I love how these guys suddenly care about bi-partisanship when they're in the minority and spending when it's for something besides dropping bombs on someone's head.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And now I have, here in the studio, the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell. You heard Senator Durbin, there. Have your concerns been calmed down?
MCCONNELL: Look, I think everyone knows that half the American public is represented by a Republican senator. And all we're suggesting, here, is that we be a part of the process. The president has said he wants to create 3 million new jobs, presumably as a result of this economic stimulus package. We want to make sure it's not just a trillion-dollar spending bill, but something that actually can reach the goal that he has suggested.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So how do you do that?
MCCONNELL: Well, let me make some suggestions. First of all, the president, incoming president, has said he would like for 80 percent of the jobs created to be in the private sector. Well, do we really want to create 20 percent of the jobs in the public sector? That would be 600,000 new government jobs. That's about the size of the post office workforce. Is that a good idea? That's something that strikes us that we ought to take a look at.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You don't think it is?
MCCONNELL: Well, it may not be, but I think, at least, hearings, and some kind of bipartisan considerations would be helpful. There is a bill, ready to go right now, George, that would spend $400 billion. That's the nine appropriation bills from last year that have already been vetted, been looked at by both Democrats and Republicans, could pass, on a largely bipartisan basis, very quickly.
We could pass that bill. Much of that spending is related to the kinds of items that may well end up in the trillion-dollar spending package. So that's a place to start. Another example of something that I think ought to be considered: We could do a middle-class tax cut immediately. Right now, the middle-class tax rate is about 25 percent.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, President-elect Obama says he does want to do that, a $500 tax credit.
MCCONNELL: Yes, right. This is the sort of thing we could -- we could have bipartisan agreement on. But Republican, by and large, think tax relief is a great way to get money to people immediately. A possibility would be to take a look at the 25 percent rate currently applied to the middle class, lower it to 15 percent.
And with regard to the money to the states, one item -- one approach that I think we ought to take a look at, that I have a feeling won't be in the recommendation of the administration, is to make this money for states alone, rather than a grant.
You know, the way we're operating, under the TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the money that's being lent to financial institutions is at 5 percent over five years. And if it's beyond five years, the rate is 9 percent. There are some states that are in good shape. In fact, I can think of at least two who have said publicly they don't want any of the money. So why should we automatically provide funds to states...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, there are several states struggling...
MCCONNELL: ... that don't want it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... as well. Is that a red line for you? If these are grants to the states, you're not going to support it?
MCCONNELL: No, I'm not saying that. I'm saying we want to be a part of the process. And it might make sense to lend the money to the states. It will make them spend it more wisely. I think nobody thinks we ought to be spending this money on things like Mob museums and waterslides. And if the money were lent rather than just granted, states would I think spend it wisely, and the states that didn't need it at all wouldn't take any.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Two other ideas the Democrats are discussing on Capitol Hill right now are extending unemployment benefits to part- time workers and expanding health care benefits for the unemployed. Can you support that?
MCCONNELL: I might, but those are very big, systemic changes. What the speaker said last year with regard to stimulus packages I think makes sense -- timely, and temporary, and targeted. Do we in the name of stimulus want to make long-term, systemic changes that will affect spending every single year? I think that's at least worth considering, having hearings about, having bipartisan discussions.
What I worry about, George, here is the haste with which this may be done. This is an enormous bill. It could be close to a $1 trillion spending bill. Do we want to do it with essentially no hearings, no input, for example, in the Senate from Republican senators who represent half of the American population? I don't think that's a good idea, and I don't think that...
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you think it's unwise for the Democrats to push for this to be done by the time that President-elect Obama takes office?
MCCONNELL: No, it shouldn't be done. I don't think that they even seriously can defend, and I don't think my friend Dick Durbin was defending doing this without bipartisan consideration. And I -- you know, this was, I think, the Democrats in Congress idea, not the president's idea, to have it on his desk by January 20th. That's just not a practical thing to do.
If we want to do a bill immediately, again, my recommendation is the omnibus appropriations bill. It's ready. These were nine bills that were not passed by October when they should have been passed. They're ready to go. They've already been vetted by both sides, would pass on an overwhelming, bipartisan basis, and much of that spending, George, would be on things similar to what the president may be asking for in that package.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But isn't a lot of that money already out there through the continuing resolution? A fair amount of that money is...
MCCONNELL: No -- well, some of it is, but it's not -- it's not very targeted. A continuing resolution doesn't target things very much, doesn't have any congressional input in it. And it could be done quickly. If we want to do something quickly, let's do something that's already been vetted. I don't think we have to delay the stimulus package for a lengthy period of time, but I've given you three ideas today that make a lot of sense, that ought to be considered.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Bottom line, will President-elect Obama get the 80 or so votes he's looking for in the Senate?
MCCONNELL: I think if they pursue a fair process, in the Senate at least, where fairness is typically the rule, and give both sides an opportunity to have input, to have it -- a true bipartisan stamp -- he's likely to get significant support.