Post-Election Sen. Judd Gregg Downplays Tax Hikes for Deficit Commission

ABC News Z. Byron Wolf reports:

Sen. Judd Gregg was a deficit hawk before it was cool to be a deficit hawk and today he joined ABC’s Jonathan Karl and Karen Travers on the Top Line Political Webcast to talk politics and the debt.

He said the message from Tuesday’s election is clear: stop spending.

“The message is not confused and both sides of the aisle should have got the message and it's stop the spending, get the deficit under control, get this economy going,” he said.

Gregg, who was with a hairs breadth of being President Obama’s Secretary of Commerce, now sits on the President’s debt commission, which is trying to agree on recommendations to bring the spiraling long-term deficits and the debt, which is approaching $14 trillion, under control. Their deadline is December.

It’s a job that could be made much more difficult by Tuesday’s election, since the incoming Republicans in the House feel justified in their view that no tax increases whatsoever would be warranted while former Clinton White House chief of Staff Erskine Bowles has said there must be changes both to benefits and revenue (taxes).

Gregg suggested he would oppose any tax hikes in commission negotiations.

“Basically my view is Willy Sutton was right, they asked him why he robbed banks, he said that's where the money is. When you're going to address the issue of spending, where's the money? It's on the entitlement side of the ledger,” said Gregg, referring to Social Security and Medicare.

“As a very practical matter, entitlements are the game in town. And we need to make proposals that are substantive, and they'll have to be bi-partisan, you can't take on these huge entitlements which every American is affected by, in a partisan way because the American people won't accept that. They want to see fairness and fairness is defined by bipartisanship. And yes you're going to have to adjust benefits in these major entitlement accounts, whether it's Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid for that matter, Medicaid is equally out of control. So those all have to be addressed if you're going to make progress on this big issue of debt.”

Translation: Gregg said that the American people won’t stand for a reimagining of massive entitlement or social insurance programs like Medicare and Social Security unless members of both parties contribute to the solution.

He said the only way to alter the programs is to change way they pay benefits and not by changing the way they are funded. That’s an opinion that will likely run headlong in to Democratic opposition.

Gregg was hopeful about short-term cooperation in Congress and said there are areas where Democrats and Republicans should be able to find common ground, including on spending cuts and encouraging new energy production means to avoid shipping jobs to China.

“I don't think the American people expects us not to govern, this election wasn't saying ‘hey don't govern.’ This election was saying get the debt under control, get the deficit under control, get spending under control, do something about the economy,” he said.

Gregg brushed aside Senate Republican Leader’s declaration that any cooperation with the President will come with the caveat that his number one job is making President Obama a one term President.

“I think he said that any Republican leader believes his job is to elect a Republican president and of course the other side of that coin is any Democratic President, Barack Obama not excepted, views his job as getting re-elected. So that's just politics, that's the way it is. But that doesn't mean you can't work towards getting some things done in this country,” said Gregg.

Also featured on the show was the National Journal’s Kathy Kiely, who gave us a guidebook to the new Congress. Kiely predicted that outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would leave Capitol Hill, having “made her mark on the history books” already.

And she said House Speaker John Boehner, when he takes the gavel, will differ in style from Sen. Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate.

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