In case you missed it this morning, be sure to listen to my interview with Jerri Jameson here.
Jerri Jameson: Good morning, Senator. How are you today?
Sen. Burr: Good morning, Jerri. Greetings from our nation’s capital.
Jameson: I hope it’s looking better there than it is here.
Burr: Well, the weather’s looking fine.
Jameson: I wasn’t really talking the weather.
Burr: From the standpoint of actually getting something done, you’ve probably got a better chance to do it in Asheville or anywhere else in the world than you do right here.
Jameson: Well the General Assembly is back in session, so I was kind of trying to compare Washington to Raleigh at this point. But let’s get right back to Washington, because it’s got to be pretty frustrating with the Senate voting, actually surprisingly, unanimously yesterday against the President’s budget proposal. A couple of votes on Republican alternatives, also none of those passing. I guess to start, Senator, I can’t really even recall when was the last time the Senate passed a budget. Do you?
Burr: It’s been about 1100 and some days now since a budget was passed. You know, this is like a business being run without some type of roadmap as to where they’re going to go on sales or costs. They’d be bankrupt, and I think that’s the destiny of the United States if, in fact, the Congress doesn’t live up to its constitutional responsibility that it produce a budget every year.
Jameson: Well, I mean, how can we expect to really get the economy moving in the right direction at a pace that we need it to move when we can’t get a budget passed, when we don’t know where we’re at?
Burr: Well, I think it’s highly unlikely and I think it’s why the opinion of members of Congress and the institution as a whole is at the lowest point ever in the period that it’s been really checked. The reality is that we’ve still got 8.1% of the American people that are unemployed, probably more like 18%. We’ve got the smallest work force since we’ve recorded that number. That’s the least amount of people working in America. So even though we’ve seen unemployment numbers go down, we’ve seen the work force reduced, which means there’s more people out there who could work but have just chosen not to pursue it. This is an alarming number.
Jameson: Yeah, it absolutely is. I want to talk though, just for a minute, specifically, a little bit more about the budget. 99-0 unanimously against the President’s budget in a Democrat-led Senate. What are the sticking points? What was the opposition to specifically?
Burr: The budget was totally unreasonable. It didn’t balance. It had a $1 trillion deficit every year for 10 years. It increased the debt of this country to a level that would be unsustainable halfway through it. I think it’s just irresponsible that any Administration, regardless of what the party affiliation was, would produce a blueprint like that for America. In this particular case, 53 Democrats, they’re still in the majority, chose not to support their President’s budget.
Jameson: Right. Well in a related kind of topic, the automatic discretionary spending cuts that were instituted by last year’s debt ceiling agreement, those are supposed to start going into effect. But the House last week passed a bill to cancel it. Senate Leader Harry Reid’s indicated the Senate will likely not take it up. The President, of course, has threatened a veto on it. What needs to be done with this?
Burr: Well, Jerri, we need to cut spending, and part of the Budget Control Act was, and it did it automatically, was to reduce the growth of spending by $1.2 trillion over 10 years. The first of that is to begin with January 2013. What the vote House did was it assigned committees the responsibility to go in and identify where those cuts are made versus just for across the board cuts. I think that many of us believe, and our military leaders have said, if these are applied to us, we won’t be able to fulfill our mission. So we’d like to look at areas that we can reform, areas where we can eliminate duplications, areas where we can reduce the size and cost of the federal government, versus the size and the cost of our military at a time that, quite honestly, we’ve got more conflicts, potential conflicts, in the world than we’ve ever had at one time. The reality is that in the House they determined that the committees were the best place to identify those savings. What Harry Reid has said is that the Senate doesn’t want to participate in that. We’d rather go through the election with this being a debated point, and whatever changes, if any, we make, we’d like to make in the lame duck session. Well let me just remind you of something that you know and your listeners know. The same amount of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the same every year. The reality is the lame duck session is not going to be 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 months long this year. It’s going to be the period in between Thanksgiving and Christmas. There’s only so much we can do in that period of time. Every tax policy that we have on the books today expires at the end of December. If the Congress doesn’t act, there’s going to be a massive tax increase on the American people. We’ve got the sequestration of $1.2 trillion. That happens if we don’t act before December 31. There are a number of things that have to happen before the end of this year, or quite honestly, the inaction of Congress could be the thing that send the U.S. economy back into recession.
Jameson: Speaking of action or inaction by Congress, the student loan interest rates going up July 1 from 3.4% to 6.8%. You voted against basically allowing the debate to continue on that. Where are we at with that? What’s going on with this?
Burr: A dispute over whether it’s going to be paid for or not.
Burr: You know, we’re sitting here talking about budgets and the lack of one. We’re sitting here talking about sequestration and taking $1.2 trillion out of spending over 10 years. Here we’re making a concession to a program that I fully agree with. As a matter of fact, I never thought that it should go up to 6.8%. It was the President’s budget that had the number of 6.8% interest. So he produces a budget that says we’re going to charge 6.8%, and here’s how much money we’re going to make off of it, and then he turns around and says this shouldn’t be raised. That shows the inconsistency of the budget that he produced just 2 months ago. The reality is that it should be at 3.4%, it should be paid for, the difference between that and the 6.8%, and at some point between now and the time that expires, it will be renewed. We will come up with savings for it, and the political game that we’ve seen going for the past 45 days will sort of drift into the sunset.
Jameson: Alright, Senator. We have about a minute and a half left. President Obama last week, of course, coming out in support of same sex marriage. Some are saying that’s hurting him here in North Carolina and that what went blue for the presidency in 2008 is going to go back red. I know you thought it was going to go red anyway, but do you think that that stance is hurting him?
Burr: Well I think the President’s position has hurt himself in North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, probably in Michigan, Iowa, maybe Missouri. I think this is inconsistent with what people in those states certainly believe should be the definition of marriage. That’s not to say that any state couldn’t have other accommodations for couples. But I think we’re already beginning to see it in the numbers. This week, a poll in North Carolina – Romney 51%, the President 43%. 18% of the Democrats in North Carolina have already said I’m not going to support the President for reelection. It’s trends like that that can be devastating to a candidate and to a campaign. I think what we’re going to see is we’re going to see more of that as we get up to what has been up to this point been described as the battleground states. You might recognize that all the states I mentioned, with the exception of Michigan, are considered battleground states in this presidential election. So I would expect this White House to re-tool their theme for what they’re going to run on in the fall. I’m not sure today what that’s going to be, but I don’t think it’s going to be on same-sex marriage, I don’t think it’s going to be on class warfare, it can’t be on national defense. All of sudden they’re whittling down to a very small basket of items they might run on, and I think the American people have expressed what their concern is. It’s about the economy and jobs.
Jameson: Alright, Senator. In closing, do you have anything to say?
Burr: Well, Jerri, I’d only say this. This weekend the G8 will meet in Washington, they’ll move onto a NATO meeting in Chicago. The world is to some degree in crisis right now, not only from a standpoint of threats but also the economic crisis in Europe. We’ve lived most of our life not believing that what happens somewhere else in the world affects us. We learned in 2007 that when we had a financial crisis the rest of the world felt it. If Europe does go into as deep of a crisis as they seem to be headed for, we’re going to feel it here at home. It’s going to affect our economy, it’s going to affect employment. It’s time we get the policies in place that lift our economy up, but also help to lift the rest of the world up. And that’s not a loan or a bailout of them. It’s making sure that we re-start this global economy in a way that first and foremost Americans go back to work.
Jameson: Well how does what happened at J.P. Morgan Chase relate to what you’re saying here? Are more banking regulations necessary? Or was that a fluke?
Burr: Well I think it was a fluke and I think if you dig down deep, what they did, everybody does. They made a bad bet. In our free market system, when you make a bad bet, you pay. It’s shareholders that are going to pay for it at J.P. Morgan, one of the best-run banks that are out there with one of the most dynamic and smart leaders that exists in the industry. The reaction from Washington was let’s tighten down on regulations. Let’s make it tougher if not impossible for these to happen. Pretty soon, banks aren’t going to have enough revenue streams to actually stay in business. The concern is, with a tight lending policy today, what happens when we don’t have lenders out there? Are we going to borrow it from the federal government? I don’t think so because we don’t have the money.
Jameson: I was going to say where’s the federal government going to get it?
Burr: And pretty soon, to quote my good friend Senator Coburn from Oklahoma, pretty soon the rest of the world’s going to realize, they’re not going to lend us the money.
Jameson: Major concern. Alright, Senator Burr. Thank you as usual for being our guest. We look forward to the next time.
Burr: Jerri, look forward to it. Thanks. Have a great day.