TEXT OF INTERVIEW
KAI RYSSDAL: And then there were two. Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton meet for their last debate tonight before Super Tuesday. They’ve both been campaigning out here in Southern California all day. This afternoon Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid spared both of them the political problem of missing the vote on the economic stimulus package. He’s pushed back debate until next week. But it’s still a pretty good bet the economy’s going to be a major topic of discussion during the debate tonight.
Gene Sperling is Senator Clinton’s senior economic advisor. Welcome to the program.
GENE SPERLING: Thank you for having me.
RYSSDAL: I’d like your thoughts on how Sen. Clinton thinks she might benefit in terms of her economic plan now that Sen. Edwards is out of the race.
SPERLING: You know, I do think that there is a lot of reasons for Sen. Edwards’ supporters to come to Sen. Clinton. But, you know, as we’ve all said, these are two very strong candidates — Sen. Obama and Sen. Clinton — and I’m sure there’ll be some split.
RYSSDAL: Sen. Clinton gets a vote on the economic stimulus package in the Senate. She’ll also have the opportunity to add to it, if she so chooses. What would she like to see in there that’s not.
SPERLING: Well, Sen. Clinton’s proposal was to have a rebate that would go to all Americans. That wouldn’t be denied to people who were paying payroll taxes or seniors, but who maybe just didn’t make quite enough. So I think there are things about the Senate proposal that she will like, such as the fact that they’ve added unemployment insurance. She proposed a $30 billion emergency housing fund as part of a stimulus. I regret to say that I don’t think the Senate plan will go as strongly as she has, but I think there’s at least an opportunity for some form of emergency housing relief.
RYSSDAL: On the housing situation, she has called in her plan for a freeze on foreclosures, for interest rate limitations. Is there no worry that that might discourage lending at a time when that’s exactly what the economy needs?
SPERLING: No, I think that what she’s doing is actually trying to come up with proposals that are commensurate to the problem that we face. When she calls for a 90-day freeze on foreclosures, that’s simply saying that the servicers and others who feel that they could be helping to restructure loans … it’s giving a time for that to happen. And in terms of the five-year freeze, the hope in doing that is not simply that you’ll freeze rates for five years, but that you’ll create an incentive for the lenders and the servicers to work with those people who may be losing their homes now because their interest rates are going to jump up 3, 4 or 5 percent. So that those foreclosures do not lower property values and the housing prices of their neighbors who are really innocent bystanders in much of this problem.
RYSSDAL: I’d like to ask you about her health-care proposals for a second. She does have a plan to get universal health care in this country. Certainly she’s been through the ringer on health-care policy, but what makes her think she can get it done now?
SPERLING: Well, the main thing she learned is that while people want improvement, there’s a lot of people who are happy with their health-care coverage. And you have to provide them a bit more security — that if they like their health care they can keep it. And then I think what she’s able to show people in her American Choice plan is that it’s simply offering you addtional choices.
RYSSDAL: Mrs. Clinton has been on the national scene for a while now, as we all know. You were in her husband’s White House, and she is running in part on the experience she got because of her role in that White House. I’m wondering, then, if you think it’s fair to criticize her for some of her husband’s policies that some members of the Democratic party might not bee too crazy about.
SPERLING: You know, Sen. Clinton has her own record. She’s been a senator for six years. She certainly was a part of many initiatives President Clinton did. Certainly the health care. But no, I don’t think that as a general rule what Michelle Obama’s policy positions are, or Elizabeth Edwards’ were, or anybody else’s should affect the candidate. Most people think … You know, she should be judged on her overall experience. And then, I think, you should listen to the answers she gives.
RYSSDAL: Gene Sperling is a senior economic adviser to the Clinton campaign. Mr. Sperling, thanks so much.
SPERLING: Thank you very much for having us.
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