While questioning Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) over the budget battle on Monday's "In the Arena," CNN's Eliot Spitzer switched gears and attacked Republicans for cutting taxes for the rich while cutting benefits for the poor. Spitzer and Chaffetz sparred over the ongoing budget battle and spending cuts, and Spitzer was certainly not lacking in Democrat talking points.
"You are driving the government to bankruptcy and then balancing the budget on the backs of the poor," Spitzer sharply accused the conservative congressman. "I'm saying to you, how do you justify that?"
The liberal CNN host hit Republicans for cutting taxes for the top two percent of income earners over the last decade and thus adding to the deficit – a popular Democrat talking point – while cutting "health care for the poorest of Americans."
"How can you justify that as a matter of ethics, morality, or simply good conscience?" Spitzer asked Chaffetz from his soapbox.
At the beginning of the segment, the subject matter was the current standoff between Democrats and Republicans over the amount of budget cuts. The Democrats' number stands at $33 billion while House Republicans voted earlier for $60 billion of spending cuts for FY 2011 – a gap of $27 billion in a budget of $3.8 trillion.
"We're talking way less than one percent of the budget. Isn't this kind of silliness?" Spitzer pressed Chaffetz. "Are you going to risk a government shutdown over less than one percent of what's at stake here?"
Spitzer also accused Chaffetz of touting historical falsehoods – that the Bush tax cuts successfully created jobs, and that cutting the capital gains tax rate increased revenues to the Treasury.
"We had more job creation during President Clinton's era than we had by ratio about 4-1 over President Bush when he was cutting the tax rates. You're simply wrong on the economics and history," Spitzer lectured Chaffetz. As for the congressman's claim that lowering the capital gains rate increases Treasury revenue, Spitzer framed that as "historically wrong."
A transcript of the segment, which aired on April 5 at 8:02 p.m. EDT, is as follows:
ELIOT SPITZER, host, "In the Arena": Look, Congressman, I heard the president today talking about 73 is what they put on the table, and I'm not talking right now about where you -- how you spread these numbers around. But the difference between 73, even if you had to get to 100, you're talking about $27 billion here.
That's the gap at most on a budget of $3.8 trillion. We're talking way less than 1 percent of the budget. Isn't this kind of silliness? I mean let's put the rhetoric aside. Are you going to risk a government shutdown over less than 1 percent of what's at stake here?
Rep. JASON CHAFFETZ (R-Utah): Well, I don't want the government to shut down, but if it were that close, if it's really that close, I would think that we could get to that $100 billion number because if you look at the $1.6 trillion that we're going to add up in the debt this year, yes, it is a small amount of money. So let's get to the finish line and move on with the business of this country.
SPITZER: Here's the question I've got for you. You said you're going to vote against raising the debt ceiling. Now raising the debt ceiling -- just so folks understand -- is a different matter than closing the budget gap for right now this year.
Is it true you're going to vote against raising the debt ceiling, you're going to throw the federal government into bankruptcy? Because even if you've got your $100 billion in cuts, we're going to have a federal deficit that's well over $1 trillion next year so the federal government is going to have to borrow.
So how can you rationally say you're going to oppose raising the debt ceiling?
CHAFFETZ: What I've said is I would not vote to raise the debt ceiling unless we're moving in a trajectory to actually cut the debt and move towards a balanced budget.
SPITZER: So you're saying that you will vote against raising the debt ceiling based upon what the president has offered, which is $73 billion in cuts, but you'll vote for it if you get your $100 billion. So that $27 billion is --
CHAFFETZ: No. I really think -- I really think that they are two separate issues. They're going to be dealt with separately. We need to get through this continuing resolution. And the only reason we're dealing with a continuing resolution is because the Democrats who have the House and the Senate and the presidency refused to even pretend to do a budget last year. That's the only reason we're in this.
SPITZER: You voted to give tax cuts to the richest Americans, the top 2 percent, you gave them tax cuts of about $800 billion over a decade, which is exactly what you guys are saying we now need to cut from health care for the poorest Americans.
That was a trade off that you made. How can you justify that as a matter of ethics, morality or simply good conscience?
CHAFFETZ: Well, actually, when that package came up I voted against it but for different reasons than you're stating.
SPITZER: You wanted to cut more.
CHAFFETZ: Well, yes, and we added $300 billion to debt. That's why I think -- without cutting anything. That was the problem that I had with the tax packages. We didn't cut anything but we added additional $300 billion to our national debt.
SPITZER: But --
CHAFFETZ: Nevertheless -- nevertheless, the principles are still the same. We are taxing, borrowing and spending too much money. We have to curb the spending. That's as a -- I mean it's the classic approach to whether you believe government should do, what is the proper role of government. I just don't believe that you're going to tax your way to prosperity.
SPITZER: Congressman --
CHAFFETZ: I mean we can't spend 25 cents out of every dollar. We just can't do it.
SPITZER: Congressman, I don't believe you can tax your way to prosperity, but I'll tell you this. If you look at the Clinton presidency when the rates were 50 percent below where they used to be -- we used to have marginal rates up in the 90s during President Roosevelt's era, during President Eisenhower's era they were in the 80s.
We're down to 39. You are driving the government to bankruptcy and then balancing the budget on the backs of the poor and that's the choice I have. I'm saying to you, how do you justify that?
We had more job creation during President Clinton's era than we had by ratio about 4-1 over President Bush when he was cutting the tax rates. You're simply wrong on the economics and history.
SPITZER: When I say eliminating the capital gains here I mean they were going to tax capital income that is now capital gains, income at ordinary income rates are going to increase the tax rate on that. Are you for that or against it?
CHAFFETZ: No. I want to -- I want to actually reduce that rate.
CHAFFETZ: And historically, as we've reduced -- we've reduced the capital gains tax, revenues to the treasury have gone up.
CHAFFETZ: That's just the history of it.
SPITZER: No. Historically wrong.