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NBC's Curry Surprisingly Tough on Plouffe: Are Dems 'Fanning the Flames' of 'Politics of Envy'?

In an uncharacteristically challenging interview with Obama advisor David Plouffe on Tuesday's NBC Today, co-host Ann Curry actually defended Mitt Romney's wealth and questioned why Democrats would criticize his success: "Now, what's wrong with that?...is that not the American dream?"

Her question became even more pointed as she pressed: "...isn't making a lot of hay over how much money he's earned and how much money he's paid in taxes, you know, really not just fanning the flames of this sort of idea of politics of envy?"

Plouffe predictably responded: "Warren Buffett famously said he should not be paying less taxes, as a rate, than his secretary....when the middle class, the average middle class worker is paying more in taxes than people who are making $50-60 million a year, we've got to change that."

Curry followed up with another tough question: "Newt Gingrich labeling President Obama as the food stamp president.....with 14.2 million people being added to our food stamp rolls in just three years under President Obama, why shouldn't President Obama be called the food stamp president?"

However, she did make sure to include the latest liberal defense of Obama's record on food stamps: "Now technically, according to FactCheck.org, there are half a million more people who were on food stamps during George W. Bush's eight years in office. However, that is compared to Obama's just three years in office."

If one looks at the FactCheck.org chart tracking the expansion of the food stamp program, a sharp increase in food stamp recipients can clearly be seen after Barack Obama took office.

Plouffe dismissed the legitimate criticism as simply being "a cheap applause line for the Republican base."

The only softball Curry tossed to Plouffe was in her first question: "If history is any guide, the President's audience tonight at the State of the Union will dwarf the audiences that were watching any of the Republican debates so far, many times over. So what is the core of the President's message tonight?"

Here is a full transcript of the January 24 interview:

7:08AM ET

ANN CURRY: David Plouffe is a senior adviser to President Obama. Mr. Plouffe, good morning.

DAVID PLOUFFE: Good morning, Ann.

CURRY: If – if history is any guide, the President's audience tonight at the State of the Union will dwarf the audiences that were watching any of the Republican debates so far, many times over. So what is the core of the President's message tonight?

PLOUFFE: Well, Ann, the President's going to lay out tonight, at this make or break moment for the middle class here in America, how do we build an economy that's built to last? We saw what happened when we had an economy that was built on bubbles, and fraud, and you know, phoney financial instruments. We need an economy that's built on American manufacturing, American energy, developing the skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values.

So we've had a – obviously a terrible recession. Only rivaled by the Great Depression. We've had over 3 million jobs over the last 22 months. The manufacturing sector is creating jobs for the first time since the 90s. Auto industry coming back. So there's some good news out there but the economy's far too weak. The hole was very deep. So we've got to really dig in and determine what kind of economy and kind of America do we want. And we want an economy that's based on everyone doing their fair share, everyone getting a fair shake, and everybody playing by the same set of rules.

CURRY: You talk about the wealthy paying their fair share. I want to get to Mitt Romney's tax returns, because as we just heard, he's made a lot of money over the past two years. Now, what's wrong with that? What is wrong – is that not the American dream? And isn't making a lot of hay over how much money he's earned and how much money he's paid in taxes, you know, really not just fanning the flames of this sort of idea of politics of envy?

PLOUFFE: Well, listen, there'll be 47 more Republican primaries and caucuses and voters in those contests, you know, they'll offer their opinion, which is much more important than mine, in that primary. I think the general – it's a good example, though, of the tax reform we need. Warren Buffett famously said he should not be paying less taxes, as a rate, than his secretary. The President is going to actually tonight lay out some specifics on the Buffett rule, what that means, how it's going to work so that we can know.

We want to reward wealth and prosperity and success. But if we're to move forward as a country, reduce our deficit, invest in things like manufacturing, education, how are we going to pay for it? And there's no question that we have a tax code that's far too complicated, far too complex. And when the middle class, the average middle class worker is paying more in taxes than people who are making $50-60 million a year, we've got to change that.

CURRY: I only have a few seconds left, but I want to ask you about Newt Gingrich labeling President Obama as the food stamp president now. He basically calling him the greatest food stamp president in history. Now technically, according to FactCheck.org, there are half a million more people who were on food stamps during George W. Bush's eight years in office. However, that is compared to Obama's just three years in office. So why shouldn't, with 14.2 million people being added to our food stamp rolls in just three years under President Obama, why shouldn't President Obama be called the food stamp president?

PLOUFFE: Well, listen, it's sort of a cheap applause line for the Republican base. The truth is, the reason there are more people on food stamps now, and as you said, there was more under Bush, we just had something that almost rivaled the Great Depression. So you're going to have more people out of work, more people needing temporary assistance.

The question is, do you want to go back to the policies that caused all those people to get on food stamps? Those are the same policies that Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are offering. The President tonight's going to offer something very different, it's a blueprint for how we build an America that's going to be lasting, that rewards work, that makes sure everybody does their fair share, that holds everyone accountable. Or do we want to go back to an economy that says, "Hey, Wall Street ought to write its own rules, make it easier for polluters to pollute, and let's just give tax breaks to the hugely wealthy in the country and that'll trickle down." We know that doesn't work. That's the reason we lost all the jobs, that's the reason why some people had to go on food stamps. So that's the fundamental question facing the country.

CURRY: Alright, David Plouffe, thank you for joining us this morning.

PLOUFFE: Thanks, Ann.

CURRY: Alright, and the President's State of the Union address will be airing tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 6 p.m. Pacific Time right here on NBC.


- Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow Kyle Drennen on Twitter.