NOW with Alex Wagner | May 16, 2012
>>> evangelical students this weekend, mitt romney has left behind the burning bush and moved on to the raging prairie fire of dhaebt threatens to burn the country to the ground. joe biden meanwhile has been released from the cone of silence and is back on the campaign trail and john boehner is insisting he's not playing brinkmanship politics. he just wants everyone to act in a quote adult like fashion. it is wednesday may 16th , and this is "now."
>>> joining me today, nbclatino.com political commentator alicia menendez, nbc news political analyst , former governor ed rendell , former republican governor of new york , george pataki , and msnbc political analyst and former rnc chair the notorious michael steele .
>> very notorious.
>> right now, president obama is sitting down for lunch with congressional leadership from both sides of the aisle. john boehner , nancy pelosi , harry reid and mitch mcconnell all arrived at the white house in the last 30 minutes . on the menu are hogies is stuffed with cooperation and compromise. the question is, will anyone take a bite in the speaker boehner a day after suggesting he would once again hold the u.s. credit rating hostage in exchange for new spending cuts said this morning he just wants everybody to get along.
>> what i'm trying to do is encourage people on both sides of the aisle on both sides of the capital and on both ends of pennsylvania avenue to be honest with the american people and to be honest with ourselves to begin to tackle this problem in an adult life manner.
>> governor pataki , i go to you first on this.
>> thank you. i guess. i'm not sure.
>> i think you'll thank me in the end. during last season's debt debacle, were the republicans acting in adult like fashion?
>> , of course, they were. if you read inside what happened, leader boehner and president obama actually had some private meetings where they came very close to having an agreement on a larger solution, not just to deal with the debt crisis but to take some serious steps to reduce the deficit. and what happened is when president obama 's staffers went into the pelosi house caucus, they got hooted out of the place because they were talking about entitlement reform. i'm all for bipartisanship but it takes both sides. the senate is the house that for three years has not even passed a budget. how do you negotiate when the other side stonewalls you?
>> so you don't think that what has been termed a wild house republican caucus has anything to do with the fact that a deal on the debt was not made?
>> when you are in power, you are held accountable whether or not you're the one who ultimately is responsible, but i had a lot of experience dealing with a split legislature, and what you do is you laid out your position, one house would lay theres and you would sit down and try to work it out. how do you do that when we have a president whose budget was voted down 98-0 in the senate and when you have a senate that for three years has not passed a budget? how do you negotiate and create bipartisanship.
>> i'm wearing purple, not red or blue today. i would say how do you have bipartisanship when you have a senate republican leader who said at the beginning of the president's term our job is to make him a one-term president and now we have republicans not only unrunning for office but in office and said bipartisanship equals democrats coming to our side of the aisle. let's let governor rendell weigh in in terms of cooperation, bipartisanship, is it on the menu?
>> i think a lot of things that governor pa tack kill said are not necessarily wrong, alex. but i also think he's holding the republican caucus blameless and they weren't blameless. they acted childishly and said it's our way or the highway just as much. speaker boehner couldn't get the deal he made with the president, couldn't sell it to his own caucus. and the governor is sort of glossing over that. but here's what i think we ought to do. here's what i think we ought to do. this is important. i think as the debt issue continues to be an issue in the campaign and as we're getting close to the other one, if i were president obama i would say gentlemen, ladies, you're right. we've got to settle this. it takes presidential leadership. i'm proposing that we do a version of simpson - bowles . let's spend the next two weeks together, no press. and lets hammer out something and my guys are going to give an entitlements but you guys are going to give on revenue because everyone knows we can't do it by cuts alone and by revenue alone.
>> you're right. i think that that's the reality and actually a little bit of a conundrum for the house leadership team if the president does put simpson - bowles on the table, which would be a wonderful thing since it was you know his team to put it together in the first place and creating this commission that he ignored for a year. we'll set that aside. if he comes to the table now, it's better late than never. number two, to the governor's point about you know, the members in the house and you know, those folks were elected.
>> this governor or this governor?
>> as a former lieutenant governor, i'm sitting here a little bit.
>> alicia was a former, never mind.
>> my point is that, you know, you talk about the house members. they came to the table with a clear mandate from people who elected them in 2010 to control the spending. that was their first charge. so their first point of attack was on the spending side of it. to the governor -- to governor pataki 's point about how this whole thing gets played out, the reality we're faced with is there are some tools that can be pulled still out of that toolbox for both the republicans and the president to work with. the question is too to your point governor rendell, whether or not the presidential leadership to take on simpson - bowles and say this is the starting point.
>> michael, real quickly. it's great politics for the president, too. it takes the debt issue away. it makes him look like a leader. it's exactly what he should do for political reasons and for the good of the country.
>> ed, i wish you were sitting next to the president. he should have done this a year ago. if he does it today, i think the american people , republicans and democrats will say this is exactly the type of solution we need.
>> i'm not going to hold my breath.
>> i'm not either.
>> it was his commission. when they came out with the report, he basically threw it in the garbage, thanked them and walked away.
>> as we all pile on the president for not leading on simpson - bowles , it bears mentioning the republicans and mitt romney has made a big deal of the prairie fire of debt, the fire and brimstone , the hell fires that await us if we don't tackle the mounting debt. at the same time, when you talk about the big contributors to our debt and deficit, the bush tax cuts are pretty far up there. it is an anathema to the republican party that we would tackle something that would -- the top 5% have -- that is but tax cuts to the top 5% have contributed the numbers are moving as we speak 1 trillion 94 billion 211 million.
>> the stimulus package alone costs almost as much as the bush tax cuts .
>> borrowed and we're paying interest on, governor.
>> you always neglect to tell the people that $370 billion of it were tax cuts .
>> alicea a former governor of awesome and a current governor of awesome.
>> i'm a formerly new jersey girls state governor . does that count?
>> i went to boys state notice new york and i lost.
>> there you go.
>> not a title to be swept under the rug. when we talk about the rhetoric around fiscal matters romney has ratcheted it up in recent days. i want to play sound from yesterday.
>> it's high time that we have a president who stop the spending and borrowing inferno and i will. a prayer ril fire of debt is sweeping across iowa and across the nation. and every day that we fail to act, that fire gets closer to the homes and the children we love. this debt is america's nightmare mortgage.
>> so some strong words there, the a.p. did a fact check of romney 's statements yesterday today and says romney would have to slash domestic programs by more than 20%, far more than the 5% in immediate cuts he proposed. it is nearly unthinkable that congress wos approve the evisceration of basic federal functions such as food inspection, air traffic control , board offer control, fbi, grants to local governments, housing and heating aid for the poor, food aid for pregnant women , national parks and much more.
>> isn't it wonderful we have an unbiased neutral press that reports things like --
>> without emasculating is every program.
>> this argument carries more weight if he's willing to tick through the items he's willing to cut. just like we've been talking about president obama upping his leadership, it would be a big step for romney to say maybe we do need to put taxes on the table if there really is this sweeping inferno of debt, let's also talk how we raise the revenue side. that would be true leadership, not something we've come to expect from mitt romney .
>> understand that the romney economic plan would contribute significantly to the debt because further taxes. he not only wants to keep the bush tax cuts in place, he wants to cut it more which adds to the debts.
>> but so does simpson - bowles . they lowered the top marginal rate down to 24%, the opposite of what president obama is proposing.
>> we're agreed on that. don't let romney get off the hook. he's not a simple son boles man.
>> he has been very supportive of the ryan plan which does deal with the deficit, which was passed and we can agree or not agree with it, but in fact, it does answer -- ?
>> you're right, governor pataki .
>> what is he going to do.
>> there are many questions we can have about the ryan plan. it would uninsure up to 57 million americans.
>> not 56 million 9999.
>> the ryan plan makes clear the priority is not on the poor or to help the poor and the working class .
>> that is such a wonderful talking point but it is so painfully not true.
>> we will talk more about