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Special Report

Friday Lightning Round: Federal bonus debate

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," May 18, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BREAM: Every week viewers vote for your choice online in our Friday Lightning Round poll. This week federal bonuses won, 60 percent of you voted for that. So let's talk about it with our panel. A.B., what do you think? We are talking about $400 million in federal bonuses last year. OK, not OK?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: Well, I think I'm finding this more difficult than the usual Friday Lightning Round sports questions that stump me. But I'm gonna say I think this is a tricky issue. It's hard for the federal government, obviously, to chide the private sector for handing out bonuses when they're going and spending taxpayer dollars on the same. But the percentage of the bonuses they gave out annually on average over the last couple years compared to the private sector is literally nothing. There are pay freezes taking place. There's always another one around the corner. And I know Steve agrees with me on this so...

BREAM: I'm not so sure. The administration talked a lot about the bonuses in the private world, saying they are just outrageous and out of control.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: The difference between the private sector and the public sector is that those bonuses come from us. They're taxpayer money. This is not money that federal workers are entitled to, number one. And number two, we are talking about a government that is $15.6 trillion in debt. We are running deficits of more than $1.3 trillion every single year, and we are paying bonus to federal workers who already have a pay scale that is much higher than what they would be getting for equivalent work in private sector? It's completely absurd. I can't believe anybody would disagree with that.

BREAM: But Charles, these are people who are under pay freezes two years in a row. So their bonuses are maybe some way to make up for their cost of living increases?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Yes. I find it hard to get excited over this. Perhaps because it's because the end of the week and I have been excite a about a lot of stuff.

BREAM: You have been excited this week.

KRAUTHAMMER: So I could be spent on this. But there is nothing wrong with a bonus. It's a kind of merit pay, particularly for civil servants who aren't in competitive industries. Look, conservatives believe, for example, in teachers. We ought to be giving bonuses or merit to the best teachers. The question always is, is the bonus merited or not? It's not in principal, I wouldn't be against it if it encouraged good work, yes. If it doesn't, no. So I'm cynical on a lot of stuff, but on this one I rest.

BREAM: OK, we have some good diversity there on that.

Let's talk about Vice President Joe Biden now, he is out on the campaign trail. And he is not holding back. Here is a little bit of what he had to say in Youngstown, Ohio, earlier this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: You father dreamed as much as any rich guy dreams.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely!

(APPLAUSE)

BIDEN: They don't get us. They don't get who we are.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BREAM: Charles, do you get who Joe Biden is?

KRAUTHAMMER: I have no idea what the hell he is talking about.

(LAUGHTER)

KRAUTHAMMER: Speaking as a laymen I think he needs adjust in his medications. This makes no sense whatsoever. He says -- what rich person, what any person has said the middle class doesn't have any dreams, ought not have any dreams, and denies it? I have no idea what this is about, except a rant against the rich. And the irony of it, at the beginning of it he starts by saying he is out there to refute the charge, that he and the other Democrats are resentful and class warriors. And then he says I resent the rich as a way of refuting that. I'm not sure he even knows what he is saying.

BREAM: A.B., does he resent the rich or does he resent the accusation of class warfare?

STODDARD: I am not going to get inside Joe Biden's head. But I would say this -

(CROSSTALK)

STODDARD: I think it depends on the day if we're asking the question of whether he is effective campaigner for the president's re-election. Yesterday he gave a cogent description of the goals behind private equity firms, which are to create wealth for their shareholders, and a return on their investment it is not to create jobs. He did it calmly, he did it sanely, and he did a good job. On Wednesday he was screaming at the top of his lungs about how the rich don't get us. I don't think that's gonna turn on independent voters. I thought it was a big mistake. I think it depends on the Joe Biden you see that day.

BREAM: He seemed more calm.

HAYES: OK, but what gets the coverage? People haven't been talking about his cogent case on private equity. They have been talking about the fact that he was screaming and sounded like he was having difficulty that day.

This is a guy who is heartbeat away from the presidency literally as he might say himself. Bill Kristol in the forthcoming Weekly Standard has an editorial in which he suggests that any rational look at this would conclude with Hillary Clinton replacing Joe Biden on the ticket. I'm not sure why Bill is making this argument to the president, but it's one that might be considered.

BREAM: OK, speaking of rich people, today Facebook went public. Charles, what do you make of the hype? And do you think it will continue to hold on? We already see G.M. pulling ads saying it wasn't really a good pay off for us. Is it a good payoff for those who got in today?

KRAUTHAMMER: If I knew, I'd be rich. I'd be in there on the IPO. I don't know. If you look at the smaller company, one of the companies he bought few weeks ago for $1 billion has 18 employees, 13 employees, no revenue. So this is extremely speculative. But you create something on the net with a buzz with a huge following and you expect you're going to find a way to monetize it. Facebook does to some extent. From what I hear from experts the valuation is about four times as high as it ought to be given the revenue streams now. But they will think of new revenue streams.

But it's just an incredible story about those who are concerned about American decline and how the government ought to nurture x, y, z. This is a kid in a dorm that creates the most extraordinary company in a decade, and that is what has been happening with the United States. Let people create enterprises on their own. And that's how you do well. It's an obvious story and one that we are arguing over in our politics, which is surprising to me.

BREAM: A.B., the American dream?

STODDARD: Yes. I mean it's a wonderful story. But as young as the company is and the effort is as seasoned as their lobbying and Washington, D.C. outfit is, is really impressive for those who pay attention to this kind of thing, it's bipartisan, it's full of veteran, it's professional, it's really proactive. They have done what they can already to sort of protect the company against new privacy curbs but they are also making sure that they are in a position in this town to protect themselves against anything and do their best to expand their brand. It's very impressive.

BREAM: Alright, that is it for panel, but please stay tuned. The president's 2012 campaign slogan is the word "forward." Well, the vice president may have other ideas. You will hear them next.

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