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MSNBC "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" - Transcript


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OLBERMANN: The message, not surprisingly given the polls we rattled off earlier. A tax debate is good for the Democrats, that this issue cutting taxes for 98 percent of the country, an Obama tax cut if you will, while letting Bush tax cuts for the rich expire is a political winner for the Democrats with the majority of Americans solidly behind it.

We"re going to go back to the Hill now with Congressman Chris Van Hollen, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, fresh from that very same meeting with the Democratic Caucus. And the congressman is hooked up.

And we appreciate you rushing out to do this for us tonight, sir.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD), DCCC CHAIR: Good to be with you Keith.

OLBERMANN: Grover Norquist, as we quoted him before you arrive, thinks Republicans could be very well falling into a Democratic trap on this exact issue. Have your members decided to spring that trap?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, as you know, Keith, Mr. Boehner, the Republican leader, made it clear from his remarks the other day that he recognizes that the American people will not stand for the idea that 98 percent of the American people"s tax cuts are going to be held hostage to get in a big break for the top 2 percent, a break which we know adds $700 billion to the deficit and will slow down long-term economic growth.

So, this is a very clear and defining issue. Stan Greenberg talked about that. And I think it does let people know throughout the country, you know, whose side are you on.

And when you"ve got Mitch McConnell coming out and saying, you know what, 98 percent of the American people, their tax relief has to wait until we do something for the top 2 percent, even though it puts it on our national credit card, and we all are going to be paying years and years for those tax cuts for the very wealthy--you know, that"s an issue that clearly defines the candidates and the parties.

OLBERMANN: Congressman, wouldn"t calling these tax cuts what they actually are, the Obama middle class tax cuts and then forcing Republicans to go out there and vote against them in a month before the election, or even in the Senate filibuster against them. Would that not be manna from political heaven for the Democrats, especially the way the midterms are shaping up 49 days out?

VAN HOLLEN: Look, Keith, I do think it"s worth a fight. I do think it"s worth a vote. You know, as to whether we start in the House or the Senate, that"s obviously something that we have to figure out. But there is no doubt about it.

With Mitch McConnell saying he intends to block middle class tax relief, it"s a fight we want to have. I think we should put them to the test.

I should also add, you know, this whole argument they make about needing to protect small businesses is absolutely bogus. We now know that the nonpartisan, you know, Joint Tax Committee has said only 2 percent of small businesses fall into that category where they would be affected at all.

And what we"re learning--and this is an important point--that those 2 percent, they include a lot of big hedge funds. They include some of the "Fortune" 100 companies. They include Bechtel Corporation, a major construction firm that does a lot of contracts with the federal government. And the reason is that under the definitions of small businesses, it includes all S corporations. It doesn"t--it"s not your mom and pops that they"re talking about.

Among those 2 percent are small businesses they"re talking about, it"s actually a lot of big lobbying firms in Washington, hedge funds on Wall Street, and some bigger corporations.

So, we should put to rest this notion that they"re out there protecting the small business guy. And we all know that after two Bush tax cuts for the very wealthy, what happened? We actually lost 630,000 private sector jobs in the economy eight years later.

So, this notion that you somehow need it for job growth and economic growth has been proven--it"s been proven false by the history of the last eight years. What we do know is that in the long-term doing this and adding $700 billion to the deficit will hurt job growth and slow down the economy.

OLBERMANN: Mr. Greenberg just told us, and one would presume he told the caucus that the middle class tax fight versus the tax cuts for the rich is one that the Democrats can win and can explain and that the voting public is ready to hear that argument. You told "Plum Line" today that it"s a good issue for your party.

Was there pushback to any degree at this caucus meeting today by Democrats who don"t--who don"t buy into this argument still?

VAN HOLLEN: Look, Keith, we are now having our members come back to Washington from all over the country. And so, we"re going to have a discussion. But there is no doubt that the overwhelming view was that set forth by the president, which is that it"s important to move forward on this issue.

You know, the Republicans set this ticking time bomb. I mean, when they passed these tax cuts way back, they said we"re going to have them expire at the end of this year. What we"re saying is: let"s make sure that the middle class gets a continuation of a tax cut, but we can"t afford it for the top 2 percent. And the notion that it"s somehow necessary for job growth is just proven wrong.

And number two, their whole approach is betrayed by the fact that they were over in the Senate filibustering the small business lending bill. You know, finally, we got Voinovich, Senator Voinovich broke loose. But they"re against that. They come out against the president"s proposals for direct tax relief to small businesses which really would help the economy.

So, I think what we"re seeing here is a very clear contrast as we go into this election. And, you know, the Republican leader, John Boehner, knows that they"re vulnerable on this issue, and he knows the American people are not going to stand for the idea of let"s hold back tax relief for the overwhelming majority of Americans so that we can help the folks at the top--including as I said, some of these "Fortune" 100 companies. And that"s why he said what he said the other day, because he realized at the end of the day, it"s untenable to take that position.

OLBERMANN: One last finding from Mr. Greenberg"s data, which showed that running on this tax message would improve Democratic polling from a seven-point deficit right now to a two-point deficit--that sounds like exactly the kind of tonic the Democrats need both in terms of the enthusiasm gap and the "get out the vote" project. Is anybody balking at that, or do those ideas sound good to the members of the caucus?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think that the main idea that sounds good, Keith, is the notion that we need to provide tax relief for middle income America, that we need to move forward because it all expires at the end of the year, and we need to make sure that that relief is there for 98 percent of the American people. And that we address our long-term budget deficit.

There is an agreement with Stan about what his numbers are showing because when you talk to your friends and talk to neighbors around the country, they"re telling our members, you know what? Number one we got to get our budget deficit under control. And why should our children and grandchildren be paying the bill to provide this tax break for the folks at the very top, including the "Fortune" 100 companies and the hedge funds and the lobbying firms when in fact we got to get our deficit under control to move our economy forward?

So, I think that"s why you"re seeing this steady migration, including the statement from John Boehner about the importance of moving forward on this.

OLBERMANN: So, with all that as preamble, are you going to take this to the floor? Is this going to be a vote in the House and put the Republicans on the spot before the election?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think there will be a vote in the Congress. Again, this is something that"s under discussion. I think there will be a vote in the Congress whether the Senate goes first or the House goes first. That"s the kind of thing that needs to be resolved.

And in the Senate, you know, we know that Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, has said that he is going to stand in the way of middle class tax relief. He is going to stand in the way of 98 percent of the American people getting a tax break, even at this very tough time.

So, we"ll have to see how it plays out. But, to your answer, I think it"s important to move forward on a vote in the Congress. The sequencing of that is something to be determined.

OLBERMANN: Congressman Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee--great thanks for rushing over and joining us tonight. We appreciate it very much.

VAN HOLLEN: Good to be with you, Keith.


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