In Interview, Hillary Attacks McCain on Economy

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, called into ABC News today to chat about the stimulus package vote yesterday.

As you may know, President Bush, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, worked out a deal on a $160 billion stimulus package. Senate Democrats wanted to add about $40 billion in additional spending, including subsidies for energy costs, extending unemployment benefits, and tax credits for the coal industry.

But yesterday evening Senate Republicans prevented the bill, pushed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev, from substituting their bill for the one passed by the House. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was the only senator to miss the vote.

Clinton today told ABC News that McCain was wrong to miss the vote and wrong to oppose the substitute. "Senator McCain has said, he doesn't really know much about the economy," she said. "It's not been an issue of his concern in the past."

Clinton also said the Pelosi-Bush stimulus package "is not enough," and denied that her campaign was having financial difficulties, despite the fact that she loaned her campaign $5 million and her senior staffers are forgoing salaries.

Following is a slightly edited version of the transcript, you can listen to the audio of the interview HERE

Jake Tapper: Majority Leader Harry Reid is looking to do a different stimulus package. Tell me more about your vote and your thoughts on that.

Sen. Hillary Clinton: Well, the economy lost jobs last month and the mortgage lending crisis is leaving millions of Americans in danger of losing their homes and everyday expenses are on the rise. So the reality is we're heading toward a recession. And I feel a real sense of urgency to do something. Unfortunately the Republicans, including Senator McCain, don't share that view.

Now, you know Senator McCain is a friend, and I honor his service to the nation, but on this issue we have an honest and important disagreement. I believe we need to get help to the middle class as soon as we can.

Senator McCain failed to vote and I think that's wrong. Senator McCain seems to take the Bush approach to economic stimulus: help those who don't need it and ignore those who do. That's what he did yesterday by not supporting the stimulus plan. I think we need to do something to deliver solutions to the people who need it most. That's why I was the first candidate to come out with a detailed and comprehensive economic stimulus package. And it's why I left the campaign trail to go back to the Senate to vote on a proposal aimed at jump starting the economy.

But unfortunately the Republicans banded together to block the bill  because they oppose the Democrats' efforts to do a little extra for the elderly, for disabled veterans, and for people who have lost their jobs.  I think that's wrong and I think it's another reminder about why we need a president to deliver real solutions for our country. So what's clear is the best stimulus package would be a president who knows enough and cares enough  to solve our economic problems and that is the kind of president I intend to be.

JT: Now Senator McCain has said he would have voted, he wasn't there to vote on cloture, he would have voted against the bill. And he supports the one that was brokered by Speaker Pelosi and President Bush, but it seems to me there's a slight disconnect in the sense that Pelosi supports the bill that Harry Reid was trying to replace, no?

HC: Well eventually we are going to have to do exactly what the Democrats in the Senate and Republicans tried to do. We are going to have to replenish the unemployment compensation fund. We are going to have to make sure that people in special need like the elderly or our disabled veterans are taken care of. We will have to help more with income assistance for heating. And I believe that the Democrats were exactly right in adopting a proposal that I've been pushing to put some money into renewable energy jobs. It's not just enough to stop the bleeding. We've got to start creating jobs again for America. So on all those counts I think the Senate Democrats are doing what we need to do and what we will eventually have to do.

JT: So the House bill, the bill offered by the Democrats in the House doesn't do enough?

HC: Well the House bill is a good start but it is not enough.

JT: So now, you've missed bills too. I mean, Senator McCain has more absenteeism during his campaign, but you and Senator Obama and Senator Biden and others have missed a number of votes. Isn't that a requirement, or what you risk when you run for president?

HC: Well as you know, Jake, I've worked really, really hard and have by far the lowest percentage of missed votes in the Senate while campaigning. And some votes, it's unfortunate, you do have to miss them. But this was a vote that is so clearly directed at what we have to do. There's no disagreement for the need for a stimulus and it has to be timely, which is why we're working so hard to get it done.

And as Senator McCain has said, he doesn't really know much about the economy. It's not been an issue of his concern in the past. And I think this is an area where we really have to step up and address the needs of the American people. It's something I've been doing for years. I led the fight on unemployment compensation after 9/11 because I know if we don't start moving now, the recession will be longer and deeper than it should otherwise be.

JT: There's a lot in the news today that a lot of your senior staff are forgoing salaries. And also that you've loaned your campaign five million dollars from your own personal funds. Is this not an indication that your campaign is having some financial difficulties? I mean on its face it would see to be the case, no?

HC: No, not at all. We were outraised in January which we took steps immediately to address. And I think the results on Super Tuesday showed that we were more than competitive. Since Tuesday we’ve raised millions of dollars on the Internet. So we're going to be fine. And you know my staff is so dedicated that they stepped up and said we want to do our part. I did my part. But we're going to be in very good financial shape, people are rallying around. And I think by the end of the week we're going to be back on track.

JT: I heard somebody joke that it was effort by your staff to better understand the working poor. (Editor's note: this was a reference to a post in the liberal website DailyKos that said, "As we saw with Giuliani, when presidential candidates decide to get in touch with the working poor by surrounding themselves with unpaid staff, that can be a sign of a campaign's impending collapse.")

HC: Well that's not a joke. I mean we're working hard to run a campaign and elect a president who cares about the people of America again and I'm really grateful for the dedication that my staff is showing to that mission.

JT: A lot of people think that economic stimulus packages come too late to really have an impact on the economy because by the time Congress takes action, by the time people realize what's going on, the trends have already been taking place so long. You don’t feel that that's the case?

HC: I don't. If it's targeted and timely and temporary it can provide a boost to the economy. It has to have the right elements and obviously we have some but not all of what we need. But the sooner we start the better it will be.

JT: Okay, I know you're heading off to Washington State and good luck on the campaign trail.

HC: Thanks a lot. Bye bye.

-- jpt

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