OTR Interviews

CEO Blasts Pres. Obama Over 'Class Warfare' Rhetoric in Open Letter: 'It's Time to Change the Dialogue'

Leon Cooperman, chairman of Omega Advisors, explains open letter that skewers president over rhetoric

 

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," December 1, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: A billionaire investor barbecues President Obama. Leon Cooperman, the CEO of Omega Advisers, is demanding President Obama put an end to class warfare. Cooperman says the president is deliberately putting a divide between the rich and the poor. Cooperman said, quote, "It's time for you," meaning the president, "to throttle down the partisan rhetoric and appeal to people's better instincts, not their worst." Mr. Cooperman joins us by phone. Good evening, sir. This letter is blistering and blunt. What provoked you to write it?

LEON COOPERMAN, CEO, OMEGA ADVISORS: Thank you for having me, Greta. I was motivated to write a letter to the president because I'm alarmed at the direction he's taking the country and his inflammatory dialogue. I love my country. I have lived the American dream. I would like to see the same opportunity for future generations.

And I think it's about exceptionalism and award for initiative and hard work, old-fashioned values. And what pushed me over the fence -- I'm not too involved in politics. But what pushed me over the fence was the dialogue surrounding the debt ceiling negotiation.

When it came to the compromise, the president rather than being conciliatory and healing, he attacked the wealthy and the energy industry and the private aviation industry. I'm quizzical. What is his problem with private aviation? It's a major source of experts, creates employment, and most of the workers in that industry are unionized.

And he is very fond of -- one of my heroes in the business world is Warren Buffet. Warren Buffet has a plane that he named the Indispensable. So that pushed me over, and I'd like to see a conciliatory approach.

We're in a very difficult economic environment, and rather than create this class warfare dialogue, why could he not just say that, we're in a difficult economic environment, and all of us have to do more. I'm willing to do more. I'm prepared to pay more taxes.

And he creates this impression that wealthy people don't pay taxes. It's ludicrous. You have a 35 percent federal income tax rate, state taxes, payroll taxes, Social Security, Medicare taxes, and at the end of the road, they get with an inheritance tax, which is fine. I want to give back to the system. I was motivated -- I came from very little other than a good education in the city school system of New York. But I took the Buffet pledge with Bill and Melinda Gates because I want to recycle my wealth back into the system. But the approach we're talking is counterproductive, divisive, and it's time for change in dialogue.

VAN SUSTEREN: Many wealthy people I talk to you want to give back, want to help, want to see the economy thriving but your resentful for the class warfare, saying you're not paying your fair chair and you're a cheat when in your view, you pay a lot now and you're willing to pay more?

COOPERMAN: Absolutely. The idea that -- first of all, you have to step back and ask yourself, what should the maximum tax rate be on wealthy people? Because they're the ones that pay the majority of taxes, and that's how you should size government. I don't mind paying more taxes but I'd rather pay more taxes into an efficient system.

I'm just saying, lower the decibel, move to the center, try to be one that is inclusive. I don't care what the party is. Lyndon Johnson would have handed the debt negotiations and the aftermath in a very different way than the president.

VAN SUSTEREN: Are you a Republican?

COOPERMAN: I voted for Ronald Reagan, Al Gore, George W. Bush, McCain. I tend to vote the issues and people that run. I'm a capitalist with a heart. I think I'm not atypical. I'm typical of people of means that have made it the way I've made it. We want to give back. We're not hedonists. I'm not bragging but I have given plenty to organizations. My grandchildren I get more out of charitable giving than anything else.

VAN SUSTEREN: Sir, thank you very much for joining us.

COOPERMAN: All the best. Thank you for having me.