After Republicans just insisted on blowing another huge hole in the budget with the extension of these Bush tax cuts, Suzanne Malveaux asks Bill Bennett what "tough choices" Americans are going to be willing to make in order to reduce the deficit.
December 27, 2010

After Republicans just insisted on blowing another huge hole in the budget with the extension of these Bush tax cuts, CNN's Suzanne Malveaux asks Bill Bennett what "tough choices" Americans are going to be willing to make in order to reduce the deficit. Of course, that sacrifice is only going to be asked of the working class and not the rich.

Bennett pretends this is going to go over better with the public if there's a bipartisan effort to put the screws to the most vulnerable citizens in the country. I've got news for you, pal: It's not.

I wonder what "shared sacrifice" Bill Bennett is willing to make for his country to keep the deficit under control?

MALVEAUX: Let's start with the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll.

You've got two-thirds of folks who say, look, we're very concerned about the federal deficit, cutting this, and we've got eight out of 10 who say we don't approve of earmarks. But put it up against some of the tough choices that Americans are willing to make here and it doesn't look like they're willing to make those tough choices.

Up against Social Security. When it comes to which is more important, reducing the deficit or preventing cuts in Social Security, 19 percent to 78 percent. Medicare, the same kind of numbers, reducing deficit, 19 percent. Preventing cuts in Medicare, 79 percent. And then taxes, when you take a look at the taxes, increase the federal deficit to pay for tax changes and unemployment benefits, 41 percent favor, 57 percent opposed.

So what do Republicans do? Ho do you square this when Americans themselves are not willing to make those tough choices to reduce the deficit.

BENNETT: A couple of points, Suzanne.

I think this is pretty typical. You ask people, do you want to cut the deficit? Yes. Is the deficit problem serious? Yes.

Well, how about cutting this program? No, don't want to cut that one. Well, how about cutting this program? Don't want to cut that one. So that's been the case historically in most surveys.

The second point, the argument hasn't really been made yet, I don't think. Look, Barack Obama has spent a lot of money. Whether you agree with that spending or not, this has been a big spending administration.

George Bush spent a lot of money too. So we haven't had a president come forward with a Congress and say, look, these deficits get further out of control, we're going to go bankrupt as a country. I don't think the argument has been made yet, so I think it's premature.

Third, most of the plans I've seen, like Paul Ryan's roadmap and some of the other plans, the deficit commission, the bipartisan deficit commission plan, talks about cuts in the future. You announce the Social Security people, for example, they're not going to be cut now, but if you're below 50 or 55, we are going to raise the age and cut benefits based on means testing.

MALVEAUX: And you would support that?

BENNETT: I would, but I would also support other reforms as well. It depends -- a lot depends on next spring, how the arguments are made, whether Democrats and Republicans can make them together. I think they can. I hope they do.

MALVEAUX: How severe would you say those cuts should be in, say, Social Security?

BENNETT: Let's just think of this -- supposing you took the Barack Obama budget which proposes $3.8 trillion -- that's the 201 budget -- George Bush's budget in 2008 was -- or, yes, the 2008 budget was $2.9 trillion. That's -- if you froze it, if you froze the 2011 budget, 2008 levels, you would save almost $1 trillion.

And I don't think anybody would say -- could fairly say 2008 was a hardship time. But if you just went back that far -- and this, again, is the most bipartisan of all approaches, which his you freeze everything. So everybody's dog gets less of a bone. That, I think, would save a lot of money and is doable.

MALVEAUX: You've got a couple of folks, obviously the incoming House Speaker, Boehner, who's talking about he sees about $100 billion that perhaps could be saved. You've got Senator Coburn, who is saying perhaps $200 billion.

A lot of Republicans are saying, you know what? You've got to make cuts in education.

You were a former education secretary. Do you think that's the right approach? Do you think there are areas that this country can cut in education. And now's the time?

BENNETT: Well, I certainly think you could absorb some in the Education Department. I like Arne Duncan, by the way, and think he's doing some very good things.

But they had a part of the stimulus package that was $100 billion. My entire budget when I was education secretary -- I know it's ancient history, but it was $14 billion. I mean, it's way, way up.

So, yes, I think you could cut education by a substantial amount. But forget singling out education. Do the freeze of 2008 levels. You save almost $1 trillion. But here's the point -- in the spring, we make this argument together, as Democrats or Republicans, or the argument could be made that we will all be undone and the country will be undone. We cannot sustain what we're doing.

MALVEAUX: Let's talk about the lame-duck session of Congress really quickly here.


MALVEAUX: Obviously, the president, on his wish list for Christmas, he got tax cuts for the middle class; a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"; also the New START treaty; health benefits for 911 responders. On the Republican side, they got the tax cuts for all, including the wealthiest Americans, and also didn't have to swallow that huge budget omnibus bill, the whole enchilada.

A poll shows here that the approval ratings for the lame-duck session, Obama comes out on top, 56 percent; Democrats, 44 percent; Republicans 42.

Who do you think won in December?

BENNETT: Close. We -- partisan hat on. We clearly won in November. I think everyone will say that with those elections.

MALVEAUX: Right, the shellacking. BENNETT: But I think -- and he admitted it -- but I think December, he had a pretty good December. I think that's right.

Surprisingly, they didn't get the big one, the big enchilada, as you called it, the omnibus. But he did get "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," he did get the START treaty. Now, not that everybody's all focused on that, but he did get that and that mattered. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" really did matter to him.

I still think that budget deal is more a win for Republicans than Democrats. But there are obviously things in there the Democrats wanted. The big question before us now is who wins in January and February and March? As one of my callers said, "I hope it's the country and I hope folks can work together."

MALVEAUX: All right, Bill. You were true to your word. You did the red, the blue. You were pretty fair, I think. I think you did both sides.

BENNETT: Yes. I don't know if I liked it, but OK.

MALVEAUX: All right. Thank you, Bill.

BENNETT: Thank you.

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