Congress expert Norman Ornstein on what the debate over the debt limit says about dysfunction in Congress, and his ideas for how to fix it.
The fight over medicare contributed to an election victory on Tuesday for Democrats in one of New York’s most conservative congressional districts. On Wednesday, the Senate rejected a House GOP plan to reshape medicare. Republicans unveiled a plan to spur job growth by lowering the top tax rate. The administration said it would aid businesses by revamping regulations. And the Justice Department prepared possible criminal charges against former presidential candidate John Edwards.
- Susan Page Washington bureau chief for USA Today.
- Juan Williams Political analyst, FOX News.
- Laura Meckler White House correspondent, The Wall Street Journal.
Friday News Roundup Video
The panelists discuss the future work of Elizabeth Warren, Special Adviser to the Secretary of Treasury on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “Elizabeth Warren has become such a lightening rod…somehow, she’s come to represent the idea of overly-intrusive government, overly-regulated government – the Obama administration trying to hamstring big business, and that’s what it has come down to,” said Fox News political analyst Juan Williams:
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The Senate defeated a proposal to overhaul Medicare. A Democrat won a hotly contested special election in Upstate New York, and John Edwards may face criminal charges. Joining me in the studio to talk about the week's top domestic stories on the Friday News Roundup, Susan Page of USA Today, Juan Williams of Fox News and Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal.
MS. DIANE REHMThroughout the hour, I'll look forward to hearing from you, 800-433-8850. Join us by email, list us on Facebook, send us a tweet. Good morning, everybody.
MS. SUSAN PAGEGood morning.
MS. LAURA MECKLERGood morning.
REHMGood to see you all. Juan Williams, why a vote on Medicare now?
MR. JUAN WILLIAMSIt's the hot issue in American politics of the day, as we just saw in that special election Upstate New York that led to the Democrat Kathy Hochul really pulling off what is an improbable victory, given that it's a strongly Republican district, and Medicare was the issue. As you know, the House Republicans had passed a bill that would have changed the way that Medicare is delivered to seniors in the country, to make it basically into a voucher.
MR. JUAN WILLIAMSBut, of course, it's limited. And everybody keeps pointing out that with the high rate of growth of the cost of health care, it would leave quite a gap that seniors would then have to cover. And seniors have reacted negatively to this proposal that was put forward as the key part of debt reduction by Paul Ryan, the House Republican Budget Committee chair.
REHMBut, Susan, how divided are Republicans on this issue?
PAGEYou know, it's not a surprise that Democrats wanted to have a vote on the Medicare plan because they think this is a big winner for them. It was a surprise, I think, that the Republicans managed to hang together as much as they did. They all -- in the Senate, they only lost five Republican votes, and one of them because Rand Paul wanted a plan that went further, not a more modest one.
PAGESo Republicans are not backing down from this Medicare plan, although it makes a lot of them very nervous. What they are trying to do is change the subject a bit to make it more about deficit reduction and less about what they would like to do with the Medicare program.
REHMBut, also, aren't they changing the subject to job proposals?
PAGEWell, they came out yesterday with a jobs proposal, a lot of very familiar policies, things we heard about in the Pledge to America in the last campaign. And other Republican tried and true proposals, including reducing the corporate tax rate, eliminating taxation on profits from abroad that would make us -- our policy more consistent with a lot of other major economies, reducing regulation, making it harder to impose new regulations.
PAGEThat's what this Republican jobs plan that is -- of course, jobs is the number issue for Americans, the number one things they are concerned about. And the degree to which either side can talk about job creation will be to their political benefit.
REHMBut, Laura, back to Medicare, are we going to see more forceful attacks on Medicare as the election heats up?
MECKLERI think it's absolutely certain. I mean, Democrats, they see the whites of their eyes, and they are on the move on this issue. They think that they've got a winner here. And they've got good evidence from this election, special election in New York, so they absolutely are not letting this go. And Republicans, you know, are -- seem to be saying that they're comfortable having the election debated on these grounds, at least to some extent.
MECKLERThey are trying to reframe it a bit, as Susan said. But it's still -- just the way they've responded to this and the Democratic strategy behind this election is pretty clear right now.
WILLIAMSYou know, I just don't think that Republicans are comfortable. And I think this week, there was just so much disquiet on the Hill among Republicans about, not only what happened in Upstate New York, but just a general sense that, you know what, we may have ourselves in a bit of a trap here because it just looks like, if you look at the polls, that Americans aren't responding.
WILLIAMSThe idea, you know, the comeback after Newt Gingrich's appearance -- I guess this was two Sundays ago on Meet the Press, where he said this was radical, social engineering, Republican style -- it has just been a counter to the Republican message that the social engineers, the people that want to interfere or intrude in your life, are the Democrats.
WILLIAMSAnd, suddenly, here are seniors, who have been a reliable voting bloc, certainly who carried the Republicans to big victory in the 2010 midterms, turning on the Republicans and casting a very skeptical eye about this Medicare proposal.
PAGEYou know, but it's -- it is a complicated set of issues because, clearly, Americans are nervous about this Medicare proposal.
PAGENo question. But Americans are also very nervous about the level of the national debt and deficit. And you heard, even former President Bill Clinton saying this week, that the message the Democrats should take away of this is not not to do anything about controlling Medicare cost. It's to do something different from what the Republicans are proposing to do. And, so far, we have not really seen proposals coming from Democrats about their plan to curtail the cost of Medicare.
MECKLERAnd that's an interesting thing 'cause the truth of the matter is, the uncomfortable truth is that if you are going to attack entitlement spending, none of the answers are -- if you're going to attack it in a serious, significant way, none of the answers are particularly attractive. I mean, what the prime plan does fundamentally -- it does privatize Medicare. But more importantly, from a budget point of view, it caps the amount of money that each senior is going to get.
MECKLERThose vouchers are not going to get -- grow at the same rate as health care expenses are expected to grow. So, therefore, some of the costs are going to be shifted from the federal government to individuals. Now, that's why some people don't like it, but that's why it's good for the federal budget. So that's a fundamental tension. You don't cut the deficit by just waving a wand. You cut the deficit by cutting spending, and that affects people one way or another.
REHMI want to go back to this special election, Susan, because New York State, as everybody has already said, this particular district, very, very strong Republican. After the election, you heard some people saying that she wasn't a strong candidate, that the Republican candidate wasn't very strong. It was the Tea Party that messed things up. How big a defeat was this for Republicans?
PAGEI think this was a very significant defeat for Republicans because, of course, the Tea Party candidate got 9 percent of the vote, Jack Davis...
REHMI thought it was six.
PAGEI thought he got nine.
MECKLERNine, I think.
PAGEHow -- and so that's a significant factor. On the other hand, you don't know that all that -- all those votes would have gone to the Republican. They might have gone split. Some of those people probably wouldn't have voted. And Republicans may face Tea Party candidates in other districts, too. That's not necessarily peculiar to this district. This is not a race the Democrats should have won.
PAGENow, sometimes, special elections are an omen of what's going to follow and sometimes they aren't. So you don't want to be too sure. But there's no way, it seems to me, to cast this as anything but a significant defeat and an election that turned on the issue of Medicare.
REHMJuan Williams, former President Clinton said some things the other day. Is he helping or hurting his party regarding Medicare and the budget?
WILLIAMSWell, his comments certainly got a lot of attention, as Susan was saying. But it was a twofold message, Diane, in the sense that, on the one hand, he was saying, you know what, seniors aren't stupid. They know that this is going to hurt them, create the kind of gap with the increasing trajectory of health care cost in the country. But, on the other hand, where is the responsible leadership from the White House, from Democrats, in terms of putting on the table a reasonable plan for cutting entitlements?
WILLIAMSWe don't see any plan from the Democrats. And the president, I think, was sort of acting as the wise man in the party here in saying, you know, I'm a little senior, and I can see the bigger picture. And you guys are focused on the politics. And, of course, the politics of 2012, in terms of Republican language, is practice Mediscare. Scare the seniors, tell them that the Republicans are about to bash them and hurt them.
WILLIAMSAnd then use that to have victories in the congressional races, Senate races and White House, especially, in 2012.
PAGEThe fact is the next president will have to do something the next term, will have to do something about Medicare. It's now projected to run out of money in 2024. The costs are out of control, not on a sustainable path. I remember, in 1997, I did an interview with President Clinton for USA Today in which the reason -- I believe the reason he did the interview was to send this message, that he wanted to cut a deal on Medicare with Republicans.
PAGEAnd he had a plan to -- a plan for some things that Democrats want to do along with a plan to try to curtail the rising cost of Medicare. And the thing that intervened and made this not happen was the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which overwhelmed his hopes of having a grand bargain on this and other things. But this is an issue of some longstanding concern to President Clinton.
PAGEAnd, believe me, if president -- if -- whoever gets elected next year, in 2012, they'd better have some public understanding for how they plan to approach Medicare because they are going to have to do something.
MECKLERAnd there are just -- if we think about, well, how would you fix Medicare? I mean, what's under the hood here? And there are just a few different elements of it. One is try to actually slow the cost of care itself...
MECKLER...which was an effort in the Obama health care bill. They take -- took some stabs at that.
REHMI mean, that goes way back to Carter. And you remember all that work that Califano did to try to hold down cost.
MECKLERAnd it's very difficult to do. It's something that they're experimenting on. We don't know yet what's going to come of the experiments. We don't know what will happen. So that's one way. Another way is to just say, okay, the federal government is just not going to pay as much for the services as it paid before. And they did some of that in the health care bill, too. And that's controversial 'cause industry doesn't like that.
MECKLERI mean, every year we see cuts that are scheduled to take effect for doctors, overridden, and that's obviously going in the other direction in terms of cutting Medicare cost. That's increasing the cost of Medicare. And then the other way is to cost shift, and that is to, you know, move more of the expenses to other people: to employers or to individuals. So, I mean, these are the menu of options. You know, this is why people don't really seem to address it much...
REHMNone of them very happy.
MECKLER…'cause they're not very attractive.
PAGEAnd look at the political cycle we end up in, so that the health care plan that was enacted last year has $500 billion in Medicare savings, which the Republicans demonized last year in the midterm elections. And this time, we have the Republicans coming forward with a proposal, which the Democrats are demonizing. It makes it harder and harder to actually do something when the rubber meets the road.
WILLIAMSIt's just paralyzed. It's just paralysis. And the thing is, of course, it worked for the Republicans. Remember, they're talking about debt panels, and they're talking about this is, you know, going to absolutely ruin the health care system and make one-sixth of the American economy socialist and all that...
REHMYou've been listening to Rush Limbaugh. I can tell.
REHMGo ahead, Laura.
MECKLERBut, I mean, well, the interesting -- just a little coda to what Susan said about the attacks on the Obama plan was that Congressman Ryan retained those cuts in his budget. So they campaigned against them but then retained them because he needs the money.
REHMLaura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal. When we come back, we'll talk about a vote on raising the debt limit and what President Clinton had to say about that that got him into a little trouble. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal, Juan Williams of Fox News, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today -- they're all here. And the -- this hour is being videotaped. In about an hour, you can see clips up on our website. Let's talk about the vote that is coming sometime next week on raising the debt limit and how former President Clinton got himself in a little trouble, Laura.
MECKLERWell, the -- right. The debt limit has to be raised, or the government is going to default on its obligation. So everybody knows, ultimately, it will be raised, but there's a big debate about how to do that. The House has scheduled to vote, which is sort of a test vote to show that it won't pass unless it's accompanied by a significant spending cut. So they're sort of putting what's called a clean debt limit raising before the House. That's expected to fail.
MECKLERMeanwhile, as you mentioned, former President Clinton was speaking at a fiscal summit this week, and he suggested, well, you know, it wouldn't be -- his words were -- all that calamitous if the U.S. government defaulted for a matter of days. His reasoning seemed to be along the lines of, you know, it would be a short-term thing. Everyone would realize, oh, we'd better get our act together and make this happen.
MECKLERPeople would come together, and maybe, you know, it wouldn't have such a bad effect. Now, that, of course, goes directly against what -- the message that the Obama administration is putting out on an almost daily basis.
REHMAnd how did they react?
MECKLERWell, top White House officials actually called Clinton's aides and said, you know, you got to fix this. This is a big problem. And, in fact, he did. That afternoon, they issued a statement clarifying the former President's remarks and saying that, no, he didn't mean to say that.
PAGEDon't you wish you could have heard that conversation?
MECKLERI know. I do.
PAGEBut, you know, Pew Research Center released a poll this week that I thought was very striking. It said Americans are more concerned that Congress will fail to take seriously the spending issue than they are concerned that the budget ceiling won't get -- that the debt ceiling won't get raised. So in this showdown between spending cuts and raising the debt ceiling, Americans might agree with the original Bill Clinton, not the revised one.
WILLIAMSAnd, in fact, you know, a lot of the voters -- this is really amazing to me -- seem to think that, if you raise the debt ceiling, it's just going to result in more spending, it's just going to mean that there's a greater debt in this country. They see it as a license to act irresponsibly. But the fact is that on Wall Street and what Tim Geithner is saying -- and they've had private meetings with Speaker Boehner and with Mitch McConnell to deliver this message directly -- it could unsettle the markets, and it could lead the recession to take a southward trajectory.
REHMSo is the vote going to be taken? And is it going to be successful?
MECKLERWell -- no, this -- yeah, so this coming vote is likely going to happen, and it will fail. But that isn't really the real issue. The real deadline is August 2. That's when -- we've already actually hit the debt ceiling. The Treasury Department is moving money around and...
MECKLER...and doing all sorts of fixes to kind of cover ourselves. And -- but then they say that they'll be out of options by August 2. So I -- the question isn't really about this upcoming vote, which may get some attention. But the real question is there's ongoing talks to try to come up with a deal. And there will be, I suspect, a vote before August 2 on a real package.
PAGEAnd those negotiations going on behind the scenes. Jim Clyburn, the South Carolina congressman who's a member of the team that's negotiating it, suggested yesterday that they were reasonably far along on a big package of spending cuts. But Democrats are insisting it also include some tax hikes on wealthy Americans, and that is one of the real sticking points.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about Elizabeth Warren and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Lots of controversy about that. And when she appeared before a committee, this is how the discussion went.
MS. ELIZABETH WARRENWe had an agreement.
REP. PATRICK MCHENRYYou had no agreement.
WARRENWe had an agreement for the time this hearing would occur.
MCHENRYYou're making this up, Ms. Warren.
WARRENYou asked that...
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS(word?).
MCHENRYThis is not the case.
CUMMINGSYou just accused the lady of lying.
MCHENRYShe's accusing me of making…
REHMAccusing the lady of lying. I mean, what's going on here? Give me a little background on this, Laura.
MECKLERWell, this is really -- this was, like, a little skirmish in a big war. I mean, the big issue is about this new Consumer Protection agency, how much power it should have. This goes back to the debate that underlied the passage of this law in the first place. But the fight is still going on about whether this agency should be around and how much authority it should have. And it manifested itself at that hearing that you played the clip from.
REHMBut is it the agency, or is it Elizabeth Warren?
MECKLERWell, it's both.
PAGEWell, it's both. Forty-four senators have signed a letter to Obama, saying they won't agree to any new head of this agency unless there are some limits on the powers that it's going to be able to exercise. But some of it's Elizabeth Warren, who was one of the original advocates of creating such an agency. She's a real favorite of liberals. In fact, the Senate, I think, is staying in session over this, technically over this holiday weekend, to prevent President Obama from doing what some liberals would want him to do...
REHMA recess appointment.
PAGE...which is a recess appointment of Elizabeth Warren.
REHMSo they're going to hit that off.
WILLIAMSWell, I mean they don't have a choice. I mean, I'm struck, though, that Elizabeth Warren has become such a lightning rod because, you know, you see Elizabeth Warren working with Gen. Petraeus' wife, for example, to stop the kind of fraud that's perpetrated against troops who -- you know, the consumer lending -- the lending agencies take advantage of these young people because they know they have steady income.
WILLIAMSElizabeth Warren stepping in, in terms of the credit card companies who passed these, you know, get these deals where they have these onerous rates on people, especially poor people in this country. You would think that people could rally around this, but it -- somehow, she's come to represent, again, the idea of overly intrusive government, overly regulated, the Obama administration trying to hamstring big business.
WILLIAMSAnd that's what it's come down to. And yet it's not portrayed that way in the papers. It's always, you know, oh, there's just a controversy over super liberal Elizabeth Warren. But if you look at what's going on here, I think it's a very different story.
REHMDifferent story, Laura?
MECKLERWell, it's interesting just because she was given -- she was asked by President Obama to stand up this agency. And -- but she wasn't given the appointment as, actually, the head of the agency, and that's why she was before Congress, is 'cause she does have an official role. But it just seems like the writing is on the wall. It's going to be too difficult to appoint her to this job, even if she would do a great job, even -- despite everything that Juan said, it seems like she's just become too much of a lightning rod.
REHMAnd, now, some officials in the Democratic Party are urging her to run for the Senate in Massachusetts...
REHM...against Scott Brown.
PAGEScott Brown, the Republican who was unexpectedly elected to Ted Kennedy's seat. You know, that was one of those special elections seen as a precursor to big Republican gains, that -- Massachusetts is one of the most Democratic states in the country. And Democrats think, surely, they can knock off this freshman senator if they get a good candidate. They haven't had a really high-profile candidate yet. She would be the highest profile candidate if she chose to jump in this race.
REHMDo you think she will?
PAGEI don't know. She's not run for office before, I don't believe.
PAGEAnd so running for office is kind of its own thing. But maybe it looks tantalizing if she's not going to be able to have this agency.
REHMWell, talk about tantalizing. I mean, Sarah Palin is going to do a bus tour, Juan Williams.
WILLIAMSAnd a bus tour that will take her to New Hampshire, and she's got a -- there's a movie coming out, a documentary about her. She's buying a house in Arizona, where she could more easily launch a national campaign than from Alaska. So, all of a sudden, everybody -- I'm guessing that all my colleagues here on this panel would agree -- thought, no, Sarah Palin is not running.
WILLIAMSAnd Michele Bachmann, the congresswoman from Minnesota and a Tea Party favorite, much like Sarah Palin, has been doing very well, raised a bunch of money this week. But if Sarah Palin gets in the race, I think Michele Bachmann is eclipsed. And it really roils the waters because the place of a social conservative, which is what, you know, people are now searching for to kind of counter Mitt Romney, who looks like the leading candidate, it's not clear then where that would go.
WILLIAMSAnd if Sarah Palin is able to do it, if she's able to win the Republican primary, is she really a viable candidate for the general election? The numbers say no, given the fact that the Tea Party's power seems to have been eviscerated over the last few months and given the fact that Sarah Palin doesn't seem to be -- doesn't seem to have a strong message on a lot of these social issues.
REHMCould she be pulling another Donald Trump type of candidate, Susan?
PAGEShe certainly could. Fred Malek, who is a Republican establishment figure here in town, who's, at times, advised her, said last night some version of the old saying that people who are talking don't know, and the people who know aren't talking. And I think that's the case when you think about whether Sarah Palin is going to run for president. She probably knows, and maybe her husband knows.
PAGEBut I don't think any of the rest of us know whether this is a publicity stunt, something to keep attention focused on her, or whether this is actually a precursor to a presidential campaign.
MECKLERMy prediction is that won't stop people from speculating about it.
REHMWell, that, we know.
WILLIAMSAnd it wasn't just Sarah Palin this week. Rudy Giuliani said he might get in the race.
REHMOf course, of course. Why?
WILLIAMSWell, the field is so incredibly weak. It's a...
REHMThe whole field?
WILLIAMSIf you ask Republicans. It's two-thirds of Republicans say they think the field is weak.
MECKLERAnd, you know, I heard -- read some speculation about that her getting in the race would actually be good for Mitt Romney, who is sort of the presumptive frontrunner, because it would focus the mind on -- for certain Republicans in terms of what their alternative is.
PAGEYou know, I would just say that, often at this point, the opposition field looks weak. You know, no one has had a chance to win anything, and you haven't really had voters engaged. And I remember when -- in 1992, when President Bush looked so strong and the field looked pretty weak, and yet he got defeated for re-election. So I'm just cautious about making judgments now.
PAGEThe economy is the big issue, and all the economic news this week was bad: sluggish growth in the first quarter, unexpected levels of new jobless claims this week. So I just think it's -- I think I'm reluctant to be too sure about what -- how things will look in November of 2012.
REHMOkay. Let's turn to John Edwards and why, Juan Williams, he's likely to be charged.
WILLIAMSWell, he's -- he could make a deal. I mean, the charge is that he used money that was given to his campaign to pay off a mistress, to try to buy her silence or to pay for her expenses and the like, without proper disclosure. And he had a chance this week, as I understand it, to make a deal, and he did not. So, therefore, he's more likely to be charged.
REHMWhat kind of a deal?
WILLIAMSWe'll, he'd have to admit some level of guilt and promise to pay back the money.
PAGEAnd maybe give up his law license. That could be a big issue. You know, it's a complicated case because the -- I think the argument on the Edwards side is that these were not campaign contributions. These were two wealthy friends making payments to his mistress to keep her quite, but not part of the campaign finance scheme. He didn't report them as contributions. He didn't report the expenditures. That's kind of the crux of the argument that we may end up hearing in a courtroom.
REHMSo if he were to go to trial, if he were actually indicted, he'd have to plead to a felony? He could lose his law license. He could ultimately go to jail...
REHM...if he were found guilty.
WILLIAMSWell, it's unlikely. I mean, given, I mean, his wealth, he could pay back the money. But the prosecutors, right now, are definitely trying to scare John Edwards because they want a deal. I think, you know, it's funny. From John Edwards' perspective, except for the loss of the law license, he should make a deal. But I think that he just feels, at this point, beat up. I mean, his life, given his wife's death, everything that happened there is just a bad moment for him.
REHMPretty, pretty awful.
MECKLERIt's such a sad and pathetic ending to the story of John Edwards, who, you know, obviously, rose as such a promising national figure at such an ugly, ugly personal story. His wife, of course, you know, died recently, last, what, in December, of cancer and was, of course, sick with cancer when he was going through all of this. So it's just -- and through the -- having the affair. I mean, it's just such an ugly episode all around. And, you know, it -- and maybe it's a fitting end that it ends in a courtroom.
PAGEYou know, no question, John Edwards is guilty of being a heel, but the argument may be, is that really...
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We've got lots of callers waiting. Let's open the phones, going first to Cleveland, Ohio. Good morning, George. You're on the air.
GEORGEHi. Good morning, Diane.
GEORGEI had a question for your panel. This debt ceiling vote is going to be raised, but yet I'm under the understanding that there's no current budget passed by this year's Senate. How can we -- I'm under the understanding that we're operating under a continuing resolution. How can the Senate not propose a budget, but yet still want to pass the debt ceiling?
REHMIsn't that continuing resolution -- doesn't that come up again in September, Juan?
WILLIAMSBut we have a budget for this current year.
WILLIAMSI -- George, if that's what you're saying, we do have a budget for the current year. Continuing resolutions have to do with the debt ceiling.
MECKLERIt -- I mean, there's two -- there are two issues in the caller. I mean, in terms of a technical point of view, we have a budget for this year. They are working -- technically, they're working on getting a budget for next year. Whether they get one or not, we'll see. But there's no -- there's nothing legally that prevents them from raising the debt ceiling, whether there's, in fact, a sort of philosophical hypocrisy here.
MECKLERHow can you be asking to borrow more money when we haven't even worked out the budget yet? And I'm not sure if that's what the caller was getting at. But if that's it, you know, that's a more philosophical question.
REHMAll right. To West Palm Beach, Fla. Good morning, Christine.
CHRISTINEGood morning. With regard to Medicare, I've been a nurse for over 30 years -- and bravo to your panel for bringing up the underlying issue, which is the health care industry expenses constantly going up. With that being said, I think the inertia of the governmental -- the House and the Senate to be able to move on anything will continue until you have publicly financed elections. And that's the underlying problem as well.
REHMIs that going to change things, Susan?
PAGEWell, you know, it's true that the health care industry contributes a lot of money to our election system, but I am not sure that's the core of the problem when it comes to addressing these issues. I think the core of the problem is that we have a democracy where people get to vote, and so politicians want to get elected. So often, they say the things that people want to hear as opposed to sometimes the tough things that policy demands be done.
REHMAll right. And here's an email from Matt in St. Louis, Mo. "I think a strong indication that Sarah Palin is planning on running for president would be if she cut her ties with Fox News. Didn't Fox News gave Gingrich, Santorum and Huckabee a deadline? Last I heard, Palin is still on the payroll." Juan.
WILLIAMSAnd I read this morning that a Fox News executive said that they had not reconsidered her status, so she's still there. So...
REHMHow long can she do that?
WILLIAMSWell, no. They've been pretty aggressive. I mean, I think Mike Huckabee was forced to make a decision on just this basis. And, of course, Santorum and others like Gingrich had to leave their contracts with Fox.
REHMBecause they couldn't do that and run...
WILLIAMSAnd run for president.
REHM...because they would have that platform.
MECKLERRight. And I think the question that the email suggests, that she would cut her ties. I think it would be more likely the other way around. If it gets to the point where she looks like a candidate, Fox News will cut its ties.
REHMLaura Meckler, White House correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. When we come back, more of your calls, your comments. Send us a tweet. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMWelcome back. We'll go right back to the phones. And to Kings Mountain, N.C. Good morning, Mike.
MIKEYes. Good morning. I was calling to elaborate on what you guys were saying in terms of the Republican backlash, you know, in light of this North Carolina 26th election. I'm in Patrick McHenry's district. And if they can't hear the alarm bells ringing, it's because the lobbyists are whispering in his ears. They're facing to have a serious loss in this next election, and I'm probably going to be one of them.
MIKEThe inequity and the tax code, this failure of trickle-down economics, which has become trickle-away economics with the investments that they are supposed to roll back into the country going to the BRIC nations, they're undermining the purchasing power of the middle class. It is very shortsighted, and they will reap what they sow.
REHMWhat do you think, Susan?
PAGEMike, you are singing the Democrat's tune. They would be so happy to hear your call because that's just the argument Democrats are making now, that the Republicans got power and are going too far. And that would be the risk of giving them more power, for instance, giving them the White House, the control of the Senate. And I can tell you, you're sitting in a state that's going to be a key battleground.
PAGEThere is no surprise that Democrats are choosing to hold their national convention next year in North Carolina. It's a state that Barack Obama won last time, but it's one that's definitely at risk this time. So you're going to be seeing a lot of politicians in your neighborhood.
MECKLERYou realize that you're in the district of the congressman who was questioning Elizabeth Warren, the clip -- in the clip we heard earlier. So I'm not sure that he is necessarily at risk. But I think that it's always interesting because when the economy is bad, when things aren't going bad, the power -- party in power takes the hit for that. Now, it's sort of -- the House Republicans are bearing some of that responsibility.
REHMWhat was he accusing her of? And what was she saying?
WILLIAMSWell, that's very simple. She -- he said that she -- he wanted her to stay longer at this session. You're laughing, Laura...
WILLIAMS...'cause it seemed so petty. It seemed so silly. And then so -- but then he wouldn't let her answer that -- a charge that she had an agreement to stay, however, and then she said she had other obligations she wants to answer. And then Elijah Cummings says, well, why don't you let her answer? You're calling her a liar, which is the clip we played.
MECKLERIt's just that it's so illustrative of the bad will...
REHMBad feelings up there.
MECKLER...between these people, that they're having this incredibly sharp argument about how long she's going to stay in the witness chair.
REHMAnd Julie has this email. She says, "Comment, please, on the last-minute extension of the Patriot Act and the utter lack of debate. I struggle to understand why Rand Paul was virtually the only member of Congress who had anything to say about this controversial legislation. It felt as though these very serious measures were simply pushed through once again with little consideration that the civil liberties we hold dear." Juan.
WILLIAMSCalls from the White House made it very clear that people on Capitol Hill --that, you know, they didn't want to make a fight over the Patriot Act, that they feared it would provide ammunition to Republicans to make the case against Democrats as weak on national security or somehow hamstringing our federal agencies with regard to everything from phone calls to computers and tracking down terrorists in the domestic...
MECKLERBut I think Julie makes a good point. A big issue, controversial law, maybe there should be some debate. And it shows the impact of some of these new Tea Party forces, including Rand Paul, and raising issues that the establishments on both sides aren't willing to raise. One interesting thing about this extension of Patriot Act, for the first time in U.S. history, the law was signed by an autopen...
REHMI realize that.
PAGE...because President Obama is, of course, abroad, and he approved use of the autopen to sign the law.
REHMJust minutes before the deadline. Here's another email. This one from Brian in Flushing, Mich. "Please don't cover anyone who has not officially begun a campaign for president. The media is to blame for giving momentum to Trump's hate campaign. Now, Palin, again, who remains on Fox's payroll. Spend your time instead talking about jobs."
WILLIAMSWell, the difficulty here, as I said before, is that there's such a lust, I think, for a candidate who would somehow galvanize the Republican, will make sense of the Republican field. And if you -- the focus from the media perspective so far has been on all the deficits. Obviously, Romney has his Massachusetts health care. And what does that mean? You know, you see Mitch Daniels just last Sunday, making a decision that he's not getting in the race and disappointing lots of Republican establishment types who are looking for someone that they feel they can put the big dollars behind.
WILLIAMSSo Mitt Romney is out there. Sarah Palin is actually the second -- number two ranked candidate in many of these polls. But, again, it's a very small number. She's just barely at a double digits and she's number two, ahead of people like Tim Pawlenty, who's, you know, people think of as he's serious candidate. But he's not even in double digits.
REHMNow, might Republicans be able to draft Gov. Christie of New Jersey?
MECKLERWell, he keeps saying no.
REHMWhy does he keep saying no, Susan?
PAGEWell, he's only been governor for a year, you know. It's hard to run for president. It's a huge grind. You have to really, really want it. I mean, that's what we're seeing with Mitch Daniels and with Gov. Huckabee and with Chris Christie. You know, you give up a lot to run for president, with the potential of a very large price, and everybody wants to do this. I am -- I can't imagine that we're going to be able to see candidate drafted to run for president. That's just not how it works. You put yourself out there.
MECKLERAnd it's, you know, people draft you, but they're not there to make -- to do all the incredibly hard work it takes to raise all that money, to do the incredible amount of travel. I mean, the amount -- I know how hard it is just to cover a presidential campaign. To actually run one, I mean, it's massive, massive undertaking. So this is not something you just wake up in the morning and say, oh, well. They want me to do it. Sure, what the heck...
REHMSure, what the heck. Yeah.
MECKLER...what -- not to mention being president. I mean, I think he said he doesn't feel like he's ready for that job. And, you know, on some level, you kind of have to respect that, right?
REHMHere's an email from Helen in Herndon, Va. "Speaking as a senior who's in the Medicare system, I'd like to make the point that I believe most seniors would be willing to take cuts in our benefits if we felt there would be shared sacrifice for all. But when Republicans are so adamant about protecting the rich and corporate America from any responsibility to help debt reduction, I believe that's the reason most seniors look at the Ryan plan as totally unfair." Susan.
PAGEAnd, of course, one thing to keep in mind is that the Ryan plan does not affect people who are currently on Medicare. It wouldn't affect anybody who's 55 or older at this point. It'd be phased in for people who are a little younger and coming kind of toward the Medicare system over the next decade or so.
WILLIAMSNow, let me just say on this point, this is a point that Paul Ryan was trying to make this week in defending his plan. But, again, if you look at the polls, you know what just comes as a surprise to the Republicans, is the seniors don't like the idea that you're taking it away for their children and grandchildren. It -- the idea was that they could say -- the Republicans could say to the seniors, don't you worry. You're safe. This doesn't impact you. You can still vote Republican. But it hasn't worked.
PAGEBut I wonder if Helen is on to something here, that if political leaders could make the case, this is going to hurt you some -- everybody is going to give something for the greater good of the country. I wonder if that's an argument a lot of Americans might be willing to buy into.
REHMYou know, we talked about some of the gaps that former President Clinton made this week. One of the good things he said this week was Republicans can't be all wrong, Democrats can't be all right. There's got to be some give, and there isn't any. There's nobody out there who you think might be moderate.
MECKLERWell, I think that one of the, I mean, there's two different issues. There's one, do you have people -- moderates in the middle? And the other is, do you have people who are firmly on one side or the other who are willing to come to the middle in order to reach an agreement? And it does feel like we're getting closer to the kind of circumstance that would allow that to happen than we've seen it a long time.
MECKLERBy force, for sure, but because the fiscal situation is so dire -- and it is. You know, will people come together to the point where they say, yes, we do have to do all of these things? We have to cut spending. We don't want us cut. We have to raise taxes. We don't want a raise. Are we getting to a moment like that? I mean, I don't think we know the answer to that question yet, but -- 'cause the political dynamic was -- we see with Medicare, a proposal gets made, and then you score political points by shooting it down.
REHMShooting it down.
MECKLERAnd then, at the end of the day, an election is held, but we're no closer to dealing with Medicare.
WILLIAMSLaura is much more optimistic about this. I hate to be the skunk at this garden party, but I -- when I look at the Democrats, I think they see that they have political opportunity here to take advantage of the fact that the seniors have reacted so negatively to Republican proposals on Medicare. And when you look -- and I just had, you know, you'd have to give credit to Congressman Ryan for trying to do something.
WILLIAMSI think, in the spirit of comity and just trying to work together, you'd say, Congressman Ryan has put forward the proposal. Where is the Democrats' proposal? But then, of course, if you go back to the Republicans, they say, we can't talk about tax increases. That's off the table. We're not even going to consider it. But what kind of plan is that?
MECKLERBut then -- but, you know, the reason, one of the reasons why I see some -- that this moment...
MECKLER...may be a little bit different is that -- like, you take something like farm subsidies. I've watched for years and years. Farm subsidies were untouchable. They were just -- you could not cut them. I remember The Washington Post did a big series that showed how a lot of it was going to very wealthy farmers. And I thought -- I read that, and I thought nothing's going to change on this issue because there's -- the powers are too strong.
MECKLERAnd, in fact, the farm bill came along and nothing changed on that issue. But now we see, like, in Biden-led talks right now, there seems to be some consensus. Okay, we're going to be reducing them at some of these farm payments, regardless -- I mean, there may be people who think they're a good idea. I'm not saying one way or another. But the point is that this is something that's now on the table in a way.
MECKLERNow, that's a small thing compared to raising taxes. But there does seem to be -- a moment does seem a little bit different than it has been in the past.
REHMVick in Union City, Ind. says, "Why aren't Democrats telling Republicans that they did have an answer to Medicare through a single-payer plan?"
PAGEWell, because Democrats did not get -- Democrats in Congress and the Democrat in the White House did not get behind a single-payer plan. Now, what's interesting, I saw in the paper this morning that the governor of Vermont has signed into law what looks very much like a single-payer plan. So Vermont is not, perhaps, representative of every state in the nation, but maybe we'll have a little test case for single-payer there.
REHMYeah, that's what's going to be interesting. Let's go to Mooresville, N.C. Good morning, Frank. Oh, sorry. We have a problem with our phones. Okay. And when you think about all of these Medicare insurance premiums and what's going to happen to them, if, in fact, the Ryan plan were to move forward as part of some compromise, Susan.
PAGEWell, if you had the Ryan plan -- which is unlikely, but say it's a starting point for discussion -- you wouldn't have the Medicare system where seniors are guaranteed to get whatever procedures are approved part of Medicare. What they'd get is a subsidy that would help them buy private insurance plans. And, in some cases, they'd be paying a lot more in premiums. In some cases, they could try to minimize their costs.
PAGEBut in doing so, they would probably minimize also their coverage. So it kind of -- it switches the risk of rising costs and the need to negotiate what it is you're going to get from the government to the seniors.
REHMSusan Page of USA Today. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Laura.
MECKLERI think that a much more likely scenario this year, rather than a deal around Medicare, which I do not see, is perhaps some debate around Medicaid, which is the health care program for the poor and disabled and pays for a lot of nursing home care across the country. That is something that is a lot less politically dicey to take on, partly because it is targeted at low-income people, although it does affect some middle class people as well.
MECKLERAnd I think it'll be interesting to see whether anybody is willing to take that on and whether that becomes as an example of where they are willing to attack entitlements that are a little less politically risky.
PAGEAnd the Ryan plan when it comes to Medicaid is to make it a block grant to the states. This is an idea that's been around for a long time and has a lot of support among governors -- a lot of Republican governors, but even some Democratic ones that see this as a way to give them some additional control over their Medicaid expenditures.
REHMHere's an email from Jonathan, who says, "Isn't Scott Brown the type of GOP candidate the Democrats would prefer to work with? Why aren't individuals like Scott Brown, who's a serious politician with serious positions who could make a legitimate run to lead the country, why aren't they actually stepping up?"
PAGEWell, Scott, you know, Scott Brown was one of the five Senate Republicans who did not vote for the Ryan budget plan. He is one of those senators in the middle, and he's in one of those positions representing a state with a lot of Democrats, where he's basically required to work out the -- work in the middle ground if he's going to be a Republican successful in that state.
WILLIAMSWell, the problem for Scott Brown is the state is just heavily Democratic. He was very fortunate to catch that Tea Party wave in advance of the argument over health care legislation. And if you look at where he sits right now, the Democrats are going to target him because the Democrats are at such a disadvantage going into this cycle. I think it's 23 seats that they are defending versus 10 for the Republicans.
WILLIAMSSo the Democrats are looking to gain some advantage to avoid having Republicans gain control of the Senate, which is a much bigger stake than just one guy who might be moderate and which the Democrats feel they could work with. They'd rather have a Democrat in that seat.
MECKLERRight. Exactly. Yeah, they'd love to work with him and love to work with a Democrat from Massachusetts even more.
REHMIs Scott Brown more in the Democratic camp than he is in the Republican?
PAGEWell, I would say no because he voted for the, you know, he votes with the Republican leadership. He caucuses with the Republicans. But he's one of those just handful of senators who cannot be always relied on by the Republican leadership to vote on their side.
REHMYou know, the other thing I'm wondering about, Laura, you said earlier that this Group of Six led by Vice President Biden might be making some progress. But didn't Congressman Coburn -- Sen. Coburn drop out and thereby create a Group of Five with less forward movement than we might have wished for?
MECKLERWell, there's actually two separate groups that are -- have been meeting. There's this so-called Gang of Six that Sen. Coburn dropped out of, and that seems to have kind of gone away with his absence. It seems to be fading from the scene, and that is evidence that, you know, maybe it's just going to be another passing moment that nothing serious is done. But, separately, Vice President Biden is leading conversations with a different group of lawmakers aimed at trying to come up with some kind of agreement on the federal budget that would allow a vote to raise the debt ceiling.
REHMI don't know how you people out there covering this really keep track.
REHMReally. With all the changing players, it does seem like a confusing situation. So I thank you for being here to analyze it. Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today. Juan Williams, political analyst for FOX News. Laura Meckler, White House correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. Have a great and safe holiday weekend. Thanks for being here.
WILLIAMSThank you, Diane
MECKLERThank you. You, too.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
Trump impeachment witness Fiona Hill on what her own background says about this political moment, and why she thinks the greatest threat to American democracy now comes from within.
Cities and states across the country are exploring reparations programs for Black Americans, but not all reparations advocates think it's the right approach. Diane talks to Mayor Daniel Biss of Evanston, Ill., and William Darity, Jr., and Kirsten Mullen, the co-authors of the book, "From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century”
The New Yorker's Evan Osnos traces the roots of divisions in the U.S. from 9/11 to January 6. His new book is "Wildland: The Making of America's Fury."