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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Obama Stands His Ground; Interview with Congressman Jeb Hensarling of Texas; Bar Exam For Teachers?

Aired December 5, 2012 - 08:00   ET

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


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I'm going to tell you what you should absolutely stay away from.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: A packed show this morning for you. Republican Congressman Jeb Hensarling is joining us. Randi Weingarten is the president of the American Federation of Teachers, our guest as well.

It's Wednesday, December 5th, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome, everybody.

Our STARTING POINT this morning: President Obama, who says he's not going to bend in this fiscal cliff debate. Twenty-seven days and Americans face the prospect of severe tax hikes, spending cuts if the Republicans and Democrats can't get together to work out some kind of deal.

Remember, Congress breaks for the holidays in just 10 days. If they don't extend that, then it could be 10 days before we fall off the fiscal cliff.

In an interview with Bloomberg TV, the president made it clear that any agreement has to include tax hikes for the wealthiest Americans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we're going to be serious about reducing our deficit, while still being able to invest in things like education and research and development that are important to our growth and if we're going to protect middle class families, then we're going to have to have higher rates for the wealthiest Americans, folks like me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: White House correspondent Dan Lothian is in Washington, D.C. this morning.

So, where -- who's got the ball? And, you know, whose court is it in at this point? DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, first of all, we know that House GOP had that counter offer, which White House spokesman Jay Carney has referred to as, quote, "magic beans and fairy dust." So, what we expect for Republicans to push -- to put pressure on the White House to engage. In addition to that, to look for whatever ways the White House might be able to look for cuts to entitlements.

But I think, you know, what's difficult now is to figure out exactly where the negotiations stand because from the White House perspective, they're saying that conversations continue, but there are House Republican aides who are telling me that there are no phone conversations, no e-mails being exchanged.

So it's difficult to tell how they can really move this ball forward if the two sides are not talking.

In addition to that, Republicans are having some problems because they're not on the same page. There is that, of course, counteroffer from House Speaker John Boehner. But there are some conservatives in the party who are pushing back. They think that $800 billion in new tax revenue will only hurt the economy, will put downward pressure on job creation and they don't think that it's a good idea.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Republicans should not be conceding that the federal government needs more money, negotiating with ourselves and treating the president's proposal like it's serious.

REP. TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA: Look, I support the speaker. We're actually not very far apart on anything. And, you know, at the end of the day, he's going to negotiate a deal. If there is an area we do agree with the president on. That's 98 percent of the American people getting about 80 percent of this tax cut shouldn't have their taxes raised.

So, my suggestion is let's take the one area that we agree and take it off the table.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LOTHIAN: Later this morning, the president will be speaking and taking questions at the Business Roundtable meeting. A White House official saying that the president will make the case that middle class taxpayers out there want to see some kind of stability. They want to know that their taxes will not be going up at the end of the year.

The president will also talk about how this fiscal cliff will have a negative impact on the economy and he will push these business leaders to support his approach -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Dan Lothian for us this morning -- thank you, Dan.

We want to chat about this shall -- issue a little more. Roland Martin is with us this morning. We've got Will Cain as well. And McKay Coppins joining us well.

I want to know where the name McKay comes from.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Your money's maiden. It's got to be.

O'BRIEN: Oh, was that right?

MCKAY COPPINS, BUZZFEED.COM: No. Good guess, though.

O'BRIEN: What is it?

COPPINS: Named a friend that we had, my parents had.

O'BRIEN: You got to make a good story for that.

COPPINS: I'll make one up.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Let's go back to this fiscal cliff. Since taxes, Will Cain, no matter what, right? If you do nothing, we fall off the cliff. Taxes go up. You heard a proposal right there which is work on the middle class, avoid the fiscal cliff and then renegotiate the taxes thing past 2013.

Why is that not a viable proposal? Wouldn't that bring an end to the fiscal cliff? We could wrap it up now and everybody could go on vacation?

CAIN: Yes, but you're asking the wrong guy. I'm not in Congress.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But you're on set, Will. Come on, suck it up!

CAIN: I'm going to answer. I'm always happy to talk if you're going to put the camera on me.

No, look, I had recognition of reality. I can see reality in front of me and I understand the Republicans have very little leverage. They have very little leverage to decide or to impose their will on this outcome.

That being said, what they're looking at is how can we kind of salvage a political victory out of this and stand for what we want? As you've had people on this program suggest, it may just be going over the fiscal cliff and not voting for a tax raise would reflect that victory, and then later negotiating taxes down.

COPPINS: Republicans, though, that polls show that they will be blamed if we go over the cliff. So, like Republicans do have an incentive to hurry and get a deal done. O'BRIEN: Let's turn to Texas Republican Congressman Jeb Hensarling. He's the newly named chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, also co-chair of the super committee on deficit reduction.

Nice to have you with us, sir.

You know, we heard Will a moment ago saying, how do you salvage a political victory? Because the reality is if nothing is done, if you cannot get together, you go over the fiscal cliff and taxes go up for everybody, correct?

REP. JEB HENSARLING (R), TEXAS: Well, the president is going to get his revenue one way or the other. House Republicans will do everything we can to minimize the damage to our economy. We know that by raising the rates on the top two brackets, as the president wants to do, Ernst & Young says will cause middle income workers at least 2 percent off their paychecks, lose another 700,000 jobs. That's not something Republicans are going to be part of.

But the president obviously is going to get some revenue. There's nothing we can do to stop that. It's written into current law. But the bottom line is that you can't solve this problem through revenue.

And the president is not being serious. He is moving the goal post. He started out saying he wanted a, quote/unquote, "balanced approach".

So, the president is going to get some kind of revenue. I'm not voting for it, but he's going to get it anyway.

O'BRIEN: OK.

HENSARLING: The question is where are his spending deductions? He has to put that on the table.

O'BRIEN: You could avoid going off -- if we know, no matter what, taxes are going to go up. At this point they could go off the cliff for everybody. So, what you could do, as I think it was Olympia Snowe was recommending, you could do a deal that doesn't let the taxes go up for the middle class, right, and then you can avoid the fiscal cliff, right?

HENSARLING: But, Soledad, again -- well, first, the fiscal cliff, relative to our nation's spending-driven debt crisis is a pothole. You've got 0.3 percent of all Americans that have million dollar incomes. This is a shell game. You can't tax your way out of this problem.

I mean, you have revenues that are about the same levels they were five or six years ago, when deficits were running about $100 billion, $150 billion. Now we know deficits are running $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion.

O'BRIEN: I get you on that.

HENSARLING: What's changed is on the spending side and yet all this discussion is on the tax revenues. You can't get there. You can tax every millionaire 100 percent and run the government for two or three months.

O'BRIEN: I'm not sure --

HENSARLING: This is a spending-driven crisis and it has to be solved on the spending side. Until the president gets serious about it, I'm not sure what there is to talk about, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: I'm not sure that the only conversations have just been on the tax side. I actually think there have been conversations on both.

But, at this moment, right, again, we're going over or toward the fiscal cliff. If you do nothing, all of our taxes are going up. So, why not, as a first move, say -- listen, nobody at this point wants to raise taxes on the middle class and people who are lower income. So let's do some kind of a deal now and that will keep us from going over the fiscal cliff?

And then you can let the tax cuts expire for the wealthy January 1st. It happens. And you can do some kind of negotiation. I mean, and that keeps us from going over the fiscal cliff. It's going to happen anyway, right?

HENSARLING: This is the very kind of shell game they run in Washington. If you'll just give me my tax increases today, I surely will give you your spending restraint tomorrow, you know?

O'BRIEN: But you have no leverage in the debate.

(CROSSTALK)

HENSARLING: It's sort of like Wimpy on the old "Popeye" cartoon. We never see these spending reductions materialize. That's the problem.

And, right now, we're borrowing roughly 40 cents on the dollar --

O'BRIEN: OK. So, then --

HENSARLING: -- much of it from the Chinese, sending the bill to our children and grandchildren. That's unwise and unsustainable. Frankly, I think it's immoral.

And what you're saying is that Republicans ought to agree, and somehow vote for a big proposed tax increase in hopes that in decades to come that this president will do something about spending.

O'BRIEN: No, I didn't say that. What I said was why not -- why don't Republicans and Democrats vote for a tax -- to keep the taxes lower for middle class and people at lower income and let the other ones expire? You could do that now. And we wouldn't go over the fiscal cliff.

HENSARLING: What the speaker has done --

O'BRIEN: Yes, go ahead. HENSARLING: What the speaker has done is exactly what the president claimed he wanted. The speaker has put on the table a balanced approach. The president previously said --

O'BRIEN: But it didn't include tax cut.

HENSARLING: -- I want to raise the top two rates for $800 billion worth of revenue and I want a balanced approach with roughly $3 of spending reduction for every $1 of tax revenue.

Now, he's got $5 of tax increase for every $1 of supposed spending reduction and he's doubled the size --

O'BRIEN: You can't be surprised --

(CROSSTALK)

HENSARLING: -- of the tax revenue.

O'BRIEN: But you can't be surprised that the president said no go to that with only a couple of hours, right? Because it did not increase taxes on the wealthiest of Americans, which he has consistently said.

HENSARLING: Well, Soledad, the president won 51-49. He's got an Electoral College victory. It's good enough to get him re-elected. But it's not enough to give him a mandate.

And the American people consciously, subconsciously, consciously voted for a divided government. And mandate of House Republican is equal to that of the president of the United States. And we're not going to go out and put 700,000 Americans on the unemployment lines. We're not going to take away wages from hard-working Americans, which is exactly what the president wants to do.

The president ought to remain good to his previous commitment and that is he wanted a balanced approach. Republicans are willing to negotiate in good faith. I think it's pretty obvious, particularly when the speaker puts on a plan put forth by Erskine Bowles, a Democrat in the first place.

O'BRIEN: Who, as you know, has backed away from that.

HENSARLING: One who was appointed -- one who was appointed -- well, get Mr. Bowles on. He was in front of the super committee. I saw him eye to eye when he put this proposal on the table.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: But he put a statement yesterday, as you know, and he said the circumstances have changed.

HENSARLING: I know he was right in front of me as co-chairman of the super committee and he put it on the table. If he wants to take it off the table, so be it. But the fact of the matter is go and review the transcript. Go and review the tape. This was an Erskine Bowles proposal. Now, he may want to put it up for adoption, I don't know.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: OK. Let me just clarify for a moment. He is not claiming he never presented it to you. What he's claiming is that circumstances now have changed is what he says in his statement that he has now released.

HENSARLING: Yes, the circumstances that have changed is that under President Obama, we have our $4 trillion deficit and it is spending- driven. And until the president puts any kind of spending reductions on the table, all this talk of tax increases -- you can give the president every job-harming tax increase he is asking for. And it's about 3 percent, maybe 4 percent of his 10-year spending bill.

Ultimately, middle income Americans are going to get socked with a tax increase beyond recognition unless we do something on the spending side. There's just so long you can play this shell game of trying to hide the true cost to government from middle income Americans. They're going to get socked with it.

Again, it's 0.3 percent Americans have million dollar incomes. The problem with the president's plan is sooner or later, you run out of millionaires. The math doesn't work.

O'BRIEN: Congressman Jeb Hensarling --

HENSARLING: The only way we can get there is with spending reductions to save our economy and to save the next generation from bankruptcy.

O'BRIEN: It's nice to have you talking with us this morning. We certainly appreciate it.

HENSARLING: Thank you.

MARTIN: I could have given you a 15-second flew. I'm not going to raise taxes. That is basically -- he is not going to raise taxes. And he talks about spending --

O'BRIEN: Taxes are going up January 1st.

MARTIN: Forty percent of the $787 billion stimulus bill he calls spending, 40 percent was tax cuts. Does he disagree with those tax cuts?

COPPINS: Well, the political reality he is not willing to acknowledge is that the reason Republicans won't just cut a deal on middle tax cuts is because that's the only small amount of leverage they have now to hopefully keep tax rates down on the wealthiest Americans as well.

They know if they cut tacks now on middle class and just strike that deal, they're never going to be able to get lower tax cuts.

CAIN: Or get the spending cuts they want.

COPPINS: Entitlement reform as well.

CAIN: He brought up the Bowles proposal. Not only is he fighting with the left in the daytime, he is also fighting with the right during the night, because he is getting attacked, Jeb and the Republican leadership, including Boehner, from the right. And yesterday, they removed three conservative/Tea Party congressmen from their committees. So, there's a fight from all angles.

O'BRIEN: There's a civil war happening at the GOP.

MARTIN: He said the president won 51-49 -- sorry, Congressman, it's closer to 53-47, just a fact check.

O'BRIEN: Zoraida Sambolin has a look at other news that don't deal with the fiscal cliff.

SAMBOLIN: Change topic here for a moment, yes?

O'BRIEN: What do you got?

SAMBOLIN: Growing outrage over front page "New York Post" photos showing a man who was shoved off a subway platform, trying to climb back up before a train eventually killed him. The photographer is defending his actions, saying he was too far away to help and kept firing his camera flash in order to warn the train operator. Meantime, police say a suspect they are questioning implicated himself. Subway surveillance video, you're seeing it here, shows that suspect yelling at the victim at the victim just moments before he was pushed onto the track.

And the hospital where Catherine, the duchess of Cambridge, is staying is now reviewing its procedures. Why, you ask? After admitting it fell for a prank call. Two Australian DJs were able to get an update on her condition. They claimed to be the Queen and Prince Philip.

The duchess of Cambridge is said to be feeling better, she's inside of the hospital. Prince Williams spending hours at her beside as she recovers from what the palace says is extreme morning sickness. A royal spokesman says they are immensely grateful for the good wishes that they have received.

MARTIN: How is Kate doing?

O'BRIEN: Catherine.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: This is the Queen. How is Kate doing? She's doing fine.

SAMBOLIN: I have more for you.

O'BRIEN: It's not that convincing.

SAMBOLIN: I have more for you. How about some politics?

So, we have some good news for Hillary Clinton. If she decides to run for president in 2016, that is, 57 percent of those polled by ABC News and "The Washington Post" said they would support Clinton, 37 percent said they would not support her candidacy. In addition -- in addition, the poll shows an overwhelming majority of women surveyed 66 percent would back her, only 47 percent of men would, Roland.

MARTIN: She wants some rest.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: She's been traveling four years. Give her two years. My God!

SAMBOLIN: -- change her mind. So, you just never know.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: She wants to rest for two years. My goodness!

O'BRIEN: And then, when she's done with the nap or whatever, the vacation or the spa --

MARTIN: Can we get to the inauguration before we go 2016?

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: I vote for that.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, doctors and lawyers have to take tests before they can start practicing. But what about people who educate our kids? We're going to talk to AFT, American Federation of Teachers president, Randi Weingarten, about new recommendation for teachers to take bar-like exams. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: You need to pass a bar exam to be a lawyer, take a medical license exam to be a doctor. So, what about teachers? A new report has been released by the American Federation of Teachers is recommending just that, just in the teachers should have to pass their own equivalent to the bar exam before they step into a classroom.

Randi Weingarten is the president of AFT, the American Federation of Teacher. She joins from Washington D.C. You're behind this idea, obviously. The report also recommends training as student teachers for new teachers, at colleges, actually, be more even selective of the students if they're taking into the teacher programs. Why do you think this is going to make a difference?

RANDI WEINGARTEN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS: So, you know, when you think about how important teaching is, teachers come into teaching caring a lot about what they are going to do in the lives of students. So, caring is not the issue. The issue is, when you look at the countries that out compete us, they spend a lot of time preparing teachers.

In fact, Finland prepares teachers like we prepare doctors. So, as opposed to thinking that we can just all get it done on the job and have on the job training, experience matters a lot. But you need to have a body of knowledge and some clinical experience to do what we consider the most important job in America, which is training a new generation.

O'BRIEN: So, you're creating these three recommendations. All parties would agree on the standards. All parties would take the same assessment for these teachers and the standards would be governed by the educators.

WEINGARTEN: Right.

O'BRIEN: Why the last one? I mean, why the educators overseeing it as opposed to somebody else?

WEINGARTEN: Right. Because right now -- look, right now, unfortunately, there's too much of a testing fixation in the United States. And there's too much controlled in education by testing companies and by testing as opposed to what the profession thinks is important. Medicine is controlled by the profession.

Law is controlled by the profession. Engineering is controlled by the profession. There's a body of knowledge that we know. So, for example, it is ridiculous, ludicrous for anybody to think I, as a social studies teacher, could teach physics. I would fail miserably in my classroom if I was teaching physics.

That's part of the reason that you have a content gate before, you know, you start teaching. But it's also ridiculous to think that you can actually manage a classroom of 30 kids, differentiate instruction if you don't have some baseline clinical practice. And that's what professionals actually know. So, we're saying, let's control our own profession, just like lawyers and doctors.

Let's have high standards that are aligned with this new common core so that we're really aiming to critically -- to help kids critically think, work together, apply knowledge. And let's have this kind of universal assessment. Teachers take a lot of tests already to become teachers, but to get rid of those, have a universal assessment so that teachers feel confident and competent on the first day of teaching.

O'BRIEN: Randi Weingarten is the president of the American Federation of Teachers. Nice to have you with us this morning. Appreciate it.

WEINGARTEN: Thanks. It's great to be with you.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT, before you go holiday shopping, Christine Romans has a list of what you should buy and what you should definitely not buy. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans. New this morning, private payroll processor, ADP, says 118,000 jobs were added in November. That's a little less than expected. Mark Zandi, the chief economist for Moody's Analytics, he quantified the effects of hurricane Sandy saying, quote, "Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on the job market in November, slicing an estimated 86,000 jobs from payrolls. Abstracting from the storm, the job market turned in a good performance during the month." We're going to get the big government jobs report, of course, on Friday morning. So, we'll know for sure.

A quick market check right now. U.S. stock futures are still higher, but you know, fiscal cliff uncertainty is expected to weigh on stocks until that's resolved. We are 27 days until the fiscal cliff, but there are only 27 days left until Christmas.

Before you part with your hard-earned money, some advice from Deal News for today's "Smart is the New Rich." Some of the best things to buy in December, toys, but only if you wait until two weeks before Christmas. Tools and hardware, this is the time to buy screwdriver sets, drills, lawn care tools, Roland. They're all cheaper this month.

Cooking and kitchenware, cutlery sets, bake ware, small appliances at stores. This is the good time -- this is the month to buy those things, but there are things to stay away from, jewelry. Just like on Black Friday --

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: You won't find low prices for gems and jewels before Christmas. So, if you're going to propose, gentlemen, wait until well after Valentine's Day. Electronics, Deal News says it's best to wait until January or February. Look, it's all about the bottom line, Roland. Come on! Newer models launched later in February, January. So, that's when you want to look at those and you get the markdowns on the 2012 level.

MARTIN: Do you know how many women you just ticked off? Hey, guys, wait till way past Valentine's Day.

ROMANS: You want a guy who knows how to pinch his pennies. That's what I think.

MARTIN: I've never seen a woman who say darling, thank you for being so frugal.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I find that romantic.

MARTIN: Yes. yes.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: After he gives you the big ring.

O'BRIEN: Exactly.

MARTIN: After the big ring.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: New this morning on STARTING POINT, the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, talking just a few moments ago about the crisis in Syria and fears that they will use chemical weapons. What she's saying now about the red line. We'll talk about that.

And imagine a tree falls on your car. That tree, in fact, and that little car. It happen to a couple in Oregon and they were able to survive with really not much physical damage. They're going to join us to talk about that incredible story coming up.

You're watching STARTING POINT. Short break. We're back in a moment.

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