CNN's Anderson Cooper and Gloria Borger took turns casting President Barack Obama as the centrist 'adult' in a room teeming with unruly Republican children who would rather invite economic calamity than compromise on a debt-reduction plan.
Discussing a topic that would have made a perfect "Keeping Them Honest" segment, Cooper insisted, incorrectly, on Monday's "AC 360" that the Democratic president has never raised taxes since taking office in 2009: "Now, in fact the stimulus was about one-third tax cuts. So in fairness, he did not raise taxes. He and Congress later passing a payroll tax holiday that is in effect right now. A year later he and Congress did approve tax breaks to help employers hire more people."
According to Politifact, Cooper is way off base in claiming the president "did not raise taxes."
In February, the fact-checking website gave Obama's claim that "I didn't raise taxes once" a "false" rating. Citing tax hikes on cigarettes, indoor tanning, and Medicare for families that make more than $250,000 per year, Politifact asserted, "The idea that Obama did not raise taxes is just plain wrong."
Cooper had the opportunity to fact check Obama himself in his "Keeping Them Honest" segment that aired only moments earlier, but the CNN anchor decided instead to focus on a pledge signed by Republican presidential candidates Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum.
After Cooper implied Obama is a moderate, Borger attempted to erase any doubt: "The president was offering [Republicans], you know, a very, very good deal here." CNN's senior political analyst later marveled at Obama's centrist leadership: "Right now, I think the Republicans are kind of up against the wall here because the president looks like the adult. He's put something on the table."
Unfortunately for Borger, the president didn't produce a detailed plan: he gave a speech at a press conference. And as CBO Director Dough Elmendorf pointed out, the Congressional Budget Office doesn't estimate speeches.
Unlike Obama, who hasn't put much of anything on the table – at least nothing the CBO can score – House and Senate Republicans have put forward a number of cost-saving measures in their plan to "cut, cap, and balance."
House Speaker John Boehner said as much during his rebuttal press conference on Monday:
The American people will not accept, and the House cannot pass, a bill that raises taxes on job creators. The House can only pass a debt limit bill that includes spending cuts larger than the hike in the debt limit as well as real restraints on future spending. My colleagues and I feel we should enact a balanced budget amendment to keep the federal government from spending us into the same situation again. I think we also need real reductions in spending right now and spending caps to ensure that progress we make is not undone in the future… A bill that doesn’t meet these tests can’t pass the House of Representatives. (H/T RedState)
Borger can claim the GOP is "up against the wall," but it was the Obama administration that called for a "clean" vote on raising the debt ceiling without cutting spending. Since then, the debate has shifted from whether Congress will cut spending to how much and how soon. Yet Borger still maintains the pragmatic president has outmaneuvered the recalcitrant Republicans.
A transcript of the segment can be found below:
July 11, 2011
10:14 p.m. ET
ANDERSON COOPER: "Raw Politics" tonight: just 22 bargaining days until the U.S. Treasury runs out of money to pay the bills, throwing the country into default and the economy into a greater crisis. President Obama and congressional leaders met for a second straight day trying to hammer out a deficit-reduction deal. Republicans have said without such a deal they won't allow vote to allow more borrowing to raise the debt ceiling. Now, bear in mind lawmakers have always griped, but they've have never failed to do that ever. They will talk again tomorrow. Today, the President called for action.
BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: I have been hearing from my Republican friends for quite some time that it is a moral imperative for us to tackle our debt and our deficits in a serious way. I have been hearing from them that this is one of the things that's creating uncertainty and holding back investment on the part of the business community. And so, what I have said to them is, "Let's go."
COOPER: Unclear though whether he can deliver the left wing of his own party. Unclear also whether the Tea Party Republicans will sign on to any deal with any revenue increasers beyond selling government property and other fairly minor measures. House Speaker Boehner, who seemed receptive to a grand compromise which might have included tax concessions from Republicans in exchange for cost savings in Medicare and Social Security from the White House, backed away on Saturday. Today he said, no tax increases or no deal.
Rep. JOHN BOEHNER, Speaker of the House: The American people will not accept and the House cannot pass a bill that raises taxes on job creators. Now, the House can only pass a debt limit bill that includes spending cuts larger than the hike in the debt limit as well as real restraints on future spending.
COOPER: His colleague Majority Leader Eric Cantor standing firm too, holding up a quote from President Obama back in 2009 about not raising taxes during a recession. Now, here's what the President said back then in 2009 to NBC's Chuck Todd in response to a voter's question.
OBAMA: First of all, he's right. Normally, you don't raise taxes in a recession, which is why we haven't and why we have instead cut taxes. So I guess what I would say to Scott is, his economics are right. You don't raise taxes in a recession. We haven't raised taxes in a recession.
COOPER: Now, in fact the stimulus was about one-third tax cuts. So in fairness, he did not raise taxes. He and Congress later passing a payroll tax holiday that is in effect right now. A year later he and Congress did approve tax breaks to help employers hire more people.
Now, you can decide for yourself whether that's a tax cut or the kind of wasteful spending through the tax code the president says he's now against when it comes to corporate jets. In any case, here's how Mr. Obama today reconciled that 2009 statement with his current position on taxes.
OBAMA: I want to be crystal clear: nobody has talked about increasing taxes now. Nobody has talked about increases – increasing taxes next year. We're talking about potentially 2013 and the out years.
COOPER: The question is what will the economy look like then? The answer to that depends heavily on what happens now. Here to talk about it is chief political analyst Gloria Borger and David Walker, former head of the Government Accountability Office. Currently he's president and CEO of the Comeback America Initiative. David, is there any case to be made for not raising the debt ceiling?
DAVID WALKER, former United States comptroller general: No, there really isn't. We have to raise the debt ceiling because the fact is we don't know what the markets would do, what would to happen to the stock markets, what would to happen to the interest rates. And for every one percent or 100 basis point increase in interest rates, it's $150 billion a year on our total debt.
COOPER: So how do you see the debate that is happening now? I mean what's your take on it?
WALKER: Well, both sides have agreed that they're going to raise the debt ceiling limit, but it looks like it's going to be a smaller deal rather than a bigger deal because the Republicans don't want to do anything that could even be called remotely a tax increase. I think after the 2012 elections, we're going to get comprehensive tax reform that will broaden the base, lower rates and generate more revenues, among other things, along with starting to deal with entitlement reforms. But I think right now, we're going to get a smaller deal and kick the can down the road with regard to the tough stuff.
COOPER: Gloria, politically, is that what it seems like, a smaller deal?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN senior political analyst: Yes, it does, Anderson. And I think if you sort of step back for a moment and take a look at this it seems to me really to be a defining moment for the Republican Party here. The base of this party is conservative and it's anti-tax. And you had the House speaker, a Republican, the president of the United States, sitting down and believing that they could try to cut a huge deal that would actually go a long way towards solving the deficit problem. But John Boehner, the Speaker, took that back to his conservative Republicans in the House, which I believe represent the base of the party, and they said, absolutely no way, because 230 of those Republicans in the House have taken a no-tax pledge, no-new-tax pledges and they're going to stick by it. And I think things may change after the next election, but as for now, the Republican Party is stuck and they can't even accept a good deal. The president was offering them, you know, a very, very good deal here. You know, $3 in spending cuts for every dollar of tax increases.
WALKER: Well, John Boehner is correct that the base of the Republican Party will not support any type of tax increases, even if it's eliminating tax expenditures where there can be a bipartisan agreement. He's wrong to say the American people won't. He's just wrong. And right now the President has got the high ground because he's basically saying, let's go for a long-term deal. I will put Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security on the table. All you need to do is to put tax expenditures on the table. By the way, we have the lowest revenues as a percentage of GDP in decades. It's less than 16 percent. Nonetheless, we are where we are and I think both parties are going to have to go to the electorate in 2012.
COOPER: But can you get a compromise without some sort of tax-increasing revenues somehow?
WALKER: I can come up – I can come up with $2 trillion to $3 trillion worth of deficit reduction without any tax increases, ok?
BORGER: You know, Anderson, I was talking to a senior White House adviser today, for example, who suggested that perhaps they could get a deal, a smaller deal of closing some of these tax loopholes and extending the payroll tax holiday for a certain period of time, so there would be no net tax increase. So a little bit of trickery, but maybe they could do it that way.
COOPER: Just politically, Gloria, how does this play out, do you think? I mean, obviously we have this presidential election coming up. David is saying Obama seems like he's perceived as taking the high ground.
BORGER: He does.
COOPER: Clearly he's interested in getting independents on board.
COOPER: He's lost a lot of independent support over the years. How does this play for both sides?
BORGER: Well, I think the President as you point out is clearly talking to independent voters. Independent voters care about the deficit and they also want Washington to work together, which is what we heard the President talk about an awful lot today in his press conference. It kind of reminded me a little bit of Bill Clinton there. In the end, I think they all know they have to get something done or they will all suffer. Right now, I think the Republicans are kind of up against the wall here because the president looks like the adult. He's put something on the table. I'm not sure that he have could have sold it to his own party, but he put it on the table. So it's up to the Republicans now to come back and he told them today to go home, do your homework and tell me how we're going to make up the rest of this money we have got to raise without – without those revenues. So they're on the spot.
COOPER: Do you think this goes – do you think this goes to August 2nd or do you think this is going to be done sooner, David?
WALKER: Well, I think they can do it before August 2nd. I mean, you know, it depends upon how big a deal they're trying to do. You have to turn this into legislative language and frankly you have to sell it to the caucuses. I mean they're not going to take a fait accompli deal. And that's one of the reasons why Congress has to stay in session until a deal is done and until there's agreement.
BORGER: And complicating all of this, Anderson, is the fact that you've got Republican presidential candidates out there saying don't raise the debt limit. Tim Pawlenty said he was hoping and praying that they would vote against raising the debt limit. So that plays into the Republican congressional discussions as well.
COOPER: Never easy to work out this stuff in the midst of an election year?
WALKER: You have to work it out. The stakes are too high. Quite frankly anybody who says – I don't care who they are – who says they will vote against the debt ceiling increase irrespective of the deal is irresponsible.
COOPER: David Walker, I appreciate it. It's always good to have you on. Gloria Borger as well. Thank you very much.
--Alex Fitzsimmons is a News Analysis intern at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.