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updated 8/2/2011 1:32:45 PM ET 2011-08-02T17:32:45

Guest Host: Michael Smerconish
Guests: Chuck Todd, Simon Hobbs, Rep. James Clyburn, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, Rep. Jeff Landry, Elliot Ackerman

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST: The Tea Party gets its way for now.
Let‘s play some HARDBALL.

Good evening. I‘m Michael Smerconish, in for Chris Matthews. Leading off tonight: If at first you don‘t succeed, add a balanced budget amendment. That‘s what Speaker John Boehner did after he was embarrassed last night when he didn‘t have enough votes to pass his debt ceiling bill. He threw in a balanced budget amendment, which won over Tea Party Republicans and guaranteed failure in the Senate.
In the past hour, the House passed the debt ceiling bill on a strictly party-line vote, 218 to 210. No Democrats voted yes. Only 22 Republicans voted no.
So what happens next? The Senate now takes the initiative with a weekend of wrangling and possible late night votes. We‘ll get the latest in just a moment.
Plus, how far will Tea Party Republicans go to get what they want? Is it really a conservative proposition to risk default? We‘ve got two Tea Partiers here tonight.
And is anyone winning politically? President Obama is trying to position himself as the adult in the room, but if the economy tanks, doesn‘t this—his prospects tanks with it?
And have you had enough yet? If people are fed up with Democrats and Republicans, is there a third way? A group called Americans Elect says yes, and it may have the money and know-how to get a third ticket on the ballot in all 50 states.
Finally, “Let Me Finish” with the solution to the debt crisis that‘s right in front of Congress‘s nose.
We start with the House vote tonight and what happens next. Chuck Todd is NBC‘s chief White House correspondent and political director. Chuck, who holds the cards now?
CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIR./WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, we‘re looking at a group of Republican senators that are ready to potentially deal with Harry Reid. That‘s what this could come down to, could come down in the next few hours, to be honest. But there are people publicly today that came out for cutting a deal, including John Thune of South Dakota, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Bob Corker of television, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Scott Brown of Massachusetts.
I didn‘t even mention the main Republicans who most people assume would be available for potential cross-over appeal. But I can tell you this right now. Harry Reid is dangling a lot of things to try to attract Republicans, a few more cuts up front, a promise of a vote on the balanced budget amendment, not having—not linking passage to the next round of cuts, making the, quote, “trigger” stronger for the second round of deficit reduction.
But of course, all this is about one thing that White House cares about, getting rid of the second debt ceiling vote that would take place in six to nine months if John Boehner and Mitch McConnell got the bill that they wanted.
SMERCONISH: Is the starting point for what‘s about to transpire in the Senate that which just passed the House? Because prior to the vote, here on HARDBALL tonight, you said to me it was almost of no consequence. They could just adopt the number from the bill and treat it as a blank slate.
TODD: That‘s exactly right. But there were some similarities to this bill before Boehner had to put the balanced budget amendment deal in there, and that was some of cuts up front. So there will be some similarities that will be used, and using, for instance—promising a vote on the balanced amendment. Harry Reid will argue that is at least taking the spirit of what John Boehner was trying to do in the House.
But that‘s what they‘re going to do. They‘re going to take the Boehner bill number—it‘s a shell—essentially do shift-control-A...
(LAUGHTER)
TODD: ... get it all, delete it, and then paste in his version of the bill. The question is what bill does he put in by midnight tonight? And that‘s what we also got to remember here. We got a legislative clock we got to worry about. If he files his bill by midnight tonight, that means, the way this process works, we probably have the vote to end the filibuster at 1:00 AM Sunday morning...
SMERCONISH: Wow.
TODD: ... Saturday to Sunday morning, number one. So we may see some cots. And then the actual vote on the legislation Monday morning, perhaps 7:00, 8:00 o‘clock in the morning, then hand it off to the House and give them a good 24 hours to figure out how they‘re going to pass it. It‘s going to take both Democrats and Republicans to get it to the president to sign before midnight on August 2nd.
SMERCONISH: So far, the only folks benefiting are Papa John‘s and Domino‘s. Hey...
TODD: That‘s exactly right!
(LAUGHTER)
SMERCONISH: ... Speaker Boehner, a short time ago on the House floor, said that he‘d—I thought this was really interesting—said he‘d stuck his neck out and tried to strike a deal. Listen to this and then react to it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I stuck my neck out a mile. And I put revenues on the table! In order to try to come to an agreement to avert us being where we are. But a lot of people in this town can never say yes. A lot of people can never say yes! This house has acted. And it is time for the administration and time for our colleagues across the aisle—put something on the table! Tell us where you are!
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: The House speaker seemed to be speaking extemporaneously, especially that line about revenues. Do you think that took some of his colleagues by surprise?
TODD: Well, it was—by putting it out there, I think it‘s a little bit of trying to make sure that when these post-mortems are written, his version of history is included in there. The White House is definitely thinking about post-mortems when this whole thing is said and done.
But what I found interesting about the speaker‘s comments was—it‘s how he worded things. You know, he didn‘t necessarily say the bill that they passed here was the bill, the good compromise, this or that. He was very careful to draw lines.
But to come out and talk about revenues—you know, I think he wants to remind folks of—both in his own party how hard this was, and remind them of the loyalty that he had to them and vice version, but at the same time send a message to the White House, like, Look, you know, I went out there—you have no idea. You should now see how hard I told you this was going to be, and you kept pushing me and I kept saying, You have no idea. This really was as far as I could go.
Look, I think—I think the president and Speaker Boehner wish they could have the last two weeks back. And if they knew now what they knew—
I think they would—they would have cut that deal.
SMERCONISH: I wonder...
TODD: I really do.
SMERCONISH: Chuck, I wondered if that was not some overture to moderates and independents because I think one thing the president has done is establish the ground as he who was willing to compromise moreso than the other side.
Hey, I want to show you something. Earlier, I asked CNBC‘s Simon Hobbs to analyze the current economic situation, as well as the potential implications if there‘s no agreement on the debt ceiling reached. It was very insightful. Here‘s what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
SIMON HOBBS, CNBC: Well, Michael, in their heart of hearts, I don‘t think the markets believe that there will be a default, that everybody would be that stupid as to let it go that far. But the nervousness is absolutely palpable.
If you look at the Dow Jones Industrial Average, we‘ve lost the best part of 600 points over the last six sessions. That‘s more than 4.5 percent. There‘s a huge amount of activity behind the scenes, technical activity to deal with the process of a default, the 20 biggest Wall Street banks, with the Treasury today. Yesterday, there was a huge conference call about how you work through what would be a technical default.
But if there‘s one thing that I could leave you with, it is this. As the hours tick by, it becomes increasingly likely that the greatest nation in the world, the United States, will be stripped of its AAA credit rating by the rating agencies. In other words, it means that the rest of the world will say, You are more of a liability to lend money to than Singapore or Hong Kong or France or Germany or Britain, or indeed, Canada.
And I believe that when this episode is written, this historical episode is written, Michael, that they will lay the blame at that squarely on the part of the Republicans and personally on John Boehner, in particular.
Let me explain why. For 10 years on international markets, we‘ve known about the twin deficits, the public deficit, the government deficit, and the trade deficit. We knew it had to be sorted out, and were looking for a bipartisan approach on that, and you‘ve had various commissions in that regard.
What the Republicans decided to do was to up the ante, to accelerate things and have the fight now. And what, in effect, did they do? They said, We‘ll use the debt ceiling. That means they‘re saying to the rest of the world, You know that $14 trillion that we‘ve lent (SIC) to you and our own people? Well, from Tuesday, we may not pay any interest on it and we may not repay the principal. So they hold the rest of the world to ransom.
And what do they get in return for that? Remember here, the yardstick from S&P is about $4 trillion of spending cuts or revenue increases to start bending the curve down. And when Obama was talking to Boehner three weeks ago, we were getting towards that. Now we don‘t have anywhere near a $4 trillion move at all because Boehner couldn‘t sell the revenue increases to his own party. So we‘re not bending the curve down whilst we‘re holding the world to ransom.
And let me just say one more thing, Michael. And in that process, the blood (ph) or the politics are now poisoned. The bipartisan approach has been lost. And there are more hurdles being set up along the way, such as the balanced budget amendment. AAA-rated countries don‘t...
SMERCONISH: Simon...
(CROSSTALK)
HOBBS: ... by those rules, Michael!
(END VIDEOTAPE)
SMERCONISH: And Chuck Todd, this speaks to a big concern in that edifice behind you...
TODD: Right.
SMERCONISH: ... which is that even if they cut the deal, if the AAA bond rating is reduced, it‘ll be on the president‘s watch.
TODD: Right. And that‘s been the issue here for this White House and that‘s why they—number one, they really want to move this debt ceiling issue away from the next two years. Yes, it‘s a political issue, but it‘s also an economic issue. You know, some really bad GDP numbers came out, and it—all of this uncertainty—we‘ve all known that businesses right now in the last couple of weeks, they have gotten a little nervous. People have held back because they‘re not sure what‘s going on. They‘re not sure how this is going to end.
I think—you know, look, I still have a lot of confidence that, you know, when all is said and done, they‘re going to figure it out because all the leaders are on the same page. All of the leaders are on the same page. Yes, they have an unpredictable—unpredictable group of lawmakers on their hands.
And so the one thing that I have as a political person I would find surprising at the end of the day, that if they do agree to what this deal‘s going to look like, it is going to be a couple of trillion dollars, a down payment on that. Be hard to imagine that they would simply look at our political system and downgrade us simply for politics if there is a—a path forward to some reductions.
SMERCONISH: Chuck Todd, thanks so much for being with us. We appreciate your efforts.
TODD: You got it, buddy.
SMERCONISH: With us now is Democratic congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina. Congressman, I guess this is one of those strange bedfellows scenarios because it occurs to me, sir, that you were on same voting side as every Republican member of your delegation, but obviously for different reasons.
REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC), ASST. MINORITY LEADER: Yes, I‘m sure there are different reasons. But thank you much for having me this evening. I kind of find it interesting. I was attacked by the chair of the Republican Party in South Carolina in two days ago when I talked about why I was not going to vote for this.
Now all five of the Republicans from South Carolina did not vote for it, either. So I‘m just interested in seeing next week what that gentleman is going to write about those five people who opposed this bill.
SMERCONISH: You know, Congressman, a lot gets said here about the perceived intransigence of those GOP House members. But data came out today suggesting that the president has reached a new low relative to Gallup. I‘m sure the numbers for the Democratic members of Congress are the same. I guess my point, sir, is nobody‘s coming out of this thing looking good. Surely you know that.
CLYBURN: Oh, absolutely. That‘s the case when it comes to making legislation. It‘s sausage making. We all know that. And people would not like to see it being done, but it‘s the way we do business in this country.
I remember a former colleague from Pennsylvania used to say, Democracy is a messy business, and it is. We try to get as many people involved in the process as we possibly can. We want people to have their say. And we may not always agree with each other.
So I don‘t get all upset about this. And I‘m sure that when it‘s all said and done, people will wait to see exactly how the markets react, how people react and the lending institutions around the country. And then I think they will determine whether or not this is a good thing.
SMERCONISH: You know, the Republicans have drawn a line in the sand relative to no new taxes. Were you taken by surprise when Speaker Boehner in his remarks prior to the vote said, extemporaneously, Hey, I offered them revenues?
CLYBURN: I was a little bit surprised at that, but I think that it‘s one way of saying to us that he tried and saying to the American public that he tried because I think that nearly 80 percent of the American people were of the belief that we should have both cuts and revenues. And so I think he wanted to say to those people who are in the majority in this country that he did have both in his repertoire.
SMERCONISH: Congressman, final question, if I might. My understanding, sir, is that that which passed the House had a six-month timeframe, and then we have to do it all over again, and that which Senator Reid was seeking would extend it beyond the 2012 election. When that gets resolved, which way do you think it‘s going to go? Are we going to be revisiting this issue before Americans vote for president?
CLYBURN: I don‘t think so. I‘ve said before and I‘ll say again, if a six-month extension lands on the president‘s desk, he ought to veto it, and next to it have an executive order invoking the 14th Amendment because I think that we will not do a single thing for people‘s confidence, for the confidence of the markets if it‘s only six months. It might as well not be anything because it will not change the paradigm at all.
SMERCONISH: Stability. Stability is what we most seem to need.
CLYBURN: Absolutely.
SMERCONISH: Thank you, Congressman Jim Clyburn. I appreciate your time.
CLYBURN: Thank you so much for having me.
SMERCONISH: Coming up: How far will the Tea Party take this fight, default, economic chaos? We‘re going to ask a couple of Tea Party Republicans just how far they plan to go, and that‘s next.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
SMERCONISH: President Obama has taken to Twitter to pressure Republicans on a compromise to the debt deal. All day long, the Obama 2012 campaign has been pushing supporters across the country to tweet Republican members of Congress.
It started around noon Eastern with a message from the president himself, “The time for putting party first is over. If you want to see a bipartisan compromise, let Congress know. Call, e-mail, tweet.” And the tweets kept coming, state by state, urging followers to tweet their Republican members of Congress. This is what political arm twisting looks like in a digital world.
We‘ll be right back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOEHNER: Yes, people can be critical of what we‘ve done, but where are the other ideas? At this point in time, the House is going to act, and we‘re going to act again. But it is time for our colleagues across the aisle to tell us what they‘re for, tell us how we can end this crisis!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Hey, welcome back to HARDBALL. That was Speaker John Boehner just before the House voted to approve his new debt ceiling bill. But will the House vote to pass the compromise bill it gets back from Senate?
Joining us now, Republican congressman Tim Huelskamp of Kansas. who voted against the Boehner bill. Congressman, welcome. Why did you vote against it?
REP. TIM HUELSKAMP ®, KANSAS: Well, I don‘t think it does enough. We‘ve got a $14.3 trillion deficit. And they made progress in the right way. I appreciate the efforts of our leadership. But the problem remains. The Senate hasn‘t put a plan out yet, and then hopefully, they might get started this weekend.
SMERCONISH: Yes, but common sense would dictate that if you didn‘t go for what the Republican House passed, there is a small prospect that you‘ll be satisfied with what comes back from the Senate.
HUELSKAMP: Well, assuming anything comes back. I mean, the Senate has yet to have a debate. They haven‘t produced a budget in 820 days. And that‘s really frustrating, particularly for a freshman. I thought the Senate actually had debates. They have yet to have a single debate on the debt crisis that we face today.
SMERCONISH: Congressman, allow me to share with you the thinking of a conservative columnist, Charles Krauthammer, who lashed out in this piece that was aimed squarely at the Tea Party today. He used a famous Civil War quote from Abraham Lincoln to make his point, and he wrote this.
He said, “Lincoln is reputed to have said, ‘I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky.‘ I don‘t know whether conservatives have God on their side, but I do know that they don‘t have Kentucky, they don‘t have the Senate, they don‘t have the White House. And under our constitutional system, you cannot govern from one House alone. Given this reality, trying to force the issue, turn a blocking minority into a governing authority is not just counter-constitutional in spirit but self-destructive in practice.”
What thoughts do you have in response to that?
HUELSKAMP: Well, I think the Constitution does mention the Senate. And if the Senate doesn‘t produce a plan—again, this would be the first time, if they actually produce one this weekend, a plan to deal our debt crisis—Harry Reid refuses to let senators actually debate the issue. We sent “cut, cap and balance” over there. That actually is the only plan that will avoid a credit downgrade.
It‘s high time the Senate actually had a debate. That‘s very constitutional. We always thought it was the greatest deliberative body in the world, but Harry Reid refuses to allow a debate. Hopefully, that‘ll happen soon.
SMERCONISH: Right, but I guess the intonation of Krauthammer‘s words is that you do control the House, but we have divided government at this juncture, and that the perception—I‘m paraphrasing what he said—is that at this point, you‘re really being an obstructionist.
HUELSKAMP: The House is the only body that‘s actually produced a plan. We‘ve now sent two over to the Senate. The Senate has no plan. They‘ve had no debate. The president has no plan. He has no written plan. He has a budget that‘s from January that was rejected 0 to 97 in the Senate.
We are doing our job. We‘re talking about cutting spending. We need to balance our budget. We need a balanced budget amendment. I don‘t know what Senate position is. They don‘t have one yet because they haven‘t debated one, and we‘re just a few days away from that deadline the president gave us.
SMERCONISH: All right. Congressman Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, thank you so much your time sir.
HUELSKAMP: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: President Obama made an important point about the debt ceiling this morning. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It‘s not a vote that allows Congress to spend more money. Raising the debt ceiling simply gives our country the ability to pay the bills that Congress has already racked up. I want to emphasize that. The debt ceiling does not determine how much more money we can spend, it simply authorizes us to pay the bills we already have racked up. It gives the United States of America the ability to keep its word.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Jeff Landry of Louisiana, who ended up supporting the speaker‘s bill, is joining us now. Congressman, is that fair point that the president made, that debt ceiling issue is not spending per se, it‘s satisfying obligations for which we‘re already on the hook?
REP. JEFF LANDRY ®, LOUISIANA: Look, here‘s the deal. This Congress—this Congress—this House has now sent two plans over to the Senate. And let me show you this. See what this is? This is the White House‘s Web site, all right? If you query “debt limit plan,” guess what you get? “Noting found.”
So don‘t—I don‘t want to hear that the administration is over here blaming us and telling us that we can‘t say yes. We‘ve said yes twice now and sent this over to the Senate. It is high time these Senate Democrats and this administration get on board in order to address the problem that the American people, regardless ever their party affiliation, are demanding. And that is to get our fiscal house in order.
SMERCONISH: I read somewhere, sir, that it was in response to a request that you put forth that balanced budget amendment was included in this bill that passed the House. Is that true?
LANDRY: Well, look, I was part of a group who were voting no for this bill. And of course, you know, I don‘t like to take no for an answer. I don‘t like “can‘t.” And so I have been working constantly to try to find a solution. I‘m not interested in making deals, I‘m interested in finding solutions.
So yes, I was up very late last night in the whip‘s office with a group of 20 or so members of Congress trying to hammer out a way where we could get to voting for this bill and it would have a solution to our crisis here.
SMERCONISH: Intuitively, it makes sense. You say, Well, who could be against a balanced budget amendment? Don‘t you try and run your own home with a balanced budget? And of course, I try. But at the same time, sir, I‘ve got a mortgage. I‘ve got a car loan. I‘ve got credit card debts. I mean, it‘s not completely incompatible with the notion of having debt.
LANDRY: Well, that would—well, if you use that logic, then you would say if you got to that point and you just refuse to balance your budget, then I guess you go into bankruptcy. See, I don‘t believe that we (ph) go bankrupt. I don‘t want us to default. We have a spending problem up here in Washington, and that is what we‘re trying to solve.
I mean, look, states -- 49 states have instituted balance budget amendments, 78 percent of the American people want to, Democrats, independents, Republicans. What is so wrong with the process of giving the American people an opportunity to speak? And the balanced budget amendment we just sent, the requirement we just sent over to the Senate, is the one that 22 Democratic senators are on record supporting. So what is the problem?
SMERCONISH: And Congressman, allow me to show you Democratic congressman Gerald Connolly from Virginia expressing the Democrats‘ anger with the speaker‘s bill earlier today.
LANDRY: OK.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. GERALD CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA: This bill is a blatant, cynical exercise in raw political muscle and nothing more. To the House Republicans bent on turning our Founding Fathers into deadbeat dads, I would respond use Speaker Boehner‘s own words from last year. Hell, no, you can‘t.
(END VIDEOTAPE)
SMERCONISH: You‘ve heard the criticism from a number of folks today who say this is a waste of time because that which you passed has no prospect of garnering support in the Senate.
LANDRY: Let me tell you, you know what‘s a waste of time? Not having a plan. That‘s a waste of time. This the second go-round that we‘ve sent to the Senate. What has the Senate actually done this year? They won‘t even open debate. They‘ve got no debate over there. The majority leader, Harry Reid, is over there guarding those senators from—talk about politics? Why don‘t he—why won‘t they have a debate? They won‘t have a debate because of politics.
Let‘s let the people hear the debate, hear the pros and the cons. That‘s how I got (ph) to vote in yesterday‘s bill. And let‘s get on with doing the people‘s business.
SMERCONISH: Thank you, Congressman Jeff Landry. We appreciate your time tonight.
LANDRY: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: Up next: Texas governor Rick Perry—he flip-flops on same-sex marriage. Last week, he said that he supported New York‘s right to allow it. Then he remembered that state rights only apply to issues that he likes. That‘s ahead in the “Sideshow.”
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Time now for the “Sideshow.” First up, Governor Rick Perry shocked many of us last week voicing support for New York‘s right to pass a law allowing gay marriage. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RICK PERRY ®, TEXAS: That‘s New York and that‘s their business, and that‘s fine with me! That is their call. If you believe in the 10th Amendment, stay out of their business if you live in some other state, or particularly if you‘re the federal government!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: No surprise that didn‘t sit well with Perry‘s supporters.
So how about a clarification?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RICK PERRY ®, TEXAS: It‘s a small group of activist judges, and frankly, a small handful, if you will, of states and these liberal special interest groups that are intent on a redefinition, if you will, of marriage on the nation, for all of us. To not pass the federal marriage amendment would impinge on Texas, and other states right, not to the have marriage forced upon them by these activist judges and these special interest groups.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Sounds like more of a 180 to me. State rights of fundamental to the integrity of the United States, unless, of course, Texas doesn‘t approve.
Up next, yesterday, I spoke with the Senator Alan Simpson, who co-chaired last year‘s White House deficit reduction committee on my radio program. He was not pleased, to say the least, with the idea presented by some of his former colleagues that the urgency of raising the debt ceiling is majorly overblown.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: The final question, if I might, for Senator Simpson.
What‘s the response to those out there saying—Michele Bachmann included
we don‘t want to raise the debt ceiling and that frankly this is a whole “chicken little” thing created. It‘s really not going to be as bad as they say it‘s going to be?

FORMER SEN. ALAN SIMPSON ®: Well, it will be a different definition of chicken but the last word won‘t be little.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Subtle? No, it‘s pretty clear what he was getting at.
Next up, looks like President Obama has dual reasons for speaking about fuel-efficient vehicles in Washington this morning. He‘s already thinking ahead to his daughter getting behind the wheel. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As some of you may know, it‘s only a matter of time until Malia gets her learner‘s permit. So, I‘m hoping to see one of those models that gets a top speed of 15 miles an hour. The ejector seat any time boys are in the car. So, hopefully, you guys have some of those in the pipeline.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: There‘s some motivation for all the dads out there to get behind this cause.
Up next, is anybody winning this fight? Republicans and Democrats are hitting the airwaves hard. We‘re going to look at the brand new ads from each side and see who‘s winning the message war.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
(NEWSBREAK)
SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘ve been watching the battle on Capitol Hill these past few weeks. But outside interest groups have also been eager to throw stones at their opponents in this debt fight. Millions of dollars spent on ad buys attacking the president and members of Congress.
But if the country does default and the economy, it suffers, don‘t the president‘s re-election chances suffer as well?
Eugene Robinson is an associate editor and columnist at “The Washington Post,” as well as an MSNBC analyst.
Eugene, I‘ve been looking forward to chatting you about the politics of what‘s been going on. In the end, doesn‘t the buck stop with the president?
EUGENE ROBINSON, WASHINGTON POST: It does. He‘s t he president of the United States and the fact is that when good things happen when you‘re president, then you get more credit than you‘re due, and when bad things happen, you get perhaps more the blame than you are due. So, yes.
Now, in this case however, I think nobody comes out looking good. I think this is not a zero sum game. This is a negative sum game.
And the goal at this point is, not to lose the worst.
SMERCONISH: In your most recent column, you said that progressives need a big idea. And what you were addressing, the competing narratives that are about to unfold in 2012. You feel like the Republicans already have their sound bite, which is what?
ROBINSON: Their sound bite is cut spending, cut taxes.
SMERCONISH: And we held our ground and we did what we said we were going to do.
ROBINSO N: Exactly. We did what we said we‘re going to do, and we‘re going to do more of it. And that‘s our prescription for getting the economy going in and making it grow and returning to government to its proper size. You know, there‘s a whole elaboration of that bumper sticker.
But and on the progressive side, the elaboration is there. You know, we have to plan for the future. We are compassionate nation. We take care of the elderly and the poor. This is a social compact that we have made, and we have to prepare ourselves to be competitive in the 21st century.
That doesn‘t fit on a bumper sticker.
SMERCONISH: Right. That‘s right.
ROBINSON: They don‘t have the bumper sticker.
SCMERCONIS: That why I thought your column was effective because in the limited sound bite world in which you and I both live, they need to shorten that message and they get more comprehensible.
ROBINSON: They really do. They really do. And find a way to talk about progressive issues and values for the 21st century. And it won‘t be the same way it was done 40, 50 years ago. But there‘s got to be a way to do this.
I think Democrats have failed to do that. And I think that‘s why, or one of the reasons why, even though they control only one house of Congress, Republicans are winning these budget battles.
SMERCONISH: Gene, let me show you previews of coming attractions. The conservative group Crossroads GPS released this ad on the economy and the debt. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NARRATOR: America‘s economy is hanging by a thread., under the weight of high unemployment, soaring goods prices, Medicare nearly bankrupt, reckless spending., a failed stimulus, and $14 trillion debt, much of it owned by China.
We are near the breaking point. Maybe we won‘t be crushed when our economy snaps, but someone will.
It‘s time to take way President Obama‘s blank check.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: By the way, I think she was holding a daisy, Gene. I‘m not sure. If you remember—if you remember, and I know you do.
ROBINSON: I remember very well.
SMERCONISH: Now, let me show you before you comment, not to be outdone. Liberal groups including Americans United and the SEIU released this ad targeting several members of Congress. And here‘s their version scheduled to run in Majority Leader Eric Cantor‘s district.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NARRATOR: If Congress doesn‘t actually by Tuesday, America won‘t be able to pay all of its bills, Social Security checks, veteran‘s benefits, military pay, all could be at risk. Because Congressman Eric Cantor and congressional Republicans want to protect tax breaks for millionaires, oil companies and corporate jets.
So, if the check you and your family depend on doesn‘t arrive, thank Congressman Cantor.
Tell Congressman Cantor to stop holding the interest of ordinary Americans hostage.
(END VIDEO CLIP0
SMERCONISH: So, play rotten tomatoes or “Siskel and Ebert” for me and review what you have just seen.
ROBINSON: Of the ads I‘ve seen, I think the Crossroads ad is more
effective. And here‘s why—the Crossroads ad speaks to want I think is
really the kind of central anxiety that most Americans have, which is the -
my children‘s lives are not going to be as good as mine.

And for the first time in American history, the people actually have that fear. My children are going to, you know, won‘t be as affluent. They‘re not going to live in a house as nice as mine. And, you know, is this the—is the American century over?
And so, I think the Crossroads ad plays on that fear very well. It is not just Republicans who have that anxiety. It is Democrats and progressives ought to be able to talk about that, too, but they don‘t.
The ad about Cantor and—you know, it is a fairly standard, I think, Democratic ad essentially saying, the Republicans want to take away benefits that you have earned and we are going to protect them for you. It is not that that‘s ineffective, but I think the Crossroads ad speaks to the larger group of independent voters to be more decisive.
SMERCONISH: The point being, this is going to play itself out in every congressional district in the country. Allow me with an eye toward 2012 to show you some new numbers about Obama because he hit a new low today in a Gallup daily tracking poll, which is 40 percent job approval, 50 percent disapproval.
Somebody said to me, Mitt Romney is missing in action in all of this debate. I said, why would he emerge? You know, given what‘s going on, all of those who are playing a role, including the president, are tarred and feathered by the process.
Speak to me about Romney‘s silence.
ROBINSON: Well, I think it is strategic. And, you know, what position is Romney going to take. I think that if Mitt Romney takes an honest position, it‘s—you know, folks we have it raise the debt ceiling. And it is so why needlessly antagonize the Tea Party wing. So, he‘ll just fade in the background and keep quiet and let this thing play out.
(CROSSTALK)
ROBINSON: But is that presidential? It‘s not quite presidential but it might be smart politics.
SMERCONISH: Stock market had its worst week since last summer. The economy, you know, his strong suit or that‘s how he has been branded us for. I don‘t know that he can remain silent for much longer.
ROBINSON: No, he can‘t. But he wants this to be over I suspect, by Tuesday, by the 2nd come to some solution. And then he can come out and start talking about the economy and come out and start talking about, complain to his strong suit. And essentially saying, look at all of the other folks messed it up.
But until then, I don‘t see the plus side from Romney and in jumping into the fray, because as you say, nobody comes of this looking good.
SMERCONISH: Gene, at the risk of folks eyes glazing over, one other subject I want to raise with you, and that is that the opportunity for the president to invoke the 14th Amendment. I had an extended with former U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, who was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. And he was making the case to me that this is absolutely something in the arsenal that the president controls, that he can invoke it and, frankly, by the time the courts would sort out whether he was justified in doing so, this crisis would have passed.
ROBINSON: Right. I think that is absolutely right. I think that the fail safe option. I think that, you know, with everyday, I think we get closer to the point where the president will have to do that.
As I read the Constitution and the way the courts have interpreted the president‘s responsibilities, I don‘t think the courts even—you know, months or years from now, would want to get involved in a dispute like that if the president asserted that constitutional right. And I think the courts, even this Supreme Court, is respectful of executive power to the extent you can argue in the implicit powers of the presidency are keeping a terrible disaster from happening to the country. That‘s something we expect the president to do.
So, if push actually comes to shove, they won‘t talk about it at the White House, but if we get to that 11 hour and 59th minute, I think he‘s got to do it.
SMERCONISH: It‘s going to be an interesting weekend. I guess is the bottom line. I mean, I think frankly this is the starting gun that we saw earlier tonight, not necessarily coming to a conclusion, and included in the options that the president I‘m sure is thinking of exercising, is that what we just discussed, him asserting the Fourth Amendment into this debate and saying this is where it ends, this is my constitutional authority and I‘ve got no choice at this juncture.
Eugene Robinson, thank you, as always. I appreciate your time.
ROBINSON: Great to be here.
SMERCONISH: All right. Up next, the stalemate over the debt is breathing new life of the idea of a third political party of this country. We‘re going to talk to one of the leaders of a new group that has money and they got organization to get a third presidential ticket on the ballot in all 50 states.
And if you want to follow me on Twitter, you need to learn how to spell Smerconish. I‘m at @Smerconish on Twitter.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
SMERCONISH: Hey, take a look at Sarah Palin‘s warning to first-term House Republicans who are thinking about voting for Speaker Boehner‘s debt plan which she opposes. On her Facebook page, she asks members of Congress to stick to their principles and wrote, “All my best to you, GOP freshmen, from up here from the last frontier, sincerely, Sarah Palin. And P.S., everyone I talk to still believes in contested primaries.”
We know where she stands.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL. If what you‘ve seen play out this week in Washington has you thinking the two party-system is broken, you might have a place to turn. You‘ll soon be hearing about a startup operation to put forth a third presidential ticket.
And here‘s the twist, the winning candidate would be nominated via the Internet, at a virtual convention. Can this really fly?
Elliot Ackerman is the chief officer of Americans Elect.
Elliot, how will it work, walk through the mechanics.
ELLIOT ACKERMAN, AMERICANS ELECT: Sure, at Americans Elect, we‘ll be holding a non-partisan, secure, online nominating convention. Every registered voter can be a delegate to that convention and the ticket that comes of the convention is going to be on the ballot in all 50 states.
SMERCONISH: So, I‘ve spent time at your Web site. I have answered questions that were proposed to me. Have I now entered the process? Am I a delegate, so to speak?
ACKERMAN: Well, you are. If you come to the Web site, you‘ll see, you can sign up to become a delegate, and as a delegate, we‘ll be asking you questions and asking you to weigh the crucial issues that are facing our country right now. And you‘ll see frequently you‘re not red and you‘re not blue, but you‘ll see what your true colors as you weight all those issues—exactly the issues that are most important to you and what you feel are most important to this country.
SMERCONISH: How do you think you‘re going to be able to successfully navigate the labyrinth of the 50 states, each with a requirement, as to how you get on the ballot?
ACKERMAN: Well, we started this journey about six months ago and we made the decision to just do it. We went out and saw the appetite was of the American people. And so far, we‘ve gathered nearly 2 million signatures out of the 2.9 million signatures we need to get on the ballot in all 50 states. And yesterday, we started the process of submitting signatures in California. And that‘s 1.6 million in California.
If you can do this in California, you can do it everywhere.
SMERCONISH: Are the Internet signatures akin to that which is necessary to file in California? Or is it a two-step process?
ACKERMAN: Well, the ballot access signatures are hard signatures on the street, real people signing up because they want more voice and a more participatory nominating process they can directly involved in.
When you come to the Web site, AmericansElect.org, you‘ll be able to sign up as a delegate and participate in a unique experience directly nominating a presidential candidate.
You know, Elliot, there‘s a lot of intrigues since Tom Freedman gave you a lavish coming out party last Sunday in “The Times.” And people want to know, would this help or hurt the president? Would it help or hurt the Republican Party?
I filled out the questions, I think seven of them, initially. And I took notes as to what the responses were as of the time I filled out those questions. Here‘s what people who have already signed up to be delegates said. For 46 percent, the leading budget response tactic was, quote, “more tax increases than spending cuts.” Another one, on health care, 50 percent agreed the government should have a major role in providing health care insurance. Eighty percent believe -- 80 percent—same-sex couples should be allowed to marry legally with all the same rights as traditional marriages.
Now, that tells me those who have responded so far, the delegates for Americans Elect, if they‘re centrists, they are left of center. And, therefore, if it cuts into anybody‘s base, it would seem to me it‘s going to cut into the president‘s.
ACKERMAN: Well, we‘re just getting started and starting a debate. What you see there is a very healthy debate. I think that‘s important in light of what‘s going on today in Washington.
But this isn‘t going to spoil anyone. I mean, the only people this is going to spoil are the folks in the two major parties who got a stranglehold on our political system.
SMERCONISH: Why now? Why is this the moment?
ACKERMAN: Well, what we‘re seeing is real technological innovation.
We won‘t be able to have a direct nominating process like this years ago.
And we‘re seeing political innovation.
This is the first time that anybody has gone out to go get 50-state ballot access for a ticket to be directly nominated by the American people.
SMERCONISH: And, listen, we do everything else online, you know? We pay our mortgages, we buy our groceries, we look at our kids‘ grades online. Maybe the time has come.
Thank you, Elliot Ackerman.
ACKERMAN: Hey, thanks so much for having me here. I appreciate it.
SMRECOINISH: All right. When we return, let me finish with the solution to the debt crisis right before Congress‘ eyes.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
SMERCONISH: “Let Me Finish” tonight with a word of caution. Few things are certain in the fiscal debate but John Boehner and Harris Reid seem to agree on one thing. The plan they settle on will call for a congressional panel to do some heavy lifting by recommending future government savings.
However, neither Boehner nor Reid can guarantee that there will be an agreement within that committee, much less congressional approval of its recommendations. And no plan under consideration right now seems to provide guidance regarding savings that might be found in Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security which together account for more than 40 percent of federal spending.
Does it sound familiar? It should because we‘ve already been down the committee route with Simpson-Bowles and their commission. And guess what? The committee did its works. Congress didn‘t follow through.
The formal name was the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. The president, the House and the Senate all had a hand in selecting it. Republican Alan Simpson, Democrat Erskine Bowles, they chaired it. Eighteen members, 10 Ds, eight Rs, they comprised it.
What they produced, a blueprint for doing something that makes members of Congress wince, touching political third rails.
This really was shared sacrifice. Nothing and no one was off limits.
Not entitlements, not the military, not the wealthy.
As Alan Simpson told me just yesterday, unless you punch a hole in every sacred cow, they‘re just going to wander the fields forever. And so, what happened, the report garnered 11 of 18 votes of support, short of the 14 necessary to trigger congressional action.
If Simpson-Bowles couldn‘t get committee approval what makes us think Boehner-Reid will?
Here is my idea. While Congress stands around waiting for its leaders to negotiate deals, most of which are dead on arrival, why doesn‘t someone ring the bell in Washington and call for the vote we never had? Make members of Congress vote on Simpson-Bowles. At least then the American people would know who was really ready to see the country take the balance necessary steps to put us on path toward fiscal responsibility.
That‘s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. Chris Matthews will be back on Monday.
“THE LAST WORD with Lawrence O‘Donnell” starts right now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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