Senator Dick Durbin, the chamber’s second-ranking Democrat, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that Republicans will pay a price if they don’t support tax breaks they previously embraced that now are in President Barack Obama’s $447 billion jobs plan.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the show with the assistant majority leader, Senator Dick Durbin, who joins us in our studio.
Senator, thank you for being with us.
DICK DURBIN: Good to be here.
HUNT: Jobs report out, not great, better than expected, but still 9.1 percent. At the same time, it looks like the president’s jobs bill can’t even get through the Senate.
DURBIN: Well, I can say this. We’re glad we didn’t lose ground on the unemployment front, but clearly we have to do more. And that’s what the president’s been saying for weeks. Standing by the sidelines and saying, “Let it work itself out,” is not acceptable.
Now, as far as the Senate and the Democrats in the Senate, we will provide an overwhelming number of votes in support of the president’s jobs plan. We may come at it differently. We talked about the pay-fors this week. But the votes will be there if we can put together a bipartisan coalition. We still need 60 votes in the Senate.
HUNT: And the pay-for will be almost exclusively the billion - the so-called millionaire’s tax?
DURBIN: Yes, that’s right, a surcharge on those who make more than a million dollars in income of about 5 percent over the million dollars.
HUNT: We’ll get back to jobs in a minute, but does that mean the Democrats have now started to define middle class as a millionaire plus, that you’ve given up on the Bush tax cuts going to people over $250,000?
DURBIN: Not personally. But what we tried to do is to stake out a position which we think is entirely defensible across the political spectrum, and that is, the wealthiest among us, those who are the most comfortable, should sacrifice some, a small amount.
HUNT: Do you still think the Bush tax cuts for people making over $250,000 will end at the end of next year?
DURBIN: They’re scheduled to.
HUNT: And what do you think will happen?
DURBIN: Well, I’ve gone through this calculation to try to assume that they end, assume they don’t end, and the impact it’s going to have on our deficit. If we don’t bring an end to these Bush tax cuts, over $250,000, the deficit picture gets gloomier and gloomier for the next 10 years.
HUNT: But that’s in the president’s control, because they end unless he agrees to extend them.
DURBIN: And I think the president’s made it clear that-
HUNT: They will not be extended?
DURBIN: They won’t be extended.
HUNT: Let’s go back to jobs. What part - all right. You’re not going to get the whole thing through. There’s got to be some compromises. What parts do you think are most likely to pass the Congress in the next month?
DURBIN: Well, you look at the proposals on the positive side as opposed to the pay-for side. There’s hardly a one of them the Republicans have not voted for and endorsed - payroll tax for working families, tax cut, you know, that’s something that the Republicans - that’s their mantra. And then you take a look at cuts for businesses, small businesses to encourage them to hire people -
HUNT: So you think they’ll make it?
DURBIN: I think they will. And I don’t know if they’ll hold their ground and say, no, no, you can’t save the jobs of teachers and firefighters and policemen -
HUNT: That may be tougher.
DURBIN: It could be, I mean, because they, frankly, don’t have a great deal of sympathy, those - many of them are union members. But the bottom line is, most families back home don’t want to see, in Illinois, 14,000 teachers lose their jobs.
HUNT: Do you still suspect, Senator Durbin, there will be a jobs bill sent to President Obama before Congress goes out this year?
DURBIN: I hope there will be. And I’ll tell you, if the Republicans take the current position and hold it, that they’ll do nothing, I think they’ll pay a price for it.
HUNT: Let’s talk about a couple other issues before the Senate, the China - the penalties on China is going to pass, probably next Tuesday. The president’s not going to sign that. Aren’t you just going through the motions?
DURBIN: We’re going through an important motion, something we should have done a long time ago. This China currency situation has cost us a dramatic number of jobs. They have played it to a fare-thee-well, and it’s time for us to take a stand. And we are, on a bipartisan basis, in the Senate. I hope we can persuade the House. Speaker Boehner seems to be skeptical of the need for this, that if we are going to create manufacturing jobs in America, and to protect those jobs against this incursion from Chinese currency valuation, we’ve got to do something. Standing by the sidelines has cost us tens of thousands of good-paying jobs right here in America.
HUNT: Speaker Boehner is skeptical. Someone else who’s skeptical is named Barack Obama.
DURBIN: It’s true.
HUNT: The president’s not going to sign this.
DURBIN: Most presidents don’t want to be told by Congress this is the agenda we want you to follow.
HUNT: So you’re making a statement, but you’re probably not going to make law?
DURBIN: I wouldn’t give up on it. I really honestly believe the numbers we’re putting up on the board in the Senate indicate strong bipartisan support. Certainly, when Ben Bernanke comes out and says, I agree with you, the China currency crisis isn’t helping the American economy, you know, that to me says that we’re moving in the right direction.
HUNT: The president has nominated Mr. Cordray of Ohio for the consumer protection job. Republicans have said no to begin with. Do you think that nomination will be stalled? Or do you think he could be confirmed? Do you think he could be put in place in a recess appointment?
DURBIN: Look at the executive calendar in the Senate. It is loaded, 30 - almost 30 judges, federal nominees, I should say, for judgeships, unanimous votes in the Senate Judiciary Committee sitting there for month after weary month. Republicans won’t let us call them. And there’s no controversy associated with them.
So you take this issue, as to whether or not the consumers of America will have one agency trying to help them when it comes to consumer financial protection, I can understand. The Republicans hate it. They wish we hadn’t passed it. They want to stop it from coming into being.
When someone like Holly Petraeus, General Petraeus’ wife, sits down and talks about what these predatory lenders are doing to our men and women in uniform, it puts in sharp focus the responsibility of this agency. I think the Republicans ought to help us create this agency and ought to work with us so that consumers have at least the information they need to make an intelligent decision in this tough market.
HUNT: And do you think Mr. Cordray will be in that job this year?
DURBIN: I can’t say, if it depends on the Senate, that that will happen. But I’ll do everything I can to make it happen.
HUNT: Let me go back to fiscal matters. Very few people have been as involved as you in this whole deficit issue. You’ve come at it from a vantage point of a lifelong liberal. You also were on Simpson-Bowles and you have gone along with - because you said it’s important to do some really big deficit reduction.
The politics don’t look very good. Supercommittee doesn’t look like it’s going to think big, that you couldn’t get any kind of consensus. Is that too pessimistic?
DURBIN: It may be, and I hope it is an unrealistic or an inaccurate appraisal. I want them to succeed. They should succeed. They’re good people.
HUNT: Would you bet on it?
DURBIN: Well, I’d say they’ve got a tough assignment, just a few weeks to come up with a bipartisan agreement. But I believe - what I’m hoping is that people from my side of the political spectrum will believe that you don’t have to be wasteful to be liberal. You can really say that we want to insist that we cut back on wasteful expenditures. And there are so many of them at the government level.
And when it comes to these entitlement programs, we want some honesty. Sure, Social Security is strong for 25 years. What can we do to guarantee that’s 75 years? Medicare is critically important to America. What can we do to make sure that we bring in quality without sacrificing, you know, the cost element that we continue to face?
HUNT: I don’t want to turn you into a betting man, but Barack Obama looks like he faces pretty tough odds, and he talks about Harry Truman, but this isn’t 1948, he’s not Harry Truman. Is the president going to have a tough time with re-election?
DURBIN: Of course. You look at the economy and you say it’s an uphill battle. He said as much last week. But this president has decided to step up and take his case to the American people. Harry Truman got on a train to do that. Barack Obama is taking his flights around America to meet with people and talk about these issues-
HUNT: You think he can replicate that?
DURBIN: I think he can. I think the American people clearly want to see a direction for this country that is going to move our economy forward. If the choice is returning to the old Republican ways of President Bush that drove us into deeper deficits and higher unemployment, that isn’t good news, and it’s not a new idea.
HUNT: Senator, pretend for a moment that you’ve been downgraded and you were a journalist now. Bloomberg and Washington Post are having a debate with the Republican presidential candidates just about the economy next Tuesday. What would you ask?
DURBIN: I’d ask them a basic question this way. I listen to all of you describe what you think is the best way to move this economy forward, but it sounds like a movie we’ve already seen. You’re suggesting that we don’t want any - we want tax cuts for the wealthiest, we don’t want any new tax burden on them, and we basically want to say government should get out of the way. Didn’t we try that under the Bush administration? Didn’t it take a surplus under Clinton and double the national debt, drive our economy into recession, and create 750,000 people losing jobs the month that Barack Obama was sworn into office? Why should we repeat this movie when we already know the sad ending?
HUNT: Senator Durbin, I’ll let you get back to your day job. Thank you very much for being with us.
DURBIN: Thanks, Al.
HUNT: And when we come back, the president goes on the offensive about his jobs bill. Bloomberg reporters are next.
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