JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, we continue our conversations with newly elected members of the Senate.
So far, we have talked with Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, Democrats Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota and Virginia’s Tim Kaine, and independent Angus King of Maine.
Deb Fischer will be one of just a handful of cattle ranchers in Congress when she is sworn in tomorrow. The 61-year-old Republican was a state senator from sparsely populated northern Nebraska.
She won her party nomination in a surprise victory over other, better known candidates last summer. In November, she defeated former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey by a wide margin, and she replaces retiring Democrat Ben Nelson.
Deb Fischer, welcome, and congratulations.
SEN.-ELECT DEB FISCHER, R-Neb.: Thank you, Judy. It’s great to be here.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But given the spectacle we’re watching in the Congress right now and over the last few years and the low regard we know the American people hold of Congress, are you sure you want this job?supre
DEB FISCHER: Oh, yes.
You know, there is so much that we need to do. And we just need to roll up our sleeves and get to work. You know, in Nebraska, we’re very fortunate. We have a nonpartisan unicameral. Most people don’t know that. So, we have experience with working with Republicans and Democrats.
And we have been able to get a lot done in Nebraska. And I hope I can bring that here to Washington as well.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You obviously have not been a part of the Senate that has been voting the last few days, but if you were sitting in the Senate right now, would you have voted for the version of the fiscal cliff deal that the Senate voted on last night?
DEB FISCHER: Well, I haven’t been a part of those discussions.
And like most Americans, I find it very, very frustrating to watch it. It’s not what we expected. I can tell you that. But spending is a problem. When I campaigned the last year-and-a-half all across the state of Nebraska, what I heard from people was their concern about spending. That’s not addressed in this bill.
I thank the leader, I thank the vice president for coming together and putting forth part of a solution in helping with tax relief for many Americans. But that didn’t go far enough. We have to address spending if we’re really going to talk about the problems.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, spending was a part of the discussions, but the Republicans were not able to agree with the spending cuts that were offered by the White House.
Where did everything go wrong, in your opinion?
DEB FISCHER: Well, you know, I think you can also say the White House didn’t agree with the spending cuts that were offered by the Republicans.
Again, we need to work together. We have to quit saying, it’s the Republicans’ fault or it’s the White House’s fault. Let’s get past the politics on this and really look at what the solutions can be. We have to address entitlements. Everybody knows that. Americans aren’t being hoodwinked by any of this discussion.
Like I said, it’s frustrating. It’s disappointing. And it doesn’t help to keep putting it off.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think tax increases in any form have a role in balancing the budget, in eventually balancing the budget and in addressing the deficit?
DEB FISCHER: I don’t support tax increases.
I campaigned saying I don’t support tax increases. I don’t want to see added burdens on people who create jobs. I think that’s the wrong way to go about this. As you said in my introduction, I did defeat Bob Kerrey by a very wide margin. I did that because Nebraskans elected me knowing I don’t support tax increases.
JUDY WOODRUFF: I ask you because in this deal that’s coming out of — that came out of the Senate that the House is now considering, 99 percent of Americans will keep their tax cuts.
Only less than 1 percent, people earning over $450,000 a year, you’re saying that is still unacceptable?
DEB FISCHER: Well, of course we have to provide those tax cuts to the 99 percent. But we’re playing politics by doing it.
We’re saying, OK, we’re going to provide tax cuts for these people, but the rest, they have to pay more. We don’t need to create more division in this country. I mean, just look at Washington. I’m on the outside right now until Thursday.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Right. Right.
DEB FISCHER: Look at Washington. It is so polarized. And talk like that just makes it worse.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, the argument that this should be — there should be a balanced approach, that there should be spending cuts, but that there also needs to be tax increases, your answer is?
DEB FISCHER: My answer is that we need to look at spending cuts. We need to look at entitlements. We need to look at regulations. We need to look at a tax code that’s broken, that both sides agree is broken, but that hasn’t been part of this discussion either.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But, again, spending only is what you’re saying?
DEB FISCHER: I’m saying that we need to cut the spending, and every American knows that.
JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to ask you about — about the availability of guns in this country after the terrible shooting in Newtown, Conn., the killing of 20 first-graders.
There’s a lot of discussion about whether Americans should have access that they have today. Do you think there should be limits on Americans’ access to guns?
DEB FISCHER: Well, first of all, it’s horrible, horrible what happened to those children and the adults in that school. And every American, we know that and our heart goes out to those people.
But I am a strong supporter of our Second Amendment rights. And so I believe that we don’t need to act swiftly now in reaction and having an emotional reaction to a horrible situation and put on limits on our constitutional rights.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What about the National Rifle Association recommendation? The president of the group spoke the other day and said the solution is having an armed guard in every school in the country. Do you think that’s a good idea?
DEB FISCHER: I believe that was offered by former President Bill Clinton as the solution to violence also.
Those decisions, though, need to be made at the local level. I was a school board member for over 20 years too. And so that’s something that local districts need to look at and look at their needs and how to take care of all the needs of their students, whether it’s safety or educational needs.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Last thing, Deb Fischer. The folks who endorsed you, people like Sarah Palin, the Club for Growth, very conservative groups who believe that the federal government should play a very limited role, as limited role as possible, in this country, what does that mean to you? What should there be less of that there is now?
DEB FISCHER: Well, I appreciated the support of Governor Palin, who came in towards the end of the primary. I didn’t have the support of Club for Growth.
I do believe in…
JUDY WOODRUFF: My mistake. I had read that you did.
DEB FISCHER: No, that’s fine. But I — and I didn’t have Tea Party support either.
I do believe in limited government. I believe government has certain priorities, and elected officials need to decide what those priorities are. You have to determine what a core responsibility of government is.
I was a state senator for eight years, as you mentioned. And as a state senator, I always based my decisions on the priorities that I believed were a responsibility of state government.
And those were public education, public safety, public infrastructure and taking care of those who truly can’t care for themselves. We have to do that on the federal level as well, because government can’t be everything to everyone. You have to make those tough choices, or we’re going to continue to see our debt grow by more than $16 trillion, where we are now. That’s not sustainable. That can’t continue.
And every American knows that.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Deb Fischer, about to be — become a United States senator from the state of Nebraska, you’re coming at a very interesting time. Welcome, again.
DEB FISCHER: Yes. Thank you so much.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you.
RAY SUAREZ: Find the series of interviews with the newly elected senators on our Politics page.