Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina, the third-ranking U.S. House Democratic leader, in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, predicted that negotiators will agree on a plan to cut $3 trillion to $6 trillion in U.S. spending in time to raise the debt limit before an Aug. 2 deadline.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the show with Congressman Jim Clyburn. Congressman, thank you for being with us.
REPRESENTATIVE JAMES CLYBURN: Well, thank you so much for having me.
HUNT: The Biden working group, of which you are an important member, what are the odds for success on a deficit reduction package agreement? And when will you achieve it?
CLYBURN: I think the odds are very, very good. I don’t expect for us to do - do this thing before - hopefully the July break. But I expect the August break, which is our summer break.
HUNT: That could be your - that could be when it actually comes together?
CLYBURN: That’s right. Because -
HUNT: Right up until the Aug. 2 deadline?
CLYBURN: Sure. That’s what I think. We’ve been given until Aug. 2 to get this done without any harm being done to the country, and I suspect - Congress usually takes all the time it has.
HUNT: Do taxes, do revenues have to be part of any final package?
CLYBURN: Oh, absolutely. There’s no way in the -
HUNT: In other words, you can’t get an agreement without revenues?
CLYBURN: We cannot get an agreement without revenues.
CLYBURN: And I don’t think we can get to what our goals are without revenues.
HUNT: Let me ask you, then, how the Bush tax cuts and the estate tax factor into this. Are they going to be dealt with now or will you postpone dealing with those until next year?
CLYBURN: Well, I would hope we deal with them now. We’ve got to be honest with the American people. I think we have to be honest with ourselves. I would hope that before we reach any kind of conclusions here that we will do what I think would be justice with those people who are not wealthy.
HUNT: Would you be amenable to keeping the rates where they are and broadening the base by eliminating loopholes, if that raises the same amount of revenue?
CLYBURN: Oh, I’m amenable to reducing some of the rates, especially the corporate rates. I don’t mind seeing them going down to 26 percent from the 35 percent that they currently are.
HUNT: But it would have to be revenue-neutral?
CLYBURN: No. I think it should be producing revenue. And you could do that by -
HUNT: Well, when you say produce revenue, you’re talking about the corporate side or the individual side?
CLYBURN: I’m on the corporate side now.
CLYBURN: On the corporate side, I’m thinking if you go down to 26 percent, close up the loopholes, then I think we can have positive revenues coming from it.
HUNT: So net gains from that. Republicans keep saying, Congressman, I’m sorry, taxes are off the table. Eric Cantor says that; Jon Kyl says that; Paul Ryan says that. Are they just - are they just posturing now?
CLYBURN: No, I don’t think they’re posturing at all. I think they are speaking what seems to be the sentiment of their caucus. But I do believe that sometime between now and the first of August everybody will come to the realization that this cannot be done without revenue raisers. And you can have revenue raisers without raising rates. And that’s why I say, you could even reduce rates and raise revenue.
HUNT: Like the corporate side, same thing on the individual side, too?
CLYBURN: Same thing on the individual side.
HUNT: When you talk about this has - what’s this? What size package do you hope or you think you’ll ultimately come up with?
CLYBURN: Well, I would hope that overall we’ll come up with someplace between $3 trillion and $6 trillion.
HUNT: Over the next 10 years?
HUNT: Yeah, that would be sizable. Medicare, big issue. Paul Ryan, as you know, said the other day that your party, the Democratic Party, has - and I’m quoting -“shamelessly demagogued and distorted what we’re proposing to try to scare seniors to get votes.” And Democrats, he say - he will charge, have come up with no ideas on this.
I think you have said many times that the Obamacare last year did bring down some Medicare costs, but is there a middle ground now that you could see between what Paul Ryan is proposing and existing law?
CLYBURN: Look, I don’t think that any Democrat will do anything to destroy Medicare or to in any way get rid of Medicare. It is a very important part of the safety net that we have, especially for our seniors.
I think that it’s a mistake to measure society’s success only by how much money people make. I think we measure success in a society by how well we take care of our children and provide a future for them and how well we take care of our seniors in their golden years.
HUNT: All right. If you don’t get rid of it and you’re - that’s absolutely unacceptable, you’ve said - are there savings that you can enact that fall short of what Paul Ryan’s - are there approaches you could do that would result in part of that $3 trillion to $6 trillion savings that you’re talking about in Medicare?
CLYBURN: I would ask everybody to take a hard look at what we did last year.
CLYBURN: Democrats last year.
HUNT: Is that sufficient?
CLYBURN: Well, it was sufficient for the time, but I think that over a 10-year period, we were not doing it for 10 years. Over a 10-year period, what we did could be sufficient going forward.
HUNT: So you may not have to do anything more on Medicare?
CLYBURN: Well, no. But I know this. We are not going to reduce benefits at all. If you’re looking at the - on the side of providers to see whether or not the provider side can be dealt with in the way that will provide services, as well as produce an effective program, then that would be something that we - we might look at. But to be sure, none of us looked at anything regarding Medicare at this point.
HUNT: Okay, that 3 to 6 here, what are some of the big cuts, then, you have on the spending side?
CLYBURN: Well, on the spending side, we’ve looked at -we folded over a lot of proposals regarding the health savings that we’ve been trying to achieve. And, you know, we always said when we did health care reform that it was a first step, that there would be modifications going forward, and when you look at that, there are big bucks to be gathered there.
HUNT: I have heard that you are going to - you are going to step up the pace of the meetings over the next couple weeks. Is that right? How often will you be meeting? Are you going to step up the pace?
CLYBURN: Yes, I understand that staffs will be meeting this coming weekend. The Senate’s going to be out. And there would be significant meetings with staffs next week. Then we have three meetings scheduled for the committee starting on the 7th, which is a week that the House will be out, but we are -
CLYBURN: So we can be a - we’ll have some all-day meetings, you know, because we won’t have to worry about votes and that sort of thing.
HUNT: I did mention Medicare earlier. You won a big -you, the Democrats, won a big race this week up in upstate New York. Is that a harbinger, using Medicare as an issue for the 2012 elections, do you believe?
CLYBURN: Well, I don’t think Medicare was the only thing on the table. If you were just talking about Medicare, that would be one thing. But we were talking about reducing Medicare while continuing to give these big tax breaks to millionaires, to oil companies, subsidies that they don’t need, and people saw the correlation between that. And I do believe that those two things working together produced that victory.
HUNT: You voted for a resolution this week that would have forced Obama to submit an accelerated timetable for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. You know this White House very well. What do you think the president’s going to do this summer on the Afghan troop levels?
CLYBURN: I think he’ll probably stick to the proposals that he laid out. And that’s his prerogative. And it’s also mine to say, let’s speed it up a little bit.
HUNT: Do you think there’s any chance he’ll speed it up a little bit?
CLYBURN: Very, very little chance.
HUNT: Okay. Congressman Jim Clyburn, thank you so much for being with us today. When we come back, 2012 Republican contenders get busy. We’ll talk to Bloomberg reporters.
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