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WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe this budget debate is about two very different futures for America, about whether we will continue to go forward under our motto, “E Pluribus Unum” – - out of many, one—whether we will continue to unite and grow, or whether we will become a more divided winner-take-all society.
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UYGUR: Bubba! All right. That was back in 1995.
It was amid an historic showdown with Newt Gingrich, where Bill Clinton threw down the gauntlet and stood up for progressive values, vowing to protect Medicare. It was bold and it made a lot of sense since he is a Democratic president.
Now, it did partly trigger two government shutdowns, obviously forced mainly by the Republicans, but ultimately it worked. The policy worked and the politics also worked. Clinton won re-election in 1996.
Now it‘s President Obama‘s turn. Tomorrow, he will lay out his plan to reduce America‘s deficit. And in the process, Obama will have a chance to explain exactly what he stands for.
We have seen what the Republicans want to do, and it‘s Draconian. Paul Ryan‘s proposal would shift the burden entirely onto the backs of the poorest Americans. It would slash Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other programs that help lower-income Americans. It would give a huge tax break to the rich, reducing upper-income taxes from 35 percent to 25 percent, as if the rich were not getting a big enough break.
Also on the table is last year‘s deficit commission plan. Now, it does a slightly better job than Ryan‘s at spreading the pain, but it‘s still ugly. True, it doesn‘t seek to privatize Medicare, and it raises taxes on capital gains, which are good, but it does target social security, proposing to raise the retirement age. And, of course, like Ryan‘s plan, it would lower taxes for the wealthy and for corporations.
But there‘s another plan I want to tell you about, one that isn‘t getting nearly the media attention that Ryan‘s is. But it‘s the only plan that actually makes sense.
It‘s from the Congressional Progressive Caucus. It‘s simple, it‘s strong, and it spells out an entirely different vision of American values.
You see the people carrying the burden equally? It makes sense. It balances the budget and it‘s fair.
Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security don‘t take any hits. Savings come from a reduction in military spending. Remember, we spend a tremendous amount of money. Forty-three percent of the entire world‘s spending on defense is from the United States of America.
Under the progressive plan, revenues get a bump by ending the Bush tax cuts for those making over $250,000, and also by raising taxes on millionaires. Also by closing corporate tax loopholes. All three of those things make tremendous sense.
Now, last year, Barack Obama backed down on those Bush tax cuts, unfortunately. He let the Republicans have their way. He said it was so they could fight later. Well, now the fight is coming, but as a result, America is now paying an enormous cost.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Bush tax cuts are adding hundreds of billions to our deficit. Now it‘s time for Barack Obama to fight back. He said it would come, and today‘s the day. Actually, tomorrow, he needs to make his case, not the Republicans‘ case.
The progressive plan that makes a ton of sense, in my opinion, is the way to go. But is the president going to go in that direction? And if he doesn‘t, if not now, when?
With me now is Democratic Congressman Xavier Becerra of California.
Congressman Becerra is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Congressman, first of all, the Progressive Caucus plan, what do you think of it? Does it make sense?
REP. XAVIER BECERRA (D), CALIFORNIA: Cenk, the Progressive Caucus puts forward what we have always known, the ideas that helped build America put Americans back to work. And I‘ve got to tell you that there have been some ideas to invest in this country that the Progressive Caucus has put forward for a long time and had success, but these days, under Republican rule, they don‘t get much attention.
UYGUR: And what do you think the president is going to do? I mean, that‘s obviously questions that everybody is asking. You can go in the progressive direction, although I don‘t know why it‘s not getting media attention. Obviously, we‘re trying to give it attention. It make a lot of sense to us. Or you can go in the way of the Ryan plan or the Deficit Commission, which was the president‘s commission.
Are you afraid he might go in that direction instead?
BECERRA: I have no doubt that the president is going to clearly outline the contrast between he and the Republicans in the Ryan plan, and perhaps the even more conservative Republican Study Committee plan which really is the one that House Republicans are behind.
And so I think you‘re going to find that the president will give the clear distinction between his vision of how to move American forward and put Americans back to work and the Republican vision, which essentially says seniors, through budget cuts, to Medicare and Social Security, pay for the tax cults for the very wealthy and the subsidies for big oil.
UYGUR: So, Congressman, talk us about those differences, because in some places, it appears clear, it looks like the president is going to say hey, for people making about $250,000, we‘re going to go back to the Clinton-era tax rates, which makes sense, it‘s progressive, it was his position during the campaign, et cetera, et cetera. But in places like Medicare and Medicaid, it looks like he is going to propose cuts.
Now, does that jibe with his earlier statements? Does that make sense to you?
BECERRA: Well, if you‘re talking about providing savings through Medicare that take you further along in reducing the cost of health care, that makes sense. That is what we did last year when we found $500 billion of savings by removing some of the duplication of services that was costing seniors and taxpayers a great deal of money.
But if you are talking about doing what the Republicans do, which is essentially privatizing Medicare, turning it into a voucher, what I call coupon care, because you essentially get a coupon to go shop for your health care—and we know since 1965, the only reason seniors have easy access to health care is because Medicare came along. Before that, private insurers did not want seniors to get coverage under their company.
So if you are talking about trying to move forward with strengthening Social Security, strengthening Medicare, you‘re on the money. The moment you start talking about privatizing it making seniors pay for the extra cost, you are essentially going back to pre-1965, pre-1935, when seniors retired in poverty.
UYGUR: All right. So let‘s assume for the moment being that the president does the progressive thing, and he says, I‘m marginally going to protect these program, going to make some—of course, the devil is in the details and we‘ll see what kind of adjustments get made to Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security. That‘s very important.
But let‘s give him the benefit of the doubt on that and say he does that. How does it then get resolved? Because, today, John Boehner came out and said raising taxes is unacceptable to him and it‘s a nonstarter.
So how do you resolve that?
BECERRA: Cenk, that is the big difference between what I believe the president will tell the American people and what John Boehner and the Republicans are telling the American people. The Republicans have said we‘re taking things off the table. They want to protect those fat cats, those sacred cows. And the president, I hope, will say everything should be on the table.
And those of us who are strong supporters of strengthening Social Security, Medicare, should be prepared to say that we can put those programs on the table and know that they will survive because the American public wants them to be stronger, not to be privatized. But to the degree that Republicans remove things from discussion that should be on the table, the Republicans are truly revealing what they‘re doing, and that‘s simply they are protecting the special interests that have been providing them with a great deal of support every two years, every four years that there‘s an election.
UYGUR: Right. But, Congressman, last thing on this.
Look, I know my strategy, and it‘s not the one that the president favors. If they said to me it‘s unacceptable, I‘d say, all right, unacceptable right back at you, and this is what I think of your criticism. Right? But that‘s not how the president operates, and we‘re going to have a deadline on the debt ceiling soon, right?
So, how do you resolve it when both sides say no, it‘s—one side says we‘ve got to have tax cuts, and the other side says no, we actually have to go back to the Clinton era (ph)?
BECERRA: Well, Cenk, no one wants to see the game of chicken played the way the Republicans played it with this recent budget vote that we had where they nearly shut the government down unless they got their way. What we found out quickly, that it wasn‘t—their concerns were not about budgets and about fiscal issues and numbers, it was about a social agenda.
If the Republicans try to do that, whether it‘s with the debt ceiling vote, or with the 2012 budget, which we are now starting to discuss and debate, then I believe the president has every right to set down a clear marker and say enough is enough, the people want us to put Americans back to work and get our fiscal house in order. You don‘t have to do that by cutting kids out of Head Start, cutting seniors out of their Medicare benefits.
UYGUR: Right. Well, will he? That‘s the question I guess we‘ll find out as the negotiations proceed.
Congressman Xavier Becerra, thank you for joining us. Of course, member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Thank you for your time tonight.
BECERRA: Thanks very much.
UYGUR: All right.
Now I want to bring in Roger Simon. He‘s chief political columnist for Politico. His new article is about the heat that Obama could start feeling from liberals unhappy with one too many compromises.
I know all about that. All right.
UYGUR: Roger, is that a real threat here for the president? Because, you know, I did this just a little while ago about what I would do with the Republican criticism. That seems to be what President Obama does with liberal criticism nonstop.
Does he actually have to be concerned for a change?
ROGER SIMON, POLITICO: I think the White House is pretty confident that Barack Obama will not be facing a significant challenge on his left, and that is why he has opened up so much room to his left, because he thinks there is no one there to exploit it.
But this is a president who abandoned single-payer health care, who agreed to extending tax cuts for the rich, who promised to close down Guantanamo and, in fact, is keeping it open and holding military tribunals, and has expanded the war in Afghanistan.
Now, for all those people who say, well, yes, there‘s a lot of room to the left and a lot of unhappy liberals, but, you know, they are not that unhappy. Imagine, if you will—this is totally a fantasy—if Hillary Clinton announced tomorrow she was resigning from the cabinet, was going to run against the president because the president was simply too moderate, had gone back on his promises, and basically she could carve a better man out of a banana.
UYGUR: Wow. I don‘t think she‘ll say that.
SIMON: I don‘t think she will. But as an example, I don‘t think if she did, she would be met by a huge amount of anger and disgust or even laughter.
UYGUR: Well, you know, as far as—
SIMON: I think a number of progressives would say, well, she might
have a point there
UYGUR: Right. Well, as far as political drama was concerned, that would be amazing, right? And it would be certainly ironic for then Hillary to take the more liberal position, given that it was the exact opposite in 2008.
UYGUR: But look, I want to talk to you about the Progressive Caucus, because Congressman DeFazio came on this program last night and said it‘s time for the president to start acting like a Democrat. He use some pretty strong words, said the president caved in on several occasions.
So, does it make sense, is it a smart strategy for progressives in Congress to say we‘re not going to take it anymore, I don‘t care what the president says, we are going to put real pressure from the left and we‘re going to give him a whole bunch of no votes if he keeps going towards the right?
SIMON: I think it‘s the only weapon they have, and I think it may be a good weapon. And I doubt very much that progressives are going to be entirely pleased by the president‘s speech tomorrow.
The White House has already figured out that to gain moderate support, this is a president who has to bite the built and say, we‘re going to cut Medicaid, Medicare and even Social Security. He is not going to say “cut,” he is going to say “reform.” But I don‘t think you are going to see an entirely progressive proposal from the president tomorrow. And one of the reasons—
UYGUR: Yes. You know, you hit the nail on the head there.
UYGUR: I mean, the critical part is when they say “reform,” it usually means cut. That‘s a political code word, and that‘s what we‘re going to watch out for in tomorrow‘s speech.
Roger Simon from Politico.
Thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it.
SIMON: Thank you, Cenk.
UYGUR: All right.