"Face the Nation" transcript for May 20: McConnell, Warner, Graham

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: Let-- let me tell you what isn't adult behavior? You know, how the Democrats raised the debt ceiling in the previous Congress? They airdropped it into Obamacare. Nobody got to vote on it. That's how seriously they take the debt ceiling. Our view is a request of any President to raise the debt ceiling is a serious matter because it underscores the way we have been engaged in excessive spending and borrowing, particularly over the last three and a half years. It is the perfect time, Bob, the perfect time to engage in a discussion about doing something serious about deficit and debt. We could not get this President to do anything serious about entitlement reform, for example, the single biggest threat to future generations, not-- nothing of consequences. My three appointees to the Bowles-Simpson com- Commission voted for it. One of my appointees to the Joint Select Committee later in the year offered our friends on the other side new revenue. That's not something that we lightly offer. We got nothing in return. About the long-term debt problem facing this country, and we all know that it's on the entitlement side. So at some point here, this President needs to become the adult because the speaker and I have been the adults in the room arguing that we ought to do something about the nation's most serious long-term problem.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well-- well, talk to me about the timing here. Are you talking about you'd like to do this, have this argument over whether or not to raise the debt limit before the election or are you willing to let that go until after the election?

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, the timing will be determined by the President. They-- they determine when to request of us that we raise the debt ceiling. We assume that will happen at the end of the year or, early next year.

BOB SCHIEFFER: So-- so, you're not going to do anything until-- until the President brings this up on-- on this particular.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: Look, without presidential leadership, nothing is-- can be accomplished. We didn't have presidential leadership last year. It's pretty clear the President's not going to lead on this any time soon. Unless he engages, you know, we don't control the entire government. We control the House of Representatives only. We'd like to do something about the nation's biggest problem, spending and debt, which is, of course, the reason for this economic melees and this high unemployment. And whenever the President is willing to engage, we're ready to go.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you then, let's talk about something else, whatever the case on all of that. The cuts that you, the Republicans, the Democrats, and the White House agreed on last year will go into effect at the end of this year. It's hundred-- 1.2 trillion dollars across the board cuts to spending. Are those cuts going to stand, or is Congress going to change-- change that situation? What happens?

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: I don't-- yeah, I don't think we ought to cut a penny less than we're pledged to cut. I'm perfectly open to a discussion about how we arrange that-- those reductions. But we promised the American people we were going to get 2.1 trillion dollars over ten years in discretionary spending reductions, and we need to do that. We can have a discussion about how you allocate those. I happen to be among those who think it's much too tough on the Defense Department. Defense of the nation is our single biggest responsibility at the federal level of government in this country. But I don't think we ought to cut a penny less than we promised the American people last year we would.

BOB SCHIEFFER: So, I mean, because Speaker Boehner and-- and House Republicans, as you know, just passed a defense bill that actually raises defense spendings. On the one hand, he's talking about, you know, we've got to cut spending, but on the other hand, they vote to-- to raise defense spending. So you would-- you would go along with that in some fashion? In other words, you don't mind rearranging the cuts, but you're going to make sure that in the end, the cuts that you voted for stay as they are. Is that right?

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: Yeah, that-- that's correct. What the House did was to reconfigure the spending reductions so that it was less impactful on the nation's defense, which is, of course, the most important responsibility of the federal government.

BOB SCHIEFFER: All right, well, Mister Leader, we want to thank you for being with us this morning and for-- for answering questions. That's why we ask you here and you're pretty good about-- about answering them.

I want to turn now to Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia. He's on the Budget Committee and down in Columbia, South Carolina; Senator Lindsey Graham. Senator Warner, first to you, what went through your mind when you heard Speaker Boehner say what he said this week?

SENATOR MARK WARNER (Budget Committee/D-Virginia): It felt like Groundhog's Day. You know we saw what happened when the speaker last year played, in effect, debt ceiling roulette. He almost blew up the whole economy and the notion with fiscal turmoil going on in Europe right now that he would try to say we're going to draw this bright line again, and kind of my way or the highway approach. I think it's incredibly irresponsible. You know, the fact is I agree with Senator McConnell. We've got to take on this debt issue. We've got to recognize sixteen trillion dollars in debt, four and half billion dollars a day we add to it. But it's going to take a balanced plan, it's going to take a plan like Simpson-Bowles, like our "Gang of Six" plan, that has revenues, that has entitlement reform and this notion that it's going to be all done on one side of the balance sheet with spending cuts only, there's no responsible person out there that has looked at this problem that doesn't say you've got to do both.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Senator Graham, what would you respond to that? How would you respond to that?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (Budget Committee/R-South Carolina): Well, I would say that most Americans believe that we're (INDISTINCT) in debt that their children's future is at risk, and if we're going to raise the debt ceiling we already borrow forty cents of every dollar. For every dollar that we borrow in the future we ought to cut the government by an equivalent dollar is not radical. There's something we should have been doing a long time ago. And there's not a snowball's chance in hell that we're going to get out of debt, reform entitlements and control spending without presidential leadership.

So what Boehner proposed about raising the debt ceiling is just a start. I am not going to vote to raise the debt ceiling until you show me we're serious about getting out of debt and the Gang of Six, Bowles-Simpson, hats off. If I were President Obama or Candidate Romney, I would tell the public we're going to take Bowles-Simpson. That will be our road map for the future. If you'd like to change it you'll have a chance. But we're going to take that up. We're going to control federal spending. We're going to flatten the tax code and get new revenue by eliminating deductions and we're going to have entitlement reform and it's going to take a presidential leader to make that happen.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Senator Warner, you're-- are part of that so-called "Gang of Six," some people call it a gang of eight, that have been looking for some way out of this thing. What do you-- do you think there's still any chance that you all could come up with something that-- that--