CNN "American Morning" - Transcript


Date: Nov. 21, 2011
Issues: Taxes


Joining us now from Capitol Hill with his take on this is Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who is himself a member of the super committee. Senator Kerry, nice to see you. Thanks for joining us.


CHO: You know, Americans are waking up this morning hearing the headline, the super committee is doomed to fail, and people are frankly mad at what they call a do-nothing Congress. Now, as a member of the super committee, tell us what went wrong. And is there still a shot at a deal?

KERRY: I'm not going to talk about what went wrong when we are still working and hopefully there is an opportunity. It's very tough right now. A lot of people are just working on the prediction and on the momentum towards not achieving something.

But there is one big, big hurdle to get over. The Republicans have been insisting that we make permanent and extend the tax cut to the wealthiest Americans. We are all prepared to provide a tax cut to 98 percent of America, all the small business people to all the average income earners of our country. But we cannot in good conscience extend the Bush tax cuts at the higher end when we are at a 60-year low in terms of the revenue coming in to the government.

And you can't ask seniors on a fixed income, on Medicare, or poor children on Medicaid to be the ones to ante up while the wealthiest get a big tax cut. It just doesn't make sense. That's the one hang up, right now. Grover Norquist's pledge. They have a pledge to a lobbyist. They won't allow taxes to go up, and they are fighting now to do that.

CHO: Senator Kerry, I'm not sure if you heard your Republican colleague Jon Kyl a moment ago on CNN.

KERRY: I did not, no.

CHO: He say basically that Democrats would not agree to any more cuts to the federal budget without raising taxes. So what do you say to that?

KERRY: What I say to that is we have had three major commissions and the gang of six, which is made up of Republican and Democratic senators alike. The Simpson-Bowles commission, Rivlin Domenici commission, the gang of six, all recommended that you have to try to achieve a $4 trillion reduction in the deficit just to stabilize it, and that that ought to be split. Every one of them recommended $2 trillion of revenue.

All we are asking now from these guys is about $350 billion versus $2 trillion. And they say, no, because they want the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans extended. So the whole deal is being held hostage to this idea that the wealthiest people in America ought to get a big tax cut while everybody else chips in. I don't think anybody in America thinks that's fair.

CHO: Senator Kerry, just yesterday on "Meet the Press" you said there were things you agreed to that you didn't want to talk about publicly, which sounded very sexy, I might add. People want to know, what were the concessions? And would it have been enough to strike a deal here?

KERRY: Let me make it clear. We Democrats put a $4 trillion plan on the table. We had $1.3 trillion of cuts, and we had $1.3 trillion of revenue. Some of the revenue, we are not asking that to happen tomorrow or the next day. It can happen in a year. This is a 10-year plan and longer. So we have the ability to be able to do something fair for all Americans.

But unfortunately, you know, this thing about the Bush tax cuts and the pledge to Grover Norquist keeps coming up. Grover Norquist has been the 13th member of the committee without being there. I can't tell you how often we hear about the pledge, the pledge. Well, all took a pledge to uphold the constitution and full and faithfully and well execute our duties. And I think that requires us to reach an agreement. We have to compromise.

CHO: Senator Kerry, I can't let you go without asking about this. I don't need to remind you the race for president is well underway. President Obama is facing a tough fight. Don't you worry about the political damage this could do to the president? People tend to lump Washington into one big sort of group and they don't differentiate.

KERRY: They will differentiate. They will differentiate. I don't worry about that because the president put a $4 trillion proposal on the table and they said no for the same reasons they are saying no today.

So this is a big fight for our nation. This is a question of what's our value about fairness? What do we think is right when the top end of the income earners have gone up 275 percent in income over the last 20 years and the average person in America has seen a very small increase, if any. This is a matter of fundamental fairness. And I think the American people will be part of this and central to this debate going forward.

But more important, the president was specifically asked by the Republicans not to get engaged in their deliberations because they didn't want it to become a political football. This was a Congressional idea to have this committee. This was Congress's responsibility and frankly the only reason we don't have an agreement is not because we weren't willing to make reductions to Medicare, health care, do things we need to do to make the system stronger, to protect it going forward.

The reason is we're stuck on this insistence of making the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy permanent. And I think the American people will judge that to be insane.

CHO: Well Senator Kerry, you sound -- you still sound optimistic that you -- you'll reach --


KERRY: No, I'm always an optimist.


CHO: OK, well --

KERRY: There is an opportunity here for us to try to reach an agreement.

CHO: I wish you that and I wish you the best of luck. You and the other 11 members of the super committee.

KERRY: Thank you.

CHO: And I wish you a great Thanksgiving this week.

KERRY: Thank you so much.

CHO: With a special hello to your daughter Alex.

KERRY: Thank you very much. Thank you.