CENK UYGUR, HOST: The Republican reverse: Robin Hood strikes again. Tonight, Chris Christie whacks the workers in New Jersey. This is about one thing, raw political power. Republicans continue their war on the middle class.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took a victory lap today after his state approved a rollback of benefits for 750,000 government workers and retirees. They must be so proud. The bill increases what workers contribute for their health insurance and pensions, suspends cost of living increases to retirees` pensions, and curbs the contract bargaining rights.
But wait a minute. It curbs union bargaining rights? That`s funny. Just three months ago, Christie was all for union rights. Remember? This is what he said –
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GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I love collective bargaining. We`re ready to collectively bargain. And let`s have it be real collective bargaining where someone is in there representing the people who pay the bills.
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UYGUR: Now he seems to have conveniently forgotten about that as he took away their bargaining rights anyway. And this morning, he defended his plan.
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CHRISTIE: A bipartisan plan where we compromised to put the people first, Matt. The taxpayers is going to save over $130 billion over the next 30 years. We needed to bring equity and shared sacrifice into this.
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UYGUR: Shared sacrifice? I see where the workers are sacrificing. Where is the sacrifice for the rich? Remember, Christie just vetoed a bill that would have increased taxes on millionaires. He saved them hundreds of millions of dollars for the rich. Where is their shared sacrifice?
In New Jersey, equity and shared sacrifice has actually meant outing state aid — cutting, I should say, state aid for needy cities. And the results honestly have been disastrous. Newark alone was forced to cut 167 police officers. The result, murders are up 65 percent from a year ago. Jesus, 65 percent.
You know why that happens? That happens when you take cops off the street, because you just had to give more money to the millionaires of New Jersey. And then you`re surprised, right?
Shared sacrifice? What`s he talking about? When is the last time his rich buddies shared any of the sacrifice? It turns out the people of Newark are the ones getting all the sacrifice.
Now, let me show you how the GOP`s reverse Robin Hood works in general. The rich give campaign contributions to the GOP Party, who in turn cut programs for the working class to fund tax breaks for, you guessed it, the rich. Funny how that works.
Today, the great example of that comes from the other favorite union-buster, Scott Walker. This Sunday, he will sign a budget that includes $2.3 billion in tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. Up until a few hours ago, he was going to sign that bill at, you guessed it, the business of a man convicted on charges of tax evasion.
The irony here is that the man didn`t need to evade those taxes at all. All he had to do was wait for Scott Walker to get into power. Then he could have qualified for legalized tax evasion through the Republican Party. And that about sums up the state of the Republican Party right now, legalized tax evasion for the rich and pain and sacrifice for the rest of us.
Joining me now, Democrat from New Jersey, Senator Frank Lautenberg.
SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG (D), NEW JERSEY: Hi.
UYGUR: Senator Lautenberg, great to have you here. Chris Christie is unpopular right now in New Jersey. He`s got an overall unfavorability rating, but yet he is still getting this done. Why do we have this deal in New Jersey today?
LAUTENBERG: Well, because a lot of people capitulated their beliefs and threw their hat in the ring to be friendly with this bullying governor of ours. And remember what this governor is doing. Not only is he cutting people`s incomes, increasing their costs, but also, he is has taken the liberty of giving away New Jersey money.
We had a $6 billion transit commitment from the federal government and the New York Port Authority and he gave it away. We took $400 million worth of education money that was going to the benefit of people living in New Jersey, and he lost that. And he`s given away further assets, and we just don`t understand it. Why is New Jersey the giveaway state when we need so much help?
UYGUR: Well, Senator Lautenberg, I understand what you are saying. You mentioned the word “capitulation,” though, and I think that`s an interesting word to use there, because, look, we have seen this over and over. Republicans come in like tough guys, and Christie — and I`m calling Christie “Governor Paulie Walnuts” now, yelling at his own constituents in harsh ways, et cetera, et cetera.
I understand that. But Democrats had to sign off on this in New Jersey. My God, why in the world would you do that?
LAUTENBERG: Why? Because I`m sure that it`s not without getting something for their own need in return. And it`s the wrong way to do it. We have to stand tough, because we`re being slashed at all across this country.
And I say we, the Democrats, but I`m concerned more about the people who work for a living that permit those of us who have been successful to be successful. And it`s not happening. So they`re just quitting and going along with the governor, with whom they violently disagree but don`t have the guts to stand up to.
UYGUR: Senator, I want to talk about how we fight back. Right? Because I want to show you two sets of numbers here which I think are so his stark and could help in fighting back.
We told you about Newark. And you know about Camden, of course. You`re the senator from New Jersey. What they did was they initially had to cut half of their police budget and half of their police department because they didn`t have enough money from the state government. Violent crimes spiked 18 percent just in the first quarter alone, and then they had to panic and hired back those 50 police officers, because you can`t have cities without police officers.
This is crazy. And why do they do all this? Well, again, Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would have raised $637 million because he wanted to protect millionaires.
I mean, isn`t this an amazing case to make to the voters of New Jersey? Shouldn`t Democrats be on fire in New Jersey making this case?
LAUTENBERG: Yes, you`re darned right. And the fact is that in Camden, police weren`t available enough to go to burglary scenes, but had to record it on a disk and check up on it later. It`s outrageous.
And we`re being swept away by a bullying governor who promises retribution if you don`t go his way. Well, the retribution, in my view, is going to come from the next election, and we`re going to see it directly as his numbers fall now, and I believe will continue to fall heavier, in the very near future.
UYGUR: Last question for you, Senator. Do you think Chris Christie is really playing more to a national audience, a national Tea Party Republican audience, rather than your own state, in order to — I don`t know if he is trying to be president, vice president. I don`t know what he`s running for. But do you think that`s the real game here?
LAUTENBERG: You put the words in my mouth. He is looking at the national picture, because what he is doing to the people in of New Jersey is going to hurt so much, that he could very well be swept away there. But he is willing to trade it for a shot at the big job. That`s my belief.
UYGUR: All right. New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, thank you so much for joining us this evening. We really appreciate it.
UYGUR: All right. Now, let`s be clear, one of the reasons that the GOP governors are attacking unions is because they fight for Democrats. Outside groups spent nearly $500 million during the 2010 election cycle to run ads, make phone calls, distribute literature to sway the electorate. That`s how it works.
Now, during the midterms, six of the top nine groups that gave that funding were conservative. Only three were liberal, and all three of those were unions. Now do you see why they attack the unions?
But Democrats are now trying to fight back against that disparity with outside fund-raising groups of their own. They are fighting fire with fire, or you could say money with money.
Joining me now, former deputy White House press secretary and senior strategist to the political group Priorities USA, Bill Burton. Bill, good to have you here.
BILL BURTON, FMR. DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Thanks for having me on.
UYGUR: Absolutely. Look, there`s two sides of this, right? Fire fight with fire, and then there is the side of, well, then we`re in the business of taking corporate money. So, first, let`s address the first point.
You know what? Actually, let me let you respond to Senator Feingold, because he directly challenged you guys on this issue at Netroots. Let me play a clip for you guys.
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RUSS FEINGOLD (D), FMR. U.S. SENATOR: I emphasize the ability to fight fire with fire. But Democrats should just never be in the business of taking unlimited corporate contributions. It`s dancing with the devil, and it`s a game that we will never win.
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UYGUR: Well, what do you think about that, Bill?
BURTON: Here is the question. Do you want Karl Rove as the Koch brothers to have unlimited influence on this election with no response whatsoever from the Democratic side? Our view is that, we might not like the rules, but they`re the rules that we`ve got in this election cycle, and we`re not going to give Karl Rove and the Koch brothers any more advantage than they`ve already got.
They`ve got deep pockets from the oil companies, deep pockets from their rich friends in Texas, who all can spend unlimited sums of money. We`re not in the business of saying, OK, we`re all right with your hundreds of millions of dollars washing over the candidates that we care about, the values that are important to us, just because we want to make — just because we want to make a political point. We don`t want to make a political point. What we want to do is make sure that the right wing doesn`t have undue influence in this election cycle.
UYGUR: I`m really, really split on this, because I totally here what you are saying. And look, anybody who watches this show knows I`m a big fan of fighting back. And you guys are fighting back.
UYGUR: No question about that. Right? So I get that and I love fighting fire with fire. Having said that, I`m a little concerned that, you know, look, when you take corporate money, there`s certain understandings that come along with it. Are you guys beholden to those understandings?
BURTON: We are not beholden to any understandings. Anybody who wants to participate through our group knows exactly what we`re doing and why we`re doing it.
And the best example of why our group exists became clear today. Karl Rove`s group, today, said that they are starting a $20 million advertising campaign over the course of the next two months, $5 million over the course of the next two weeks.
Now, are we to sit by as Democrats, as progressives, and say it`s OK for Karl Rove and his agenda to have all that influence, to have all that impact on the election and do nothing? Our view is that this is why we exist.
If you`re a Democrat, if you`re a progressive, if you care about the things that Democrats care about, get involved, participate. Because we cannot stand by again and see what happened in 2010 happen once again in this election where Democrats got run out of town as a result of the hundreds of millions of dollars that right wing groups were putting into this election.
UYGUR: So, again, Senator Feingold would say, yes, I get it. All right? And you don`t want to do as some people have said — I think Debbie Wasserman Schultz said you don`t want to do unilateral disarmament. I`m the last guy in the world who wants to do unilateral disarmament. So I understand that concept.
But at the same time, Senator Feingold says if you play this game, you eventually wind up losing because corporations are going to back Republicans more than they`re going to back you guys, so it`s better to just change the game rather than just to play within it.
And I get that you`ve got to do both. You`ve got do both. I get that. Right? But how do you plan, if you do it all, on changing the game?
BURTON: Well, a couple of things. We actually have no — we have no doubt that Republicans will be able to raise more corporate money. They`ve got oil companies who are making record profits right now who can cut checks for $20 million, $30 million, $40 million and not even think twice about it. It`s what they sneeze on any given Tuesday.
But what we are trying to do is make sure that Democrats and progressives and people who actually care about changing the rules get in control. We want to change the rules, but you can`t change the direction of the bus if you don`t have control of the steering wheel. And our view is, we`ve got to get control of the steering wheel.
These Republicans, Karl Rove, the Koch brothers, none of these folks who are trying to get involved and sway this election have any interest to change the rules. We do. The people we support do. And that`s going to be something that only has a chance if Karl Rove and the Koch brothers lose.
UYGUR: Bill, final thing on this, look, I get that side of the equation, again, for the eighth time. Right?
UYGUR: If you have a Republican in there, they`re going to let Wall Street run wild, they`re going to give any kind of break to the oil companies. There`s no question about that. It`s a historical fact. That`s what they do every single time.
UYGUR: So the alternative is hideous. I know that. Right? Now, having said that, look, right now, we`ve got President Obama having dinner with Wall Street guys in New York this month because he`s got to raise money. Right?
And we had the Dodd-Frank bill that a lot of progressives thought was incredibly weak because we didn`t want to offend the Wall Street guys. And that`s partly because the Democrats take their money, too. You`ve got acknowledge that`s a problem.
BURTON: I can assure you that there`s a lot of folks on Wall Street who didn`t like Dodd-Frank either. It`s the sort of thing where you had critics on the right, you had critics on the left, and he tried to do what he thought was best for the country. That`s the thing, is that what we believe are, you know, true core progressive values, that`s what we are trying to advance here.
And sitting by and letting one side participate with unlimited donations just isn`t going to help advance our values. What it`s going to do is going to slow us down. It`s going to make us lose elections. It`s going to make sure that the things that we care about are not advanced in Washington. We have seen enough of that. But if these guys win, we know what the outcome is going to be.
UYGUR: Right. Look, Bill, I appreciate you coming on here, Bill Burton, and talking this through. And it is interesting. My final thing from my perspective is, I wish we could do both things. Right?
UYGUR: But, yes, you`ve got do what you`ve got to do to win the next election. I get that. But at the same time, man, we have to spend all of our time and energy changing the game, because eventually I think Senator Feingold is right. We lose this game of corporate cash.
And most importantly, and the reason I care about it, is that the American people lose that. The corporations wind up shifting all the taxes on to all of us. And we`ve got to change that game entirely.
I we wish we could take some of the money you`re raising, everybody else is raising, and direct it towards campaign reform, because we`d all be 10 times better served.
BURTON: And let me just say as a final point, I respect Senator Feingold`s opinion, I respect what you are saying right there. And our view is that, if you want to change the game, you`ve got to be in control of it. And if the other guys are in control of it, we know exactly what`s going to happen.
UYGUR: All right. Bill Burton, you`re very clear. Thank you for joining us tonight. Appreciate it.
BURTON: Thanks for having me.