Andrea Mitchell Asks Webb About Post-9/11 Economic & Security Challenges

September 12, 2011
Mitchel Reports, MSNBC

Andrea Mitchell: Virginia Senator Jim Webb serves on the Joint Economic Committee and has been grappling with all of these issues. Senator Webb, thanks so much for joining us from the Hill. Alan Simpson was on earlier and he says that $4 trillion dollars is the new magic number for the super-committee to come up with if the real problems that we face down the road are going to be dealt with, not immediately, but in terms of phasing in these cuts. Is that even possible given the current climate in Congress?

Webb: We’re obviously going to have some pretty strong debates on where taxes would be and where cuts would come from. I do not believe we should be increasing ordinary earned income taxes on any level. I think there are places for us to be able to get money by changing things like the capital gains tax and the loopholes that have existed in our tax code. But the number one reality that we are facing here is we cannot bring more jobs without growing our economy and we cannot grow our economy unless we have greater capital investment. There are a lot of reasons we are not getting the capital right now. Some businesspeople are uneasy about the future and they’re holding back on it. Others are for political reasons: there are people in corporations holding back on money right now looking to next year’s election. There’s a trillion dollars sitting overseas right now from American corporations who do not have to pay taxes on it unless they bring it back in. We may need to find a way to bring this money back in. So what we really have to do is grow capital investment in this country in order to start addressing this whole range of problems.

Mitchell: Another one of your areas of expertise is the military and if they do not agree to the debt ceiling in the super-committee, you’re going to get into that trigger, which would be hacking away at the Defense spending.

Webb: That is a good incentive for people on the committee to take these next couple of months seriously. Let’s not forget, over the last ten years there were people like myself who were warning that if you occupy these other countries in the war against international terrorism, you are going to drain the economy. And the economy was drained not just through budget deficits–which is where this super-committee would go–but through the supplemental appropriations that were above the budget debates and went directly into the national debt. So we have a budget deficit argument and then we have a national debt argument. They have been two separate things. We have to seriously look at the budget process and where these military expenditures are coming from. I was in the Pentagon 25 years ago when the Gramm-Rudman cuts came down and they were able to find money. If you put percentages onto DOD and these other departments, there are ways they will find the efficiencies rather than us sitting here picking once place or the other for them.

Mitchell: Speaking of the Pentagon and what happened ten years ago yesterday, do you have any reflections on 9/11, on the anniversary, and they way we’re responding to terror threats, whether we are better prepared – we are clearly better prepared – but are we prepared enough?

Webb: I have two very strong feelings about this. On the positive side, I think we are doing much, much better in terms of the terrorist threat per say and the ability of our technology and of our tactical forces to deal with it. On the other side, I wrote a piece ten years ago today in terms of how to fight international terrorism and one paragraph in the piece said, “Do not occupy territory.” We took a maneuver force and turned it into a defensive force. We do not need to be building permanent bases or semi-permanent bases in order to deal with the notion of international terrorism. Terrorism is mobile. So we need to reduce our occupation forces around the world. We have learned the lesson that these are not the right models. We need to continue what we have been doing in terms of technology and tactical ways of dealing with international terrorists who are out to do us harm.

Mitchell: Big lessons and I know you wrote an op-ed on September 4, 2002, in the Washington Post about Iraq going forward. So, we’ve got Iraq and Afghanistan and that is a primer for both…

Webb: In that piece five months before the invasion, I said I do not think they have an exit strategy because they do not want to leave. It is time for us to start taking care of the problems here at home and fighting international terrorism in a smart way instead of going after nation-building, which is costly and really has not given us that much of a benefit.