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Democratic Leaders Mull Obama’s Economic Policy

August 26, 2008 at 8:40 PM EDT
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Two leading Democrats, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer discuss what an Obama administration would do to address the economic difficulties facing the nation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Jim, of course, one of the themes of this week is the economy. And for a closer look now at what an Obama administration would do to address the struggling economy, we turn to Colorado Governor Bill Ritter and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York.

It’s good to see both of you. We appreciate it.

You’re the host, Governor. I’m going to come to you first.

For voters here in Colorado and around the country who are worried about house payments, credit card bills, whether their job is secure, why is it that Senator Obama would be better as president than John McCain?

GOV. BILL RITTER (D), Colorado: Because I really think he has a vision about a 21st-century economy. We’ve talked a lot with him and with the Obama campaign. In Colorado, we actually call it a new energy economy.

We have coal and oil and gas, but we’re making all sorts of jobs having to do with renewable energy, with different kinds of research-and-development around renewable energy. And it really is a way to talk about it.

We had a company last week, a Danish company, announce 2,500 new jobs to build winds turbines in Colorado. That’s a fantastic thing for a state like Colorado. And that’s the way to talk about rebuilding an economy from something fresh and that’s 21st century.

Economic paradigm has changed

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Schumer, speaking for the East Coast, what would you add about why Barack Obama is better?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), New York: Well, the bottom line is the Reagan mantra, which we've sort of governed under, is, "You're going to do just fine on your own, you don't need government at all," just doesn't work anymore.

The average family -- this is a middle-class family making $50,000, $60,000, $40,000 -- they have trouble with health care. They have trouble paying the college tuition bills. They're worried about gas prices, the price of food. It's hard to make that check stretch.

And what Obama proposes -- McCain just says, "Well, we'll cut your taxes." That's not going to work anymore. People need other kinds of help, not an overbearing government, but a government that can help, for instance, with paying the college bills, with making health care more affordable, and, as Governor Ritter says, it will wean us away from oil only and get the price of energy down.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But the Republicans are saying what that adds up to, in so many words, is a tax increase, because he would do away with the Bush tax cuts for people earning over a certain income.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER: I think America accepts that. We've had a great disparity in income. Governor Obama has proposed a cut for middle-class people who are having trouble making that check stretch.

But right now, when you have 30 percent, close to 30 percent of the income in America -- I mean, rather, the top 1 percent making 30 percent of the income, yes, maybe the people at the very highest end, making millions of dollars a year, should chip in a little more. And most Americans think that.

The old days, when Reagan was able to lump the guy making $40,000 and the guy making $4 million together on tax policy, it's over.

Obama addresses fundamental issues

JUDY WOODRUFF: What else can Democrats -- should Barack Obama argue this year, Governor Ritter, to people who are hearing this constant refrain from the Republican Party that Democrats are there to spend more of your money and raise taxes?

GOV. BILL RITTER: You know, I just think that Senator Schumer has kind of hit the nail on the head in terms of fiscal policy.

I think the real difference here is where you invest, what the revenues you have. And if you think about education, education is the best link to building an economy that anybody's ever found. There's nothing better than it.

And Obama, I think, has a different way of thinking about education. And it's an opportunity for everybody. And that really makes a difference.

In any place where the economy is suffering, the people who are at the lower margins, they're hit harder. They're really hit harder. And so, if you say, listen, a long-term strategy here is to ensure that we're going to educate you and we're going to start when you're 3 and 4 years old.

That will make the difference overall, I think, in how people view this guy's willingness to invest in them and turn out a different kind of an economy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Schumer, that being the case, why is it that -- and when we hear the economy is the number-one issue on people's minds, if the case is so compelling, why are the two so close in the public opinion polls?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER: Well, only because people do not yet know Barack Obama, what he stands for, where he came from, and what he's going to do with this economy. This convention is an important step.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But he's been campaigning, with all due respect, for a year-and-a-half.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER: Yes, but in the Democratic primaries, it's much different. It's much narrower. It's much more, "My health care plan is your is" -- the differences between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were rather small. The differences between Barack Obama and John McCain are huge.

They'll come out in the next few months. Obama will convince the middle class, many of whom don't know him, that he can really help them far more than John McCain. And he's going to win this election on that basis.

Energy policy could make difference

JUDY WOODRUFF: What else, Governor Ritter, does Barack Obama need to say, need to talk about? Because he has been competing against John McCain since early June. It's almost been two months.

GOV. BILL RITTER: He has been, but I think, again, the senator's right about what the primary did. Listen, in Colorado, let's just talk about that, if we can. It's got more independents than we have Republicans or Democrats. So you've got to talk to the independent voter.

And what do they care about? They care really about this idea about investment.

And I ran in 2006, and we won really significantly among independents by saying, you know, we're going to have to invest, and we're going to have to spend some money, but it's about transportation, it's about health care.

It is about energy and energy policy, and a new and different energy policy, and then looping that back into why that's good for the economy and why that's good for middle America and, I would argue, for low-income America, as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Schumer, are you giving this kind of advice to the Obama campaign? Are they listening to you and others?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER: Yes, they get it. This convention is important. It's the first step.

Michelle Obama last night said, hey, we understand you -- we understand the middle class. We're from it. We had to struggle.

Thursday night, in the other really important speech -- those are the two speeches that matter the most -- Barack Obama's going to say, "Not only do we understand; here's what we're going to do for you."

That will lay the floor. And that will be what will happen in the next two months. And, frankly, Obama has very good answers. Governor Ritter outlined many of them.

John McCain doesn't. His basic economic policy is cut taxes on the wealthy. It worked in 1980. It's not going to work anymore.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But is that difference coming across to voters yet, Governor?

GOV. BILL RITTER: No, and I think we have 70 days -- and actually, in Colorado, early voting, so you really have 30, 35 serious days. It's the law of contrast. And we haven't had these two people on a podium standing side-by-side.

And it's not just about rhetorical flourish. It really is about the substance of what they're going to say. And I have to tell you, the law of contrast kicks in, and the American people are smart enough to see it. That's what I believe.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER: The American people are hurting. They want real change, and they're going see it in Barack Obama. This is a different election than any since 1980.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, Governor Bill Ritter of Colorado, we thank you very much.

GOV. BILL RITTER: Thanks, Judy.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER: Nice to be here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Appreciate it.