America’s Collision Course With The Debt Ceiling
As the nation counts down to default, Diane talks to longtime Congress watcher Norm Ornstein about the debt limit negotiations, what's at stake and whether he sees a way forward.
President Obama traveled to Oklahoma urge expedited approval of the southern part of the Keystone XL pipeline; Rep. Paul Ryan released the GOP’s 2013 budget plan, which passed the Committee by one vote; a top aide to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney compared his campaign to an “Etch-A-Sketch”; and the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI have opened an investigation into the “facts and circumstances” surrounding the killing of black teenager Trayvon Martin. David Corn of Mother Jones and MSNBC, Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News and Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post join Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
The panelists discuss the Trayvon Martin case and the larger national issues involving racism, self-defense laws, and more:
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Florida's governor appoints a new prosecutor to investigate the shooting death of an unarmed 17-year-old. President Obama moved to expedite construction of the southern route of the Keystone oil pipeline. And Mitt Romney is on the defense over Etch A Sketch.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining us for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: David Corn of Mother Jones magazine, Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News and Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post. Do join us, 800-433-8850. We'll take your email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.
MR. DAVID CORNGood morning.
MS. JEANNE CUMMINGSGood morning
MS. JENNIFER RUBINGood morning.
REHMGood to see you. I wonder what your reactions are, Jeanne Cummings, to the protest over the handling of the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida. Talk about the background.
CUMMINGSOK. Well, it's a real tragedy down there for all concerned. Trayvon, a 17-year-old boy had gone out to buy some candy and was walking back to a relative's house in a gated community when he was spotted by Mr. Zimmerman, who was a neighborhood patrol volunteer in the community. And he was out doing his walk, and he felt that Trayvon appeared suspicious and began following him. And the upshot of it is the two of them did have some encounter. And Trayvon ended up shot dead, and Mr. Zimmerman had a bloody nose.
CUMMINGSIt's interesting, as we learn more that Trayvon, the young man, was on the cellphone with his girlfriend just moments, and perhaps during the altercation itself, which has raised a lot of questions about the account that Mr. Zimmerman gave to the police. The police down there didn't charge Mr. Zimmerman with homicide, and that is what the protesters are demanding and further investigation and charges to be brought. But he had said that they had had a fight, that he had lost track of Trayvon and was going back to his car when something happened, and the result was Trayvon's death.
CUMMINGSThe cellphone suggests that that was not at all the case because Trayvon said to his girlfriend on the phone, someone is following me. And then there was another phone call, and he said, oh, my gosh, he's back. So very -- you know, pretty big conflicts between those two stories, and, of course, the community wants a real -- you know, a very good, strong investigation and charges to be brought.
REHMOf course. David Corn.
CORNIt's a complete tragedy, and the police were completely irresponsible. They drug tested the body of the victim, but not -- but barely questioned or investigated the fellow who shot him dead. And there's no doubt about that. You know, a lot of this has to do with the Stand Your Ground laws, which allow people to go out there and say, well, I thought I was being threatened. And these are laws that the NRA is trying to get passed in every state of the union.
CORNThey're already present in 26, where you can make the argument that you thought you were under threat, and, therefore, you're allowed to use deadly force without the duty to retreat. You can't just -- you know, you don't have to walk away, and it's up to the prosecutors to say that you are wrong. The prosecutors have to prove that you were mistaken to believe you were under deadly threat.
CORNSo it's a much bigger issue than this one tragedy, and we have a piece up on motherjones.com this morning about a meeting that was here in Washington a few days ago with Justice Department officials, black lawmakers from the Hill, and officials from the town of Sanford. And the mayor, you know, passed on the recordings of these 911 police calls, saying that he'd been up for nights listening to them over and over again and asking the Justice Department to investigate his own police department.
CORNHe was obviously heartbroken over this, and it still is inconceivable that the police department let this body sit there for three days.
RUBINI think it demonstrates a few things: one, race remains a flashpoint in American society. We can try to get away from it, but it reoccurs. The second is this troubling intersection of politics and our legal process. On one hand, we want, certainly, people to raise great injustices publicly. We want public officials to be accountable. On the other hand, we don't want a lynch mob out there either. And the investigative process has to go forward. There's some question about whether the president should comment on it. I think that would be a mistake for the -- to the detriment of the prosecution.
RUBINRemember -- or at least I remember way back when, when Richard Nixon commented on Charles Manson. It's not a good idea for the executive branch to weigh in. And yet you do have this tension between public accountability and the preservation of the justice system. I do not think, in this case, that the local police, based upon the facts that Jeanne and David outlined, behaved appropriately. And this goes to a whole set of other issues regarding local police and their level of professionalism, their level of training and the rest.
RUBINAnd, I think, all of those issues are going to be raised to the forefront when we get to the bottom of this.
CORNYou know, but, you know...
REHMHold on. Jeanne.
CUMMINGSWell, the investigation now is really at an odd spot because the local police chief now has stepped aside, so he won't handle it. The local prosecutor has stepped aside.
REHMHe says he's suspended, but some say he's going to be out permanently, police chief.
CUMMINGSYes. He just stepped aside from the case.
CUMMINGSThe powers that be may ultimately remove him, depending upon what is revealed by a real investigation. Clearly, the Justice Department is engaging, but it -- and the governor of Florida has assigned a task force also to investigate. So the community and the family will get some scrutiny of what happened and perhaps some answers. That certainly will not compensate them for this young man who went out and bought a bag of Skittles, and that became the crime.
CORNIt's important to note that there wouldn't be none of this investigation without the public outcry. This happened -- what, was it Feb. 26? And now, we're -- it's a month later, and nothing happened.
CORNBecause the police kept it quiet. And, you know, there are cases like this all across the country. Al Sharpton, the MSNBC host now, is leading the cause in this regard. But I was talking just the other day, and he says he's getting calls. And he got called by the local attorney handling this case. And then he started making an issue, and others started picking up around that time. But it was a good couple of weeks before it became a national issue. And now, there are other cases which we're learning about under similar circumstances.
CORNSo I'm -- I understand that, you know, you don't want to have political -- the politicalization of investigations. But, without politics, there would be no investigation.
REHMWithout the people.
REHMAnd we are going to devote an entire hour to this subject on Monday, Trayvon Martin, of course, but also the broader national issues. So let's turn now, David, to the Keystone pipeline, why President Obama changed his mind on the southern portion thereof.
CORNWell, I don't think it's changing -- it's so much changing his mind 'cause he was never against it. You know, he had put off -- well, the State Department had turned down an application to build the entire pipeline after the House Republicans had forced the administration to do it inside of 60 days after the State Department had said, if you give us only that amount of time to do this, we will have to say no because our review will not be complete.
CORNSo the House Republicans kind of forced the rejection. That application is going to be resubmitted and will take maybe another year. But the president has OK'd the construction, which is already happening. Basically, what he's done is set up a situation where they can get permits, perhaps in a slightly faster schedule and has upset environmentalists who say that, really, the argument the administration is using here, that this will help domestic crude get to the market, is not really true because the pipeline itself still is designed for that tar sand stuff and still presents environmental hazards along the way.
RUBINThis has turned into a political debacle for the administration. In fact, the president isn't going to anything. This was a dog and pony show when he went to the southern pipeline, and he was called, I think, rightfully on it. There is really no expediting. And when they talked to officials afterwards, whatever is being done is really unrelated to the White House. The reason he has a problem is because -- and it wasn't simply 60 days. Of course, they had a very long time to investigate this.
RUBINThe president suspended, turned down the pipeline, widely perceived as a bone to the environmental groups. Labor, business groups, and certainly conservatives up on the Hill, were aghast at this decision, and it is proving to be a very sticky problem because of the -- and I will -- granted it's a coincidence of high gas prices and the pipeline. And he now is in a defensive posture trying to explain why he would not expedite this either on a jobs standpoint or on an energy standpoint.
RUBINAnd I actually think energy, which has not really played a top-tier issue in presidential races, is going to become one precisely because of this and because of technological advances, which the Republicans recognize and want to explore the shale revolution, the technology revolution. And you now have a battle of the technologies. The president is saying, they don't -- they're ignorant about green technology, and the Republicans saying, the White House is ignorant about shale technology. It's an interesting debate.
CUMMINGSThis is actually a pretty complicated situation, and there are lots of politics running through it. But there's a lot of important policy as well. And we should keep in mind the president stopped there and did this as one stop as part of a broader trip, where he was calling attention to his energy agenda. He, the day before, had been at a solar plant, and then he did drilling. And he has more to come.
CUMMINGSBut we also need to bear in mind opposition to this is not just from the greens. Opposition also comes from conservative ranchers in some of these Western states who don't like the idea of a pipeline rolling through their land. What hung this thing up was not a blue state. It was a red state.
REHMJeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News. Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back to the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News, Jennifer Rubin -- she's a blogger for The Washington Post -- and David Corn of Mother Jones magazine. He is the author of the new book "Showdown: The Inside Story of How Obama Fought Back Against Boehner, Cantor, and the Tea Party." You can join us, 800-433-8850. I look forward to hearing from you. Jennifer Rubin, tell us about Paul Ryan's budget plan, where it is and what's the next step.
RUBINWell, it began with the controversy over whether we should have a budget or whether this budget was a violation of the agreement made last year on the Budget Control Act. In fact, there's a legal obligation to put forth a budget and that Budget Control Act set top line numbers for discretionary spending and for defense and had a provision, of course, that we're all familiar with that went through the super committee. But, in fact, House is not only entitled to, but obligated to, actually come forward with the budget.
RUBINAnd it's interesting that, as they did so, you didn't hear too many arguments from either the Senate or from the White House that they shouldn't be doing that. You heard a lot of arguments about what was in it, but I think the Democrats sort of abandoned this argument because it was peculiar to argue that the country should have no budget. And, in fact, we've had no budget for several years. What's in the plan? Paul Ryan, as we know, last year introduced a budget, and this is similar in some respects and different in some respects.
RUBINIn general terms, it takes about $5 trillion in reduced spending over 10 years off the president's budget and about $3 trillion less in taxes. It also, as Ryan has said, re-prioritizes domestic spending or discretionary spending, rather, so that defense gets more. It's been cut somewhat significantly over the last couple of years. And he replaces what were the sequester cuts with some immediate discretionary spending, some other cuts and mandatory spending. Now, what this really is is a set up for 2012, and I think what Paul Ryan correctly says is two visions of government.
RUBINAnd it is a fundamental, completely legitimate political argument, and it's a healthy debate and a great thing to have in a presidential election because this is what you want in an election: You want a choice, and you want a mandate, however muddled it may be from the people. The Republicans take the view that they would like to have slightly less government. We're not talking about eliminating government below 20 percent of GDP. Right now, it's 24 percent or so. They would like to keep taxes lower. They would like more of the federal budget to go to national security.
RUBINAnd they would like to control entitlement spending, not through the Obamacare mechanism of the Independent Patient Advisory Board but through a competitive bidding process and through other mechanisms. It's a good debate to have, and I think we're going to see that played out not only now but in the 2012 election.
CORNWell, Diane, this is somewhat of a repeat of what happened with the budget fight and the debt ceiling fight last year, which, I have to say I detailed a great extent in the book that you just mentioned. But if, you know, get away from the process arguments that we just heard about and just look at what's actually in the budget -- I mean, The Washington Post, which is actually kind of moderate on financial and fiscal issues, calls it a dangerous and intentionally vague budget plan.
CORNOn top of the $5.4 trillion that would be lost in keeping the Bush tax cuts, which is in the plan, Paul Ryan gives another $4.6 trillion in tax cuts. Millionaires would get an extra $150,000 a year in tax cuts. Medicaid, cut by one-fifth, the Medicare guarantee eviscerated. And The Post did the numbers that you -- there's such great cuts in discretionary spending, $800 billion over what was done with the debt ceiling fight. These are their words that essentially there will be nothing left for the rest of the government beyond health care spending and defense.
CORNNothing for education, for highways, for veterans, for low-income families. This is a radical -- it's not just two alternative views here. This is taking -- these are the status quo view that Republicans and Democrats have been fighting about over the edges and putting it up against a radical rewriting of the U.S. budget that would take out the hide out of the poor and give lots of riches to the people at the top.
REHMAll right. And we should say that this is just a resolution to set the parameters for follow-up legislation, Jeanne.
CUMMINGSYes. This is never going to become law. This is about opening a debate, and this is a -- this isn't even what we see often on Capitol Hill and the debt ceiling in other fights where they open with a negotiating position. This isn't that either because there won't -- no one will negotiate over this budget. It won't pass, so it truly is the opening of an argument. It's a vision. And that -- and they are trying to create black and white and trying to make the argument, the Republicans, that they stand on the side of smaller government and that they believe that the job creators live in the top 1 percent.
CUMMINGSAnd that's very clear by this document. According to Bloomberg's analysis, if this were to take effect, the government, in comparison to GDP, would be set at, like, the 1950s' level of government. Well, think about everything that's happened between the 1950s with Medicare and Medicaid and the growth of so many social programs, not to mention the growth of the military. So it's -- it is a very big change.
CUMMINGSThe one little thing we also found that is sort of ironic is that to -- among its ability to pay for this budget, they include the tax revenue that would've -- that is slated to come in under the president's health care law at the same time that they want to reveal it. So that's about $400 billion that they've got in there to help finance their budget that they'd have to come up with some other way to find if they, in fact, succeed in repealing the health care law. So it's just a little ounce of irony in the middle of the document.
RUBINMy word. You would think that, at the end of this process, we would be spending less money than we are now. We're simply trying to reduce -- the Republicans are trying to reduce the extent of the growth and the extent of the debt over time. And if you look at the charts that accompany the budget -- and you can find them on The Washington Post site. I'll put in a plug there -- you'll see two lines: one much steeper for Obama for the level of spending and the level of debt, and one also ascending but at a slower, more reduced rate for Ryan.
RUBINSo we're not talking about actually cutting back on government. We're talking about cutting back on the rate of future increases. Now, a couple of things, one is that liberal should actually be cheering on the Medicare side. What Ryan is saying is that we are going to make the rich pay more. Now, in the tax context, liberals love this. They love to sock it to the 1 percent. Well, Ryan is saying, these programs, as is, a complete fee-for-service, 100 percent reimbursement are not sustainable over time. The president has said the same thing. Democrats have said the same thing.
RUBINSimpson-Bowles has said the same thing. Ryan, along with Ron Wyden, has come up with a plan by which seniors would have a competitive bidding process to choose their health plan. They would be subsidized, and he's made very, very clear that the less well-off will get an entire subsidy, even if a back-up cap, a GDP plus 5 percent on increasing health costs, go into effect. So this is not a sock it to the poor. This is actually a sock it to the better off. And in addition to this framework, there's a modification from his prior plan. One of the objections was that, what about seniors who like Medicare as is?
RUBINAnd individuals in Medicare would have the opportunity to use their bid to purchase or to claim the Medicare fee-for-service plan. Now, the hope is -- and there was an interesting colloquy between the CBO director and Ryan at the hearings this past week that this is a difficult thing for CBO to score. But at the same time, the CBO director was very encouraging, very optimistic that, in fact, such a system does hold the possibility of reduced health care costs.
REHMAll right. And the question is, David, do you expect any of this to advance this year?
CORNWell, not in terms of getting passed. It won't -- certainly not in the Senate. But I have to say, if you're cutting one-fifth of Medicaid, which is the social safety net for the poor, how can you say it's not impacting poor people?
RUBINLet me stop...
CORNNo, no, no, no. Let me finish 'cause you just had a (word?) time. Let me -- I have a few things to say about what you said. I would recommend that people go to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and see their complicated but not too hard to understand rationale here for worrying about Medicare. If you set up these programs the way that Ryan wants to set them up, you will draw healthier beneficiaries away from Medicare. Medicare costs would go up. And the program could collapse. The whole thing is about take -- it's not about controlling health care costs.
CORNIt's about taking the cost off the federal government as it is now and putting it on to individuals. And at the same time, you know, you're giving $150,000 a year to millionaires to sort of make this whole. Well, it is a run -- and you're cutting food stamps and other low assistance programs. It's The Washington Post, not wide-eyed radicals who say there will be nothing left in the budget for these programs.
REHMAll right, last word.
RUBINOh, can I respond since David...
REHMLast word, Jennifer.
CORNI took less time than you did.
RUBINAll right. First of all...
REHMMake it brief, please.
RUBINYes. First of all, the Medicare revisions have been embraced by many Democrats, and both sides have recognized that we have to somehow figure out the way to control costs. It's perfectly reasonable to say the rich should pay more, and that's what the plan is about. As far as Medicaid, it's part of a larger program, not unlike the welfare reform, which David and other liberals vehemently opposed as well. It is a block-granting of those programs, plus other programs for the poor to go to the states.
RUBINCan't do it in 15 seconds, but, simply because these programs travel from the federal government to the state government does not mean recipients are going to get a fifth less. And the success that...
CORNThat's what your own paper is reporting.
RUBINWell -- excuse -- it's not my own paper, David.
CORNThey hired you.
RUBINYou're citing from the editorial board and an opinion. It's not reported news. There's a difference on our paper between editorial and reported news.
REHMAll right. Last word, Jeanne Cummings?
CUMMINGSI'll leave it at that.
REHMOK. I want to ask you about...
REHM...Barbara Mikulski and the fact that she really has reached a milestone this year.
CUMMINGSBarbara Mikulski has -- is a senator from Maryland...
REHMLongest-serving woman in Congress.
CUMMINGS...and had a wonderful mentoring career. She was there, leading the charge, a lonely charge, in 1992, the so-called Year of the Woman, and she welcomed in many colleagues that year. The women -- women broke records in 1992. And what is really interesting as well is, among the women that she mentored in that time, Sen. Patty Murray is now head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. And she is in charge of helping them hold on to their majority, and she now is out recruiting a record number of women to run for the Senate.
REHMJeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Jeanne, tell us about the new figures on the housing market.
CUMMINGSYes. The new figures that came out this morning show a little bit of good news, bad news. New home sales dropped 1.6 percent. However, prices started to go up, and so that's a bit mixed. But it joins a long list of economic data points that have been looking better and better for the country. We've seen the hiring go up. We, at Bloomberg, do a consumer confidence measurement of our own.
CUMMINGSAnd I brought it 'cause I just thought we have this quote from a retired Army -- member of the Army, lives in Kennesaw, Ga. He had sent out 400 applications since August, looking for work. And recently, in one week, his phone lit up, and he had offers coming from all over the place...
CORNGood for him.
CUMMINGS...which, you know, it is, you know, one of those little human signs that we're turning -- we appear to be turning a corner. Last time I was on your show, we, the panel, took grief from one of your listeners who called in and said, why do they keep qualifying it? Why do they keep qualifying it? Because we'd seen so many times things would improve, but then we'd go two steps back. It appears now that we are on more solid ground and that, indeed, that this corner is turning. And while the housing data isn't perfectly good, as a homeowner, I'm happy to see that those prices might be turning around.
REHMPrices going up. Now -- but what about student loans? That program seems to be in a lot of problems.
CUMMINGSWell, it is. It hit a $1 trillion mark, which is a record. And the concern is, you know, with everything that we went through, kids who were trying to still get their college degrees, parents couldn't help as much as they might have because their 529 accounts, their college loan accounts had, you know, sunk with the stock market. Their own retirement accounts had sunk. So the kids were more on their own, taking more loans...
CUMMINGS...taking private loans rather than just government loans, and the private loans have not the same kind of protections for the kids when it's time to pay them off. And so it -- this -- the experts look at it in -- not just in terms of how this will be a burden for the graduating college students, but how it affects the broader economy because then they come out, and they don't have the kind of disposable income that other generations have had to buy a little house, to buy a condo, et cetera.
REHMLet's talk a little about politics. Jennifer, Jeb Bush has endorsed Mitt Romney. How important is that endorsement for him?
RUBINOh, I think it's important. I think it's more important because it comes in conjunction with other facts. We also saw a meeting on Capitol Hill yesterday between the very conservative senator from South Carolina, Jim DeMint, and Romney. DeMint came out afterwards and said, this isn't an endorsement. This is not an endorsement. And then he proceeded to say a whole bunch of nice things that, for the average person, sounded like an endorsement. So that was good news for Romney.
REHMAnd that was overshadowed by the so-called Etch A Sketch, Jeanne.
CUMMINGSOh, my goodness. You know, the Romney campaign has done this, I think, three times this cycle, where they have a great win, and they're -- you know, they're going to go at it now. They finally righted the ship, and they got momentum. And then, bam, they do an unforced error. You know, he came out when he said a remark that was taken, I don't care about poor people, when he was talking about the safety net.
CUMMINGSThat was just after a big victory, and now this. His own spokesman saying on CNN that he won't be pushed too far to the right and they don't have to worry about it because when the general election comes, it's like Etch A Sketch. He could just shake the board and start all over again, you know, a remark that plays into the narrative that Romney will say anything to get elected...
CUMMINGS...and that he doesn't have core convictions.
CORNIt's more than a narrative. It happens to be history. This is a guy, when he ran for the Senate in Massachusetts, called himself a progressive and moderate Republican. Now, he calls himself a severe conservative. He was for gay rights. Now, he's against gay marriage. He was for abortion rights. Now, he's against them. The guy -- you know, he's having trouble. That's why people aren't rushing to endorsement because he is a bad product, but he just happens to be the best the Republican Party has in the year that should be theirs.
REHMDavid Corn of Mother Jones magazine. Short break and your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Time to go to the phones for our Friday News Roundup, the domestic hour. I realize many of you would like to talk about the Trayvon Martin case in Florida. Be mindful that we are going to devote an entire hour to that subject and its implications on Monday morning in our first hour. First, let's go to Flagler Beach, Fla. Good morning, Regina.
REGINAYes, thank you for taking my call.
REGINAFlorida's Stand Your Ground law was the first in our country. But last June, there was a bill signed by Florida's Gov. Rick Scott that also was the first in the country. And Rick Scott signed a bill that prohibited doctors from discussing gun safety with parents or adults who have children in their care, mostly pediatricians. Now, the gun owners and the NRA, they were very upset that these pediatricians dare ask if they are safely securing their guns.
REGINAYou know, too often you read where toddlers and children accidentally kill themselves or another child with a gun that was not safely secured in their home. So Gov. Scott's priority was not protecting our children but to pander to the NRA. And I believe Gov. Scott should be recalled.
REHMInteresting. Jeanne Cummings.
CUMMINGSWell, Gov. Scott is a conservative Republican, and the National Rifle Association indeed supported his election. And so the caller is correct in that he does agree with many of the policies the NRA promotes. That's not to say, though, that either the NRA or the governor, you know, would approve of what happened here. And the governor has put a task force together to investigate, and there is talk in Florida that they are going to revisit some of these laws.
REHMAll right. Let's hear another view from Francis in Raleigh, N.C. Good morning.
FRANCISGood morning, Ms. Rehm. I just want to say I've been a firearms instructor in the state since 1995, and I've trained a variety of people, different persuasions and political views. And I don't think people are looking at this shooting from the standpoint of a private citizen. This individual who was on his neighborhood watch probably confronted this fellow and said, who are you and what are you doing here? And this fellow, the poor victim, turned to him and said, that's probably none of your business.
FRANCISAnd then -- and I emphasize this in class -- the shooter did not withdraw and proceeded to aggress. And, quite frankly, I think that young fellow took offense at it and took a swing at him. And that's how the shooting occurred.
REHMOf course, we don't really know the facts here, David.
CORNWe don't know. So I, for one, will not be speculating, but we do know that the Stand Your Ground laws that were passed and are being pushed by the NRA with Republican assistance -- let's call this for what it is -- more than Democrats, allow people to confront others and don't have a duty to retreat. You can stand there and then afterwards say, well, I felt threatened. So it puts the onus on the people who speak for the victim, who may well be dead as in this case, to prove that that was not the case.
CORNIt is an insane law that gives someone the power to act on their own impulses when they may not be actually threatened, when there may actually be a way for them to withdraw.
RUBINTwo things: first of all, because we don't know what the facts are, we have no idea if your stand-the-ground rule is even applicable in this situation. So I realize the left would like to make this the issue. But until you know the facts, until you know the basis on which he acted, until you know whether, in fact, there was an altercation and this is a traditional self-defense case, justified or not, we really don't know if the Stand Your Ground law is at issue.
RUBINSecond point: common law, going back to England 1,500 years ago, has always had a standard of self-defense of a reasonable person believing that they are threatened. Nowhere in American jurisprudence have we taken the position that individuals who don't have a legitimate fear for their own safety don't have a right to defend themselves. We can argue about the impact and whether the Stand Your Ground law actually changes common law, but, in fact, it's a very long-held principle.
REHMI think it's really important to point out that when Mr. Zimmerman called the police and said there is this young man in this neighborhood, the police officers said to him, do not follow him, back off.
CORNAnd we did know that...
CUMMINGSAnd I think it's...
REHMAnd he did not do that.
CUMMINGSThat -- he claims he went back to his car. The telephone calls that Trayvon made suggest that he was still in pursuit. And we can talk about how threatened Mr. Zimmerman might have felt. We should also keep in mind how threatened Trayvon felt. Talk about feeling as though your life is in danger or feeling like you may be harmed. According to the calls, the transcripts that they have released, he was afraid.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Dayton, Ohio. Good morning, Kathleen.
KATHLEENGood morning. Hey, I've been spending a lot of time with our seniors. And, in fact, this week I watched the Ryan plan hearings with a group of World War II vets, and most all of them were union members in their working days. And I've been talking to these older folks about these alleged choices they'll get with, you know, Medicare and the different coverages. And then I hang out with my mother and her mid-80 friends also, and they all say -- I say, hey, do you guys want more choices with your coverage?
KATHLEENAnd they go, no. You read those policies, and you feel like you need an attorney to understand them. They just want coverage, for goodness sake. And then -- so I hear them talking about this. And then while I'm watching this, the hearings with this group of World War II vets, they were all asking -- when Ryan would talk about the Ryan plan, they would all go, we don't ever hear him mention where any revenue is going to be raised.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. Coverage and revenue, Jennifer.
RUBINFirst of all, none of the people she is speaking with would be affected by the Ryan plan. It has a very delayed onset, which...
CUMMINGSBut they are representative of who would be affected.
CORNSomebody would be 80.
RUBINExcuse me. People who are currently seniors are not affected by it. And, frankly, people who are 45 now have a much better grasp of technology and of a lot of issues than our greatest generation do. Secondly, the purpose of choice and the purpose of competitive bidding is to build in mechanism for cost control. There are two ways to control cost if you're going to have a government health care system. One is to set an arbitrary level of cuts.
RUBINAnd we don't really talk about the fact that the president took $500 billion out of Medicare in his budget. And you can either have a system by which the government arbitrarily cuts across the board, which will squeeze providers, which will limit or eliminate care, impose a 15-person, unaccountable, independent patient advisory board to, again, limit certain treatments, limit and force people to pursue cheaper options. Or you can give seniors a choice, which will hopefully drive down the price and, on top of that, hopefully introduce some competition into the system.
RUBINSo it's not a matter of giving them choice for the sake of choice. It's a matter of giving them choice as an alternate to a rationing top-down system.
CUMMINGSI think the caller raised a perfectly legitimate point, and that is when the Bush health care drug coverage passed, one of the big problems for the first nine months of its implementation was that it was so complex. And...
RUBINAnd they love it now. It's one of the most popular aspects of Medicare.
CUMMINGSI'll finish my thought now. They -- and they had to go to pharma and ask pharma, please, get in there and try to make this effective. So I think what the caller was just raising is that for people of this age, lots of choices may not be the option that they would like, the path that they would be most comfortable with. And we saw that with the drug coverage. If it's done that way, it has to be done in a really sensitive way knowing that...
REHMAll right. David, very briefly.
CORNYou know, well, I feel like I should have 10 minutes to counter what I have heard.
REHMNo, hush, hush, hush.
CORNTo begin with, Obama didn't take $500 billion out of Medicare. It was out of Medicare premium, which is a private sort of plan. That's a whole another issue. It's something Republicans say over and over again, it's not right. But, you know, talking about choice, it's not to get more effective coverage or more effective medical care to seniors. It's about getting, you know, the numbers down on the federal side of the ledger.
CORNAnd, you know, when you're 80, I think the caller is exactly right. You know, people who are 50 and 60 years old now will be eventually be 70 and 75. And insurance companies already (unintelligible) deal with them, would you want to keep dealing with them for the rest of your life? I mean, if the federal government is not providing the care, they will, and they have plenty of incentive. They have the profit motive to give you as less as possible for the amount of premiums they get from you.
CORNSo if you want to have insurance companies, you know, be the ones who ration your care, this is a great plan. Go ahead and do it. Up to now, we've had to have health care reform because we can't trust the insurance companies to do it right.
REHMAll right. I want to move the discussion forward. Let's go to Holland, Mich. Good morning, Chris.
CHRISHi. My question is about the oil pipeline. There seems to be a lot of debate, you know, and back and forth about whether it's going to be good for the environment. All kinds of people are trying to stop it. I'm kind of concerned about, you know, it concerns me that we went right back to drilling in the Gulf right away. And that seems acceptable to everyone.
CHRISAnd when I think about it, I think, you know, the difficulties with stopping a leak in the Gulf and the environmental impacts of a leak there would be much, much worse than, say, you know, a leak that's going, you know, across the Midwest of the United States or across Alaska for that matter. You know, it seems like someone could go over there and cap the pipe. I just kind of want to hear why the -- your guests think that the public debate is so much about that and there's no mention of the environmental impacts that we're doing right now, you know, going back drilling in the Gulf.
REHMAll right. Jennifer.
RUBINTwo things: first of all, the caller is right. These are not one-way choices. They're choices between different forms of energy. We seem to all agree and yet we do nothing about our dependence on foreign oil. Every president runs on it. Every president promises energy self-sufficiency by X date, and then, for a variety of reasons, we never seem to move the ball ahead. When we make choices like this -- the caller is right -- it's not simply you're choosing don't do the pipeline. That then requires energy sources from other areas.
RUBINThose may be better for the environment, or they may be worse. But there's never a cost-benefit analysis between those choices. That's just not how government operates. They look at each individual plan and decide whether it needs whatever environmental impacts they have.
CUMMINGSJennifer mentioned energy independence. And this is a really underreported area right now. Bloomberg did a big piece on it a month ago. The New York Times has it on their front page today. We actually are moving closer to that point for a variety of reasons. It does include the -- an increase in oil drilling at home. We are now for the first time an exporter of oil, and it does include better mileage in our cars, and it does include bigger public transportation, more access to it.
CUMMINGSThere are a lot of reasons, and it's the growth of these alternative fuels, although, that's still a small part of it. It is the new way we found to access natural gas, all these things coming together. And the U.S. imports of foreign oil were 45 percent last year, down from 60 percent in 2005. There is some progress being made.
REHMJeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." More on the pipeline from Andrew in Raleigh, N.C. Good morning.
ANDREWGood morning, Diane. Thanks for having me.
ANDREWI'm a native Nebraskan, environmental engineer by training. And I just wanted to comment that you're exactly right with Nebraska being a red state and being kind of the hold-up of the pipeline. And I think that's mainly because with our aquifer being so valuable to the state and it being such a precious resource.
ANDREWWe were concerned that the environmental review done by TransCanada was so poor in its science and its coziness with the State Department was so shady that that was really what concerned Nebraska, who really does want to put in a pipeline that's going to bring jobs and money to the state. So I think coming from a scientific perspective, we see a lackluster job by TransCanada is we want changed.
CORNThere is so much demagoguery on this issue. It's disgusting. You have Newt Gingrich out there saying he could snap his finger and give us $2.50 gallons of gas. The House Republicans on the Keystone fight keeps saying that -- you know, that President Obama is throwing away 20,000 jobs. The only reliable study done on amount of jobs created was done by Cornell. They come up with 2,000 and it's not permanent jobs either. Domestic production, as Jeanne just mentioned, is up.
CORNIf you listen to Mitt Romney, it would sound like we're, you know, we basically have run dry unless we drill, drill, drill. So, you know, it's become a political issue, and the president have to say, you know, I may not agree with the Keystone pipeline decision, but he does have a long-range plan, you know, to have a whole blended system of energy, and he's not allowing himself to buffeted too much by the demagoguery that's (word?) shot at him from the other side.
REHMAll right. I wonder, finally, the Supreme Court is considering whether the Secret Service can be sued. Jeanne, outline the case for us very quickly.
CUMMINGSOK. Vice President Cheney was shopping in a mall in Colorado, and a man who was out with his son, going to a piano recital, decided that he wanted to approach the vice president and express his objections to the war. He waited his turn. He expressed himself. And in the process of saying negative remarks about the war, he touched the vice president on the shoulder. It's disputed whether it was a pat or a push, but he did. He wasn't arrested immediately. The Secret Service interviewed him later.
CUMMINGSThey saw some behavior. He looked anxious to them, and, ultimately, they arrested him. And he now has taken the case to the Supreme Court saying that his First Amendment rights have been infringed upon and that the Secret Service was overzealous.
REHMAnd, finally, the New Hampshire House failed to repeal a gay marriage law. What's the significance, David?
CORNThe significance was 100 members of -- 100 Republican members of the state legislature in the Live Free or Die state joined with Democrats, almost half -- the majority there to say no to this social conservative crusade to repeal.
CORNWhy? Because I think they -- the law had been passed two years ago, and it was good enough for most Republicans.
REHMDavid Corn of Mother Jones magazine, Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News, Jennifer Rubin, Right Turn blogger for The Washington Post. Happy Friday. Thanks for being here. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Nikki Jecks, Susan Nabors and Lisa Dunn, and the engineer is Tobey Schreiner. A.C. Valdez answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is email@example.com, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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