DAVID VITTER, UNITED STATES SENATOR FOR THE STATE OF LOUISIANA, DISCUSSES NATIONAL DEBT & IMMIGRATION

LOCKE MEREDITH: Hello, I’m Locke Meredith, and I’d like to invite you to join me on the next Legal Lines. We’re very pleased to have on the show as our guest our United States Senator, David Vitter. Senator Vitter’s going to talk to us about what he does as one of the two senators for the State of Louisiana. He’s also going to talk to us about the great problem of our day, and that is the national debt. It’s over 14 trillion dollars, and he’s going to tell us what he thinks needs to be done to solve that problem. He’s also going to talk to us about some proposals he’s made in immigration and many other things. So join us on the next Legal Lines with our United States Senator, David Vitter.

 

LOCKE MEREDITH: Hello, I’m Locke Meredith and I’m very pleased to have on the show today our United States Senator, Senator David Vitter.

DAVID VITTER: Hey, Locke, great to be with you.

LOCKE MEREDITH: How are you?

DAVID VITTER: Thanks for the invite.

LOCKE MEREDITH: Thank you so much. Well thanks for coming back. I really appreciate it, and I think it’s extremely helpful to everybody who is fortunate to hear you. First of all, we just went through Memorial Day, and I know you’re on the senate committee for Armed Forces …

DAVID VITTER: Yes.

LOCKE MEREDITH: And I tell you what, our military families and service folks just make such huge sacrifices.

DAVID VITTER: Yeah, we always need to remember them. I mean, we’re at war now in multiple places around the globe, so we always need to remember all of our veterans and our service members’ families. The nice thing is, we saw recently with the Osama Bin Laden attack, how professional, how well-trained, how committed and brave they are. And that was just a glimpse into what was really true through the Armed Forces, so that was impressive.

LOCKE MEREDITH: I actually saw where there was an attempt to give the military a 25% pay raise?

DAVID VITTER: I forget the percentage, but it’s a significant pay raise. We need to not only honor them in thanks and words, but also deeds with the right benefits and the right pay, and the whole country will support that.

LOCKE MEREDITH: And that doesn’t mean just when they’re over there. That means when they get back over here because the sacrifices they make and the consequences on the family and relationships.

DAVID VITTER: Yeah. And it is a whole family’s sacrifice. So we need to support the family here as well.

LOCKE MEREDITH: Well, I appreciate your service on the committee.

DAVID VITTER: Sure.

LOCKE MEREDITH: And I certainly support those folks. Let’s kind of educate the folks real fast. You know, you’re one of two senators that Louisiana has. Every state has two senators. Then they have the House, and they have congress folks based on population.

DAVID VITTER: Right.

LOCKE MEREDITH: Now let’s see, we used to have seven.

DAVID VITTER: Yeah, right now we have seven US Congressmen from Louisiana, but because of the recent census and redistricting, we’re going to go down to six in the next election. Unfortunately, relative to the rest of the country, we lost population, so it will go from seven to six, of course, the Senate is set, as you said, two per state, and Mary Landreau and I serve in the Senate.

LOCKE MEREDITH: So we have a little less influence or impact in the House, but equivalent impact as to all the other states, 49 states.

DAVID VITTER: Yeah.

LOCKE MEREDITH: And explain to the folks that, in the House it’s a majority vote, but in the Senate, you pretty much need 60 of the hundred senators.

DAVID VITTER: Yeah, the rules are very different. In the House, it’s pure majority rule. If you have a functioning majority of one, you can really pass anything you want. In the Senate, it’s very different. A lot of things have to be done by unanimous consent. A lot of things are really moved and done with everyone agreeing to it. Those controversial measures that come up almost all of those require 60 votes, a super majority. That’s because of the tradition of filibustering in the Senate, so any individual senator can hold things up and the only way you break that log jam is through 60 votes. So as a practical matter, almost anything in the Senate takes 60 votes.

LOCKE MEREDITH: And the bottom line is, your job is to be one of the two representatives in the Senate for the State of Louisiana in the federal government.

DAVID VITTER: Yeah. Absolutely.

LOCKE MEREDITH: We hace state government, but we’re dealing with the federal government.

DAVID VITTER: Right.

LOCKE MEREDITH: And the bottom line is, I had Dan Claitor, our, one of our State Senators here in Louisiana and he had told me that we receive 40% of the State’s revenues come from the federal government. So part of your job, I guess, is to get some of that here.

DAVID VITTER: Yes, unfortunately, along with that money are plenty of strings attached. I’m sure Dan talked about that as well.

LOCKE MEREDITH: He sure did.

DAVID VITTER: I’d much prefer for that money to stay here than never make the round trip to Washington and back. It’s a very expensive round trip and it comes back with a lot of strings attached, so I’d much prefer it to stay here and put more responsibility in state government.

LOCKE MEREDITH: Well, and we’re saying the federal government gives the state that money. That’s money the federal government receives from us as our taxes.

DAVID VITTER: Yeah, it’s our money. It’s not the federal government’s money, it’s our money as taxpayers.

LOCKE MEREDITH: So we give it to them without restrictions, and they send it back to us with restrictions. It’s an interesting system.

DAVID VITTER: Yeah.

LOCKE MEREDITH: And so, on the federal level, the individual senators’ powers are basically belonging to caucuses which are, I guess, a group of senators?

DAVID VITTER: Yeah, we organize in different groups mainly around issues. For instance, I founded an immigration caucus. It’s called the Border Security and Enforcement First Caucus. It’s conservative senators who want to enforce the laws on the books, who want to strengthen the borders, want to strengthen workplace security versus amnesty programs, which are often at the core of proposals from the left. So often we organize in informal groups like that built around different issues. Of the more formal side, we organize as a senate through committees, standing committees. I serve on several committees. You mentioned the Armed Services Committee. I also serve on the Environment and Public Works Committee. That’s important to Louisiana because it covers all environmental issues, but also Corps of Engineers activity, which is very important to us.

LOCKE MEREDITH: Big deal going on right now with the flood, for sure.

DAVID VITTER: Yeah, absolutely. I also serve with Senator Landreau on the Small Business Committee and also on the Banking Committee.

LOCKE MEREDITH: And David, it’s important that we point out to the folks that your education is in economics.

DAVID VITTER: Yes.

LOCKE MEREDITH: From some very prestigious schools.

DAVID VITTER: Yes, yes, some of it that is coming in handy. Unfortunately, right now we face enormous economic challenges starting with the spending and debt challenge. So that background has been useful for me.

LOCKE MEREDITH: Well, and you didn’t say, but you graduated with honors from Harvard and then went to Oxford in England for additional education.

DAVID VITTER: Yeah. I didn’t say it because I don’t want to ruin my political future here in Louisiana.

LOCKE MEREDITH: And a Rhodes Scholar. The bottom line is you’re a bright guy and you’ve been educated in economics and it’s a good time to have you up there with what we’re dealing with.

DAVID VITTER: Yeah, I appreciate it.

LOCKE MEREDITH: And I guess the other power that the individual senator has, as you mentioned previously, the filibuster. And then you can put on a hold, like what you’re doing with the Interior Secretary Salazar’s salary?

DAVID VITTER: Right. Yeah, because of the filibuster rule in the senate, that really means any individual senator can threaten a filibuster. Threaten to hold up movement on legislation and require the full senate to go through all of the procedural hurdles. In the senate, the most important currency is really time. Specifically floor time. So that threat to make the Senate go through all those procedural hurdles would eat up a lot of time. And so you can really use that threat and ask your colleagues to consider a proposal or to help you with a matter. I recently did this with regard to a pay raise proposal of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Because I thought that was really out of bounds. His policies right now are strangling us off the coast in terms of energy production in the gulf. And when his policies and the Obama administration policies are directly putting gulf energy workers out of work every day, I thought it was just completely inappropriate for us to consider any pay raise of his.

LOCKE MEREDITH: Well, and the bottom line is, explain to the folks how this permanent moratorium, there was a moratorium on any drilling, and then bottom line, there were no permits being issued even after the moratorium was lifted. Explain that to the folks.

DAVID VITTER: Yeah, after the BP disaster, President Obama established a full formal moratorium on drilling in the gulf. Now after a few months, last October he lifted the formal moratorium, but as we know here in Louisiana, that didn’t solve the problem. There was a continuing defacto moratorium, a permit log jam because his administration simply has not been issuing permits on a regular basis. So it’s really a continuing defacto moratorium log jam that has still shut down much of gulf energy production.

LOCKE MEREDITH: And so, you’d set a certain amount of permits that needed to be issued, as I understood, and they’re getting in that range now?

DAVID VITTER: Yeah, before the formal moratorium the federal government would issue about six new deepwater exploratory permits per month. Since then, that’s slowed to a trickle. There’s only been one brand new deepwater exploratory permit in six months, so we need to get back in business and put Louisianans back to work.

LOCKE MEREDITH: Alright, well let’s continue this on the next segment. This is Locke Meredith with our United States Senator David Vitter. We’ll be right back.

LOCKE MEREDITH: Welcome back to Legal Lines. I’m Locke Meredith and again, very pleased to have on the show today our United States Senator, David Vitter. Again, David, thanks for coming in again.

DAVID VITTER: Thanks, Locke. Good to be with you.

LOCKE MEREDITH: Well, let’s kind of shift gears and talk about the economy. Because obviously, that’s what’s the main concern for the vast majority of folks. A lot of people are suffering. And the economy, frankly, it seems like, is just in the toilet.

DAVID VITTER: Yeah. You know, this has been the most significant recession since the Great Depression. And some economists say we’re now technically out of it, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way. Unemployment is still about 9%. Very, very high. Really, when you look at people who’ve stopped looking for work or who are underemployed that total figure is far higher.

LOCKE MEREDITH: Yeah, I’m hearing between 15 and 20 percent.

DAVID VITTER: Right. It’s a very, very slow economy.

LOCKE MEREDITH: I mean, think about it, that’s one out of every five folks doesn’t have a job or is underemployed or just quit.

DAVID VITTER: Yeah, here in Louisiana we had been doing significantly better than the national average, but unfortunately this shutdown of the Gulf of Mexico is really beginning to change that, and we’re merging with the national average.

LOCKE MEREDITH: So the economy, you know, I’m reading, you know, it’s putting along, and it feels like it might speed up, the engine might speed up a little bit, and then it comes back down. And, as far as I’m concerned, basically what the government did, the federal government that is, is basically did the stimulus package, the bailout package, healthcare, QE2, and it’s done nothing for us.

DAVID VITTER: Yeah, none of that is producing jobs, in my opinion. I mean, the stimulus was over a trillion dollars when you also include interest costs. A trillion dollars, and all we have to show for it is that amount of debt on top of the massive debt we even had otherwise. So I think it’s been a dismal failure in terms of job creation.

LOCKE MEREDITH: Well, and let’s explain the QE2 concept, because, you know, it’s a technical economic term, but explain to them … to me, I envision I’m hearing dollar’s gone down 20%. It’s basically like a tax on every human being that holds a dollar bill.

DAVID VITTER: It is. And our whole fiscal policy is going to be more of the same. You know, economists agree if we don’t do something about our spending and debt issue, it’s not a question of if, just a question of when that’s going to lead to serious inflation and serious devaluation of the dollar. And those policies are already in place. We haven’t seen the fill effects yet. But we’re on that path, and we need to turn around that policy before it really hits us in terms of even more serious inflation and devaluation of the dollar.

LOCKE MEREDITH: Well, in fact, it’s so bad, David, that Standard & Poor’s said you guys, United States of America we’re going to have to consider your ratings.

DAVID VITTER: That’s unprecedented for a major rating agency like Standard & Poor’s to say we’re going to potentially devalue your standing, U.S. Government. That’s unheard of. And people around the world are taking note of that.

LOCKE MEREDITH: The question is “Is the federal government going to take note.” Because you indicated inflation’s going to go up and Standard & Poor’s is saying U.S. Federal Government, you guys don’t look too credit worthy. All of that translates into higher interest rates for not only the government to borrow money, but for us as individuals.

DAVID VITTER: Right. And all of that is coming to a head in Washington over this debate over the debt limit. In about a month and a half time, we’re going to come on a deadline, and President Obama wants us to increase the debt limit, the statutory limit in law beyond which the federal government cannot borrow more money. It’s already over 14 trillion dollars. Conservatives like me are saying wait a minute; the problem is not the debt limit. The underlying problem is spending and debt. So let’s focus on the underlying problem. Let’s do something about spending and debt and not just talk about the debt limit. And to me it’s like having a cousin who has a credit card problem and he comes to you and says I have the solution. You just have to help me get a higher credit card limit or a second card. Well that’s not a solution. The solution is to deal with his spending and debt.

LOCKE MEREDITH: Yeah. I’m baffled by the whole concept of having a credit card with a limit that I can raise any time I want to. That’s basically what it is.

DAVID VITTER: Yeah, it is.

LOCKE MEREDITH: And in fact, as I understand it, you’re a proponent of a constitutional amendment to deal with this situation.

DAVID VITTER: Yes. You know, most states, including Louisiana, balance their budgets on an ongoing basis. And the main reason they do is because they have to. They’re constitutionally required under the state constitution to do that. It’s enforced discipline. We need that same straightjacket, that same enforced discipline on Congress. And that’s why I support a strong, balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

LOCKE MEREDITH: And in my readings, what I’m reading is revenues, tax revenues, about 2.2 billion. Excuse me, trillion?

DAVID VITTER: Trillion.

LOCKE MEREDITH: Okay. And we’re spending 3.5. And so we’re having to borrow the difference.

DAVID VITTER: Right. So that means of every dollar of federal government spending, over $.40 is borrowed money. Over $.40. What it also means is that for every man, woman and child in the country, we have an accumulated debt of $45,000 per head. If you just count taxpayers, federal income tax payers, it’s over $128,000 per head, and it’s getting worse. We need to reverse this, turn the corner in terms of this fiscal situation.

LOCKE MEREDITH: And I read that that number increased by 17,000 per individual just since President Obama has taken…

DAVID VITTER: In the last two years.

LOCKE MEREDITH: I don’t think people understand how much money has been spent by the federal government in the last few years. It’s just unbelievable.

DAVID VITTER: It was very bad two years ago, and that was built up over several years in a bipartisan way.

LOCKE MEREDITH: That’s right. Both republicans and democrats.

DAVID VITTER: Republicans and democrats, absolutely both contributed to it. But in the last two years, we took this problem and increased it by another 50% from $30,000 per person to over $45,000 per person. And if we stay on this path, it blows up exponentially in the next ten years.

LOCKE MEREDITH: We’ve identified the problem. This debt problem, this government spending, is going to destroy our nation if we don’t do something with it. So what do we do?

DAVID VITTER: Well, we need spending restraint, and that’s what this fight over the debt limit is all about. Again, conservatives like me are saying we’re not going to even consider that debt limit issue unless we address the underlying problem, which is the spending and the debt. There is a negotiation going on now with the White House. The question is, “Is it going to yield something meaningful so we really begin to turn the corner?”. You know, like, I don’t think people in the real world and in the markets expect us to solve the entire problem overnight. Expect us to balance the budget in a year. But they do want to see two things. They want to see a plan, a real plan, and they want to see a start, a meaningful start executing that plan. So far they’ve seen neither.

LOCKE MEREDITH: Well, now, on the House side, as I understand it, they passed a budget. And they passed a plan to deal with the deficit. And in fact, last night I think they voted a straight up or down vote on whether to increase the debt ceiling limit. And it was voted down.

DAVID VITTER: Went down in flames, including about half of the democrats voting against it as well.

LOCKE MEREDITH: That’s right. I think almost 100 democrats said no, we’re not going to do it this way.

DAVID VITTER: Yeah. Unfortunately, most democrats and liberals in Washington simply want to attack the republican budget versus putting up proposals of their own. And look this is an important issue, we should have a full debate, a robust debate, and there’s plenty of room for criticism, but to really earn a ticket to that debate, you should have to put forward a proposal of your own and not just attack the other guy.

LOCKE MEREDITH: and the Senate hasn’t put forth any type of no budget, no proposals, nothing.

DAVID VITTER: Harry Reid isn’t even attempting to pass a budget through the Senate. It’s very disappointing.

LOCKE MEREDITH: Alright, let’s talk about what you think needs to be done on the next segment. This is Locke Meredith with our United States Senator David Vitter. We’ll be right back.

LOCKE MEREDITH: Welcome back to Legal Lines, I’m Locke Meredith, and again very pleased to have on the show today our United States Senator, David Vitter. David, we’re talking about the debt and how frankly it can destroy this country if we don’t do something about it.

DAVID VITTER: Yeah. Absolutely.

LOCKE MEREDITH: As we probably have all heard, one of the huge drivers of this debt is the social component of our government, and that is, basically Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, what, represents about two-thirds of the debt.

DAVID VITTER: Right, so-called entitlement programs. That really means mandatory spending. In other words, it isn’t dependent on an appropriation bill out of congress every year. It’s just a program, and that program spends the money according to the rules, and however much that ramps up, that’s what the federal government spends. So those big items are Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. And we need to do something about that. A big component of that problem is escalating healthcare costs. And unfortunately, Obamacare hasn’t solved the problem of those escalating costs. It’s made it even worse.

LOCKE MEREDITH: Well, I know the House Congressman Ryan had put forth I think he was the chairman of the committee that was dealing with that.

DAVID VITTER: The Budget Committee.

LOCKE MEREDITH: And he put forth a proposed way of dealing with it. And I believe you supported that? Is that right?

DAVID VITTER: Yeah, I voted for that in the Senate. He put forward a Medicare reform proposal. I support it in the Senate. We need to have a robust debate about it. As I said, there’s plenty of room for criticism and other ideas, but again, I think people need to come to the table with proposals, with ideas, not just shooting at the other guy.

LOCKE MEREDITH: So we can’t just ignore the problem and stick our head in the sand like an ostrich.

DAVID VITTER: The only certainty is is that if we stay on the path we’re on, Medicare will end as we know it. It will obliterate Medicare. It will obliterate programs of interest like Social Security.

LOCKE MEREDITH: Because there’s no money to spend.

DAVID VITTER: So, if we want to truly save those programs, which I certainly want to do, we need to reform them. And the sooner we start the better. It’s just like your own retirement security. If you put a plan in place when you’re 25 or 30, you’re going to be in decent shape. If you wait to do that until you’re 59 or 60, it’s a lot, lot tougher, and there are going to be a lot more sacrifices that you need to make.

LOCKE MEREDITH: Well, the complaints that I hear from folks about that particular proposal is their concern, particularly the older folks are, is hey, I paid into this my whole working life. And I’m going to get screwed at the end of this process and I’m not going to get what I was told I’m going to get.

DAVID VITTER: Well, the first element of Paul Ryan’s plan, which I agree with, which I think should be the first element of any proposal, is that current retirees and those folks about to retire, say 55 and older, aren’t going to be affected. They’re going to operate under the old rules. They’re not going to be cut in any way, shape or form. And that’s fair. People who live their whole lives based on that existing rule book, the rug shouldn’t be pulled out from under them at the very end. So we should protect retirees, those about to retire, that’s what the Ryan Plan does. I think that’s what any reform proposal should start with.

LOCKE MEREDITH: And then, the other component or big component of his plan was to kind of change the way payments are made or the product is provided?

DAVID VITTER: Yeah, it really goes to more of a market approach rather than just have a …

LOCKE MEREDITH: So there’s competition.

DAVID VITTER: Yeah. Bring competition into the program. Give people more choice. This was done on a limited basis with regard to Medicare Part D. That’s the prescription drug plan. Now that plan isn’t perfect, but because of that element of competition, two things are true. People have significant choice. And the costs have actually come down far lower than what was originally projected.

LOCKE MEREDITH: Let’s talk about your proposal. I call it the 3-D Act or proposal. Explain to the folks what it is.

DAVID VITTER: Yeah, that’s a bill I introduced in the Senate with 28 other senators. And 3D stands for domestic jobs, domestic energy, and deficit reduction. And it would open up access to our domestic energy resources and in the process, create great jobs and bring in more revenue to the federal government to lower the deficit.

LOCKE MEREDITH: Which I thought was great. It’s…I was reading that, and I didn’t know this, that the revenue generated by the energy production is only second to income taxes.

DAVID VITTER: Yeah. It’s the biggest source of revenue of the federal government after only the personal income tax. So it’s a major way we can actually grow revenue without simply increasing rates and lower the deficit.

LOCKE MEREDITH: So in essence we’re paying ourselves money. Instead of sending it to the Middle East to buy oil, we buy the oil from ourselves when we get the revenues from it.

DAVID VITTER: That’s exactly right.

LOCKE MEREDITH: It’s common sense.

DAVID VITTER: In one fell swoop, we increase our energy independence, we grow good jobs right here at home, and we lower the deficit. You know, a big part of the debate over this deficit situation is well, don’t you need more taxes and more revenue. My response is absolutely. But I want to get more revenue by growing the economy. Not just by increasing rates on folks. And there’s a big difference.

LOCKE MEREDITH: Because you can’t solve the debt problem if you took 100% of everybody’s money, it’s not going to solve the problem.

DAVID VITTER: No. Right. Right.

LOCKE MEREDITH: We’ve got to grow … make the pie bigger.

DAVID VITTER: Correct.

LOCKE MEREDITH: Is the bottom line.

DAVID VITTER: You’re right. You can tax rich folks at 100%. That’s not going to solve the deficit problem. Obviously, even if it did that would be a one year solution. Because they wouldn’t be around the next year and you wouldn’t get any revenue.

LOCKE MEREDITH: Well let’s talk about the immigration issues. Because you’re chairman of a caucus that deals with that. And you’ve got two proposals on that. Explain to the folks what that’s about.

DAVID VITTER: I firmly believe that we need to start on the immigration issues by enforcing the laws on the books, by beefing up security at the borders, and, just as importantly, and this is often forgotten, by bringing real enforcement to the workplace. Because most of the folks coming into our country illegally are doing it to get jobs. So I think we need to start there, and I have proposals to do just that. One of the proposals is to end the practice in this country of so-called birthright citizenship. Right now, any child born in this country, even of two parents who are here illegally, automatically becomes a U.S. citizen. And that serves as a magnet to attract more and more illegal crossings and illegal activity.

LOCKE MEREDITH: I mean, it’s kind of like waving a flag saying come on.

DAVID VITTER: And I don’t think these folks coming from Mexico and other countries are bad people or evil people.

LOCKE MEREDITH: Absolutely not.

DAVID VITTER: They’re desperate people. They’re people who, just like us, want a better life for their children. I blame us for putting this system in place and encouraging more of that activity.

LOCKE MEREDITH: And, in fact, the basis for granting citizenship is just an interpretation by the Supreme Court of the 14th Amendment which a lot of folks just say is wrong.

DAVID VITTER: Yes and actually has never gotten to the Supreme Court. I believe Congress absolutely has the authority to change this birthright citizenship rule.

LOCKE MEREDITH: So your proposal is to do what with these babies. Require what?

DAVID VITTER: It simply says you’re only an automatic U.S. citizen if you’re born here and if at least one of your parents is a citizen or green card holder or a member of the active military. I think that is a very common sense rule that Americans support.

LOCKE MEREDITH: And I understand also there’s some type of tax credit that folks that are coming in illegally are taking advantage of to the tune of billions.

DAVID VITTER: It’s ridiculous. There’s a child tax credit and there’s not appropriate enforcement, so we’re spending two and a half billion dollars a year giving out government check, taxpayer checks, to illegals. So another bill I have would ramp up enforcement of is this tax credit so we’re not literally sending checks to illegals.

LOCKE MEREDITH: David, I know you were involved and going to a lot of places during the flood of the Mississippi River. Explain to the folks kind of where we are.

DAVID VITTER: Well, hopefully we’re in a better place than we were a few weeks ago.

LOCKE MEREDITH: Looks like it’s going to work.

DAVID VITTER: You know, and the last several weeks, all the projections about water levels and flooding have come down, so it’s looking a lot better. I often disagree with the Corp of Engineers. I often criticize them. But I think through this crisis they have been managing the river system pretty darn well.

LOCKE MEREDITH: Fantastic. David, thank you so much for being on the show.

DAVID VITTER: Thank you, Locke, very much.

LOCKE MEREDITH: We look forward to having you back.

DAVID VITTER: Absolutely.

LOCKE MEREDITH: This is Locke Meredith with Legal Lines and our United States Senator, David Vitter. Thanks for being with us.

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