Senators Interpret Obama's Challenge During his State of the Union address, President Obama spoke about the issues facing Congress as it grapples with health care legislation and more. He challenged both Democrats and Republicans to usher in an era of bipartisanship. For more, guest host Audie Cornish speaks with Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota.

Senators Interpret Obama's Challenge

Senators Interpret Obama's Challenge

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During his State of the Union address, President Obama spoke about the issues facing Congress as it grapples with health care legislation and more. He challenged both Democrats and Republicans to usher in an era of bipartisanship. For more, guest host Audie Cornish speaks with Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota.


Before meeting with House Republicans this week, President Obama made a few overtures to the GOP in the State of the Union address. Mr. Obama said he will appoint a bipartisan commission tasked with tackling the nation's deficit. It's modeled on a bill cosponsored by New Hampshire's Republican Senator Judd Gregg. And Senator Gregg joins us now from the Capitol. Senator, welcome.

Senator JUDD GREGG (Republican, New Hampshire): Thank you, Audie. Great to be here.

CORNISH: Now, the Senate defeated your proposal this week. Do you think the president's commission will add the same oversight?

Sen. GREGG: Well, you know, obviously you can discuss the issues and you can have a report. There's been a lot of commissions over the years that have done this. I've served on two of them. Unfortunately, in both instances, there was no follow-up. Because when you put policy on the table, which effects virtually every American you end up with a lot of people attacking that policy right out of the gate. People on the right attack it or people on the left attack it -make it virtually impossible to move the policy forward.

CORNISH: Now, the president held up this commission as an effort of bipartisanship. But in his address, he also admonished Republicans for being obstructionist. Senator Gregg, what's your response to that?

Sen. GREGG: You've got to say no when they're wrong. When they're right, you join with them. This health care bill was not balanced and bipartisan. We weren't even allowed in the room when they were negotiating it and then they brought it to the floor and forced to vote in 72 hours on Christmas Eve. To do it in that matter was totally irresponsible and was extraordinarily partisan on their part.

CORNISH: So, what's the sense among your colleagues now for the fate of those kinds of proposals, like health care, like climate change, or for that matter, like financial industry reforms?

Sen. GREGG: Well, you've named three issues. Let's take them one at a time. I think we'll get a balanced package on financial reform out of the Senate and it will be bipartisan. On the issue of health care, there were 20 of us - 10 Republicans, 10 Democrats - who cosponsored a major reform program called the Wyden-Bennett Bill. I mean, that's a good starting place if you want to do something in a bipartisan way.

On the issue of climate, we've got proposals in this area but it's a very fluid situation. I dont know where it's going to end up.

CORNISH: And lastly, Senator Gregg, I want to ask you about this idea of people being disillusioned with both parties or losing faith in both parties in the face of these battles over all of these issues.

Sen. GREGG: There is a legitimate concern out there by the American people right now, and they have a right to be concerned. There is this ingrained spirit of America which says that we always give to our kids a better, stronger and more prosperous nation and people are worried that we're not going to do that. And the reason we're not doing it is because of the Congress. The Congress refuses to stand up and take the tough decisions it has to take on the issues of spending specifically.

And remember, this is primarily a spending driven event, and we need to control the rate of growth of this government so that our children get a nation that they can prosper in.

CORNISH: Judd Gregg, Republican senator from New Hampshire. Thank you for joining us.

Sen. GREGG: Thanks for your time.

CORNISH: And we head across the aisle now to Senator Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota. Senator Dorgan, welcome.

Senator BYRON DORGAN (Democrat, North Dakota): Thank you very much.

CORNISH: Now, we actually just spoke to Senator Judd Gregg, and he was criticizing Senate Democrats for what he says is a partisan attempt to push through a health care bill. Now, after all the energy expended on health care, is there still a will among your colleagues, among Democrats to continue with it?

Sen. DORGAN: Well, there's more criticism than there is health care legislation actually. We are spending more than anyone else in the world, by far, and we have close to 40-plus million people who don't have health care coverage. So, we need to address health care.

And with respect to my colleague, Judd Gregg - I certainly respect him - but we need some cooperation and some help to get the best of the ideas that both parties have to offer instead of the worst of each. I just wish we'd get a little help, find the right solution and move forward and try to solve these problems.

CORNISH: The White House is also renewing its focus on job creation. And you're the one who's taking the lead in crafting the new jobs package. I think it's supposed to be worth up to $80 billion. Can you talk about how it'd work?

Sen. DORGAN: Well, at this point we are working through our caucus to evaluate what are the things that we could do to best stimulate new jobs, get small- and medium-size businesses to create new jobs and put people back on payrolls. One idea that the president has talked about, and I've talked about and others, is a wage tax credit. Provide wage tax credits for small- to medium-size businesses that hire new people and are ready to expand. It'll give them that extra incentive to put people back on payrolls.

And so that's one of the items that I think will be in a proposed jobs package. There are many others, of course, as well.

CORNISH: So many Americans are saying that they are disillusioned with the bickering and presumed lack of action in Congress. And you've announced that you will not be seeking reelection. So, can you talk about - you know, be frank - about what Americans can actually expect in the way of bipartisanship.

Sen. DORGAN: Well, they should expect, and they deserve, much, much more than we've seen. I mean, the fact is there's been precious little bipartisanship these days and I regret that. I mean, that's not why I'm leaving the Congress at the end of this year. I've served here 30 years. I personally think, you know, Id sooner leave when people wonder why I'm leaving so early than why I stayed so late.

But, you know, the American people deserve a political system that is not necessarily free of controversy because I think the noise of democracy is people having and engaging in great debates. But at the end of the day what the American people should get is the best of what both parties have to offer this country, and that's not been the case unfortunately. So, I hope that both parties could find ways to come together and say, you know what, we work for the same people, we all want the same better future for America, and we need to do more things on a bipartisan basis.

CORNISH: Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, thank you for talking with us.

Sen. DORGAN: Thank you very much. Good to be with you.

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