Sen. John McCain: You have to respond to the will of the people

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PHOENIX – Republican Sen. John McCain sat down with 3TV’s Tara Hitchcock Monday morning to discuss where the nation stands in terms of economy and its creditworthiness.

McCain placed blame for the debt-ceiling drama squarely on President Barack Obama's shoulders.

"The president sent over a budget last February. It had no spending cuts in it," McCain said. "We had a vote on it in the Senate. It was voted down 93 to nothing. Did you ever hear a plan -- a specific plan -- from the president of the United States during this whole debacle?"

McCain said Obama was still pushing tax increases as late as Monday night while others were working on a plan that didn't include tax increases.

He went on to talk about the credit downgrade by S&P, syaing he's not a fan of Standard and Poor's. He pointed out that S&P doesn't have the best track record, having given the mortgage market its highest rating when there clearly were serious problems.

"At the same time, there is legitimacy to what they're saying," he continued. "If we have deficits as far as the eye can see, then we are not going to be creditworthy as a nation."

As for what happens now, McCain says the special committee charged with reducing the deficit has its work cut out for it.

He said entitlements like Social Security and Medicare have to be addressed. One possible solution, he said, is to gradually increase the age of eligibility.

“We live longer,” he said. “That was part of an agreement that Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill made together the last time there was a Social Security crisis. Why not gradually increase the retirement age without affecting the benefits for present-day retirees?”

McCain said he believe the congressional committee – six Democrats and six Republicans from the House and Senate – will “have the guts to come up with reforms that have to have entitlements reform in them. … Does that mean there may be some changes? Absolutely.

“If we don’t do anything this time …, I’m really worried, not only about Americans’ confidence, but really what the markets will do then if we are really unable to act in this very serious situation,” he continued, saying the president will not have an active role in what the committee decides.

“He will be a bystander and that’s not usually the role the president plays,” McCain said.

Hitchcock pointed out that Congress has an extremely low approval rating -- just 18 percent, which is the lowest since The New York Times started polling -- and asked the senator if he is embarrassed by that.

"You're now down to blood relatives and paid staffers," he said, tongue in cheek. "Of course I'm embarrassed by it, but I also think you have to respond to the will of the people.

"In last November's election ..., the American people jobs, economy and spending [were their big concerns]."

The senator and Hitchcock also discussed the weekend chopper crash that killed dozens of U.S. special operations forces, including 22 Navy SEALS.

While he expressed his dismay at the loss of life, McCain said our continued presence in Afghanistan is necessary.

“We can’t allow Afghanistan to return to being a base for attacks on the United States of America,” he said.

McCain (R-AZ) will host town hall meetings today at 10 a.m. at Gilbert Town Council Chambers, Room 300, 50 E. Civic Center Drive, Gilbert, and tomorrow at 10 a.m. at St. Mark's United Methodist Church, Fellowship Hall, 1431 W. Magee Road, Tucson.