George Stephanopoulos Touts Clinton Buddy Paul Begala While Hitting Rand Paul on Spending

George Stephanopoulos on Wednesday highlighted Paul Begala, his old friend from the Clinton White House, while critiquing Senator Rand Paul and the state of Kentucky.  Without mentioning his personal connection, the Good Morning America host chided, "You know, in the Daily Beast yesterday, Paul Begala, pointed out that Kentucky gets more from the federal government than they give out."

GMA on Wednesday offered no criticism of the union protesters, simply another attack on the actions of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Citing a USA Today poll showing Americans supporting collective bargaining, Stephanopoulos lobbied, "And we've see these protests all across the Midwest. Do you think you may have sparked a backlash here?"

Following up, the former Democratic operative berated, "But I think a lot of people look at this and say, Okay, and especially in Wisconsin, we've seen the public employees say we'll pay more for our health care and pensions. But, you can't take away our rights. Have the governors here gone too far?"

Stephanopoulos has conducted other confrontational interviews with the Republican. On May 21, a few days after winning the GOP nomination for Kentucky's Senate seat, an irritated Paul blasted the host: "Where do your talking points come from? The Democrat National Committee. They also come from Rachel Maddow and MSNBC."

In a post-election interview on November 3, Stephanopoulos pressed Paul on whether he was willing to be a "one-term senator."

A transcript of the February 23 segment, which aired at 7:14am EST, follows:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to take a look now at those spreading state battles over budget and union rights. They're all across the Midwest right now. In Ohio, officials locked thousands of protesters out of the statehouse yesterday as demonstrators continued to pack the capitol in Wisconsin and began to gather in Michigan. In Indiana, the fight is over now because Democrats walked out Tuesday and the deadline passed to consider legislation restricting collective bargaining. And, of course,  this all comes as Washington is a week away from a possible government shutdown. Funding runs out next Friday. Here to talk about all that this morning is the co-founder of the Senate Tea Party caucus, Rand Paul of Kentucky. He also has a new book out called The Tea Party Goes to Washington. Thanks for coming in this morning, Senator.

RAND PAUL: Good to be with you, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, the Tea Party has inspired a lot of the budget battles in states and the efforts to restrict the collective bargaining rights of public employees in unions. But, there's a new poll out in USA Today this morning, showing by a two-to-one margin, Americans favor keeping the collective bargaining rights. And we've see these protests all across the Midwest. Do you think you may have sparked a backlash here?

PAUL: Well, I think the interesting thing is, I don't think the Tea Party started this. I think circumstances did. You know, the circumstances are that we're in a recession. There's less money coming in to state treasuries, less money coming into Washington. So,  I don't think we started the battle.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Tapped into it.


PAUL: Yeah. We're the ones pointing out that we've got a real debt crisis. And I think it out it gets worse before it gets better, because there really is a problem. States don't have the money to spend things the way they used to.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But I think a lot of people look at this and say, Okay, and especially in Wisconsin, we've seen the public employees say we'll pay more for our health care and pensions. But, you can't take away our rights. Have the governors here gone too far?

PAUL: Well, I think, ultimately, Governor Walker had a point. He said when the President decided to get involved in his state, he said, "You know what, when you take care of your budgetary problems, you can come to Wisconsin and tell me about mine." And even though I might be an ally, he's a Republican governor,  I'm not here to say I know about Wisconsin's problem or I'm going to to tell him how to run his budget or what he needs to do. But I do understand the problem. And people also have to recognize, that, you know, the teachers who are leaving the schools and disobeying- they should be there teaching-  are making $89,000 a year. Their benefits greatly exceed the private sector. So, really, it's not that we should be saying, "Oh, these poor teachers are not being paid." They're being paid very well and I would expect them to be teaching my kids and not protesting at the capitol.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's talk about something you do have responsibility for, the federal budget. Operating funds run out next Friday, March 4th. The Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, has now proposed, Harry Reid, extending the current funding levels for another month so negotiations can continue. I know that's not acceptable to you. But how much of a cut are you going to demand in order to keep the government running after March 4th?

PAUL: I think what's important and what the Tea Party's all about, if we do what the President says, if we freeze things at 2010 levels, we'll add $13 trillion to the debt over ten years. If we do what Republicans want and cut $100 billion, we'll add $11 trillion in debt. Neither plan is sustainable. So, what I'm about and what the Tea Party is about, is keeping both Democrats and Republicans honest on this. You have to cut enormous amounts. You have to do much more than anybody has proposed. But the alternative is that we'll bankrupt the country.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, unless they go further, even for a temporary extension, you're going to vote against it?

PAUL: Yeah. You have to do much more. We're not even close. See, what they're talking about freezing this much of the budget. [Holds two fingers up.] Nonmilitary, discretionary spending. They're not looking at military. They will have to look at military spending, if they're serious about the budget and they have to look at entitlements. In the next week or two, I'm going to present a plan that will reform Social Security that will make it solvent in perpetuity. You have to link the age of eligibility to longevity, which means basically-

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, that means raising the retirement age.

PAUL: You have to gradually do that. That's the only way you fix the entitlement programs.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And will you be able- You will you be willing to hold your own state to these standards? You know, in the Daily Beast yesterday, Paul Begala, pointed out that Kentucky gets more from the federal government than they give out. They get $1.51 for every $1 in federal taxes paid. In your time as Senator, are you committed to bring that ratio down?

PAUL: Well, the thing is, if we could spend ourselves into prosperity, if spending more money in each state was somehow making us richer, think about how much better we would be. We've been getting money in Kentucky for years and years, but we still have a poverty problem. Think of Washington, D.C. We spend $20,000 per student on education there and yet still the education system in Washington struggles.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, you'll bring that number down?

PAUL: I'll bring all of the numbers down. Has to. I don't have a choice. We don't have a choice as a country. The alternative is we destroy our currency for a massive debt. You can tax people or you can borrow or you can print the money to pay for the debt. But, we're at a point where as we accelerate the printing of money to pay for the debt, you can destroy your currency. It's happened in other countries.

STEPHANOPOULOS: In the book, you also write about what you call a conservative foreign policy. You have some tough words for your own party. You say Republicans treat war like democrats treat welfare. I know you want to restrict defense spending and foreign aid. But what guidance do your principles provide with what we're seeing now, in Libya? You have Qadhafi unleashing a massacre of his own people. Would you go in and try, for example, to set up a no-fly zone so he couldn't do that with his war planes?

PAUL: I think when we go to war, as Americans, we should go to war reluctantly. It should be the most important vote we ever make. And we should never do it on the spur of the moment. We should have a grand debate. If I would go to war, it would be because I think my children need to go to war.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, you wouldn't act now.

PAUL: Well, I think you have to be very deliberative in this in the sense that it's a very important vote. And I think too often, we've gone to war without thinking ahead. And I won't vote to go to war unless I would send my kids there or I would go myself. There are always wars around the world. We have to be careful for financial reasons. And also, you shouldn't send kids into war, you shouldn't do it without careful thought.

— Scott Whitlock is a news analyst for the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org