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A: The Senate is a very different institution than the House. They have a set of dynamics that are different than ours. There’s no reason to criticize anyone over there. They have to do what they have to do. I’m the House majority leader. I have enough to worry about over here.

Q: But Mr. Frist could have insisted on an enforcement-only approach like the House.

A: He had [Sen. Mel] Martinez[ of Florida], [Sen. Chuck] Hagel [of Nebraska], [Sen. John] McCain to deal with. I don’t know what all the problems were. I assume he passed what he could pass.

Q: Could you envision Republicans supporting Mr. Frist in the presidential primary given his support of the Senate immigration bill?

A: I’m not going there.

Q: White House spokesman Tony Snow recently told reporters that “the administration has moved more aggressively and more rapidly than either House in Congress had previously proposed in getting assets to the border to try to secure the border.” Do you take issue with that?

A: They are doing a lot. We have appropriated a lot of money over the last four or five years to the border, to the point they’re having difficulty spending it quick enough. Training Border Patrol agents is a long process, 18 months. It just takes time. But they’ve done an awful lot down there.

I don’t know how much more you could spend wisely in the short term. There are only so many agents you can train at a time. There’s only so many contracts that can be let and trying to do it the right way. They’re doing a lot. You can argue that they’re’s not much more they can reasonably do in the short term other than what’s already in the process to occur.

Q: Spending by the federal government continues to balloon despite Republicans’ controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress. How can you still claim the mantle of fiscal discipline and shrinking government?

A: You’ve got entitlement spending then you got discretionary spending. If you look at where the growth is, yes it’s homeland security, it’s defense. The rest of discretionary spending is flat. The real driving force is the double-digit increases annually in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid.

Q: Where does Social Security reform stand?

A: I just met with Congressman [Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican], a few minutes ago with his SAFE Commission [formed to fix the entitlement programs]. In 1990 when I first ran for Congress, I talked about the need to reform these big entitlement programs because the sooner we began the process, the easier it would be to make the necessary changes so that these programs were sustainable for the long term. Here it is 16 years later and while we’ve done some things on Medicare of the market reforms in the prescription-drug bill will pay big dividends — we as a nation need to step up to this tsunami that’s racing right at us and deal with it.

I talked to the president about it because I threw cold water on his commission idea. You know, typically, when politicians don’t want to deal with something, they create commissions. I have had serious conversations with the Senate about a joint select committee — made up of the chairs and subcommittee chairs and maybe a few other interested — members to deal with this. Democrats didn’t want to participate.

If I’m around in a leadership role come January, we’re going to get serious about this.

Q: But by not running on the issue in the current election, aren’t you repeating the mistake of 2004 where President Bush didn’t run on it and after the election Democrats said Republicans didn’t have a mandate to do anything?

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