Clyburn Hopeful In Super 12's Debt Reduction Power

House Minority Assistant Leader James Clyburn (D-SC) heads into a meeting with House Democrats and Vice President Joe Biden at the U.S. Capitol August 1, 2011 in Washington, DC. i i

House Minority Assistant Leader James Clyburn (D-SC) heads into a meeting with House Democrats and Vice President Joe Biden at the U.S. Capitol August 1, 2011 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
House Minority Assistant Leader James Clyburn (D-SC) heads into a meeting with House Democrats and Vice President Joe Biden at the U.S. Capitol August 1, 2011 in Washington, DC.

House Minority Assistant Leader James Clyburn (D-SC) heads into a meeting with House Democrats and Vice President Joe Biden at the U.S. Capitol August 1, 2011 in Washington, DC.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The 12 members of the super committee are responsible for finding $1.5 trillion in savings over the coming decade. Guest host Tony Cox speaks with one of the members, Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), about the committee's ability to address debt reduction. Clyburn, also a member of the Democratic leadership, says everything is on the table.

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TONY COX, host: This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Tony Cox sitting in for Michel Martin. In a moment, the World Wide Web - and we do mean world - we'll discuss how other nations plug into the Internet. That's just ahead.

But we begin with the 12-member debt reduction Supercommittee that is charged with finding $1.5 trillion in savings over the coming decade. The bipartisan panel has until November to propose the savings. If they cannot agree on a plan or the full Congress fails to approve the one that they do reach, then automatic spending cuts occur, affecting numerous federal programs.

Here with us is one of the Congressmen charged with this tall task. He is a distinguished member of the Democratic leadership, Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina.

Congressman, welcome to the show.

Representative JAMES CLYBURN: Well, thank you so much for having me.

COX: Before we get into the specifics, Congressman, let me ask you this. There are committee assignments and then there are committee assignments. How did you feel about being selected for this committee? Is it something that you would want? I'm thinking now about the experience of the Gang of Six, for example.

CLYBURN: Thank you for having me, but you know, committees are where most of the work gets done in the Congress and ever since I've been a part of leadership, first as Majority Whip, now as Assistant Democratic Leader, I have not served on the regular committee structure.

I was on the Biden committee working on this issue of the deficits and, of course, you've got to hope that, if something is going to happen, that you can have some impact on it and, of course, that's why we all run for these offices in the first place.

And although I did not campaign for this appointment, I'm very proud of it and I'm pleased that the leader had the faith and confidence in me to appoint me and I'm going to try to do my very best in order to make the country proud, first of all, and hopefully my colleagues in the Congress, as well.

COX: I don't have to tell you, Congressman Clyburn, that the big question facing this committee that the country wants to know is how can a bipartisan committee of 12 do what Congress has been unable to do? And not only that, you have to do it in a short window, by Thanksgiving.

CLYBURN: Well, we won't be starting new. For instance, two of the three House members, Chris Van Hollen and myself, were on the Biden Committee. We had 10 meetings, average about two hours per meeting, and all kinds of meetings in between among ourselves and so we feel that we've been working on this for a long time.

Then the third member, Congressman Becerra, was on the Bowles-Simpson committee and so he's been working on this for a long time. And on the other side of the Capitol, Senator Kyl was on the Biden committee and Senator Baucus on the Biden committee. So you've got right there five people who have had a whole lot of hours on this issue since we've been back in session.

COX: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. From the Democratic point of view, are those items on the table for compromise?

CLYBURN: Everything is on the table and I don't think anybody ought to be drawing lines in the sand and I hope that those members on the Republican side that signed this pledge will remember, irrespective of what pledge you may have signed for some operative out there, you put your hands on the Bible and you raised your right hand and you swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States and to do what's in the best interests of the country.

And so I would hope that any one person carrying a pledge around in his or her pocket would not be able to get you to compromise your feelings about what's best for the country. So I'm hopeful that these 12 people will come up with something that can be presented to the Congress and the majority of the Congress will find favor with and hopefully the President will sign.

That's all you can do in this business. I tell people all the time, I am a real South Carolinian. I live by our state's motto, which is, "As I breathe, I hope."

COX: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Tony Cox and we're discussing Congress' new debt reduction supercommittee with Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina. He is a member of the supercommittee and a leader in the Democratic party.

I'm sure you are aware that, at the GOP presidential debate last week, all of the candidates were asked if they would support putting taxes up for compromise, even if the balance or the ratio was 10 to one in terms of cuts versus raising revenue and taxes.

Every one of the candidates said they would oppose it - would suggest, does it not, that the issue of taxes is one that remains intransigent as far as the GOP is concerned, perhaps even on your committee?

CLYBURN: Well, it would suggest that, and the fact that all six Republicans on this committee signed this so-called Grover Norquist pledge. It would suggest that, but you know, former Senator Alan Simpson, I think, said it best. No one person ought to be able to hold the economy of the United States, the full faith and credit of the United States and the welfare of the American people in his or her vest pocket.

And that's what this pledge does and I would hope that there would be sufficient outcry from the public. Already, I think, this morning, I read an op-ed piece that penned about Warren Buffett, who's saying, we've got to stop coddling the super rich. That is what is going on here.

COX: Well, let me ask you one final question, Congressman, and we appreciate the time that you have given us. One of the things that was part of the fallout from the debt reduction bill was that Democrats, particularly on the left, were accused of caving and they also accused President Obama of caving in to the Republicans and their demands.

How much of that fallout and that backlash will have an impact on your ability to compromise and get something done in this supercommittee?

CLYBURN: Well, let's remember, it was Democrats that passed the health care law, the Affordable Care Act that provided access to health care for all Americans. In that law, we did a $500 billion cut to Medicare, but it was not a cut that took stuff out of Medicare. We put the money back into Medicare and extended the life of Medicare by a full 10 years.

So I don't call that caving. I call that carving out a future for the seniors of this country and we are in this mode of doing that further. I want to see us extend the life of Social Security by about 75 years and about 45 or 50 years extension on the life of Medicare and I believe we can get there if we get realistic about what is a tax increase and what is a loophole closer.

COX: Congressman James Clyburn is a Democrat from South Carolina and a member of the party's leadership. He joined us on the line from his office in South Carolina.

Congressman, thank you again so much for giving us some time today.

CLYBURN: Well, thank you so much for having me, Tony.

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