Once again, CNN's Soledad O'Brien grilled a Republican while giving an easy interview to a Democrat. She pushed Republicans to increase taxes on Wednesday's Starting Point, but, showing her double standard, she let President Obama's former deputy campaign manager attack the GOP fiscal cliff proposals.
O'Brien told Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.) that Republicans could "do some kind of a deal now and that will keep us from going over the fiscal cliff? And then you can let the tax cuts expire for the wealthy January 1st. It happens. And you can do some kind of a negotiation."
However, when O'Brien interviewed former Obama aide Stephanie Cutter before Hensarling, she let her attack Republicans. "What's not real about [the GOP's] proposal?" O'Brien teed her up, and Cutter slammed it as "not a real proposal" and "not what the American people voted for."
"Is the plan then if you do a deal for taxes on the middle class, then de facto the taxes go up on the wealthy and you sort of have a win/win for the Democrats?" O'Brien tossed Cutter another softball. "Is that the scenario we're looking at now?"
Meanwhile, O'Brien repeatedly jabbed Hensarling about raising taxes on the top two percent of income earners. "[W]hy don't Republicans and Democrats vote for a tax -- to keep the taxes lower for middle class and people at lower income and let the other ones expire? And you could do that now. And we wouldn't go over the fiscal cliff," she pitched.
Hensarling scoffed at the proposal. "This is the very kind of shell game that they run in Washington. If you'll just give me my tax increases today, I surely will give you your spending restraint tomorrow, you know?"
"But you have no leverage in the debate," O'Brien answered.
A transcript of the segments, which aired on December 5 on Starting Point at 7:18 a.m. EST, is as follows:
[7:18 a.m. EST]
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: So what do you mean by real proposal? Because we know that the Republicans said that they laughed the President's version 1.0 out of the room, then they came forward with a proposal. What's not real about their proposal?
STEPHANIE CUTTER, former deputy manager, Obama re-election campaign: Well, the President's 1.0 proposal was actually what we discussed for more than a year and a half on the campaign trail, $4 trillion of balanced deficit reduction. What's not a real proposal is what John Boehner sent to the White House, which actually lowered rates for those at the top but asked the middle class to bear the entire burden of deficit reduction. That's not what the American people voted for.
I mean, if you look at even CNN's exit polls all over this country, upwards of 60, 65 percent of people voted for balanced deficit reduction, which means asking those at the top to pay their fair share. More people voted for that, the idea of that, then they actually voted for the President. So we need to look to the American people and look what they want on how to reduce the deficit. We have to do it in a balanced way, we have to do it in a fair way.
O'BRIEN: But if you look at polling, and I know you don't always just go on polling, right, but polling is also – you ask people what should be cut, 79 percent of people say don't cut Medicare at all, right, and I think that lots of things, everybody – Democrats and Republicans have said, that is on the table too. So you don't always necessarily follow the polls.
O'BRIEN: So, essentially, Stephanie, is the scenario this? The tax cuts are going to expire, so the tax cuts – so the taxes are going to go up on everybody, right? The fiscal cliff, you go over the cliff, the taxes go up for every single person. Is the plan then if you do a deal for taxes on the middle class, then de facto the taxes go up on the wealthy and you sort of have a win/win for the Democrats? Is that the scenario we're looking at now?
CUTTER: Well, the scenario is that we still have time to put a deal together. The President has a detailed proposal on the table. Republicans need to decide where they want to move. John Boehner needs to decide how he's going to get his own caucus together. They're becoming increasingly isolated in their position. Hopefully we can have a deal which protects the middle class.
[8:05 a.m. EST]
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Then let's turn to Texas Republican Congressman Jeb Hensarling. He's the newly named chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, also co-chair of the super committee on deficit reduction. Nice to have you with us, sir. You know, we heard Will a moment ago saying, how do you salvage a political victory? Because the reality is if nothing is done, if you cannot get together, you go over the fiscal cliff and taxes go up for everybody, correct?
Rep. JEB HENSARLING (R-Tex.): Well, the President is going to get his revenue one way or the other. House Republicans will do everything we can to minimize the damage to our economy. We know that by raising the rates on the top two brackets, as the President wants to do, Ernst & Young says will cause middle income workers at least 2 percent off their paychecks, lose another 700,000 jobs. That's not something Republicans are going to be part of.
But the President obviously is going to get some revenue. There's nothing we can do to stop that. It's written into current law. But the bottom line is you can't solve this problem through revenue. And the President is not being serious. He is moving the goal post. He started out saying he wanted a, quote/unquote, "balanced approach". So, the President is going to get some kind of revenues. I'm not voting for it, but he's going to get it anyway.
HENSARLING: The question is where's his spending deductions? He hasn't put that on the table.
O'BRIEN: You could avoid going off – if we know, no matter what, taxes are going to go up. At this point, if we go off the cliff, for everybody. So, what you could do, as I think it was Olympia Snowe was recommending, you could do some kind of a deal that doesn't make the taxes go up for the middle class, right, and then you would avoid the fiscal cliff, right?
HENSARLING: But, Soledad, again – well, first, the fiscal cliff, relative to our nation's spending-driven debt crisis, is a pothole. You've got 0.3 percent of all Americans have million dollar incomes. This is a shell game. You can't tax your way out of this problem. I mean, you have revenues are about the same levels they were five or six years ago, when deficits were running about $100, $150 billion. Now we know that deficits are running one to one-and-a-half trillion dollars.
O'BRIEN: And I get you on that.
HENSARLING: What's changed is on the spending side, and yet all this discussion is on the tax revenues. You can't get there. You can tax every millionaire 100 percent and run the government for two or three months. This is a spending-driven crisis and it has to be solved on the spending side. Until the president gets serious about it, I'm not sure what there is to talk about, Soledad.
O'BRIEN: I'm not sure that the only conversations have just been on the tax side. I actually think that there have been conversations on both. But, at this moment, right, again, we're going over or toward the fiscal cliff. If you do nothing, all of our taxes are going up. So, why not, as a first move, say listen, nobody at this point wants to raise taxes on the middle class and people who are lower income. So let's do some kind of a deal now and that will keep us from going over the fiscal cliff? And then you can let the tax cuts expire for the wealthy January 1st. It happens. And you can do some kind of a negotiation. And that – I mean, that keeps us from going over the fiscal cliff. It's going to happen anyway, right?
HENSARLING: This is the very kind of shell game that they run in Washington. If you'll just give me my tax increases today, I surely will give you your spending restraint tomorrow, you know?
O'BRIEN: But you have no leverage in the debate.
HENSARLING: It's sort of like Wimpy on the old "Popeye" cartoon. We never see these spending reductions materialize. That's the problem. And, right now, we're borrowing roughly 40 cents on the dollar –
O'BRIEN: Okay. So, then --
HENSARLING: -- much of it from the Chinese, sending the bill to our children and grandchildren. That's unwise and unsustainable. Frankly, I think it's immoral. And what you're saying is, is that Republicans ought to agree, and somehow vote for a big proposed tax increase in hopes that in decades to come that this President's going to do something about spending.
O'BRIEN: No, I didn't say that. What I said was why not -- why don't Republicans and Democrats vote for a tax -- to keep the taxes lower for middle class and people at lower income and let the other ones expire? And you could do that now. And we wouldn't go over the fiscal cliff.
HENSARLING: What the Speaker has done –
O'BRIEN: And I hear you on the spending thing. Yeah, go ahead.
HENSARLING: What the Speaker has done is exactly what the President claimed he wanted. The Speaker has put on the table a balanced approach. The President previously said –
O'BRIEN: But it didn't include tax cuts.
HENSARLING: – I want to raise the top two rates for $800 billion worth of revenue and I want a balanced approach with roughly $3 of spending reduction for every $1 of tax revenue. Now, he's got $5 of tax increase for every $1 of supposed spending reduction, and he's doubled the size –
O'BRIEN: But you can't be surprised --
HENSARLING: – of the tax revenue.
O'BRIEN: But you can't be surprised that the President said no-go to that within only a couple of hours, right? Because it did not increase taxes on the wealthiest of Americans, which he has consistently said.
HENSARLING: Well, Soledad, listen, the President won 51-49. He's got an Electoral College victory. That's good enough to get him re-elected. But it's not enough to give him a mandate. And the American people consciously, subconsciously, consciously voted for a divided government. And the mandate of House Republicans is equal to that of the President of the United States. And we're not going to go out and put 700,000 Americans on the unemployment lines. We're not going to take away wages from hard-working Americans, which is exactly what the President wants to do.
The President ought to remain good to his previous commitment and that was he wanted a balanced approach. Republicans are willing to negotiate in good faith. And I think it's pretty obvious, particularly when the Speaker puts on a plan put forth by Erskine Bowles, a Democrat in the first place.
O'BRIEN: Who, as you know, has backed away from that.
HENSARLING: One who was appointed – one who was appointed – well, get Mr. Bowles on. He was in front of the super committee. I saw him eye to eye when he put this proposal on the table.
O'BRIEN: But he put a statement yesterday, as you know, and he said the circumstances have changed. And so that doesn't –
HENSARLING: I know he was right in front of me as co-chairman of the super committee and he put it on the table. So if he wants to take it off the table, so be it. But the fact of the matter is go and review the transcript. Go and review the tape. This was an Erskine Bowles proposal. Now, he may want to put it up for adoption, I don't know.
O'BRIEN: Okay. Let me just clarify for a moment. He is not claiming he never presented it to you. What he's claiming is that circumstances now have changed is what he says in his statement that he has now released.
HENSARLING: Yes, the circumstances that have changed is that under President Obama, we have our $4 trillion deficit and it is spending-driven. And until the President puts any kind of spending reductions on the table, all this talk of tax increases – you can give the President every job-harming tax increase he is asking for. And it's about 3, maybe 4 percent of his 10-year spending bill.
Ultimately, middle income Americans are going to get socked with a tax increase beyond recognition unless we do something on the spending side. There's just so long you can play this shell game of trying to hide the true cost to government from middle income Americans. They're going to get socked with it. Again, it's 0.3 percent of Americans have million dollar incomes. The problem with the President's plan is sooner or later, you run out of millionaires. The math doesn't work.
O'BRIEN: Congressman Jeb Hensarling –
HENSARLING: The only way we can get there is with spending reductions to save our economy and to save the next generation from bankruptcy.
O'BRIEN: It's nice to have you talking with us this morning, sir. We certainly appreciate it.