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tv   Washington Week  PBS  April 20, 2012 8:00pm-8:30pm PDT

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gwen: election 2012. the debate turns to the economy. and to who can raise the most money. while washington focuses on scandal. tonight on "washington week." >> this is a president that is putting in peril our economic future. >> somebody gave me an education. i wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth. gwen: the economy. where the battle of 2012 will be fought. mitt romney narrows the gap with barack obama as each campaigns on a single theme. whom do you trust? and as both sides work overtime to raise big money, $13 million last month for romney. $53 million for obama and the democrats. with more to come. meanwhile, the scandal industry is back in full swing. this time involving the secret
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service. >> these 11 agents did put the -- potentially puts any president at risk and themselves at risk, and leaves themselves open to blackmail and to threats. gwen: and the general services administration. >> when you're wasting taxpayer money, what happens in vegas does not stay in vegas. gwen: covering the week, jeff zeleny of "the new york times." jim tankersley of "national journal." jeanne cummings of bloomberg news. and michael duffy of "time" magazine. >> award-winning reporting and analysis. covering history as it happens. live from our nation's capital, this is "washington week with gwen ifill." produced in association with "national journal." corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> we know why we're here. >> to chart a greater path in the air and in our factories.
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possible, additional funding is provided by the annenberg foundation, the corporation for public broadcasting and by contributions to pbs stations from viewers like you. thank you. once again, live from washington, moderator gwen ifill. gwen: good evening. we are experts here in washington at the fine art of distraction. from dogs to shuttle fly-bys which was pretty cool by the way. but most americans remain focused like a laser beam as a certain former president used to say on the state of the economy. and no matter what you hear, the candidates for president know it. and they know where to go to talk about it. the general election battleground state of ohio. >> should we settle for an economy where a few people do really well and then a growing number are struggling to get by? or do we build an economy where
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everybody gets a fair shot and everybody does their fair share and everybody's playing by the same set of rules? [applause] >> now, as you can tell, we're in a factory. this factory is empty. it's owned by national gypsum. it was closed in 2008 at the beginning of the economic downturn. had the president's economic plans worked, president obama's plans worked, it would be open by now. gwen: they were both in lorraine county, ohio, and i wonder whether it was possible that both of these candidates were speaking to the same set of voters, jeff. >> in fact, they were and they're going to be for the next six months or so. and going after these white working class voters, mainly men that we've been talking about. ohio is going to be one of the central battlegrounds. it's one of the probably nine, 10, 11 states in the romney campaign that's one of the four states they believe most critical. but they were trying to weigh out their arguments. president obama is saying that he's trying to make it an economic fairness argument. he's trying to say that, look, governor romney may not treat
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you as fairly as you would like. he's trying to point out without saying so that he's a wealthy man. and he may not relate to you. at the same time, governor romney is trying to lay out a competence argument through this. saying, you know, this factory is empty because of president obama's policies. now, it should be noted that the factory closed before president obama took office. he was still a senator. he was still running for the offices. in the bush administration. it made clear that they're going to go back again and again and again to all of the obama statements that he said in 2008. they handed out copies of the speech that senator obama made at that very plant when he visited in 2008. promising a change in washington. promising economic revival. and now president obama owns his record. gwen: jim, both of these candidates try to make this case, trust me, i'm the one who can fix the economy, do the numbers back them up? >> well, the numbers are difficult here, right? because they each have a record. and it's -- each is subject to
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how you want to look at it, right? the president has his record that mitt romney wants to describe as one of extraordinary job loss and making the recovery worse. and it's true that jobs are bad right now. we still have 13 million americans out of work. that's a ridiculously high number that no one in america should settle for. the president's argument is look, i came in, in the middle of an avalanche down the mountain for payrolls. and we recovered. we've been adding millions of private payroll jobs. we've had steady growth. gwen: including in ohio. >> including in ohio. gwen: job growth, right? >> where the unemployment rate is lower than the national average. it's below 8%. which is one of the things that president obama has in his favor at this point. and it's largely because of the auto industry turnaround. of governor ted strickland, former gotch ted strickland, -- governor ted strickland, who lost in 2010 because of high unemployment, and said the single campaign message should be osama bin laden is dead and general motors is alive. he borrowed that from vice president biden.
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but it is the central thing. one out of every eight jobs in ohio is connected to the auto industry. which is actually improving. so it's why it makes ohio so interesting. even more so that be other years. -- more so than other years. >> do you see any clear point of disagreement on how -- what to do about the economy? is there a place where this sort of campaign is going to come down to a choice between one man's policy on jobs and another? >> here's what's fascinating about the debate so far. more than half of americans in most polls say that what they care most about in this election is the economy. but we haven't really had an economic debate yet. we're having a debate about a whole bunch of things that are tangentially related to the economy. a debate about warren buffett's secretary's tax rate. we're having a debate about whether mitt romney is too rich to relate. whether barack obama understands how private enterprise works. and all those things, we're not having a debate yet over how really to create jobs. >> when you mention the polls, both of you all looked at them very carefully. jeff, in terms of the economy,
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who has an advantage or do either of them have an advantage on that issue if they haven't really begun to engage voters on it? >> well, truly interesting. in our poll that we had out this week, actually a slightly higher number of people had confidence, they say, in governor romney's plan to restore the economy. they say they have -- have confidence in his economic leadership. even as commander in chief. that's one of the worrying signs here for the president. they don't know yet enough about mitt romney. but they still sort of are choosing someone else other than this incumbent president. which is why of course it's incumbent on this president and his vast campaign apparatus to start defining mitt romney. and really using a lot of these arguments of economic farness again like would he treat you fairly? more than an economic debate, it's a tax debate really. and it hasn't gotten very specific. the general election is just beginning. but mitt romney begins it in a pretty decent place.
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gwen: go ahead. >> the government yet -- i'm sorry. is there a conversation going on yet about whether either man has an economic plan beyond jobs that will solve the question of deficits and debt? has that debate been joined yet? or are we still dancing around the edges there? >> we're going to have a size of government debate. it's going to be a big one. the question is whether it's a serious debate over reducing deficits. for example, governor romney started the year or started the campaign with a very detailed plan on deficit reduction. but then he added an extra tax cut on top of it which made very difficult to call it a real deficit reduction plan. the president has not put forth a large and aggressive deficit reduction plan, either. and so i think you can see a major battle on that front. gwen: can we talk about the fairness argument? the fairness argument is targeted by both campaigns to very specific groups of voters. to women, and to white working class voters who only graduated high school. and are not college educated.
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how does this campaign once it gets focused on these matters speak to those groups? because that's why wernecke and neck, right? -- why we're neck and neck, right? >> no question neck and neck. and one question, while people see some improvement in the economy, they don't necessarily see it in their own personal lives and conditions. four out of 10 parents in our poll said that they have changed their college choices for their children because of this economy. two thirds of people say that -- are concerned about paying for their housing. so that's one of the reasons, just the underlying things why president obama could be in some trouble here. he is in a fight for his life. he knows that. but it's because of these underlying personal economic conditions. people don't see the recovery necessarily. and they're definitely going after working class voters largely men. we always talk about the women's vote as being pivotal which it is because there are more women voting. but interestingly, that's an economic debate, too.
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it's been sidetracked a lot on contraception and other things. and our poll it showed that even among women only 6% of women say that they vote on those issues. they're concerned about the high price of everything. the rising prices. that men are more concerned about deficits. gwen: isn't that the point ann romney has been making by the way? >> she's been trying. >> there was a congressional budget office report out this week that grabbed some headlines. it was said that the president's plan would essentially slow down growth. and they didn't score a romney plan. but what are we to make of this c.b.o. report and if it were to cast -- turn its lens toward the romney campaign, what would the results be then? >> fascinating difference, i think. first off, the president's plan, the c.b.o. found, would slow growth in the long term. but help it probably in the short term. and that's because the president wants to do more things like keep payroll taxes low. and spend more money on infrastructure than the
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republicans do. but the extra debt you accumulate from that slows you down in the long term. that's sort of classic economic thinking. governor romney's plan does the opposite. if you believe his deficit reduction targets it's better long term. it will mean less debt holding back the economy. but he's going to take a lot more of that demand out of the economy right away with more dramatic budget cuts right now. and if that happens, then what c.b.o. scoring would suggest is that is likely to slow the economy when the recovery is still pretty feeble. gwen: why is it so feeble? what are the signs? i feel like there are some weeks where it feels like we have turned the corner and begin to get these reports about construction and housing and housing starts. and it doesn't ever consistently get on an upward path. >> well, it is sort of on a consistent upward path. just not a very steep one. gwen: slow. >> two steps forward, one step back. you can think of it like we keep eating a lot of sugar and it wears off and we slow down
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and eat some sugar and it wears off and we slow down. the problem with this economy is the fundamentals underneath it aren't very strong still. housing is terrible. and it's holding back the recovery in a big way. along with a lot of other just underlying lack of investment, lack of consumer demand. these are things you need to have a really robust recovery. >> as a result, jeff, we come to my favorite line in your story, one of your stories in which you said voters feel like they are choosing between brussel sprouts and liver. both of which i happen to like. but not everybody. >> not everybody. and people just don't know. there are a lot of people who we talked to this week all across ohio, and say, look, i voted for obama last time. president obama last time. i don't like him. i don't really get a good feeling for this romney guy which is why this is going to in some ways, it's a big campaign about big things and also become a small campaign. because there aren't -- in some people's minds a ton of difference in terms of what they can do for their lives. gwen: thank you, jeff. thank you, jim. that ka-ching you hear is the sound of candidates tonight
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counting their money. new reports out today show both president obama and governor romney are raking it in from different sources and spending it, too. on different things. what do the tallies tell us about the state of the campaign? jean? -- jeanne? >> what these latest reports indicate is romney is starting from a very deep hole. he's -- he really benefits quite a bit that santorum stepped down. because he is well behind the president. the president has the end of the last month, beginning of april, he had $104 million in cash. romney had $10 million in cash. gwen: that's why you have a natural primary. >> yes, exactly. and so it just shows, though, that romney really needed to pivot. another month of a contested primary where he would have to turn and start doing fundraising in july, could have been devastating for his
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campaign. as it is right now, it is a steep climb. he will get assistance as we all know. from the superpacs on the outside. crossroads, the group created, with karl rove, former bush advisor. they're healthy. they are among the healthiest. they've raised $100 million. unclear how much they really got in the bank. because half of their operation is behind a wall. but they are expected to be big players. and they will be big players. the superpac that supports romney, restore our future, that is really interesting to me. they took in $8.5 million. which keeps them ahead of the republican pacs. but priorities u.s.a., the little guy that was created to support the president, and the democrats are having a devil of a time to get anybody to give any money to it, it's not spending anything. so restore our future, romney's pac, has $6.5 million in the
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bank. and priorities has $5 million. so there's almost parity there because priorities haven't been spending anything. and because romney had a primary fight. >> we hear a lot of talk about it's going to be ad 1 billion campaign. the -- to be $100 -- $1 billion campaign. for the first time we've seen a target on the romney campaign in terms of how much they want to raise. we've heard the number $800 million thrown around. how do they get to that if they're at $10 million now? >> i'm very dubious of that number. i understand why they set it as a goal. when you look at it on paper it can make sense of thad 800 million, -- of thad 800 million, they expect $200 million to come from the superpacs and that's probably right that. will probably happen. they expect $500 million to come on the candidate side of things. and buried in that $500 million
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is also $300 million from small donors. and that's when i suddenly stopped. because the romney operation has not invested a cent in small donors. and getting small donors to give at the level that they have for president obama is just unprecedented. nobody's been able to match him. he's got some kind of magic going on with the little donors. gwen: one of them, a lotto thing today online where a $3 and maybe you can go to dinner with george clooney. >> but he raised $35 million did the president. $35 million in march. 52%. half from small donors. romney raised $13 million. 13% from small donors. we're talking about maybe $1.5 million. that's how much they do not have an operation in place. and they put that big of target on small donor donations. >> jeanne, from small donors to big donors, one of the big stories of the republican primaries wars the fact that
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there was sort of these -- was the fact that there was sort of these god fathers for spending for newt gingrich and rick santorum, will we see these big financiers and have daddy warbucks apprehend them? >> president obama, we're still waiting on them. money out of hollywood but that's about it that goes into his superpac. as for the republican millionaires, they're starting to move and they're moving to romney. those that were supporting other candidates have now said that they intend to shift harold simons, texas billionaire, has already begun to shift. he was with perry and then santorum and then newt and now with romney. so he's been moving all along. in the new reports today, in our bloomberg review, we also found someone unusual. a fellow named scott desano a. former fidelity investor who was under investigation by the securities and exchange commission. and was actually fined for
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$250,000. and was tossed out of his job at fidelity. so with these big donors, sometimes comes risk. gwen: ok. let's talk about risk. because i've come up with a whole new theory about washington which is that there are four stages of a washington scandal. there's outrage. heads that roll. investigations are held. and lawsuits are filed. they are usually about sex and money or both. and that's what engulfs both the u.s. secret service and the general services administration this week. where workers on the taxpayer dime allegedly went way, way outside the lines. first, michael, a brief recap. >> i don't know if it's stage three or four. gwen: i don't know. >> if you've been frustrated with government this is a fun time. officials of the general service administration, that's an agency that takes care of office space and other functions, managed to throw $1 million conference for themselves outside of las vegas. including spending $7,000 on
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sushi and $3,200 on a mind reader. when that story broke, we had four congressional investigations. about half dozen officials at the g.s.a. lost or -- lost their jobs or resigned. and congress is moving now toward a measure that would cap the cost of conferences at $500,000 which will make it harder to be a federal contract mind reader. the other story that broke almost as soon as that one had come out, and overshadowed it quickly is about how nearly two dozen secret service agents along with as many as perhaps 11 military personnel hired up to 20, maybe more female escorts on one night. leading up to the summit of the americas in colombia last weekend. six secret service personnel have lost their jobs. 11 more on administrative leave. and there may be -- there's 11 also in the military maybe implicated as well. this story is far more shocking not only because of the certificationual angle but
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because of the -- of the sexual angle but because of the men and women in charge of protecting the president. gwen: we can say men in this case. >> secret service is not an all male force. what's odd about this, the shocking story is not the one that's generated the most heat. reaction to -- on the secret service front, though it has been shocking across the country and washington has been relatively muted because both parties are reluctant to take on or at least criticize openly an agency that is essentially a national security arm, and responsible for protecting this most important asset of the government. on the other hand, the g.s.a. story, which is actually predictable by comparison, has generated a great deal of criticism of the agency and the administration's oversight of it. and also plays into the republican argument that the president isn't capable of managing economic resources. so it's a little bit of a surprise on both fronts. >> speaking of the argument, at least some republicans did not hold their fire. senator jeff sessions from
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alabama, former alaska governor sarah palin, she kind of merged the two things and said that's what happens when you have the men in charge and things. and she had some -- her own sort of connection to this because one of the agents had posted a picture on his facebook page. do you think that argument has any resonance or sail yens with voters that this is the obama administration's fault? >> well, i don't know about fault. but anything that gives the republicans a chance to sort of direct the spotlight on to even apparent mismanagement or lack of oversight by this administration is useful because that's not where the white house wants to have the conversation and bending over backward not to have the conversation and say we're not talking about it and really not concerned about it. and that this will be handled internally. that has been effective. but i think those two are kind of a bit of an outliar. and hasn't yet sort of moved into the party yet. could. even romney has been relatively muted about it. palin's line was the president needs to have heads roll at both agencies.
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>> i wonder if even though the secret service scandal has got most of the attention because ints shocking and has -- because it's shocking and has sex and intriguing, but the g.s.a. one in terms of politics and the campaign year, that one it seems could really have some legs. >> i think so, too. not only because this is a very large agency with offices everywhere. it's full of patronage jobs. particularly at the local level. but it really does play into this whole republican question of managing public resources. which everybody has been concerned about. everyone knows the government is in many places bigger than it needs to be. these examples, while amazing to read about, actually -- you can sort of multiply them and think everyone has seen these before. and i think -- gwen: easier to ding bureaucrats. >> it is. than it is to ding men who protect the president. so i actually think -- going
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forward, more about the g.s.a. than we are about the secret service. >> can you explain -- gwen: quickly. >> very quickly. how it is the secret service suddenly for the first time ever appears to be in a scandal that would be better placed in a rap video? >> a dispute about the services rendered had been paid for and came very quickly. this is the kind of thing that has to be investigated to find out how widespread this behavior is going to be. gwen: we'll see how willing members of congress are to take on that one as well. we'll watch it. thanks, everyone. we're done for now but we have goodies for you online this week. our first "washington week" town hall event where the panel will talk about the economy. with viewers in cleveland, ohio, and portland, oregon. next thursday at 1:00 p.m. eastern join me online for my monthly web chat. i'll take your questions and have a few of my own. you can find it all at and we'll see you next week on "washington week." good night.
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