CNN’s John King interviewed Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) today about “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the tax deal between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans. The full transcript follows.
JOHN KING, HOST: Liberals are angry at President Obama for cutting a tax deal with Republicans the left says abandons Democratic principles, and some moderate Democrats are complaining, too, because the new deal would add an estimated $900 billion to the federal deficit. But our next guest calls the agreement, quote, “the ultimate stimulus plan.” That positive review came from a Democrat often critical of the Obama White House, Senator Jim Webb of Virginia. Senator, thanks for joining us.
Now let me begin on that point. We’ve had conversations in the past about how the president has handled the health care debate, how the White House has handled other things, and you have been very critical. Why do you see this as such a good deal when many of your colleagues say, I don’t know about that?
SEN. JIM WEBB (D), VIRGINIA: Well, I think, first of all, it’s a true act of leadership. I think the president has spent a little bit too much time inside the base and the base has been a dwindling base, as you can see from the last election cycle. And what he’s done here is tried to put together a package that actually can pass at a time when we want to make sure that the tax cuts, at some level, continue.
But also, if you look at the TARP program and the first stimulus program, they basically went to institutions. We put 700 billion in TARP, it went to financial institutions and corporations, they held on to the money, they recapitalized, they took care of their executives, but it really didn’t get down to where we were going to have people actually having money in their hands.
What we’re doing here in this one, what he is proposing here in this one is getting money actually into the hands of people who are going to spend it, and at the same time, he’s taking care of the unemployment insurance situation, which was a big issue for the Democrats. So he’s taking a clear act of leadership, he’s stepping forward with something that I believe will help invigorate the economy and actually put money in the people’s hands.
KING: And then what is the next challenges? You know, some critics say, this is typical Washington, that it’s candy. We cut taxes, you continue spending through the unemployment insurance benefits, they may be necessary in an emergency, I’m not questioning that, but it is still spending at a time of deficits and it adds $900 billion to the deficit over two years. What must be done next to deal with that?
WEBB: Well, you know, what we’ve seen from both sides of the philosophical spectrum, from all sides of the philosophical spectrum, is people calling for some sort of stimulus to the economy. This is one that puts money actually into people’s hands, either on the unemployment side or small business side. And the tax cuts that people are going to get from this program, they’re going to spend it. They’re going to recycle that money through the economy, it’s going to help invigorate the economy.
There are other provisions in here, such as the 100 percent write off for equipment, business equipment, that’s going to encourage businesses to, in a short term, buy more equipment for their businesses. So I see this actually as something that’s going to start recycling this money and potentially could reduce the deficit that we’re talking about just through a more vigorous economy. I just happen to think this is a very smart and courageous thing that he’s doing.
KING: Answer the critic who would say, listening to what you’re saying about this plan, that what Jim Webb really sees is a state of Virginia that has moved back toward the right and he’s on the ballot in 2012 and there’s no way, he just wants to keep taxes low and move to the right.
WEBB: I’ve always been my own person on every issue since I’ve been up here. There have been times when I’ve agreed with the administration, there have been times when I have really, as you know, strongly disagreed with them. I take each one of these issues in terms of the values that I put forward when I ran. And first of all, there’s nobody whose been stronger up here in terms of issues of economic fairness. I simply believe this is a good way for us to reinvigorate the economy and that’s more important to me than whether I’m a Democrat or a Republican, or whether I’m a senator or simply an American.
KING: What’s the state of the Democratic family right now? In your caucus on the Senate side —
KING: — there are a lot of people who don’t like this deal. Over in the House, it’s even worse, liberals critical of this. I want you to listen to something the president said at his press conference. When he got most animated was dealing with the criticism from within his own party. The president said, sure, he could fight. Sure, he could threaten veto. Sure, this could carry on into next year, taxes would go up. Listen here.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will be able to feel good about ourselves and sanctimonious about how pure our intentions are and how tough we are, and in the meantime, the American people are still seeing themselves not able to get health insurance because of preexisting conditions or not being able to pay their bills because their unemployment insurance ran out.
KING: A lot of people on the left took fierce offense at that because they thought the president of the United States, the leader of their party, was saying that they’re sanctimonious.
WEBB: Well, there’s a strong debate inside the Democratic Party as to whether taxes should have been — the tax increase should have been precluded or kept in place for higher income folks. And there are a lot of people who are purists inside the party, everyone is entitled to their own view.
I happen to think that what he’s doing is putting together something that’s realistic and is going to help the country. And as you know, I don’t always agree with the proposals that have come out of this administration.
KING: To that point, you support him on this, you say it’s leadership and it’s a great stimulus for the economy. You’ve supported him on the South Korea trade deal in recent days as well. Do you think this president is reading the election and shifting in a new direction? Do you see a new Obama, not the guy you were much more critical of before?
WEBB: I think what we have to do is to adjust to the realities that came upon us during late 2008 period, and I don’t think this White House was quick enough to do that and I think there are some members in the Democratic Party who haven’t been quick enough to do that. We have to see the economy with the reality as it exists today and do what we can to invigorate it. This is an American issue, it’s not a Democrat or a Republican issue.
KING: You face an important vote today on another subject. You are a military veteran, you’re a former secretary of the Navy and the Defense Authorization Bill will include a proposal to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and there’s a big question, and you are viewed as one of the most critical votes as to whether the Democrats can get 60 votes to proceed. How will Jim Webb vote?
WEBB: Well, I voted to proceed to the bill the last time it came up, a few months ago. I’ll vote to proceed again. I was a strong proponent of making sure that we had this survey of the people who are in the military and their spouses before we took any action on this. I’m a chairman of the Personnel Subcommittee in the Armed Service Committee, and we got a survey that, I think, is very important for us to understand the military viewpoint on it, and I think that was a respect issue for the military. So I’ll vote to proceed and we’ll see where it goes from there.
KING: Do you believe it is time to repeal the policy, or do you just believe you should vote to proceed and leave it at that?
WEBB: The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is a flawed policy. The question is what we do about it. You know, I made the statement in one of my questions in the hearing that DOD will tell you that the percentage of people in the United States Military who are gay and lesbian is about the same right now as it is in society at large, and no one is calling for those people to be discharged from the military. So the military has accepted the fact that there will be — there are now and have in the past been gay and lesbian service people. The question is how you deal with this on a small unit level, which is the big concern of the Marine Corps, but also how we deal with it fairly for people who are particularly are in the career force or not in those units.
So we’ve got good testimony from DOD. There are, you know, some varying opinions in terms how this policy would be — the new policy would be changed if it were to be voted in, and now I’ve listened carefully to all of that.
KING: Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia. Sir, thanks for your time.
WEBB: Sure. Thank you.
KING: Thank you.