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CNN "Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees" - Transcript

Interview

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COOPER: Well, that's the so-called Buffett bill winning a majority votes in the Senate but not the 60 needed to proceed. Every Republican but one voted to block it. Every Democrat but one voted for it. The bill would have required people earning more than $1 million a year to pay 30 percent in taxes.

Now President Obama has talked up the idea in several different ways. First, that it would put a dent in the debt. But when a congressional study revealed it might only make a tiny dent, the White House changed course. Then last week on a conference call, Jason Furman of the principal -- the principal deputy director of the National Economic Council, the White House said it was -- quote -- "Never our plan to bring the deficit down and get the debt under control significantly through the Buffett Rule."

President Obama later said that even though the legislation wouldn't do enough to cut the deficit, it would help the economy grow. Many economists are skeptical about that. What is clear, though, CNN polling showed the bill enjoyed 72 percent support among Americans, 53 percent support among Republicans.

Where it did not have enough support, though, was in the Senate. Now the White House expected that, pushed the bill anyhow, Republicans, as anticipated, as I said, blocked it, and just moments after the vote, the White House put out this statement from President Obama.

Quote: "Tonight Senate Republicans voted to block the Buffett Rule choosing once again to protect tax breaks for the wealthiest few Americans at the expense of the middle class."

So was the White House playing politics here? Well, you can decide for yourself. The lone Democrat who voted against the bill thinks they were. I spoke with Arkansas senator, Mark Pryor, earlier today.

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COOPER: I have heard you called the Buffett Rule, though, a political ploy which essentially agreeing with Republicans on that who say the White House was pushing it knowing full well Republicans would kill it. Supporters of it would say, well, look, what's wrong with one party putting something up for a vote and getting Congress on record?

SEN. MARK PRYOR (D), ARKANSAS: Well, you know, that happens up here all the time. And I just decided I don't want to play that game anymore. I think people in Arkansas are sick and tired of the partisan games up here. It didn't have the votes to pass the Senate. It was never going to be brought up in the House.

I understand it's a good political issue for the president. I think -- I think he's sincere about it. And I think that what will happen is that will get folded into tax reform either at the end of this year as we do major tax reform next year. But, you know, it is a -- it is political season up here. And with all due respect to the president and to the Republicans, I think both sides are trying to be very political with it. And, you know, let's get back to governing. Let's stop the games up here and let's get back to governing.

COOPER: How much of this is about politics for you? Your critics are saying well, look, you know, you want to -- you're going to be up for re-election in 2014, you're a Democrat in a conservative state, don't want to be a top Republican target. Is that fair?

PRYOR: You know, I know people say that. I wouldn't say that that's particularly fair. I mean, that's -- that's not -- that was not my motivation. I wasn't trying to position myself here at Arkansas.

By the way, I have voted for increasing taxes on millionaires. And I will be the first to tell you that I think millionaires should pay their fair share. I have no mental reservation about that. But trying to do it right now in this circumstances didn't make sense to me. We should do it as part of a larger package.

I have supported something like this with a larger package before. But we need -- we need to get back to really focus on our deficit. We need to connect our tax policy, our spending policy to the deficit and do some serious deficit reduction.

COOPER: You are, though, in an -- in an awkward position. I mean, you really are the last national Democrat standing in a red state like Arkansas.

PRYOR: Well, I am -- let's see. There's two of us in our delegation. There's one House member and then me. And we have several elections this fall. We'll see what happens but, you know, you're right. The state's politics have gone through a change. Who knows how -- if that's a permanent change or if that was just a -- you know, one or two cycle blip and it will return back to the way it normally is.

COOPER: The flip side of this is there's probably plenty of Democrats who are fine to let you vote whatever the way you want as long as it keeps you getting re-elected.

PRYOR: Well, from my standpoint, this tax issue is not about getting re-elected. Like I said before, I have actually voted previously to increase taxes on millionaires. I think millionaires should pay their fair share. But I don't think that we should single them out and pretend like and maybe present that it's really going to change our deficit number because it doesn't change it that much.

This doesn't move the needle that much. We need to do overall tax reform. And, you know, again, I didn't -- I did not try to be political with this. I just thought that the best policy is to wait on this and do it later as part of a larger package.

COOPER: Senator Mark Pryor, I appreciate your time, sir. Thank you.

PRYOR: Thank you. (END VIDEOTAPE)

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