This morning on "Starting Point," Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) weighs in on the presidential town hall debate. He and the "Starting Point" team discussed financial claims about the U.S. economy in the debate, and Johnson argues that President Obama is just not the man for the job.
"We are facing the most predictable financial crisis in our history, and the President of the United States is spending millions of dollars, thousands of man hours, producing these budgets that not a member of his own party are willing to give it a vote," Sen. Johnson says. "When you're looking forward, let's face it, President Obama won the slogan "Hope and Change". His new slogan is "Forward". He's got nothing to offer in terms of forward where Mitt Romney does, because Mitt Romney understands how to grow the private sector. That's incredibly important."
Rush transcript available after the jump.
SEN. RON JOHNSON, (R) WISCONSIN: Good morning.
O'BRIEN: John Berman sticking around from "EARLY START". He probably got less sleep than all of us this morning. It's great to have you. Ahead we're going to be chatting a little bit about the debate last night, obviously. And also we'll talk to CNN's Candy Crowley because now her role in the debate is what's coming under fire from Republicans.
Let's begin with who won. Would you say it was a definitive victory for Mitt Romney? Because I've heard now a number of Republicans say it was definitive. It doesn't match what the polls are saying.
JOHNSON: I mean, we take both debates in total. To me, the one salient fact is that in order to pass any of these proposals - forget all the details, you're going to have to get them through Congress. What Mitt Romney has demonstrated in showing the American people that he is a man that actually has been able to work with the other side. In Massachusetts, he had - allegedly there was 87 percent Democrat, and he's actually taken $3 billion deficit and turned that into $2 billion rainy day funds. So he's actually able to work the other side whereas this president, his record is that he is not been able to do that.
When he had his – the first two years when he had total control, he didn't pass immigration reform but he jammed through on a very partisan basis the stimulus, the health care law, Dodd-Frank. Then when he was faced with a divided government, he's been AWOL. He simply has not been able to work with anybody in Congress, Republican or Democrat. He really does not have working relationships with anybody. And evidence of that fact is his last two budgets have been voted on three times now in Congress. Final vote tally, 0-610. That is a stunning repudiation of his leadership.
O'BRIEN: So that makes you an excellent Romney campaign surrogate. However, the question was who won? And I'm guess I'm asking –
JOHNSON: So again, I think Governor Romney won because he continued –
O'BRIEN: The polls would say no.
JOHNSON: He continued that momentum. Now I would say when you take a look at your CNN poll and said that Romney bested Obama 58-40 on the economy, that is the issue of the day. I mean, I think that's pretty clear.
MARTIN: In that same poll, though, they said who would better handle the middle class? President Obama beats Mitt Romney. And both of them focused on the middle class that entire debate, and so that's also when that exact same poll says.
JOHNSON: But we also need to understand that when you grow the economy, and if you're - you're the one that's evaluated you're better at growing the economy, that's what's actually going to help the middle class.
MARTIN: But helping the middle class goes beyond just the economy. It also goes to health care, education, other issues as well. So I'm simply stating exactly what the poll said. The poll was very clear that the president beats Romney on helping the middle class.
RON BROWNSTEIN, EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, "NATIONAL JOURNAL": Senator, what were the most important ways, if any, you thought this debate reframed the argument between the two of them and set up the final three weeks of the campaign?
JOHNSON: Again, it's so incredibly important that, because, trust me, Jason and I hear this all the time - you guys have got to get together, you've got to work together. And that is what Mitt Romney has demonstrated. Plus, he actually has a plan. You know, I talked about, yes, President Obama has a plan. It's those two budgets - 0- 610.
I mean, we are facing the most predictable financial crisis in our history, and the President of the United States is spending millions of dollars, thousands of man hours, producing these budgets that not a member of his own party are willing to give it a vote. When you're looking forward, let's face it, President Obama won the slogan "Hope and Change". His new slogan is "Forward". He's got nothing to offer in terms of forward where Mitt Romney does, because Mitt Romney understands how to grow the private sector. That's incredible important.
MARTIN: Last night Mitt Romney said at one of the tail end, "Government cannot produce jobs." So how can a person stand there and say I'm going to create 12 million jobs but then say government can't create jobs?
JOHNSON: Because in a normal recovery, you would be creating 250,000 jobs a month, which translates to 12 million jobs. The reason we're not creating those jobs is because of the choices, the policies, that President Obama took. You know, because here is the fact: he did not come into office with the economy in a freefall. We were losing jobs, but the fact is, within two months, we entered the second quarter, we only lost 0.7 percent GDP. But the economy bottomed out and then we started recovery the third quarter.
MARTIN: We lost 3.47 million jobs in the last six months of 2008 and we kept losing jobs in the first months of 2009.
O'BRIEN: You don't think the economy was in freefall then?
JOHNSON: No. The economy began to recover in the third quarter. It'd basically flattened out by the second quarter and it actually grew close to 4 percent the next three quarters. But then President Obama's policies took effect and they started scaring consumers and business owners and as a result the economy totally stalled.
BROWNSTEIN: Senator, where is the evidence? If you look at the entire decade since 2000 that tax cuts are going to do any better? When President Bush left, 10 years to the day after President Bush passed his tax cuts, there fewer people were working than on the day they were passing. I mean, that was true only during the depression. What is the evidence in that experience that would say this would do better?
JOHNSON: Let me give it to you. The Bush tax cuts, when they were enacted, revenue into the federal government was a little under $1.8 trillion. Before the housing bubble burst, which, by the way, was caused by Democratic policies, revenue –
O'BRIEN: Actually, that was kind of multifactoral.
JOHNSON: Revenue was $2.5 trillion. No, no, listen to the numbers - $1.8 to $2.5 trillion, that's a 42 percent increase. The same thing happened under Ronald Reagan. When he cut taxes, revenue grew by 67 percent. Tax cuts work. Increases in taxes won't.
BROWNSTEIN: But at the end of the Bush term, the median income was lower when he took office, the number of people in poverty with his higher and there were basically fewer - 1 million more people working than on the day he took office, fewer ten years to the day after. So why, when you look at that, why can you say with great optimism that the results would be better than we've seen either in the Bush years or under the Obama years? Perhaps we're dealing with structural problems that are larger than the issue of what the tax issues are. JOHNSON: You mentioned I think the metric that is most troubling to President Obama's tenure - median household income, which has declined $4,500, which is 1.8 percent, double what's happened in the past under recessions. That has occurred during Obama's recovery. I mean, that is an incredible method of failure.
BROWNSTEIN: It also declined during President Bush's recovery.
JOHNSON: Not to this extent.
BROWNSTEIN: But it did decline, did it not decline?
JOHNSON: Yes, but not to this extent.
BROWNSTEIN: So perhaps there is a structural problem larger than any one president.
O'BRIEN: One at a time. Let the senator –
MARTIN: So I got to ask. You talk about tax cuts. The Congressional Budget Office has been very clear, the Bush tax cuts contributes to the deficit. And so please explain –
JOHNSON: $600 billion during this administration.
MARTIN: Right, in this administration. But again, though, President Bush had a surplus but left office with a significant deficit. I'm simply asking how can you make the argument let's cut the deficit but keep going with the tax cuts when it's not going to – the CBO was real clear. It increased the deficit.
JOHNSON: The deficit is always blamed on the Bush tax cuts. The fact is –
MARTIN: Actually, no, just a portion of it.
JOHNSON: A small portion of it. $600 billion out of $5,300 billion (sic) worth of deficit in this administration.
MARTIN: $5 trillion –
JOHNSON: No, no, let's talk about just this administration. $5.3 trillion worth of deficit, $600 billion is the total tax cuts. And, again, here is the problem. President Obama's solution, the Buffett Rule, would raise $5 billion, 11 hours' worth of spending. Or full blown Tax-the-Rich, would raise $67 billion a year to try and solve a $1,100 billion deficit?
JOHNSON: No, I'm answering the question.
REP. JASON CHAFFETZ, (R) UTAH: Hold on, you get like four questions. I get at least the one here. The Senator is absolutely right. I thought one of the best, most eloquent answers that is Governor Romney gave was what is the difference between him and President Bush? I thought that was a legitimate question asked sincerely and I thought Governor Romney hit that out of the park.
The second part, though, was the other gentleman who stood up and said, "What have you actually done for me? And look at the price of gasoline." And Mitt Romney, I think, eloquently went through the list and said, "With all due respect, Mr. President," - these are my words, not Governor Romney's words, "Candidate Obama promised root beer in every drinking fountain and did not those."
O'BRIEN: I'm going to stop it here because we're out of time. And for some reason you and I could sit down and do 25 minutes on this debate, and we're going to do that one of these days.
JOHNSON: We should do that, absolutely.