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Transcript:John McCain on 'FOX News Sunday'

The following is a transcribed excerpt from FOX News Sunday, Nov. 30, 2003.

TONY SNOW, FOX NEWS: Two stories will dominate end-of-the-year political news: One, the war in Iraq; two, final spending battles in the most expensive Congress in American history. Joining us from Cottonwood, Arizona, to discuss both, Senator John McCain.

Senator McCain, let's begin by talking about the latest in Iraq. We have had attacks on coalition forces and also on American troops. You have argued vociferously in recent weeks and months that we need more troops on the ground. The administration says that we don't need more.

What, if anything, can you and your colleagues in Congress do to get more troops over there?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN, R-AZ: Well, I think we can, in the long term, increase the size of the Army and the Marine Corps. I don't think there's any doubt that that is obvious.

When we're going to have, by next spring, 40 percent of the troops over there is National Guard and reservists, that's almost unprecedented, if not totally unprecedented, in American military history.

We need to, in the long run, increase the size of the military. In the short term, Tony, they're doing a little of it, some of it. They're sending some more Marines, they're sending some more special forces. We're diverting some of the intelligence people into the kind of counterintelligence work we need done.

But these latest killings of the Spaniards and the Italians and the Japanese show a significant level of sophistication, because they know, when you were having a conversation earlier with Joe Lieberman, if they'll kill off these nationals, then their countries won't send the kind of relief organizations and the kind of effort we need to rebuild the country.

So we need more troops. The casualties in November were the highest in history. I hope we are achieving some success. We have to achieve success. We cannot lose.

But in order to save American lives, we have to be much more robust and do -- and send whatever troops are necessary.

SNOW: And we have just received word that a Colombian civilian contractor today has just been killed in Iraq.

Pretty clearly, now, there are organized efforts, as you pointed out, to chip away our allies.

Do you have the expectation that they're going to be steadfast, or do you worry that some of our allies, specifically the Japanese, who at this point, have not really sent a contingent of troops over, are simply going to say, "Nope, too dangerous"?

MCCAIN: I worry about it. I've worried about it -- in August I was in Iraq, and I came back after talking to so many people that I trust that said, "Look, things are going downhill here. Things are going to get worse."

And I begged -- and I don't beg very often -- the secretary of defense to realize...

(LAUGHTER)

... to realize that we had to reverse the trend that was taking place then, which has been continuously up, except the last couple weeks.

Clearly, a very sophisticated campaign. Clearly, it's now shifted to targeting these nationals from these countries, particularly Japan, Spain, others. The Spaniards now have a very significant public approval problem.

So the point is that we're still combating a very sophisticated organization. They are still succeeding in killing people. And the first real sign of that was when they hit the U.N. compound, and that was the beginning of a very, so far, pretty successful campaign.

But I want to emphasize again, as my friend Joe Lieberman did and the president so eloquently stated: We are there to stay. We will win. We must do what's necessary.

My complaint with the military planners in the Pentagon is that they have disregarded the facts on the ground. The facts on the ground is that for a long time, things got very much worse. And I'm not sure, just the last couple weeks, that we turned that around.

SNOW: Do you think that we may have turned it around?

MCCAIN: I pray so every night. I still think we need more Marines and more special forces and more counterintelligence, particularly in the Sunni triangle.

But it's also a little disturbing that some of this has spilled out of the Sunni triangle into places like Mosul and Kirkuk and some other places.

So -- and I don't think there's any doubt about the level of sophistication of some of these attacks increasing, not so much in the equipment that's used, but very much in the intelligence and the ability to attack certain targets.

SNOW: Senator, the U.S. forces have been trying to train up, as rapidly as possible, Iraqis to serve in police forces and military forces. There are some reports now that, at least on the police side, some of those folks have actually been operating against us, killing coalition forces.

What do you make -- what is your assessment right now of the efforts train Iraqis to be integrated into what eventually will become their own national police and military forces?

and military forces?

MCCAIN: I think the moral of the story is that you can only do it at a certain pace. They attempt to accelerate it rather dramatically. We saw the numbers increase by tens of thousands over a period of days, literally, out of the Pentagon. There's only a certain level at which you can train these people. They cannot replace American military. We'll never be able to train them.

Now, they can be extremely helpful and they can do a very good job over time, but don't expect them to take up the kind of role and missions that the American military can accomplish. But they can free up some of it.

I think, in addition, to announce the training of the Iraqis and, at the same time, a draw down in numbers of troops sends exactly the wrong signal.

SNOW: The Ayatollah Sistani, who is the leading Shia Muslim cleric in Iraq right now, has said today that he doesn't really like the plan that L. Paul Bremer, the ambassador who is in charge of the civilian operation right now, the coalition operation, has drawn up, which is to hand over power in June without the benefit of national elections. Sistani says have the national elections. What do you think?

MCCAIN: I think that our goal is to turn the government over to the Iraqi people as quickly as possible while maintaining U.S. military to ensure their security. I think we need to engage in negotiations with this cleric. Sistani is a very powerful and important person. There should be some way to arrange this transition without a confrontation with him.

There is no doubt that this is a serious problem but, I believe, one that can be worked through. We can use Afghanistan as a model, but let's hope that we can move forward as quickly as possible, and that may mean some kind of compromise with him.

SNOW: Senator, let's turn to...

MCCAIN: But he's committed. Could I just mention...

SNOW: Yes, sure.

MCCAIN: ... he is committed to a secular government, and that is a very important aspect of this.

SNOW: Senator, let's turn to one of your passions, which is pork-barrel spending on Capitol Hill.

In the Bush administration in three years, spending has gone up 21 percent -- that is non-discretionary domestic spending -- as compared to a .7 percent drop during the Clinton years, 13.6 percent increase in the Reagan years.

The point is, it's the most rapidly increasing budget possibly in American history. I want to ask you what you would like to do about it and what you intend to do about it?

MCCAIN: Well, I will continue to try to block some of this, to highlight the most egregious aspects of it, to urge the president to exercise his veto pen. He's got to do that to emphasize his seriousness.

We had caps of 4 percent growth, and it's at least 8 percent just for this year. The numbers are astonishing. Congress is now spending money like a drunken sailor. And I've never known a sailor, drunk or sober, with the imagination that this Congress has.

(LAUGHTER)

And one of the really disturbing -- one the most disturbing aspects of this, Tony, is the earmarking which is -- you know, you used to see, when I first came to the Congress in the 1980s, you'd see $100,000 here, $100,000 there. Now we're talking about billions, billions. Recently, there was a chart published in The Washington Post, where it's just up in the billions of dollars.

And this energy bill, of course, there was no policy initiatives in the energy bill. It was just one pork-barrel project larded on to another, to the point where we're subsidizing a Hooters.

SNOW: Senator, let's explain what an earmark is. That's where a member of Congress says, "This is my money, it's for this project." And therefore, all discretion is out, in terms of the agency that is in charge of administering that project.

Now, the president has never vetoed a spending bill. He has made a couple of threats. Do you think that the president bears some responsibility for what's going on on Capitol Hill?

MCCAIN: Yes, because I think that the president cannot say, as he has many times, that "I'm going to tell Congress to enforce some spending discipline" and then not veto bills.

Look, this energy bill, I hate to keep going back to it, but its kind of a classic example. The administration originally supported an energy bill that would cost about 8 billion -- B -- billion dollars. This one is up to $24 billion, and the administration is still saying it's one of its highest priorities. I don't know how you rationalize that.

But, look, with this latest Medicare prescription-drug thing, which is now a $7 trillion unfunded mandate on top of a $13 trillion unfunded mandate, everybody agrees that Medicare is going to go broke. We are laying a burden of debt on future generations of Americans.

A second point is, you cannot -- any economist will tell you cannot have this level of debt of increasing deficits without eventually it affecting interest rates and inflation. I mean, it's just -- it's common sense. And those are the greatest enemies of middle-income Americans and retired Americans.

SNOW: Senator Daschle says he wants to reopen debate on Medicare for probably not necessarily the purposes you like. Would you like to see Republicans seize that to pare back the bill that just got passed and signed by the president?

MCCAIN: Oh, I'd like to see that, but you know that's not going to happen. We're going to move on.

It's just -- it's so unfortunate, because what we should have done, Tony, was take the poor American seniors and given them a discount card and said, "Here, go out and buy your prescription drugs," and then we should have reformed Medicare. We put in a new entitlement program that no American that I know of truly understands.

And in the bill, we did such incredible favors to the pharmaceutical companies. We banned Medicare from negotiating with the drug companies for lower prices for prescription drugs. The Veterans' Administrations does it. The state Medicaid programs do it. And we also banned any reimportation from Canada. This was the greatest -- it wasn't an accident that the pharmaceutical stock went up $9 billion the day before we passed the bill.

SNOW: All right. Senator John McCain, as always, thank you so much for joining us.

MCCAIN: Tony, it is always darkest before it's totally black. Congratulations for a wonderful time here, and we look forward to seeing you and being with you in your new chapters.

SNOW: All right, John McCain, again, thank you so much.