Interview with Senator Sherrod Brown

By Rachel Maddow Show, Rachel Maddow Show - April 13, 2011

Guests: Sen. Sherrod Brown, Dean Baker, Cecile Richards

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Lawrence.  Thank you.

And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.


There are a few problems in American public policy that cannot be explained a little better with help from the great allegory that is "Three"s Company."


MADDOW:  Sorry.

Imagine if you will that our roommates in this allegorical case are Paul Ryan, John Boehner, Barack Obama, and your adorable but unemployed and desperately broke cousin, who in this case looks a little bit like Suzanne Somers.

OK.  So, technically it is four"s a company, not three"s company. 

Maybe Mrs. Roper lives them or something, whatever.  We give a break.

In any case, these are the roommates, and the roommates" problem is that their rent is too high.  They can no longer afford the place that they are all staying in.  It was all right when they moved in, but the rent has been going up and up and up.  And now, it"s just too darn high.  They cannot afford the rent anymore.

So, roommates John Boehner and Paul Ryan go away together and come up with a plan for dealing with the too darn high rent.  They say their plan is that roommate Paul Ryan, roommate Barack Obama and roommate John Boehner should pay less rent than what they are paying now, and the difference should be paid by your cousin.  They say that"s their plan for making the rent cheaper.

Does that actually make the rent cheaper?  No, no, it does not.  But as far as they"re concerned, it does.  If nobody is really looking out for your cousin"s interests, then you"re sort of getting away with saying that it did.  Thank you "Three"s Company."

But that is what the Republican budget does about health care.  It doesn"t reduce health care costs at all.  It just makes cuz pay for more of those costs and thereby calls it cheaper for everybody else.  It looks at the problem of rising health care costs over time and says the government should stop paying its share of those costs, and let poor people and old people and disabled people"”let them just pay more for it on their own.  Sorry, cuz.

That"s how Republicans deal with health costs"”or rather how they do not deal with health costs at all.  And that rather brutal but true point was one of the many brutal points made today by President Obama in his big, perhaps unexpectedly satisfying speech on the budget and spending, and what is the difference between a Republican and a Democrat in America today?

Now, as I say, I think this point about Republicans and health care was a brutal point.  I demonstrated this brutality by putting in the context of "Three"s Company."  Listen to how the president did it.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The third step in our approach is to further reduce health care spending in our budget.  Now, here the difference with the House Republican plan could not be clear.  Their plan essentially lowers the government"s health care bills by asking seniors and poor families to pay them instead.  Our approach lowers the government"s health care bills by reducing the cost of health care itself.


MADDOW:  He could not have sounded more genial and professorial when he said it.  It could not have sounded any less blunt.  But the point he was making there was both blunt and confrontational and important, and it needed to be said.  And that"s what the speech was like today.

Whether or not you saw the president"s speech, my advice to you is to read it at some point.  It"s not very long, it only prints out to eight or nine pages long.  But you can actually print it out from our Web site tonight, we posted it at  We got the full text of it there.

If you did not see the speech and your first contact with it is going to be reading it.  You will think when you"re reading it that when he gave the speech, he must have been breathing fire and pounding the podium.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  He was utterly sedate.  It look like a Rotary luncheon address.

But the message was less rotary and more roundhouse.  That point about the Republican"s plan for making health care cheaper by making old people and poor people and disabled people just pay more for it, that is a blunt confrontational point and it is a good point.

The president"s next point on that was that the whole point of health reform is to bring down the cost of health care.  Republicans are still attacking that, even as they have no plan of their own on health care costs.  That is a good point that is both true and has been sorely missing from all the political complaints about health reform.

The president made the point today that the Paul Ryan proposal to privatize Medicare kills Medicare.  That intrinsic to the whole idea of Medicare is that it is an entitlement, that is it exists as a safety net that everybody can defend on it.  Medicare and Social Security and Medicaid are entitlements for a reason, and by the way, they work.  That was a good point  from the president today and one that has been missing from the debate over budgets and deficits.

Amid the nonsense arithmetic-free rhetoric about deficits and debt, the president made the point today that historically, you know, it makes sense to run deficits when the country is at war or when the country is in a recession.  But that when you are not at war or in a recession, you should aim to get back in balance.  In other words, deficits themselves are not evil.  They have a purpose.  They should be used strategically.

That, again, is a good point and one that has been sorely missing from the debate about deficits and debt and the budget.  The president made the point today that after the huge Reagan deficits for the 1980s, we actually did get back to balance in the 1990s.  We even got back into surplus.

He made the point that America"s finances were in great shape by the year 2000.  Quote, "We went from deficit to surplus.  America was actually on track," he said, to becoming completely debt-free.

And we were prepared for the retirement of the baby boomers, but then what happened?  After Democrats and Republicans committed to fiscal discipline during the 1990s, he lost, we lost our way in the decade that followed.  Yes, bingo!

Mr. Obama continued, "We increased spending dramatically for two wars and an expensive prescription drug program.  But we didn"t pay for any of this new spending.  Instead, we made the problems worse with trillions of dollars in tax cuts"”tax cuts that went to every millionaire and billionaire in the country, tax cuts that will force us to borrow $500 million every year over the next decade."

"By the time I took office," Mr. Obama said, "We once again found ourselves deeply in debt and unprepared for a baby boom retirement that is now starting to take place.  When I took office," he said, "our projective deficit annually was more than $1 trillion.  And on top of that, we faced a terrible financial crisis and a recession."

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