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Talking Revenue, Filibuster Reform and Transition to Senate With Jeff Flake

November 29, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
Ray Suarez talks to U.S. Representative turned Senator-elect Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who will take over retiring Jon Kyl's seat in the Senate Flake reflects on his hopes for the next term, including how he plans to work across party lines in the Senate to find solutions to U.S. budget issues.
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RAY SUAREZ: And now we continue our conversations with newly elected senators.

Jeff Flake is currently finishing his sixth term representing Arizona in Congress.

Prior to being elected to the office, the 49-year-old Flake worked as the executive director of the Goldwater Institute, an association that promotes less government.

Earlier this month, he won the seat left open by retiring Republican Jon Kyl, taking 50 percent of the vote.

And Sen.-elect Flake joins me from Capitol Hill.

Welcome to the program.

REP. JEFF FLAKE,R-Ariz., Arizona senator-elect: Hey. Thanks for having me on, Ray.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, today, Speaker Boehner accused the Democrats of not offering any serious proposals to avoid going over the fiscal cliff, and shortly after, the White House and the Democrats answered that the Republicans had not offered any of their own plans.

Is this something that’s going to be able to be taken care of while you’re still a representative, or is it going to land in your lap when you move to the other chamber?

JEFF FLAKE: You know, I hope we get it done, obviously. We want to avoid the cliff.

And I think it behooves us all to move right now. It is a little troubling that we don’t have any real plans or offers on the spending side.

I think, on the revenue side, it’s pretty clear by now that Republicans are willing to give up more revenue, but we have got to see a balance. There’s got to be spending cuts. And if those have been offered, I’m not sure what they are.

RAY SUAREZ: Are you one of those members who’s staked out a position on whether it has to be rates or effective revenue and not rates?

JEFF FLAKE: Right.

Well, I think it can be effective revenue. It obviously depends on where you put the level of deductions that can be taken. And so I would rather not raise rates at all. I think it can be done without that. But certainly additional revenue is going to be required.

RAY SUAREZ: The man who will be leading the Senate in the next Congress, Harry Reid, says he’s taking a serious look at filibuster reform, bemoaning the fact that getting 60 votes for anything is becoming increasingly difficult. Is it worth a look?

JEFF FLAKE: It’s worth a look, and it’s worth rejecting.

I think it was looked at a couple years ago by Republicans. The nuclear option was almost employed. And I was very glad to see cooler heads prevail at that time and then back away from it. I hope they do the same today.

You know, we have already got the House, where you have a Rules Committee controlled by the majority, where the majority can put whatever it wants on the floor or reject whatever it wants. We don’t need that in the Senate. And that’s essentially what would happen if you get rid of a 60-vote threshold on a motion to proceed.

RAY SUAREZ: But no matter who has the majority, hasn’t it become increasingly difficult to get votes out from cloture and on to the floor for an up-or-down vote?

JEFF FLAKE: It has. And I think that that calls for an agreement between members, but not a changing of the rules. And I hope that we can do that by mutual agreement.

I don’t think that any party is blameless here. We obviously want a functioning Senate. We haven’t had that. We want to go through regular order. We have got to do that. So — but I just don’t think that we ought to start by changing the rules.

RAY SUAREZ: You will be moving from the majority party in the House to the minority party in the Senate.

JEFF FLAKE: Right.

RAY SUAREZ: What changes for you as a legislator?

JEFF FLAKE: Well, the Senate has typically been where minority can still exercise considerable power. And I hope that that’s still the case.

That’s one thing that’s troubling. You work pretty hard to get to the Senate and then, all of a sudden, the rules change and you’re right back in the House in terms of the rules.

So I hope that we can have the same rules package. And I can tell you, my record in the House has certainly been to work across the aisle. That is more required in the Senate.

I’m certainly prepared to do that, and obviously be able to work on a range of issues that perhaps I wasn’t able to in the House.

RAY SUAREZ: One issue of an issue where you have worked across the aisle is immigration reform.

And though the compromise bills you worked on with members of the Democratic Party never really got the full hearing or the full airing across the country that you might have wanted, they are an example of an issue that’s coming back up again.

Do you think immigration reform has a chance in the coming Congress?

JEFF FLAKE: I do. I think it’s a better chance than ever.

I think, obviously, we have been without it. And it’s a problem that just gets bigger and worse, particularly for a border state like Arizona. And this is one that’s going to require working across the aisle, where both parties take the plunge on certain items. I hope we can do that.

And certainly after this election, Republicans realized that not just for substantive policy reasons, for political reasons as well, it behooves us to move ahead. That’s a good thing.

RAY SUAREZ: The man whose place you will be taking in the Senate, Jon Kyl, is the co-sponsor with Sen. Hutchison of the Achieve Act, which would give legal residence to people who came illegally as children.

JEFF FLAKE: Right.

RAY SUAREZ: He won’t be in the next Senate. Will that bill be an orphan, or will you take over that spot?

JEFF FLAKE: Well, I’m glad they have introduced it. That gives us a point of departure, where to start from, and there will be reaction to that as we go into the New Year. And we can either introduce that same thing or something like it.

What we have right now with President Obama’s action is a temporary measure. We need something permanent. And this has always been an issue that we have needed to deal with in a humane, rational way. And if this bill represents the place to start, that’s great.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, you’re about to make a career move, a move for the people of your state. One thing voters said consistently through 2012 was that they didn’t get a sense that Congress was getting much done. Do you have optimism that the next Congress is going to be different from this last one?

JEFF FLAKE: I do, mostly because we have to. We’re at a point on the fiscal issues where we absolutely have to reach an agreement.

And perhaps when we do so, whether it’s in this lame-duck session or early in the session, then maybe that will set the stage for other areas as well.

We have got to, on the regulatory front, deal with some of these issues in a bipartisan way as well. I’m anxious to get started there. And, hopefully, we can.

RAY SUAREZ: Arizona Sen.-elect Jeff Flake, good luck and thanks for joining us.

JEFF FLAKE: Thanks for having me on.

JEFFREY BROWN: And you can watch our earlier interviews with senators-elect Angus King and Tim Kaine. That’s on our website.