Interviews

Sens. Rubio, Coons Introduce AGREE Act

Bipartisan plan aims to increase jobs and economic growth

 

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," November 16, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST OF “YOUR WORLD”: Well, a market down, a debt deal deadlocked, and a jobs deal just, well, potentially unlocked.

Welcome, everybody. I am Neil Cavuto. And we are watching the clock, the debt clock, which just ticked over $15 trillion for the first time ever. That is how much we as a nation collectively owe. And as the debt surges, the Super Committee still nowhere near a debt deal to un-surge it. But we may be seeing a breakthrough on the jobs front. Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Delaware Democratic Senator Chris Coons just unveiling a plan they say will get companies hiring and soon. It’s called the AGREE Act, picking out parts of the president’s job plan they feel that both parties can agree on.

And they say it’s our best chance to get this economy going again.

The senators join me now.

Gentlemen, welcome both of you. Very good to have you.

SEN. CHRIS COONS, D-DEL.: Thank you, Neil.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO, R-FLA.: Thank you.

CAVUTO: Senator Rubio, to you first. Of course, you have not talked much to the media since you were elected. In fact, you’ve chosen your chats very, very carefully, but you’ve made a full-court press for this and what you’re doing with Senator Coons.

Why?

RUBIO: Because it’s important.

I get letters and e-mails every day from people in Florida that are hurting. I read one on the floor of the Senate today from a young lady in Vero Beach that’s worked her entire life. She’s a hardworking lady. She’s been out of work for a year. She’s trying -- every day, she goes out and tries to find a job. And there’s nothing there.

Real people are hurting. This economic downturn has taken a dramatic turn for the worse in the lives of real people in my state and across the country and we have to do something. We have big disagreements on the big issues between the parties. And we’re going to have an election next year and help decide the way forward on a couple of those.

But we can’t just sit around here for 12 months and do nothing. On the things we agree on, we have to act. We have to help people.

CAVUTO: Senator Coons, there’s a lot in common and some common ground for both parties. And I think both of you are right. You can find much to agree on. That is tax credits, incentives to get businesses hiring and the like.

But maybe because it bespeaks of the environment, nothing big, and I’m wondering, is that by design? Or do you think that collectively all of these incentives and credits and the things that businesses like added up will get them hiring?

COONS: Well, Neil, it’s our hope this fairly broad package that includes provisions from access to capital, R&D tax credit, innovation, invention, immigration, intellectual property protection, some regulatory relief, that it includes a whole range of things, that although not a huge bill, not guaranteed to pull us further into recovery, will show that we have confidence in the American people and the American entrepreneur and the American small-business person and that it can help instill some confidence in Congress, that if a conservative Republican from Florida and a Democrat from Delaware can find the time, the energy and the willingness to get across this partisan divide and hammer out a bipartisan bill, perhaps that can encourage the Super Committee.

Perhaps that can instill some confidence that all of us in Congress here can find common ground in the next year and make progress in doing the things that we can do to help strengthen the private sector in creating jobs.

CAVUTO: Invariably, Senator Rubio, people will look at this and many of your Republican colleagues will say this is just tinkering. We need to be bold. We need to think big. Readjusting some credits and allowances and the like ain’t going to cut it.

What do you say?

RUBIO: I signed on to big, bold plans and I voted for them.

And I’m prepared to do those that tomorrow if we could get the votes to do them. But we don’t have them and we will not have them one way or other until the next election because of the way -- we have divided government now. So what do we do for the next 12 months? Do we just put up bills that will fail and do nothing?

What do I say to the people back in Florida that are hurting that can’t find a job? So, yes, these things may look small from a Wall Street perspective or from a macro perspective, but what about the small business in Miami, or Tampa or in Orlando that next year wants to expand, they want -- a dry cleaner that wants to buy a new machine and hire two people to operate it?

They will be able to expense 100 percent of the cost of doing that. If they can’t do that, if they only get 50 percent deduction, they may not be able to do that. That means the people who built the machine get hurt, the people who install the machine and fix the machine get hurt, and the two people they were going to hire to operate it get hurt.

For those people, it’s not a small thing. And those are the guys and gals we’re thinking about.

(CROSSTALK) CAVUTO: Go ahead.

COONS: There’s an initial study, Neil, that show -- to Senator Rubio’s point, there’s one study that suggests that if the expensing and depreciating provisions in this bill were enacted, it might make as much as $85 billion in capital available to small business.

And right now access to capital is one of the critical barriers to growth for small business. If the veteran’s portion of this bill, something we borrowed from Senator Casey, were actually put into law, we might see hundreds of veterans become small business entrepreneurs, franchise owners.

While those might not change America’s whole economic outlook, we think it would make a significant difference for the communities, for the business owners and for the veterans and I think frankly think it would help restore some confidence in the American markets.

CAVUTO: There is a fear, though, gentleman, that while your intentions certainly are good, and the goals meritorious, the reality is that this might have to wait out and sit out until the election. Many CEOs have expressed frustration with that.

Senator Rubio, to a point that was echoed by the Scott’s Lawn CEO, who had been saying, look, if you telling me that we will not be able to have closure on this or progress for another year or year-and-a-half, that is bull "bleep."

Is that what he has to look forward to?

RUBIO: Well, I hope not. And that’s what we are working on, to see the things that we agree on, that we act on those now. People back home ask me -- they get the big picture stuff. We disagree on the role of government and we disagree on what our tax code should look like.

And we will debate that and that will be a big part of the elections in 2012. They ask me all the time, why do you guys fight over the things you agree on? Isn’t there anything you guys have in common? And when you see issues and you see ideas that are in the president’s jobs plan, the Republicans’ job plan, the House has passed and sent over here there’s no excuse for not acting on those things.

And there are people that are going to be helped by those things. So let’s do them. Let’s show people that here in Congress there are -- we are able to do, at least act on the things we agree on.

CAVUTO: Senator Coons, do you think the president has been helping you in that regard? That the rap against him, sir, is that every follow-up proposal and every follow-up budget and every follow-up jobs initiative or stimulus moves more and more left and more and more infrastructure, increasingly unlikely to get passage in the House, even dicey in the Senate, where people are just tiring of the same old thing. Is the president not getting it?

COONS: Well, in my one year as a senator, I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with the frequency with which proposals that we put up on the floor aren’t able to pass.

And I think both Senator Rubio and I are frustrated by the fact that each of our respective parties are not able to get through our proposals. The president’s job bill, for example, was declared dead on arrival by some leaders in the other party here in Congress. And several efforts to get it passed were unsuccessful. I get that.

Rather than simply giving up in frustration, in my view, the best next step forward was to show some leadership by working with Senator Rubio and hopefully many others, both Democrat and Republican, who will join as co-sponsors and find portions of the bill we can agree on and we can pass.

There are those who would spend most of the time criticizing the president. I can understand why they might, his political opponents and others. But frankly, in my view, my job is to show leadership where I can, to find partnership where I can and to be tireless in working with anybody in the Senate or the House of Representatives who has got a good idea and who is willing to put something on the table that could help get Americans back to work.

Most of the Delawareans whom I represent care less about partisanship than they care about progress.

CAVUTO: Then does your state’s former senator, now Vice President Joe Biden ring true, Senator, when he urges going slow on entitlements and your party, by and large, urges going slow on entitlements? Is he moving the ball forward by locking people into that kind of a corner?

COONS: Well, I wasn’t in the room for the very tough negotiations that the vice president led with Eric Cantor that later turned into negotiations between the speaker and the president.

And today, we expect the Super Committee, both houses, is continuing and hopefully moving forward with those conversations. We know where we’ve been frozen for most of the last year on whether to change our tax policy and raise revenue, whether to make changes in our entitlement programs.

I’m someone who has said consistently everything needs to be on the table. We have a significant challenge to our nation’s security, our nation’s future because of a record deficit and debt...

(CROSSTALK)CAVUTO: Well, when you say everything -- I understand, sir -- everything on the table, everything on the table, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid?

COONS: I think we have to be willing to consider responsible reforms that will sustain those for the next generation.

CAVUTO: OK.

COONS: In my view, that’s a progressive principle to say that I so value these programs that I want my children and grandchild to benefit from them, rather than ignoring some of the demographic changes that are pushing reconsideration of the future trajectory of some of these programs.

That doesn’t mean fundamentally alter them. That doesn’t mean slash them and it also doesn’t mean scaring people needlessly. Social Security will be providing three-quarters of its current benefits 50 years from now if we make no change at all. What we do need to confront is the need at some point in the next 35 years to make some revisions, whether it’s in how we’re paying for it, in how it’s being funded, or in how it’s being provided. There are some changes that have to be made.

(CROSSTALK) CAVUTO: You raise a good point. I don’t want to go too far off obviously the purpose of you gentlemen coming here today, and I admire that.

But I want to switch it around to the Republican point of view, Senator Rubio, and your thoughts on these revenue enhancements, i.e. tax increases, that some might be looking at on that debt committee.

I want to just get from you whether you look at closing a loophole or removing a tax credit as a tax increase. Is it?

RUBIO: Well, a couple things. Number one, if they’re not justified -- and that’s why they have to be part of a real study of whether they are justified or not justified.

If they are in there because they hired a good lobbyist who got them some special break, I think you will consensus around here that these are the kinds of things that should be taken out.

On the other hand, we’re proposing tax credits as part of our bill, because we think it makes sense to allow a small business to write off the cost of capital improvements in their business of buying new machinery.

CAVUTO: But you would be open then, Senator Rubio, to closing some loopholes that might benefit a few and not mistaking that with raising taxes on all?

RUBIO: Yes. And then the question is what do you do with the money that you get when you close it?

And the answer is, I think -- and that’s where there’s a dispute between Republicans and Democrats. And I think my position is that should be used to lower rates on everyone to make the tax code -- and there are some Democrats that believe that as well.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: But there’s no time for that connection? Right? If you are to look at the calendar you guys are working under and that this Super Committee is under, I don’t know if they will be able to make the simpler tax code happen in a couple of weeks, not even.

RUBIO: Well, we’re not in the room. That’s the problem.

CAVUTO: They might be able to address these write-offs and expirations and all of that. That won’t cut it for you?

RUBIO: Well, I don’t know. Well, I don’t know if they will able to address it.

Here’s the reason. And I know that we have a difference of opinion on this, but it’s the reason why I didn’t think the Super Committee was a good idea. I don’t know. You don’t know. We don’t know. We’re not in the room.

Only 12 people are in that room and the public’s not watching, the debate is not open, we don’t know what they are considering.

(CROSSTALK)CAVUTO: Well, they must talk with you. You’re both kind of big cheeses.

(CROSSTALK)

RUBIO: No, no.

CAVUTO: No?

RUBIO: No. They have made it kind of an internal thing that they are not going to talk to anybody outside the room about what they are considering beyond vague concepts.

Look, I’m not criticizing the 12 people that are on the committee. They’re working hard and I think they’re doing the best they can. And they’ve been given a tough assignment, OK?

But the bottom line is that there is no public input. These are not minor provisions. This is some of the most significant public policy that will ever be made in this building and it’s all being done outside the public light and without input or meaningful, open, public input. And I don’t think that’s a good way to make significant public policy.

But, look, I wish for the best. I pray that they come up with a result because I love my country a lot more than I like my political party. I love being a Republican, but I love being an American more. And I think getting a result is important for America.

CAVUTO: You mentioned not too long ago that Florida certainly is in play, your state, Senator Rubio. You could help secure that state if you were running with whoever the nominee is, right?

RUBIO: I think a nominee in my state or any state has to earn the support of the people of the state. People vote for the presidential candidate, not for the vice presidential candidates.

And I would say that no matter what. But I want to be in the United States Senate so I can work on issues like this and do meaningful things like this from here. This is a job I wanted. It’s what I ran for because I wanted to do this.

CAVUTO: So you are not interested?

RUBIO: No.

CAVUTO: If whoever the nominee is talks to you, Senator, I really, need you, want you?

(CROSSTALK)

RUBIO: Yes, I have answered that a bunch of times.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: Well, not with me. You never answered it with me.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

RUBIO: OK. All right.

Yes, I’m not interested. I really want to be here in the Senate. And I want to do this job. It’s what I signed up for. I get to wake up in the morning and see problems that confront our country. And I’m in a position to do and say something about it. And I’m enjoying that. It’s a real blessing to be able to do it. It’s a rare honor.

CAVUTO: Senator Coons, very quickly, the attitude and the mind-set here. It’s very encouraging to see Democrats and Republicans talking to one another. That is promising.

And you guys are providing a nice example, but it is fair to say, is it not, Senator, that the well has been poisoned, right? It’s very, very nasty. When I was last there, I think you guys had food tasters.

How bad has it gotten? Is it retrievable? What?

COONS: I’ll tell you, in my year as a senator, I have been impressed by the caliber of the senators I have met, Republican and Democrat, different backgrounds, from across the country.

There are people of goodwill here. There are bright people who are working hard and who are very frustrated by the partisanship and the difficulty coming together and making progress. I think we need to engage in small, symbolic, but increasingly powerful actions of collaboration and of partnership.

Some folks made fun of us for going to the State of the Union two by two, but it was just a small gesture, an effort to try and suggest that we could put partisanship aside in how we received the State of the Union message from the president.

I think joining together in a more substantive bill that actually has a chance to improve job creation in this is a more significant step. But it’s my hope that we will encourage other partners, senators who are both Democrat and Republican, to similarly take up good proposals that are lying there unaddressed in front of us on the table of the Senate and consider moving them forward.

(CROSSTALK)

RUBIO: And I just want to be fair. I’ve only been here a few months, but I have not had a single bad personal conflict with a single person in the Senate. We disagree on public policy. But I didn’t know about the food tasters.

(LAUGHTER)

CAVUTO: OK. So no poisoned sandwiches. That’s good to know.

RUBIO: No. No.

(LAUGHTER) CAVUTO: Gentlemen, thank you very much.

RUBIO: Thank you.

COONS: Thank you, Neil.

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