Democrats: Debt commission questions will cheapen debate

New York Congressman Jerry Nadler explains


This is a rush transcript from "Your World," August 22, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST OF "YOUR WORLD": Welcome, everybody. I'm Neil Cavuto.

And read them and now creep. The Congressional Budget Office today projecting the federal deficit will hit $1.1 trillion this year. That would make it four years in a row that government red ink has topped $1 trillion, all this as the national debt now quickly closes in on $16 trillion smackers.

So with debt soaring, why are some saying bringing up the issue of the debt commission itself and its recommendations during the presidential debates would cheapen that debate?

One of those Democrats is New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler.

Congressman, good to see you.

REP. JERROLD NADLER, D-N.Y.: Good to be here.

CAVUTO: I'm glad you are here, sir, because I didn't understand why you would have a concern bringing up the debt commission and/or its recommendation?

NADLER: We don't have a concern with that. That’s not the concern.

If you read the letter, or for that matter the press release, the concern is that four senators sent a letter to the debate commission saying set up a debate just on the Simpson-Bowles commission report, the assumption being that the Simpson-Bowles commission is the right thing to do and how courageous are the two candidates in agreeing with how much of it.

What I objected to, what the three of us objected to was that assumption. Maybe the Simpson-Bowles commission is the right thing. Maybe it's not. I don't agree with it, but that's not the point.

We should set -- if you want to set up a robust debate on the debt, how to deal with it, Simpson-Bowles is one suggestion. There are a lot of others on the table. Fine.


CAVUTO: But the Simpson-Bowles was the commission the president appointed. So just throw it out there as a question.

NADLER: But the commission never agreed on Simpson-Bowles.

CAVUTO: Understood.

NADLER: But that's not the point. Simpson-Bowles is one set of suggestions. If you want to ask what people think about that or why they agree or disagree, by all means, but do not limit it to that, because --


CAVUTO: But you're not against then bringing it up?

NADLER: No, certainly not.

CAVUTO: So, in the debates, if a panelist wants to say what do you think of the recommendations --

NADLER: Absolutely.

CAVUTO: -- of the commission, you're OK with that?

NADLER: Absolutely.

CAVUTO: You're not -- the rap was that there was a concern not to bring this up.


NADLER: The rap was very wrong. And we told everyone who said that it was wrong.

My concern is that you shouldn't bias the debate by essentially setting it up and saying we're assuming that the Simpson-Bowles is the right thing. How much do you agree with it, the two candidates? Want to ask, what do you think of the Simpson-Bowles commission, how much do you agree or disagree, fine. You should also ask about other suggestions.

CAVUTO: No doubt. But there's only one commission. There's only one debt commission.

NADLER: But there are a lot of other proposals.

CAVUTO: I understand, but there is only one debt commission.

NADLER: But so what? That commission agreed on nothing.

CAVUTO: We spent close to $100 million on that.

NADLER: And that was wasted.


CAVUTO: So you think the whole commission was a waste of time?

NADLER: Absolutely. That commission was wasted.

CAVUTO: Why, just because they came with ideas you don't like?

NADLER: No, they didn't come with ideas. They didn't agree on any ideas.

CAVUTO: They agreed on the need to reform spending and to reform entitlements and correct our tax code.

NADLER: Nothing got the votes necessary to be an official recommendation of the commission. They deadlocked.

CAVUTO: Well, just because it was left at altar doesn't -- mean that they presented something that was promising.

NADLER: The two commission chairmen presented a set of recommendations to the commission. The commission didn't agree on the recommendations, and they never voted for them. And the two commission chairmen then put them out as their recommendations, which they are entitled to do. And I don't happen to agree with most of their recommendations. But it's perfectly fair to ask the candidates what they think about them, but it's not fair to imply that that is the only set of recommendations around.

The Progressive Caucus in the House came out with a different set of recommendations. The Democratic Party in the House and Senate separately came out with a different set of recommendations. There were recommendations from the Republican Policy Commission. There were all kinds of recommendations.

And I think it's perfectly fair to ask the candidates, what do you think? How do you think we should deal with this basic problem? What do you think of the Bowles --?

CAVUTO: Did you guys get a response from the debate commission?


NADLER: No, not as of yet.

CAVUTO: OK. Because Donald Trump when he heard you were among these pushing this, he wasn't a fan. Maybe you have clarified this somewhat, Congressman, but he thinks the message you were sending is wrong. This is Donald Trump from a couple of days ago.


DONALD TRUMP, CHAIRMAN & CEO, TRUMP HOTELS & CASINO RESORTS: Jerry Nadler is truly the kind of guy that gets us in trouble. And so frankly when you look at him and you look at what his suggestion is, that we shouldn't put this on the table, it was his boss, it was Obama that brought it up in the first place.


NADLER: Well, first of all -- well, consider the source. Donald Trump is not the brightest guy in the world. And, second of all --

CAVUTO: He is a billionaire.

NADLER: Yes. And you start with $40 million and make some good investments and the state bails you out a few times, you can become a billionaire. But that's not the point.

CAVUTO: So you think Donald Trump is dumb?

NADLER: I'm not getting into that. I'm not getting into that beyond that. There's no point in discussing that.

Donald and I have been feuding for 25 years. There's no point to that. Since I opposed his project on the West Side of Manhattan when I was in the state assembly. But that's not even the point.

I didn't say that. What I said was -- and if you read the letter, we urge the commission to fight any effort to unnecessarily narrow such an important debate by placing disproportionate attention on one set of proposals over another.

They shouldn't -- we urge the commission not to bias the debate by focusing on one particular set of proposals, but instead to put forward a series of presidential debates where the candidates can engage in a robust debate about their vision. They should not unnecessarily narrow the focus by focusing merely on one possible plan to the exclusion of other viable options.

We certainly never said they shouldn't talk about --


CAVUTO: I think we can be picayune about this, Congressman, but the fact of the matter is, there is only one debt commission.

And you're quite right to say there is controversy within that commission and its recommendations. But I think the American people, left and right, and there was a great deal of spending under President Bush and a great deal of piling up on the debt and a great deal under this president, so I think it is a fair and balanced argument to say both parties have, fair and balanced, added to the problem.

Do you not think it is incumbent upon the presidential candidates and indeed the vice presidential candidates to come up with hard and fast ideas how you to get that debt under control --

NADLER: Oh, absolutely, absolutely.

CAVUTO: -- and to the debt commission's central premise that you get entitlement spending under control?

NADLER: Well, I don't agree that proposal by the -- the central premise that entitlement spending is what's causing our problems.

CAVUTO: Well, that's a key point of the debt commission's argument.

NADLER: I agree.

CAVUTO: We can agree and disagree over that, but that is what its saying.

CAVUTO: Should that be up there as -- do you agree with that?

NADLER: I don't agree with that.


CAVUTO: But you're up to asking the question?

NADLER: Absolutely. I think the commission should absolutely -- I shouldn't say what they should or shouldn't say.

The commission would be perfectly within its -- not the commission -- the presidential debate people would be perfectly right, if they wanted to, to ask, do you agree with this recommendation of the commission, with this assumption of the commission? Do you think the commission is right in recommending huge tax cuts for the richest people that the highest tax rate should go from 35 percent, which it is even under the Bush tax cuts, down to 29 percent on the richest people?

For the deficit reduction commission to recommend a reduction of taxes on the rich people as the first proposal is wrong. Do you agree with the deficit reduction commission's proposal?

CAVUTO: So, you're not trying to cover for the president?


CAVUTO: You're not trying to say, look, this debt has piled up $5 trillion plus on his watch – you're not trying to remove that issue from on the table?

NADLER: No, absolutely not. I disagree that he's responsible for that to a large extent, but that is a separate discussion.


CAVUTO: Then what did you mean by it would cheapen the debate?

NADLER: It would cheapen the debate to focus only on one set of proposals by setting it up and saying OK, we will have -- because that was -- what was the request of the four senators was that there should be a separate debate, one debate out of four, solely on the proposal of this commission.

When you set up one debate, what do you think of this commission; in effect you are cheapening it by removing -- by forcing the president, the two presidential candidates to address only the recommendations of this commission. They may disagree with it, and they will state that, and it is perfectly fine to ask them about it and to ask them what they think of the Social Security cuts that the commission recommends the increase in the retirement age in Social Security that the commission recommends.

CAVUTO: Right.

NADLER: But there are other proposals out there.

And what I'm -- what we were objecting to is narrowing the focus. The questions should be for the presidential candidates, you have this problem, well, first of all, how much of a program do you think it is? Maybe there is a disagreement on that between the two candidates. Do you think it is a big problem? Do you think it is a big problem? Do you think something else is a bigger problem? Do you think unemployment is the bigger problem and we should focus on that first, as I do?

Then, OK, if you think this is a big problem, how would you deal with it? What about the recommendations of the commission? What about the recommendations that someone else made? All we objected to, all I objected was in effect by setting up one whole debate only on this, in effect, you're prejudging the debate by saying --

CAVUTO: Well, it would not be only on this. It would be among the issues raised?

NADLER: No, that wasn't the proposal that we were objecting to. The proposal was set up one debate on the Simpson-Bowles recommendations.


CAVUTO: But, bottom line, just to be clear, Congressman, that you're OK with them raising some of those recommendations from the debt commission in any and all of the debates?

NADLER: Absolutely. Absolutely.



NADLER: I'm OK with them raising --


NADLER: --all the recommendations.

CAVUTO: Gotcha.

NADLER: What we objected to was biasing the debate by setting up one debate only on those recommendations and in effect putting the two candidates and saying, OK --

CAVUTO: Well, you wouldn't have to worry. That was not a plan.

NADLER: That was what the four senators recommended. And we were saying, don't do that.


Congressman, thank you very, very much.

NADLER: You're quite welcome.

Content and Programming Copyright 2012 Fox News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2012 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.