Russert to Kerry: Why won't you help the rich? I caught the last 15 minutes of Tim Russert's interview with John Kerry last night when CNBC rebroadcast Meet the Press. And what I saw was the host peppering Kerry with what were essentially Republican talking points about tax cuts, and intellectually dishonest ones at that.
Russert asked Kerry whether he favored rolling back the Bush tax cut. Kerry -- trying to be a little too cute for my taste, but nevertheless clear on what he wants -- essentially said, no, he wouldn't, but he would oppose "any new Bush tax cuts," meaning that he would cancel cuts for future years that have been approved by Congress but that have not yet taken effect. Instead, Kerry said he favors a cut in the payroll tax -- i.e., the Social Security tax -- that would favor middle- and lower-income workers, and would give an immediate jolt to the floundering economy.
It went downhill from there. Let's go to the transcript:
MR. RUSSERT: But would you implement the ones [tax cuts] that are now scheduled to take place?
SEN. KERRY: Those are new tax cuts.
MR. RUSSERT: The Bush administration says that is raising taxes because people ...
SEN. KERRY: Well, I don't care what they say, Tim. The average American understands that a tax cut that you don't have today is a new tax cut. It's not raising taxes. I mean, at the same time, I told you, if you're told by NBC that your pay is going to go up in a year but it doesn't go up because they can't afford it, did you have a pay cut? The answer is no you did not.
MR. RUSSERT: But the Republicans...
SEN. KERRY: And in no way -- look, we can't cower in front of their silly argument that by not being given a new tax cut it's an increase. No average American believes that's an increase, and every American...
MR. RUSSERT: So when the Republicans wanted to limit the growth in Medicare that should not have been called a cut by Democrats.
SEN. KERRY: No. If you're holding something at equal spending, but inflation is going up at a rate above that, you're not keeping up with inflation, that is a cut. That is in fact a cut, Tim. But the fact is that if you don't get a tax reduction that is promised -- now, look, the heart of this tax cut is in 10 years.
Did you catch the reference to Medicare cuts? Back in the late 1990s, the Newt Gingrich-led Republicans tried to cut Medicare. They protested loudly that all they were proposing was a slowdown in the rate of growth, not an actual cut. But, in fact, that slowdown would have required a cut in services -- higher costs for senior citizens, less health care, or both. Yet Russert compares a proposal that would have actually reduced medical benefits for the elderly to tax cuts for the wealthy that have been passed but that haven't yet been implemented. Who was that speaking into his earpiece? Karl Rove?
Russert then flashed on the screen a quote backing across-the-board tax cuts: "In short, it is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high today and tax revenues are too low and the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long run is to cut its rates now." I instantly recognized the quote as being from John F. Kennedy; I'm not sure whether Kerry did or not, but when Russert smugly revealed his source a few moments later, he acted as though it were an "ah, ha!" moment. Kerry didn't fall into Russert's trap, but neither did he offer the most effective comeback: that the top marginal tax rate when Kennedy came into office was 92 percent. Today it's less than 40 percent, and will fall to 33 percent if all of the Bush cuts are implemented.
Back to the transcript:
MR. RUSSERT: And the people at the top end pay a disproportionate number of the tax revenues.
SEN. KERRY: Yes, they do.
MR. RUSSERT: Why would you deny them a tax cut?
SEN. KERRY: We aren't. We gave them a tax cut. We've given people a tax cut in the last few years, Tim. The question is: Can we afford it now, measured against the other needs of the country? If John Kennedy were here today, I am convinced John Kennedy would feel we need to invest in our education.
Look, we have 25 percent of our kids, preschool, in poverty in America; 20 percent of our children are in poverty in America.
MR. RUSSERT: But he [Kennedy] gave an across-the-board tax cut...
SEN. KERRY: But...
MR. RUSSERT: ...wealthy and middle class and poor.
SEN. KERRY: But, Tim, you can't do it all at the same time. That was a different economic time. That was a different moment. It also was preceded by a different number of years under the Eisenhower administration, during which we had a different economy. We have given tax cuts in the last few years, but we have disinvested in America.
Later on, Russert asked Kerry, "But won't you be branded another Massachusetts Ted Kennedy liberal?" He surely will be if interviewers such as Russert are going to engage in the kind of disingenuousness that he displayed on Sunday.