Republican Pete Sessions of Texas, the incoming House Rules Committee chairman, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that lawmakers in his party would be willing to accept an increase in tax rates for top earners if Democrats make significant reductions in entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the show with the incoming chairman of the House Rules Committee, Pete Sessions of Texas. Mr. Chairman, I can call you that now, thank you for being with us. Let me just certify something, that you think that the fiscal cliff crisis is being caused primarily by the White House. They think it’s being caused primarily by you, so we’ll certify that. But let me just ask you now, what are the probabilities that we’ll have some kind of an accord before Jan. 1?
REPRESENTATIVE PETE SESSIONS: We’ve got to do it to avoid the loss of some 700,000 jobs, and Republicans are ready today to deal.
HUNT: Do you - do you have an offer on the table?
SESSIONS: We do have an offer on the table.
HUNT: On entitlements?
SESSIONS: We have an offer on the table, and what we’re asking the president to do is to match his offer with our offer, and let’s - let’s work a deal together.
HUNT: How big is your entitlement package?
SESSIONS: Well, the entitlement is very interesting. If we look at what lies ahead for this country, the insolvency of these programs is what’s at risk. We’ve got to make changes now. Now’s the time.
HUNT: But are you proposing things like raising the retirement age, like changing the COLA, like means testing? Is that specifically on the table as a proposal?
SESSIONS: If that is what it takes as the two parties agreeing in Washington, D.C., for the solvency of the problem for the long, yes we are.
HUNT: OK. If they agree on that, would you then say, even though I don’t like it - because they don’t like that - would you agree and say, I’ll swallow my reservations about tax rates? We’ll go to 39.6.
SESSIONS: Well, here’s - here’s what we’re after, and we’ve had this history in dealing with the president. We had a big issue with him on Social Security the last couple years and on debt limit. We’ve got to do something about the solvency of this country, and we have to worry about jobs. And that’s why Republicans are saying no right now. Because the loss of 700,000 American jobs --
HUNT: But this is a trade-off. You’re not going to get everything you want. There was an election. You know that. If they do what you want largely on entitlements, will you go along with them on the tax rates?
SESSIONS: If it’s a good deal, yes. If it does something long term that betters the circumstances -
HUNT: So if they get - if they go entitlements, you think it’s a good deal on that, you would not - you wouldn’t like it, but you’d go along with tax rates?
SESSIONS: I think John Boehner, who is as the speaker the lead and the sole negotiator on behalf of us, is looking for a way to avoid going off the cliff for this country and the marketplace.
HUNT: So I’m not over-reading this by saying that if they - they have to deliver, but if they do, you guys may swallow your reservations.
SESSIONS: It takes both sides.
SESSIONS: The president would have to do equally as we do.
HUNT: I am told that a lot of your members are petrified of Grover Norquist, that if they voted a deal that Grover Norquist would primary them, and most - and a lot of House Republicans know they can win general elections but they’re petrified they’d be primaried if they voted for any kind of a deal.
SESSIONS: Well, that would be like me saying I’m for a deal now if we make a deal. Let’s see what it is. We are not petrified. Grover Norquist stands on the side of what many of us believe, and that is the free-enterprise system and job growth, job creation. And that’s where we ought to be. If this deal happens, we get along with that same message. And that is saving American jobs and doing something about long-term solvency.
HUNT: Well, let me ask you this. Can you get this done by Jan. 1? Because boy, the clock is ticking.
SESSIONS: Good question. And that’s where Republicans also have a reservation. The deal that is done, the American people need to understand it. We’re not going to do something in the dark, late at night where no one knows what the practical effect and outcome is. If we do that, we do get primaried.
HUNT: So what it has to really be is kind of memorandums of understanding with enforcement mechanisms and all that. Because you can’t obviously overhaul entitlements and the tax code in a matter of 12 days.
SESSIONS: We can come to a specific agreement. You’re right. We ought to know what the outcome would be.
HUNT: Right. So what you’re saying is now you’re coming to something that gets you past the fiscal cliff with some - some enforcement mechanism to do it next year.
SESSIONS: That’s the way I see it.
HUNT: OK. How about the debt ceiling? The White House says the debt ceiling’s got to be taken off the table.
SESSIONS: Well, the debt ceiling, it would be imprudent for us to say that the president of the United States can - can raise debt and do what he chooses to do. This is a constitutional government. This is not a monarchy or a dictatorship. I’m not suggesting that we should ever cave in, but we need to come to an agreement ahead of time and get away from these deadlines. The president needs to know that we’re willing to negotiate on that item, as well as the CR that will happen at the end of March.
HUNT: You’re suggesting that the - that the debt ceiling won’t be part of that package.
SESSIONS: I’m suggesting I do not believe it will or necessarily would be.
HUNT: OK. All right. Is that a flat no?
SESSIONS: What - what you’ve heard me say is it takes two sides to accept offers. And I think we’re far enough apart where we got to get close enough on some middle ground. And finding mid ground does not necessarily get to a CR or the long-term debt.
HUNT: There was an election. You did very well in Texas, but the Democrats did well in most of the country. They won the presidency by a - by a fairly decent margin. They did great in the Senate. And that - the issue of tax cuts for the wealthy was debated, and the Republican Party, consultants and everyone, says that one of your problems is you were viewed too much as the party of privilege. You’re viewed too much as the party of the rich and not enough the party of the middle class. So the first fight is over protecting tax cuts for the rich. Isn’t that a political miscalculation of epic proportions?
SESSIONS: One could say that, but if somebody doesn’t stand up for knowing where we’re headed and saying we’re not going to go that direction, the loss of 700,000 jobs, the president put that on the table as the starting salvo for the Democrat Party. On the floor two days ago, Speaker Pelosi and every Democrat came down and said, we are for this. Well, there has to be a deal that’s cut where we include jobs in our future. So Republicans lost eight seats by less than 18,000 total votes of those eight seats. No, I think the debate’s still alive and well in America.
HUNT: Mr. Chairman, just so I’m not misinterpreting, my sense of what you’re saying is that you think it is possible and essential to come to some kind of a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff by Jan. 1 that does some things but sets in motion with some kind of mechanism a procedure where you really deal with the big issues next year.
SESSIONS: Must do it. And --
HUNT: But is that a correct interpretation?
SESSIONS: It would be. I believe that two sides can come together and negotiate in the best interest. But as the president says, this is a mostly political deal now. It certainly is for them. And what is - what we’re on the side of is not losing 700,000 jobs. Absent that, we’re for the deals.
HUNT: Let me ask you one more question. You, like me, are the - are the parent of a child with disabilities. Were - and you’ve been supportive of disabilities rights. Were you shocked when Republicans in the Senate last week after Bob Dole, the former leader, came in a wheelchair to - to request approval for the United Nations resolution on people with disabilities, that the Senate rejected that?
SESSIONS: Another issue was attached to that also. And that was people who are not just disabled, but children. And when you added in children, not just disabled, that’s where Senate Republicans had a problem with the UN resolution.
HUNT: But that was - that was a canard, and you know -you know -
SESSIONS: It can - it can be as shrill as you want to be.
HUNT: - wouldn’t you like - wouldn’t you like them to see them pass that resolution?
SESSIONS: You know what I’d like? I’d like it if we came to an understanding in this country that disabled people deserve a right to have jobs and the help from people to be able to do that. They’re the first to lose their jobs.
HUNT: And you’ve been very forceful in that, I know. All I’m saying is that wouldn’t be better to have an international - to sign an international treaty because we’re better than most other countries on that issue?
SESSIONS: I’d like to say we are, and that’s why we have laws that we do that protect children that are underage and disabled people.
HUNT: Would you have voted for that treaty?
SESSIONS: I didn’t study it enough to vote for it. I am a proud member of the United States House of Representatives and will be pleased to take these same ideas forward and sell them in the House.
HUNT: Chairman Sessions, thank you so much for being here. It’s going to be a fascinating time ahead.
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