MR. DAVID GREGORY: This morning on MEET THE PRESS, our economic summit. As the new budget battle turns ugly, has anything really changed in Washington? President Obama presses the case for tax hikes on the rich, and a tax cut extension for the middle class, now.
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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If Congress does nothing every family in America will see their taxes automatically go up at the beginning of next year.
GREGORY: But Republicans aren’t budging, accusing the president of avoiding tough choices on spending and wasting time in the effort to avoid the fiscal cliff.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER: It was not a serious proposal. And-- and so right now, we’re almost nowhere.
GREGORY: Will there be a deal by the end of the year? And what are the consequences for the economy if there isn’t one? We’ll ask the president’s lead budget negotiator, treasury secretary Tim Geithner.
Then, the view from Capitol Hill. Are Democrats as divided over cutting Medicare as Republicans are over tax increases? With us, two voices calling for compromise: Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee and Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri.
Finally, our special economic roundtable. As both sides battle over the nation’s fiscal health, what can we expect from the economy in a second Obama term? What is the vision for an economic rebound?
ANNOUNCER: From NBC News in Washington, the world’s longest running television program, this is MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.
GREGORY: And, good Sunday morning. Amidst a lot of partisan rhetoric on both sides, talks on the fiscal cliff are now at a stand still we’re led to believe and the president is back on the campaign trail of sorts this time to try to win in the court of public opinion for his plan to avert an automatic tax hike for everyone on January 1st. That’s where we’re going to start this morning with the point man on the negotiations for all of this, the secretary of treasury, Tim Geithner. And our roundtable is also here, standing by for reaction including the man behind the Republican pledge not to raise taxes at all, not to raise tax rates, Grover Norquist. He’s here. We’re going to get reaction from him as well in our roundtable. But first, I sat down with Secretary Geithner at the Treasury Department late Friday.
GREGORY: Mister Secretary, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS. Thanks for having us at the
MR. TIMOTHY GEITHNER (Treasure Secretary): Good to see you.
GREGORY: You-- you’re the president’s lead negotiator to avert the fiscal cliff. You have been Capitol Hill. You presented the president’s offer. And it immediately was not received well. It was called by Republican leaders unserious. They’ve accused that president and you of wasting precious time here to avert the fiscal cliff. Was this the intended effect, the president’s first offer?
MR. GEITHNER: That's like the normal political theater of this place. You know, what we’re trying to do is to make it more likely, we come together on a good agreement for the American people. It extends tax cuts for the middle class, brings our long-term deficits down. Tough spending savings is-- is part of that, and-- and invest in things that matter to the American economy, like infrastructure, things to help get Americans back to work. And-- and we think we can do that. We have a good chance of do it now and it’s very important we do that. And I think we’re going to get there, David.
GREGORY: Do you think we’ll get a deal by the end of the year?
MR. GEITHNER: I do. I do because the only thing standing in the way of that would be a-- a-- a refusal by Republicans to accept that rates are going to go-- have to go up on the wealthiest Americans. And I-- I don’t really see them doing that.
GREGORY: The-- the idea that they have signaled something significant for them, which is…
MR. GEITHNER: What is that? What was that?
GREGORY: …they are willing to put revenue on the table.
MR. GEITHNER: No, but all they have said is-- is, I mean, I agree, it’s welcome that they’re recognizing that revenues are going to have to go up, but they haven’t told us anything about how far rates should go up, how far revenues should go up, who should pay higher taxes?
GREGORY: Well, in fact, Republicans have said that no Republican is going to vote for a tax rate increase. Do you just think they’re bluffing?
MR. GEITHNER: Well, again, I can’t-- I can‘t tell you what they’re likely to do. All I can tell you is what we think that-- that makes the most sense for the American country, American people. And, you know, we spent a lot of time talking to the business community, small business and large businesses, the last few weeks or so. The president has done that. And I think there’s very broad-based support for the type of framework we’ve-- we’ve laid out, which is tough spending savings, so we can go back to living within our means, combined with modest revenue increases on to two percent of the wealthiest Americans.
GREGORY: Has anything changed in Washington?
MR. GEITHNER: Oh, yeah. I think things are changing. Again…
GREGORY: But-- but how would you know that? I mean, first question I asked, your-- your answer was, well, this is just political theater. You have…
MR. GEITHNER: I’m not really an expert in political theaters, as you know, but that’s my sense…
GREGORY: Well, right, but…
GREGORY: …if Republicans seem dug in, anybody watching this who says are we going to get a solution in Washington, has to ask the question whether anything has really changed? So what has changed from your point of view?
MR. GEITHNER: Well, again, I think, you-- you said it right, which is they’ve acknowledged for the first time in decades, I think, that revenues are going, that’s good. But we need to know what they’re prepared to do on rates and revenues and we need to know what they’re prepared to do in the spending side. Again, we have laid out a very detailed plan of spending cuts, 600 billion dollars in spending in mandatory programs over 10 years. They phase in gradually, they build overtime. They’re good policy. They make a lot of sense. On top of a trillion dollars in spending cuts in defense and other programs enacted last year, which stay in place over 10 years. And if they’d like to go beyond that or do it differently, they need to tell us what they propose and-- and we’ll take a look at it.
GREGORY: But one of the things that they talk about here, you have got four times as much in new revenue as you do in spending cuts as part of this deal?
MR. GEITHNER: You know, again, they’re just doing political math, not real math. We have enacted a trillion dollars in spending cuts last year together on defense and nondefense savings. Those are real savings. They are hard savings. We are living with those savings and we will be for ten years. And we proposed an additional 600 billion dollars in spending cuts, detailed reforms, very difficult reforms over time alongside that. And again, alongside those changes and the savings we get from the-- from ending the wars…
GREGORY: But where are you specifying spending cuts as part of this deal that you presented in Capitol Hill?
MR. GEITHNER: Again, detailed comprehensive reforms that add up to 600 billion dollars. I’ll-- I’ll give you couple of examples. We are proposing to reform farm subsidies where we think we can save a lot of money. It makes a lot of sense. In healthcare, we’re proposing to modestly increase premiums for high income beneficiaries of Medicare. It makes a lot of sense. We’re proposing to get the government much smarter of how they buy medicine for people who are under Medicare. Those are just three examples, but there’s 600 billion dollars of examples in the president’s proposals. Now again, if the Republicans don’t like those ideas and they want to do it differently, they want to go beyond that, then they have to tell us what makes sense to them. And then we can take a look at it. But what we can’t do is try to figure out what makes sense for them.
GREGORY: In terms of tax rates, in your mind, you don’t have to go back to the Clinton era tax rates for this to be a workable deal?
MR. GEITHNER: Well, I-- I think you do.
GREGORY: All the way up?
MR. GEITHNER: Again, our proposal is to let those rates go back to Clinton levels for two percent of the wealthiest Americans and combine that with tax reforms that limit deductions for the wealthiest Americans. And if-- we think if you do that alongside the spending savings, then you can put the country back on a much more responsible fiscal path.
GREGORY: Including getting rid of the mortgage interest deduction or the charitable giving deduction? Do you think those have to be on the table and looked at?
MR. GEITHNER: Again, we have proposed, and we did this four years ago, a carefully designed way to limit modestly the value of all of those deductions for the wealthiest two percent of Americans. Now, there are other ways to do it. We can take a look at those ways, but there’s no way you can do this in a balanced way that restores fiscal responsibility without tax rates going up.
GREGORY: One of the things I’ve heard talking to Republicans today is this notion that you want to take away Congress’ ability to have the authority over the increasing the debt limit, is a total nonstarter from a Republican point of view. Is that a-- is that a deal breaker from your point of view? Does that have to be in there?
MR. GEITHNER: Well, thanks. Thanks for raising this. This is very important, and let me tell you what’s at stake. We are not prepared to leave the economy of the United States and the savings of Americans, the savings of investors, vulnerable to periodic threats by Republicans to default on the America's credit.
GREGORY: Well, the Democrats have made the same threats in the past, have they not, including the president when he didn’t vote to raise the ceiling?
MR. GEITHNER: There’s no, no-- no precedent in the many decades of history of this, of what the Republicans tried to do in the summer of 2011. You saw how damaging that was. We’re not prepared to go through that again. But let me-- we made a very sensible suggestion, let me describe what that is. What we proposed to them is they extend what’s called the McConnell provision. Now this was a solution Senator McConnell offered last summer, which was enacted-- summer of 2011, which was enacted into law supported by Republicans. And the way that works is the president would have the obligation periodically for requesting an increase in the debt limit, and then Congress would have the chance then to express its views on the merits of that proposal by-- by disapproving that. And then the president would have to decide if a bill came to his desk about whether to veto that or sign it. Of course, he’d veto in that context. And the virtue of that mechanism proposed by Senator McConnell, a man of impeccable conservative credentials, is to make sure that the country is not left at risk of periodic threats of default. It’s a very good idea. It was a Republican idea. And we’re suggesting they extend it.
GREGORY: Let me come back to the idea of, what is the pain point for Democrats here? What is the pain that Democrats are going to have to be willing to live with to get the kind of deal that you’re driving with Republicans on taxes when it comes to both spending cuts, particularly spending cuts to programs like Medicare?
MR. GEITHNER: Well, I think that it’s true that both sides are going to have to do things that are difficult for them, uncomfortable for them. And the American people have already been asked to adapt to a trillion dollars of spending cuts on defense and nondefense that cover comprehensively things that touch the lives of many, many Americans.
GREGORY: But you’re not proposing like the sequester remaining in place on defense spending? You want to dial that back?
MR. GEITHNER: We’re talking about the cuts enacted last year…
MR. GEITHNER:…and we want to replace the cuts in the sequester with a much more carefully designed set of spending savings in the cuts we…
GREGORY: On defense? Because there’s a lot of liberals who say there still should be some significant cuts to defense.
MR. GEITHNER: It’s true that people say that, but-- and again, we’re going to look to the-- to the Pentagon for what makes the most sense for the national security needs-- needs of the country. But again, what we proposed top of those trillion dollars in savings last year is 600 billion dollars in detailed reforms to our healthcare programs and other government programs that over ten years yield very substantial savings. Now again, David, Republicans have said that they don’t like those reforms, they’d like to do more. And if that’s true, then they should tell us what they’d like as an alternative or as a compliment to that. If they want to build on those they could just tell us how. But we can’t react to anything until we see the details of their proposal, and we need it on the rates and revenues side as well as on the spending side. We’ve given them our best view of what makes sense for the country. We think our proposal will have enormous public support.
GREGORY: But Mister Secretary, is it fair to go to Republicans, many of whom were re-elected just like the president was re-elected in their own districts and say, look, we’re going to get specific when it comes to the tax increases that we want, but we’re going to be pretty vague when it comes to stuff that’s hard for our side, which is Medicare.
MR. GEITHNER: David, that’s a misperception. Again, we proposed 600 billion dollars in detailed spending savings. They’re in public. People can take a careful look at them. What we haven’t seen from the Republicans is a plan to raise rates and revenues. They said they’re prepared to raise revenues, but they haven’t said how, or how much, or who should pay, and they haven’t proposed what they think they need on the spending side. Again, what we can’t do is try to figure out what they need, they have to tell us. And then we have to take a look at it and see if we think it makes sense for the American people.
GREGORY: When you look at the economy overall, growth at 2.7 percent last quarter. How does the-- the economy get out of this slump? What is our economy doing well right now? What are we not doing as well as a country to deal with our economy?
MR. GEITHNER: Good question. The economy now is actually looking quite resilient. If you look at what’s happening in energy, enormous boom. In agriculture, even with the drought, you’re seeing incredible levels of income to farmers, which is really welcome. In manufacturing, one of the strongest periods in manufacturing revival that we’ve seen in almost a generation, not just in autos, and not just in high tech, but comprehensibly across that. We’re showing American companies very competitive, very resilient, and companies are bringing back production from China and Mexico because this is looking like a much stronger country in which to invest and build. That’s-- those are very encouraging signs for the American economy. And the people running America’s businesses would say they’re in the strongest position they’ve been in maybe a decade in terms of the ability they have to expand and grow. And if we are able to lift this threat of big tax increases on middle class Americans, lift this threat of periodic threats of default, lift this threat of badly designed deep-- the severe austerity on the spending side up front; then I think there’s enormous potential for the American economy to grow faster going forward. And that’s what the president heard from the leaders of America’s businesses this week.
GREGORY: And if you don’t, the-- the stakes, the consequences are severe?
MR. GEITHNER: Oh, yeah. To-- to go over this fiscal cliff, and because Republicans won’t raise taxes, tax rates on the wealthiest two percent of Americans, would subject the average American to big tax increase and enormous damage from the other cuts that would happen in that context. And there’s-- there’s just no reason why the country has to go through that and we have a chance to do something much better, not just for the long-term health of the American economy but for the immediate challenge which is getting stronger growth and more job creation.
GREGORY: But to hear the president say it today if there’s no deal are you going to blame the Republicans for ruining Christmas?
MR. GEITHNER: Well, again, the only--the only thing that stands in the way of a deal right now is if a group of Republican members decide they’re going to block a deal because they want to extend tax cuts that we can’t afford for the wealthiest two percent of Americans.
GREGORY: The president said on election night, you voted for action, not politics as usual. You’re saying what you expect from Republicans. What can we expect from the president to break that cycle of politics as usual?
MR. GEITHNER: What you can-- what you can expect from the president a willingness to sit down and explore what the best way to get through this is that’s in the interest of the-- of the American people. Not just now, but for future generations. And again, we’ve been very clear about what investments we need, what savings we can do, how we’re going to pay for that and how to make sure we’re protecting the American economy from a broad tax increase on middle class Americans.
GREGORY: Mister Secretary, thank you.
MR. GEITHNER: Nice to see you.
GREGORY: My interview with Secretary Geithner. And now for reaction and analysis, I’m joined by our roundtable, CNBC’s dynamic duo here this morning, Maria Bartiromo and Jim Cramer. The top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen. And the president of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist. Has anything been said about you this week? I don’t know. I can’t remember. Grover, I want to start with you as we get first-- first reaction to Secretary Geithner. Look, the line in the sand is clear, Gover, and that is that the administration, the president says that Republicans will indeed blink, that they will ultimately have to acquiesce, tax rates have to go up.
MR. GROVER NORQUIST (President, Americans For Tax Reform): Well, your interview with him was very, very helpful to me because in the past there have been some Republicans who thought that maybe the administration, like Clinton, was going to be reasonable, that they might put real reforms like welfare reform as Clinton did on the table. What we just heard was no reforms. He even took the one trillion dollars in spending cuts they agreed to-- to the debt ceiling and took that off, so we’re going to spend a trillion dollars more there. This a massive collection of spending increases and tax increases. Every Republican who had impure thoughts about maybe I could raise taxes a little because the other guys would be reasonable has got to go back to the drawing board. They’ve just been told there are no real reforms in this budget at all.
GREGORY: But what about the…
MR. NORQUIST: 1.6 mill-- billion-- trillion-- 1.6 trillion…
MR. NORQUIST: …in tax increases, and then some of those savings are actually tax increases.
GREGORY: But how about the direct point? The treasury secretary telling me, look, Republicans are not going to stand in the way of tax rates going up. True or false?
MR. NORQUIST: Republicans want to continue the Bush tax cuts and the extenders and the AMT patch and so on. And what we did two years ago, what Clinton signed two years ago, with a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate did two years ago, is exactly what we should do now to start with. It’s the president who is threatening to raise taxes on the middle class if he doesn’t stamp his feet and get his way. He should get into a room with C-SPAN cameras there and negotiate. So instead of hearing rhetoric like this--because that was all show and no economics--let’s have it in front of C-SPAN cameras. And if the Republicans are being reasonable, we’ll see that. If they’re not, we’ll see that. Got to have cameras in that room.
GREGORY: All right. Well, Cong…
MR. NORQUIST: Not these press releases out.
GREGORY: Congressman Van Hollen, here’s the reality. You’ve got Speaker Boehner saying this morning to Fox, we are nowhere, that this was an unserious proposal. Is it just political theater like the treasury secretary says?
REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD; Ranking Member, Budget Committee): Well, what’s happened now is that the president has put forward a plan. It’s transparent. It’s on the internet. Speaker Boehner needs to come forward and put his counter plan on the table right now. That’s what has to happen. So when Speaker Boehner says we’re at a stalemate, it’s because he refuses to put forward other options. Let’s be really clear on what the president has said. He wants to extend tax relief for hundred percent of American families and small businesses on their first 250 thousand dollars of income.
MR. NORQUIST: Two hundred…
REP. HOLLEN: And what Republicans are saying it is, nobody gets that tax relief unless folks over 250 thousand get the extra four cents on the dollar that they were getting compared to the Clinton tax rates. And I just don’t believe that the American people are going to accept the Republican position when we need to extend middle class tax cuts and get serious about our long-term deficit reduction.
GREGORY: All right. We’re going to continue the debate. Maria, the gamesmanship, that’s the big piece of this. What’s the bottom line? Does the president have a chance to prevail with how he’s going about this at the moment?
MS. MARIA BARTIROMO (Host, CNBC’s “Closing Bell”): At this point, it looks like both sides are digging in. Based on that interview, it looks like the president is digging in and that’s unfortunate, because it doesn’t seem like we are looking at compromise right now. As far as the economy is concerned, we are going to see a hit to the economy if in fact both sides continue to dig in. And the markets right now are expecting a deal. The markets have been trading fine. If we don’t get a deal, we’re going to see a sizeable decline in stocks. We are going to get a big disappointment.
GREGORY: And Jim, let’s just remind people what we’re talking about. We’re talking about going over the fiscal cliff, what actually happens? The Bush tax rates expire January 1, so taxes automatically go up to those Clinton era levels. Emergency unemployment benefits end. The 2011 payroll tax holiday expires. The alternative minimum tax kicks in. And then you’ve got a trillion dollars in automatic spending cuts, half of which is in defense. How is the president doing in his pitch so far, both in his first offer and how he’s going to the public to sell this?
MR. JIM CRAMER (Host, CNBC’s “Mad Money”): I think he’s doing pretty well. See, I think he’s calling for compromise. Compromise means no firings of any great magnitude starting January 8th. A big January 8, because that’s when the first companies report. There will be a foot race to fire. Who can fire the most? Who saw the recession coming? And I think that compromise, which I believe the president is actually offering, avoids those firings, avoids the big spending problems that you’re going to see. There’s no Valentine’s Day. There’s no Easter. There’s no big spending days coming if you go through and don’t compromise.
GREGORY: So here’s-- here’s what I think is going on in part, Grover. The president is being as aggressive as he is with this initial proposal, putting Boehner in a position to fight him hard, so if Boehner can win some concessions, that he can look better. That he can say to his caucus, look, we fought the good fight here. I've dialed them back from where they were significantly. We got to take this tough medicine.
MR. NORQUIST: It might work, except you-- you left a couple of things off. There’s a trillion dollars of Obamacare taxes hitting in the next several years, many of them-- five major taxes. If you have a flexible savings account on January 1st-- this isn’t the fiscal cliff. This is what Obama has already baked into the cake. Your flexible savings account is going to be trashed by taxes. The special needs. Millions of special needs families are going to find their taxes go up. If you’re really sick, you can’t deduct as much of your health care costs as you used to. These are all the ways that Obama’s raising taxes, a trillion dollars, 1.1 trillion over the next decade. Five major taxes. His new taxes are not off the table. They hit directly into the middle class. They make-- the medical devices. When you go to the hospital, medical devices like riding in a wheelchair will get more expensive because of this tax. I mean, these-- these taxes are damaging.
GREGORY: All right.
MR. NORQUIST: And he wants to make them permanent.
REP. HOLLEN: I-- I think Grover knows that the-- the major source of additional taxes as part of the Affordable Care Act was asking higher income individuals over two hundred fifty thousand to pay higher capital gains, about 3.7 percent, and more on their-- on their Medicare contribution. That was the bulk of the taxes. So, to suggest that this is a big tax increase on middle income Americans is just not right. The president’s expose-- proposing that we extend tax relief for the middle income Americans. That’s what we’ve got to do.
MS. BARTIROMO: One issue is that--
MR. NORQUIST: If you have a flexible savings account…
MR. NORQUIST: …you’re being damaged.
GREGORY: All right. Let me do-- let me do this. We’re going to have much more on this later, including what I still think is the big question that hangs from this interview, which is, is the tax fight essentially over, the one that you have been wag-- waging, Grover Norquist. We’ll have more on that debate as the hour progresses here. I want to take a break. We’ll come back. More from our roundtable as I mentioned later in the hour. But up next, I’m going to talk with two senators calling for compromise on Capitol Hill; Senators Bob Corker and Claire McCaskill. We’ll talk to them up next after this break.
GREGORY: Coming up more on the fiscal cliff talks, as you’ve heard, a key part of the debate is between raising tax rates versus just closing tax loopholes. But if you do the math, you’ll see closing loopholes like the mortgage interest deduction or the charitable contribution deduction won’t come near the trillions needed to pay down the debt. In fact, if you get rid of the top ten loopholes, which would be nearly politically impossible, the U.S. government would only pull in an extra eight hundred and thirty-four billion dollars. So what are the outlines of a deal with that in mind? When we come back, we’ll talk to two senators who are pushing for a compromise, Senators Claire McCaskill and Bob Corker, coming up next.
GREGORY: We’re back and we’ll hear more from our roundtable in just a bit. But first I’m joined by two key voices in the Senate calling for a compromise--Tennessee Republican Bob Corker and Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill. Welcome to both of you. I have to ask senator, what’s changed in Washington? Where is the room for real bipartisanship to avert this fiscal cliff? Is it there, does it exist?
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D-MO): I think it does. I think we understand that this is about our country first. And it really is a time we need to put politics aside, and it’s going to be painful. None of us are going to get the deal that we exactly want. But we have to keep talking to one another. And Bob and I have talked this week. I’m-- I’m talking every day with my Republican colleagues. What has to happen, though, there has to be a realization that if we do nothing, the Republicans are going to have to live with the fact that they were willing to stop a deal all over a tax rate for the top two percent of this country. And, frankly, I’m-- I’m really hopeful that doesn’t happen and I know Bob feels the same way.
GREGORY: Well, senator, Lindsey Graham has said in this past week, quote, “No Republican will vote for higher tax rates.” Will you?
SEN. BOB CORKER (R-TN): Well, the negotiations are between the president and Speaker Boehner and they will get into the details of that. I think you know I’ve laid out a plan that has a trillion dollars in revenues coupled with real entitlement reforms and...
GREGORY: But higher tax rates. Look, you heard Treasury Secretary Geithner. I mean, they are going to force this issue and say to Republicans, it’s over. The tax fight is over. Rates have to go up. The president won re-election. He made this argument. The American people are behind him. That’s what they are going to argue. And they’ll say Grover Norquist, forget him, tax rates have to go up. Are you willing to accept that?
SEN. CORKER: Look, Speaker Boehner and-- and Leader McConnell both have put revenues on the table and then told the debate…
GREGORY: Let’s just understand.
SEN. CORKER: Yeah, yeah.
GREGORY: Everybody in Washington says revenues. There’s increasing your tax rates and there’s finding other ways to raise tax revenue.
SEN. CORKER: That’s right.
GREGORY: And the distinction is important…
SEN. CORKER: It is.
GREGORY: …because what-- what Republicans object to is raising your tax rates, your actual marginal tax rates. So that’s the distinction that you have to answer, right?
SEN. CORKER: Well, you can get there in two ways. One of the ways is the way I propose, which is closing loopholes, that’s a pro-growth way getting more revenues from wealthy Americans and I think, David, before this is all over with, there’s lots of mathinations--there’s capital gains, there’s dividends, there’s all kinds of ways of looking at this and I think cooler heads will prevail. I think we will resolve this and that’s the very best thing we can do to get our economy going.
GREGORY: But, you heard Secretary Geithner. You’ve heard the president. You can’t get enough money in revenue unless you raise marginal rates.
SEN. MCCASKILL: Well…
GREGORY: The president, you know-- I mean…
SEN. MCCASKILL: And here’s the deal. Here’s-- here’s the reality. Let’s assume they won’t go for any raising in the rates, then all the Bush tax cuts are going to expire and then we would come back in January, first thing…
SEN. MCCASKILL: …and pass a tax cut for everybody under 250. What, are the Republicans going to vote no on that? Of course, they’re going to-- so they are going to get stuck with a raising of the rates of the top two percent either in a very painful way or in a way that we can all suffer a little bit, address all three legs of the stool--entitlements, cuts, and revenues--in a way that makes sense, and does make the very wealthy go back to a tax rate, by the way, in the ‘90s when we were reigning jobs. Had a lot of prosperity. That little bit in tax rate difference-- I haven’t talked to people in the business community that think that’s a nonstarter.
GREGORY: But, you know, back in the ‘90s, you talk about President Clinton’s deal. There was a lot of reality there that was tough. First of all, the president believes that Democrats ended up losing the House because of that deal. There were no Republican votes in the House for that deal and there were significant cuts to defense spending as part of that 1993 deal that everybody only remembers as raising taxes.
SEN. MCCASKILL: I know, but I think this deal is important enough. Everybody ought to feel like it’s worth going home over. I mean at a certain point in time, we have to quit playing to the cheap seats in politics and frankly that’s really what we’re waiting on now. It’s a game of chicken to put the painful stuff out there. The president has put 600 billion in cuts out there. He has set the tax increases for the top two percent. Now it’s time for us all, maybe together, hold hands and say, let’s look at some of the things we’ve got to do structurally…
SEN. MCCASKILL: …to get this fiscal...
GREGORY: And I want to come back to that. But Senator Corker, let me-- let me show you this reporting from Politico, which kind of bottom-lined it where we are. This is what they write on Friday. “Both sides privately acknowledge that they are playing familiar roles in a largely choreographed drama whose precise end may not be known, but is likely to include a sizeable tax hike on the order of a trillion dollars, spending cuts that get somewhere close to that number and a pledge to come back next year and try really, really hard to do fundamental tax and entitlement reform. Administration officials say privately they were not really surprised at the GOP’s frosty reaction to their initial salvo. The White House notes that it has now put its wish list on the table, rallied Democrats to its side, pushed Republicans into the position of having to counter with painful spending cut proposals.” So ball’s in the Republicans’ court in terms of what pain America has to go through in terms of spending cuts.
SEN. CORKER: Well, I think that’s right. I mean, the administration has put something out that polls well, taxing the wealthy. What they haven’t done is anything to deal with entitlements, which is painful. And you’re not going to have a deal until that happens. Most Americans don’t realize that the average family in America today pays into Medicare throughout their lifetime 119 thousand dollars in today’s dollars. They take out over their lifetime in today’s dollars 357 thousand dollars. And so the president has laid nothing out there to change that dynamic, so-- okay.
GREGORY: Right, on Medicare, which is so interesting…
SEN. CORKER: Yeah.
GREGORY: …because what happened the last time, there were cuts that were actually enacted as part of Medicare, we had a presidential campaign, and here was Mitt Romney’s ad, targeting the president.
SEN. CORKER: Yeah, all right.
GREGORY: This is what he did.
(Videotape, Campaign Ad)
MAN: You paid into Medicare for years, every paycheck. Now when you need it, Obama has cut 716 billion dollars from Medicare.
GREGORY: Now, those were not benefit cuts. Those were…
SEN. CORKER: Right.
GREGORY: …provider payments.
SEN. CORKER: Right.
GREGORY: So if you’re the president, why specify what cuts you’re going to make in Medicare if that’s the treatment that Republicans are going to give you?
SEN. CORKER: Well, until we get to entitlements, we’re really not having a serious discussion. And, David, all of us know what the options are. They’re not going to get more narrow as time goes on. I mean, they’re going to get more narrow as time goes on and more draconian. What you mentioned earlier about a deal where we saw this fiscal cliff by creating another fiscal cliff down the road is totally immature. It-- it lacks political courage. We all know what we need to do and let’s get it done over the next three weeks. The-- the options are not going to change.
GREGORY: But would you call on your party not to mount that sort of opposition to the president if he specifies how he’s going to restructure Medicare?
SEN. CORKER: Well, I think-- I think that both-- look, I have laid out in great detail very painful cuts to-- to Medicare. I just did it in a 242-page bill that I’ve shared with the White House, shared with Boehner, shared with McConnell, in order to move us beyond this-- this silly debate that’s taking place. The fact is--Claire knows this, I know this--there are serious reforms that have to take place in Medicare for our country to become solvent.
GREGORY: All right. Well…
SEN. MCCASKILL: But we have to be careful.
SEN. CORKER: Oh, yeah, yeah.
SEN. MCCASKILL: And you’re right about this, David. What is really irresponsible, that 716 billion dollars, that was low-hanging fruit that was fluff in the Medicare system, savings that we had to recover. And by the way, it’s the same savings that was in the Ryan plan. The notion that that was used as a political two-by-four in this past election is wrong. We need a mutual…
GREGORY: But Senator, let me press you then.
SEN. MCCASKILL: …we need a mutual détente.
GREGORY: Well, but wait a minute.
SEN. CORKER: And I-- and I actually agree that the ad was not the kind of ad that I would run.
SEN. CORKER: Okay. I do think the 716 billion should have been used to make Medicare more solvent that were the-- but what we did was create another entitlement. That was the problem. But the 716 billion in changes should have taken place.
GREGORY: But let me…
SEN. CORKER: We should’ve just used it for Medicare instead of…
GREGORY: But let me challenge you as Democrats not being more specific about how they would restructure Medicare. Is it really responsible for the president to present a vision for how to move the economy forward by being specific when it comes to tax hikes, but on Medicare saying, well, we’ll-- we’ll get to a certain number, but we’re not going to really specify how to do it. Is it because there’s so much pressure on the left not to touch entitlements? Is that as big a fight as taxes are on the right?
SEN. MCCASKILL: Well, I think it’s-- it’s certainly a fight. And I think we have to be careful. We have to make sure-- I think we can get to means testing fairly easily, more aggressive means testing, some higher co-pays for those people who can afford it. As I've said before, you know, Donald Trump may need medication, but he certainly doesn’t need the government to pay for it. I mean, we’ve got to get to a point where we are really having people who can afford to pay for their health care, having them to take that responsibility instead of the government.
GREGORY: That’s a position the president should adopt in your view?
SEN. MCCASKILL: I-- I-- I do. I think aggressive means testing for people who can afford it makes sense as we look at long-term savings in the Medicare program. But here’s the thing. Bob and I both know, he and I are talking, I think we can get a deal through the Senate. The question is I feel almost sorry for John Boehner. There is incredible pressure on him from a base of his party that is unreasonable about this. And he’s got to decide, is his speakership more important or is the country more important. And in some ways, he has got to deal with this base of the Republican Party who Grover Norquist represents, and, you know, everybody’s elevated Grover-- I mean, I met him for the first time this morning. Nice to meet him. But, you know, who is he? Why is he this guy that is-- has-- has captured so much attention in this? Let’s talk about our country and…
GREGORY: But-- but, senator, I want to get back with-- but senator, let’s also talk about spending. Again, I go back, you-- talking about 1993, President Clinton cutting upwards of 250 billion dollars from defense. Name some specific programs that ought to be cut that would cause pain in terms of the role of our government that Democrats are prepared to support.
SEN. MCCASKILL: Well, I think you’re going to- I think you can see more cuts-- frankly a lot of us have voted for more cuts in the farm programs. You know, 23 billion dollars in savings in the Farm Bill that’s languishing in the house right now, 23 billion a year in deficit savings and actually cutting money out of that program. There are other programs like that-- we can do away with some of the job training programs. There is duplication there.
GREGORY: And defense?
SEN. MCCASKILL: And defense. I mean, I spent a lot of time in the weeds at the Pentagon. If you don’t think that there’s not more money to be cut in contracting at the Pentagon, you don’t understand what has happened at the Pentagon.
GREGORY: Should these sequester cuts on defense be upheld, senator?
SEN. CORKER: David-- but-- and as much as I love Claire, those are not the painful cuts that have to happen. I mean, we’d really have to look at much deeper reforms to entitlements and I would say that Speaker Boehner’s biggest problem is not his base. It’s having a willing partner on the other side that’s really willing to look at these kinds of reforms. And I think that’s going to happen. I think there’s a possibility anyway but I don’t think it’s his base. I think the speaker is frustrated right now because as you’ve mentioned, the White House keeps spiking the ball on-- on tax increases for the wealthy but has not yet been forthcoming on real entitlement reform. And without the two, there really is no deal.
GREGORY: I want to come back to taxes. Grover Norquist, who will be back in just a minute on our roundtable. Look, he has said pointedly, you wouldn’t have been elected senator had you not signed that pledge not to raise any taxes. Are you-- are you prepared to break the pledge now?
SEN. CORKER: I was just elected to the Senate three and a half weeks ago with Claire. Everybody in the state of Tennessee that cared about pledges knew that the only pledge I was going to honor is the oath to office. So, that’s just categorically not true.
GREGORY: So, you will-- you will vote to raise taxes if that’s what it takes to get a deal?
SEN. CORKER: I am not-- I am not obligated to any pledge other than my oath. I want to solve this problem. And where Republicans are today, I mean, we can look at a five trillion dollar tax increase with nothing on entitlement reforms by just being passive and not being…
GREGORY: But you did sign it in the first place. You understood the importance of getting elected and then no tax pledge?
SEN. CORKER: Well, I understood the importance of getting elected the second time. And everyone was fully aware before any votes were cast exactly where I am.
GREGORY: All right. Before I let you two go, I do want to bring up Susan Rice. If she is nominated as Secretary of State, Senator Corker, you’ve said that she has proven to be more of a kind of political operative than perhaps the nation’s top diplomat. Will you support her in the end if-- if she is the nominee of the president?
SEN. CORKER: I don’t think she’s going to be nominated. I think-- but I’ve told people certainly I will give her a fair hearing. I do think that the underlying issue here is people have seen her far more as a political operative and not a principal. And I think that’s what the White House is-- is witnessing right now.
SEN. MCCASKILL: I think it’s-- I thinks it’s terribly unfair what has happened to Susan Rice. I do not understand for the life of me the talking points came from the intelligence community. Yet you don’t hear one criticism of David Petraeus. It was his shop that produced the talking points that Susan Rice talked about, and she mentioned al Qaeda in the interviews that-- that Sunday morning. And you go back to Condi Rice. I mean, really are-- are-- is there a double standard here? It appears to most of us that there is, a very unfair one. This is a strong, smart, capable, accomplished woman. And I think that there's too many people over there that are looking for a scalp.
GREGORY: So you should say-- you-- you’re saying the president should take on this fight.
SEN. MCCASKILL: I-- I-- I don’t know whether should take on the fight or not. I know this that what has happened to Susan Rice is terribly unfair. If you really understand what went on, it is terribly unfair that she should be the scapegoat for this when really the failures ought to be at the lap of the head of the intelligence community that produced those talking points, but none of these guys will say a word about David Petraeus.
GREGORY: All right. We’re going to leave it here. More to come on this, obviously. Thank you both for being here, very much.
SEN. CORKER: Thank you.
GREGORY: We’re going to take another break here. When we come back, more from our roundtable. We’ll rejoin the conversation and broaden it out a little bit to talk about the broader vision for the economy over the next four years in the president’s second term. Norquist, Van Hollen, Cramer and Bartiromo; they’re back right after this.
GREGORY: We are back with our roundtable for more on the economic vision over the next four years and how the fiscal cliff plays into it. And it’s like those presidential debates, Grover Norquist, you know, when you’re mentioned by name, we have to give you a chance to respond. You heard Senator McCaskill. But how about the headlines this week? You have been very much front and center in the debate. Here are some of the headlines that-- The New York Times really stands out. Is Grover finally over? And then, this-- this is really about the pledge that you introduced that is a pledge between these office holders Republicans and the people who have elected them. It’s not a pledge to you, as you often point out. The bottom line is, are you over? Is this tax fight over?
MR. NORQUIST: Well, actually, that was last week’s news. The president and Mister Geithner have really changed the direction here. Because there were a few people including the senator you just had on, who were seduced into thinking, well, maybe there’s a-- you know, I’ll-- I’ll have a small, tiny tax increase and we’ll have real reform and we’ll move forward.
GREGORY: You’re talking about Corker?
MR. NORQUIST: Corker-- and there…
MR. NORQUIST: …there were other-- who-- others who said-- and-- and, look, Corker wants tiny tax increases and very serious reforms. But you’re not going to get that. And what the Obama administration and Geithner says is we’re having massive tax increases and we’re having zero reforms. Our savings are going to come from not occupying Iraq for the next 20 years. I mean, that-- the budget they put forward is the one that was laughed out of the House and the Senate last year. No Democrat wanted to agree with that before they ran for re-election.
GREGORY: But you’re making the macro case. And Jim, get into to this too, because there is still the fundamental question of whether Republicans feel beholden to the position that they cannot raise taxes, even if it’s anathema to what they-- how they think government out to operate, is there still an acceptance that taxes have to be raise, actual tax rates, I believe it is.
MR. CRAMER: Well, it has no-- it didn’t work that well in Greece. Not so positive in Spain. These are countries that were deeply committed to your position. Absolutely no tax increases.
MR. NORQUIST: …no massive spending increases, I mean, those states were bankrupted by their overspending and their regulation…
MR. CRAMER: Well, no one wanted to pay for it.
MR. NORQUIST: Look, the modern Republican Party wants limited government, less lower taxes and less spending. They actually passed a budget out of the House. They actually passed the Ryan plan which reforms entitlements, reforms taxes, doesn’t raise taxes. It’s the Democrats who don’t have a legislative reform…
GREGORY: Well, all right, congressman…
MR. NORQUIST: …or real budget.
GREGORY: ..make the case for why that you view this the president making a truly balanced approach to not just solving this problem but really moving the economy forward.
REP. HOLLEN: Well, he has. And first of all, let’s be clear. The way you get massive tax increases, five trillion dollar tax increases, is if you go over the fiscal cliff. What the president has said is let’s just ask higher income individuals to contribute a little more to reduce our deficit to prevent that from happening.
MR. NORQUIST: And not…
REP. HOLLEN: The president has taken a-- a balanced approach. Look, we already entered into one trillion dollars in cuts, we’ll-- which we’ll have to enforce and implement over the next 10 years, including, by the way, cuts in defense. You mentioned defense cuts as part of the Clinton deal. The fact of the matter is…
GREGORY: Back in ‘93.
REP. HOLLEN: …we sort of did the first half of the Clinton deal as part of the Budget Control Act. We imp-- we’re going to do one trillion dollars in cuts. As Secretary Geithner pointed out, the president’s budget contains additional cuts. And-- and this fact, I don’t think people recognize. The president’s budget over the next ten years has more additional savings in Medicare than the Republican Ryan budget over the next 10 years. Let’s see their plan. The reality is they attack the president viciously, claiming he cut Medicare by 760 billion dollars. What they wanted to do was to add that 760 billion dollars back into Medicare, which would have cut the solvency by eight years. So they attack him for 760 billion, and now they’re coming around saying, Mister President, you don’t have enough Medicare savings in your plan when in fact his plan over the next 10 years cuts more than theirs.
GREGORY: Well, both things can be true. I mean both things can be true. There’s still not enough detail about how you fundamentally restructure Medicare because the president does not want to make that commitment yet before he solves the tax issue. We’ll come back. Well, go ahead.
MS. BARTIROMO: I think that’s absolutely the right point, David. And the fact is that I find it extraordinary that we are zeroing in on this discussion only about taxes and we do not have this kind of elaborate discussion when it comes to spending cuts. Two points here. Number one, Americans realized that the three biggest drivers of our debt are Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. We need structural change. We haven’t heard that. Number two, on taxes, you really can’t put all of the taxes into one category. Dividend taxes for one is probably the biggest threat to the markets and the economy right now when you’re just looking at taxes. And dividend taxes are not a rich tax, nor are capital gains. You’re talking about pension funds, 401(k) plans, invest in companies that pay dividends. If you’re expecting a dividend tax to go from 15 percent to 44 percent, that completely removes the opportunity or the incentive to buy dividend paying companies. And that’s going to hurt not just the rich. That’s going to hurt everybody if, in fact we were to see that. That’s very dangerous, and it is going to create a massive selloff.
GREGORY: Jim, what-- what about-- one of the things that the president has done, he’s going over Congress' head, you know, he’s going out and encouraging people to tweet and post on Facebook, you know, my 2K, meaning the 2,000 that they would get in the extended tax breaks for-- for the middle class. But he’s also meeting privately with CEOs. He’s got bad relationship with Wall Street and with corporate America generally. He’s presented much of this plan. What’s the feedback he’s getting?
MR. CRAMER: Feedback is there will be a big recession if you don’t get behind him.
MR. CRAMER: I’m finding many Republican CEOs-- by the way, most-- most CEOs are Republican. They’re on board. They’re not on board with you. They’re not on board with you because they fear your view. Because they think that you do not favor going-- you favor going over the cliff. That’s what they think. They want-- they think that you favor--
MR. NORQUIST: Just for the record, since we’re on TV, that’s silly. If they think that, they shouldn’t be CEOs.
MR. CRAMER: Or behind the record, off the record doesn’t really matter.
MR. NORQUIST: Look.
MR. CRAMER: That’s what they think you do.
MS. BARTIROMO: They’re on board with a compromise. They’re on board. They want to see something done.
MR. NORQUIST: And yes, we went through this.
MS. BARTIROMO: They had 13 months to deal with this. We’re down to 29 days. The time for opening salvos is over.
MR. NORQUIST: Right. Two years ago, we had exactly the same conversation, even here, on the question of going-- having the debt ceiling increased. And the Democrats wanted 1.6 trillion dollars in higher taxes. They didn’t want to reduce spending. And eventually what we got was two and a half trillion in spending committed without tax increases. We got a good deal in spending. And now the president wants to-- to take back off the table spending cuts that are already in law. So when he talks about spending restraint, he is adding a trillion, trillion and a half, you might count two trillion, in additional spending by taking the trillion away and deciding that he’s going to put off the sequester forever. He’s got a massive spending increase because he’s trying to undo his previous disagreement. I opposed going over the cliff two years ago. We didn’t. We cut spending. I’m not for it this time. Two years ago, we extended all the Bush tax cuts. We didn’t go over any cliff. It’s the president who is in the bank screaming he’s going to shoot the hostages and it’s your fault if you don’t give him everything he wants. That’s not a reasonable position, and it won’t hold.
GREGORY: Congressman, what are the chances that we actually do go over the cliff this time?
REP. HOLLEN: I think the chances are better that we will not go over the cliff. I think we will be able to get an agreement on the sequester to replace the across the board cuts, substitute it with others-- other savings. And I believe we will come to a resolution on this tax issue. But I believe it because what Senator McCaskill and Sen-- Secretary Geithner…
REP. HOLLEN: …said is true, which is I don’t think people-- I don’t think it’s sustainable to go into January saying that the great mass of the country isn’t getting tax relief because they’re holding out for this sort of bonus tax breaks for folks at the top.
GREGORY: All right. Let me get another break in here. We'll come and talk finally about consequences of inaction, real or imagine, when we come back with our roundtable after this.
GREGORY: We’re back. Final minutes with our roundtable. You just said it, you want to respond more to-- to what Grover is saying on the ultimate deal here.
MR. CRAMER: Well, he’s talking about seducing that the Republicans have been seduced. He talked impure thoughts. This is not a pornographic debate, Grover. What this is about is avoiding a recession which is going to happen. I know you don’t want a recession. You don’t want people laid off. You’re going to sacrifice that on the cross of two percent. Is that what you want?
MR. NORQUIST: No. You have to listen to both what the Republicans are talking about. And again, I’m supportive of the Republican position, which is we need to have economic growth, not higher taxes. If we grew at four percent a year instead of two percent a year, Reagan levels instead of Obama levels, for one decade we’d net five trillion in additional revenue. That would pay down the debt that Obama has run up with the slanderous, stimulus stuff. That is…
MR. CRAMER: Clinton did so much better at the stock market with these rates.
MS. BARTIROMO: Well, that was-- that was a different time where-- where-- where we’re at the edge of the new innovation, internet boom.
MR. NORQUIST: No Obamacare, no threat of regulations. Understand how ugly the next four years are going to get. Everything in Obamacare that Obama didn’t want you to focus on or think about, the-- the ninety percent of his trillion dollar tax increase was pushed over till after he got himself safely re-elected. All those regulations you’re now hearing about, okay, that are being rebelled about, those all hit after the election. We had four bad years of regulation taxes. He wants to add higher taxes to that. Tea party two is going to dwarf tea party one if Obama pushes us off the cliff. Let’s not pretend who’s pushing us over the cliff.
GREGORY: Right. We’ll see who-- who actually pushes anybody off the cliff, whether I decide. But Maria, let me ask a broader question, where is our economy right now as we’re tackling this issue? What’s the economy doing well? What’s it not doing as well? We’re talking an outlook here over the next four years.
MS. BARTIROMO: Here’s what’s happening. We are moving at a slow pace. At this point in the recovery, you would expect a lot faster growth, which we are not getting. Unfortunately, if we go over the cliff, we will go into recession. You’ve got a couple of industries that will feel the hurt more so than others. Obviously, defense. And because these are long-term projects, those defense cuts will be felt well into 2013, at the end of 2013, into 2014. What’s doing well right now? Health care is doing well. We’re living longer. We’re living until a hundred years old. That’s a positive. It’s not a crisis, it’s a positive. So we are in need of one million nurses, health care professionals in the coming years. Technology doing very well. A lot of start-up activity, innovation going well, that’s certainly a positive. Manufacturing coming back a bit as well--the auto sector. However, everything can change in a nanosecond. Yes, it’s resilient. I agree with the secretary. However, very, very fragile, particularly with this fiscal cliff.
REP. HOLLEN: Well, we haven’t talked about one of the big piece of the fiscal cliff, which actually has a way bigger impact on the economy than-- than tax breaks for the folks at the very top, and that’s the payroll tax extension for 160 million Americans. The nonpartisan congressional budget office says that gives you the most bang for your-- your buck economically speaking. I believe we have to either extend that for a year or come up with some alternative way of doing that. Let me just say a quick word about Medicare reform. There’s a-- there’s a difference in outlook. We believe we have to find savings in Medicare. The president did, 760 billion, and we can build on that model by trying to modernize the system, reduce costs over all in the system, not simply transfer rising health care costs onto the backs of seniors on Medicare, 22 thousand dollar median income. That’s what their voucher plan did. We believe we can find savings by changing the way we reimburse doctors and hospitals. Not by across the board cuts, but by focusing on the value of care, the quality of care, not the volume of care and the quantity of care.
GREGORY: I just-- one final bottom line question for Grover Norquist.
MR. NORQUIST: Mm-Hm.
GREGORY: In this deal, are there new taxes in the end? I know what your position is.
MR. NORQUIST: Sure.
GREGORY: What does reality tell you?
MR. NORQUIST: Look, okay. This can play out several ways. If we have TV cameras in there, C-SPAN’s there, if we have seven days of-- of bills laying-- and these are things Obama promised when he ran for office.
GREGORY: Right, but that’s not going to happen, you know that.
MR. NORQUIST: It-- no, Obama is an honest man. We are going to get TV cameras in there because what I’m tired of is people saying one thing in those negotiations…
GREGORY: And something else…
MR. NORQUIST: …then holding press conferences out there…
GREGORY: Okay. Taxes go up or down, what do you think?
MR. NORQUIST: That has to end.
GREGORY: Do taxes go up?
MR. NORQUIST: I think-- it depends. If people watch this on C-SPAN…
GREGORY: Then you say…
MR. NORQUIST: …if it stands before it, then-- then you won’t have tax…
REP. HOLLEN: Just really quick David. He talks about C-SPAN and transparency. The president’s plan is out there.
GREGORY: All right.
REP. HOLLEN: It’s on the internet.
GREGORY: I got to go.
REP. HOLLEN: Let Speaker Boehner put your plan on the internet.
MR. NORQUIST: Let’s see that…
REP. HOLLEN: Put your plan.
GREGORY: The debate-- the debate continues.
REP. HOLLEN: That’s-- is that how it explain…
GREGORY: Thank you all. We-- we got to go. We recently celebrated the 65th anniversary of MEET THE PRESS and to mark the occasion, NBC Publishing will soon be releasing a new eBook, MEET THE PRESS: 65 Years of History in the Making, packed with memorable moments from over six decades, available to preorder for iPad at the iBook store. Full details on our website, that’s MeetThePressNBC.com. While you’re there, catch my interview for PRESS Pass with former federal bank regulator Sheila Bair. She's got some criticism about the president’s handling of these fiscal cliff negotiations. You can see that online as well. That is all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.