Return to Transcripts main page


Sen. Reid Speaks on Senate Floor

Aired July 31, 2011 - 12:03   ET


GLORIA BORGER, CNN ANCHOR: And we are breaking away from that interview with Senator Mitch McConnell to listen to the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid. Actions are moving so quickly today. Let's listen to what he says about the vote, the upcoming vote.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NEV.), MAJORITY LEADER: ... weren't asking about military strategy or how a troop drawdown in Afghanistan would affect them. No. They asked whether they would get paid if the Republicans forced the United States government to stop paying its bills.

In a region that has been rocked by violence and plagued by suicide bombers this month, they wondered how they would take care of their families if the checks stopped coming next month.

Let me read a little bit of that United Press story that came out yesterday. Quote, "Half a world away from the Capitol -- the Capitol Hill deadlock, the economy and debt crisis are weighing heavily on U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

"And the top question on their minds Saturday, even as bombings rocked the city around them, was one the top United States military officer couldn't answer: 'Will we get paid?'" -- end of quote.

Admiral Mullen went on to say, "I don't know the answer to that question, but that either way, those soldiers," he said, "all of you must continue to work every day."

Mr. President, this is really unacceptable. In a country as rich and powerful as ours, men and women with bombs going off around them shouldn't wonder whether this country will leave them high and dry.

This afternoon I asked those who have said they will never compromise on any terms to think about who their stubbornness will really hurt -- seniors, soldiers, and others.

I spoke to the vice president this morning, in fact, a couple of times. He's hopeful. Of course we have to be hopeful that we're close to an agreement with Republican leaders.

The framework of this agreement is based on new ideas and some old ideas. After speaking with Republican Leader Mitch McConnell this morning, we are cautiously optimistic.

There are a number of issues yet to be resolved, and we must understand them. There's no agreement that has been made. But we're optimistic that one can be reached. But we're not there yet.

Optimism in days past has been really stomped on at various times. These major issues still to be resolved, or these ongoing discussions is something we have to resolve in the next few hours if they're going to be resolved.

Each of them must be resolved before we have a final agreement. And as we know, one problem can stop the whole agreement from going forward.

But we must get something done as quickly as possible. I believe all sides are aware of this urgency. It's unfortunate the House of Representatives wasted all last week on legislation they knew would never pass the Senate and, in fact, barely passed the House. It passed the House with only Republican votes, not a single Democratic vote.

Democrats have said all along that we would never agree to a short-term arrangement that would put our economy at risk and force Congress into another debt ceiling showdown in a few weeks.

We have to move on. House measure -- debt ceiling for five months, August, September, October, November, and December, five months. We would be back in this same debate in a matter of weeks. We could not allow that to happen.

So any agreement has to have a long-term approach. That's the long-term approach that we've taken here in the Senate is -- we've forced here in the Senate is absolutely necessary. We must give financial markets confidence this country won't shirk its obligations now or in the future.

I know that the compromise being discussed at the White House adopts the Senate's long-term approach, which would give the economy the certainty it needs, take us past the year -- again, past January 2013. That has to be done. And that will be done if an agreement is reached.

It's also crucial the agreement being crafted set us on the path to fiscal restraint.

Mr. President, there are still elements to be resolved, and we're watching them very closely. The (inaudible) must include thoughtful constraints on spending. We know that. The 12-member commission I conceived and recommended additional deficit reduction measures this year will be a key to that effort.

And I stay to my friend, the Republican leader, I appreciate his wrapping his arms around this and being such a cheerleader for this idea. It's a good idea. It's an idea that Congress itself would solve the problem. It would be a joint committee that would move forward, and there would be a trigger that, if they didn't resolve this, then something else would happen.

And based on past experiences, I think there would be tremendous incentive not to let that certain thing happen when the trigger kicked in.

So Senator McConnell and I agree the commission owns the responsibility to set this country on the path to fiscal accountability. The joint committee, there are no constraints. It can look at any program we have in government, any program. And it has the ability to look at everything. And that's what needs to be done. The commission will ensure we undertake that responsibility.

When I thought of this idea about the commission, I knew it was important that it achieve real results. And it will be essential to choose members with open minds willing to consider every option, even when the options are tough pills to swallow for both parties.

So, Mr. President, cooperation is the only way forward. Compromise is the only way forward.

This is what Andrew Carnegie said about the virtue of compromise. Quote, "I shall argue that strong men" -- and since the Senate has changed so dramatically, "and strong women" -- that's me; I stuck that in -- "I shall argue that strong men know when to compromise and that all principles can be compromised to serve a greater principle" -- Andrew Carnegie.

But perhaps President Abraham Lincoln said it best when he said this, and I quote, "Determine that the thing can and shall be done, and then we shall find a way."

That's where we are today, Mr. President. We must determine that the thing can and shall be done, and then we need to find that way. That's President Abraham Lincoln.

Let the chair announce the business for the day.

(UNKNOWN): Under the previous order, the leadership time is reserved. Under the previous order, the Senate will resume consideration of the House...

BORGER: There we have -- there we have the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. And with me now is Wolf Blitzer.

You just heard that Harry Reid said, quote, "We are close to an agreement. We are cautiously optimistic."

That's what I heard earlier from Senator Mitch McConnell. What do you make of it?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I think Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid now seem to be pretty much on the same page. Yesterday at this time they weren't very much on the same page. But they look to be on the same page right now.

We still have to hear from the Republicans in the House of Representatives, the Speaker John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, of course, the Democratic leader, if this is going to pass, whatever they work out. And still, there's no deal until all -- all aspects of the deal are put together. If it passes, they will need a majority in the Senate and they'll need a majority in the House of Representatives. A lot of Democrats will vote for -- if the president is for this, a lot of Democrats, most of the Democrats, will vote for it in the House, but they'll still need a whole bunch of Republicans. I don't think they're going to get a majority of the Republicans. But even if they get a third of the Republicans, I think they could pass this and the country could move on.

BORGER: And you heard Harry Reid talk about a long-term approach through 2013, which is clearly what the president wanted, but also a committee that seemed very important to Mitch McConnell -- and hopefully we can run some more of that -- this committee that would provide fiscal restraint for the Congress; in other words, forcing the Congress to act, essentially.

BLITZER: Major -- major cuts, further cuts in spending, potentially cuts in entitlement spending -- Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security -- tax revenues potentially could be on the table, tax reform if not complete tax rate hikes.

All of that could be on the table if this committee -- and they differentiate a commission like the Erskine Bowles-Alan Simpson commission. This would be a committee, equal number of Democrats, equal number of Republicans from Congress that would come up with the recommendations.

There would have to be a take-it-or-leave-it up-or-down vote in both chambers. If for some reason it didn't pass, mandatory across- the-board cuts in the military spending, domestic spending, all sorts of spending would go into effect.

BORGER: Including entitlements. And the big question we have is where are revenues in all this? And we can talk about that in a minute. Let's take a quick break and we'll be right back and hear a little bit from Senator Mitch McConnell.