Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that he supports a package of entitlement-program trims and revenue increases to replace across-the-board spending cuts that are hurting federal programs and the military.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the program with Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Thank you for being with us, Senator.
LINDSEY GRAHAM: Thank you.
HUNT: Well, after a lot of drama, a continuing resolution is going back to the House. But that’s just delaying the big fight. There’s going to be a big fight either over the next continuing resolution or maybe over the debt ceiling.
HUNT: How do you think it’s going to be resolved in the next two or three weeks?
GRAHAM: Well, I think the first thing we ought to do is, what’s our goal as a nation here? What are we trying to accomplish here? We’re $17 trillion in debt. We should be trying to get out of debt. So before you raise the debt ceiling, I don’t think it’s unfair to try to structurally change what got you into debt.
Before you spend more money on the government, we need to think, OK, what’s the most important parts of the government? And can we save money? Yes.
So what I want to do before the November C.R. - there will be another one - I’m not going to sit on the sidelines anymore and watch the Defense Department and the intelligence community over time get gutted at a time we need them the most. I don’t mind cutting $1.2 trillion over a decade; I do mind destroying the Defense Department.
Do you know how much we’ll be spending on defense in terms of GDP in year 10 of the sequestration? 1.9 percent GDP will be spent on defense, the lowest in history, at a time when the world’s going nuts.
HUNT: Let’s talk about how we’re going to change that, but, first, I just want to understand, you think the fight eventually will be over the next C.R., not over the debt ceiling, or over both?
GRAHAM: Both. It’ll be over both.
HUNT: Both. Both
GRAHAM: There will be two fights, what to do about Obamacare.
GRAHAM: Republicans will be looking at - well, here’s one idea. My staff, if they go into the exchanges, will get a subsidy from the federal government that other people will not be able to get, so employers cannot give the employee a subsidy who goes into the exchange. So the members of the Capitol Hill staff, in my office, when they go into the exchanges, under the current construct, 75 percent of their costs will be subsidized by the federal government, their employers.
HUNT: But you’re going to make little changes in Obamacare. Would you delay them -
HUNT: - The individual mandate for you?
HUNT: Do you think that’ll pass the Senate?
GRAHAM: I think it - I think it - I think it has a chance. I think delaying the medical-device tax is hurting that part of the economy and has a chance.
HUNT: All right. All right. Therefore, you’re giving away revenue. How are you going to make up that revenue?
GRAHAM: Well, I think what we need to do - from my point of view - is just look at the budget and say, you know, what’s the most important things we spend money on? How can we save money? Let me give you an example. Do you make over $250,000 a year?
HUNT: My wife does.
GRAHAM: OK. So you married well.
HUNT: I did.
GRAHAM: She’s beautiful and she’s rich. Good for you, Al. This is the American dream. So you know how much she receives, will receive when she gets in retirement for Medicare premiums? $108 a month. Under the current system, if you make $250,000 a year in retirement, in retirement, you get $108 subsidy from the federal government to pay your Part B and Part D premiums -
HUNT: So you think you can change that? Now, we have entitlement reform as part of any debt ceiling -
GRAHAM: - Yeah
HUNT: You have praised the president for offering some entitlement reforms.
GRAHAM: CPI, absolutely. Well done, Mr. President.
HUNT: But what he said - what he said is it has to be part of a package.
GRAHAM: Yes, he’s right.
HUNT: It has to include revenue. Would you include additional revenues as part of this C.R., debt ceiling package?
GRAHAM: Here - yes. Here’s what I would do. I would look at three pots of money to replace sequestration, the defense part and non-NIH. You know, we’re making great breakthroughs on Alzheimer’s and cancer. Do you know what we’re doing to the NIH budget under sequestration? It’s just as bad as the Defense Department.
So let’s look at this. Tom Coburn’s got a lot of inefficient measures in the government. He’s got a pot of money that he thinks he can save up to $500 billion a year through making the government more efficient.
HUNT: All right, that’s one pile of money.
GRAHAM: OK, the other part of the money would be entitlement reform.
HUNT: Entitlement’s a second part.
GRAHAM: Do away with $108-a-month subsidy for people making -
HUNT: A lot of - a lot of -
GRAHAM: And the third is to look at the tax code.
HUNT: All right.
GRAHAM: Let’s look at the tax code and take some special deals for the few and plough it back in to making our military able to defend itself.
HUNT: How much could you raise revenue-wise in doing that, in closing - not increasing rates, but closing loopholes and -
GRAHAM: Well, let’s start slow, because you go to start somewhere. So in November, I’m going to try to find a way to replace - I’m going to ask the Defense Department, what do you need in this fiscal year to be ready for a war that may come? You know, Jim Inhofe, who’s a good friend of mine, said he could not support the Syrian operation because sequestration has made our Defense Department unable to go to the fight. If you really believe that, this is the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee said he couldn’t support a military operation in Syria not because it was a bad idea, it’s because we’re not ready because of cuts.
HUNT: So what you’ll do - if Lindsey Graham has his way - by November, you will have spending cuts, entitlement reforms, and more revenues to replace sequester.
GRAHAM: Yeah, we’ll have -
HUNT: And tell me the odds of that getting through the United States Senate and the House.
GRAHAM: Well, I think if we do it right, the odds are great, because a lot of people believe we’re gutting the Defense Department and the intelligence community, a lot of people believe we’re -
HUNT: That’s accepted, but some Republicans say no revenues no matter what.
GRAHAM: But some Democrats say no entitlement reform.
HUNT: That’s right. But the president -
GRAHAM: Do you know what America is saying? Please fix our country. So here’s what I think we ought to do. Ask the Defense Department, how much do you need in this fiscal year? There’s going to be cut $55 billion beginning in January. How much of that can you enact without gutting the military? But if you need $20 billion - let’s just pick a number - $20 billion needs to go back in the Defense Department, how could we find $20 billion over the next year?
HUNT: Let me turn, if I can, just a second to foreign policy with Iran. You have watched the new president this week at the UN. It’s a totally different tone at least than had been his predecessor. Do you think it’s real? Do you think they’re bluffing?
GRAHAM: I think the only way to determine - don’t assume they’re bluffing and don’t assume it’s real. We live in incredible, exciting opportunities and dangers. I’ve never seen an opportunity like it presents itself in Iran, and I’ve never seen a more dangerous scenario. So how about this? Before you sit down with the Iranians and talk about what they might do, get them to comply with the four UN resolutions that have been previously passed as a condition to talks. I’m going to have a resolution. I’m going -
HUNT: If they do that -
GRAHAM: Then let’s talk.
GRAHAM: And I would even be willing to relieve some of the sanctions if they did that.
HUNT: You would?
GRAHAM: Yeah, because here’s what the four resolutions say: stop enriching and open up your programs to inspections. If they were willing to do that, that’d be a huge break.
HUNT: He seemed to indicate he was willing to do that, but we don’t know yet.
GRAHAM: If he would comply with the four UN resolutions -
HUNT: You would - you would ease sanctions.
GRAHAM: - then they have completely changed who they are.
HUNT: More ominous news is in Syria, though. There are reports that the rebel groups increasingly are being dominated by radical Islamists, including al-Qaeda.
GRAHAM: And now they’re actually joining forces. If you were a Syrian fighting Assad, you don’t care where the help comes from anymore, because you feel abandoned by the West. Assad crossed the red line. Is he stronger or weaker? He’s far stronger. This agreement ensures that he will be around for at least a year.
HUNT: So does that give you pause about giving aid to the rebels?
GRAHAM: It makes me sick to my stomach that we’ve put the Free Syrian Army, who just wants life without Assad - they don’t want to be taken over by al-Qaeda - now they’re in a box, so they’re having to align themselves with people I can’t arm. So, yeah, I don’t know what I’m going to do. How can I send arms now that they’ve aligned themselves with al-Qaeda?
HUNT: Back domestically, your colleague, Ted Cruz, after a futile semi-filibuster to kill Obamacare, he said most of his Republican colleagues are defeatists and they’re scared of this fight. Are you scared, Senator?
GRAHAM: Well, I think the one thing I can say about Ted, he’s got passion, and that’s good. And he talked about Obamacare. His strategy of shutting down the government and making the president bend to his will probably wouldn’t work. I know it wouldn’t work.
So to Ted, work with me to try to find a way to strengthen the Defense Department, put money back into the NIH budget, cut the government, but do it smarter? Challenge yourself. Challenge your colleagues to do things they don’t feel comfortable with. A lot of our guys don’t feel comfortable closing loopholes. A lot of Democrats don’t feel comfortable reforming entitlements.
But here’s my question to my colleagues. Are you comfortable with putting the men and women in the military at risk by taking away their ability to train and fight, taking off the table weapons they will need in future wars to make sure we win and they lose, making pilots more at risk? Are you comfortable with that? If you’re not comfortable with it, then make yourself uncomfortable for a greater good.
HUNT: Lindsey Graham, thank you so much for being with us.
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