JEFFREY BROWN: The president took a break today from the debate on jobs policy, but the Republican leader in the House presented an alternative set of ideas on taxes, regulation and entitlements.
It’s been one week since President Obama laid out his jobs package, a $447 billion mix of tax breaks, public works spending and jobless benefits. Today, House Speaker John Boehner offered a Republican response. He said, while some of the president’s plan offers — quote — “opportunities for common ground,” overall, it’s not enough.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio speaker of the House: The president’s proposals are a poor substitute for the pro-growth policies that are needed to remove barriers to job creation in America, the policies that are needed to put America back to work.
JEFFREY BROWN: The speaker said what private sector job creators really want is an end to uncertainty created by the burdens of taxes and new regulations.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER: They have been hurt by government ideas that offer short-term gimmicks, rather than fundamental reforms that will encourage long-term economic growth. They have been hampered by a government that offers confusion to entrepreneurs and job-creators, when there needs to be clarity.
JEFFREY BROWN: Boehner spoke on a day when new economic data underscored the country’s troubles. First-time claims for jobless benefits reached the highest level in three months; and the number of home foreclosure notices spiked 33 percent in August, the most in nine months.
In the face of such numbers, Boehner ruled out higher taxes on better-off Americans, as the president wants, to pay for his jobs plan. Instead, the speaker called for the bipartisan congressional deficit super committee to consider tax reform, closing loopholes, but not raising taxes. And he said the super committee plan should include changes to entitlement programs, as it searches for savings of up to $1.5 trillion over 10 years.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER: The joint committee can achieve real deficit reduction by reforming entitlements and taking real action to preserve and strengthen Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Most of the entitlement reforms that are in the House Republican budget were phased in over time. And that’s just the way the joint committee should do them as well. Modest changes in spending programs today can have large effects tomorrow.
JEFFREY BROWN: By contrast, the president today walked back from considering changes in Social Security, something he’d reportedly been open to in last summer’s debt ceiling talks.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said today that such ideas can wait.
JAY CARNEY, White House press secretary: On Social Security, the president from the beginning has stated that we need to take measures to strengthen Social Security for the long term, but it is not a driver of our near-term deficit problems, and it can be pursued on a parallel track.
JEFFREY BROWN: In the meantime, a bipartisan group of three dozen senators gathered to show their support for the super committee. Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman said they want the panel to — quote — “go big” and find up to $4 trillion in savings.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN, I-Conn.: The gang of us six grows to the group of 36. You asked a question about what the leadership reaction to this will be. If 36 of us in the Senate across party lines stick together, the leadership has to react. Maybe they will look back and say that today was the beginning of the Washington spring, as opposed to other springs.
JEFFREY BROWN: But that moment of mirth aside, there was little sign of how Democrats and Republicans will find agreement on specific measures to spur job growth while also cutting the deficit.
And I’m joined now from Capitol Hill by two senators to discuss the politics and policy of job creation, Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming and Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin from Maryland.
Sen. Barrasso, before we get to the differences, I want to start on this question of the potential common ground. Now, Speaker Boehner said again today there are some parts of the president’s plan that Republicans might be able to work with.
Do you agree? And, if so, which parts exactly?
SEN. JOHN BARRASSO, R-Wyo.: Well, I am looking for common ground. I do want to work with the president.
I want to make it easier and cheaper for the private sector to create jobs in is this country. And I think by ratifying the three free trade agreements that the president talks about, that would be a great start. And I would love for him to send those now to Capitol Hill, so we could actually ratify those and get people back to work.
JEFFREY BROWN: What about the other key things he brought up the other day, extending the payroll tax, infrastructure spending?
SEN. JOHN BARRASSO: Well, I think it all come downs to how you’re going to pay for a number of these things. I think we need to look for ways to take the red tape away from American jobs creators.
And, unfortunately, today — today, this administration rolled out another $10 billion in red tape on our job producers, and that makes it harder and more expensive for the private sector to create jobs.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, Sen. Cardin, on your side, one of the key questions, of course, is what can and will happen on entitlement reform. It looks as though today the president wanted to set that question aside. Is he right to do that? And, to you, some specifics on where you think there might be some room for agreement here.
SEN. BEN CARDIN, D-Md.: Well, the president’s absolutely right. Social Security has nothing to do with our current deficit problems. Social Security actually has been a cash-plus in our bookkeeping.
But the key thing in — and the president’s absolutely right — is that the only way we are going to be able to get our deficit under control is to create more jobs. With 9 percent of Americans unemployed, you’re not going to have the revenues in government, those who pay taxes, and you’re going to have a greater demand on public services.
So job creation has to be critically important to getting our deficit under control. And, quite frankly, his proposals of rebuilding our nation, of helping small businesses, of targeting the relief to those who have been unemployed for a long period of time will help all of us bring our budget into balance.
As far as the entitlement programs, of mandatory spending, yes, we think we can get savings in that area. We want to see a balanced approach to dealing with our nation’s deficits.
JEFFREY BROWN: And the savings meaning things like raising the retirement benefit age, for example?
SEN. BEN CARDIN: I personally believe we can do it without affecting the beneficiaries, particularly in the health care areas. I think that when you look at the way we deliver health care services, that we could do it in a more cost-effective way and we can get savings that will help us deal with the cost of Medicare and Medicaid.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, Sen. Barrasso, Speaker Boehner also pushed another mantra today that he has talked about a lot: tax reform. We hear a lot about closing loopholes, but, again, we often don’t get to specifics. What exactly might that mean, for example, the — ending the home mortgage deduction, things like that? Can you give us some specifics?
SEN. JOHN BARRASSO: Well, we’re looking at total tax reform, so that taxes are simpler for American families and American businesses, and you could actually lower the overall tax rate and generate more overall tax income.
I agree with my colleague Sen. Cardin that we need to get more people back to work. If you have more people working, you have more people who are then actually paying in taxes. So that is the reason that my focus — and I actually came out with a whole jobs program, a number of us from the Rocky Mountain West, a “Jobs Frontier” plan, 20 pages of ways to make energy more affordable, more energy security, getting more people back to work and getting rid of these onerous regulations that are making it — that are really turning into a heavy wet blanket on our economy.
JEFFREY BROWN: But on this question, Sen. Barrasso, of tax reform, again, would the revenues from such reforms, would they be used for deficit reduction?
SEN. JOHN BARRASSO: Well, our real problem is we have a huge debt in this country, over $14 trillion. We’re borrowing $4 billion a day, $2 million every minute.
We’re borrowing a lot of this from China. And how do you stay a strong and an independent and forceful nation in the world if you owe this kind of debt to people who are not necessarily your friends or don’t necessarily have your best interests at heart? So I am hoping that this deficit reduction committee of 12 that are working together, I hope they do go big and get to that larger number of $4 trillion.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Sen. Cardin, we keep circling around these areas where there might be some agreement.
Even as Rep. Boehner was speaking today, a number of Democrats were suggesting that they can’t support the president’s plan in full. So, as you look at what’s going to happen in the coming weeks here, is it now clear that the full plan doesn’t go forward, that this is done piecemeal? What do you see happening?
SEN. BEN CARDIN: Oh, I think the president has laid out the right plan. I think Democrats and Republicans need to come together.
It’s not going to be what the president wants. We’re anything to have to be able to develop a plan between the Democrats and Republicans. I hope, though, it will meet the objectives the president has laid out to create the jobs that we need. You mentioned with Sen. Barrasso tax reform. I think tax reform is one area where Democrats and Republicans can come together.
And if we do tax reform right, we will bring in additional revenues that we can use to help bring our deficit in control in a way that will allow us to be more efficient and have job growth. So I think there are ways that we can do this where Democrats and Republicans can come together. I think the president has laid out the right plan for job growth, and I would think that the Democrats and Republicans both want to see more jobs. We should be able to come together.
JEFFREY BROWN: And, Sen. Cardin, I am guessing that there is a fair amount of confusion out there in the country now. A few months ago, all we talked was about the debt ceiling and debt, deficit reduction. And now most of the focus, of course, is on the need for job creation, which a lot of economists talk about a need for stimulus.
What — how do you balance these priorities and what is — which is the right priority right now?
SEN. BEN CARDIN: They’re one and the same. You cannot get our deficit under control unless we create more jobs. There is no way that we’re going to have a manageable budget with a 9 percent unemployment.
We have got to get that rate down. So I urge this joint committee, this super committee that’s been created, they need to make sure that part of their recommendations — they don’t have to deal with the jobs issues directly — but part of their recommendations must be to leave us the ability to create jobs, give us the resources so that we can rebuild our nation, help small businesses, target relief to those who have been unemployed for a long period of time.
Do that, so that we can create the jobs. If we do that, we can balance our budget. Otherwise, it’s going to be impossible.
JEFFREY BROWN: Sen. Barrasso, just in our last time left here, are we still looking at two fundamentally different approaches to dealing with these priorities, or is there something coming together here?
SEN. JOHN BARRASSO: Well, I want to come together on the trade agreements. I want to come together on energy security for our country. I want to come together on getting rid of the red tape which is a heavy wet blanket on our economy.
But 90 percent of the president’s plan is paid for by increasing taxes on individuals’ tax returns. And I think, at times like this, there’s bipartisan agreement that you shouldn’t be raising taxes on anyone in these economic times.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Sen. Cardin, that doesn’t sound like agreement. That sounds like taking taxes off the table on their side. What about your side?
SEN. BEN CARDIN: I think we have different views and different visions on how America needs to grow. I think that is clear.
However, we all have a responsibility to listen to each other and to come together with a proposal that will move this nation forward. Objectives are the same: job creation and bringing our deficit under control. We’re going to have to yield on each other’s views, so that we can come together with a true compromise in the best spirit of our nation.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right.
Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, thank you both very much.
SEN. JOHN BARRASSO: Thanks for having us.