Rep. Weiner: Job Creation Should Be No. 1 Focus

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Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) talks to Renee Montagne about divisions within the Democratic Party as Congress begins to debate long-term budget proposals. He says if the choice is between reducing the debt or creating jobs, most Democrats will pick jobs as the main focus.


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. Now that a budget is in place for the rest of this fiscal year, the debate is focused on a long-term plan. Republican Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin unveiled a proposal last week that would turn Medicare into a voucher-like system. Here's how he described it last night on NPR's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

Representative PAUL RYAN (Republican, Wisconsin): By injecting more choice and competition into the future Medicare system, we believe we're going to stretch that Medicare dollar farther.

MONTAGNE: On this program, we've heard from other Republican voices this week. Yesterday it was Representative Dave Camp of Michigan. Joining us now to offer a Democratic perspective is Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York. Welcome to the program.

Representative ANTHONY WEINER (Democrat, New York): Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, Congressman Ryan's budget plan has received a lot of attention. And President Obama's plan is being closely scrutinized. But House Democrats unveiled their own this week. Give us a brief rundown of the ways that this plan differs from the others.

Rep. WEINER: Well, it differs in a couple of important ways. You know, one is that at the same time it claims to cut a lot of spending, it reduces an enormous amount of income to the American people by making the tax code less progressive even than it is today.

You know, we've had enormous concentration of wealth go on, of course, in the last 10 years. The top 2 percent now make the same as the bottom 40 percent. Congressman Ryan's plan would make the worse by eliminating yet another bracket for people who are millionaires and billionaires.

The other difference is how we choose to tackle this challenge that entitlements present. You know, for one thing, you know, the notion in the Ryan plan - and you explained it correctly - he basically eliminates the notion of guaranteed healthcare for senior citizens and replaced it with kind of a wish that they'll be able to find it if they get a coupon in the future. That's a dramatic difference.

You know, the Democrats have always been big supporters and defenders of Medicare. Republicans have consistently attacked it. So to some degree this is par for the course.

MONTAGNE: Now, again, this budget that we're talking about is - from everybody's budgets, are projecting trillions of dollars in spending and cuts over the next - approximately the next decade. This Democratic proposal, though, that you're talking about doesn't seem to envision any big changes for entitlement programs like Medicare. I mean, how can you get deficits under control without addressing these programs? They're the biggest part of the budget.

Rep. WEINER: Well, in fact, the one thing the Democrats and Republican plans both agree on is that indeed the Democrats did a lot to reel in the cost of healthcare in the future with last year's Affordable Care Act.

For all the Republican objections about how terrible it was, they all assume -the Ryan plan assumes all of the savings that are going to come, about $1.2 trillion of savings that are going to come from the improvements that we made last year.

You know, remember, a lot of the reason why we did the Affordable Care Act was to deal with the skyrocketing cost of healthcare in the future. We did our bidding on Medicare last year, and it's going to produce enormous savings.

What's interesting is that the Republicans, the same Republicans who cried and howled at the moon that we were slashing Medicare, now they're assuming those same slashing and the same cuts and a lot more in the future. But the Democrats already have - we've done a remarkable amount with the Affordable Care Act to getting the cost of healthcare under control.

MONTAGNE: Congressman Weiner, we have just about 30 seconds left here, but for all the talk in Washington right now about budget cutting, some economists say this could jeopardize the economic recovery that we're just barely into right now. What is your view?

Rep. WEINER: Well, I agree. You know, we've seen - we have some test tubes - we saw what happened in Ireland. We saw what happened in Great Britain. Even places like Texas. If you slash spending too much at a time when you're trying to recover, you wind up having an accelerating effect on the downward spiral of the economy.

You know, I think that there is some disagreement in Washington whether the fundamental lesson of the 2010 election was we should focus on debt or we should focus on job creation. I think, and many Democrats believe, job creation is the primary objective right now.

MONTAGNE: Congressman Anthony Weiner, Democrat of New York, thanks very much.

Rep. WEINER: Thank you.

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