Sen. McCain Gives Straight Talk on Waste in the Stimulus

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This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," February 17, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Tonight, Senator John McCain right here and right now.

Good evening, Senator.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R - ARIZ.: Good evening, Greta. How are you?

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm very well, sir. Let's start with 2/25. February 25th is the health care summit that President Obama is convening. Are you part of this discussion, sir?

MCCAIN: You know, I don't know yet because I've been told that perhaps, but I'm not sure that they have settled on the line-up here.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, wouldn't that -- wouldn't you seem sort of like a natural? You headed the party's ticket and you've been a United States senator for a number of years. It seems to me that you'd sort of be a natural for this. And you've actually done some consensus building, reached across the aisle. So what's the hesitation?

MCCAIN: Well, it's just that, you know, we've been in recess. I'm talking to you from Yuma, Arizona. And so we haven't had a chance to have a conversation. I believe that I am, but I just haven't had the confirmation yet. As you know, there's some question about the format and whether this is going to be something that's really negotiations or whether it's just going to be something where the president can propound the -- and try to sell to the American people the policy that right now they resoundingly reject.

VAN SUSTEREN: The president has accused GOP essentially of being obstructionists and not having any ideas. Did you have some ideas that you would like to at least share with the president and share with the party across the aisle?

MCCAIN: I'd like to share two things with the president. One is the list of proposals that we have, which is long, which would bring down the costs of health care and preserve the quality of health care in America -- medical malpractice reform, going across state lines to really able to get the health insurance policy of your choice, rewards for wellness and fitness, small businesses joining together to negotiate with health insurance companies. We have a long list of proposals that have not been included that we believe preserves the quality of health care.

The second thing I want to talk to the president about, the reason why we have to start over is because we are -- and the American people object strenuously to the sleaze of the deal-making that went on in putting together this 2,400-page bill -- the "Cornhusker Kickback," the "Louisiana purchase," the good deal for the citizens of Florida, states all over, as they were buying votes behind closed doors, one of the worst of which was one of the latest, for the so-called Cadillac plans, the expensive health insurance policies there was going to be taxed. Except for guess who? Union members. Guess what? Union members. So because someone is a member of a union, then they're not subject to the same penalties or taxes that ordinary citizens are?

So what I want to say to the president is, eight times -- eight times he said he would have these negotiations on C-SPAN, before the American people. Finally, a year later, we're on C-Span. So pull out these unsavory deals that were put in behind closed doors and in the back rooms of the White House and in Harry Reid's office and let's start over and give the American people a legitimate chance to see how this works.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, maybe this question isn't, you know, correctly put to you, but I'm a little bit curious how this all happened behind the scenes. You know, the president did run on transparency, and there were so many deals and it went -- and this thing has gone so far off the rails. And you've got both parties telling me something different about, you know, each party won't listen to another party. We've got these behind -- and this deal with Nebraska is extraordinary, and why the unions get a deal and big -- big drug industry -- how did -- how did this all happen? I mean, why -- I know -- why didn't everyone see this as it was going down?

Watch Greta's interview with Sen. McCain

MCCAIN: Well, here's what I think happened. I know very well that Democrats won a resounding victory in both 2006 and 2008. They had 60 votes in the Senate, overwhelming majority in the House. So they decided, rather than sitting down and face-to-face negotiations -- and by the way, I've been part of real negotiations many times in the past -- they would ram it through and possibly pick up a Republican or two and call it bipartisan.

So they thought they could do that, and yet we were able to expose it for what it was -- 2,400 pages of a massive takeover and a $2.5 trillion debt laid on the American people.

Let me just mention one of the gimmicks with you real quick. The cuts in benefits and the taxes, as soon as the president signs the bill into law, kicks in. Guess when the benefits begin? Four years later. It's a budget gimmick so that it doesn't look like it contributes as much to the overall deficit. I mean, that's crazy. Today, you can go out and buy a car and not have to pay for it a year later. The deal they had for you is pay for it for four years and then you get to try it out.

So the whole thing started out with an overwhelming majority of Americans in favor, and the more they found out about it, the more they wanted us to stop and start over and don't do these sleazy deals anymore.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, tonight's a big (INAUDIBLE) an anniversary of the stimulus bill. And I'm trying to figure out what we use to measure whether it's been successful or not. I realize that unemployment and housing foreclosures or housing starts are somewhat of lagging indicators. But is there -- you know, what's the number you look to so we could see the trend to see whether it's working or not? We're spending a lot of money, but how do we know a year later if we're moving in the right direction with it or not?

MCCAIN: Well, I don't see how you can throw -- really, it was a $1.1 trillion, counting interest, amount of money without creating some jobs. I mean, I don't think that that's any doubt. But how much money per job? You know, one of the ways you can tell these things is some of the really unsavory, again, pork bill projects that are thrown in -- $246 million for film producers to buy film, I think a couple of billion dollars to restart a plant that the Department of Energy said just has no viability to it.

The list of these earmarks that are -- have nothing to do with the creation of jobs, but everything to do with political influence and patronage has really made it, I think, something that has in the long run contributed enormously to the debt and deficit which we are laying on future generations of Americans.

It is $787 billion, or $1.1 trillion with interest, that is not paid for that the American -- our children and our grandchildren going to have to pay for it. It's outrageous, in my view. We did propose a package at about $400 billions that we think would have worked.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you raise the issue of money spent for jobs. And coincidentally -- and I've been trying to find, like, what numbers to figure out how to measure the trend upward or downward. In the state of Arizona -- the state of Arizona's gotten $3.4 billion, and according to, it's been 6,900 jobs. And my -- and someone who works on our staff did the math. It's $493,000 per job. Now, I don't know if that's a fair way to estimate. The other thing that I've looked at in Arizona is that in December of '08, your unemployment rate was 7.4 percent. In December of '09, it had gone up 1.7 percent to 9.1 percent. So that is -- I don't know if those numbers are fair to evaluate (ph), but your numbers are all trending in Arizona and other states in the wrong direction.

MCCAIN: Well, could I point out two things? One is that despite the propaganda or allegations by the administration, they said unequivocally that if we pass this stimulus package that unemployment would be a maximum of 8 percent. That is obviously false.

Second of all, this money has not gotten to the most important part of our economy and that's small businesses. Small businesses are the job- generator of America, and they are still not getting lines of credit. They're still not getting the kind of tax breaks that they need and the kind of incentives that they need in order to create jobs in Arizona and across this country. And we are hurting badly in this state.

VAN SUSTEREN: Vice President -- I think it was Vice President Biden or maybe it was President Obama said today that with the stimulus bill, it's the second half of the stimulus bill that's really going to rev up and get the jobs, that that was the real job generator. Is there any truth to that or do you agree with that? Because, I mean, right now, the jobs have -- I don't see these jobs that they say that have been created. But is the back half of this bill -- can we look to the back half of this stimulus bill to give us the jobs?

MCCAIN: Well, I hope so. And again, they predicted a maximum unemployment of 8 percent, and it's now 9.7. Some say it may go higher. I don't know if it will or not. If it's for projects like so many of them that we Twitter about, by the way, pork barrel projects, then no. I would hope that they would have learned something from the expenditure of the last hundreds of billions of dollars. But I don't know if they will or not, Greta. This is a very left economically and philosophically administration who believes that if you just throw enough money at things that you're going to get results.

But what we have done, in the view of most economists, is laid a debt and a deficit on future generations of Americans. The greatness of America is that every generation has handed off to the next generation a country that's better than the one that they inherited. With a $45,000 debt for every man, woman and child in America, I don't have that confidence.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, and of course, I'm just trying to figure out, you know, what numbers to look for because I just can't -- I'm not finding the numbers. I'm looking -- I hope the administration comes (INAUDIBLE) as the indicators to show me that why this is trending upward. But we'll wait and see. Senator McCain, thank you, sir.

MCCAIN: Thanks for having me on, Greta.

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