U.S. Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat and a member of the Senate’s “gang of six” who sought a grand bargain on deficit reduction, said he has urged members of both parties on a deficit supercommittee to “go big, go bold” with their savings. He spoke during an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
JULIANNA GOLDMAN, BLOOMBERG NEWS: We begin the show with Senator Mark Warner, who’s joining us now from Roanoke, Virginia. Senator, thank you for the time.
SENATOR MARK WARNER: Thanks for having me on.
GOLDMAN: You spent this past month on what you’ve been calling a staycation. And so as you’ve been traveling across Virginia, what exactly is the level of frustration right now with Congress and the president?
WARNER: Well, there’s a huge level of frustration. I start every pitch with the idea that 87 percent of Americans are disgusted with Congress. I’ve yet to find any of those 13 percent who are not, because personally I’m pretty disgusted, as well.
The fact that we didn’t step up in a more major way in terms of addressing the debt and deficit, to put a real $4 trillion plan in place that would actually take on both entitlement reform and tax reform to generate revenues, I’ve yet to find anybody that doesn’t agree that we needed to do more and really have a broader approach than what we ended up passing in early August.
GOLDMAN: Well, the president, after Labor Day, he’s going to be giving a major address, laying out a new jobs proposal. Based on the 87 percent level of frustration, do you think that the American people should have high expectations for what the president’s going to come out with? Or do you think that he’s exhausted all the politically plausible measures right now that could give the economy the immediate boost that it needs?
WARNER: Well, I think there are still tools. I mean, we have to understand that, you know, traditional tools that any government uses in a recession - monetary policy, lowering interest rates, federal stimulus - we’ve used basically those bullets.
So one of the most important things we - at least I believe we could do is try to incent part of that $2.5 trillion that’s sitting in cash on corporate balance sheets to get off the sidelines, reinvesting. One way we could give business and consumers confidence is if we put a true deficit reduction plan that’s fair and balanced and get it passed, number one.
Number two, I think there are - the notion that we are going to disinvest in infrastructure - and I hear there are some members of the House who want to try to actually eliminate the gas tax. That would make no sense at all and kind of put a halt to any federal highway transportation funding.
So I’ve been working with Democrats and Republicans, Kay Bailey Hutchison, John Kerry, Lindsey Graham, on an infrastructure investment bank that could be a short-term tool to jump-start private infrastructure funding.
We’re looking, as well, at small incentives to try to get some of the outsourced jobs insourced back into this country, with something we call the America Recruits Act, that would add up to $5,000 on a forgivable loan for large manufacturing and technology investments back in this - in our country from jobs that have been shipped offshore.
You know, there’s ideas, for example, that I’ve found a tremendous response on that says, you know, we’ve got thousands of schools in our country that are energy inefficient. Why not take folks, particularly young people, 18 to 30 year olds, who’ve been on unemployment for more than 10 or 15 weeks and say, you know, we’re going to continue to give you unemployment, but you’ve got to go to work in these schools, basically reinsulating - or insulating these schools so they - these schools can become more energy efficient.
We’re paying these young folks anyway unemployment. Let’s give them a skill, put them to work. And because we can get a return on those energy efficiency investments in our schools, we can actually make that money back.
I hear a lot of interest, as well, on certain things, again, that don’t cost a lot of money in terms of innovation, patent reform, reform of the Food and Drug Administration to speed up the process in medical research and getting drugs - new drugs to market. Europe does it half the time.
My old industry in the wireless spectrum, trying to license off more of that will actually generate revenues for our country, as well as for more wireless innovation jobs, particularly in terms of broadband.
GOLDMAN: Right, but given - given the partisan climate right now, I mean, how - I’m sorry. But given the partisan climate right now, how optimistic are you that we’ll be able to get something that can provide the boost that’s needed right now?
WARNER: Well, you know, the - I wish I’d say that, you know, I’m extraordinarily optimistic, but, you know, the alternative becomes, you know, if we’re going to look at gridlock, candidly, the whole Congress ought to get fired, because the American people ought to expect us to do our job. And part of that is at least what we can do to try to help incent this kind of job creation.
GOLDMAN: Well, Senator, I -
WARNER: - there are a whole series of things that we could do that, frankly, you know, we do need folks - particularly in the House - to simply stop saying “no” and kind of roll up their sleeves and, you know, try to work together in a bipartisan way.
GOLDMAN: Well, Senator, Wells Fargo earlier this week, they said that Virginia’s among the list of states with the weakest economies. So how concerned are you about Hurricane Irene right now, that that could further give the economy a blow in the - in Virginia?
WARNER: Well, Virginia has actually got much lower unemployment than national averages. One of the reasons we’ve seen some of these assessments is because Virginia, both with our strong military presence and an enormous amount of government contracting in Northern Virginia, when, you know, the federal government becomes somewhat dysfunctional in terms of lack of political certainty, in terms of some of these programs, Virginia feels some of that hurt quicker than other states.
But we are starting to batten down the hatches, in terms of this hurricane, all up and down the East Coast. I talked to my daughter, who’s in college in South Carolina, today. She’s worried. I’ve got friends all across the East Coast that are concerned. But I’m anxious, and I’m happy to hear that FEMA and others are already deploying people into the field so we can be prepared for this.
We in Virginia, we actually had an earthquake earlier this week, so an earthquake at the beginning of the week and a hurricane at the end of the week, you know, it’s a little bit of a double-whammy.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, that’s right. Well, I want to switch gears now to the supercommittee that’s tasked with $1.5 trillion in debt reduction. You were a member of the Gang of Six. You weren’t chosen for the supercommittee. Alan Simpson, the head of the president’s deficit commission, said that if the Gang of Six was not well-represented, this supercommittee would be destined for failure. Is he right?
WARNER: I hope not. And, you know, I want the supercommittee to succeed. And the challenge is -
GOLDMAN: You hope not. Senator, you hope not, but do you think that that doesn’t bode well? Do you think that leadership then isn’t taking the supercommittee seriously?
WARNER: Well, listen, the fact is, even if the supercommittee knocks another $1.5 trillion off our debt, that’s still not going to be enough, unless we can also take on the issue of entitlement reform and tax reform to generate revenue, I don’t think we’re going to get there. So what I think I hope I can add - and I’ve talked to a lot of my colleagues in the Senate -
GOLDMAN: You’ve talked to members of the supercommittee?
WARNER: - build the case - I have talked to members of the supercommittee. I’ve talked to Democrats and Republicans alike. How we can continue to, you know, try to help the supercommittee, to urge them to, you know, go big, go bold, and show that there are members of both political parties who are willing to kind of check their Republican-Democrat hats and, you know, really make sure that we get this debt and deficit problem under control.
We’re not going to solve the problem overnight, but, you know, a 10-year plan to reduce $4 trillion in debt should not be the kind of ultimate heavy lift. You know, if we don’t step up and do that, then I don’t think we are doing our country a service.
GOLDMAN: Well, Senator, with less than 30 seconds to go, the president is going to be laying out how he would like to see more than $1.5 trillion in debt reduction. How critical is his leadership going to be in this next phase?
WARNER: Well, I’m glad to see the president - you know, he’s been supportive of a grand bargain. I think the more details he lays out, the better. You know, one of the things we had hoped with the Gang of Six, to let us take some of the early arrows from the extremes on both sides - you know, I don’t mind taking those arrows, because we’ve got to get past the kind of rhetoric on both sides and this idea that we can somehow wall off entitlements or wall off revenues. We can’t get there unless we’re willing to have everybody have some skin in the game.
GOLDMAN: Well, Senator, thank you very much for the time.
WARNER: Thank you.
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