Yesterday President Obama paid homage to the role of Prime Minister by agreeing to meet with the Republican Caucus to discuss the various issues that are currently being debated in Washington, in what turned out to be one of the most striking political events I've seen in some time.
Undoubtedly it will not settle many (if not most) of the current disagreements over policy between the two parties. However what it did accomplish was for the two sides to lay their opposing talking points out in broad daylight for the public to hear.
(Quick side note: The focus on "talking points" was the biggest detractor from the event. Had the debate been more narrowly focused perhaps this could have been avoided. Something the moderators should consider next time.)
The debate over the ineffectiveness of the stimulus for example; Mike Pence claimed it is costly and ineffective, while Obama rebuts his assertion by saying that he is factual incorrect and then proceeded to lay out his case. Additional topics included earmark reform, Democratic stonewalling, healthcare, etc... all in a forum where you at home can hear the leadership of both parties make their case, and then weigh their responses on their merits.
It made for compelling television, and is without a doubt more informative than anything you'll hear on talk-radio or cable news.
Video embedded below along with excerpts from the transcript (full text here):
"Now, last year about the time you met with us, unemployment was 7.5 percent in this country. Your administration, and your party in Congress, told us that we'd have to borrow more than $700 billion to pay for a so-called stimulus bill. It was a piecemeal list of projects and boutique tax cuts, all of which was -- we were told -- had to be passed or unemployment would go to 8 percent, as your administration said. Well, unemployment is 10 percent now, as you well know, Mr. President; here in Baltimore it's considerably higher.
Now, Republicans offered a stimulus bill at the same time. It cost half as much as the Democratic proposal in Congress, and using your economic analyst models, it would have created twice the jobs at half the cost. It essentially was across-the-board tax relief, Mr. President.
Would you consider embracing... the kind of across the board tax relief that Republicans have advocated... that has always been the means for stimulating broad based economic growth?"
The hope was that unemployment would peak at 8% based on the knowledge at the time. It turns out that we lost 700,000 jobs in January and another 650,000 in February 2009. The point being that the job losses from the recession proved to be more severe than anybody anticipated.
This notion that it was a "radical package is just not true." 1/3 of the cost was tax cuts, 1/3 was stabilizing state budgets, unempl0yment and COBRA benefits was another sizable piece as well as fixing the AMT, and the remaining portion was infrastructure spending.
"I am not an idealogue... The problem is, I couldn't find credible economists that would back up the claims you just made...
So I think that we've got to look at what specific proposals you're putting forward, and -- this is the last point I'll make -- if you're calling for just across-the-board tax cuts, and then on the other hand saying that we're somehow going to balance our budget, I'm going to want to take a look at your math and see how that works, because the issue of deficit and debt is another area where there has been a tendency for some inconsistent statements.
... total spending in your budget would grow at 3/100ths of 1 percent less than otherwise. I would simply submit that we could do more and start now...
So my question is, why not start freezing spending now, and would you support a line-item veto in helping us get a vote on it in the House?
...I think one thing that you have to acknowledge, Paul, because you study this stuff and take it pretty seriously, that the earmarks problem is not unique to one party and you end up getting a lot of pushback when you start going after specific projects of any one of you in your districts, because wasteful spending is usually spent somehow outside of your district. Have you noticed that? The spending in your district tends to seem pretty sensible.
So I would love to see more restraint within Congress. I'd like to work on the earmarks reforms that I mentioned in terms of putting earmarks online, because I think sunshine is the best disinfectant. But I am willing to have a serious conversation on the line-item veto issue.
Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you for acknowledging that we have ideas on health care because, indeed, we do have ideas, we have plans, we have over 50 bills, we have lots of amendments that would bring health care ideas to the forefront. We would -- we've got plans to lower cost, to change purchasing models, address medical liability, insurance accountability, chronic and preexisting conditions, and access to affordable care for those with those conditions, insurance portability, expanded access -- but not doing it with creating more government, more bureaucracy, and more cost for the American taxpayer...
So my question to you is, when will we look forward to starting anew and sitting down with you to put all of these ideas on the table, to look at these lessons learned, to benefit from that experience, and to produce a product that is going to reduce government interference, reduce cost, and be fair to the American taxpayer? (Applause.)
Actually, I've gotten many of your ideas. I've taken a look at them, even before I was handed this. Some of the ideas we have embraced in our package. Some of them are embraced with caveats. So let me give you an example.I think one of the proposals that has been focused on by the Republicans as a way to reduce costs is allowing insurance companies to sell across state lines. We actually include that as part of our approach. But the caveat is, we've got to do so with some minimum standards, because otherwise what happens is that you could have insurance companies circumvent a whole bunch of state regulations about basic benefits or what have you, making sure that a woman is able to get mammograms as part of preventive care, for example. Part of what could happen is insurance companies could go into states and cherry-pick and just get those who are healthiest and leave behind those who are least healthy, which would raise everybody's premiums who weren't healthy, right?
So it's not that many of these ideas aren't workable, but we have to refine them to make sure that they don't just end up worsening the situation for folks rather than making it better...
But at its core, if you look at the basic proposal that we've put forward: it has an exchange so that businesses and the self-employed can buy into a pool and can get bargaining power the same way big companies do; the insurance reforms that I've already discussed, making sure that there's choice and competition for those who don't have health insurance. The component parts of this thing are pretty similar to what Howard Baker, Bob Dole, and Tom Daschle proposed at the beginning of this debate last year.
And so I'm thinking to myself, well, how is it that a plan that is pretty centrist -- no, look, I mean, I'm just saying, I know you guys disagree, but if you look at the facts of this bill, most independent observers would say this is actually what many Republicans -- is similar to what many Republicans proposed to Bill Clinton when he was doing his debate on health care.
So all I'm saying is, we've got to close the gap a little bit between the rhetoric and the reality... I mean, the fact of the matter is, is that many of you, if you voted with the administration on something, are politically vulnerable in your own base, in your own party. You've given yourselves very little room to work in a bipartisan fashion because what you've been telling your constituents is, this guy is doing all kinds of crazy stuff that's going to destroy America.
Mr. President, multiple times, from your administration, there have come statements that Republicans have no ideas and no solutions. In spite of the fact that... this bill, H.R.3400, that has more co-sponsors than any health care bill in the House, is a bill that would provide health coverage for all Americans; would correct the significant insurance challenges of affordability and preexisting; would solve the lawsuit abuse issue, which isn't addressed significantly in the other proposals that went through the House and the Senate; would write into law that medical decisions are made between patients and families and doctors; and does all of that without raising taxes by a penny.
But my specific question is, what should we tell our constituents who know that Republicans have offered positive solutions to the challenges that Americans face and yet continue to hear out of the administration that we've offered nothing?
Tom, look, I have to say that on the -- let's just take the health care debate. And it's probably not constructive for us to try to debate a particular bill -- this isn't the venue to do it. But if you say, "We can offer coverage for all Americans, and it won't cost a penny," that's just not true. You can't structure a bill where suddenly 30 million people have coverage, and it costs nothing...
It's not enough if you say, for example, that we've offered a health care plan and I look up -- this is just under the section that you've just provided me, or the book that you just provided me -- summary of GOP health care reform bill: The GOP plan will lower health care premiums for American families and small businesses, addressing America's number-one priority for health reform. I mean, that's an idea that we all embrace. But specifically it's got to work. I mean, there's got to be a mechanism in these plans that I can go to an independent health care expert and say, is this something that will actually work, or is it boilerplate?
If I'm told, for example, that the solution to dealing with health care costs is tort reform, something that I've said I am willing to work with you on, but the CBO or other experts say to me, at best, this could reduce health care costs relative to where they're growing by a couple of percentage points, or save $5 billion a year, that's what we can score it at, and it will not bend the cost curve long term or reduce premiums significantly -- then you can't make the claim that that's the only thing that we have to do. If we're going to do multi-state insurance so that people can go across state lines, I've got to be able to go to an independent health care expert, Republican or Democrat, who can tell me that this won't result in cherry-picking of the healthiest going to some and the least healthy being worse off.
So I am absolutely committed to working with you on these issues, but it can't just be political assertions that aren't substantiated when it comes to the actual details of policy. Because otherwise, we're going to be selling the American people a bill of goods. I mean, the easiest thing for me to do on the health care debate would have been to tell people that what you're going to get is guaranteed health insurance, lower your costs, all the insurance reforms; we're going to lower the costs of Medicare and Medicaid and it won't cost anybody anything. That's great politics, it's just not true.
So there's got to be some test of realism in any of these proposals, mine included. I've got to hold myself accountable, and guaranteed the American people will hold themselves -- will hold me accountable if what I'm selling doesn't actually deliver.
And so, rest assured the summary document you received is backed up by precisely the kind of detailed legislation that Speaker Pelosi and your administration have been busy ignoring for 12 months.
Well, Mike -- well, hold on, hold on a second. No, no, no, no. Hold on a second, guys. (Applause.)
You know, Mike, I've read your legislation. I mean, I take a look at this stuff -- and the good ideas we take. But here's -- here's the thing -- here's the thing that I guess all of us have to be mindful of, it can't be all or nothing, one way or the other. And what I mean by that is this: If we put together a stimulus package in which a third of it are tax cuts that normally you guys would support, and support for states and the unemployed, and helping people stay on COBRA that your governors certainly would support -- Democrat or a Republican; and then you've got some infrastructure, and maybe there's some things in there that you don't like in terms of infrastructure, or you think the bill should have been $500 billion instead of $700 billion or there's this provision or that provision that you don't like. If there's uniform opposition because the Republican caucus doesn't get 100 percent or 80 percent of what you want, then it's going to be hard to get a deal done. That's because that's not how democracy works.
So my hope would be that we can look at some of these component parts of what we're doing and maybe we break some of them up on different policy issues. So if the good congressman from Utah has a particular issue on lobbying reform that he wants to work with us on, we may not able to agree on a comprehensive package on everything but there may be some component parts that we can work on.
You may not support our overall jobs package, but if you look at the tax credit that we're proposing for small businesses right now, it is consistent with a lot of what you guys have said in the past. And just the fact that it's my administration that's proposing it shouldn't prevent you from supporting it. That's my point.
We know that under current law, that government -- the cost of government is due to grow from 20 percent of our economy to 40 percent of our economy, right about the time our children are leaving college and getting that first job.
Mr. President, shortly after that conversation a year ago, the Republicans proposed a budget that ensured that government did not grow beyond the historical standard of 20 percent of GDP. It was a budget that actually froze immediately non-defense discretionary spending. It spent $5 trillion less than ultimately what was enacted into law, and unfortunately, I believe that budget was ignored. And since that budget was ignored, what were the old annual deficits under Republicans have now become the monthly deficits under Democrats. The national debt has increased 30 percent.
Now, Mr. President, I know you believe -- and I understand the argument, and I respect the view that the spending is necessary due to the recession; many of us believe, frankly, it's part of the problem, not part of the solution. But I understand and I respect your view. But this is what I don't understand, Mr. President. After that discussion, your administration proposed a budget that would triple the national debt over the next 10 years... and propose new entitlement spending and move the cost of government to almost 24.5 percent of the economy.
You are soon to submit a new budget, Mr. President. Will that new budget, like your old budget, triple the national debt and continue to take us down the path of increasing the cost of government to almost 25 percent of our economy? That's the question, Mr. President.
Jeb, with all due respect, I've just got to take this last question as an example of how it's very hard to have the kind of bipartisan work that we're going to do, because the whole question was structured as a talking point for running a campaign.
Now, look, let's talk about the budget once again, because I'll go through it with you line by line. The fact of the matter is, is that when we came into office, the deficit was $1.3 trillion. -- $1.3 [trillion.] So when you say that suddenly I've got a monthly budget that is higher than the -- a monthly deficit that's higher than the annual deficit left by the Republicans, that's factually just not true, and you know it's not true.
And what is true is that we came in already with a $1.3 trillion deficit before I had passed any law. What is true is we came in with $8 trillion worth of debt over the next decade -- had nothing to do with anything that we had done. It had to do with the fact that in 2000 when there was a budget surplus of $200 billion, you had a Republican administration and a Republican Congress, and we had two tax cuts that weren't paid for.
You had a prescription drug plan -- the biggest entitlement plan, by the way, in several decades -- that was passed without it being paid for. You had two wars that were done through supplementals. And then you had $3 trillion projected because of the lost revenue of this recession. That's $8 trillion.
Now, we increased it by a trillion dollars because of the spending that we had to make on the stimulus. I am happy to have any independent fact-checker out there take a look at your presentation versus mine in terms of the accuracy of what I just said.
Now, going forward, here's the deal. I think, Paul, for example, head of the budget committee, has looked at the budget and has made a serious proposal. I've read it. I can tell you what's in it. And there are some ideas in there that I would agree with, but there are some ideas that we should have a healthy debate about because I don't agree with them.
The major driver of our long-term liabilities, everybody here knows, is Medicare and Medicaid and our health care spending. Nothing comes close. Social Security we could probably fix the same way Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan sat down together and they could figure something out. That is manageable. Medicare and Medicaid -- massive problem down the road. That's where -- that's going to be what our children have to worry about...
And so the question is, at what point can we have a serious conversation about Medicare and its long-term liability, or a serious question about -- a serious conversation about Social Security, or a serious conversation about budget and debt in which we're not simply trying to position ourselves politically. That's what I'm committed to doing. We won't agree all the time in getting it done, but I'm committed to doing it.