NOW with Alex Wagner | February 25, 2013
>>> joining me today new york city deputy mayor howard wolfson , the queen bee of the greo.com joy reid, eric baits, a contributing he editor at " rolling stone " and a visiting scholar at new york university , and former rnc chairman and msnbc political analyst the notorious michael steel . with four days until the sequester deadline, lawmakers are taking a page from the shaggy playbook and saying it wasn't me.
>> it's made up. it's been created. i didn't support the sequester because that's a stupid way to cut spending.
>> i think the sequester was a stupid thing. i voted against it when it first came up.
>> woodward said it was president obama who proposed and promoted the sequester.
>> you have as usual in washington a large kabuki going on about who can get blamed.
>> it came from the white house , and the president's aides.
>> a psychologist and procrastination expert told the a.p., "congress is pretty much the worst, hands down, of any group we ever investigated. they're worse than college students." despite the fact that both sides bought into this plan, action to avert the sequester has been limited. president obama advocates a mixed approach. more than $1 trillion in spending cuts coupled with $680 billion in tax revenue . speaking to the national governor's association a few minutes ago, the president urged congress to find common ground .
>> while you are in town i hope that you speak with your congressional delegation and remind them in no uncertain terms exactly what is at stake and exactly who is at risk because here's the thing. these cuts do not have to happen. congress can turn them off any time with just a little bit of compromise.
>> but common ground may be difficult to reign for a party who doesn't really know where it stands. speaking to the gop 's shifting position on the sequester, karl rove wrote "congressional republicans are simultaneously united, divided, and confused." politico calls it the gop sequester messaging muddle explain, " virginia governor scott wants to replace the cuts, possibly with some tax revenue , saying i just want to get something on the table. i'm a businessperson." meanwhile, kansas representative mike pompao says the sequester is here. on march 2nd we will wake up and the american people will have tremendous respect for what its house of representatives led. and kentucky senator rand paul wants deeper cuts, calling the sequester a pitance. striking a deal? tough. striking a deal in one week? very challenging. striking a deal with a three-headed elephant? close to impossible. whenever i say something like three-headed elephants, do you feel it in your bones that i'm going to come to you with the first question, michael steel ?
>> i do.
>> okay. so, listen, there's like a lot of -- there's a lot of blame game going on. sdoo there is.
>> at the end of the day , though, when it comes to actually putting your cards on the table and doing a deal, it does not seem like the republicans are all playing with the same deck.
>> they're not necessarily playing with the same deck, but i would argue that there's not a whole lot of momentum coming from the white house and the senate democrats to move this ball either, so i think, quite frankly , as you know, howard dean reflected and several other republicans who have spoken to recently, i think people do want this to happen ultimately because it will force the hand of the congress. it will actually force these men and women to sit down and actually have to deal with the problem because $84 billion in cuts -- 44 or thereabouts for this year, it's going to be a stark number. it's going to be a real number suddenly, and they're going to have to face it. you know, i've not been a fan of sequester. i think this is all theater to begin with. it's shishging responsibility. we've gone five years now without a budget coming out of the senate. we've had two budgets in the house. virtually torn up before the ink had dried on them. the reality -- the reality of it is washington has failed the american people , and this is a wake-up call because you're going to have campaign starting soon. elections --
>> i would say they probably already started.
>> you will have a lot of challengers coming from the right and the left to mix this thing up over the next few months.
>> i guess what happens if and when the sequester goes through and you have people like mike pompao who say it's going to be the great gift of the house republicans to the american public. you have rand paul who is, like, more, more, more, and theb theoretically you're going to have a sizable wing of the party that's, like, we have to do go sg and reverse these.
>> you do. here's the problem. while we can dump on the congress americans don't want to cut, at the end of the day . when you look at the various programs that are out there, the polling that showed gop wanted 56% of the cuts to come from unemployment, 70% on foreign aid -- cut foreign aid . 70% of republicans saying that. on the democratic side there wasn't even a polararity to cut any program. at the end of the day the american people also sent a mixed signal when it comes to actually whether or not we really do want to take on the cuts that we need to take. whether it's not just about entitlements, but its defense and across the board, and that's where the leadership moment comes, i think, for the white house and the congress to really lay out very success iktly what this is for.
>> i will say, howard, the white house has a proposal that they've had out for a couple of months, which we mentioned in the open of this, which is $1 trillion in cuts to spending, and half a billion -- or, sorry, $500 billion in new revenue, which, you know, is not a number -- half a billion in any kind of -- sorry. half a trillion in revenue is not something the republicans want to play ball on, but that's a proposal.
>> it's a proposal. i think the republicans are done raising taxes . i mean, i think that they held their notices last year and raised taxes. that's not going to happen again. i think the republicans will be satisfied. they would rather have sequester with the cuts than they would raise taxes. i don't think there's any -- there may be different wings of the republican party . there may be differences of opinion within the republican party , but i think at the end of the day the majority of republicans and the house of representatives certainly would rather take the sequester and all that it portends than raise taxes, period.
>> joy, george will has an op ed today, and he make the point that the president is sort of doubling down on this doom's day scenario, but it may happen, and the american public may let out a collective, ah, not so bad. head for the storm cellar , spending will be cut by 2.3% or washington chainsaw massacre . we must scrape by on 97.7% of current spending or grass will grow in the sfreets of american cities of the dpesic agencies whose budget has been increased by 17% under president obama . must endure a 5% cut. is there danger here for the white house if this happens and people don't think it's a big deal ?
>> right. that's what's been interesting. the public is not engaged in this at all. people aren't paying as much attention to it because it's not a cliff. it doesn't have a dire feeling of a cliff, but, you know what, for the people who will be furloughed, particularly federal employees, i spoke it a federal employee last week who said they're really scared. they're actually afraid because people -- real people are going to lose their jobs, and people who are connected to military bases , et cetera , they are paying attention because they're going to lose their jobs. this is very real for them and the businesses they support. the reality is and i think that i concur with the table. i've said this on show before, republicans want the sequester. let's keep it real. 174 voted in the house because they want austerity really badly. they want to implement austerity, but they know that the american public doesn't support austerity. they know that economists are telling them austerity will tank the economy. they're being told no, no, no, we can't do austerity. this is a way to do it, and with very few fingerprints on it.
>> what's amazing is that they want austerity. we know they want austerity, and they don't want tax cuts . what's amazing is they want austerity at the expense of the pentagon, and that was the whole purpose of the sequester was to hold a gun to the pentagon's head and to poor people 's head so that democrats and republicans would both have an incentive to compromise. that's out the window. they would rather have austerity than protect defense spending , which is a whole new shift in the political calculus.
>> unexpected one. sfwhoo two things are true. this is a terrible way to govern. it's a terrible way to budget. no rationale person would sit down and say we're just going to have across the board cuts regardless of efficacy of programs. we're going to cut the bad programs as well as the good. no one would do that. the white house put out their numbers last night, the state by state impact numbers.
>> the embargo numbers.
>> right. you know, we saw them here in new york on the local level, and, obviously, nobody at the local level wants to take a hit. nobody wants to see aid from washington reduced at the local level. there's not going to be blood in the streets. buildings are not going to crumble. the city is not going to collapse. we will find a way to deal with the cuts on the local level. maybe some other cities are not in the position that new york is, but i really wonder whether the average person is going to experience the cuts in the sequester in any real way.
>> you make a good point there because we forget the fact that it's not like we wake up on the 2nd of march and all of a sudden everything stops, and that's what george will 's point is. this is a 30-day sliding into these cuts process, which gives the window of opportunity for the white house and the house to get their collective acts together and put a plan on the table to deal with the $85 billion in cuts that will be many force at this moment and beyond.
>> you know, it's interesting because the republican party is at odds with itself insofar as there's the national message and the national leadership, and then there's what's happening at the state level, and that's usually the tea party versus the moderates, but here it's going to be republicans who aren't feeling the cuts and republicans who are feeling the cuts irrespective with no difference made as far as ideology regarding this stuff. some guys are going to hurt more than other guys, and the question is how will the party respond? i do want to touch on that defense piece, though, because i think it's a really interesting change in the party really, michael steel . tom cole says to the "new york times", fiscal questions trump defense in a way they never would have after 9/11, but the war in iraq is over. troops are coming home from afghanistan, and we want to secure the cuts. i mean --
>> reality is setting in, and all of the neocons and defense hawks who have protected that nest egg for low these many years found that,y the egg is cracked. what was in it has now gone out of the nest, and have you to clean up, and this is where you get into those programs that aren't going to deal with the day to day protection of our shores and our relationship with our foreign friends and even our enemies. the waste that goes on in the pentagon, those types of things are now having a glaring light put on them, and i think cole and others are saying this is an opportunity to clean some of that up.
>> i can't believe we have a democratic president who is opening drone bases in north africa and, you know, extra judicial assassination american citizens. that's a democrat. the republicans are, like, slash the defense budget . it's bloated.
>> i think this is reality setting in too. jonathan has written a lot about this. the reality is when you look at the federal budget people say, oh, there's so much to cut. there really actually isn't that much. the big giant pot of money is in defense, and people have been loathe to touch it for the reasons you said. the republicans stood in the way of ever touching the defense department , but there really aren't other big huge pots of money. you can go ahead and cut all of the old people's home lighting and heating and they want to cut food stamps and they want, to you know, take away kids' milk or whatever it is they think they're going to cut. you won't get a whole lot from that. defense is where the money is. republicans really want austerity.
>> there are two places where there's a lot of money, but they're not part of the sequester. medicare and social security are not part of it.
>> food stamps are part of --
>> look, the president said a couple of minutes ago i will come to the table on, you know, the social safety net , which is the same entitlement programs .
>> what does that mean?
>> you know what, for a lot of democrats that very admission is a problem for some people.
>> until you know what he means by that, you are getting -- you are getting excited --
>> no one wants to be the first person out of the gate.
>> i applaud the president for being the stand-up guy and saying to his base that he is willing to do that, but the rubber is going to meet the road when he lays out exactly what that means when he says that.
>> or when the republicans do.
>> when we're prepared to have the conversation on those entitlement programs , you saw it in the ryan budget.
>> the ryan budget, which the gop --
>> that was --
>> summarily dismissed.
>> that's fine. that's all great, but it was a starting point. we don't have a starting point yet from the president. give us the starting point, mr. president. then the republicans will --
>> i think we also have to remember the purpose of the sequester originally was to kick the can down the road until after the election and let the election decide it. the election decided it in the favor of president obama , and where republicans are now saying is we're going to take that deal we made six, seven, eight months ago because that's way better than any deal we're going to get now, and if that involves cutting the pentagon, so be it because there's no other card we hold at this point that can get us any kind of mix that we're going to like better than this mix. it's just that simple.
>> i think you're right. the election is a huge -- the under-discussed piece here. i will close out this segment by quoting ezra cline who writes, "the goal posts in american politics aren't set in backroom deals between politicians. they're set in electrics. in the 2012 election the american people were very clear on where they wanted the goal posts moved to."
>> not so.
>> just has to --
>> they re-elected the house, people.
>> they voted by a mill --
>> they re-elected the house too.
>> we have to go to the break. we have to take a commercial break , but when we come back, michael steel will have more to say. president obama meets with the nation's governors and implores them not to let partisan politics get in their way. is such a thing even possible? at the state level, quite possibly yes. that was an affirmative. that's next on