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Senator-Elect Tim Kaine ‘Heartened’ by Openness to Bipartisan Budget Solutions

Judy Woodruff sat down with former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, newly elected to the U.S. Senate. The Democratic lawmaker discusses his optimism for Congress being able to work across the aisle, his hopes for finding the right way to balance the budget and making compromises on tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

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    And now we continue our conversations with newly elected members of the U.S. Senate.

    Tim Kaine is a former Virginia governor, lieutenant governor, and mayor of Richmond. The 54-year old Kaine also led the Democratic National Committee. He won 53 percent of the vote to defeat Republican George Allen, and replaces retiring Democrat Jim Webb.

    Judy Woodruff talked with him earlier this week.


    Senator-elect Tim Kaine, congratulations.

    TIM KAINE, D-Va., senator-elect: Judy, it's great to be with you. Thanks so much.


    Yours wasn't only one the closest Senate races in the country. I believe it was the most expensive Senate race in the country, over $80 million spent. What does that say about our democracy?


    Well, it was very unfortunate.

    The kinds of negative ads that were run against me for a year from a variety of these outside groups didn't impress Virginia voters. They just said, look, if you want to get elected to the Senate, you're going to have to tell us why you want to go there and what you're going to do.


    You took an unusual approach, I think, during your campaign. You went around the state of Virginia and you talked to people who you knew in the other party, who you knew were not going to support you. And you said, whatever happens, if I win, I want to work with you.

    Is that an approach you think you can use in Washington?


    Well, I'm going to use it. We will see if it's successful.

    You know, Judy, my thought I was at least a 50-50 chance of winning this race. I had run seven races before this and hadn't lost one.

    So, I wanted to let people know, even if I knew they were on the other side, that I intended to win and that I was going to win and then try to work together for the good of the commonwealth and the country.

    We had an orientation last week in Washington, the 12 new senators, and we're Democrats and Republicans, but most of it, we were there learning together and talking about areas where we can find common ground.

    We all know that we have got to fix the fiscal situation in the country, and we all know that, while the economy is growing again, there are some things that we have got to do to accelerate economic growth.

    So, while I'm sure even there will be areas where, even in good faith and with respect, we won't be able to find agreement, there are always areas of agreement if you listen and if you work hard enough to find them. And that is what the American public wants us to do.


    Is there specifically something that you think you will do differently that can maybe cut through this gridlock in Washington?


    Well, you know, a couple of things that I bring to the table that I would say are skill sets that I would have are, first, I was a governor during the worst recession since the 1930s, and had to make a lot of very painful budget cuts.

    So, as we're talking about a way, as you know, of finding fiscal balance, I think you have to find balance on both sides of the balance sheet. We do have to find savings. We do have to make cuts, but there's a right way and a wrong way to make cuts. If you're only cutting, you are making a mistake. You just can't cut your way to prosperity.

    So, that's why we do have to have a budget deal that finds fixes on both sides of the balance sheet, both expenses and revenues.

    And I saw that again and again in the daily process of governing a large state in a tough time, that you have got to have revenues to make the kinds of investments that grow the economy and prepare for success. So, I do think I can offer those insights.


    When you talk about the fiscal cliff, the deadline is supposed to be Jan. 1, but you have been out there talking about what can be done about that.

    Among other things, you're saying taxes should go — in other words, the Bush tax cuts should be allowed to expire on everyone under $500,000, which is more than what the president is saying.




    He's saying it ought to be at $250,000. Why the difference? And have you talked to him about that?


    Sure. Yes, yes, actually, it was over — over $500,000, not under $500,000.

    But, yes, I — that position, Judy, is one that I put on the table a year ago. And I will tell you why. There isn't anything sort of theological about the $500,000 number. It's just a compromise.

    The Democrats' position has been tax cuts to expire over $250,000. The Republicans' position has been make all the tax cuts permanent.

    So a year ago, I put a compromise on the table. If that compromise were accepted, it would raise $500 billion in revenue over the next 10 years, which would take the potential trillion-dollar sequester and cut it in half.

    And then there are a couple of other steps that I put on the table during the campaign as well that would reduce the need to find savings that would either shred the safety net or hurt the economy.

    I am really heartened by the discussions that are taking place. What I heard based on the discussion between the president and congressional leaders Friday, it sounds like folks recognize the magnitude of the consequences.


    Well, what did you hear that gave you belief that they're going to work it out? Because you still have the Republicans saying, we don't think rates should go up on the wealthy. And the president is saying they must go up on the wealthy.


    Well, I mean, I definitely heard an openness — it's interesting, an openness to revenue on the Republican side, revenue possibly without rate increases, but more revenue.

    How that emerges over the course of the next weeks, you know, again, that's more for people who are in the body rather than me. I do think a solution, a compromise that involves letting the Bush tax cuts expire at the top end makes perfect sense. And you have to pair that, then, with savings.

    But the opportunity for Congress right now is a really good one. If they can find a deal to avoid the sequestration cuts, that will then be a springboard that can move us into talking about the bigger-picture budget issues.

    I think it will send a signal that, look, we're ready to work together. I think both on budget issues and on issues like immigration reform, I think 2013 is going to be a heavy-lifting year where we will get some things done. The American public is expecting us to.


    Are you having regular conversations with Republicans in the Senate about any of this?


    I have started to already.

    I mean, last week, I had a number of conversations with certainly the Republican newcomers. I intend to hit the ground on January 3 very much running, because, again, I think we have got to make some hard fiscal and budgetary decisions that are truly balanced and make them quick. And I do think there are some other big-picture issues, like immigration reform and others, where I think we can make progress quickly if we listen to each other and find those points of common ground that I think do exist.


    So, you really do believe Washington can be functional?



    Look, you know, Judy, our history shows that the Senate in particular is not on a one-way path to dysfunction. There are moments of great functionality and moments of great dysfunctionality. And often those moments are near in time to one another. But we're not on a one-way path to dysfunction.

    The building can change with the character and inclinations of people who walk into that building every day. And I think you got have a group of 12 newcomers who are coming in who will scramble the equation.

    And those who are there, you know, the 88 who remain I think want to make sure that the Senate gets a restored reputation for being that place that the founders intended where, you know, country comes first, and then relationships, and then party.


    Governor and now senator-elect Tim Kaine, thank you very much for talking with us.


    You bet, Judy. Thanks so much.


    And we will talk with other newly elected senators in the coming weeks.