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CNN "Erin Burnett Outfront" - Transcript

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OUTFRONT tonight Senator Chris Coons Democrat from Delaware. Good to see you sir. Appreciate your taking the time. I know we sort of going through that there very carefully, but I'm curious as to what you think about the fact that he makes an announcement about the Bush tax cuts without dealing with all of these other taxes which are very important for the middle class.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE), BUDGET COMMITTEE: Well Erin, thanks for a chance to be on. As a member of the Budget Committee, I have to agree that what we need to get to is the much bigger, much harder problem of solving all the different changes whether it's sequestration or changes in tax rates that are scheduled to kick in, in January. What I like about the president's announcement today is that he simply said let's move forward on what we can all agree on, everybody, Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate, agree that we should not allow these Bush tax cuts to expire on the middle class, on the 98 percent of Americans who make less than $250,000. And as he said in his extended comments, we'll let the question of what the tax rate should be for millionaires and billionaires be decided by the election. I do think it's important for us to start giving some tax certainty to small business owners and families.

BURNETT: Right.

COONS: And if we could start by just solving this one small piece of it, at least that would show some forward progress towards the much bigger fiscal cliff facing families, companies and our economy in January.

BURNETT: OK, but here's my question. You said that the president said the election will decide about the millionaires and billionaires but what about the 3.7 million Americans who don't -- are not millionaires but earn more than $250,000 as a family? I mean he's made that clear --

COONS: Well there is a gap there between 250,000 and a million. That's the position the president is taking and in my view, it helps sort of set the table for the general public. Most folks would agree that 98 percent of Americans represents a broad range, more than the middle class, up into the upper middle class. So the number that I think the president chose today was designed to strike a balance. In the end, our tax policy, Erin, as you mentioned, is going to be about figuring out which tax breaks, which tax expenditures we can afford to continue. And what we have to do to restore some tax fairness that allows the broad run, 98 percent of Americans to accept the cuts in federal spending --

BURNETT: Right.

COONS: -- that will almost inevitably have to come next year.

BURNETT: Right and I think most people know that and accept that. I mean everyone -- all of us as a nation are dealing with that. But what about this you know the JPMorgan analysis was saying look if you -- if this went away for everybody you get $221 billion in revenue. Extending the tax cuts for the under 250 is you get -- it cost 150 billion. You're only getting 71 billion from the wealthiest Americans and I get to this point only sir because I'm trying to understand the reality of it is, is you can't pay for this problem by taxing the wealthy. You can pay for a little bit of it. But you can't pay for all of it. That's the math.

COONS: That's right, Erin. It's not possible for us to either tax our way or spend our way or cut spending to solve the current problem we have. We have record low federal revenues and record high federal spending post-World War II and we're in our 28th month of private sector job growth. To strengthen that job growth we have to continue to make some smart investments. We have to invest in innovation and infrastructure and education. But we also have to allow some tax expenditures, some loopholes to be closed or to expire --

BURNETT: Right. COONS: -- so the broad run of Americans believe that this system is getting fairer. It just doesn't --

BURNETT: Why wouldn't you go for that, then?

COONS: -- pass the common sense test.

BURNETT: Right. But what about that then? Why not just go for that and do a deal where you close the loopholes, lower rates but the wealthier end up paying more, you deal with this fairness issue instead of taking the politically easy path of raising taxes on some people and not others and not dealing with the loopholes at all because this thing he said today doesn't do anything with that, nothing.

COONS: Well Erin my real hope is that we will move forward from this proposal to the broader and more challenging work of trying to engage in comprehensive tax reform that broadens the base, lowers rates and raises revenue. I'm someone who generally supports the Bowles/Simpson framework and there are dozens of senators, Republicans and Democrats working together now to try and work out a framework that we can reduce to legislation that would deal with all of these very tough questions --

BURNETT: So you're for lowering rates --

COONS: (INAUDIBLE) value tax loopholes and expenditures we need to deal with.

BURNETT: Right. But you would be for lowering --

COONS: As long as we close loopholes to pay for it.

BURNETT: Right. So --

COONS: Yes.

BURNETT: OK, so I mean I understand. You're saying you can't get there right now so do this, but once you extend these tax cuts that makes it almost more difficult, doesn't it, for some people rather than others?

COONS: It pushes it into next year the question of what the tax rate will be for the middle class. That's right. But Erin, I also think we have to show that in the Congress we can come together and solve some of these problems. Just last week, we managed to finally pass a bipartisan highway bill, something that invests in putting people to work that invests in strengthening our infrastructure. It took months longer than it should have.

But I think it's important that we are still passing legislation that the president is signing into law so that as folks who aren't worried about the election, they're worried about job creation and about our economy, get some positive signals from what we're doing in Washington. That's what I hear from the state of Delaware. Folks want us to make principled compromise, to find a way forward to improve the fairness of our tax code and strengthen the competitiveness of our economy.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much. Appreciate it Senator Coons for your taking the time. And now let's bring in John Avlon and of course he was honest there. This just pushes it into next year. Translation kicks the can down the road. I mean he was very direct about what this does.

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