More compassionate conservatism from Mitch McConnell on CNN's State of the Union. Crowley actually does a pretty good job of pressing him for the reasons the GOP ought to be concerned about how this looks to voters but McConnell doesn't seem to care much. He wants their Bush tax cuts for the rich, which he frames as an increase to stay in place forever, end of story.
I wonder if McConnell is doing any town hall meetings during the upcoming recess. Maybe he can explain to the unemployed in his state to their face why he thinks those tax cuts are more important than making sure some of them don't end up on the street.
CROWLEY: Here with me now to discuss politics, jobless benefits and the Republican's groove is Senator Mitch McConnell. Thank you so much for being here.
MCCONNELL: Glad to be here, Candy.
CROWLEY: I want to play a little bit more about what the president had to say yesterday when he really was slamming Republicans for standing in the way of this extension of unemployment benefits. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: They say we shouldn't provide unemployment insurance because it costs money, so after years of championing policies that turned a record surplus into a massive deficit, including a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, they finally decided to make their stand on the backs of the unemployed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: Look, we're talking about $34 billion to extend unemployment to the long term unemployed, to give them more weeks of unemployment benefits. Doesn't he have a point? I mean, why in the world would you choose to take this down? I mean, the deficit's a trillion dollars this year, so for $34 billion that's going to help people with no jobs, you all are standing in the way of it.
MCCONNELL: Well, the budget is over a trillion dollars, too, and somewhere in the course of spending a trillion dollars, we ought to be able to find enough to pay for a program for the unemployed. We're -- we're all for extending unemployment insurance. The question is when are we going to get serious, Candy, about the debt?
We recently passed a $13 trillion cumulative deficit threshold. When are we going to get serious about this? This administration has been on an incredible spending spree.
CROWLEY: I get that point and I understand what you're saying and I think the American people are concerned about the deficit spending. But you all -- when Republicans were in charge six of the eight years that President Bush was here, you were Majority Leader at times during that, you spent on a prescription drug bill that was not paid for that is far more expensive than this unemployment bill is. You had two wars, ongoing wars that were not paid for.
So for you now to stand up and say, well, we're for balancing the budget, and, by the way, you've got to pay for these unemployment benefits, it just seems dissonant to the trials of the American people, particularly those without jobs.
MCCONNELL: Well, let's put it in perspective. The last year of the Bush administration, the deficit as a percentage of gross domestic product was 3.2 percent, well within the range of what most economists think is manageable. A year and a half later, it's almost 10 percent. You know, how many --
CROWLEY: But you can object then --
MCCONNELL: -- how long can we -- how long can the other side run against the previous administration? They've been in charge now for a year and a half. They've been on a gargantuan spending spree. They've taken, as I said, the deficit as a percentage of GDP from 3.2 percent to almost 10 percent in a year and a half.
Look, at what point do we pivot and start being concerned about our children and our grandchildren? There is no way in the world on a trillion dollar budget this year we can't find the money to pay for an extension of unemployment insurance, something we're in favor of.
CROWLEY: But part of that $13 trillion came during a Republican administration for eight years, and I guess the question is that you now are asking the public to bring back a Republican Senate or a Republican House. How can they trust you if three years ago you all were deficit spending, and now you go, well, we're for -- we want to stop. We want to have -- pay as you go?
MCCONNELL: Well, the issue is not whether the public thought Republicans spent more than they should have. The issue is when do we stop doing this?
CROWLEY: Did you spend more than you should have as Republicans?
MCCONNELL: Look, if you put it in comparison, as I just pointed out, we've been on a gargantuan spending spree for the last year and a half, far more than any deficits that were run up in the early part of the decade. This is -- this is a serious matter. At what point do we pivot and do something about this? And we think if you can't pay for a program that everybody agrees we ought to extend, what are we going to pay for?
If we can't pay for a program like extension of unemployment insurance that virtually every member of the Senate -- I think, in fact, every member of the Senate wants to extend, then what are we going to pay for? When do we start?
CROWLEY: Let me ask you, along the same lines. I want you to listen to something that Alan Greenspan, former head of the Fed, had to say earlier this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALAN GREENSPAN, FORMER CHAIRMAN OF THE FEDERAL RESERVE: They should follow the law and let them lapse.
(UNKNOWN): Meaning, what happens?
GREENSPAN: Taxes go up. The problem is unless we start to come to grips with this long-term outlook, we're going to have major problems.
(END VIDEO CLIP) CROWLEY: It's Alan Greenspan, talking about allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire in January. Now, this is a man that supported the Bush tax cuts.
CROWLEY: What do you think?
MCCONNELL: Well, the issue is whether we're going to raise taxes. This is current tax law, and what they're saying is we ought to raise taxes in the middle of a very, very difficult economic environment. I don't think it's a good idea to raise taxes in a middle of an, of a situation like we face today. So we're not talking about extending tax cuts. We're talking about raising taxes.
And then, Candy, they will come back and say, oh, we're only talking about raising taxes on the top income earners. Well, if you do that, you will capture the income of 50 percent of small businesses in this country, the ones right now who are not expanding and hiring.
CROWLEY: I don't know many economists who look at this deficit and don't say you have to do two things here, have you to raise taxes and you have to cut spending. How can the Republicans argue that it is time to get serious about the deficit and let -- and yet argue that these tax cuts should be allowed to stay in place?
It just seems not to make sense. It seems like you're arguing both sides, that -- that you don't want to give benefits to the unemployed until they're paid for, but, by the way, you want to keep the tax cuts in place for people who are quite wealthy, some of them, you know? So it just seems like you're arguing both things here.
MCCONNELL: Well we -- we believe the problem is not that we tax too little, but that we spend too much, and we've had this rate for taxes now for almost a decade. The question is not cutting taxes. The question is raising taxes. What they're trying to do, Candy, is to argue that at this juncture, with this kind of economic environment, we ought to have a significant tax increase. I don't know the economists you're talking to, but the ones I'm talking to are saying raising taxes in the middle of a recession is not a good idea.
CROWLEY: OK, overall, though, a $13 trillion deficit, do you think there is a way to bring down and get rid of a $13 trillion debt without raising taxes?
MCCONNELL: I think that we have a serious problem here because we spend too much. I think we ought to concentrate on the spending side. I've on fact been encouraged by the comments of Erskine Bowles, who's one of the chairmen of the president's Deficit Reduction Commission, a Democrat, who's saying that he thinks two-thirds or three-fourths of the problem is a spending problem. So that's where we ought to --
CROWLEY: (INAUDIBLE) --
MCCONNELL: That's where we ought to start.
CROWLEY: OK, could -- but could you say, categorically, that you would never support a tax increase?
MCCONNELL: I can say categorically that I don't think it's a good idea to raise taxes in the middle of a recession, and that is exactly what will happen if they let the Bush tax rates expire at the end of this year.
CROWLEY: Let me try this one -- one more time, and that is, do you see -- absent a recession, do you see a time when you're going to have to raise taxes in order to get rid of a $13 trillion debt?
MCCONNELL: Well, you can't say absent a recession. We're in the middle of a major economic slowdown.
CROWLEY: Oh, the recession wouldn't always be here.
MCCONNELL: The issue is what are we going to do now in the middle of this economic slowdown? I think raising taxes is a terrible idea, and the economists I talk to believe that it's a terrible idea.
CROWLEY: I'm going to call that a maybe.
We'll be right back. Up next, is there anything on the Democrats' to do list that the Republicans will give them a hand on?