A panel of top political commentators joins Diane to talk about some of the head spinning events of this last year and to get their perspectives on the challenges ahead.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker won his recall election in Wisconsin, but exit polls indicated 18 percent of his supporters would vote for President Obama over Republican nominee Mitt Romney in the fall. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the central bank was “prepared to take action” on the flagging U.S. economy. Senate Republicans blocked a Democratic bill calling for equal pay in the workplace. John Dickerson of Slate, Shawna Thomas of NBC News and Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal join Diane for a discussion of the week’s top national news stories.
- John Dickerson Chief political correspondent for Slate.com and CBS political analyst and contributor. Author of "On Her Trail: My Mother, Nancy Dickerson, TV News' First Woman Star."
- Shawna Thomas White House producer, NBC News.
- Jerry Seib Washington bureau chief, The Wall Street Journal.
The panel discussed what Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s reelection means for the 2012 presidential election. Shawna Thomas, White House producer for NBC News, said the amount of money spent on the race–$60 million–rivaled that of Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign. Jerry Seib, Washington bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, said the election turned Wisconsin into a battleground state. He said many voters are calling for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney to adopt a more conservative platform similar to Walker’s.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Top lawmakers demand an end to a cascade of national security leaks. Democratic leaders sent mixed messages on ending Bush-era tax rates. And Scott Walker becomes the first U.S. governor to survive a recall vote. Joining me for the week's top domestic stories: John Dickerson of Slate.com and CBS, Shawna Thomas with NBC News, and Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal.
MS. DIANE REHMYou are always an important part of our discussion. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning, everybody.
MS. SHAWNA THOMASGood morning, Diane.
MR. JOHN DICKERSONGood morning, Diane.
MR. JERRY SEIBGood morning, Diane.
REHMJerry Seib, I want to start by congratulating you. You've just won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Gerald Loeb Awards for Excellence in Business Reporting. My only question is, isn't this rather young for you to be getting a lifetime?
SEIBYou know, I would prefer a half a lifetime achievement award, I think, but thank you very much for the nice...
REHMCongratulations to you. Tell me about the statements of Fed Chair Ben Bernanke this weekend. What we can expect from the Fed at its upcoming meeting?
SEIBWell, I think the upcoming meeting is very important, and what the Fed Chairman Bernanke said in Congressional Testimony this week was that, given all the weakness in the economy right now, the Fed stands ready to do more but didn't commit to doing more. So whether you thought that was a sign that they're leaning toward action or leaning away from action depended on how you interpreted his words.
SEIBI think the reality is that the weakness in the economy has meant that there will a very important discussion next time the Fed gets together next week to decide whether they should pump some more money into the financial system or not. And I think what Chairman Bernanke was doing was being a good politician within his own organization 'cause he has a board that is divided about whether this is a good idea now or not. I suspect he would like to start doing more, but he needs to bring others along before he can do that.
DICKERSONWell, and I guess more in this case as people looked at it has been a third round of quantitative easing where the Fed produces money essential or increases the supply of money in the economy. And there's -- there are some members -- the Vice Chair Janet Yellen has, along with other regional Fed directors, has argued that there should be further easing, saying that there's problems in the housing market and in a weak job market. So the question is whether they -- that's the biggest big question is whether we get a third round of quantitative easing.
REHMAnd, Shawna Thomas, what about former President Bill Clinton? What did he say this week that made Republicans so happy?
THOMASWell, former President Bill Clinton did a round of interviews with multiple networks. And with CNBC, he spoke about the Bush tax cuts and extending the Bush tax cut rates when they -- instead of them expiring at the end of the year, extending them temporarily. He did say temporarily. That wasn't necessarily the most picked up on aspect of it. But he said that, and, immediately, the inboxes were flooded by emails from Republicans in the House and Senate.
THOMASMitt Romney's saying, look, he's saying we can't end these tax rates either. And this is sort of after a week of Bill Clinton showing up in Wisconsin and being good for the Democrats, but Bill Clinton also saying about Mitt Romney's time at Bain that he had a sterling career. So the ups and downs of Bill Clinton kept going for the Obama administration.
REHMAnd what about former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, Jerry?
SEIBWell, Larry Summers said something that was interpreted as endorsing an extension of the tax cuts but probably wasn't exactly. What he said was this is not a good time to take gasoline out of the tank of the economic engine, which is probably true but could also mean that you could put -- keep gassing the tank by spending more and not worrying so much about the deficit and not making spending cuts, which, in fact, is probably what he meant. In the environment that we're in now, it was interpreted as a sign that everything should be pushed ahead, including tax cuts.
SEIBYou know, I think this was an inevitable debate once the latest job numbers came out and it was apparent that jobs were not being created at a very robust rate. And the question, what do we do now in a time when there aren't a lot of great options, was inevitably going to lead us to a question of, what about the tax cuts? And should we kick them down the road one more time? Diane, let me correct one thing. I think I said earlier that the Fed board meets next week. It's actually in two weeks, just to be clear.
REHMNineteenth and twentieth. John Dickerson, there have been stories about quiet talks going on behind the scenes on Capitol Hill. What's happening?
DICKERSONWell, there are stories about there -- this is an attempt to avoid what's being called the fiscal cliff which is the end of the year sun setting of the Bush-era tax cuts, which means tax rates would go up for everyone who pays federal taxes, and then also the across-the-board cuts, about $ 1 trillion in cuts that would start -- they wouldn't get the whole trillion at once, but it would all start. And so these two huge wallops to the economy that basically everybody from Ben Bernanke to the Congressional Budget Office says would be a real hit to the economy, how to avoid that.
DICKERSONAnd that was the context in which Bill Clinton remarks were made. There is a view, basically, that one of the ways to avoid that is to get together another one of these grand bargains, and that a part of the mix of the grand bargain might be, in order to give yourself some time, you might have to extend the Bush tax cuts so that then you can work out a more comprehensive tax reform that would even out the interest of both sides in the negotiation.
DICKERSONAnd so, as just a purely negotiating maneuver, and Sen. Kent Conrad, Democrat, ranking member on the Budget Committee, also said some comments that were then misinterpreted on -- in this regard. So there are some senators working on trying to avoid this fiscal cliff. There are groups like the Senate for responsible budget that have been pushing to try and get some kind of action because what's going to happen is we're all -- everybody's going to be distracted by the campaign.
DICKERSONThis deadline is going to loom, and the difference between the end of the campaign and the deadline is going to hit. There's not going to be enough time to do the work, unless people start working beforehand. Well, you know, and I think one of the things that needs to happen here is people have to sort of clear up in their own minds what their priorities are, and I think particularly Republicans in this regard.
DICKERSONYou have a lot of Republicans saying, you know, we need to attack the debt to build confidence, long-term confidence. And, oh, by the way, this is not -- this is the time to cut taxes, too. Well, I mean, those are contradictory things. If you're cutting taxes, you're not worrying about those deficit -- the short term so much. Or if you think the deficit is the problem, then it's an argument for not cutting taxes right now.
DICKERSONIt's difficult to make the argument both ways, and I think you're going to come out with a coherent solution at the end. Democrats have their own version of this. I think everybody is going to have to decide what's our priority here as we deal with this short-term mess, and then proceed accordingly, but that might be asking too much.
THOMASAnd I was talking to a friend who works for a venture capital firm, and the lot of the Republicans say they talk about uncertainty. Uncertainty is part of the -- one of the reasons why businesses aren't hiring people, aren't spending more money.
THOMASAnd, you know, my friend -- upper class, works for this venture capital firm, involved in multiple projects that people have heard of -- he said the same thing to me, that this idea of uncertainty, kicking this down the road, like, if we're going to do it, if we are going to extend the tax cuts, then go ahead and extend them. If we're not going to do it, go ahead and say that. But they don't know how to spend their money exactly.
REHMShawna Thomas of NBC News. Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal. John Dickerson of Slate.com and CBS. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Shawna, Gov. Scott Walker survived the recall election. What do you see is the implications for 2012 elections?
THOMASI think the amount of money that was spent in this race is really going to be the conversation that comes out of the Wisconsin recall situation. Chuck Todd of NBC said on our air, day before yesterday, I believe, that about $60 million was spent on this race, and that is the same amount of money that basically Albert Gore spent on his presidential election in 2000. That is an extreme amount of money.
THOMASMost of that was from outside groups, spending money in the state. And what we saw was they were flooded with ads. A lot of people were really voting against the recall. They weren't necessarily voting for Scott Walker. But I think the amount of money just spent on that state in this little recall election is the big thing we're going to see play out over the course on 2012.
DICKERSONI think there are two things that are -- two important questions here coming out of Wisconsin for the national picture. One is, how does it change the battleground map for the two candidates? The Obama campaign, when they launched last year, had six routes to the presidency. They all included a solid blue Wisconsin in the president's camp. They now consider it a battleground state. That means time and resources.
DICKERSONThere's also something Ron Brownstein wrote about in the National Journal. Do signals from Wisconsin -- the overwhelming vote by blue-collar, white voters for Walker, does that tell Obama something about Wisconsin, Ohio, that territory, how it's just going to be a lot harder for him, so he has to spend more time in Virginia and Colorado, states that are more in concert with his -- the constituency that tends to vote for him?
DICKERSONOn the Romney side, there's an interesting policy question which is conservatives see the Walker victory as a ratification of a kind of bold conservatism. You run loud and proud on what you believe. And you fight, and you stick to your guns. And you can win. This is also something they believe of Paul Ryan, the House budget chairman. So you have two guys from Wisconsin who run loud and proud.
DICKERSONMitt Romney is an incredibly risk-averse politician. And what conservatives are saying, hey, you need to run on these conservative ideas, not just as the non-Obama but as something closer to Walker and Ryan. And the question is, will Romney actually embrace that kind of a campaign or stick with the risk averse one he's run so far?
THOMASAnd I think the idea of the non-Obama is really important with Wisconsin. I think one of the issues people had with Barrett was that he was just the non-Scott Walker, and that that isn't necessarily the way to win. And I think Mitt Romney is going to face who are you versus just being the non-President Obama.
SEIBWell, I think it's interesting that neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney stuck their toe into the Wisconsin race. And they didn't put a lot on the line 'cause I think that's a sign they weren't sure how it was going to play. It was clear that President Obama was worried that if he got involved, he would've alienate some independent voters in Wisconsin who wanted -- did not want to recall Scott Walker but who are prepared and, in fact, likely to turn around to vote for Barack Obama in the fall.
SEIBExit polls showed that those people are there, and something like 18 percent of the Walker vote came from Obama voters. The second point I'll make just quickly is that, I think, Wisconsin is like the U.S. in that it was an incredibly polarized place. There weren't very many people who were undecided at the end. The question was getting them out to vote.
REHMJerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal, winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Gerald Loeb Awards. Stay with us.
REHMOn our Friday News Roundup this week, Shawna Thomas of NBC News, Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal, John Dickerson of slate.com and CBS. We were talking just before the break about the recall election, which Scott Walker becomes the first governor in history to have won. He keeps his position. Here's an email from Peter in Tarrytown, N.Y., who says, "I believe this was a tactical and strategic error by the unions. It only strengthened the Republican position that unions are evil." Jerry.
SEIBWell, I think there are a lot of Democrats, excuse me, in Washington who actually agree with that. I think the feeling was, going into this, that this was an overreach, that the Democrats and the union movement in Wisconsin would have been better off doing what the Democrats and union movement did in Ohio, which is to attack the laws they didn't like rather than try to get the scalp of the guy they didn't like.
SEIBAnd in Ohio, they succeeded. Gov. Kasich's effort was defeated, though he stayed in place. I think there was a feeling in Washington -- and this is one of the sources of tension between Wisconsin Democrats and Washington Democrats -- that going -- trying a recall was a bridge too far that turns out maybe that was right.
REHMGo ahead, John.
DICKERSONAnd it's also there is an emerging set of tensions in the Democratic Party. Here, you have people who are criticizing this gamut by labor or associated by labor and other liberals in the party as being kind of part of the more, say, Wall Street wing of the party. And that -- we saw that split in another area on the question of these Bain attacks that the Obama campaign was running against Mitt Romney.
DICKERSONA lot of people, Bill Clinton included, had said, hey, wait a minute, let's not demonize Bain. We tend to raise a lot of money from people who work at Bain. And so there's a tension between that portion of the party that is more favorable or predisposed to Wall Street and that -- the more populous wing of the party. And I think that's also a little bit of what's playing out here in terms of the union approach to the Walker race or just in general.
REHMAnd, Shawna, you talked about the money having been raised in the Walker race. This week, President Obama's campaign said they had raised some $60 million that was almost immediately topped by the Romney campaign, who raised $17 million more than President Obama last month. What does that tell us?
THOMASWell, the one thing is that the Obama campaign was immediately saying that this was the first month where Romney really sort of officially became the nominee. He -- I was able to join his campaign coffers with the RNC. All of those people who had given in the primary are now free to give more money to him again in the general and to the Republican National Committee. So they kind of brush it off. They said, we expected this.
THOMASKerry did the same thing in 2004. The real numbers that people are curious about, once again, are those super PAC numbers, how much money is coming into Romney from those compared to President Obama? And the types of super PACs that are going to support Mitt Romney are far out-raising the super PAC the supports President Obama.
REHMAnd on that point of super PACs, here's an email from Mike, who says, "Scott Walker is the first governor to survive a recall. He's also the first governor to face a recall in the aftermath of the Citizens United decision and the explosion of corporate money into politics." He goes on to say, "That's not a coincidence." Jerry.
SEIBYou know, it may not be coincidence. It's kind of hard to prove. You know, I do think the reality is that the -- is correct that John Kerry out-raised George Bush in that 2004 race every month, actually, throughout the summer. People forget that. But that didn't matter as much as then as it does now because of the super PAC factor, and so I think the Obama people are right that this is not surprising.
SEIBI do think it's troubling because they're going to have to lean more on the money they raise for their campaign than Mitt Romney will have to lean on the money he's raising for his campaign because he's going to have an outside money edge. So it is a different ballgame, and I think the ground rules have changed a little bit.
REHMAnd does that bring into question the latest popularity reports about the Supreme Court since that decision?
SEIBWell, you're referring to a poll. I think there's a New York Times/CBS poll that says that the approval rating for justices is now down to 44 percent. You know, this is actually a trend. If you track Gallup polling and some polling we've done of NBC/Wall Street Journal, you've seen a decline in support for all kinds of institutions, just about every institution, except the military, in American society, including the Supreme Court. It started a little bit in 2000...
SEIB...which is, you know, understandable after the divisive decision on the 2000 presidential campaign between George Bush and Al Gore. But it's kind of proceeded since, and I think the health care debate added to it. And that's what these numbers tell you.
REHMCan we talk a little bit about the California primary process? It has -- it was the state's first open nonpartisan primary for statewide and congressional offices. John Dickerson.
DICKERSONSo in California, what happened is an independent redistricting commission redrew the state's lines, and so that's one change. And then this other kind of fascinating and interesting way of changing primaries, you have people from both parties running in the primary, and the two highest vote getters then advance to the November election, no matter which party they're from.
DICKERSONSo the idea with this was it was meant to force candidates to kind of run to the middle, not just to play to their wings in the primaries and have each party nominating the kind of most ideologically severe candidates. What this has created, though, is some fascinating conflicts, the most interesting one being the race between Howard Berman, longtime congressman, and Brad Sherman, another longtime Democratic congressman. They are now running against each other. They battled here in the primary.
DICKERSONSherman came out ahead, but they placed one and two. So they're going to face off again in November. And it's a fascinating experiment. It also creates this topsy-turvy world, also in which you lost veteran Republican congressman from David Dreier, one of them from California who said, I don't want to deal with this new mess and complicated system. And so both opportunities see it as a chance to improve their position in California. It's been the Democratic stronghold. Republicans think they might have a way in, but Democrats also think the new system maybe favors them. So...
REHMBut to what extent does this improve or make worse the entire voting system in California? Jerry.
SEIBWell, I would argue the voting system in California wasn't in such great shape anyway. You know, California is the prime example of how a state has been redistricted and redistricted to the point where both parties were absolutely safe, and there wasn't any competition. In the last 10 years -- there are more then 50 House seats in California.
SEIBSo every one of those is up for two years, which means there have been more than 250 House races in California in the last 10 years since the last census. In all of those elections, the number of seats that have changed party hands going from Democrat to Republican or Republican to Democrat is one. These were absolutely...
SEIBIt doesn't matter whether the guy retires, whether people have gone – Duke Cunningham went to prison, and the party still held his House seat.
SEIBSo it had gotten totally out of hand, in my opinion, in California. So whether this is bad or not, I don't know. But you can't say the old system was working really great if you're a fan of democracy.
DICKERSONAnd now, some reports say there might be 12 seats that are up for grabs in November. So it goes from one over that long period that Jerry talked about now to maybe 12 being up for grabs. So, at least, there's more in play, which one would hope, although it may be a false hope, that that would allow for a competition of ideas.
REHMYou know, I also want to ask you about what's going on with voter ID and registration, how voter participation might be affecting Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas because of new restrictions. Jerry.
SEIBYou know, I don't think we know yet. I think there is -- there's a lot of concern among Democrats that voter ID laws are designed to keep some people in the Democratic coalition from even trying to vote, and that may turn out to be the case. I think there is also a trend in voter registration that's probably concerning to the Democrats right now, in which some of that huge registration advantage that Barack Obama drove for Democrats in 2008 is eroding a little bit.
SEIBSo you have two problems: a clear fallback in voter registration advantage for Democrats and also the potential that voter ID laws may keep some of those people who are registered from trying to vote. We can have this conversation in a lot more meaningful way the week after the election than, I think, we can now.
DICKERSONSo there are 34, I believe it is, states in which there are new restrictions on voting, and the tension, of course, is between making it easy for people who are not of means or who are -- who happen to come from demographic or geographic areas where it's hard to get a license. For example, I saw one statistic said 25 percent of African-Americans don't have licenses. So if you make a license qualification to vote, then it makes it disproportionately different for them, which hurts Democrats.
DICKERSONOn the other side, you don't want to have fraud, and you don't want to have dead people voting or people who are not legal citizens. So you have the question of making it easier or harder to actually sign up voters, which is what the parties are madly fighting to do right now. Then you have the question of purging the voter rolls. And in Florida, in particular, the numbers are incredible, the hundreds of thousands of people that, Republicans say, are on the rolls who shouldn't be.
DICKERSONAnd so they're arguing, let's be really strict about getting these people, squeezing them out of the rolls. And then the third thing is you have what are the requirements on the day of the voting? There's been a reduction in the ability to register on the voting -- on the day of voting. And then what do you need when you get to the polling place? Do you need to show that you have an ID, that you are actually a resident of the state? And could that be a chilling effect on certain kinds of voters?
REHMAnd, of course, in Texas, is there an allowance for gun registration as being your voter ID, but refusal for student ID to be your ID? Shawna.
THOMASThere is, and that's causing all kinds of issues in Texas. But the political thing that is also happening is that the DOJ has basically said, especially the African-American groups, they're going to look into this. And right now in this election season, there's almost no way that any part of Obama's administration doing anything cannot be seen as political. And while a lot of people think they should look into it -- and they are going to -- it also plays into this 2012 storyline.
REHMShawna, what about the Senate GOP blocking the pay equity bill again? What would that law have accomplished?
THOMASWell, the pay equity bill would increase some women's ability to be able to sue their businesses if they are able to find out that there is a pay equity problem in their company. It allows them to not be discriminated against for asking other people how much money they make, that kind of thing. So the Senate Republicans basically voted in bloc against this. And they would say that it wasn't the -- some of them would say it just wasn't the right bill for this kind of thing.
REHMBut, on the other hand, wouldn't Republicans also say the Democrats raised the issue knowing full well it wasn't going to go anywhere? John Dickerson.
DICKERSONSure. So the Republican complaint is that, basically, what we've got for the rest of the year from both the president and Democratic leaders in Congress is an effort to, you know, pick your constituent group -- let's say it's women in this case. Now, let's fashion a bill that creates the most amount of heat -- not necessarily progress, just the old debate in Washington between having the issue and having the bill.
DICKERSONThe Republicans are charging that Democrats just want to have the issue here. Democrats are saying, you know, 70 percent -- women make 70 percent -- 77 cents on the dollar. If you look at hourly pay, women make 86 cents on the dollar. The point is not parity there, and that's a way to get women, with whom Democrats and the president do very well, to keep liking him.
REHMJohn Dickerson of Slate.com and CBS. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Jerry, is the same true about the student loan debate?
SEIBHmm. Well, yes, which is to say both parties want to prevent a problem that's looming toward the end of the year, which is that, unless a change is made, the rate on new student loans would double to 6.8 percent. This is not existing student loans, by the way. It's loans that would be -- come into existence after the law changes, so that people who have loans now don't have to panic.
SEIBBut nobody wants this to happen. The problem has been how do you pay for it? And I think one of the things that both parties have done is use this issue to kind of score some points about here's how we would pay for it. I mean, the Republicans' most recent offer was to basically make federal workers pay more, take less in pension benefits and use that money to pay for student loans.
SEIBHarry Reid has now come up with -- the Senate Democratic leader -- on Thursday came up with a proposal that might actually fly here, which has a bunch of different kinds of ways to pay for this, including taking some money out of private pension funds, not public pension funds. And that has met with sort of a, you know, quiet from the Republican side. There's maybe a sign that everybody has realized that we now have to get down to actually solving the problem.
REHMAll right. Let's open the phones. First to Jed in Dallas, Texas. Good morning to you.
JEDThank you. Thanks for having me on the show.
JEDI have a question about the polarity of the political parties making it impossible to get much done during this time. Is there much going on in Washington currently that is talking about reform of how to make the political process shorter so that it doesn't put the American people on the chopping block for a year to two years while they decide who's going to be elected next?
DICKERSONThere is talk about that at various afternoon think tank symposia. But it doesn't seem to have bubbled up into the -- into a lawmaker trying to force this to happen, and then you can imagine the legal challenges to that. So it's -- I think it does get talked about a lot and the absurdity of the constant campaigns and the -- and it's not just the election year. It feels that -- it feels like, basically, because there's a constant campaign, that politics rules ever more than it did before. But you don't -- you know, you don't hear the lawmakers talking about it that much.
REHMAll right. To Ross, Calif. Good morning, Denise.
DENISEGood morning. I just think that Republicans and Walker are just doing victory laps far too soon. I think the American people are going to reject the idea that if you don't like the government you have, just buy the government you want with tens of millions of dollars of hateful messaging that really divides people more than it includes people if you're talking about the anti-gay, anti-labor rights, anti-women's rights.
DENISEI think -- I want to ask your guests: What is the real possibility that this is going to cause people to just kind of rise up in a blue wave and kind of wash this insanity out to where it belongs?
SEIBWell, look, I think the country is very divided. I think that's the reality nationally, and I think you saw that in Wisconsin. I made it -- I noted earlier that you have a fair number of people who voted to retain Scott Walker, who also indicated in exit polls they're likely to vote for President Obama in the fall. So I don't think this is a clear blue-red divide, and Wisconsin was a little bit different from any other place.
SEIBBut I think the polarity is quite real. And if there was -- if there were a blue wave forming, I think you would see it by now. I think you have a very closely divided country that's going to produce a very closely divided election in which the key is probably going to be less convincing people in the middle to come your way than turning out your base because that's the situation that the country is in.
THOMASAnd I think one of the risks isn't necessarily a blue wave of people throwing everybody out. It's a not-so blue wave of people staying home and just...
THOMAS...sort of being so turned off by the polarity -- and, you know, the caller said that she's very turned off by the polarity -- that they just don't vote.
REHMShawna Thomas. She is White House producer for NBC News. Short break here. When we come back, your emails, your phone calls. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back to our Friday News Roundup of domestic stories this week with Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal, Shawna Thomas of NBC News, John Dickerson of slate.com and CBS. Let's go now to Cleveland, Ohio. Good morning, Jane. You're on the air.
JANEGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
JANEHave anyone factored in the possibility of jealousy on the part of non-union, unprotected workers? I've heard many people say car builders should make $20 an hour. You know, they don't have an education, they're not degreed, you know, and I can see more people coming out to get rid of those protected workers because they make more money than they do.
SEIBWell, I think there's -- I think that was a factor. You know, you do hear that complaint about the pensions provided to people in public employee unions, and that was one of the arguments that Gov. Walker used in Wisconsin. They're -- they've got a better deal than you do. And you saw this similar thing in -- to less noted elections on Tuesday out in California, in San Jose and San Diego, where voters, by fairly wide margins in Democratic territory, agreed to plans to reduce the pension benefits paid to public employee retirees.
SEIBAnd so I think that is a sign that in a tense economic environment, people are sort of saying, why do they get those kinds of benefits? I'm not getting those where I live. Let's even the score a little bit.
DICKERSONI think Jerry's exactly right. You have a lot of resentment here for people -- everybody has got to take a kind of haircut to use the cliché and that the unions should, too. So I think that's...
REHMAll right. To Ray in Waxhaw, N.C. Good morning to you.
RAYGood morning, Diane.
RAYThank you for taking my call.
RAYI was calling about this whole idea of uncertainty hindering the economy. I find the whole argument pretty unpersuasive. I mean, we celebrate entrepreneurs and job creators because they take risks. I mean, we celebrate them because they take risk and earn commensurate rewards. And yet all we seem to hear is that they need more certainty before they'll come off the sidelines.
RAYThe Bush tax cuts were as certain and long term as you can get, and job growth was anemic during his whole term, not to mention the crash in 2008. So why are we still listening to this argument that job creators, which is code for the wealthy basically, need certainty before they'll get off the sidelines? They have to put their money somewhere at some point. And life is uncertain. I'd love to have certainty, too, but it just isn't out there.
DICKERSONWell, this is the big debate, is whether -- obviously, there's always uncertainty, and there's uncertainty because of the economy. And businesses have to make judgments about that all the time. Now, this economy has been particularly uncertain. We've had springs in which there's been -- appeared to be some improvement, and then for three years in a row, it hasn't happened. And then you've also got Europe being jittery and weird, and that's creating uncertainty as well. So, on the one hand, you have increased uncertainty in the economy.
DICKERSONBut as the caller points out, businesses have to make those kind of choices all the time. The other part of it, though, is whether federal regulations and the speed and change in federal regulations having to do with health care and other things, whether that has created additional and new uncertainty. And that's the argument Republicans make, and that's where this gets complicated. There is obviously uncertainty out there. The question is whether there is so much more now that it is having this chilling effect. We do know the chilling effect exists, though.
REHMBut there's also a great deal of suspicion. Here's an email from Bob in Dallas, who says, "Please comment on the notion that businesses are hoarding cash due to political reasons. The majority of corporate executives are older white men. Statistics show they're predominantly conservative and/or Republican." What do you think?
SEIBWell, I don't think it's for political reasons because, I mean, I don't think they pay as much attention to politics as we do, frankly. I mean -- and their concern is making money, and if investing money makes them money, they'll do it. If they think it doesn't, they won't. But I do think it's important to keep in mind that when -- as John was suggesting here, that when people refer to uncertainty, they're not merely referring to uncertainty in Washington, though that's part of the argument.
SEIBA lot of it has to do with uncertainty about where the economy is heading, and a lot of that, at the moment, has to do with Europe. And so if you are not -- and this becomes self-reinforcing. If you're not convinced the economy is going to be better and that you will get a return on your investment, you sit on your money, you don't hire people. There are fewer people paying taxes and buying goods. The economy spirals downward. And that's the danger that we have right now. Let me just add one last thing.
SEIBThere is, though, some uncertainty that's tangible in government policy. We had a story this week about defense contractors starting to shut -- laying plans to shut down assembly lines for the rest of the year because they don't know what Washington is going to do when we hit this fiscal cliff. And there might be big automatic spending cuts that go into effect at the end of the year, and their contracts may not be fulfilled. So they're going to start shutting down the assembly lines now. So there is some tangible price to uncertainty about what people in Washington are going to do.
REHMPresident Obama is speaking now. He says his wish list for Europe is, number one, to fix the banks, number two, to keep Greece in the eurozone, but that the Greeks need to keep their promises and Europe needs to aid them and to promote economic growth and job creation. He says that makes reducing budget deficits much easier. Let's take a call from Windermere, Fla. Good morning, Eric. You're on the air.
REHMThank you for taking my call.
ERICI'll try to make this brief. I wonder if the panel could maybe comment a little bit on the issue of -- I guess the best way to put it is fracture and solidarity in the two parties. It always seems to me like it makes sense that the Republican Party would be able to get support and money coming in from wealthy donors because of, you know, the history of policies that benefit them, this idea that the Democrats fracture over middle-class unions and their wealthy donors and they can't seem to keep their voters in lockstep whereas the Republicans seem to get their wealthy conservative voters out.
ERICThe seem to get their middle class vote out. They seem to even get their poor vote out. And yet in elections like this, recall elections, the -- I think I saw -- I've heard reports, like, 30 to 40 percent of union households were voting for Walker. So I'm just not sure how it is that Democrats can't coalesce together despite economic divide, whereas Republicans seem to be able to do that.
THOMASWell, the Obama campaign would say to something like that that they have been very successful in getting a lot of people to donate them small amounts of money by focusing on issues like women's equality issues, like gay rights, and that they're hoping that they can find those certain issues that bring all of those people together, specifically all of those people who sort of over-performed for the Obama campaign in 2008. So they're looking for things to keep everyone together, and it's probably these social issues they seem to be riding on that are helping them.
REHMAnd to Traverse City, Mich. Hi there, Mike.
REHMHi there. Go right...
MIKEGo right ahead, sir.
MIKEYeah. I was calling because I've lived in both Michigan and Wisconsin. And Michigan has a voter driver law where when you go to register your vehicle or your driver's license, you're asked immediately if you'd like to register to vote. And when living in Wisconsin, it was much harder for me to actually register to vote. I had to make two separate trips down to the city chambers and go back and forth.
MIKEAnd I'm just -- I guess, for myself, I'm a little curious as to why people seem to be so angry about ID laws. I find, at least the laws in Michigan, which may be different, a little bit easier. So I was wondering if your panelists could talk about that.
SEIBWell, I think the vote law in Wisconsin -- excuse me -- has changed because there was a lot of same-day registration on Tuesday. And, in fact, it was one of the reasons that the turnout in Madison in particular was so high. It was above 100 percent of registered voters because people came in and registered the same day. So the laws have changed to some extent, you know, and I don't think that it's -- it's a mishmash.
SEIBThat's one of the problems in my estimation here, which is that there is no uniform national standard for registration, which creates a lot of anomalies between states. I do think, though, the particular one the caller is referring to in Wisconsin has changed over time.
REHMAnd President Obama is speaking about spending on infrastructure. He says there's work to be done. There are workers to do it. Let's put them to work now. Chris Cillizza tweets, "The chances of Congress taking another look at Obama proposals on jobs? Zero." What do you think, Jerry?
SEIBRoughly zero, yeah.
SEIBI mean, we're -- look, we're locked in a debate that has not been settled about whether stimulus worked in the first place or not, and then -- and it's become a political club for both sides. And in that environment, I think the odds that you're going to convince Congress to agree on what would essentially be described as more stimulus are pretty close to zero.
REHMLet's talk a little about this New York Times series on America's targeted assassination program, and some top Republicans, John McCain and others, have said that the leaks were politically motivated. John Dickerson.
DICKERSONThere have been a series of stories on three topics: U.S. efforts in Yemen to halt their growth and -- or repair back the growth of al-Qaida, the president's engagement in cyber attacks in Iran, and then, most, you know, amazingly, were -- or it's kind of a blockbuster piece on the president's role in kill lists, basically determining who -- which targets are at the other end of the drone attacks.
DICKERSONAll them kind out -- kind of roughly around the same time and the accusation from Sen. McCain is that this is all the White House leaking in order to make the president look like -- I think McCain might have said that -- tough guy. It certainly shows him very much in control, very much against the narrative put forward by Republicans, which is that he's kind of leading from behind.
DICKERSONAll these pieces show the president deeply engaged in this area, which must be a relief for him because he can actually engage in something to get something done, as opposed to having to give press conferences on a Friday about things that are never going to pass in Congress. And so this is now McCain, and there's been a bipartisan call for an investigation.
DICKERSONAnd so it's not just Sen. McCain and Republicans for an investigation into these leaks because the argument is that what's in these pieces, as I say two of them in The New York Times, are actually going to threaten the underlying intelligence operations that are at the heart of them.
THOMASAnd those bipartisan people in the House and Senate Intel Committee met DNI Clapper yesterday. They didn't really talk very much when they came out of that meeting. But they are hoping to sort of -- you know, they're hoping to find out whether there was some directive given to expand the scope of classified material given to the press.
THOMASThat is what Mike Rogers talked a little bit yesterday. But the White House has said, and Jay Carney said this on Air Force One yesterday, any suggestion that the White House has leaked sensitive information for political purposes has no basis in fact. And they are going to continue to say that.
REHMIs there going to be any appointment of a special counsel, Jerry?
SEIBI don't think so. I think the White House was pretty firm this week in saying, we're not interested. We're not going to go there. And it's hard to go there unless there's a lot of public pressure, and I'm not sure there is. You know, and I have a somewhat (word?) view of this. It's, you know, these waves of, oh, we have to stop the leaks come periodically.
SEIBAnd, you know, if you're engaged in the practice of trying to get stories and find out how hard it is to get this kind of information and as soon as the story appears, the immediate response is, oh, that was a leak, as if somebody just handed the journalist the story, is somewhat amusing to those who actually been -- of us who have actually been involved in trying to extract these stories. So...
SEIBThey rarely come on a silver platter as it turns out.
REHMDavid Sanger will be on in the international hour of the news roundup. He has said he did a year of investigation on that story.
SEIBYeah, more than.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And to Concorde, N.H. Hi there, Sam. You're on the air.
SAMHi, Diane. How are you?
REHMFine. Thanks. Go right ahead, sir.
SAMWell, one of you just mentioned earlier about uncertainty, and I know the so-called job creators are always whining about uncertainty with health care reform and the state taxes and so many other things. And then, on the other hand, they are saying that they need to pay lower taxes because they take risk. And I'm wondering how they square those two points. How do they expect to have it both ways? If you're taking risks then by definition, you need, you know, that requires uncertainty. If there's certainty, there's not risk.
DICKERSONWell, again, I think the argument would be, you know, there's an increased amount of uncertainty both for natural economic factors and also because Washington -- and let's move this away. I mean, this is a Republican argument about the president's regulations and his health care bill. But as Jerry pointed out, there is an uncertainty in Washington associated with just bipartisan incompetence to do anything or to behave in a programmatic way that suggests that if there is problem B, it will get solution C or A.
DICKERSONWhat happens now is there is problem B, and there is the great likelihood that there will be catastrophe and collapse as a result. And that's a bipartisan failing, and that creates uncertainty. And so, you know, the small business people that I've spent a lot of time talking to on the campaign trail just talked about the fact that Washington is totally unpredictable, and it can come down on their heads.
DICKERSONAnd they -- these are people who -- they do create jobs, and they are in small number of jobs that they create. But they are also the ones who have to sit and struggle with the employment law, with the health care law, with the tax law. And so they feel the pointy end of this incompetence from Washington.
SEIBYeah. Allow me just to add one thing to that, which is, you know, people forget there's actually risk associated with not investing money in hiring people. You know, if Shawna is investing money in a business and it booms and I've sat on the sidelines, sitting on my money in the mattress, I've lost -- I've taken a risk, and I lost in that. So there's some risk in not investing money, too. The fact is that, right now, a lot of people in the business communities decided the risk of not doing something outweighs the risk of -- excuse me.
SEIBThere's less risk in not doing something now than there is in trying. But it's not an -- it's not an absolute guarantee that you'll come out ahead if you don't do something. So that's just the environment that we are in. And, you know, I don't think any of us at this table know what the tax rates are going to be next January or what the health care situation is going to be or whether the government's going to be busy shutting down. And I do think those are -- that is a Washington incompetence that does have practical effect.
THOMASAnd I think last year, what we saw and what a bunch of businesses saw was this fight over the debt ceiling, which, in the past, has not been a fight. It has been something Congress does. We raise the debt ceiling. We keep going. We saw our credit rating drop or the country's credit rating drop. And I think actually scared some businesses because they realize, not only will this group in Congress take this to the brink, they will actually go beyond the brink on it.
REHMShawna Thomas, she is White House producer for NBC News. John Dickerson, he is chief political correspondent for Slate.com and CBS political analyst. And Jerry Seib, Washington Bureau chief at The Wall Street Journal, he's just won a lifetime achievement award from the Gerald Loeb Awards for Excellency in Business Reporting. Thank you all. Have a great weekend. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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