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New Safety Rules for Pilots; Payroll Tax Cut Battle Continues

Aired December 21, 2011 - 18:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.

Tonight, no matter where you're flying, have your pilots slept enough to get you there safely? The government says the rule must change.

Also, the power plants generating your electricity may be poisoning your children, and an agency Republicans love to hate says it needs to come to the rescue.

Plus, the newest weapons in the fight for the Republican nomination, attack ads disguised as holiday greetings.

Up first, tonight, though, your money. In just 10 days, 10 days, you will be giving more of it to the government unless Republicans and Democrats can figure out a face-saving way to extent the Social Security payroll tax cut.

Right now, political game playing still seems to be a bigger priority than saving you money. Watch what happened when the House Democrats tried today to bring up the tax extension on Capitol Hill.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The House stands adjourned until 10:00 a.m. on Friday.


REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), HOUSE MINORITY WHIP: Mr. Speaker, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Speaker...


KING: That was a Democrat there trying to get the attention. He failed. Less than a half-hour later, after cutting off the Democrats, the House Republican leader was asking, where are they?


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We're here, we're ready to work. We're looking for our counterparts to sit down with us.


KING: So when will the games be set aside and both sides actually start working together to save you money?

Our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash is working her sources on Capitol Hill.

Dana, the Republicans seem to be on the defensive right now. I want to read you a bit from a "Wall Street Journal" editorial today. "The Wall Street Journal" generally a conservative editorial page, they call this a fiasco -- quote -- "The GOP leaders have somehow managed the remarkable feat of being blamed for opposing a one-year extension of a tax holiday that they are surely going to pass. This is no easy double play."

So "The Wall Street Journal" essentially saying when it comes to the strategy here, they blew it.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And you know what? Senate Republicans, we're talking about people in the same party as the House Republicans, just on the other side of the Capitol, I'm hearing the same things from them, John, over and over today.

One Senate Republican leadership aide told me the House Republicans have painted themselves into a corner. They are on their own.

Generally, what I'm hearing from these Senate Republicans is really a lot of frustration that the Republicans in the House have somehow allowed the Democrats to really get the upper hand and the Democrats to look like the party of tax relief and Republicans to look like they're against tax cut.

So we're definitely seeing this real schism within the Republican Party. Anger that is usually reserved for Democrats when you talk to Republicans, it's now from the Senate Republicans at their fellow Republicans in the House.

KING: And so, they have gone home except for that little gamesmanship we saw today, sort of faux outrage by both parties there. Do the Republicans have a backup plan? If the political pressure mounts on them, how do they end this, and when?

BASH: The money, if you will, is on Republicans in the House backing down. That means that they would end up passing a two-month extension and preventing people's taxes from going up on January 1.

But guess what? I talked to a well-placed Republican source in the House who said not to expect that to happen this week. They will take it down to the wire, likely not talk about the endgame until next week. That is literally just days before people's taxes would go up on January 1.

KING: Your government at work or not, depending on your perspective. Dana Bash live on Capitol Hill tonight.

And many of you watching at home might think this is just another big fight in Washington, just another political fight between the Democrats and the Republicans. But, no, maybe you have holiday shopping to do. This impacts you and your budget.

Let's take a closer look. If they don't get this done and if politics keeps this tax holiday from being extended how much money will come out of your wallet? Well, let's take a peek. In you make $35,000 a year, you're going to lose $700 if they don't extend this tax holiday. Or that's about $27 a paycheck -- $50,000, if that's your annual salary, if they don't extend the Social Security payroll tax cut holiday you will lose $1,000 a year, again $38 a paycheck.

You get the picture. Let's jump up. If you make $90,000, you lose $1,800 next year, nearly $2,000, or every time you get a paycheck you're $69, $70 short. If you're in the upper income scale over $110,000, you will lose more than $2,300 next year, money you need for family finances maybe or $90 a paycheck.

The White House believes there's political hay to be made here. Let's take a look.

Live right now on the White House Web site, the average middle- class family will lose about $40. If you look at that Web site, the clock at the top, 10 days, five hours, 55 minutes and the countdown on the seconds until your taxes go up. The White House believes it has a big political issue here, especially in the holiday season, when this money's coming out of your wallet. We will continue to watch this debate, how it plays out in the days ahead.

Now to the campaign trail, where we're seeing something quite new tonight, ads featuring candidates' wives. Both Callista Gingrich and Ann Romney are in new TV ads. Here's Mrs. Romney right here, Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, reminding voters that they should think about the tough decisions a president has to make and weigh a candidate's character.


ANN ROMNEY, WIFE OF MITT ROMNEY: If you can trust they will do the right thing and maybe the hard thing and maybe not the popular thing. And if you really want to know how a person will operate, look at how they have lived their life. And I think that's why it's so important to understand the character of a person.


KING: Now, not a mention of Newt Gingrich there, but many people say look at how they live their life, the character of a person. Could that be an implicit shot at Speaker Gingrich, who has been married three times?

Well, Gingrich's wife, Callista, is with her husband, at his side, in a holiday ad this week saying, watch us and merry Christmas.


CALLISTA GINGRICH, WIFE OF NEWT GINGRICH: Is there anything more inspiring than American towns and neighborhoods brightly lit for the holidays? NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We take it as a sign of great optimism. It reminds us of the fire of freedom that burns bright in the America we love and a prayer that the goodness of our nation will be rewarded with peace about brotherhood.

C. GINGRICH: From your family to yours, merry Christmas and happy new year.


KING: As Iowa viewers get to see those, Romney and Gingrich going after each other, a bit more peaceful in the ads at the moment.

Yet another new poll shows the man to beat in Iowa is most likely Ron Paul and his new ads are designed to reassure social conservatives he's one of them.

Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, spoke with Congressman Paul in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, today.

Gloria, what is he saying by now about his chances 13 days out? And his ads have been pretty tough. Are they going to stay that way?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: They are, yes. He said they will.

First of all, he's very, very happy about his poll numbers, and his poll numbers are terrific. But when I asked him about those negative ads, John, what he said to me, I said are you going to take down your negative ads? He's also accused Newt Gingrich of serial hypocrisy. And he said to me, no, I am not going to take down those ads because somebody has to show that certain candidates are flip- floppers on the issues and if you in the media won't do it, I'm going to do it.

KING: And so we will let Gloria...



BORGER: And did you ever object when you read them?

PAUL: We talked about this twice yesterday at CNN. Why don't you go back and look at what I said yesterday on CNN and what I have said for 20-some years? It's 22 years ago. I didn't write them. I disavow them. That's it.

BORGER: But you made money off of them?

PAUL: I was still practicing medicine. That was probably why I wasn't a very good publisher, because I had to make a living.

BORGER: It's just a question. It's legitimate. It's legitimate. These things are pretty incendiary. (CROSSTALK)

PAUL: Because of people like you.

BORGER: No, no, no, no. Come on, some of the stuff was very incendiary, in saying that in 1993 the Israelis were responsible for the bombing of the World Trade Center, that kind of stuff. So, well...

PAUL: Goodbye.

BORGER: All right. All right. Thank you, Congressman. I appreciate your answer.


KING: He's getting a bit feisty with you there, disappointed in you. You're asking him about a number of things written in the Ron Paul newsletter.

Yes, some of them go back 20, 25 years. As you note, some of them are provocative, some say racist, certainly insulting in other ways. And he's trying to make the case, I didn't write them, you can't blame me.

He's running for president. Anything that happens under your name ever is fair game. He didn't seem to think so there.

BORGER: Right. No, he didn't think so. I asked him if you didn't write them, did you read them? And he seemed to sort of say, well, on occasion, but then he said, no, he didn't read them.

The point he was making to me is that it's more interesting to us in the media than it is to the voters out here. He seems to think it's an irrelevant issue, case closed, doesn't want to talk about it anymore.

But, John, as you know, this is what happens when you become a front-runner in a presidential race. You get an awful lot of scrutiny. And that's what Ron Paul is getting, scrutiny.

KING: Scrutiny with 13 days to go. We will see if he can hold that lead. Gloria Borger, looks like a festive scene behind you there out in Iowa tonight. Enjoy. Thanks for being here.


KING: It looks nice.

We're down to just 13 days before those Iowa caucuses and tonight new controversy swirling around several of the Republican candidates.

Our senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein, is the political director and columnist for "The National Journal," and he's with us tonight. Number one, your take on Ron Paul? He doesn't like being questioned about his record. Yes, it goes back 10 or 20 years, but he's running ads criticizing Speaker Gingrich for things he did 15 or 16 years ago. If running for president, anything you have ever done, anything under your name fair game, right?


And Ron Paul for most of his career has been a niche candidate, and he kind of existed in a subculture in which he's revered. Suddenly the price of success is that he's expanding beyond that niche, and he's someone who is now actually at or near the top of the polls in Iowa. And suddenly he's facing the kinds of questions that he was never really asked when he was simply kind of a creature of that subculture.

I thought his reaction today in that interview was quite revealing of someone who simply really has not had to face the kind of scrutiny that presidential candidates had. The questions that he was asked today by Gloria, think about some of the things that Bill Clinton answered in 1992 from people like you or me.

KING: I remember that campaign. Clinton would get mad sometimes, but he also most of the time when he calmed down understood his life was fair game because he was running for president of the United States. And what was vetted in Arkansas hadn't been vetted nationally.

Let's move on because right now it's very interesting to watch. It's clear that the tough attack ads, the loss of his lead in the polls, is getting under Newt Gingrich's skin a bit. Now, he's not running negative ads and he says his won't.

But listen here. It is attack ads from Mitt Romney and more so from a political action committee that supports Mitt Romney that have done a lot of damage to Newt Gingrich. Listen to Newt Gingrich here, a challenge to Mitt Romney.


N. GINGRICH: Look, I will tell you what. If he wants to test the heat, I will meet him anywhere in Iowa next week, one-on-one, 90 minutes, no moderator, just a timekeeper.

If he wants to try out the kitchen, I will be glad to debate him anywhere. We will bring his ads and he can defend them. And we will bring "The Washington Post" as an indication that his ad is filled with lies, and he can defend them.


KING: The ad "The Washington Post" took after just to clean up the facts a little bit was not a Romney ad. It was a Romney super PAC ad, Restore America, I think it's called.

So Romney had said this morning, you have got to take the heat, Mr. Speaker. I don't think Gingrich will get his Lincoln-Douglas debate.


BROWNSTEIN: No. He really wants that Lincoln-Douglas debate. He had it with Huntsman. It really wasn't much of a debate.

Actually, I think compared to Gingrich's career he's held his cool pretty well in this campaign. Certainly in the debates, you know, when he was under fire in that Des Moines debate, he really kind of kept his composure, effectively kind of rebutted the arguments.

The problem is, is that is he's just being overwhelmed on television and he doesn't have the resources to fight back. He's making that argument of underfunded candidates, I'm taking the high road, people will react against the negative attacks. But in fact, they are clearly having an effect on him and putting Romney in a much stronger position to come out of Iowa as the unqualified front-runner.

KING: You talked about his composure.

Let's look at an event. This is earlier today, Gingrich at an event in Des Moines where he gets heckled right during the event.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Gingrich, you really do need to start putting the people first. You really do. So, I know there's people in between you and me, but I would really like to engage you in a conversation here, sir.

N. GINGRICH: Not today.


KING: He said not today. But after the event he actually talked to the gentleman outside. He has had some gay rights activists get in his face. He's been very calm about this. I think some of them are organizers. They show up, they're trying to get a YouTube movement out of this. And he's been very

BROWNSTEIN: No, he has, he has. There's not been a macaca moment, as there was for George Allen in 2006.

This has been a different Newt in many ways in this campaign. He hasn't been as volatile. He's been more disciplined. But he is facing just a fundamental resource imbalance at this point.

KING: Thirteen days, that makes a big difference, the resources.

Ron Brownstein, thanks.

When we come back in just three minutes, new rules that may help airline pilots stay awake, keep you safer.

We also have the updated holiday travel forecast. That's in about seven minutes. And with Capitol Hill deadlocked on your tax cuts, President Obama, well, he can't start his vacation. Stick around and see how he spent some of the afternoon.


KING: The FAA issued a landmark ruling today to prevent pilots from flying without adequate time to sleep.

In the last 24 hours, take a look. More than 62,000 flights have landed in the United States -- 1.6 to 2.3 million passengers a day expected to fly on commercial flights now during the upcoming holiday season.

Here's how the new regulations, which won't take effect for another two years, would work. Flight duty times now range from nine to 14 hours. They start when reporting for duty and end when parking the plane. So, there is time, a time limit of eight or nine hours flying depending on the start time. Minimum rest period, up to 10 hours, that's from eight hours previously, so that pilots have an opportunity for eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.

The sweeping change is all part of a response to the tragic crash of the Colgan Air flight back in 2009 that killed 50 people. That was near Buffalo, New York. Neither the pilot or the co-pilot had slept in a bed the night before.

Scott Maurer's daughter, Lauren, died in the Colgan Air crash. He joins us now from Greenville, South Carolina.

Sir, appreciate your time today. I'm sure it's always difficult to revisit this.

Has what the government done today, is it enough?

SCOTT MAURER, FATHER OF AIR CRASH VICTIM: Well, it is certainly a step in the right direction.

It's been 25 years in the making to move this ball across the goal line. Sadly, had this been in place, you know, perhaps our tragedy may not have occurred.

KING: One of the wrinkles in this is that cargo pilots, the rules aren't quite as strict.

I want to read you a statement here from Robert Travis. He's the president of the Independent Pilots Association for UPS pilots. He said this in an interview with "USA Today": "Giving air cargo carriers the choice to opt in to new pilot rest rules makes as much sense as allowing truckers to opt out of drunk driving laws. To potentially allow fatigued cargo pilots to share the same skies with properly rested passenger pilots creates this unnecessary threat to public safety."

Now, the transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, says they didn't do that, they didn't extend the rules all the way across because of a cost/benefit analysis. Make sense?

MAURER: Well, no, it doesn't make sense to us.

And, sadly, you know, we feel that the FAA missed a golden opportunity here to address a really critical need. But, if you will allow me, I certainly would like to accentuate the positives that did take place. And, clearly, going from an eight-hour rest period to a 10-hour rest period was very good.

And one other really critical point is, is that this rule employs the use of fatigue studies, et cetera. So, you know, this was very important and hopefully the regional airline pilots are going to benefit, because that's actually where the crash, our crash, was adversely affected.

KING: And it was a personal tragedy for your family that made you so interested in this and made you now someone who has studied it so closely.

I want you to listen to Congressman John Mica of Florida. He's the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He says this. He says: "The final rule provides improvements for aviation safety. Pilots must take personal responsibility for coming to work rested and fit for duty. The government cannot put a chocolate on every one of their pillows and tuck them in at night."

It's a little cute, the language in the end, but it's an important point. Do you think, across the industry -- these people want to keep their jobs, these people, they do have rigorous schedules. Do you think they have learned the horrible lesson of the crash that took your daughter?

MAURER: Well, that's a tough one.

You hit upon another critical point that was not covered with today's announcement. And that is commuting. You know, the way in which this rule's written, pilots will be signing that they're fit for duty. And we obviously want to take a very good, close look at how that's actually going to play itself out.

But the issue of commuting and all of the pilots that are commuting across the country is one that was not addressed and we should all have a little bit of concern about. And I think that's what Congressman Mica was referencing.

KING: Scott Maurer, appreciate your time tonight and your perspective on this new -- these regulations, and appreciate your efforts to bring them about, sir.

MAURER: Thank you very much, John.

KING: Take care.

Still ahead here: power plants releasing toxic pollutants into your community now being forced to clean up their act. In 10 minutes, CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta tells us how it impacts your health. Plus, two sailors return home and make Navy history. That's next.


KING: Welcome back.


KING: Coming up here in three minutes: a huge new ruling by the EPA aimed at shutting down power plants that release toxic pollutants into your community. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta will also break those rules down.

Plus, celebrities do it. Former athletes do it. We will take a close look at the high-dollar speaking circuit. We will tell you how much money former politicians make giving speeches. It's a lot. That's coming up.


KING: In this half-hour: the consolation prize for politicians who lose power. Guess what? They get big bucks just for talking. We will have the names and the numbers. That's in just five minutes.

And later: a new high-tech way you can watch the next Super Bowl.

And in 15 minutes, tonight's "Truth " about what everyone believes will be the biggest spenders in the 2012 campaign.

First, though, tough new rules for the power plants that generate our electricity. The Environmental Protection Agency wants to keep poisons like mercury out of the air and out of your lungs. But critics say those rules also could leave you with higher electric bills and could cost jobs.

CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta with us now.

Sanjay, these new rules don't apply just to mercury, right? Other pollutants will be regulated now?


Mercury's the big one that a lot of people have had their sights set on for some time, but also arsenic, nickel. These are different chemicals that have been released by some of these plants for some time. John, this is -- in the history of the EPA, this will probably be one of their top milestones.

As you said, it's a controversial one, to some degree, but this has been something that the EPA has been working on under this administration for some time. We had spoken to Administrator Jackson about this soon after she took her tenure. And she talked about mercury standards being -- being a top priority for her. They're talking about a lot of coal-fire plants around the country that, either because they were grandfathered in or because they hadn't -- hadn't yet come up to standard were emitting large amounts of mercury and some of these other chemicals. They are now going to have fit under these new standards, put in this new pollution-controlling equipment to bring -- those emissions down -- John.

KING: And the health risk, Doctor, what are the biggest health risks from mercury and the other pollutants?

GUPTA: Well, you know, that's interesting because this is more than just anecdotal now. We do have some real science on the effects of, for example, mercury. It's a known neurotoxin. It's something that can, you know, affect developmental in children, you know, obviously something you want to caution for for pregnant women.

You hear about mercury in fish, for example. How does that happen? Mercury gets into the atmosphere, rains down into the ocean, the fish are contaminated and that's how we absorb mercury as well. So they predict and the science here gets a little bit harder. They predict that it could save up to 11,000 premature deaths a year, John, by simply increasing these standards.

KING: What are the power companies saying?

GUPTA: Well, you know, not everyone is going to love this, as you might imagine. The power companies, you know, this is going to cost money, they say. It's going to -- people may be laid off from the existing power plants in the interim so it could cost jobs as well and they say it could potentially affect the power grid.

Now the EPA responds to all of these things saying, look, you know, you got to hire more workers to bring these plants up to standard, you're going to save lives which will save money in the end. And they think that while they acknowledge it had an effect on the power grid, they think it that that'll quickly come back up to speed.

KING: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, appreciate your help.

GUPTA: You got it, John. Thanks.

KING: All right. Take care.

Now for most of us, the prospect of retirement means no more money coming in. Well, maybe Social Security, maybe a little bit in the bank. But if you're a politician or in some cases a sports champion, a lot of money comes in.

As CNN's Christine Romans shows us right here, giving up political power could be the first step to collecting some big bucks.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: John, former politicians are celebrities on the speaking circuit, pulling in anywhere from a few thousand dollars to be on a panel, to tens of thousands of dollars to deliver a keynote address. Newt Gingrich told a South Carolina campaign stop last month he made as much as $60,000 per keynote.



ROMANS (voice-over): But when it comes to public speech fees, former presidents make the most. And Bill Clinton is king. He's made more than $75 million in speaking fees since leaving office in 2001. In 2008, he made more than $500,000 for just one speech. And in 2010, he made about $205,000 per speech on average.

How do we know? Because his wife is required to disclose it as secretary of state.

Ronald Reagan famously made $2 million from a Japanese company back in 1989 for two speeches.

RONALD REAGAN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I think it's just fine and we ought to be proud that you want to do business in our country.

ROMANS: And since then, American presidents have left their $400,000 a year jobs to make many times that speaking to audiences. The Center for Public Integrity says President George W. Bush has earned $15 million for 140 speeches here in and abroad since he left the White House. That's about $107,000 a speech.


ROMANS: And Sarah Palin, after leaving her $125,000 a year governorship, she can make more than in just one stop.

So who pays? Big corporations, universities, and trade associations. And often, it comes from the very industries the speaker once oversaw.

DAVID LAVIN, LECTURE AGENT: The industry is a regulator in many ways. The only people who -- it's self-regulated by the speakers themselves. They decide who think speak for, they decide what fees they charge, and they -- the buck stops with them.

ROMANS: It's Washington insiders, politicians and sort of politicians.

LAVIN: People often say, why did that person get paid so much? They're asking the wrong question. They should be asking, why did somebody pay that much?

ROMANS: And MTV reality star Snooki, well, she made $32,000 for two speeches at Rutgers earlier this year.


ROMANS: And that speaking agency president we spoke to in the piece, he said something interesting, John. He said, you have to wonder why people spend so much energy vilifying politicians when they're in office and then paying them tens of thousands of dollars when they're out of office -- John.

KING: Christine Romans there. A piece with Donald Trump and Snooki, can't beat that.

With us now, Bruce Weinstein, who's known as the ethics guy. He's the author of "Ethical Intelligence" and the host of Bloomberg Business Week online series, "Ask the Ethics Guy."

Bruce Weinstein, I'm sorry, let me get straight to it this way. This has come up in recently because Speaker Gingrich is running for president, and he gets $35,000 or so a speech. They are regulated when they leave office, if it's Congress especially, can't lobby your former peers. It's a year usually.

Should there be other rules? Should speaking fees be regulated or welcome to capitalism?

BRUCE WEINSTEIN, AUTHOR, "ETHICAL INTELLIGENCE": Well, the practice of giving large fees to former politicians is consistent with ethical intelligence and I'll tell you why. In our culture, the pursuit of happiness is a cherished value and let's face it, for a lot of folks $500,000 for one talk can buy a lot of happiness.

The problem, John, is not with the politicians or former politicians accepting the money. The problem is our celebrity- obsessed culture that is willing to pony up this kind of money simply to be in the same breathing space as former politicians or athletes or movie stars. That's really where the problem was.

KING: I would -- and full disclosure here, I give a couple of paid speeches a year, I say no to most of them because of potential conflicts of interest. But I do give a couple a year. I want our viewers to know that. I want a full -- why? Why are these institutions, why are these corporations, why are they willing to spend so much money? You mentioned celebrity obsession. Is that it or is there more? Are they trying to buy influence, buy access?

WEINSTEIN: I think for most folks it's simply just the thrill of being around a celebrity. I mean the other day I ran into Sting at a movie theater and I was beside myself. And -- I mean I think that's just one example of how, you know, we're just so thrilled to be in this same space as a celebrity. But also in the name of full disclosure some of the bureaus that represent these former politicians also represent me as a speaker. But my argument really isn't a function of being a member of a speaker's bureau, it's simply looking at the facts and looking at the values at stake and realizing that if we are to blame anyone, it is us, it is our celebrity-obsessed culture that is willing to pony up this kind of money to pay politicians.

I mean, let's face it, if trade associations were not willing to spend 250 grand for one talk, there would be no politicians there waiting in line. So it's really up to us, as members of these associations or members of the public to say, wait a minute, is this the kind of money we want to be spending or might our money be spent -- better spent elsewhere? KING: And let's look at some of the top paid speakers of all time. Donald Trump is at the top of the list. Ronald Reagan makes a lot of money, Tony Blair is another one, the former British prime minister, Bill Clinton, Rudy Giuliani.

If you look at all of those people, Mr. Trump is the only one who hasn't been involved in public life and politics in some way. Do people want the inside stories? Do they think when they pay this huge amount of money they're going to learn something in the speech that they didn't learn when this person was in office?

WEINSTEIN: Well now let's look at that pre-packaged segment because we learned that Snooki got 32 grand by for speaking at Rutgers University. I mean what do we learn from that? It's people like to be around someone who's famous. And she seems to be famous simply for being famous.

So in some cases perhaps we want to learn what somebody has to offer but in a lot of cases we're just -- we're just besotted with the fact that this -- I saw that person on TV, I mean there's a scene from "King of Comedy" where Rupert Pumpkin is on TV and someone in a bar says, hey, that was the guy on TV.

So, you know, really, it has to do with our own obsession with something that perhaps we might better reign in and rethink because it's our celebrity-obsessed culture that's the culprit here.

KING: Amen to that. Maybe some of that money could be spent better, say, feeding the hungry or something.

Bruce, thanks for coming in today. I appreciate your perspective.

When we come back, tonight's truth is something Mitt Romney says is bad and yet it's doing his campaign a ton of good.


KING: The Romney campaign has spent roughly $326,000 on TV ads in Iowa so far. The Gingrich campaign, less than one-third of that. About $100,000. But add in the help Governor Romney is getting from his friends at the Restore Our Future super PAC, which has spent nearly half million dollars just in Iowa so far, and the anti-Gingrich voice is a lot louder and a lot more frequent on Iowa television these days.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know what makes Barack Obama happy? Newt Gingrich's baggage. Newt has more baggage than the airlines. As speaker, Gingrich even supported taxpayer funding of some abortion. And Newt is the only speaker in history to be reprimanded. He was fined $300,000 for ethics violations by a Republican Congress.


KING: That's got the former speaker more than a little frustrated.


GINGRICH: I don't object to being outspent. I object to lies. I object to negative smear campaigns and I object to things that the candidate himself refuses to support. And these are his people, running his ads, doing his dirty work while he pretends to be above it.


KING: Well, here's tonight's "Truth." And it's twofold. One, by the rules of politics Governor Romney is absolutely right, when he says this.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: With regards to the heat associated with the -- with ads, you know, if you can stand the relatively modest heat in the kitchen right now, wait until Obama's hell's kitchen shows up.


KING: Fair. Point two comes with a but. But, as right as he is about the rough and tumble of politics Governor Romney is being a bit too cute when he voices such outrage over the super PAC spending.


ROMNEY: They set up these new entities which I think is a disaster, by the way. Campaign finance law has made a mockery of our -- of our political campaign season. We really ought to let campaigns raise the money they need and just get rid of these super PACs.


KING: If he really means it Governor Romney should promise now if elected he'll work with those in Congress trying to write new campaign finance laws. But in the short term, Governor Romney is getting too much help from the existing rules. And very close friends to have much standing as a super PAC critic.

Restore Our Future was founded by three former Romney campaign aides and has raised more than $2 trillion from old Romney associates at Bain Capital. That's the investment firm the governor worked at for more than two decades.

To be fair, Governor Romney is hardly alone in getting help from deep-pocketed former longtime aides and friends. Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman, even Speaker Gingrich have old friends trying to help them using so-called super PACs. The Supreme Court says such spending is perfectly legal and truth is, unless and until Congress changes the rules, Speaker Gingrich won't get his Christmas wish of a kinder, gentler campaign. With us tonight to talk money and more, CNN political contributor and Republican strategist Mary Matalin, CNN contributor Erick Erickson, editor in chief of the conservative blog, and Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher, who's working for the Obama 2012 campaign.

Mary, these ads are new and different, the super PAC especially, since you were doing presidential campaigns, you know, nothing we can do about it, right? Gingrich can complain all he wants but these are doing him in in Iowa right now?

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: You know what? No one but the editorial pages of "The New York Times" gives jack about campaign finance reform. So you just need to stop complaining about it. Newt's doing everything he can do. This is -- but these town hall meetings and whatnot, should quit whining because why he ascended, how he ascended was by taking on Obama.

And what Romney says is spot-on. Cornell's team, and they're so good at this, are going to unleash the furies. If Newt thinks this is bothersome, that he's going to -- he would spend the whole general election being upset, that's what campaigns are about. They're not being vague. They're ugly but voters are sophisticated enough to distinguish between false negatives and problematic facts.

And that's just the nature of the business. It is what it is, and we're not going to perfect humanity in this cycle so get over it, everybody.

KING: Well, Cornell is actually here and you're going sign a pledge, right? The Obama campaign would not run a negative ad, right?



KING: It won't have a super PAC.

BELCHER: That's not going to happen. Two things here, is the -- all this money in politics it is bad. Look, I'm a political professional. I earn a living doing politics. And once upon a time before Mary started making all this money speaking, she's earning a living in politics as well. And it is absolutely damning to the process because it gets in the way of the voice of the people.

Other thing is, guess what, guys? Again I've said it before, negative advertising works. You have to response to it. Newt has not responded in a forceful way to it and it's beginning to drop his numbers.

KING: Well, Erick, let me ask you this question. Negative advertising works we know that. Newt's numbers are going down. Does positive advertising work? And by that, I want you to listen to a brand-new ad Governor Romney put up in Iowa, it is his wife talking on camera, it is positive if you listen to the script. The question is, is it saying something else? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANN ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY'S WIFE: If you really want to know how a person will operate, look at how they've lived their life. And I think that's why it's so important to understand the character of a person. To me that makes a huge difference. Maybe some voters it doesn't. But for me it makes a huge difference.


KING: That last part, maybe for some voters it doesn't. That's a little -- a silk swash, I guess. I'm not sure what to call it. No?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Rick Perry also has one up with Anita Perry basically saying the same thing. Yes, I think they're making it an effective point and they're making a negative with a very positive commercial. And yes, people love the wives ads. They love seeing the wives in these ads.

So the positive advertising does work. You can see it in Rick Perry's poll numbers as he's coming up. Mitt Romney is suddenly coming back up. Newt Gingrich is going down.

There's a larger issue here, though, John, and that is in 2004, Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt were so negative towards each other, so nasty, and everyone connected the commercials to them because they said, paid for by Dick Gephardt, Howard Dean, super PACs didn't exist.

Well, in this cycle, for the first time, you've got all of these negative attack ads on Newt Gingrich and they don't end by saying, paid for by Mitt Romney, they say paid for by this PAC no one's ever heard of. They're not as connected to Romney as the ads were in 2004.

Now in 2004 it caused those two to implode and John Kerry rose from the ashes and won Iowa. This year it's definitely hurting Newt. But very interesting Mitt Romney's poll numbers have been very, very stable.

KING: Stable in Iowa. We're going to see what happens in 13 nights. I want to move to a debate here and now, here in Washington.

Mary Matalin, I assume you read the "Wall Street Journal," even though you've moved out of town to New Orleans. Conservative editorial page, normally is kicking the Democratic administration saying President Obama wants to raise our taxes, wants to regulate the economy until he chokes it. That's normally what you see on the editorial pages of the "Wall Street Journal."

Today you see a slap at the Republican leadership in Congress over this payroll tax extension. They say, quote, "We wonder if they might end up re-electing the president before the 2012 campaign begins in earnest. The GOP leaders have somehow managed the remarkable feat of being blame for opposing a one-year extension of a tax holiday that they are surely going to pass. This is no easy double play.

Help Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell out of the box, Mary. How did they paint themselves into this corner?

MATALIN: Listen, John, I read the "Wall Street Journal" editorial page before I brush my teeth in the morning. Before I have a cup of coffee. They're wrong on this. And they make the point it's not going to create a single job, it's stupid policy, it's all politics, they play the politics -- they're not understanding the politics.

These voters, particularly primary conservative voters, are done with politics as usual and Boehner and his caucus took a principled stand. The Senate hasn't passed a budget. They're at the last minute they make this ridiculous deal. So what is required when you make a -- take a principled stand is to go out there and continue to explain it, and they out to just -- referencing our previous segment -- they ought to go back and tell the "Wall Street Journal" be still, my heart, how wrong they are in this case, because principle is going to overcome politics in this election cycle, is my prayer.

KING: Do you agree with that, Erick, in the sense that if you look at the president's approval numbers especially among middle class Americans they're jumping up all of a sudden? And in a tough economy that's an achievement for an incumbent president.

And look, I agree with Speaker Boehner personally that the two- month thing is a joke. And the way this all thing was debated in Washington was a joke.


KING: However, it was the proposal on the table. Taxes go up in 10 days if you don't pass it. You can kick it like pinata, beat it like a pinata, and still say, we're going to hold our nose and do this. But when we come back we're going to do more, can't you?

ERICKSON: Well, potentially yes, but you've got to remember here, first of all, the House has learned a valuable lesson. They were going to pass their one-year extension and leave town and let the Senate jam it into the Senate and tell the Senate do it or nothing. Instead they decided to stick around and the Senate did to the House what the House was going to do to the Senate.

You know there are days I wake up and think raw sewage has a better political acumen in Washington than the Republican leaders. At least they can flow through Washington in the path of least resistance. Everybody is getting eating up on the Republican side over this.

Frankly we know that this two-month extension can't even be implemented by businesses. The House Republicans should start talking about that. That Mitch McConnell agreed to a plan that businesses in America can't even implement in time to get a two-month extension.

KING: And so one of the questions in town is will the -- will the president blink? The Republicans have gone home. As you heard at the top of the show, maybe next week they'll try to figure their way out of this. But they're hoping in the meantime that the Democrats blink. The president says come back in.

BELCHER: Why on earth would the president blink? I mean look, when your enemy is digging themselves into a hole, you just get out of the way and let them continue to dig. Look, the real politics behind this becomes even more interesting because Speaker Boehner was on board with the deal. And Mitch McConnell --

KING: He says -- he says --


KING: He says it was a good deal that they put the Keystone Pipeline in there.

BELCHER: It was a good deal.

KING: He says -- he says --


KING: He says it's a little more complicated than that.

BELCHER: And Senator McConnell, the Republican leader pushed forward understanding that they would bring it to the fore. But something interesting happened is it shows us once again that Speaker Boehner has no control over his -- over his caucus and Tea Party.

KING: What you have now, Mary, Cornell blames this on the Tea Party, the new freshmen members. Some of them, they're saying, you know what, we don't care if we lose the next election. We're going to stand on this policy. But when you have so many Senate Republicans now essentially saying what the hell are you doing to the House Republicans, what happens?

MATALIN: I don't need to tell anybody in the real world that normal people right now don't care about this. They're Christmas shopping, they're stooped over from wrapping and baking, and all the wonderful things --

KING: But they don't care if they're going to --


KING: Do they not care that in 10 days they might lose whether it's $20 or $40 or $80 from their check --

MATALIN: That's not going to happen. Somehow they're going to either -- it's either not going to happen or the Republicans are going to have to explain why. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. But I promise you this, and you know I make few predictions. Not one single voter is going to cast their vote in the elections of 2012 over this incident which is infinitesimal compared to the debt ceiling big catastrophe that everyone said was going to bring down the universe.

This is not that -- on that level and Boehner did know -- Cornell, I'm sorry, he did know what was going on. And he does control his caucus. And he did the right thing and now they just have to -- they have to hold firm and they have to push back and say, how stupid this is to the president and the Senate.


BELCHER: Mary, real quickly. It's not the one thing. It is a narrative at this point. There's a continuation of thing. It's a whole narrative about how Republicans are not fighting for middle class families and how Democrats and the president is. This fits neatly into -- into that narrative.

ERICKSON: Well, you know, back in 2009 and 2010, Cornell, you and Mary's husband and others were saying the Republicans were going to get decimated in the polls in 2010 because they were the party of no, through December, through January, through February, Mary and I, and all these panels --

BELCHER: I never said that.

ERICKSON: You said, they're the party of no, they're going to lose. And look what happened. This isn't going to matter in November of 2012. The economy will matter.

KING: We're going to say the economy will matter. Cornell's point of question is whether the president somehow is emerging as the "I'm on your side" guy in this one. And we'll watch how this one plays out.

Mary, Erick, Cornell, if I don't talk to you beforehand, I hope I do, but if I don't have a merry Christmas.

And still ahead here, if you still have some holiday shopping to do, you're not alone. We're going to tell you where the shopper in chief went and what's on his list.

Plus the government recalls a popular battery used in power tools. The reason, it might explode. We'll have the details next.


KING: Welcome back. Here's Kate Bolduan with the latest news you need right now.


An important warning for everyone with rechargeable power tools under the Christmas tree. Anyone? This afternoon the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a voluntary recall of Rayovac replacement cordless battery packs. Take a look here. If you've purchased this battery sold exclusively through retailer Battery Plus, check and see if it has a CTL printed in white lettering on it. If so, you should probably stop using the battery immediately as the agency warns the battery packs can explode unexpectedly.

In other important news, football's most watched annual event is coming to the small screen. For the first time ever the Super Bowl along with some postseason -- some other postseason NFL games will be streamed online and through the league's mobile apps. But there's always a catch. And here's this one. You must be a Verizon subscriber to watch the games on your phone. No word if there are plans to bring the Super Bowl to other mobile carriers into the future.

KING: I bet Verizon hates that.

BOLDUAN: So bad.

KING: All right. So finally stay right here.

BOLDUAN: Yes. So -- OK.

KING: Tonight's "Moment You Missed." The first shopper, at work, at play, at business. What do you want to call it? President Obama headed for some stores in the Washington suburbs this afternoon and let reporters in on a few secrets.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In case you guys are wondering, "Just Dance" for the Wii. The girls beat me every time on these various dance games. So I'm going to -- now you guys will never get a picture of me doing it because I get graded F every time. So -- how are you? Merry Christmas to you.


KING: The president spent about $200 on that shopping trip. Here's what he picked up. Three copies of "Just Dance." He says he stinks, $39.99 a pop. "The Simms Three Pet Special," $49.99, and a couple of $50 Apple gift cards. It's about 2:00 in Hawaii.

Sasha and Malia, there is a Santa Claus and we hope we didn't ruin anything.


KING: Yes, that's a little -- a little tough there, right?

BOLDUAN: But you have other important news.

KING: This was almost "Kate Bolduan, USA" tonight. I ducked out to go to a very special event in the Washington suburbs. Take a peak.

That's Hannah Marie King right there for the Wooten High School Patriots, number 20. We got -- there, she's taking a three if we move up a little bit there. Got one more. There we go. High scorer. They kicked butt. I'm glad I made the game.

BOLDUAN: Nothing but net. Nice shot, though.

KING: She's my favorite. I'm her number one fan.

That's all for us tonight, we'll see you right back here tomorrow night. Erin Burnett "OUTFRONT" starts right now.