Sen. Mitch McConnell on 'This Week'

The Senate minority leader on fallout from the "fiscal cliff" compromise.
11:54 | 01/06/13

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Transcript for Sen. Mitch McConnell on 'This Week'
Good morning, and welcome to "this week." Fiscal cliff deal. The motion is adopted. Last minute. IT'S DECEMBER THE 31st. Less than hoped for. There are parts of it that many of us disagree with. And the looming battles look even worse. I will not have another debate with this congress over whether or not they should pay the bills. It's settled the revenue debate for good. Will washington hurtle off a higher cliff in just weeks? What can stop this cycle of brinksmanship? We'll ask our headliner, republican leader mitch McCONNELL. Then as speaker boehner survives a close vote, fresh faces flood the capitol. How will they change congress? Will congress change them? We introduce the rising stars of 2013. Plus, a health scare for hillary and that political storm over hurricane sandy. 66 days and counting, shame on congress. Plenty to debate on our powerhouse roundtable with george will, robert reich, greta van susteren from fox news, gwen ifill of pbs and abc's chief correspondent jonathan karl. Hello again. Happy new year. Even before president obama's autopen signed this week's deal into law, it was clear that any cease-fire in washington's battles over taxes and spending would be painfully brief. Three new deadlines loom. By the end of february, the treasury will lose the power to borrow more to pay america's bills. Across-the-board spending cuts to every federal program taken on march 1st and the government will run out of all congressional funding by the end of march. Three more coming fast and with that let me turn to the man who negotiated last week's compromise with the white house, senate republican leader mitch McCONNELL. Thank you for joining us, senator. Good morning, george. I know you think the deal you negotiated is imperfect and you want to fix it as we approach the debt limit. You say no increase in the debt limit without major cuts in spending. The president says he won't even negotiate over that. So to borrow general david petraeus' famous quote from the iraq war, how does this end? Well, first let me say these last-minute deals are no way to run the government. We've known all of these deadlines are coming. Why we end up in these last-minute discussions is beyond me. We need to function. I mean the house of representatives, for example, passed a budget every year. They've passed appropriation bills. The senate democratic majority and the president seem to like these last-minute deals, and we know these three issues are coming up, the sequester, the debt ceiling and the continuing resolution to operate the government. Why not sit down and not wait until the last minute to get these matters resolved? Look, the biggest problem confronting the country is not taxes, it's spending. We don't have this problem because we tax too little. We have it because we spend too much. We now have a $16.4 trillion national debt, as big as our economy. That alone makes us look a lot like greece. This administration has driven spending from 21% of our economy up to almost 25% of our economy. We've got to stop using the credit card, and any opportunity we have to engage the other side in a discussion about quitting the spending spree, we're going to engage in. And the question is, how do you follow through on your strategy, and, you know, a lot of your allies are worried about that prospect. "The wall street journal" editorial page said "the political result would be far worse if republicans start this fight only to cave in the end. You can't take a hostage you aren't prepared to shoot. Do the two gop leaders have a better strategy today than they did in 2011?" And I guess you're hearing that phrase more and more now, shoot the hostage. Are you prepared to do it, to see the country default if the president won't sign the spending cuts you demand? Well, look, it's not even necessary to get to that point. Why aren't we trying to settle the problem? Why aren't we trying to do something about reducing spending? We know we need to do it. When are we going to do it? We don't need to use the deadline. We can could go through the regular order. Congress could pass bills and could have conferences between the house and senate and the president could be engaged. By the end of february? Sure. Yeah, I mean we can do things very quickly. Look, these are not new issues. These are not new issues. We know, and we've known for quite some time, that we had all of these issues in front of us. Waiting until the last minute is no way to run the government. We ought to be engaging in it now. Well, but the deadlines are approaching, and I think the president said he's willing to engage in more discussions over the sequester and the government shutdown, but that would also include new revenues. You say that the tax debate is over. Oh, yeah, the tax -- revenue -- the tax issue is finished, over, completed. That's behind us. Now the question is what are we going to do about the biggest problem confronting our country and our future, and that's our spending addiction. It's time to confront it. The president surely knows that. I mean he has mentioned it both publicly and privately. The time to confront it is now. But in the last -- we ought to engage. Let me just interrupt you there. In the last year the budget control act, the congress cut $1.5 trillion in spending. That's more than was raised in revenue over this last fiscal cliff deal. Are you saying that any discussion of revenue is completely off the table going forward? You will not accept any new revenues in any new deal? Yeah, absolutely. The tax issue is behind us. Now the question is, what are we going to do about the real problem? We didn't have this problem because we weren't taxing enough. Unfortunately, as a result of the agreement that was reached, 99% of americans will not see their taxes go up. 500,000 small businesses will not see their taxes go up. The president got a trillion dollars less in revenue than he wanted. That means that money stays in the pockets of the american people. Now it's time to pivot and turn to the real issue, which is our spending addiction, and we ought to do it together now. We all know we've got to quit spending so much. It seems like the divide is as deep as ever. If you're completely ruling out revenues and saying spending is the only answer. Some of your colleagues in the senate have raised the prospect, senator john cornyn and others, of what they call a partial government shutdown. Here was senator cornyn in "the houston chronicle" just this week. He said "it may be necessary to partially shut down the government in order to secure the long-material fiscal well-being of our country rather than plod along the path of greece, italy and spain." What exactly does that mean, a partial shutdown of the government, and do you endorse it? Well, look, it only -- the only reason we're even having these discussions is because of the president and the democratic majority in the senate is unwilling to cut spending. We don't need to have these crises. We need to cut spending. It shouldn't require a crisis to get the president and the democratic majority and the senate to start focusing on the real problem, which is that we spend too much. I accept that that's your point of view, but the division still seems to be there, so I'll go back to my original question. How far are you willing to take this strategy? Is it acceptable to you that the government default if the president won't agree to discuss spending cuts over the debt li my answer is, hopefully we don't need to get to that point. The president surely must know we're spending way too much. So why don't we do something about reducing spending? The only reason these deadlines become significant, george, is because the democratic majority and the senate and the president of the united states don't want to cut any spending of any consequence. They don't want to do anything on the entitlement side. You know, 60% of what we spend every ar is interest on the national debt and very popular entitlement programs. Until we address the entitlement programs and make the eligibility for entitlements meet the demographics of our country, we can't ever solve this problem. If we want to have the kind of country for our children and grandchildren that our parents left behind for us, the time to do that is now. Ironically divided government is the perfect time to do it because you can pull both sides together and do things that need to be done for the future, and the american people will understand since you did it together, it was absolutely necessary. It does seem difficult. I want to turn to another issue. There are reports this week that president obama may nominate your former colleague chuck hagel for defense secretary as early as tomorrow. When senator hagel left the senate in 2008, you praised his clear voice and stature on foreign policy and national security. Do you stand by that praise? Well, whoever is nominated for secretary of defense is going to have to have a full understanding of our close relationship with our israeli allies, the iranian threat and the importance of having a robust military. So whoever that is I think will be given a thorough vetting, and if senator hagel is nominated, l be subjected to the same kind of review of his credentials as anyone else. Several of your colleagues have come out against his appointment saying he's not sufficiently supportive of israel or tough enough on iran among other issues. Do you share their concerns? Well, I'm going to take a look at all the things that chuck has said over the years and review that and in terms of his qualifications to lead our nation's military. But do you still believe he has the stature on foreign policy and national security to be secretary of defense? Well, he certainly has been outspoken in foreign policy and defense over the years. The question we will be answering if he's the nominee is do his views make sense for that particular job? I think he ought to be given a fair hearing like any other nominee, and he will be. But you still have an open mind? I'm going to wait and see how the hearings go and see whether chuck's views square with the job he would be nominated to do. Finally on the issue of guns, clear that the president wants to move fast on the issue of gun control coming out of the sandy hook shooting. Vice president biden's task force is likely to make recommendations before the inaugural and he told boston's mayor tom menino that it would be passed by the end of january. Is that optimism on his pa justified, and are you open to the kind of reforms the president has already talked about like a limit on high-capacity gun magazines and background checks to buyers at gun shows? Well, first we need to concentrate on joe biden's group and what are they going to recommend? And after they do that, we'll decide what, if anything, is appropriate to do in this area, but the biggest problem we have at the moment is spending and debt. That's going to dominate the congress between now and the end of march. None of these issues, I think, will have the kind of priority that spending and debt are going to have over the next two or three months. So you're not going to address this until after you address these three deadlines we talked about at the top of the program? Yeah, the single biggest issue confronting the country is spending and debt. That's going to dominate the discussion in congress for the next three months at least. OKAY, senator McConnell, thanks very much for your time this morning.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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