NBC's Gregory Frets Over 'Purist' Tea Party, Urges Sen. Rubio to 'Compromise'

In an interview with Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday, host David Gregory worried: "There's a purist streak to the Tea Party, right? Don't compromise....As you think about yourself, are you here to legislate? Are you here to compromise?"

Rubio countered: "...we are dealing with major issues in our country, big issues that deserve big solutions....if we don't stand up and say that, who is going to stand up and say that?" Gregory continued to grill the Senator: "But you still have to compromise....you send a statement or you actually compromise and get things done. Which is what Senator Rubio believes in?" Rubio shot back: "To say we just compromised, be, 'Oh, we compromised for the sake of a compromise,' you know, that alone may get you some short-term lauds in the media, but in the long term it didn't accomplish anything."

Gregory pushed for Rubio and other Republicans abandon spending cuts and just raise the debt ceiling: "...you've said, 'No, I'm not going to vote to raise the debt ceiling unless we are serious about making specific cuts and reforms to entitlement spending.' Now, the Treasury Secretary has said that this would be a catastrophe, and he says it's irresponsible." Rubio pointed out: "It's irresponsible to continue to borrow $1.6 trillion a year with no plan to end it anytime soon."

Later, Gregory dismissed the 2012 GOP budget plan as unpopular and harmful to seniors:

...it certainly dismantles the way that Medicare operates. And you have said recently you don't want to dismantle a program like Medicare or Social Security that your own mother relies upon....You're not operating in a political vacuum here, you well know that. You are a senator from Florida with a lot of older voters. Are you prepared to stand up to them and say, 'Sorry, folks, we've got to do this'? Because a lot of Republicans think this is, this is handing something to the Democrats that'll be potent against Republicans down the line.

Here is a transcript of the May 1 exchange:

11:03AM ET

(...)

DAVID GREGORY: Do you, do you describe yourself as a Tea Party senator?

MARCO RUBIO [SEN. R-FL]: Well, I have – first of all, I don't ever run away from the folks who have supported me that are in the Tea Party movement.

GREGORY: Right.

RUBIO: I've often – I never ascribed that to myself because I think that the Tea Party movement is a grassroots movement of everyday people that aren't necessarily Republicans; a lot of independents, some Democrats. And they don't really – they're not of Washington. They want to influence what happens in Washington. But ultimately the principles that I stand on, I think, are principles that people in the Tea Party identify with.

GREGORY: But there's a purist streak to the Tea Party, right? Don't compromise. You've even said you don't consider people in Washington serious, I assume Republicans and Democrats, about really taking on the toughest challenges we face. As you think about yourself, are you here to legislate? Are you here to compromise?

RUBIO: Well, we're here to make a difference in public policy. Now, here's the thing about compromise. Compromise is a dirty word, and it shouldn't be. But it's become one because in Washington compromise always seems to be a deal, and that's what it's meant to people over the last 20 years. A deal that people say is a solution but doesn't really solve anything. So I think if the compromise is between two folks that are both trying to accomplish the same goal, just have different ideas about how to do it, that's not a negative thing.

GREGORY: Well, then you voted against the compromise on, on the budget deal in the, in the lame duck session. You apparently didn't think that was a good deal, that that was a fair compromise. Did the Republican leadership fail you?

RUBIO: Well, they – let me tell you this. First of all, I respect the work that Speaker Boehner put in it. He was in a tough spot. But let's remind ourselves of the last election cycle and what was it about. It was about the fact that we are dealing with major issues in our country, big issues that deserve big solutions. Now, if people like me who were elected in this wave of 2010 to make a difference, if we don't stand up and say that, who is going to stand up and say that?  If folks like me that were elected in 2010 don't come here and say, 'These big issues, these big problems deserve big solutions,' no one's going to say that.

GREGORY: Right. But you still have to compromise. I mean, you say he was in a tough spot.  He was in a tough spot because you either have the votes or you don't. So you send a statement or you actually compromise and get things done. Which is what Senator Rubio believes in?

RUBIO: Well, I – you want to have a compromise, the compromise better do something. My point is these problems have to be solved. To say we just compromised, be, 'Oh, we compromised for the sake of a compromise,' you know, that alone may get you some short-term lauds in the media, but in the long term it didn't accomplish anything. We have to have solutions.


GREGORY: Well, you have this debate over there, raising the debt ceiling, right? The, the, the limit on America's credit card. And you've said, 'No, I'm not going to vote to raise the debt ceiling unless we are serious about making specific cuts and reforms to entitlement spending.' Now, the Treasury Secretary has said that this would be a catastrophe, and he says it's irresponsible. This is what he said this week.

TIMOTHY GEITHNER: The idea that the United States would take the risk, people start to believe we won't pay our bills, is a ridiculous proposition, irresponsible, a completely unacceptable basic risk for us to take.

GREGORY: Is it irresponsible for you to carry through to vote-

RUBIO: It's irresponsible to continue to borrow $1.6 trillion a year with no plan to end it anytime soon. Look, I marvel at how people in this town run around with their hair on fire because of the potential for a technical default because we don't raise the debt limit, but they don't seem that overly concerned about a real default where we're not paying our debt obligations because we don't have the money. And my point is, we know that this is a problem. You look at any projection, it shows you that the debt crisis will come if we do nothing. Let's start dealing with it now. Let's use this debt limit debate as an opportunity to begin to put in place a plan and execute a plan that gains the confidence of the world.

GREGORY: Well, that's right. But the Treasury Secretary says that, 'Let's talk about it. Let's work in parallel tracks.' As you just said, the Tea Party's got everybody talking about government spending.  But if you can't reach agreement on some of the things you've talked about – Social Security reform, Medicare reform, other specific cuts – do you then take that next step and say, 'No, we're going, we're going-'

RUBIO: There has to be – no. First of all, there is no magic bullet.

GREGORY: 'Not allow the limit to go on.'

RUBIO: In essence, you can't solve this debt problem that American faces with one solution.  There's not a magic bullet to do that. It's a series of reforms that have to happen. What I'm saying, and what I think others are beginning to say, including many in the Democrat Party, is that now's – as part of this debt limit debate, let's not just talk about the debt limit, let's talk about how we're going to put this country on a fiscal path that is sustainable.

GREGORY: Alright, one of the ways to do that, as you well know, Chairman Paul Ryan of the Budget Committee has said we have to change Medicare as we know it.  It's either premium support or a voucher system, but it's going to change, Okay?  Are you prepared to vote to support the Ryan plan?

RUBIO: Well, it would take three things. Number one is, Medicare as we know it goes bankrupt, so it can't not – you know, you can't sustain it the way it is. I mean, anytime – anywhere between five and the next 12 years, Medicare as we know it will go bankrupt. And all the people that are out there attacking the Ryan plan, my question is, 'Where is your plan?,'  Introduce your plan.  Because if your plan is to keep Medicare the way it is, then your plan is bankruptcy, and that doesn't work for anybody.

Number two, as far as the Ryan plan is concerned, I will support any plan that saves Medicare, doesn't impact current seniors, and doesn't hurt economic growth.  The Ryan plan does that.

GREGORY: Right.

RUBIO: If people don't like the Ryan plan, including Democrats in the Senate, then introduce your own plan. Where is your plan?

GREGORY: You'd vote on the Ryan plan. Because it's going to be up for a vote in the Senate, you're proposing.

RUBIO: I'll vote for any plan that saves the-

GREGORY: Right.

RUBIO:  -that saves Medicare, doesn't hurt seniors, and doesn't hurt economic growth.

GREGORY: Right. Well, but-

RUBIO: And if someone has a better idea on how to do that, they should propose that bill.

GREGORY: Well, you can't assert that it saves Medicare when, when there's so much uncertainty about it. And it certainly dismantles the way that Medicare operates. And you have said recently you don't want to dismantle a program like Medicare or Social Security that your own mother relies upon.

RUBIO: That's right.

GREGORY: And look at some of the reaction in terms of how people feel about cutting spending for Medicare. We'll put it on the screen. Cutting Medicare spending, 78 percent oppose. Medicaid spending, 69 percent oppose. You're not operating in a political vacuum here, you well know that. You are a senator from Florida with a lot of older voters. Are you prepared to stand up to them and say, 'Sorry, folks, we've got to do this'?

RUBIO: You know-

GREGORY: Because a lot of Republicans think this is, this is handing something to the Democrats that'll be potent against Republicans down the line.

RUBIO: Well, two things. The Ryan plan doesn't cut Medicare. Actually, it increases funding in it. And the only people in this town that have voted to cut Medicare are the people that supported ObamaCare, that cut half a trillion dollars over the next 10 years out of Medicare and is using it to fund a healthcare experiment somewhere outside of Medicare. The only people in this town that have voted to cut Medicare spending are the people who voted in favor of ObamaCare.  That's a fact. And so the truth is the people-

GREGORY: But you don't deny that, that if you introduce a voucher system into Medicare, that there's going to be a set amount of dollars that seniors have to go into the private marketplace.  That is not Medicare as we now have it.

RUBIO: Well, Medicare as we now have it goes bankrupt. That's not a – Medicare as we now have it is not an option. Here's my challenge today. Anybody out there that thinks there's a better way to save Medicare should introduce a bill on Monday. Tomorrow when we get back to work here in Washington, run up to Capitol Hill and introduce your bill. Why hasn't the President proposed a Medicare plan? Why hasn't the congressional Democrats proposed a, a Medicare plan? Why haven't the leaders in the Senate that control the Senate, they haven't even proposed a budget, much, much less a Medicare plan. What is their plan to save a program that's going to go bankrupt in five to 12 years? Don't just criticize, propose. Otherwise, you're not serious, you're up here to play political games.

(...)

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC