Pulitzer Prize winning author Anthony Doerr talks about his new novel, "Cloud Cuckoo Land," and why he says his job as a writer is to reveal our interconnections as people, and as a planet.
Guest Host: Susan Page
Finally some good news — the U.S. unemployment rate drops to 8.6 percent. Legislators discuss with new urgency a bill to prohibit insider trading by members of Congress and their staffs. Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain faces fresh allegations of personal misbehavior. He says he’ll have a face-to-face talk with his wife today about the future of his campaign. Meanwhile, former House speaker Newt Gingrich takes the lead among the GOP candidates in several key states. And Congressman Barney Frank, the long serving and groundbreaking Massachusetts Democrat announces he won’t seek a seventeenth term.
- Jeanne Cummings Deputy government editor, Bloomberg News.
- Greg Ip U.S. economics editor, The Economist, and author of "The Little Book of Economics: How the Economy Works in the Real World."
- Cynthia Tucker Pulitzer-Prize winning syndicated columnist; she was editorial page editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 17 years.
Friday News Roundup Extra
The panelists respond to a caller’s comment about who the White House might like to run against next year. The caller’s pick? Newt Gingrich:
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. One hundred twenty-five thousand new jobs were created in November, enough to move unemployment to its lowest level in 2 1/2 years. The Senate fails to extend the payroll tax holiday as the Dec. 31 deadline looms. And GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich soars to the top of polls in several key states.
MS. SUSAN PAGEWith me in the studio for the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup: Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News, Greg Ip of The Economist and syndicated columnist Cynthia Tucker, who's joining us for the first time on the news roundup. Welcome, Cynthia.
MS. CYNTHIA TUCKERThank you.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com, or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Greg Ip, how many times have we started the news roundup with bad news about the economy...
MR. GREG IPIt is…
PAGE...for the past several years? Finally, today, the headline on a story you've just posted on The Economist says a very good week. What happened this week?
IPIt's so nice to start the show off with some good news. So I think we had important news on the economy on two fronts this week. The first is that the state of the economy in the United States as we know it seems to be actually pretty good. The Labor Department reported this morning that, in November, there was 120,000 new jobs created. And if you exclude the fact that government payrolls continued to shrink, the private sector created 140,000.
IPEven better, the government revised up how many jobs were created in previous months, and this is no anomaly. We've had a run of good data. We heard that automobile sales are very strong in November. Retailers reporting very good Black Friday, Thanksgiving weekends sales. Even pending -- even home sales seem to be picking up. This week was a terrific week in the markets, but I'd say the second thing that's perhaps even more important is that all this year, the biggest threat to the United States economy has been not on the economy itself. It's been politics.
IPPolitics in the United States -- politicians quarrelling over the debt ceiling, over whether to extend stimulus, and in Europe, over how to save, basically, the eurozone. And, again, good news on both of those fronts. We've seen signs of movement in the Congress that we will -- that they will extend some stimulus measures, like the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance benefits, and in Europe, some signs from the European Central Bank and the German and French leadership that they are working towards a resolution of the problems there.
PAGESo that's the good news. We're journalists, so, of course, we want to go instantly to the bad news. Jeanne Cummings, Americans, I'm sure, are really encouraged by an 8.6 unemployment rate. Who knew that would seem low? But it does after the string of being at 9 percent and above. But not everything in this new jobs report out this morning is good news. Tell us about that.
MS. JEANNE CUMMINGSWell, one of the big areas where there is a jump is in retail jobs, which often can be seasonal, and so it's unclear whether those are going to be sustainable throughout. Manufacturing did not see an increase, and that is an important sector of the economy in terms of -- those jobs often are middle-class wages. That's an engine in the economy that needs to restart itself and has yet to do that, so not every number is perfect.
MS. JEANNE CUMMINGSThe one thing that was mixed was that the reduction in public jobs is lower than it has been before, but that continues as states and cities and counties continue to shrink to adjust to the new tax levels of income that we have right now in the economy. So not everything is perfect, but as Greg said, at least we can use a few different adjectives that we've been using for almost two years.
PAGEAverage hourly earnings actually declined a bit month over month, Cynthia. And I think the number that is of most concern to those of us and I -- this is undoubtedly all of us who want the jobless numbers to get better -- is that labor force participation actually fell by two-tenths of a percentage point, which means there are a lot of Americans who don't have jobs would have given up looking.
TUCKERAbsolutely. You never know when the unemployment rate drops, whether that's unvarnished good news or whether it also indicates that the number of people who've just given up is going up. And that is particularly true, Susan, if you look at people my age. If you are middle age and you have been unemployed for several months, you may have given up. You're thinking about trying to coast until you can collect Social Security because so few people want to hire middle-aged workers.
PAGESeven minutes after this number was released by the U.S. government, an email landed in my inbox from the Mitt Romney campaign, taking, unsurprisingly, a negative view of this report. He -- in his statement, which came out, he says that this -- these -- today's unemployment figures bring to 34 the number of months that unemployment in the United States has been over 8 percent, the longest such spell since the Great Depression. But I wonder, Jeanne Cummings, if this is, in fact, pretty good news for President Obama, who's facing a tough re-election campaign.
CUMMINGSAn uptick in the economy is good news to the president. He's going to be re-elected based on the economy. And so anything -- any way that they can point to improvements is a very positive thing for them. They -- by their own predictions, they don't expect the -- they expect the unemployment rate to be around 8 percent come election year -- election day, November of next year. And no president has been elected with a level that high since Franklin Roosevelt, so that is a historic hurdle that they face.
CUMMINGSIf it's 8.6 and continues to tick down, at least they'll have a trend that would be a positive thing for them to take out to the voters to say, OK, we've turned the corner. We're on the right track now.
CUMMINGSAnd the other reason it's good news for them and bad news for any Republican that is seeking the nomination is that they have -- the Republicans, right now, have a very weak foreign policy, national security, national military defense argument against this president given the successes that they've had in the fight against terror. And so, really, this is going to be a race about domestic issues. And so, to the extent that they improve for Obama, that is good for the White House.
PAGESo, Greg Ip, tell us what this signals ahead, if it does signal something ahead, as we look for what's going to happen with unemployment next month and next year.
IPWell, I think it's very positive. I think that what is interesting is that, you know, four, five months ago, we would have been having a conversation about how terrible everything looked because the markets were under pressure and so forth. And what's striking is that we look back -- it seemed that there was kind of a pothole in the middle of the year in the summer months, and maybe we just had a lot of bad luck.
IPWe had oil prices shoot up because of the Arab Spring. We had industrial supply chains disrupted because of the earthquake in Japan. We had the political paralysis in both the United States and in Europe. And maybe having got past that bad luck, we're in for a decent year if we don't, you know, sort of trip over our shoelaces again.
PAGECynthia Tucker, turning to the Republican presidential race, Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, meets with his wife today. What are they going to talk about?
TUCKEROh, Susan, what else could they talk about but the latest allegations from a woman who claims -- this woman has not claimed that she was the victim of sexual harassment. She claims, instead, that she was Herman Cain's mistress, that they carried on a 13-year long consensual affair. And the most damning thing for Cain is that she has produced cellphone records that show all of these phone calls between them, text messages, some of which were as early as 4:26 in the morning.
TUCKERIt is very difficult, I think -- though Herman Cain keeps trying to talk himself out of that, it is very difficult to explain to your wife why someone is calling you, another woman, or texting you at 4:26 a.m. and why you had given her money. He now concedes that he did give this woman money and that his wife knew nothing about it or his relationship with her. I think Herman Cain should have had this conversation with his wife a long time ago.
PAGEShe may feel that way, too, but, you know, we have seen this phenomenal surge for Herman Cain, really not something, I think, a lot of political reporters predicted when he got into the race. Jeanne Cummings, do you think, at this point, his prospects are over for winning the nomination, or could he kind of soldier on, make the case that he's being unfairly maligned?
CUMMINGSI don't believe that he can recover from this one for a couple of reasons. If you look at the polls, the Bloomberg News poll in October showed that in at least Iowa and New Hampshire, the voters weren't ready to turn on him, but they also weren't buying his story. They were somewhere in the middle. There now is a new Iowa poll that was released this morning that shows that his support has just bottomed out, dropping from 23 percent in Iowa to 8 percent.
CUMMINGSSo if he's going to recover, he has to do a couple of things. First of all, he has to come up with some kind of explanation that voters will embrace. They were skeptical before. Now, they look like they aren't buying it. That's a much harder argument for him to make. Secondly, in Iowa, he'd have to be able to defend himself and really go full force, full out. And his own campaign has acknowledged that the donors, the fundraising has frozen up after this latest allegation. So if he has no money and no real argument, I don't know where he goes.
PAGESo Cain has fallen, and we've seen rising Newt Gingrich, a familiar figure to many of us here in Washington from his days as Speaker of the House and leader of the 1994 Republican Revolution. How is he doing, Greg?
IPPhenomenally well, considering that most -- a lot of us had written him off five or six months ago. There's been some polls out that now show him in the lead, not just in the lead but by a substantial margin with Mitt Romney now lagging significantly behind. Romney is still ahead in New Hampshire, but Gingrich is leading in some other key states. So the big question on everybody's mind: Is this just the latest wave of the anyone-but-Romney movement? And it will fill just as quickly?
IPCould be, but there are a couple of reasons that just has a little bit more staying power in the sense that Gingrich is much more of a tested, you know, product than the others. In the case of people like Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry and Herman Cain, this was really their first term on the national stage, and the first chance people got to take a close look at them revealed all the flaws.
IPGingrich is, love him or hate him, he's been on the shelf for a while, right? So the fact that he has managed to come back suggests that this may be the biggest threat Romney's faced yet.
PAGEI was at a focus group last night sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center and moderated by the Democratic pollster Peter Hart, in which people were very open to Gingrich. Romney had some support, but it seemed very thin, and that says that, just weeks before the opening Iowa caucuses, this remains a race in some turmoil. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue talking about the news of the week, and we'll go to your calls. 1-800-433-8850. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio: Jeanne Cummings, deputy government editor of Bloomberg News. Greg Ip, he's the U.S. economics editor for The Economist, author of, "The Little Book of Economics: How the Economy Works in the Real World." And Cynthia Tucker, she's the Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist, former editorial page editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
PAGEWell, we have new urgency behind the idea -- an idea that's -- legislation that's been proposed for years and years that would restrict insider trading by members of Congress and their staff. Now, Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York has been talking about this for six years. She was getting nowhere. Suddenly, lots of co-sponsors' hearings about to happen on the Hill. Why?
CUMMINGSWell, it all mostly has been jump-started by a "60 Minutes" report that raised -- that was based on a book that was written that raised allegations that members of Congress had become wealthy by taking information they learned on Capitol Hill and trading on it. It's a controversial book. It was a controversial segment on "60 Minutes." Many of the lawmakers who were identified in the story -- Pelosi -- former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, current House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, among them, so it went both ways -- have refuted what was in the reports. But what...
PAGEDo you think they have effectively refuted them, made the case that it's not true, that they've traded on insider information?
CUMMINGSI think individually they may have, but they can't get rid of the notion that this is doable, in part, because we have so many members of Congress who come in as, you know, as small business people, middle class people, and they walk out millionaires. And so you could just -- the public looks at that and says something's going on here. They're getting rich while they're in service. And there is truth to that.
CUMMINGSSo I think that that's really lit a fire underneath of this legislation because what you hear on Capitol Hill is not we have to pass this because we're a bunch of crooks and we're doing insider trading, but we have to pass this because we have a serious perception and trust problem with the public. That's a whole different argument. It's one that many members of Congress are beginning to embrace because then it's not about them doing something wrong. It's about making sure the public has confidence in the system.
CUMMINGSThe SEC has testified that there are laws right now that could be used to prosecute a member or a staff member who did trade on some inside information they received on Capitol Hill. But many legal experts say it's gray, it's a little porous, it's hard to make the case, so this legislation would be sending a clearer signal that this is unambiguously against the law and that a staff or a member could be prosecuted for it.
PAGEHas the SEC ever used the existing law against a member of Congress or, yeah...
CUMMINGSNo. That's part of the problem is that they can -- they did testify they have these tools, but the fact that they have never used them is what undermines their argument.
PAGEThis comes, of course, at a time Congress' approval rating and the Gallup Poll is 13 percent, matching an historic low. So that must be on the minds of some these members, Cynthia?
TUCKERI certainly hope so. I can't -- while the SEC has suggested that there are laws on the books that could address this problem as Jeanne just said, it's never have been done. And I find it astonishing that, in essence, Congress has exempted itself from insider trading laws even if no individual member is actually guilty. It feeds into the sense that members of Congress see themselves as above the law. And given that trust in government institutions is at an all-time low, particularly trust in Congress, they need to move quickly to do something about this.
PAGEGregory, if last night the Senate failed to pass a proposed extension of the payroll tax holiday next year, in economic terms, how important it is -- is it that this payroll tax holiday get extended after -- before it expires at the end of the year?
IPWell, it's pretty important. It's worth about $110 billion a year. That's about 0.7 percent of GDP. In and of itself, that's not gigantic, but when you layer on a bunch of other things that are happening, such as the possible expiration of the 99-week benefit period for unemployment insurance, the fact that some of the budget cuts that were implemented in the August budget deal take effect in January, the fact that some of President Obama's original stimulus is now expiring, those were a couple of, like, you know, squeezes that the economy is going to have to go through.
IPSo extending a few of them seems like a pretty good idea in the view of most economists, and so that's why there's a lot of attention to this issue.
PAGESo the issue now, Jeanne, is how to pay for it. Both sides say they're in favor of extending it. What is it that Democrats and Republicans would do to pay for this?
CUMMINGSWell, the Democratic proposal would have imposed a relatively small tax on -- surtax on income above $1 million to pay for this. That was rejected by a slight majority, 51-49. They didn't get the 60 votes they needed to avoid a filibuster. The Republicans, on the other hand, put forth a proposal that would have frozen the government employment and, through attrition, cut government jobs. In addition, it would have cut -- imposed more spending cuts across the board. That was rejected by a majority of Republicans, as well as Democrats.
CUMMINGSSo they don't have a clear solution, but they've each scored their political point -- if that's what they wanted to do with this first round of votes. What we're hearing on Capitol Hill is from leadership on both sides of the aisle, is that we all agree we want to do this, and so they'll figure out a way to get it done. They have to now negotiate between the various proposals what kind of spending they can accept, what kind of funding they can accept. And it probably is going to be smaller than what President Obama was seeking.
CUMMINGSHe wanted to extend the payroll tax deduction for our workers and expand it to include the employer side of that payroll deduction. And it looks as though they -- Republicans may pull back, and Democrats as well, and go with the smaller package and extend, but not expand.
NORMANSo, Cynthia, Congress only expects to be in town for about the next two weeks. Do you think they'll get this done?
TUCKERI think that many Republicans, at this point, believe that they have to sign on to the extension of the payroll tax cut because they believe that they are losing the political argument, the argument of public perception. President Obama has been going around the country, particularly to swing states, hammering Republicans on this, that they want tax cuts for the rich. But when it comes to a tax cut for average families, they won't do it. So I think the pressure has increased on Republicans to get this done. So, yes, I think they'll do it.
CUMMINGSAnd add to that, that if they don't do it, then they, in effect, allow a tax hike, which we know, you know, orthodoxy Republican Party, that can't happen either. So there is a -- there are, you know, lots of pressures on the Republican members of Congress to figure out a way to get this done.
PAGEWe've got a full lineup of people waiting to join our conversation on the phone. So let's go to Norman first. He's calling us from Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Norman, thanks for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show."
NORMANWell, thank you for being there. You are my favorite substitute of Ms. Rehm.
PAGEWell, thank you.
NORMANI'm -- you know, both leading candidates, both Gingrich and Romney, have some serious baggage that they would have to take to the campaign. And I have my opinions. I'm just wondering who you all feel would the Democrats rather face.
PAGENow, Norman, we're going to put that question to the panel. But tell me who you think the Democrats would prefer to face.
NORMANI think they would prefer to face Gingrich. And I've got my traditional $5 with my -- with one of my close friends. We decide, you know, that we're going to -- what we're going to bet on. We never collect. I -- I am saying that Romney would -- not Romney, that Gingrich would lose worse than the government.
PAGEOh, all right. Norman, thanks for your call. Gregory, what's your sense of who the White House would prefer to win the Republican nomination?
IPMy guess is that they would prefer Gingrich did because -- not withstanding the fact that he obviously does score well on several fronts with the Republican base -- he's a very polarizing figure. I mean, this is a guy who shut the government down back in '96 and handed a gigantic political victory to Clinton. And then there's the kind of the elephant in the room, the temperament question, you know?
IPThe thing about Gingrich -- and Jeanne and Cynthia actually have got their personal histories with the man that speak to this better than I can -- you never what he's going to say next or how he's going to react. And that's why, now that the spotlight is on him so intensively, it'll be interesting to see how he responds.
PAGEWell, in fact, just yesterday, he talked about poor children in a way that offended some people. Cynthia, tell us what he said.
TUCKERHe has said several things, Susan, about poor children lately that are offensive. But he has continued the stream of suggesting that child labor laws should be stricken and poor children sent to work, that the child labor laws keep them from apprenticeships and that they could be put to work, say, in public schools as janitors, replacing all those unionized janitors. You know, there is -- he has a wonderful, colorful history, wherein he spews about 100 different ideas per minute, or certainly per hour.
TUCKERAbout five of those ideas are interesting, perhaps even useful. The other 95 are harebrained, ridiculous, polarizing ideas. And so I have to get around to Greg -- to agreeing with Greg. I would guess that the White House would prefer to face Gingrich than Romney.
PAGEI sat down with Newt Gingrich two weeks ago in Florida for an interview. And, Jeanne, he said that he had made a lot of mistakes in his past, including during the time he was leading the House and negotiating with then-President Clinton, but that he had learned a lot of lessons, and he was different in some fundamental ways so that some of the mistakes he made in the past weren't ones he would repeat. Do you think that's the case from what you've seen of him on the campaign trail this year?
CUMMINGSWell, everybody benefits from mistakes, and I'm -- you know, the former speaker is no different than anyone else. He certainly probably has learned some lessons. I think in this campaign he has shown more discipline than those of us who covered him back in the 1990s are accustomed to seeing. I do think that in -- he has a history of relationships. He's --, you know, he is twice divorced. This is his third marriage. It does appear that this marriage is more stable.
CUMMINGSHe's -- and so I think that he has learned some lessons. And, you know, with the -- in terms of what -- who the White House might want to face, it's obvious the White House thought they were going to face Romney. They've been running ads against Romney, and they've been building their campaign narrative around the run against Romney. And, you know, Gingrich is unpredictable.
CUMMINGSAnd so they -- if they are hoping for Gingrich, they might want to be careful what they wish for. Yes, he has huge liabilities. But he's also interesting, and he could rally the base because he's willing to fight in a way that I think Republican activists right now want to see a real fight with Obama. And they don't see that in Romney, and that's one of the things about Romney that they don't like.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls at 1-800-433-8850. You know, just to go back to Norman's question, I remember the very first presidential campaign I covered was way back in 1980, and the Democratic White House then, led by Jimmy Carter, really wanted to run against Ronald Reagan 'cause they knew he would be such a weak candidate. And that is not how that election turned out. So sometimes your expectations can go awry.
PAGEYou know, we have a lot of comments, callers and emailers who are disagreeing with the way I characterized the very top of the show that we had good news about the economy at last. Let me just read two of them. Jerry in St. Louis sends us an email. "I can't believe you start the show saying the unemployment number is good news. The amount of jobs was far below what is necessary for growth. The percentage of unemployment went down only because people stopped looking for jobs."
PAGEAnd here's another note from Reba, who sends us an email. "I so appreciate how knowledgeable your guests are about statistics and macroeconomic indicators. However, for most of us out here, the surge in the Dow and the revelation that the Federal Reserve lent banks $7.7 trillion sound like stories from another planet. Please ask your guests whether this disparity in experience between the political and chattering classes and all of us here dealing with daily economic stress is likely to affect participation in the 2012 election."
PAGEWell, Greg, let me just ask you first. Do you see a big divide between the optimism from some of the indicators that you talked about and what a lot of Americans are really feeling in their daily lives?
IPOh, sure. But you have to make a distinction between the level of gloom out there and the direction that it's going. And the thing is that things are bad, but they're getting better. They're not getting worse. We actually are creating more than enough jobs to start bringing the unemployment rate down. For the last three or four months, we've been above that benchmark. The unemployment rate dropped in November to 8.6 percent. Yes, part of it was because people stopped looking for work. But most of it was because a lot of people found jobs.
IPAnd I know that the surge on Wall Street and all this chatter about central banks doing fancy stuff with lending dollars and so on sort of lets us -- you know, makes people's eyes glaze over. But it matters because it matters to keeping the banking system healthy. And if they succeed and banks will make loans, that will help people spend. And that will get the economy going.
CUMMINGSWell, I think -- I agree with Greg that all of these things are important for us to discuss because we've learned in the last few years that what does happen on Wall Street and in the central banks really does affect Main Street. So we need to care about both ends of our economy. It is interesting, though, a couple of months ago, we at Bloomberg had a meeting with a White House official.
CUMMINGSAnd their view of the unemployment rate and how it will affect them really reflects more the woman who emailed to us. And what they say is people are not going to go force her against this because the unemployment rate is 8.2 or 8.7 or 7.9. But they're going to vote for or against this if they still have, you know, their son living in their basement 'cause he can't find a job or, you know, their brother-in-law and his family still struggling.
CUMMINGSSo those personal life experiences are, from the White House perspective, going to have a much bigger effect in terms of how confident people are and how they rate the job that he has done than all the statistics that we rattle around with.
PAGEYou know, and, in fact, the statement that the White House put out about the unemployment numbers from Alan Krueger, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, was pretty careful not to do any crowing.
PAGEHe said, "Today's unemployment report provides further evidence that the economy is continuing to heal from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, but the pace of improvement is still not fast enough given the large job losses from the recession that began in December 2007." So they're being careful, Cynthia, to not seem to convey the idea that everyone is feeling better.
TUCKERWell, for months now, every time there was a minor downtick in the unemployment number, the White House has been very careful not to suggest that happy days are here again because so many ordinary Americans know that's not true, and they don't want to seem out of touch. I do think that there is some difference between how ordinary Americans out there perceive the economy and what is often the discussion here in the Washington bubble. I happened to go home during the debt ceiling crisis, Monroeville, Ala., and people were only talking about their personal situations.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. And when we come back, we'll go to the phones, take some more of your calls, read some of your emails. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. For the first hour of our weekly news roundup, we are joined by Cynthia Tucker, a syndicated columnist, Greg Ip from The Economist magazine and Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News. Now here, Diana in Fairfax has sent us an email, taking us to task for another thing that was said earlier in this hour about Newt Gingrich's comments on child labor.
PAGEShe writes, "Well, he's not the most delicate. He does refer to 14- to 16-year-olds here working after school and getting paid. Considering I got a job on my 15th birthday and have been working ever since, I'm not sure I see a problem here." She goes on to quote, at some length, what Newt Gingrich says, and this quote ends with, "Get any job that teaches you to show up on Monday. Get any job that teaches you to stay all day, even if you are in a fight with your girlfriend. The whole process of making work worthwhile is central."
PAGEHe's talking about the need for kids -- teenagers, not very young children, to learn what it takes to hold a job. And I wonder if that's, while some people have been offended, as Cynthia noted, if that's an argument that might resonate with some Americans.
TUCKERWell, I mean, that was a part of what the speaker said, and nobody, I think, would argue that hard work is bad for kids. It's not. Hard work is good for not just kids but for grownups, too. It's how we get through life and earn the money we need to have an enjoyable life. He didn't just say that. What he said was child labor laws are stupid. Well, that's a whole different argument, and that's a very different place that he took the conversation. And this -- you know, this is sort of the pattern that those of us who've covered Gingrich for a long time know happens.
TUCKERThere might be a kernel of, you know, constructive and interesting idea, but then sometimes it evolves in -- through rhetoric, into something much bigger. And so child labor laws, I think, a lot of people would say, make a lot of sense because if we look at China where there aren't any and some of the practices that go on over there, it's clearly not a place that we want the United States to be. So, you know, again, a little piece of an interesting idea buried in the middle of a bigger argument that's a lot more controversial.
PAGEAnd, of course, he has built his career from the start by being provocative, by making people say, what do you mean? What are you saying? That sounds outrageous.
IPI think it goes back to what Cynthia was saying earlier that the man has 100 ideas per hour of which a very small proportion are good ideas. And the problem in politics is that your enemies will make sure everybody remembers the bad ones. That's what happened with Rick Perry and the whole idea of calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme. Gingrich has something analogous to that practically every hour, you know? I mean, he called the Ryan budget plan social engineering.
IPYou know, he has said that congressional -- he has implied the Congressional Budget Office should be shut down. He likes to think out loud. That's great. You want that, like, in a pundit, in a book writer. I'm not sure you want that in a president.
PAGEMaybe we'll find out if we want that in a presidential candidate. Let's go to Hickory, N.C., and talk to Ray. Ray, hi. Thank you for joining us.
RAYHey. Thanks for taking the call. I just had a really quick question. Do you guys think the decisions yesterday also to -- with the defense appropriations bill that -- do you think they pertain to where the al-Qaida -- supposed al-Qaida suspects could be held indefinitely? Could that also apply to Americans? And should the president veto that bill if that's the case?
PAGEAll right, Ray. Thanks for your call. Cynthia, what do you think?
TUCKERFirst of all, thanks to Ray for bringing that subject up because I think it is the most important debate of the last several months that has gotten very little coverage. I think that as -- I think all civil libertarians -- and I count myself among them -- should hope for the president's veto of this bill. Yes, defense authorization is attached to it. But I think it is an extremely wrongheaded notion to say, first of all, that the military should handle these alleged terrorists. They're alleged terrorists. They are suspects.
TUCKERThey haven't been convicted of any crime. Our federal courts have proved quite capable of handling this issue. And I don't think you want to go down the road of restricting individual rights in this country, and so I definitely hope that the president will veto it. And he wasn't as strong in issuing his veto threat as he was about saying, well, if they try to evade the rules that we agreed to on debt reduction, I'll definitely veto that.
TUCKERHe wasn't as strong about it, so I hope that -- he's a constitutional lawyer. I certainly hope that he will veto any bill that says the military should hold suspects, including American citizens, in detention indefinitely.
PAGELet's talk to Mark, calling us from Baltimore. Mark, you're on the air.
MARKThanks for taking my call. Great panel. I think the story that really hit a chord with working Americans like myself this week was the disclosure of the insider trading exemption by Congress. And my question for the panel -- then I do want to offer a comment -- is it's nice to have a ban, but who and how are they going to police that?
PAGEWell, Mark, that's a great question. So, Greg, if they pass this legislation that's been proposed in the House, some different versions have been now introduced in the Senate, how would it get policed?
IPI don't know the exact details of it, but the key here is that instead of the SEC or the Justice Department having to prove under conventional insider trading law that insider trading had occurred, is that the law, as I understand it, lays down a code of conduct and all that would have to be proven was that staffers or Congress -- members of Congress violated that code.
PAGEYou know, and...
TUCKERThere are also -- Susan, there are also people who want amendments put into this legislation that would require a great deal of disclosure. And so that way that the public exposure would be a natural deterrent in the process as well because of the very problem that the caller raises.
PAGEYou know, in fact, the legislation that's introduced in the House would require members of Congress and their staff to report security transactions in excess of $1,000 within 90 days. At this point, members of Congress only have to report once a year. And they don't have to disclose the dates of the trade. So you can't go back and look and see if they made a key trade right before the government did something that would affect the value of the stock. Let's go to another caller. Mary is calling us from Northwood, N.H. Hi, Mary.
MARYHi, Susan. It's good to talk to you and your panel today. I have a question about the new unemployment figures this week, the new unemployment claims. You know, I think one of your guests talked about how, you know, the swirl of numbers that people glaze over, and I think that's so true. The numbers are so big, and there's so many of them. And putting it all together seems a really hard thing to do.
MARYBut when I hear week after week -- and it's every week we're seeing something on the order of 400,000 new claims -- unemployment claims, unemployment benefits claim for unemployment benefits, first-time claims, they keep being called. Now, you know, if you do the math, that -- over the course of 50 weeks, you're looking at 20 million new unemployment claims. And, I mean, I may be wrong.
MARKI was trying to look the numbers up myself, you know, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and so forth. But isn't the workforce only about 120 million people? I mean, how does -- this signifies something, you know, the idea that there are 20 million people over the course of the year. How many, you know, aren't we going to run out of people?
PAGEMary, thanks so much for your call. We're going to turn to our economics expert on the panel, Greg Ip. Greg.
IPI know it sounds a little bit surprising, but even the healthiest economy -- millions of people every month are losing their jobs, and millions of people are getting jobs. Whether the job market grows only requires to have the people getting jobs to outnumber the people losing jobs. And so there will always be hundreds of thousands of people each week getting jobless claims just because they're hitting downtimes. It was a bad month for construction, and, you know, people lose jobs even in good times.
IPAgain, I think the key thing here is look at the trend. And the trend tells us that the number of people filing those claims has been gradually going down over the last few months.
PAGEWe have an email. We have a lot of emails that go to the presidential campaign, the Republican field. Here's one from Diane -- no, this one is from Sam, who says, "Please ask your guest why Gov. Huntsman, who I think is the best qualified to the Republican presidential candidates, is not getting any traction in the polls. Is he likely to get a surprisingly strong showing in New Hampshire?" Cynthia, why isn't Jon Huntsman doing better?
TUCKERWell, I think that's a question that a lot of pundits have asked. I think that there are a couple of reasons that you can identify pretty quickly. He had low name recognition, for one thing. And that matters a great deal when you're trying to run for president. Remember, let's remember he had been -- he's been out of office as a former governor for a while and servicing as ambassador to China in the Obama administration, which would bring me to the other thing that, I think, has counted against him among many conservatives.
TUCKERConservatives despise Obama. They want a candidate who's out there, as Jeanne said earlier, attacking Obama, somebody who animates their anger. And Huntsman left the Obama administration to run for president. So I think those are a couple of the reasons he hasn't caught on.
PAGELet's go to Joe, calling us from Lansing, Mich., another key state. Hi, Joe.
JOEYeah. Hi, thanks, Susan. I think the elephant in the room with, actually, Huntsman and Romney is religion. I'm amazed listening to some of the exit polling from some of the early states. The right just does not seem to actually want to vote for a Mormon. I -- you know, it's amazing how they are forgiving Newt's moral failings, as it were, for his two-year ago conversion to Catholicism.
JOEAnd it's -- you know, it's written a little bit about and talked a little bit about, but I honestly believe they just will not vote for a Mormon. I really believe that's a huge part with both of them, more so with Romney because, of course, he's higher in the polls.
PAGEAll right. Well, that's an interesting point, Joe. Jeanne, I you know you look at the polling that Bloomberg News does. What does that tell you about whether the fact that Romney and Huntsman are Mormons is really affecting their standing with Republicans?
CUMMINGSWe tried to get at that because it is something everyone acknowledges, but it's really hard to quantify. And so we asked two different questions on our October poll. The first one we asked -- and this is only in Iowa and New Hampshire -- does a -- someone of Mormon faith, does that matter to you? And a vast majority said, no, not at all. It was like maybe 6 percent in New Hampshire, maybe 8 percent in Iowa.
CUMMINGSThey absolutely said, nope, doesn't matter. Then we asked a second question and that is, do you think the Mormon faith is part of the Christian tradition, or is it something else? And a majority of Iowans, and almost majority of New Hampshire's Republicans, said, it's something else. And then when you go and you look at the sub-tabs, if you look just, say, in Iowa, among those who said it's part of the Christian faith, Romney was leading.
CUMMINGSAmong those who said it's something else, Romney was in fourth place. And so you could see it is indeed having an influence on how they view their candidacies. And it is one of the reasons that in Iowa, Romney cannot break into the lead as opposed to New Hampshire, where he holds a commanding lead. And in New Hampshire, that discrepancy did not show up nearly as readily as it did in Iowa.
PAGEEvangelical Christians, such a big part of the Iowa caucus goers, whereas in New Hampshire, it's quite a different kind of tradition there. I'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You know, we've gotten several emails against the idea of extending long-term unemployment benefits. Here's one of them from Greta. She says, "Just how long are we, the taxpayers, expected to go on supporting those who are unemployed?"
PAGEAnd Del from Florida sends us an email. "Please explain what U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis meant when she said that if we didn't extent unemployment benefits, then joblessness figures would go even higher. I don't get that logic." Greg, what do you think is going on here with, first of all, the labor secretary's comments?
IPWell, unemployment insurance benefits can have, actually, two offsetting effects. One is that because it helps a person who is unemployed get by without a job, it might discourage them from looking for a job or accepting a job that's been offered. So that actually could tend to put little bit of upward pressure on the unemployment rate. But the other thing it does, it puts money in the hands of people who are usually quite strapped and allows them to keep spending.
IPAnd so while you and I who are fortunate enough to have jobs now don't think it affects us, the fact that those unemployed people now have money to spend actually keeps the economy afloat. And that's especially important now when it's really not people's unwillingness to work that's keeping unemployment up, it's the lack of jobs.
TUCKERI think there are lots of Americans who have anecdotal evidence. Somebody that they know who's been unemployed isn't trying that hard to get a job. And that is irritating. But if you look at the statistics that we were talking about earlier, make your eye glaze over, Greg is right that there are many people out there who are trying very hard to get a job and simply cannot find one.
TUCKERAnd so I think to cut them off at the knees would be a mistake and would be a mistake for the economy because then they can't buy groceries or buy Christmas gifts. And their spending money helps create other jobs.
PAGEWe had an announcement this week that Congressman Barney Frank was retiring. It seems like he's been in Congress forever. He's been there for 16 terms. Jeanne, why did he say he was deciding not to run for a 17th?
CUMMINGSAnd just to make it clear for all of our listeners, 16 terms is really 32 years. So he has been here for as long as many voters. His reasons were complex, as always is the case with Barney Frank, but the biggest one was redistricting. They redrew the lines of his district in Massachusetts. And so he had several hundred thousand new constituents in his district whom he had not represented before.
CUMMINGSHe was going to have to really invest in getting to know them. And he felt like the environment was so anti-incumbent that he would be cut both ways: that he have a natural constituency that was his own, that knew him, but is mad at incumbents, thus mad at him, and then a brand-new batch, and not a small amount, that he had to persuade to give him another term. He also went through a very difficult re-election a year ago.
CUMMINGSAnd he put a couple hundred thousand dollars of his own money into his re-election. He won fairly handily, but he is not one of those who's become wealthy in office. That was a sacrifice on his part. He does not have a lot of income as others do. And so he also was tired. I think he was -- you know, he realized, to win, he was going to have to fight like crazy, and he didn't have the kind of fire in the belly you need to win.
PAGEHe's 71 years old, so maybe only in Congress are people surprised when a 71-year-old decides to retire.
PAGEA groundbreaking figure because he was one of the first openly gay politicians in America. He's done a lot to advise and counsel and stand up for gay men and lesbians who want to run for political office. Also important, Greg, because he's the co-author of the Dodd-Frank law that has become so controversial this year. Now, are the prospects of this financial regulatory law will, you know, be maintained? Is that affected by the fact that he's decided to retire?
IPPartially. Now, even if Republicans take control of the Senate after the next election, their ability to roll back the law will still be limited because Democrats will be able to block it via the filibuster. That said, there are areas of that law where there does seem to be some -- the Republicans might get traction. One of them, for example, is they want to reshape the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And without Barney Frank as an articulate defender of the way it's done, the Democrats will be on the defensive.
PAGEGreg Ip of The Economist. We've also been joined this hour by Cynthia Tucker, the syndicated columnist, and Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News. Thank you all for being with us.
CUMMINGSThank you for having me.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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