NJ Let’s talk about that, because the Republican candidates in both the Senate and the House are running on an agenda divergent from your own. Pretty consistent: Extend the Bush tax cuts for all earners; most of them are talking about a balanced-budget amendment; repealing the health care law, virtually every Republican Senate candidate; opposing cap-and-trade legislation. In your view, what would be the cumulative impact of that agenda if implemented?
OBAMA Well, let me be very specific on some of these promises that they’re making. When it comes to repealing the health care law, the question to ask these Republicans are, “Do you want to go back to a time where people can’t get health insurance if they’ve got preexisting conditions?” And if you ask them that question, almost all of them will say, “Oh no no no, we don’t mean that provision.” Well, how about closing the doughnut hole for senior citizens? “Well no, that part of it we like.” Well, OK, do you think it’s a good idea that young people should be able to stay on their parents’ health insurance til they’re 26 years old? “Yeah, that’s sensible.” Well, how about the notion that there are no lifetime limits and insurance companies can’t drop your coverage when you get sick? “No no, we support that.” What is clear to me is that in the abstract, everybody on the Republican side is for repeal. What’s going to be tested after the election is these specific provisions and how do they feel about them? Because it turns out that those provisions are hugely popular and they’re the right thing to do. More importantly, they’re going to have to answer the fact that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, not according to me, implementing health care will save us a trillion dollars over the course of two decades. They will have to answer where we’re going to make up that trillion dollars and how do they square that with their claim that they want to balance the budget. When you ask them about a balanced-budget amendment–everybody’s for a balanced-budget amendment in the abstract. I have yet to hear anybody, with the exception, to his credit, of Paul Ryan, give me any specifics on what exactly do they want to cut. They’ll say, “Well, we’re going to eliminate the last part of the stimulus.” Well, when you actually look at the amount of money that’s not already out the door, turns out a big chunk of that are tax cuts to middle-class families. Do they really want to raise taxes on middle-class families? Do they think it’s wise for us not to make investments in clean energy? Does anybody think that our infrastructure is adequate to compete with the 21st century? I do not know a single person who’s been to Shanghai or Beijing or Singapore and comes back and says, “We’re doing great when it comes to infrastructure.” When it comes to education, part of their suggestion to pay for a fraction of the high-income tax cuts, which would cost $700 billion, they don’t answer how they’d get all the way there. But a small sliver of the answer is to roll back some of the increases that we’ve made on things like education. And as I’ve said before, if we are not able to produce more scientists and more engineers, and more highly skilled technical workers, then other countries are going to clean our clock.
NJ Let me ask you a couple of follow-ups to that really quick. If there are the votes in the next Congress to extend the Bush tax cuts for all earners, would you veto such an extension of the tax cuts for all earners?
OBAMA I think it’s premature to talk about vetoes because maybe I’m a congenital optimist, but I feel as if postelection, regardless of how it plays out, the most important message that will be sent by the American people is, we want people in Washington to act like grown-ups, cooperate, and start trying to solve problems instead of scoring political points. And it is going to be important for Democrats to have a proper and appropriate sense of humility about what we can accomplish in the absence of Republican cooperation. I think it’s going to be important for Republicans to recognize that the American people aren’t simply looking for them to stand on the sidelines; they’re going to have to roll up their sleeves and get to work. In that context, my hope is that a lot of these tax issues can be resolved. The one thing I will insist upon, though, is an honest accounting of how to resolve them. If the Republicans are insisting on a permanent extension of the high-income tax cuts, then they have to explain to me how we’re going to pay for them. And so far, at least, we have not gotten such an explanation. And I don’t think it’s sufficient for them to say that we feel confident that the economy, because of these tax cuts, will grow sufficiently to make up for them, which is their usual supply-side argument. It’s been around for four years now; it has been disproved again and again, and at some point we’re going to have to be honest about what our priorities are.