The U. S. receives a warning about its credit rating. President Obama takes his deficit plan on the road. And more bad news for air traffic controllers after a near mishap with the First Lady’s plane. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Clarence Page Syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune.
- Susan Davis Congressional correspondent, National Journal.
- Byron York Chief political correspondent, Washington Examiner.
News Roundup Video
A caller who works as an air traffic controller explains his opinion that President Ronald Reagan’s policies contributed to the recent problems with air traffic controllers falling asleep:
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The president took his deficit cutting plan on the road to California. Battling the debt took on new urgency after Standard & Poor's warning of the possibility of lowering the U.S. credit rating. And the FAA took steps to fix problems in the nation's air traffic control system. Joining me in studio for the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup, Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune, Susan Davis of the National Journal, Byron York of the Washington Examiner. Do join us with your calls, your comments and questions. I look forward to hearing from you throughout the hour. Good morning, everybody.
MR. CLARENCE PAGEGood morning.
MS. SUSAN DAVISGood morning.
MR. BYRON YORKGood morning, Diane.
REHMAnd, Byron York, let me start with you. The president held a series of town meetings this week. What was that all about? Why did he choose the locations he did?
YORKWell, I think there are really three reasons he did it. One was to go out and defend his deficit plan, his deficit cutting plan. The other was to raise money for his election campaign. And I think the other was to sort of reenergize his liberal base, some of whom are a little bit frustrated with what they see as a lack of progress on a number of things. So he goes to some very favorable places. He goes to the headquarters of Facebook in Palo Alto, Calif. It's kind of a love-fest out there. Last...
YORKWell, it's -- there are 500 million people with Facebook.
YORKAnd many of them were actually listening, watching it through Facebook as well. And he ended up last night in Hollywood, at a restaurant in Brentwood, with Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, George Clooney and others, collecting, I believe, $35,800 a pop. So it was a three-part mission.
REHMNow, at -- for all the tickets, there were some available.
YORKIt depends on the events he would go into. This was a very small -- he holds different ones.
YORKThis one is a kind -- there are 60 people there. There are six tables there. What he does is he speaks a little bit, and then he goes and he speaks at every single table. So you get a face-to-face...
REHMHave you ever been to one of these?
YORKI have not. I've kept my $35,000 in my pocket.
REHMBut are reporters not allowed?
YORKWell, actually, if you look at the White House pool reports, they report on the president's remarks.
YORKAnd then the pool is ushered out. And then he goes from table to table privately.
REHMAnd, Clarence Page, he announced this week an investigation into the oil companies because of rising gasoline prices.
PAGEIndeed. And it's -- remains to be seen how effective it will be. But gasoline prices have been rising, and it's beginning to have an impact on public opinion 'cause it's one of those issues that hits everybody. When you -- with gasoline -- I mean, it's one thing. When you buy it, the price is right there in your face. And even I was startled here...
REHMWhat'd you pay?
PAGE...when I stopped at the pump. And I looked up, and I saw the gasoline was hitting $4 a gallon in my neighborhood. And I said, well, I remember back when $3 a gallon was supposed to lead to insurrection. Now, we barely blink as people are talking about going way beyond that. And in other parts of the country, it has gotten up to, I believe, $5 a gallon...
YORKIt's $4.65 a block from where we sit.
PAGEOkay. Okay. Right. Right.
REHMThat is incredible. What did he have to say, Susan, about GOP proposals to cut the debt?
DAVISIt's interesting 'cause the president has really started to make more of a contrast between himself and House Republicans, in particular, focusing on Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, who's the chairman of the Budget Committee, who, I think, is going to become sort of the proxy, his foil in a lot of this budget debate. And he is saying, largely -- his broad argument is saying, I have a plan. They have a plan. I think we have two different visions of America, and it's sort of setting the stage between the two parties for 2012, just sort of define what's your vision of America? How do you think this country should work?
DAVISAnd I do think what Clarence is saying about oil -- I mean, part of this is you're starting to see this already. I think gas prices Democrats are very concerned about because if you look at the polls, they are the ones that are getting more blamed for it. And the idea of oil companies, I think that you see a lot of Democrats, both liberal and beyond, who think that the government should be going harder against subsidies for oil companies, things like that, to close this budget deficit. So they're setting up their arguments.
REHMAnd what about Medicare and the differences between the two parties on that, Byron?
YORKWell, the differences are huge because Paul Ryan has suggested a plan in which the government basically gives people vouchers for Medicare. He calls it premium support, but he does really argue if you call it a voucher. It would take effect in a little more than 10 years from now. It would not affect anybody who is now 55 or older. And the president says, basically, let's don't change that. And I think the president has a problem with that. Actually, Ross Douthat wrote very well about this, this week.
YORKThe president comes out, and he says, look, you'll find people who say we can just cut Medicare and cut costs by eliminating waste, fraud and abuse. And he sort of makes fun of that, and then his plan to "reduce wasteful subsidies and erroneous payments." That's one of his big plans for cutting Medicare. So there are a lot of details need to be added to his plan.
REHMAnd, Clarence Page, as -- he's got his deficit task force at work...
REHM...but they seem to be having their own problems.
PAGEWell, this is typical of both task forces and commissions. The -- I think what is -- well, the Republicans want to focus on reducing spending, and the Democrats want to focus on equitable taxation. And those -- that's the general debate that we're running into at every corner here, whether you're talking about president's task force or the deficit reduction commission of Simpson-Bowles or Ryan versus Obama. And this debate is just beginning right now, and people are beginning to question whether or not we'll be able to really get anything substantive done before the elections. But this is going to be part of the election.
REHMSo who's leading in this budget debate, Susan?
DAVISThat is a great question. I think part of the problem that we have right now is it's been money, right? You have -- earlier this year, we had one big plan with the Obama's -- the president's debt commission came out, endorsed a plan. Currently in the Senate, we have something known as the Gang of Six, which is a bipartisan group of senators trying to come up with their own plan. Last week, in his speech on the deficit, the president announced a new commission that would be comprised of members of Congress that Joe Biden would be part of to come up with their plan.
DAVISSo there is a question of who's leading on this issue. And they're all coming out on the same sort of issues, but there's no real agreement. And there's no -- if they all come out with a plan, which one are we going to follow? Which one is the president going to embrace? And we don't know that.
YORKThere is no plan currently on the table for the 2012 budget. If you talk to Republicans about the Ryan plan, which is a 2012 budget, they say we're not going to get this until there's a Republican Senate and a Republican president to go along with the Republican House -- ain't going to happen. And then you say, well, okay. There has to be a budget for 2012. What's that going to be? And they say, well, we don't know. But we're starting from a good point. So they -- the Republicans feel, by pushing something as strong as the Ryan plan, what they eventually get will be more in their direction than if they didn't push a Ryan plan.
REHMBut the Ryan plan has such a drastic approach to, you know, everything in the budget.
DAVISWhat makes the Ryan plan so drastic is that it does it all on one side of the ledger. It's all done on the spending side.
REHMWithout any increases in taxes, and...
DAVISIn taxes. It broadens the rates.
DAVISIt does have reforms for the tax code, but, overall, it does not raise any taxes. And outside of sort of Republican orthodoxy, a lot of people that look at the federal budget say, look, we can't do this on one side of the ledger. We can't do it on the revenue side. We can't do it on the spending side. We're going to have to touch both. So the Ryan budget -- I think you're very right. I think that they went as far as they could go because, when they do negotiate, it gives them more room to get what they want. But the idea that the Ryan budget will be enacted at any time in the next year is just not going to happen.
REHMAnd what about the S&P downgrading or threat of downgrading the U.S. standing? How does that infuse this debate?
PAGEWell, it certainly woke everybody up because the Standard & Poor's is saying, by the way, if you don't settle this, you know, raise to the debt ceiling, you're jeopardizing the government's coveted AAA rating. And the stock market went down about 200 points that day. It went back up about 30-some points the next day. (sounds like) As cooler heads set, wait a minute, the bond market hasn't moved. Some stock market people, who were very quick to go and react, began to feel calmer. The White House didn't appear to be terribly agitated.
PAGEAnd some folks remembered that Standard & Poor's last made big news along with their rival Moody's when they were found giving AAA ratings to what turned out to be big junk mortgage packages. So they have a credibility situation of their own to deal with. But they do have some clout, still enough of a name, that when you hear Standard & Poor's is getting nervous, that that -- it helps the deficit hawks. So it's become part of the debate in that sense.
YORKAnd on the question of whether the Ryan plan is really drastic about a change to Medicare and Medicaid, I think he's done a favor to the debate because it's -- by showing what a serious problem it is. If you look, if you project out the spending -- current spending rates of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, by 2050 or thereabouts, they eat every single tax dollar that the federal government takes in. Obviously, something big has to happen. Paul Ryan actually has a plan.
PAGEYet, if I may add, without jumping -- I've turned too much here. I was interested this week when a McClatchy poll found that nobody wants to cut Medicare...
YORKThat's exactly right.
PAGE...including the Tea Party folks who, in that poll, 70 percent said, don't touch my Medicare. So...
REHMBut -- and the reason I use the word drastic, Byron, is that people are saying, if you allow those Bush tax cuts to expire, if you change the approach to taxes, the drastic cuts that he is proposing to Medicare would not be as drastic.
YORKI would actually disagree with you on that. Because if you look at IRS numbers -- and the most recently we have are for 2008 -- if you took every single person who makes above $200,000 in the country and you confiscated 100 percent of their income, you still would not fill -- you'd get about $1.5 trillion. You would not fill the deficit for this year. There is -- even if the Bush tax cuts expire, something serious is going to have to be done with Medicare.
REHMClearly. Byron York, he is chief political correspondent for the Washington Examiner. Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMWelcome back for the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup. Byron York of the Washington Examiner is here. Also, Susan Davis of National Journal and Clarence Page of Chicago Tribune. You can join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to join us on Facebook or Twitter. Susan, during the break, you were talking about how economics and politics are really running along the same track now.
DAVISWell, the thing that struck me about the S&P report on the credit ratings was that, in it, they said that the reason why they were so pessimistic about the U.S. credit rating is because of the political gridlock, that things have -- we've reached such an impasse in Washington over, specifically, deficit reduction, and that if you look at the long-term fiscal outlook of the United States, it doesn't look good. And that is directly pointing to our politics. And that seems like a -- for a long time, I think our economics and our politics sort of operated on dual tracks. And now there seems to be a link there, obviously, since the financial crisis is a -- was a big reason for that. But I don't know. It seems like, for the foreseeable future, our economics and politics are going to be much closely linked than what we've been used to.
YORKActually, we learned after the Standard & Poor thing came out that the White House had tried to get them not to put it out, or, if they were going to put it out, to delay it until after...
REHMTo hold off.
YORK...the president's economic speech so he could have more of a plan on the table than what he had submitted earlier in the year, which basically called for very little deficit reduction. So it's clear that, for 2012, unless some amazing event intervenes, that the fight is going to be on each side's plan over how to bring federal spending under control.
REHMSo is there a deadline here? Is there a time when S&P says you've done it, you've improved, you're okay, or you're not?
DAVISI don't know if there's a specific deadline for that. But I will say we are coming up on a very quick deadline on the debt limit in the United States. There's just going to have to be a vote in Congress to raise our debt limit. And I think that's being widely cast as a deadline of sorts and where we're going to start it. We are addressing sort of the deficit on this and reforms that members of Congress would like to see attached to it to sort of start bringing this under control.
REHMReuters is saying July 26.
PAGEThat's quite possible. But, you know, as you also know, Diane -- and I've heard this on your program -- there's a debate over how important the debt ceiling is, that it was an arbitrary thing, legislated partly for this very reason, to give us a marker to what -- so we would know when we're getting in trouble, when we need to really talk seriously about the debt. Obviously, we are at that point. Standard & Poor's coming out with their warning adds to the urgency of the situation. But we've still got gridlock as of today. But, you know, this is what -- this is a recess week. People are back home.
PAGECongressman Ryan ran into trouble with one of his constituents at a town hall meeting, which is on YouTube now, who didn't like the way he -- what's -- as this person put it, trickle-down economics. He didn't like Ryan's trickle-down approach. But, you know, it's what town hall meetings are for. This is what going back home to your district is for. This is what Obama out there on the road -- he got some heat from a couple of liberals out there, even at the Facebook meeting about, you know, when you are running for office, you were talking about job development. Now, you're talking about cutting spending. What happened, you know? So that's -- we're right in the middle of it now, so let's see what happens after the recess.
YORKAs far as the deadline is concerned, Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, sent a letter to Congress early this month, said, we'll probably bump into it in mid-May. But I, as Treasury secretary, have this trick, and that trick that I can use to take it till July 8. So when Congress hears that, they'd say, oh, great. We got all of May. We got all of June. I would look for this to stretch pretty close to the deadline.
REHMWe have heard lots of stories this week about air traffic controllers. Can somebody tell me what the sleeping problem is going on there, Susan?
DAVISIt's absolutely been a bad time for the FAA. I mean, they've seen -- several people have been suspended. I think the head of the U.S. Air Traffic Control resigned over this. There is an argument to be made that they are poorly staffed. And maybe this goes -- if you want to tie it to a broader argument, is that they need more funding to hire more traffic controllers, is what some would say. I think the fact that the incident this week involved First Lady Michelle Obama -- I don't think at any point she was in danger. No one had fallen asleep, but they did allow the aircraft that she was on fly too close to a military aircraft.
REHMAnd what that does is...
DAVISIt can create...
REHM...it creates a backdraft.
DAVISYes. And it can create a dangerous situation.
DAVISThere wasn't one, but it did violate protocol. So the FAA, obviously under direction of the White House, is now assigning an official to monitor all flights that the vice president and the first lady is on, similar to what the president has right now, which is just being extended to them.
REHMDoes this go back to Ronald Reagan's firing of all the air traffic controllers, and thereby limiting the number, Byron?
YORKI do not think so. That was, what, 1982 or…?
YORK'81 -- 30 years go.
YORKNo. Absolutely. Absolutely not. I do not think it goes back to that. Look, when you have a single person on a job that's overnight...
YORKI have to confess, I used to work from 10:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m.
YORKI had a job at CNN, and they had a very comfy couch -- so a natural room. And it happened quite often you'd be on the comfy couch in dream land, and someone would be shaking your shoulders, telling you that it was time for your break to be over. It's a difficult thing. And if it's important...
REHMOh, so they gave you a break. Is that the point?
YORKWell, no. The point is you will fall asleep at a...
YORK...at a moment's notice.
PAGETrue confession time.
YORKAnd you -- if you're up in the middle of the night. So, clearly, I think they need to double-team these things...
REHMWell, the other thing that, frankly, I worry about equally is the pressure put on young doctors who are going through that 36-hour kind of regime.
REHMI just -- I don't know how they can make rational decisions.
PAGEThis is one of those hardy perennial controversies. I don't know why -- I mean, I was a young reporter when I first heard about this debate over young doctors being pushed through this 30-hour shift business. And it sounds to me like it should -- it's like a fraternity initiation, you know. Well, my generation...
PAGE...had to do it...
PAGE...so this generation has to do it, too...
PAGE…'cause there are human lives at stake. And that's the difference. Byron, I, too, can confess. In my younger days as an overnight police reporter, me and the reporter from the rival newspaper took turns taking naps at the police headquarters pressroom, you know.
PAGEBut that's different from being an air traffic controller. To me, the shock was to learn that every commercial jetliner's required to have a pilot and co-pilot. But the traffic controllers have one guy there...
PAGE...overnight, one guy or woman there overnight.
REHMSo what does this all do for Transportation Secretary LaHood?
PAGEIt starts a sleep debate. He was at the -- met with the editorial board of my newspaper this past week, Chicago Tribune, and was questioned about this. And he said, not on my watch will controllers be allowed to sleep. My colleagues wrote a brilliant editorial, saying, why not?
REHMWhy not, indeed?
PAGEStudies, NASA studies, other studies show...
PAGE...that a -- an organized, pre-arranged nap of time of a half-hour improves your job performance. So...
REHMBut you've got to have two in there and not one.
PAGEOh, sure. You need a backup...
DAVISIt's a problem with obvious solutions. But, as usual, it's hard to agree on the solution.
REHMExactly. And we seem to be hearing so much more about these lately, but have they been there all the time?
YORKI think this has been happening. It's a kind of a...
YORKIt's a copycat reporting...
YORK...syndrome. I mean...
YORK...these are happening. And we should point out that, in a number of airports, almost nothing is happening in the middle of the night, in which case...
YORK...a nap break, pre-arranged, would be perfectly appropriate because many places, including Washington, D.C., have laws governing the last time at night...
YORK...a plane can land and the earliest time of the morning it can take off.
PAGEIt's kind of like shark attack stories. You ever...
PAGE...notice how shark attacks always happen in bunches...
PAGE...as far as the news is concerned...
PAGE...as if nobody ever gets bitten by a shark in the off-years?
REHMScariest movie alive, "Jaws."
DAVISAnd it goes to what people are scared about, right? You're scared of sharks.
DAVISYou're scared of the idea the airplane you're landing in.
DAVISThere's no one there, you know.
REHMWell -- and now we have this new security system, this new terrorism alert. What does it mean?
YORKWell, I think it's the same thing as the old one. They've just taken away the color coding...
YORK...which was a matter of -- became a matter of some humor in "Saturday Night Live" sketches and all that. But there are still -- the Department of Homeland Security will still tell us that the threat of a terrorist attack is high or it's imminent, which I think would be the highest term. They're just going to take away this color coding thing, which I think they thought -- and perhaps with some justification -- that people weren't taking seriously.
REHMI thought it was fascinating and really quite lovely that Secretary Napolitano wore a bright green jacket for the announcement about it. I was really intrigued by that. But is it going to make any difference in our behavior or what we ought to be doing?
DAVISNo. I think the problem with the color-coded system was -- it was always too vague to ever be useful. I don't think anyone ever knew what color should correspond with their actions. I think -- you know, now, I think that the two are now elevated or imminent. We're going to go from two phases of -- versus the color coding system. And, you know, right now, I don't know if we're elevated or imminent or what we should be doing or not doing. I do think it is a way. Obviously, the Department of Homeland Security has to have some kind of system in place where they can warn citizens. They have to have something. But does it change our behavior? Does it make anyone feel any safer? I think that there's -- very doubtful about that.
REHMWell, somebody's behavior is changing, and that is the crop of GOP candidates out there. What do you think of them, Byron?
YORKWell, the polls show right now -- and I think they're correct -- that the Republicans are not very excited with the GOP field. They don't know who a lot of them are. Tim Pawlenty...
REHMBut they know who Donald Trump is.
YORKTim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, has been running pretty hard, and still a lot of people don't know who he is. I think the increase in Trump's rise in the rating is a couple of things -- one, his just recognition factor, two, this kind of weird co-dependent relationship he has with the press, in which he is saying lots of stuff, and the press is covering it, and, three, also, it is an indication of dissatisfaction with the field as it exists now. I don't think it's a serious phenomenon. I don't think it's going to last, but that's what we have right now.
REHMHe sure is playing tough on this birther issue, Clarence.
PAGEHe goes back and forth. And, now, this week, he was saying, you know, enough with the birther thing. The next thing I knew, I saw another headline 'cause everybody is going to ask him about it now. We are in the silly season of this campaign at this point. The one serious historical factor, I think, that is significant here is the fact that Republicans don't have an obvious frontrunner. And, usually, at this point in the race, Republicans, much more than Democrats, have an obvious frontrunner. At this point, in the '08 race...
REHMWhat about Mitt Romney?
PAGEHe is not as front -- I mean, Mitt was running behind Trump and Huckabee, you know, last week.
PAGESo, you know, that's the kind of volatility you don't expect. But, yeah, Mitt Romney, I -- you know, my money would still be on Mitt Romney. But I think a lot of Republicans are frustrated that a lot of strong candidates are sitting this out, like Jeb Bush or other people.
DAVISI just think it's interesting that Mitt Romney is the frontrunner, but nobody thinks he can win. It's such an -- you know, it's an interesting...
YORKHe can't win the primary. But (unintelligible)...
DAVISRight. That -- you know, that the health care law that he enacted as governor of Massachusetts is such a shackle to him, that it's going to be very hard for him to break through the primary. And he still, years later -- still is having a hard time explaining, rationalizing how he did this.
REHMSo would that mean it's likely you'll get a late entry into it? I mean, somebody like Mitch Daniels.
YORKNo. It means that the field is open for a late entry.
YORKOne of the things to add to what Clarence was saying, Republicans are either notorious or famed for nominating the guy who finished second the last time.
YORKNow, the last time, Romney and Huckabee tied for second. I mean, it was almost exactly tied. And Mike Huckabee is doing very well in the polls among Republicans, has not said whether he will run. He's still doing a program on Fox and, by all appearances, seems to be kind of happy with his new life. But it shows that there is an opening, and two of the bigger ones, I would say are, Mitch Daniels. People really would love to see Chris Christie doing something, governor of New Jersey...
REHMBut he said no.
YORKEven though he has...
YORK...he's come out and said, "I am not ready"...
YORK...which is going to be thrown back at him if he does run.
REHMByron York of The Washington Examiner. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Susan Davis, Sen. John Ensign had said he wouldn't run for reelection, but now he's stepping down. How come?
DAVISHe announced his resignation. In large part, he's been cleared -- as a little bit of background, he announced he was resigning because he had had an extramarital affair with a former staffer, and the scandal had, you know, obviously blown up publicly and forced his hand on this. But he's also -- the Senate Ethics Committee was also continuing to do an investigation. The Justice Department had looked at him and said he didn't break any laws, but you cannot break the law and still break Senate ethics laws. And the Senate Ethics Committee just didn't increase their resources on this investigation and were expected to come out with something probably in short order.
DAVISAnd I think it's a -- the Senate Ethics Committee has no jurisdiction over former members of Congress. So by resigning, it almost, in a way, makes it disappear. What is very interesting about this, politically, is that with his exit, it allows Republicans to nominate, to fill his seat. And it's a Republican governor, so, obviously, he will appoint a Republican. Expect it to be Congressman Dean Heller, who had already announced that he would be running for John Ensign's seat, so it gives him a little bit of an advantage heading into 2012.
DAVISNevada, as I should say -- Nevada, for your listeners there...
DAVISNevada is going to be a battleground state. President Barack Obama was there yesterday, campaigning in Dean Heller's district. And even more interesting is that with Dean Heller likely to be appointed to this race, to the Senate, it's going to spark a House race, which, normally, special election House races aren't that interesting. But I think this one is already gathering a lot of attention because it's going to be seen as a bellwether race for 2012. It's a district with a lot of seniors. It's in a battleground state. Republicans and Democrats will contest it very heavily. And it's going to be a place for Democrats to really use their message on Medicare, opposing the Ryan budget, heavy population of seniors out there. So Nevada, all of a sudden starting to became the center of the political universe in the past 24 hours.
REHMThis tiny, little state.
YORKIt was not an accident that the president was there. He's out in California, and he's up in Northern California.
YORKThen he goes to Nevada, and then he heads off to Los Angeles. So it's -- you'll see him a lot there this year, too.
REHMIt also means that Republicans have an incumbent in that office when the next election comes around.
REHMSo Sen. Ensign said he didn't want to put his family through any more of this problem.
PAGERight. What was interesting to me about the state out there, you know, California is not the swing state it used to be, but now Nevada is. And Arizona is getting all this attention, being on the frontlines of, really, the conservative revolution -- you could say, out there, to be most charitable about it. But, in any case, yeah, I think there's a lot of political significance to it in that regard.
REHMAnd, finally, the Wisconsin Supreme Court seat is still embroiled.
PAGEIt's not entirely settled.
PAGEI mean, we had this big thing on election night. It looked like, Dianne Kloppenburg, the Democratic challenger, was ahead by, like, 204 votes. And she, I think, very unwisely declared victory over David Prosser, the sitting Supreme Court Justice. Then you had this weird thing where a clerk comes out and says, I missed -- I failed to count an entire city. And it just blew the race wide open. Prosser is ahead by 7,300 votes. They do a canvass of the whole state. That lead holds up. And Kloppenburg had until Wednesday afternoon to say whether she would ask for a recount. The vote was ever so tiny, inside the margin for a taxpayer-funded recount, and she says there will be a recount.
REHMAnd there will be a recount. When we come back after a short break, we're going to open the phones. We'll hear an insider's perspective from the traffic controller.
REHMI just love our audience. We have two emails. The first from Robert, who says, "Diane is incredible, blaming the snoozing on Ronald Reagan 30 years ago. Maybe George Bush did something he can be blamed for." On the other hand, here's one from Eric in Ohio, who says, "Of course the air controller problem goes back to Reagan. Replacement of controllers, impossible hours and a toothless, so-called, and utterly silent union all date from that." Two views -- who knows who's right?
PAGEWelcome to politics in 2011.
REHMIndeed. Let's hear from a former traffic controller or perhaps even a current one. Good morning, Michael. You're on the air.
MICHAELGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
MICHAELI'm a current air traffic controller, and I've been working nearly 30 years, seven years in the military and 22 years in the FAA. And I respectfully disagree with your panelists. It was all caused by Ronald Reagan. They created an infrastructure crisis inadvertently. When I was hired in '88, we were still woefully understaffed throughout the country. We never recovered. We warned the FAA management in the late '90s that this is going to be a problem. They ignored it.
MICHAELAnd a lot of people don't know this, but the Bush administration, when they appointed Marion Blakey as the FAA administrator, she basically allowed veteran controllers to retire between 2006, 2009, because they voided the contract that we had. And we lost almost 3,000 experienced controllers that we still haven't recovered from. So it's a real problem. We're still facing a crisis situation in staffing.
REHMMichael, let me ask you a question, if I may. Do you have any idea how many controllers would have been on duty overnight before Ronald Reagan broke the union and fired the air traffic controllers?
MICHAELThey would have normally had probably just one in the tower and one in the radar room if it was an upstairs/downstairs facility. If it was a tower-only facility, they probably still would have only had one. But the difference was -- is those were true professionals. We're dealing with replacing the controllers with young people, don't understand the responsibility level. The -- most of them aren't allowed to work in the tower because they're trainees. That's another shell game the FAA chooses to do when they say that the facility is fully staffed. They would say 50 controllers, but, really, only 30 of them are fully certified. And those 30 are the only ones that work the mid, and so they're fatigued and they're tired.
PAGEWe were asking -- yeah, we were asking something here. Maybe you can give us some perspective. Has there been snoozing going on all along, and we just didn't know about it? Or is this something new?
MICHAELNo. This is really something new. I mean, it is hard to ask someone to have to stay up all night. But a lot of facilities have tended to -- when they've had multiple people stand in, they've had the people split up the mid. So what the people do on their break, I have no idea. But that's the way it used to be. But now, when the staffing is so tight that -- normally, there's not enough people to put more multiple people on position, especially radar facilities.
YORKActually, it sounded like as if you were blaming Bush a little more than Reagan because that is the deal where a number of experienced controllers retired. I have to confess, I don't know enough about the history of air traffic controllers...
YORK...to say this. I find it difficult to believe that there's some approximate causation involving Ronald Reagan, but, whatever.
MICHAELWell, let me give you one more number. There's 15,000 controllers supposedly in the United States right now. That's not true. There's 12,000 that actually work traffic at any given time. And of that 12,000, there's maybe 6- to 8,000 that are fully certified. The rest are these replacement controllers that we're trying to get through the system, but we don't have the resources anymore.
REHMI hope you're going to send an email to both Secretary Ray LaHood and the temporary head of the FAA, whoever that might be. Michael, thanks for calling.
MICHAELThank you, Diane.
REHMOkay. And let's go to Tempe, Ariz. Good morning, Walter.
WALTERGood morning, Diane. If I could go back to the budget issue, if I could, please.
WALTERMy question is, when you have guests on that's always talking about cutting the budget, I would like to hear them say what they're willing to give up. The president put his plan out, and he admitted that his taxes were going to go up on his plan. So when you have guests on and they're constantly talking about cutting the budget, we know we're going to have to cut everywhere. But I want to know what they're willing to give up in their personal life in order for us to balance the budget.
REHMWhat do you...
WALTERRight during the summer, you had a lady on from Philadelphia that admitted she helped organize seven, I think it was, Tea Party groups. And as long as you mentioned Social Security, she got very defensive. So we're all going to have to sacrifice, but I want to know what everybody's willing to give up.
YORKWell, I -- that would be me here, as the budget-cutting advocate. Look, I think in an end -- at the end, I think a plan like the Simpson-Bowles plan is not all that crazy. The president hasn't embraced it. Members of Congress haven't embraced it. I think Republicans -- Republicans talk about something called a tax trap, which is they feel if they agree to any increases in taxes, that's what happens -- the taxes go up, but the cuts don't get made. I think that a lot of Republicans view the tax is kind of the way that a lot of them view illegal immigration.
YORKIf they felt that the border was really secure, that the influx of illegals was actually being stopped, then I think they'd be very open to a path to citizenship or amnesty for the people who are already here. But they feel it's not being stopped. In this case, if they felt that cuts would really be made, I think that they would agree to some sort of tax increases. Their feeling is if they agree to it now, taxes get -- go up, cuts don't get made.
REHMOkay. But what about what happened during the Clinton administration, when taxes did go up? The budget got balanced. There weren't the kinds of deficits we're seeing now.
YORKWell, there was this extraordinary increase in tax revenues because of the high-tech bubble that did increase the disparity between rich and poor in the country. But people -- the governors -- the government's tax increases were just a gusher. And if you look at the agreement in 1993, '94, '95, when Clinton did raise taxes, still, the administration and everyone else were predicting budget deficits of $200 billion, which at that time was a lot of money. As far as the eye can see, nobody saw the boom coming. It came, it created a surplus, and then it disappeared fairly quickly after that.
REHMAnd it disappeared at least in part because George W. Bush...
YORKWell, I will say, if you...
REHM... lowered taxes.
YORKIf you go to the year 2007, which is four -- five years after the Bush tax cuts go in effect, the budget deficit is $162 billion, which is a rounding error for today. If you look in Bush years, you see the deficit is going down and down and down to 2007. And then, of course, when the economy falls off the edge of the table, they go back up. But even with the Bush tax cuts, the Bush -- the deficits were going in the right direction for quite a while.
PAGEWell, to get back to the caller's question, what are we willing to sacrifice? I see some hopeful science in the polls here, though -- the same poll I mentioned earlier, where even the Tea Party folks didn't want to touch Medicare. Those under age 55 are much more amenable to cuts, which is what Ryan's plan -- that's the age group he's aimed at. He prudently has avoided those who are currently -- have received Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. His plan doesn't kick in till 10 years out. The other thing is that, in general, the public has responded favorably to the idea of lifting the caps in Social Security. Right now, it's capped. You don't get tax, except on your first 106,000 of income at present.
PAGEThat cap was put in as a political expediency back in the Roosevelt -- Franklin Roosevelt days in order to say, see, it's not socialism. We're only taxing the -- I was taxing the people up to a certain point. Lifting those caps alone would really reduce the Social Security crisis that we have now.
REHMAnd raising the age of retirement to 67.
PAGEThat's less popular.
REHMI understand that.
PAGEIn the polling, you know, lifting the caps is the most popular alternative.
PAGEBut, yeah, raising the age is another debatable alternative.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Ruth, who's in Detroit, Mich. Good morning, you're on the air.
RUTHThanks for taking my call.
RUTHMy question is about the deficit. And it, again, goes back to the Clinton era where we were projected to have -- to wipe out the deficit. And we had a surplus, and it was taken away. And I don't know who to believe because we keep getting different answers as far as, you know, having the deficit reduced. Who's to say that the Republicans or whoever is in the office will all get the surplus away again and we go through the whole deficit?
REHMYou know, I don't think anybody can foresee that far an event. Susan?
DAVISI think that's right, although I understand the listener's frustration. I do think that there is a lot of frustration. Do you think right now what you're seeing is, firstly, in polling data, that I do think there's a high level of awareness among Americans that we have a serious fiscal problem. You know, over -- majority of Americans in most of the recent ABC/Washington Post polls that we've seen get it, and they believe it's both a spending problem and a tax problem. But, again, when you get into the solutions of this, it gets messy.
DAVISI think when you're talking about things people are willing to give up, you have to look at the politics of this because when it does come to Social Security and Medicare, you cannot separate the politics, in part because senior citizens are one of the most potent voting blocs in this country. So even if you're saying we're not going to change their benefits, even entering into that dialogue with voters creates such passionate feelings in this country.
YORKYou know, there's one thing that's interesting about the Social Security aspect of this. The big three -- your Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security -- and yet Social Security is the one in which all sides agree that the fixes are relatively simple. They're not easy, but they're simple. And yet the president does not propose a plan to do it, and Paul Ryan left it out of his plan, who basically says, well, we want the president to lead on this. So on the one part of the problem that everybody agrees...
YORK...could be fixed...
YORK...because how in the world do you bring medical costs down. We don't know how to do that. But you do know how to fix Social Security, and nobody will do it.
REHMLet's go to Jefferson, Md. Good morning, Jennifer.
JENNIFERYes, good morning. Well, I'm glad one of your guests already addressed my first point, which it sounds like it would be an easy fix of the entitlement programs to raise, if not just eliminate, the caps on the payroll. Because, personally, I don't really even think it's fair that when people finally do receive their Social Security benefits that those are taxed. But just to -- I have...
REHMThat's a whole other discussion.
JENNIFERYeah, but eliminating or reducing fraud with Social Security disability and Medicare, it could be so simple that someone who is supposedly disabled, receiving Social Security disability money, to just cross-reference their Social Security number with the IRS, if the person who's paying taxes. If that person should really be, you know, I've seen it myself, someone receiving money. And as someone who is trying to get Social Security, this is already -- it's such an arduous process, but let me skip over that. As far as Medicare, I have also seen from someone who's deceived, looking at the records of someone -- a medical provider still, you know, who is billing poor medical...
JENNIFER...for appointments when that person wasn't even there. And I knew that person before (word?) was out of town.
REHMAll right, Jennifer, thanks for your call. Of course, once again, I can remember Ronald Reagan going after waste and fraud in Social Security and Medicare and coming up with the Cadillac moms and...
PAGEWelfare queens, yeah, that was...
YORKPerhaps its -- perhaps this is his fault, too.
REHMWelfare queens, yeah.
YORKWell, this has been sort of a mythical goal of all presidents. And everybody would agree that this kind of fraud that the caller described should be rooted out and stopped.
REHMDoes take place.
YORKAnd it does take place, and it should be stopped. But even that, I think that cutting fraud does not solve the whole problem.
REHMGet you to where you need.
YORKIt's the right thing to do, but it doesn't solve the problem.
PAGEByron and I can agree on this.
PAGEByron and I can agree, it's way overestimated. Every investigation shows that it's not that much ways, fraud and abuse.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Holly, Mich. Good morning, Pat.
PATGood morning. My question is why do the Republicans feel that they can create class warfare between we seniors that are over the age of 55 and get to keep traditional Medicare and our children who are going to be approaching that age, who've gone though this terrible recession, who have been lucky to maintain any kind of health care through their employer, and they're going to face a voucher and be left in the open market to do the best they can?
REHMPat, I don't mean to be terribly critical, but I sure wish we could get rid of the phrase class warfare. I think it just sets up so many false targets. Byron?
YORKWell, I don't think it's their intention to do this. I think they are facing the problem, which is we're going to be spending too much money on Medicare. We have to spend less money on Medicare. What is the fairest and most politically...
YORK...feasible way to do it now? And if you have people who are within 10 years of retirement, they said, you know, it's not fair to just change the system right away. Prior to that, maybe they have time to adjust their lives more. I don't think it's an effort to create class warfare, but it's going to be a problem however they do it because it means people receiving smaller benefits from the government.
REHMAll right. And one last quick call from New Hampshire. Good morning, Charles. Very quickly, please.
CHARLESYes. I'd like comment on the one panelist who stated the Bush deficit wasn't quite that great. It overlooks the fact that he kept the two wars off the books, and they did significant Social Security borrowing, which, because of arcane accounting, also didn't appear in the deficit.
REHMByron, it's all yours.
YORKI will answer this. I have checked with Congressional Budget Office on this. Go look at the budget of the United States for prior years. They show all outlays and all receipts of the government. It includes the war. When you talk about Bush's deficits, they include all federal spending, including the wars. Social Security, until recently, has run a surplus many years, and that surplus was applied to general expenditures and administrations of both parties.
REHMClarence, any comment?
PAGEI think, you know, this is, you know -- I hate these green-eye shade stories because you can fool around with (word?) every which way. But, no, that's basically true. The wars have not been off the books, but they certainly contributed to the deficit and debt problem that we have now.
YORKThat is correct. No doubt about it. You can look at it. You can see what the wars cost and what we're saving now by running down the war in Iraq.
REHMSaving by running down the war in Iraq.
PAGEOther problem is...
YORKWe're spending less on it.
PAGE... in terms of the Bush tax cuts, though, they are a cost in terms of -- Matt Miller had a brilliant column this morning in The Washington Post about how there is a cost to this. And even in the Ryan budget we're talking about, what, $4 trillion -- oh, I'm sorry -- $6 trillion was what the figure Miller had 10 years from now. So the Obama budget has a similar deficit to it, but we need to be honest about these numbers.
REHMClarence Page, Chicago Tribune, Susan Davis, National Journal, Byron York, Washington Examiner. Happy Easter, everybody. Have a great weekend.
PAGESame to you, Diane.
YORKThank you, Diane.
REHMThanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth and Sarah Ashworth. The engineer is Erin Stamper. Dorie Anisman answers the phones.