Sen. McCaskill vs. 'Hannity' Focus Group on Taxes, Spending

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," June 17, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, HOST: And welcome back to this special edition of "Hannity." We go back now to Frank Luntz, he is in Washington, D.C., tonight with a special focus group of American voters as they come face-to-face with one of the Senate's most powerful Democratic leaders.

FRANK LUNTZ, POLLSTER: You've heard from the Republicans. Now let's get a Democratic perspective. Senator Claire McCaskill, one of the Democratic leaders of the United States Senate. What is the Democratic answer for the challenges that are facing America today? Grab your dials, let's go.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL, D-MO.: Well, first, most importantly, we do have to spend less. We have to be willing to compromise. Which seems to be an evil word around Washington sometimes. And I think we got to be honest with the American people about looking at everything. Now, some of my colleagues in my party don't agree with me. I've got a feisty independent streak at times. And I honestly believe that while we cut spending and we can cut it across the board, we don't have to do it just in the discretionary domestic programs. There are some waste in the Pentagon too, guys. I think you know that fundamentally, you know, there's waste there. We also have to look at the revenue side. A little bit, not a lot, but a little bit.

Maybe on folks' second million doing a little bit more in revenue. And then we also have to be honest about the entitlement programs, so that we can preserve them. That doesn't mean we have to gut the entitlements programs. We do not have to end Medicare as we know it. We do not have to go to a voucher program. But we've got to do a little bit. And we've got to be forthright and honest with the American people about that. And problem we have right now in Washington is solving this very difficult problem and winning the elections is like oil and water. And we got to be a lot less worried about winning elections and a lot more worried about solving the problem.

LUNTZ: So before, first of, how many of you agree with her? That's a very positive answer, there's split 50/50, Obama, McCain. But I got to ask you. That this does sound very different than some of your Democratic colleagues in both the House and the Senate. So, is this the Democratic position or is this your position?

MCCASKILL: Well, I don't -- some of my Democratic colleagues don't agree with me. I've been fighting to cut spending for over a year, in a reasonable way. In the way before last November's election. So, I don't always agree with my party. But really honestly, that's also part of the problem folks, is that compromise has kind of become a dirty word around here. And you have the two ends of the spectrum that frankly makes the most noise. And a whole lot of Americans that are busy trying to figure out if they can pay their dry cleaning bill before the next paycheck. Trying to figure out if they have time to go to the dentist office or should they go to their child's soccer game. Trying to figure out if they can afford the daycare bill. They are not watching political stuff every night. And they want in fact us to compromise and solve this problem.

LUNTZ: Joshua?

JOSHUA: Senator, I really appreciate your call for compromise. But earlier this year, significant portion of Missouri, the state you represent was decimated by a tornado. And of course, our thoughts and prayers for everyone in the Joplin area. Some on the right demanded spending cuts to go with disaster relief. How can you compromise with people who are so single-minded in their focus on cuts?

MCCASKILL: Well, first of all...

JOSHUA: When people are dying from hurricane damage -- I'm sorry -- tornado damage, yes, you have to spend the money.

TAMAS: You bring up emotions, like, we don't want to help those people. That's just disgusting. That's like a commercial ad from the DNC right there.

MCCASKILL: OK. Here's what everybody is wired to do around here, Joshua. We are wired to say yes, because we want everybody to love us. And because we are wired to say yes, we never have said no to anyone. Now too many people in Washington want to say no to everybody. We can't do that. We have to reflect our values. But, we also have to be honest that we can't keep being all things to all people.

LUNTZ: Do you agree?

MCCASKILL: We can't keep giving federal help to everyone.

LUNTZ: In the back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator McCaskill, we just passed 10 year anniversary of the drafting of the Bush tax cuts for the extreme wealthy here in America. And in December, President Obama extended those tax cuts in order to pass unemployment insurance extension. What is your verdict on the 10 years that the tax cuts have done for the American economy?

LUNTZ: Everyone at 50?

MCCASKILL: I do know this, that if tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans were the key to our prosperity, we all wouldn't be worrying about 10 percent unemployment right now. It is not the key. The key is innovation. The key is investment in innovation. Making sure small businesses have the ability to actually grow jobs without the government interfering with them. But honestly -- we have done 17 tax cuts.

TAMAS: It's punishment. Why are you punishing someone that is doing well?

MCCASKILL: I believe in targeted tax cuts to help small businesses. To help those people who are in fact in the middle class, the shrinking middle class. But there is no reason, there's absolutely no reason that those who have done very, very well can't do a little more to help with the problem we are facing which is a structural debt that is out of control.

LUNTZ: OK, you had your shot. Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What numbers are we talking about in cutting a little bit? Because we are talking about trillions and trillions of dollars. Give us an answer, we want to know.

MCCASKILL: OK. I think there's a lot of places that we can in fact cut spending. One of the things we've got to do is we've got to quit giving out special goodies to people who can afford to hire lobbyists, and not giving them to the middle class and not giving them to small businesses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know that trillions and trillions of dollars, what do you see as far a dollar amount.

MCCASKILL: I think that if we can start reducing the deficit in a meaningful way this year and continue to do so. And then we also have to look at the structural debt, which involves looking at entitlements and spending and revenues. If we do that honestly, then we can get it under control.

DAVID B., FOCUS GROUP MEMBER: There are two pieces of that. Reduce spending.


DAVID B.: And increase revenues, you said investment is the key. If you want to increase investment, reduce the taxes. If you want something less, tax it. The more you tax it, the less you get.

MCCASKILL: Well, if that were true, if that were true. Then you would have seen an unbelievable job creation after the Bush tax cuts, and that didn't happen. And it has never happened. It has never happened.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at the Laffer curve in economics. Every time you lowered taxes, you brought in the base of revenue.

MCCASKILL: If we aren't willing to compromise on everything a little bit David.

DAVID B.: If we listen to what we saw in the Reagan years, everyone said we are going to crash and burn if we don't let people pay more taxes. What happened is, the tax base just exploded. So, what happened is, we had more money coming in because people were encouraged to invest.

MCCASKILL: And we incurred a deficit. And we went into deficit spending.

LUNTZ: Everyone grab your dials. Senator, I'm going to give you the last 15 seconds.

MCCASKILL: First of all, compromise should not be an evil word. And some of you may think it is. But for America, if we can't find common ground for this problem. And that means everybody giving a little for the greater good, and I mean, giving a little in terms of their position. Giving a little bit in terms of their position and as finding that common ground, then we can begin to see a decrease in the deficit and the structural debt in a way that is meaningful for America. And besides that, it would reassure everyone that Washington could actually work.

LUNTZ: I'm sorry, we are out of time. Show of hands, does Washington work now? Not one. This is a challenge that we face. Your predecessor, your Republican colleague had the same challenges that you did. You'll going to get a chance to react to a couple more senators coming up. And one of the top business people. We are a divided country. But at least we've got elected officials who are willing to come and be heard.

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