GOP Sen. Gregg Backs Debt Panel Proposal
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
As we heard, just two of the lawmakers on that commission have come out in support of today's revised report. And earlier today, I spoke with one of them: Republican Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire. And I began by asking, if the members of Congress on the commission itself can't agree, is it safe to assume that a plan of this scope is a non-starter for Congress?
Senator JUDD GREGG (Republican, New Hampshire): No, it's not, and there are a couple of reasons why. First off, this plan has gotten fairly good support, and as a very practical matter, it is a very substantive and thoughtful plan. I don't agree with all of it - a fair amount of it that I don't agree with. But on balance, it's something we need to do because if we don't do something, basically, this country is going off the rails, and we're going to pass on to our kids a country which is significantly less prosperous and thus less secure and where they will have a lower standard of living.
SIEGEL: When you say going off the rails, literally, what do you think are the consequences of not addressing the deficit?
Sen. GREGG: Well, basically, we're not that far from the Irish and the Greek situation other than the fact that we're a much larger economy. But our debt-to-GDP ratio is closing in on their situation. And you get to a point where you cannot sustain your interest payments. And the world looks at you and it says: Hold it. Do we still want to buy your debt?
And you've got to remember, 40 cents of every dollar that we spend in the federal government level is borrowed - mostly from China, by the way - but is borrowed.
And the simple fact is that when the herd moves against you, as Dave Cote said today, when the herd moves against you and fear takes over the market, it's an explosive event you can't control. So if you're going to avoid that, you're going to have to make some tough decisions. And this proposal begins the process.
And in fact, even though this proposal has a lot of very difficult decisions in it, it doesn't solve the problem. It just stabilizes your debt situation at about 60 percent, 70 percent of GDP, which is still a very high level and not historically where we've been.
SIEGEL: We should just say Mr. Cote is a fellow commissioner, one of the corporate executives who serves on the Bowles-Simpson commission.
Sen. GREGG: Yes. He was a presidential appointee. President Obama appointed him.
SIEGEL: How would you describe the political tone of the commission? That is, was there a sense the Democrats and Republicans are going to have to give up a great deal here, things that each side wants, in order to achieve a necessary deficit reduction plan? Or are people still positioning themselves to what's likely to be a very tough season coming up in the Hill?
Sen. GREGG: Well, the time for positioning is over. It's time to govern. I mean, you cannot have an interest cost closing in on a trillion dollars a year, which is where it will be about seven years from now, and not recognize that you're coming up on something that's really going to cause acute problems for us.
So the time to govern is now. You can do it - it's like that old oil filter ad. You can pay me now, or you can pay me later. We can do it now and not have it be as painful and have it be orderly, or later in the middle of a crisis when it will be extraordinarily painful and very disorderly.
SIEGEL: Senator Gregg, I just want to ask you about the letter that you and all the Republicans in the Senate signed today, the letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid, saying: We write to inform you that we will not agree to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to any legislative item until the Senate has acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase that is currently awaiting all American taxpayers.
In effect, you're saying, nothing happens until you extend the Bush tax cuts. Something sounds - it sounds more like a we're putting a gun to your head, rather than we're here to cooperate together in the lame-duck session.
Sen. GREGG: That would be an NPR take on something like that. But as a very practical matter, it's just the opposite. Simple fact is that the Democratic leader continues to bring forward miscellaneous legislation in a lame-duck, which is an inappropriate way to bring it forward, and then fill the tree so the minority has no right to amend. That's wrong.
The purpose of this lame-duck session should be two things: take care of the government and don't do something that's going to cause the economy to slow down further, which would be raising taxes. If we can get those two things under control, we will basically have done what our primary responsibility is in a lame-duck session. If we want to take up other issues, they should wait until those two issues are addressed, and that was the purpose of the letter.
SIEGEL: Just to clarify: Does any legislative item include or not include the START treaty?
Sen. GREGG: I think the START treaty is going to take a few weeks, and thus it's a good idea to get the CR and the tax issue out of the way so that we can move on to the START treaty, which I would like to see taken up. But it does not take priority over operating the government and making sure we don't stifle this economic - very tepid economic recovery with a tax increase.
SIEGEL: Senator Gregg, thank you very much for talking with us.
Sen. GREGG: Thank you.
SIEGEL: Senator Judd Gregg, a Republican of New Hampshire.
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