updated 3/5/2013 11:41:38 AM ET 2013-03-05T16:41:38

HARDBALL
March 4, 2013

Guests: Steven Brill, Neera Tanden, Steven A. Smith, Jared Bernstein,
Howard Fineman, Peter Beinart, Joe Reid


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, MSNBC GUEST HOST: Cutting the deficit at any price,
even when the price is too high.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Michael Smerconish, in for Chris Matthews.

Leading off tonight: Deficit chicken hawks. We begin this week to find
that Republicans have gotten what they wanted, indiscriminate cuts in
government. What no one is disputing is that they`ll kill jobs and slow
the recovery, all while doing nothing to solve our long-term spending
problem. It`s not unlike being fat and deciding to cut off your leg to
lose weight.

At least we now know the one thing the GOP stands for, cutting spending,
any spending, and protecting the wealthy from tax hikes at any costs.

Also, what are we to make of Mitt Romney`s first post-election interview?
Here are two reactions that come to mind. He hasn`t moved on, and he still
doesn`t get why he lost.

Plus, would you pay $77 for a box of gauze pads? How about $1.50 for one
Tylenol tablet? Guess what? It`s possible that you already have any time
you`ve gone to the hospital. Here`s what I want to know. Will "Obama
care" fix that mess?

And who decided that Dennis Rodman was the ideal ambassador to break the
ice with the most isolated country on earth, North Korea, and its bizarre
leader, Kim Jong Un?

Finally, calling Luke Skywalker and Captain Kirk! Was President Obama
referring to "Star Wars" or "Star Trek" when he criticized Republicans last
week about the sequester? The answer, maybe, in the "Sideshow."

Let`s begin with Republican unity on spending cuts. Howard Fineman is the
editorial director for the HuffingtonPost, and Jared Bernstein is a former
economic adviser to Vice President Biden. Both are MSNBC political
analysts.

Gentlemen, "The New York Times" caught onto a trend within the Republican
Party today with their front page headline "GOP clings to one thing it
agrees on, spending cuts." Richard Stevenson (ph) then wrote,
"Conservative governors are signing onto provisions of what they once
derisively dismissed as `Obama care.` Prominent Senate Republicans are
taking positions on immigration that would have gotten the party`s
presidential candidates hooted off the debate stage during last year`s
primaries. Same-sex marriage has gone from being a reliable motivator for
the conservative base to gaining broad acceptance. And four months after
Mr. Obama won a second term, the only issue that truly unites Republicans
is a commitment to shrinking the federal government through spending cuts,
low taxes and less regulation."

You could hear that sentiment from Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell
yesterday on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: So far, I haven`t heard a
single Senate Republican say they`d be willing to raise a dime in taxes to
turn off the sequester.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Jared, the GOP says that even bad budget cutting is better
than no budget cutting. Why are they wrong?

JARED BERNSTEIN, FMR. ECONOMIC ADVISER TO V.P. BIDEN, MSNBC POLITICAL
ANALYST: Because of the impact of bad budget cutting on the people who
take the brunt of it, most of whom don`t work for the House or the Senate.

For example, it`s been widely estimated that the economy will grow about
half a point more slowly and that we`ll lose over half a million jobs if
the sequester sticks. Now, that`s not the difference between recession and
recovery, but it does mean that our already too slow recovery grows even
more slowly.

So to say that you don`t care about that, that that`s OK with you, is
saying that you`re OK with higher unemployment and worse jobs outcomes.

SMERCONISH: Howard, is it nevertheless a better strategy than the
Republicans have had more recently, better in the sense that they shed
themselves of all the baggage that comes from those divisive social issues
and now they stand for a single proposition, which is smaller government?

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
It`s more efficient and more consistent, however wrong. But you`re right,
politically, they were even bigger losers when it came to the social
issues, which not only divided the party internally but turned off the
mainstream of American cultural society for sure all the way down the line.

Here they`re going to their lowest common denominator, which inside the
spending portion, which they`re often not really serious on, actually, is
taxes. And Mitch McConnell is right. And I`ve talked to lots of
Republicans about this.

You know, we said not long ago, Michael, that actually, the Tea Party had
had its moment, that their big moment was 2010, and now the Tea Party has
kind of faded as a force. That actually is not true. In this kind of
reductionist politics, all Republicans are Tea Party members now because of
their focus on taxes and their refusal to deal any longer with that part of
the equation.

SMERCONISH: And Jared, maybe one of the reasons why, effectively, it can
be a good strategy for the GOP is that, intuitively, some of their
constituents draw a causal connection between government spending being out
of control and a sluggish economy. Why is that connection faulty?

BERNSTEIN: Well, it`s not only faulty, it`s upside down. If you want
evidence, just look at Europe. I mean, Europe has cut government spending
at a time when the economy was already weak and growth has slowed.

It doesn`t mean that you can never cut government spending. It doesn`t
mean that every dollar is fully efficiently spent. But it certainly does
mean that you don`t take a whack out of government services so
indiscriminately and at a time like this, when the economy is already too
weak.

And by the way, let`s be clear about this. It`s not just the Republicans
who have signed on to spending cuts. Democrats -- if you look at the
president`s plan, he also agrees that there are places to cut spending,
including entitlements, by the way. But it`s a matter of -- part of this
is a matter of timing. You don`t hit the economy while it`s down. So it`s
the indiscriminate nature, all of this austerity, which again, look to
Europe if you want to see how that works.

SMERCONISH: Yesterday on "MEET THE PRESS," John Boehner told David Gregory
the Republican plan to promote growth. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We`ve got to find a way
through our tax code to promote more economic growth in our country. We
can do this by closing loopholes, bringing the rates down for all
Americans, making the tax code fairer. It will promote more economic --

DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": There`s no ironclad evidence
that lowering marginal tax rates is going to lead to economic growth.

BOEHNER: Oh, yes there is. There`s -- there`s mountains --

GREGORY: Bill Clinton raised taxes. Ronald Reagan raised taxes.

(CROSSTALK)

BOEHNER: There`s mountains of evidence that if we bring tax rates down,
that we will help spur economic growth in our country.

GREGORY: That hasn`t been tried before?

BOEHNER: Oh, yes, Ronald Reagan 1981.

GREGORY: He also raised taxes.

BOEHNER: And it worked very well.

GREGORY: But he raised taxes, as well, and it didn`t hurt the economy, did
it?

BOEHNER: Listen, he lowered taxes twice, both in 1981 and again out of the
1986 tax reform. When they lowered rates for all Americans, we had this
boom in economic growth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Jared Bernstein, I need an abacus to follow this sort of
thing. This is why you`re here.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you!

SMERCONISH: It sounds to me like the speaker is saying, We closed the
loopholes in return for lower taxes and lower tax rates. Isn`t that an
offset, which provides no net revenue?

BERNSTEIN: Correct. If you do revenue-neutral tax reform -- that`s what
he`s talking about -- there is no deficit or debt reduction there. So
right off the bat, that`s a little screwy if your target is the debt.

But secondly, there`s not "mountains of evidence" for that. There`s not
even anthills of evidence for that. I mean, this is supply-side economics,
and what we`ve seen time and again is if you cut the tax rates, especially
for those at the top of the income scale, you have less revenue and they
have higher after-tax income.

I mean, you couldn`t possibly ask for better evidence than we`ve had of
that over the long haul.

SMERCONISH: You`d acknowledge that we could never just grow our way out of
a $16 trillion debt.

BERNSTEIN: I would.

SMERCONISH: OK. Howard Fineman, who wins, who loses politically as these
cuts now begin to play themselves out?

FINEMAN: Well, I think the president has the upper hand politically, but I
think it`s a closer question than was true during the fiscal cliff. I
think in this case, not raising taxes -- just the mere statement of refusal
to raise taxes is overall by itself a pretty popular sort of default
position for the American people. So it`s a little bit of a closer
question.

Where the Republicans lose and where they`re going to continue to lose is
that they seem to be the uncooperative ones. They`re the ones who are
refusing to properly negotiate. They`re the ones who are taking, you know,
line in the sand positions. And in the 1990s it was the Republicans who
were blamed for a shutdown of government. And this time around, it`ll be
the Republicans -- by a narrow margin, perhaps, but the Republicans who
will again be blamed for the disruptions that the sequester causes.

You`re going to see lines at the airports. You`re going to see furloughs.
You`re going to see a slowdown of economic activity in various places.
Ultimately, it`s the Republicans` gamble that those will be slow-moving and
undramatic and will take a long time to take effect. And they think the
American people are going to say, You know what? Cutting $85 billion isn`t
that bad. That`s their bet.

SMERCONISH: Well, Howard, also --

FINEMAN: I think in the end -- in the end -- in the end, they will lose
that bet because, ultimately, the effects of sequester will be real.

SMERCONISH: And if the B-roll, to put it in language we understand, that
goes with this story is of government workers being laid off. Politically
speaking the GOP`s calculus is that`s not such a bad thing.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: But if it`s government workers, if it`s -- if so-called
bureaucrats who don`t seem to be doing anything, who may have valuable work
but you can`t put it on television, who are laid off, that`s one thing.
It`s another thing if they`re hour upon hours of lines at -- at --

SMERCONISH: TSA.

FINEMAN: -- airports -- at airports with the TSA, if -- if people can`t
get their questions answered from the IRS or from Medicare or whatever.
There`s going to be real world effects.

SMERCONISH: Jared --

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Go ahead.

BERNSTEIN: It`s also the case that the vast majority of people who work
for defense contractors are private sector employees. So it`s not just
government workers who are going to be facing job losses here.

SMERCONISH: While the cuts are going into effect, the president said today
that he still hopes to work with Republicans on reducing the deficit.
Here`s what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are going to manage it as
best we can to try to minimize the impacts on American families, but it`s
not the right way for us to go about deficit reduction. And so I will
continue to seek out partners on the other side of the aisle so that we can
create the kind of balanced approach of spending cuts, revenues,
entitlement reform that everybody knows is the right way to do things.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: And Jared, the right way would have to include, and he made
reference to it, Medicare and Medicaid, true?

BERNSTEIN: Right. True. And that`s in his plan. I mean, he says
everyone knows -- he`s leaving out John Boehner and Mr. McConnell and Paul
Ryan and Eric Cantor. I mean, look, the gridlock here is fully a function
of Republicans` inability to get to yes on new revenues in this deal
because the president -- this is probably not widely appreciated, and it`s
just a few mouse clicks away. The president keeps saying, I have this
plan. Click on his plan, and you will see reductions to benefits in Social
Security. You will see reductions to Medicare spending.

You know, he`s going outside of many Democrats` comfort zones. So he is
putting entitlement spending on the table along with revenue increases, and
of course, that`s the sticking point.

SMERCONISH: Jared Bernstein, thank you. Howard Fineman, as always, thank
you very much.

FINEMAN: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Coming up, Mitt Romney`s first interview since losing the
election. He says he was convinced he would win even as late as election
day. That`s ahead.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: The 2016 speculation continues with Jeb Bush`s interview this
morning on the "Today" show. Bush wouldn`t rule out becoming the third
member of his family to run for president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEB BUSH (R), FMR. FLORIDA GOVERNOR: That`s way off into the future. I
have a voice. I want to share my beliefs about how the conservative
movement and the Republican Party can regain its footing because we`ve lost
our way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Bush says he`s not ruling anything out, but he`s not declaring
his candidacy at this point either.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FMR. GOV., FMR. PRES. CANDIDATE: I look at what`s
happening right now. I wish I were there! It kills me not to be there,
not to be in the White House doing what needs to be done!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Romney reemerges. It`s been four
months since he lost the election, but a wistful Mitt Romney is still
brooding over what went wrong in his failed presidential bid. And comments
to Chris Wallace yesterday on "Fox News Sunday" still show a candidate and
a party that`s out of touch with a diverse America. Here was Romney
explaining his loss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: The weakness that our campaign had, that I had, is we weren`t
effective at taking my message primarily to minority voters, to Hispanic
Americans, African-Americans, other minorities. That was a real weakness.
We did very well with a majority of the population but not with minority
populations, and that was a failing. That was a real mistake.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": Why do you think that was?

ROMNEY: Well, I think the "Obamacare" attractiveness and feature was
something we underestimated in -- in -- particularly among lower incomes,
and we just didn`t do as good a job at connecting with that audience as we
should have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Joy Reid is managing editor of TheGrio and an MSNBC political
analyst and Peter Beinart is a columnist for The Daily Beast.

Peter you wrote and said he still doesn`t get it. What doesn`t he yet get?

PETER BEINART, DAILYBEAST, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: How can he have been
surprised that people without health insurance would want health insurance?
He says that, Oh, it was the power of incumbency, like this was a kind of
patronage, like a goody that Obama threw out there to those poor people and
those African-Americans and Hispanics who are a special interests, as
opposed to his white voters, who only want what`s good for the country.

It`s this way of talking about people essentially as if they`re the ones
who are dependent on the government -- you know, going back to that 47
percent -- whereas our people are basically models of self-reliance, that I
think people instinctively understand means that you`re talking about them
as if somehow they are leeches, whereas everyone else has made it on their
own.

SMERCONISH: For the last two years, I have taken it as an article of faith
that in his core, he is a moderate individual, that the real Mitt Romney is
the man who governed Massachusetts. He then tacked to the right as so to
survive that Republican primary process, and this was the net net.

Now I`m wondering, did I have it reversed? Could he at his core really be
a conservative individual who tacked to the left in order to get elected in
Massachusetts? What do you make of that theory?

JOY REID, THEGRIO.COM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I agree. I think that
what we saw -- the real Mitt Romney is the guy we saw in that 47 percent
tape. And the reason I say that is that was Mitt Romney not being handled.
That was Mitt Romney not believing he was being taped, not believing he was
on television, and saying what he really thought.

And when a guy said to him, How do we get those people -- those people --
to stop taking all of our stuff and being on welfare and not taking care of
themselves, that was his answer. Well, you know, 47 percent of people are
just dependent. They`re just leeches and mooches.

And I think what Mitt Romney fundamentally is, is a patrician, and he`s a
guy who will do and say whatever he has to do in the moment to get
reelected. (SIC) And in Massachusetts, that meant tacking to the middle.
But I think the real Mitt Romney is the guy who, as Peter said, thinks that
"those people" -- and he thinks they`re all black and brown, as if that`s
the only people who receive assistance --

SMERCONISH: Well, he commented on this.

REID: -- are mooches.

SMERCONISH: He talked about this. As a matter of fact, he admits that his
47 percent comments were harmful, but as he put it -- and listen carefully
to how he explains it -- a mistake.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: It was a very unfortunate statement that I made. It`s not what I
meant. I didn`t express myself as I wished I would have. You know, when
you speak in private, you don`t spend as much time thinking about how
something could be twisted and distorted and can come out wrong and be
used. But you know, I did and it was very harmful. What I said is not
what I believe. Obviously, my whole campaign, my whole life has been
devoted to helping people, all the people. I care about all the people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Maybe I`m splitting hairs. It really wasn`t in private. I
mean, "private" is the three of us go to lunch --

REID: Right!

SMERCONISH: -- right, not that one of us stands up at a fund-raiser.

BEINART: Yes. And I -- you know, this is -- I think Mitt Romney in his
heart of hearts, I`m sure in some place, really does want to do what`s
right for everybody. But what it comes across as is that he really does
believe there are two sets of Americans. There are the sets of Americans -
- set of Americans who take and the set of Americans who give, and it just
happens that those divide along essentially racial and class lines.

Anyone who knows anything about American history and about the way our
political economy actually works knows that`s absolutely not true. I mean,
how did the white South reach economic parity with the rest of America?
Through the massive infusion of government money through agricultural and
military subsidies, for instance.

But he seems totally blind to this and blind to the way in which these kind
of comments will still be heard by the kind of voters that Republicans need
to win as fundamentally alienating.

SMERCONISH: You began your piece by being complimentary. You said -- and
I forget the word choice, I`ll paraphrase -- that you thought he was a very
decent individual at his core --

BEINART: Well --

SMERCONISH: -- and then moved on and criticized his remarks.

BEINART: Well, he is -- he does have this foundation which he talked about
which is designed to help really poor kids. And I have to say, one of the
things I always have liked about Mitt Romney, which is the same thing I
like about Barack Obama, is he really seems to like to be with his wife.
He really seems to actually be one of the rare politicians who prefers to
be with his own wife and family. He struck me as a grounded guy but also,
as Joy was saying, a very detached guy.

SMERCONISH: The reason I bring that up is because one of the comments that
Ann Romney made is that she -- she blamed the media, and she blamed the
media for not allowing the real narrative of Mitt Romney to come out.

with his own wife and family. He struck me as a grounded guy, but also, as
Joy was saying, a very detached guy.

SMERCONISH: The reason I bring that up is because one of the comments that
Ann Romney made is that she -- she blamed the media, and she blamed the
media for not allowing the real narrative of Mitt Romney to come out.

And I blame the Romneys and the campaign, because I called it on the road
in the course of the convention, convention and political malpractice the
way that those tremendous testimonials from Mormons were not shown in prime
time, and instead it was Clint Eastwood and the chair.

But respond, Joy, to that whole issue of, it`s the media`s fault.

REID: No, you`re absolutely right, because I was in the -- at the
convention when they played this video that I thought, wow, if this is
getting on TV, this is really going to help him --

SMERCONISH: Right.

REID: -- because it shows him sort of as a human being.

But, yes, when you`re the challenger in a campaign, it`s on you to try to
define who you are, because, of course, the incumbent is spending money
defining you the way they want to, to the voters.

The Romney campaign never created a narrative that was, this is the real
Mitt Romney because they didn`t want to talk about Mormonism.

BEINART: They were afraid of it, right, yes.

REID: They were afraid of alienating the religious right, conservative
Christians. And they didn`t want to talk about his time in Massachusetts
because they were afraid it would a make him look too liberal.

They didn`t want to talk about anything than this narrow set of sort of
platitudes and sound bites that were never definitional about him. And
just one quick point about what Peter said. This is a guy who, maybe he is
decent, but those people who were working in that room, serving food to him
and his friends in Boca Raton, they were invisible to him, such that he
felt comfortable saying what he said in front of them.

I think that tells you something about character.

SMERCONISH: On this issue on the media, this is Ann Romney blaming the
media for the portrayal of Mitt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANN ROMNEY, WIFE OF MITT ROMNEY: Of course, I -- it was partly true, but
it was not just the campaign`s fault. I believe it was the media`s fault
as well, is that he was not giving -- being given a fair shake, that people
weren`t allowed to really see him for who he was.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": All right. What about the media?

(LAUGHTER)

A. ROMNEY: I`m happy to blame the media.

(LAUGHTER)

WALLACE: Do you think the media was in the tank for Barack Obama?

(LAUGHTER)

A. ROMNEY: I think that it`s -- any time you`re running for office, you
always think that you`re being portrayed unfairly.

And, you know, we, of course, on our side believe that there`s more bias in
favor of the other side. I think that, you know, that`s a pretty universal
-- universally felt opinion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: And yet, Peter, in that same interview, she acknowledges the
truthfulness of the Politico report that said that both she and Tagg Romney
went to the campaign and said essentially, let Mitt be Mitt.

BEINART: Right.

I mean, I think what`s ironic about this is that a lot of the problems Mitt
Romney had that you all were talking about are actually similar to the kind
of problems that Al Gore had in 2000 and John Kerry had in 2004, which is
essentially you had a campaign apparatus that would not let the guy talk
about who the core of what he was is.

SMERCONISH: Right.

BEINART: The core of who he is, is his Mormonism, his deep commitment to
his faith, and also his belief that he was a great governor of
Massachusetts.

And when you take those things away, just like you said to Al Gore in 2000
you can`t talk about the environment, what you get is someone who is
inauthentic.

SMERCONISH: I remember that image that was presented by parents of a 14-
year-old who died at a very young age of Mitt Romney coming to his bedside
with a legal tablet and preparing for him his last will and testament, so
that he knew where his skateboard would go.

REID: Right.

SMERCONISH: Not shown in prime time.

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: If you weren`t watching a feed like ours on MSNBC, chances are
you didn`t even see it. That`s not the fault of the media. That`s
whomever put it at 9:00, instead of 10:00 at night.

REID: Yes. And I think it`s part of the problem.

The core problem I think with the Romney campaign is it was operating out
of fear, fear of the base of the Republican Party. And they did so much of
what they did out of terror at what the base would say, whether it was Tea
Partiers or the religious right, that they failed to do basic things that
you`re supposed to do when you`re building a challenger`s campaign.

SMERCONISH: Look, let us acknowledge this. At times in the interview,
Mitt Romney came off as humble, especially when he noted his own losing
record.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: To a certain degree, when you hear about the rebranding, aren`t
people saying they want to distance the party from you?

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I recognize that, as
the guy who lost the election, I`m not in a position to tell everybody else
how to win, all right? They`re not going to listen. And I don`t have the
credibility to do that anyway.

WALLACE: What does the Republican Party need to do to reach out and
attract more voters?

M. ROMNEY: Well, first of all, I lost, and so I`m not going to be telling
the Republican Party, come listen to me. The guy who lost is going to tell
you how to win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: CPAC is not the game as GOP, but it`s amazing to me. It`s
telling, I guess I should say, that Chris Christie will not be there and
Mitt Romney will be there.

BEINART: Because Chris Christie is exactly the guy who did the kind of
things that Joy is talking about.

It`s exactly what Bill Clinton had to do in 1992. He had to do something,
some confrontation with his own party to say, you know what? I am
different. Mitt Romney never did that and, therefore, he kept the baggage
of a very, very unpopular Republican brand.

SMERCONISH: Right.

If, for example, in the 10-for-one question, he would have stood up and
said, this is insanity.

BEINART: That`s right, but he defended his answer there. Did you see? He
said, I was right to say 10 for one.

Of course, he wasn`t right. That was exactly the kind of thing that made
him non-credible.

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Peter Beinart.

Thank you, Joy Reid.

Appreciate you both being here.

Up next: Former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford has a proposal for
his ex-wife that she can refuse. The "Sideshow" is coming up.

Don`t forget, if you want to follow me on Twitter, you just need to be able
to spell Smerconish.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Back to HARDBALL. Now to the "Sideshow."

First, "SNL"`s Seth Meyers and host Kevin Hart schooled the Supreme Court
on why doing away with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is just a bad
idea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

SETH MEYERS, ACTOR: Really, Supreme Court, your claim is that the Voting
Rights Act is outdated. I don`t think you get to say what`s outdated when
you`re a small council of old people in robes who decide our laws and can`t
be fired.

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: That`s like Guy Fieri telling people what`s tacky. I mean,
really.

Also, you can`t argue that racism isn`t a problem anymore just because we
have a black president. I mean, really, if it was up to some people in the
South, we wouldn`t have a black president. We would have separate
presidents.

KEVIN HART, ACTOR: You know you would. You still got the flags from last
time. I mean, really?

MEYERS: Really.

HART: Come on.

MEYERS: We don`t mean to be hard on you, Mississippi, but you just
ratified the amendment abolishing slavery two weeks ago.

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: Not only did Mississippi wait 150 years after Lincoln. They
waited six months after "Lincoln," the movie.

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: I mean, really.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: He`s not kidding about Mississippi and ratifying the 13th
Amendment. Their first attempt to do it was in 1995, still pretty late.
But a paperwork snafu meant the whole thing never went through.

Next: The Mark Sanford saga gets a little weirder. This is, of course,
the Mark Sanford who is trying to make a political comeback after that
bizarre incident during his stint as governor of South Carolina. Some
thought he was off hiking the Appalachian Trail, but he was really in
Argentina having an extramarital affair.

Now he`s running for Congress, and according to "New York" magazine,
Sanford had a proposition for his ex-wife, Jenny Sanford, who helped with
his previous campaigns -- quote -- "Since you`re not running, I want to
know if you will run my campaign," he said. "We could put the team back
together."

Jenny told him in so many words that wasn`t going to happen. Mark made one
last appeal -- quote -- "I could pay you this time," he said.

Can`t say it`s a huge surprise that he took a pass, but the request -- that
she took a pass -- but the request itself a little jaw-dropping.

Next, what do Americans really think of this massive overhaul of spending
cuts that took effect on Friday? Gallup put the responses to that question
in a word cloud. Here goes. Seems to be a tossup between good and
disaster. People had free rein on their responses, so some of the more
emotional responses include "God help us" and "Here we go again."

Finally, one of the biggest takeaways from President Obama`s news
conference on Friday, at least on Twitter, was this one line.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m presenting a fair deal.
The fact that they don`t take it means that I should somehow, you know, do
a Jedi mind meld with these folks and convince them to do what`s right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Enter confused sci-fi fans. Was the president talking about
"Star Wars" and the Jedi mind trick or "Star Trek" and the Vulcan mind
meld?

Chances are, he just plain messed up. But Lucasfilm, the company that
brought us "Star Wars," weighed in. A spokesperson said -- quote --
"President Obama might have created a mash up of `Star Wars` friends --
`Star Wars` friends at Lucasfilm and `Star Trek.` He also might be a lot
more savvy with his knowledge of `Star Wars` than anyone is giving us
credit for. In some of the `Star Wars` spinoff books, there is a force
meld. All of President Obama`s friends at Lucasfilm would love to believe
that his expertise in `Star Wars` knowledge runs deep."

Probably a long shot. There is no question that President Obama does have
friends in high places at Lucasfilm, though. George Lucas himself donated
to both of his presidential campaigns.

Up next, why do health costs in this country continue to soar and what`s
Obamacare going to do about it?

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Hampton Pearson with your CNBC
"Market Wrap."

The Dow Jones industrials today recorded its second highest close ever and
is now within 40 points of an all-time high, the Dow gaining 38 points to
almost 14128, the S&P 500 rising seven, the Nasdaq up 12 points.

Meanwhile, Apple shares fell 2.5 percent to a 52-week low. Apple`s down to
$420 and is down almost 20 percent this year.

That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide -- now back to HARDBALL.

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Remember the outrage over the Department of Defense`s $435 hammer or
business executive Dennis Kozlowski`s $6,000 shower curtain? Well, be
prepared to be outraged again, but this time you can be directly affected.
It`s medical costs that are out of control.

Steven Brill wrote the longest ever cover story for "TIME" magazine where
he spent seven months knee-deep in eight cases of people who got
astronomical medical bills. He went through them line by line, and his
findings, they are astounding. Here are some of the highlights -- $77 for
a box of gauze pads, $18 for a single diabetes test strip. You can buy a
box of 50 on Amazon for $28. And the whopper of them all, a 10000 percent
markup on simple Tylenol tablets. The hospital charged $1.50 per tablet.
You can buy a bottle of 100 for $1.49.

The outrage is clear. The solution isn`t.

Joining me, Steven Brill, who wrote the special report for "TIME" magazine
called "Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing us," and Neera Tanden,
president of the Center for American Progress who worked on the Affordable
Care Act as senior adviser for health reform at HHS.

Steven, you say that our priority are mistaken. We have been looking at
who will pay instead of how much is to be paid. Why? Why have we gotten
this out of whack?

STEVEN BRILL, "TIME" MAGAZINE REPORTER: Well, because all the people who
are getting the money that I found in the bills are -- have an interest in
having the debate be different.

I should also add that while, you know, the $77 box of gauze pads is
interesting, what really costs money is, you know, the $13,000 dose of a
cancer drug that the hospital buys for $3,000 and the drugmaker makes for
$200. That is the stuff that is, you know, driving the country bankrupt
and is driving millions of families bankrupt every year.

SMERCONISH: Is part of the reason why there`s not more outrage is because
an individual like myself who is fortunate in having health insurance, I
really only want to know one thing, is it covered, unlike my cable bill,
which comes into my house and I scrutinize every line of it?

Medical bill, they`re paying it, I don`t worry about it.

BRILL: Well, there`s a large percentage of Americans who do have to pay
directly, but, even in your case, your insurance company might negotiate a
40 percent or 50 percent or even 60 percent discount off the box of gauze
pads or off of the $13,000 wonder drug, but that still is an exorbitant
profit for the hospital, the drugmaker, the C.T. scan equipment maker and
everybody involved. So this affects everybody.

SMERCONISH: Well, one of the things, Neera, that I learned from Steven
Brill and his piece at "TIME" magazine is the Affordable Care Act because
of the focus on who pays is going to leave unaddressed many of the issues
that he`s describing. Can you respond to that issue?

NEERA TANDEN, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Well, look, I think that there
are solutions in the Affordable Care Act and that they should be
strengthened.

And one of the challenges is we don`t have enough competition. There`s not
competitive bidding. So, one of the things is that people can charge
exorbitant prices and there`s no competition to get a lower price. It`s
something that this really amazing article points out, and I think that is
-- there are a number of steps.

It doesn`t matter who is paying for things and how they`re paid for. Some
of the ideas around bundling and insuring that we`re paying for episodes of
care will help illustrate why -- it will help actually create incentives to
lower the cost of every individual item, every particular service.

So there are steps within the Affordable Care Act that get at why prices
are so high. We should take additional steps, and they`re not sufficient.
We should do more.

SMERCONISH: Steven, what do we need to do?

TANDEN: But we need to -- but there`s -- but it`s not that we haven`t done
anything.

BRILL: Well, I think the fair thing -- with all due respect to Neera and
her work, the fair thing is to say that they tried.

But the reason Obamacare passed was it didn`t do anything to cut into the
profits of the drug companies, of the hospitals, the exorbitant profits
that your local non-profit hospital makes even though we think it`s a
nonprofit.

The Affordable Care Act did nothing to cut the profits of everybody
involved. In fact, if anything, it`s going to add to the profits because
it`s going to put more people into health care which is a good thing.
They`re going to have insurance, but the taxpayers are going to subsidize
that.

SMERCONISH: What I learned from you is nonprofit really means opportunity
to expand.

BRILL: Nonprofit means you don`t pay taxes, and you don`t have to give the
money to shareholders. Instead, you can distribute it to the non-doctor
executives at the hospital in millions of dollars in salaries and bonuses.

SMERCONISH: Another -- you said another cost driver is nonprofit
hospitals, they`re making big profits and the article points this out.
Quote, "In hundreds of small and midsized cities across the country the
American health care market has transformed tax exempt nonprofit hospitals
into the town`s most profitable businesses and largest employers, often
presided over by the region`s most richly compensated executives.

For example, MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, a
nonprofit, had a 26 percent operating profit in 2010. The president of the
cancer center was paid $1.8 million last year. That`s three times what the
president of the university made.


Neera, how do we address that situation where so much of the cost is going
into these so-called nonprofit hospitals?

TANDEN: Well, look, I think that, you know, there`s been bipartisan
support for addressing nonprofit hospitals and saying whether they should
really be considered for-profit hospitals, and that`s an excellent point
raised by this, but I think we shouldn`t lose sight of the fact that one of
the reasons why there is this shell game in the American health care system
is because there are so many people who are uninsured in our country, and
hospitals are constantly trying to shift around costs, and we don`t have a
system by which it`s transparent what they`re charging.

There are some steps in the Affordable Care Act to have transparency so you
have those steps. But that`s a problem with the fact that we have so many
people uninsured and when we get, you know, more people insured in the
system, there won`t be this constant shell game and there won`t be an
excuse for this constant shell game.

(CROSSTALK)

BRILL: It just means more profit for everybody.

SMERCONISH: Steven, one of the things you bring out -- you made reference
to this, is that the health care and pharmaceutical industries, they pay an
army of lobbyists to protect their business. Since 1998 -- this is
stunning -- they spent $5.36 billion on lobbying. By comparison, the
defense industry and oil and gas industries each paid their lobbyists about
a quarter of that.

And in your piece you maintain that that`s one of the reasons why this
pricing has been protected.

BRILL: That`s why Obamacare is the way it is, and that`s why it doesn`t
address the people -- the interests that are making all this money. I
mean, you know, it`s just -- you know, it`s a lot of reporting, it`s a long
article, but by following the money in each bill, it`s a very simple and
obvious result.

You just get to see who is making the money. Why does that $13,000 drug
cost $13,000? Look at the salary of the CEOs of the drug company, look at
their compensation, look at the hospital`s compensation. Everybody along
that supply chain except for the physicians is making out like a bandit.

SMERCONISH: It`s an eye-opener. Thank you for writing it.

Thank you, Steven Brill.

Thank you, Neera Tanden, for being here.

Up next, who had the bright idea that the best ambassador to send to North
Korea would be Dennis Rodman? That`s ahead.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: We`ve heard a lot about how the Republicans lost the Latino
vote in last year`s election. And they`re losing another minority group,
Asian Americans. A new Gallup poll finds that by a two to one margin,
Asian-American voters identify with the Democrats. Last year, President
Obama won the Asian vote by more than 40 points.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: We`re back.

You would think the first American to meet North Korea`s dictator Kim Jung
Un would be Secretary of State John Kerry or even President Obama. But,
no, former basketball star Dennis Rodman beat them to the punch.

Rodman, known as "The Worm", wiggled his way back into the spotlight after
pictures surfaced of him hanging with the tyrant while visiting Pyongyang
to film a basketball documentary. Rodman calls Kim, quote, "an awesome guy
and a friend."

Even more bizarre was that the Hall of Famer revealed to ABC`s George
Stephanopoulos that Kim gave him a message for President Obama. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DENNIS RODMAN, FORMER NBA PLAYER: I sat with him for two days and at one
point he asked me to give Obama something to say and do one thing. He
wants Obama to do one thing. Call him.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: He wants a call from President Obama?

RODMAN: That`s right. He told me that. He said, if you can, Dennis, I
don`t want to do war.

He loves basketball. And the same I said, Obama loves basketball. Let`s
start there. Let`s start there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: I don`t expect the Obama administration to use Rodman`s
basketball diplomacy anytime soon, but let`s talk about it.

With me now, Chris Cillizza is with "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC
political analyst. Steven A. Smith is a radio host and ESPN commentator.

Chris, do you think he`s been briefed by the CIA or that he will? And if
not, should he?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, number one, the answer is had
he been briefed, I can feel pretty confident in saying no.

Will he be debriefed? I mean, who knows? It`s Dennis Rodman. As someone
who has been a fan of basketball for a long time, he`s sort of been the
most unpredictable of unpredictable folks operating on the national stage.
In fact, he hadn`t been operating on the national stage frankly until very
recently.

I mean, this story, Michael, if a week ago I told you that Dennis Rodman
would go to North Korea and be the basketball diplomat, and be on "This
Week" with George Stephanopoulos, there`s no chance you would believe me.

Now, all of that said, I`d love to have that coat he had on.

SMERCONISH: Steven A., Meadowlark Lemon said to be headed for Hugo Chavez
at some point. So, what`s the downside? We love to deride this. We love
to show the video of it and so forth. But, Steven A., what is the real
downside, if there is one, to all of this?

STEVEN A. SMITH, ESPN: Well, there`s no real downside outside of the
sadness that gets attached to Dennis Rodman because you realize how
pathetic he can be. The reality of the situation is he came over and
incredibly misinformed, clearly insensitive to the plight of a lot of North
Koreans over there in prison. Some of the heinous things we`ve heard.
We`re talking about the State Department classifying the North Korea as
arguably biggest violators of human rights.

And here you are, you have a former basketball player associated with the
National Basketball Association, a Hall of Famer inducted in 2011, that`s
sitting on national television across from George Stephanopoulos, and
calling this individual his friend. Clearly, ignorant to the history of
what has taken place. The fact that diplomatic relations, obviously, is
virtually nonexistent between North Korea and the United States of America.

All of those factor in to the equation points to a flagrant and alarming
level of ignorance that none of us can apologize for what summarily
dismissed other than to say it`s Rodman. He`s a bit different. Clearly,
he`s not in tune with what`s going on in this world, and in terms of that.

And we understand it and we`ve got to take it for what it is.

But I don`t think the White House, nor anybody in the State Department nor
anybody in the United States government would feel the need to brief Dennis
Rodman or anything, pertaining to this individual. I don`t think it`s
necessary.

SMERCONISH: Chris, Gorge Stephanopoulos continued to press Rodman about
what Steven A. was just talking about, the human rights violations. "The
Worm" stuck by his new friend, here`s what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RODMAN: He`s a great guy. He`s a great guy. If you sit down and talk to
him, you know, perception is perceiving how things work.

STEPHANOPOULOS: A great guy who puts 200,000 people in prison camps?

RODMAN: Well, you know, guess what? It`s amazing how we do the same thing
here.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We have prison camps here in the United States?

RODMAN: Well, we don`t have prison camps. Guess what? This is all
politics, right?

STEPHANOPOULOS: But it sounds like you`re apologizing for him.

RODMAN: No, I`m not apologizing for him. I think the fact that, you know,
he`s a good guy to me. Guess what? He`s my friend.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Chris, he`s the only American who`s met with this guy. I
think you got to bring him in and find out what you can learn.

CILLIZZA: Look, I actually think Steven A. makes a really good point,
which is it`s easy and I`ve done it on my blog and other places to say this
sort of an incredible story. And I can`t believe this has happened.

What`s clear is that Dennis Rodman is drastically out of his depth when it
comes to foreign policy and what North Korea has or hasn`t done. The
justification of -- well, this is politics. I mean, there`s a very big
difference between what North Korea is doing to its citizenry and politics.

So, you know, I guess Dennis Rodman has a right to have whatever friends he
wants. But I do think, broadly, if you are a public figure, you go and do
things like this, they have an impact. The White House has come out and
says, you know, this is not the sort of thing we wanted doing.

SMERCONISH: He`s mistaken -- he looks earnest. I feel sorry for Dennis
Rodman.

Thank you, Steven A. Smith.

CILLIZZA: I`m not questioning whether he`s earnest. But that doesn`t mean
that the impact of his actions don`t have negative consequences.

SMERCONISH: Man, I wish I had more time. Thank you, Chris Cillizza. And
thank you, Steven A.

CILLIZZA: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: We`ll be back after this.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Let me finish tonight with this:

Yesterday, "The Washington Post" ombudsman Patrick Pexton signed off. In
this final column, Pexton said the number one topic of complaint to him
while Ombudsman had been "The Post`s" online comment system. Readers often
said that they like the idea of online comments, but they abhor the
hatefulness, juvenile name-calling, racism, and ideological warfare that
are constant features of "The Post`s" commenting stream.

As an example, he cited ugly comments on a recent story about a high school
football coach who criticized the first lady`s derriere.

Yesterday, I went to see what he was talking about. There were 5,000
comments posted to that story when I looked. The very first of them,
posted by someone who would only call themself "dsteibs," said this:

"I also believe Michelle Obama does have a fat butt. I also don`t like
what queers do because it does go against God and Jesus`s teachings."

In other words, it was exactly the sort of uncivil comment Pexton was
talking about.

So what`s to be done? Well, Pexton recommended that `The Post" go the way
of "the Miami Herald" -- away from anonymous postings to a system that
requires commenters to use their real names and sign in via Facebook.

So, of course, I wondered what kind of comments people would post to that
suggestion.

From Virginia Dawg: quote, "Anonymity serves two very important functions:
it permits people to speak more freely. This is a form of sunlight as
disinfectant. Anonymity also allows people to express quality opinions and
ideas where they might otherwise be constrained because of their immediate
social setting."

And from yellojkt: quote, "It`s not the anonymity that creates the bile.
It`s the inadequate and ineffective moderation. Where standards are fairly
and uniformly enforced people behave themselves."

Hey, these comments were reasonable and a good conversation about free
speech. Too bad they were followed by SOTG who said, "Good riddance to
you, you milksop. `The Post` is worse than Pravda. In a world
increasingly built upon lies, `The Washington Post` is in the vanguard. I
do not thank you for your service; you have no spine and merit no good
wishes of any sort. In fact, you are --well, I will not go there."

Disrespectful, but still tame when compared to some other savagery online.
In 2010, a 17 year-old girl from Long Island committed suicide only to have
trolls descend on her tribute page and post nooses. In 2006, an 18 year-
old California girl died in an auto accident only to have photographs of
her disfigured body disseminated online and someone actually emailed them
to her parents with a subject line that read: "Hey Daddy, I`m still alive."

Anonymity breeds bad behavior. Patrick Pexton is right, that it`s time to
figure out a way to rein in those who denigrate the level of conversation.

If you want to stand on a soapbox in the town square, we still get to see
your face.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.

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