The Madeleine Brand Show for September 2, 2011

Becerra on supercommittee cuts: 'I have to be open to anything'

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House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) (L) and House Assistant Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) talk to reporters after a House Democratic caucus meeting in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center July 27, 2011 in Washington, DC. Both lawmakers will serve on the Congressional super committee.

Congress is back in session Tuesday, and the 12-member supercommittee tasked with cutting $1.5 trillion from the federal deficit will get down to business. If they fail to make those cuts by Thanksgiving, automatic cuts to defense and social services will go into effect. Los Angeles Congressman Xavier Becerra (D-37) was one of six Democrats appointed the to the committee.

Becerra said that if the U.S. had paid for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars from the beginning, it would have saved a trillion dollars. "If we finally chose as a country to take responsibility for the wars that we believe we must engage in, and rather than borrow money to exercise that authority to go to war, we actually pay for these wars, that would save us over a trillion dollars, because that's what we have spent in Iraq and Afghanistan all through borrowed money."

Becerra talked about other ways to reduce deficits. "We could stop giving companies tax breaks to send companies overseas." Becerra says that would save billions. Becerra also said that there's waste in important programs, such as Medicare, that could be sought after and reduced. Becerra stressed that there needs to be a bipartisan solution.

He says says, "I will fight like the dickens to protect Social Security." Still, when it comes to cuts, "I would be open to anything. I have to be open to anything, and I have to trust that all of my colleagues will be open to anything."

In order to meet their November deadline, he says that he and other lawmakers will have to leave what he calls "sacred cows" behind. "We have to be prepared to check all those things at the door, along with our egos."

Becerra does say that cutting Social Security would be wrong, because it didn't contribute to the debt due to the Social Security trust fund being separate from the rest of the budget. However, he says he wants to win based on facts, not because Social Security is his sacred cow.

"Today, Social Security has not only not contributed to the national debt, it has a surplus," Becerra says. However, with the Baby Boomer generation beginning to retire, Social Security faces serious challenges. "To the degree we're going to start talking about future fiscal social challenges, we can start talking about Social Security."

Becerra says that Social Security can be strengthened to make sure it's around for another 75 years.

He says he wants to build off cuts already made in health care reform, which he says reduced deficits by $1.2 trillion. "We could still do more."

Becerra says he expects passionate debates. "Having passion does not mean you have to descend into bickering and fighting. I believe the 12 of us understand that. Each member, as I've said before, is very experienced, and I honestly believe we hear what the American people are saying."

The American people are saying that the bottom line is jobs, according to Becerra. "I hope that this committee will focus on job creation," Becerra says.

Putting some of the 15 million unemployed back to work means they'll be paying more taxes, Becerra says. Becerra says the committee will be looking at spending money to promote job creation while still cutting $1.5 trillion. "If you choke off the recovery, then you cause more people to go into unemployment, then you're going to deny the federal government the revenues from the taxes they would pay."

Becerra says "We need to make investment to get the economy going again, to give the private sector the confidence" to start spending and hiring.

KPCC's Mike Roe contributed to this report.


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