tv Congressional Career of Senator Carl Levin CSPAN November 26, 2014 8:00pm-8:31pm EST
>> tonight on c-span, congressional retirement interviews with senator carl levin and congressman ralph hall. then the national transportation safety board looks at the dangers of drowsy driving. president obama pardons to turkeys at the white house. >> michigan senator carl levin is retiring after serving six terms. we recently spoke with him about his political career and the current state of washington politics.
>> why are you retiring? >> a number of reasons. i didn't want to spend these years retiring. it is not the way i wanted to spend my time. married and i have been at now 42 of those years have been in public life. we felt it was time. i am also 80 years old now. i just felt it was time to go home, spend a little more time. thatain thing was these years have gone by and they have been so important in terms of america being at war, but also in terms of recovering from a recession, or as chairman
of the permanent subcommittee investigations -- important investigations any to go on. i wanted to not take time away from campaigning. here,the budget situation which led to a crazy sequestration, needs to be revamped, to get rid of that approach, the automatic, across-the-board cuts approach that we call sequestration. to do that, it will require some additional revenue, as well as some modification in the in town area -- in the entitlement area. we now need to focus on collecting the revenue which is mostbecause some of the
profitable corporations in america avoid paying taxes by shifting revenue to tax havens, by a bunch of tax avoidance gimmicks, which has happened in the last couple years. together, it is time not to run for reelection. >> you mentioned campaigning a couple times too. do you like campaigning? >> i like campaigning, i he's raising money. >> why? >> i think there is such a huge role for money in campaigns. it is painful, frankly. ask people for money, particularly if those people have matters in front of the congress. the amounts are not what they used to be. the amounts used to be much more manageable. you could ask people, an average
person, for a lot of money. but it is not the unlimited funds that are now available, because of terrible supreme court decisions. people and corporations can be unlimited -- can be act for unlimited amounts of money. anonymous,so be kept those contributions. and that is a real tragedy, i believe. it has changed the nature of the so there is too much money in these campaigns. i didn't feel comfortable being out there, asking for money in this setting. >> what are you going to miss? >> the reporters. my friends in the senate, my staff.
i have a fabulous staff and a lot of good friends. we will miss our house. we will miss capitol hill. we like living on capitol hill, we are urban people. we live in the city of detroit, that has always been my home, but we have got a wonderful neighborhood here. a wonderful eastern market where we love to shop. there are some things here that i will miss. i won't miss the excessive partisanship. the unwillingness of some to compromise, ideological rigidity. i won't miss that. but i will miss my colleagues. it is a great job. i am not leaving because of the job, i love the job. i love every minute of it, even when there is too much bickering going on. i have got a fabulous job.
that is going to be hard to leave. >> legislatively, what sticks out in your mind? as much as we've accomplished and 36 years, i don't want to look back at that so much as to look forward to the next couple months. and the next couple months, there are a couple things i would like to do i. one is get my defense authorization bill passed. involvingjor effort hundreds of provisions that need to be first addressed by the senate, hopefully. then addressed in conference with the house. this is a massive annual job. we need to get that job. it, their deserve families deserve it. i also want to finish up some work on the subcommittee of investigations, looking at
gimmicks which are used to avoid taxes. some gimmicks which are used to get people, particularly large banks, certain special advantages over the rest of the world. i have spent a lot of time looking at that. there is some work that needs to be done there, as well. the biggest part, which will probably be undone, or left call theill be what i unjustified tax loopholes. everyone talks about tax reform. everybody says they are for tax reform. when you start looking at what code,e credits in the tax the deductions in the tax code, that should be closed, people then say -- wait a minute, that provision serves a useful purpose, this provision serves a useful purpose, that other
provision serves a useful purpose. the truth of the matter is that most of the tax code serves a useful purpose. most of the tax code does things like give your child care credit, deductions or credit for charitable contributions, for mortgage expenses, for accelerated depreciation, for energy conservation. i favor those things, those are useful. they serve an economic or social purpose. at theam focused on permanent subcommittee on investigations, on a bipartisan basis -- because i have worked --h the ranking republican now that john mccain is the ranking republican, we have worked together to look at the tax loopholes that don't serve any justified or economic purpose. there is no economic purpose
served when microsoft or apple are able to shift their revenue to puerto rico to avoid paying taxes. there is no economic purpose one of these new, --ellectual property giants they produce good stuff, i am not quarreling with apple. they create wonderful products. is the way they avoid paying taxes on those profits, and shifting profits and their intellectual property to themselves, to their own corporations and tax havens to avoid paying taxes. those are the loopholes that we need to close, and we need the revenue in order to avoid another round of sequestration,
which is there's absolutely mindless way to budget, where everything gets cut, including the national institutes of health. we are in the middle of an ebola problem. research has been cut at the national institute of health. because of this sequestration method of budgeting, which has an automatic, cookie-cutter approach. we have got to end that, and most of us -- not all of us -- not the tea party guys, the libertarian guys, but most of us really want to end sequestration. from whatever perspective, whether it is domestic programs, infrastructure, roads, health care, so forth, or whether it is from the national press -- national security perspective. close the unjustified tax loopholes that don't serve any economic purpose, in part to use that revenue in order to make sure we do what we need to
such asportant areas national security, education, and so forth. we probably can't finish that. republicans will join for me after the election, those who really believe in what i am saying to do it before the election. hopefully in a lame-duck session we can at least set the table to get tax reform done in the right way, not so that revenues can be used to reduce tax rates for people who don't need a tax rate reduction. in order to come up with a different approach to a budget so that we can do whatever deficit reduction we want to do on a much more logical way. >> senator, 1978, what made you run? >> a lot of things that. my wife whispered in my ear that i should run for senate.
known a local official in detroit for years before it ran. i love my hometown. detroit has a lot of problems, and one of the problems that had was 20,000 vacant houses owned by the government. usedwere open to trespass, as dope dens and other things. we had a huge battle going on with the housing and urban development department. i wanted them to act and they wouldn't act to remove all those houses. this was a big issue and it still is. said, they could not remove the houses. we can't tear the down the way we would tear down a privately owned house.
i had a big battle, and i wanted to take that sentiment to washington, that i have to be a strong supporter of what they were trying to do, which was create housing. i am a democrat, i believe there is a useful role for that. also someone who has seen waste for government -- .aste in government i wanted congress to have the power to veto regulations of the bureaucracy. i didn't want to be told by my elected official, we can to do anything about it, go to some federal agency in chicago or something. official toelected be accountable to me, as a
citizen of detroit and an elected official. that was something i felt very keenly about, to take the spirit to washington, that, yes, if we wanted to preserve what is really good and important about government, the opportunities of education that it can provide, the infrastructure that can provide, the health care which it should guarantee, the -- ifch on diseases which we want to preserve that, we have got to take care of the wasteful part. the part that is frustrating to it is, at times, seeming so distant and rigid, one-size-fits-all. that is what i wanted to bring to washington. of thea major part
campaign. it wasn't one thing which may be want to run for office here in washington, but i would say my experience as a local official in detroit was a major part of it. >> was it a surprise anyon -- that you won? >> not to my wife, not to me, not to a whole bunch of supporters. race, was always a close going in. it was something of an upset. it wasn't a total upset, but it was something of an upset. >> senator levin, how did you end up on the armed services committee? >> i felt that was kind of a gap in my life. i wanted to learn more about the military. i had always had respect for the military, at what had happened in vietnam. but what happened after vietnam was unfair to the troops.
more.ed to learn right away, i went to the armed services committee. the three committees i joined are the same three committees i am on. that was the main reason that i wanted -- i wanted to learn. it has been a great learning experience. it has really increased my appreciation and respect for what our men and women in uniform do for us. and not just military people, but the military leadership is advanced fromr civilian leaders in terms of war and life and death issues. there is a much greater caution on the part of military leaders to go to war than some of our civilian leaders. some of the civilian leaders,
too ready to go to war without therstanding complexities, history that may have gotten various countries where they are, the risks that are taken. not just for men and women in uniform but for the military leaders of our country. they think deeply about war and peace. they are also great diplomats, many are terrific diplomat. >> when it comes to the military spending issue, are we spending too much? it is sort of a macro question that you can break down -- but are we spending too much? too little? >> we spent too little in some areas. some of our modernization programs, are nuclear program -- too much money being spent.
i don't think we need thousands of nuclear weapons. you can't use one, really. deter,e useful to that is about it. during the cold war, they were a deterrence. we spent a lot of money on our nuclear weapons. and we continue to reduce the number of nuclear weapons that we have. i think we are going to have to make some difficult reforms in terms of some of the costs that we have. it is not a black-and-white issue at all in terms of military spending, because there are some areas where we have cut too deep. we can hopefully remedy that, but at the same time, we have to keep going on the reform peace, including acquisition reform. senator mccain and i were leading the way, at least in the
senate, on acquisition reform, to make sure that the level of cost was brought down. it was much too much. we had done some of that with some success. where yousome areas have stuff that we are spending too much money for. but in terms of the amount of wepetition that we have, passed the competition in contracting act many years ago, which was very important. but also this acquisition reform act. we led the way in the senate on a bipartisan basis. it was a very important reform and we have to keep trying to get rid of the waste that exists an operationon, in that size there will be raced but you have to keep fighting it. >> when you want to go have dinner, who are some of your
friends here? who do you call? >> i don't want to pick on anyone. i resist on that, totally. we don't go out to dinner very much with people. that part of our life seems to have dwindled. much more when we came here over the years, whatever the time pressure was, whatever the reason, there is less about that goes on. -- less of that that goes on. i have too much respect for too many. and oh i will regret it and kick myself and say how could i have mentioned him without mentioning her. >> let's go to presidents, then. it was the president that you have enjoyed working with and haven't enjoyed working with?
worked to a degree with all the presidents. i haven't had a bad relationship with any president, for starters. is very,resident obama very thoughtful, very careful. does how to weigh pros and cons and gets along very well. i thought president clinton was unusual in terms of his ability, not just a think through issues and he has got a heck of a great mind, but he also had the ability -- has the ability, still very vigorously -- to connect with people on a personal way. arele will tell you, if you in a room with 100 people and bill clinton and you go from person to person, you will think he is the only one in the room
that is aware of you. that is the kind of unusual ability that he has to connect with people. he is sympathetic in a very genuine way, the underdog, which i have always liked and admired and him. -- in him. he has a sensitivity to people and their basic needs. i have gotten along with all the presidents to varying degrees. i don't want to say anything negative. i disagreed with the second president bush more than anyone. i disagreed very strongly on the iraq war. it was a policy issue, not a personal issue. i voted against going to war because i thought it was based ,n misrepresentations particularly by vice president cheney, these allegations which
were untrue at the time, known to be untrue by the intelligence committee. there was some connection between al qaeda and saddam hussein. true,llegation was not and it was repeated over and over again, particularly by vice president cheney. that, i thought, was really wrong. they created some real tension between us. i won't say it was physical, i have been, but very critical and very hard on vice president cheney. i think you really was the main leader that got us into that war. it wasn't the weapons of mass destruction issue, because i thought saddam hussein had weapons of mass destruction. don't attack people because
they have weapons of mass destruction, or else we would have attacked the soviet union or they would have attacked us, for pakistan, or india. -- weecause we had a thought he had weapons doesn't give us the reason to attack him. it is only if he is threatening to use them or has used them against you that he would then say, ok. what was presented to the american people before the iraq war, which gave them the greatest heartburn in a second bush administration, was representations to the american people, including at the u.n. powell,gly, by general who tried to get rid of the stuff. it was not supportable. he still ended up with statements in their which were not accurate. but at least you made an effort.
efforteast he made an before he made his presentation to the u.n. of general critical powell as im of vice president cheney. of vice president cheney. >> is it tough to understand what members of the house have to deal with? it gets pretty complex. >> oh, yeah. you have staff to help you through it. involved with banks and tax codes and wall street because of the permanent subcommittee on investigations. there are a lot of issues and the defense area which i can't expect too many of my colleagues to really know in-depth. there are -- they are involved
in energy issues or other issues which are technical that would be a mystery to me which i have to get up to snuff on when the staff comes to say there is a vote tomorrow. eah, i would say 70% of the things around here are things you are not in the middle of, that you have to become familiar with and take a position on. that is where the fabulous staff comes in. you really rely on staff, heavily. >> has it that hard to have your brother in the house? >> the is my lifelong best buddy. he has been my best buddy for 53 years. we got three kids and six hendkids and my brother -- has been an amazing brother, an amazing member of the house of representatives. and boy, his colleagues just raise about him and love his
is reaching out to his colleagues on both sides of the aisle. he is a really nice guy. a nice, thoughtful guy. best brother anybody ever had. >> come january, what is your advice to the new senator from michigan? >> its gary peters. i don't think i have to give him too much advice on the house of representatives. he knows where the traps are. be, i think, to remember that this is the house of representatives. majority doesn't rule in the senate. of minority rights which exist here, for a good reason, can also be abused. they can be abused by some of the filibuster threats some of our team party members are using in order to get their way on
something where they shouldn't have their way. it needs to be protected. the rights of the minority also need to be used with some discretion so that the majority doesn't react by trying to restrict the rights of the minority. is the problem here, that because there were some abuses, excesses, by some of the republicans, just some, -- he had to do what he did in ways which created problems. .his is not the house whoever the minority as next year, to raise issues, debate issues at length, to bring it to public attention. yournator, moving back to
apartment in detroit -- what are your retirement years? what is your plan? where are all your personal papers going? >> they are going to michigan>>. we don't know what i will be doing. there are a lot of opportunities, and we are not focusing at all on that now. i have got to and a half months of hard work ahead of me. we are going to save the hard decisions for later. we know we are going to go home, know we have a lot more time with three kids and six grandkids. >> senator carl levin, democrat of michigan, retiring. >> thank you. he's serving his last term after losing a primary runoff in may.
congressman hall sat down for an interview. his is 35 minutes. >> can congressman ralph hall, you've been in the house of representatives since january of 1981,aged you'd hoped to be here for one last term. the voters thought otherwise. ow are you processing your departure? >> well, everything that i checked on during that that i was 10 to 12 points ahead. it told me one thing, don't reason listen to people who tell you you're ahead and you're not. i really thought i had it won. come back that night at 3:00 in the morning, i had to think as i was drifling back out to my house how it happened. when i got home i pulled out old elections and checked to see