MR. MARTIN: Now, inside the beltway, the lobbyists, politicians and journalists are focused on the Super Committee; but for our viewers at home, let’s see the stakes. Or, let’s set the stakes. When the debt ceiling was raised last summer, part of that deal included $900 billion in cuts, and a Super Committee of six senators and six members of the House – half Democrats, half Republicans – they were given the goal of cutting an additional $1.5 trillion from the deficit over the next ten years. If the Super Committee comes to an agreement, that agreement gets an up or down vote in the House and the Senate, no filibuster allowed. If it fails to pass, or if there’s no Super Committee agreement, then there are massive and automatic cuts to defense and domestic programs totaling $1.2 trillion.
There’s certainly a Thanksgiving deadline to get a deal done, and so this is certainly big, Congressman –
REP. CLYBURN: Yep.
MR. MARTIN: — and all the talk back and forth is Democrats, according to Sen. Rand Paul – Democrat – said, “Walk away from the table.” Republicans are saying, “We don’t want to see any taxes raised.”
And so where do you stand on actually coming to a deal?
REP. CLYBURN: Well, thank you so much for having me. I don’t know what Rand Paul is talking about. I had three meetings on yesterday on this issue. Staffs are meeting today. I expect for some more meetings to take place.
Now, I believe that we still have time. Most of the Republican senators who are on the committee – Rand Paul is not on the committee – believe that we have time to get a meaningful package done in time for us to do something before going home for the Thanksgiving holidays. So, I’m very optimistic that we will get a deal done, and it’ll be one that will get favor in both the House and Senate.
MR. MARTIN: Is the major stumbling block Republicans trying to operate at the behest of Grover Norquist, who is saying, “Look. You signed a ‘no tax increase’ pledge. I’m going to hold you to it”? Is the issue revenue increases, or is it also them – them not wanting to cut defense?
REP. CLYBURN: I think the issue is finding balance. I tell everybody that whatever we do, it should be a big deal. It should be a bold proposal; and, quite frankly, it ought to be balanced and not unduly harsh to any one group of people. The problem we’ve got now is most Democrats would like to see us not touch entitlements. Now, the problem with that is we’ve got to do deficit reduction in a way that will be sustaining. We want to do a ten-year budget, but then we don’t want to be back at this another two or three years, so we want to do job creation. Whatever we do, we need to get people off unemployment rolls, people off of food stamps and other support programs and into productive work, so they can begin to pay taxes. That’s how you sustain what you’re doing. So, for us to cut taxes – or – or – or, cut benefits or raise taxes and not do job creation will not be a good deal.
MR. MARTIN: I’ve made the point on this show that Democrats can’t be in a position where they say, “Don’t touch entitlements,” and Republicans –
REP. CLYBURN: No.
MR. MARTIN: — can’t be in a position where they say, “No revenue increases whatsoever.”
REP. CLYBURN: Can’t be.
MR. MARTIN: And so when you’re talking to Democrats and trying to get them to understand that, how do you get it across to them that, “Look, it can’t be we get our way, and then they have to give us something on their side,” and the same thing on the GOP side?
REP. CLYBURN: Well, I try to explain to people, look. If you say Social Security, according to the law, ought to be solvent up – for 75 years, we know that currently it is not. So, I think that it’s incumbent upon this Super Committee, if you please, to do something about the solvency of Social Security. We’re going to do something about maintaining and extending the life of Medicare and – [unintelligible] – up Medicaid. And to do that, we have to do some reforms. So, that doesn’t mean you’re going to take away benefits, but it does mean you can do it in such a way that it would no longer be contributing in any way to our debt and deficits.
MR. MARTIN: A lot of people are very concerned that if massive cuts are made, it is going to hurt the poor, the disenfranchised. You’re the lone African-American on that panel. We’ve head Democrats say this Super Committee is a waste of time. We hear Newt Gingrich saying the exact, same thing in the Republican debates. And so from your vantage point, how do you protect the most vulnerable, but also recognize you’ve still got to confront the deficit?
REP. CLYBURN: Well, you do that by ensuring that firewalls stay in place. For instance, if you are going to look at any cuts in defense or discretionary versus mandatory, you[‘ve] got to put firewalls in place to make sure that nothing spills over and hurt[s] those people who are dependent upon the entitlement programs. There’s a way to do it. We’ve done it forever. And for people to think that just because there’s only 12 people in the room, that we can’t get to those points now is not quite the way I think people ought to be looking at this.
MR. MARTIN: Is the deadline important because it forces people to recognize the stakes of if you do not come to an agreement –
REP. CLYBURN: Absolutely.
MR. MARTIN: — that what happens after the fact – the – the – the amount of pain – both sides will not be happy with what comes down?
REP. CLYBURN: The deadlines are important, and I think that November 23rd, December 23rd and January 1 are very, very important deadlines. We ought to do whatever we can to meet those deadlines.
MR. MARTIN: Well, the pressure’s certainly on you, and I would say this is sort of like a three-foot putt –
REP. CLYBURN: [Chuckles.]
MR. MARTIN: — with all the money on the line. So, you[‘d] better make that putt.
REP. CLYBURN: [Chuckles.] Well, I’m – I’m looking for the sweet spot today[?], then.