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U.S. Government Spending Its Way to Disaster?; Build the Pipeline?

Aired February 4, 2014 - 18:28   ET




ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, a devastating new report predicts out-of-control spending that could impact millions of workers just as Senate Democrats and Republicans agree on more spending.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: How are we supposed to restore the American people's confidence with this monstrosity?

ANNOUNCER: What's wrong with Washington's priorities?

On the left, Van Jones. On the right, S.E. Cupp. In the CROSSFIRE, Senator Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, and Senator Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican. Spending our way to disaster tonight on CROSSFIRE.


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

S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: I'm S.E. Cupp on the right. We have two senators in the CROSSFIRE tonight. Democrats suffered a major blow to their 2014 prospects today when the single worst possible election-year headline emerged from Capitol Hill, a damning report saying now that the Affordable Care Act will reduce full-time employment by the equivalent of about 2.5 million jobs by 2024.

Now, there is a lot of back and forth about what's actually in this report, so let me just read it to you.


CUPP: "The ACA will reduce the total number of hours worked, on net, by about 1.5 percent to 2 percent from 2017 to 2024. Almost entirely because workers will choose to supply less labor given the new taxes and other incentives they will face and the financial benefits some will receive."

So in plain English, Obama care will disincentivize work.

President Obama is desperately trying to distract you from the fact. In a recent Google hangout, a fry cook named Darnel Summers (ph) asked the president about his hours getting cut back because of the Affordable Care Act. Obama's response: raise the minimum wage.

What? What? Someone put those two together for me.

JONES: Well, first of all, that's obviously one way of looking at it. I have some other plain English I'd like to give you, what this actually means. This means that people who are stuck in horrible jobs and are only hanging on because they need the health care can make other choices. A mom can stay home with her kids. A 59-year-old guy with a bad back can get another job. He can move to a different job.

CUPP: In this economy? They can afford to do that?

JONES: People have more choices. Guess what? We give people health security. They have more freedom. We're going to debate that. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, we've got Democratic Senator Jon Tester of Montana and Republican Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi.

We want to get into this report. But I want to make sure there's some other stuff in this report that you may have overlooked that I think I want to get your response to.

On page 107 of the report, it says, "The insurance coverage provisions of the ACA will markedly increase the number of non-elderly people who have health insurance by about 13 million in 2014, 20 million in 2015, and 25 million in each subsequent year through 2024." Says right there.

Now, are you so opposed to this brilliant breakthrough for the American people you're going to take that health care away from America?

SEN. ROGER WICKER (R), MISSISSIPPI: Are you talking to me?

JONES: I am because I'm excited.

WICKER: We have 30 million people uninsured before Obama care was passed. When it's all said and done, we're going to have 30 million or more people uncovered.

And so -- and also I have to say I know you read the report. It just came out today. I only got to page 103. So -- but what I do want to talk about: the labor participation rate, which is as bad as it's been since Jimmy Carter was president.

And what CBO says is that 2.2 million fewer Americans will choose to participate in the labor force because of that. And I think that's a bad statistic.

CUPP: Well, Van thinks that's good news.

JONES: I really do because--

CUPP: Freedom?

JONES: But listen, I -- this is something I think we haven't -- we haven't gotten into well enough. CUPP: Please do.

SEN. JON TESTER (D), MONTANA: The report doesn't say we're going to decrease by 2.4 million. What it's going to say is not businesses are going to lay people off, but people are going to choose to be able to go to college, get better training for the work force, because they're not going to be locked into a job where, if they leave that job they lose their health care.

CUPP: No one said they're going to be laid off. We were very clear--


TESTER: I want to be clear this is about consumer choice.


TESTER: I have a friend who has childhood diabetes who was locked into -- he cannot get out of a job. If he leaves that job, he will not have health care, in the old system. Now, he has flexibility. He can be an entrepreneur. He can start up a new job. He can stay home with the kids. He can do whatever he wants.

CUPP: OK. I appreciate--

JONES: Thank you, Obama care. Thank you, Obama care.

WICKER: Good for people participating in the labor force. This is going to reduce that by over--

CUPP: Five million people who cannot -- who have decided not to look for work. And you think this is by choice, and now they're going to have more choice?

TESTER: No, no, no, no. They're going to have -- they're going to have flexibility in their lives. They're not going to be locked into a job and if they leave, they could get sick and lose everything.

CUPP: OK. I appreciate you, Senator Tester and Van Jones trying to spin the good news out of this terrible report. But this is really -- this is really the bill that you voted for, the bill that your colleague in Montana, Senator Baucus, called a train wreck. This is something you want to go home to constituents and sell as good news?

TESTER: Absolutely.

CUPP: OK, good.

TESTER: No. You take a look at where we were. We were in a situation -- and by the way, I was in the situation where I didn't have health insurance. Every pain I got I thought was something that was going to be terminal, worried about getting in an accident on the farm and not only lose a lifetime that I have of building wealth, but my folks, my grandparents, do. That's not right.

This bill gives people flexibility. They can afford to get sick. And that's the bottom line.

WICKER: You know, John, I'm willing to have that debate in this election in November of this year. And I'm willing to play over and over and over the president saying, "If you like your plan, you get to keep it, period."


CUPP: Trust me, we'll hear that a lot.

WICKER: And I'm willing to play over and over your majority leader saying Obama care has been wonderful for Americans. And we'll take this to the American people and see how that works this year.

TESTER: You know as well as I do -- you know as well as I do that there isn't a campaign that's being run by a Republican out there that they're talking about Obama care. I'm talking about what they're for. They're talking about repealing Obama care.

WICKER: Well, that's it.

TESTER: At some point in time people are going to talk about what they are for. And the health care is part of the problem that we have in this country. We were losing business because of it. We were having transferred costs. We had hospitals going broke because of it. The system is changing.


TESTER: If we can get help from the Republicans--

CUPP: OK. I need to move this along.

WICKER: I've got a plan -- I've got a plan by Brewer, that I would suggest to you as a much better alternative.

CUPP: OK. I want to move along, because the other big news today was that the Senate passed a farm bill. I'd like to tell everyone what you guys voted for: a Christmas tree levee, $100 million in syrup promotion, and a study of dried fruits in school lunches. How in good conscience can you guys -- I'm looking at both of you -- how can you support this crap and it's crap? And what happened to a ban on earmarks?

TESTER: We still have a ban on earmarks.

CUPP: So what's all this stuff larded into this bill?

TESTER: Well, it is what it is. No bill is perfect, No. 1.

No. 2, there may be some benefits to studying fruits in school lunches. And I'm a grain farmer. OK? There may be some benefits to part of what you talked about.

CUPP: A 100 million to promote maple syrup? TESTER: Well, I don't know. I mean, I would rather have it promote beef, but it isn't.

CUPP: You voted for it.

TESTER: OK, but let's look what's in it. There is -- there's a safety net for people in production. There is food and nutrition assistance, which some people didn't like and voted against it, but I think it's a pretty darn good deal. It's got -- it's got dollars in it for conservation. I mean, it's a good overall bill. Is any bill we pass perfect? No.

CUPP: Senator Wicker, how did you vote for this?

WICKER: I voted for it, as you know.

CUPP: How?

WICKER: And let me tell you, this has been a debate farm bill after farm bill after farm bill. The fact is that Americans have the most reasonably priced food and fiber of any people on the face of the earth. And I think the farm program is part of that.

I also like the fact that we do reduce Food Stamp fraud. And we -- not as much as I wanted to, but we made a stab there.

The alternative would have been to go back to an ancient program. Gas prices would have quadrupled if we hadn't acted on this. And so I'm glad we came together. It's far from perfect. It's far from something that I really, really like. But it was a bipartisan accomplishment.

JONES: And I love that word "bipartisan."

WICKER: So do I.

JONES: Exactly. And part of the thing is, you're not going to get a perfect bill, but at least you guys are coming together on some things. We've got the farm deal. Let's talk about the next deal, which is the clean debt ceiling that needs to happen so that we don't ruin the full faith and credit of our country.

Are you going to support a clean debt deal, or are you going to risk something? I just want to show you some numbers here, by the way. If we do this crazy thing we often do and run all the way up to the wire, the public is saying that they're going to blame GOP in Congress 54 percent if we crash into the debt ceiling.

So, given the bipartisan spirit that's breaking out with the farm bill and your belief in bipartisanship, realizing GOP is going to get blamed, are you going to support a clean vote on the debt ceiling?


CUPP: No. In a word, no. WICKER: Well, one thing. We're not going to have a government shutdown. We're not going to have a default on the United States obligations, but we need to attach something to any debt-ceiling bill that actually deals with the debt. You know, something that helps us slow the growth.

JONES: Let's talk a little bit more when we get back. First, we've got to take a quick break here. And when we come back I'm going to tell you how a foreign corporation has duped three of the people sitting at this table, not me. When we get back. After this break.



JONES: Welcome back. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, we've got two senators: Jon Tester and Roger Wicker.

Now look, a foreign corporation called TransCanada is using three big myths to sucker the American people, including everybody at this table and maybe you at home, into supporting a special interest boondoggle. It's called the Keystone Pipeline. Please do not fall for this.

Myth No. 1, they say it's going to create a bunch of jobs. Actually, it's going to create maybe 3,000 temporary jobs and 35 permanent jobs.

Myth No. 2, it's all about oil. Actually, this pipeline would carry a toxic goo of tar and chemicals that's 20 times dirtier than oil. And the last leak, last time this thing leaked, it cost a billion dollars to clean up; and the Kalamazoo River is still a mess.

No. 3, it's all about energy independence for America. No. This pipeline goes from Canada out through the Gulf Coast. This stuff in the pipe, it's not headed for your gas station. It's headed for China.

So you, my hero, my senator, my Democrat--

CUPP: He's buttering you up.

JONES: -- how can you fall for this complete farce? I cannot believe you support American farmers risking all of this to make a foreign corporation a lot of money selling dirty crap to China. I can't believe it.

TESTER: A couple of things, Van. First of all, you are right, the job is temporary but the tax base it creates is not and it's significant.

The third thing is, look, it needs to be done safely so there aren't breaks in the pipeline. No mistake about that. It needs to be done safely and it's a heck of a lot better on a pipeline than on trains blowing up, like we saw in North Dakota.

The third thing is that private property in the United States needs to be respected. We don't want this foreign corporation running over property owners in the country.

And the last thing is, and I've got an amendment to this, we ought to keep it in the United States.

JONES: Well --

TESTER: We ought to keep it here to support working families and businesses and help contribute.

JONES: But here's what I think is really unbelievable, unbelievable.


JONES: Everybody says it is about American energy independence and we should be relying on Canada and this corporation has refused to promise to keep it here. Every plan is to get it to a port in China. And you guys did not stand up on that now, I don't believe (ph) it.

TESTER: OK, we'll bark louder.

The other thing is we happen to have a pretty big play happening in West and North Dakota, and Eastern Montana called the Bakken play, which there will be more ramps (ph) for that oil, which keeps it off of trucks and in the tube.

So, there is a lot for reason.

JONES: The last question to you --

TESTER: The last -- thing final thing is --

JONES: Yes, sir.

TESTER: -- I still farm. When I go to the tanks and put fuel in my tractor, I don't have any options. We haven't invested the research to develop different sources of fuel for farming or transportation fuels that we need to.

And I will agree with you on that. I'm sure you agree with that.

JONES: How will you clean it up when there is a leak? Pipes leak. That's why we have plumbers, in Kalamazoo. You talk about that train. Kalamazoo, Michigan, they had a pipe. It leaked, billion dollars, five years later, still a mess. You can't clean up tar.

TESTER: It's got to be done right from the get-go.

JONES: Fair enough.

S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: Well, isn't there a political play here? I mean, if you talk about Democrats running in red states, if they are going to impose -- if the president is going to oppose this, isn't he basically kissing the Senate goodbye?

WICKER: I think it's true the American people are very much in favor of this and, Van is -- CUPP: Even Bill Clinton is in favor of it.

WICKER: -- minority.

Van, what's wrong with construction jobs?

JONES: Oh, I love them.

WICKER: Actually, the figure I have seen and pretty well substantiated is 42,000 construction jobs.

JONES: No, no, it's 42,000 direct, indirect and induced. It's actually 3,900 construction jobs. And I love those jobs but I can get you more without risking our farmland with other programs.

WICKER: And the other point is -- hey, let's get back on those figures.

The other point is you didn't say it was going to harm the environment because I guess that argument has been pretty well-debunked by the State Department the other day which said that the building of the Keystone XL pipeline would not hurt the environment and would not cause more of this horrible carbon dioxide, which you've been concerned about.

JONES: We will continue this argument next time we have you on the show because I can dispute that as well. But as long as we are talking --

WICKER: But you doubt that the State Department said what it said.

JONES: No. Well, here's what the report says that if they're able to build the pipeline through Canada, then it's going to come out anyway. But there's a big opposition in Canada as well.

So nobody knows what's going to happen. What we do know is that America is not going to benefit from the pipeline.

I want to move on to another topic. Now, we are about to be in the middle of the big election season. It seems to me you guys are feeling kind of confident. You might be able to take the Senate. You might be able to grow your majority in the House.

But you guys can't get your act here. Look at this circular firing squad you guys have going. I want you to respond to this. We got a group called For America that is putting six figures to knock out your entire leadership.

Aren't you concerned that these groups attacking the established Republicans are going to ruin it once again? You give guys candidates that can't win reelection and leave us in power?

WICKER: First of all, I'm not overconfident. I am hopeful. I think there is the six year itch. I think there's Obamacare. I think there's a terrible economy that we can improve on. And I think --

JONES: What would you say to these crazy groups, though?

WICKER: I would say to them that we ought to concentrate on replacing the Senate leadership. I saw -- I saw the tweet from For America. It said, replace Senate leadership. I said, right, Harry's got to go.

And then I started reading further and it said Mitch McConnell's got to go. John Thune's got to go. John Cornyn's got to go.

I would say to those people quit taking money away from conservatives and spending it to help the Democratic Party which is what they are doing.

CUPP: OK. I --

WICKER: And spend your money to help Republicans beat Democrats in the November election. So, I agree with you, Van.

CUPP: We need to switch gears because there is one thing that we haven't really talked about and it's particularly important because we are three days away from the Sochi Olympics. And as I see it, we are trusting Russia to keep our athletes safe. We're trusting Russia to secure chemical weapons in Syria. And we're trusting Russia to sit at the table during our negotiations with a nuclear Iran.


Why? Why have we empowered this bad actor with a history of horrible human rights abuses and a penchant wore wanting to stick its thumb in the United States eye and someone who is clearly harboring a United States criminal? Why have we given them so much power? Is that a mistake?

TESTER: Well, I think they're a player on the international scene. That's why.

CUPP: No, but we made them a player on the international scene.

TESTER: No, no, they've been a player for a long time. They were a bigger player before but they're still a player.

And I think that in order for diplomacy to work, you need to have a coalition of countries to get there to do it.

CUPP: Is diplomacy working in Syria?

TESTER: They need to be part of the coalition.

CUPP: Even Secretary Kerry says that the plan in Syria is failing.

TESTER: And that maybe true, but the truth is, you still have to try to know. I mean, what's the other option? To go in and bomb? I don't think that one go over well when it was put in front of Congress.

So, the fact is diplomacy is something that we need. If diplomacy doesn't work, then you restart and head another direction. CUPP: Are we going to pay for trusting the Russians too much?

WICKER: OK. Well, let me tell you, the Congress didn't vote to put the Olympics in Sochi.

CUPP: Sure.

WICKER: It's the Olympic committee. I dare say that the United States has some security assets somewhere around close there.

The other thing is, Russia has a seat on the U.N. Security Council.

CUPP: That's right.

WICKER: They can veto almost anything we try to do.

CUPP: That's right.

WICKER: So we necessarily have to deal with them when we're talking about things like Syria, Iran.

CUPP: I think this is going to be a huge mistake in the future.

WICKER: But don't trust. But verify.

TESTER: But verify.

CUPP: I don't verify or trust Russia.

TESTER: You know, if you cut them out of the equation, you know it's going to fail.

CUPP: We'll see where we end up in Syria.

TESTER: Well, that's the reason.

CUPP: All right. Stay here.

Next, Van and I will reveal our outrage of the day. Do we only have one?

Would you believe somebody is telling school kids they can't feed the poor?

We also want you at home to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question, should President Obama approve or reject the Keystone Pipeline. Tweet approve or reject using #crossfire. We'll have the results after the break.



JONES: We are back with Senators Jon Tester and Roger Wicker.

Now, it's time for my outrage of the day. I'm outraged by a story you may not have the heard about.

California is suffering through the worst drought we've had in about 500 years. Farmers can't grow crops. Towns may actually lose their drinking water. We have a summer fire season, it's now year round.

Meanwhile, global warming deniers say look, there's snow in the winter. Nothing to worry about. This while we've got the biggest state in the Union becoming a desert right in front of our eyes.

Now, if this were happening in New York or D.C. or maybe New Jersey, maybe the media would cover it. But nobody's covering it. I think that's outrageous.

CUPP: Well, in the past, though, in the past 1,000 years, California has experienced multiple droughts, some lasting 20 years. How do we know that this isn't going?

JONES: I don't -- listen, you can argue --

CUPP: To be historically --

JONES: You can argue if it's happened. You can argue it's global warming. But we should at least be talking about it.

CUPP: Covering it, yes.

JONES: I can't believe we aren't even talking about something. You got American cities going to have to truck in drinking water and it's not even news? And we've got snow in New York and it's like, you know, 24/7.

CUPP: Or even just cold weather.

JONES: It's cold. News flash, winter.

CUPP: (INAUDIBLE) out of that, yes.

JONES: So, anyway, I --

CUPP: Well, Senator Tester is a farmer. Your thoughts?

TESTER: Well, I think that climate instability is a huge problem. We had areas three years ago that were underwater that the next year were in a severe drought. I think that is the problem with the whole climate is instability. We need to do something.

WICKER: The climate's been changing for hundreds of thousands of years. Some people think they've figured it all out. I'm not quite so sure.

CUPP: OK. Well, my outrage of the day comes to you from Minnesota. A state I quite like and have visited many times. Its reputation for being Minnesota nice is well-deserved.

Apparently, though, American Humanist Association thinks one elementary school in Golden Valley is being a little too nice. Why? Because they send their students on regular field trips to a local church to help prepare meals for the poor, and that they argue is unconstitutional.

Seriously, aren't these militant atheists embarrassed to even make these charges? These kids are feeding the poor.

Gentlemen, where are you on this issue?


WICKER: I think Minnesota people are very, very nice.

CUPP: And terrible.

WICKER: They should be allowed to feed the poor from churches as well as secular charities.

TESTER: I think that showing young people public service and the importance to contribute to your communities is very, very important and I see nothing wrong with it. Unless they were forced to listen to a sermon, which I didn't hear --

CUPP: Which they're not. Yes.

TESTER: That's exactly right.

So, you're just teaching young people how to be contributors to their community, that's a positive thing.

CUPP: OK. Well, thanks to Senators Jon Tester and Roger Wicker.

Go to our Facebook page or Twitter to weigh on our "Fireback" question, should President Obama approve or eject the Keystone Pipeline. Right now, 41 percent of you say approve, 59 percent say reject.


CUPP: Van is winning them over.

The debate continues on line at, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

JONES: Proudly from the left, I'm Van Jones.

CUPP: He's happy tonight.

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

Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.