'This Week' Transcript: Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner

PHOTO: Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner is interviewed on "This Week."
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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS (voice-over): Good morning, and welcome to "This Week."

And they're off. The general election begins, and so do the wars over women.

ROSEN: His wife has actually never worked a day in her life. She's never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing.

ANN ROMNEY: My career choice was to be a mother. We need to respect choices that women make.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The economy.

ROMNEY: The president is so out of touch, I don't think he knew that number.

BIDEN: Could it be that he's out of touch? I tell you what, he missed the movie (ph).

STEPHANOPOULOS: And taxes.

OBAMA: Don't give tax breaks to folks like me who don't need them.

ROMNEY: Does anyone think that raising taxes is going to create more jobs?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Topics this morning for our headliner, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, and our powerhouse roundtable, with Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal, Katrina vanden Heuvel from The Nation, dueling strategists Melody Barnes for Obama, Kevin Madden for Romney, and ABC's Cokie Roberts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos. It's your voice, your vote. Reporting from ABC News election headquarters, George Stephanopoulos.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, everyone. The treasury secretary and our powerhouse roundtable are coming right up.

But first, two breaking stories. Overnight, more than 120 tornadoes swept across the Midwest, killing at least five. Ginger Zee from our extreme weather team has been chasing the storms, and she joins us from Wichita, Kansas. And, Ginger, we can see how hard Kansas got hit, and these storms aren't over yet.

ZEE: Luckily, no one was in this house behind me, George, flipped over "Wizard of Oz"-style, but that wasn't the case everywhere. The storm that did this, the tornado, was on the ground for at least five hours, covering 250 miles. A lot of these storms happened overnight. So as the sun comes up around the heartland, we're going to be able to assess the damage and understand more of how many injuries and deaths occurred.

Now, of course, we followed those storms, and we'll continue to follow the threat as it heads northeast today. From the Great Lakes, Northern Plains, all the way south to Houston, the threat exists for isolated tornadoes, damaging wind, and hail. If I had to be more concerned about anyone, it would be northeast Iowa, southeast Minnesota, southwest Wisconsin, and far northwest Illinois.

George?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Right down the middle of country. OK, Ginger, thanks very much. And I know you'll be updating all day long on abcnews.com.

And now to that other breaking story, a scandal involving the Secret Service detail with the president in Colombia. Eleven agents advancing the trip have been put on leave and are being investigated for inappropriate conduct involving local prostitutes. Some U.S. military personnel may also have been involved.

Pierre Thomas joins us with the latest. And, Pierre, do officials now have a handle on exactly what happened? And are they confident the president's security was not compromised?

THOMAS: George, this was an incredible breach of security and a potential security risk, if true. They do think they've accounted for everyone involved. Yesterday, the 11 agents and officers were interviewed and placed on administrative leave.

The president wasn't in danger, but here's why this is so serious. These women, potentially prostitutes, were brought back to the agents' hotel, a secure area, and also the agents compromised themselves to potential blackmail. George, one key going forward: They need to know if this kind of reckless, some would say juvenile behavior has ever happened before.

The focus is supposed to be singular, protecting the president. If these allegations are true, it's safe to say these agents and officers may find their careers in the Secret Service over, period, end of story.

STEPHANOPOULOS: No question about that. And investigations continue today both by the Secret Service and the Congress. Thanks, Pierre.

Now to the economy, right at the heart of this already-hot presidential campaign, with our headliner, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

Good morning, Mr. Geithner.

GEITHNER: Nice to see you, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Good to see you.

You know, I want to begin with a pretty startling number in our ABC News-"Washington Post" poll this week. It shows that 76 percent of the country thinks we're still in a recession. What do you say to those Americans?

GEITHNER: Well, it's obviously still a very tough economy out there. And I think it's not surprising, given the scale of the damage the crisis caused and how much damage you still see out there.

But if you look at the evidence, the economy is getting stronger. We have a ways to go still, a lot of challenges still ahead. But the broad indicators are pretty encouraging. They show an economy still growing. We'd like it to be stronger, and we've got a lot of work to do. But getting better.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But last month's job report was much weaker than people had hoped for, only about 121,000 jobs created, and the weekly unemployment claims took a big jump last week. Are we seeing the pattern of the past couple of years repeated, a strong start to the year, but then a stall-out in the spring?

GEITHNER: Can't tell yet, but if you look back at what happened in 2010 and 2011, you're right that you saw some early strength in the beginning of the year. But then what happened was, the crisis in Europe in 2010 and 2011 and then the crisis in Japan and then the oil shock caused growth to slow. And then in '11, it was made worse by the -- by all the political drama around the debt limit, which was very damaging to confidence.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're saying we can't...

GEITHNER: But those...

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... we can't tell yet. So -- but does that mean you're not confident that we're going to keep creating jobs this year?

GEITHNER: No. I would say that, you know, the economy, again, is gradually getting stronger and you get more people going back to work, and those are sort of good, encouraging signs. Obviously, we have a lot of challenges ahead and some risks and uncertainty ahead. And some of those risks are, of course, Europe's still going through a -- a difficult crisis. And Iran and oil still pose some risks to us.

But the available evidence is still, I think, pretty encouraging.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you expect that unemployment will be lower today -- lower on Election Day than it is today?

GEITHNER: If the economy keeps growing at a moderate pace, then, yes, the -- more people will be back to work and you should see a gradual reduction in the unemployment rate.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You've given a pretty measured view of where the economy is right now. As you -- as you might imagine, some of your critics take a much harsher tone, from both the right and the left. You know, President Bush's CEA, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Eddie Lazarus, called this the worst recovery since the depression.

And liberal economist Nouriel Roubini seems to agree. I want to read you what he wrote, said last week. He said, "This recovery is anemic, subpar, below trend, below potential. If we avoid a major external or internal shock, we may avoid another recession, and that might be good news. But that's where the good news ends."

Now, they may have different prescriptions, but their analysis seems to converge on this key argument that we'd be better off had President Obama made better decisions.

GEITHNER: Oh, I don't think there's any basis for that. I mean, obviously, if he had said, he -- if he'd had more support from his opponents in Congress, then we could have got more things passed that would have put more people back to work more quickly.

But the -- the actions the president took, at considerable political cost at the time -- as you know, he had no support for them from the Republicans -- were incredibly effective in preventing a Great Depression, getting growth restarted again very, very quickly.

You know, again, it's important to look back at, you know, this was a -- a financial crisis caused by a shock larger than what caused the Great Depression, caused by a lot of borrowing, a lot of risk-taking, too much investment in housing. And it takes time to work off those things. That makes recoveries following financial crises slower than were other -- than they would otherwise be.

But we're making a lot of progress on those fronts, bringing down risk in the financial system, working through the housing problems. And consumers are bringing down those debt burdens. And those are all very encouraging things for the strength of the economy going forward.

And, again, if you look at broad measures of health of the private sector in the United States, they are really pretty encouraging. Profits, of course, are very high, productivity higher, private investment growing very rapidly. A huge boom in energy production and exploration. A lot of strength in manufacturing, in exports, in agriculture and high tech.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you also get right to the heart of something that's puzzling a lot of economists and a lot of Americans. They've seen these profits go up. They've seen the Dow go up. But they haven't seen jobs created in a real, consistent way, and they haven't seen their wages go up.

GEITHNER: Well, again, unemployment is still very high. And until that comes down, income growth is going to be very -- very soft, very weak. That's the tragic legacy of a crisis this bad.

But, again, if you look at broad measures of the basic resilience and dynamism of the economy, they're pretty encouraging. We've got to work to reinforce them.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Women have been front and center in the presidential race this week. And Governor Romney tried to turn the table on Democrats, who said that Republicans have prosecuted a war on women with this argument. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: The real war on women has been waged by the policies of the Obama administration. Did you know that of all the jobs lost during the Obama years, 92.3 percent of them are women? During the Obama years, women have suffered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, I -- I know you disagree with the point that Governor Romney is making, but that number he's citing, 92.3 percent of the job losses are women, is accurate, isn't it?

GEITHNER: It's a -- it's a ridiculous way to look at the problem. And this is a political moment, and you're going to seeing -- just to borrow a line from Mario Cuomo -- you're going to see a lot of politicians choose to campaign in fiction, but we have to govern in fact.

And this crisis was a very damaging crisis, hurt everybody. And it began in, as you know, in early 2008. And a lot of the early job losses in 2008 affected men, because they affected construction and manufacturing. And as the crisis spread, and state and local governments were forced to cut back on services, fire a lot of teachers, that caused a lot of damage to women, too.

But what matters is -- and this is why this debate is so important -- is what can we do to help families across the America -- America, men and women, not just get -- get back to work, but help them afford college, help them get access to affordable health care, preventative care, and make sure that we're strengthening this important safety net at a time where so many Americans are suffering?

And that's the debate we're having across the country. And that's a good debate to have.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you completely reject his argument?

GEITHNER: Oh, it's a ridiculous argument. Ridiculous. It's been largely debunked this week by the people who've looked at it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Even though, but you -- you do concede that the number is correct, it's -- it's technically accurate?

GEITHNER: But, you know, again, the crisis began in early 2008, a year before the president took office. It was gaining momentum throughout 2008, even coming up to the time of the inauguration.

You know, unemployment -- as you know, the GDP at that point was falling. Economy was contracting at an annual rate of almost 9 percent at that point. We were losing 750,000 jobs a month, devastating damage. Now -- and it hurt men and women. It hurt families across the country. There's no doubt about it.

And, again, the early job losses were concentrated in manufacturing and construction. A lot of men lost jobs then; a lot of women lost jobs later on. The question we should all be debating is, what can we do to make the economy stronger and make sure the gains of growth are -- are shared more broadly?

And the president's policies are making the economy stronger. And the alternatives proposed by his opposition would be devastating, not just to the safety net, but to investments in education, be very damaging to the economy.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And the president has been arguing this week, the whole administration this week, for the so-called Buffett rule, which would establish a minimum effective tax rate of 30 percent for millionaires. When he first announced this last fall, the president argued that the rule would, quote, "stabilize our debt and deficits for the next decade," but your own numbers show it would raise only about $5 billion a year.

GEITHNER: Well, let me just -- let me just correct that. The president proposed this as part of a very comprehensive, detailed, long-term fiscal program that would bring our deficits down to a sustainable level. And as part of that, he's proposed a modest increase in the effective tax rates paid by the richest Americans.

This is one way to do that, important to do. And we're proposing to do it as part of a balanced package of fiscal reforms. But he never claimed and we never claimed that this measure alone would get us the trillions in savings we need to bring those deficits down.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he seemed to at one fundraiser back in September, but I take your point. You're saying he's making the -- that it's just one part of his overall...

GEITHNER: Yeah.

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... economic plan. Are you worried at all, though, that it might harm growth, these taxes, when the economy is still weak?

GEITHNER: No risk of that. Again, we're proposing a balanced set of fiscal reforms that make room for investments that will be good for job creation and the economy, in education, in infrastructure, in investment. Those things are necessary to make sure that we're making this economy stronger in the near term and in the long run.

Now, as part of that, we don't see a feasible way -- a feasible economic strategy, a feasible political strategy, for bringing down those long-term deficits, except by asking the most fortunate Americans to -- to pay a somewhat larger share of their income in taxes. And what this Buffett rule does is makes sure that happens by limiting the ability of millionaires to take advantage of deductions and loopholes in the tax codes.

It's a simple, fair thing. It's good economic policy. It's good tax policy. And it should be part of a broad program to restore fiscal stability (ph).

STEPHANOPOULOS: But your main argument for this is that it's part of shared sacrifice, everyone has to contribute to deficit reduction.

GEITHNER: Exactly. And if you look at the -- a big part of the burden for a sensible long-term fiscal plan is going to fall on middle-class Americans. You know, again, we're proposing an approach where there's $2.50 of spending cuts for every $1.00 in revenue raises. A lot of the burden of those spending cuts is going to be shared broadly across the American people.

So these taxes (ph) are very modest. They -- they ask for modest additional sacrifice and responsibility by the Americans in the most fortunate -- the most -- you know, in the best position to do that.

And remember, the effective tax rates on the richest Americans today are at the lowest point they've been in a very long period of time. And I think there's no credible argument that asking them to pay a modestly higher share of their income in taxes would be damaging to economic growth, particularly relative to the alternatives.

Again, if you don't do this, whose taxes do you want to raise? Or whose benefits do you want to cut? Those -- those other types of alternative proposals would be much more damaging to growth.

STEPHANOPOULOS: At the end of the year, if Congress doesn't take action -- and I know you've been pushing for congressional action -- everyone's taxes are going to go up, one of the most massive tax increases in American history. Some people are already calling it Taxmageddon.

We're going to see the Bush tax cuts expire. That's going to be an increase in income and investment taxes. We're going to see the marriage penalty returning, the child tax credit decreasing, the alternative minimum tax patch expires. Payroll tax increases go up for everyone.

How worried are you that Congress and the president will not be able to come together to solve this problem before December 31st?

GEITHNER: You know, there's no reason that has to happen. And, of course, we'd sign today an extension of the middle-class tax cuts that go to 98 percent of Americans just to protect for them today -- protect them against any risk that -- that the politicians in Washington can't -- can't come together on this by the end of the year. And they have a very strong incentive to come together, as you say...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But that's not going to happen during an election year, is it?

GEITHNER: Well, you mean you -- not pass the middle class tax cuts? Of course you could do that in an election year. They just have to be willing to do that.

But they have a -- a very strong incentive to come together in the lame-duck session after the election, before the end of the year, and put in place a balanced package of fiscal reforms over the long run, to prevent that kind of damage to the economy.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The last couple of weeks, we've seen some good news in the economy. Oil and gas prices have begun to stabilize. And gas prices have actually gone down just a tick in the last couple of weeks. Do you expect that trend to continue this year?

GEITHNER: I think it depends a lot on two factors. One is how strong growth is around the world. That's the biggest factor that affects oil prices. And it affects -- and it depends on how events develop in the gulf and with respect to Iran.

But you're right that there's been a little bit encouraging news recently, particularly because we've seen the supply of oil, because of actions that the Saudis have taken and others, increase quite significantly. And that's helped calm prices in oil markets, and that's pretty encouraging.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I know you told the president you plan on leaving office even if he is re-elected, and I don't want to revisit that right now. But I -- I -- just one question. From what you've learned, what's the most important quality or qualification the next president, whoever he is, should look for in a treasury secretary?

GEITHNER: That's a -- that's kind of a good question, but that's really a question for him. I've got some views on that, of course.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So just give me one.

(LAUGHTER)

GEITHNER: Well, I think it's very important that you have somebody who's willing to tell him the truth and, you know, help him do the tough things you need to do in these -- in these jobs. But that sort of understates the magnitude of the challenge.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for your time this morning.

GEITHNER: Good to see you, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Time for the roundtable to weigh in. And as they take their seats, take a look at this. Former President George W. Bush making a rare retirement headline, what he really thinks about the tax cuts that carry his name.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I wished they weren't called the Bush tax cuts. They're called some other body's tax cuts, they're probably less likely to -- to be raised.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: George Will is off today. We're glad to be joined by Paul Gigot, editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal, Katrina vanden Heuvel from The Nation magazine, editor, our own Cokie Roberts. And we've got both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama represented today, Kevin Madden from the Romney campaign and Melody Barnes, former domestic policy adviser in the Obama White House.

And, Paul, let me begin with you. You see, President Bush doesn't want them called the Bush tax cuts, but I was really struck by Secretary Geithner, how cautious he was on the economic outlook through the rest of the year. And I think they also know there's not much they can do about it.

GIGOT: Yeah, they should be, because the economy is growing. There's no question about that. But it's not growing fast enough to absorb a big shock or even really maybe a mild shock, get one from Europe, for example, if they go back into their troubles, or you get China slowing down or you get an Iranian oil shock. All of those things could really set us back.

So he's right. There's a lot of -- a lot of difficulties ahead. And we've seen strength in the winter, but in March, beginning of April...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Absolutely.

GIGOT: ... jobs have really slowed down. So I think he has reason to be cautious, because that could really...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: But he's also got a real political problem here, because the -- you look at the ABC poll that you cited in interviewing him. The people who think we are in a recession, only 35 percent of them are backing the president. People who think we're coming out of a recession, 66 percent of them back the president. So he's got to -- he's got to convince people that this economy is getting better if he's going to win in November.

VANDEN HEUVEL: You know, I was -- I was struck that in that same Washington Post-ABC poll, many Americans are worried about fairness, and the head of Karl Rove's Crossroads last week conceded that the administration is winning the argument on fairness. I think the president needs to fuse that fairness argument with putting people back to work, and how do you invest in the middle class, so that they become the job-creators, not the 1 percent.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So that it's not just what the Republicans would call class warfare?

VANDEN HEUVEL: Exactly, and then expose the Republicans as roadblocks to putting people back to work. I mean, millions of people to keep one man out of work?

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: How would you respond to that?

MADDEN: Well, look, I think the reason that the president has a problem right now is because -- the president and other members of the administration are trying to make the case that 2 percent, 2.5 percent growth is the new normal, that 8 percent unemployment's not that bad, that 4 percent gas -- or, I'm sorry, $4-a-gallon gas is not their fault.

I think right now that -- the president has to remember that he's going into a re-election where he has to -- he has to make the case for the promises that he made as a candidate, and he hasn't lived up to that.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN: And the anxiety that the American people has are -- you know, is very high.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Melody, one of the few issues where Mitt Romney (inaudible) poll actually has an advantage over the president is the economy. And there's no one more important.

BARNES: Well, but this is what I think we have to do, is just focus on the facts. Over the past two years, the president has added 4 million jobs to the economy. We've seen quarter after quarter...

(CROSSTALK)

BARNES: ... after quarter of growth. The president has always been cautious about this in saying this is going to take some time, I started out losing 750,000 jobs a month when we walked into the White House of January in 2009, passed the stimulus bill to move the economy forward. We've seen job growth. He's got a comprehensive plan on energy, so that we are now producing at a greater rate...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: But it's not as bad as it could have been is not really a good campaign slogan.

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL: They need to make it a choice, not a referendum.

(UNKNOWN): Well, sure.

VANDEN HEUVEL: And two different visions. And one last thing I would say. I think this mortgage issue is underreported. Even the head of the IMF last week said that until this country deals with the mortgage write-downs, real write-downs, the global economy, the U.S. economy isn't going to recover effectively, which is why this tax -- this commission -- this task force needs resources, this Eric Snyderman (ph) headed task force, to deal with it.

GIGOT: They're trying to make an issue of it with fairness, but I don't think he's succeeding as well as they would like to because the irony is, if you're -- if you own stocks in this economy right now, you're doing OK, because the stock market has gone up. But real...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Up until this week.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: ... 401(k) owns stocks.

GIGOT: But real disposal income for the middle class has gone down in January and February and has barely gone up over the last four years.

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Nothing matters more in the election year than income growth in the first two quarters. One of the ways the administration is trying to make this tax fairness argument is by putting an awful lot of pressure on Governor Romney to release his tax returns. You saw the president -- even the president himself stepping into this on Friday. He said, should Governor Romney release his tax returns for 12 years? Here's his answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Absolutely. I think that it's important for any candidate for public office to be as transparent as possible, to let people know, you know, who we are, what we stand for, and, you know, I think that this is just carrying on a tradition that has existed throughout the modern presidency.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Kevin, this issue seems to hobble the campaign a little bit. They had some trouble putting out the first returns earlier this year. Now they're putting off the release. How big a deal do you think this is? And should we expect to see those 12 years of tax returns?

MADDEN: Well, the protocol was that, when you become the nominee, you release the tax returns. President -- I'm sorry, Governor Romney has released the 2010 tax return. He's also released an estimate of his 2011 tax return. That's already on top of the exhaustive financial disclosure requirements that he has complied with for presidential candidates, thousands of documents talking about his investments and his financial situation.

And I think that that type of disclosure is exactly what the American public has wanted to see and has agreed to. And I think the more important debate that we're going to have is about what we're going to be doing with the American people's tax dollars when we get to Washington, and that is where...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: I think that Romney has to find a narrative about his wealth. I mean, that's really where he is. He's -- we're not talking about his taxes. We're talking about how much money he has. And he's very, very, very rich. And he needs to find a way to talk about that so that voters don't -- aren't turned off by...

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL: Cokie's right. I mean, Cokie's right. I think -- we're going to talk about a gender gap, but there's an empathy gap. People look at Mitt Romney and see the champion of the 1 percent, someone who -- as Mike Huckabee famously said -- looked like the guy who laid you off. Well, at Bain Capital, he fired you. And I think more important than disclosure of Romney's tax forms, which we should have, is the fact that his policies would, you know, help the buccaneer bankers, the corporate raiders, the private-equity gamblers, and not the middle class...

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN: ... on that empathy point, if I may, I mean, the governor is running because he recognizes the anxiety people have on rising costs of health care, rising costs of food, the rising costs of gas, the fact that they -- people that have a job right now are -- are worried that they may lose it, and the people that don't -- can't find one, that's the reason that he's running for president. And that's the reason why I believe that he's going to have a greater connection with the American public...

(CROSSTALK)

BARNES: ... issue of opportunity. And this is a question of the American dream. We talk about it a lot. The question is, are we going to do something about it? This gets back to the reason why the president is going to be talking about and pushing for the Buffett rule this week. It's about fairness, it's about fiscal sanity, and it's also about opportunity, making sure that people who can pay do, making sure that we're taking a step, albeit not a huge step -- it's not the president's entire plan -- but a step towards bringing down our deficit and that we have the resources to invest so people can have the opportunity, making sure they are ready for those jobs, making sure that they do have health care.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me bring Paul in on this. How do you think the Romney campaign should deal with this tax issue? And how big a deal do you think the failure to release 12 years of returns will be?

GIGOT: I would not let it fester. I would have gotten the tax returns out three or four months ago or six months ago or a year ago. I don't think you want that to be the focus of the argument.

About the Buffett tax, it's a gimmick. It's not going to do anything about -- to help the economy. How is doubling a capital gains tax (inaudible) going to help the economy? It's not going to reduce the deficit. And it might even increase it, if it replaces the alternative minimum tax...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: ... opportunity to get the Republicans to vote against taxing millionaires. That's what it's about.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN: So it's a gimmick that's just wrapped around a tactic.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN: The president laid out his economic priorities. He said that he wanted to create jobs, said he wanted to close the deficit, and he wanted to have real tax reform. The Buffett rule fails to even -- to even reach the president's own priorities...

(CROSSTALK)

BARNES: ... another $47 billion...

(CROSSTALK)

BARNES: It's just like...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Over 10 years.

BARNES: Over 10 years.

(CROSSTALK)

BARNES: But it's just like Mitt Romney saying, I want to cut foreign aid. That's, what, $100 million a year?

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL: The Buffett rule is a first step toward rethinking the dysfunctional tax system we have, where we tax labor and we're giving the very richest private-equity breaks? This is not the kind of America where you're going to rebuild the middle class that is vital to growth and fairness. And the fusion of that, I think, is where the Buffett rule begins.

We talked about Romney's tax forms. What about the fact that 93 percent of income growth in the last 10 years has gone to the top 1 percent? That is not the America...

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: ... it certainly hasn't helped -- the middle class hasn't been helped the last three years, that's for sure.

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL: But We need to find ways to re-strengthen a middle class and low-income people with institutions and with tax fairness.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Paul, last word, and then we've got to take a break.

GIGOT: Well, the tax -- way to get the rich to pay more taxes is lower the rates for everybody and reduce their tax breaks. And then they don't go seeking loopholes.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And there's lots more to come from our roundtable on the mommy wars. We've seen this movie before.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had tea, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life.

QUAYLE: It doesn't help matters when primetime TV has Murphy Brown, a character who supposedly epitomizes today's intelligent, highly paid professional woman mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another lifestyle choice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Which side will prevail this November?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLBERT: Excuse me, campaign strategist Rosen. You know what's actually never worked a day in its life? Attacking motherhood.

(LAUGHTER)

LENO: Vice President Joe Biden, he's furious. He said making stupid comments that hurt the president, that's my job. She has no right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROSEN: His wife has actually never worked a day in her life. She's never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing.

ANN ROMNEY: My career choice was to be a mother. We need to respect choices that women make.

(UNKNOWN): Women who stay home are wonderful. Women who go to work are wonderful. Whatever.

OBAMA: There's no tougher job than being a mom.

MAHER: What she meant to say, I think, was that Ann Romney has never gotten her ass out of the house to work.

BIDEN: I think the war on women is real.

ROMNEY: I happen to believe that all moms are working moms.

ROSEN: I apologize. Working moms, stay-at-home moms, they're both extremely hard jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Boy, did that debate take off this week. Let's get into it on our roundtable. And we can begin with you, Cokie Roberts. You've been following these issues for an awful long...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think (inaudible) what a spring storm this was. But does it go to the heart of the campaign or end up being a sideshow?

ROBERTS: Look, I think it ends up being a sideshow, but a couple of things have happened here. First of all, Barack Obama has a problem with married women. He lost to them in 2008.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Even though he's got a huge advantage with women overall.

ROBERTS: With women overall, but he lost married women. He won unmarried women with 66 percent of the vote. So he's got that problem. Mommy wars are always a big issue, and it makes me crazy, frankly. I mean, it is true that women are working wherever they are, and the fact that they denigrate each other's choices is absurd.

But the other thing that happened is it got Ann Romney out there front and center, and that's the best thing that could possibly happen to Mitt Romney. He -- you know, in our ABC poll, people see Barack Obama as much more likable than they see Mitt Romney, but Ann Romney is really likable. And she's been all over the place this week, and people have gotten to know her, and that is a big plus for him.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Kevin, your campaign did pounce quickly. I think that Hilary Rosen (inaudible)

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... two or three minutes later. You saw an opportunity here.

MADDEN: Well, Look, I think, yes, I mean, every campaign has to seize on an opportunity like this. I think this was -- the debate sort of crystallized the differences between left and right on this particular issue, where we believe the middle is most persuadable to our -- to our opinion on this.

And -- but I do think that it is a bit of a sideshow. You can never get too happy about these things when they're good for you, and you can never get too down when they're bad for you. But the -- the central issue here, related to how you persuade women voters, to support Governor Romney, is still the economy. It's still about the economic anxiety they have. It's still about the pressures that they have on rising costs in households. And that's where I think Governor Romney is going to continue to focus.

And you're right. Ann Romney is an incredible -- she's the best surrogate that Governor Romney can have. And she's going to be an important part, I think, of making...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you heard Secretary Geithner -- he called that figure that the Romney campaign has been using, that 92.3 percent of the jobs lost under President Obama are women. He called it ridiculous. And he made a fairly strong substantive argument to back it up.

MADDEN: Well, you go -- you go by the metrics of when the governor -- when president came into office and where we are now, as it relates to job creation overall, and how it's affecting women, the numbers are not good for this administration. Women are hurting in this economy. They're hurting on the jobs side, and they're hurting on the rising costs at home.

BARNES: But independent fact-checkers say that 92 percent number is off-base and that it's misleading. I mean, the reality is that, as I said before, 750,000 jobs were being -- a month were being lost when the president started in the White House. About 1.3 million jobs had been lost that were jobs occupied by women when we walked into the White House.

At the same time, the president has created about 1.2 million that are occupied by women now. And in all of this, I think the bottom line is that policy matters. I do agree with Kevin that we need to have a conversation about women and economic issues, and this goes to issues of education, of health reform, of equal pay...

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: ... economy. You want to have the ability of women who do want to stay home part-time or rearrange their week, they don't have to live by New Deal laws that lock them into 40 hours a week and overtime.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Democrats oppose that.

(CROSSTALK)

BARNES: Absolutely not.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Of course stay-at-home mothers play an important role. But I think this whole debate has been a distraction. The issues we should be talking about are equal pay, combating rising health care costs for families, and sick payday leave for women. And these are issues that the Republicans oppose.

And on the economic figures, one thing that I think goes underreported is that so many of the job losses for women who are in the public sector, who are teachers and nurses and librarians, have come in states led by Republican governors with Republican state legislatures where we've seen the state budgets savaged.

ROBERTS: That's right. When you're talking about female job loss, you're talking about government jobs almost entirely, because women work in libraries and in schools and in arts councils and in all of the places the government funds. And also, women are the beneficiaries of a lot of government programs, like Social Security and Medicare. We wish you guys lived longer, but you don't.

And the -- you know, so -- and women are the caretakers of the people who get those government programs. So when you're talking about women's economics, the reason the women's vote is -- is general a more Democratic vote is because of the role of government. And that's what this entire election's going to be about.

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: But how do we combat that, Kevin? Because I think Cokie's right, that she pointed out with married women, the governor's doing fairly well right now, but for -- for this huge group of single women, looking at this right now, they believe that government is out there to help them. How do you -- how do you combat that?

MADDEN: Well, if you're looking at how we spur job creation and we spur economic growth that's going to help everybody, and particularly women, you have to look at how the private sector has a role in that. That's the most important way to help get the economic growth that we need to help working women, women who are single parents. That's the most important thing.

And I think the big contrast that we're going to see in this -- in this campaign is whether or not you want to -- you believe that you should put all of your faith in the government or whether or not you can put faith into the private sector and provide more certainty so that greater job creation and greater prosperity helps everybody.

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL: No one's talking about putting all one's faith in government, but government has an important role to play in shared prosperity. Private-public partnerships are terrific. The administration wanted it with the infrastructure bank, which would have put thousands of people to work. But the Republicans are roadblocks in that process.

(CROSSTALK)

BARNES: ... to Katrina's point, all through this -- this first term, what I saw, sitting in the White House, is that one policy initiative after another to try and spur job growth, to try and help the states, on jobs often and frequently occupied by women, was pushed back on by Congress. Efforts around equal pay pushed back on by Congress. About seven, nine Republicans voted for that initiative when the president signed the first piece of legislation he signed when he walked in the door.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: We've had the largest expansion of federal government spending since the -- I mean, enormous that I can remember in this administration. The first two years that had open field, Democratic -- vast Democratic majorities, you got what you wanted. You got a huge expansion of federal government. How is that working out for the economic security of women?

VANDEN HEUVEL: But, Paul...

GIGOT: It hasn't. Real incomes are down.

VANDEN HEUVEL: ... in -- in a recession, you get expansion of government spending. By the way, the best way to reduce the deficit...

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL: ... is to put people back to work. Two unfunded wars, Bush -- he doesn't want them called that one anymore -- Bush tax cuts, and the inability of Medicare to negotiate on drug prices, no wonder you have this deficit. Responsibility would be putting people back to work, reducing the deficit that way, and a revived, changed tax code that would be built on fairness.

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL: ... capital gains and dividends at 35 percent to 38 percent to 39 percent, as they were under Clinton and Reagan.

GIGOT: The second incomes of women -- if they're a second earner in the household pay higher tax rates, because they're added on to the husband's income.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: How about a flatter tax that taxes women second incomes less?

ROBERTS: Well, the marriage penalty at the moment is decreased. We'll see what happens.

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Before we leave this issue, I tend to agree with you all that this particular dispute is going to flare up and flame out, but, Melody, I wonder if the president has a -- has a continuing problem with Bill Maher? You know, you saw those comments he made on Friday night. He's given $1 million. He's the biggest single contributor to the super PAC aligned with the president. This has now happened a couple of times. Do you think the president is going to have to cut ties?

BARNES: Well, you know, I listened to those comments, and my grandmother's voice came in my head. I thought about the phrase, "Home training." You know, the language, the sentiment are problematic, and the campaign has -- and the president has said, look, the civility is -- it matters. The way we talk to each other matters. And they're going to have to, as you said, make a decision. I saw David Axelrod in earlier situations when comments have been made by Bill Maher say, I'm not going on your show. I'm backing away. I'm distancing myself. So it's a conversation...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: I mean, that's what they did with Hilary Rosen. You know, they were instantly out there disassociating themselves from her. But what Maher does and what Rosen did, even though I know -- certainly know that you're just talking on television and sometimes you say things...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... she wishes it would have come out a different way.

ROBERTS: We've all done it. We've all done it. But -- but the fact is, is that it plays into an image of the Democrats as this out of -- out of touch with regular people and -- and elitist and kind of snooty (ph).

VANDEN HEUVEL: But to pick up on what Cokie says, I think these discussions about Bill Maher and the Hilary Rosen, Ann Romney, much of that plays into a view that our politics are failing to deal with the massive deep-seeded problems this country has, whether it's, how do you send your kid to college or how do you not get evicted from your home? Or why do have inequality akin to Egypt's?

I think that's -- people talk about the elites. There are people in this country who are looking perhaps at us right now on this roundtable and saying, you're not connecting to my problems or my life. Let's get with it. Forget Bill Maher.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So just ignore it completely...

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL: No, but don't let it dominate a media cycle in the ways -- now, again, things move so quickly now, there's no domination.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

VANDEN HEUVEL: ... let real issues dominate the media.

ROBERTS: And this -- and this women thing, the thing about women at home and women out of the home, it for some reason just always gets people going. And...

VANDEN HEUVEL: Link it to the real lives of women...

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL: ... equal pay. We didn't talk about access to contraception, which has been a central issue of this election in important ways, I think.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think it will be by November?

VANDEN HEUVEL: Access to contraception? I do. I do.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN: I think that the contraception issue, even -- even in the context of a Republican primary, I think one of the reasons maybe women judge that contest somewhat harshly was because it's not central to their concern about what they want to see Washington discuss and -- and -- and our leaders discuss. So I think, again, that's why I think Governor Romney is very focused on talking about the economic issues that are driving household decisions every single day.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: ... exactly the same on so-called women's issues.

BARNES: I think it goes -- this issue of contraception goes to the reality of women's lives. It is a question of -- is my senator or my president or my governor or my employer going to tell me how to run my life? And how do I make decisions for myself or with my spouse, with my partner about my family? And those, in essence, are economic decisions.

VANDEN HEUVEL: And related to women's health care.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Nobody is talking -- nobody is talking about denying contraception.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: That's the basic fact of this case. And then there is a religious liberty on the other side. I hate to bring this up; I know it's a difficult subject for the White House. But it's true. And you see it with the Catholic bishops and their concerns.

So we've debated this. I don't think it's going to go away. This is going to -- this debate will go right to November.

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Right to November...

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: ... because I think there's a real concern, particularly among Catholics, about the religious liberty issue.

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, let me change subjects right now, because we also saw this week George Zimmerman charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Here was his lawyer responding.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O'MARA: George fully well realizes that he was involved in some way in the death of another young man. He does not take the result of that altercation lightly at all.

FULTON: We simply wanted an arrest. We wanted nothing more, nothing less. We just wanted an arrest. And we got it, and I say thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: I wonder, Cokie, if this now recedes into the justice system and some of the heat around this all goes away.

ROBERTS: I think to some degree that's the case. I mean, the family doesn't have a reason to keep showing up at press conferences the way they had been, because they've gotten the arrest. But clearly, the town is going to continue having a conversation about race. We've had these -- now these shootings in Oklahoma, which has also got a whole racial conversation going.

So I think that the -- there will be some continued fallout from it. I thought it was very interesting yesterday, when the president was asked about it in Latin America, he turned it around to a conversation about immigration and about Latinos, which, of course, is something that he...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... he said at the beginning.

GIGOT: Yeah, I don't think the president wants to get into this now, particularly -- that's in the court system. The document, the legal document that was filed is troubling enough, and we're going to see how that plays itself out in court. I would say not just the president, but all of the other provocateurs should back off and let this move through the legal system.

VANDEN HEUVEL: But it's a measure of how far we've come and how far we haven't come in terms of racism in this country that it took so much public outrage to make justice and a trial a reality.

I do think there will be attention paid to the injustice of these stand your ground laws. And on the heels of the NRA, you know, President Obama hasn't paid enough attention to commonsense gun reform laws, I think that comes back on the table. And electorally, it's striking that Mitt Romney, who by the way was for the Brady bill and the ban on assault weapons, again has flip-flopped in going to pay fealty and obeisance to the NRA.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I do want to show a little bit on that, because I think you're right, that this is going to become the next central issue. And you saw both sides coming out very hard on this issue this week, starting -- Mayor Bloomberg trying to lead a nationwide campaign to repeal these laws.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLOOMBERG: The NRA should be ashamed of themselves. This has nothing to do with gun owners' rights. It's nothing to do with the Second Amendment. Plain and simple, this is just trying to give people a license to murder.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And as you mentioned, Katrina, Mitt Romney spoke to the NRA.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: We need a president who will stand up for the rights of hunters and sportsmen and those who seek to protect their homes and their families. President Obama has not. I will.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: ... only thing he said about guns in that speech, that speech was all about economics, and he got Ann Romney up talking about I'm for all moms and all that. I mean, it was just...

STEPHANOPOULOS: And they were cheering.

ROBERTS: But that was it. That was his one reference to guns.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But was that an endorsement of the stand your ground laws?

MADDEN: No, I think the governor was talking about the constitutionality, the rights of people that are embedded in the Constitution. That was largely what that speech was about. I think that the governor has also made very clear that he believes that -- that these type of statutes are best placed within the states and how states decide to design their own statutes.

And, you know, I think with the Trayvon Martin case overall, I think I -- I think I agree with everybody's initial sentiment, which is that we have to let the justice system sort this out. Unfortunately, because there's a camera on, a newspaper reporter, and a radio reporter on every street corner in that area right now, the most divisive actors I think are going to seek to use it for their own benefit. But this is a -- this is a legal case right now. This is a -- the justice system has to take over.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, Melody, Cokie mentioned that only one line in that NRA was about -- was about guns. President Obama has not wanted to talk about gun control, either.

BARNES: Well, you know, the president talked about it during the 2008 campaign. And over the course of the last three-plus years, we -- the White House has done things to try and address this issue. I mean, one, he's talked about the fact that he believes in the Constitution, he believes in the Second Amendment. But at the same time, the Second Amendment should not prevent, you know, commonsense gun safety laws being put in place.

In addition to that, done things to try and enhance the laws that are already on the books that have been supported on a bipartisan basis, making sure that the background check system is working well, that we've got all the information in it so that people can be evaluated appropriately. I think it's been a commonsense approach and recognizing exactly what the environment calls for.

GIGOT: And Katrina may want to debate guns and gun control, but I can tell you that most Democrats don't, and they especially don't in swing Democratic states. They just want to stay a million miles away from that. There is no issue that I can recall in my 30 years of covering politics that has been such a thorough victory for conservatives than gun rights.

VANDEN HEUVEL: You know, but -- you know, the -- the stand your ground laws are a product of this American Legislative Exchange Council, this conservative lobbyist-dominated group. They've really been the architects. And there is a movement building of a counterforce on the progressive side to ALEC. And I think you will see some mobilizing and finding allies, like big city mayors. There are many interesting allies you can find in this. And it's common sense. It's common sense.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: ... what tends to happen is if there's some horrible shooting, people come out and say they're against everybody having guns, particularly assault weapons, and then it goes away, and the only people who really care are the...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... movement you're talking about is try to combat that.

VANDEN HEUVEL: And I think there's a trans-partisan alliance you can build.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We will find out. Thank you all very much. Terrific roundtable. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: I'll be back to answer your questions, but first, we honor our fellow Americans who serve and sacrifice.

This week, the Pentagon released the names of four servicemembers killed in Afghanistan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally today, "Your Voice This Week," where you get to ask the questions. I take a shot at answering them. And today's question comes from Christine Tee. She asks, which factor has the greatest impact on voters, ads, campaign appearances, or media stories, et cetera?

Nothing matters more, Christine, I think than the economy. If incomes and the economy are growing during the election year, the incumbent party almost always wins. If not, it almost always loses, whatever happens in the campaign.

But general media coverage of the campaign comes next. You know, from all the stories, people end up having a pretty good idea of who the candidates are and what they stand for by the end of the campaign.

TV ads can matter a lot, especially in primaries where one candidate might have a big money edge. We saw that this year with Mitt Romney. But they matter a little less in the general election, where parties tend to be more evenly matched in money.

But social media is beginning to matter even more, because the campaigns can collect so much information on what individual voters think and feel and then target the messages to those individual voters in a much more cost-effective way. Team Obama pioneered that in 2008. The GOP is catching up fast, and that is the wave of the future.

That is all for us today. "World News" with David Muir has the latest headlines tonight. And tomorrow, Mitt and Ann Romney sit down exclusively with Diane Sawyer for their first joint network interview this election year. Watch for that on "World News" and "Nightline."

Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. I'll see you tomorrow on "GMA." And before we go, happy Easter to my fellow orthodox Christians. Christos anesti.

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