Posted on March 3, 2013
“America’s News HQ” with Shannon Bream
Shannon Bream: A complete failure of presidential leadership, that's what Lamar Alexander is calling the cuts. He is live now. Senator, I want to ask you, Gene Sperling said that the President is reaching out to Democrats and Republicans. What is your sense of what is going on?
Alexander: Well, he hasn't reached out to me. My sense is--and Mitt Romney suggested it--this is a colossal failure of presidential leadership. This is the President's sequester. In the middle of 2011, he made a deal, he wanted so badly to get through the election without a debt ceiling issue, he didn't want to touch the real problem, which is mandatory spending increases, so he made a deal to reduce spending by 2.2 trillion dollars, and he spent the last year doing nothing about it and the last month campaigning against his own sequester. That's not the way the President of the United States is supposed to perform.
Bream: My understanding is that you voted for the Budget Control Act, which had the sequester framework built into it…
Alexander: I did.
Bream: Now it’s come to fruition, even though many people didn't think it would ever come to this, do you regret voting for it?
Alexander: No, I don't regret voting for it because it gave us $2.2 trillion of spending reductions. The only thing I regret is that we are not able to focus on the real problem. The sequester is focused, and the reductions are focused on the part of the budget that's under control--national parks, national defense, national laboratories. The part that's not out of control, that is growing at the rate 2 or 3 times inflation, is the mandatory spending increase. So, that's the only regret I have that between the President and Congress, he won't focus on that and we can't get that done.
Bream: The President said this week that, quote, none of this is necessary, referring to these cuts we are discussing now. He said it's happening because of a choice by congressional Republicans. What weight do you bear? Any blame that the G.O.P. bears and where we’ve gotten to today?
Alexander: I just can't understand this style of presidential leadership. The president takes no responsibility for his own sequester. He has had a year to fix it. He could fix it today. He could send us a plan tomorrow, and we could have back to him a result within a couple of weeks. He could suggest that we spread it out over just the discretionary part of the budget—that would be a 7 percent cut. We could spread it out over the whole budget—that would be a 2 percent cut. He could do what Senator Corker and I have done, which is suggest $1 trillion dollar reduction in spending increases on mandatory spending—a favor to seniors and young people because it would make the program solvent and lower the possibility of a debt that we can't pay. But he is doing none of that. He is accepting no responsibility—he’s not acting like a President of the United States is supposed to act.
Bream: On your side of the hill in the Senate, there has been no budget passed for years, now. Senate majority leader Harry Reid has not moved one. The rare vote that has happened on the hill with respect to the President's budget, in which he got zero votes from Republicans or Democrats for that particular piece of legislation, why do you think with all of those factors in play, it seems that Republicans are taking so much of the heat publicly for where we are right now fiscally?
Alexander: Well, I am not sure. I wish I could give you the answer to that. The problem is that the president has profited politically, so far, from blaming other people for problems he has caused by not producing the budget, by ignoring the real problem with mandatory spending increases. But I predict that won’t last forever. Colossal failures of presidential leadership will be a blot on his legacy. Every great crisis in our history has been solved by presidential leadership, or not at all. I think he is going to regret deeply missing this opportunity to lead, right after he was elected by a good margin and putting this problem behind us, the problem of mandatory spending increases, that's the problem. Then he could get on to the agenda, and we could argue about that.
Bream: Speaking of spending, you know there are more budget battles looming. The next one is a continuing resolution, which essentially keeps the government funded and running at the end of the month. That will expire, absent some type of renewal. The president has suggested he will allow congress to handle that separately from the sequester issue. There are conservatives on the House side who have written to House Speaker John Boehner saying they want something in return for that continuing resolution. They don't want to put together a funding measure, as it seems to suggest he is going to go down that path. They want the C.R. to be used for leverage, for negotiation. Where do you stand on that?
Alexander: Here's what I think we should do with the continuing resolution, which is a spending plan for six months. The president this week should send us a plan to replace the sequester with an equal amount of spending reductions that spread across the whole budget. That would be a 2 or 3 percent cut and would avoid most of the pain that he keeps talking about. We could put that on the Senate floor in about a week; we could get it to him within two weeks and fund the government with that plan and avoid the sequester and still do a reasonable job of reducing spending, same amount. Except, the problem is, what he really should do, he should send us a plan to reduce the entitlements spending. It's the mandatory spending increases that are causing the problem with the mandatory spending reductions.
Bream: Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican senator of Tennessee. Sir, thank you for your time.
Alexander: Thank you, Shannon.