'This Week' Transcript: Plouffe, Pence, Van Hollen

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AMANPOUR: We'll talk about that in just a second. But, again, quickly, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, called what the speaker was asking for just in February, $32 billion, he called it "draconian" and very painful. And now it's being called historic.

I mean, which is it? Is it draconian yesterday and historic today?

PLOUFFE: Well, some of the cuts were draconian, because it's not just the number. It's what composes the number. So in this budget deal, the president, Senator Reid, you know, we protected medical research, community health centers, kids on Head Start. We were not going to sign off on a deal that cut those things.

So the president was comfortable with the composition of this deal. That, again, you know, there were some tough cuts in there, things he believes in. But in these fiscal times everyone is going to have to make tough decisions.

So it was a historic deal for the American people. But here's the important thing, the president has spoken often about his plan to win the future for America economically. And what this budget does is preserve our ability to do that through education and innovation.

AMANPOUR: So many economists have said that at this particular time when you've got a fragile recovery, cuts in any way could harm that. Are you worried about this setting back the recovery?

PLOUFFE: I think if they're not careful cuts, yes, it could. And that's what the president said, listen, we can't take a machete, we have to take a scalpel, and we're going to have to cut, we're going to have to look carefully.

What you have to do is go line by line. It can't be some macro argument about big numbers. You've got to look at the details and make a judgment on each one, in terms of the impact on people, in terms of the impact on the economy.

And that's the approach of the president, we carefully approached it so that we can cut spending, we can reduce the deficit in the short and long term, but without jeopardizing our economic growth and without jeopardizing those things like education and innovation.

AMANPOUR: Big, huge battles coming ahead, and we asked in our intro to you whether the president has the stomach and the will for the huge fight ahead. Already in this budget showdown, he was perceived as coming in at the last moment. And many in his own party have talked about a lack of leadership.

Listen to what Senator Manchin just said about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE MANCHIN III, D-W.V.: Why are we doing all of this when the most powerful person in these negotiations, our president, has failed to lead this debate or offer a serious proposal for spending and cuts that he would be willing to fight for? How does that make sense?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: How does that make sense, Mr. Plouffe? Why didn't the president get involved much earlier and really fight for what Democrats believe in?

PLOUFFE: Well, first of all, the president, as I said, in his budget for next year, laid out with great specificity how we're going to reduce the deficit over a trillion dollars in the next decade, bring spending down to the lowest levels since Dwight Eisenhower, at the same time protecting critical investments in things like education and research and development.

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