Return to Transcripts main page


Is Congress Ignoring Party Supporters?; House Passes Budget Deal

Aired December 12, 2013 - 18:28   ET



ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, whose priorities?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I came here to cut the size of government. That's exactly what this Bill does.

ANNOUNCER: But today's vote also means some jobless workers lose help and military pensions get trimmed.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: There are really some missed opportunities.

ANNOUNCER: Is Congress doing the will of the voters or ignoring them?

BOEHNER: Are you kidding me?

ANNOUNCER: On the left Stephanie Cutter. On the right, S.E. Cupp. In the CROSSFIRE, Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist, and Tim Phillips, a conservative activist.

Are both parties ignoring their most loyal supporters? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm S.E. Cupp on the right.

STEPHANIE CUTTER, CO-HOST: And I'm Stephanie Cutter on the left. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, political insiders from both parties.

We have some breaking news tonight. Just now, in a bipartisan vote, the House approved the deal keeping the government running and eliminating some of the most egregious automatic spending cuts.

Yes, there are real sacrifices on both sides of this deal. This is not a Bill that I would have written, but I also think it's time to govern. And this is what we call governing.

It's also the first time that Speaker Boehner demanded and received real sacrifice from his fellow Republicans, even though it means telling the fringes in his caucus no, and standing up to Tea Party groups to tell them to back off. I for one would like to congratulate the speaker for finally getting some backbone. CUPP: Oh, OK. Well, maybe it was at the expense of Nancy Pelosi's backbone.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Democratic strategist and CNN political commentator Paul Begala, who is no stranger to CROSSFIRE and loves our set. And conservative activist Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity.

Paul, let me start with you. House Democratic leaders got behind the budget deal without an extension on long-term unemployment insurance. I'm confused, and here's why. Listen to Nancy Pelosi last week.


PELOSI: We are making a very clear statement that we cannot -- cannot support a budget agreement that does not include unemployment insurance.


CUPP: OK. And this was Nancy Pelosi today on CNN.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So this morning you told your members, embrace the suck? That's a quote? That's a quote.

PELOSI: Yes. It's a quote, yes, but at the end of the day, we need to have a budget.


CUPP: So what happened? Why did she cave so fast?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Because reality sucks, reality bites, reality intrudes.

First up, I do. I love what you've done with the place.

CUPP: Oh, thank you. Good.

BEGALA: You and Steph have done a great job, and seriously I like what you're doing with the show.

CUPP: Good.

CUTTER: Thank you.

CUPP: We appreciate it.

BEGALA: It's a lot better than when I was running things.

PHILLIPS: I'm going to do some sucking up and say it's great, too. I think it's beautiful. I like it more than Paul.

CUPP: We'll have you both back. Don't worry, guys. BEGALA: But that's called leadership. Frankly John Boehner showed it, as well. Both parties' leaders. I know everybody likes to attack Washington, for good reason. Both parties' leaders stepped up today.

They don't love this deal. They probably don't even like it, but we have to fund the government. We don't want to put the country through what we went through a few months ago. So good for Nancy Pelosi. I want unemployment benefits extended. My suspicion is you will see stand-alone legislation, up or down, on that.

CUPP: Democrats have the leverage here. You needed Democrats to get this passed. I don't understand why she gave it up so quickly.

BEGALA: I think because we have to fund the government. And I think it was the right thing to do.

But you watch. They will be -- It will start in the Senate where the Democrats have control. There will be a separate stand-alone Bill to extend unemployment benefits if the Republicans at Christmastime want to tell 1.3 million Americans who are out of work that they're also out of luck. I think that would be a catastrophe for the Republicans.

CUTTER: Tim, Speaker Boehner had some harsh words for people like you, Tea Party groups, criticizing -- you came out quickly to criticize the budget deal. Let's take a listen at what he said earlier today.


BOEHNER: Groups come out and criticize an agreement that they've never seen. You begin to wonder just how credible those actions are.


CUTTER: I think he has a point. I think that...

PHILLIPS: Word began leaking out days before...


PHILLIPS: ... as to what this was going to include. It was going to blow through the sequestration numbers. It was going to probably have some kind of tax increase, increase, whatever the word of the day is for a tax increase.


PHILLIPS: So it was easy to know what was coming here. And I don't think that criticism has a lot of...

CUTTER: But you used to be able to tell Speaker Boehner what to do.

PHILLIPS: Well, remember, remember...

CUTTER: What changed? PHILLIPS: ... we did not support the defund strategy back in the fall. We felt that was not the right way to go. We did not support the effort that led to a shutdown. It wasn't the right way to go. So I don't think we -- I don't think he's talking about us in that regard.

But this is the typically gamesmanship. And the speaker, whether it's Pelosi at a certain time calling out groups on the left...

CUPP: Yes.

PHILLIPS: ... back in the old days of her speakership or not. It's not a big choice.

CUTTER: I've never seen Speaker Boehner like this. And as I said...

PHILLIPS: Oh, come on. He kind of gets emotional a lot.

CUTTER: I was happy to see it.


CUTTER: He does get -- He does get emotional a lot.

PHILLIPS: And that's not a criticism. He just does.

CUTTER: But usually that's sentimental. It's not off of...

PHILLIPS: Right. Maybe he has sentimental feelings towards our group. That's what.

CUPP: OK let's -- let's take Boehner off the couch.

Paul, I want to go back to unemployment insurance. Because for weeks, months, years, I've been told by Democrats that extending it is a moral imperative. In fact, especially at Christmastime.

Last week the president said that it's the difference between hardship and catastrophe for some families. So why is the president going to sign a Bill that he thinks is immoral, is against the values of your party, and why is he declaring it a victory?

BEGALA: Well, because, I may not like it, but the American people decided to put Republicans in charge of the House of Representatives. OK. They won fair and square, and then they got reelected fair and square. You know, I don't like it, but by the way, my guess is Tim and his friends don't like that our president was elected fair and square and reelected fair and square.


BEGALA: But the point behind compromise...

CUPP: Yes.

BEGALA: ... is it literally means -- it comes from Latin and the Old French which meant both sides made a promise to support something from a neutral arbiter. We don't have an arbiter now, but both sides have got to accept things that they really hate. That's, like, the essence of self-government here.

PHILLIPS: Paul, to your point. Back when the Budget Control Act was put together, that 967 number for this fiscal year was a compromise. The Republicans didn't get all they wanted on that number, and the president and his allies on the left did not get all they wanted. That 967 was a compromise then; it was a bipartisan agreement signed by the president.

That's why it's frustrating for a lot of Americans to suddenly hear that it's extreme, to somehow simply say keep your word, Congress, stick to this number and don't continue increasing government spending.

CUTTER: Yes. Well, remember when the Budget Control Act passed, the sequester was supposed to be a last resort. It was supposed to be a trigger if we couldn't come to a balanced deficit-reduction deal. So Democrats never liked these cuts, and we felt they were misplaced.

PHILLIPS: A lot of Republicans don't, either, Stephanie .

CUTTER: That's right. Absolutely, they were misplaced, and it was preventing some pretty core investments in things that we needed to grow.

So it was a last resort. It was a trigger. It wasn't supposed to happen. We were supposed to come to a bipartisan agreement on deficit reduction reform.

PHILLIPS: But you they still agreed to it, though.

CUTTER: They agreed to it, and it's been a drag on.

BEGALA: It was supposed to be a doomsday. This is where my fellow Democrats got it wrong. Because this worked in the past. Where we set up Gramm-Rudman-Hollings, which was a Republican as well as Democratic idea. Set up these doomsday machines that worked.

This time it didn't. And I think it's because Republicans have changed. Republicans used to be so strong on national defense that we Democrats believed they would never, never cut defense. And these cuts are savage to our defense budget. I'm not exactly a big hawk, but these have got to be restored, these cuts.

PHILLIPS: Only in Washington would they call it doomsday to cut three cents on the dollar from discretionary spending. Three cents on -- That's doomsday? That's why America has such low regard for America's political system and this Congress right now. And frankly, that's one of the reasons those numbers have dropped.

CUTTER: Let's talk about that. Let's talk about the low regard for this current Congress. I'm assuming that Americans for Prosperity, your group, has pretty low regard for Republicans right now.

PHILLIPS: We're frustrated.

CUTTER: A hundred and sixty-nine Republicans voted for this budget deal, which you were very much against.

What's the price for voting for this budget deal? Are you going to fund primaries or are you going to hold them accountable at the ballot box? What's the price?

PHILLIPS: We have not made any decisions on primaries for next year, but I'll say this. Since about August 1, our organization has spent roughly $15 million holding Democrats accountable on Obama care. Whether it's Senator Hagan in North Carolina, Begich in Alaska, or House members, as well. And thanking some Republican House members for doing the right thing and working to eliminate Obama care over the long term.

We're going to be equally aggressive in holding people accountable on the Republican side for this. And back this summer, the farm Bill was up and it was hot. We were very aggressive. We spent a lot of time, a lot of money, and activism, almost all focused on Republicans.

CUTTER: All Republicans, everybody?


CUTTER: Speaker Boehner just announced his reelection.


CUTTER: So are you going to hold him accountable? Are you going to run ads in Ohio?

PHILLIPS: You can't run ads in 435 districts unless you want to help us raise some money. I'm happy to take your help, by the way.

CUTTER: One sixty-nine plus one.

PHILLIPS: But, yes, we've run ads in Republican districts. As a matter of fact, we just finished ad buys on natural gas subsidies, which we oppose, corporate subsidies, all of this, in Republican districts across the country, as well. They don't get as much attention or a coverage as Obama care, but we absolutely do that.

CUPP: What about on the left? I mean, you know, I know the left seems to coalesce and forgive these transgressions witness the party a lot easier than the right does.

BEGALA: Right.

CUPP: So do you think there are going to be any consequences for seeming to cave on a couple of these issues on the left?

BEGALA: The Democrats did compromise, and no, I don't think. Right now -- this is almost unprecedented in my lifetime -- the Democrats are more mainstream and the Democrats are more unified. Generally, that has not been the case, frankly, in my lifetime. But the Democrats are not...


BEGALA: ... not young any more.

PHILLIPS: It's Democrats horrified over the embarrassing roll-out of Obama care. That's what's going on. OK? That's why they're suddenly united in trying to get beyond this thing. They know how bad things are because of Obama care. They're terrified, Paul. They're avoiding every fight.

BEGALA: They didn't -- in the '70s they would not have allowed a Democratic president, for example, to walk away from single payer health care and then walk away from a public option and take a Republican idea, a Republican idea, which is Obama care, which was Romney care. Before that it was Gingrich care. Come on.

PHILLIPS: The current system -- Obama care is Republican?

BEGALA: Obama care -- Obama care was conceived by the Heritage Foundation. It was midwifed by Newt Gingrich and it was reared by Mitt Romney.


PHILLIPS: I'm going to have to have Newt in here and ask him about midwifing this thing.

CUPP: We're going to get into Obama care. But first, nobody looks back at Bill Clinton and says, "Man that guy compromised too much." Next I'll ask Paul Begala whether the key to President Obama's success is caving more often.


CUPP: Welcome back. In the CROSSFIRE tonight Paul Begala and Tim Phillips.

Breaking news: The House just approved a budget deal where both party leaders are inviting the wrath of their grassroots supporters. The deal is meager, but because the two parties are so polarized, any bipartisanship seems significant and exceptional.

Now, divided government is nothing new. Paul Begala, you know that, because you worked in the Bill Clinton White House. Clinton would negotiate with Newt Gingrich all night long. He left office popular and with a surplus.

So Paul, you could make the argument that Democrats aren't going to punish Obama for compromising more. Why doesn't he do this more often?

BEGALA: Well, I think he's got no one to dance with. I mean, now Newt was no, like -- I wish he were to defend himself, but he was no great, you know, like, avatar of bipartisanship. OK?

CUPP: It seems like Democrats love him now, though.

BEGALA: I know. I still love him, because it's my duty to, as a fellow CNN employee. But no, he -- I don't know if it made the papers where you grew up, but they impeached his ass for no good reason, right? So we had hard partisanship.

And yet, still though, here's the difference. For example, one of Newt and President Clinton's seminal accomplishments was they doubled funding for cancer research and the National Institutes of Health. Why? Because Republicans get sick, too.

And Newt -- I will say this about him, he was always a forward-looking thinking. And he and Bill Clinton, even as they are cutting other things, even as they were raising some taxes, even as they were balancing the budget, they found common ground.

And I would love to see Speaker Boehner, Paul Ryan, join with President Obama -- Believe me, President Obama would do it in a heartbeat -- and double cancer research funding.

CUPP: But there's another way to see this.

BEGALA: It pays an awful lot. It's good for the economy.

CUPP: We had a Republican congressman on last night who said that this deal, this budget deal got done in spite of President Obama, because he wasn't involved. Is he relevant?

BEGALA: I think he's highly relevant.

CUPP: How so?

BEGALA: Well, there is this problem.

CUPP: Where does it end?

BEGALA: Actually this addresses Tim, too. Here's part of the problem, I think, for President Obama that President Clinton did not have: the Tea Party. So when -- the Tea Party, about 20 percent of the country, maybe 40, 50 percent of the Republican Party. And they really hate President Obama.

So the more he engages, President Obama, the more impossible it is for Tea Party Republicans to come on to something. He is --

PHILLIPS: No, Paul, that's always --


PHILLIPS: The anti-war folks hated Bush. They said vicious, awful, personal things about him.

CUPP: Terrible.

PHILLIPS: Think back to the Reagan years. I was a young man. I was scarred for life of what they said about my hero, Ronald Reagan. That's always been the case. I think that's overstated.

Look, the truth is President Clinton moved right. He did a historic welfare reform. That was hardly something that has been a dream of liberals. It was a conservative play. NAFTA, free trade, that was not something that his base wanted. The president --


CUPP: "Don't ask/don't tell."

BEGALA: He was always -- he campaigned in 1974 for Congress on the same agenda that he governed in the '90s. So, he didn't move, but he moved his party. This is what the Republicans need, if I could be bold. You all don't need a second Reagan. You need a second Clinton. Someone to bring into the mainstream --

PHILLIPS: We'll hold off. We'll hold on the second Clinton.

And the truth is, the generic ballot right now is favoring Republican. So, the Democrat Party is losing to a party that you're calling extreme, what does it make the Democrat at that point? They're losing on a generic ballot.

Now, part of it is because Obamacare is such a disaster. And you and I can both agree it is. We all know that. The American people now know it. That's why.

CUPP: The only thing polling worse than Obama is Obamacare.

CUTTER: And the only thing worse than Obamacare are Republicans.

PHILLIPS: The generic ballot, Stephanie, have you looked at that recently?


CUTTER: Well, the generic ballot test, where they're basically equally matched. What you guys have done is closed the gap.

But, Tim, you know, I have a question for you.


CUTTER: Following up on what Paul said, I've been doing campaigns for a long time.


CUTTER: I've seen you strike fear in some Republicans in 2010 and 2011 and 2012. But let's take a look at what's happening right now. You've spend millions of dollars on Obamacare. You haven't moved the numbers.

PHILLIPS: It's so bad it didn't get much worse.

CUTTER: Well -- PHILLIPS: It's so disastrous bad to try to move it below the basement.

CUTTER: What are you spending your money on? What are you spending your money on?

PHILLIPS: Make sure that gets remembered between now and next year.

CUTTER: You've lost some big races in the last election cycle. Now, you suffered a major loss in the House of Representatives, and ultimately hopefully in the Senate. Let's look at your poll numbers, because your favorable ratings are at 30 percent, which is a record low.

CUPP: But she doesn't mean you personally.

PHILLIPS: Who is your? My mom would --


PHILLIPS: Well, first of all, AFP has been around for a decade, all right?

CUTTER: That's a good point. They're not polling on you, Tim or AFP. But you are part of the Tea Party movement or is that not true? Is that not true?

PHILLIPS: We're a free market operation. We've always said we're free market operation. We've been around for a decade.

BEGALA: Then you got to love President Obama.

PHILLIPS: We do. We do. We love what he's doing for our movement, absolutely. Yes.


CUTTER: So, I mean, my question is, you are considered part of the Tea Party movement, more broadly, and you've lost the speaker of the House. It seems like you're losing the country. Where is your relevance here?

PHILLIPS: First of all, this is a temporary policy setback, and it is. There's no way to sugarcoat that. It is a defeat. It's a loss, federal spending says it's gone through the roof on this. And that's disappointing to see.

At the same time we're exactly where we want to be on the biggest issue in the country, where is Obama care. We're there. We're going to stay there. We're driving the debate on that.

And we're going to keep pointing out exactly the disaster to this legislation this law is, as it actually takes effect next year. I think that we'll be able to pivot to other issues as well as we move into next year.

But this --

CUTTER: But you're going to pivot to this budget deal against Republicans?

PHILLIPS: We are. We absolutely are, Stephanie. You look incredulous, but you didn't follow the farm bill debate back in the summer where we were in dozens of --

CUTTER: I'm not incredulous. I follow this very closely.

PHILLIPS: Well, I'm glad you did on that.

CUTTER: As I said, you seem to have struck fear.

PHILLIPS: We have. We have.

CUPP: Paul, let's talk about another disaster, entitlements. Nothing in this budget touches entitlement reform, which anyone who can add knows is a long term problem that has to be addressed. However in your party, you've got Elizabeth Warren and Third Way on opposite ends of this battle. Are you worried that entitlement reform over the next year or two or three is going to drive a wedge in your party?

BEGALA: A little, but it's not nearly the same. Put it this way. Like, am I concerned that like when I spend Christmas with my Republican brother, you would love him, total Republican, that we'll have a debate over dinner? We will, of course.

But the Republicans are having a Battle of Antietam, with thousands of people slaughtering each other in the fields. It's not the same. There's a (INAUDIBLE) on my side, but there's a civil war on Tim's side.

PHILLIPS: That's grossly exaggerated.


PHILLIPS: -- killing me.

I've been talking about the fact we hold both sides accountable. Much totally different.

Look at what the left has been doing. We talk about food stamp reform. We're going to get food stamp reform. That's going on happen next year. We're going to see that happen. It needs to happen.

BEGALA: Can I just on behalf of George Orwell ask you all to say cuts when you mean cuts and not say reform? You don't want a reform. You want to take away food stamps from homeless veterans who fought for their country.

You should describe it that way because that's what you're doing, man.

PHILLIPS: There are $80 billion a year being spent on food stamps for 50 million Americans. The same people running that program are the ones who brought us the Obamacare rollout. The same people. All we're saying is let's reform it.

CUPP: Inefficient.

PHILLIPS: Let's find a way to save 5 cents on the dollar.

CUPP: But the fact is --

PHILLIPS: Five cents on the dollar, if you want to roll out individual horror stories, we're going to provide a safety net. But to say you can't find 5 cents on a dollar in savings on a program that big and that bloated? By the same people who have destroyed (INAUDIBLE) Obamacare in the first two or three months of the rollout, I don't Americans are going to buy that Paul.

BEGALA: While protecting corporate welfare in that farm bill.

PHILLIPS: I will get rid of welfare, let's do it. Let's kill it. Let's get rid of it. We've run ads on that, too, in Republican districts.

Here's one for you. We've run ads in Iowa and Nebraska in Republican districts saying get rid of corporate welfare, because if you're going to get rid of social welfare, you have to get rid of the corporate welfare. We believe in that and we support that.

BEGALA: Any of the corporate welfare that like to say, pick a random company, Koch Industries gets?

PHILLIPS: Absolutely. We called repeatedly for getting rid of the ethanol subsidy. We want to get rid of the ethanol and oil subsidy.

BEGALA: How about those energy subsidies, oil company subsidies for example?



PHILLIPS: You're welcome to support us, OK, but they're not, because we want to get rid of all the subsidies across the board.

BEGALA: That's an honorable position. We want a level playing field. That includes ag subsidies.

CUTTER: Can we work with you on that?


PHILLIPS: Yes. Yes, you can, as long as you include food stamp as well.


PHILLIPS: Yes. And wind subsidies and solar. How about that, too?

CUTTER: Stay here. This is a great debate.

Next, the final question for both our guests and we'll continue the discussion we've been having.

We also want you at home to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question. Does the budget deal represent a new era of bipartisanship in Washington? I certainly hope so. Tweet yes or no using #crossfire. We'll have the results after the break.


CUTTER: We're back with Paul Begala and Tim Phillips.

Now, it's time for the final question. Tim, I'm going to give my final question to you.


CUTTER: Shocker. And I know you're going to be shocked by what my question is going to be about, about Obamacare.

And we probably have not spent enough time in this show talking about it for you. So, your group has spent millions, and you just said you're going to spend millions of dollars trying to defeat Obamacare. Obamacare has been defeated.

We're getting news every day that more and more people are signing up. More than a million people have already signed up. There is momentum and it's only going to grow.


CUTTER: So, by Election Day, 2014. You are -- I believe you're putting Republicans in a box because they're going to be running against a program that millions of people are going to be benefiting on. Not in terms of bans on preexisting conditions, discrimination, or putting their health care on until they're 26 or no lifetime limits. If you get breast cancer, you don't have to live in fear of hitting your limit and not being able to get your care, but people are actually getting their private insurance through these exchanges.

So, Republicans will be running against that. They'll want to take that away for people and they have no plan. So, that's a terrible box to be in.

PHILLIPS: To quote Ron Burgundy, it's a box of emotion, perhaps. Maybe that's it.

CUTTER: Nice job.

PHILLIPS: Thank you.

Let's remember, the number right now -- 5 million Americans have lost health insurance that they were happy about.

CUTTER: And they're getting -- PHILLIPS: Less than a million, it's about 400,000 have signed up through this disastrous Web site, and most of those haven't even paid yet, because they can't because the back end doesn't work on the Web site that was built to actually process the payments. So, that number is the starting point. Wait until January kicks in and, suddenly, your deductible is through the roof. About 42 percent higher, thus far, according to independent studies.

And, wait until you can't see the doctor you want see and wait until you have to drive an hour past three hospitals to get the --

CUPP: OK, Paul, I've got to get Paul in here.

PHILLIPS: I'm sorry.

CUPP: Speaker Pelosi and Debbie Wasserman Schultz have all insisted that Democrats are going to run on Obamacare. By gosh, we hope they do. Are they serious?

BEGALA: Oh, yes. I would advise the same thing.

CUPP: Including Mark Pryor, and Mary Landrieu to run on Obamacare.

BEGALA: Here's why -- oh, yes.


BEGALA: It's just what Step said. The politics of this are shifting.

Eighty-five percent of us, Tim, we don't have to go on a Web site so that my mama gets mammograms under Medicare. She doesn't have to go on a Web site to get it.

My daddy gets that donut hole closer because prescription drugs are cheaper. He doesn't have to go on a Web site to get it.

PHILLIPS: They already have that.


CUPP: But, Paul, your mama and your daddy aren't the people that Obamacare needs to make it profitable and successful. They need people in my generation and younger.

BEGALA: We need the young invincibles who Barack Obama has a special appeal with. These guys don't understand it.

CUPP: Not anymore. He is losing them in droves.

BEGALA: I am telling you, if you want to go back to insurance companies denying you because of a preexisting condition, you're going to lose on that.

CUPP: OK, we've go to go.

Thanks to Paul Begala and Tim Phillips. What a great show. Go to our Facebook or Twitter to weigh in on our "Fireback" question. Does budget deal recommend a new era of bipartisanship in Washington? Right now, 18 percent say yes, and 82 percent say no.

Oh, my God. That's sad.

CUTTER: The debate continues online at, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

From the left, I'm Stephanie Cutter.

CUPP: From the right, I'm S.E. Cupp.

Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.