $4 trillion over the next 10 years.

    MR. GREGORY: Senator, Senator Durbin ...

    SEN. DURBIN: We've got to do this.

    MR. GREGORY: question is whether, Senator, whether President Obama is the one to really lead this. There are some progressives, as well as Republicans , who say that he has been late to this negotiation, late with ideas, and late to provide leadership.

    SEN. DURBIN: David , let me tell you, if you could've been in the White House Cabinet Room , as I was, for six separate meetings and watched this president of the United States patiently listen to each member of the leadership in Congress lay out their ideas of where to go and how we can do this together, if you know that he started the meeting saying, "I'm putting everything on the table so that we can have a reasonable, comprehensive approach to it," you saw real leadership in action. I can't think of another president in my memory...

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    SEN. DURBIN: ...who would've devoted that much time and that much patience to trying to bring both sides together.

    MR. GREGORY: Well, quickly...

    SEN. DURBIN: But, ultimately, the responsibility is ours.

    MR. GREGORY: Quickly, from both of you, Senator DeMint first, what happens in the end? What, what, what resolution do we get from or by August 2 ?

    SEN. DeMINT: David , we can't vote on a speech. The president hasn't sent us a proposal. There's been no proposal out of Democrats in the Senate . The only plan on the table that'll keep us from default and will keep us from falling to a negative rating is the cut cap and balance plan. Now, folks can say that it's outrageous to balance our budget , but over 70 percent of Americans think we need to.

    MR. GREGORY: Right, but...

    SEN. DeMINT: And that's what we're going to insist on as Republicans . You're seeing real leadership now in the House from John Boehner , and that's the only leadership you're seeing in Washington right now.

    MR. GREGORY: Senator Durbin , bottom line , what's going to happen? First of all, will they meet again today? Will folks meet today?

    SEN. DURBIN: There won't be a meeting of the same group, but I can tell you what's going on. Majority Leader Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell are working on an approach which will avoid this terrible deadline of August 2 and a default which would drive up interest rates and really hurt our economy . We will have a debate on the balanced budget amendment this week in the United States Senate . We've got to get this job done. The president is there standing by, willing to help us, but we have got to accept the initiative as elected leaders in Congress to really solve this problem and move America 's economy forward.

    MR. GREGORY: Before I let you both go, I want to ask you about the breaking news this morning and the reported arrest of Rebekah Brooks , the News of the World in Great Britain , and this scandal that's unfolding in the Murdoch media empire is something that also has reached here in the United States . Would you like to see congressional hearings as to whether there's any, you know, tie here to the United States in this phone hacking scandal, Senator Durbin ?

    SEN. DURBIN: Yes, I would. I can tell you that there are questions about whether the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act has been violated by Rupert Murdoch and his news empire. And what's going on in England is startling, to think of the extent that they went to to break the law to try to report a story. We need to follow through with the FBI investigation and also with congressional investigations.

    MR. GREGORY: Senator DeMint , what do you think?

    SEN. DeMINT: David , we need to let law enforcement work here. Congress has got a big issue in front of us. We need to handle our own business for a change and the focus this week is on the only plan we've got and that's cut cap and balance .

updated 7/17/2011 11:20:53 PM ET 2011-07-18T03:20:53

The next step in the weeks-long saga over how to increase the government's borrowing cap is to let House Tea Party forces try it their way.

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A Republican "cut, cap and balance" plan set for a House vote Tuesday would condition a $2.4 trillion increase in the so-called debt limit on an immediate $100 billion-plus cut from next year's budget and adoption by Congress of a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget.

"Let's let the American people decide," said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, on "Fox News Sunday." "Do they want something common sense as cutting spending, capping the growth in government and requiring a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution?"

Story: Fallback plan gains momentum in debt talks

The idea appears to be to allow Tea Party-backed GOP lawmakers to have the run of Congress this week in hopes that they'll ultimately be able to stomach a plan emerging in the Senate to give President Barack Obama sweeping power to order a $2.5 trillion increase in the debt limit without approval by Congress.

'No one believes' the plan could get enough votes
The cut, cap and balance plan, however, is a dead letter with Obama and in the Democratic-controlled Senate — as is a separate effort by Republicans in that chamber to adopt a balanced budget amendment. Amending the Constitution requires a 2/3rds vote of both Houses, including 67 votes in the Senate, where Republicans control just 47.

"No one believes there are 67 votes for any version of that," said Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, on CBS' "Face The Nation."

Public opinion polls show that voters like the idea of a balanced budget, but the government faces such massive budget gaps — it now borrows more than 40 cents of every dollar it spends — that the cuts required to eliminate the deficit were too draconian for even the GOP-dominated House to endorse balancing the budget anytime soon. The House Republican budget still leaves deficits in the $400 billion range after 10 years.

Story: Feds get a dose of kitchen-table economics

The immediate issue is allowing the government to continue to borrow from investors and foreign countries like China to pay its bills — which include a $23 billion batch of Social Security checks set to go out the day after an Aug. 2 deadline to avoid default.

Sen. McConnell's plan
With the deadline just over two weeks away and with a recent round of White House talks failing to generate a breakthrough, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the cagey leader of his party in the Senate, has proposed a plan that would allow Obama to automatically win a large enough increase in the debt to keep the government afloat until 2013 unless both House and Senate override him by veto-proof margins.

First Thoughts: McConnell’s parachute

McConnell's plan has political advantages but has come under assault from many conservatives eager to take advantage of the current opportunity to use the need to lift the debt ceiling to force deficit cuts now. But Republicans refuse to consider any tax revenue increases demanded by Obama and Democrats to balance any budget package, and Democrats won't go along with significant cuts to benefits programs like Medicare and Medicaid unless tax increases on the wealthy are a part of the package.

"It's not fair to ask senior citizens to pay a price, to ask families paying for their college educations, for their children to pay a price, but to leave the most privileged out of the bargain," said Jacob Lew, the White House budget director, on ABC's "This Week." "Everything has to be on the table."

Story: Amid dire warnings, a possible debt compromise?

That leaves lawmakers well short of the $2 trillion-plus in deficit cuts required to offset a debt increase that's big enough to solve the problem through next year's elections. A sense of futility has pervaded White House talks since Boehner abandoned hopes for a "grand bargain" with Obama a week ago Saturday, prompting McConnell to come out with his plan. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is on board but wants to add a plan to create yet another deficit panel, comprised entirely of lawmakers and evenly divided between the two parties, that would try to break the deadlock by the end of the year.

It's also expected that a package of spending cuts, perhaps in the $1.5 trillion range over the coming decade, would be attached to the McConnell-Reid measure, perhaps in the House.

For now, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is standing behind his tea partiers. But he seems open to the McConnell idea.

"The cut, cap and balance plan that the House will vote on next week is a solid plan for moving forward," Boehner told reporters Friday. "Let's get through that vote, and then we'll make decisions about what will come after."

For its part, the White House continues to press in public for a large-scale bargain. But it's obviously open to the McConnell plan.

"There's multiple tracks that are being discussed," Lew said. "It's not a given how we get to raising the debt limit."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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