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.
A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories, including more revelations over NSA surveillance programs; July unemployment numbers; and what Congress managed to accomplish before its summer recess.
Ruth Marcus, columnist for The Washington Post, responds to a caller and explains why she says Anthony Weiner’s continued run for New York City mayor is “deeply not in the best interests” of his son. “I’m sorry you found it presumptuous, but I think that is actually what columnists do — we presume to opine on others for better or for worse,” Marcus said in response to the listener.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. U.S. employers added 162,000 jobs in July, the fewest since March. The Obama administration declassified and released new information showing access to phone records is broader than officials have described. And Congress meets for the last time before a five-week recess. Here for the Domestic Hour of our Friday News Roundup, John Dickerson of Slate and Capital Bikeshare, Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post and Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal. Do join us, 800-433-8850, send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And welcome everybody.
MS. RUTH MARCUSHappy Friday.
MR. JOHN DICKERSONHello, Diane.
MR. JERRY SEIBHello.
REHMHappy Friday to you as well. Jerry Seib, what do these latest job numbers tell us.
SEIBWell, I saw that our initial Wall Street Journal story referred to them as steady but unspectacular job numbers, and that's probably about right. I mean this is kind of mediocre job performance which has kind of been the story of the entire year, mediocre month after mediocre month, 162,000 jobs, a little less than what economists expected. They thought 183,000 was their consensus choice.
SEIBThe unemployment rate went down from 7.6 percent to 7.4 percent. That's partly because more people are working, partly because some people stopped looking for work. And the other dark -- it's not dark, but at least not great news in the report was that the government revised downward the previous two months by 26,000 jobs. So it had been mediocre. That made it a little less than mediocre.
SEIBSo it's kind of the story of the economy right now, which is to say that it is growing, but everybody realizes you have to have job growth numbers per month above 200,000 to really make serious inroads in the unemployment picture, and we're just not getting that yet.
MARCUSAnd when I was reading about the job numbers this morning, the most striking figure I saw was that at this pace and I love the word unspectacular at this unspectacular pace it would take us seven years to get back to where we were before the recession.
MARCUSThat's a long, long time.
REHMBut at the same time, John, the economy grew more than expected.
DICKERSON1.7 percent in the last quarter, more than they expected, though not at the rates of last year. And so it's what we've been experiencing from these last several years, which is, you know, one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake. Housing looks like it's doing better. Consumer spending looks like it's doing better. And everybody -- this always happens in the spring. People think, OK, we're finally getting up that momentum we've been looking for, and then the lid comes down on top of it.
DICKERSONNow, this spring, maybe better in this summer, maybe the best one of the Obama administration, depending on what happens next month. So this is better than the previous springs, but it's still tepid, still trending water, and we hear a new level of emphasis in the president's voice trying to say this is -- we've got to try and find something that gets us out of this slow growth position we're in.
MARCUSAnd I'm very worried. The summer might be good. I'm very worried about September and the fall because we'll get to Congress and what it did or didn't do later. But we are going to have some form of showdown possibly edging on crisis as two things happen in September and October. First, the government is going to run out of money. It's going -- Congress is going to need to find a way to fund the continuing operations of government starting September 30th. And at the same time, yes, once again, we're going to hit the debt ceiling around that same time, and there's going to be another showdown on that.
SEIBWell, a little global context here I think is worthwhile too. You know, mediocre is mediocre, but it's actually much better than Europe is doing, and that's a problem because the global economy is not growing in the way it ought to. Emerging economies are doing better than the developing world. China is the other problem. I mean people ought to be worried a little bit right now about China.
SEIBGrowth is slowing down in China. They see numbers out of China that say that the Chinese economy is still growing at more than 7 percent a year. That may or may not actually be true depending on what you think of Chinese government statistics. But whatever it is, it's less than previously, and it's less than expected, and that affects U.S. growth too. So the global climate here is not great either, and that's one of the drags on these numbers month after month.
REHMAt the same time, the Fed is saying it's going to stay the course, John.
DICKERSONIt is. Remember when the previous statement from the Fed to this one, the markets reacted because it sounded like the Fed saw the economy getting better, and that means it would step back from its program, its stimulus program. Now with the economy, yes, growth is up, but not fast enough. Now, it looks like everything will -- the economy will stay the course. The last statement was kind of a nonstatement.
DICKERSONBut back to Ruth's point, you know, one of the arguments for why has the economy have this lid on it is the uncertainty that comes when you look at Washington. And so in addition to the budget fights, we also have the question of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which gives businesses reason to be nervous in addition to all the other parts of the economic picture that give people reason to be nervous.
REHMBut before we get to the Congress, I'm gonna ask you why it was that Pres. Obama weighed in on Larry Summers yesterday.
DICKERSONWell, this question -- the story of the successor to Ben Bernanke had started to spin a little bit out of control, which is an odd thing for a normally unsexy story like who's gonna be the Fed chairman to be, but that's what happened. It's been framed as a two-person race, if that's the right word, between Larry Summers and Janet Yellen, the current deputy chief of the Fed. And it had become a kind of open season for people who don't like Larry Summers to start bashing him, Larry Summers being the former treasury secretary, the former head of the National Economic Council for Pres. Obama.
REHMFormer president -- and former president of Harvard.
DICKERSONHarvard. And I think there's ample reason to think there are people in the White House perhaps including the president who really like the idea of somebody as smart and experience as Larry Summers being at the Fed at a time when the world economy is really not out of the woods yet. And I think the president felt that he had to rise to the defense of Larry Summers because he had become as he -- in the president's own words, a kind of whipping boy.
REHMAnd isn't Janet Yellen just as smart as Larry Summers?
MARCUSI wouldn't want to put myself up against either of them in the I.Q. department. This has been an extraordinary I think the words spectacle is not too strong of the kind of American idolization of the Fed choice, nor this is a very important choice, but it's one that normally does not receive the kind of incredible sustained attention and public lobbying that this one has partly because Larry Summers is such an outside character partly because in the sense we've seen how important over the last several years the Fed chairman is.
MARCUSBut I can't tell you the number -- the amount of lobbying that I who do not normally write about the Fed have gotten to weigh in on this choice. If Janet Yellen isn't picked, it will be only because she's a woman. No, Larry Summers really isn't sexist. No, he should be picked for this reason. It's crazy time here in Washington.
DICKERSONThis -- and also this is probably in terms of the levers of control over the economy that the president has, he said so much trouble getting his programs through Congress. This is probably the most important economic decision he'll make and the thing that he has actual control over. He was asked about it in a meeting with House Democrats about Larry Summers and had to rise to Summers' defense because members of the House conference, Democrats don't like the way basically Summers is in favor of deregulation, and some of them believe a part of the group that led to the last recession and also that he is too close to the kind of Wall Street view of the world.
DICKERSONBut it is extraordinary the way in which both people's personal feelings about Summers. He ran roughshod over a few people. And also The New York Times editorial about this was basically all about how it shouldn't be a part of the boys' club. I mean the extent to which this is a couple of circles away from whatever the Fed chairman does, it was all about basically Obama's economic team, the clashes between men and women in that, the president's reputation for having a kind of a boys' club. The gender part of this has been a very big part of the discussion.
SEIBWell, it's detracted a little bit from what probably is an important philosophical difference, probably not a huge one, but a meaningful one between Larry Summers and Janet Yellen on monetary policy which is one of the reasons liberals in Congress at least are a little wary of Larry Summers , as not just as John said, because they think he's a little too light on bank regulation.
SEIBBut they think he's a little too skeptical about the Fed injecting money into the economy for a prolonged period that he's more likely than Janet Yellen to worry that the economy is going to develop bubbles if there's too much easy money floating around, and he wants to do something about that. That may or may not be true. I don't think the difference is that great, but that's the actual philosophical difference on monetary policy that lies at the heart of some of this debate.
REHMBut what about John's point about a boys' club here that has traditionally been a boys' club and the fact that the president doesn't know Janet Yellen quite as well.
SEIBWell, you know, I think the second one may be more important than the first. I think the president -- this president at least has at least shown in a number of ways look at Susan Rice and Samantha Power to recent national security appointments. And he likes the breaks in glass ceilings on the gender front. I don't see any reason to think he's -- he feels differently about this one. I think it's a question of that probably versus who do I know better and who am I more confident just because we've worked together before. So I think there's a gender component here. I think it's probably a little unfair to attribute that to Pres. Obama given the fact...
REHMOK. But how well does Larry Summers get along with people, Ruth?
MARCUSWell, I thought he's always gotten along really well with Larry Summers, and I found him I hope this isn't an unfair to say kind of equal opportunity arrogant. He -- and for good reason because he's really smart. He has in my experience treated women and men with sometimes equal disdained or at least toughness. Look, the Fed chairman is the Fed chairman. I'm not sure that his ability to get along well with others or her ability to get along well with others is the top attribute that I would be looking for in a Fed chairman. Larry Summers can be a prickly personality. No one denies that.
REHMRuth Marcus, columnist and editorial writer of The Washington Post. Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back to the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with John Dickerson of CBS and Slate.com, Ruth Marcus, a columnist for The Washington Post, and Jerry Seib, Washington bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal. So Congress goes on vacation for five weeks, starting today. They're going to do one more vote on the Affordable Health Care Act, trying to shut down Obamacare. Ruth.
MARCUSIn case we didn't know what House Republicans thought about Obamacare, perhaps the 40th time will convey that message. This has been a disappointing end -- not end, but a disappointing pre-recess to a very disappointing Congress. Remember all that talk about the return to regular order?
MARCUSI thought the -- in addition to the fact that we're just posturing and wasting time with these Obamacare votes, and meanwhile there's this debate in the Senate about whether to defund Obamacare or shut the government down over that, this Congress did have the prospect of getting its appropriations bills done on time. But guess what, not happening. To me, unnoticed, but -- unnoticed except I'll plug my column in The Washington Post this morning.
MARCUSBut really disappointing was the inability to pass a transportation spending bill, normally a very uncontroversial thing. The House number was so low because it took away money beneath even the sequester level. They -- the appropriators were given such a low level that even Republicans wouldn't vote. A majority of them would not vote to pass it.
MARCUSMeanwhile in the Senate, a number, at a larger level that got six Republican votes in the Appropriations Committee, got one Republican vote, Sen. Susan Collins, on the floor. So that didn't get enough to pass a filibuster. How disappointing is this?
REHMWhat did this Congress accomplish, Jerry?
SEIBWell, they did fix a student loan problem about a month late, but they did come up with a new plan to fund student loans that would -- that will keep interest rates lower rather than essentially doubling the rate on new student loans. The Senate passed an immigration bill, which should not be forgotten. That's still a signal, a moment. We'll see what happens in the fall in the House. And they broke a logjam on confirmations of presidential appointees.
SEIBSo as a result of the fact that some cooler heads prevailed in the Senate, there are now presidential appointments sitting in the labor secretary's seat in the -- a head of the EPA, at the National Labor Relations Board and, barely, at ATF, the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agency.
REHMNow, John Dickerson, what happened to immigration reform?
DICKERSONWell, it still exists, but we're -- those who are supporting comprehensive immigration reform are sort of on plan C. If we could go back, remember, after the election, there was this view among some Republicans that the president's success with minorities put special pressure on Republicans to pass comprehensive immigration reform. The Republican Party, in an autopsy of its problems, put out a report and said, we're not gonna talk about policy, except for one thing.
DICKERSONIf we don't pass comprehensive immigration reform, this party is dead. That was supposed to make Republicans vote for some kind of comprehensive immigration reform. It may have done so in the Senate. But that is not the prevailing feeling among House Republicans. If you look at their districts, the overwhelming number of Republicans in those districts will pay a greater penalty if they vote for something characterized as amnesty, something that allows lawbreakers, as they see it, in the country -- not as they see it -- those who are here illegally a path to citizenship.
DICKERSONThey will pay a greater penalty if they vote for that than if they don't vote for a comprehensive immigration reform. Plan B was that, out of the Senate, it was gonna have all this momentum. That didn't work either. So, now, there is some kind of effort among those who still want comprehensive immigration reform to try to convince John Boehner to give up his stated rule, which he's repeatedly stated that he won't bring anything to the floor that can't get a majority of Republican votes. There is not a Republican majority right now for comprehensive immigration reform in the House.
REHMSo they did finally deal with student loans. They did finally approve some appointments. But I'm wondering about all of you -- you as a columnist, you two as reporters. Are you disappointed in what's been happening in Washington the last few weeks?
DICKERSONWell, I wanna quote a journalist I admire, Jerry Seib, who said once that it was like covering the Middle East in Washington where you have -- you know, Palestinians and Israelis. There were negotiations, but you always knew going into it that they probably weren't gonna get anywhere and that it was endless, rounds and rounds of this bickering. And that's kind of the way it feels, and we're headed to the fall for another round of this.
DICKERSONAnd so far, Congress has passed 15 bills. That puts them on a course to be even less efficient than the last Congress, the 112th, which was the previous record holder in terms of lack of activity. And if you look at the things they have passed in the 15, one of my favorites is a bill that basically resizes the blank coins used on commemorative coins. I mean, we're talking about pretty small beer here. And so it's a -- it's pretty bad.
SEIBYou know, there was a day when I thought, this is like the perfect illustration of what's happened. I think it was Wednesday of this week when two things were going on simultaneously. In the House, Republican leaders were having to take the transportation bill, which has always been an easy bill to pass because it's got a lot of things in it for everybody. Take that off the floor because they couldn't get enough Republican or Democratic votes.
REHMSame with the farm bill?
SEIBSame with the farm bill. At the same time that was happening in the House, the Senate was having a vote that it left open for five hours because it couldn't come up with 60 votes to have a vote to confirm or not confirm the leader of the ATF, the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms bureau, which has not had a confirmed leader for seven years, and they couldn't get 60 votes to even have a vote to confirm somebody or not confirm somebody.
SEIBSo it was like, to me, the picture of what has happened in Congress right now. And, you know, this is a -- this is what happens when you have evenly divided power, and small groups have the ability to make big waves in a Congress where power is almost evenly divided between the two parties.
REHMAnd the question becomes how long can this go on without some, I don't know, some revolt somewhere that breaks through this logjam?
MARCUSIt's hard to see how that revolt happens. There are some green shoots of hope in the Senate. You did have this vote for comprehensive immigration reform. We did break some logjam and stepped back from the brink of the nuclear option on the filibuster in terms of confirmations. Nonetheless, I'm gonna go with my green shoots metaphor. Then you have the lawnmower -- that is, Mitch McConnell -- come in and mow down the possibility of a bipartisan vote for this, you know, obscure but important, and you should pass pretty easily, transportation spending bill.
MARCUSThe House -- it's very hard, because of the way House districts are configured, to understand how this logjam is broken because you have to say, as John made clear, that the House members who are voting against comprehensive immigration reform, who would reject the pathway to citizenship, are voting in their own political self-interests, and they're listening to their constituents in their districts.
MARCUSHow you could change that is just hard to imagine. And so we're gonna continue to see the schism and the interest of the Republican Party between its dwindling hopes of retaking the White House, if it doesn't get right with Hispanics, and its continuing division between the Cruzes and the McCains of the world about what kind of party it wants to be.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about NSA surveillance and Bradley Manning. First, what's in the new classified documents, John Dickerson, released by the administration this week?
DICKERSONWell, there were two developments this week. The classified documents released by the administration were about the metadata that was collected about phone calls. And the effort here was to -- was on the part of the administration -- was to show that this was not a program that was completely out of control, there were checks, and then also to make the case that in 54 instances, this had led to the stopping of terrorist activity.
DICKERSONNow, when -- in hearings in front of the justice committee -- Judiciary Committee in the Senate, Democrats and Republicans were quite skeptical about the relationship between collecting this metadata and any actual stoppage of terrorist activity. And this, of course, is all in the wake of the disclosures by Edward Snowden, the -- both this conversation, the fact that the administration had to release this information.
DICKERSONThe president said he welcomes a conversation. He doesn't welcome a conversation. But this is the conversation that's now taking place. And then the other big development was a new set of documents that were released about another program...
REHMCalled the XKeyscore.
DICKERSONXKeyscore. And that is a basic scraping of the Internet for overseas or so, the administration claims, that basically captures people's conversations, email, basically everything that you can do online.
SEIBI think what you got a sense of at that Senate hearing and then in the aftermath of it was a feeling that's -- which is a bipartisan feeling, to some extent at least, that the NSA took a program that Congress actually wanted to happen and legally authorize it. It wrote the law that allows the program to happen but then stretched it out of proportion to what the lawmakers intended.
SEIBAnd there is now some pushback developing, which is -- but it's difficult because most people in Congress, and this is also bipartisan, actually want the program to continue. They just think the fencing around it ought to be a little sturdier, and that, I think, is something that you're gonna hear discussed. I don't think anybody wants to eliminate it. I think they wanna bring it more under control.
REHMAnd you also had Gen. Keith Alexander speaking to these so-called Black Hat conference. I wonder what kind of reception he got, Ruth.
MARCUSWell, I think one of the things that is so interesting, listening to Gen. Alexander and other officials, is how under siege the intelligence community understands itself to be, that they have gone on with this program.
MARCUSAnd I think many of them -- I've talked to some -- now out of government, think that they made a mistake in terms of keeping this so secret, tamping down the conversation, the capacity to have a conversation so much that now you have both the public and a remarkable number of members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans who are saying, heck no, we cannot let this go this far, and we are entirely unconvinced that you have shown us evidence that this is really necessary or has produced the results that you're claiming.
MARCUSAnd so I think that Gen. Alexander's speech and the others have really demonstrated that the intelligence community understands it's gonna just have to show a little more of what it's doing and get more public buy in and change its procedures to permit more of that in the future, absent leaks which can be really damaging, to get a little bit more national consensus.
REHMRuth Marcus, columnist for The Washington Post. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Jerry Seib, were you surprised at the Bradley Manning verdict?
SEIBNo. I think some people thought that the fact that the judge in the trial allowed the most serious charge to go forward, which was the charge that he had essentially aided the enemy by leaking documents, the fact that the judge allowed that to go forward rather than dropping it was an indication that she was gonna find him guilty on that, that was clearly not the case because he was found not guilty of that most serious charge.
SEIBI think that it was a sign to me at least that the judge wanted to make sure that everybody realized the entire bill of particulars was heard fairly and then made a decision that I think -- it didn't surprise me although it did surprise some others.
SEIBI think -- it's interesting to me that in the aftermath of that, there was a kind of a feeling that the government overreached in prosecuting Bradley Manning for that charge, which was a little difficult to sustain, as it turns out, that he not only leaked documents and mishandled and maybe even stole government information, but that he had actually handed it over to the enemy simply by making it public. That seemed a bridge too far, and I think the interesting analysis afterwards was that the government shouldn't have gone that far anyway in the first place.
DICKERSONRight. And that Col. Lind helped put some restraint on this idea of -- I mean, what the government was claiming was that Manning was a traitor because he'd given things to The New York Times -- I mean, excuse me -- given things to WikiLeaks. And in other cases, it would have created the idea that if you gave it to a journalists, then it was public, that that was aiding the enemy, that that was too tendentious at link.
DICKERSONAnd if you'd look at the -- and there was also problems with the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which basically says you have to give actual, you know, munitions and physical aid, supplies, money. And then there is this category of other things, which they tried to slip this into. And since it wasn't a direct conveyance of information although the government said Osama bin Laden had seen some of this information and taken comfort from it, it was just too far a stretch.
DICKERSONAnd in this big debate we've been having since 9/11, which is what is allowed in the name of stopping terrorism, this seemed to be a step back from kind of everything's allowed in order to stop terrorism.
REHMSo given all that, what is your speculation about how much time he'll spend behind bars, Ruth?
MARCUSQuite a bit because even though he was acquitted of this serious charge of aiding the enemy, and I think that was really a very serious government overreach. And it's very healthy, both that the judge allowed it to go forward and that she sent the message that this was a step too far, and I hope the government hears that message because it's not the only time they've overreached in this kinds of cases. He still was convicted and -- of numerous serious charges and has pled guilty to others. So I think he will receive and probably should receive a very serious sentence in the tens of years.
REHMAnd can things get any worse, John Dickerson, for New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner?
DICKERSONWell, the rapidity with which things go downhill for him is so fast that it may have gotten worse while we've been talking this morning. This week, not only was he continually kind of being out there, but you had his communications director in an expletive-laced rant about an intern who had published something in the New York Daily News. And then there was -- and then one of Mr. Weiner's, I don't know, phone -- one of the women he talked to, I don't know which -- he's creating new categories.
DICKERSONThe woman that he talked to spoke in some considerable detail about the nature of their conversations, which broke new ground because we thought we knew everything because we had the transcripts of their communications. We thought that all four corners of understanding have been achieved, and yet no, she told us more disturbing and unpleasant things about him. And yet he put out a statement to supporters this week saying that he's gonna back down. And that's not the way we roll in New York, he said.
REHMAnd very briefly, Ruth. You wrote about Huma Abedin this week.
MARCUSI have been really disappointed, I have to say, in her role in all of this. She was a victim the first time around. Now she's -- I hate to use this word -- an enabler, an accomplice. I think -- this is has gotten to the point of really pathetic. She needs to pull the plug not just for her own sake, but for the sake of their child.
REHMRuth Marcus, Jerry Seib, John Dickerson, they'll all address your questions when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Time now for your calls, 800-433-8850. First to Dallas, Texas. Hi there, Charles.
CHARLESYes. Thanks for accepting my call.
REHMSure. Go right ahead.
CHARLESWell, my comment is the show this morning sounds so negative and so down deep. That is really the reason that prompted me to call. That -- and I'm having trouble sometimes with -- when your staff is trying to talk about the White House or the government or Obama and they use these terms kind of interchangeably. And I really don't understand what the difference is from the way they're using it. And I'd like to know what do they think the Republicans are doing to help the economy, jobs, et cetera.
REHMI think that's a really good question. Jerry Seib.
SEIBWell, look, I was gonna say earlier that the -- there's, you know, we talk about dysfunction and we talk about nothing happens in town. And it's almost as if it's because nobody wants anything to happen. In reality, there is a very important and meaningful and not made-up philosophical difference right now, and it has to do with how much money should the government spend. The reason these bills are failing in the House right now is that Republicans look at how much the government ought to spend on domestic programs next year.
SEIBAnd they have a number in mind, and its $100 billion or so less than what the Democrats think ought to happen in terms of how much money the government ought to spend on domestic programs. That is a meaningful difference. A hundred billion dollars is a hard thing to compromise on. And that's kind of where the country is. You know, the -- as Ruth indicated, House members come from districts. There -- they tend to be, these days, a very bright red or a very bright blue, and that creates a difficult situation.
SEIBSo we talk about paralysis or dysfunction and the lack of leadership. But underneath it all is a real meaningful difference that's just not been resolved in the country, not just in Congress.
DICKERSONThat's right. And to add to that philosophical difference that exists is the question of how do you create economic growth. The president believes, through his own biography, both -- going all the way back to his grandfather and the GI bill and the -- that a government is there to create these opportunities to help with education, to help with infrastructure, to create the conditions and playing field for robust economic growth.
DICKERSONRepublicans see that as stimulus spending, and what they don't like about that is they argue that the more government is mucking around both burdening of a private enterprise with debt levels but also trying to kind of tweak and tinker with the economy, that that's just the wrong approach. Get the government out, the philosophical argument goes, and people will be allowed to then follow their bliss.
DICKERSONAnd then the market, obviously with some kind of regulations, but that personal responsibility will kick back in and that sense of community will be restored. And that, again, is another huge philosophical argument underlying this Republican-Democratic divide.
REHMAll right. Let's look at two emails all about Larry Summers. One from Wayne in Florida, who says, "I read Larry Summers helped push through repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act and successfully kept Brooksley Born from implementing regulation for derivatives. I would vote for Janet Yellen." Is that true that he helped push through Glass-Steagall?
DICKERSONWell, he -- yes. But the Clinton Administration collectively decided that the Glass-Steagall bill, which divided banking from, you know, commercial banking and investment banking, it sort of broke down the wall between those two functions.
REHMClearly with his advice.
DICKERSONOh, sure. Absolutely.
DICKERSONBut I'm just saying it was -- there was a consensus...
DICKERSON...in the Clinton Administration that that was a good idea, that the law had outlived its usefulness. And whether that was a good idea or bad idea, you know, will be debated in economics books for the next hundred years, I would say.
DICKERSONBut yes, that is -- that happened and people -- that is a big reason that some of the Senate Democrats who objected to Larry Summers' nomination do so.
REHMAnd Ruth Marcus says that Larry Summers is very smart, has a prickly personality and treats both sexes with equal disdain. But it was suggested that such negative factors may not be decisive since he is so smart. "Nonsense," says Frank. "Arrogance means you don't take other people's views seriously. That's disqualifying no matter how smart he is. Arrogance including the arrogance of Summers and his colleagues is what got us into this mess in the first place."
MARCUSWell, maybe. But, I think, hearing my comments back, I might want to revise an extent because one thing that you -- when you talk to people about dealing with Larry Summers, one of the things that they say is he always wants to be challenged. He does wanna hear why his view was wrong -- it might not convince him -- and he wants to hear the best arguments on the other side. But one of the things that I find most disappointing about this debate is how much it's gotten sort of sucked into this classic gender issue.
MARCUSThere's just no doubt that Janet Yellen is qualified for the Fed, and the people who have said things like she lacks the gravitas, or even worse, sexist things really should be ashamed of themselves. I'd love to see a woman chair of the Fed. It's great that it's kind of bubbling up organically. It's not like they're scrambling to find a woman that -- if everybody were equal, I'd put my thumb on the scale there. But this is really a very personal decision by the president.
REHMAll right. And to you, John Dickerson. The president has been across the country continuing his speeches on the economy. He offered a deal on corporate taxes and jobs. What do you have to say?
DICKERSONSo we'd look at this into two terms. There's the substance and then there's the politics. We'll take the substance first, which is the president said, I'm trying to get the economy moving here again and -- we used to talk about the grand bargain in terms of a swap, where the administration would take something it didn't like, which is -- changes to entitlements. Republicans would agree to do something they didn't like, which is to raise revenue from changing the tax code. That kind of a grand bargain is really flickering almost to have disappeared.
DICKERSONAnd so what the president did is offering a mini grand bargain. And that is essentially a swap. Reform the corporate tax system, and you'll get a big dose of cash, as a lot of money...
REHMFrom what to what?
DICKERSONWell, the president was not -- specifically, he's talked about a rate -- taking the rate down to 25...
DICKERSONSo he's talked about that although in this most recent iteration, he has not talked about the specific loopholes although, in other times, he has talked about getting rid of corporate jet loopholes and that kind of thing. Part of what he's trying to do here is also his Democratic finance chairman and the head of the Ways and Means Committee in the House have been working for three years on tax reform.
DICKERSONThe president is kind of stomping on that a little bit. But the president's swap was essentially lower the corporate tax rate, bring in this money that's sitting overseas. And when you get that boost of cash, let's put that toward something Republicans have supported in the past, which is infrastructure spending. He also -- the president wants to raise the minimum wage, do a few other things.
DICKERSONThe political move here is to say, I'm offering Republicans something they've said yes to before, which is they agreed we should lower the corporate tax rate, and they've often been for infrastructure spending in the past. And so I'm giving them -- just say yes to this. Is -- the political move here -- the Republicans basically -- most of them totally dismissed it, said, you can't do corporate tax by itself. The infrastructure spending is just stimulus. You had only a few little voices of the senators who we've mentioned before who were trying to work with the White House, who were a little bit warm to it.
SEIBWell, Republicans have two problems. One is that they continue to believe it's nice but not really sufficient by any means to just lower the corporate tax rate for big corporations, that lots of S corporations and individuals who run small businesses file as individuals. For them, their tax rate is not going to go down. So you're helping big business. You're not doing anything to help small business. Republicans see that as the engine of growth, so they think this is a non-starter.
SEIBSecondly, because the president proposed enticing corporations to bring back money from abroad but then taxing it as it comes back to some extent, he's really basically calling for a tax increase that's cloaked as a tax decrease. So those were the two substantive points where this kind of fell down in the initial Republican reaction.
REHMAnd Harry Reid was even warning Democrats about this.
SEIBWell, and Harry Reid had the opposite view, which is that, you know, we should get a lot more revenue out of the corporate tax system than we are now. And so there is now a feud between Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, and Max Baucus, the Democratic leader of the Senate Finance Committee, which is actually pretty nasty. So there's disagreement all around.
REHMAll right. To Fairfax, Va. Hi, Marilyn.
MARILYNHi. I have a comment for something your female commentator said. I find it presumptuous on her part to say that Huma Abedin should pull the plug for her own sake and for her daughter's sake. Now, as far as I know, and I'm not privy to anything, we're not talking to that physical abuse. We're not talking about emotional or verbal abuse. So I don't understand how she can determine whether or not Huma Abedin should be staying by her husband during this time. Now, I'm not condoning what he did, but at the same time, I'm not saying she should dissolve her marriage.
MARCUSI am not arguing that she should dissolve her marriage. What I'm arguing -- and I'm sorry you found it presumptuous, but I think that is actually what columnist do as we presume to opine on others for better or for worse. I'm arguing that it is not -- deeply not in the best interest of her child, her son and Anthony Weiner's son to have his misconduct -- whether or not she wants to continue in the marriage to this man, to have misconduct splashed all over the pages of New York tabloids.
MARCUSIn an interview this week, Anthony Weiner was asked about this, and he said semi-jokingly, well, the kid's going to live in Gracie Mansion. Stop complaining. That's not acceptable. It's not funny. I think my -- everybody sitting around in this table who has children knows that whether you're in private life or public life, the best interest of your child has to be or should be your defining mission in life. And I do not think his conduct or her conduct is in the best interest of their child. And if that's presumptuous, so be it.
REHMThe Clintons continue to support her, John Dickerson?
DICKERSONThey support her, but the message has been sent. The Clintons have said nothing about these, but the message has been sent to every possible way even if the Clintons have never talked to any of their aides and allies who have been sending this message that they do not support him, the democratic establishment does not support him. But yes, they support Huma Abedin.
DICKERSONAnd just to Ruth's other point, though, there is a lot of ugliness that would have stayed buried for the sake of the child had Anthony Weiner dropped out. And his continued presence leeches all of the ugliness out into the public where it will be there forever to cloak this child as she grows up. So that's...
DICKERSONHe. Sorry, he. So that that's why continuing in the race compounds this and makes it so horrible.
REHMJerry, you wanna weigh in?
REHMHe's a columnist.
MARCUSJerry's smart, and he wants to talk about the Fed.
SEIBI find it hard to imagine anything about Anthony Weiner that hasn't been said this week, so maybe I'll pause there.
REHMAll right. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Jerry, do talk about Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's warnings about the impact of sequester.
SEIBYeah. This was actually a pretty remarkable and not particularly widely noted event this week. I mean, what happened was that Chuck Hagel, the defense secretary, essentially came out and said, this is what's going to happen to the defense infrastructure if the level of spending under the sequester continues. And among other things, he said the Army over the next few years would shrink to its smallest size since before World War II.
SEIBThat a force that's already supposed to come down to 490,000 people would go as low as 380,000 people, and there would be a whole lot -- a bunch of other things. The Navy would lose two aircraft carriers. The Marine Corps would have to cut between 8,000 and 33,000 people. The Air Force would give up bombers, would give up transportation aircraft. This is not going to happen necessarily, but this was kind of a picture of what will happen to the infrastructure of the American military if this happens.
SEIBThe other alternative he said is to just stop developing new systems, new planes, new ships and keep people. And that's, you know, that's a selfish choice for anybody who's running the Pentagon. So it was a sign of the fact that this is -- but this budget conflict that we've been talking about is a serious business.
DICKERSONHe -- this has been a part of the discussion about sequestration from its beginning, but where Hagel took it was that he said lives will now be at risk in a way that was more sharper. Although, he then was kind of vague about -- despite the numbers that Jerry mentioned, there was also some vagueness in his -- exactly, I guess, people in part because his job was to offer options of the way you could make -- spread this paying out.
DICKERSONBut the larger message is that these budget fights we've been talking about in the fall happened under the umbrella of the continuing sequestration, another round of sequestration cuts. So the inability in the past to resolve this budget crisis put the sequestration in place, which is about the dumbest policy ever conceived. And so that is still there for them to fight with while they're heading these new brinkmanship moments.
MARCUSSequestration was designed to be stupid. It is stupid. The administration warned us when it first was scheduled to take effect about the terrible implications of it. Those warnings have turned out to have been exaggerated in some way in part because we're not willing to live with the effects of sequestration.
MARCUSSo the minute you had lines at airports, whoops, that was fixed. But underneath the radar in programs for the poor, in military programs, all across the breath of what the government does, sequestration is a kind of slow-motion crisis. And it's -- the more we hear about it, the healthier the debate will be.
REHMAnd finally, to Kate in Alexandria, Va. You're on the air.
KATEGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
KATEI'm a federal employee and on leave today so I can call and voice my personal opinion. I am disgusted with Congress in their incompetence. If we as federal employees were performing at their level, we'd all be fired for incompetence. You know, I see part of the issue is this political gerrymandering of districts. It's encouraging extremism. And I think, you know, when we're talking about peace in the Middle East, we need to start at home.
SEIBWell, look, I mean, it's a wise comment. I do think the redistricting is at the heart of this, people get it. We did a poll, Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll last week. The people who disapproved the job Congress is doing is at 87 percent. That's the highest we've ever had, and we started doing the poll in 1989.
REHMAnd here's a final comment from Jasper here in Washington, D.C. He relates a true story that he says hits three of the subjects we covered this week -- jobs, minimum wage and senior care. He says, "An acquaintance readily got a job last week in a nursing home. She will earn 25 cents more than the minimum wage. She lives where she can afford, in a homeless shelter."
REHMAnd that is life around the country right now. Thank you all, John Dickerson, Ruth Marcus, Jerry Seib. Thanks for listening. Have a great weekend. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Casey Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn and Danielle Knight. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker 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, D.C. This is NPR.
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