updated 1/26/2010 10:57:00 AM ET 2010-01-26T15:57:00

Guests: Jared Bernstein, Mark McKinnon, Maj. Jason Amerine, Eric Blehm

           

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Keith.  Thank you very much for that.

And thanks to you at home for sticking around.

We begin tonight with some breaking news out of the White House.  We have learned just this evening that President Obama plans to propose a spending freeze during his State of the Union address on Wednesday.

Obama administration officials who briefed reporters on the plan today say the freeze would last for three years.  It would not affect defense, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, or State Department spending, but it would affect everything else.  The White House says it expects the three-year freeze to save $250 billion over the next decade.

A senior administration official at one point confirming to reporters that once you factor in inflation what the president will be proposing is actually a reduction in government spending.  You might recall that Republican Senator John McCain ran for and lost the presidency on the idea of answering economic calamity with a spending freeze.  Since that‘s the kind of strategy that Herbert Hoover used in the ‘30s to make the depression great.

Conservatives in the president‘s own party, like Evan Bayh of Indiana, have recently alternated between calling for a spending freeze and publicly crossing their fingers that the president would announce a spending freeze in the State of the Union.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D), INDIANA:  But we can do something right here right now starting next week.  The president can say in his State of the Union address, “I‘m going to include in my budget a freeze on discretionary spending.  I‘m drawing the line in the sand.  I‘m willing to use my veto pen to enforce that.

AL HUNT, BLOOMBERG:  Do you think he‘ll do that?

BAYH:  Not 10 months from now, not two years from now, but right now.

HUNT:  Do you think he‘ll do it?

BAYH:  I think there‘s a fighting chance that he will.

HUNT:  You do?

BAYH:  That‘s what I‘m looking for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That‘s what I‘m looking for.

You know, if you‘ve ever taken economics, it‘s usually on day two of like a 101 level college econ class where they teach you that a spending freeze is not the way to bring the economy out of a downturn, let alone a recession.  One lesson from the interminable Japanese recession in the 1990s so that—was that the government was not aggressive in spending enough for long enough and that‘s why it became Japan‘s lost decade, instead of Japan‘s lost couple of years.

And then, of course, there was the great American mistake of 1937, when as the U.S. was finally coming out of the depression, in a burst of stupid Hooverism, the government stopped spending for recovery too soon and it put the economy right back in the brink.

Deficit spending is what governments do to get economies moving again.  A spending freeze is like trying to put out a fire by pouring gasoline on it.  And yet, that is exactly what the president is apparently going to propose doing this Wednesday.

Joining us now is Jared Bernstein.  He‘s the Vice President Biden‘s chief economist and economic policy adviser, who was not booked on this show to talk about this this evening, but then, this late breaking news happened and I ruined your night.

(LAUGHTER)

JARED BERNSTEIN, V.P. BIDEN‘S ECON POLICY ADVISOR:  I‘m happy to talk about whatever you like.

MADDOW:  All right.  Mr. Bernstein, I appreciate it.  I know this was a—this was a sort of a bait-and-switch here on you.  But we didn‘t mean it.

BERNSTEIN:  It is and it isn‘t.  But go ahead.  I‘m going to point out how some of our announcements today contradict some of your concerns about the spending freeze.  But go ahead.

MADDOW:  Well, let‘s go right at it.  I mean, why call for a spending freeze in the middle of an economic downturn?  That seems—it seems counterintuitive to say the least.

BERNSTEIN:  Well, first of all, not in the middle, because we‘re talking about a freeze that would take effect in 2011.

But I think the important thing, Rachel, that your comments didn‘t get to is that we‘re not talking about an across-the-board freeze.  That entitles this president to comb through the budget and find policies that help to create jobs and boost the middle class—like the policies we announced today which is what I was going to talk about anyway here—and to cut back on spending on the wasteful stuff, stuff that accumulates over the years that Congress has a very hard time pulling back on, that the lobbyists love.  So, we‘re talking about boosting the spending that helps the middle-class pushing back on the special interests.

So, for example, today, we talked about a set of programs that will be in the State of the Union, that will be in this budget, the very budget we‘re talking about—programs that nearly double the child care tax credit for middle class families, cutting much higher into the middle class than the current policy, retirement security policies, policies that help students facing burdensome debt from college loans, policies that help with elder care.  All of those are policies that can be boosted while this freeze is pulling back on some of the wasteful stuff that is nothing to do with jobs in the middle class.

MADDOW:  To be clear, though.  I mean, what we‘re hearing tonight from Washington is that this proposed spending freeze would be everything other than defense, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, or State Department spending and also, entitlements.  You‘re saying that‘s not accurate.  You‘re saying there‘s whole other swaths of the budget that the president is not dedicated to freezing.

BERNSTEIN:  What I‘m saying is that, that is an aggregate freeze but it‘s not an across-the-board freeze.

Let me explain what I mean.  If you have an across-the-board freeze, you say, OK, folks.  Every agency, everything goes down by 3 percent, end of story.  It‘s real simple.

That‘s not what this is.  Some things will go down.  Some things will go up.  More things will go down than will go up.  That‘s how you achieve some of the deficit savings.

But, the fact is that we can get in there and target those parts of the budget for expansion just like the ones I mentioned.

Now, on the other—there‘s also a bunch of emergency spending that‘s outside of this freeze.  The Recovery Act will continue to create employment.  By the way, that‘s one of the other things I wanted to talk to you about because I know you get this.

The Recovery Act saved or created 2 million jobs so far, on track to create or save another 1.5 million before it‘s done.  That‘s going to be in effect, of course, the rest of this year and in 2011 as well.  This freeze won‘t affect that at all.

New jobs initiatives that the president will be outlining in the State of the Union—those will also be accommodated under this program.

So, we‘re going to really shift our focus here to stuff that works and

to help stabilize what is truly a long-term, unsustainable budget picture,

by squeezing stuff that doesn‘t help.

MADDOW:  So, cutting $250 billion out of the budget and at this point, you‘re saying, don‘t worry, it‘ll be all good cuts and the only stuff that will be left and increased is the stuff that creates jobs, it‘s hard to imagine that there‘s going to be a big enough impact on the deficit here to outweigh the overall effect of cutting government spending at a time when government spending is one of the true successes in why we‘re turning around out of this recession.  I mean, you can brag on the stimulus.

BERNSTEIN:  Right.

MADDOW:  . and talk about how more of it is still due to go into effect.

BERNSTEIN:  Right.

MADDOW:  It seems like responsible economists right now and many of those who are polled by “USA Today” are saying, we need a second stimulus.  You guys.

BERNSTEIN:  Right.

MADDOW:  . are not—not only not talking about a second stimulus, you‘re talking about trying to cut $250 billion out of the budget.

BERNSTEIN:  Well, first of all.

MADDOW:  I have to tell you, it sounds completely, completely insane.

BERNSTEIN:  Two hundred and fifty billion over 10 years, but—by the way, I think it‘s wrong that we‘re not talking about additional programs to foster job growth.

The president, last month, talked about new jobs initiatives in areas of clean energy investment, building on some of the successes of the Recovery Act that you mentioned, but also considerable deep investments in clean energy, manufacturing for example, here in the United States, building the components of the new clean energy economy, education spending.  The president talked about some favorable tax policies for small businesses.  That‘s very much part of this targeted jobs agenda that you‘ll hear more about on Wednesday night and infrastructure spending—and, by the way, to that the president attached a number $50 billion.

So, we‘re talking about some serious investments in job growth to boost the middle class and I would again remind you about a set of announcements the president and vice president made today in the area of child care, elder care, student lending, retirement security, all part of new initiatives or expanded initiatives that you‘ll hear going forward—totally consistent with the freeze we‘re talking about.

MADDOW:  And all of which are very on-message and all of which will make a big difference to the working families that will benefit from those directly?  They are relatively small, relatively targeted programs.  By saying that there‘s going to be a discretionary freeze in discretionary spending going into effect in three years and that we have to find all the spending that we need as a government within these parameters, where, you know, in real terms with inflation, overall spending is going to shrink.

BERNSTEIN:  Let.

MADDOW:  If responsible economists say, you know, what we need is a second stimulus—that—this pronouncement tonight has made that impossible.  If there needs to be some other major job creation effort, not the minor targeted problems that you‘re talking about there‘s no room for that.

BERNSTEIN:  No, I disagree in the following sense.  Let me tell you—and I work with Christie Romer and the president and vice president get this, there‘s going to be no stupid Hooverism around here to use your, I think, very apt term.

Spending programs in order to generate the kind of job growth that we need to offset this—the impact of what was the deepest recession since the Great Depression generally will fall outside of this freeze.  All of the programs I mentioned.

And these are—yes, you can—you can say that some of the programs I mentioned regarding the middle class are relatively smaller than, say, a $787 billion stimulus package.  But when you start talking about $50 billion for infrastructure, when you start talking about resources for small business lending, when you start talking about a significant investments in clean energy you‘re talking about real money and real jobs.

And this president is just not going to give up on the urgency of delivering that for the American people, while at the same time squeezing down on spending that does nothing to boost the middle class, or create jobs that nobody has been able to do anything about, and that‘s making this budget unsustainable.

So, I say, stay tuned, Rachel.

MADDOW:  I hear you and I hear your optimism here but you are trying to sell the virtues of government spending to rebuild the economy on a day that the White House has just announced a spending freeze.  And while there may be spending out there that is not good for the country, that isn‘t creating jobs, that isn‘t doing what we need for the economy, there‘s no reason why those things couldn‘t just be cut without an overall pledge to reduce the total amount of government spending, which—I maintain—still sounds like stupid Hooverism.

BERNSTEIN:  If everybody that we negotiated on these kinds of issues with gets this the way you did, you probably would be right.  But, in fact, when you get into the budget—and I thought it would be easier than it was, maybe I was a little naive—there is a lobby behind every single dollar in the federal budget.  If you don‘t believe that, come ands sit in on a budget meeting.

There—it is so difficult to surgically get rid of the wasteful stuff.  You need a program just like this, where the president is going to have to get the buy-in from the Congress on this, to comb through the budget and to finally do something about those programs that aren‘t addressing our key priorities: middle class families, job growth, wages, and incomes for the broad, working middle class.  That‘s what we‘ve got to be about.

And, Rachel, if you find us cutting programs that boost those kinds of opportunities, bring me in here and we‘ll talk about.

MADDOW:  Well, the pledge to defense, veterans, homeland security, and state and entitlements, target everything else for a freeze is going to make those fights a lot harder, not easier, in terms of making them on their substance, because you‘ve just made the competition that much tougher.  I would say Mr. Bernstein, I mean, you are thought of as one of the—one of the progressives, one of the people progressives take heart is in the administration.  A lot of people are very happy on the left when Vice President Biden asked you to be his chief economist and economic policy adviser.

BERNSTEIN:  Well.

MADDOW:  The White House was on the verge of really winning a lot of liberals over with taking on this fight with the banks and taking on Wall Street reform and taking on some of these other economic issues, really picking a fight with Republicans on this.  And then to have followed that up the next day, the next business day, by following Evan Bayh‘s idea to adopt John McCain‘s economic, main economic campaign promise.

BERNSTEIN:  Yes.  Now, John.

MADDOW:  . for 2008 which he lost.

BERNSTEIN:  Yes.  But I.

MADDOW:  . seems to me, politically, doesn‘t—politically, doesn‘t make any sense.

BERNSTEIN:  Well, folks will correct me if I‘m wrong, but my recollection is that McCain‘s was an across-the-board freeze.

Remember, ours is not an across-the-board freeze.  Ours is a freeze that enables us with the Congress to go through—this president—to go through the budget and—believe me, his economic team is going to be sitting right there with him and try to accomplish the goals that I mentioned.

And, by the way, you talked about progressives and our role within the administration—I just want to bring you back to this event today with the vice president, the president, the middle class task force.  For the last year, our task force has had 11 meetings across this country where the vice president has heard from families about the budget difficulties that they face, paying for college, paying for child care, paying for elder care, saving for retirement.

And today—and let‘s not let—let‘s not forget this, Rachel, because I especially would like someone like you to help appreciate and amplify this point—let‘s not forget that today this president stepped in and did something that presidents haven‘t done for decades, that this middle class squeeze has been forming, and he did something about it.

He helped to ease that squeeze with an extension of that child care tax credit that went from capping out at $40,000 to up to $80,000, so that the max credit would now go to families much higher up in the income scale.  For elder care, help to offset some of those costs; for kids paying burdensome debts on their student loans.

That‘s the kind of targeted squeeze—anti-squeeze programs that we will, you‘ll hear about in this budget and are completely consistent with the message of jobs and middle class families.

MADDOW:  Do you know that—does the administration know, I guess, is there an awareness that no matter how conservative you tack on some of the larger economic issues, doing these as you say, targeted squeeze—trying to squeeze-proof the middle class.

BERNSTEIN:  Right.

MADDOW:  . in terms of the economic downturn with those targeted things, but meanwhile, taking what—I hope you will concede—is a big right turn with this pledge for an across-the-board, or almost across-the-board spending freeze.

BERNSTEIN:  Yes.

MADDOW:  You guys know that you‘re not going to get any Republican support, right?

BERNSTEIN:  Rachel.

MADDOW:  I mean, this isn‘t—is this an effort to try to win Republican votes for the president‘s economic agenda?  Because they‘re not coming.

BERNSTEIN:  Look, cutting wasteful spending is not a big right turn. 

I mean, it‘s neither right nor left.

(CROSSTALK)

BERNSTEIN:  It‘s good budgeting.

MADDOW:  Cutting wasteful spending is something the president had pledge to do before this today.  This is new.  This is a spending freeze in the midst of an economic downturn.

And maybe we‘ll be out of the economic downturn by then, but pledging it now either sets you up to break that if we‘re still in the economic downturn or sets you up to really put the country further into the brink than it already is in order to look conservative.

BERNSTEIN:  It is important to remember that the freeze doesn‘t take hold until 2011, but that said, the fact that this is not an across-the-board freeze means that forget left and right.  There are lobbyists supporting special interests throughout this budget that we can finally get in there and do something about.  And I just don‘t see why that‘s serving the American people poorly if, and only if, at the same time we‘re doing everything we can to deliver on jobs for the middle class.  And if we can do both of those, I would think that that would be exactly where we want to be.

MADDOW:  Jared Bernstein is the chief economist and economic policy adviser for Vice President Joe Biden—you are a good sport to go toe-to-toe with me on this.  You haven‘t convinced me at all.  I think you‘ve got a huge policy and political problem on your hands because of this.  But if all goes well for you, I think you‘ll be here more trying to defend it.

And I appreciate your time tonight, sir.  Thank you.

BERNSTEIN:  You‘re welcome, Rachel.

MADDOW:  OK.

So, the Democrats need pass health care reform now.  That‘s not me talking.  It‘s the guy who got Barack Obama elected.  “Pass it now” literally means now, like tomorrow, like tomorrow morning maybe.  See how that goes.

Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  You never know it by the headlines.  But Democrats have giant majorities in both houses of Congress.  Seeking to remind Democrats of that and to recapture some of the political mojo that made those majorities happened, President Obama has brought back on board David Plouffe, the campaign manager who orchestrated his big victory, lo, those long 14 months ago.

On the same day the White House leaks the news of Plouffe‘s return, “The Washington Post” published an op-ed with Plouffe‘s marching orders for Democrats.

Item number one: pass health reform now.  Quote, “It‘s a good plan that‘s become a demonized caricature.  Politically speaking, if we do not pass it, the GOP will continue attacking the plan as if we did anyway, and voters will have no ability to measure its upside.  If we do pass it, dozens of protections and benefits will take effect this year.  Only if the plan becomes law will the American people see all the scary things Sarah Palin and others have predicted—such as the so-called death panels—were baseless.  We own the bill and the health care votes.  We need to get some of the upside.”

So, in short, pass health care, Democrats.  Duh!  What‘s the alternative?  Work all year for it, promise it, campaign for it.  Get both houses of Congress to vote for it.  Then don‘t do it?

Some Democrats apparently think so.  You can recognize them because they‘re the ones who have spent the last week in the fetal position because their supermajority in the Senate was reduced to merely an awesomely large majority—thanks to the Massachusetts special election.

If Democrats do in fact decide they have the will to live, they will take David Plouffe‘s advice and pass health reform now.  They‘ve got two options to do so.  They can either pass the Senate bill through the House with fixes to the bill passed afterwards by reconciliation, reconciliation means it will take 50 votes not 60, or they can pass the fixes first with those 50 Senate votes and then pass the Senate bill through the House afterwards.  That‘s the choice.

Either way they can either have chocolate with peanut butter or peanut butter with their chocolate, but either way, that‘s what they‘ve got to do.  They can either do that or quit.  Those are the choices at this point.

Joining us now is Republican strategist Mark McKinnon, who has advised the campaigns of John McCain and George W. Bush.  He‘s vice chairman of the public relations group, Public Strategies.  He‘s also a contributor, of course, to “The Daily Beast.”

Mark, thanks very much for being here.  I really appreciate it.

MARK MCKINNON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Hey.  You bet, Rachel.  Thanks for having me on.

MADDOW:  I don‘t know how much of our previous segment you‘ve heard, Mark, but I—if did you hear me fighting with Jared Bernstein, I wondered if it was music to your Republican ears to hear liberals fighting with the White House over a spending freeze.

MCKINNON:  I loved it.  Yes, Jared.  Keep at it.  Keep at it.  You‘re going the right direction.

MADDOW:  What do you think about my claim to him at the end of that rather chaotic interview in which I said, “Listen, no matter what you guys do, Republicans aren‘t going to support you even on a spending freeze”?  Do you think that‘s fair?

MCKINNON:  Well, you know, I think they will get support for a spending freeze.  I mean, that‘s a—that‘s a very conservative approach.  And it‘s something that I like to see and, obviously, a lot of my colleagues do, too.  And I think, a lot of—Middle America does as well.

But the whole issue of David Plouffe coming aboard, you know, Washington and the media are fascinated by the cult of consultant personality and I think if President Obama had already passed his health care plan, had an approval rating of 90 percent, Plouffe would still be being brought in to help with the midterm reelections.

I mean, Axelrod is over there saying, “OK, fly boy, time to come off the book tour and roll up your sleeves and get back in the trenches.”  He‘s a good hand, but he is not going to fundamentally change what‘s going on over there.  He‘s not giving different advice than David Axelrod is or Robert Gibbs.  Those guys come from the same place.

But it‘s interesting that this Washington game, while it doesn‘t really do anything different, practically speaking, inside the White House, for the press and then ultimately for the public, it resets the frame.  In other words, the press will writ something large into this notion that David Plouffe has suddenly come into the mix and things are going to change somehow because he‘s there.  But that will actually help the Obama administration and team Obama because it resets the frame and the press sort of says, “OK, we‘re going to allow you now sort of wipe the slate clean and allow you a fresh start.”

And everything that happens now will be ascribed I assure you, in some way, to David Plouffe, and it will be the Plouffe effect of what‘s going on.

MADDOW:  We got the news from the White House or the strategic leaks from the White House about Plouffe coming back this weekend, and the two things that have happened thus far—well, I guess three things have happened thus far.  We got Plouffe‘s op-ed in “The Washington Post” where he said, “You better pass health care, you dummies, and do it right away.”  We got the president‘s speech today with Vice President Biden on relatively small, middle class targeted economic initiatives that are going to be announced in the State of the Union.

And then we got this bombshell spending freeze announcement tonight—which is pretty much a scattershot in terms of left/right—left/right political initiatives.  So, if you want to put policies on a left/right number line.

Do you think those are reflective of Plouffe‘s influence already?  Or is this another thing that where we‘re just going to tag everything with his name that happens from here on out?

MCKINNON:  I think that‘s the case.  I think a lot of this was pre-baked and I‘m sure that Plouffe was talking to everybody months ago anyway.  I mean, I think he‘s always been part of the mix and the dialogue, and the conference calls and phone calls late at night.

But, you know, this is—this is a classic time in most presidencies, and it often happens after about a year when a lot of your capital is spent and the tough slogging of government begins.

And it‘s—and I feel badly for all those people working hard in the White House because this is that time when they sort of are thinking, oh, geez, you know, I‘m thinking about the great job I left behind and that wonderful sunny place that I used to live in and where all my family and friends were, and now the hard grind begins and it‘s not much fun.  I mean, just, you know, government work is tough slogging.  You got half the people telling you, you should move left, and the other half telling you to move to the center.

I think it‘s going to be a very telling sign for the Obama presidency, though, because this is a time when he really does have to step forward and make it clear just what he does stand for.  And I think the options are pretty clear.  You go to the left.  You try and pass health care.  You do some of those ideological things that you talked to your base about doing and perhaps establish a legacy, but maybe also a one-term presidency.

Or you maybe take—you do some more practical things that are non-ideological, move more to the center and perhaps enhance your chances for a second term in my opinion.

MADDOW:  That makes sense totally in the.

MCKINNON:  That‘s a political practicality.

MADDOW:  That makes sense totally in the abstract.  But if you think about President Obama not passing health care reform in order to be politically practical?  You got to admit that‘s sort of a joke.

I mean, President Obama not walking away from health care at this point is him saying, you know what?  This whole first year, the whole, we‘ve made it further than we have in 60 years.  We passed a bill through both the House and the Senate.  I don‘t feel like finishing?

That can‘t possibly be a political asset no matter how conservative the decision gets labeled.

MCKINNON:  No, I don‘t think that‘s an option, and I don‘t think under any scenario that anybody would advise him to do that.  I mean, you have to qualify and define what that means.  There are the options that you outlined or there are other options which is to say let‘s start and do this differently.  I mean, let‘s pass portability, let‘s pass preexisting conditions, let‘s not do it as an omnibus, which seems to be what the American people were saying.

So, I mean, I think there are different ways to skin that cat other than the ways that you described.  The problem with the way you described and the problem with the deals that were cut in Nebraska and Louisiana and with the labor unions is that the American public thinks that whatever gets passed that way has been done with some special political deals which is not what they expected from the Obama administration.

MADDOW:  Well, that—trying to take it apart and doing it piece by piece at this point is a recipe for never doing it ever.  The longer they take on this, the fact, the more likely it is that it‘s never going to happen.  The Nebraska thing is already out of the deal and the only thing that‘s actually polled positively throughout health care reform is having a public option, which keeps getting derided by everybody in the political world as being the crazy lefty idea, even though most Americans like it.

So, I think there is the big.

MCKINNON:  Listen.

MADDOW:  . difference in the policy and the politics here still.  But they got to pass something.

MCKINNON:  Well, listen.  I tell you the bottom line, the thing that measures great presidents and presidencies, I think, is the willingness to stand up and make very unpopular decisions.  However that can be defined, it means making a lot of people mad.  So, whatever he does, if he does something great, it will probably make a lot of people mad.

MADDOW:  You‘re going to agree on that.  Somebody will be mad.  I agree with you, Mark.

Mark McKinnon is a former adviser.

MCKINNON:  Get to Oxford (ph).

MADDOW:  . to President George W. Bush and Senator John McCain—it‘s really great to have you back on the show, Mark.  It‘s always a pleasure.  Thanks for joining us.

MCKINNON:  Carry on regardless, Rachel.

MADDOW:  OK.  So, Tracey Ullman is a very funny person.  So it is with a mixture of fleshed embarrassment and touch of anticipatory nausea that we will, tonight, show you her new televised impersonation of me.

But first, “One More Thing” on passing legislation like health reform against Republican opposition.  We thought we were maybe crazy or naive to ask publicly if something could be done to kill the filibuster now.  Since it‘s being used in ways it was never used before, and nothing is getting done by the party that has all the majorities in Washington.  It turns out there‘s a growing crowd on the “kill the filibuster” band wagon.

Senator Tom Harkin, of course, has said he will introduce legislation to lower the number of senators needed to overcome a filibuster, after days of debate, until it takes just 51 votes to break the minority stranglehold.  His cosponsor in this legislation?  Senator Joe Lieberman.  His remaining power is threat of joining the filibuster.

Senator Debbie Stabenow told us on this show that she would like to see the filibuster rules changed although she thinks it would be hard to do so.  Senator Bob Menendez and Senator Bob Casey have both also said that they don‘t like the current status of the filibuster.  And the president of the Senate himself, Vice President Joe Biden, has now voiced his frustration with the way the filibuster is being used as well.  All of these folks are expressing dismay with the current “minority rules” rules.

It‘s starting to seem like a groundswell, isn‘t it?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  It turns out there is a growing crowd in the “kill the filibuster” bandwagon.  Sen. Tom Harkin, of course, has said he will introduce legislation to lower the number of senators needed to overcome a filibuster after days of debate until it takes just 51 votes to break the minority stranglehold. 

His co-sponsor in this legislation?  Sen. Joe Lieberman, whose remaining power is the threat of joining the filibuster.  Sen. Debbie Stabenow told us on this show that she would also like to see the filibuster rules change although she thinks it would be hard to do so. 

Sen. Bob Menendez and Sen. Bob Casey have both also said that they don‘t like the current status of the filibuster and the president of the Senate himself, Vice President Joe Biden, has now voiced his frustration with the way the filibuster is being used as well. 

All of these folks expressing dismay with the current minority rules.  Starting to seem like a groundswell, isn‘t it? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Somewhere between creepy, unethical, and simply against the rules lies the latest gem from the Republican National Committee.  In envelopes that say, “Do not destroy,” official document, and 2010 congressional district census, the Republican National Committee has mailed out fundraising surveys that are meant to look like the real U.S. census. 

You might recall that filling out your U.S. census form is actually required by law.  This is a great trick, right?  Make people think they‘re required by law to read and respond to questions like, “Do you think the record trillion dollar federal deficit the Democrats are creating with their out-of-control spending is going to have disastrous consequences for our nation?” 

Make people think they are required by law to read and respond to that.  The fake census also includes a letter from RNC Chair Michael Steele that says, quote, “Strengthening our party for the 2010 elections is going to take a massive grassroots effort all across America.  That is why I have authorized a Census,” capital C, “to be conducted of every congressional district in the country.” 

Nothing on this authorized capital C census that is being conducted says this is voluntary because it‘s not the real census.  And the real Census Bureau spokesperson today said that he had received complaints from people who have received this mailing from the Republican Party and felt that it was deceptive. 

The question now, of course, is whether Democrats will fight this with fire by responding in kind with kerosene by whining about it, or with water by calling it out for what it is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  In 2005, when they were still in the minority, Democrats in the House pledged themselves to a new Veterans‘ Bill of Rights.  In 2006, they won control of the House.  And before the next election in 2008, they in fact passed the new G.I. Bill, the biggest investment in veterans‘ education since World War II. 

The new G.I. Bill passed both the House and the Senate with big majorities.  And even though President George W. Bush initially promised to veto it, he did ultimately sign the new G.I. Bill into law.  It went into effect this summer.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  Now with this policy, we are making it clear that the United States of America must reward responsibility and not irresponsibility.  Now, with this policy we are letting those who have borne the heaviest burden lead us into the 21st century.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Something like the G.I. bill has a way of inspiring that kind of language, that kind of big-picture thinking.  But you know, it also is a really specific nuts-and-bolts policy that offers cash money benefits to real Iraq and Afghanistan veterans going to college. 

And the VA, for all of the high minded language about this, appears to be blowing its implementation.  The VA admitting to the military times this weekend that in the last three months of last year, almost 90 percent of the calls made by veterans to the VA‘s G.I. Bill call center never connected. 

Almost 90 percent of the time, callers either got a busy signal or a message that their call could not be completed.  Remember, these callers are veterans trying to get information about benefits that they are due, that they have earned, that we have promised them. 

Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the nonpartisan Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America told us today, quote, “How can the VA expect veterans to properly apply for the G.I. Bill when nearly 90 percent of the calls to the G.I. Bill hotline don‘t connect?  IAVA is obviously very concerned about this figure and number of people who have been left scrambling for answers.” 

The VA has so short-staffed its G.I. Bill call center that it‘s only open now Monday through Wednesday from 7:00 a.m. Central Time to 5:00 p.m. Central Time.  And even then, it‘s not getting 90 percent of the calls that are trying to connect. 

In fact, the VA didn‘t even respond to our calls today for a comment from them on what the HE double hockey sticks is going on with them screwing up the GI bill and thereby screwing with our veterans.  We‘ll keep calling, I guess, just like everybody else. 

Next up, people outside of South Carolina now know two things about that state‘s lieutenant governor, Andre Bauer, who is running to succeed Appalachian Trail non-hiker Mark Sanford.  Before Friday, if people knew anything about Andre Bauer, it was that even though he was Mark Sanford‘s lieutenant governor, he didn‘t seem to like Mark Sanford all that much. 

You might remember him as a guest on this show talking all sorts of smack about Mr. Sanford in the middle of the hiking-the-Appalachian-Trail scandal.  But since Friday, there is now a second thing people outside of South Carolina know about Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer. 

No matter what else he ever does in his life and his career, Andre Bauer will always and forever more be the guy who, when talking about government assistance, said this. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

LT. GOV. ANDRE BAUER (R-SC):  My grandmother was not a highly educated woman. but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals.  You know why?  Because they breed.  You‘re facilitating the problem.  If you give an animal or a person ample food supply, they will reproduce, especially ones that don‘t think too much further than that. 

And so what you‘ve got to do is curtail that type of behavior.  They don‘t know any better.  I can show you a bar graph where free or reduced lunch has the worst test scores in the state of South Carolina.  You show me the school that has the highest free and reduced lunch and I‘ll show you the worst test scores, folks.  It‘s there, period. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

HAMMER:  Republican Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer asking the people of South Carolina to elect him governor and also saying that some of his constituents in South Carolina are stray animals who need to be stopped from breeding by cutting off their food. 

Today, Andre Bauer said he is sorry.  But that is the kind of thing that is sort of hard to forget, isn‘t it? 

And finally, there is important culinary and frankly, foreign relations news tonight.  For that, we turn to the RACHEL MADDOW SHOW‘s Angus McFarker(ph). 

KENT JONES, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Hello, Rachel.  As your viewers surely know today is Robert Burns Day, when we celebrate Scotland‘s most illustrious poet.  Famous for such timeless classics as “A Red, Red Rose,” “A Man‘s A Man for A‘That,” “To a Louse,” “To a Mouse” “The Battle of Sherramuir,” “Tam O‘Shanter,” “Ae Fond Kiss,” and “O, Once I Lov‘d a Bonnie Lass.” 

I have to stop myself from breaking into tears just talking about it right here.  Now, in Scotland, Rachel, we celebrate this Burns Day with whiskey and poetry and a national dish. 

Now, haggis - that‘s onion, oatmeal, spices and salt mixed with stalks and simmered in a sheep‘s wee stomach for three delicious hours.  Now, Americans haven‘t been able to make a proper haggis because of our ridiculous ban on importing sheep‘s lung.

But wait, “The Daily Telegraph” reports that the United States Department of Agriculture is considering lifting (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ban on haggis in 1989 to prevent mad cow disease. 

So next Burns‘ Day, Rachel, you come around.  We‘ll have a wee dram with a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and a big, slippery, steamy pile of the haggis.  Oh, the mouth waters, doesn‘t it?  And for dessert, we‘re going to have a deep-fried Snickers bar.  Come over - ambrosia.  I am inviting you now.  

MADDOW:  Thank you very much, Angus.  I will consult my physician and think about it.  Appreciate it.  

JONES:  It‘s a date. 

MADDOW:  Angus McFarker(ph), Happy Robert Burns Day, everybody.  He means it about the legalization of haggis you know.  We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Still ahead comedian Tracey Ullman‘s impression of - me. 

Some days are weirder than others at this job. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  On the night that the Taliban government in Kabul fell in 2001, an 11-man unit of green berets boarded Blackhawk helicopters and flew into the south of Afghanistan into the Taliban heartland of Kandahar. 

They had two missions.  One, partner with the then unknown English-speaking Pashtun, who had been living in exile, a man named Hamid Karzai, to turn the Pashtuns against the Taliban.  And, two, beat the Taliban in Kandahar in their home base. 

Did I mention that we‘re only talking about 11 guys here?  They are Operational Detachment Alpha 574.  These 11 green berets - these 11 men did something in 2001 that tens of thousands of Americans are trying to redo nine years later in 2010. 

Their story and their success is told through first-hand accounts by these green berets and with the extent of the families of those of them who did not survive in a remarkable new book that‘s called “The Only Thing Worth Dying For: How 11 Green Berets Forged a New Afghanistan.”

Earlier, I sat down with the author, Eric Blehm, and the Army Major Jason Amerine, who led this team of 11 green berets on this incredible mission. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW (on camera):  Gentlemen, thank you for being here.  It‘s nice to see you both.  Major Amerine, let me start with you.  The Taliban stronghold of Kandahar - it‘s the only thing that most Americans knew about Afghanistan at the time that you were there when Kandahar was their heartland.  What was the plan to beat them there and what eventually worked? 

MAJOR JASON AMERINE, U.S. ARMY, LED GREEN BERETS INTO AFGHANISTAN:  We worked with Karzai to develop a plan to rally the Pashtun tribal belt against the Taliban.  The Taliban were a Pashtun movement and the idea was to get the Pashtun themselves to remove the Taliban. 

Karzai believed that the Taliban would be rejected by the Pashtun, that the Pashtun would fight with him against the Taliban.  And that‘s what we were there to help him with to provide expertise, to provide air support, and basically help him to carry out his vision.  

MADDOW:  And how do you cleave the Pashtun from the Taliban in that situation?  What‘s the strategy?

AMERINE:  Well, the Taliban themselves did a good job through their ruler - I mean, tyrannical rule, the horrible human rights violations that were occurring.  But the Taliban were afraid to rise up. 

And that‘s where Karzai believed if he could get into the country, if he could work with us, show that there‘s U.S. support in his movement, as well as simply get all the tribal leaders talking to one another, that he‘d be able to build enough credibility to get them to rise up, form a rebellion and overthrow the Taliban. 

MADDOW:  How long did it take? 

AMERINE:  It took us about three weeks to do it altogether. 

MADDOW:  How many of you were there? 

AMERINE:  Eleven of us. 

MADDOW:  Eric, how did you find out about this group of green berets?  Why did you decide to tell their story and why did they decide to talk to you about it? 

ERIC BLEHM, AUTHOR, “THE ONLY THING WORTH DYING FOR”:  Well, I truly wanted to tell a story about the war.  I realized - you know, we all have watched the greatest generation and how the veterans were dying off from World War II and their stories were disappearing. 

I just wanted to find and do my part as a writer to tell something from our generation.  By a just strange, quirky set of quirky set of events, I found out that a sister of a friend of mine worked with the brother of somebody who is on that team.

And I found out - looking back in my records and had clipped articles at the time - that we didn‘t really know how Hamid Karzai came to power and it was years later.  So I found out that Captain Amerine, now Major Amerine, was working at West Point and I offered to sit in his class. 

And I went in and talked to him.  And he said he‘d be happy to talk with me.  But first, I should get the blessings of the family members of the men who didn‘t survive the mission.  That‘s what I did.  That was really the starting point. 

MADDOW:  Of the 11, every single member of that group was either killed or wounded? 

AMERINE:  Yes. 

MADDOW:  Major Amerine, I know that you‘re active duty and so we have to keep that in mind in terms of asking to comment on political matters.  I‘m not asking you to weigh in politically on anything. 

But eight years later, the mission at large in Afghanistan is counterinsurgency with a lot of conventional forces and, of course, special operations forces as well.  Do you think there is an operational lesson for what you did, you and your 11 green berets did, in terms of the larger mission of what America‘s trying to do in the country right now? 

AMERINE:  Well, our mission centered on two big points.  One was

offering the people of Afghanistan an alternative to Taliban rule, and that

was in the form of Hamid Karzai.  And to this day, he actually has a strong

approval rating.  One of the polls I saw recently that matched others was

around 70 percent of the population approve of his leadership.  So one of

them -

MADDOW:  While also thinking the Afghan government, broadly, is very corrupt. 

AMERINE:  Exactly.

MADDOW:  Those two numbers both very high. 

AMERINE:  Right.  And that‘s one of the big difficulties is, on the one hand, they do support Karzai.  But on the other hand, they want to see change.  But in 2001 and today, I mean, having a viable government that the people believe in is key. 

In the case of 2001, they didn‘t believe in the Taliban.  In the case of now, 2010, they actually still do believe in the government to a degree.  They at least believe in Karzai and he has high approval ratings, which isn‘t the same as popularity. 

But they want to see the corruption at least diminished.  It‘s so embedded that it‘s not realistic for the corruption to completely go away.  It‘s going to probably take multiple generations. 

The other part that‘s critical over there is security.  Back in 2001, when we put the Taliban on the run, there was a period there where the Taliban were retreating and there was just a vacuum. 

Karzai went into power and that was the time when we really needed to start establishing security.  And I think that we had sort of a false sense of security, pardon the pun, that came to haunt us as Afghanistan was forced to be a built of a holding action as we moved on to Iraq and had to put a lot of focus there on the security situation. 

So as we‘re looking at it now, we need to get the government running properly.  We need to build on the positive support of the government that is still there.  And we need to get security established. 

MADDOW:  Eric, I know that in working on the book, you were able to meet with President Karzai in 2008 - was it 2008? 

BLEHM:  2008. 

MADDOW:  To corroborate some of these green berets‘ accounts about what it had been like on the ground in terms of this initial foray back into Afghanistan for him.  In meeting with him as recently as 2008 and thinking about the mission that Major Amerine is describing, is he the guy? 

Does he have to be the guy?  Does it have to be a leader that America believes in, in order for there to be a government there that works and the Afghan people will support? 

BLEHM:  Well, Karzai - I think the reason why he rose in popularity as a diplomat at the time was because he was a person who could bring these different factions together.  And really, he‘s that same person still. 

MADDOW:  He wouldn‘t be where he is with both the opportunities and the liabilities without the sacrifices of you and your green berets.  Major Jason Amerine, Eric Blehm, the author of “The Only Thing Worth Dying For.”  It‘s a fascinating read.  Gentlemen, thank you both.  Eric, Major Amerine, thank you very much.  Appreciate it, both of you.  We‘ll be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  I have been talked into showing you this even though I find it embarrassing.  Well, here it is.  You watch.  I will cover my eyes and wait until it‘s over.  OK, go ahead. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRACEY ULLMAN, COMEDIAN (as Rachel Maddow):  OK.  Now, this is the least favorite thing about having my own TV show, having to get made up.  Well, I‘m done.  Thank you very much. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh no, you don‘t.  You get right back down here, Little Missy.  Here you go. 

ULLMAN:  All right.  But please not too much powder blue eye shadow. 

The last makeup artist made me look like Joan Van Ark. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Hello, Rachel. 

ULLMAN:  Oh, Arianna. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I told you to sit still. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  That was my fault.  That was my fault.  I distracted her.  I‘m going to shut up. 

ULLMAN:  It‘s her fault. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I haven‘t stopped talking since “Morning Joe” when I picked apart the health plan debacle with Mika Brzezinski.  And then, it was on to an all-you-can-tweet breakfast at the ABC Wireless Home with Diane Sawyer. 

Now, there is a makeup department that really knows how to make an older woman look good in high definition. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  In the spirit of the sincerest form of flattery, Tracey Ullman, the actor, comedienne and spot-on Arianna Huffington impersonator will be live on this show Thursday.  That‘s part of the kickoff to the third season of her show, “State of the Union” whereupon I will ask to borrow that awesome shapeless blazer.  

That does it for me and for dumb-old spending freeze Herbert Hoover tonight.  See you again tomorrow.  “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.  Good night.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

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