Meet the Press   |  January 05, 2014

1: Obama Returns to Ice-Cold Washington

Economic issues stand at the forefront as the president returns to a frigid capital.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> from nbc news in washington , the world's longest running television program , this is "meet the press" with david gregory .

>> good sunday morning. happy new year. it is a bitterly cold morning as an arctic blast of freezing air is running through the midwest. temperatures will plunge below zero in the midwest, where they're playing some football today, to the east coast with historical lows predicted. this morning president obama left hawaii after his two-week vacation to come back to a much colder d.c. than hawaii, at least, to try to jump start his agenda for 2014 . so the stage is set for some of the key battles this year. back to work. as president obama returns, he begins a fight with republicans over the economy, restoring jobless benefits, raising minimum wage . that's what we'll be talking about. the future of obamacare is another issue, the impact of the law of the quality and costs of health care around the country and the social issues in everyday life . where does marijuana use become legal? it is a growing public policy issue around the country and we'll get into that debate this morning. joining me this morning on the roundtable, chief white house correspondent chuck todd , the managing editor of the pbs news hour, judy woodruff , steve schmidt and economist donna edwards is here as well. welcome to all of you. happy new year to all.

>> happy thu yenew year.

>> the year of action is what president obama said it would be, so how does he take the president sit back?

>> it starts with making sure obamacare works. i asked someone what their january would look like, and they ticked off a whole bunch of issues. they sort of left out health care completely, and i said, so what does health care look like? well, they said, as long as everything continues to get a little bit better, a little bit better, they think they can somehow ease things. ultimately, no matter what, they would like to be talking about anything other than health care . they prefer nsa reforms which is unpopular.

>> they like this fight because they want credit for a good year, right?

>> they do. the economy has gotten so much better over the course of the presidency, and the administration hasn't really been able to capitalize on that. we're under 7% unemployment right now, we need to extend unemployment benefits . that's why the president is engaged in minimum wage , increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, making sure we make investments in transportation infrastructure and the kinds of things that will continue to grow the economy. frankly, chuck, i do think health care is getting better. you can call it what you want , but every single day it gets better for millions of americans , and that's only a good news story for the administration.

>> how does he take it back?

>> i think he has reached a moment that every other president has reached, where he has lost control to shape his own destiny from a public policy agenda. so, congresswoman, as we look at this health care debacle as it's unfolded in the last couple months, we'll find out whether it's a website problem or a structural problem with the program. i believe it's a structural problem with the program, and this is an issue that touches every american, and so i think this will be the dominant political issue, health care , heading into 2014 elections. and i think the president and his team may not want to talk about it, but they have no choice but to deal with it, and it's going to supercede all these other debates because it's so much more personal to people.

>> chuck is right, david . what you're saying is right. they have to get health care right. they've got to work on it. but at the same time, the argument for doing something about the economy, the argument for addressing inequality is such a compelling argument. i think back to the piece in the "new york times" this week. steve rattner had this rescue piece about what to remember about 2014 . it was the year in charts. look what happened with wall street this year. up 30%. what happened to average american wages this year? up 1%. productivity, way up over the last decade. but american wages barely up.

>> this may be an issue that washington actually do something about it. on health care they seemed to have stepped back. they have to wait for the results. it will still be a fight but maybe the economy can be moved by that. we'll be back with all of you. we'll talk about that and some of the other big issues like the marijuana fight going on around the country. i'll be back with the roundtable a little bit later. but first i want to move to another economy, the debate with the direction of the economy. on friday the outgoing fed chairman ben bernanke talked about a stronger year for america's finances. but how to continue the growth is being hotly contested in washington . president obama pushing hard for congress to restore those emergency long-term unemployment benefits thavt have been cut off to 1.3 million americans . here's what he said in his weekly address saturday.

>> we make this promise to one another because it makes a difference to a mother who needs help feeding her kids while she looks for work. it makes a difference to a father while learning skills to get a new and better job. and denying families that security is just plain cruel. we're a better country than that. we don't abandon our fellow americans when times get tough.

>> i'm joined now by president obama 's economic point man gene sperling . he is the director of the economic council , assistant to the economic policy . and also here is the host of cnbc's "mad money," jim cramer . he's got a book out called "get rich carefully." gene sperling , the president's goal is to get the unemployment benefits restored for those folks out of work. republicans are saying, okay, if you can do it fiscally, responsibly. what are the prospects of passage of this?

>> what i would say is tomorrow, tomorrow is the day 1.3 million americans go to the mailbox and find that the check they've been relying on to put food on their table, put gas in their cars, to look for a new job will not be there. and tomorrow is also the day where the united states senate will have a chance to vote on the first bipartisan solution, which is a three-month extension supported by --

>> so what are the chances of passage of congress?

>> i would hope it would be quite good. because i would hope that people went home and realize some things, which is that these are people who are desperately looking for work. the economy is improving. you know, we've had a lot of momentum.

>> but how do you get it done when republicans say, look, what's the offset? how do you do it in a fiscally responsible way?

>> david , let's just be clear. 14 of the last 17 times that emergency unemployment has been extended, there have been no strings attached. all five times that president bush extended unemployment benefits , there were no pay-fors. so look, why don't we do this. let's pass the heller-reed proposal tomorrow. that will help them for three months. that will help these 1.3 million families and then we have time to look at what to do to extend it the rest of the year. because if you don't extend it --

>> is it smart, jim cramer , to extend this?

>> have to do it. not even an issue. my question is, how does it create highly trained workers? how does it create jobs that are highly skilled that pay a lot? these are the band-aids. you have to put the band-aids on, but it doesn't address the issue.

>> rand paul says no, you have to stop putting the band-aids on. here's what he said talking about the economic impact on this policy for those who are out of work.

>> when you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you're causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy, and while it seems good, it actually does a disservice to the people you're trying to help.

>> is that how you view it?

>> no, that's that kind of -- we're way past that. i'm surprised it even has come up again. these people need to have food on the table. but the question is, how do we get these people to where the jobs are? why are we not more focused just on upward mobility but mobility to where the booms are in this country, and there are booms.

>> let's get to some of the other issues. look at the unemployment chart. this is a positive stat for the administration as you see unemployment coming down in 2013 at 7.7%. it looks like it will come down further. what gets it to keep coming down? what does it take for companies to go out there and get past their uncertainty and start hiring in 2014 ?

>> i think that's the right question. we have economic momentum, as jim has said. what are we going to do with that momentum? i think there's three things. one, we have to provide more economic certainty. the era of threatening defaults has to be over, the era of shutdowns has to be over. secondly, it's time for the republicans to work with the president on the bipartisan opportunities we have for job creation in housing finance reform, in immigration, on manufacturing. the president has put forward a grand bargain on jobs. he has said he would be willing to do corporate tax reform that lowers rates to 28%, simplifies taxes for small businesses, but do it together with a major infrastructure investment. those are things we can work on together. and then finally, you know, we do want to make sure this recovery leaves no one behind, that we deal with economic inequality , so we have to admit, and we do admit, that the worst legacy of this great recession is the crisis of long-term unemployment. and as jim says, we have to hit it on all fronts. job creation and work with ceos , but we have to give them support.

>> the president also wants to raise the minimum wage . is that a fight he should win, jim ?

>> yes. again, it's a bit of a distraction. remember, walmart can pay the minimum wage no matter how high it goes. the smaller business guy, it actually is a factor. you don't want to be able to think, i can't start a business. but i don't want to get too caught in the weeds here. minimum wage , these jobless benefits, they do not do anything versus getting people in the states that are desperate for workers. what's being done to get people to louisiana, to texas, to ohio, to north dakota , to pennsylvania, to sunu, mexico, to montana. these are states that need workers, but no one is helping them get there. $90 an hour for a trucker this year. no high school .

>> where is the uncertainty? you said something in your book that i thought was interesting u. write in your book, this is about getting rich carefully. washington is writing a serial novel about bankrupting us slowly. so washington is a factor on whether the economy takes off the way people think it might.

>> the ceos , much maligned in this country, i believe, are trying to figure it out. the problem is the ceos are saying, you know what? other than boeing with the seattle agreement the other day, let's just do it gnarly. let's do it in asia. let's do it in china. there's no duty. they can import here, the jobs can go over there, because they have a very capitalist government. and we have a government that stands in the way. i'm saying government, i'm not saying democrat, gene, okay?

>> here's the good news, jim and david . if you look at the boston group, they're now saying the united states is more competitive for jobs and manufacturing than in decades. they're predicting over 50% of companies are thinking about reshoring a job here. a.t. kearney just estimated that the united states for the first time since 2001 is the number one place for location. and we can increase that momentum by supporting the type of job creation the president has suggested. tell me if we were to pass bipartisan immigration reform that would bring in more skilled workers , more stem workers into our economy, if we were to launch a major effort to create jobs and modernize infrastructu infrastructure, of course that would increase the attractiveness of job location in our country. yes, minimum wage is just one piece of the puzzle. but i tell you, for over 10 million americans , it's a big piece. we're a country that believes that if you work full-time, you should not have to raise your children in poverty. but minimum wage workers with two children, some of them do. we can address that, and by the way, right now the minimum wage is at the same real level it was in 1950 . you can't tell me as a country that over 64 years, we can't have a higher minimum wage that allows more people to work with dignity.

>> david , don't you find it interesting that the dogma post-clinton is pro-immigration at a time when we have a much larger supply of labor than we need, and pro free trade . even though we are supposed to be green gas oriented, we know where those jobs go. those jobs leave this country to countries that can pollute all they want. we need to defense against the countries that take our jobs and pollute all over. we don't care about that. what we care about is when workers come from other countries to this country, they get jobs. why don't we care about our people?

>> let me turn the page with our remaining time. the stock market . how bullish are you in 2014 ?

>> the stock market is about profits and about washington staying out of the way. we have washington off the table for now, we have balanced profits. that is great for the stock market . the administration never embraces the stock market because i think the administration think it's only for rich people . i think that's wrong. people with 401(k)s depend on the stock market .

>> i don't think that's true.

>> i want to talk to an official on the program for a while. 2.1 million people have signed up, the goal is 7 million by march for obamacare. how do you think that will happen?

>> the key is to have an exchange that's working --

>> 7 million people by march.

>> i think success is having an ongoing, strong market, and i want to disagree with chuck todd . i am anxious to talk, and we are anxious to talk about what health care means. you know, for all the criticism, how about some focus on 6 million americans who now have coverage, 3 million young people who are on their parents' coverage because of obamacare, and today is the first week ever where women cannot be discriminated against on their health care just because they're women. it's the first time 129 million americans can't be discriminated against because of preexisting conditions. i'm proud of it and it's worth it for the people.

>> gene sperling , thank you very much. jim cramer , continued success for the book. thank you all for being here.

>>> up next, who is right about it?

>> this is going to destroy the best health care system in the world.

>> millions of americans , despite problems with the website, are not poised to be covered by quality health insurance .

>> the insight of obamacare. i'll get insight from the mayo clinic and the cleveland clinic .

>>> plus, the marijuana debate. is legalization the start of a national trend or just a temporary experiment? the roundtable will break it down this morning.

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