MSNBC’s Finney Pushes Democratic Talking Points on Budget


Karen Finney’s days as a Democratic National Committee spokeswoman are over, but you would never know that by listening to her speak in her current role as MSNBC contributor. On Saturday’s Weekends with Alex Witt, Finney essentially reprised her role as DNC press secretary during a discussion with former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) about President Obama’s proposed budget.

Host Alex Witt asked Finney how tough it would be for the president to get his own party on board with his budget proposal, given that many Democrats are upset about the proposed cuts to Medicare and Social Security. Finney ignored the question, instead using it as a chance to attack House Speaker John Boehner and the GOP. “I think [Boehner’s] reaction basically showed that Republicans are not at all sincere about wanting to work with the president. They won't accept the balanced approach," she groused.


Sounds like a White House talking point to me. But Witt should have expected that and reiterated the question to Finney, pressing for an answer to the question rather than partisan talking points.

The president’s team has constantly sought to paint Republicans as unreasonable for refusing to accept a “balanced approach.” Never mind that a “balanced approach,” in Obama-speak, means tax increases now in exchange for vaguely defined spending cuts that may or may not be enacted down the road.

But wait, Finney was just getting started. Later, when asked about the weak jobs report that came out last week, the MSNBC contributor -- and soon-to-be weekend host in her own right -- gave a vague, noncommittal answer before changing the topic and attacking Republicans again: “Now, I think what is the danger for Republicans, we've seen poll after poll and just recently last week this feeling that the Republican Party is not willing to compromise, is not willing to sit at the table and have a conversation.


Finney then attempted to tie the jobs report to the need for a grand bargain:

"I think that has got to create some pressure, I would hope, for the two sides to come together because another bad jobs report, which, you know, I hope that doesn't happen, may be related to sequester but then I think it starts to say, well, come on guys, why aren’t you going to sit down at the table and fix the problem?"

But tax increases, one of the acknowledged components of a grand bargain, would only discourage businesses from hiring more workers. A better way to help create jobs would be to cut taxes on businesses. Would Finney have the courage to advocate tax cuts as a way to spur job creation? Given that she's a recovering DNC spokeswoman, I doubt it.


Later in the interview, Finney returned yet again to her tired theme of Republican obstructionism. First, she insisted that Obama’s policies have done a good job of creating jobs, just not as quickly as we would like. (Remember, you didn’t build that – Obama did.) She then trotted out her major Democratic talking point a third time:

"And my only point, Tom, is that if the other side doesn't at some point acknowledge the need to at least sit down and talk with him and instead just says, you know what, that idea is dead on arrival, I think that does create a bit of pressure and it makes people feel like, wait, one side’s willing to try to do something and the other side isn't."

Spoken like a true Democratic flack. Finney is doing Jay Carney’s job for him. With analysis like this, and with a network like MSNBC, who needs an official White House press secretary?

Below is a partial transcript of the segment:

ALEX WITT: So, Karen, here’s the flip side of all this. All the criticism from Democrats, they're upset about the proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare spending. How tough is it going to be for the president to get his own party on board?

KAREN FINNEY: You know, I actually think that John Boehner's reaction has made it such that it's not going to be a problem, a question of getting the left on board, because I think his reaction basically showed that Republicans are not at all sincere about wanting to work with the president. They won't accept the balanced approach. The president took some political risk. Obviously these ideas had been out there for some time. This was the deal that had been on the table last year, and he knew that folks on the left and progressives, and it's actually not just progressives, I want to be clear, because Social Security and Medicare – those cuts really concern a lot of people across the spectrum. So in doing that, he made a very clear statement that said look, I'm willing to take a risk, I’m willing to do something that's going to be politically uncomfortable and essentially the other side just said, you know, without even looking at it, that's a nonstarter. So I think that's where we start this process. I don't actually believe we're going to get to the point of having to negotiate the policy of it.

***

WITT: Representative Davis, what do you make of that idea that if the GOP could soon potentially find themselves on the hook for continued weak employment numbers?

FMR. REP. TOM DAVIS: Well, I mean, the reality is unemployment numbers are down because – I mean –  we have a bad report because of the tax increases that went into effect, both the payroll tax and taxes on higher income workers, and because of Obamacare. If you take a look at the ADP survey which came out a couple weeks ago, companies between 50 and 500, a drop in employment with those areas. People are worried about how they're going to implement this. The sequestering really has yet to come. Maybe the hype of the administration has discouraged some employment in that area, but this is not the Republicans' fault.



WITT: I'm guessing, Karen, you don't really agree with that as being the reason for the new jobs report.

FINNEY: Well, actually I think there are, as most economists have said, a confluence of factors. I think it’s any number of things. I agree the payroll tax I think may have been part of it. I think a number of things contribute to it. But here is just kind of the political point that I want to make going forward. The point is there is increasing anxiety out there among Americans about what is going to happen with our economy, and this sort of kick the can down the road approach is increasing that anxiety. Now, I think what is the danger for Republicans, we've seen poll after poll and just recently last week this feeling that the Republican Party is not willing to compromise, is not willing to sit at the table and have a conversation. I think that has got to create some pressure I would hope for the two sides to come together because another bad jobs report, which, you know, I hope that doesn't happen, may be related to sequester but then I think it starts to say, well come on guys, why aren’t you going to sit down at the table and fix the problem? That’s what people are going to really care about.


DAVIS: Alex, traditionally the president gets the blame on these things. You can go back 30, 40 years, you can try to put it up on Congress, but at the end of the day the economy is going to be, you know, the president's problem one way or the another.

WITT: But don't you think that going back 30 and 40 years, that's all fine and good, but the way we analyze things in this day, don't you think people -- I mean, the president is setting himself up, he's going to put this on the Republicans. The way we analyze and talk about this.

DAVIS: He got his stimulus on this, he got his tax increases. The public knows what happens on these kind of issues. I mean, the reality this is more complicated than just the president or Congress, but when you talk about political blame, I don't think at the end of the day the Republicans are gonna take any larger hit than the Democrats. And I think they’re in pretty good shape for the midterms.

FINNEY: Part of the reason I disagree with that is that we were seeing the president's policies were working, not as fast as we would like, not creating – you know, doing a good job creating jobs, but not quite to the pace that we wanted. And he's the one who’s been out there talking about concerns about doing things that would slow that down. And a balanced approach, and people agree with him. And my only point, Tom, is that if the other side doesn't at some point acknowledge the need to at least sit down and talk with him and instead just says, you know what, that idea is dead on arrival, I think that does create a bit of pressure and it makes people feel like, wait, one side’s willing to try to do something and the other side isn't.

Paul Bremmer
Paul Bremmer is a Media Research Center News Analysis Division intern.