Yesterday evening Senator Claire McCaskill (D) met with a small group of Missouri political bloggers for a conversation at her Kansas City office. This is the second part of that conversation.
Senator McCaskill, listening to a question.
The continuation of the transcript:
….Michael Bersin (Show Me Progress): When it comes to, uh, the rhetoric of, uh, Social Security and dealing with, um, the budget, you know, part of the frustration of, of communicating what’s happening with Social Security is, uh, sort of the, the rhetoric of what really is causing the budget, budget deficit. In your, uh, in your town hall in Concordia you used the, the Center for Budget, uh, Priorities and Policy, that graph that really shows the, you know, what really contributed to the deficit and, and yet the, the, the Congress in the lame duck session sort of continued that, that trend. You know, so, you know, how do you communicate with people what, what really is causing the deficit and what is it?
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Well, um, a lot of what is happening with the deficit is in fact the economic downturn and the costs associated with the economic downturn, both the social net, the social safety net costs, unemployment benefit costs, but also, the fact that revenue is down. Um, revenue is down to the government because there’s been less income. So, it is, that’s been a huge part of it. The Bush tax cuts obviously were a huge part of it. Um, I would have liked very much to see us raise the top rate, uh, personal income tax rate on the, on the top bracket. I think that there is a chance we will still do that before the next election. Um, you know it’s, it, they were extended for two years and it will be up to the members of Congress do decide whether to debate that and make changes as it relates to that, um, even before twenty twelve. And I think that there’s a number of us that are willing to have that debate before the election and support raising the marginal rate on, especially on your second million dollars. Um, you know, let everybody have the same tax rate on their first million, but on your second million could you do three percent more, the same rate that you had in the nineties when everyone was doing very well?
Michael Bersin: And, and part of the frustration of that is that in some, some cases , you know, people are, are using, uh, people’s unfamiliarity with what marginal tax rates actually are and the history, you know, the past history of marginal tax rates and it’s harder to explain. So, you know, is, is this sort of a, a, an option to, to basically to try to teach people about this?
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Well, I think that’s part of it. I think, um, the other part about the, the deficit is looking at all the goodies in the tax code. I think some of the best work that was done by the, the fiscal commission, the debt commission was the work they did in crystallizing the issues about the special goodies in the tax code. And if you think about it this way, um, around seventy-five percent of Americans don’t itemize. So that means that entire tax code has been written for twenty-five percent of the country. And it is full of all kinds of government corporate welfare for all kinds of special little interests. If we can clean that out we could lower the tax rate for everybody, we could make the tax rate more broad, and we could lower the corporate tax rate. Uh, which would be a great way, uh, to look at, and still reduce the deficit, if we would just look at some of those goodies. Now, the interesting thing is some of the people that are screaming the loudest for us to do something about the deficit have been the people who put the goodies in there. They’ve been the people who have made sure that we pay people to raise tobacco while we pay people to educate people not to smoke tobacco. Same government. Paying on both sides of the equation. That we’re paying the oil companies, um, to, to drill oil even though they’re, been the most profitable corporation on the face of the planet. So, it is one of these things that hopefully that fis, and we got, the Republicans and the Democrats, when you had Tom Coburn and Dick Durbin both sign the report from the fiscal debt commission. [crosstalk]
Michael Bersin: Right.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): That’s remarkable. [crosstalk]
Michael Bersin: But, but one of the things in the, in, in, sort of, like I said, in, in our blog universe, one of the slang terms for the commission, they call it the catfood commission. Uh, and part of it was, you know, the, the idea of, of lumping Social Security into that mix, in some of the discussion. And, and while the, there’s some good and bad in, in what they did and that’s the thing that, you know, people have, you know, from our perspective have, have trouble weighing. That some [crosstalk] of the things…
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Well I don’t think that there’s gonna be any political support for making any, uh, any kind of cutback in the Social Security benefits. I do think, uh, raising the cap, uh, makes some sense. Um, you know, I think that is reasonable and I think that’s something that you, I think you’ll see serious discussions on that. But if we can get a bipartisan effort to do some of these things we’re talking about that would be terrific, um [crosstalk]…
Michael Bersin: Well, what do you think the odds are for that? It, are you having dialog with people who, who [crosstalk]…
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Yes.
Michael Bersin: …in weak moments say, well, you know, that might be a good idea.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Yes, I am. I am having dialog. I’ve had lots of discussions with Bob Corker. Um, I’ve had discussions with, uh, uh, with, with Tom Coburn. I’ve had lots of discussions with Judd Gregg and Kent Conrad. Um, and, you know, it, it’s revenue, it’s spending and it’s entitlements. Um, and, you know, we can do better on higher education if we don’t give so much federal money away to online for profits that don’t care about educating kids. [inaudible][crosstalk]
Michael Bersin: So, so, in that kind of thing is there any kind of, um, uh, movement for people thinking if, especially for the, uh, online, you know, non-profits, uh [crosstalk], sort of like…
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): On line for profits.
Michael Bersin: …yeah, online for profits, excuse me, uh, for accountability.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Yeah, I mean the idea is that you don’t get the money, um, that is associated with the student that is federal aid, um, unless the student graduates. That changes the recruitment, it changes the method of marketing, um, it makes it much more about their education than it does get a hold of the federal money that comes with ’em. And, um, obviously there’s some screeching going on [crosstalk] about that.
Michael Bersin: Yeah, I was gonna, I was gonna ask you, what kind of resistance are you seeing?
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Well, obviously, you’ve got some very profitable companies that have just mushroomed almost overnight. Um, but I think that, that the Secretary of Education feels very strongly about this and this is a good example of where we could do better by, by students and still save the federal tax dollars. Um, crop insurance is the same thing. We could do better by farmers and still save the federal tax dollars by taking some of the fat out of the crop insurance program. It’s been wildly profitable to these crop insurance companies. Um, they’ve gotten rich off federal tax dollars. And when I t
ry to do something about it they had their little sponsors on the other side of the aisle, one from not too far from here, who began defending, um, the crop insurance companies. They bought a stadium and put their name on it, all with companies that are completely funded with federal tax dollars. It’s outrageous. So, there’s lots of things like that out there. And some of it’s low hanging fruit. And if we begin to demonstrate to the American people that we’re willing to do some of this stuff I think it would really help our reputation.
Michael Bersin: Part of it is how you get, um, sort of, that accountability, at least in, from the Senate of, of all parties in the Senate to basically say, hold this up and say, this really is low hanging fruit, this really is the right thing to do. How do you get people to do that when they have interests that are pressuring them to not do the right thing?
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Well, you, you have to have enough pressure. Um, right now, in some ways is a good thing, because I think there is significant pressure at looking at where we are right now with the deficit and the debt. I think it’s, it makes our country weaker. I think it has huge implications for the programs I care about, um, the discretionary domestic programs that need to be a priority of our country. We are not gonna be able to afford those programs if we don’t go after some of this low hanging fruit where there are gonna be people who are unhappy. But does anybody think we can do this without making somebody unhappy? I’m trying to figure out how that works. You can’t solve a problem without making somebody unhappy. And, now, you can get reelected maybe, but you can’t solve a problem. If you keep trying to make everybody happy we’re gonna keep having exactly what we have now, problems that don’t get solved. And health care’s a good example. I mean we tried to solve a problem and clearly it was controversial ’cause it’s hard. Uh, and everyone wasn’t happy and everyone still isn’t happy. We gotta keep working on it. I think we can keep making it better. But, our choice was to do nothing? I don’t think so.
Michael Bersin: What’s interesting is in the rhetoric that we’re hearing is, you know, one we, we want to reduce the deficit and yet we want to basic, there are voices that are saying in Congress, repeal the entire thing and yet the, the Congressional , Congressional Budget Office says if you do that you just increased the deficit. So, there’s this disconnect in, in the rhetoric. And, do they actually believe this stuff, or?
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): I think that they, uh, I think that the Republicans know that most Americans just don’t believe that the health care bill reduced the deficit. It’s like believing that Republicans would hold the oil companies accountable. You know, I mean, there’s certain things that, that, I just think that Americans assume if it’s a big new bill about health care that the federal government passed it’s gonna cost money. I don’t think everyone got into the weeds enough to understand that we pulled that money back from the pharmaceutical companies, that we pulled back that excess profits in Medicare Advantage, which by the way, the Republicans had been advocating until it was in the Democratic health care bill. Um, that we, that we did those kind of things I don’t, all they hear is you’ve cut Medicare.
Michael Bersin: But, but there’s a history of that, too, when it comes to this, uh, the, the, individual mandate was the kind of thing that you had Republican senators [crosstalk]…
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Bob Dole.
Michael Bersin: …some of who [crosstalk]…
Sean: Kit Bond.
Michael Bersin: …and others…
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Kit Bond.
Michael Bersin: …and others who voted against it , but, you know, nineteen ninety-three advocated this whole thing. And yet they do this so brazenly and does anybody hold them accountable?
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Well, hopefully the voters will at some point in time, um, if we do a better job of communicating. I do think that we’ve got a challenge there. I think we were very busy working and we weren’t very disciplined about what was going on around us because we were all busy trying to figure out a way to get a health care bill passed and how to, you know, get a stimulus passed so that Missouri didn’t have to cut four billion dollars out of its budget. Um, you know, we were working on those things and I think in the negative climate that was out there with the economy the message of negativity was really successful….
Transcripts of the remainder of our conversation will follow over the next few days.
The CBPP graph:
From Senator McCaskill’s August 10, 2010 town hall in Concordia, Missouri.