December 16, 2010

Senator Wyden Tells Lawrence O’Donnell Why He is Voting Against the Tax Cut Compromise

Washington, D.C. The following is a transcript of an interview from December 14, 2010 of Senator Wyden by news anchor Lawrence O’Donnell:

O`DONNELL: In the spotlight tonight, yesterday 83 senators voted to proceed to a vote on the Obama tax compromise. After 30 hours of scheduled debate, the Senate will vote on passage of the bill tomorrow around noontime.

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon was unable to make yesterday`s procedural vote due to travel issues. The next vote on the bill will be his first vote.

Joining me now is Senator Ron Wyden. Senator, how are you going to vote tomorrow?

SEN. RON WYDEN, (D) OREGON: Larry, first of all, yesterday was the premier business event in our home state, the Oregon Business Summit. I was one of the founders. So, that was why I wasn`t able to get back. I was still in the air.

And I will tell you with respect to tomorrow, while it`s not an easy decision, I intend to vote no. This legislation tomorrow clearly has short-term stimulative benefits. I support protecting the middle class and small business, I support the unemployment extension, I support the earned income tax break.

But as you know from working in the Senate, so often the Senate takes steps in the short term that become the enemy of the long term. And my concern is with this legislation we will be having exactly the same debate in the lame duck session of 2012.

I`m looking at my watch, Larry. It`s 10:30. It`s the night of December 14th. At some point in the United States Senate, you have got to break the culture of procrastination. I think that time is now.

O`DONNELL: All right, I`m booking you right now for the lame duck session two years from now when you are voting on this very same issue again because I think you`re absolutely right. How else can it turn out? If it expires in two years we`ll be right back here in two years.

But do you believe that the president had the responsibility to assure taxpayers below the top tax bracket that their rates would not go up next year even temporarily if he was still locked in some kind of fight with Republicans over this?

WYDEN: There are obviously tough calls for the president. Let me tell you, first of all, I have suggested to the White House on a number of occasions in the last month that they extend the Bush tax cuts, which I have opposed from the very beginning, for a year in order to force the United States Congress to step up and between now and December 31st, 2011, get serious about tax reform and spending reform.

As you know from being involved in tax reform, Larry, it works. What you need to do is go in there, clean out those special interest tax breaks, hold down rates for everybody and keep progressivity. And the reality is, and you can remember this from `86 and `87, it will create millions more jobs than we saw during the Bush years.

O’DONNELL: Yes, it turns out one of the things that people don`t understand is that virtually no one is paying the actual nominal rate in the law, the people in the current 35 percent bracket. Almost none of them pay close to 35 percent because they have a mortgage deduction, they have a bunch of other deductions that pull their real rate down close to the 30 or some cases 29, 28.

And if you pull out some of these deductions and clean out the underbrush in the tax code, you can have an easier system in which the rates could be lower but the revenue could still end being higher. That`s the essence of tax reform. I`m not sure the audience is up to speed on that.

But do you think that extending this for two years pretty much eliminates the pressure for tax reform? And President Obama having announced his interest in tax reform just recently has actually kind of missed out on that opportunity by allowing this extension to go the full two years?

WYDEN: Twenty senators today have indicated that they`ll push hard on a bipartisan basis for tax reform in 2011. But there`s no question in my mind that the decision made on the Senate floor tomorrow will make it harder.

Once you have propped up this system that is in effect built on scores and scores of special interest tax break, how do you then go to those special interests and say, gosh, we`re going to take away the particular tax break that you might enjoy in order to have more economic growth for everybody, including you?

I do think tomorrow`s decision will make tax reform harder, but the president has told me that he`s going to keep pushing for it, and there are 20 senators of both political parties that want to work with him.

O`DONNELL: Is there anything that the House of Representatives could do to this bill that would make you reconsider it as it came back through for a final passage vote if the House changes it?

WYDEN: I think this cake is baked, Larry. I have been interested in the question of exploring with senators of both political parties whether it might be possible to attach some consequences for inaction in 2011 on a sensible tax reform and spending reform. But I think at this point, the cake is baked. This measure is going to pass.

In my view, it is a victory for the politics of procrastination. I certainly think it`s a glimmer of hope that Senator Warner, Senator Chambliss, and a significant group of senators of both political parties will keep pushing in 2011, but certainly we`re going to have our work cut out for us.

O`DONNELL: Now, you`re not going to have to answer to this vote at the ballot box for another six years. You may be hoping that it`s a forgotten vote by then because when you go back to Oregon after this vote, you are going to have to answer people who will be saying to you, why did you vote against an extension of unemployment benefits? Why did you vote for a tax increase for every tax bracket?

WYDEN: Larry, first of all, I campaigned on exactly the program I`m outlining tonight, and that I pushed forward with the president of the United States. I told everybody in this past fall election campaign when I was re-elected, I said what I wanted to see was a short term extension of the Bush tax cuts, and then finally end this culture of delay and procrastination in the Senate in 2011.

This town will never do anything because there`s always an election coming up, there`s special interest groups that have to be satisfied, and polls -- unless you have deadlines and consequences for inaction. I campaigned exactly on what I talked about here tonight. I had a democratic co-chair and a Republican co-chair in every one of Oregon`s 36 counties. So I`m being true to the principles I ran on.