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Obama Presses Congress To Pay Bills; George H. W. Bush Leaving Hospital Today; Congress Reacts To Obama's Remarks; Congress reacts To Obama's Remarks; How the Debt Ceiling Affects You

Aired January 14, 2013 - 13:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Deb Feyerick, thanks very much. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. President Obama using the bully pulpit, of course, to press Congressional Republicans to raise the country's debt limit, so the United States can pay its bills. He says, basically, we are not a deadbeat nation. The president basically saying that this is going to be up for Congress to decide.

I want to bring author and presidential historian, Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History and Fellow at Rice University. Douglas, thank you very much. Clearly, the president, he is laying down the gauntlet here. He says common sense is going to prevail. But he seemed very confident, he said it twice, that the American people are on his side when it comes to separating these two issues. Moving forward, paying the bills, and then worrying about the debt limit, raising the debt limit, later. Is this -- is this a good strategy?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY AND FELLOW, RICE UNIVERSITY: Well, it is, and it's also just the box he happens to be in right now. I mean, I think the key line today was that we are not a deadbeat nation, and that, come hell or high water, we've got to pay our bills. But more importantly, in 2012, I thought President Obama really was the firewall candidate for president, the progressive firewall. He is constantly saying, you will not touch Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security. He's a protector, really, of the new deal and great society programs that's facing a great reaction. The Tea Party, right, the conservative movement that wants to dismantle and roll back a lot of these measures, whether it's, you know, EPA or public housing, you can make a laundry list of 20.

So, this press conference today was just what you expect right now, kind of more gridlock and two different visions of the country. But President Obama gets 50 percent or more public approval ratings while Congress is at about 17 percent. So, it's not a bad strategy for this president, but it's constantly putting America on the precipice of these sort of last-minute debt deals and it's trying on all of us.

MALVEAUX: And Doug, do you think it was accurate, do you think it was fair what the president said when he talked about Republicans, a certain group within the party, that really is about a different vision about what the government should be doing and that they are suspicious of the government when it comes to providing health care, when it comes to dealing with people's money, when it comes to dealing with their education? Did he strike the right tone there? BRINKLEY: Well, I think he struck a good tone. I mean, one of the problems I had with the press conference, may not have been the president's fault, I didn't think we asked a lot of other questions. I mean, we're living in the age of climate change. It doesn't come up. What are we going to do about China? Can he go to China? Can we create more favorable trade terms in China? What's going on in Syria and the Middle East? We were really, again, stuck on this showdown, two scorpions in a bottle, to use a cold War metaphor, between the U.S. and Soviet Union.

Well, now the scorpions are the White House versus Congress. And we seem to be replaying this same scenario over and over again, March looming, and it's hard to get a sense of the vision of the second term, if every three months, we're going to be in these kind of tight, you know, debt ceiling fiscal cliff types of negotiations. So somehow, this spring, the president has got to break this syndrome. And I think he made it very clear, if the government goes bankrupt, Congress will be blamed and then he'll start really using executive authority in a way probably unprecedented since Theodore Roosevelt.

MALVEAUX: And Doug, you brought up a really good point there, the fact that there are some things that just didn't come up, the Middle East didn't come, immigration reform did not come up. I mean, these are the kind of things, we are now stuck in this discussion over what is going to happen now, the next showdown with Congress.

One of the things that was a sidebar, it was a lot of the criticism he has been getting over his cabinet picks, whether or not it's diverse enough, whether or not this is more reflective of what we've seen in Lincoln's cabinet, the team of rivals or whether or not it's more like FDR back in 1933. What do you make of that criticism? Do you think it's fair? Because we are seeing the -- you know, those top jobs that are going, treasury, defense, CIA, all to white men.

BRINKLEY: Well, I think the photo you are flashing right now is photogate. It was a terrible image to get out there. It just shows the boy's club together. On the other hand, this president is clearly someone committed to diversity, he has two women on the Supreme Court, many of -- you know, he had Hillary Clinton at secretary of state. She's leaving. It's hard to find somebody to replace her of her stature. And I think one of the news-making bits of today is the president said, just give me a take a breath for a minute and wait until you see what my entire cabinet looks like, meaning, clearly, that some women are going to coming in in transportation or interior, some of the other posts that might become available soon.

MALVEAUX: And Doug, finally, what do we make of how the president is going to govern moving forward in his second term? Is this the kind of Congress, 113th Congress, that he can work with to get something done or is he going to have to use executive order, whether it's looking at something, dealing with the gun laws, gun legislation, whether it's the small things that he can chip away when it comes to immigration reform, all kinds of things he can do as commander in chief, without working with Congress?

BRINKLEY: I think the big legislative achievement to Barack Obama will have taken place, history will show in the first term, with Obama care. He's going to have to fight to get that to become a birth right for all Americans here in his second term. Beyond that, I don't see a chance for much of a legislative agenda. The politics are just too rotten for it. Subsequently, he's going to have to be known as this great executive power president. And he is going to have to -- he has great opportunities in foreign affairs.

As I mentioned on the climate change issue, just talking about it and invoking it in the upcoming inaugural, make it an important part of his State of the Union address coming up. He's got to find other issues than this constant, every three months, you know, fighting Congress over this, because there's no legacy for him in that. People will not go to the Obama presidential library in Chicago to see the pen that these debt debates, you know, the document that he signed on these things. And it's starting to frustrate people. He needs to get vision, not just practical day-by-day governing.

MALVEAUX: And Doug, finally, one of the things that the president is saying, he said, look, those who know me, I'm a friendly guy, you know, I enjoy a good party here. I'm even inviting the Republicans over to the White House and they don't accept my invitation, the optics. You know, it's not good for the constituents there. How does he change that because this is the kind of thing the Republicans, it just makes them mad, just insane, when they hear that kind of thing.

BRINKLEY: Well, look, I think President Obama is who he is and he's an intellectual, but he's also very warm and very engaging. I'm one of the historians that he invites to the White House periodically. We have a marvelous time talking about history, laughing. I think that he was correct today, that just a lot of Republicans don't want to be in a photo op with him. It doesn't play back in their Congressional district. And we do run every two years for Congress, and an opposition will just show, look, here's President Obama with his arm against a Republican, and someone will use that against a certain member of Congress.

And I -- so, I don't think we can blame the president for his style. I think it's just another part of this terrible political gridlock we have. President Obama is a warm and engaging man. He doesn't have the charm of maybe a John F. Kennedy or Ronald Reagan, but he's plenty friendly to everybody he meets, including reporters.

MALVEAUX: He is, indeed. All right, Doug, thanks, again. I appreciate it. I want to play a little bit of the highlights here from the presidential press conference. This is really what drove the conversation. It is all about the need for the government to pay our bills.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, to even entertain the idea of this happening, of the United States of America not paying its bills, is irresponsible. It's absurd. As the speaker said two years ago, it would be," and I'm quoting Speaker Boehner now, "a financial disaster not only for us but for the worldwide economy." So, we've got to pay our bills. And Republicans in Congress have two choices here. They can act responsibly and pay America's bills, or they can act irresponsibly and put America through another economic crisis. But they will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy. The financial well-being of the American people is not leverage to be used. The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not a bargaining chip. And they better choose quickly because time is running short. The last time Republicans in Congress even flirted with this idea, our AAA credit rating was downgraded for the first time in our history, our business has created the fewest jobs of any month in nearly the past three years, and, ironically, the whole fiasco actually added to the deficit. So, it shouldn't be surprising, given all this talk, that the American people think Washington is hurting rather than helping the country at the moment.


MALVEAUX: And coming up this hour, our favorite personal finance expert, Suze Orman. She's got a solution for the U.S. economy. Cut up the credit cards. Don't rely on these new revenues to bail you out. Suze Orman's plan for President Obama's next four years, plus her tips to help you with your personal debt well.

And it is all waste. That is right. A new report saying as much as half of the world's food is wasted. Self-proclaimed dumpster diver, Jane Velez-Mitchell, she is weighing in. This is CNN NEWSROOM happening now.


MALVEAUX: This just in. CNN confirming now with a source that is familiar with the situation that president that President George H. W. Bush, he is being discharged today from a Houston hospital. You're seeing pictures of him there, the former president being released today. This is after nearly two months of treatment for a bronchitis- related cough, we are learning here, and other health-related issues. The president in the hospital for a couple of months there, tending to some of those health-related issues. He is 88 years old, of course, and so keeping a very close eye on him, and out of abundance of caution, as well. We certainly wish him well and good health. Now, the former president out of the hospital.

And now, President Obama holding the last news conference of his first term. So, what does he think members of Congress should do about a number of things, including the debt ceiling, moving on immigration reform, his agenda for the second term? I want to bring in our Dana Bash on Capitol Hill with this. And first of all, Dana, he was very adamant about the debt ceiling and the fact that that is not going to hold the American people hostage, in his words, from moving forward and spending what needs to be spent, making the kinds of cuts that need to be cut. But he is not going to use that, really, as a -- as a bargaining chip. Republicans are already responding. What are they saying?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORREPONDENT: And that's right. And even before the president spoke, we were hearing from Republican leadership aides, Suzanne, particularly in the House, that they were trying to get the upper hand in this fight, and this -- and really leverage here the idea that they are willing to -- at least they say they're more willing to go to the brink of defaulting on the U.S.'s debt, on shutting down the government, if it means the president not giving in on what they want which is cutting spending.

And, as you said, we got a couple of responses from the Republican leaders in the House and the Senate. I'll read you this hour the one from the Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell. He said, the president and his allies need to get serious about spending and the debt limit debate is the perfect time for it. I do know that the most important issue confronting the future of our country is our deficit and debt. So, we're hoping for a new seriousness on the part of the country, with regard to the single biggest issue confronting the country, and we look forward to working with him to do something about this huge, huge problem.

Now, along with this, Suzanne, I and other reporters got a series of memos from Mitch McConnell's office and others, saying that this is -- or trying to make the point this is not new, linking spending restraint with the debt ceiling, at least bumping up against it, saying that in 1985, 1990, and 1993, and 1997, all of those years when there were budget-controlled legislation -- pieces of legislation passed that all was hand and glove with debt ceiling. So, they argued that as much as the president says that the Republicans are holding this hostage, it is not a new concept to link these two.

MALVEAUX: And Dana, that's very true. I mean, the president said, in response to that, that this is the first time or that they've come up to the very brink, the very end when it comes to defaulting on their loans there. The president laid out a plan. I wonder if there's any response from Congress?

He says, first, let's set the debt ceiling aside, let's pay our bills, and then let's have a robust debate regarding the debt ceiling. Is that something that Republicans are willing to do here, or it must be linked, the two have to go hand in hand?

BASH: They are insisting. And when I say they, I'm talking about House Republicans and also the Senate Republican leadership, that they have to go hand in hand. And this is something that we heard over and over and over again when we had this debate the last time, back in the summer of 2011. And you know that very well, Suzanne.

But the House speaker and his aides are telling us that they really mean it this time, that there has to be a dollar of spending cuts for every dollar that the U.S. agrees to raise the debt limit. And that they would even go for a two or three-month extension as they try to work on a more global discussion of cutting spending. But even if there's an extension, it has to go point by point.

Another thing I want to mention, Suzanne, which I thought was really interesting, and I bet you did too having covered the White House under George Bush and Obama as well, that last question to him about the fact that he doesn't socialize a lot with Congress, I think that really speaks to where we are right now. He's right that if he socialized more, I don't think it would change the political philosophy, the differences in political philosophy. But there is something to be said for the fact that there is -- all of this is confrontation. And confrontation is added to by a lack of trust. And there isn't a lack of trust because these guys really don't know each other very well. And perhaps when he goes golfing with his aides, he could ask a member of Congress or two to come. I guarantee you, and I bet you would agree, that that would happen.

MALVEAUX: Yes, I remember when he first took office and he had a Super Bowl party and all the Republicans piled in and it was a good time and then it didn't last for long, but there's always more -- there are more opportunities here.

It was interesting too, Dana, because he said at the very end, he said, whether he's the life of the party or a stick in the mud, he wasn't really sure things were going to change. So let's see if he's -- either one, if things are going to change in Washington.

Dana, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

The president using the last news conference of the first term really to push forward for the future. And personal finance expert Suze Orman, she's going to weigh in, up next.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And Republicans in Congress have two choices here. They can act responsibly and pay America's bills, or they can act irresponsibly and put America through another economic crisis. But they will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy.



MALVEAUX: So the president started his news conference today talking about the need for Congress to raise the debt ceiling here. He says it is not a license to spend more, as Republicans have claimed. Here's what he said.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You don't go out to dinner and then, you know, eat all you want, and then leave without paying the check. And if you do, you're breaking the law.


MALVEAUX: All right. Since 1962, Congress has raised the debt limit 76 times. That's according to the Congressional Research Service. Eleven of those times occurred just in the past -- last 10 years. What does it mean, personally, if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling here? Suze Orman, personal finance expert, host of "The Suze Orman Show" for CNBC for 12 years, named one of "Forbes's" 100 most powerful women, and one of "Time" magazine's most influential people.

Suze, good to see you.

First of all, is that analogy correct? When you listen to the president say, look, this is about paying for a meal. If you go out to a restaurant, you can't skip out on the bill, you've got to pay your bill, you've got to pay your debts, otherwise you're breaking the law.

SUZE ORMAN, HOST, SUZE ORMAN SHOW: Actually, it's one of the first analogies that I've heard that is absolutely 100 percent correct. Why? Because you go out to eat, you've consumed that food. You are probably already digesting that food. And then the bill comes. And you have to pay for what you already just ate. Again, it is very important for people to understand. And I'm not exactly sure that they understand that raising the debt ceiling doesn't mean it's extending your credit limit so you can spend more money for future goods. It's about raising the credit limit so that you have the money to pay off the bills that you've already spent the money on. So I thought it was absolutely a brilliant example.

MALVEAUX: So you're in line with the president, then. Deal with the debt ceiling issue later, pay the bills first, and then have this debate over whether or not it's a good idea, and how it's responsible to actually deal with the federal deficit?

ORMAN: I think right now, in the United States of America, the people, forget about Congress, forget about -- let's talk about the people, the personal financial issues here. They need to know that if they're getting unemployment or if they're getting Social Security -- unemployment not so much, but Social Security, veterans benefit, small businesses, they need to know that their future is secure. That they're not all of a sudden going to get something and say, sorry, you don't get your paycheck that they're living on. And when they start to get afraid, they stop spending money. When they stop spending money, the whole economy suffers. So why can't you just say to them, of course we're going to be raising the debt ceiling. We don't actually have a choice. Take that fear out of their lives and then let's deal with the problem that they haven't been able to deal with for years now, but hopefully they'll be able to do something about this time.

MALVEAUX: It's a little confusing, though, Suze, when you think about that, because we're talking about the debt ceiling. So we're talking about the government, you know, owing money here. We're talking about raising the debt ceiling. The government owing more money. How does that square with your philosophy where you always say, look, you know what, if you're going to buy it, you've got to pay for it. You can't keep borrowing.

ORMAN: Yes, but we are now, remember, we have to pay for services that we've already spent the money on. We're not saying, let's keep borrowing so we can continue to spend more than we have. We're simply saying, according to what he said today, let's raise it so that, what, we can pay the bills that we already have. Because here's the truth. If we don't pay those bills that we already have, who's going to get hurt the most? It's going to be the everyday people that are counting on their checks that they're not going to get. And that's going to hurt them. And they can't afford to be hurt anymore than they've been hurt over the past few years. It's also going to hurt in term of what might happen to interests, what will happen to all kinds of things that go on here. So, you know, it's almost as saying, is this even a discussion? The debt ceiling has to be raised.

MALVEAUX: And Suze, I want you to weigh in on this. The president saying that, if you don't raise the debt ceiling, it could have a catastrophic impact on a lot of folk. Let's listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If congressional Republicans refuse to pay America's bills on time, Social Security checks and veterans benefits will be delayed. We might not be able to pay our troops or honor our contracts with small business owners. Food inspectors, air traffic controllers, specialists who track down loose nuclear materials wouldn't get their paychecks. Investors around the world will ask if the United States of America is, in fact, a safe bet. Markets could go haywire, interest rates would spike for anybody who borrows money. Every homeowner with a mortgage, every student with a college loan, every small business owner who wants to grow and hire.


MALVEAUX: Does that sound right to you, Suze? I mean is this something that the president is overstating? Does that sound like that would be the possible scenario?

ORMAN: I don't think that he's overstating it at all, especially -- let's just talk about the Social Security recipients. Many people now are receiving Social Security at the exact same time interest rates are so low that they are not getting the income from their investments that they need. So maybe at a time when they really didn't need their Social Security check because they were living off of the interest income of their investments and their CDs, that's not happening for them anymore. So this Social Security check is a need, now, for them. You take that away, they won't be able to pay their rent, they won't be able to pay their mortgage, that affects all the banks, that starts to affect everything. It's true, other people will look at us and go, should we be investigation in the United States of America? So watch what happens with the 10-year treasury bond and interest rates going up. I don't think he overstated it at all.

MALVEAUX: And, finally, Suze, what would happen if the government shut down?

ORMAN: Oh, my God. If the government shut down, then everything stops working. Who protects you? Who puts out your fires? Who protects you on the defense level? Who takes care of everything that's going on? You know, the government has become a big babysitter for the majority of services out there, whether it's with Medicare or Medicaid, all these things. And so if they shut down, you really have to -- if you thought the fiscal cliff was something, that's nothing compared to what we're going through right now.

MALVEAUX: All right, Suze, hang with us, stay with us, because we're going to, of course, talk about personal finances. The government, of course, trying to dig its way out of this financial hole. Many folks are just asking, how do you get your own financial house in order. Well, Suze Orman, she is going to stay with us to talk about some consumer tips, up next.


MALVEAUX: President Obama said in his news conference today that America needs to pay its bills, and that is why he is fighting to raise the debt ceiling. Well, meanwhile, there are millions of Americans that have the same problem, they can't pay their bills. As the economy is stumbling to get back on its feet, you have 25 million people who are out of work or unable to find full-time work. They're trying to figure out how to get their finances in order. And our financial guru, Suze Orman, from "The Suze Orman Show," she has helped many families get back on track.

Suze, we're going to go through a couple of things here because you've talked a lot about the fact that the middle class is shrinking, particularly over the last 10 years. We want to put up some graphics here. We know the median family income is only about $50,000 a year. It's either a couple making $25,000 each or a single person making $50,000. It's not much, especially if you've got kids. Then you've got the government coming out with the shocking report that one in six Americans is poor today.