This morning on "Starting Poing with Soledad O'Brien," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) says it's a 'very real possibility' that Congress will let the Bush-era tax cuts expire, raising taxes across the board and hitting what economists are calling a 'fiscal cliff.'
"I certainly don't want to see any tax increase for working families," Sen. Durbin says. "That's the president's position. That's my position. And it's within the power of Congress to avoid that. But if we have to have this day of reckoning in order to finally break through and have meaningful deficit reduction that still creates a growing economy, then let's face it."
"There's a very real possibility, unless there's an agreement," Sen. Durbin adds. "People of goodwill in both political parties should work to avoid it. I want to work to avoid it. Let's start with the basic premise. Everybody in America has to do their fair share to reduce our debt and keep this economy moving forward, and that means saying to the top 2% of wage earners in America - listen, you're not getting the tax breaks did you in the past, but you're doing this for the good of our country and frankly in the end, we're all going to be better off, including the wealthy."
See more clips from the interview below. Transcript available after the jump.
O'BRIEN: That was Senator Patty Murray.
Do you - we've got Dick Durbin, Senator Dick Durbin, with us this morning. He's the assistant majority leader. He's a Democrat from Illinois.
Nice to see you, sir. Thanks for talking with us.
Do you think we're going to go into 2013 with no deal?
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Well, I think we can work out an agreement, but we have to start with the premise that if we are going to realistically reduce the deficit, the top earners of America have to pay their fair share toward the solution. Otherwise, we'll be facing dramatic cuts in Medicare and programs like education. I don't think it's fair to working families across America for that outcome.
O'BRIEN: You heard what Patty Murray said just a moment ago. If it comes down to let them all expire for everybody, or extend them all for everybody, what would you pick?
DURBIN: Well, I certainly don't want to see any tax increase for working families. That's the president's position. That's my position. And it's within the power of Congress to avoid that.
But if we have to have this day of reckoning in order to finally break through and have meaningful deficit reduction that still creates a growing economy, then let's face it.
O'BRIEN: What does that mean? Does that mean that you're saying that if we have to have a day of reckoning that in fact you'd let them expire, which then would raise the taxes on the middle class people you just said you don't want to raise taxes on?
DURBIN: There's a very real possibility, unless there's an agreement. But people of goodwill in both political parties should work to avoid it. I want to work to avoid it. Let's start with the basic premise. Everybody in America has to do their fair share to reduce our debt and keep this economy moving forward, and that means saying to the top 2 percent of wage earners in America - listen, you're not getting the tax breaks did you in the past, but you're doing this for the good of our country and frankly in the end, we're all going to be better off, including the wealthy.
O'BRIEN: Senator Durbin, let me talk to Ron Brownstein for a moment.
BROWNSTEIN: Soledad, the magic number in the modern Senate is 40. So, the real question for Senator Durbin is - are there 40 Senate Democrats who today or in December are willing to let the tax cuts for everyone expire, rather than extending them for those in the top earners earning $250,000 or more? Are there 40 Democratic voters that would bring them down rather than extending them?
O'BRIEN: What would be the political implications of bringing the whole thing down?
BROWNSTEIN: Among other things, people say they are concerned about the deficit. Going off the fiscal cliff would have a significant reduction of the deficit. There's also the risk of having a tremendous contraction in the economy.
But are Democrats - are there, in fact, 40 Democrats willing to do a Patty Murray yesterday and what Senator Durbin today implied that they are willing to do, tear the whole thing down?
O'BRIEN: Do you think, sir, that you have another 38 who are willing to say, OK, let's rip it down? Done and done.
DURBIN: Let's just say this, let's start with this premise, a majority of the Senate, and that would be virtually all of the Democratic senators, a majority, are prepared to vote today to protect middle income families from any tax increase. We are saying the top 2 percent should pay their fair share of the limited amount. If you're asking whether or not we are going to give away this or that before the day of reckoning, I agree with Senator Murray. We have to face this honestly and responsibly. I hate to use that old cliche but we can't kick it down the road anymore.
O'BRIEN: But would you vote today in letting them all expire? So, that's where I thought you were going when you start –
O'BRIEN: You would vote today to let them all expire, which would raise taxes on the middle class.
DURBIN: What I'm saying today is I'm not going to take that off the table. We're going to face this once and for all in a bipartisan way. We're going to solve the problems facing this country.
Those who want to choose, oh, let's take this off the table, let's that off the table, no. We're going to face this thing once and for all and get the right solution for America's future.
O'BRIEN: Earlier this morning I was talking to Senator Ron Johnson, and he was saying - you know, and as you know, I think there's attempted shift if not a shift by the GOP to start talking about Solyndra and move all of conversations about Bain and taxes. And here's what he said about the cronyism around Solyndra. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: Solyndra, it doesn't - it doesn't make the investment a good investment. It still is half a billion dollars of taxpayer money that was squandered. There's about $35 billion of these energy loans that have been, you know, guaranteed to different companies, $16 billion of it went into one program where you've only created 2,300 jobs, which if those loans go bad like Solyndra went bad, there's over $16 million per job.
I mean, that's really the main problem here. President Obama simply doesn't understand that it's the free enterprise system, the private sector, the productive sector. Not the government sector that creates long-term, self-sustaining jobs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Fact check, took a look at his numbers and it's not $16 billion but it was $10 billion. And he's got a point. It was a bad deal.
You know, doesn't he have sort of a point in re-raising this debate, especially since you're trying to move the conversation away from Bain and taxes for Governor Romney?
DURBIN: Both Mitt Romney and the Republican senators, all of them, are trying to race away from Bain Capital. They cannot explain or defend the policies in this country that exported good American jobs overseas to low wage countries. That's why Mitt Romney is saying he was retroactively retired. What in the world does that mean?
O'BRIEN: He doesn't say that. His people said that. But he specifically did not say that.
DURBIN: Part of his campaign. But he has been paid $100,000 a year from this firm that he supposedly retroactively retired from and was still listed as the CEO and president of.
Let's step aside. Back to Senator Johnson's point. Throughout our history, our government has made investments in research and basic investment. Think about all of the pharmaceutical breakthroughs that came through because the National Institutes of Health did the research, the basic research that led to new drugs.
The same thing is true on clean energy. If we're going to move forward to have the energy in the 21st century, we have to invest in new opportunities. Some of them will pay off. Most of them will, but not all of them. And to condemn this government investment in the infrastructure and energy of America's future is just plain wrong.
O'BRIEN: One tax reform that Governor Romney is suggesting and proposing is a territorial tax system. What do you think of that?
DURBIN: Well, if I understand what he's saying, it basically would allow those who have businesses overseas to repatriate their profits to the United States at a lower tax rate. Sadly, that is another tax code incentive to send business overseas.
I know those incentives worked for Bain Capital. They made millions of dollars for Mitt Romney. But it's exactly opposite of what we should do. We're going to move this week on a matter that is sponsored by Senator Debbie Stabenow ands Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio to stop putting incentives in the tax code to move American jobs overseas, instead reward companies in the tax code that bring jobs back to America.
We need good paying jobs right here at home.
O'BRIEN: The territorial tax system would mean that companies with employees overseas would only pay taxes in the country where they are operating.
O'BRIEN: And actually there's bipartisan support for that. And there's groups like the Simpson-Bowles Commission on Fiscal Responsibility that supports it. Members of President Obama's Export Council, they support that. The Council on Job and Competitiveness, they support that. So what you're saying, and what Debbie Stabenow was saying is not supported by many of the president's own committee members.
DURBIN: Well, let me tell you, I voted for Bowles-Simpson, but that's one provision - I didn't agree with all of it. And that's one provision I disagreed. Why?
The last time we tried this, and so did companies, if you move the jobs overseas and made a lot of money, and want to bring the money back, we're going to reduce your taxes, you're going to promise you're going to create jobs back in America with this corporate profit. It turned they didn't do it. They took it in compensation for their executives and dividends for the shareholders. They didn't create new jobs in America.
We have to focus laser-like on creating jobs in this country, not rewarding companies that want to push jobs overseas.
O'BRIEN: Senator Dick Durbin, joining us this morning. It's nice to see you, sir. Thanks for your time. Appreciate it.