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How Can Washington Help Create Jobs?; Is Obama a Lame Duck President?; Interviews With Senators Ben Cardin and John Barrasso

Aired January 13, 2014 - 18:28   ET



ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE: fighting for middle-class jobs and helping people who've lost their jobs.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: We waste so much time.

ANNOUNCER: Why is it taking so long? What are the biggest hurdles?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We think we have better ideas.

ANNOUNCER: On the left, Van Jones. On the right, Kevin Madden. In the CROSSFIRE, Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, and Senator John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming. What can Washington do to help you get a better job? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


KEVIN MADDEN, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Kevin Madden on the right.

VAN JONES, CO-HOST: And I'm Van Jones on the left.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, we've got two senators. They've got different ideas about how to help the middle class. But one thing that we all know would help a lot: extending the unemployment benefits. But a little over an hour ago, thanks to the Republicans, the key vote was delayed again.

Now, look, after listening to Senate Republicans all afternoon, I think the Golden Globes got it wrong last night. I think the Washington Republicans should have won for best acting. All these false tears over the jobs numbers, but they won't pass a jobs bill, they won't extend help for active job seekers and, worse, cutting the jobless benefits would suck billions of dollars out of our economy and wipe out another quarter million jobs.

So why this crazy masquerade? In the end they're just hoping you're going to blame Obama for everything and give the Republicans some more power. Now that's what I call some great acting.

MADDEN: You know, Van, in order to believe anything you just said, you'd have to act as if President Obama wasn't president for the last five years. So in the spirit of you mentioning the Golden Globes, I'd say that's "American Hustle." JONES: Oh, we came to play!

Well, in the CROSSFIRE tonight, Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland and Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming.

Kevin, since you're the guest host tonight, I'll let you go first.

MADDEN: Thank you, sir.

Senator Cardin, aren't we getting mixed messages from the Democrats? On the one hand, we say that the economy is coming back. The White House when the jobs numbers came in last week, touting all these good numbers.

And then on the other hand, you say, well, we have so much economic distress right now that we have to spend a lot of money on unemployment benefits. So which is it?

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Well, we've made progress. We've created 2 million jobs over in 2013 -- over the last four years, 8 million jobs have been created. So we're certainly moving in the right direction, but we have to do a lot more. People still cannot find employment. So we've got to create more job, more job opportunities.

Extending unemployment benefits should be the first thing we do, shouldn't it? Should have been a no-brainer. That just continues to help families that are suffering where people are looking for work.

And what the Republicans are suggesting is, "OK, we'll extend it, but we want to offset the cost." Well, that just takes money out of the economy when you're trying to build jobs. Doesn't really make a lot of sense.

What we want to see is a balanced approach where we invest in job growth. That means, yes, we invest in roads and bridges and in our energy grid system and research and education. That will help create jobs, but you need a balanced budget to do that.

JONES: Senator, everything he just said makes perfectly good sense to me. I think 97 percent of people listening would say amen to what he just said. I don't understand why we can't get this done.

You guys on the Republican side are going to have to give in on the unemployment insurance. You know it's true. That's why this vote's getting kicked back. Why don't we just go ahead and get this thing done rather than terrifying all the American families who are afraid they're not able to get the support they deserve?

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: A lot of American families are also worried about their kids and grandkids in terms of the debt. And to just throw this additional spending is borrowing more money against our kids and grandkids is something that does worry a lot of Americans.

When somebody loses their job, you want to help them. We have a social safety net out there. People get coverage for the first 26 weeks, so everybody gets that. And then the question is what additional -- this has been an emergency effort. And to try to extend that is something I actually support, but we need to modify the program and cut other areas of spending to do it.

Now I thought we were going to vote on this last week. The Republicans have a number of amendments. Harry Reid has blocked voting on each one of those amendments. I thought we were going to vote tonight. He has now stopped that, because he's trying to work on a solution. This is the interesting part.

And Ben and I worked together. We were on the foreign relations committee together. We're on the environment and public works committee together. We work well together. And I believe he would agree with me that it seems absurd that we, as Republicans, have only been able to offer on the floor of the United States Senate four amendments for a vote since last July. Four since last July.

And Harry's writing these things behind closed doors. You guys haven't had many to offer yourself. You've been blocked just as much as I have.

CARDIN: There needs to be more comity between the Democrats and the Republicans. There's no question there's too much partisanship in the Senate and Washington when you do that. But what I don't understand, that when George W. Bush was president, we extended unemployment benefits. We didn't look for ways of offsetting it, because we knew that during good times we collected money in the unemployment insurance funds to use when we're in a recession, that we didn't have to offset these costs.

Now all of a sudden the ground rules are changing, which are not only hurting families but hurting our economy. Why did you change the ground rules here?

BARRASSO: As you know the biggest problems is there aren't jobs for these people. The jobs numbers in December were terrible. The fewest number of jobs created over the last three years. I mean, that is the real problem here.

Even in the health-care field, where Nancy Pelosi said pass the health-care law, it would be 4 million jobs, 400,000 immediately. They actually lost jobs in the health-care field in December, according to the jobs numbers lost in doctors' offices and hospitals, as well as home health care.

So there are huge concerns with the economy. And you and I agree that, if somebody is out of work, that impacts their health. That impacts the way they think about themselves, their identity. We need to try to find ways for people to get back to work. I want to extend the unemployment benefits, but I want to do it with paying for it by cutting other spending. And the Americans know there's enough waste --

MADDEN: This brings me to a point -- this brings me to a point, Senator Cardin. Look, and this is just to show that this is not partisan. Not just Republicans, they think the economy is bad. Let's look at this CNN/ORC poll that we've got up.

We asked people about the economic conditions today. Thirty-two percent rated it as good. Only -- and 68 percent rated it as poor. This is -- what this poll shows us is that we've got a level of what I would describe as economic exasperation that hasn't budged in the last five years since President Obama's been in office.

CARDIN: No question --

MADDEN: How do we address it?

CARDIN: There's no question we've got to do better. President Obama, we have created jobs. We have turned the corner. President Obama inherited a real mess. We are now moving in the right direction. But we have to do a lot better.

That's why we want to make college education more available for middle income families. Too many have to sacrifice a college education for their children. That's why we want to make health care affordable.

MADDEN: Is there anything that we can do beyond just -- I understand the Democrats always want this top-down approach where we're going to spend government money. Is there anything that we can do structurally to the economy outside of just government spending that can help create more jobs?

CARDIN: Absolutely. Absolutely.

MADDEN: Outside of government spending.

CARDIN: A reasonable budget policy that brings in the revenue we need and responsibly reduces the budget deficit, a balance somewhat similar to what Simpson-Bowles was recommending but includes both revenues and spending reductions. That would generate so much activity it would help give predictability to the private sector and help unleash, we think, a great deal of investing --

BARRASSO: You say make health care more affordable. This health-care bill has done anything but that. What we're seeing is people noticing their premiums going up by a lot. The sticker shock that's hitting people. We're seeing people losing their doctor, losing their coverage, worried about identity theft. Higher co-pays, higher out- of-pocket money, higher deductibles.

JONES: First of all --

BARRASSO: All of these things are hurting the economy more than helping.

JONES: You get it then I get it.

CARDIN: The rate of health-care costs have gone down.

JONES: Thank you.

CARDIN: The rate of growth of health-care costs have gone down. BARRASSO: So they're gone up, but --

CARDIN: Rather dramatically over the historic levels. The fact that more people can now find coverage that covers pre-existing conditions; the fact that seniors now have coverage for prescription drug better than they had before, we've made a lot of progress.

JONES: And let me ask you a question.

BARRASSO: Health care may have gone up, but that's been going on for five years --

JONES: Here's the thing.

BARRASSO: Going on for five years. Obama care had nothing to do with that. It was happening anyway, the slow growth. Some of it was drugs. I'm a doctor, practiced medicine a long time. Some are doctor -- are pharmaceuticals that have come off and are now generics like Plavix for heart conditions and heart medicine.

JONES: I appreciate your willingness to be on the Obama care bandwagon. That's a lot of what you guys talk about.

But here's my problem. I want to show you some numbers. Let me show you some numbers. When people ask ordinary people who actually cares about you, has concern and compassion, 45 percent say it's the Democrats. Only 17 percent say Republicans.

So when you guys come on here and you attack the only program that's been put you forward to try to do something about the health-care crisis that was going on before Obama got here, you're attacking Food Stamps, you're reluctant to do anything about unemployment insurance, how is this helping your party to deal with this brand problem you have as a party that doesn't care?

Mitt Romney was put forward as a candidate. People said he didn't care. They said your party doesn't care. How is this helping you, attacking these middle-class programs.

BARRASSO: I think that the president has attacked the middle class in this country. The middle class has been harmed during the Obama economy terribly. And the health-care law is No. 1.

"The Washington Post" had a story two days ago, the second wave of cancellations. And the people that are going to get hit, it said, are the 20 million Americans, middle-class Americans who get their insurance through small businesses, groups of 50 or less.


JONES: More insurance and better insurance in the exchanges.

BARRASSO: More expensive and not better.

Better by the president's -- perhaps better by the president's definition, but making somebody who's had a hysterectomy buy coverage to deliver babies isn't necessarily helping --

CARDIN: Let me ask John a question. Would you repeal the provision that allows those with pre-existing conditions to be able to get full coverage?

BARRASSO: Not at all. You know, my wife is a breast cancer survivor --

CARDIN: How do you get there if you don't bring everybody into the system? If you don't bring everybody into the system, those that are the sickest will always join the system. Those that are healthy will not.

So how do you do a system that everyone can get full coverage, no pre- existing condition, you want to make it affordable, but those that are young and healthy say, "Gee, why should I bother to get insurance? I don't need it."

BARRASSO: You don't destroy something that works for 85 percent of the people to deal specifically with a different issue that you want to help people with pre-existing -- my wife's had three operation, chemotherapy twice, and I know as well as a doctor as well as a husband what's involved with pre-existing conditions.

You were in the state legislature. I was in the state Senate in Wyoming. We had a high risk pool to help those people. Affordable insurance for them. But we didn't have to try to destroy the entire system for everybody else. And what we have is a transfer of wealth going on in this country as a result.

MADDEN: Stay here. We are not going to solve this in the next 30 seconds, but we will try when we come back.

President Obama has a Hillary Clinton problem again. I'll give you my theory about it next.


MADDEN: Welcome back. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Democratic Senator Ben Cardin and Republican Senator John Barrasso.

Well, a little over an hour ago, the Senate abruptly stopped a vote on extending unemployment benefits. Now, is this more proof that Washington is so dysfunctional that we can't even find a way to solve the small stuff? Or is there a larger truth at play here? Are Republicans and even some Democrats simply waiting out this presidency?

Both inside Washington and out, more people are focused on what Hillary Clinton would or wouldn't do as president than they are about what this current president can accomplish in the final three years of his term.

So, Senator Cardin, are we -- I hate to use the term "lame duck" just yet, but are we past the point of no return with this president, with getting something big done during his presidency? CARDIN: Absolutely not. We have to get things accomplished. For example, the Senate passed immigration reform. That's very important to America to get that bill done. We're going to push for that this year. And we think we can get it done.

There are a lot of areas that this Congress is going to move forward to get things accomplished, on the verge of getting a budget enacted. We hope that will happen as early as this week.

So, no, this Congress needs to deal with the underlying problems that are affecting the middle class and our economy and our national security and the election will take care of itself. We have a midterm election.

MADDEN: We do have a midterm election.


CARDIN: Very early for the next presidential --

MADDEN: Midterm elections and also the president's agendas depend on something very big here, which I think the president doesn't have, which is popularity in the polls. We've seen his numbers --

CARDIN: Oh, they go up and down.

MADDEN: No, we've seen them go down and they've stayed down in the 40s.

Does that become a problem, though? Because in order to get things done, as we both, as we all know, up on Capitol Hill, that you have to be able to marshal some big grand coalitions. And with, in order to do that, you do need a certain level of popularity.

CARDIN: Popularity numbers go up and down and it's the issues. And it's the president's has the respect of the American people, has the respect of Congress to get things accomplished. He stood up for major issues international as well as domestic. No, I think we're serious about working --

JONES: I agree with you -- listen, Senator, I mean, speaking of issues, the public is actually with the president on numerous issues from immigration to minimum wage, et cetera.

But I want to -- you said something the last block that I want to come back to as we're talking about Washington being functional. You said the Obama economy, as if Obama is somehow directly able to direct this economy. The last time President Obama -- I saw him at a signing ceremony, he had black hair and he looked like Tiger Woods. OK?

You know, it's been three years since you guys have been able to work with him or willing to work with him to get anything done. To me, it's not the Obama economy. It's the obstruction economy.

At what point are you going to find something you can work with this president on to get something done for the American people. It seems to me --


JONES: -- are just waiting him out.

BARRASSO: There are bipartisan things that Republicans and Democrats agree ought to be done to help the economy, and number one is the Keystone XL Pipeline. The president looked me in the eye earlier this past year and said by January 1st, I will make a decision and you will know what it is.

Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly support this. He has done nothing. Republicans and Democrats agree with repealing the health -- the tax on medical devices. Republicans and Democrats agree on sanctions against Iran. These are being blocked from votes in the United States Senate.

But what we're seeing are additional regulations coming out of this president that are making it harder and more expensive for the private sector to put people to work which is why the polling shows --

JONES: So what's wrong with America is President Obama, is that right, Senator Cardin?

CARDIN: And every opportunity you've had, the Republicans have had, they've tried to block this administration from getting things done. They've tried to take the Environmental Protection Agency, take the resources away from it, put restrictions on what they can do.

There's a denial about climate change. There was a rider that said the administration couldn't regulate carbon even though the courts have already ruled on this issue.

There's been the re-litigation of the Affordable Care Act, even though it's the law of the land. There's been no --


BARRASSO: The president doesn't act like it's the law of the land. He changed it 14 different times.

CARDIN: There's been no cooperation whatsoever.

I just -- let me just give you one example of a contrast here. When Medicare Part D was passed, strong initiative by a Republican president, most Democrats opposed it.


CARDIN: I opposed it because I wanted a public option. I wanted it to be paid for. I wanted discounts for pharmaceutical drugs. None of that was included in the legislation.

But the day after it passed, we worked together to make it work. Affordable Care Act passed three years ago. Where are the Republicans -- (CROSSTALK)

BARRASSO: No interest in hearing any of the ideas.


BARRASSO: He doesn't act like it's the law. Fourteen times he's changed it. He said, no, don't pay attention to this part. Just forget about this part. I'm just going to push this off to the side.

CARDIN: Why wouldn't you work with us to make this work rather than sticking to this one-liner that we're going to repeal the program? I asked you about the pre-existing condition. You said, no, you like that. I don't know how you feel about Medicare Part D. I don't know how you feel about preventative care. But why can't you sit down --

BARRASSO: I'm saying you could do it without interrupting the life of so many Americans.

CARDIN: Why can't we sit down and work on this? You asked the question as to who's fault this is. Look, there's too much partisanship in Washington. No question on both sides of the aisle. We've got to work together.

These are issues that affect America, affect the middle class and to answer your question, we've got to use every opportunity, including 2014, to move forward with these agendas.

BARRASSO: Well, to answer your question there (ph), this president is a lame duck legislative president. The last year, there has been -- under the Senate, under Harry Reid, has not passed one appropriations bill. They should have passed 12. They have not passed one jobs bill.


BARRASSO: Not one.

JONES: Funny you mention the jobs bill. The president put forward a jobs bill, the American Jobs Act, with nothing but Republican ideas in it, every single ideas. You guys wouldn't support him on that.

You guys will not support the president when he puts forward Republican ideas.

MADDEN: We've got -- we've got -- there are 15 bills that the House passed that are sitting over in the Senate -- which brings to my next question, Senator Cardin.

You mentioned there is enough partisanship to go around. Let's look at Harry Reid. Harry Reid is not blameless in the process. We do have a very poisonous environment. We did see the political op-ed today by Mitch McConnell, where he essentially said Harry Reid blew up the Senate.

What's your response to that? Would you -- is this the message that you would take to your own leader?

CARDIN: No, I don't believe that. I believe that the Republicans forced the change in the practice of the Senate so we could confirm appointments. The president, any president whether Democrat or Republican deserves to have, routinely, up or down votes on his appointments or her appointments. And that's good whether it is Republican president and Democratic Congress or there's a Democratic president and a Republican Congress, we should be taking up nominations. We couldn't get votes on it. It was obstructed by a record number of filibusters by the Republicans.

Harry Reid has a responsibility to the American people as the leader of the Senate, the majority leader, to make sure we take up issues.

JONES: Do you disagree with that?

BARRASSO: I think -- Ben and I worked together as a group of eight senators to try to keep a rule section together so that the Senate could continue to function. And Harry Reid told us he would abide by that for two years. That was less than a year ago. This past summer, he said he will not blow up the Senate.

He cannot be trusted. His word cannot be trusted, which is a big problem when he decided in November to change the rule. He broke the rules to change the rules.

JONES: Well --

BARRASSO: And as a result, the fact that this administration's legislative history is done. The president is a legislative lame duck. And his only hope is to appoint liberals to agencies --


CARDIN: The majority leader doesn't need me to defend him. But let me just say this -- I was part of that group. I was proud to be part of that group. We thought we had reached comity on issues.

In reality, the agreement that we reached was not carried out by the Republicans, and that they would allow routine votes. So many judgments were being held up. So many nominations were being held up. Harry Reid said clearly that he wants it to work.

BARRASSO: These are judges that President Bush couldn't get in place because the Democrats blocked him when he was president, the same vacancies, which is why the Supreme Court had a hearing about recess appointments today.


JONES: Listen, when we come back -- I'm going to get -- but when we come back, we're going to have the final question for both of our guests.

I also want you at home to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question. Will the economy improve in 2014? I want you to tweet yes or no using #crossfire. We'll give you the results when we get back from this break.


JONES: We are back with Senators Ben Cardin and John Barrasso.

Now, it's time for the final question.

Now, to you. You mentioned the Keystone Pipeline which I think is a myth in terms of job creation. But since we talk about oil and gas, would you be willing to pay for this unemployment insurance by taking away the $10 billion of unnecessary corporate welfare for oil and gas companies?

BARRASSO: I'll tell you what I would say is, there is so much oil and gas on public lands that just allowing us to explore for that, the tax revenue alone would cover that. But the president continues to block all of these sources of energy --


JONES: Up or down on getting rid of corporate welfare, $10 billion worth of --

BARRASSO: Those are people's jobs that are at stake and the president's policies continue to hurt the middle class. His health care policies, his environmental policies help or not helping the middle class or hurting them.

JONES: Thank you, Senator.

MADDEN: Senator Cardin, a number of times earlier you referenced President George W. Bush when you're talking about the economy.

Is it finally now that President Bush is in the rear view mirror, is it finally President Obama's economy?

CARDIN: Well, I said was President Obama inherited. He inherited an economy --

MADDEN: It's five years now.

CARDIN: I know, but he --

MADDEN: This is the Obama economy.

CARDIN: It was his responsibility to turn it around. I think his policies have turned the economy in the right direction. What we need to do is build more jobs.

MADDEN: So, it's the Obama economy?

CARDIN: I think it's our economy.

JONES: Well, and I -- since we have a little extra second here, don't you think Republicans take more responsibility for not finding at least one or two signature issues to work with this president on? BARRASSO: Well, I think Republicans want to work with this president. As a doctor I wanted to work with him on health care. He rejected all of the ideas that the Republicans brought. He continues to say Republicans don't have ideas in spite of the fact we have a number of different proposals out there and he will not meet with us.

JONES: Well, very good. We've got to get you guys both back in here. We have so many more questions we want to talk to you about.

I want to thank you, Senators Ben Cardin and John Barrasso.

And you can go to Facebook or Twitter back home to weigh in on our "Fireback" question. Will the economy improve in 2014?

Right now, 37 percent of you say yes, but 63 percent say no.

The debate will continue online at, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

From the left, I'm Van Jones.

MADDEN: And from the right, I'm Kevin Madden.

Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.