The Last Word | February 25, 2013
>>> is very exciting, america.
>> these cuts do not have to happen.
>> mr. president you got your tax increase.
>> with four days until the sequester deadline.
>> both sides are laying the groundwork to see who bleeds.
>> the idea here is to fix the problem.
>> both sides bought into this plan.
>> there is no leadership from the president.
>> the president proposed the sequester.
>> he came from the white house and the president's aides.
>> i got 98% of what i wanted, i'm happy.
>> death by a thousand cuts .
>> do not have to happen.
>> i would look to the states for action.
>> find another way to do it. and get it done now.
>> we know there has to be a way to compromise.
>> the governors, in general, are going to be upset about a lot of the cuts, is it a doomsday scenario ? are we in for real trouble? is the truth somewhere in between?
>> this is a train that is running off track.
>> the crisis is made up. created.
>> people seem to be oblivious.
>> it is the only way you're ever going to get out of both parties some spending cut.
>> it is impossible to move forward, there is bipartisan on both parts, this will likely happen.
>> this is a train running off track.
>> that is the sound of inevitability.
>> these cuts don't have to happen. congress can turn them off at any time with just a little bit of compromise.
>> if you want to understand the republican's problem in dealing with the sequester, you need to understand that house speaker john boehner is not wrong about this.
>> we know, and i think the american people agree, spending is the problem.
>> in a recent research center usa today poll, 70% of voters, 70% say they want congress's top legislative priority to be reducing the deficit. and 73% said it is okay if that deficit reduction is mostly or all spending cuts. but the problem, the problem for john boehner is what came next. because pew then asked people, the 70-odd% of american voters who wanted deficit reduction or spending cuts, he asked them, okay, what do you want to cut? and the pollsters very helpfully provided them, the categories to choose from. energy, unemployment, foreign aid , poverty, health care , combatting crime, agriculture, roads, scientific research , social security security, medicare , food and drug inspection, environmental protection , veteran's benefits, and anti-terrorism defense. pick any of them, cut anything you want, 19 categories to cut, cut, cut, well, family feud time, guess which of those 19 categories the majority of people said they wanted to cut? yeah, you got it? okay, time is up. the answer is zero. of the 19 categories, there was not one, not a single category that the majority of voters wanted to cut. the only category that came close was foreign aid , 48% want to cut it, 49% don't want to cut foreign aid . and by the way, basically from the point of view of the budget it doesn't matter. foreign aid is .5% of the budget. as for the rest, 60% don't want to cut the state department 65% don't want to cut unemployment benefits , 73 don't want to cut defense. 74%, don't cut energy, 76% don't want to cut environmental protection or agriculture. 77% don't want to cut scientific research or anti-terrorism defenses. 81%, 81% don't want to cut roads and infrastructure. 82% don't want to cut medicare or anti-crime programs. 83% don't want to cut food and drug programs. 87% don't want to cut social security , 89% don't want to cut education, and 91% don't want to cut veteran's benefits. and there, in one poll is the republican's problem in dealing with the sequester. and that is why the white house feels it is increasingly doing well. government is like the america's friend with benefits. we don't say we love it. or even really say we like it like that. we wouldn't hold its hand in public, we tell it all the time, we want a little bit of space, but damn if we don't want to keep it around. a majority of people said they actually want to increase spending in two category. 53% want to spend more on veteran's benefits, and 60% want to spend more on education. education, which by the way, gets hit pretty hard by the sequester. now, maybe we need to change or relationship status rather than our policies. because the american people actually seem to like the services the federal government provides. and they approve of the spending the federal government does to provide the services, rightly or wrongly they approve. that is the reality. and that is the problem that the republicans are facing. the house republicans did pass a plan to replace this year's sequester with other spending cuts, passing the house in december. it would abolish the defense cuts and move the $1.2 trillion cuts entirely, entirely to the discretionary spending side. now, for the record, only 19 categories of the pew polled are discretionary, others are categories where congressional republicans want to see reduced spending. cuts to entitlement programs , medicare , medicaid, that is what john boehner wanted from the white house in exchange from the tax rest in the grand bargain. that is a top priority . and why if you listen to the debate very closely, if you listen to what john boehner is actually saying you may hear president obama talking a lot about his alternative. but you hear the republicans , you hear john boehner talking a lot about number one, how the sequester was barack obama 's idea, they very cleverly called the obama-quester. how they don't mind at all. it is their leverage, they can handle it. no problem. what you don't hear a lot of, is a lot of detail about what is is house republicans would prefer to cut. that is because what they prefer to cut is not popular to cut. joining me now are steve kornacki and krystal ball.
>> thank you, ezra.
>> steve , who are you wearing?
>> this was a $12,000 sweater that nbc has generously provided.
>> this is actually new, it was deemed unacceptable o --
>> you do have a stylist.
>> we're trying, we're trying.
>> so to give you a real question here, steve , there is cognitive dissonance, people are -- they don't like government in theory, but they like it in practice. and this creates a certain amount of incoherence when we try to deal with the sequester.
>> the only way i can put it, what is the overall top, the way they're dealing with congress. i think they tend to conflate the idea of the deficit as a problem with the idea of the economy as a problem. that is why as a coincidence, three times in the last 30 years, the deficit scored as the top priority . early '90s under bush, the start of the clinton presidency, and late 2008 to the president day, they have coincided with economic downturns. and there is a classic moment, i don't think it has been made enough of. bush, perot, clinton, in a town hall debate, a woman said how has the deficit personally affected you? what she actually meant was how has the economy personally affected you? and reagan was the classic example of this, too, from his first term, the deficit started to skyrocket, coinciding with the unemployment. the unemployment crashed, in '83 and 4, even as the debt sky rocketed. mondale said i'll raise taxes to fight the deficit and lost 49 states.
>> we usually do, this is a great point, deficits come up in periods of economic hardship. it is not a good time to come up. it hurts the economy to cut the deficit quickly while the economy it weak. so krystal this is the real danger of the sequester fight, this is not a cliff or a breach or a government shutdown . it will hurt, not that badly, but hurt the economy maybe in ways people don't even recognize is coming from the sequester. it will take growth out and people having jobs out of the pretty soon we'll see shrinking, but it wouldn't be directly relatable back.
>> it was interesting last week, there was polling asking people how much have you heard about the sequester from pew. and 72% of people said they either heard only a little bit about the sequester or nothing at all. they had heard very little or nothing at all. and that is changing, the president made a concerted push to make them trace back this pole, specifically by releasing state by state estimates of what is going to happen, the agency estimates, and i looked at local papers in virginia, where i'm from. and now they're all running big stories about how this will impact their regions, specifically. that is the sort of thing that will get people's attention. and let's face it, if the sequester really does go through and is not altered where you don't restore funding and defense in particular, they are going to see changes that will be noticeable in a lot of communities.
>> and steve , why did the white house wait so long to launch a real public education around the sequester. i mean, a lot of people complained and said they were not actually having the agencies going out saying here is what will be hit the worst. releasing things state by state, they kind of waited until last week.
>> i wonder if part of it was fatigue, they went through the middle of last year and the election, and the whole fiscal cliff. i wonder if there was a sense that people needed a break. and also there could have been a recognition at this point that if you look at what the republicans have to fall back on now, obviously the problem is the house, you have lindsey graham talking about the flexibility, all you have now are boehner and the republicans , i think the margin was 215 to 209. he recognized if he put that plan up right now he probably couldn't even get it in the house. the republicans don't have anything from the house side to perhaps at the moment, either.
>> i keep wondering, krystal , what do you think is the end game? there are not serious negotiations, i don't think there will be a huge market that forces a quick negotiation. it is not clear what happen s legislatively before any action.
>> i mean, republicans , they basically want some form of cuts. so they would prefer to have this sort of meat cleaver approach, than to have a compromise with revenue. they feel it is a better deal for them. and democrats feel they don't want to shift the programs over to places like medicaid or medicare . obviously, they're doing public negotiating of their positions rather than coming together to work out a deal. so i don't see it happening this week.
>> steve kornacki, and krystal ball, we'll make sure more people know about this.
>>> i don't think the republican's