I opened the meeting by stressing the urgency of passing legislation as soon as possible. Obama had a calm demeanor and spoke about the broad outlines of the package. I thought it was smart when he informed the gathering that he was in constant contact with [Administration officials]. His purpose was to show that he was aware, in touch, and prepared to help get a bill passed.
When Obama finished, I turned to John McCain. He passed. I was puzzled. What had started as a drama quickly descended into a farce.
OBAMA: Every dollar I’ve proposed, I’ve proposed an additional cut hat it matches. To give an example, we spend $15 billion a year on subsidies to insurance companies. It doesn’t help seniors get better. It’s a giveaway. I want to go through the federal budget line by line, programs that don’t work, we cut. Programs we need, we should make them work better. Once we get through this economic crisis, we’re going to have to embrace a culture of responsibility, all of us, corporations, the federal government, & individuals who may be living beyond their means.
McCAIN: I’d have an across-the-board spending freeze. I know how to save billions of dollars in defense spending. One would be the marketing assistance program. Another one would be subsidies for ethanol. I would fight for a line-item veto, and I would certainly veto every earmark pork-barrel bill.
OBAMA: I understand your frustration and your cynicism. Most of the people here, you’ve got a family budget. If less money is coming in, you end up making cuts. Maybe you don’t go out to dinner as much. Maybe you put off buying a new car. That’s not what happens in Washington. And you’re right. There is a lot of blame to go around.
But I think it’s important just to remember a little bit of history. When George Bush came into office, we had surpluses. And now we have half-a-trillion-dollar deficit annually. When George Bush came into office, our national debt was around $5 trillion. It’s now over $10 trillion. We’ve almost doubled it.
And so while it’s true that nobody’s completely innocent here, we have had over the last 8 years the biggest increases in deficit spending and national debt in our history. And Sen. McCain voted for 4 out of 5 of those George Bush budgets.
OBAMA: This is a verdict on the failed policies of the last eight years that said that we should strip away consumer protections, let the market run wild, and prosperity would rain down. Step one was a rescue package that means making sure taxpayers get their money back. The middle-class need a rescue package. That means tax cuts for the middle-class. It means help for homeowners. It means we are helping state governments set up projects that keep people in their jobs. We’ve got to fix our health care system, we’ve got to fix our energy system. You’ve got to have somebody in Washington who is thinking about the middle class and not just those who can afford to hire lobbyists.
McCAIN: I have a plan to fix this problem and it has to do with energy independence. We’ve got to stop sending $700 billion a year to countries that don’t like us. We have to keep Americans’ taxes low. All Americans’ taxes low.
OBAMA: Each and every one of us can start thinking about how can we save energy. And one of the things I want to do is make sure we’re providing incentives so that you can buy a fuel efficient car that’s made right here in the U.S., not in Japan or South Korea, making sure that you are able to weatherize your home or make your business more fuel efficient.
McCAIN: Some of those programs may not grow as much as we would like for them to, but we can establish priorities with full consultation, not done behind closed doors & shoving earmarks in the middle of the night that we don’t even know about until months later.
All are equally motivated to excel, because they know the system will treat them fairly and reward their hard work and effort.
Obama wrote, "It taught me that ordinary people can do extraordinary things when given the chance. Change does not happen from the top down, but from the bottom-up, because the American people stand ready for change. Just like we need bottom-up politics, we need bottom-up economics. We need to think about working people."
Worse yet, the price-tag for these failures is being passe to our children. The Clinton Administration left behind a surplus, but this Administration squandered it. We face budget deficits in the hundreds of billions and our nearly ten trillion dollars in debt. We’ve borrowed billions from countries like China to finance needless tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and an unnecessary war, and yet Sen. McCain is explicitly running to continue and expand these policies, without a realistic plan to pay for it. I want to take us in a new and better direction.
A: If they have a 401(k), then they are going to see those taxes deferred, and they’re going to pay ordinary income when they finally cash out. So, that’s a phony argument. You know, as I travel around the country, what I’m absolutely convinced of is that people recognize that if only 1% of the population is doing well, when we’ve got wage and incomes for the average worker actually going down during a period of economic expansion, much less economic recession, that something’s being mismanaged. And they want a different approach. And that’s what we’re going to be offering them. John McCain is essentially offering four more years of the same policies that got us into this rut that we’re in now.
A: We account for every single dollar that we propose. This is one of the things that’s happened during the course of this campaign, that there’s a set of assertions made b Clinton and her husband, that are not factually accurate. Part of what the people are looking for right now is somebody who’s going to solve problems and not resort to the same typical politics that we’ve seen in Washington. That is something that I hear all across the country. So when Clinton says I wasn’t opposed to the war from the start or says it’s a fairytale that I opposed the war, that is simply not true. Clinton asserts that I said that the Republicans had better economic policies since 1980. That is not the case. The viewers are concerned about is who’s actually going to help the get health care, how are they going to get their kids going to college, and that’s the kind of campaign I’ve tried to run.
CLINTON: I regretted voting for the bankruptcy bill and I was happy that it didn’t get into law. By 2005, there was another run at a bankruptcy reform, motivated by the credit card companies and the other big lenders. I opposed that bill. There was a particular amendment that is very telling. It was an amendment to prohibit credit card companies from charging more than 30% interest. It was one of the biggest lobbyist victories on that very bad bill that the bankruptcy bill represented.
The result is the most precarious budget situation we have seen in years. We now have an annual budget deficit of almost $300 billion, not counting more than $180 billion we borrow every year from the Social Security Trust Fund.
It is not the debt that is most troubling. The bulk of the debt is a direct result of the President’s tax cuts, 47.4% of which went to the top 5% income bracket.
We can eliminate tax credits that have outlived their usefulness & close loopholes that let corporations get away without paying taxes. We can restore a law that was in place during the Clinton presidency--called Paygo--that prohibits money from leaving the treasury without some way of compensating for the lost revenue.
He plans to redistribute wealth, to redistribute access to health care and to raise taxes until it no longer makes sense for productive people to keep working.
But that's not all. He envisions creating an expansive, and expensive, federal government that regulate, controls, and pays for an ever-increasing percentage of our daily lives.
Pres. OBAMA: When we came into office, the deficit was $1.3 trillion, before I had passed any law. We came in with $8 trillion worth of debt over the next decade--had nothing to do with anything that we had done. It had to do with the fact that in 2000 when there was a budget surplus of $200 billion, you had a Republican administration and a Republican Congress, and we had two tax cuts that weren't paid for. Now, we increased it by a trillion dollars because of the spending that we had to make on the stimulus. The major driver of our long-term liabilities, everybody here knows, is Medicare and Medicaid and our health care spending. That's going to be what our children have to worry about.
Obama took the floor and ticked off four items central to the bill: executive compensation, golden parachutes, oversight, and flexibility. "I think just about everyone has agreed on these, " he said, then added a sly di at the House Republicans. "I understand there are some who may not be as far along as the rest of us. We can argue about how we got here, but that's not the issue," Obama went on. "The issue is how to solve the problem."
[McCain said little]. McCain told his aides the reason he was silent was that, from the moment the Democrats deferred to Obama, he knew that the meeting would accomplish nothing.
The socialist principles of "equality" and "justice" sound like ideas we should all support, but the socialists' definition of equality is not equality of opportunities but an equality of outcomes. They are not speaking of equal justice under law. Socialists promote a more arbitrary "affirmative justice" government action to combat perceived discrimination or suspected prejudice.
McCAIN: Americans are hurting right now, and they’re angry. They’re innocent victims of greed and excess on Wall Street and as well as Washington, D.C. But we also have to have a short-term fix, in my view, and long- term fixes [as you outlined about my plan].
Q: Sen. Obama, you proposed $60 billion in tax cuts for middle- income and lower-income people, more tax breaks to create jobs, new spending for public works projects to create jobs.
OBAMA: The fundamentals of the economy were weak even before this latest crisis. Sen. McCain and I agree that we’ve got to help homeowners. I disagree with Sen. McCain in how to do it, because the way Sen. McCain has designed his plan, it could be a giveaway to banks if we’re buying full price for mortgages that now are worth a lot less.
OBAMA: I’ve got to correct a little bit of Sen. McCain’s history. Let’s, first of all, understand that the biggest problem in this whole process was the deregulation of the financial system. Sen. McCain, as recently as March, bragged about the fact that he is a deregulator. On the other hand, two years ago, I said that we’ve got a sub-prime lending crisis that has to be dealt with. I wrote to Secretary Paulson, I wrote to Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke, and told them this is something we have to deal with, and nobody did anything about it. A year ago, I went to Wall Street and said we’ve got to reregulate, and nothing happened. And Sen. McCain during that period said that we should keep on deregulating because that’s how the free enterprise system works.
OBAMA: Let me tell you what’s in the rescue package for you. Right now, the credit markets are frozen up and what that means is that small businesses can’t get loans. If they can’t get a loan, that means that they can’t make payroll. If they can’t make payroll, then they may end up having to shut their doors and lay people off. And if you imagine just one company trying to deal with that, now imagine a million companies all across the country. So it could end up having an adverse effect on everybody, and that’s why we had to take action. But we shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
McCAIN: This rescue package means we will stabilize markets, we will shore up these institutions. But it’s not enough. That’s why we’re going to have to go out into the housing market and buy up these bad loans and we’re going to have to stabilize home values, and that way, Americans can realize the American dream and stay in their home.
A: We haven’t seen the language yet, & there’s constructive work being done. I am optimistic about the capacity of us to come together with a plan. But how did we get into this situation in the first place? Two years ago, I warned that because of the subprime lending mess, because of lax regulation, that we were potentially going to have a problem & tried to stop some of the abuses in mortgages that were taking place at the time. Last year, I wrote to the secretary of the Treasury to make sure that he understood the magnitude of this problem and to call on him to bring all the stakeholders together to try to deal with it. We’ve have to intervene to solve this problem short-term. But we’re also going to have to look at how is it that we’ve shredded some many regulations, we did not set up a 21st century regulatory framework to deal with these problems. And that, in part, has to do with an economic philosophy that says regulation is always bad.
A: There are a range of things that are probably going to have to be delayed. We don’t yet know what our tax revenues are going to be. The economy is slowing down. So it’s hard to anticipate right now what the budget’s going to look like next year. But there’s no doubt that we’re not going to be able to do everything that needs to be done.
A: Over the last seven years, what we’ve seen is an economy that’s out of balance because of the policies of George Bush and the Republicans in Congress. Not only do we have fiscal problems, but we’ve got growing inequality. People are working harder for less and they’re seeing costs go up. So what I want to do is get the long-term fundamentals right. That means that we are investing in education & infrastructure, structuring fair trade deals, and also ending the war in Iraq. That is money that can be applied at home for critical issues.
Q: So a priority to balance the federal budget, or not?
A: We are not going to be able to dig ourselves out of that hole in 1 or 2 years. But if we can get on a path of sustained growth, end the war in Iraq, end some of the special interest loopholes and earmarks that have been clogging up the system, then I think we can return to a path of a balanced budget.
DODD: Yes, but we also need more liquidity in the market. It has seized up. You can’t get a mortgage in America today.
OBAMA: We do need more liquidity, but we’re going to have to not only help home owners who are going to be losing their homes as a consequence of this; we’re going to have to make sure that we’ve got the kinds of tough regulation when it comes to financial instruments to make sure that people who have saved and are trying to get their own home for the first time are not hoodwinked out of it. And, unfortunately, the reason that we haven’t had tougher regulation in part goes back to the issue of lobbying. This is where special interests have been driving the agenda. We have not had the kinds of consumer protections that are in place. That’s why, when we have this debate about lobbying, we have to remind ourselves it has very real consequences.
Obama explained, "When it comes to a stimulus package, typically you are not looking at offsets, because what you are trying to do is prevent the economy from going into a further tailspin."
NPR: "But with the deficit as high as it is right now, is it responsible to propose something that is likely to increase deficit spending?"
Obama didn't flinch: "Well, Michele," he said, "understand that if we continue on the trends we're on right now, where unemployment keeps on going up, if you continue to see an economic slide, that is going to cost far more in terms of tax revenues, because businesses aren't selling, taxes aren't being collected. And what we're going to end up with is a much worse situation when it comes to our deficit."
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