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Transcript: Sen. Mitch McConnell on 'FNS'

The following is a rush transcript of the February 21, 2010, edition of "Fox News Sunday With Chris Wallace." This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR: With growing calls for bipartisanship amid growing concerns our leaders here in Washington can't get anything done, we're joined by the GOP's top man in Congress, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

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

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY.: Glad to be with you, Chris.

WALLACE: Let's get it on the record. Will you attend the president health care's reform summit on Thursday?

MCCONNELL: Yeah. I think in all likelihood I'll be there. We're discussing the — sort of the makeup of the room and that sort of thing, but yeah, I intend to be there and my members will be there and ready to participate.

WALLACE: All right. The White House says that it will post its plan for comprehensive health care reform on the Internet tomorrow, Monday. And Health and Human Services secretary Sebelius says the public option, the idea of a government-run insurance plan, is still on the table. Let's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: Certainly, if it's — if it's part of the decision of the Senate leadership to move forward, absolutely.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Senator, your reaction?

MCCONNELL: Well, she knows there's bipartisan opposition to that, strong bipartisan opposition to that. We know where the American people are on the bills the House and Senate passed, the 2,700-page bill that cuts Medicare by half a trillion dollars, raises taxes by a half a trillion dollars.

The NPR poll just a week or so ago indicated the American people were against that 58 to 38. They really want to us to shelve this bill and start over, and I hope that's what the president does when he puts this new proposal on the Internet later today or tomorrow.

WALLACE: Well, let me ask you about another thing, because it certainly doesn't seem to be headed that way, because the White House and congressional Democrats are talking about using reconciliation.

We should point out it's a parliamentary budget maneuver that has been used by other presidents, including George W. Bush, but it would be a way to get health care reform through the Senate with just 51 votes without using a filibuster.

Your colleague or your counterpart Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid talked about it. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID, D-NEV.: Reconciliation can be used for different purposes. We can write a whole new bill, OK? Or we can use reconciliation to pass the bill we've already passed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: What if they try that?

MCCONNELL: Well, look. You know, we've witnessed the "Cornhusker kickback," the "Louisiana purchase," "the Gatorade," the special deal for Florida.

Now they are suggesting they might use a device which has never been used the for this kind of major systemic reform. We know it would be — the only thing bipartisan about it would be the opposition to it, because a number of Democrats have said, "Don't do this. This is not the way to go."

I think they're having a hard time getting the message here. The American people do not want this bill to pass. And it strikes me as rather arrogant to say, "Well, we're going to give it to you anyway, and we'll use whatever device is available to achieve that end."

WALLACE: So if the Democrats and the Senate decide to go ahead with reconciliation, just 51 votes, can you stop them?

MCCONNELL: There will be a lot of Democrats who will vote against it. Whether there will be 11 Democrats who vote against it is not clear.

But the American people who are already quite angry about the effort to jam this down their throats are going to be even angrier.

WALLACE: You can also use amendments, can't you, to slow this process down?

MCCONNELL: Yeah, there are a variety of different options available. But I think the fundamental point I want to make is the arrogance of all of this. You know, they are saying, "Ignore the wishes of the American people. We know more about this than you do. And we're going to jam it down your throats no matter what."

That is why the public is so angry at this Congress and this administration over this issue.

WALLACE: Given all of this, is the health care summit on Thursday as it is playing out a waste of time?

MCCONNELL: Well, I hope not, but I guess we'll find out Thursday. You know, apparently we're going to be there most of the day and have an opportunity to have a lot of discussion.

But if they're going lay out the plan they want to pass four days in advance, then why are — what are we discussing on Thursday? But look, I'm going to go there in good faith.

We believe that we think a better way to go is to, step by step, move in the direction of dealing with the cost issue, targeting things like junk lawsuits against doctors and hospitals, interstate insurance competition, small association health plans.

There are a number of things you can do without having the government try to take over one-sixth of the economy.

WALLACE: As you know, in the wake of Evan Bayh's surprising announcement this week that he is retiring, there is growing talk, whether it's informed or not, that Washington is broken.

And I want to discuss one example with you, Senator. Last month the Senate voted down the Conrad-Gregg proposal for a bipartisan deficit commission with seven Republican co-sponsors voting against it. You also - - you weren't a co-sponsor, but you voted no.

And I want to point out what you said last May about that, and let's put it up on the screen. "I urge the administration once again to support the Conrad-Gregg proposal. This proposal is our best hope for addressing the out-of-control spending and debt levels that are threatening our nation's fiscal future."

Question: Why was it our best hope then and you voted against it last month?

MCCONNELL: Well, there was another commission offered during the same series of votes. I became convinced during the course of the year that the problem was not that the government was taxing too little but that it was spending too much.

And another commission approach that was offered and that I voted for dealt with a spending reduction commission.

Look, in terms of whether or not we're at a gridlock, I would like to quote the president of the United States himself, who said just a couple of months ago, "If we stop today" — this is the president. "If we stop today, this legislative session would have been one of the most productive in a generation."

My counterpart, the Democratic leader, just last month in the first half of the 111th Congress — "We made significant progress. It is a long list of accomplishments."

They are trying to...

WALLACE: But you're not suggesting...

MCCONNELL: No, look. Look, Chris...

WALLACE: ... that people should be satisfied...

MCCONNELL: ... they're trying to spin the notion that we are stymieing everything they're doing. It is simply not true based on the president's own words.

Let me tell you what we do oppose. We oppose the government taking over one — the health care system, one-sixth of our economy. And we oppose a national energy tax commonly referred to around here as "cap and trade." We think those are terrible ideas.

But my members were not sent here to do nothing, and the president knows that, and he has said it. We have accomplished much for the American people. It's just that we are unwilling to approve their partisan agenda to take over health care and raise energy...

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: All right. Well, let's take another example, jobs. The Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid says that he pulled an $85 billion jobs package that had been written by Republicans and Democrats, he says, because you refused to agree to bring it to a vote on the floor of the Senate quickly. I want to ask you, first of all, whether that's true.

And then second, he's now pushing a $15 billion jobs bill, $13 billion of which is for a payroll tax holiday for companies that hire unemployed workers. Why wouldn't you support that?

MCCONNELL: Well, we may well. I mean, what was a mystery to us is how the bipartisan bill got shelved. I thought it was moving along a bipartisan path. Many of my members were going to support it. And all of a sudden the majority leader decided to skinny it down.

WALLACE: He says it was because you wouldn't agree to bring it to the floor.

MCCONNELL: Well, he can bring — it's his job to bring it to the floor. All I — all I told him...

WALLACE: But he said you were — you're right, but what he said was that you were not going to move to get a vote on it quickly. And certainly...

MCCONNELL: Well, we...

WALLACE: ... you're a master at slowing things down.

MCCONNELL: No, no. We were going to do it as quickly as we're going to do the skinny-down version. I mean, the point is he needs to bring up the bill. We need to have amendments and vote on it.

I think — in fact, Senator Bayh referred to this in his retirement announcement as one of his frustrations. I share his frustration. I thought that bill was on the way to being called up, amended, debate and voted on.

WALLACE: You also have been very critical of the Democrats' stimulus package. But Democrats say — and let's put this up — that your state of Kentucky has been awarded $2.5 billion in funding, which has created or saved more than 10,000 jobs.

And they say that you supported $6 million in stimulus funding for the Bluegrass Army Depot in your state. In fact, last August you were at the depot and you said this, "This is going to be a source of significant employment."

Would Kentucky really be better off without the stimulus money?

MCCONNELL: Well, what I said with regard to the Bluegrass Army Depot — I've been working on that for 20 years. I didn't go to the Bluegrass Army Depot because they might have gotten some money from the stimulus package.

Look, with regard to the stimulus, I think the evidence is pretty clear. You know, Tiger Woods and John Edwards had a better year than the stimulus did.

The stimulus probably did save state government jobs, and you're going to have a couple of governors on here, and I'm sure they appreciate it — the federal government borrowing money from our grandchildren to send it down to them to make their employment situation with state employees less severe.

But Chris, if you look at the private sector, the private sector where job generation really needs to occur, the stimulus was sold to keep unemployment at 8 percent. It's now almost 10 percent, and in my state it's almost 11 percent. It has done little or nothing to stimulate private sector employment.

WALLACE: What about the argument, which we hear from the — from the White House, from the administration — and in fairness, most economists do say that between a million and 2 million jobs were saved or created because of it. What about the argument it would have been worse without it?

MCCONNELL: Well, that's their argument. And I'm sure that if you spend a trillion dollars on government jobs you'll save some government jobs. What I'm talking about is the way you get this economy going again is in the private sector. And there's very little — scant — evidence that the stimulus package created any private sector jobs.

It probably did save a lot of state government jobs, and I'm sure the governors were grateful to have it. They don't have the luxury we have of borrowing money from future generations to deal with short- term emergencies.

WALLACE: Let's talk some politics. Can...

MCCONNELL: Yeah.

WALLACE: ... Republicans take back the Senate this year?

MCCONNELL: Look, if the election were tomorrow, we'd have a good day, but the election...

WALLACE: Ten seats?

MCCONNELL: Well, if the election were tomorrow, we'd have a good day. It is our hope to be in better position next year than we are now. Right now we have 41 members. We hope to have more than that next year.

Clearly, the political landscape has shifted. The most important question in these polls is what we call the party generic ballot question. If the election were held today, would you be more likely to vote for the Republican or the Democrat?

In the NPR poll a couple of weeks ago, we were up five. In all the polls, we're at least dead even or ahead. I think if the election were tomorrow, we'd have a good day. What that translates to, Chris, in terms of actual numbers of seats, I'm not willing to predict.

WALLACE: Well, let me put up a map, because I'm going to try to get you to play handicapper here. Let's put up the map — the political map. And according to some of the sharp analysts, including Charlie Cook, who does this better than almost anybody, there are eight vulnerable Democratic seats — obviously, the seats in blue — and four vulnerable GOP seats.

When you look at those — and obviously, you've got to not only pick up the eight, you've got to pick up maybe another two. You've got to pick up another two and then defend all of your seats. Is 10 seats — is regaining control of the Senate realistically, practically possible?

MCCONNELL: Look, no matter how many times you ask it, I'm not going to make a prediction about a...

WALLACE: You can't blame me for trying.

MCCONNELL: ... about an actual number. There is a seascape change, a change in the landscape. And there's no question that if the election were today we'd be — my side would be in a much better position in the Senate. We hope that that will be the case this November. All indications are that it could be a good day.

WALLACE: Finally, I'm sure that some people watching this interview are going to say, "Look, here's the problem. We're not putting it all on you any more than the White House or congressional Democrats, but you've got Senator McConnell sticking to his position on all these issues. You've got the White House and congressional Democrats sticking to their position on all these issues. There's no give. There's no compromise. Nothing's going to get done."

MCCONNELL: That's just not true. I read the comment from the president about how productive this Congress has been. Senator Reid believes the Congress has been productive.

What we are not willing to cooperate in doing is passing this massive overhaul of health care and passing this massive energy tax.

Beyond that, there's been a high level of cooperation, by the president's own words and by Senator Reid's own words, and we'll continue to cooperate on those things that we think are in the best interests of the American people.

WALLACE: But, Senator — and I understand the point of quoting their words. I mean, can you really say — and I'm not saying you should take or sign up for the Democratic ideas, but can you really say on the issues facing the country — the economy, health care, energy problems — that this Congress has been productive?

MCCONNELL: The president believes it has been.

WALLACE: I'm asking you, sir.

MCCONNELL: Well, look. I think they — on the — on some of the big issues they've tried to go in the wrong direction. And we're not going to sign on to efforts to turn America into a western European country, which I think is the net result of something like the energy tax cap and trade bill and the health care bill.

Those kind of things they're not going to get much cooperation on. There are a whole lot of other things that are important to the country that we are cooperating on and are doing.

WALLACE: Senator McConnell, thanks for coming in today.

MCCONNELL: Thank you.

WALLACE: Please come back.

MCCONNELL: I will.

WALLACE: Always a pleasure, sir.

MCCONNELL: Good to see you.

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