Who needs Fox when you've got CNN treating their audience to god-awful programming like Fareed Zakaria's Memo to the President: Road Map for Second Term? It's been airing on their network over the weekend, and it's nothing more than one more long
January 20, 2013

Who needs Fox when you've got CNN treating their audience to god-awful programming like Fareed Zakaria's Memo to the President: Road Map for Second Term? It's been airing on their network over the weekend, and it's nothing more than one more long infomercial for group No Labels, advocating for every item on the right's wishlist, from economics to foreign policy.

What was missing? Even token representation from anyone in the progressive or labor movements. Instead, there was interview after interview with Republicans, neo-liberals, DLC Third Way "centrists" and advice from some of the last people we should be listening to -- because their very bad policies are what got us into the economic mess we're in now.

In a portion of the program which focused on economic policy, the audience was treated to former Reagan and Bush adviser James Baker -- which makes sense, because who better to talk about what President Obama needs to do to fix the economy than a leading member of the same administration that blew a mile-wide hole in the deficit with tax cuts and a couple of wars they left off the books?

For "balance," he follows up with Robert Rubin. The same Robert Rubin who helped Bill Clinton deregulate the derivatives market and then went on to work for Citigroup while the rest of the country was left with the economic time bomb of deregulation and "too big to fail" he helped to put in place.

Zakaria also decided we needed some sage advice from Mitch McConnell's wife Elaine Chao, who served, as Jim Hightower put it, as George Bush's anti-Labor Secretary, and who helped our most "anti-labor president of modern times" to degrade our protections and rights in the workplace and that wages were kept as low as possible. How could we possibly have a discussion on what to do to improve our economy for the American working class without her input?

And for more "balance" yet, we were treated to Peter Orszag, who left the Obama administration to go work for Citigroup just as Rubin did, and who has been out there pushing for "reforms" -- in other words, cuts to our social safety nets and reductions in Social Security and Medicare benefits.

And there's more where that came from with the entire guest list and their conflicts of interest. You can read the entire transcript here and the full transcript for the segment above below the fold.

ZAKARIA: Fixing the American economy is the most urgent crisis President Obama faces. Despite the recovery, unemployment remains high, growth isn't where we would like it to be and the national debt has grown to historic proportions.

The bills signed in the wake of the fiscal cliff crisis is a small fix. Is there a larger one?

Once again, James Baker.


ZAKARIA (on camera): What would be your advice to President Obama?

BAKER: Well, my advice to President Obama is, Mr. President, whatever happens in the second term, you're going to bear the consequences of. Our country is in sick shape financially. Economically, we are really in bad shape. We -- if we didn't have the dollar as he de facto reserve currency of the world we would be Greece and we have got to fix our economic problem and that's -- and it's not going to be fixed without leadership from you.

The Republicans maintain control of the House. And so we have divided government. He's got to take the lead. He may score some short-term victories over the Republicans. In the medium to long term, it's his enchilada.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): President Clinton's Secretary of the Treasury, Robert Rubin.

(On camera): When people look at what President Obama should do, there are a number of people who say, well, he's got to get the fiscal house in order, he's got to deal with the deficit. Why is that important?

RUBIN: I think it is imperatively important to design a sound fiscal program that both contributes to job creation and recovery in the short term and I absolutely believe a sound fiscal program will do that by creating confidence and by creating fiscal room for a moderate stimulus and also meets the long-term imperative for addressing what I believe is an unsustainable and dangerous fiscal trajectory.

In order to put ourselves on a sound fiscal footing, we clearly are going to have to have substantially more revenues, and more revenues means higher taxes, whether it's the tax rates or it's reduced deductions, one or the other, and that clearly is going to be a cost absorbed by those who pay the taxes. And there also are going to have to be constraints on the various of our programs.

Our political system has not wanted to face the difficulty of reducing expenditures, no matter where they are in the budget. And yet that's what you have to do if you're going to get on a sound fiscal path and the longer you wait the deeper your hole gets, the harder it is to regain confidence.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): There are others who say we need even more fundamental economic reform. For example, it's time to redo the country's convoluted tax system. With all of its rulings and regulations, the U.S. Tax Code is now 73,000 pages long.

Paul O'Neill, Treasury Secretary under George W. Bush, has an idea.

(On camera): You really wanted to scrap the entire U.S. tax code? PAUL O'NEILL, TREASURE SECRETARY UNDER GEORGE W. BUSH: I do.


O'NEILL: Because it's inefficient. It's ineffectively and it's fundamentally unfair. So I believe this. Revenue system should be used to raise money. It shouldn't be organized to distribute benefits. We should have --

ZAKARIA: So no -- no tax deductions?

O'NEILL: No deductions, no credits, no nothing. It's to raise revenue. And ideally we should do it with a progressive value added tax. That means --

ZAKARIA: That's a national sales tax. Correct?

O'NEILL: Well, it's not quite because I -- progressive is important to me. I don't want people to pay taxes if they have $20,000 a year worth of income. But it's $30,000, I might like for people to pay $1, just $1 so they have a legitimate claim for saying, I'm part of this society and I don't pay a lot but I do pay something.

Everybody participates and there's no game playing. It's a very efficient way to raise revenue. Right now, it costs us $431 billion a year to administer the tax system we have and the tax gap, the money we're not collecting that's theoretically owed, is $400 billion a year. We could do better than that. We can think better than that. And the president needs to lay that out for us.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Even if we get more growth, we are still finding it difficult to get unemployment down.

Elaine Chao served as George W. Bush's Secretary of Labor.

(On camera): What would you do to create more jobs in America?

ELAINE CHAO, LABOR SECRETARY UNDER GEORGE W. BUSH: I think you have to keep the tax rate low. They are a direct burden on the resources of an employer. The unemployment rate has dropped now to 7.7 percent but that's primarily because labor participation rate has dropped to 63.6 percent, one of the lowest rates that we have seen in current years so what we're seeing actually is a lot of discouraged workers, people who can't find jobs, and they've just given up and they're no longer working and they're not counted in the work force anymore. So we've got to do better on the job creation side.

It's a private sector who does the bulk of the hiring and they've got to have the confidence and that confidence comes from a more reasonable taxation level, more reasonable regulatory reform and then also the fiscal discipline that we need in our country to restore our country's overall financial ratings.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Democrats say what's most important is a stable, predictable set of rules, whatever the levels of taxation. Steven Rattner helped General Motors get back into the black as President Obama's car czar.

(On camera): One of the things people say that President Obama needs to do is to create a sense of confidence among the business community, which will drive investment, which will drive jobs. So how does he do that?

RATTNER: I think the president is off to a much better start but I think we need to have a set of policies in place which does involve Congress that are long-term. We need to have long-term tax policy, long-term budget policy, long-term regulatory policy. Not doing this a few months at a time, not careening from a debt ceiling debacle to a fiscal cliff to some other issue with tax credits that expire every few months and all that kind of stuff. And so I think somehow the government as a whole has to come together in order to give business the confidence it needs.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): The single most important cost that we need to get under control is health care, which now takes up 17 percent of GDP and still rises much faster than inflation every year.

Peter Orszag ran President Obama's Office of Management and Budget during the first term. He says Obamacare moves us away from a bad model where doctors and hospital haves a financial incentive to sell you lots of services.

(On camera): Getting health care costs down is absolutely fundamental to the long-term fiscal health of the country. So what would it need to do in the second term.

PETER ORSZAG, FORMER DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET: I think there's several things. I would point to moving much more aggressively away from fever service, even more rapidly. We don't need to wait until 2020. In addition I think the big gap that remains is medical malpractice reform and what I would favor is finding a safe harbor to a doctor.

If you can show that you're following an evidence-based protocol put forward by a medical association, I shouldn't be able to sue you.


ZAKARIA: Tax and health care reform would have huge benefits but getting them done will be hard.

Coming up next, is there an easy win for the president and the country? Actually, yes. Immigration reform.

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