OTR Interviews

Why Jack Lew 'must never' be Treasury Secretary

Sen. Jeff Sessions explains his staunch opposition to Pres. Obama's pick to succeed Tim Geithner


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," January 10, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: The top Republican in the Senate Budget Committee vowing not to let White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew become treasury secretary, Senator Jeff Sessions accusing Lew of lying before Congress, lying about the national debt. He is referring to a bitter 2011 Senate hearing.


SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, R-ALA.: You said in your interview Sunday on -- with Candy Crowley, "Our budget will get us over the next several years to the point where we can look the American people in the eye and say we're not adding to the debt anymore. We're spending money that we have each year, and then we can work on bringing down the national debt."

Was that an accurate or misleading statement to the American people Sunday?

JACK LEW, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET DIRECTOR: Senator, I think it's an accurate statement that our current spending will not be increasing the debt. We do have interest payments. It's going to take us a while to work down those interest payments and...

SESSIONS: Well, you didn't say that. You said that, We will be bringing down the debt during the period of this budget and that we can look them in the eye and say we're not adding to the debt anymore.

LEW: And that's...

SESSIONS: That's not accurate, is it.

LEW: No, I believe it is accurate. Our current programs and things we're doing, that we're making decisions on, we've stopped spending money that we don't have. We can't just wish the national debt away.


VAN SUSTEREN: Senator Sessions joins us. Good evening, sir.

SESSIONS: Good evening.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, am I right in my characterization that you've accused Jack Lew of lying to the Senate?

SESSIONS: Look, what he came in and testified to represents the most colossal, fantastical financial misrepresentation, I think in history. He said that debt -- he told the American people square on that we would not be adding to the debt. We would spend only the money that we have and begin to pay down the debt.

That was utterly untrue. His budget did nothing like that. The lowest deficit in 10 years that he projected in his own numbers was $600 billion deficit and would have added $13 trillion to the debt.

Remember, this was after 2010, when the Republican House was elected, and hopefully, we were at a point to make some fundamental changes in spending in America. And they came out with a budget that did just the opposite, and he told the American people what they wanted to hear, but it wasn't the truth.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. And I'm just -- let's sort of zero in on -- I'm not going to beat a dead horse, but there -- it's a -- there's a big difference between being mistaken or having a different viewpoint and trying to be deceitful and a lie because that's a very different -- and where does he fall in this spectrum, in your opinion?

SESSIONS: Well, I gave him a chance at the hearing. He'd already said these statements publicly. I quoted them back to him, and he said it was accurate. He defended those statements, although I will acknowledge that Secretary Geithner, who followed him before the committee, would not say so. He knew that wasn't accurate. He acknowledged that the president's budget did not put us on sustainable path, but not Mr. Lew.

He continued to spin and repeat those misstatements. And indeed, the president was running ads on it in September right before the election, saying the same thing, that his budget paid down the debt. And it's absolutely not true!

VAN SUSTEREN: Is there anything that Jack Lew could say at a hearing that would redeem him in your eyes?

SESSIONS: Well, we will see. I mean, he'll have an opportunity to do that. But fundamentally, just some -- eating a little crow is not going to satisfy my feeling about it because I think he knew exactly what he was doing.

He should have told the president, I cannot say that, Mr. President. I will not say that. I'd have to resign before I go out before the committee and try to promote such an idea, that our budget is going to pay down the debt.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you have been quoted as saying that he will never be secretary of the treasury. Do you think that he won't be voted by -- by the committee and voted by -- and confirmed by the Senate?

SESSIONS: Well, Greta, I said that I felt he must never be. We'll see. The full Senate will decide. I won't -- I'll just have one vote on it.

But I do think that the Senate needs to push back against this idea that people can come before our committees and say anything they want to, inaccurately, and then waltz in two years later, want to be promoted to a higher office, the most significant financial office in our country, really in the world, the secretary of treasury, and we shouldn't treat that lightly.

He needs to be held to account, in my opinion. If -- so that's my strong feeling about it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I tell you, you're not alone. The other end of the political spectrum, Senator Bernie Sanders, has also has indicated he's not going to vote for him, that he will vote no, but a very different reason, that he believes that he is too cozy with Wall Street, having come from Wall Street -- although "cozy" is my term. That's not the word that the senator used.

So there -- I mean, on the other end of the political spectrum, he's going to have some trouble, too. I'm curious, though, looking at the hearing -- I sort of, you know, step back and look at it and think about, you know, who's going to ask what and how. And I see this hearing as one that is going to give the Republicans an opportunity to grill him about the president's plan for the future, the economy.

It's something that the Republicans have been at least saying that they haven't gotten out of the president so far. Is this going to be a grilling of this candidate about the president's policies?

SESSIONS: Well, it absolutely should be an opportunity to inquire of him about some of the basic principles of his administration. Why have they not proposed any solution to our entitlement program? Why have they not responded to the law that requires them to lay out a plan to fix Medicare when it gets in financial trouble? It's been certified to be in trouble. The president should be -- have laid out a plan. He's flatly refused to comply with the law.

Maybe they'll ask him why he said the -- and supported Harry Reid in not bringing up a budget. He supported that and said you could filibuster a budget, and he well knows, Mr. Lew does, you can't filibuster a budget. It can be passed with a simple majority. So I think there are a lot of questions and matters that could be inquired of at his hearing.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, he's also going to have some problem, apparently, from Senator Orrin Hatch, who's the ranking member on the -- on the -- on the Finance Committee because Senator Hatch has said that he's withholding judgment, he hasn't said yes or no, until the nominee, meaning Mr. Lew, outlines the administration plans to cut spending to lower the national debt.

So you could see that the Senator Hatch, you know, intends to -- I mean, that whole business about, you know, trying -- you know, the whole issue of spending cuts. That -- this -- this -- this nomination hearing is going to be the forum about that particular issue, just like the debt ceiling.

SESSIONS: Well, I think it can be. And I think the reason they never brought up a budget is because the Democrats would have had to defend openly in public debate an unsupportable, indefensible plan that their president was promoting, and they would have either had to follow it or reject it.

And of course, when Lew's budget was brought before the Senate and the House, if you remember, Greta, it got zero votes. Not a Republican or Democrat in the House or Senate voted for the budget that Mr. Lew was the architect of. I don't think that speaks well for a man who would take on the great position of treasury secretary.

VAN SUSTEREN: President Obama says that he has facilitated deals. He says that he has worked with Republicans and Democrats, and he cited President Reagan, Speaker O'Neill on Social Security and President Clinton and a Republican Congress on the issue of a budget deal.

I'm curious whether you agree that he has brought two sides together. And if so, where -- you know, where has that been at least in the last go- round, the last 18 months?

SESSIONS: Well, this last fiscal cliff deal, he was chief of staff at the White House. He was involved in the negotiations. They went nowhere until Senator McConnell urged Vice President Biden to get involved, and that's when an agreement was reached. It wasn't Jack Lew that reached that agreement.

He also, when he agreed to the budget spending reductions as part of the Budget Control Act 18 months ago, he proposed a budget -- the next budget that they put forward wiped out 60 percent of those cuts. Even though he'd agreed to them in August, in January, he was proposing to giving -- giving back 60 percent of them and spending more money. So I haven't seen...

VAN SUSTEREN: I guess it's pretty clear...

SESSIONS: ... the kind of...

VAN SUSTEREN: I guess it's pretty clear you have a strong opinion on this one.

SESSIONS: I really do. I can never forget that hearing. It was one of the most dramatic things I've ever participated in, when the Office of Management and Budget looked us in the eye and insisted that they were correctly -- they were correct in saying their budget would pay down the debt, when it did not.

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

SESSIONS: Thank you, Greta.