Transcript: Sens. Durbin, Cornyn on 'FNS'

Written by Chris Wallace / Published December 07, 2009 / Fox News Sunday

The following is a rush transcript of the December 6, 2009, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace." This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: We're joined now by two top Senate leaders. John Cornyn of Texas is chairman of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, and Dick Durbin of Illinois is the Senate's number two Democrat.

And, Senators, welcome back to "Fox News Sunday."

Senator Durbin, despite your close ties to President Obama, you have so far withheld support for his new policy in Afghanistan. Are you prepared today to say whether or not you support his troop surge?

SEN. DICK DURBIN, D-ILL.: I understand the president took the time to reach this decision after more than seven years. We were at a point where we had to really reassess our strategy.

I'm skeptical as to whether 30,000 more troops will make a difference. We have over 200,000 now when you count NATO forces, American forces and Afghan military forces. But I think at this point the president is moving forward.

The thing that I find encouraging you probably find discouraging, and that is the fact that he has said to the leader of Afghanistan, Mr. Karzai, "There's a limit beyond which we will not leave American troops. We're not going to make Afghanistan a protectorate of the United States. You have to change your government. You have to show that you are willing to stand up and fight for your own country." I think that message is long overdue.

WALLACE: So specifically, you will vote to fund these 30,000 more troops.

DURBIN: Well, I'm going to meet with the president, I'm sure, and have conversations about that deadline which appears to be interpreted different ways by different people.

But I would like to believe by July of 2011 that we will be in a part — a position, rather, where we're going to see our troops really coming home. That's important to me.

WALLACE: Well, let me just quickly ask you that before I bring Senator Cornyn in, because it seems increasingly clear from what we just heard from General Petraeus and what we've heard earlier this week in congressional testimony from Defense Secretary Gates, they don't think it means much, it's just a beginning, but it says nothing about how quickly or how many.

DURBIN: Well, the pace of our troops coming home, I understand, depends on conditions. We certainly don't want to leave our troops in an unsafe situation.

But for many years now in Iraq, we have been urging the Bush administration for goodness sakes, put a limit to how long we'll stay so that the Iraqis will finally face up to their responsibilities. The same is true today.

You know, if you take a look at Mr. Karzai and his leadership in this country, there's a lot to be desired in terms of the last election and corruption in his government. Are we going to let American soldiers stay there indefinitely while they dither, in Vice President Cheney's words? I don't think we should.

American lives are at stake. And so I want to know, at least from my point of view, what the president's meaning is when he talks about this deadline.

WALLACE: Senator Cornyn, how do you read what General Petraeus, what Defense Secretary Gates, has said? To me, it doesn't seem like it's — the deadline means very much.

And specifically, I want to ask you, as you understand the plan now, would you and other Republicans support funding for these 30,000 more troops?

SEN. JOHN CORNYN, R-TEXAS: I support the president's decision to change the strategy to a counterinsurgency strategy and to add the troops necessary to do what General McChrystal said needs to be done in order to stabilize Afghanistan and protect against a destabilized Pakistan.

What I'm — I do have some questions about the announced deadline. I hope it is conditions-based because, frankly, I don't see the benefit of telegraphing to our adversaries when we are going to quit and come home.

I don't think that will be the end of our national security interests in the region. And I hope it is conditions-based.

WALLACE: Let's turn to health care reform. President Obama is making an unusual visit to Capitol Hill today to meet, Senator Durbin, with you and your fellow Democrats. Is that a sign that debate on the Senate floor has stalled and that Democrats need another presidential pep talk?

DURBIN: Not at all. We are down — thanks to Senator Harry Reid's leadership, we're down to two major issues, abortion and public option. And I think we're coming to closure on those issues. We're likely to come to a vote on the abortion question maybe by tomorrow.

The president is going to come in and urge us to bring this ball across the line, to finish this, as he should. This is an historic opportunity. You have to go back four decades or more to a time when we addressed an issue which has such importance to every family, every business, every individual in America.

And I'm glad the president's coming. It's always good to see him. He's a former colleague of many of us in the Senate, and his counsel and encouragement, I think, will be appropriate.

WALLACE: Senator Cornyn, are Republicans succeeding in dragging out this debate? And what do you think that's accomplishing?

CORNYN: Well, Chris, I regret that the president is going to continue what has been a partisan approach to health care reform.

Obviously, the president and Senate Democrats have made a decision to do it their way without accepting input from Republicans both at the committee level and in the Senate.

And our goal is not just to deal with things only like the public option and the abortion issue, but also to point out that this cuts a half a trillion dollars in Medicare and people cannot on Medicare Advantage, for example, keep what they have as the president promised, that it will actually raise taxes on small businesses during a recession, and it will — it will limit people's choices to — in many cases, to a government-run program like Medicaid, which is essentially a health care gulag, because people will not have any choices but to take that poorly performing government-run plan.

WALLACE: Senator Durbin, I know you're going to want to answer a little bit of that, but let me ask you, if you will, in the course of your answer to focus on one specific issue.

As you say, one of the big issues is the public option, and there's a compromise that's out there to try to bridge the gap between the Joe Liebermans and the Blanche Lincolns of the world and some of the more liberal Democrats, which would be to give the states the power to set up their own plans — give them the power and the money to set up their own plans to create affordable health insurance coverage — no federal program. Is that something you could support?

DURBIN: I'm looking for an alternative which creates competition for the health insurance companies, because they at this point enjoy a virtual monopoly. People don't have much choice. And they are exempt from antitrust laws, so they can fix prices and allocate markets under the law and do it legally.

I have to say to my friend Senator Cornyn, the Senate Republicans have made such a heroic effort to help the private health insurance companies when it comes to Medicare Advantage.

Despite the fact that we are sending them a $170 billion federal subsidy, the Republicans every day come to the floor and plead with us, "Let this subsidy continue for these private health insurance companies," which enjoy some of the biggest profits in American business and award their CEOs with the highest salaries in American business.

And they come each day without embarrassment and say, "We've got to give them more. We have to stand by these private health insurance companies."

WALLACE: Well, all right. I'm going to — I have to give him a chance to respond, but I just — to get the answer to my question, you say an alternative that provides more competition. Could there be an alternative that is not a federal public option?

DURBIN: There are many alternatives. I have to tell you, you have cited one. There are several others that are being discussed at this point. Bring competition. Give choice to consumers. And I might say to Senator...

WALLACE: But a public option is not — a federal public option is not...

DURBIN: It's never been a federal public option. The investment at the outset...

WALLACE: It's never been what?

DURBIN: It's never been a federal government agency.

WALLACE: No, I didn't say it was.

DURBIN: Well, at the outset, there would be an investment to start a not-for-profit insurance company.

And I might say to Senator Cornyn — I'm not sure if he's one, but most of us in the Senate are in the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program, a government-administered program. I don't find any Republicans who find government health insurance repugnant bailing out of their own health insurance plan that they enjoy as members of Congress.

WALLACE: Senator Cornyn?

CORNYN: I'm just — it's breathtaking to me, Chris, the disdain with which this administration and Senate Democrats have for the private sector. If you eliminate the private sector when it comes to health care provision, you're left with only the government, which many fear is the reason why this public option is, as Joe Lieberman said, a Trojan horse for a single- payer system ultimately.

So I would point out — I think, actually, Senator Durbin has underestimated the amount of tax dollars that will go to insurance companies under the Reid bill. I think it's $450 billion which will go in the form of tax credits that will be directed by the treasury secretary to insurance companies.

But this shouldn't be about demonizing the private sector and, you know, glorifying the government sector. This ought to be about, you know, how do we bring down costs, how do we lower premiums, how do we keep taxes low, and how do we avoid these cuts to Medicare. That's what...

WALLACE: I'm going to let the two of you — because you're debating this on the Senate floor, and I'm obviously going to let you do it there, because you're not going to settle it here.

Let's turn to climate change. The president has just announced that he is changing his schedule and he will attend not the beginning but the end of the climate change summit in Copenhagen on December 18th.

Senator Cornyn, how will Republicans view any presidential commitment to cut emissions and to give billions of dollars in U.S. aid to developing countries, especially in the midst of this new controversy over the science of global warming?

CORNYN: I think the cap-and-trade bill is just another job-killing proposal that will kill 313,000 jobs in my state alone in Texas. It's — the last thing we need is an additional burden on consumers and on businesses in the agricultural sector that this bill would impose, and that's really the problem.

It's not just that the president has neglected the jobs issue in order to pursue these other issues like health care expansion, government control, cap and trade. It's been that the very policies he's proposing have a negative impact on the very businesses that creates those jobs.

WALLACE: So to answer my question, how will Republicans — first of all, is cap and trade going to get passed in the next year?

CORNYN: I certainly hope not in its current form. There are better alternatives, by looking to clean energy alternatives like nuclear power and expansion of the use of natural gas, an American energy supply which is relatively cheap and available, to deal with environmental concerns.

So there are alternatives, but this cap and trade bill, as far as I'm concerned, should be dead on arrival.

WALLACE: And if the president commits the country to a level of reducing emissions and spending billions for developing countries, can he make good on that?

CORNYN: Well, we're not a dictatorship. The president can promise whatever he wants. The Congress has a role. If there's some proposed treaty, the Senate will vote on it. He can't bind the 300 million people of America. I think Congress would be required to join in in that effort in order to make that happen.

WALLACE: Senator Durbin, whatever the president announces at the summit, is there the will among Senate Democrats to pass climate change legislation and to commit billions of dollars in foreign aid to this effort at a time when we have so many other problems?

DURBIN: I don't know where you came up with that billion...

WALLACE: Billions of dollars for — to developing countries.

DURBIN: Well, let me say that at this point — let's take a...

WALLACE: That's part of what the commitment is.

DURBIN: Well, let's take a look at where we are today. As of today, we have — the two largest countries in the world, China and India, have acknowledged they need to join us in moving forward on this.

They understand the peril that we face if we don't accept the premise that there is climate change taking place, that we do have some dangers to life on earth and development as we like to see it in this country.

And I think this is an opportunity. I know that many on the Republican side don't see it as such. But if we start moving toward energy efficiency and green technology, America can become a global leader.

If we ignore it, put our head in the sand, we're going to find countries like China leap-frogging us, moving forward. That's going to create jobs for China, but not for America.

I think this is a job creator. It not only reduces the likelihood of danger from climate change, it creates an economic opportunity. There are many ways to write this bill.

Senator John Kerry is now leading our effort in the Senate, and I think President Obama with his appearance at Copenhagen is confirming the fact that we as a nation want to be part of this global strategy.

WALLACE: So is legislation going to be passed — cap and trade legislation in the Senate — in 2010? And will the — will you — will the Democrats support giving billions of dollars to developing countries to help them reduce emissions?

DURBIN: You know, you are presupposing many things about what this bill might contain.

What I will tell you is that I believe we will address this issue. We will create opportunities for job creation in new green technology, clean technology and clean energy opportunities.

I think that is the future for the world, and America should be leading.

WALLACE: Thirty seconds — you get the last word, Senator Cornyn.

CORNYN: Well, Chris, you know, the president had a job summit this last week and seemed amazed that the private sector was sitting on the sidelines, when the fact is that there's great uncertainty in the private sector, people who are the job creators — if I hire a new employee, what additional burden will Congress impose on me in terms of health care costs, higher taxes, more regulation and the like.

And I think we ought to be growing jobs not in the government sector, which is what the stimulus bill primarily has done, but allow the private sector to do what it does best and create jobs. But unfortunately, the message they're getting out of Washington is stay on the sidelines because you don't know what's going to be coming at you.

WALLACE: Senator Cornyn, Senator Durbin, we want to thank you both so much for coming in today.

DURBIN: Thank you.

WALLACE: Always a pleasure. Please come back, gentlemen.

CORNYN: Thank you.

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