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CNN "American Morning" - Transcript


Location: Washington, DC


KIRAN CHETRY: We heard from Congressman Hal Rogers, a Republican, in the last hour. Now on the other side is Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the incoming chair of the Democratic National Committee. She joins us at DNC headquarters this morning. Congratulations and good to see you.


CHETRY: I was reading this interesting op-ed in today's "Washington Post" by Matt Miller who made the point that there really is not necessarily link what it takes to win an election and what it takes to address the country's major challenges. And we hear a lot of rhetoric right now. Was the speech yesterday by the president as much about the deficit as it was about kicking off the reelection campaign?

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: I think the president looks at deficit reduction getting a handle on our economy the same way I do. We're both parents of young children and we know that it is so important we address this significantly, comprehensively, and in a very detailed way.

And so he proposed a very responsible plan yesterday that provides for shared sacrifice and balance in terms of tax breaks, make sure we deny tax breaks to the wealthiest individuals and make sure that we are not balancing deficit reduction exclusively on the backs of seniors, the frail elderly, and people who are struggling.

And it's absolutely critical that we make sure that we strike that balance --


CHETRY: But this is a -- and this is a --

SCHULTZ: -- that we ensure that we get a handle on health care costs as well.

CHETRY: It is a bit of a revision, because the President did earlier lay out his plan as well and of course, the bipartisan debt commission in December came up with some recommendations. How much of this was the President being pushed along and Democrats being pushed along by some of the larger plans by, let's say, Congressman Paul Ryan and other Republican?

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: Well this is a -- this is the President engaging in bold leadership. I mean what he talked -- what he talked about when he introduced his budget this year, and I serve on the budget committee, and really appreciated that this was a down payment on the long-term needs that we had. And so, this is a follow-on to that -- to that down payment, where he first dealt with a shorter term period of time and now in his proposal yesterday deals with the deficit reduction and getting a handle on our fiscal house over the next 12 years.

And he -- I mean, for example, I mean, just look at the dramatic contrast that we have between the Ryan Republican proposal and the President's proposal. The Ryan proposal literally says to 33 seniors that they each have to pay $6,400 more in health care costs to give $200,000 in tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans. Most Americans would find that irresponsible.


CHETRY: Well, Paul Ryan -- Paul Ryan came out right after that arguing that point. And I do want to ask you about this because you actually called Congressman Paul Ryan's budget a quote, "death trap for seniors." So are you suggesting that in some ways the proposal put forth by the GOP actually puts senior citizens' lives at risk?

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: That's exactly what I'm suggesting because it stands to reason that when 60 percent of seniors, Kiran, are -- are -- are in nursing homes or on Medicaid and you dramatically cut the amount of funding that we are providing to states for Medicaid, then you are going to have some seniors not survive because they won't be able to either get access to a nursing home or they'll get kicked out of a nursing home. And they'll have to make it on their own and that is not what America is about.

America is about -- the President talked about yesterday -- coming together, shared sacrifice, pulling together so we can really address our long-term fiscal challenges and doing it in a balanced way.

CHETRY: You know, both this budget as well as Paul Ryan's budget, I mean, all of the budgets really still mean that the debt is going to continue to grow. Our national debt still goes and soars in the trillions.

You know, some economists are saying that neither the President nor the GOP really wants to tell Americans what has to happen, that yes, you're going to lose benefits, that benefits are not going to be the same and everybody's taxes in the end may rise.

I mean, are politicians not being completely honest with the American people about just how hard all of this is going to be?

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: Well, I think President Obama was brutally honest with the American people yesterday. I mean, in fact, even included a debt fail safe trigger so that in 2014, if we aren't reducing the amount of our debt as a proportion of GDP that we would have automatic spending reductions as well as revenue increases and that -- that makes sure that every somebody is accountable, not just the people who want spending reductions, not just the people who want -- want that balance in tax reform but everyone would have to engage in that shared sacrifice and it would be automatic.

So, we're holding our feet to the fire.


CHETRY: Well, and we are -- I understand. And it looks like this is shaping up to be another big debate where neither side is necessarily going to be giving ground. I mean, Republicans say that tax increases are off the table.

I mean, is there going to be room for a compromise? I know that Vice President Biden's trying to get some sort of bipartisan agreement hammered out by June. Is this a political reality?

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: Well, you see there is the difference between Democrats' approach to our -- our major fiscal problems and Republicans. Republicans start out saying there's something off the table. President Obama starts off saying everything's on the table and we need to come together. And he called in his speech for the legislative leadership to bring members on both sides aisle together around the negotiating table. We were able to make that happen and get that done under -- under his direction last Friday when everyone was reporting that we were hours from a government shutdown. And I'm confident, and I think our leadership is confident that -- that we can do this again, but everything has to be on the table. We have to approach this with shared -- shared sacrifice and we can't balance our fiscal -- our fiscal health on the backs of those that can least afford it exclusively.

CHETRY: All right, well, I need to ask you about Congressman Gabrielle Giffords. I know that you guys are very close.


CHETRY: People have really been hoping, there was talk that perhaps she would make it actually to Mark Kelly's launch when he -- when he is taking off in late April. Do you know how she is doing?

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: She is doing really well. I actually talked to Mark on Friday when I had to tell -- I was supposed to go see her on Friday but we had to make sure we could keep the government open, so I wasn't able to make that trip. But she is making -- continues to make remarkable progress, is -- has a little bit more mobility now, you know, a lot more responsive, interactively and initiating speech. And she is going to attend the launch on April 29th, which we are all so excited about.

And I'm going to have a chance to see her when -- while Mark's up in space and go keep her company and spend a little time with her. She is doing great.


CHETRY: Well, that's wonderful. Everyone continues to root for her, of course. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, great to talk to you as always; thanks so much.

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: You, too. Thanks so much, Kiran.


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