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.
Anthony Weiner resigned from Congress under pressure from fellow Democrats. Ten congressmen, including three Democrats, went to court to accuse the president of violating the War Powers Act. But the White House insists the administration’s involvement in the Libyan conflict complies with both “the spirit and letter” of the law. Republicans held their first debate for the 2012 presidential nomination. And Fed Chair Bernanke warned against tying an increase in the debt ceiling to spending cuts. Diane and a panel of journalists discuss the week’s top domestic news stories.
- Naftali Bendavid National correspondent, The Wall Street Journal.
- Jeanne Cummings Deputy government editor, Bloomberg News.
- Michael Scherer White House correspondent, Time magazine.
Friday News Roundup Video
The panelists discuss the resignation of Rep. Anthony Weiner following the scandal over lewd images of himself that he sent to several women via Twitter. Bloomberg’s Jeanne Cummings says she was struck by the fact that the Democrats engaged in a coordinated effort to push Weiner out the door, even after he argued that there was much support for him in his home district. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi reportedly told Weiner of his supportive constituents, “Consider those rose petals to let you go graciously:”
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. House Speaker Boehner says the Obama administration will be in violation of the War Powers Act by this weekend. Vice President Biden's group sets a July 1 deadline to reach an agreement on deficit reduction. And Congressman Anthony Weiner resigns.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about the week's top national stories, Naftali Bendavid of the Wall Street Journal, Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News and Michael Scherer of Time magazine, whom we welcome for the first time. Nice to have you.
MR. MICHAEL SCHERERThank you very much, Diane.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about the War Powers Act in Libya. Naftali, tell me about the partisan wrangling going on here.
MR. NAFTALI BENDAVIDWell, one of the interesting things about this is that it's not entirely partisan. There's this group of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats that are coming together, sort of these anti-war Democrats and kind of fiscally conservative Republicans who are saying that they want more of a say in what's going on in Libya. And this restlessness that we're seeing in Congress is not just about Libya. It's also about Afghanistan.
MR. NAFTALI BENDAVIDAnd so a bipartisan group sued the president the other day, claiming he was in violation of the War Powers Act. But I think that lawsuit is never going to really see fruition. What that lawsuit was more important for was that it reflects this growing angst on the part of Congress about what the president is doing.
REHMBut at the same time, Jeanne Cummings, didn't Boehner take a different position during the Bush administration?
MS. JEANNE CUMMINGSWell, he absolutely did. And the White House has been very happy to bring back some of the Boehner's greatest hits from those years in the Bush administration. And they're putting out that he had said that the actual law itself, the War Powers Act, was "constitutionally suspect." And this was in 1999. And so, clearly, he was at a point where he -- and throughout the early 2000s where he wanted to be supported of the Bush administration.
MS. JEANNE CUMMINGSAnd so he adopted a different position and, now, is calling into question whether President Obama needs to go to Congress to get some authority for what's happening in Libya, especially given that it's costing the United States a lot of money. And, you know, one could argue that his position today is a better position for the House leader because the House is the primary driver of spending, of government spending.
MS. JEANNE CUMMINGSAnd he is now in a capacity where he's the top shepherd of that spending. And he wants some accountability for it.
REHMSo, Michael Scherer, what are the options for Congress?
SCHERERThey still do have the power of the purse. But these sorts of fights have been fought many times before. Presidents routinely push back against Congress. Congress makes a political fuss. I mean, it's not just Boehner who's changed sides on this. President Obama, remember in 2007, was the one leading this Democratic charge against the executive power to go to war unilaterally.
SCHERERNow, he's defending it by saying these hostilities don't count as an actual war, sort of redefining what a hostility is. But Congress does still has the power of the purse. But what's most likely to happen is that this ends in a stalemate, that this will play out as a political question. Republicans will score their points. Those on the left will score their points and then will move on to the other side.
REHMThe White House is saying that it really did not require the War Powers Act because you don't have U.S. troops involved.
SCHERERYeah, I mean, that's their argument. They have a number of very acclaimed lawyers making the argument. Although if you look back at 1973 War Powers Act, it very broadly defines what hostilities are. You know, it says hostilities in a foreign country. Now, the White House is saying that, because there's no boots on the ground, because the bombing runs that are being run by American equipment are very limited, this doesn't count.
SCHERERBut it is, I think, effective redefinition of what a hostility is.
CUMMINGSAnother key point the White House is making is that it's NATO-led, that it's not U.S.-led, and that that, in and of itself, redefines what's happening.
REHMAnd the president is having a golf outing tomorrow with John Boehner. So could that help the situation, Naftali?
BENDAVIDWell, I mean, I do think that most likely this is going to end up in a strained sort of standoff. I mean, the history of the War Powers Act is interesting in that it was first enacted 1973 during the Vietnam War. And ever since then, people have been wondering whether it's actually constitutional. But no president actually wants to challenge it directly. They find ways to skate around it. And I think this is the latest chapter in that.
BENDAVIDNow, there's also a move afoot in the Senate of all things, led in part by John McCain, to have a resolution of approval. So the standoff could actually -- we could see a situation where the House is on record opposing it, the Senate's on record, including some leading Republicans, supporting it. President Obama just kind of going ahead and doing what he's going to do.
BENDAVIDI think the best thing that could happen for President Obama would be if Qaddafi somehow is deposed or is forced out. And then that would solve the whole thing. But until that happens, I think we're going to end up at this sort of back and forth, but no clear resolution.
REHMNaftali Bendavid of The Wall Street Journal, Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News, Michael Scherer of Time magazine. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Jeanne Cummings, give us an update on the negotiations regarding the federal debt.
CUMMINGSWell, I wish I could tell you some great detail, but these guys are really keeping it close to the vest. What we do know is that they -- they have said that they are having very productive meetings. They are aiming for between $2 and $4 trillion over the course of a timeframe they haven't told us, 10 to 12 years of reduction in spending, which is a goal that appears to be one that they are united on, that would give the Republicans something they need and give the White House a good credential when they go out.
CUMMINGSThere is -- there are indications that Republicans in the negotiations are willing to see some revenue increases but not tax increases, but to get rid of some tax breaks that might add some revenue into the mix, which is something that the White House and the Democrats have insisted upon, and maybe some small -- smaller innovations to Medicare, but nothing like the proposal that came out of the House.
REHMWho is actually involved in these negotiations?
SCHERERWell, it's interesting you bring that up. I mean, Vice President Biden is leading them...
SCHERER...but you also have representatives of House Democrats, House Republicans, Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans: Chris Van Hollen, Jim Clyburn, Eric Cantor, Jon Kyl, Dan Inouye and Max Baucus, so leading members of both sides. But there's a growing feeling that at some point, John Boehner and Barack Obama are going to have to step in and nail down the final details.
SCHERERYou mentioned the golf game. Who knows if that will be a step along the way? But even people who are in the room sort of say, well, we can get only so far. But tough decisions are going to have to be made, and, ultimately, the big boys are going to have to make them. Now, when that happens is an interesting question. I mean, the nations will begin defaulting on its obligations on Aug. 2.
SCHERERBut, I think, well before that, the markets are going to start getting jittery about a possible default. And I think when you see the markets looking like they're starting to get nervous, I think, that might be the sign for these guys to suddenly sit down and come up with something pretty quickly.
REHMDidn't Vice President Biden say he hopes to get this resolved by July 1? Michael.
SCHERERWell, he hopes to come up with some document, some package that he can then hand off to the president, the speaker and Sen. Reid. I think there is -- these sort of negotiations always follow a playbook that everybody stakes out their position, people feel each other out, and then it's only in the 11th hour that the deal gets done. And that's the way this is going to go as well.
SCHERERThere's even been discussion of the White House trying to push for some stimulus to add at the last minute here. Again, no one's going to know whether that's going to happen until the 11th hour when everybody's in the room and the markets are reacting.
REHMWhat about this vote to cut millions from food safety? Is that part of this whole thing?
SCHERERWell, I think it's part of the preliminary -- that's sort of a follow-up to the Paul Ryan budget. And this is now the appropriations or spending bills that actually put those cuts into effect. And, certainly, the Democrats and Republicans are arguing, you know, vociferously about the cuts in that bill. But I think whatever is come up with will be superseded by whatever deal Obama and Boehner reach.
SCHERERSo this is some preliminary skirmishing, and it's certainly arousing some strong emotions. But I think, ultimately, it's going to be overtaken by events.
REHMTell me about the Senate ethanol vote.
SCHERERI think it was a pretty historic vote. You had 34 Republicans going on the record for eliminating a tax expenditure, which is effectively raising taxes. If you talk to Grover Norquist, who is the sort of conservative general in charge of holding the Republican line on taxes, he says, you can't raise these taxes unless you lower taxes elsewhere. And, still, 34 Republicans went on the record, saying, they want to get rid of these tax -- essentially, loopholes for a specific industry.
SCHERERDemocrats are saying -- and I think they have a point -- that this signals, clearly, that tax expenditures are now on the table. The Democratic line has been, from the beginning in these debt limit negotiations, that we need to have some revenues to talk about. And, here, Republicans in the Senate are demonstrating, well, there are some revenues we can talk about. We can work with you how much...
REHMHow significant are these revenues?
SCHERERWell, they're not going to solve the debt limit negotiations. They're not going to be $2 to $4 trillion.
CUMMINGSBut the -- both the food safety and ethanol bring them together. They are signals to the negotiators about what acceptable and what's not. It gives them signals about what they can wrap in. And a Senate vote, a bipartisan Senate vote that big is so rare that, I think, if I were in the ethanol industry, I'd be highly concerned that I was going to end up on the cutting table.
BENDAVIDYeah, I mean, you have to remember what ethanol has sort of represented over the years. It's, you know, I mean, this subsidy has been in place since the late '70s. And it's a, you know, an aid or assistance to a particular group of producers and farmers and refineries, and it has a lot to do with the farm states and lawmakers from those states. And every four years, we see candidates go to Iowa to promise to preserve the ethanol subsidy.
BENDAVIDAnd so, now, we're seeing this rising concern about federal spending, and the idea that such a broad coalition would vote in favor of removing that is a real signal that times have changed. And so I think that's maybe the bigger significant of the vote, even more than the actual money that would be sent.
SCHEREREven on the campaign trail -- when Republicans, as they tour Iowa now, the line is no longer, I will defend ethanol to the death. It is, we're going to phase this out over a number of years, and we'll work out the details later. So, even among Republican candidates, it's been a issue.
REHMMichael Scherer, White House correspondent for Time magazine. Short break, and we'll open the phones soon after we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back to the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with Jeanne Cummings. She's deputy government editor for Bloomberg News. Michael Scherer is White House correspondent for Time magazine. Naftali Bendavid is national correspondent with The Wall Street Journal. Your calls, your comments are always welcome.
REHMHere's an email from Keith in Boston who says, "I've heard Republicans are demanding a dollar of spending cuts for every dollar increased at the spending limit. If that's true, why aren't Democrats demanding a dollar in increased revenue for every dollar in spending cuts?" Naftali.
BENDAVIDWell, that's true. That is what the Republicans are demanding. I mean, one thing we should clarify is that those spending cuts might come over a long period of time -- in other words, let's say, over 10 years -- whereas, the increase in the debt limit would just cover the next couple of years. But I think the reason that the Democrats are not doing that is simply that, politically, that's a very difficult thing to sustain.
BENDAVIDTo talk about that kind of an increase in revenue at this period, in this political climate, I think, that's something that would be hard for them to do.
REHMAnd here's another email from Adam in Roanoke. He says, "People are saying the current economic woes bode poorly for President Obama. Is it too early to tell? Is the current economic environment likely to persist through 2012?" Michael.
SCHERERI was over at the White House a couple of weeks ago talking about this very matter, that they are not speaking much publicly on this. But it's clear that their knuckles are white, and they're holding on and hoping that the second two quarters of this year show real improvements, that the slowdown we saw over the last month doesn't continue.
SCHERERNo matter what happens, it's going to be a very difficult election year for Obama because he's going to be going into a re-election with higher unemployment than any president, basically, since FDR has had. The question is whether, by the end of this year and early next year, the American people tangibly feel, in their daily lives, an improvement. And that's what people don't feel right now, and that's why Obama has a real problem.
REHMDo you think the president knew how bad it was when he first got into it, Jeanne?
CUMMINGSI do think that they figured it out in the fall before he took office. In the fall before he took office -- in the months of October, November, December, those final months of campaigning -- the economy started shedding 500,000 jobs a month. It was extraordinary. It was historic, and it was a spiral that frightened them to no end.
CUMMINGSIt is one of the reasons that Obama went -- McCain -- and McCain came back to town off the campaign trail to support the rescuing of the financial banks that were all in trouble. And it is a reason that the start of his term was with the stimulus. They wanted to immediately go in and try to find a way to stop the bleeding in the job market. Now, they had hoped that, by this time, the recovery would be more robust.
CUMMINGSAnd economists across the board say this has been a very slow recovery. And if you look at recessions going back the last couple of decades, the recoveries are all getting slower and slower, in part, because businesses learn, over the course of the recession, that they can do without.
REHMLeaner is meaner.
CUMMINGSYes, exactly. They can do more with less, and so they are slower to rehire. Now is -- are things set in stone, as Adam asked? No, they aren't. But things don't look good right now because the recovery has -- appears to have stalled a bit right now. And, as Michael said, they're really hoping for a rebound towards the end of the year.
CUMMINGSIf you look historically at presidential campaigns, talk to polling experts, they say that it is June -- May, June of the election year that voters kind of make up their minds about where the country is economically.
REHMSo we got a...
CUMMINGSThey got a little bit of time. But they -- as Michael said, they got to see some movement out there.
BENDAVIDYeah, but I think they clearly thought things would be better. They -- first of all, they said unemployment wouldn't go over 8 percent, and that turned out not to be true. And they also talked about last summer as a recovery summer, which is, I think, they would not have said had they known how the economy would play out. But one thing that they've done recently is they floated the idea of extending this payroll tax break for a little bit longer, and, to me...
REHMFor both employers...
BENDAVIDExactly. And I think that they did that because they're really -- they're desperate, almost, for some sort of stimulative action they can take. They know -- they probably would like to spend more on things like infrastructure. They know that's a non-starter with the Republicans. So this is something they think they can do. So, to me, just floating that signaled the eagerness with which they're looking for something they can do to help turn the economy around a little bit.
REHMWhat I keep wondering about, Naftali, is how do they pay it back?
BENDAVIDWell, that's a good question. And one of the things that's been striking about it is the Republican response, which has been so incredibly lukewarm. Now, ordinarily, you'd expect Republicans to respond very positively to any sort of a tax break. But Paul Ryan derided it as a sugar-high, you know, because he said it's just temporary, as though Republicans haven't supported temporary tax breaks in the past.
BENDAVIDAnd then they've also asked the question you're asking, which is, where will the offset come from? And there's some concern about we're trying to close the deficit. A tax break like this would increase the deficit. But truth be told, I think, part of the reason for the Republican response is this is something Obama suggested, that he thinks would be good for him. And so they are naturally wary of it and are going to oppose it.
CUMMINGSIt's politics. Yes, it's politics.
SCHERERYeah, I mean, just two months ago, John Boehner went to the New York Economic Club and gave a big policy address in which he said the short-term stimulus era is over. We're not going back. It didn't work. Now, Republicans have sort of defined themselves, as a policy matter, as the party that doesn't believe stimulus works, even though if you talk to 99 out of 100 economists, they will say the stimulus that have been passed over the last several years have had significant effects on the economy and on the unemployment rate.
SCHERERRepublicans argued in 2010 -- and they will argue again in 2012 -- that what Obama did failed. If they embrace, at this point, another short-term stimulus measure -- which, again, could happen, but it would happen in the 11th hour -- they're going to be sort of confusing their own argument among their voters.
REHMAnd what about big cuts to Medicaid? They look as though they're now on the table.
CUMMINGSWell, I think that there are very few government programs that are going to come out of this negotiation without being touched. And part of what's driving these negotiations, from the White House perspective, is the economy. There is an argument that is being made in the business community and among economists that one of the reasons that there's not as much investment and growth in the job market and in expansion of businesses is because they want to see what Washington is going to do about the deficit. They want to...
REHMSo they're holding back.
CUMMINGSSo they're holding back.
CUMMINGSThey don't know what their taxes are going to be. They don't know what the regs are going to be. You know, some uncertainty is always in the marketplace. But there's a lot of uncertainty right now because these negotiations are happening right now. So if there is a final deal that might create some sense of, okay, now, I know, for the next 10 years, this is kind of the flight plan that the government has set for itself.
CUMMINGSAnd, now, maybe I could begin investing again. That is one of the major motivators for Biden in these negotiations.
REHMBut, of course, you've got Ben Bernanke's warning out there. You got lots of people warning, do not let this debt ceiling pass without really fixing the problem.
BENDAVIDYeah, I mean, I think one of the problems that Democrats, Republicans, economists face that there's this group of Republicans that I don't think anybody really expected. They're just saying that it really doesn't matter if we don't raise the debt limit at all, and it'll be just fine. And there are ways to re-arrange our expenditures.
REHMWhere does that thinking come from?
BENDAVIDWell, my sense of it is that it comes from a couple of places. For one thing, there's a deep suspicion among some of these people, among almost any kind of authority or expertise or anything like that. They -- and they feel, also, like they were stampeded into things like TARP and like the stimulus because economists kept predicting calamity if they didn't pass. Now, those predictions may have been correct.
BENDAVIDBut, nonetheless, I think there's a feeling amongst, particularly, this Tea Party group, although it's not limited to them, that you can't trust what these guys say. They always say this stuff. They always try to get us to vote for things by predicting catastrophe. And we're not necessarily going to go along with it this time.
BENDAVIDNow, I think Congress will pass an increase in the debt limit because John Boehner and Eric Cantor and others realize that it does need to be raised. But they're going to have to do it with Democratic support because a healthy percentage of Republicans, I think, aren't going to vote for that, for raising the debt ceiling, no matter what.
SCHERERYeah, I think -- and that makes this negotiation far more interesting because Eric Cantor can't come to the table and say, this is what I want. I've got the votes to pass it. This is the only way to do it. He's got to actually ask Nancy Pelosi for, you know, 30, 40 -- I don't know exactly what the number is -- Democratic votes. And that means that both sides play.
SCHERERThe other thing I would say about the debt limit is there is a lot of precedent for protest votes on the debt limit. Barack Obama, again, you know, during the campaign season, before he became president, issued a protest vote. It wasn't a vote that was going to swing the bill one way or the other, but he voted against raising the debt limit as a protest against the way the negotiations has been held.
REHMAll right. Let's move on to the resignation of Anthony Weiner.
REHMMichael Scherer, what impact does that have, not only on his career but on Democrats, generally?
SCHERERWell, Democrats are waking up this morning feeling far better about the political landscape than they have the last several weeks. Weiner had become a real bag of sand weighing them down, distracting from their message, getting them off track. He stepped out of the limelight. I think it was really interesting -- if you watched his press conference yesterday, he stepped out of the limelight in the most ostentatious way he could possibly do, by holding another press conference.
SCHERERAnd I think that suggests that, even though Weiner's political career, at least for the immediate future, is over, the public may not have seen the last of him. He seems to have uncontrollable desire to be in front of cameras and...
REHMAnd he, apparently, has a good following among his own constituents.
REHMThere's even talk he may run for mayor.
SCHERERYeah, he could still run for mayor. I think he needs to lie low for a while and see where the polls go for a while. His congressional district is almost certainly going to be eliminated in the next round of redistricting. So he doesn't really have a seat to go back to at this point. And mayor may be the next choice.
SCHERERBut, honestly, if I were to bet right now, I think, you know, his most likely route is to go into broadcast journalism of some sort and become a sort of professional pundit. Even when he was in the House, you know, he loved the television cameras. And he was on television far more than his colleagues, and he was actually very good at it.
SCHERERI mean, that -- the sort of the shout fest that is cable television right now, he was pretty good at engaging on that level. And that would be my guess.
CUMMINGSIt's ironic that that was his rise and fall because he wasn't all that well known until he went ahead and did the cable network route. And he's quick, he's funny, and he is very good on TV. And that is what elevated his stature in the House. And then, ultimately, that is what led to his downfall because it was the relentlessness of the exposure of what he was doing. There wasn't one picture. There were more and more and more.
CUMMINGSAnd all of that playing out under, you know, the 24-hour news cycle that we live in today was what drove him out the door.
BENDAVIDYeah, that press conference was really something else. I mean, I think, 99 out of 100 politicians would have issued a brief statement saying, I resign. And the fact that he chose to do it was fascinating in a way. And then he got heckled at his own farewell press conference. He got heckled and called a pervert by some people who were there. And why he subjected himself to that isn't clear, except for this need, perhaps, to be out there.
BENDAVIDBut I think the broader political message is this is -- Democrats, their relief was just palpable when this happened. I mean, they felt like they, for the first time in two years, had a little bit of political momentum with this Medicare plan, with winning a seat in upstate new York. And then to have this blow up and then to have the guy not step off the stage and to resist leaving, I think, was driving them crazy.
BENDAVIDAnd it was a concerted, unified, high-profile effort by his own party to get him to leave that ultimately he couldn't resist.
CUMMINGSAnd very coordinated. That's what I found interesting in this story is to see how they pushed him to the door. And you speak of the polls in his own district that are positive. And he used that as an argument with Speaker Pelosi about why he could maybe ride this thing out. And her line was beautiful: Let them be the rose petals to your exit. I thought that was poetry, in a way, that we don't see in politics very often while you're shoving somebody out of office.
REHMWhat about the special election to fill his seat?
SCHERERWhat's almost certain to happen is that the governor of New York will declare a special election, most likely for September when other voting will be going on in New York. The way politics works in New York is that the candidate is going to most likely be picked by the political machine there, the Democratic candidate, and there will be a Republican candidate.
SCHERERBut, at this point, it's not a really desirable position because that seat is probably going to exist for maybe 18 more months before it is eliminated in redistricting.
BENDAVIDYeah, I mean, that's the key thing about it, is they have to find somebody who really wants to be in Congress and is willing to go out there and run an election and have a fight and get there and then is perfectly happy to leave a year-and-a-half later. And that's going to be a big challenge.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let me ask you, Naftali, what was the biggest take away from the Republican debate?
BENDAVIDWell, you know, a lot of people noticed that people didn't attack each other very much and, specifically, that Tim Pawlenty didn't attack Mitt Romney as he'd been expected to do. And this did come off as less of a debate, maybe more of a showcase, where people were so concerned with presenting themselves positively that you didn't have the usual back and forth. And I do think, you know, people felt like Mitt Romney came out well because of that.
BENDAVIDMichele Bachmann presented herself well. But I think the bar was pretty low. I mean, all they really had to do is sort of show up and seem intelligent and engaging, and they did. But I -- the thing that, I think, is important to remember is this is the first of many, many debates. And if the next one -- if there are fireworks, we all will have forgotten about this one. So, I guess, I wouldn't take away too much on this one.
REHMBut this one, they were really focused on attacking the president.
CUMMINGSThey were. And first impressions are important. And it is, you know, Romney didn't hurt himself. Bachmann didn't -- did well. But I think that Tim Pawlenty's decision to pull his punch against Romney in the days after became increasingly significant to the point where he now is admitting that it was a mistake. And I think...
REHMWhat was the term he had coined and backed away from?
CUMMINGSThere we go, Obamneycare, yeah.
CUMMINGSAnd he used it -- and this was a reference to the Massachusetts health care law and the national health care law. He used it on the Sunday talk shows and then went in on Monday. His team was pitching, touting that that he was going to bring it back. He was going to bring it to the stage. And when CNN's John King asked him directly about it, he flinched.
CUMMINGSThat's his -- but that's his reputation, and that's his weakness, that he's too nice to run. And he we walked right into a trap there in that he confirmed what people's fear was about him.
SCHERERI think if you were Mitt Romney's campaign advisers a year ago, and you were trying to imagine the perfect first debate, it would include the following. It would include Tim Pawlenty tripping on himself and falling over and having a rough time.
SCHERERIt would include somebody like Michelle Bachmann, who can -- actually has a shot at winning Iowa and taking out someone like Tim Pawlenty, having a great day and the debate being focused largely, or almost entirely, on Barack Obama and the economy. And that's exactly what happened.
REHMMichael Scherer of Time magazine. Short break. And when we come back, we'll open the phones. Stay with us.
REHMAnd it's time to open the phones. First to Flint, Mich. Good morning, Bryce. You're on the air.
BRYCEGood morning. I'm hoping there could be some discussion about this outrageous supposed quip of Romney the other day that he is also unemployed. Coming -- first of all, coming from someone with $200 million, it's just insulting. But to add insult, you know, to the injury, this is someone who's against government-sponsored unemployment benefits.
SCHERERIf you follow Mitt Romney around the campaign trail, he is constantly making jokes, and they are constantly of the Ward Cleaver variety. There's -- it's sort of 1950s, antiquated, hokey humor. Mitt Romney has made this joke about, I'm unemployed, a number of times. He was making it in 2010. Nobody was picking up on it before. It's a joke about himself. It's clear from the reporting that it was a joke about himself. But in the heat of a presidential battle where a...
REHMNot a good time.
SCHERERWhere a sound bite can be taken and then -- and twisted in whatever way, it's clearly going to come across as something that he was mocking workers and not mocking his own...
REHMWhat about his comments regarding climate change, Michael?
SCHERERYou know, Mitt Romney has also, I think, sort of excelled in being one of these candidates who is able to speak the rhetoric of the partisan wing of the party while keeping his positions far more complex and moderate. And he's going to be one of these candidates who is not ruling out the possibility that man-made climate change is an issue. That said, I don't know if it's a deal-breaker.
SCHERERYou know, Tim Pawlenty was, at one point in his career, for cap and trade, although he's since said he's sorry. Jon Huntsman has also supported, you know, cap and trade since the...
REHMAnd he's likely to get into the race on Tuesday.
SCHERERThat's right. And Newt Gingrich has also -- I mean, the political conversation on climate change has changed so dramatically in the last decade that anybody who's been around long enough was once on the other side of this issue. So I don't really see it as being a turning point in the race.
REHMAll right. Here's an email from Susan in Guilford, Conn., who says, "I read this morning Mr. Ryan's budget bill creates vouchers for the elderly to obtain medical insurance, cuts to education, also preserves lucrative tax subsidies for oil, mining and energy industries that would be personally beneficial to him and his in-laws. Isn't this a conflict of interest?" It's in The Daily Beast this morning.
CUMMINGSIt is. And it is true that his in-laws own property that they lease to oil companies for mining purposes. And so they have an indirect benefit from any subsidies that, you know, help maintain the oil industry. And this comes to light because this week the members of Congress had to release their 2011 personal financial disclosure reports.
CUMMINGSAnd if you look at those reports, what you find is that there are lots and lots of congressmen, Democrats and Republicans, who have a wide array of investments. Ryan is among the more wealthy members of the House, so he has more investments. And they're all diversified. And so they do have some energy, and they do have financials. And they have interests in a lot of companies that do have interests before Capitol Hill.
CUMMINGSNow, what Ryan has said is when he was putting together his budget, he made decisions based on public policy, not based on his portfolio. And, you know, that's true for every member of Congress. And all we could do is pretty much take them on their word because there are no rules against it.
BENDAVIDYeah, I mean, I think that, you know, everybody knows where Paul Ryan stands on these things, and he stood where he stands for a long time. And, you know, there are a lot of members of Congress in both sides that have this kind of investments. Nancy Pelosi is extremely wealthy as well. One thing that was interesting to me about these financial disclosures is that so many of the Republican freshmen are millionaires.
BENDAVIDIt's 19 or something like that. And, of course, there's nothing wrong with that. But they ran so much as being, you know, men...
CUMMINGSAll of the people.
BENDAVIDExactly, men of the people. It was really populist. It was against the elites and so, to the extent that many of them actually are pretty well-established financially -- I mean, again, nothing wrong with it -- but it's a little bit of maybe a surprise, given what their message was.
REHMAll right. To Wentzville, Mo. Good morning, Steve.
STEVEMy comment is that I think that they put a lot of weight on the president for creating jobs whenever, you know, anybody would know that the wealthy Republicans are sitting on the boards of large companies. And it's up to them whether they hire or work overtime. Like, they cut mufflers out of a place in Kentucky, and they worked their people two 12-hour shifts for the -- ever since last Thanksgiving that I know of.
SCHERERI think you're getting at something that the White House has been saying and the Obama campaign will say, is that this election is not just going to be a referendum on Obama's records. It's going to be a choice between what Republicans have done and are promising to do and what Obama has done and is promising to do. And it is true that Republicans still don't have a really convincing answer when it comes to jobs.
SCHERERThe House has this 11-page document with lots of pictures in very large font about their jobs' plan. But it's basically a list of stuff they've always wanted anyway. It's not really specifically targeted to the current situation we're in. Mitt Romney is going to be running this campaign, and other candidates, I think, will follow him solely on, you know, whether Obama has failed America's economy and America's workers.
SCHERERAnd at some point, Republicans are going to have to present, okay, here is my vision. And if the vision amounts to more tax cuts for very wealthy people and the sort of laundry list of stuff that has been done for a long time, including, you know, major cuts to government programs that helped people who are unemployed or who don't have money, I think, Obama is going to be able to get some traction there.
REHMJeanne, one person we didn't mention in regard to the debate was Newt Gingrich. Why is he now demanding an apology from NBC?
CUMMINGSWell, Gingrich has had such a terrible week. He probably is looking for apologies all around. I don't know exactly why he wants NBC to apologize to him. I just know that his campaign is so far off the tracks that its difficult for a lot of people to focus on him as a serious candidate anymore at all.
REHMDo you agree with that, Naftali?
BENDAVIDYou know, I do. He was involved this week in sort of disparaging his own campaign staff. And I think that's not a situation you want to be in. But a very large number of them, 17 or something like that, resigned recently because they were unhappy with his lack of discipline in his campaign. And so he was in the position of saying, well, they just don't understand. All they know is about 30-second attack ads. I'm a man of big ideas.
BENDAVIDAnd so it raises a lot of questions. First of all, why did he hire them? And what does it say about his judgment if they were that bad? But, secondly, I don't think you ever want to be in a situation of disparaging your own people. And he was making mistakes from the beginning, whether it was attacking Paul Ryan in the way he did, whether it was trying to explain his own affair. And this is just one sort of last explosion in his campaign.
SCHERERThis is sort of...
REHMAnd go ahead, Michael.
SCHERERIt's a new political technique, the big brain defense. When the press first came after him after he flubbed on "Meet the Press" and conservatives were angry, he said, the press just doesn't understand the campaign about big ideas. Their brains are too small. When his campaign staff laughed, he said, my campaign staff didn't understand a philosophical campaign about big ideas. It's a strategy. He's got one. I don't think it's going to work.
REHMBut the apology was asked for or demanded because there was a report which cited complaints from unnamed former advisers that his wife, Callista, is actually to blame for the exodus of his whole staff.
CUMMINGSWell, the blame-the-wife thing is a long standing theme in Newt Gingrich's career. And this is the third wife, and now she's taking a wrap. And the last two wives took their own fair share of blame along the way as well. Their argument was that she was controlling, and she approved press releases. And she was in charge of his schedule and all of that.
CUMMINGSBut where is Newt Gingrich's acceptance of his responsibility for either criticizing Paul Ryan, or not, on "Meet the Press" and, you know, misspeaking or whatever and bringing all of that negativity onto his own campaign? He is responsible for his campaign. If she irritated people by, you know, picking on a press release, that's fine. But...
REHMHow about the vacation?
CUMMINGS...Newt Gingrich is -- well, he could have said no. Newt Gingrich...
REHMHe could've said no.
CUMMINGS...is responsible for his own campaign.
REHMOkay. To Cortez, Fla. Good morning, Skip.
SKIPGood morning. How are you?
REHMI'm good, thanks.
SKIPI've got a question for your guests there. Over the last few days, your guests have made inferences to the fact that the Congress is doing such a good job. And based upon the status of this economy, I don't understand it. I look at the financials and the banks that have gone under and the banks that have been paying their executives exorbitant fees, and nobody has gone to jail. So just have your guests tell me how Congress is doing such a good job. Thanks.
SCHERERI certainly wouldn't be one to defend Congress. And the American people, I mean, congressional approval is may be 15 percent today or 10 percent or 18 percent. But Congress has been, as a whole, as a body, as an institution, at the very bottom of national approval ratings for years. It's even gotten worse. People like their individual congressperson generally, but they don't like Congress as a whole.
SCHERERAnd I think you're seeing -- I mean, if there's a way out of this, it's that the American people do actually like it when the parties come together and they cut a big deal and they get to some agreement. And so there's weird way in which Boehner and Obama have shared interests right now. They can both win through -- at the end of this debt limit debate. If they come out with a proposal, it'll help both of them. It'll help the institution as a whole. It's not a zero sum game.
REHMAll right. To Cincinnati, Ohio. Good morning, Lynn.
LYNNGood morning. I thank you for letting me be on. I'd like to say what the last two callers have said, that this jobs issue is not just an Obama or a Democratic issue. We have a party that came in, and their first thing was to defeat Obama. Congress -- the Republicans haven't put forth a jobs program. Every jobs program that is put forth, it's killed in Congress.
LYNNStates, and especially our state in Ohio, our governors, you know, gives away -- when you get stimulus money, he says no to it. He, you know, just -- I think the people now kind of get it. And it's not just your guests -- and distinguished guests, I might add. But I think sometimes the media says this is Obama's economy. And I think the people are kind of getting it now that, no, it's everyone's economy.
CUMMINGSWell, I do think that the Republicans have yet to figure out a way to take their aggressive focus on reducing the deficit, and try to turn that into a jobs program. And their -- they know they have that problem. They do think the two are linked. But I don't think the average voter has heard that message and understands that message, and I don't think they've made that case.
CUMMINGSAnd that will be a problem for them in the next re-elect if they don't find a way around that corner. And I think the caller touched on something that's also a really interesting dynamic to watch. And that is what is happening out in these states, like Ohio, critical swing state in the presidential. Governors are having a really hard time. And some of the Republican governors, in particular, are being very aggressive in terms of cutting jobs and things like that.
CUMMINGSAnd, in the end, that will also become a part of the 2012 debate for the presidential.
REHMJeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We've had several emails on this Ryan conflict of interest. How important do you see it? Naftali.
BENDAVIDWell, I mean, on the one hand, I really don't want to minimize it. I mean, I think it's very important that members of Congress are very open about what their personal, you know, interests are in legislation. But I do think that, you know, on the other hand, you can't automatically attribute -- number one, attribute bad motives to somebody because they have a certain policy position.
BENDAVIDAnd, number two, isn't the issue, really, what's the right thing to do for the country, not what certain personal interests members of Congress have? So I think that, you know, the solution that we generally try to take is a lot of openness, a lot of exposure, so we know where people are coming from, but at the same time, not disqualifying somebody from putting forth a budget as chairman of the budget committee because he does hold certain limits.
REHMAll right. And finally, to Springfield, Va. Hi, Jean. You're on the air.
JEANYes. It's my belief that the uncertainty in the marketplace has been largely caused by the Republicans' total negativity. I would certainly like to know what they have done in the past four years that's a good reason for why I should vote for them.
SCHERERI think you could argue that Republicans share a significant part of the blame for the current deficit situation, which arose partly because of the downturn but also significantly because of the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. The markets, you know, even if Republicans had been coming forward with very positive proposals or more positive proposals, or if they had been far more negative, the markets would be responding.
SCHERERBecause the numbers right now just don't add up. This is a problem not of politics. But, right now, we are spending more and projected to spend far more than we are going to take in in revenue. And we have to solve that. And it's just -- those are -- that's just math right now that is causing the markets to get jitters.
BENDAVIDI mean, the Republicans have made it very clear that they believe that the best way to produce jobs is to cut taxes and cut regulations and to just have the government get out of the way.
REHMBut didn't we go through that once before?
BENDAVIDWell, that's the Democratic response. Not just once before, but for decades, you know, the Republicans come in and do this. And then the Democratic argument, at least, is that it hasn't worked. The Republicans say it has worked, look at the Reagan years. But they're really not making that many bones about it. They don't think the government should be doing very much.
BENDAVIDIn fact, the less the better, and that's really, broadly, what their jobs -- job is. And I...
REHMPhilosophically. That's the whole point.
BENDAVIDIt is. And I think the real interesting dynamic, politically, in the next election is going to be, is it a referendum on Obama and whether or not he and the Democrats have succeeded or failed? Or is it really going to be a comparison? And the party that better succeeds in putting forth their framework, I think, is going to be the party that does well.
CUMMINGSWell, I -- clearly, it's -- I would suspect that it's going to be a referendum on Obama. That's what almost every re-elect campaign is. They'll try to make it into a choice. And in that respect, what the White House is doing now is what Obama sort of hinted at last fall when he agreed to the extension of the Bush tax cuts. He basically said, you know, I can't get rid of them now. I'm going to take this into the campaign. And I'm going to let people over the next two years see what happens.
CUMMINGSAnd so, when this deficit plan comes out and there are big cuts to domestic programs, he'll be able to go out on the campaign trail and with more clarity, not, you know, predicting terrible cuts but with real cuts that have happened and say to people who are getting -- their police departments are getting less money, their teachers are getting less money, you know, all of their programs are underfunded and say, okay, is this what you want?
CUMMINGSOr do you think that wealthy people should pay a little bit more?
REHMLast word, Michael, quickly.
SCHERERI would say the president has a second challenge. There's the policy issue of how he's going to argue whether his policies are better than Republicans. He also has a connection issue, which, I think, is becoming more pronounced, and Republicans are going to exploit it. He has not been able to demonstrate that he can identify with the person who is out of work and who's been out of work for a long time.
REHMMichael Scherer of Time magazine, Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News, Naftali Bendavid, Wall Street Journal, thank you all so much. Have a great weekend, everybody. 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 Tobey Schreiner. Katy June-Friesen answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information.
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