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Sen. Bob Graham

Morning Edition: May 20, 2003

audio icon Listen to an extended version of the interview.

(Host BOB EDWARDS, noting that Graham is the ninth Democrat to enter the race, asks what makes him different from the other eight Democratic presidential hopefuls.)

Sen. BOB GRAHAM: First, I am one of two who had a background as the executive, in my case the fourth-largest state in the nation, a very complex state of Florida. Second, I have had national security background, 10 years on the [Senate] Intelligence Committee, the last two years as chair. I consider my voice to be a centrist moderate voice among the nine Democratic candidates. And I would finally point out that of the last three Democrats elected to the presidency, they came from Texas, Georgia, Arkansas, which says something about the electoral map that has to be put together in order to get 270 votes.

EDWARDS: And you're running nearly 10 percentage points behind the president in your home state. Doesn't that undercut the argument you're more electable because you're from Florida?

GRAHAM: Well, first that's closer than it was a month ago, when we were 12 points or more behind. Second, it's a long time from now until November of 2004, and the president, clearly as a result of the war and the afterglow of the war, is in a time of great attention and significant increase in his popularity.

EDWARDS: You've retained the option of seeking reelection to the Senate next year.

GRAHAM: I have said that I am running not to be running but I'm running to be president of the United States and therefore do not contemplate that that will be an option.

EDWARDS: But you haven't said you won't run for the Senate next year.

GRAHAM: I have said that I am not running for the Senate, I'm not running for any other office other than president of the United States.

EDWARDS: You say you support targeted tax cuts. Who would get these tax breaks if you were president?

GRAHAM: Today we're going to be voting on an amendment that I have offered to the president's tax plan and it would target the funds to those Americans and American institutions which were most likely to spend it. Today there's an article indicating that consumer spending fell in April and that this portends some further problems for the economy since it is consumer spending that has kept it to its current even though anemic levels. First, I would give relief from the first $10,000 of the payroll tax. That would put in the pocket of a two-earner family in America over $1,500 this year and $1,500-plus next year. Second, I would allow small businesses to accelerate depreciation so that they would have an incentive to buy now rather than defer. I would also give to the states $40 billion of relief. They are about to become another substantial contributor to our economic downturn as they face massive budget deficits and layoffs, and much of their problem is caused by actions in Washington. And finally, I would extend the unemployment benefits. Many people have been weeks and weeks without being able to find a job no matter how hard they search. Those are the people that if you continue their benefits are the most likely Americans to spend and contribute to demand.

EDWARDS: On that first item, would everyone get that break?

GRAHAM: Everyone would get the first $10,000 waived for the next two years.

EDWARDS: Regardless of income.

GRAHAM: Regardless of income. Everybody, every American who pays the payroll tax would get the benefit.

EDWARDS: Do the rich really need that?

GRAHAM: Bob, just the sheer complexity of attempting to means-test the payroll tax runs against my objective, which is to get this tax cut in place as rapidly as possible July 1 of this year. Also, the fact is the vast majority of this tax break will go to middle and lower income Americans because they are the vast majority of payroll taxpayers. This contrasts with the president's proposal to have as his centerpiece the elimination of taxation on corporate dividends, which would go overwhelmingly to the wealthiest of Americans.

EDWARDS: You're voting against that?

GRAHAM: I am voting against that. I think first, it is not a true economic stimulus, that it doesn't put the money where it will do the most good for the economy. Second, it's fundamentally unfair to have so much of the tax relief go to so few. And it is a 10-year tax plan rather than one, as mine, focused on the next two years, which in my opinion is the critical time in order to jumpstart the economy.

EDWARDS: What more should be done to improve homeland security?

GRAHAM: First, we ought to recognize that we have an offensive responsibility to take the war to the terrorists where they are. I believe that responsibility has waned in the last year as, for instance, military and intelligence resources were withdrawn from Afghanistan and Pakistan to be used in Iraq. Second, here at home we need to have a strong defense focused on those areas that are in the greatest vulnerability. For instance, I have been very concerned about America's 361 seaports as a point in which terrorist activities and terrorist materials could be brought into the country... I was the lead sponsor of legislation that was recently passed setting out some new cooperative arrangements between the federal government, state governments, port authorities, users of the port. Thus far, that legislation has not been adequately implemented. Nor has the president requested the level of federal funds that will be necessary to put those protections into place.

EDWARDS: You chaired the Senate panel that looked into intelligence failures related to the Sept. 11 attacks and you've criticized the Bush administration for keeping part of that report secret, but there must be legitimate security issues there.

GRAHAM: There are some legitimate security issues. But I believe many of the objections which the administration's making are not for security reasons but rather to disguise mistakes that were made prior to Sept. 11 and mistakes which continue today and therefore put the American people at unnecessary risk. As an example, a significant number of pages and sentences that the administration wants to keep in a classified status have already been released publicly, some of it by public statements of the leadership of the CIA and the FBI.

EDWARDS: What continues to be the problem in the intelligence area?

GRAHAM: First, getting this report released so the American people will have an opportunity to have the same front-row seat in evaluating how well our intelligence agencies functioned before Sept. 11 and what reforms have been in place since Sept. 11. I believe that some of the changes that we need to make are to strengthen the position of the director of the CIA. Under the law that established the CIA in 1948, that director was supposed to be the overall leader of the intelligence community in order to avoid some of the problems that we saw on Sept. 11 where one agency didn't communicate with another. We need to make a greater investment in human intelligence. During the Cold War, we got used to gathering information by listening to the Soviets, taking pictures of the Soviets, and we allowed our human intelligence -- spies -- to decline. Now, we need that capability because with terrorist groups like al Qaeda, you can't learn what you want to learn about their capabilities and their future plans by taking a picture of it, and they've learned not to use the telephone.

EDWARDS: You opposed the war in Iraq... said Iraq was only a minor threat to the United States but it has to be better for the Iraqi people to have Saddam Hussein gone.

GRAHAM: Certainly, it is. But the question in my mind was what is the greatest risk to the American people? And in my judgment the greatest risks are international terrorist groups like al Qaeda and Hezbollah and that the effect of the war in Iraq has been to take our attention off those priorities, allow, in the case of al Qaeda, for a regeneration, and we have just seen the consequence of that.

EDWARDS: Are you up for a presidential campaign? You had double bypass heart surgery and a valve replacement at the end of January.

GRAHAM: The doctors have given me a green light. They have said that my heart is significantly more efficient today than it was four months ago. And, yes, I am enthusiastic, energetic and anxious to take on this campaign and to be the next president of the United States.

EDWARDS: You're also 66 and if elected you'd be the oldest man to begin serving as president except for Ronald Reagan. Is age an issue?

GRAHAM: I don't think it's an issue. I am a young, healthy 66-year-old and feel I am perfectly capable of conducting the campaign and serving as president, and the American people will have a chance to observe, assess and finally vote on that ability to carry out the job in 2004.

EDWARDS: Are you still keeping your diary?

GRAHAM: I don't call it a diary. I call it a notebook and log. I keep lists of names of people that I have met, a list of things to do day by day as well as a log of how my time is consumed throughout the day, which helps me to remember if I have a phone call to return or have made a commitment to a constituent. It's a very important part of my personal discipline.

EDWARDS: Thanks a lot.

GRAHAM: Good. Thanks, Bob.


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