Obama Adviser: We're Moving In The Right Direction

Heading into midterm elections, President Obama is trying to give Democrats a boost in the polls by proposing economic initiatives. White House senior adviser David Axelrod tells Steve Inskeep that the wrong thing to do is to go back to the policies that created the problems in the first place.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Presidential advisor David Axelrod has been listening with us.

David, welcome back to the program.

Mr. DAVID AXELROD (Senior Advisor, White House): Thanks, Steve. Good to be here.

INSKEEP: When we just heard President Obama there, he was delivering the textbook Democratic message this year: dont go back to the past, which Democrats have been repeating all summer.

Why do you think it hasnt resonated with voters?

Mr. AXELROD: Well, first of all, let's be clear. It's not just our - talking about the past isnt our message. It's their message. Pete Sessions, the head of the Republican Campaign Committee, said a few weeks ago that their goal is to go back to the same, exact policies that were in place before this president took office.

Let's remember, those were those were policies that crashed the economy. We lost four million jobs in the last six months of the last administration. The middle-class flat-lined for that decade. Special interest ran wild. And these are the very policies that they want to return to.

So there's a great stake but the camp is about making those stakes clear, and thats what we're going to do.

INSKEEP: Although though, let's me frank here, Mr. Axelrod. What you just said worked very well for you in 2008. But what do you think this administration has done that has caused that not to be resonating with voters now?

Mr. AXELROD: Well, Ill tell you what this administration has done is when we, the day we took office, the month we took office, the country was losing 800,000 jobs a year. We've had eight straight months of private sector job growth. It's not nearly strong enough to repair the damage of 8.5 million jobs lost during this recession, but we're moving in the right direction.

The wrong thing to do is to go back to the policies that created the problems in the first place.

INSKEEP: Are you surprised to see an ABC News-Washington Post poll that shows more people trust Republicans to deal with financial matters than Democrats? It's unusual that Democrats would trail on economic considerations.

Mr. AXELROD: Well, Steve, not really. I mean, we, look, we're the party in power now. We didn't create this problem but we're the responsible party now, and people are having a very tough time out there. You travel the country you hear these heartbreaking stories about folks who have lost their jobs and are desperately trying to find new ones, who have lost their homes or their retirement savings.

So, it's not any wonder that people are frustrated and it's not any wonder that their first impulse is to express that frustration in the way they are in these polls. But we have eight weeks to focus on the choice. This is not just a referendum on our economic conditions; it's a choice about where we want to go in the future.

And where we want to go in the future is to promote growth that lifts the middle class, innovation, investment - the kinds of things the president's talking about today. Where we don't want to go is budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy, a free reign for the special interest and cutting the middle class loose to fend for themselves, which was the story of the last decade.

INSKEEP: I'm glad you mentioned the tax cuts for the wealthy. President Obama wants those tax cuts to expire. Some Democrats are saying that maybe they should be extended. And in fact, Peter Orszag, who certainly is trusted by the president - he was the president's budget director until a month ago - is writing now that he thinks that those tax cuts for the wealthy should be extended for a couple of years, because the economy is just that fragile.

Mr. AXELROD: Steve, you ought to read Peter's piece just a little more carefully, because what he said was he would prefer that we extend only the middle class tax cuts, which is what we're fighting for, the tax cuts for the 97 percent of American taxpayers. He said we may have to accept tax cuts for upper income in order to pass the tax cut for the middle class.

And in fact, the Republican Party is threatening to hold tax cuts for 97 percent of the American people hostage, so that we will pass tax cuts that will disproportionately favor millionaires and billionaires. And that would be all right if we could afford to give everyone a tax cut. But what they're talking about is a $700 billion tax cut over the next 10 years for people who don't need it, weren't asking for it; an average $100,000 tax cut for millionaires.

More than half of that tax cut will go to people who are making more than $8 million a year. We simply don't have the money. We can't be borrowing money from foreign entities in order to pay for tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

INSKEEP: Mr. Axelrod, one other thing - we just got a few seconds here -political analyst Charlie Cook reviews the administration so far this way, in a recent column. And I'm just quoting here. This is the way that he sees the administration's approach in the last couple of years. Quote: "President Obama and the Democratic Congress checked the box on the economy with an unpopular stimulus bill and then became obsessed with passing a health care reform package. Is there any thought of the administration - we've just got a few seconds - that you've gotten out of step with the public's concerns on the economy here?

Mr. AXELROD: Well, look, we've been working on the economy day in and day out. There's no silver bullet, Steve, but we've been doing things such as passing help for teachers who've been laid off, firefighters, police - so they'd stay on the job - that's one of the things that John Boehner attacked - extended unemployment insurance - the Republicans tried to block it. We're trying to pass small business tax cuts. The Republicans are blocking it in Congress.

So, we're working right along, on trying to get this economy moving. We would like some cooperation.

INSKEEP: Mr. Axelrod, thanks very much.

Mr. AXELROD: Great to be with you.

INSKEEP: Presidential advisor David Axelrod. And you can read for yourself, the article we discussed by Peter Orszag, the former White House Budget Director, on taxes. It's available on Twitter. Find links at MORNING EDITION and at NPRINSKEEP.

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