Sen. Menendez on Libya, Oil and the Federal Budget

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Robert MenendezU.S. Senator from New Jersey (D) and member of the Foreign Relations Committee talks about the U.S. intervention in Libya, gas prices, oil leases and the continuing budget battle in Washington.

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez (D) has been following the developments in Libya over the past several weeks. He wrote the Senate resolution two weeks ago, calling for Gadhafi to step down and last week, he pushed for a no-fly zone before the strategy was passed by the National Security Council. He was also part of a small group Congressional leaders briefed by President Obama on Friday before the offensive against Libya began. 

So far Menendez approves of the way the intervention has been going. The UN resolution to move forward in this way is a good step, he said. It's helping to provide an opportunity for those who are fighting for freedom in Libya to achieve it, as well as to slow or stop Gadhafi's "ruthless slaughter of innocence."

As for the no-fly zone becoming more aggressive than just that, it's unavoidable, he said. Th Arab League, who supported the no-fly zone, has expressed discomfort with the military force that has followed. Sen. Menendez defends the decision.

In order to establish a no-fly zone and leave our coalition allies together, and the men and women who serve us safe...it takes a degree of military strikes to stop the command and control abilities to knock out the air monitoring systems, to ensure that the very civilians that the Arab League wants us to protect, can be protected...If we could do it with a magic wand and stop all of Libyan air fights from taking place...then we'd love to do that, but that's not the way it works.

One implication of all the turmoil in the Arab world is rising oil prices which has sparked further discussion about where else we can get oil. Sen. Menendez said there are 60 million acres on which the federal government has oil leases that the oil and gas industry are not using. The Senator said they need to "use it or lose it."

Either they use the 60 million acres that they already have the right to explore or they should lose that opportunity and others willing to do so should be given that opportunity. Many times the oil companies that already have record profits hold these, one, to improve their stock price, and two, to have competitors not be able to pursue them. Well, we can't afford that.

Sen. Menendez is also introducing a bill to use natural gas as a transportation fuel to deal with rising oil prices.

As for the ever-present budget debacle in Congress, Sen. Menendez said there's still work to be done but no more short-term fixes.

What I am concerned about...is that in fact, in this economic recovery, which is fragile, indiscriminate cuts for the sake of cutting and driven ideologically to a number that has no basis in terms of any public policy determination could very well tip this economy backwards and put us at risk of having the recovery falter and it will take three times the force to get that economic recovery moving again. We have been cutting but we don't need to cut in the indiscriminate way that Republicans are talking about. I think other options have to be on the table to get a budget deal.

The Senator said, if we really want to slash the debt like the president does —cutting $1 trillion over the next decade — here's the bottom line:

That's about more than domestic discretionary spending which is only 12 percent of the overall problem, we have to deal with the other 88 percent that ultimately deals with entitlements and then you'll get to real debt relief.