Congress has until the New Year to come up with a package of spending cuts and tax hikes to avoid triggering automatic cuts of $1.2 trillion to defense and social programs. The looming fiscal cliff will be difficult to avoid if both sides of the aisle can't come up with an agreement.
Congressman Xavier Becerra joins the show to discuss Congress's plans to avoid sequestration and fix the budget mess.
Becerra represents the 31st district, which includes most of L.A. He's on recess, along with the rest of Congress, until after the election.
Sequestration is the name that's been given to the automatic spending cuts that are scheduled to go into effect in January 2nd. The cuts include $109 billion to national security and domestic programs.
Becerra was a member of the bi-partisan supercommittee, which was initially tasked to come to a compromise on the budget so that the automatic cuts wouldn't come into effect.
On how he thinks we could avoid the fiscal cliff:
"All we have to do is turn and go in the right direction and we just need to have a collaboration to decide that we can go in the right direction, and as you've seen over these two years Congress has done anything but work to go in the correct direction. We need to change that and hopefully the November elections will right the ship again because we can no longer afford to constantly threaten to shut the government down and default on our national debts."
On what the automatic spending cuts will mean for the average American:
"Anytime you divest in yourself you're going to have these problems and that's what the federal government seems to be doing with these sequestering. I didn't vote for it the first time we were supposed to vote for the sequester because of that. It divests in America in a time when we should be investing and doing the things that help build new, good paying jobs. There are ways to save money, there are wasteful aspects of the federal government, The Department of Defense definitely has to have some belt-tightening as well. At the same time you have to put everything on the table, Republicans refuse to talk about revenue increases even though they know that for the last 10 years, the wealthiest Americans have gotten the lion's share of any tax breaks that have been provided by principally the Republicans. We need to have tax revenue off the table, we need to stave off these dramatic cuts to schools, to fire and police services. We can do it, we just have to have partnership."
On his view about Medicare reform:
"We are definitely open to reforms to Medicare, we've shown that you can extract savings from Medicare without cutting services to seniors, but there's a difference between reforming Medicare and getting rid of Medicare. When the Republicans talk about wanting to reform Medicare they're really talking about getting rid of Medicare. That's something very different when you have a guaranteed system for seniors who've worked very hard and paid into the system, they've earned their Medicare services and now they're being told they have to lose it so we can save money because we've spent money in Afghanistan and Iraq and in giving tax cuts to the wealthy, that doesn't seem like the right move to give millionaires and billionaires tax breaks and having the middle class and Medicare having to pay for the cost of that, that's not the way to do it."
On how would he reform Medicare:
"There's a program right now called Medicare advantage which is funding that the federal government through Medicare provided to reimburse insurance companies for providing health insurance to seniors. Those health insurance companies were getting reimbursed at a rate of 150% of what a typical hospital or doctor would get reimbursed. Why should they get reimbursed more than a doctor or hospital for essentially providing the same service? We simply said, come down to get parity to what the doctors and hospitals are getting paid, that saves you, believe it or not, over $140 billion and those are the kinds of savings you can extract without cutting benefits and services. We still guarantee the same benefits in fact we increase benefits to seniors, no longer copays on preventative healthcare for seniors, as a part of health-care reform. But you don't have to cut seniors benefits in order to provide them with good services and save money in Medicare. The republicans of course are talking about eliminating Medicare and creating what I call essentially a coupon program because you get a voucher and once you run out of the voucher, the rest of your health care comes out of your own pocket. You lose that guarantee and that's not the best way to save money. It'll save you money because you've shifted the cost onto seniors for their cost of healthcare. You can save money without costing seniors decent quality healthcare"
On how budget cuts would affect California specifically:
"California is a leader in innovation, we're able to do that because the federal government helped in a lot of these new technologies that we see now thriving. Were it not for NASA were it not for the military need to come up with new technologies and new ways of doing things, we wouldn't have the Internet we wouldn't have a lot of different things that helped to keep California's economy growing. What we have to do is recognize that the more we invest in those new technologies the more we invest in the next generation of young people who will become the next engineers and scientists, we'll be good. Take a look at the UC system these days, constantly cutting. That is not a way to guarantee that young people in California, throughout America, have a chance to go to the best universities in the world. If we just invest in our infrastructure, our roads and highways, but principally our schools, what we do is we're going to guarantee that we're going to have the next generation of leaders not just for California of the US, but the world."
His views in reducing military spending:
"Before you close a base in America where you've got people employed doing important things, talk about all those bases we've got around the world. We've essentially become the cop of the world and yet this cop doesn't get paid for his or her services. So before we're going to go out there and defend everybody else, let's either have those countries pay us for some of the defense that we're doing of their people, or let's close down some of those bases that we have all over the world if folks aren't going to be grateful that we're out there trying to protect them, rather than cut jobs here in America. We can slim down, we can tighten our belt within the military without costing us any security and safety that our people have become accustomed to. No one should shortchange our soldiers as a go out there and do the best they can as the best defense force we have, They are our warriors and we need them but we don't need to sacrifice them in order to make cuts to the defense that are smart."
How will it get done?
"It will get done because, fortunately, the law has a backstop in place that even those in Congress that are playing politics can't mess with and thats a deadline. Coming Dec. 31, 2012 these laws come into affect that require the tax breaks for the wealthy to disappear so if people want to come up with a compromise, the atmosphere is there. If Republicans want to continue to be intransigent when it comes to putting everything on the table, well guess what the law by itself will take care of that. I am not one to bargain with hostage-takers, and that's what we've got in Washington, D.C. that thinks they can hold everyone hostage, whether it's the taxpayers or the federal budget or its paying back national debt in order to get their way. I think we can do it differently, but guess what, I think the president's learned when he's tried to deal with these hostage takers, they typically kill the hostage and get the money as well. Let's have a real negotiation and everyone comes out better."
On who he's endorsing in the Senate race:
"I am supporting Howard Berman who has been a longtime advocate for so many different causes here in Los Angeles and has been one of the great legislators that we've sent to Washington, D.C. from our city. I know Brad Sherman well also and he's a good legislator, the difficulty is we have two good folks going at it, we have to make choices. I think at the end of the day we're going to have two good Democrats in those seats, I just hope that we do is find that we have to get our work done whether we're Democrats or Republicans. We've gotta get this done, the American people are working hard we should do the same."
On the new primary voting system:
"I'm not a fan, I believe people should have a choice. Let's put it this way: You're only going to see two names on the ballot. What if you're not a Democrat or Republican? You may not get to have anyone from your party present there at all, I also think it destroys a real opportunity to have a real choice in November. Democrats and Republicans stand for some different things, some people say we're almost the same, but I do think we stand for different things. People should have a choice, where you have two democrats and republicans going at it in November it doesn't give people that full panorama of choice."
On the view that the GOP has had trouble courting the Latino vote:
"There are quite a few Republicans out there who get it, who want to do the right thing, but they're captives of this Tea Party. I'm not going to name names … there's a critical mass of Republicans who I think would be prepared to do comprehensive immigration reform, they'd be prepared to move forward on these fiscal issues, if they felt they could escape some of these Rush Limbaughs and some of these folks out there who would just go out there and annihilate them politically. It's distressing and disturbing to see how this has come to the point where a small cadre of folks can drive the whole thing. The tail is wagging the elephant."