U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a House Republican leader from Washington state, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that her party will wait for the Senate to act before proposing alternatives to the automatic spending cuts that begin taking effect today.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the show with Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chairman of the House Republican Conference. Thank you so much for being with us, congresswoman.
CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS: Thank you.
HUNT: The president, Speaker Boehner, and others met at the White House on Friday morning, not very much came out of it, rather predictable reactions. The president said the sequestration, which took effect on Friday, is dumb and arbitrary. Is it? And how long will it last?
MCMORRIS RODGERS: Well, I would add it’s -- it was -- it’s also avoidable. We are talking about across-the-board cuts that were agreed to a year-and-a-half ago in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, although it was never going to happen, but this was the president’s idea as the kicker so that we would come up with an agreement, which we failed to do, and so now sequestration takes effect.
HUNT: So -- so how do we avoid it? And when will -- when will we avoid it?
MCMORRIS RODGERS: We avoid it by coming up with a plan to replace these cuts, $85 billion out of a -- nearly a $4 trillion budget -
HUNT: What’s your plan?
MCMORRIS RODGERS: We’ve -- the Republicans in the House have twice passed a plan to replace the cuts.
HUNT: Wait a minute. You replaced -- you did it in the last Congress.
HUNT: What are you doing in this Congress? And also, let me just go to that plan. That plan didn’t touch Medicare or Social Security, which you Republicans tell me is the greatest driver of chronic deficits. That’s not a serious plan.
MCMORRIS RODGERS: Well, it -- it was a plan that we put on the table. These -- and the difference is that we do look at the entire federal budget, whereas the across-the-board cuts only impact discretionary, and they disproportionately affect our military.
HUNT: You don’t think you ought to do entitlements?
MCMORRIS RODGERS: Oh, we -- we believe we, we need to -- to take action to save Medicare, save Social Security -
HUNT: But shouldn’t that be part of this -- any replacement for sequestration?
MCMORRIS RODGERS: Well, sequestration is focusing on the discretionary part of the budget. Absolutely, that needs to be a part of it.
HUNT: But when are you going to put -- when are you going to put forward something on Medicare and Social Security? That’s the tough stuff.
MCMORRIS RODGERS: We have. The Republican -- yes, look at the Ryan budget.
HUNT: For 10 years, it doesn’t touch it.
MCMORRIS RODGERS: The last -- the last two years, we’ve put forward the Ryan budget, which, which does at least take some steps to putting Medicare -
HUNT: Way down the road, though. What I’m saying is, to replace sequestration -- which has to start cutting right now -- when are you going to put something that cuts Medicare and Social Security, if that’s the chronic driver of debt?
MCMORRIS RODGERS: Well, we, we came up with smarter reforms, smarter cuts than these -- the president’s across-the-board sequester that disproportionately impacts the military. And we came up with our first plan over 300 days ago, 300 days ago, because we knew this day was coming. It could have been avoided, and we’re still waiting for the president, we’re still waiting for the Democrats.
HUNT: This is the White House, this is their plan. Now you may not like it, but it’s there. It’s got real cuts in entitlements. It’s got real cuts. It’s got tax increases. It affects Social Security.
MCMORRIS RODGERS: Nothing has passed the Senate.
HUNT: No, but that’s their plan.
MCMORRIS RODGERS: The, the president needs to, he needs to make -- he’s been traveling, doing his campaigning. He needs to come up here to Capitol Hill. He’s traveled over 5,000 miles.
HUNT: But tell me where I’m wrong. Tell me where I’m wrong. The president has a plan, right here. You all in the House, in this Congress, haven’t introduced a thing.
MCMORRIS RODGERS: We have. We put a plan on the table. The president needs to get -- urge the Senate Democrats to take action. He needs to come up here.
HUNT: I’m missing -- when was your plan put on the table?
MCMORRIS RODGERS: We put a plan on the table over 300 days ago.
HUNT: But in this Congress, do you have anything to replace sequester in this Congress?
MCMORRIS RODGERS: Why should the House have to pass a third plan before the Senate puts any kind of a proposal on the table? You know, it’s pretty basic to the legislative process that the House passes a proposal and the Senate passes a proposal. And for all of the people who criticize Congress for waiting for the last minute, it was the Republicans who over 300 days ago knew this day would, we knew this day was coming for a year-and-a-half. It could have been avoided. We didn’t have to wait for the last minute. And yet the president has been -- he’s been around the country, campaigning.
HUNT: So your answer is that you’re not going to put forth a plan in this Congress until the Senate does something? The House is not going to put forth a plan in this Congress?
MCMORRIS RODGERS: You know, we’ve been waiting for the Senate to act. The Senate -
HUNT: So nothing until the Senate does something, right?
MCMORRIS RODGERS: We, we do want to see a plan from the Senate, yes.
HUNT: You talked about discretionary spending, and we talked about entitlements. Entitlements are the driver, Medicare, Social Security, of the, of the deficits. Discretionary spending is going to the lowest level since the Eisenhower administration. The White House put out this stuff. I assume it’s correct. In your state, for instance, the sequester would cut $11.5 million for kids with disabilities. That’s an issue that you care passionately about.
MCMORRIS RODGERS: Yes, it is.
HUNT: Are those the kind of cuts we ought to be making, rather than entitlements?
MCMORRIS RODGERS: I do not like these cuts. I believe there are smarter ways to reduce spending in the federal government, smarter ways to come up with the reforms. This sequester, this was the president’s idea back when we were debating raising the debt ceiling, these across-the-board cuts that unfortunately do mean that people are losing jobs and we’re losing important support for programs that we all support.
We don’t want to see these programs cut. We don’t want to see people losing their jobs. And it could have been avoided if we were doing our job, if we were up here actually putting together the replacement plans, $85 billion out of a nearly $4 trillion budget.
HUNT: With no, with no -- with no taxes? But no taxes?
MCMORRIS RODGERS: We can -- we can come up -- you know, the president has yet to put actual spending cuts on the table.
HUNT: Well, there’s specifics right there. I mean, you may not like them. They could be bad specifics, but they’re specifics.
MCMORRIS RODGERS: The -- the president, he, he continues to say we need to raise taxes.
MCMORRIS RODGERS: - Americans, middle-class Americans that are seeing less of their paycheck, take-home paycheck every year. This is, this is, you know, the federal government -- everyone knows there’s waste in the federal government, $2.2 billion on a free cellphone program, just in 2013.
You know, and President Obama has spent $50 million promoting Obamacare, his health-care program. He hired a public relations firm. You know, everyone, we know that there are smarter ways to spend money in the federal government. We don’t have to have the sequester, and we don’t have to have this kind of job loss.
HUNT: But that solid wall of Republican opposition to tax increases seems to be cracking. Scott Rigell, your colleague from Virginia, said he would accept higher taxes to stave off big defense cuts. Peter King of New York says you got to have revenue in any deal. Lindsey Graham, on the other side, says $600 billion of tax increases for serious entitlement reform. Are you willing to talk to those members and start that kind of a deal-making?
MCMORRIS RODGERS: Republicans are, are -- we want to be a part of the solution. In Washington, D.C., though, we have a spending problem. The federal government has a spending problem. We made a promise. We made an agreement. It was a compromise a year-and-a-half ago, and part of the deal was that we were going to cut $85 billion out of the federal government. You know what? And we never seem to get to the place where we actually want to move forward on the cuts.
When we, when we agree to raise taxes or raise revenue, that takes effect immediately. But in the history of this country, the cuts never seem to happen.
The Republicans believe it is very important, and it’s part of getting our economy growing again, is to get our budget more in balance, is to start getting the federal government living within its means. The fact that we have a record debt and that we’ve had trillion-dollar deficits every year since President Obama’s been in office is a drag on our economy. It makes it hard for families, for businesses to make decisions.
HUNT: Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the highest ranking woman in Republican leadership in Congress, thank you so much for being with us.
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