updated 1/23/2011 12:44:02 PM ET
MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, the president set to speak to the nation during his State of the Union address, riding a wave of popularity and renewed confidence in the economy, while the GOP is arguing over how much government spending to cut and laying down a marker over health care.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN): This is not symbolic; this is why we were sent here. And we will not stop until we repeal a president and put a president in the position of the White House who will repeal this bill.
.MR. GREGORY: My lead news maker guest this morning, the new majority leader of the House, Republican Eric Cantor from Virginia.
Then, what's driving the president's polls upward? Is it his leadership after the Tucson tragedy, or a feeling that he's moved back to the political center? How will he address American's concerns about jobs during the State of the Union?
And getting a jump on 2012. How the campaign is already heating up.
With us, the assistant Democratic leader in the House, Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina; former counselor to President George W. Bush, Karen Hughes; former White House chief of staff to President Clinton, John Podesta, from the Center for American Progress; CNBC's Erin Burnett; and the National Journal's Ron Brownstein.
And in our MEET THE PRESS MINUTE we remember the late Sargent Shriver, who was a frequent guest on this program, laid to rest yesterday amidst heartfelt tributes for a lifetime of service to his country and his family.
MR. SARGENT SHRIVER: We appeal to the spirit of personal initiative, to the spirit of volunteering to do something for your country. It's patriotic.
Announcer: From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.
MR. GREGORY: Good morning. This weekend, the president has offered up a preview of his State of the Union address in an online video to his supporters. The focus of his address, the president says, will be "making sure the economy is working for everybody." And with us this morning for his first appearance here as House majority leader, Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia.
Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA): Good morning, David.
MR. GREGORY: Everybody's talking about the State of the Union address, and the president is already previewing it. This is a portion of the message that he will deliver on Tuesday. Watch.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: And so my principle focus, my number one focus, is going to be making sure that we are competitive, that we are growing, and that we are creating jobs not just now, but well into the future. And that's what is going to be the main topic of the State of the Union.
MR. GREGORY: Being competitive, in his mind, also means some additional targeted spending in some areas to make America competitive, as well as cuts, as well as dealing with the deficit. Here is the headline in The New York Times this morning, the way they describe it: "Obama to Press Centrist Agenda in His Address. A Retooled Presidency. Balancing Deficit Cuts with New Spending to Create Jobs."
Is that a vision you can support?
REP. CANTOR: David, you know, I'm, I'm really interested to see and hear what the president has to say. I, I, I think he's got a real chance to lead here. But the question is, did he listen and has he learned from the last election? I think that the vision the president laid out over the last two years is one very much focused on increasing government spending and trying to spawn action from a Washington-based perspective. And, and what the people have said is, "Enough. We've got to shrink government, we've got to cut spending, and we need to really look to the private sector to grow jobs."
MR. GREGORY: But he's saying, he's saying now there's got to be a combination of some spending to keep America competitive, and also cuts dealing with the deficit. Is that a vision you can support?
REP. CANTOR: What we've said is our Congress is going to be a cut and grow Congress; that we believe we've got to cut spending, we've got to cut the regulations that have stopped job growth.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
REP. CANTOR: When the president talks about competitiveness, sure, we want America to be competitive. But then when he talks about investing, I think even someone from the White House this week had said that this is going to be a cut and invest White House. We want to cut and grow. Because when we, we hear invest, when--from anyone in Washington, to me that means more spending. And any...
MR. GREGORY: Right. Well, well, let's just be clear. You don't believe that there's a balance that you have to get right in terms of investing in the economy to help it innovate, to become more competitive. That's not a vision you agree with.
REP. CANTOR: David, where--what I would say is the investment needs to occur in the private sector.
MR. GREGORY: Not by government.
REP. CANTOR: And, and for too long, and for too long now there's been uncertainty on the part of investors.
MR. GREGORY: Right. OK, well, let's, let's pick up where Republicans have left off. Cut and grow, that's the mantra. You campaigned on a pledge to America last September, and this is a part of what you said, it was very clear: "We will roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving us at least $100 billion in the first year alone and putting us on a path to balance the budget and pay down the debt." And then you came into office and you said, "Well, we're not going to hit that $100 billion figure." And here was the headline on Friday in The Washington Post: "GOP bloc in the House calls for deeper cuts," and the sub-headline: "Campaign pledge divides the party." You're arguing about just how much to spend. I thought this was already worked out.
REP. CANTOR: David, let, let's step back a minute and look at sort of the whole sort of continuum of the spending challenges. We're, we're going to really have three bites at the apple here as far as approaching reducing spending and the size of Washington. As far as the mess in the past, we're going to have this debt limit increase vote that will come, and that is dealing with the rampant spending that's been in place in this town for some time that's gone on overdrive in, in the last couple years.
MR. GREGORY: And I'll get to the debt limit, but this is a targeted question.
REP. CANTOR: But as far as the decisions that we make now, it is about the continuing resolution vote that will come up in the next month or so, al right?
MR. GREGORY: Right. But $100 billion, or not $100 billion?
REP. CANTOR: And, and we've committed to say $100 billion in reductions, which brings spending down to '08 levels.
Now, we also are in the position where we are starting to even deliberate on that five months into the fiscal year. We are intent on making sure, on an annualized basis, that we are hitting the '08 levels or below. And so every member will have the chance to come to the floor, to talk about whether they believe that '08 levels are enough to cut, because some members actually want to see us do more. And I agree, we ought to look in every way possible to reduce spending as much as possible.
MR. GREGORY: It seems like it's a straightforward question, though. Are you going to live up to the $100 billion pledge? I assume you've put a lot of thought into that...
REP. CANTOR: David...
MR. GREGORY: ...$100 billion figure. Can you make it or not?
REP. CANTOR: Absolutely. On an annualized basis, we will cut spending $100 billion.
MR. GREGORY: You do it this year as you pledged?
REP. CANTOR: On an annualized basis...
MR. GREGORY: Which means what exactly?
REP. CANTOR: Well, again, David, look where we are. We are where we are because the Democratic majority, last Congress, didn't pass a budget, right? They didn't do it. So we're in a continuing resolution environment. So now we've got an interim step to take to make sure that we reset the dial and bring spending back down to '08 levels. We will do that.
MR. GREGORY: You talk about the debt, it's passing $14 trillion. And last week you gave an interview to The Washington Post about this important vote that'll come up in the spring about raising the debt ceiling, which has been done for a long time in the past. And this is what you said in The Washington Post: "`It's a leverage moment for Republicans,' Cantor said in an interview... `The president needs us. There are things we were elected to do. Let's accomplish those if that the president needs us to clean up the old mess.'"
I want you to be specific here. What's the leverage moment? What will you exact as a promise in order for your members to vote to increase the debt ceiling?
REP. CANTOR: Well, let, let me be clear, David. Republicans are not going to vote for this increase in the debt limit unless there are serious spending cuts and reforms.
MR. GREGORY: Like what?
REP. CANTOR: I mean--and, and that is just the way it is, OK?
MR. GREGORY: Right.
REP. CANTOR: So, so we have talked a lot about bringing spending levels down to '08 levels. We've talked about things that we can do to make sure that off into the future this does--this kind of spending doesn't continue. And when I went back and told you there's three bites at the apple, the other piece is our budget. We're going to work on our budget and say, "Look, we're going to have to institute some reforms to make sure these spending patterns don't recur."
MR. GREGORY: But you don't have--if you say serious spending cuts, you clearly have--don't have something specific in mind, right? You--in other words, you'll, you'll know it when you see it, is that the approach?
REP. CANTOR: No, no, that's not true. First of all, David, we're going to have a vote on the floor on Tuesday of this week directing our appropriations committees to go about deliberating on where those cuts are. Now, we know that there are hundreds of programs that are going to need to be cut. When you're talking about cutting $100 billion, you're going to have hundreds of programs in the thousands pages of spending plan that the federal government has. This week we will vote on an issue having to do with the Presidential Election Fund. We're going, we're going to vote to cut that. That's a $500 and some million expenditure. We're going to see hundreds of programs experience analysis and cuts just like that.
MR. GREGORY: But let's deal with the--you know, $500 million is really a drop in the bucket in the federal--I, I realize it's real money, but in terms of the federal--the, the budget, that's nothing. You're not really tackling the big three. You're not tackling entitlements. What about defense? Is defense on the table, defense cuts on the table? Do they have to be?
REP. CANTOR: I'll get to entitlements in a second if you want.
MR. GREGORY: OK.
REP. CANTOR: But I can tell you, we've always said this, too: Every dollar should be on the table. And I've said before...
MR. GREGORY: Including defense cuts.
REP. CANTOR: I've--absolutely.
MR. GREGORY: OK.
REP. CANTOR: I've said before, no one can defend the expenditure of every dollar and cent over at the Pentagon. And we've got to be very serious to make sure that they're doing more with less as well.
MR. GREGORY: But look at The Wall Street Journal, the piece by Dick Armey of Freedom Works, the tea party group. He said, "What Congress Should Cut," and the sub-headline says this: "Let's scrap the Departments of Commerce and Housing and Urban Development, end farm subsidies, and end urban mass transit grants, just for starters." Would those be on the table?
REP. CANTOR: Everything, David, is on the table. I mean, we've got to do with...
MR. GREGORY: Cancer research is on the table.
REP. CANTOR: We've got to--listen, we've got to do what families in this country are doing, what businesses are doing. You've got to learn to do more with less. You can't afford to sustain this level of borrowing and spending. Everyone knows that. So we've got to be very, very good and disciplined to make sure that we are cutting what needs to be cut and focused on growing this economy so America can maintain its competitiveness and we can see jobs grow in the private sector.
MR. GREGORY: Let's talk about Social Security. A couple weeks ago Majority Leader Reid in the Senate was on the program, and I asked him about whether Social Security is in crisis. This is what he said.
(Videotape, January 9, 2011)
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV): When we start talking about the debt, the first thing people do is run to Social Security. Social Security is a program that works, and it's going to be--it's fully funded for the next 40 years. Stop picking on Social Security. There are a lot of places that we can go to...
MR. GREGORY: Senator, are you really saying the arithmetic on Social Security works?
SEN. REID: I'm saying the arithmetic in Social Security works. I have no doubt it does. For the next...
MR. GREGORY: It's not in crisis.
SEN. REID: No, it's not in crisis. This is, this is, this is something that's perpetuated by people who don't like government. Social Security is fine.
MR. GREGORY: If you disagree with Leader Reid, are you prepared to raise the retirement age, means test benefits or, in another way, seriously tackle the entitlement of Social Security?
REP. CANTOR: David, what we have said is we've got a serious fiscal train wreck coming for this country if we don't deal with these entitlements. And so entitlements are something that we need to begin to work on. Now, for me, the first entitlement we need to deal with is the healthcare bill, is the Obamacare bill, you know.
MR. GREGORY: All right, we'll get to health care. I asked you about Social Security, though.
REP. CANTOR: Absolutely. And, and so we have got to focus on what we can do together. Now, as you--as, as that just indicated, the Senate is not willing to do anything under Harry Reid.
MR. GREGORY: Well, what are you willing to do? Means test benefits, raise the retirement age?
REP. CANTOR: David, we've--we have a program that we have seen one of our members, Paul Ryan, the chairman of the Budget Committee, put together called the "Roadmap."
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
REP. CANTOR: And he and Kevin McCarthy and I wrote a book together, and in that book we reserved a chapter for a discussion about Social Security, about Medicare, and how we can begin to at least discuss to do that.
MR. GREGORY: But what are you for? Leader, I'm asking you what you what you're for.
REP. CANTOR: Well, what, what I'm telling you we're for, is we're for an active discussion to see what we can come together and do.
MR. GREGORY: How long do we need to discuss Social Security and what is happening? It's been discussed for years.
REP. CANTOR: Well...
MR. GREGORY: How about--and the irony of Paul Ryan being introduced, the budget chairman, and he's doing the response to the State of the Union, he is the one who's proposed draconian cuts to Social Security and to Medicare...
REP. CANTOR: Well, David...
MR. GREGORY: ...and Republicans don't stand behind him.
REP. CANTOR: David, that's not true. I just told you that we put a chapter in our book about it because the direction in which the Roadmap goes is something we need, we need to embrace. Now, let me tell you this.
MR. GREGORY: Raising the retirement age, means testing benefits, those are specifics. That...
REP. CANTOR: The fundamental--the starting point in any plan has got to be we need to distinguish between those at or nearing retirement. Anyone 55 and older in this country has got to know that their Social Security benefits will not be, will not be changed. It is for all the younger people, those 54 and younger, we're going to have to have a serious discussion. Now, with Harry Reid talking about the fact that he doesn't want to even discuss it...
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
REP. CANTOR: ...that's not leadership.
MR. GREGORY: All right, let, let's, let's move on to health care because House Republicans did repeal the president's healthcare reform plan, but the real question is what Republicans are prepared to replace it with and whether you have a serious plan. Major Garrett in the National Journal reports this week the following about the speaker's plan, Speaker Boehner: "The Boehner plan, according to the Congressional Budget Office, would add just three million Americans to the insurance rolls, leaving about 50 million still without coverage through 2019. CBO said that the proposal would reduce costs in the group-insurance market, which constitutes nearly 80 percent of private-sector premiums, by less than 3 percent. `If it's all they do, it is not a serious effort,' Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former CBO director and chief policy adviser for John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, said of the Boehner alternative. `You can't just do that.'"
The truth is, Republicans do not have a serious alternative to covering more Americans, do they?
REP. CANTOR: I disagree with that, obviously, David. First of all, you know, we believe you can do better in health care. I mean, we want to try and address the situation so more folks can have coverage, can, can have the kind of care that they want.
MR. GREGORY: But that's not what the Boehner plan does.
REP. CANTOR: Well, the...
MR. GREGORY: It's not more folks being covered.
REP. CANTOR: Well, the--if you recall last session, we Republicans were given one shot; we didn't have any open debate for both sides at all on the healthcare bill the way it was jammed through. The Boehner plan is just a starting point. You know, what we said when we went and voted to repeal Obamacare last week in Congress, what we said is we want our committees to begin a process of deliberations from both sides, open, honest debates, so the people can understand everything that's being discussed. And we're going to focus on patient-controlled health care. We're going to focus on, first and foremost, bringing down costs and adding to people's choices and flexibility.
MR. GREGORY: But, Leader, you're talking about bringing down costs. If you were serious about this, why not negotiate with Democrats in areas where you could deliver Republican votes? There are currently efficiencies in the Obama healthcare bill that deal with penalties for hospitals if there are recurrent infections. There are efficiencies that do address cost, and they certainly address getting more people covered than any Republican plan you're suggesting.
REP. CANTOR: David, the problem is if we're all really desirous of trying to deal with people who are in need and want to improve the healthcare future for this country, you, you can't start with a Washington-controlled system. That's the structure of Obamacare. It's broad, sweeping federal mandates imposing the kind of health care that people should have instead of allowing people to choose for themselves and allow for the flexibility and choice. That's why we're going to have an open process, invite the other side in to have debates. We have committed, in the Pledge to America, that we are going to finally see the institution work. Speaker Boehner's always said that, that we're going to actually have committees do their work, we're going to have work on the floor. We're not going to see an instance where you're going to jam through a healthcare bill the way that Speaker Pelosi did.
MR. GREGORY: Right. Although isn't that what you just did on the repeal?
REP. CANTOR: We, we--no. We pledged...
MR. GREGORY: How is that different than what you say the Democrats did?
REP. CANTOR: Because it was, it was a page and a half bill, David. It was a page...
MR. GREGORY: Yeah. Seven hours of debates. So there wasn't, wasn't a lot of room for a lot of negotiation.
REP. CANTOR: Yeah. Really...
MR. GREGORY: Wasn't it symbolic, simply to make this a marker for the 2012 campaign?
REP. CANTOR: No, it was something that was very much a policy-based vote. You know, we disagree as far as the prescription on how we better health care in this country.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
REP. CANTOR: And really, if you look at '012, if, if you want to put it in that context, it comes back to the State of the Union. You know, Obamacare really represents what I believe this president sees as policy focus in this town. And that is start with Washington, allow Washington to set the parameters, and then try and impose that as a prescription to do things better. We don't believe that. And that's really, in the State of the Union, I think, the president's task. Is he going to be able to step up and prove that he's listened and learned to the electorate, and that he's actually going to change going into this next two years?
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you a little about politics. Do you think, as 40 percent in our recent poll thought, the president's become a moderate. Do you agree with that?
REP. CANTOR: Well, I think actions speak louder than words. And that'll be the real question here, is whether he decouples himself from the last two years, a very active federal government-centric attitudes, towards looking to the American people and say, "You know, we're going to trust in, in individuals, and we're going to allow for the government to step back, stop these very aggressive regulatory postures, and allow the private sector to grow and individuals to engage in making more decisions themselves."
MR. GREGORY: There's been a lot of talk about discourse, about how you all can get along a little bit better and do it a little bit more civilly. And I wonder, this is the leadership moment here, OK? There are elements of this country who question the president's citizenship, who think that it--his birth certificate is inauthentic. Will you call that what it is, which is crazy talk?
REP. CANTOR: David, you know, I mean, a lot of that has been an, an issue sort of generated by not only the media, but others in the country. Most Americans really are beyond that, and they want us to focus...
MR. GREGORY: Right. Is somebody brings that up just engaging in crazy talk?
REP. CANTOR: Well, David, I, I don't think it's, it's nice to call anyone crazy, OK?
MR. GREGORY: All right. Is it a legitimate or an illegitimate issue?
REP. CANTOR: And--so I don't think it's an issue that we need to address at all. I think we need to focus on...
MR. GREGORY: All right. His citizenship should never be questioned, in your judgment. Is that what you're saying?
REP. CANTOR: It is, it is not an issue that even needs to be on the policy-making table right now whatsoever.
MR. GREGORY: Right. Because it's illegitimate? I mean, why won't you just call it what it is?
REP. CANTOR: I--because, again...
MR. GREGORY: I mean, I feel like there's a lot of Republican leaders who don't want to go as far as to criticize those folks.
REP. CANTOR: No. I think the president's a citizen of the United States.
MR. GREGORY: Period.
REP. CANTOR: So what--yes. Why, why is it that you want me to go and engage in name-calling?
MR. GREGORY: No, I'm just...
REP. CANTOR: I think he's a citizen of the United States.
MR. GREGORY: Because, because I think a lot of people, Leader, would say that a leader's job is to shut some of this down. You know as well as I do, there are some elements on the right who believe two things about this president: He actively is trying to undermine the American way and wants to deny individuals their freedom. Do you reject those beliefs?
REP. CANTOR: I...
MR. GREGORY: As a leader in our Congress.
REP. CANTOR: Let me tell you, David, I believe this president wants what's best for this country. It's just how he feels we should get there, that there are honest policy differences.
MR. GREGORY: Fair enough.
REP. CANTOR: That's it. And, and so the question will be, over the next two years, whether he will demonstrate that he no longer wants to adhere to more spending, to more sort of trying to achieve equal outcomes rather than equal opportunity, that he really does believe America was built on those striving to--for opportunity, willing to take their own responsibility to achieve their success, and not rely on Washington to sort of determine winners and losers. Now, that, that to me is what America's about. That's how we get to a better place in this country and continue to lead. And, and the question will be--and I think that most Americans are like that. And so the question is, does the president now embrace what the electorate said, which is, "We reject your agenda, Mr. President. We understand the results have not been there. Let's try it a different way."
MR. GREGORY: Is the tea party a difficult crosscurrent in the Republican Party to manage right now? Michele Bachmann is giving an additional response to the State of the Union. How difficult is that for you as the majority leader to deal with this new caucus? Are they in sync with you?
REP. CANTOR: Yeah. I've always said this. The tea party--first of all, the acronym is "taxed enough already." The tea party's very focused on our making sure we get spending under control. They've been a tremendous force in having us focus on fiscal issues first to get our fiscal house in order. And if you're looking at ways to grow the economy, you know, the Heritage Foundation just came out with their Index of Freedom. One of the reasons they cite as to the United States falling in that index is the rampant government spending, which promises more tax increases in the future. So the tea party has come in and said enough spending already.
MR. GREGORY: Right. If the economy gets better, Harry Reid predicts the tea party goes away.
REP. CANTOR: I, I think that Washington has been about its bigger spending ways for a long time. And that's...
MR. GREGORY: So you think the tea party's here to stay?
REP. CANTOR: Absolutely. And I think that they bring a very fresh, new look to all spending and get us more in sync with the people in this country as far as living within our means.
MR. GREGORY: Leader, more to do but we're out of time.
REP. CANTOR: Thanks, David.
MR. GREGORY: Thank you very much for being here.
And coming up next, the president enjoys a bounce in the polls at his two-year mark, but how will he address the economy in his State of the Union? Joining us on the roundtable: assistant Democratic leader, Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina; former adviser to President George W. Bush, Karen Hughes; former White House chief of staff from the Center for American Progress, John Podesta; CNBC's Erin Burnett; and the National Journal's Ron Brownstein. Plus, our MEET THE PRESS minute, remembering Sargent Shriver.
MR. GREGORY: Coming up, politics in the polls. What's driving the president's new popularity, and how will he address Americans' concerns about jobs in the State of the Union? Our roundtable weighs in right after this brief commercial break.
MR. GREGORY: We're back, joined now by our roundtable: former counselor to President George W. Bush, Karen Hughes is here; the assistant Democratic leader in the House, Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina; former White House chief of staff to President Clinton, John Podesta of the Center for American Progress; anchor of CNBC's "Street Signs" and "Squawk on the Street," Erin Burnett; and editorial director for the National Journal Group, Ron Brownstein.
Welcome to all of you. So much to get to; the president and his State of the Union address, and the message to his supporters about focusing on the economy. Here's what our poll indicates Americans are really waiting for in terms of what message they want to hear: 34 percent, job creation and economic growth.
Erin Burnett, how does the president approach it?
MS. ERIN BURNETT: Well, it's actually a nice poll result for him because it's actually not putting the deficit as the first issue, which means people aren't going to demand cuts, cuts, cuts, as everyone expected. I mean, certainly that's a key issue. But with jobs, I think he made a huge step this week, David, is the way I would put it. I think putting Jeff Immelt on the head of a jobs and competitiveness--now renamed--panel, he's putting business front and center on job creation, he's focusing on exports, and right now, he's in the catbird seat when it comes to that. Government can't create jobs. That's going to be the next problem...
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MS. BURNETT: ...when are we going to finally get them. And we have 27 million more people...
MR. GREGORY: Well, and Leader, Leader Clyburn, pick up on that. You heard Leader Cantor say, "Whoa, whoa, whoa," on the investment side and America's innovation, "we're not for government intervening in the economy anymore." Are we headed for a real impasse here in terms of what the president's expected to say?
REP. JAMES E. CLYBURN (D-SC): Oh, I don't think so. I think the president's made it very clear that he is going to focus on job creation. And the government can create the climate within which jobs are created. No, we can't create jobs, and we shouldn't. We want them created in the private sector. And I think that's what we've seen. It's kind of interesting that we've seen this 1.1 million new jobs, 1.3 million in the private sector. It's 1.1 because there was a loss of 200,000 in the public sector. And that's the kind of trend that we want. We're on that arc, and I think we're going to be continuing.
MR. GREGORY: John Podesta, as a former chief of staff to President Clinton, you know these battles well. And last year at the State of the Union, the president had a singular message, and this is what is was.
(Videotape, January 27, 2010)
PRES. OBAMA: Jobs must be our number one focus in 2010.
MR. GREGORY: And yet Peter Baker, in The New York Times Magazine out this morning, talks about the White House looking for work, and he says this, quoting you: "`The public didn't sense that everyone in the White House was waking up thinking about how to create jobs,' said John Podesta... `It seemed like they were waking up every day thinking about how to pass more bills. It was like, do something. And if that doesn't work, do something else.'" It wasn't good enough.
MR. JOHN PODESTA: Well, I, I think the results weren't good enough through the course of the year, and I think they saw--the public saw a White House that was obsessed with what was going on on Capitol Hill, not what was going on outside the country. But I think things have changed. I think since the election he's had a considerable amount of achievement, first in the lame duck, then through his very inspiring speech in Tucson. Now he's got to lay out a trajectory for the country about how he intends to manage the economy that builds on investment, innovation, education, the things that I think he will talk about on Tuesday night.
MR. RON BROWNSTEIN: Mm-hmm.
MR. PODESTA: And contrast that with the--what the Republicans are offering, as you saw, with Leader Cantor.
AMB. KAREN HUGHES: Well, since...
MR. GREGORY: Karen, how do you see it?
AMB. HUGHES: Well, since the election, the, the president seems to have had a revelation that it's actually business that creates jobs. I think during the first two years of his presidency, what we saw is what President Obama truly believes. And he believes in a bigger, more expensive, more expansive federal government. You saw that with the trillion-dollar stimulus and the health care. Now we're seeing what President Obama believes he needs to do to be re-elected, and that's move back to the center. You're seeing it with the, the pro-business policies, his business charm offensive, the extension of the Bush tax cuts for all taxpayers.
MR. GREGORY: Right. Jim Immelt will lead this outside advisory group.
AMB. HUGHES: Jim Immelt will lead--you, you might think you'd gone to sleep and we woke up and the 2012 election had happened and we elected a Republican. But again, that's...
MR. BROWNSTEIN: To, to a point, though, right? Because if you think about this competitiveness rubric that he's using, and which clearly is going to be, I think, a centerpiece of the State of the Union, laid it out in a early December speech in North Carolina, he said we face a new Sputnik moment that is driven this time by China and India, not by the military competition with Russia. And he said in that speech, he said, look, the nations that are going to win the competition of the 21st century are those that have the best trained work force, the best infrastructure, and the best research. That is not what Eric Cantor or Paul Ryan would lay out as kind of the, you know, the fundamentals of our competitors.
Now, there are other elements of the agenda--on corporate tax reform, on regulatory reform, on free trade--that does take him closer to the Republican Party and creates more conflict with the Democratic Party. But at its core, this is still a vision of a role of government creating the kind of conditions of prosperity. It's almost Whig-esque or Abraham Lincoln-esque, where government is basically, you know, creating building blocks for prosperity. And that is still, I think, a big distance from where Paul Ryan or Eric Cantor would end up.
AMB. HUGHES: But I would argue that you, you can cloak competitiveness--you know, a big increase in spending in this competitiveness agenda, but you can't win the future when we're drowning in debt. Particularly when our biggest competitor is our banker and the person to whom we're indebted. And so I think that we--I think a competitiveness focus is smart, but it needs to be a conservative one...
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: And, and, and...
AMB. HUGHES: ...that cuts spending and cuts debt.
MR. GREGORY: And, Erin, debt is really what the business community wants to hear tackled in the State of the Union, right?
MS. BURNETT: That is--they want debt first, foremost, second, third, fourth, fifth.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MS. BURNETT: They want, they want debt, debt in focus. And we do have a debt problem, and I think we all know that. But I think one thing that doesn't get talked about, that maybe when we're feeling really bad about ourselves relative to China and the rest of the world, is even after the financial crisis with the 20 percent drop in net worth in this country, you've got $63 trillion in household assets. Our debt's $13.5 trillion. So we can cover that. We are a very, very wealthy country. And we can deal with these--what you call the big three: Social Security, Medicare and defense. We have to put a real plan out there. But we don't have a crisis right this second on debt.
MR. GREGORY: Well, but, Leader Clyburn, so what about this debt limit business? You know, you, you heard Leader Cantor say unless we get serious spending cuts, you're not going to get a vote to increase the debt limit. But he won't be specific on where the cuts will be, but everything is on the table. Do you think a government shutdown is possible? Do you think that--I mean, the president's talking about innovation and competitiveness; are Republicans prepared to shut down the government?
REP. CLYBURN: I don't think they are. Maybe it's possible, but not probable. I would say to Leader Cantor that he should get on the same page with Speaker Boehner. We've got to be grown-ups about this. You know, I would argue that what we see now is what the president really see--what he really is, rather than what we saw two years ago. The president came into office having to react to a crisis. And he was, in fact, in a crisis mode. We were at a place where we had never been before; not unlike the 1930s, but unlike the 1930s. So the president had to respond, react. He is now creating, he is moving an agenda, the kind of thing he talked about in the campaign.
MR. GREGORY: But, Leader, that may be the case. He did not have to do health care. That was a war of choice and a war--not a war of necessity, a lot of people believe. He did not..
AMB. HUGHES: And it was President Bush who enacted TARP, which is what rescued the economy, and at a cost now, it turns out, only $28 billion...
MR. GREGORY: Right.
AMB. HUGHES: ...rather than the $700 billion that was originally projected.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Can I go back to Karen's point for a moment?
MR. GREGORY: Yeah, go ahead.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: I think--I'm sorry.
MR. PODESTA: I wouldn't want to go to what President Bush did to the economy, Karen.
REP. CLYBURN: Absolutely.
MR. PODESTA: But I think that what--I think Jim's right, the president had to react with extraordinary measures to fix the financial system, to invest, to keep the economy from sinking into depression, and he did it. But now we're at a different moment where he is laying out a very different path to the future.
MR. GREGORY: Right. But, John, but wait a minute. What about the health care piece?
MR. PODESTA: Karen talked about winning the future.
MR. GREGORY: He didn't have to do health care, is the argument.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Right.
MR. PODESTA: I think...
MR. BROWNSTEIN: And, and, and Karen, Karen's point, Karen's point is important from a moment ago, which is that if you really want to go to a competitiveness agenda and, and reorient the federal government toward investment and productive capacity, it requires tougher decisions than we're likely to hear in the State of the Union next week. I mean, Simpson-Bowles commission, the...(unintelligible)...commission, both basically talked about reorienting both the tax code and spending, from consumption--excuse me--to investment. If you look back, 1969, federal government spent one-third of its total budget on payments to individuals, and one-third of its total budgets on investment and infrastructure, research and education. Today it's 60 percent payment to individuals and 16 percent on investment. So if you really want to do investment from a Democratic point of view, it would be an argument that you'd ultimately have to tackle entitlements because it will squeeze out your ability to do any of these other things. And that, and that is the part that probably neither party are ready to really address. If you're serious about competitiveness, ultimately you have to look at all the ways that we subsidize consumption in our tax and spending.
MR. GREGORY: See, my, my, my question is, reading this Peter Baker piece this morning--which again, it talks about the approach now where, you know, Jeff Immelt is onboard, more reaching out to business, you know, compromising with Republicans. It struck me, John Podesta, that the president could've been there two years ago. You may still have had to continue TARP, you may have had to do--bail out GM, you may have certainly had to do stimulus, could've done that a different way. But you didn't necessarily have to do health care. And you could've kept that focus, like every day, "What are we doing to create jobs?" Do you disagree with that?
REP. CLYBURN: Well, I do.
MR. PODESTA: Well, I think you--I...
MR. GREGORY: You do. OK, well, you know, go--well, all right, go ahead. You go first. Go ahead.
REP. CLYBURN: Well, look, what we were facing with families going into bankruptcy because of health care--the biggest cause of individual bankruptcy was over health insurance. So what the president did here--and I think if we look at it, of the 1.1 million new jobs, 20 percent of those jobs are in the healthcare industry.
MR. PODESTA: Yeah.
AMB. HUGHES: But eight million lost jobs. And so you can talk about new jobs, but the, the vast majority of jobs have been lost since December of 2008 when President Obama became--was preparing to become president. We've lost eight million jobs, and we still have a stubbornly high unemployment rate of 9.4 percent.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Well, you--are you...(unintelligible)...the 500,000 jobs he was losing a month when he came into office?
REP. CLYBURN: But I think we lost about--and we lost eight million during Bush's eight years. But--and so it wasn't health care that caused that loss. What I'm saying is that health care puts security into individual families. And CBO says it's a $230 billion reduction in the deficit.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
REP. CLYBURN: So I don't know that health, health care can be held out as a bad thing for recovery.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: All right, but let, but let's talk about--we just have about a minute here before we take a break. But, Karen, I mean, honestly, how serious are Republicans about replacing health care? They are on a course here--I mean, let's be honest, they didn't want Obama health care, they don't think the government should be involved--Ron has pointed this out in his writing--big ideological divide. They don't really want to replace it with anything real.
AMB. HUGHES: Well, I think they do, David. I think absolutely they do. And I think it's always a good thing when our political leaders do in office what they promised to do on the campaign trail. The Republicans campaigned and the voters last November went to the polls thinking they were voting for this onerous healthcare reform to be repealed and replaced. And we were on a path, our entitlements are on a path that's simply not sustainable. And instead of addressing that problem, we've added a massive new entitlement that we can't afford.
MR. GREGORY: Right. But, Ron...
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Exit poll--in fact, on Election Day, public divided exactly in half on whether to keep or repeal. The reality is you've got 51 million uninsured. The CBO says the Republican alternative would cover three million by 2019, still leave you with 50 million uninsured, all the distortions in the system that that implies in terms of uncompensated costs. Today you have Republican governors and states with 30 million uninsured. And you can repeal the bill, but those people don't go away. And ultimately, if you're going to repeal the bill, is the answer just to allow the status quo to continue? I would argue the reason why this finally passed after every other president--Roosevelt, Truman, Nixon, Clinton--failed was because so many interest in the system felt the status quo was unacceptable. And our Republican--is the Republican alternative fundamentally return to that unacceptable status quo? I think they have to put something on the table that's more serious than they have so far.
MR. GREGORY: Let, let me get a break in here. We're going to come back. We'll talk a little bit more about this, but also the 2012 climate because it's heating up in ways that people may not realize. More with our roundtable right after this.
MR. GREGORY: We're back with more of our roundtable. And 2012 is upon us, I'm sure everybody realizes that politically, and the president is talking--The New York Times said he's steering a more centrist path. Here's another piece of his preview address that he put on the Web for the State of the Union. Listen to this.
PRES. OBAMA: It's going to take a lot of work. These are big challenges that are in front of us. But we're up to it, as long as we come together as a people--Republicans, Democrats, independents--as long as we focus on what binds us together as a people, as long as we're willing to find common ground, even as we're having some very vigorous debates.
MR. GREGORY: And here's the president's approval rating in our latest poll, he's up over 50 percent, 53 percent approve. And look at this among independents, this is really striking, in positive territory, 46, 44. He's up 11 points, Karen Hughes. So if you are on the Republican side, you look at the president, do you agree with Dick Cheney, who says this is a one-term president?
AMB. HUGHES: Well, I, I do think it--he will ultimately be a one-term president. We've got some sorting out to do in my party to pick the strongest candidate against him. I think it's not unusual that his poll numbers have ticked up slightly. That typically happens to a president after a time of national trauma. And he gave a, a very powerful speech in, in Tucson, where I think he was right, he did what a president is supposed to do in a time of trauma, and that's to call us to be higher and better, and to try to make our debates spirited but more civil. And so I think it's a natural result of that; and the fact that he reached out to Republicans and agreed--which I'm sure you, Congressman, probably don't agree with--agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts and, and avoid a massive tax increase on the American people. That said, I think he's making a mistake in this State of the Union in calling for big increases in federal spending. I've worked in government. There are not too many Americans who think government is too small. It's too big and too intrusive, and we need to get serious about working on it.
MR. GREGORY: Erin, Erin, you talk about on the Republican side, we see--despite all the apparent front-runners, and, and we can get our own poll from the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll indicating who's on top of the heap here--Republicans are still sort of hanging back here. They are not rushing to announce and become candidates. Why that caution?
MS. BURNETT: Mm-hmm. Well, you know, I, I mean, from my perspective, I think you, you have President Obama really playing to this business card, too.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MS. BURNETT: I mean, in terms of he's now--regulations--at least he's giving the image regulations should be pulled back, more pro-business, pro tax cuts. He's also keeping--trying to keep the left happy. So maybe that's why they're waiting. I can tell you, financial markets right now are betting Obama's going to win re-election by a landslide. And post-Tucson, all of the, the, the change and the financial markets' bet all went to Mitt Romney.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MS. BURNETT: So Sarah Palin had been the presumed Republican front-runner, now it's Romney. And all of her loss went to, went to Mr. Romney, and did not go to Huckabee. So that's the financial market bet right now.
MR. GREGORY: Right. You...
AMB. HUGHES: Interesting choice of words though, Erin. You said he's at least giving the image of, of moving to the center.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
AMB. HUGHES: And the question is how much is this is perception and how much of this is actual policies that he's going to implement? For example, the regulations. He announces a big review of regulations.
MS. BURNETT: Mm-hmm.
AMB. HUGHES: At the same time, his administration is busily writing a bunch of new ones to implement healthcare and financial reform.
MR. GREGORY: Well, talk, talk about, talk about Republicans and what's happening in the Republican field now, Ron.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, first of all, I mean, you have the Republican Party's coalition is being transformed in kind of a mirror image of the Democratic Party coalition, and it will shape the 2012 race in the same way that the Democratic coalition has been moving more upscale...
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: ...and they've been doing better in upper middle-class, white-collar suburbs where people are socially liberal and liberal on foreign policy. The reverse is happening in the Republican Party. There are more Joe the Plumbers, there are more blue-collar voters in the Republican Party than there used to be. And I think you will see a, a very clear class divide in 2012, particularly if Sarah Palin runs. Mitt Romney is a candidate who does very well in that kind of professional Republican milieu. Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, I call them the managers.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: On the other side you have the populists--you have people like Palin, Mike Huckabee, maybe Rick Perry if he wants to come out of Austin--who will be, I think, much stronger with those social conservatives. Right now you don't have a candidate in the Republican field you can unite, really, these two disparate wings of the party.
MR. GREGORY: And yet...
MR. BROWNSTEIN: And that's why you're seeing no one at 20 percent in your survey.
MR. GREGORY: Right. And yet, John Podesta, you've got--whether it's Tim Pawlenty or Newt Gingrich, they're saying that Republicans should not vote to raise the debt ceiling. They're getting involved in some of the debates, but not officially announcing. Sarah Palin comes up so often. Our poll indicated that her likeability is still a problem; positive rating at 27 percent, her negatives are quite high at 49 percent. Where does she stand now?
MR. PODESTA: Well, I think that she's had a bad couple of weeks. I think that, that her reaction at Tucson was particularly bad. And I think she's, she's moving herself to the, to the fringe, but it's a fringe that's occupied by probably half of the Republican caucus in the House right now. So if you look at the economic program they're putting forward, I think it'd be pretty much in line with the way Palin sees the future as opposed to perhaps the way Romney does.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. PODESTA: And that, I think, is--spells trouble for the Republican Party, which is careening off to the right at this moment.
MR. GREGORY: Leader Clyburn, you spoke about Sarah Palin during a radio interview with Bill Press, and I, I want to--you were critical of her. I want to play a portion of that.
(Audiotape, January 12, 2011)
REP. CLYBURN: Well, you know, Sarah Palin just can't seem to get it, on any front. I think that she's an attractive person, she is articulate. But I think intellectually, she seems not to be able to understand what's going on here.
MR. GREGORY: A couple of observations about that. One, you were fairly dismissive of her. Second, I hear, when I talk to people about Sarah Palin, one of the things particularly women tend to react to is how, frankly, men talk down to her. And I wonder how a lot of women would react to you saying things--well, she's attractive and articulate, but intellectually she just doesn't have much heft.
REP. CLYBURN: Well, I have a wife and three daughters, and we talk about these kinds of things. And we do consider her to be a very attractive candidate, and she's very articulate when it comes to the issues that she puts forth. But the fact of the matter is she doesn't seem to get the impact of what she says and what she does. And the fact of the matter is we had Gabby's own words a couple weeks before this happened...
MR. GREGORY: You're talking about Congresswoman Giffords comment...(unintelligible).
REP. CLYBURN: Yes, Congresswoman Giffords, saying that she took offense at these cross hairs...
MR. GREGORY: Cross hairs on the, the map of targeted seats.
REP. CLYBURN: ...on the--absolutely. And she spoke about it very eloquently.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
REP. CLYBURN: And she was disturbed by it. We now have her husband telling us that they had conversations about this. And she was really, seriously concerned about exactly what happened. And so I just think that anybody in public life ought to really come to grips with what their words mean and what their actions do.
MR. GREGORY: But, Karen, you worked for a guy who, who loved to be underestimated in President Bush. Do you think that there's a real strain of folks out there who may not be Palin people, who don't like how she's talked about?
AMB. HUGHES: I think, I think that's true. I think people don't like to see her looked down on. And I think if she runs, she will be a factor. But the point is, I think we've got a, a wide field of Republicans. And while I know a lot of Republicans are wringing their hands about them, I'm not one of those.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
AMB. HUGHES: I think--we believe in competition. We believe in opportunity. Well, there's a great opportunity right now for someone to emerge. We've got a lot of very well-qualified governors, you mentioned several of them, who've done--who've cut spending in their states, who've created a pro-growth, pro-jobs environment in their states. We've got members of Congress, members of the Senate. And so I think we have a wide open field.
MR. GREGORY: And look at how wide open it--here's the New Hampshire straw poll from this weekend...
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Right.
MR. GREGORY: ...that shows you've got Mitt Romney on top of it. But just a lot of people.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Well, and look, as a potential nominee, Sarah Palin is strong where Republicans are already strongest. The movement of working-class white voters toward the Republican Party in the last, you know, 30 years, but certainly accelerated under Obama, is enormous. I mean, you had over two-thirds of them, two-thirds of them voting Republican in this midterm election. She's weakest where the electorate is most fluid and where this will probably be decided, in that white-collar, upper middle-class, college educated white electorate, which has been moving toward the Democrats--we're living through this class inversion where they're doing better in places like Bergen County than they are in kind of Youngstown--but are moved back from Democrats, especially the men, pulled back from Democrats. And if Obama is going to win in 2012, it'll probably be with a coalition of young people and minorities who didn't turn out, and then college educated, more socially liberal voters, especially women. You saw that in Colorado. David Axelrod, in an interview with me, pointed to Michael Bennet's win as a kind of model for what they're going to have to do.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Sarah Palin helps Republicans where they don't need help, and she's weak where they really have to beat Obama if they are.
MS. BURNETT: You know, my, my concern with all of this is we can gain the system. And I know that's such a part of it, you know, how's it going to play, how did it go in this poll or that? When it comes to the big issue, and we talk about debt, the--your interview with, with Representative Cantor said so much. You know, everyone wants to cut spending, but over the long term there doesn't seem to be anybody on either side who when, when it actually, you know, we hit the road here, is willing to deal with the big issues facing this country when that comes to those big three things. And I wonder...
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MS. BURNETT: And maybe this is, as, as a financial correspondent here, but I wonder if, in a world without term limits, you're going to address those big issues, and those big issues that could bankrupt this country. Because you're not going to get re-elected if you cut Social Security or you cut Medicare.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Well, partly it's because, it's partly is because--partly, Erin, it's because those are issues that are too big for one party to deal with alone.
MS. BURNETT: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: The only way to realistically do that is for both parties to deal with them together.
REP. CLYBURN: Absolutely.
MR. GREGORY: Can I...
MR. BROWNSTEIN: And our kind of quasi-parliamentary system doesn't allow us to make those kind of deals anymore.
MR. GREGORY: I wanted to get a quick point in here about Ambassador Huntsman to China, who is back this week. This is very interesting.
MR. PODESTA: Yeah.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: He hasn't ruled out his own run for the presidency, and President Obama was asked about that this week.
AMB. HUGHES: It's the line of the week for him, by the way.
MS. BURNETT: Yes.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah. Watch this.
PRES. OBAMA: I couldn't be happier with the ambassador's service, and I'm sure he will be very successful in whatever endeavors he chooses in the future. And I'm sure that him having worked so well with me will be a great asset in any Republican primary.
AMB. HUGHES: Great line.
MR. GREGORY: What, what you missed there was, was, was the president's broad smile, too, after that. But John Podesta, you know, there's a lot of people who think he put Huntsman in the job in the first place so that he wouldn't run against him.
MR. PODESTA: Well, he got a little cuffed under the boards there, I think, by the president. I think that--the president, I think, put, put this in some perspective, which is I think that Huntsman is an attractive guy, and I think he's probably got a political future. But presidency in, in, in the next round, I don't see it.
MR. GREGORY: All right, we're going to take a, take a break here. Some final thoughts when we come back with our group, plus our MEET THE PRESS MINUTE about Sargent Shriver. We'll be right back.
MR. GREGORY: I said our final moments; really, our final seconds.
Leader Clyburn, what can we expect in terms of the tone and discourse starting with the State of the Union, do you think?
REP. CLYBURN: Let...
MR. GREGORY: Are you going to be sitting with someone, by the way, a Republican?
REP. CLYBURN: I think so. You know, during the elections, when we all elected the speaker, there were some Republicans sitting on the Democratic side and vice versa. It has already started, and I think it's a good thing. I do believe, though, this is symbolic.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
REP. CLYBURN: What we need to do, be substantive about it. And the way you do that is let's propose some bipartisan efforts with health care, with job creation, just as we did in voting rights and civil rights. These things were done an a bipartisan way, and that's substance.
MR. GREGORY: All right, we'll leave it there. Thank you all very much.
Before we go, though, our MEET THE PRESS MINUTE. We remember Robert Sargent Shriver, married for 56 years to the love of his life, the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver. He passed away this week, as you know, at the age of 95.
A towering figure in politics and civil service, Shriver appeared on this program 10 times throughout his career that was spent in service to his country. Known as the driving force behind the Peace Corps, he served as its first director under his brother-in-law President John F. Kennedy, and made his first appearance here in 1961 to call others into service.
(Videotape, December 24, 1961)
MR. SHRIVER: We appeal to the spirit of personal initiative, to the spirit of volunteering to do something for your country. It's patriotic.
MR. GREGORY: After serving on the presidential ticket as George McGovern's running mate in 1972, Shriver made his own run for the presidency and stopped here the day after announcing his bid on September 21st, 1975.
(Videotape, September 21, 1975)
MR. LAWRENCE E. SPIVAK: Mr. Shriver, we've been talking a great deal here today about the Kennedy legacy. Just what is the Kennedy legacy?
MR. SHRIVER: Well, first of all, let me say that I think it is a legacy which all Americans can be proud of. I think it's a legacy which may--at that time indicated that people all over the world respected this nation and there was an affection and belief in what we stood for. It was a legacy that said at that time that we could solve our problems, that we were not helpless, that there was reason to have trust and confidence in one another. And since then, there's been this development of divisiveness in our society--the Watergate, the assassinations, the war, the recession--so that people have lost confidence to a considerable extent in themselves.
MR. SPIVAK: And, and...
MR. SHRIVER: Now, Kennedy was against. He was in favor of a more positive approach to our national potential, and so am I.
MR. GREGORY: Indeed he was, an idealist for sure. Sargent Shriver was remembered this weekend at a public wake and a funeral mass; his life celebrated by his friends and his family, including his five children and 19 grandchildren. And his children talk about the powerful influence he had on their lives, and such inspiration. You can read more about his incredible life and submit your own tribute on a Web site set up in his memory, sargentshriver.org.
It was his daughter, Maria, who said at the funeral mass that her dad was in love with two things, his wife and God. Doesn't get any better than that. He and his family are in our thoughts and prayers.
MR. GREGORY: Before we go this morning, a programming note. Tune in to MSNBC at noon today for a special broadcast of "Brian Williams Reports: The President and His Men, 20 years after the Gulf War." A fascinating discussion.
That is all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.