Neera Tanden, president of the Democratic-Party aligned Center for American Progress, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that two pollsters’ idea of President Barack Obama stepping aside to let Hillary Clinton run for the White House is “ridiculous.”
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We’re joined by the new president of the Center for American Progress, Neera Tanden. Neera, thank you for being with us.
NEERA TANDEN: Great to be with you, Al.
HUNT: You are now the head of probably the most politically connected Democratic think tank in America and you’re talking about coming up with some big and bold ideas. Give us a couple.
TANDEN: Well, first of all, we’re a progressive think tank so we work on issues across the spectrum. I think the biggest priority issue for us will be being ready for 2013. I think the president will be re-elected, so we want to be ready for a set of proposals. Obviously we’re going to be focused on economic growth and proposals to ensure that we are building demand in our economy and strengthening the economy, but we want to look longer-term because those issues that focus on how can America be the most competitive country, and ensure that we have growth for everyone.
HUNT: But given the fiscal constraints, severe fiscal constraints, that really makes a progressive agenda very, very difficult, doesn’t it?
TANDEN: See, I think that that is a false choice. I think what we are trying to do is ensure that there is real growth, and growth, if we have growth in our economy that actually ensures that we have better deficit reduction, more deficit reduction. So I think when the president is investing $400 billion now in ways to create jobs, and we hope to build on that, that’s a way that we can actually ensure that we have deficit reduction that’s working for everyone.
HUNT: The Republicans say the way to growth is simple. You just cut taxes.
TANDEN: Well, that’s true, but the challenge the Republicans have is that facts aren’t really on their side. We had massive tax cuts over the last decade, and wages actually fell for the first time. We have the worst growth of any period since the 1940s, 1930s, in the last decade. And that’s a time where we have cut taxes dramatically. And so I think the challenge for Republicans is that they have to move beyond their tax ideology, because it doesn’t actually work to create jobs.
HUNT: If you could start all over again, would you have what might be called a progressive value-added tax instead of the income and payroll tax?
TANDEN: I think that there is much to be said for a value- added tax. At this point it would be extremely disruptive. It would probably create better incentives over the long term, but I think we have to recognize that, at this point, it would be that that’s a big haul for tax reform.
HUNT: So we’re not going to get that.
TANDEN: I don’t think we’ll get broad-scale value-added tax. We might get a small VAT that pays for something in particular, like health care or some other initiative, but I don’t think we would transform our income tax and our corporate tax code into a VAT.
HUNT: Speaking of health care, you have said that people want to move on, but the Supreme Court is not moving on. They are going to move to it. They are going to decide whether the law is constitutional or not. You again think it’s more likely that they’ll uphold the law, but if they throw it out, if they throw out this law as unconstitutional and the mandate, what are the implications?
TANDEN: Well, I think first and foremost if they do anything, they’ll throw out the mandate. So the rest of the law will stay in place. And I think the big challenge we’ll have is that the law will become more expensive in the sense that for each person insured, it will be more money from the federal government, so it will be more inefficient but the whole law will still stay in place. And I think the challenge for the Supreme Court and for conservatives in general is that if the court, through active judicial activism, overthrows a properly enacted law enacted by Congress and by the president, I think you’ll see progressives and Democrats recognize that the court is on to the ballot box, and it will actually create more political interest in changing the court in the future from the progressive side.
HUNT: You mean different appointments, not packing the court or -
TANDEN: Yes, no, no, different appointments, obviously.
HUNT: You’re a Yale Law School graduate, so you know these issues. Critics say if the government can mandate you to have health insurance, they can mandate you to eat broccoli, they can mandate you to do all kinds of things.
TANDEN: Well, I think that has been straw man because health care is different from every other issue, every other part of the economy, in the sense that the government today that has a simple rule which says that if you’re sick or dying that the hospitals have to cover you. That’s not true for broccoli or for Nintendos or iPads.
TANDEN: And so the government has made that distinction that health care is different from, like, everything and from everything else, because it’s almost it’s a right to be able to have care. And so we’ve already made that distinction. So I think it’s very, it’s very different from broccoli or anything else, and that’s why a mandate is appropriate, because I end up paying when uninsured people don’t have health care.
HUNT: You also worked in the Clinton, or in the Clinton White House, and you work in the Obama White House. Why does this White House, the Obama White House, seem so insular? Every Democrat I talk to privately says that.
TANDEN: Well, I think the thing is the president has had a group of people that have been with him for a very long time. And he has not - he has been in politics for a while, but he hasn’t been in politics decade after decade after decade, like a lot of presidents. And so I think he’s particularly comfortable with his group of advisers, but I would say I actually have felt over the last year that the president and the White House have been reaching out more and trying to get advice from a broader spectrum of -
HUNT: They reach out to you over at CAP?
TANDEN: Yes, they do. They do, they do.
HUNT: Do you think he would do, be well advised to reach out more to one of his predecessors, Bill Clinton?
TANDEN: Oh, I think he is reaching out more to Bill Clinton. They’ve -
HUNT: A little bit.
TANDEN: They saw - they play golf.
HUNT: Well, one golf, right? I knew you’d say that.
TANDEN: Five hours on the golf course with Bill Clinton is, I’m sure, there is a lot of advice given there.
TANDEN: So I think they are actually trying to reach out more of the president and get advice, President Clinton. He has a lot great campaign advice and great policy advice. So I think they are actually trying to do more and more of that.
HUNT: Two anti-Obama pollsters, both professed Democrats, Patrick Caddell and Douglas Schoen, wrote an op-ed in the right- wing Wall Street Journal the other day, calling on Obama not to seek re-election and turn it over to another one of your bosses, Hillary Clinton. What did you think of that article?
TANDEN: I thought it was fascinating that the right uses Hillary against Obama. I feel like that’s exactly what that was about. It was actually just the president’s political enemies using Hillary as a battering ram against him. And I think the idea the president is doing well in the polls, who has a good job for the American people, who has faced tremendous odds, has actually passed historic legislation, health care reform, and a range of other issues, that not to seek re-election is ridiculous to me. And I think the only people that that serves is very conservative Republicans.
HUNT: OK. And your -
TANDEN: Although she would be great as president, but I think he’s doing a great job.
HUNT: Neera Tanden, the head of CAP, thank you so much for being with us.
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