John McCain Sept. 23 press conference. Transcript courtesy of Federal News Service.
SEN. MCCAIN: (In progress) -- by the potential collapse of our financial system.
Two years ago, I warned the American people about the lack of oversight, transparency, the backroom dealings and financial recklessness at Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Those warnings went unheeded and, more than anything, directly contributed to the subprime mortgage crisis which has created the perfect economic storm.
Further inaction is simply not an option. We must pass legislation to address this crisis. If we don't, credit will dry up, with devastating consequences for our economy. People will no longer be able to buy homes and their life savings will be at stake. Businesses will not have enough money to pay their employees.
Let me be perfectly clear: The great burden is upon the American people. Seven hundred billion dollars is a staggering and unprecedented figure and it's important that I speak plainly to the American people about the dimensions of this proposal. In essence, what this plan requires is a $10,000 contribution per household in America. Seven hundred billion dollars, for example, could rebuild the crumbling infrastructure in every town, county and state in this country.
We cannot address a crisis caused in part by insufficient accountability, transparency and oversight, which -- that has, at this point, insufficient accountability, transparency, and oversight. Because what's being asked of the American people is unprecedented, great care must be taken to ensure their protection.
With the taxpayer in mind, I'm seeking five basic improvements to this legislation.
First, there has to be greater accountability in the bill. I've suggested a bipartisan board to provide oversight to the rescue. That oversight of this rescue is absolutely essential. We won't solve a problem caused by poor oversight with a plan that has no oversight. Never before in the history of our nation has so much power and money been concentrated in the hands of one person. And there must be protections and oversight in place.
Second, as part of that oversight, there must be a path for taxpayers to recover the money that's put into this fund, the taxpayers' dollars. One trillion dollars is an unprecedented sum, and that money can't simply go into a black hole of bad debt with no means of recovering any of the funds.
Third, there must be complete transparency in the review of this legislation and the implementation of any legislation. This can't be cobbled together behind closed doors. The American people have the right to know which businesses will be helped and with -- what selection will be based on and how much that help will cost.
All the details should be made available online and elsewhere for the open -- for open public scrutiny. Open public scrutiny. Every American citizen that is interested should have access to this information.
Fourth, no Wall Street executive should profit from taxpayers' dollars. It's wrong to ask teachers, farmers and small-business owners to fill the gas tanks of the helicopters of Wall Street tycoons. The senior leaders of any firm that is bailed out should not be making more than the highest-paid government official.
Finally, it's completely unacceptable for any kind of earmarks to be included in this bill. It would be outrageous for legislators and lobbyists to pack this rescue plan with taxpayer money for favored companies. This simply cannot happen.
Let me restate. Inaction is not an option. The American people are watching. History will be our judge. And it will judge us harshly if we don't put our country first in this crisis. It's in moments of crisis that Americans have shown the world that we are made -- what we are made of. I am confident that we will do so again. We will solve this crisis, and our economy will emerge stronger than ever. I have confidence in the American people, and I know that together we can and will return our nation to a path of growth, recovery and prosperity. I know we can do that.
Now I'd like to take two or three questions. Ron?
Q Senator, the Democrats are saying -- Democrats in Congress are saying privately -- the Democrat's in Congress, some of them are saying privately that if you are not on board with this plan, the bailout plan, they are not going to vote for it. If the fate of this plan, no matter how imperfect it is -- if it doesn't meet, for example, your five prerequisites -- if the fate of the bill is in your hands, on your vote, could you and would you still vote against it?
SEN. MCCAIN: Well, let me say that I hope that Democrats would recognize that this issue should not be in any way related to my vote. This issue should be -- and their vote should be determined in how we can resolve this crisis and get America going again. This is a huge crisis, we know. In the words of many experts, and mine, this is the greatest financial crisis since World War II.
So to somehow -- for the Democrats to say that their vote is going to be gauged on my vote, frankly, doesn't do them a great deal of credit. Their first and only priority should be making sure this economy recovers and get back on our feet again.
Q Which of the five principles that you've just laid out is a deal breaker? And how much time do you think Congress has to act? And you also mentioned the executive pay. You've called for the Fannie Mae executives, Jim Johnson, Franklin Raines, to return the golden parachutes they were given, which were paid for by shareholders and not taxpayers.
Similarly, shouldn't then that same logic dictate that one of your top advisers, Carly Fiorina, do the same?
SEN. MCCAIN: First of all, I asked that -- Fannie and Freddie, as we know, were quasi-government organizations, clearly organizations that at least made people believe and the markets believe that they were part of the federal government.
I believe that Carly Fiorina is a role model to millions of young American women. She started out as a part-time secretary, and she ended up as CEO of one of the major corporations in America. I'm proud of her record, and so I'm -- I want everybody to know that Carly Fiorina is a person that I admire and respect.
Yes, Beth --
Q What about how much time to act on this --
SEN. MCCAIN: Pardon me?
Q How much time do you think Congress has to act on this bailout?
SEN. MCCAIN: I think time is very short, and I'm pleased to see that Congress is planning on acting rather rapidly. We also have to balance that with full scrutiny of the written legislation.
In other words, too often I've seen in Washington we've outlined a proposal and we -- we have to trust but verify here. And so we need for everybody to see what's written in the legislation, but it -- we cannot afford inaction, as I've said.
Q Thanks, Senator. Just to follow up on something Ed asked also in the beginning, which of these five provisions that you just laid out would be a deal-breaker and cause you to vote against the legislation?
SEN. MCCAIN: I can't say that at this time, because I think the emphasis should be on the adoption of these principles. That's the important thing. And I think it is directly related to the American people. The American people have a lot of questions now. We're hearing a lot. How good is this? How much is this going to cost me? Can you promise me that this sacrifice, $10,000 for every -- every household in America -- that it's going to work?
We've got to get it right this time. So I'm confident -- I'm confident that these principles will be made part of the legislation. And I look forward to -- to personally being involved with my colleagues in -- because I'm getting -- I'm getting the feedback from them that these are sound and fundamental principles of the people that I've had conversations with.
Q Senator, would you support the Democratic proposals for an economic stimulus package as part of this? And secondly, Senator, given the amount of money that you're discussing, $10,000 per family, where in the budget proposals that you're looking forward -- that you would enact as president would you see it necessary to cut in the federal government to pay for that $700 billion? Thank you.
SEN. MCCAIN: Well, number one, I don't think anything should be added to this legislation. This legislation should stand on its own. Second of all, the way out of this is to grow our economy, cut spending, keep taxes low, make sure that there are incentives in place for jobs and businesses to grow and flourish. For example, Ireland now has an 11 percent business tax. The United States of America has a 35 percent business tax. Where are businesses going to go? We know where they're going to go, and we know where they're going to create jobs.
So it is essential for our economy to stimulate growth and grow this government -- (chuckles) -- excuse me, grow this -- grow this economy, not grow the economy -- (chuckles) -- the government. We need to grow the economy. And we can grow the economy, I believe, by keeping people's taxes low and stimulating businesses and economic growth, and at the same time restrain the growth of spending, which I have fought for for years and have been successful in some areas. I will be far more successful as president of the United States. Senator Obama has never been involved in any of that.
I thank you all very much. Thank you.