Political Chat: Flat Tax, GOP Debates, Jobs Bill

Ari Shapiro talks with NPR's Mara Liasson about how the Democratic and Republican parties are framing political debate on the economy, and how that's playing out in the presidential campaign.

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ARI SHAPRIO, HOST:

And joining us now is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

So what stands out to you the most on the arguments you just heard Paul Ryan make?

LIASSON: Well, there are two competing themes emerging, here. One is kind of class warfare, and one is income inequality. You heard Paul Ryan. Income inequality is not a problem to Republicans, as long as the pie is growing. But right now, the pie isn't growing, and income inequality is becoming more of a problem and more of an issue.

You also talked about the CBO report, where the wealthiest one percent of Americans nearly tripled their incomes in the last 30 years, and that was a period when the economy was growing. So Democrats see this as something they can use.

A senior White House official said yesterday there's a surging sense that our economy is weighted to the wealthy. That's why you see poll numbers in favor of asking the rich to pay their fair share in higher taxes. It's why the president has been hammering on this all across the country.

But Republicans don't see higher taxes on the wealthy as shared sacrifice. They see it as punishment for job creators, and I think you're going to hear a lot more of this divide, this debate, as the campaign goes on.

SHAPIRO: And we also heard about the tax proposals that many of the Republican presidential candidates are coming up with, most recently Rick Perry's proposal on Tuesday, which included a flat-tax option. Do you think this is likely to change the debate?

LIASSON: Well, Perry did come up with this proposal. It's very popular with supply-side conservatives. Herman Cain has a proposal with a flat tax. Newt Gingrich has one. I think there will be a little more pressure on Mitt Romney to explain why he says he wants a flatter system, but he hasn't come up with a bold tax reform proposal of his own. I think the real question is whether Perry's flat-tax proposal can help him revive his campaign, because he is in such a deep hole of his own making.

SHAPIRO: And there are a lot more debates in the coming weeks and months. Perry, who has been criticized for poor performance in some of them, says he may not attend all of them. What do you think: smart move, or likely to backfire?

LIASSON: Well, first of all, there are so many debates. And there's a widespread view there are simply too many. However, it's hard to be a major candidate and not show up, because it raises the inevitable question: How are you going to be the nominee and debate Barack Obama? And already, Perry's opponents are calling him a wimp for suggesting he might not show up at some of these.

SHAPIRO: And speaking of Barack Obama, the president has changed his slogan recently from pass this bill to we can't wait. What do you make of the change?

LIASSON: Well, the president is focusing on executive orders, as all presidents do when their legislative agenda can't get through Congress. And the president's job bill can't pass because of opposition to the fact that it calls for higher taxes for the wealthy.

So this week, he came out with two new executive initiatives that he can undertake, on his own, right now, without Congress. One would provide faster refinancing for underwater mortgages. And the other one should appeal to young voters who are saddled with college debt and have no job prospects. That one would provide some relief for college loan payments.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you.

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SHAPIRO: You're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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