NBC "MEET THE PRESS"
HOST: DAVID GREGORY
GUESTS: LOUISIANA GOVERNOR BOBBY JINDAL (R); FLORIDA GOVERNOR CHARLIE CRIST (R); AL HUNT, BLOOMBERG NEWS; MICHELE NORRIS, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO; BECKY QUICK, CNBC
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MR. GREGORY: Our issues this Sunday -- an unprecedented economic crisis grips the nation, and it's the states are at a breaking point -- lost jobs, failing businesses, home foreclosures, and record revenue shortfalls -- all confronting American statehouses. The president says help is on the way.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) This plan does more to lay a new foundation for our cities' growth and opportunity than anything Washington has done in generations. It will bring real and lasting change for generations to come.
MR. GREGORY: But does everyone want it? Some Republicans say maybe not, while others have openly supported the president's efforts. With us, two Republicans on opposite sides of this heated debate. First -- the man who would deliver his party's response to President Obama's Tuesday night address to Congress and considered one of his party's likely contenders for the White House four years from now -- Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. And the man who bucked his own party and stood with President Obama on the stimulus package, Florida Governor Charlie Crist.
Then -- our political roundtable gets to the bottom of this week's highly charged debate over the housing crisis.
RICK SANTELLI (CNBC): (From videotape.) How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor's mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can't pay their bills, raise their hand? (Boos.)
President Obama, are you listening?
MR. GREGORY: And offers insight into a busy political week -- Al Hunt, executive editor for Washington of Bloomberg News; Michele Norris, host of NPR's "All Things Considered"; and Becky Quick, co- anchor of CNBC "Squawk Box."
But first -- the Republican governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, welcome back to "Meet the Press."
GOV. JINDAL: Good morning.
MR. GREGORY: You have a budget shortfall in Louisiana of $2 billion. Now, under the stimulus plan by the Obama administration, you would get a cut of that -- you'd get $4 billion in federal stimulus. But this is what you said on Monday about the stimulus plan: "We're going to have to review each program, each new dollar, to make sure that we understand what are the conditions, what are the strings, and see whether it's beneficial for Louisiana to use those dollars." And just Friday, you made good on that pledge -- not necessarily to take the federal money saying that you would reject almost $100 million in federal unemployment assistance. Why would you turn this money down?
GOV. JINDAL: Well, let's be clear. The best thing that Washington could do to help Louisiana and all of our states with our budgets is to get this economy moving again. I think we just have a fundamental disagreement here. I don't think the best way to do that is for the government to tax and borrow more money. I think the best thing they could have done, for example, was to cut taxes on things like capital gains, the lower tax bracket, to get the private sector spending again. I think they had a provision the net operating losses to help small businesses. Unfortunately, they spent that down. They could have done some things on a real energy policy.
If all they do is borrow federal money and give it to the states, all they're really doing is delaying the inevitable. We are eventually going to have to make these hard choices, anyway. In Louisiana, we made midyear reductions, $341 million. We're going to have to do more with less. What would be more helpful from Washington is less unnecessary spending. How does $300 million for federal cars, $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts -- how is spending like that going to help our economy? How does that stimulate?
MR. GREGORY: All right, but let's focus on -- because I want to get to some of those larger issues in just a moment -- but let's focus on this: Why would you turn down $100 million for federal unemployment assistance for your state?
GOV. JINDAL: Let's look at the programs we turned down. You're talking about temporary federal money that would require permanent change in state law.
MR. GREGORY: It's a tax break.
GOV. JINDAL: Well -- it's -- no -- the $100 million we turned down was temporary federal dollars that would require us to change our unemployment law that would have actually raised taxes on Louisiana businesses. We, as a state, would have been responsible for paying for those benefits after the federal money disappeared.
MR. GREGORY: The Democratic senator from Louisiana, Mary Landrieu, says you're wrong. This is how it was reported in the Times Picayune Saturday: "Senator Landrieu disputed the governor's interpretation and said the new unemployment benefits are designed to be temporary. 'The bill is an emergency measure designed to provide extra help during these extraordinarily tough times, Landrieu said. 'To characterize this provision as a tax increase on Louisiana businesses is inaccurate,'" her point being you could insert a sunset clause when this has to go away, but it would certainly be beneficial at a time when you're in economic stress.
GOV. JINDAL: That's great, except the federal law, if you actually read the bill, and I know it's 1,000 pages, and I know they got it, you know, at midnight, or hours before they vote on it -- if you actually read the bill, there is one problem with that -- the word "permanent" is in the bill. It requires the state to make a permanent change in our law.
Law B, our employer group, agrees with me. They say, "Yes, this will result in increasing taxes on our businesses, this will result in a permanent obligation on the state of Louisiana." It would be like spending $1 to get a dime. Why would we take temporary federal dollars if we're going to end up having a permanent program?
And here is the problem -- some of these things that are called "temporary" programs, and to be permanent government programs, but this one is crystal clear, black-and-white, letter law -- the federal stimulus bill says it has to be a permanent change in state law if you take this money. And so within three years, the federal money is gone. We've got now a permanent change in our laws. We have to pay for it, our businesses pay for it -- I don't think it makes sense to be raising taxes on Louisiana businesses during these economically challenging times.
And what it shows is what we're going to do in the stimulus is we're going to look at every program, every dollar that makes sense for Louisiana, makes sense for our taxpayers, we'd use those programs and dollars. If it doesn't, like on Friday, we said this doesn't make sense for us. This is not a good deal for us. It makes no -- my job is to represent Louisiana taxpayers -- it makes no sense for us to take temporary federal dollars and create permanent state obligations.
MR. GREGORY: Are there other parts of the stimulus money that would go to Louisiana that you will reject?
GOV. JINDAL: Well, we're going to continue to do our process on Friday. We said, for example, we are going to take -- we're going to recommend to the legislature that we take the road money. These are dollars the federal government was going to spend on road, anyway. In my view, they're going to spend it a little more quickly than they would have, otherwise. Louisiana is still a donor state. We gave more in federal gasoline taxes than we get back, so on the same day we said we're not taking the $100 million in the unemployment, we said we will take the road money. We're going to look at every provision, see what's good for the state, see what's not, see what strings are attached.
But the reality is, the bigger philosophical point is this: I just have a fundamental disagreement with this package. When it was originally proposed, it was talked about as --the president originally talked about tax -- target tax cuts as well as infrastructure investment.
MR. GREGORY: One-third of this package is made up of tax cuts.
GOV. JINDAL: Well, but, you look at the provisions that would get our economy moving -- for example, both the House and the Senate had more generous versions for the small businesses, the net operating losses, the carryforwards. They get in a conference, and it ends up smaller than where both houses started.
Other spending started out like the magnetic lev train subsidy started out smaller. It ended up larger than what both chambers passed in conference -- $8 billion, you know, now they're talking about spending billions of that to build a train from Disneyland to Las Vegas. There is so much wasteful spending.
I think the president had a chance -- if he had worked with Republicans instead of allowing Speaker Pelosi to write this bill -- if he had worked with Republicans to say let's really invest in the infrastructure, let's do targeted temporary spending, let's do some tax cuts. Let's get the economy moving. I don't think we're going to solve our economic challenges from government spending.
MR. GREGORY: Democrats would argue with regard to a call for greater tax cuts; that over the course of the Bush presidency, you only had 3 million new jobs through aggressive tax cutting; that the change in median income did not appreciably go up at all, and yet there was this emphasis on tax cuts as the best way to cure what ails the economy.
GOV. JINDAL: I think there is just -- I think this shows the fundamental disagreement --
MR. GREGORY: Is that wrong? Are those facts wrong?
GOV. JINDAL: Well, a couple of things about those facts -- you look at our country's history -- when President Kennedy, when President Reagan, and, yes, when President Bush cut taxes, you know what? They created jobs for our country. They caused some of the best economic times and prosperity for our country, but I think it goes to the fundamental difference about our approaches to this stimulus bill.
On one hand, you have this idea that the way we're going to solve this -- and you heard even the president say that government may be, at one point -- I'll paraphrase -- may be the only entity that can help us solve this. You've got another view that says, "This spending is temporary. It's creating debt my children, my grandchildren are going to have to pay." What I think is the only way we grow this economy is to get the private sector hiring again, expanding, creating jobs. The only way you're going to solve the foreclosure crisis, the only way you're going to have the credit freeze resolved is by the private sector expanding.
MR. GREGORY: Wait a minute, let me just stop you on that point, Governor, because this is a really important point.
GOV. JINDAL: Well, but one last point --
MR. GREGORY: Yes.
GOV. JINDAL: If we can't print enough money to move this economy again, let's be clear -- this isn't free money, this -- because they spent nearly $1 trillion, that's debt that will cause inflation and interest rates.
MR. GREGORY: But you would concede that most economists are worried about deflation right now, not inflation?
GOV. JINDAL: Sure, but if you look at CBO, even the --
MR. GREGORY: Congressional Budget Office --
GOV. JINDAL: Even the congressional's own budget office said that the stimulus actually has the potential to reducing GDP growth because of inflation.
MR. GREGORY: But let me ask you this as a philosophical point -- we are in the midst of an unprecedented global process of deleveraging, which means people are not spending money, they are paying down debt, they are saving money. Businesses are not expanding, they are contracting. So why is it wrong for government to try to create demand for goods and services in the economy when the private sector is too weak?
GOV. JINDAL: Well, I think -- again, I think you could have had a bipartisan stimulus package, which is truly what the president outlined -- targeted, temporary -- if he'd come and said, "Here is infrastructure that is really infrastructure that really will grow our economy," investing in ports and roads can help grow our economy, combined with tax cuts that help small businesses and others employ and stay in business --
MR. GREGORY: But you don't dispute that federal stimulus money is necessary when the economy is not being stimulated through the private sector?
GOV. JINDAL: I think if it's targeted, temporary, and there is a real commitment that this is not creating permanent new government programs, not adding to the deficit, that we understand what temporary means. There is a commitment that we reduce spending. Now we hear tomorrow the president is going to be talking about reducing the debt and the deficit -- you know, it's great. We're going to close the barn door after the horse is gone, but there has to be real attention -- when you look at the spending that was in this stimulus, I think a lot of people are skeptical -- a lot of economists, by the way --
MR. GREGORY: But, Governor, there was a lot of Republicans who complain about the deficit now, didn't have a problem with deficit spending when it came to funding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And you've had, among those, among the likes of Warren Buffet who said, "This is like Pearl Harbor for our economy." Is it worth the deficit spending?
GOV. JINDAL: Well, a couple of things -- both Republicans and Democrats are guilty when it comes to spending, make no mistake about it. Republicans defended incredible growth in spending that we shouldn't have these last several years. This is an order of magnitude different. Let's be clear, because sometimes it's hard to get our minds around these numbers. People are talking about trillions of dollars. We are talking about permanent deficits as far as people are predicting out. When you're talking about the effect this will have on our currency, on interest rates; when you're talking about China being our largest foreign holder of U.S. debt, we're talking about real changes in our economy. That's not free.
You've seen the comparisons -- this is more than we spent -- this one bill is the largest spending bill that Congress has passed; more than we spent in Vietnam; more than -- and you can look -- more than the Louisiana Purchase, to use our local, a relevant example.
But the point is this: It was rushed through the process.
There were many -- I think many would agree there were many aspects of this bill -- how is $1 billion for defense? How is new computers for the federal government paying $1 million for new federal cars -- how is that stimulus -- why does it have to be done without the proper committee hearings? Why didn't the members of Congress get a chance to read and debate this bill? Why did taxpayers get to see online like we were promised we would? Why the rush through the process? Why not do this in pieces? Why not start with what was truly -- what was originally described as temporary, targeted stimulus and, again, it comes down to, we believe, put people to work, let small businesses hire.
MR. GREGORY: I want to have you react to a couple of reactions this week to your position on the stimulus. The first one was an accusation by a top Democrat in the House of hypocrisy -- Jim Clyburn. This is how -- the statement he made on Friday: "House Majority Whip, Representative James Clyburn, argued that many of the federal funds are specifically targeted towards low income minority communities. He also accused GOP governors who have resisted the stimulus as hypocrisy." Quoting him -- "Let's take, for instance, Louisiana Governor Jindal has been in my office a number of times asking for billions of dollars in assistance to stand communities backup as a result of Hurricane Katrina and Rita. Yet he says there is something wrong with this money for the stimulus that comes from the same pot. But he sees nothing wrong when he's trying to stand back up after Katrina."
And this was New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who was at the White House on Friday meeting with the mayors who suggested that your position on the stimulus and this federal money is political posturing. Listen in:
NEW ORLEANS MAYOR RAY NAGIN (D): (From videotape.) I think that governor of the state of Louisiana is a Republican. I think he's been tapped as the up-and-coming Republican who should potentially run for president the next time it goes around. So he has a certain vernacular and a certain way he needs to talk right now. And I told the governor personally, any dollars he does not want, we will take them gladly."
MR. GREGORY: Reaction to both those statements?
GOV. JINDAL: Well, it's not the first time I've disagreed with the good mayor of New Orleans, but going back to Representative Clyburn's comments, a couple of things -- let's be clear -- everybody knows the federal levees that were designed and built by the corps, didn't do what they were supposed to do in 2005. We absolutely have worked with Representative Clyburn and other members of the Congress in both this administration and the previous administration -- as governor of Louisiana I will continue to work to make sure the federal government repairs and builds the levees the way they should have been built in the first place, repairs our coast to prevent against future storms and also, by the way, helps to repair some of the damage that was caused by the breaking of those federal levees. That's important for Louisiana, it's important for our country.
Our state, by the way, $9 billion to $10 billion, comes off our coast in terms of federal oil and gas royalties. If those federal lands within our state, we get 50 percent. We get virtually none of that. You look at 30 percent of the nation's oil and gas, in some form, comes off of our coast. It's important for the country that America rebuilds those levees; that America helps those communities get back on their feet. Absolutely, as the governor of Louisiana, I'm going to say because the federally built and designed levees didn't do what they were supposed to -- absolutely, I'm going to advocate they get rebuilt properly; absolutely, I'm going to be willing to put up my own share; and, absolutely, I'm going to push the federal government to cut through the red tape.
In this stimulus bill, for example, there wasn't new money for Katrina, there wasn't new money for Rita, there was no money targeted after the storms. One provision we did ask for, and I want to thank Senator Landrieu who actually got this provision in -- we said there are 4,000 projects, $1.4 billion already funded, already approved, that has been caught in red tape in the federal government. We said just give us an adjudication process. Tell us yes or no so absolutely as the governor of Louisiana, it's my job to represent the taxpayers of our state. Federal levees didn't do what they were supposed to -- we want them built properly.
MR. GREGORY: Let me -- spend our last couple of minutes talking about politics. What is the state of the Republican Party?
GOV. JINDAL: Look, our Republican Party got fired with cause these last two election cycles. We became the party that defended spending, corruption that we never should have tolerated, and we stopped offering relevant solutions to the problems that Americans care about. I think now is the time, and it's a great opportunity for Republican governors and other leaders to offer conservative base solutions to the problems. For example, whether it's the mortgage crisis, how we can help people keep their homes; whether it's the banking crisis -- we won't have time to talk about the mark to market and some of the other reforms that could be done, whether it's the stimulus package. The Republican Party has got to offer conservative, alternative solutions.
I think our obligation is to work with the president every chance we can; to be bipartisan. We've done that in Louisiana, we've cut taxes six times, reformed ethics. We need to work with the president every chance we can, but on principle, when we disagree with him, we should be unafraid to stand up on principle and to point out our alternative solutions.
MR. GREGORY: Will that be your message Tuesday night in response to President Obama?
GOV. JINDAL: We can't just be the party of "No." We have to offer real solutions. We stand ready to work with our president. I think he has a chance to work and lead our country in a bipartisan way. Unfortunately, with the stimulus, he allowed congressional leaders to write this bill. A lot of them put 10 years' worth of spending in this bill they've been waiting to do. I think he's got a real chance -- we want to work with him, going forward.
MR. GREGORY: You talk about core conservative principles -- there are some in the party who say the only way the Republican Party is really going to get back on track is if it seeks to broaden the party. If it can broaden the party geographically, will that only happen if there is a change on some core positions on issues like climate change, social issues, stem cell research?
GOV. JINDAL: I think on each of the issues that Americans care about, if we'll offer relevant solutions for authentic and honest with the people, I think governors have an opportunity to demonstrate proven track records. We have to balance our budgets and build roads and schools and other things and grow our economies. I think if we can offer authentic, honest solutions, we will build a large coalition. There will be people that don't agree with us on everything. Ronald Reagan did it, and, to his credit, President Obama did.
MR. GREGORY: But the party has to expand, do you believe that, if it's going to be successful?
GOV. JINDAL: Oh, absolutely. Look, we lost both elections. We got less than 51 percent of the votes. Obviously, we've got to expand, but I don't mean we expand by becoming an imitation of the other party. I think we expand by standing on principle for what we believe in. I think that attracts voters. I think that attracts supporters. They may not agree with us on everything, but they'll respect our honesty and, most important, they'll respect the results.
MR. GREGORY: Before you go, your political future is something that's been speculated about. Here you were in November in Iowa, traveling there to raise some money all the way from Louisiana, and this is how The Economist reported some of your recent activities: "Mr. Jindal's recent fundraising forays to other states, including Iowa, which every four years holds the crucial first presidential caucus, have raised some eyebrows at home. His ambition is well known, and most people think he is laying the groundwork for a run at the presidency in 2012." Do you want to be president?
GOV. JINDAL: I want to run for reelection to be governor of Louisiana in 2011. I've told the people of our state we have a once- in-a-lifetime chance to change our state. We just finished the longest presidential election in America's history. I don't think our country needs another election. I think we need this president to be successful. We need to work with him. When we disagree then stand on principle.
MR. GREGORY: If you're reelected in 2011, will you serve out your term as governor in Louisiana?
GOV. JINDAL: If the people of Louisiana will have me, I absolutely want to be governor for the next seven years. Now, that's up to the voters of Louisiana. We've got a lot of work to do at home. We've cut taxes, we've grown the economy, we reformed ethics laws. We just have a lot of work to do.
MR. GREGORY: So if you win, you will serve out your term?
GOV. JINDAL: I want the people -- yes, it's my intent to run for reelection. If they elect me to serve as governor, I will --
MR. GREGORY: You're not ruling out a run for the presidency?
GOV. JINDAL: What I'm saying is I'm running for reelection. I have no plans beyond that.
MR. GREGORY: So your position essentially is that you're focused on doing the job that the people of Louisiana have sent you there to do?
GOV. JINDAL: Absolutely.
MR. GREGORY: All right, so just to show you, we save our tapes around here. There was another prominent politician who had something similar to say when he was on the program back in 2006. Watch this.
(Begin videotaped segment.)
SENATOR BARACK OBAMA (D-IL): I'm not focused on running for higher office, I'm focused on doing the job that the people of Illinois just sent me to do.
TIM RUSSERT (Moderator, "Meet the Press."): So you will not run for president or vice president in 2008?
SEN. OBAMA: I will not.
(End videotaped segment.)
MR. GREGORY: We'll be checking this tape closely.
GOV. JINDAL: Keep it in the archives.
MR. GREGORY: Governor Jindal, thank you very much.
GOV. JINDAL: Thank you, and Happy Mardi Gras.
MR. GREGORY: Thank you. Coming next -- the other side of this heated debate over the stimulus -- a GOP supporter of Obama's stimulus package, Governor Charlie Crist of Florida. Plus, our political and economic roundtable -- all here, only on "Meet the Press."
MR. GREGORY: We're back with the Republican governor of Florida, Charlie Crist. Welcome, Governor.
GOV. CRIST: Good to see you, David.
MR. GREGORY: So there you were, down in Florida, in Fort Myers, with President Obama just a couple of weeks ago talking about the stimulus plan -- very supportive of the stimulus plan. Why would you buck your own party, which did not vote for this plan in Congress, as you know, to support the stimulus?
GOV. CRIST: It's not a matter of bucking the party, it's a matter of helping the people. I mean, I really view it as an issue of what can I do that's best for the people of Florida? We've got almost 20 million people that live in the Sunshine State now. I think my obligation is, in essence, the CEO of the state, to do everything I can to help us get through this tough economy. Certainly, this stimulus package, about $12.2 billion to Florida will help Florida an awful lot.
MR. GREGORY: You heard Governor Jindal on the program just a couple of minutes ago -- a much different view; thinks they got the plan all wrong. Do you disagree with the government role that's being exercised here in trying to fix the economy?
GOV. CRIST: I do. I think that, you know, there are times when you're in a crisis, and we all need to work together in order to get through those crises, and I think this is one of those times. It is fundamental to be able to make sure that we help our children in school. This is going to help us in our education in Florida by about $3.5 billion, it's going to help us with Medicaid, the most vulnerable among us who really need help and need it now. That will be an excess of $5 billion for Florida. It also helps us in road construction and producing jobs. That's almost $1.5 billion for the Sunshine State. It's fundamentally important that we help the people, we reach out to them, we understand during a time of need -- in the past five weeks, I've visited six unemployment offices throughout Florida. I look into the eyes of these people, and I understand that the challenges are serious that they're having to deal with, and I want to do everything I can to help them.
MR. GREGORY: There is no Republican from Florida in Congress who supported the stimulus. One prominent Republican consultant said this about you and your support for it: "I don't think he's helped any national Republican ambitions he may have had by stepping up to the plate and batting for the other team. There's a difference between working in a bipartisan way for the common good and switching sides and putting on the other team's jersey. At the one moment when we finally found our voice and remember who we are, as Republicans, Charlie Crist forgets. It is stunning."
The governor of South Carolina, Mark Sanford, also said nobody thinks you're a fiscal conservative. Are you an Obama Republican?
GOV. CRIST: I'm a Florida Republican, and in the Florida way, we work together in a bipartisan fashion to do what's right for the people. That's really what it's all about. You know, people run for office and work to try to help their constituents, the people of their state or their district or their country. In my case, it's Florida, and that's all I care about, and in Florida we work across the aisle. My friends in the House and the Senate that are of the Democratic Party, I reached out to them. People like Robert Wexler. He wanted to have a paper trail for our elections. We had some embarrassing elections in the past in my state. I didn't want my state to be embarrassed anymore. So I'll take ideas from anybody. It really doesn't matter if they're a Republican, a Democrat, or an independent -- if they're a Floridian, and they care about the people of our state, I want to work with them to make sure that we have a better future and a brighter future.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think it's a mistake for the Republican Party to define itself by opposition to the stimulus?
GOV. CRIST: Well, it may be. All I know is, I have to do what I think is in the best interests of the people of Florida, and from my perspective it's to try and help them -- help them every single day in every way that I can in education, infrastructure, in health care, do the kinds of things that keep us from having to raise taxes.
You know, another part that people don't talk about in the stimulus bill is that it cuts taxes -- about one-third of it cuts taxes. That's an important thing for people to remember, I think, because people need a break. We've been able to cut taxes in Florida. We have reduced our property taxes. It's the largest single tax cut in the history of my state. I'm very proud of that.
At the same time, because of the stimulus, we'll be able to pay our teachers more next year than we were this past year. So I think it works, it works well, it helps people, it does what's right.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think the president has the right prescription to ease this recession?
GOV. CRIST: I think he's on the right track. I don't think anybody says this is a perfect bill. I don't. I don't think even President Obama says that, but we've got to do something. We are at a time of need, and to do nothing certainly is not acceptable.
This is not perfect, but we've got to do something to try to get our country back on track for the benefit of our people.
MR. GREGORY: I want to talk a couple of minutes about housing. Florida, of course, the second-highest rate of foreclosures in the country in 2008; you also benefited from an incredible housing boom, and a speculative boom, that preceded the fall of the housing market. Now, the Obama administration's plan essentially boils down to this: More available refinancing for about 5 million homeowners, and help with payments -- modification of payments, reduction in payments for 3 million to 4 million homeowners. Is this the right plan?
GOV. CRIST: It may be a good start. I think some of the details still have to be rolled out in early March, as I understand it, and we're going to watch it very closely. But we need to do something to help the housing market. Certainly, it's huge in Florida, as you know, and you alluded to.
One thing that's happening in Florida that's encouraging, though -- in December of '08, we had a 27 percent increase in housing sales over December of '07. I think that's mostly a matter of people getting reasonable about the prices they expect for the value of their home.
MR. GREGORY: But this housing plan -- can you describe how it will stop the slide of housing prices?
GOV. CRIST: Well, I'm not sure that it will. I don't think we know that yet. I think it's too early to tell.
MR. GREGORY: Can it be called a success if it doesn't do that?
GOV. CRIST: Well, probably not but, you know, none of us have a crystal ball, so we have to try something. We have to do something to make this economy move forward. I think it was Warren Buffet who said -- and maybe it was quoted earlier -- that this is like the Pearl Harbor of the economy. I mean, we are in a crisis. I think everybody understands that and appreciates it; whether it's housing or whatever sector. We've got to do something to get it going again.
MR. GREGORY: But there are critics of the plan, and here is one criticism that appeared in Bloomberg: "'The Obama administration's mortgage modification plan offers the most aid to homeowners who really stretched to buy their house and lied the most about their income,' Amherst Securities Group, LP, analyst said."
I want to go back to Florida -- again, the biggest beneficiary of the housing boom. The rest of the country did not share in the upside that Florida shared of the housing boom, a huge speculative boom. Why should taxpayers have to subsidize the poor decisions of so many Floridians who misrepresented their income, got in over their heads when it came to paying their mortgages when people around the country played by the rules, didn't get in over their heads, bought what they could afford?
GOV. CRIST: Well, we all have to play by the rules, you know, we all have to strive to do what's right. Some people speculated beyond their means, and there shouldn't be a bailout for that. That would be inappropriate, and it would be wrong.
MR. GREGORY: But that's a big part of this plan.
GOV. CRIST: Well, I didn't --
MR. GREGORY: Three to 4 million people should get modifications on their mortgages.
GOV. CRIST: I didn't say the plan is something that I've adopted. We're looking at the details.
MR. GREGORY: Do you support it or don't you?
GOV. CRIST: Well, I think we might. It all depends on what the details are, once they're finally laid forward.
MR. GREGORY: You're not sure yet. I mean, that's the significant point -- the Florida governor doesn't support the plan yet.
GOV. CRIST: Well, we don't support it yet. You know, we have to look over it, we have to review it, we have to be practical and pragmatic. I'm not going to lurch forward because we're on the show today. I appreciate the opportunity, but I want to be prudent, and I want to be cautious.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think modifying payments, modifying mortgages works?
GOV. CRIST: It can, it can. And, you know, to renegotiate, we've encouraged that in Florida, David, and we think it's important that banks work with people. We understand that this is a time when it's difficult for people to make those monthly payments, and so we got the Florida Bankers' Association together, and we said, "Look, number one, can you suspend your foreclosures during the holiday season?" They did, voluntarily. Another thing we said is, "You know, wouldn't it be better, instead of foreclosing on the home -- you don't want to beat a bunch of homeowners around the state of Florida -- wouldn't it be better to renegotiate with those homeowners, maybe lower the amount that they have to pay during the month so that they can get through it -- that the homeowner still has a place to have their family, still has a place to raise their children, and you don't have to take over the debt that would be on the house."
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about your political future -- would you like to run for the Senate in 2010?
GOV. CRIST: I don't know. I'll focus on Florida, and I think it's important, in my case, we've got a session that begins the first week in March. I've got to get through what's happening in the Florida economy. I'm focused on that, and that's where my focus has been and will stay.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about the Republican Party generally. Who is the leader of the party, would you say, right now?
GOV. CRIST: The people. The people are the leader of the party.
MR. GREGORY: The people have to represent someone, have to actually elect someone to head the party.
GOV. CRIST: Well, they've elected a lot of people, a lot of Republicans around the country.
MR. GREGORY: Is there no one national leader right now?
GOV. CRIST: I don't know if there is or is not at this time, and I think -- well, there is a national leader -- his name is President Obama, and the people elected him, and I'm willing to give him a good shot and try to help make this work. We're in a tough time, as we talked about before. I think we do need to be bipartisan, we need to be, in fact, nonpartisan. We are all Americans. Our country is at a dire point, and we need to do everything we can to work together to get America through this, and I know that she will.
MR. GREGORY: You have disagreements with your party right now, naturally, with regard to the stimulus plan. In your view, what is the key to the road back to power for Republicans?
GOV. CRIST: I think the key is doing what's right for the people. It's by having a compassionate approach, it's by being fiscally conservative, and it's by utilizing common sense. The people of our country want people in office who will put common sense in their decision-making process. Many times, government and common sense don't meet. We're trying to introduce them a lot more in Florida.
MR. GREGORY: Is it your view that the party in Washington, the Republican Party, should not be the party of "No?"
GOV. CRIST: Well, you shouldn't be the party of "No." I think you have -- well, there is a time to say no, but I think you need to be a party that works across the aisle; that you participate, both of them have to do that. I think it's important for both Democrats and Republicans to work together for Americans.
MR. GREGORY: We will leave it there. Governor Crist, thank you very much.
GOV. CRIST: Thank you, David.
MR. GREGORY: We'll continue our discussion online and ask Governor Crist some questions that our viewers have submitted via e- mail and Twitter. You can watch our "Meet the Press Take Two" Web extra. It's up this afternoon on our website at mtp.msnbc.com.
And, coming next, a closer look at this week's housing debate and insights on a very busy week for Washington and the Obama administration. Our roundtable weighs in -- Al Hunt, Michele Norris, and Becky Quick, only on "Meet the Press."
MR. GREGORY: We're back with our political roundtable -- Becky Quick of CNBC; Al Hunt of Bloomberg News; and Michele Norris of NPR, welcome, all. Becky, first time on the program.
MS. QUICK: Thank you, it's great to be here.
MR. GREGORY: Glad to have a new voice here, thank you very much. I want to start on this issue of housing, because the debate has been fast and furious this week and, Al Hunt, I have to say I was struck. Governor Crist, governor of Florida, second-highest foreclosure rate, he is still not necessarily on board with this plan to up the refinancing, lowering the standards for refinancing, and offering a reduction of payments for people who have real dangers now of foreclosing. That, to me, is striking.
MR. HUNT: Yeah, it is, David. He rather equivocated. I think he left open the fact he may come back and Tuesday suddenly find wisdom in the plan. Look, it's really tough stuff. Three million people have lost their homes, 6 million are threatened, there are some people who say, "Why should we reward bad behavior," on the other hand, my house may be fine because I financed it 20 years ago, but if the house next door is in trouble, that means my property values are going down, not to mention the 6 million who lose their jobs." So it's really tough.
There is Obama, has he come up with a perfect plan? I suspect not, few plans are. But I am struck by the range of experts who think it's a workable and a good plan, ranging from CEOs like Jamie Dimon, all the way to the consumer advocates that are on the housing side. So I would say most people would give him a pretty good grade for a good start.
MR. GREGORY: And I think we should frame this correctly, which is that the White House view here is that additional foreclosures is terrible for the housing market because it pulls down that market, pulls down prices further, and they believe that the majority of people here would be refinanced if they are at risk of foreclosure and that it's important to do that again for the general health of the housing market.
But there is some significant disagreement on the merits. Rick Santelli was on Becky's program, "Squawk Box" this week. He is a trader in Chicago, an on-air editor for CNBC, and this is what he said about this effort to modify payments, reduce payments this week. Watch:
MR. SANTELLI: (From videotape.) How about this, President New Administration? Why don't you put up a website to have people vote on the Internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize the losers' mortgages or would we like to at least buy cars and buy houses in foreclosure and give them to people that might have a chance to actually prosper down the road and reward people that could carry the water instead of drink the water?
How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor's mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can't pay their bills? Raise their hand. (Boos.)
President Obama, are you listening?
MR. GREGORY: One person who was listening was the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, who took on Santelli by name from the podium:
ROBERT GIBBS (White House Press Secretary): (From videotape.) I would encourage him to read the president's plan and understand that it will help millions of people, many of whom he knows. I would be more than happy to have him come here and read it. I would be happy to buy him a cup of coffee -- decaf.
Let me do this, too. This is a copy of the president's home affordability plan. This is available on the White House website, and I would encourage him, download it, hit "print" and begin to read it.
MR. GREGORY: Well, I have read the plan from top to bottom, and the reality, Becky, is that Mr. Santellis' criticism is shared by a lot of people who think that, a, it is fundamentally unfair to subsidize people who may have misrepresented their income, gotten in over their heads with what they owe. There are also real questions about whether modification worked -- 50 percent to 60 percent of modifications end up in a re-default. That's a fact.
MS. QUICK: It is, and we spoke with Jim Lockhart this week. He is the head of OFHEO, which oversees Fannie and Freddie. He said that they're hoping -- they're hoping -- that 40 percent of these people that they help out won't fall into foreclosure, anyway. That's just what they're hoping at this point.
When Rick was talking, I mean, if you watch him on a daily basis, he does stuff like this all the time. He yells about Wall Street getting a bailout, he yells about 10-year Treasury prices on a regular basis, but the reason this probably picked up steam is he touched on something, touched a nerve that -- well, lots and lots of people around the country are feeling. They feel like the ants who are now being asked to take care of the grasshoppers.
Now, there were probably some ants that were out there working all summer, too, and you feel bad if they got stuck out in the rain, but there are people who are just angry about the idea that people lied on their mortgage applications and they are going to get bailed out.
MR. GREGORY: You hear about subprime loans, Alt-A loans, which are known as "liar's loans." Michele, the White House position is what's wrong with Santelli's argument is doing nothing is not a good option.
MS. NORRIS: And it goes to what Al was saying earlier -- if I paid my mortgage on time, made great sacrifices to do so, took on an extra job, sold a car, I played by the rules, why does this person down the street get this federal funding? Well, if their house goes into foreclosure, it affects the value of my house and every other house on the block. That's the argument that they make.
The reality is, though, when the economy turns sour, usually we turn to jobs, and that's the indicator of the strength or the weakness of the economy. Right now, the housing market is the beating heart of the economy, and if they don't fix the housing market, everything else will just continue to tumble south.
You know, in talking about the people who maybe misrepresented themselves on a loan, the other big question is the lenders -- you know, they will be receiving federal money also. Well, lenders who wrote bad loans -- knowingly wrote loans to people they knew would be unable to make these payments once the balloon hit two, three years out -- will they get federal funding?
Gibbs's reaction this week was an indicator of just how sensitive they are right now to the fact that they have got to make a major sales job right now. The fact that he spent so much time at that briefing talking about this rant on cable television shows.
MR. GREGORY: And it's not just housing. It is saving the banking industry generally. Mr. Hunt, you made some news this week in your interview with a chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Chris Dodd. This was a portion of your interview:
(Begin videotaped segment.)
MR. HUNT: Mr. Chairman, as you know, Alan Greenspan and Lindsey Graham have recently said that it may be necessary to nationalize some banks. Do you think, as a short-term measure, that some nationalization of a few banks may be very likely?
SENATOR CHRIS DODD (D-CT): I don't welcome that at all, but I could see how it's possible it may happen. I'm concerned that we may end up having to do that, at least for a short time.
(End videotaped segment.
MR. GREGORY: And here is now the markets reacted as captured by this headline in The Washington Post: "Bank Shares Topple on Talk of Possible U.S. Takeover." Our banking industry is so fragile as it is, and the government has been a bit opaque about whether it's going to go in and nationalize the banks.
MR. HUNT: David, I think what this story really suggests -- I'd love to say it suggests my brilliant question, which really is the --
MR. GREGORY: That's what I thought it indicated.
MR. HUNT: Exactly, yeah, my wife disabused me of that notion. I think what it suggests is the fear and the fragility in markets -- that purveys markets. What Chris Dodd said was relatively benign. It's what Ben Bernanke, what Alan Greenspan, what Lindsey Graham has said before, and it's quite simple -- if we decide, as I think there is a consensus, that some banks are too big to fail; that it would be far more injurious, far more cascading than the Lehman effect last September, and if you're going to give a stress test, a solvency test, and most experts say a number of them can't pass it, what are the options?
Well, one of the options is some kind of government temporary takeover. Now, if they want to consider that option, David, I think what we've learned is they better come up with another word. "Nationalization" is a word that just scares people.
MR. GREGORY: Well, and, Becky, there is a larger point here, which is, first of all, the more the shares of these banks gets talked down, the closer you get to wiping out the shareholder completely -- and it's not clear to me that everybody understands that the investor in this country, who is not just a fat cat -- the investor is us, it is the taxpayer, it's the teacher, it's somebody who has invested in a 401k. The investors on the sidelines, scared to death about taking any risk. And unless that changes, this economy really can't turn around.
MS. QUICK: And what you hear from investors is they don't necessarily hate everything or fear everything. What they fear is not knowing the rules of the game. They're getting changed all the time, which is why, when you asked Dodd about that, and he says, "Maybe we'll nationalize," and then you hear from the White House saying, "Well, we're still going to have a private banking system." Okay, but that doesn't really answer the question. Are you nationalizing some banks? Are you taking over some banks? What does it mean if you nationalize a bank? There's just a lot --
MR. GREGORY: And what does it mean?
MS. QUICK: Well, if they take over -- I think you can look at AIG right now and say that AIG is nationalized. They own the majority of that company, they own --
MR. GREGORY: They got $160 billion from the government.
MS. QUICK: They are going to have to do anything the company tells them. You could also look at somebody like a Citigroup or a Bank of America, though, and say hey, they're going to be basically -- the government may not actually own those banks outright, but you can bet they are not going to be doing anything -- the management there -- that they don't run past the government. If the government doesn't like it, they're not going to be doing it, anyway.
MR. GREGORY: And, Michele, does the government really want to be in the business of running the major banks?
MS. NORRIS: Well, that's the question is -- we know what the government -- I mean, Barack Obama has assembled a rip-smart team of economic advisors, but if they take over -- there are so many questions, detailed questions, about liquidity in the markets, what kind of loans they can make, I mean, it goes well beyond the questions about CEO salaries if they are actually taking over and running the hearts and the guts of those.
MR. HUNT: Michele said a minute ago, because I think she's absolutely right. Right now we have an incredible fear, a psychological fear. I think the economy is going to -- and most experts, more importantly, say that the economy is going to be lousy for the next year. You're not going to see any effects of this stimulus bill for, you know, at least a year, and you're not going to see it when jobs and housing start to rebound, which is why I think, and all due respect, Mr. Santelli's comments were so sophomoric.
Until you address that, you're not going to address the question of confidence, you're not going to get credit flowing again, you're not going to resolve the banks. I don't know when that's going to happen, but I know it's not going to happen until jobs and housing rebound.
MS. QUICK: We believe it's got to be done in terms of writing down the principle on mortgages. Do you think that that has to be a part of it?
MR. HUNT: I haven't heard a better plan. There may be one, but I think the idea of ranting about -- you know, some people are going to -- who made mistakes -- a lot of these people made very innocent mistakes. They were duped, and I think to say that they shouldn't be helped is really quite interesting.
MR. GREGORY: Let me just move on to the budget, which will be a big issue this week -- the first federal budget under the Obama administration in a really difficult economic environment, and a huge deficit environment. The president will aim to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term. He is also going to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire in 2010 for those making over $250,000. There was a thought that he would do that immediately. Now they're just going to -- he doesn't want to raise taxes in the course of this economic environment, it will have to expire first.
MS. NORRIS: He wants to keep that campaign promise, but they can obviously argue that the parameters have changed; that the economy has gone south, and that changes things.
The thing that is surprising, actually astonishing to me, is their talk about deficit reduction. I mean, in reducing the deficit, you know, by that amount -- I mean, it would be difficult if you take the -- if you just separate the troubles in the economy -- it would have been difficult because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; it would have been difficult because the baby boomers that are now marching into their sunset years and the stress on Social Security, and so to talk about this kind of deficit reduction in a short period of time -- wow, I mean, that's the kind of thing that could really boomerang and come back to haunt him -- come back to bite him. Especially when -- (inaudible) -- cheating when you're counting in the cost of the war and some other things that have been taken out before.
MR. GREGORY: Is this overly ambitious -- to think you can cut it in half?
MR. HUNT: It's certainly ambitious, David, and I think the key here is health care. The key here is what you can do to both reform health care, to get more health insurance to people and try to save some money at the same time -- that is a very, very dicey trick to pull off. That's central, I think, to all these arguments.
MR. GREGORY: Let me move on to one of the spicier topics of this year, and that is Illinois politics. The president might have thought filling his vacant Senate seat would have been a little bit easier than this, but now Senator Roland Burris is caught up in changing stories about whether or not he tried to raise funds for Governor Blagojevich before he was appointed by Blagojevich who is, of course, under investigation and has been charged with corruption for trying to sell, allegedly, Obama's Senate seat.
All of this happening, Senator Burris indicating he may make a decision in the near future to step down and, again, Press Secretary Gibbs at the White House appeared to be nudging him a little bit on Friday. Let's listen:
MR. GIBBS: (From videotape.) The appointment of Senator Burris was -- and his taking the Senate seat was based largely on the representations that he'd made. Some of the stories seem to be at variance with what's happened -- that the president is supportive of an investigation that would get some full story out, and I think it might be important for Senator Burris to take some time this weekend to either correct what has been said and certainly think of what lays in his future.
MR. GREGORY: Do you get the impression that every word of that statement was thought through very, very carefully. Of course, Governor Blagojevich has been impeached, Governor Quinn now of Illinois has called on Senator Burris to resign. Michele, what's going on?
MS. NORRIS: Senator Burris spent part of his weekend speaking to FBI agents, and, you know, perhaps thinking about this. What was interesting is Robert Gibbs said "stories at variance with what happened." That was a very artful way to suggest that he may not have been telling the truth.
One key person who has not called for Senator Burris to step down at this point is Mayor Daley. At this point, he said he is not willing to do that. Because of the way the Chicago political machinery works, if that were to happen, I think that would really spell bad news for Roland Burris. That has not happened yet.
MR. GREGORY: And yet, Al, for Senate Democrats this would come full circle to where they wanted to start, anyway, which is to have a freer hand in choosing who they wanted.
MR. HUNT: What they now think is the position they should have kept. Harry Reid caved on this. Robert Gibbs was audio strong -- I mean -- (inaudible) -- and he is a dead man walking. The only question is when does he do it? Sooner, or does he wait longer? But, certainly, both the Obama administration and the Senate Democratic leadership would like this long nightmare to be over.
MS. QUICK: Let me say one thing -- you know, this is so interesting, because this was supposed to be Illinois' moment in the sun, and they sent a son of Illinois to the White House, and then, you know, this trail follows.
MR. GREGORY: In our remaining moments, I want to spend a couple of moments talking about Eric Holder, the attorney general, the first African-American attorney general, and he gave a speech about the national dialog about race in this country, or lack thereof. And he used some charged language, and this is what he said:
ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: (From videotape.) Though this nation has probably thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and we, I believe, continue to be, in too many ways essentially a nation of cowards.
MR. GREGORY: And, Al, his point is that the dialog about race in this country is too stilted, and it doesn't happen, and that people are still afraid to have it. Was that the right way to invite people to have that conversation more freely?
MR. HUNT: Michele and I were talking about this beforehand. I think that he is absolutely right on the history. I think he makes a very valid point. I think the attorney general should not be making that point. I think it weakens him in some of the tough actions he's going to have to take that deal with race. So I think it was a poor choice of words, even though it's hard to quarrel with his history.
MS. NORRIS: And that almost -- what you just said, though, seems to confirm the argument that he is making -- that if he talks openly about race that he can't deal with race. He seems to be saying that we need to talk openly about race.
I think if he had said Americans are uncomfortable talking about race; that Americans are skittish of talking about race, we probably wouldn't be talking about it at this table right now.
MR. GREGORY: So, Michele, what happens now? Is President Obama, the first African-American president, is he or should he be a catalyst for this conversation, or rather does this conversation, in a more open way, have to happen around our dinner tables and in other more casual settings amongst all of us?
MS. NORRIS: Well, you know, I was speaking to a segment on the radio about this this week, and one of the things that was said that I thought was so striking is when someone calls for a conversation like this, people like us sit at tables like this, and we have this conversation. But the places where the conversation really needs to happen is where that conversation generally doesn't happen, because it's really difficult to talk about this. It's fraught with landmines, people are afraid of saying the wrong thing or the right thing, so sometimes they don't say anything. It's fraught with anger and resentment and guilt.
MR. GREGORY: Then in truth --
MS. NORRIS: (Inaudible) -- the need for --
MR. GREGORY: Unless there's a spark like this, the use of words, the "coward," sometimes the conversation won't happen at all.
MS. NORRIS: Yeah, I think Rick Santelli would use the same argument for getting people to talk about what's happening in the mortgage argument. It does -- by saying these words, it does -- and using these terms, it does make us talk about it.
MS. QUICK: Can I say one thing, though? I think that what you see here has dropped a slightly different view of the need for dialog, and I hear two very different conversations, and in some ways they are coming from two different camps -- from people of color and from Caucasian Americans, and when you talk about the need for -- or the move toward a more post-racial society, you don't hear that so much from people of color, and it's almost like that ship is heading toward an iceberg, because from people of color, what you are hearing more often is, "Let's now have a more open dialog about race. Let's not" --
MR. GREGORY: Right. "Let's not shut the dialog off because --
MS. QUICK: You can't go over it, you can't go under it, you've got to go through it, and going through it can be tough, but you need to go through it in order to get to the other side.
MR. GREGORY: And that's the point, Al, is there is an opening here, but it's just the opening with an African-American president. That may be a starting point, but it doesn't mean that that shuts off the conversation and that everything is okay.
MR. HUNT: Well, that's right, and I actually agree with everything Michele said, and I still think it was a poor choice of words. For instance, I believe last March that Barack Obama helped open a dialog. He was forced into because of the Rev. Wright controversy. He helped open a dialog. His words were chosen more carefully, which I think made for a more construct, if very limited, dialog.
MR. GREGORY: All right, we're going to have to leave it there. We'll be right back.
MR. GREGORY: Watch a special broadcast of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Tuesday morning live from the White House on the morning of the president's address to Congress. Among their guests, senior advisor to President Obama, David Axelrod and White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, I'll join them as well. That's "Morning Joe" live from the White House Tuesday morning and, of course, Tuesday night -- complete coverage of President Obama's address on NBC and MSNBC.
Also, look for updates from me this week on the president's speech, the budget battle and more. It's all on our website at mtp.msnbc.com. That's all for day, we'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's "Meet the Press."