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ABCNEWS VideoSource
SENATE GALLERY: REPUBLICAN PRESS CONFERENCE
02/04/2010
ABC
DP0057-723
Senate GOP / REPUBLICANS press conference on jobs & bipartisanship X80/RS-10 Slugged: 1300 WS SEN GOP X80 DISC#: 723 AR: 16X9 12:57:08 SEN. DEMINT: Thanks for being here. I know all of you in the media have heard politicians for years, all of us, talking about things we'd like to do, or that should be done, or that we're going to do next year. We have a situation now that's just too serious to continue to handle that way. It's not an exaggeration to say our country is on the edge of a 12:57:31 financial cliff. With the level of debt we have at $12 trillion now, the president's budget projects another 1.6 trillion (dollars) this year, and with the entitlements coming due, we're looking at $100 trillion of unfunded liability. You know, Moody says our AAA rating is at risk if the growth in the budget does not reach the level that's projected -- which is very optimistic growth projections. 12:58:08 We've got a lot of people in town this week from all over the world for the National Prayer Breakfast, and I've had a lot -- a chance to talk to a lot of them. And there is growing concern around the world about our ability to address our debt, and what that would do to our economy and our military strength, and what that could do to the economic and military stability of the world. This is probably the biggest issue that we have to address. And probably everyone in Congress, particularly here in the Senate, in both parties, continue to talk about it as an issue: spending, borrowing, debt, what that will do to our country. But even talking about a freeze -- that's next year. We're going to continue to spend this year. 12:58:59 What we're doing here today is to try to challenge everyone in the Senate -- Republican and Democrat -- to join us in those steps that we can take, in the short term as well as in the long term, to address our growing deficit. 12:59:13 We have two bills that we'll be talking about today. One is a small step, in a sense. It's a moratorium on earmarks. It's a bill that was introduced before and cosponsored by Barack Obama, and we voted on it. But it was -- did not pass in the Senate. But folks, on one hand we can't say our country is in dire straits and on the other hand say, "I need a million dollars for my local museum." And if we have 535 congressmen and senators who still want their earmarks and are not willing to take even a one-year time- out, then we have a huge problem addressing our debt. This is something we can do immediately. We're first looking at who cosponsors it. But the bigger, long-term step is to put the structural discipline in place, here in the Senate and the Congress as a whole, that we have to make tough decisions. 13:00:12 If we have a balanced- budget requirement, then everything we propose that increases spending will have to be matched by a proposal to cut it. This is very ambitious, but the fact is, even if we balance our budget, we're going to be looking at probably $20 trillion in debt by the time that actually is ratified by the states. So these two bills will show you who is serious in the Senate about our debt and who is willing to do what they can, at least by cosponsoring this bill, to take the small steps in the short term and the big steps. We're going to be continuing on our websites and here to promote those who cosponsor. And we've got the first list today that we'll pass out to you. And the -- we're just starting to promote it, but that is how we're going to keep track of who's serious and who gets the message from the American people. 13:01:04 I want to turn it now over to one of our cosponsors, a champion against earmarks for years, Senator John McCain. 13:01:12 SEN. MCCAIN: I thank Senator DeMint for his leadership, along with Senator Coburn and Senator Graham and Senator LeMieux and many others who will be joining us. The time has come for us to listen to the American people. Obviously, a deaf ear has been turned to the American people. This morning I found out that we're going to spend $2-1/2 million of taxpayers' money for a 30-second ad during the Super Bowl to promote the Census. You know, we have been holding a census every 10 years for a long, long time. And now we're going to take 2-1/2 million (dollars) of it to buy a 30- second ad, during the Super Bowl, while American families are tightening their belts. They're losing their homes, and I represent a state that 48 percent of the home-loan mortgages are underwater. 13:02:04 And we're going to spend $2-1/2 million of their money. How many homes could have been prevented from being foreclosed in Phoenix, Arizona, with this $2-1/2 million? President Obama during his campaign stated unequivocally that they would go line by line and eliminate the waste and unnecessary spending. We went to the floor day after day with the recommendations from the White House for cutting unnecessary and unneeded programs. And those amendments were voted down time after time, not only by Democrats but by Republicans as well. It's shameful. 13:02:41 Now the president says he's going to have a spending freeze next year and in the very next breath proposes $100 billion in new spending called a jobs bill, not a stimulus bill but a jobs bill. It's out of control. Now, back a number of years ago, in compliance with the Contract with America, the United States Senate came within one vote to approval of a balanced-budget amendment, to the Constitution, to begin that process. We need to have that vote again. Now, in a little straight talk, Republicans lost the elections in 2002 -- in 2008 for a variety of reasons. One of them may have been the quality of their presidential nominee. I will allow others to make that judgment. (Laughter, cross talk.) But the point is -- but the point is that we betrayed the fiscal conservatives in this country when we let spending get completely out of control. And that's a fact. And we're only going to regain the confidence of the American people when we get spending under control. There's a long list we go through all the time -- Woodstock film festivals, study Maine lobster -- the list goes -- continues on and on. And Americans are outraged about it. So finally let me say that Americans are sick and tired of the way we're doing business in Washington. They want us to stop the earmarking, which is the most -- a very important part of this. The other important part, obviously, is they want a balanced budget. Every family in America has to balance their budget, every business does, and it's time that the Congress of the United States and the administration did as well. 13:04:24 I want to thank Senator DeMint again for his leadership. And this is an issue whose time has come. SEN. DEMINT: Lindsey. 13:04:39 SEN. GRAHAM: I'm the balanced budget amendment guy. These guys have really been leading the charge on earmark reform, much to the dismay of some of their colleagues. 13:04:46 And I've always said that I don't object to members of the Congress being able to direct how money could be spent in their state, as long as it's transparent. And the problem is that as we direct that money to our state, the top line grows. It's never within the pie; it always grows the pie. So taking a time-out on earmarking I think would be good to just show the American people that, you know, we're not totally living on a different planet than you are. And I think a lot of people at home think we're not just in the same country anymore. How many businesses are having to fire people or lay people off, or having to really either go out of business or rearrange the family budget just to make the next month's payment? None of us have to do that up here. We're all talk. Now, let me tell you, this is a bipartisan problem. I voted for the balanced budget amendment when I was in the House. It was the Contract with America. And it failed, as John said, by one vote. But in 1997, when we passed the balanced budget agreement, when Republicans came together with President Clinton -- and for several years we had a balanced budget. We didn't run deficits. But what happened, over time, is the old ways crept back in. Republicans started increasing committee spending. That was the first break. Then the Medicare reductions got to be uncomfortable with doctors and hospitals, and they started complaining. And we started forgiving some of the entitlement reforms. And the next thing you know, when the economy turns down, our spending got out of control. 13:06:19 So this amendment is an institutional check and balance that's been missing far too long. There are many states, including our state of South Carolina, that has a balanced-budget requirement. They can't leave Columbia until the books are balanced. If you oppose this, great. I'm not saying that we're just absolutely right on everything. But you got to show me and others how we balance the budget without the Constitution making us do it. I've got absolutely no confidence in either party to balance the budget unless we have to. And can you imagine what would happen if the law required us to do it before we left town? You know what would happen? We'd be making some really hard decisions. 13:07:04 And earmarking would stop. If you want earmark reform, require a balanced budget. We would be making some hard decisions that would put us in jeopardy of losing our jobs. I think that's the consequences of a balanced budget agreement by some, but here's what I think: I think we'd get applauded. I think if we sat down and balance the books, no matter who we had to ask to sacrifice, the public would applaud us and support us. 13:07:36 Right now you can -- under the amendment, you can waive the balanced budget requirement if we're at war or there's a national security threat involving military action, like we're in today. Under the amendment, the requirement to balance the budget in the times we live in could be waived by the Congress by simple majority vote. And that might make some sense. 13:07:59 So this is not a Draconian amendment that ignores reality. To raise taxes, you can do it, but you got to get a supermajority vote. Because it's so easy for politicians to just take money; it's very hard for politicians to say no. One final thought. A lot of people say in the political science world that democracies over time are doomed to fail because we the people lose the ability to say no to ourselves. That we'll elect folks and they'll go to Congress; and we'll be making demands on our politicians and complaining at the same time; and you'll wake up one day and lose your AAA credit rating. I have a little more optimistic view of America than that. I think the only reason we're in such dire straits is not because we the people want this excessive spending, is because the institution itself is set up to serve a few, not the many. And the special interests run this place. And that's where you get the earmark abuse. A constitutional balanced budget amendment would be welcome news to the average American taxpayer who's going through turmoil in their business and personal lives. It would make your government more responsible. Aand it is the only hope I see, ladies and gentlemen, to ever achieve a sustainable balanced budget for the rest of my life: a constitutional amendment making us do it, not talking about doing it. SEN. DEMINT: Thanks. George. SEN. LEMIEUX: I want to thank Senator DeMint and Senator McCain and Senator Graham for their leadership on this issue. I am new to the United States Senate. My experience is in state government. And being new here, I think the normal still seems normal and the bizarre still seems bizarre. And I have fresh eyes to look at this. 13:09:39 State governments around the country, including Florida, balance their budgets. In tough economic times like these, you make cuts. Governors around this country have the line-item veto. Those balanced budgets work. There are sacrifices. There are cuts. But they work. No one is in charge of the budget in Washington, D.C. The president sends it over. The Congress looks at it. It adds to it. But no one is responsible for making the difficult decisions that families make, that businesses make and even that state governments make. In this current budget that the president proposes, we have $2.2 billion in revenue to spend. But the budget proposes $3.8 billion in spending. This would be like a family in Ocala, Florida, who makes $22,000 a year deciding that they're going to spend $38,000 a year. And it's not the first year they've done it. They've been doing it for 30 years. This system is unsustainable. With more than $12 trillion in debt, the future of our country is at stake. We need a balanced- budget amendment so people in this Congress will make the tough decisions to prolong the future of our country. And everything is going to get cut if we do it. And it's going to be painful. But I guarantee you that we can cut the agencies of government, and cut them by 20 percent, even, maybe 30 percent, and, if done right, not affect the services that are provided to the American people. Because no one has ever tried to do it in recent memory. And if you don't go through that exercise, you can't make things more efficient. I applaud this effort on earmarks. Let me tell you why I think earmarks are a problem. They're not just a problem for the amount of the budget that they are, because it's not a huge amount. They are a problem because they are the enabler. In my short time here, I have seen that if you ask for a project and you bring it back for your home state, then when the budget that they bring before you on a particular appropriations bill is 10, 15, 20, 25 percent more than last year, you can't vote against it, or you'll never get another project again. 13:11:55 So I haven't done earmarks since I've been here, and I made a decision last month not to do them for the rest of the time I'm here. Because the nation is in dire financial straits. I've got three small boys, Max, Taylor, and Chase (sp), who are 6, 4, and 2, and we've got a baby coming in March. And I worry about their future. Now, I know we can fix this problem. The American people understand it. And through the leadership of these men that stand beside me, we can make this happen. But it's going to take some fortitude and it's going to take some courage to do the right thing. And I think both of these things are essential if we're going to have a successful future for this country. 13:12:24 Thank you, Jim. 13:12:27 SEN. DEMINT: Thank you, George. George is a great senator. I wish we could keep him for six years. SEN. : His wife is very busy. (Laughter.) SEN. DEMINT: Yeah. Questions. 13:12:42 Q Yes, Senators, just minutes ago, the Democratic leadership was in this room, and they were touting the ability to pass a bipartisan jobs agenda and said that they were hoping to actually introduce some sort of bipartisan plan either today or tomorrow. What are your thoughts on being able to work with the Democrats to pass this and the -- (off mike)? 13:12:57 SEN. DEMINT: Well, I'm sure all of us would like to take a stab at that. We would like to work with them, and if we can get a bill on the floor that includes some free market 13:13:09 principles -- the problem I have is -- this is my 12th year in the Congress -- I cannot recall any bipartisan bill that did not increase spending, expand government and increase our debt. And that's why we're here today, and it's -- I'd like to see a jobs package in the context of a balanced budget, and particularly without some kind of kickbacks in there that help buy votes. So that's why we're trying to put these two bookends on the discussion, whether it's a jobs bill or any kind of bill we have today. But I hope that the president and the Democrats will work with us on some free market principles that give some certainty to business people who invest and create jobs, instead of what we continue to hear -- is demagoguery around the people who do business and invest and create the jobs. So there's some proposals that we're optimistic about, but I'll let some of these others make comments about that. 13:14:10 SEN. MCCAIN: All I can say is, if it's anything like the -- what was passed through the House at the end of last year, I'm unalterably opposed. It's just more of the same. Stimulus package did not work. We proposed a stimulus package that would have worked. And so I'll be glad to examine it, and we want to work with the president and the Democrats, but that means sitting down at the table together -- something we have not done yet. Q But Senator McCain, would you just outline what your priorities would be, then, for a jobs bill and how it would be paid -- 13:14:40 SEN. MCCAIN: Sure. Small businesses, including a payroll tax moratorium -- there are some of the things that they are proposing that would be the -- providing incentives for small businesses not only to hire but to also make additional investments. That's what the stimulus package left out. And so I'm sure that there will be now some provisions in their proposal for it. But we'll have to judge it in its entire context. It's going add another hundred billion dollars to the deficit, then that's not something that I can support. Q (And if the pay for ?) is TARP, can you -- (inaudible) -- TARP -- SEN. MCCAIN: That's against the law, to pay for it out of TARP. That's -- it's an outrage and an insult. We were assured when the TARP was passed, that that money would simply go to stabilize the financial 13:15:34 institution in America and would be spent for no other reason. Senator Gregg has been very, very, I think, articulate and persuasive on this issue. They want to violate the law. Q Senator -- 13:15:47 SEN. GRAHAM: Can I just add one thing? You can't be this far in debt without both parties working together. That's the problem. We work together way too well in terms of indebting the future generations of the country. There is no way a democracy could achieve this level of indebtedness unless both folks were in on it. And the constitutional balanced budget amendment makes us all work together to achieve balance rather than excessive debt. And I don't see how the parties Are going to change by rhetoric and campaigns alone. No one's campaigned harder for the presidency that I've known than John McCain on the idea we're spending too much money and would really change the place. 13:16:23 Well, at the end of the day, both parties have a chance through this amendment to make ourselves do something we're not going to do by ourselves. 13:16:35 SEN. MCCAIN: By the way, if the president and the Democrats would like to negotiate, I hope we'll have the C-SPAN cameras in. Q Senator Graham, I'm wondering if your support for the -- for earmark moratorium means that after this year, you'll no longer accept earmarks -- (off mike). SEN. GRAHAM: No, I come from the sinning camp on earmarks. These guys are -- I don't really have a problem with my ability as a senator to direct funds for projects within my state, as long as it's merit based and transparent. 13:17:04 The problem with earmarks is what George said. They add to the top line. We've lost control. And if you had a balanced budget agreement, the first thing that would go would be earmarking, because if you had to make these hard decisions about how to -- and I think there would be some interruption of services to some extent. I don't think I can honestly say that we can get our budget in balance and nobody in America would feel it. It would be tough for us all, but it's the right thing for the future. So I don't mind a(n) earmarks system in the future that's transparent, that's logical and fits within a balanced budget. Q You're offering -- you said Republicans -- (off mike) -- cutting earmarks. The Democrats are going to point to a number of GOP earmarks that have already gone through. How unified is the -- (off mike)? SEN. MCCAIN: I'd like to respond a little bit to that. One, earmarks are a gateway to corruption. That's why we (had/have ?) former members of Congress residing in federal prison. That's one of the reasons why we should cut it out. 13:18:04 Second of all is, yes, we have Republicans who continue to vote for earmarks. And one of the reasons why Senator DeMint and I and the rest, and Senator Coburn and Senator Graham -- is that we intend to make sure that the American people know who is truly fiscally responsible. I don't know if -- yeah. SEN. DEMINT: Yeah. I mean -- I -- I'm a recovering earmarker. (Laughter.) I freely -- I freely admit that. And so -- but this is not so much a purity test, as just a measure of seriousness. SEN. MCCAIN: Yeah. SEN. DEMINT: What might have seemed reasonable 10 years ago is completely unreasonable in the context of the fact that we are going over a debt cliff, and the whole world's economic system rests on our monetary system, which is threatened by the level of debt that we have and our ability to pay it back and our chronic need to borrow. 13:19:00 So what we're saying, these are urgent times, whether you've asked for earmarks in the past, whether you've -- or plan to ask for them in the future, the very least we can do is take a time-out for one year; try to reform the system; hopefully, pass a balanced-budget amendment -- because I think Senator Graham is right. If we really had to set priorities, earmarks would likely go in a hurry, or at least be very -- very toned down. 13:19:24 Last year, the Congressional Budget Office said -- and this is in a crisis of debt -- we had over 11,000 earmarks, costing over $32 billion. Now, some will say $32 billion is not real money and that it's just a small amount. But what I say, it's like saying the engine is a small part of the train. And as Senator LeMieux said, the earmarks pull through practically every spending bill here. And once you're tied into it with an earmark, it is almost impossible for you to take back that press release that you just brought on the money. And so what we're -- we've just got a system, as Senator McCain says, that really promotes maybe unintended corruption, but it does. And you have 535 congressmen and senators, most of whom believe it's their job to come to Washington to get money from the federal government. That's why we're in debt. And we've got to break that pattern somehow. Q Senator Graham -- oh, okay. SEN. DEMINT: Okay. Well, thank you. It looks like we're losing our speakers here. END.
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