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Fortune Writer on Obama & Business

Hannity & Colmes

COLMES: We're 134 days away from November 4, and as oil prices continue to rise, many Americans are wondering which presidential candidate would be better for the economy.

In an exclusive "Fortune" magazine interview, likely Democratic nominee Obama discusses his economic policies. In the past, Obama has been accused of being an opponent of big business. In this interview, he backs off some of those earlier remarks. He sets out to clear up any misconceptions.

And joining us now, the Washington bureau chief of Fortune magazine, who interviewed Obama, Nina Easton.

Did you discover that he's not exactly hostile to big business, Nina?

NINA EASTON, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: Well, he's certainly trying to portray himself that way, Alan. He -- he is trying to make the case -- and I think it's worth listening to -- that there's been a middle class squeeze over the past couple -- the past decade. The middle class has been suffering, and as a result business suffers because there's -- people are unable to buy the stuff that companies make.

And I think we're going to hear that time and time again. I want to ease the stress on the middle class through tax cuts, through reforming health care, and so on, and that will make the middle class stronger, and, therefore, will make business stronger. That's his case.

COLMES: You say -- you say trying to portray himself that way as if - - as if he's not sincere. Do you not believe that he would actually do things that would ease the burden on the middle class?

EASTON: No, I think he wants to do that to some extent. Whether -- whether he really -- his view of business, I think, is definitely a work in progress.

I mean, this is a guy who has a very liberal voting record, as we know, from the Senate. He's so tightly aligned with labor that I asked him in a follow-up question, "Give me one major area where you disagree with labor leaders," and all he could say was, "Well, there's some labor leaders who are more critical of free trade than I am."

But, you know, so on the business side, I think he's sort of a work in progress.

But look, I mean, he needs to -- let's step back a second. He just came out of a hard-fought primary with Hillary Clinton. He needs to go beyond those 18 million people who voted for him, who describe themselves as liberal or very liberal, and he's got to gain the trust of centrists, of Democrats who voted for Hillary Clinton, and of some -- at least some of the business community. And I think he's trying to do that.

He's reaching out to people like Warren Buffett. Paul Volker had a big -- the former Federal Reserve chair, had a big hand in a speech he gave, which I thought was actually a pretty thoughtful speech about the need for more supervision of the financial markets. So I think we're going to see some evolution in the next couple of months.

HANNITY: Nina, welcome back to the program here.

EASTON: Yes.

HANNITY: The Washington Post even had the article this morning that he's going to reintroduce himself to the American people. Michelle Obama, New York Times, today, she goes on "The View" to show the softer image of herself. And that she talked more about her roots, et cetera, et cetera.

It seems like they're in a major -- that they're really being tightly controlled in their rhetoric, but isn't this the reality? He would let the Bush tax cuts expire. As we pointed out, he'd raise -- he'd double the capital gains tax. He would raise -- no limit on Social Security tax income for people, which is a dramatic, dramatic tax increase. Nationalized health care, and a trillion dollars in new spending. That sounds like redistribution of wealth to me.

EASTON: He -- he would definitely let the Bush tax cuts expire. He would create a tax cut for the middle class, and low-income seniors wouldn't have to pay taxes at all.

Yes, he would raise the capital gains up to probably 24, 25 percent, and look, that could hurt growth.

HANNITY: Yes.

EASTON: He doesn't believe -- his advisors -- their take is, look, let's go back to the tax rates of the 1990s when the economy was booming. It won't hurt us.

But, you know, there's a lot of economists who think it will hurt us. I mean, there were tax cuts in 2001 and 2002 that actually helped -- helped spur the economy. So you know...

HANNITY: We're talking in this case -- this is massive new government spending, massive increase in taxes.

And more importantly, Nina, when I look at, for example, his proposal on energy, you know, the windfall profit tax. You know, he's going to attack corporations. Corporations don't pay taxes. They'll pass it on to the consumer, and we won't get one extra drop of oil. We don't limit our dependency at all.

It seems like he's hostile to business to me, and I'm saying that as graciously as I can muster here. As I can...

EASTON: And, again, his argument -- and I think, you know, it's important at this point in the presidential race for all of us to read it and think about it. His point is, "Look, the Chicago business community was behind me because they know I'm pro-growth and pro-business."

However, you're absolutely right. The thing that's really disappointing about Obama, and frankly, it's really disappointing about McCain, is that there's nothing new. There's nothing innovative. There's nothing new in their economic programs. He's straight from the liberal playbook. And let's see in the next couple months if he comes up with anything different.

COLMES: All right, Nina. We thank you very much for coming on...

EASTON: Thank you.


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