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PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT

America in the Balance

Aired July 13, 2011 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


PIERS MORGAN, HOST: Tonight, $14 trillion, Washington says that's not enough to keep the government running. What this argument could cost you.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: We must lift the debt ceiling.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: Republicans refuse to be drawn into this legislative trap.

BEN BERNANKE, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: It's a notion that it would become suddenly unreliable, throw shockwaves to the entire global financial system.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We cannot go on scaring the American people. We need to be truthful.

MORGAN: Tonight what will happen next. I'll have two men who have a lot to say about government, taxes and you. Money expert Dave Ramsey and Newark's mayor, Cory Booker.

America in the balance. This is PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT.

Good evening. If someone doesn't do something in 19 days and three hours, this country will technically run out of money. Simply put, the government won't be able to borrow any more cash if Congress and the White House can't figure out a way to raise the country's debt ceiling. As it currently stands a mouthwatering $14.3 trillion.

The situation is so dire that Moody's, the bond rating service, says it's putting America's gold plated AAA status under review but it could be headed for an unprecedented default.

Who's to blame for the stalemate?

Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick believes the Republicans are primarily at fault and he joins me now.

Look, Governor, why do you say that? Well, why is it the Republicans' fault? I mean you guys are in the White House, aren't you?

GOV. DEVAL PATRICK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, what I would say, first of all, Piers, is thank you so much for having me tonight. And this is a time when it seems to me we need a lot less politics and a lot more patriotism.

What the president has done is put on the table a very balanced approach. It favors and is overwhelmingly weighted in favor of cuts, some of them to programs that the Democrats have championed for a long, long time. But he has also, quite reasonably and with the support of economists across the political spectrum, put on the table the idea of additional revenues, so that we have a serious response to the deficit. And that as a predicate to raising the debt ceiling.

And the response has been from some on the radical right who seem that like they'd be willing to drive the economy off a cliff if that's what it would mean -- if that's what it would take to defeat this president.

That's the sort of behavior we need to put aside and have more patriotism to solve a problem, really a crisis, facing this country.

MORGAN: I mean you said, and I'm quoting you directly, the strategy is to drive America to the brink of fiscal ruin and then argue the only way out is to cut spending for the powerless.

I mean what you're suggesting, I guess, is that we're now into pre-election politics at its most ruthless. And you know, it's been put to me --

PATRICK: And --

MORGAN: -- by many people, I'll put it to you, that the Republican strategy is simply that President Obama is weak on the economy, so hammer him when he's down and you might win the election. That seems to be what some of the GOP are thinking.

PATRICK: Well, I'm sure that's -- I'm sure that's right. And I think that that conversation didn't start frankly with this president. Remember it was in the previous administration, the George W. Bush administration, when we started two wars and paid for them with a credit card.

We started a costly prescription benefit program and used borrowed money for it. We used borrowed money to pay for the tax cuts. And so the deficit has been accumulating in fact ballooning through the previous administration and here we are today with the -- with the radical right.

And I don't say all Republicans because I don't believe this characterizes all Republicans. But there are some on that radical fringe who seem to be in charge or at least driving the agenda in the Congress right now and they are making the possibility of a balanced solution very, very difficult.

And I'm hopeful and I think most Americans are, as citizens -- I say this as a citizen, and not just as governor -- that that a balanced breakthrough will come in the end and soon.

MORGAN: President Obama obviously inherited by common consent a big hospital pass in terms of the state of the economy, not just in America but around the world.

PATRICK: Right.

MORGAN: Very, very tough to pull out of that in any kind of rapid way. Having said that, as we head towards another election year, there will be critics and you will have heard them, who say you can't keep blaming the Republicans for what you inherited. You know President Obama, under his administration, the jobless figures are still terrible, 9.2 percent of Americans are out of work.

Do you feel disappointed that there's been no greater inroad into those jobless figures?

PATRICK: I feel very disappointed that there hasn't been more inroad into those jobless figures. And I feel disappointed that frankly there hasn't been more bipartisan cooperation on some of those solutions.

You know here in Massachusetts, we have like states across the country faced huge budget gaps, unprecedented budget gaps, but taking that same balanced approach with the combination of cuts, use the stimulus funds and our own reserves, a modest tax increases, a change in the way that a lot of our state government does business.

We have closed a $14 billion gap, accumulative gap over the last three years. Our budgets are balanced, responsible, and on time. We are growing jobs faster than 46 other states. Our bond rating is one of the few in the country that's gotten stronger in this time. We have a positive fiscal outlook and unemployment is coming down.

Why? Because we're not just cutting, we're also investing in education, in innovation and in infrastructure, just as the president wants to do but he hasn't been able to get that kind of cooperation from a majority on the other side.

And that's the kind of balance that I say the president has been talking about, he's been urging, it's been -- it's been the character of his approach to this deficit reduction talks and frankly to this whole administration.

I hope it's an opportunity when the other side, as I say, will put aside some of their own politics and come to the table in a spirit of patriotism and solve the nation's problems.

MORGAN: I mean, Governor, I congratulate you on your sterling work in Massachusetts. If you're doing so well there, maybe you should be in the White House, have you thought of that?

PATRICK: Don't start something now, Piers. I'm with the guy who's in the White House right now, and I'm excited about it, and I'm going to work real hard to get him reelected because I think his leadership that -- once in a generation visionary unifying leadership is exactly the kind of leadership we need today.

MORGAN: Well, thank you very much, Governor. It's been a pleasure talking to you. PATRICK: Piers, thanks so much for having me. Good evening.

MORGAN: On the other side of the issue is the man leading the no new taxes charge, Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. And he joins me now.

I mean, my issue looking at this from the outside in terms of the Republican opposition to raising this debt ceiling is when you actually analyze the statistics here, since 1960, Congress has raised, extended or tweaked the debt limit 78 times. And of those, 49 of those changes have occurred during Republican administrations.

And under the Bush administration, GOP leaders voted 19 times to increase the debt limit.

I mean isn't it a bit frankly hypocritical to be throwing the toys out of the prime now and said the Democrats can't do it given how often the Republicans have done it?

GROVER NORQUIST, PRESIDENT, AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM: Well, as you know, of course, Barack Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling when he was a senator and is now playing politics from the other side claiming that you're supposed to do this to give the president the money he wants.

Here's the challenge we have. Under Barack Obama he threw $800 million at the stimulus package. Remember that was supposed to create three million jobs. We have lost 1.5 jobs since Barack Obama wasted $800 billion. We wouldn't up be against the debt ceiling if Barack Obama o had not wasted $800 billion with a stimulus package and we now have 1.5 million Americans out of work because of his economy policies.

Things have gotten worse since he was president, not better. He can't whine that Bush left him with a bad situation. He made it worse. I wasn't happy with Bush's spending but Barack Obama's spending is a trillion dollars worse every single year.

MORGAN: Let me ask you on a percentage basis. What percentage of the current state of the American economy is down to the Republicans and their administrations before President Obama and how much is down to him?

And I want you to be brutally honest.

NORQUIST: Well, let's see. Let's take a look at Afghanistan as a piece of that. Under Bush, we had about 30,000 troops there. That was tripled during the Obama administration. So two-thirds of the cost of Afghanistan was put into place under Obama.

MORGAN: Hang on, hang on, hang on, it wasn't President Obama that took America into war in Afghanistan.

(CROSSTALK)

NORQUIST: You asked for percentage. MORGAN: So I'm talking about -- I'm talking about if you analyze the percentage of blame here, then surely you have to go back to decisions that were taken which have helped collectively to create this crisis. And although you keep presenting other arguments, just give me a straight percentage.

I mean what percentage of blame, as we stand here today, should be apportioned to Republican decision making?

NORQUIST: Well, again, you just asked about a number and I said of the cost of the Afghan war, I mean the whole Afghan war today cost $120 billion.

MORGAN: Why are you avoiding my question?

NORQUIST: I'm trying to give you a percentage of -- for instance the Afghan war, two-thirds of the cost there this year was put in by Obama. That's one piece of the puzzle. If you want to know --

MORGAN: Yes, but 100 percent -- 100 percent of the decision to go to war was taken by the Bush administration. That's my point, that although Republicans are blaming everything on Obama now, a lot of the stuff he's having to deal with, if you're being fair about this, was actually caused by decisions taken by the Republicans.

NORQUIST: OK.

MORGAN: Wasn't it?

NORQUIST: Are you not remembering that Barack Obama campaigned for president on the idea that the Afghan war was the right war, that he was for all of that, and you want to explain --

MORGAN: I'm not -- I'm not saying -- I'm not saying that he agreed or disagreed. It doesn't really matter, the point is --

NORQUIST: But you're asking for a partisan blame to be apportioned here, right?

MORGAN: No. You're talking about the split of the cost of the Afghan war.

NORQUIST: Yes.

MORGAN: What I'm saying is, actually it was a Bush decision. And so when you actually analyze exactly the percentage blame, and that's why I've been trying to get you to put a percentage on it, it's just quite an interesting exercise, isn't it?

NORQUIST: Look, you want to argue why Medicare and Medicaid are going bankrupt, those were created by Democrats. Do you want to go back to that and play partisan politics?

MORGAN: Why don't we --

NORQUIST: We need to get away from partisan politics. MORGAN: Why don't we -- let's put it all in the mix.

NORQUIST: And solve the problem.

MORGAN: Let's put it all in the mix. All in the mix, everything taken into account, percentage of the current crisis down to Republican decisions versus Democrat. Give me a percentage.

NORQUIST: Well, OK, the Republicans have put forward a budget under Ryan cut $6 trillion out of the Obama budget. Obama has accepted none of that so he's 100 percent responsible.

MORGAN: So President Obama is 100 percent responsible for our current financial crisis.

NORQUIST: For the failure -- for the failure to get our -- get out spending down.

MORGAN: Isn't your answer exactly what the problem is? For you to sit there and just look me straight in the eye down this camera and say President Obama is 100 percent responsible for the financial crisis in America, it's obviously complete hogwash.

And that kind of partisan opinion is what is preventing any kind of sensible deal, a strategy being achieved, isn't it?

NORQUIST: I started this conversation discussing that Bush spent too much money or allowed too much money to be spent during his presidency. There were four years of the Bush presidency where you had Bush and the Republican House and the Republican Senate.

The last two years of the Bush presidency, a Democratic House and Senate, so Bush didn't have too much control over spending, but for four years, it really was a Republican decision on taxes, spending, economic policy, with the understanding that the Democrats filibustered a number of challenges.

But Bush allowed spending to go up too much. Bush spent too much. And that was a big problem. The challenge, of course, is that Obama took that and put his foot on the accelerator and we got really much more significant problems, but again, now we're trying to fix these problems.

I'm not interested in apportioning blame on a percentage basis, but let's look forward. The Republican House of Representatives, if you want to be -- look at the partisan side of that, they have put forward a budget. They've actually passed a budget. The Democratic Senate hasn't even written or passed a budget for two years. Two years.

The president of the United States is only now showing up for discussions. He spent the last three months raising $86 million of political money, not spending time focused on this problem, and now he wants to show up and tell everybody else to eat their peas when his party in the Senate hasn't even passed a budget, not this year but this year or last year, and he hasn't put forward a serious budget. Period.

MORGAN: No, but my issue is that when there are such extreme partisan views being expressed, then we could end up with a situation where come August American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq don't get paid. And from where I sit, that is a complete disgrace. And the politicians should just sort this mess out, shouldn't they?

NORQUIST: They should. And the president has known for six months that all he has to do is put forward $2 trillion worth of spending restraint, OK, and he's added $9 trillion in spending over the next decade, so you only have to pull part of his increased spending back, $2 trillion, and the Republicans will cheerfully vote to increase the debt ceiling.

The president hasn't even begun to focus on that.

MORGAN: Grover Norquist, thank you very much indeed.

NORQUIST: Thank you.

MORGAN: Now if Washington can't pay its bills, cities and states could be on the hook. When we come back, my exclusive interview with a man who knows a lot about that. Newark's mayor, Cory Booker.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MORGAN: The debt battle in Washington has serious implications to cities across this country. Joining me exclusive is one mayor who's keeping a very close eye on negotiations. Newark's Cory Booker.

Mr. Mayor, how are you?

MAYOR CORY BOOKER (D), NEWARK: I'm doing great. It's great to be on, Piers. Thank you for having me.

MORGAN: Thank you very much for joining me.

I mean in your experience of these things, how much of what's going on right now in terms of this impasse between Republicans and Democrats is political and how much of it is actually about an ideology involving how to deal with the finances of this country?

BOOKER: Well, I can't say that I know the hearts and minds of the Congress people in our -- in the federal government. But I'll tell you. It's frightening and it's scary to see what's happening. I never could have imagined that those four words, full faith and credit of our country would ever get to a point where it's being challenged in the way it is now.

And, you know, politicians, you can listen to them but I prefer to talk to experts, and friends of mine at every level, from banks to businesses, all are very concerned because this will have catastrophic implications.

So I pray that people aren't playing a dangerous short-term political game that will have long-term profound economic impact on our country. I really pray that people are really focused on the mission to preserve the strength of our nation economically.

MORGAN: I mean the problem, it seems to me, is that in terms of the politics here we are heading into an election year quite soon and the Republicans have clearly identified the economy which remains very weak as a genuine point of which they can attack President Obama and potentially beat him.

Given that state of affairs, it's not in their interest politically to get him out of this hole, is it?

BOOKER: Well, I think it's going to be very clear, if people want to play brinkmanship with the debt ceiling and ultimately we are unable to pay our debts or worse unable to make payments to our military, to our Social Security recipients and others, what's going to happen is it's going to send a shockwave to our economy, it's going to drive interest rates up, it's going to cripple businesses all around our country.

So my prayer is that we put principle and purpose over politics. And if Republicans play this game or anybody on both sides of the political aisle wants to play this game for their own personal benefit, I really play that Americans make the right decision and get those people out of office.

MORGAN: I mean when you see the statistics here, the figures, most people watching this will just not be able to comprehend, really, the scale of this. When you're already $14 trillion in debt as a country, this is a pretty hideous situation for America to find itself in, given now all these emerging countries, China, India, Brazil and so on, they're all beginning to boom economically. It's the worst possible time for America to be in this position, isn't it?

BOOKER: It is. Look, the debt ceiling is the wrong point of controversy. To me, that's very obvious. This is not for future debt, this is debts we already owe. But the truth of the matter is we are breaking in this country. The first rule of holes is that when you're in a hole, you should stop digging.

But we haven't done that. We have got a structural budget deficit that is eating away at the core of our country. It's like a cancer that is continuing to grow. And unless we stop that in a responsible way, forget this short-term economic crisis that we have, we're going to dig a hole so deep that our children will never get out of it and will undermine America's strength and frankly America's leadership on aglow.

If you think about it, the point at which Americans became -- we became the dominant superpower in the country wasn't immediately after World War II. It was -- many historians will point to the Suez crisis where Britain was involved in an action that we told them not to be involved in, and Britain said, no, we're going forward with securing our interest there.

And America threatened using economic policy because we held so much of their debt. I am scared of the day that America is going -- foreign policy will be affected by those people who hold our debt and that they will be able to reign control over us. So this is very crucial. I believe --

MORGAN: Well, I mean, if I could put you up on that. I could be over that, Mr. Mayor. And obviously we know who you're talking about, I mean, China already owns more than a quarter of America's debt. I mean that's a staggering amount of debt to be held by one nation.

And at the moment, they haven't flexed their muscles in the way that you just discussed involving Suez, but they could do, couldn't they?

BOOKER: Absolutely. And that's what I worry about. I think the future of foreign policy is going to be even more, as I think it already is, but even more controlled by economic interests and economic strength. And that's why America should be focusing in my opinion and I think often like the president says, on healing our economy, on strengthening our nation economically, and relieving us, like we are addicts right now, relieving us on debt.

But it ultimately is going to involve pain. And this is something that I fear our nation needs to focus on a little bit more. You can't get something for nothing. As a great leader, Frederick Douglass, said in life you don't get everything you pay but you must pay for everything that you get.

This is a time of sacrifices. A time of struggle in our country. We're not as a nation being called to storm beaches in Normandy or to freedom rides into the south, but this generation of Americans has to be one to make sacrifices, some difficult decisions and some high level of commitment to get out of this perilous situation we are now in.

MORGAN: I mean I think you've raised a very good point there. It comes down to personal responsibility, is that everyone who is bleating about the situation we're in and blaming the government and so on, there's no doubt that most persons have overspent personally, at any level in the last decade.

And that was one of the reasons why we saw the huge housing boom and collapse and banking crisis and so on. Everybody, really, in whatever way big or small has a bit of responsibility for the situation, doesn't it?

BOOKER: Well, to me, it's never about pointing blame. It's so easy to point fingers. In America, we can't get caught up in the finger-pointing blame. Yes, there are problems with big banks and the packaging of these mortgages but there are also people, and I saw it in my community, jumping into homes that they couldn't afford.

But again, it's not time to vilify people. It's time for us to take a deeper sense of collective responsibility. And even if you feel your hands are clean, the truth of the matter is as long as we are one nation under God then we have to find one solution because we do have one destiny.

MORGAN: But look, those are some powerful words from you there. And I think it would be good to come back after this break and you tell Americans what they don't want to hear.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MORGAN: Back now with Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

Mr. Mayor, you were talking very I thought powerfully there about the fact that Americans haven't really heard what they need to hear because it's not good news. If you were running the country right now and could talk to Americans in a way that perhaps woke them up to reality, what would you say?

BOOKER: Well, first of all, I have a lot of faith in the leader that we have in the White House. And I think he gets a lot of bum rap. And I think he is often the adult in the room, does talk about taking our medicine, or, as he said recently, eating our peas.

And what frustrates me is, you know, Obama seems a very pragmatic person but he's struggling with people on both sides of our political aisle who are often more stuck in ideology than they are on the practicalities.

As mayor, I don't have that luxury. There are mayors all around America right now that have to balance budgets, we can't rack up debt, we have to meet the urgent needs of a community, and ultimately, we have to serve those people who are being cut out of the American dream.

So for me, I just have impatience with the way Washington works, which I think a lot of us do. And even when they do great things, like put something together like the Simpson-Bowles Commission where you have Republicans and Democrats sit down talk about the tough issues and then come out with recommendations, and before they can even finish letting the ink dry, those recommendations are being attacked from the left and from the right.

So I see that we in America, most of us actually, are far more alike than we are different. We have a lot more of a common ideals. We tend to lean left often -- excuse me, lean right with our wallets and lean left a little bit on some of our social issues, we don't want governments in our bedroom, we don't want government intruding into our lives.

So on the practicalities, what my hope is, is that we begin to face them, even if they're politically unpopular. You know what? For Social Security, we're going to have to extend the time before you can collect Social Security. It doesn't affect the people that are there now but those of us who are my age, in their 30s and 40s, we need to recognize we can't start collecting Social Security as early as our parents did.

These are a lot of very pragmatic things. We should -- looking at some of these benefits as Simpson-Bowles said, we should means test some of these things so that there are not -- those struggling working poor in our country are not losing out on benefits when the wealthy can afford to go without them. So there's a lot of things -- MORGAN: Let me ask you. Let me ask you here, Mr. Mayor. I mean one of the problems that President Obama faces is that all this is all very well but he has to get the Republicans to sign off on a deal here. And as we've seen before, to do that, he has to compromise his principles, you know. He has to keep in that the tax breaks for the rich and so on. Otherwise he won't get the deal done.

Are you comfortable with that or do you think the time is coming where a Democratic president has to basically no, I'm going to do this in a way that a Democrat would do this; that's why I was elected. If we go to the brink and I have to call the Republicans bluff, I will do that.

BOOKER: First of all, I know this from Barack and I believe it true. I feel it in my heart and my core, that I'm an American always before I'm a Democrat. Democratic party is just that. It's a party. It's a political place with which people fall, often with similar ideas.

Let's get to what the truth of the matter is. Our country is in crisis and we really need leadership. What some people might have called caving -- and I heard that from people on my side of the political aisle, that he caved when he made the compromise around the Bush cuts.

But what I saw in Newark, from a very pragmatic way, is that there's more money available for my residents to go to college, that small businesses in my company could make major capital expense and write them down, that immediately residents that I know got a thousand more dollars in their pay roll tax deduction back in their pockets.

It stimulated the economy. It gave us a push. So that compromise, in a very pragmatic way, benefited cities like mine and places all over the country. So when did compromise become a dirty word? It's ridiculous when people draw lines in the sand and won't do what the American political process was made for, which was people of often different perspectives coming together and finding a common hole that ultimately can move their country forward.

I'm tired of this attitude that if I compromise my stance on tax cuts or something like that, then for some reason I've given into the enemy. When did we as Americans become each other's enemy?

Again, there are people hurting in this country to a degree that I have not seen in my lifetime. There is real pain going on. Yet somehow our politics is not serving to empower those people in our nation. And nor is it doing the necessary things to expand our economy.

I'll give you an example of this. We had a horrendous attack about 12 miles from where I sit right now on 9/11. And for me, it was a time that we should cleave to our ideals more than throw them out the window.

Now here we are 10 years later, and we're punishing immigrants that are coming to our country, whether it's the American DREAM Act or college presidents that I talk to, that as soon as somebody comes to our universities and gets the best education in the world, we're ready to kick them out of our country right away.

This is a time where we're putting our fear before our faith in our principles and our ideals. We have to stop that. What built America, what made us the number one economy in human existence, are the kind of ideals and the kind of value that we need to be putting back into our economy right now.

So what does it take to build --

MORGAN: Hold that thought, Mr. Mayor. That's a fascinating point. I am going to come back after this break and ask you about what I think is the key problem. How do you get Americans who are without work back to work? And how does America really reinvent its business model so they can start to make things that the rest of the world actually needs and will pay for?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MORGAN: Back with Mayor Cory Booker. Mr. Mayor, the big problem in America is that you have 9.2 percent of the population out of work. In a simple way, what is the most effective way that you have seen to get them back to work, or the best plan that you've heard?

BOOKER: First of all, this is the thing we have to get out of the habit of. America is looking for simple solutions to complicated problems. There's not one light switch.

We have an intelligent enough population to understand that. Any politician that wants to sell some simplistic answer, like just give tax cuts to rich people and that that is going to benefit our economy, we have to get away from that.

We are nuanced enough as a nation to understand the complexity of our challenges. And we need leaders to tell us that.

So let me just go through a few things, real quick, that I think are ideas that are difficult but important. Number one is we can't shirk on education in this country. We will never ever -- in a global knowledge-based economy, we will never have a leading economy if we have a lagging education system.

America is in dramatic fashion falling behind. Our greatest natural resource is not oil or coal. The greatest natural resource in this kind of global economy is how well we educate our children. It is disastrous what's going on right now.

This is the greatest crisis, in my opinion, to our national security in the long term.

Number two is higher ed. We have always been the high education capital of the globe. But now, during these budget crises, we're cutting off our greatest asset in this country by disinvesting in our higher education around the country. Frankly, this includes research dollars for alternative energy, to new technologies. These kind of research money is going to keep America more competitive than South Korea, more competitive than some of our European competitors. We have to be the cutting edge --

MORGAN: Let me just interrupt you there. In terms of the election that's coming up, I interviewed, for example, your governor, Chris Christie, recently, a very impressive man in many ways, I thought. He made it clear he wasn't going to run against President Obama.

I get the distinct feeling he wants to wait and run in 2016. Would you welcome him doing that?

BOOKER: Look, you know, the governor, I always joke with him and I consider him a friend. I could write a dissertation on our disagreements. He does have a lot of stances I disagree with.

He's had the courage in our state, unlike many Republicans and Democrats before him, to take on a lot of complicated issues that were hurting our state. So I wish him all the best on his ambitions. But what I'm focused on, as he is, to his central focus, if you listen to him, is on solving New Jersey problems.

Now we have disagreements that are substantive, as I look at folks here on the ground. But this is a great lesson. I realized very early, Governor Christie and I, for our own political benefit, as two leaders within our state, within our parties, we could probably just lash at each other for the full four years of his term.

And we may benefit politically, but we would get nothing done. In stead, he and I have staked out territory where we agree, education, where we agree, on controlling entitlement spending, so we can actually have budgets on the local level that work.

We have been able to find some ways to partner. Now, I will speak out against things I disagree with. You know, cutting the earned income tax credit here in the state of New Jersey is tantamount to raising taxes on working poor people at a time that people in my city really need those resources.

But at the end of this day, what Chris Christie and I have to do -- and this is where I respect him -- is find common ground and find ways to work together, and get beyond the rhetoric and get to the real work of trying to serve people within our communities.

MORGAN: There is another way of looking at this, Mr. Mayor, which is that a lot of people on both sides of both your parties have said to me, privately, that the real race in 2016 could well be between you and Governor Christie, for the White House.

BOOKER: Well, I'm not sure if he and I will be running for the presidency. But I can tell you more likely it will be running from the presidency. Look, there's a lot of hard work to do today. I'm not focused on the politics of tomorrow. You know, I was on the phone with President Obama and some other mayors just yesterday. I love when I see him in private moments, to see how much he's hurting over these issues, and how much he gets a beating from people on both sides of the political aisle, people within his own camp and people on the other side.

To me, that's a sign of a great leader, that they're willing to have the courage to stand up for what they believe in, and take the hits from both ends. This is what America needs.

We need a radicalization of the center of our country, people who are not ideologues, but are pragmatists, people that look at this nation where it is and understand that we are in a crisis, and there's serious work to do to make it better.

Ultimately, I believe in the dream of America. I believe in our highest ideals. But we have to find a way forward that works for everyone. That's what compromise is all about.

As the great poet Langston Hughes said back in the 1960s, so true right now, "there's a dream in this land with its back against the wall. To save the dream for one, we must save it for all."

If we are to be that nation of people coming together, what our very hallmark is, e pluribus unum. Our politics is not serving those ideals. Our politics is broken because it's so hard for us, a nation of people with so many common interests, to come together and find pragmatic ways to move our country forward.

It should not be this difficult.

MORGAN: Mayor Booker, some fascinating thoughts. Thank you very much for joining me.

BOOKER: Thank you very much for having me, Piers. Appreciate you inviting me on.

MORGAN: Any time.

Coming up, a man who says that debt is dumb. Personal finance guru Dave Ramsey.

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MORGAN: To understand what this country's debt crisis really means, I want to turn to an expert on personal finance who says, and I quote, debt is dumb. Dave Ramsey is the host of "The Dave Ramsey Show, and the author of "The Total Money Makeover."

Mr. Ramsey, debt is dumb. I think there's a lot of people who when they see figures like 14 trillion dollars would agree with you, that Americans have been rather badly served by various governments. Haven't they? DAVE RAMSEY, "THE DAVE RAMSEY SHOW": We have. I think both sides of the aisle have failed us and allowed us to continue our overspending, as if we're some kind of a yuppie on a spending binge.

The numbers are pretty staggering. We can start to see that debt is dumb when Moody's steps up and says hey, our bond rating is at risk, based on deficit spending out of control and a debt ceiling crisis.

So yes, I think we see the risk of it right now.

MORGAN: We're facing a financial Armageddon if this doesn't get resolved in August, when students may not get their federal loans, you know Social Security checks may be held up, soldiers may not get their paychecks. This is pretty serious stuff, isn't it?

RAMSEY: It can be pretty serious stuff. I think it's a matter of prioritization if the debt ceiling isn't raised. I think to say that somehow we are going to default on our debts, when it's a 200 billion dollar ticket out of an income that we have, not counting deficit spending, but an income that we have of 2.6 trillion.

So I think 0.2 out of 2.6, we can probably handle our interest payment. Social Security is 700, or 0.7 out of that 2.6 trillion. I think Social Security checks can be paid, if we prioritize them.

I don't know what the administration is planning to do there. I would hope that they would prioritize our debt payments and our Social Security checks before anything else. There's plenty of money to do those things.

There is going to be a lot of other things that are going to go really chaotic.

MORGAN: Tell me, for the ordinary Joe in the street, what is the best way of dealing with a financial climate like this? What are your key points of advice for people who look at this and are vaguely terrified?

RAMSEY: One thing you need to remember is this: you don't want to wait or depend on this government to manage your life. This is a time for self-reliance like never before. We do have a huge number of people that we're dealing with on the personal financial side that are kind of paralyzed by the crisis and waiting on somehow a government program to fix the economy, quote, unquote, instead of getting on with their own lives and taking own responsibility for their own families.

So that's thing one, is to be very, very, very proactive. Then thing two encompassed within that is get yourself out of debt. If you don't have any debt payments and you have some money in the bank, and you have a problem with the economy of some kind, it puts you in a completely different place.

And then thing three is invest in things that are time honored, not wild and crazy and speculative things. For instance, time-honored like real estate. Real estate's been down. So that, to me, means it's on sale, because I invest with a 20-year or a 30-year mentality.

Same thing with the stock market and good growth stock mutual funds. But be very, very conservative and calm in your investing and get yourself in a very stable position without being in debt and to have a pile of cash. It really does remove a lot of the angst and the stress that you feel coming out of the government's misbehavior.

MORGAN: And this concept of being in debt is dumb, clearly that's not always the case. But I was talking earlier to the Newark Mayor Corey Booker who says that personal responsibility has to come into this, that too many people reached way above what they could financially in the good times. And is that the key lesson here, that when things look too good to be true, they always are too good to be true?

RAMSEY: Well, that's exactly right. And Warren Buffett said that when the tide goes out you can tell who was skinny dipping. And that's kind of what we've had happen here. People living paycheck to paycheck, deeply in credit card debt, buying homes they couldn't afford, leasing cars they couldn't afford, going to schools that they couldn't afford to go to.

And we know that because they're deeply in debt to do all of those things. And then the economy has a ripple, has a problem, and boom. It takes out a whole bunch of people. So that's where we start to seat risk that's associated with debt.

I am going to go so far as to say I think all debt is dumb. I've gotten completely out of debt many, many years ago. And by not having any money going out to banks, I suddenly found myself wealthy. It was an amazing transition.

MORGAN: Well, it's a fascinating concept that you can survive without debt. Let's hold that thought and come back after break. And you can tell me whether the American dream could actually survive without any debt at all.

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MORGAN: Back now Dave Ramsey, the host of "The Dave Ramsey Show," and a man who knows a lot about debt. You left us with an intriguing thought there, Dave, that we could actually all survive without debt. Is that realistic? Don't lots of people need to have some form of debt just to function?

RAMSEY: Well, I think that's the misnomer. And that's the kind of thinking that actually leads us into stuff like pay day lending, where the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder is getting ripped off by people charging them 700, 800 percent, because the premise is that the poor need debt to survive.

Business needs debt to survive. And yet there's a lot of businesses, even Fortune 500 companies, that operate completely debt free. They're very quiet about it. They don't make a lot of noise about it. But they don't have any debt at all. Now, if I could wave a wand at one instant, everyone quit borrowing money, that, would crash the economy. That wouldn't be intelligent. But we all know that's not going to happen. But I think we all know that if the average consumer had a whole lot less debt or even, dare we say no debt, and had a pile of money in savings as a result of not sending it all to Bank of America, Citibank and Countrywide and Ford Motor Credit, and as a result have a pile of money of their own, well, their spending would not stop.

When I became debt free and became wealthy as a result, I didn't stop spending. I spent more. I've got more money to spend. So it actually drives the economy, and at the same time stabilizes it for the consumer to be, instead of enslaved to these banks, to be free financially and mathematically.

And it really impacts relationships. It impacts career choices. It impacts so many different areas of our lives.

MORGAN: And I guess, in the end, the debate about how you get out of debt in terms of a nation is always pretty much the same. You either spend your way out of it, you speculate to accumulate, if you like, or you go the other way, you batten down the hatches, you spend less money, you make cuts and so on.

Which, in your eyes, in your expert debt is dumb eyes, is normally the best way to get out of a crisis like this?

RAMSEY: Well, I think there's certainly differences between a nation's debt and a personal debt. Someone calls me on my radio show, and they owe 366,000 dollars in credit card debt and they make 55,000 dollars a year. And they've been spending 96,000 dollars a year. Well, that sound pretty absurd, doesn't it?

That's exactly the ratios of the federal government spending. As if the federal government were a household, that's where we stand today. And so what I would do with them is I would tell them, they're not going on vacation. There's not going to be any frills. They are going to work an extra job and bring in some income.

And it's going to take a long time to dig out of this mess and it's going to be very painful. Because they've not heard a word, inside that consumer's household, in years, just like Washington hasn't heard a word in years. And it's an interesting word.

And we need to reintroduce it to our vocabulary. The word is no, we can't afford it. No, we can't do that. It's not in the budget. And we haven't said no to anyone in a very long time in this nation. And we're well overdue.

And it's going to be necessary to do that.

MORGAN: Time to say no. Well, I think a lot of people might agree with that, Dave. Thank you very much indeed for joining me. And I hope to talk to you again soon.

RAMSEY: Thank you, piers. Honor to be with you, sir. MORGAN: Tomorrow night, my exclusive interview with Hugh Hefner. Last time Hugh was here, he said this.

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MORGAN: And I think you've got a scoop for me, haven't you? Going to reveal the date of the wedding?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The date of the wedding. Can I tell him?

HUGH HEFNER, PLAYBOY FOUNDER: Sure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is June 18th.

MORGAN: June the 18th.

UNIDENFITIED FEMALE: This year, Saturday.

MORGAN: Well, we'll be there obviously. It will be a huge CNN breaking news event.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Of course. You're invited.

HEFNER: A June bride.

MORGAN: Well, sadly we all know how that worked out. Hugh, extraordinarily, was dumped almost at the aisle. He now breaks his silence on his heartbreak and his new loves. An exclusive interview with Hugh Hefner tomorrow night.

That's all for us tonight. Now here's Anderson Cooper with "AC 360"