Continuing to grasp at straws to attack President Obama's plan for deficit reduction -- because it calls for tax increases on the wealthy -- Fox News today suggested that former President Clinton denounced Obama's deficit plan as unworkable. Except -- it's not true.
Obama's deficit-reduction plan has come under heavy attack from the right-wing media this week because half of the $3 trillion in deficit reduction comes from tax increases, mostly on the wealthiest Americans and corporations. Given their history of fighting to protect the wealthy, it's no shock the right-wing media have panicked over the so-called "Buffett Rule," named for billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who argued in a recent New York Times op-ed that he should not pay taxes at a lower rate than his employees -- as he currently does.
Today, Fox & Friends latched on to comments Clinton made during an interview at the annual meeting of Clinton's Global Initiative to suggest that Clinton is not a fan of Obama's deficit-reduction plan. Co-host Gretchen Carlson claimed that Clinton doesn't think the Buffett Rule would "solve the problem" and claimed he found Obama's approach to the deficit "a little confusing."
From the broadcast:
BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): Meanwhile, Bill Clinton was weighing in, because he's got his Clinton Initiative here in New York. ... Bill Clinton, of course, in the middle of the news, and of course it seems like every time the initiative takes place for him, there's some major news story. He was asked about the Buffet Rule that the president announced on Monday -- would it be effective to take billionaires and blame them for what's going on? Let's listen to what he had to stay.
CLINTON [video clip]: Whatever you think about this millionaire surcharge, I don't really care, because I would pay it, but it won't affect me because I already pay the minimum income because I live in New York. [...] But, you know, it's OK with me. I'll pay more. But it won't solve the problem.
CARLSON: That's amazing, actually. I don't know if that's gotten enough press. Bill Clinton saying that he doesn't know if it would solve the problem, and in fact he went on to say that he found President Obama's approach to the deficit, quote, "a little confusing." Why hasn't that gotten more press? I mean, Bill Clinton, a moderate Democrat from Arkansas -- he would probably be doing this situation that we find ourselves in right now differently than President Obama. That, I find, very fascinating, and I find it even more fascinating that it hasn't gotten more press.
KILMEADE: How about this? He says he personally doesn't think that we should be raising taxes or cutting spending until we get this economy off the ground.
STEVE DOOCY (co-host): Yeah.
KILMEADE: So that flies in the face of the plan.
KILMEADE: So you can't agree with the plan and actually make those statements.
The co-hosts then went a step further and suggested, bizarrely, that perhaps Clinton was knocking Obama because he wants his wife, Hillary Clinton, to run in 2016:
CARLSON: Is that a precursor to Hillary 2016?
KILMEADE: Well, he says he'll support whatever moves she makes, and he says she hasn't ruled it out.
During the segment, on-screen text stated:
The Fox & Friends co-hosts revisited this attack later in the broadcast with Fox Business host and guest Eric Bolling:
KILMEADE: Now Bill Clinton weighed in yesterday, he's with the Clinton Initiative. He's a little confused by the whole thing. But he said, "I'll pay more money, but it's not really going to do much," when talking about the Buffett Rule. Let's listen.
DOOCY: And it's not really a millionaire's surcharge -- if you're making a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year, you'd be impacted. And Chuck Schumer said, "Look, $200,000 is a lot of money in Mississippi, but it's not a lot in New York."
BOLLING: There's a growing list of Democrats, senators especially, who are saying, "I'm not really sure this works." Mary Landrieu -- the list goes on and on. So Clinton's right, though. This isn't what you need to do to spark job creation. Clearly it's not working. Taxing more isn't what you need to do. You need to incentivize businesses to hire people. One way or another, incentivize businesses to hire people, and that usually means some sort of tax decrease, not increase.
CARLSON: It's interesting, because so many Democrats loved Bill Clinton, and independents loved him. I'm surprised that that hasn't gotten more traction, that he calls Obama's plan confusing.
DOOCY: Thank you, sir.
Then they again implied that Bill Clinton's comments somehow indicated that Hillary Clinton will run for president:
BOLLING: Hillary? Hillary?
CARLSON: You never know. Look into your crystal ball, let me know.
First off, Obama is not claiming that the deficit can be eliminated solely through tax hikes. That's why he proposed a plan that included both revenue increases and spending cuts. So if Clinton said that the deficit can't be eliminated by raising taxes, he and Obama are in agreement. Here's what Obama said in his September 19 Rose Garden speech about reducing the deficit (emphasis added):
OBAMA: During this past decade, profligate spending in Washington, tax cuts for multi-millionaires and billionaires, the cost of two wars, and the recession turned a record surplus into a yawning deficit, and that left us with a big pile of IOUs. If we don't act, that burden will ultimately fall on our children's shoulders. If we don't act, the growing debt will eventually crowd out everything else, preventing us from investing in things like education, or sustaining programs like Medicare.
So Washington has to live within its means. The government has to do what families across this country have been doing for years. We have to cut what we can't afford to pay for what really matters. We need to invest in what will promote hiring and economic growth now while still providing the confidence that will come with a plan that reduces our deficits over the long-term.
So this is how we can reduce spending: by scouring the budget for every dime of waste and inefficiency, by reforming government spending, and by making modest adjustments to Medicare and Medicaid. But all these reductions in spending, by themselves, will not solve our fiscal problems. We can't just cut our way out of this hole. It's going to take a balanced approach. If we're going to make spending cuts -- many of which we wouldn't make if we weren't facing such large budget deficits -- then it's only right that we ask everyone to pay their fair share.
Now, let's look at what Clinton actually said at the Global Initiative meeting. The co-hosts don't clarify which interview they're referring to, but a logo in the screen corner indicates it was with Newsmax. Watching the full video, you can see that Clinton doesn't call Obama's deficit reduction plan "confusing" -- he was referring to Obama's "timing" of announcing the plan. Clinton indeed says that a "millionaire surtax ... won't solve the problem" -- Obama never claimed it would, by itself -- but he praises Obama's overall approach. In fact, Clinton pushes back against some of Fox's favorite falsehoods, like claiming that cutting the payroll tax won't boost employment (experts say it will). From the Newsmax interview (emphasis added):
CHRISTOPHER RUDDY (Newsmax CEO): President Obama came out with a plan this week that taxes high-income people, the so-called Buffett Plan. And the Republicans ... have said no way. So we have two polar opposites now. Do you think that President Obama was smart to come out with a proposal that he knew was just totally unacceptable to the Republicans at a time when the country really is desperate for compromise?
CLINTON: One of the things is -- this whole thing is a little confusing. Let's just try to back it up and unpack it. The speech that the president gave to Congress, you know, he didn't propose any new taxes. The speech the president gave to Congress was $250 billion in tax cuts, $200 billion in spending over a period of two or three years. And it focused mostly on a rather innovative set of payroll tax cuts and incentives to hire people, particularly veterans and disabled veterans and other people. But it was interesting.
Now, I personally don't believe we ought to be raising taxes or cutting spending, either one, until we get this economy off the ground. This has been a dead flat economy, and you don't want in something this flat -- if we cut government spending, which I would normally be inclined to do when the deficit's this big -- with interest rates already near zero, you can't get the benefits out of it. So what I'd like to do is see them do is come up with a bipartisan approach, and I like starting with the payroll tax cuts. Because economic studies show they have the biggest return. And Mark Zandi, who, you know, was one of Senator McCain's economic advisers, now works for Moody's, he says if this plan passed it would add 1.3 to 2 percent to GDP growth and somewhere between 1 and 2 million jobs. That's pretty good. And then what I would like to do is to see an effort made at a bipartisan resolution of the banking-home mortgage crisis.
I don't think you can tax or cut taxes, I don't think you can spend or not spend enough, to get America back to a full employment economy until we flush that debt. So that's what I'd like.
But let me get to your point. The timing on this President Obama thing was somewhat confusing, because I think everybody's all confused about whether he's proposing all this stuff at once. If you remember, Paul Ryan and the Republicans and Speaker Boehner said, well, the president says he offered us $3 trillion in long-term cuts, this is for the deal they have to make by the beginning of next year, but where is it? Where's the $3 trillion in savings? So what President Obama did with this plan was say, OK, here's the $3 trillion to start the talks with. He knows perfectly well that the Republicans aren't going to be for this. But he wanted to prove, from just the pure arithmetic, that here's this $3 trillion. What I would like to say to both Speaker Boehner and to the president, OK, you both have your deal, go work it out. Meanwhile, focus on putting America back to work now. Cause it just confused Americans. Americans lost the fact that whatever you think about this millionaire surcharge -- I don't really care, because I would pay it, but it won't affect me because I pay the minimum income because I live in New York. ... It's OK with me. I'll pay more. But it won't solve the problem.
Moreover, in other interviews Clinton gave at the meeting, Clinton makes it clear that he does support the Buffett Rule, even if it won't eliminate the deficit all on its own. In an interview with Fortune editor Andy Serwer, Clinton first reiterates that he doesn't think spending should be cut or taxes raised "until we get growth going," but he adds that he doesn't think Obama's plan does so. Indeed, as The New York Times noted, Obama's plan does not call for tax increases until 2013. From the Fortune interview:
CLINTON: Let's make a distinction. Whatever is or is not going to be the law, the proposal the president made is the proposal that would not kick in until the economy has growth well under way. And I don't think either Republican proposals to cut spending a lot or Democratic proposals to raise taxes, or to do both -- I don't think either -- it's wise to do any of that until we get growth going. I don't we should do anything. And I don't believe the president did.
Clinton then goes on to express his support for the tax increases on the wealthy that Obama has proposed -- in fact, he repeatedly rebuts Fox's "class warfare" label for the plan. Clinton says such a plan is "common sense" in the face of growing inequality in the U.S., saying that the percentage of the country's total wealth that the top 1 percent controls has grown tremendously in the past few decades. He's right. Fox News, however, doesn't care: Brit Hume recently said on The O'Reilly Factor, "If [income] inequality is at a very much higher level, who cares?" From Clinton's Fortune interview, which is headlined, "Clinton: I support the Buffett rule" (emphasis added):
CLINTON: I believe that if we have to raise revenues, it's fair to ask those of us in high-income groups who got the primary benefit of the growth of the last decade, where more than 40 percent of the income growth went to the top 1 percent of us -- that's a stunning statistic. And, therefore, the lion's share of the tax cuts of the last decade, of President Bush's tax cuts, benefitted us -- and I'm trying to remember how many I got, I think I got five separate tax cuts -- I don't see it as too draconian to ask us to make up the difference. Now the Buffett Rule is like an alternative minimum tax for millionaires. And I think, particularly if he was going to have a permanent fix for the alternative minimum tax for middle and upper-middle class people, a lot of us would think it was all right. The problem is, no matter how much tax we pay, it won't get the budget back into balance. So it has to be coupled with an aggressive effort to reduce health care inflation. Because most of this is in health care. Some of it is in Social Security, because so many of us are going to retire.
So I don't have a problem with it, but I don't think it should become the main event here. I don't mind paying more, and I think I should pay more, but how much and under what formula is not nearly as important as our having both an aggressive effort to restore growth today and a 10-year plan that can't be just tax increases, cause there's not enough money there.
SERWER: Right. But you, personally, wouldn't be opposed to paying more taxes yourself?
CLINTON: No, no, I'm in favor of it -- and I don't consider it class warfare. I mean, we had - if you look from the end of the second World War to about 1980, we had enough inequality to reward hard work and raw talent and creativity, and enough equality to build the world's greatest middle class and allow poor people a reasonable chance to work their way into it. And the distribution was, the bottom 90 percent had 65 percent of the income, the top 10 percent had 35 percent of the income, the top 1 percent had about 9 percent of the income. And those numbers have changed in the last 30 years. The 90 percent share has dropped from 65 to 52, the 10 percent share has gone from 35 to 48, the 1 percent share has gone from 9 to 21. That's a breathtaking increase in inequality, and I don't think it's good for our long-term stability.
And I think the main way to fix it is to change the way the economy works, that is create more middle- and upper-middle class jobs, you know, bring back manufacturing, be more aggressive in education and training. But for those of us who benefitted richly from the current system, I think asking us to pay more because we can, and because we got a common problem to solve, it doesn't bother me a bit. And I don't consider it class warfare. I think it's common sense. You can't get blood out of turnip. If we've got the money and the other guys don't, and we've been helped, we should make our contribution.
Perhaps Fox should be more careful when trying to co-opt former President Clinton. He had a lot more thoughts on the country's deficit than the few soundbites they grabbed.