CENK UYGUR, HOST: Welcome to the show, everybody. I`m Cenk Uygur.
We have got a fun show ahead for you guys. Some serious topics, but we`re going to have fun anyway.
Let me tell you about the first topic.
With just about four days to pass a budget left to avoid a government shutdown, President Obama is getting involved. He`s invited the leaders of both houses of Congress and the chairs of their Appropriations Committees to the White House tomorrow to try to hammer out an agreement.
You know what that means? That means they`re probably pretty close.
So, of course a big problem is the Tea Party. Right? The Republicans can`t get past them, they`re not big on compromising. So one of the ways the GOP may be trying to appease their ultra-conservative wing is by giving them a preview of the giant cuts they`re prepared to fight for in next year`s budget.
Tomorrow, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, Congressman Paul Ryan, is rolling out his plan for that budget. He wants to cut — are you ready for it? — $4 trillion over 10 years. Now, we`ll talk about the specific cuts in a minute, but first I have to tell you what the whole point of this exercise is — the tax cuts.
Of course Ryan wants to continue to extend the Bush tax cuts. That`s a given, no question about that, but that`s not nearly enough.
His plan lowers the top tax rate by 10 points from 35 percent to 25 percent. The richest people in the country would be paying 25 percent. That`s a giant cut.
You know what that is? It`s redistribution of wealth right to the top.
Now, you remember in his first roadmap to oblivion, in my opinion, Ryan proposed a different idea, and it was a national sales tax. You know what that would have done? It would have increased taxes on the bottom 90 percent of the American people. So he actually doesn`t mind raising taxes, as long as it`s on you and not the top 10 percent.
Do you know how bad it`s gotten? Right now the top one percent of the country controls 40 percent of the wealth. Twenty-five years ago, they controlled only 33 percent of the wealth. So the share of the top one percent has gone up dramatically, one percent owning 40 percent.
How did they do that? They did that with the Republicans giving them tax cut after tax cut after tax cut, and subsidy after subsidy, and it goes on and on.
And what was it supposed to do? It was supposed to trickle down, right? Has it trickled down to you yet? I don`t think so.
So let`s get to those spending cuts, because they love the spending cuts because it comes out of your hide.
So we`ve got Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. They`re all top targets, of course.
So, for example, for people 55 and younger, Medicare would become — and I love this euphemism — a premium support system. This means that instead of guaranteeing specific health benefits like it does now, Medicare would give beneficiaries a sum of money to use to purchase private insurance.
What a wonderful coincidence. That happens to be some of the top donors for the Republicans, private insurance companies. So you would get less money and private insurance wouldn`t even have to deliver a set of minimum benefits.
How is that for premium support system? I mean, they are downright Orwellian.
Of course, private insurers would make more money out of this. And, oh, right, and the rich would get their tax cuts. So everything`s going to be OK.
How about Medicaid? Paul Ryan wants to cut $1 trillion from Medicaid`s budget. He does that by giving states lump sums called block grants to fund their own programs.
Republicans say this method provides more flexibility, but with a fixed sum from the federal government, that flexibility would mean states could and would lift enrollment. How do you like that for flexibility?
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi today put it pretty bluntly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Putting Medicaid into block grants is one way to tie it — put it in a box, tie it with a ribbon, and throw it in the deep blue sea. This is the beginning of the end for Medicaid once you block-grant it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UYGUR: That`s true. And that`s exactly what the goal is. They`ve been coming for Medicare and Medicaid for decades now, and they`re on the doorstep.
On the other hand, the rich would get their tax cuts. You didn`t think about that, did you, right? That makes it all better. Right?
Well, how about Social Security? All we know so far is Ryan`s budget calls for significant cuts.
It doesn`t provide any of the details, of course. He says, oh, we`re going to leave that up to various committees later to figure all that out. But one thing we know for sure is that the rich would get their tax cuts.
Joining me now is Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a member of the Senate Budget Committee.
Senator Sanders, they`ve been trying this for decades. But as I just said, I think they`re on the doorstep. I think they`re real close to knocking out Medicare and Medicaid.
My top question, the most important question today, how are you going to stop them?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Well, we`ve got to get the American people to stand up and say it is absolutely immoral, it is insane that we give tax breaks to the very richest people in this country who, today, are doing phenomenally well, and that we sock it to the middle class and working families who are seeing a decline in their standard of living. This is Robin Hood in reverse.
Cenk, this year some 45,000 Americans are going to die because they don`t get to a doctor on time. If you block-grant Medicaid, if you voucherize Medicare, that number is going to soar. So what you are talking about is a life-and-death issue for millions of the American people.
What I have been disturbed about in terms of the whole budget debate, whether it`s the continuing resolution, or fiscal year `12, is that we have not talked about enough is the need to bring revenue into the picture and to say we are not going to extend Bush`s tax breaks for the very richest people. What we need is a surtax on millionaires.
Last week we announced that there were 10 corporations, 10 of the largest corporations in this country, who not only paid nothing in taxes, they got substantial rebates. So the idea of cutting programs for the weakest, the most vulnerable, to give tax breaks to the richest and largest corporations is totally grotesque.
UYGUR: Now, Senator Sanders, I agree with you, and I know you`re a progressive fighter. I know that. There`s no question about that. All right?
I follow this stuff closely. That`s my job. Right?
But I also know, and I`m going to be blunt with you, Democrats have been terrible at defending their ground. Terrible.
UYGUR: So I`ve got to be honest with you. I have no faith, I have no trust.
I mean, right now, if you said to me $4 trillion, I don`t think they`ll get $4 trillion, but if President Obama and the Senate Democrats play the usual games they play, they`d give them — here, I`ll go crazy. Are you ready? I`ll make a prediction — $2.1 trillion $2.5 trillion in cuts they`ll agree to.
SANDERS: Well, what the Democrats, Cenk, haven`t done is made the case to the American people that the American people already support. There was a “Wall Street Journal” poll maybe three weeks ago.
Eighty-one percent of the American people thought the best way to address deficit reduction is a surtax on millionaires. They want to do away with these loopholes that allow corporations not to pay any taxes.
UYGUR: But Senator — no, but you`ve got to tell me. Look, you`re right, I know that. OK? But you`re right there in the Senate. What`s stopping you guys? What`s stopping the Senate Democrats —
SANDERS: Well, don`t say “you guys,” Cenk. Don`t say “you guys.” I am. I have introduced legislation to do away with —
UYGUR: No, I know, and I`ve given you credit for that legislation. And I think it`s a great piece of legislation.
SANDERS: All right. You`ve got to ask the president.
UYGUR: There you go.
SANDERS: It is a good question. You`ve got to say, “President Obama, take the case to the American people, whether we ask billionaires to pay a little bit more in taxes, or we destroy the lives of millions of working families.” I think we win that fight overwhelmingly.
Unfortunately, as you well know, this place is dominated by lobbyists who represent the wealthy and the powerful. Now, I wish President Obama would not only enter the fray, but enter the fray on the side of working families.
I think it`s good public policy, morally the right thing to do. And you know what else, Cenk? It`s good politics.
We win that fight. Unfortunately — unfortunately, money speaks very loudly around here.
UYGUR: Senator, you`re 100 percent right about that. So final question for you.
What are you going to do if the president — I`ve got to be honest — as usual, comes out and says I`m going to split the difference, I`m going to agree with the Republicans, I`m not really going to make our case? I`m just going to say look at me, I`m so centrist. Washington, aren`t you happy? I`ve gone three-quarters in their direction.
What are you going to do about it? What are you — how are you going to rally progressives? I`m not putting it all on you. I know you`re a great progressive. I`m saying, how do you fight that?
SANDERS: I`m doing my best. I`ve introduced the legislation. You know, time after time, trying to defend Social Security from some Democrats who actually want to cut it.
UYGUR: How do we get the president on our side?
SANDERS: Well, I think it`s not — it`s millions of people saying, Mr. President, we voted for you because you told us you were going to defend working Americans. Now is the time to stand up to the big-money interests, ask for shared sacrifice, don`t balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, the poor and the sick.
If you do that, we`re going to have tremendous — I would like to see a couple of hundred thousand people coming here to Washington to say hello to the president, say hello to the Republicans, say do not balance the budget on the middle class and working families in this country when the richest people are getting richer. They have not contributed one nickel to deficit reduction. If we can rally ordinary people into this fight, we will win it.
UYGUR: All right. Now, look, before we go, I want the audience to know I`m not saying this because Senator Bernie Sanders is on the air with us. He`s the guy who stood up and filibustered for all those hours when nobody else did. He`s the one that introduced the right legislation.
I want everybody to be clear on that.
Senator Sanders, Godspeed to you. I hope you can represent the progressives as well in this upcoming, incredibly important fight.
SANDERS: Thank you, Cenk.
UYGUR: All right.
Now let me bring in E.J. Dionne, a columnist for “The Washington Post.” His latest column was on the future of the nation`s budget debate.
E.J., let me start it this way — I don`t think the country should take Republicans seriously, Washington media, et cetera. I mean, they say they care about balancing the budget, et cetera, but when you say, hey, how about we take oil subsidies, which are giant, take out farm subsidies — this is people leaching off the government — they should agree in an instant, but they don`t. They don`t because it isn`t about balancing the budget. It`s about enriching their rich friends.
How do we get Washington to say, yes, Cenk, E.J., or whoever, you guys are right, this is nonsense, they`re not being honest?
E.J. DIONNE, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Well, I think you have to be up front about real choices here.
Four trillion dollars is what the Ryan budget is supposed to save over 10 years. There`s another $4 trillion. It`s the amount of money you would raise if you simply restored the tax rates that existed when Bill Clinton was president.
Remember 22 million jobs? Bob Rubin, treasury secretary, not a socialist the last time I looked he was. And so I think that it really is a tradeoff here.
But here`s why I think President Obama should have been engaged in this fight earlier. But here`s the reason why I think he may finally get engaged after the Ryan budget comes out, because this budget strikes at the heart of his proudest achievement as president, which is the health care reform. A lot of the expansions that he proposes — he covers a lot more people through Medicaid.
If you cut the heart out of Medicaid, you are cutting the heart out of the Obama health care plan. And that`s why I don`t think he has any alternative but to fight on this. I certainly hope he does, because the danger of throwing all sorts of people back on to the mercy of the private insurance market is not something I think the country wants to do.
UYGUR: So, E.J., how does he resolve that politically? Because one of his main themes throughout this whole two-and-a-half years business, aren`t I the most centrist guy in the world? I`ll agree to anything the Republicans say to. Right?
So now he`s got to turn around and fight for this? Here, you`re right. I mean, it`s crazy.
Not only that Medicaid is part of health care — that`s a great point by you — but Medicaid, they`ve been trying to kill this thing for how many decades now? To agree on that would be madness. Right?
But how does he resolve that? I mean, he`s Mr., like, hey, I`m Nice guy. Look at me agreeing with the Republicans.
How do you finally turn around and go, OK, that`s it, I`m not going for this? And do you see that? I mean, so far, I haven`t seen that turn yet.
DIONNE: Well, I think — and I don`t think they made the right choice on this, but I think they figured that this first round of budget cuts, they could get by. They can get by with some cuts that may not go to the heart of important programs, and they were saving their fire for later.
Now, how much later? If it`s later, like, three, four, five months from now, then I think he`s in trouble and anybody who cares about progressive government is in trouble.
If, however, they`re saying the big fight starts now with Congressman Ryan`s budget, he doesn`t have to sound extreme to say, well, look, we have Medicaid and Medicare for a reason, and a lot of — you know, if you cut Medicaid that much, you`re going to hurt a lot of seniors, you`re going to hurt a lot of disabled people. I think you can make a case by yelling. You can also make a very quiet, reasonable case that says the same thing.
Bill Clinton won his budget fight talking about Medicare, Medicaid, education, and the environment. Those are popular causes in 2011 just like they were back in 1995.
UYGUR: E.J., last thing, look, my whole life now I`ve heard about Democrats keeping their powder dry.
UYGUR: It`s so dry. It`s incredibly dry. It`s like the Sahara Desert. And I always hear, oh, no, no, no. A couple months from now, a couple years from now, they`re going to really start fighting.
It never happens. Right?
So my last question to you is, can we agree that if President Obama does not fight for Medicare, and instead agrees to some sort of so-called compromise, where he agrees with the Republicans to chop it off, or to do this kind of premium support system, or anything like that, then he is a disaster as a progressive, if he does it?
DIONNE: I don`t know if I would have jumped there, but I do agree with you that Democrats do have this habit of delaying the fight until it`s too late. You can`t fight in the 10th inning if the game ends in the 9th inning.
And I think that if Obama — particularly — guess I`m focused especially on the Medicaid cuts, because if he doesn`t really put up a battle on those, then I don`t see how the rest of his achievement holds together. And so think he does have to start fighting now. And I think we`ll see tomorrow, when Congressman Ryan issues the budget, I think it`s a real moment of truth for him.
UYGUR: All right. E.J. Dionne, thank you so much for your time tonight.
DIONNE: Thank you.
UYGUR: All right.