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Obama & Romney Campaign Advisers on "State of the Union"

Obama & Romney Campaign Advisers on "State of the Union"

By State of the Union - August 19, 2012

ACOSTA: Refusing to yield any ground to Democrats, Congressman Ryan took his mom to work at the nation's largest retirement community in Florida. Standing in front of a group of senior citizens, Ryan insisted the GOP plan is intended to save, not end, Medicare. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN: We think the best way to save Medicare is to empower 50 million senior, not 15 unelected bureaucrats, to make their decisions on how they get their health care.

Mitt Romney and I will protect and strengthen Medicare so that the promises that were made, that people organized their retirements around, like my mom, will be promises that are kept.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: The president took his turn in another important battleground state, New Hampshire.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: Since I have been in office, I have strengthened Medicare. I've made reforms that have extended the life of the program that have saved millions of seniors with Medicare hundreds of dollars on the prescription drugs. The only changes to your benefits that I have made on Medicare is that Medicare now covers new preventive services like cancer screenings and wellness visits for free.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ACOSTA: Joining me now from Boston is Eric Fehrnstrom, senior adviser to the Romney campaign. Eric, thanks for joining us this morning.

FEHRNSTROM: Thank you for having me, Jim.

ACOSTA: And Eric, I wanted to ask you about some of the president's comments this week. He is accusing Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan of seeking a Medicare system that would end Medicare as we know it. We do know that Romney and Ryan would put in place a voucher-like system where people would receive a premium support payment as Republicans call it to buy into Medicare or buy a comparable plan. How does that not end Medicare as we know it?

FEHRNSTROM: Well, I think that it is important to understand, Jim, that going forward one of the principles that Romney, the Romney/Ryan ticket will follow in reforming Medicare is that none of the changes would affect current beneficiaries there. is only one candidate in the race who has made cuts to Medicare that have affected current seniors, and that is President Obama.

In order the pay for Obamacare, he raided the Medicare piggy bank, took $700 billion out of the Medicare program and shifted it to Obamacare. That's wrong. An Mitt Romney will restore that money to Medicare. And of course as I said, one of the important principles he will follow in reforming that entitlement is making sure that none of the changes affect current seniors and that is people age 55 and above. ACOSTA: It may not affect current seniors, Eric, but we are talking about a dramatically different Medicare system in the future, isn't that right?

FEHRNSTROM: Well, not dramatically different. For future workers, those who are under the age of 55, Medicare will still be there as an option, the existing program, but we are going to introduce choice and competition through more private plans. This is a good thing.

What President Obama did was to take $700 billion out of our existing Medicare program, affecting current beneficiaries, and shifted that over to Obamacare in order to pay for that massive new entitlement. We think that's wrong. That money will be restored under a Romney/Ryan administration.

ACOSTA: But about the $700 billion cuts, aren't those same cuts in the Ryan bucket? And hasn't Governor Romney said that his plan for Medicare is virtually the same as Ryan's plan? What is the difference here?

FEHRNSTROM: Well, I think if you have heard and been listened to Representative Ryan over the past few years -- or the past few days, excuse me, he has said that he has signed up for the Romney program, which is slightly different than what you saw Paul Ryan bring forward.

But look, in terms of the operating principles, they are the same. No changes to Medicare that will affect current seniors, and of course, when we introduce more choice and competition, we will preserve Medicare as an option for those who want it.

ACOSTA: So as president, Governor Romney would take the $700 billion and put it back over into Medicare that would be different from the Ryan budget?

FEHRNSTROM: Well, look, it would go back into Medicare. We think it was a mistake for President Obama to cut Medicare the way he did. I know you have Stephanie Cutter on the program after me. Last week, she said it was an achievement of the president to have made those cuts.

We think it's a mistake. There are people out there right now, many of whom are probably watching your program, who are now shopping for new Medicare -- or new private healthcare because their Medicare Advantage program is being cut by this president.

As I said, whatever changes get made to Medicare under a Romney/Ryan administration, they will not affect the current seniors. This president cannot say the same. He went in and raided Medicare in order to pay for Obamacare. That was a mistake.

And by the way, Jim, this is first election cycle I can remember in a long time where Democrats are on the defensive because of Medicare. The reason they are on the defensive is because of the mistake that they made to go raid Medicare in order to pay for a massive new entitlement called Obamacare. ACOSTA: But this is a concern for your campaign. You wouldn't have Paul Ryan with his mother down there in the villages of Florida if you didn't have some selling to do. You do have some selling to do down in Florida, isn't that true?

FEHRNSTROM: Actually, it is not a concern.

ACOSTA: Not a concern?

FEHRNSTROM: In fact, if you look at the last few days of the campaign, you will see that Paul Ryan was down in Florida as you mentioned with his mother talking about the Romney/Ryan plan to strengthen and protect Medicare. Mitt Romney wrapped up a bus tour to five state where is he was out talking about our plans to strengthen the middle-class and create more jobs in this country.

Then you look at President Obama and Vice President Biden and where were they? Well, Vice President Biden was in Virginia suggesting that if the Republicans are elected, they are going to put everybody back in chains. President Obama was on a radio program down in New Mexico, not talking about jobs, not talking about the fiscal crisis in this country, not talking about the rapid increase in debt that has occurred under his administration, instead he was talking about his favorite chili peppers. look, we have

Look, we have some serious challenges in the country. We have a jobs crisis, we have a fiscal crisis. The Romney/Ryan ticket has plans that address both of those challenges. We have a sitting president who has no policy agenda at all for a second term.

ACOSTA: And Eric, one of the reasons why Paul Ryan wanted the $700 billion was to help balance the budget, but earlier in the week, Paul Ryan and one of the senior advisers Ed Gillespie had trouble saying when a President Romney would balance the budget. Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RYAN: I don't know exactly when it balances, because I don't want to get wonky on you, but we haven't run the numbers on that specific plan. The plans that we've offered in the House balance the budget.

ED GILLESPIE, REPUBLICAN ADVISER: Wolf, I'm not sure of that myself actually. I'll get that to you, though. And I'm sure it's on our website. I should know it. I'm embarrassed on your air that I don't have that number at the top of my head.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: So, Eric, what's the answer to that question? When does the budget get balanced under President Romney.

FEHRNSTROM: Well, look, President Romney has published a deficit reduction plan which will cut the deficit by $500 billion in 2016. It is going to take a while for us to achieve full fiscal balance. This president has doubled the annual deficit, never before in our country before President Obama's election have we had a trillion dollar annual deficit. That is all we have had since he has been in office, four in a row. So it is going to take some while to balance that budget, but the governor has said that he will cut $500 billion from the deficit by the year 2016.

And I ask you, Jim...

ACOSTA: So you're not committing to balancing this budget by the end of the second term because Governor Romney has said that out on the campaign trail that he hopes to have that balanced by the end of his second term. You're not saying that -- that's not in the cards this morning?

FEHRNSTROM: I think that is an achievable objective by the end of his second term. What he has published is a deficit reduction plan that will cut the deficit by $500 billion by the year 2016. But I was going to say go back and look at Governor Romney's record in Massachusetts. He came in 2002 in Massachusetts, the circumstances were not that much different than what this country is experiencing now. The state was in recession. The budget was massively out of balance. We balanced that budget four years in a row without raising taxes. By the time the governor left, we were creating thousands of jobs every month. We created net new jobs on the order of 40,000.

This was a huge achievement. That's the type of fiscal management and economic management that Mitt Romney will bring to the White House.

ACOSTA: And Eric, very quickly, Mitt Romney came out and volunteered earlier this week that he hadn't paid less than 13 percent as an effective tax rate in his taxes. Why won't Mitt Romney prove it and just put his tax returns out there?

FEHRNSTROM: Well, I'll tell you, Mitt Romney put out -- he has said that he will put out two years worth of tax returns. He's put out his full 2010 return, hundreds of pages of tax return information that is on his website. He'll put out his 2011 returns once it is complete and filed. He has had financial disclosures going back to 2002 when he was governor of Massachusetts, and those, too, can be found on Mitt Romney's website.

Look, taxes are not an issue. It is not what the American people are talking about. Just last month, we learned in July that 44 states saw their unemployment rates go up, and what is Obama's answer to that? Higher taxes and more spending. If you are unemployed in America, you must feel like a drowning person who has just been thrown an anchor.

ACOSTA: All right. Eric Fehrnstrom, thanks very much for your time this morning. We appreciate it.

Up next, President Obama's deputy campaign manager makes the case for four more years. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: Here now is Stephanie Cutter. She is the deputy campaign manager for President Obama. Stephanie, thanks for joining us this morning.

CUTTER: Thanks for having me. ACOSTA: You heard some of Eric Fehrnstrom's comments there, we are going to get to those in just a moment. But first of all, I wanted to show you -- you are from Massachusetts, you should know that "The Boston Globe" over the weekend ran an editorial that had the headline "Biden Should Apologize for 'Back in Chains' Remark." And I just want to read an excerpt from that editorial to you. "Imagine if Republican Paul Ryan" -- let's start with this -- "Stephanie Cutter, team Obama's deputy campaign manager, said the president would have no problem with those comments. But imagine if Republican Paul Ryan uttered comments like that. Mitt Romney's pick for vice president would be pilloried for racial insensitivity, and so would Romney. In the fight for civility and substance over pointless hyperbole, Biden may not be the worst offender, but he's an offender nonetheless and he should apologize." Should we expect an apology from the vice president, Stephanie?

CUTTER: No. No. I mean, let's look at what the vice president said. Speaker Boehner and even Paul Ryan have been traveling this country talking about the need to unshackle the private sector, to unshackle the financial industry, and the vice president was just taking that metaphor a step further and talking about wanting to put other people in shackles. And the word that he used, chains, is a distraction from the larger argument, and I think "The Boston Globe" agrees with this, that we should not deregulate Wall Street, we should not repeal Wall Street reform, we should not have Wall Street play by a different set of rules than Main Street. That is the point the vice president was making, and that's the point that the president wholeheartedly agrees with.

We cannot go back to the days where taxpayers end up bailing out people because of their own reckless behavior, and the president won't allow that, so that's the point that the vice president was making, and that's a point we will continue making.

ACOSTA: Was it at the very least a poor choice of words?

CUTTER: And if you want to talk about words -- if we want to talk about words on the campaign trail that are poor choices of words, let's talk about Mitt Romney's, when he has been traveling for the last two years basically calling the president un-American, saying that he wanted to -- the president wanted to make it a less Christian nation. Those are poor choices of words, and that is, you know, that we find completely offensive.

So this faux outrage by Mitt Romney, complaining and whining about the tone of this race is really completely hypocritical. I mean, even his own opponents during the Republican primary, said, you know, Santorum said, Rick Santorum said that the only way Mitt Romney is winning is because he is bludgeoning his opponents. You know, Newt Gingrich said that Mitt Romney was trying to destroy him with lies.

ACOSTA: But, Stephanie, at the very least--

CUTTER: So I appreciate that the tone of this campaign needs to stick to the issues, but we are not going to be lectured by Mitt Romney on that, because it is completely hypocritical. ACOSTA: And not to belabor this too long, but was it, at the very least, a poor choice of words?

CUTTER: I think it is a distraction. I think the word distracted from the larger point, and the point is that Wall Street shouldn't be unshackled. Wall Street shouldn't be deregulated. I think Wall Street and Main Street need to play by the same set of rules. The middle-class can't carry the burden any longer, that is what happened in the last decade. They had to bail out Wall Street.

ACOSTA: OK, Stephanie, let's move on to this Medicare discussion, because I am sure you saw what Paul Ryan had to say down there in Florida yesterday, but I want to play a sound bite for you, because I think it is very interesting that he brought up this Medicare advisory board that would look for savings in the Medicare program as part of the president's health care law. Let's listen to what Paul Ryan had to say and I'll talk to you about it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN, R-WIS., VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He puts a board of 15 unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats in charge of Medicare, who are required to cut Medicare in ways that will lead to denied care for current seniors.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: So basically, Congressman Ryan there is accusing the president of having a health care program that would ration health care for seniors. Can you pledge right now that that is not a part of the president's health care law?

CUTTER: Well, by law, that board is not allowed to.

But, Jim, I want to take a second and talk about Medicare, and I think the most disappointing thing this week is that Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan, because he was the intellectual leader of the Republican Party. Because Paul Ryan decided to join Mitt Romney's ticket, he is completely reversed himself on some of the issue he has been very strong on, like the $716 billion in savings that are in two of his budgets.

So let's talk about the president's Medicare plan versus Mitt Romney's Medicare plan. President Obama, through health care reform, strengthened Medicare. How did he do that? Well, he found savings by cutting subsidies to insurance companies, ensuring we were rooting out waste and fraud, and he used those savings to put it back into Medicare. And this is not just from us, this is from independent analysis, that because of the steps that the president took, we extended the life of Medicare by eight years, and we expanded benefits. 75 percent of today's seniors have taken advantage of preventive care, whether it is a mammogram or cancer screenings or wellness visits, because of the health care law, with no out-of-pocket costs. Seniors all over this country are saving $600 a year on their prescription drugs because the president is closing the donut hole. CUTTER: Those are real and tangible benefits as a result of the actions the president took.

Now they know that the $716 billion in savings has nothing to do with seniors' benefits, all it did was expand senior benefits.

ACOSTA: How do you cut...

CUTTER: ...$716 billion back into the system here's what it means. It means they're going to use taxpayer dollars to give subsidies to insurance companies, overpayments to insurance companies. It means they're going to allow for fraudsters to take advantage of the Medicare system. Is that what we want?

The last point on this, if they put that money -- put that savings back into the system, it means that Medicare will go bankrupt in just four years. So if Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan get elected to the White House, Medicare will be bankrupt by the end of their first term, that is what that means.

These are facts. And it is a complete distortion to say that the president is taking anything away from seniors.

ACOSTA: Let's get to the tone of the campaign. We are running out of time. We have some other issues to talk about. And one is the tone of this campaign.

I want the play for you some of what the president said in Iowa earlier this week. And he talked about when Mitt Romney as a young father strapped the family dog Seamus to the roof of the family's car. He mentioned it at three different events in Iowa earlier this week.

Let's play that for our viewers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Governor Romney even explained his energy policy this way, I'm quoting here, "you can't drive a car with a windmill on it." That is what he said about wind power. Maybe he has tried it. He has put other things on the roof.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ACOSTA: Stephanie, is the president running a serious campaign when he talks about dogs being strapped to roofs?

CUTTER: Well, Jim, that was a light-hearted comment to play off of what Mitt Romney said about strapping...

ACOSTA: It wasn't so light-hearted, though, he brought it up three times. It sounds as if this was a serious attempt to inject that into the president's remarks at three different occasions. It sounds like he is making a mockery out of his opponent. Is that what he is doing?

CUTTER: Well, Jim, I am sure that you saw the president's entirety -- the entirety of his remarks where he talked about the importance of clean energy to the people of Iowa, because it has created thousands of jobs on the ground there through the wind energy tax credit. Wind energy has boomed in the state of Iowa because of the wind energy tax credit, because of the policies that the president has put in place. Mitt Romney wants to repeal the wind energy tax credit.

ACOSTA: So why go after Seamus. Can't you make that point without going after the dog Seamus.

CUTTER: Jim, he made that point. I'm sure you saw the president's remarks. He made that point. He made that point very forcefully.

But Mitt Romney, in discrediting the wind energy tax credit and discrediting the importance of wind energy for the all of the above strategy to make this country energy independent made fun of wind energy and said that you can't put a windmill on the top of your car. So that is what the president was repeating that remark and he made a light-hearted comment about Mitt Romney strapping his dog Seamus to the top of the car many, many years ago.

ACOSTA: As a young father, though, I have to say we all make our mistakes.

But let me ask you this, Stephanie, let me ask you this you know... CUTTER: Have you strapped your dog to your car, Jim?

ACOSTA: I have not done that, no, I have not. But let me ask you this, Stephanie.

CUTTER: So that is a mistake you haven't made.

ACOSTA: Let's draw some contrast -- well, let's draw another contrast here. Mitt Romney this week had two news conferences. President Obama had zero. As a matter of fact, the president hasn't had any news conferences in two months. When should we expect one?

CUTTER: Well, the president was talking to reporters on the ground in Iowa. Do you think that that is less important than talking to somebody like you? Everywhere that the president goes he is talking to reporters. ACOSTA: Well, I think it's in addition to.

CUTTER: And I think it is important. He is traveling the country. We're running for re-election. Iowa is a critical state. We are going to spend our time talking to media all over this country. And I don't think...

ACOSTA: Entertainment Tonight, People magazine, he did that as well. Is that -- are they more important than the national news media?

CUTTER: I don't think that they're more important, but I think they are equally important. I think that's where -- a lot of Americans get their news. And I think the president is going to continue doing that. You know, Mitt Romney might have had two media availabilities, but what did he tell you, Jim, in those media availabilities? He told you he wasn't going to release the taxes, because he was afraid of getting attacked. And then he, you know, spouted off lies about the president's Medicare system. So do you find that media availability really useful if he is not being transparent about his own policies and distorting the presidents?

ACOSTA: Well, Stephanie I'm going to take a pass on answering your questions and say that we're out of time. But thanks very much for joining us this morning. Stephanie Cutter in Chicago. Good talking to you. 

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