OTR Interviews

McConnell: US has debt the size of its economy, will soon look like Greece

Minority Leader sounds off on Senate's blocking an attempt to deny Pres. Obama's debt ceiling increase

 

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," January 26, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: We keep going deeper and deeper and deeper into debt. Today, the Senate cleared the way for a $1.2 trillion hike in our debt ceiling. Senate Republicans could not block President Obama's request. We talked to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, nice to see you, sir.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Greta, good to be back.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK, so last August, there was a big battle over what to do with the debt seal ceiling and a deal was struck that there would be three times that the debt ceiling would be raised. And the third one is now. But in the Senate there was a vote to prevent -- I guess it wasn't a real vote because nobody expected it to prevail. But explain it.

MCCONNELL: What the Congress did was give to the president the authority to request us to raise the debt ceiling. He submitted his request. That is subject to what we call a resolution of disapproval, in other words, I don't agree to raising the debt ceiling. If that passes, he can veto it. So it didn't guarantee he got a debt ceiling increase, but it made him ask for it. We thought that was appropriate. He has been in favor of increasing the national debt 35 percent over the last three years. He's asking us to increase it more. We thought the responsibility ought to largely be on him, and it is.

VAN SUSTEREN: As part of the deal, there was a super committee created and they were supposed to come up with cuts to figure out how it pay for this, and if that didn't happen, there would be an automatic cut in January, 2014. Now that the president has asked for the third raising of the debt ceiling, part of the August deal, do you anticipate between now and January 14 he is going to have to come back and ask for more money to raise the debt ceiling?

MCCONNELL: Yes. I think the secretary of the treasury will let us know when they're going to ask for another one. It was anticipated. The administration was awfully interested in not having to ask for this again before the election. But only the economy and the receipts of the federal government will determine at what point the president or maybe even the next president asks us to raise the debt ceiling again. We don't know for sure, but the debt ceiling increase that was approved today will cover the anticipated debt that the administration anticipated through the end of 2012.

VAN SUSTEREN: When the deal was cut in August, it was anticipated that the president would ask for a one-two-three raising of the debt ceiling, was it anticipated that he would ask for the third and final one as early as now?

MCCONNELL: Yes, it was. I mean, this covers basically the $1.2 trillion sequester that will go into effect over the course of the next 10 years. So the sequester is counted in to the debt ceiling. He didn't want to have to deal with this issue again before the election. And as part of the broader agreement that we gave him the ability to ask for it, but we also gave members of Congress the ability to vote against the request, and many of us did.

VAN SUSTEREN: So what's going to happen? The debt ceiling keeps getting raised.

MCCONNELL: We're going to have to quit spending at this rate. This administration has driven up the debt 35 percent. This year alone we're going to run a trillion-and-a-half deficit. We have been on a spending spree of gargantuan proportions for the last three years. That has to stop.

Unfortunately those of us who would like to spend less do not control the government. We do have the Senate or the White House. And so the ability to reduce spending and get a result -- we can advocate reducing spending, but getting a result out of the Democratic president and the Democratic Senate has proven to be very difficult.

VAN SUSTEREN: Does the Senate have any appetite for cutting the spending? Or is it a fight over what they cut?

MCCONNELL: Yes. I remember asking the colleagues, is there anything in the budget - anything that you would be willing to cut without raising taxes? I can't find anything. We can't seem to find anything they are willing to cut unless we also raise taxes.

Look, we don't have this problem because we tax too little. We have this problem because we spend too much. You could raise -- you could take all the tax money of all the individuals in this country who are in the so- called top one percent and you couldn't convert deficit for one year.

VAN SUSTEREN: Have you spoken -- do you sit down the two of you, with Harry Reid and talk about, you know, how to figure out what to cut, whether there is anything to cut without the companion of raising the taxes?

MCCONNELL: Sure. We have had plenty of conversations.

VAN SUSTEREN: What happens?

MCCONNELL: We don't get anywhere because the Democrats don't want to cut spending.

VAN SUSTEREN: At all?

MCCONNELL: No. I just told you--

VAN SUSTEREN: I know, but there must be something --

MCCONNELL: No.

VAN SUSTEREN: How about waste and fraud?

MCCONNELL: I can't get them to cut a penny without raising a pen in taxes. Well, we already are taking a huge amount of revenue off of taxes. We can't solve this problem by raising tax.

VAN SUSTEREN: I tell you how I think, if I would be so bold to speak for the American people. They see a tremendous amount of money in the waste and fraud pot that could at least help a little bit. It won't change the debt tremendously. They see the report of a number of people who work for the federal government in the executive branch and staffers who are not paying their taxes, that they have a tax bill. They see that there is money fleeting around there that presumably could be collected somehow, whether it's the waste and the fraud or the unpaid tax by federal employees.

MCCONNELL: Everybody's in favor of getting rid of waste, fraud and abuse. I'm for all of that. We can start tomorrow. But that isn't nearly enough to cut the spending and the amount that we need to do to get the house in order.

VAN SUSTEREN: But it sends a message to the American people --

MCCONNELL: We need to do more than send the message. We need to do this sore sort of thing, but we need to get a significant result. Look, we have a debt now the size of our economy. That looks a lot like Greece. We are on the way to a complete entitlement society just like western Europe. And if you want to know where we're headed, just watch what's going on in Europe. That's where we're headed.

VAN SUSTEREN: You say we are beginning to look like Greece. If the status quo stays where in your mind in terms of where we're headed, when would you anticipate would be Greece?

MCCONNELL: I don't know how quickly we'd get there, but we'll get there a lot quicker than any of us would like. And when you have a debt the size of your economy, when we already do, we begin to look a lot like Greece and western Europe.

You know, the best way to sum up what they've done in western Europe, Margaret Thatcher once said the trouble with socialism is that pretty soon you run out of other people's money. That is exactly what has happened in Europe, and we are on the same path. This administration is leading us down the same path. Unless they are stopped by the people of this country in November, 2012, they will continue to take us down the western European path.

VAN SUSTEREN: In your view, I know you want a Republican president, you want a Republican Senate. In your view, if President Obama gets a second election and the numbers don't change in the Senate and we have four more years as is, where are we in four years from now?

MCCONNELL: Well, unless the president has an epiphany, if he has a second term, if the same Barack Obama shows up in the second term and objects to any serious effort to cut spending or save entitlements for future generations, we will make dramatic progress in the wrong direction, heading in the direction of Greece.

VAN SUSTEREN: Point of no return?

MCCONNELL: No one knows where the point of no return is. You used to think that having a debt the size of your economy was a point of no return. We have already reached that. The only reason we look as good as we do is that the Europe Europeans look so much worse.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, thank you, sir.

MCCONNELL: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)