This week on "Face the Nation", host Bob Schieffer spoke with top Congressional leaders about what to expect from the newly-sworn in 113th Congress, including gun control, raising the debt ceiling, and whether the fierce partisan divide that defined the 112th Congress would continue in 2013.
House Minority Leader and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal) disputed Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's statement last week that "we're done now with the taxing side" of the fiscal cliff deal. Tax increases for high earners, Pelosi warned, "are not off the table," advocating a "comprehensive view" of tax reform that would include closing loopholes and eliminating subsidies.
Leader Pelosi was quick to point out to her Republican detractors, however, that tax reform was coupled with significant entitlement reform already. "In the Affordable Care Act," Pelosi said, "we saved, found savings of over $700 billion." Still, Pelosi balked at the idea of raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, and warned that she was against doing "anything to Social Security that reduces benefits."
Pelosi then looked forward to the impending debate regarding the country's approaching debt ceiling, which is set to expire on March 27th. Recalling the fiercely partisan debate over raising the debt ceiling in 2010, Pelosi said, "If I were President, I'd use the 14th Amendment which says the debt of the United States will always be paid." Leader Pelosi warned that Congress's refusal to pay the debt it had incurred was a problematic one, saying, "This is a conversation where there should be no doubts." Pelosi did warn against Speaker Boehner's call to tie the debt ceiling to spending cuts, saying, "The two are completely separate. The debt ceiling is about spending that has already occurred."
Following Leader Pelosi, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) pushed back with criticisms of his own, saying Pelosi's comment on tax revenue "certainly underscores the voracious appetite for more taxes on the other side. The tax issue is over. We resolved that a few days ago." McConnell still admitted, "tax reform is a good idea...but now that we have resolved the revenue issue, tax reform ought to be revenue neutral."
Still, McConnell pointed out, the real issue at hand is spending. "The question is, will the President now pivot and address the single biggest issue confronting our country and its future? And that's reducing spending," said McConnell. "What's really disappointing to me is that the President isn't generating that discussion on his own. That he has to be sort of dragged kicking and screaming to the table...I wish he'd lead." McConnell closed by hinting that he'd be willing to use the debt ceiling to force spending cuts, saying "If the President won't lead us here, in the direction of reducing this massive spending addiction that we have, then we have to use whatever leverage we have. And there are some examples of leverage coming along, the debt ceiling is one of them."
Schieffer then had a chance to sit down with a congressional panel, which included newly elected Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Chris Murphy (D-CT), as well as returning Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA) and two Representatives just returned from retirement; Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN) and Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ).
Looking forward, the panel admitted that Congress as an institution would require some overhaul before it could be effective again. Nolan called for a new process, with added emphasis on "cooperation, collaboration, and compromise, where you get to know each other."
The panel found itself more at odds, however, when it came to the issue of gun control, a major debate following last month's school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Rep. Nolan was quick to point out that while he was a hunter and advocated for Second Amendment rights, "You know what? I don't need an assault weapon to shoot a duck." Senator Murphy echoed Nolan's sentiments, calling a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazine clips "common sense legislation." Moreover, Murphy said, "it's constitutional. And it's also possible, because we've done it before."
Rep. Kelly was more reserved in his statements, saying, "I'm looking to see what everybody has to say right now. Once we get a chance to look at that, put it all out on the table...the framework is what's important. How are we going to protect the most vulnerable people in our society?" Rep. Salmon warned, however, that he'd be opposed to "anything that violates any of the amendments in the Bill of Rights."
For more "Face the Nation", be sure to watch our, featuring Rana Foroohar of Time Magazine and David Sanger of the New York Times, and , which reflected on an era when bipartisan cooperation led to real accomplishment in Washington. For the full episode of "Face the Nation" see above.