Guests: Paul Ryan, Michelle Bernard, Joe Conason, Bart Stupak, Wayne
Slater, Alex Burns.
HOST: Easter egg or goose egg?
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
Do or die. This is it. President Obama is making his last best attempt to
reach out to Republicans and win the war over health care. That means
winning the argument with those in the middle. He‘ll never win Republican
votes at this point. The best he can do is turn some Democratic noes into
yesses and to keep some yesses from becoming noes. Tonight, we‘ve got one
congressman who could help, Bart Stupak of Michigan.
Plus: Incumbents beware. The Rick Perry wipeout of Kay Bailey
Hutchison in Texas yesterday was good news for the tea party types and bad
news for incumbents everywhere, at least in the primaries. But this
November, will voters throw out the bums or just go after the Democrats?
And also, Republican congressman Paul Ryan wants to get rid of Social
Security and Medicare as we know it. What‘s his plan to change them, and
what would that be like? That‘s my question for him tonight.
And the returns are in from last night‘s Republican comedy primary,
Sarah Palin on Leno versus Mitt Romney on Letterman. Who won? We‘ll check
the results in the “Sideshow.”
And finally, in my, “Let me finish” commentary, I‘ll tell you why I
think the president‘s right to push for health care reform now.
Let‘s start with President Obama‘s final push on health care reform
and the man who could make it happen in the House, U.S. Congressman Bart
Stupak of Michigan. Sir, let‘s watch the president. Here he was today,
making what looks to be his final push for health care. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everything there is to
say about health care has been said and just about everybody has said it.
I therefore ask leaders in both houses of Congress to finish their work and
schedule a vote in the next few weeks. From now until then, I will do
everything in my power to make the case for reform. And I...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Congressman Stupak, you‘re one of the—in fact, you are
the leader on the issue of being pro-life, as a Democrat, fighting to keep
in a restriction, or a ban, rather, on the use of federal money, the Hyde
amendment, to keep it in effect in regard to this legislation. How‘s that
fight going now? Is there any way to reconcile the concerns of other
Democrats with the concerns of the pro-lifers?
REP. BART STUPAK (D), MICHIGAN: Sure, Chris. I think we can
reconcile those concerns. I, like the president, would like to see health
care passed, affordable health care for all Americans. I voted for it. I
want to see it again. The president has stated publicly and addressed the
nation on September 9th that there‘d be no federal funding for abortion, so
I‘m willing to work with the president to see that his words ring true.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s take a look at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at
Blair House last week. Let‘s listen. See if you agree.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Leader Boehner, the
law of the land is there is no public funding of abortion, and there is no
public funding of abortion in these bills. And I don‘t want our listeners
or viewers to get the wrong impression from what you said.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Is the Speaker correct?
STUPAK: The Speaker is incorrect. In the Senate bill—in the
Senate bill, and that‘s what they‘re telling us the vehicle we‘re using.
In the Senate bill, it says you must offer insurance policies that will be
paid for by the federal government that covers abortion. You must do so.
Also in that same language, if you come in the Senate version, in the OPM,
Office of Personnel Management, policies they‘ll be putting forth, you must
pay—every enrollee must pay one dollar per month into a fund to help
It‘s very clear. I direct the Speaker‘s attention to pages 33 to page
44 of the Senate bill as written in the Senate and passed on Christmas Eve.
MATTHEWS: So according to your reading of the bill that‘s passed the
Senate, which the House is going to have to vote on in the next couple
weeks, insurance covers abortion services.
STUPAK: That‘s what it insures. And we will not vote for that type
of legislation. The majority of the House has spoken. We will not support
legislation that has public funding for abortion.
You know, Chris, the president said, OK, here‘s his four or five
proposals he‘s doing today. So what we‘re voting on can‘t really be the
Senate bill there. It has to be a conglomeration...
STUPAK: ... or compromise. So look, we‘re willing to work with him.
Let‘s keep current law, which says no public funding for abortion. There
are at least eight programs, everything from Department of Defense,
children‘s health initiative, Medicare, Medicaid, you name it, it says no
public funding for abortion. Let‘s keep the current law. And I‘m
STUPAK: ... to work with the president and the Speaker to do that.
MATTHEWS: Here‘s what I don‘t understand, what I want to understand,
because I want this reconciled, like a lot of people do. It seems to me
that Hyde is pretty clear, the Hyde amendment that‘s been carried for years
now in the House on every spending bill. Why can‘t you attach it to
another bill, to any or all of the upcoming appropriations bills this year,
or a continuing resolution, and include in the language on something that
would get a majority because the Republicans would all vote for it in that
case, where you‘d get 218, the required number of majority votes, on any
measure later this year that said—and get Nancy Pelosi to approve that,
guaranteed promise that there‘ll be—there will be a rider attached to
every spending bill henceforth that says the Hyde amendment‘s in effect on
all federal legislation. Could you do that?
STUPAK: As long as it (INAUDIBLE) dealt with under this act, this
health care—health care proposal act. You‘re right, Hyde applies only
to appropriation bills. This will be a new act that will be creating
health care for Americans. It has to be in this act. This act is not
necessarily an appropriation bill.
STUPAK: It‘s an enacting legislation. As long as they put the
language in it...
MATTHEWS: But can you pass it—can you pass it as part of another
bill, so that you could get Republicans? The problem, you know, is, Mr.
Stupak—you know, Congressman, the problem here is the math. To get Hyde
passed, you need a lot of Republican votes to get it, to pass it, if you
had an up-or-down vote on Hyde at any moment on any appropriations bill.
MATTHEWS: This time, no Republicans are going to vote for it. None
are going to vote for this health care bill. So how can you get Hyde to
pass as a rider, as a separate vote in this case unless you jam it down the
throats of the pro-choicers?
STUPAK: Right. It would have be a separate bill. It would have to
be tie-barred (ph) to the final health care bill. You could do it that
way, Chris. You could tie bar it to the final health care bill. You could
do it that way.
MATTHEWS: Yes. What does that mean in English?
STUPAK: I mean, you‘re right...
MATTHEWS: What does that mean?
STUPAK: One bill doesn‘t pass without the other. They go jointly
together. They walk down the aisle together and have that vote...
STUPAK: Two separate votes, but they‘re tied together.
MATTHEWS: Have you—would Republicans vote for that, or would they
say that would be helping health care pass?
STUPAK: Good question. But the principle for myself and the
Republicans, I think, is greater and they would vote for it.
MATTHEWS: OK. Well, let me ask you this. Has the Speaker responded
to that proposal, tie barring these?
STUPAK: No, they have not.
MATTHEWS: Have you offered it?
STUPAK: Yes. I‘ve talked to people—yes. We have had discussions
and here‘s one way we could do it. Yes.
MATTHEWS: OK. Well, thank you. Let me ask you this about Eric
Cantor. He is definitely trying to fish in troubled waters here. He‘s the
Republican whip. He‘s the ramrod on that side of the aisle. He‘s loving
the fact you‘re in dispute. And I understand this is an issue of
conscience. I completely understand, let me tell you. Here he is,
singling out you and a list of 12 other members, including that Republican
from Louisiana, from New Orleans, who‘s voted—he‘s in Jefferson‘s
district. It‘s a Democratic district. He‘s now switching the other way.
Is this an accurate list of people that will vote against the Senate
version if it comes up because it doesn‘t have the restriction on abortion?
STUPAK: I haven‘t seen the list, Chris, but it‘s accurate to say
there are at least 12 of us who voted for health care who have indicated to
the leadership and others that unless you fix this abortion language, we
can‘t vote for a final version of the bill.
MATTHEWS: What do you think the Speaker meant when she made that
statement, that the law of the land is there‘s no public funding of
abortion in these bills? What does she mean? I mean, try and understand
her. What does she mean? Does she mean the government doesn‘t buy and pay
doctors for abortion, that it simply pays for insurance premiums that will
then cover abortion? What jesuitical language are you accusing her of
here, if that‘s what you‘re saying.
STUPAK: Well, if she‘s talking about the Senate language, again, go
to the pages I cited, page—I believe it‘s 38 to 44. If you go look at
it, it says every enrollee in the OPM, Office of Personnel Management—
every enrollee in one of those plans must play one dollar per month for
reproductive rights, which include abortion. So not only are you talking
about abortion coverage in insurance policies, but now you‘re asking
everyone who enrolls in these plans to pay at least $1 per month into a
fund to help pay for abortion. So you‘re making the insurance companies...
STUPAK: ... provide it, plus, you‘re making people pay for it. She‘s
MATTHEWS: Do you believe the Democratic Party, the majority of the
party you‘re in, is willing to go down to defeat on the major legislative
issue of this presidency because of its pro-choice position?
STUPAK: No. No, because...
MATTHEWS: You don‘t think they‘re willing to go down to defeat.
STUPAK: No, because if you look at the pro-choice letter that Diana
Degette and others claim to have 40-some signatures on—if you read that
letter very carefully, it says, We must maintain current law. Current law.
That‘s all the Stupak amendment does, maintain current law. Just take my
name off it. Call the Hyde amendment. Just maintain current law...
MATTHEWS: I know what the law says.
STUPAK: Put it in the health care act, and we‘re OK.
MATTHEWS: I don‘t understand why they don‘t—let me ask you this.
Are you willing to bring down the House on the issue of life?
STUPAK: Well, look, we‘re going to do what we have to do. We‘re not
compromising on this issue. We‘ve gone as far as we can. They know that.
We‘re not—I want to see health care as much as the president and the
Speaker, but this is a principle and belief that the only bill...
STUPAK: ... the only amendment ever had a vote was this one. It‘s
bipartisan. We want to see it. We want it passed.
STUPAK: We want to see health care.
MATTHEWS: Thank you. This is a very hot issue, Congressman. I much
appreciate you coming on to start HARDBALL tonight.
MATTHEWS: This couldn‘t be—this is the one. This is the issue, I
think, that could make or break health care reform. Thank you very much,
Bart Stupak of Michigan, a Democrat.
Coming up: Rick Perry wins the Republican nomination down in Texas
over Kay Bailey Hutchison. He smashes her! He gets a majority vote. No
run-off down there. He campaigned against Washington. He‘s the guy that
talks secession like a wild man down there. So is his victory a wake-up
call to all incumbents? If you can get elected by talking secession from
Washington, imagine you‘re just running against it. Or are the only people
really vulnerable are the moderate Republicans in the primaries and
Democrats in November?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RICK PERRY ®, TEXAS: There were a string of victories that
have come along here lately. There was a victory in New Jersey. There was
a victory in Virginia. There was a victory in Massachusetts.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
PERRY: And now there has been a victory in Texas. And I think the
message is pretty clear. Conservativism has never been stronger than it is
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Wow. Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was Texas governor
Rick Perry talking about his primary victory, as if it were a general
election victory against Democrats, after his victory over fellow
Republican, believe it or not, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who he just
treated like a Democrat in that primary up there—down there in Texas.
What does he mean, and what does his win mean to the country? What‘s it
say about the political mood nationally?
Wayne Slater is senior political writer for “The Dallas Morning News”
and—well, Alex Burns is deputy political editor for “Politico.”
I want you both to watch something from Rick Perry, more of Rick
Perry‘s impassioned victory speech, just to set the mood tonight. Let‘s
listen, then I‘m going to give you a little—little treat here. Here‘s,
first of all, Governor Perry.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: We‘re taking our country back...
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
PERRY: ... one vote at a time, one election at a time. This election
was about hard-working Texans sending a simple, compelling message to
Washington. Quit spending all the money!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that was the wrong clip. Anyway, does that remind
you of anything? Here‘s what it reminded me of—actually, it does remind
me of (INAUDIBLE) wrong clip in there, but let‘s look at Pat Buchanan
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAT BUCHANAN ®, FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And as those boys took
back the streets of Los Angeles block by block, my friends, we must take
back our cities and take back our culture and take back our country! God
bless you and God bless America!
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Perry made the same point elsewhere in the speech
about taking the country back block by block. Let‘s look at the trouble
spots in the country. And I want to see, Wayne and Alex, if you think
these people are going to face the same results.
We‘ve got open seats in the country in Delaware, where Joe Biden gave
up that seat, in Illinois, where Barack Obama gave up his seat, in North
Dakota, where Byron Dorgan gave up his seat, in Indiana, where Evan Bayh‘s
giving up his seat. And then you got four incumbent Democrats in trouble,
Blanche Lincoln in big trouble, being challenged in the primary down there
in Arkansas. You got Harry Reid. You got—in Nevada. You got the
problem in Nebraska. You‘ve got—no, you‘ve got Harry Reid in Nevada.
You‘ve got Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania and Michael Bennet in Colorado.
So you got serious problems—out in California, even Barbara Boxer is
much closer to her rival than ever before.
Is this thing that‘s going on down there in Texas going to go on
WAYNE SLATER, “DALLAS MORNING NEWS”: Absolutely, it is. And you
know, there are a couple of messages that came out of Texas last night.
One is, the message is, It‘s Washington, stupid. And any politician
running for office, primary or general election, Democrat or Republican,
doesn‘t recognize that now is in for a rude awakening.
The other one is really more subtle, and it‘s, Whoever you are, define
your opponent before your opponent defines you. The person who can define
your opponent better than you can define—who defines yourself before
you‘re defined by your opponent is a winner. I think about Rob Portman in
Ohio. This is a guy—if I were he, I would say, I‘ve never been east of
Marietta, Ohio. This is...
SLATER: I mean, even though he was Bush‘s trade representative, and
so forth. So I think it‘s a message that will resound across the country.
MATTHEWS: You know, I‘m beginning to think, Alex, if Jimmy Carter was
elected be saying, I‘m not a lawyer. I‘ve really never been to Washington.
And that worked back then in ‘76 -- are we going full circle now? If you
can claim that you are a virgin politically, that you have no knowledge of
any other politician, you‘ve never been to a meeting, never held an office,
you‘re clean as a whistle, you‘re perfect for the voters this year.
ALEX BURNS, POLITICO.COM: Well, sure. It certainly helps,
particularly if you—if—if you‘re entirely severed from Washington.
Now, Governor Perry, the longest-serving governor in the state‘s history—
this is not a political outsider. But he managed to make even the federal
bail-out an issue in this gubernatorial primary. That‘s not a Texas-
specific issue. But by painting Kay Bailey Hutchison as this person who is
out of touch with his state‘s values, who had gone to Washington, supported
these presidents who people were disenchanted with, he managed to just sort
of get to a basic trust issue of whether folks want her in charge of their
MATTHEWS: I‘m looking now right now—let me go back—Wayne,
you‘ve got incumbent Democrats in trouble nationally. Let‘s go to the
incumbent Democrats. You mentioned some Republicans who have to prove
their innocence, basically, of Washington. You‘ve got Harry Reid coming
out in Nevada. Any one of his three opponents can beat him right now.
Arlen Specter, by the way, I just found out last night—or actually,
earlier today—has already for the first time pulled ahead of his
opponent, but I‘m sure Pat Toomey‘s going to give him a hell of a fight.
Then you‘ve got Michael Bennett, the appointed senator out in Colorado.
It just seems to me everybody is vulnerable now to anybody who can
come along and say, it wasn‘t me that done it. I remember Ronald Reagan
used to say, I will admit I‘m irresponsible when they admit they are
responsible, which I thought was a great line, actually.
SLATER: Yes, but I think it is going to be real hard for Blanche
Lincoln to say, I don‘t know anything about Washington, DC. Even for
Democrats like Blanche Lincoln or Harry Reid—my, gosh, he is Washington,
DC—for Democrats to recognize the sensitivity of voters at home, that
they are anxious about the economy, that the Washington—concern over
Washington spending is not a trumped up issue by Republicans alone. There
is something real about that.
To try to deal with that, even if you are a Democrat, is important.
It‘s not going to be a good year for Democrats. I think we know that.
This anti-Washington animus is going to contribute to that.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s run through the calendar right now. Alex, you
first. We‘ve got this fight, Grayson and Rand Paul. Rand Paul is red hot.
His father is Ron Paul. He looks like he can knock—he can really do the
job there out in Kentucky, right? That is the first big shot. That‘s
coming up in May.
BURNS: It certainly does look like Rand Paul has a real shot there.
Trey Grayson is sort of running as the hand picked candidate of Mitch
McConnell. A couple of years ago, that might have been a huge asset in
Kentucky, to have the blessing of the machine like that. This year, not so
Trey Grayson has sort of attacked Rand Paul, saying, look, this guy
is not even from Kentucky. He‘s not one of us. He‘s sort of an outsider.
Rand Paul is sort of saying, you‘re darn right I‘m an outsider.
MATTHEWS: Even an outsider of the state is better than being—as
long as you‘re outside Washington. Let me go to the Florida race. I
watched this one turn very fast down south, Wayne. Pat Buchanan loves this
guy, Marco Rubio, Cuban American. I guess he‘s the former speaker down
there, and it‘s a rotating speakership down there. Charlie Crist looked
unbeatable a year ago, just like Kay Bailey Hutchison looked like she was a
formidable candidate, with great reviews, great numbers. Numbers don‘t
seem to mean anything once that Tea Party crowd go after you.
SLATER: More than any other race, I think Florida is the one that
mirrors what happened in Texas. You‘re right, Charlie Crist—I mean, who
would have thought he would be in trouble. He‘s in horrible trouble.
Essentially, Marco Rubio emerges, interesting, exciting, gets the Tea Party
crowd behind him, frames Crist, talks about Crist as essentially some
liberal, political liberal who has no business being in the race.
It is amazing to see the sitting governor like Charlie Crist behind
the eight ball like this, but it is part of this dynamic. Same thing we
saw in Texas. And if I were Crist, I would study this Texas primary, say,
what the heck can I do about this?
MATTHEWS: He might ask for Florida to secede from the union, too.
By the way, guys, I don‘t think you can pull—let me try Alex on this. I
don‘t think you can pull the secession number above the Mason/Dixon line.
I think that has a peculiar geographic appeal. I don‘t think Ohio can
secede from the Union. These guys fought for the Union. I don‘t think it
is really credible. Alex, your thoughts on that? Can you promise to be
that anti-Washington up north?
BURNS: You mentioned the Delaware Senate race as a place where
Republicans might have some momentum going forward. It is kind of hard to
imagine Mike Castle, a veteran congressman, former governor of that state
sort of coming—charging out of the gate, saying we are done with this
whole United States thing.
But the fact of the matter is there is still this feeling that
Washington is out of touch, even in places like that. As you mentioned, we
saw that in Massachusetts.
MATTHEWS: Lets‘ take a state that is neither north nor south. It‘s
Arizona. It‘s, of course, the big enchilada in terms of national media.
This August 24th—John McCain has to trudge through the summer out there
-- and it is very hot in Arizona in the August. He‘s got to get
renominated out there against J.D. Hayworth, the radio shock jock, former
congressman. I noticed that the Tea Party organizations out in Arizona has
decided to stay neutral. What does that mean?
BURNS: I think, Chris, the fact of the matter is that J.D.
Hayworth, as much as he is running as this outsider—he wants to align
himself with the Tea Party movement. He was an appropriator in Washington
himself. You have folks like Dick Armey, who is generally very sympathetic
to primary challengers, saying this guy was an ear-marker back when he was
in Congress. So he doesn‘t necessarily fit the mold of a perfect candidate
MATTHEWS: This is wild stuff. It‘s a wild fire out there. Wayne
Slater, I cannot believe Rick Perry, the secessionist, has won such a big
race. I‘m sure he‘s glad to hear me say that, because I don‘t get him.
Wayne Slater, sir, thank you for picking up on the trends out there. Alex
Burns, I love “Politico.”
Up next, a preview of the 2012 race on late night TV. Mitt Romney
on “Letterman” and I think Sarah beat his butt on Leno. The highlights
next in the sideshow. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Now for the Sideshow. First, there is
no business like show business. Sarah Palin did a stand-up routine on Jay
Leno‘s “Tonight Show.” Here‘s Sarah.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH PALIN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: I watched the winter
Olympics, skiing, fighting on the ice, skating, bobsledding. In Alaska,
that is our morning commute.
And how about that amazing closing ceremony. It was beautiful. The
minute I saw the giant moose, I remembered I hadn‘t cooked anything for the
But, Jay, thank you so much for inviting me. I saw where it has
been a few weeks of unfair non-stop criticism, people who don‘t know the
real story. I say, Jay, welcome to my world.
JAY LENO, “THE TONIGHT SHOW”: All right, Sarah Palin. Thank you,
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Over on CBS, all Dave and Mitt Romney could talk about
was that guest, Sarah Palin, over on Leno. Here they are.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID LETTERMAN, “THE LATE SHOW”: It sounds to me like you are
going to run for president again in 2012?
MITT ROMNEY, FORMER GOVERNOR OF MASSACHUSETTS: No plans for that at
this point. I‘ll keep the door open.
LETTERMAN: Of course he is running.
ROMNEY: Are you available, David.
LETTERMAN: I can tell by the cologne. I—what about that Sarah
Palin. She‘s not ready to be president, is she?
ROMNEY: She‘s terrific. She really is. She is terrific. She has
energy, passion. By the way, be careful what you say about her, by the
LETTERMAN: I‘ve had my—I‘ve had mine.
MATTHEWS: She has a rifle, you know.
LETTERMAN: Got it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I‘m not sure Romney knew what those two had been through,
Dave and Sarah. Anyway, did you hear Romney sing out the praises of Sarah
Palin? That is the name of the game in the Republican party these days.
Whatever they say about her in private, which is somewhat different, they
are gushing over her in public.
Why? Because she may not run, and she would have all the power in
the world to either help or hurt any one of the guys who do run. Watch the
way they treat her lately.
Next, a call to arms; Funny or Die is out there with a new video
talking up financial regulatory reform. This is a riot. The premise,
ghosts of presidents past invade Barack Obama‘s dreams. We start off with
George W and Bill Clinton.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You two are the ones who stripped out all the
regulations. Why would I want advice from you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dude, it was the ‘90s. People did all kinds of
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Besides, when I put the Iraq War on my credit
card, I never dreamed I would pay 28 percent interest rates. It is
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. If you listened to me, you would have
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then you would have one term.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, and that second term of yours was a real
victory lapper. Wasn‘t it, Dubbers?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What you are saying is I should clean up this
mess that you all created, take on the banks and all their trillions of
dollars. How is this helpful?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It‘s a bitch. It‘s a bitch. But as George
Washington once said to John Adams, tag, you are it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That is one talented group of guys. Anyway, too true.
Speaking of presidents past, Republican Congressman Patrick McHenry of
North Carolina has announced new legislation that would have the Treasury
Department replace Ulysses S. Grant‘s face on the 50 dollar bill. Who
would take his place? Ronald Reagan.
I get it. He would take away the honor from the general who saved
the Union. Hmm, that‘s a smart move. Anyway, Congressman McHenry has got
13 co-sponsors. Reagan faithful want to put Reagan‘s face on the 50 dollar
note. No more to be said tonight. Tonight‘s big number. I happen to like
Up next, lots of politicians talk about cutting spending, balancing
the budget and reigning in the federal deficit. When we return, one US
Congressman who is really intent on doing it, Republican Paul Ryan of
Wisconsin. I think he is the president‘s favorite Republican, sort of. He
has a specific plan to do it, dramatic steps, some say drastic, to change
Social Security, to change Medicare, and really reign in these entitlement
programs, which already costs more money than the government brings in in
taxes. Congressman Ryan next. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. President Obama has made a
point lately of trying to find agreement, at least in principle, with some
Republicans,even when his party line is disagreeable to them. Back in
January, the president singled out Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan at the
Republicans‘ retreat up in Baltimore. Let‘s listen to what the president
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I think Paul, for example, head of the Budget Committee, has
looked at the budget and has made a serious proposal. I‘ve read it. I can
tell you what‘s in it. And there‘s some ideas in there that I would agree
with, but there‘s some ideas that we should have a healthy debate about,
because I don‘t agree with.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Last week, Congressman Ryan agreed to disagree at that
Blair House health care meeting with the president. Let‘s listen to the
congressman this time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN ®, WISCONSIN: When you take a look at this, it is
really deeper than the deficits or the budget gimmicks or the actuarial
analysis. There really is a difference between us. We‘ve been talking
about how much we agree on different issues. But there really is a
difference between us. It is basically this: we don‘t think the government
should be in control of all of this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Was Congressman Ryan right? Is that the most important
difference of all? Paul Ryan joins us now. He is a top Republican,
ranking member, not chairman of the committee, as the president designated
him a moment ago, on the Budget Committee.
Thank you so much. I worked on the Budget Committee for a long time
in the Senate. I know the problems. I went looking at the numbers
yesterday. It is not just that we have a deficit of 1.6 trillion dollars.
It is that the numbers are completely out of whack. We have 3.8 in
spending, and 2.1 in receipts. It is almost two to one now, the government
spending more money than it is bringing in. If you add up all the taxes,
payroll, income, everything, it doesn‘t touch even, it seems, the cost of
the entitlements. We are completely out of whack now. Does it seem odd
now that we have these conversations on television, when they don‘t bare
relationship to that problem?
RYAN: Yeah, it does. And there is so much political demagoguery.
Both parties do this, mind you. I‘m not saying, we‘re all good and they‘re
bad. But the problem is, with all this demagoguery, no one wants to tackle
this problem because they feel that they will lose their next campaign.
I‘m sick of all of that. You look at the fact our budget is on an
unsustainable trajectory. That is not the fault of just Democrats or the
fault of Republicans. Both parties are at fault for this. Both parties
have to come together and fix this mess, because our debt is going to
catastrophic levels. We will have a debt crisis in this country.
Just so you know, the main programs of our government, Medicare,
Medicaid and Social Security, are all going bankrupt. They are growing
themselves into extinction. so you have to reform these programs for
future generations if you are going to save these programs. The sooner we
talk about how to do that, the better off we will be.
MATTHEWS: Getting Erskine Bowles, the guy who got defeated for the
Senate a couple times, who was a great chief of staff for Clinton—he
came in and cleaned things up, to a large extent, at the White House. He
did a good job. I think he‘s great. I think Alan Simpson is first rate.
They are both very courageous guys. But they don‘t have to—they‘re the
head of this new Deficit Commission. The president has designated them.
But they don‘t have constituency at home to worry about. They can
come up and draw out all kinds of numbers for higher taxes, later
retirement. They can do all kinds of wonderful things. They can have
personal accounts. They can everything that you might like. But they
don‘t have to face the voters. The people you work with do.
Is there any way you could ever, as long as you serve in Congress,
get somebody reduce the benefits of Social Security, change the formula,
change the retirement age, pay for it?
RYAN: I do.
MATTHEWS: When are people going to start doing this sort of thing
when they want to run for reelection?
RYAN: Chris, I introduced my bill that does these things that you
just more or less mentioned in 2008. I did this during the Bush
administration. I ran on this plan for reelection last year, and I won
with 64 percent in a district that went for Dukakis, Clinton, Gore and
MATTHEWS: What kind of district do you have? Let‘s talk politics.
MATTHEWS: You have a very, very high educated—it‘s not a
National Public Radio audience. It‘s something like that, though, isn‘t
RYAN: Well, it‘s a district that listens to people when they tell
them the truth, that listens to people. A lot of people may not agree with
how I propose to fix this problem, but their minds are open to fixing the
problem. So I spend a lot of time talking to the people I represent about
this fiscal mess that‘s coming down the pike. And I put together a plan,
that the CBO certified, makes Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security
totally solvent, pays off our national debt, and averts the debt crisis.
You can‘t make this all up by taxing. The spending is the real
source of the problem. I think the president—he and I have some really
had good conversations about this. I hope those continue. But we are
nowhere near the political landscape we need to be to really tackle this
MATTHEWS: I‘ve been through this. I‘m older than you. I‘ve been
through this, watching this, and being a staffer. I watched your party.
Ronald Reagan in ‘86, during his second term, talked about putting caps on
some of these colas and things like that to reduce the automatic growth in
entitlements like Social Security. He lost. Paul Hawkins got defeated,
blown away. Jeremiah Den (ph) got blown away in Alabama. All the
conservatives got blown away the minute they put—it is called the third
rail for a reason.
MATTHEWS: If somebody signs on your to your legitimate proposals
for balancing the budget at some point in the future, they will lose
elections because the voters do want something for nothing, don‘t they?
You say they don‘t.
MATTHEWS: You say they don‘t want something for nothing. I think
RYAN: We have had this problem. If it was not what you said, then
we would have fixed this already by now. What I propose—and if we act
soon—you can say to anybody who is in or near retirement, if you are 55
or over, you are not going to change your benefits. If you‘re under the
age of 55, these programs are going bankrupt anyway. They‘re not going to
be there for you as they‘re designed today. So let‘s reform them, make
them more sustainable, so they work.
So what I basically say is we want a sturdy and sustainable safety
net in America, for people who are low income, people who are sick. Let‘s
have that. But then let‘s have a system on top of it that is sustainable
for future generations. If you act now, you can make sure that people in
and near retirement, above 55, have no huge disruptions in their lives.
That‘s my point, do it now, you won‘t hurt people in retirement, and
you‘ll save these programs, make them more sustainable for future
generations. If you keep delaying entitlement reform, then all bets are
off, and people are going to have huge disruptions in their lives.
MATTHEWS: Let me put a liberal hat on for a minute. It seems to me
that we are trying to match, with President Obama, the social democracy of
RYAN: That‘s right.
MATTHEWS: I think that is a good idea myself. The problem is, on
top of our costs for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and any future
costs, if there are any, that balance out or add to our costs for this new
health care program—we have the biggest military expenditure in the
world. The Swedes don‘t have to pay for that. The Germans don‘t have to
RYAN: That‘s right.
MATTHEWS: They don‘t even like blue helmets over there. The Brits
really don‘t have to. The French don‘t have to.
RYAN: We pay for it for them.
MATTHEWS: Everybody in he world we‘re trying to compete with, in
terms of social programming and safety netting, they don‘t have the world
class military we have. Every time you watch “Meet the Press,” one of
those shows, they have the latest helicopters, the latest fighter planes.
We got all that stuff we are paying for. How can we have all that military
cost and have a self-sustaining social welfare program in this country?
How can we do it with driving people crazy with higher taxes?
RYAN: That‘s another point. But defense spending is at its
smallest amount as a percentage of GDP as its been in years. Here is your
problem with your social democracy tact, which I‘ll disagree with you on
whether it‘s a good thing to have or not. We can‘t afford it with the
demographics we‘ve got. We‘re going form 40 million retirees to 80 million
in one generation. Our birthrates are declining, and health care costs are
going up six to eight percent.
So mathematically, this pay as you go, social welfare state, social
democracy agenda is fiscally unsustainable. You literally cannot tax your
way out of this problem. It is a huge debt problem.
You‘ve got Greece going down. You‘ve got the PIGS—Portugal,
Italy, Greece, Spain, huge debt crises. We should not fool ourselves to
think that could not come here.
MATTHEWS: You must have a heck of a constituency out there in
Wisconsin. They must all have PHDs in economics because they do understand
the problem. I think a lot of people get it, but they don‘t like it. I
don‘t know anybody who wants their taxes to go up or their benefits to be
cut. That‘s the nature of the beast.
Anyway, thank you, Congressman Paul Ryan. I see why the president
likes you, or at least in theory.
Up next, Congressman Charlie Rangel steps down as chairman of the
powerful Ways and Means Committee, at least for a while, until the air gets
cleared, if it does get cleared. More on that ahead in the politics fix.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Democratic Congressman Charlie
Rangel decided to temporarily step down from his post as chairman of the
Ways and Means Committee today. It was 9:00 am this morning he did it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. CHARLIE RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: In order to avoid my colleagues
having to defend me during their elections, I have this morning sent a
letter to Speaker Pelosi asking her to grant me a leave of absence until
such time as the Ethics Committee completes its work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Republicans are ready to vote to strip Rangel of his
chairmanship in any way they could. The Democratic support of him was
eroding, according to a lot of experts up there. They were—one after
the other, the Democrats said they did support the idea of him stepping
aside after the Ethics Committee had admonished him last week for accepting
corporate sponsored travel to the Caribbean, which is not a big deal,
compared to some of the other stuff that‘s out there right now. The Ethics
Committee still looking into a number of other allegations. They said
there could be more trouble for the chairman.
Michelle Bernard is an MSNBC political analyst. We‘re glad to have
her here tonight. Joe Conason, welcome back. He‘s a political reporter
for the “New York Observer.”
Joe, it‘s great to have you on. I‘m going to start with you. The
news up in New York has been blistering now for months. What is it that
has lead, for example, the “New York Times”—I‘m always skeptical of
motive. Excuse me for that. I don‘t think all journalism is objective.
Why they have been pounding this guy. Is it because of what he did or did
he vote wrong on something?
JOE CONASON, “NEW YORK OBSERVER”: Well, Chris, I think it was
journalism. I think they found a legitimate story on Congressman Rangel,
which is that he seemed to have done a favor originally for somebody who
was contributing money to a school named in his honor at City College.
That was the original story, ran on the front page of the Times. I think
it was a legitimate story.
It‘s a story that‘s not too different similar types of stories that
have come up over the last few years about Trent Lott, for instance, when
he was Majority leader, and Mitch McConnell, the current Senate Majority
Leader, who has actually taken checks from an outfit named after him at the
University of Louisville.
MATTHEWS: So is this vanity behavior? What would you say if you
had to do a morality play? Is it money grabbing or is it greed? Or is it
vanity? Or is it using your office to get more plaudits?
CONASON: It‘s hubris, Chris. It‘s a common ailment among what we
call the old bulls down there, people who have been in power a long time.
MATTHEWS: Is it a firing offense, from your perspective as a
CONASON: Look, I think it would be if it were treated fairly. In
other words, if everybody who did this kind of thing that calls into
question their ethics were called on the carpet for it, yes. I can
imagine, however, Congressman Rangel feeling that there‘s some double
standard here, because Republicans have done the same thing and nobody has
bothered them about it.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Michelle?
MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: The whole thing just
makes—he looks like a broken man. The whole thing makes me sad. It‘s
journalism. It‘s a valid story. But just to have to watch this play out -
Charlie Rangel is so beloved in New York. The Congressional Black Caucus
had been waiting for this moment for many, many years. But he didn‘t have
a choice. He had to step aside. The president, the Democratic party—
and he‘s a member of the Democratic party - have so much at risk. And
Republicans were calling for his head. This is the better way of power.
MATTHEWS: The problem, it seems to me, watching it as a journalist
I‘ve always liked Charlie Rangel. I‘ll be honest. I feel like recusing
myself from this discussion, because I‘ve known him and really loved the
guy for years. Let me just go this: the problem he faces is the facts
right now. New information, Joe, keeps coming out—let‘s be brutal here
checking accounts of 500K in each one, had not been disclosed. Now,
Congress has the unique responsibility, unlike an average person filing on
April 15th, tax return, and having to pay regular returns if you get
different kinds of income—they also have to be completely straight in
terms of what they have, their assets. Most of us don‘t have to do that.
You have to list your assets. He hasn‘t been doing it accurately.
Your thoughts on that, Joe? Is that just going to pound away like a
Chinese water torture on this guy, to use a metaphor?
CONASON: I think he stepped down and the Speaker encouraged him to
step down, as well as probably other colleagues, as much as I‘m sure they
all love Charlie Rangel, because there was nothing good to look forward to
here for him. He had big problems and everybody knew it.
BERNARD: You know, he had big—
MATTHEWS: Should he plan to stick around or go become a professor
at NYU or something?
I‘m serious. I think a lot of these guys would be better off just
stepping aside at a certain, before you get into these problems that are
not exactly criminal, but they are problems.
BERNARD: They are problems. And, quite frankly, if anyone finds
out that in doing these investigation, that he‘s done anything that reaches
to the level of criminal conduct, he‘s out of there. The problem with
Democrats is what happen if Stark actually comes in and takes his place.
MATTHEWS: We‘re going to talk about Stark. That‘s a whole other
story. Pete Stark is a piece of work, which we‘re all going to be
learning. Thank you, Michelle Bernard. Thank you, Joe. Welcome back,
Joe. It‘s good to have you on. It‘s always good to have you on.
When we return, we‘re going to have some thoughts—I‘m going to
have some thoughts about why President Obama is dead right on health care
reform. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight on a topic that‘s dominated this
capital city for months now. It won‘t surprise anyone who watches this
program regularly that I agree with the president on health care. He says
we need reform and I believe he‘s right. We can argue endlessly about how
to do it, how far to go, and may never reach agreement. The important
thing is to get off the dime.
Look, if you or I get into a car accident, and we‘re lying out there
on the pavement, we still have hope. We hope and even trust that an
ambulance is coming, and we‘ll get wheeled into a emergency room where the
doctors and nurses will do their best to save us. The same is true if we
have a heart attack or a stroke.
We have this hope because, with all our cowboy individualism in this
country, we know, when it comes down to it, bad things happen, and no
matter how tough we are, we need a doctor, and need one bad, and we get
But today we use our emergency rooms as clinics for people who can‘t
afford doctors, who sit for hours in our ERs because our hospitals can‘t
turn away a person in need.
Look, I‘m for national health reform because I believe we need to
grow up as a country. We need to get adults enrolled in an insurance
program. We need to begin sharing the cost of health care among the
healthy and the not so healthy, the young and the not so young.
We need to start acting like Americans, responsible citizens who are
willing to insist on our taking responsibility for our health care to the
full extent of our ability.
We can make changes as we go along. We can add a public option at
some point. The important thing is to grow up and put away the childish
notion that if we‘re really lucky, we‘re never going to need a doctor, and
if anything happen, we can take care of ourself.
Well, the president says we need health care reform and the
president is right.
Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.
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