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.
Guest Host: Steve Roberts
A panel of journalists joins guest host Steve Roberts for analysis of the week’s top national news stories, including: The aftermath of the shooting at the Navy Yard. The Fed’s unexpected decision to stick with its stimulus program. And the House Republicans attempt to defund the health care law.
- Jerry Seib Washington bureau chief, The Wall Street Journal.
- John Stanton Washington bureau chief, BuzzFeed.
- Karen Tumulty National political reporter, The Washington Post.
A caller to The Diane Rehm Show notes that the perpetrators of recent mass murders tend to be men, including the gunman who carried out this week’s shooting at the Washington Navy Yard. She asks the panel why the national media isn’t discussing what in male culture drives people to gun violence. John Stanton at BuzzFeed suggests whether the “middle classification” of men drives them to be macho without an outlet for the behavior. Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal points out that violent video games tend to be a male phenomenon.
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MR. STEVE ROBERTSThanks so much for joining us. I'm Steve Roberts of George Washington University, sitting in today for Diane Rehm. The aftermath of the Navy Yard shootings, House Republicans pass deep cuts in food stamps, and the Fed unexpectedly continues its stimulus program. Joining me for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal, Karen Tumulty with The Washington Post, John Stanton with BuzzFeed. Welcome. Good morning.
MR. JERRY SEIBGood morning.
MR. JOHN STANTONGood morning.
MS. KAREN TUMULTYGood morning.
ROBERTSYou can join us all at 1-800-433-8850. Drshow@wamu.org is our email address. Twitter, Facebook, you can follow us by streaming on your computer -- any way you listen, any way you want to communicate with us, we're happy to hear from you. Let's start talking, Jerry Seib, about the Republican plan. There's going to be a vote today, I believe, on Capitol Hill in the House. It would keep the government funded. The government runs out of money on Oct. 1, right down the line. But there are some important attachments to this. Explain what this bill does.
SEIBWell, it's become the most famous bill this year that is not going to pass. It's the bill that would fund the government from Oct. 1 (word?) but that at the same time would strip out all funds to implement the American -- the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. And the House is doing this for two reasons.
SEIBOne, the conservative bloc within the House caucus demanded it, even though John Boehner and Eric Cantor initially weren't going to do this 'cause they know it will not get through the Senate. But, secondly, it also sets up something I think, until a couple weeks ago -- or certainly during the summer it appeared Washington might avoid this year, which was another debate over whether to shut down the government because Congress can't agree to fund it. So it is Groundhog Day again, and we have about two weeks to figure out if it can be stopped.
ROBERTSNow, Karen, Republicans have been talking about other things. For months, they've been talking about trying to do tax reform. They've been talking about cutting entitlements. What -- how and why did the effort to defund Obamacare become the centerpiece of the Republican strategy?
TUMULTYWell, you've got these two issues here. One is that polling shows that the new healthcare law continues to be unpopular. And a lot of these conservative members go home to their district, and that's all they hear about. But there's other polling that shows overwhelmingly, even among Republicans, that Americans do not want the government shutdown over this law, even if they have their misgivings about this law.
TUMULTYAnd I think that what we are -- we're in a situation where, you know, House members run from these very liberal or very conservative districts. And they really are, you know, are sort of whipped into a frenzy by, you know, their -- you know, they're either constituents very much on the right or constituents very much on the left. And in this case, I think the House Republicans have become captive of their most, you know, extreme interests.
ROBERTSAnd, of course, there are some interest groups on the right that have been pushing this very strongly, the Club for Growth, Heritage Foundation...
TUMULTYThe -- yes, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation has been an interest -- new player in these being sort of rebranded under its new head, Jim DeMint.
ROBERTSFormer senator from South Carolina.
TUMULTYThat's right. But we, you know, we are all thinking back to the end of 1995, beginning of 1996, when the Republicans did something like this. And it was disastrous.
ROBERTSYou and I both covered that together.
TUMULTYExactly. Exactly. And what's -- there are a couple things different here, though. One is that the Republican brand is in a lot bigger trouble than it was back then. Number two, the Republicans only control one House of Congress. And the third is that, you know, the Republicans themselves are not nearly as united as they were in the mid-90s.
ROBERTSAnd, John Stanton with BuzzFeed, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show." And talk about the politics here because Nancy Pelosi has branded this bill insane, but there are a lot of Republicans who are uneasy. Karl Rove's uneasy. The Chamber of Commerce has come out against this effort. Talk about the politics here and the splits in Republican ranks.
STANTONWell, I think that the fundamental problem with it is that it comes down to the fact that in the house you have a leadership team that has essentially lost control of its party. You know, John Boehner and Eric Cantor, for any number of reasons -- you know, they got rid of earmarks. They brought in, through the Tea Party wave, a lot of people who don't really respect the old ways of things being done in Congress, and they sort of came in with this being their central focus.
STANTONBut they've lost essentially control of their conference, and it's now being run, to a large degree, by this sort of small group of 30 or 40 members who are -- this is their number one mission in life. And they can stop almost anything that they want to because they have those numbers.
ROBERTSWell, partly, because, see, with only 233 Republican House members, you lose 25, and you lose control. And so a group of 30, 40, 50 has that particular pivot point.
STANTONExactly. Exactly. And, you know, on the Senate side, you have Mitch McConnell who, over the last couple years, has played this sort of adult figure -- not even just within the Republican party, but I think more generally within the House and Senate, he sort of comes in and negotiates deals with Joe Biden or with the president whenever they get to these crisis moments. But right now he's facing a Tea Party challenge of his own. He's facing a Democratic challenger.
ROBERTSIn the primaries -- in the primary?
STANTONIn his primary. And then if he gets through that, he has a Democratic challenger who's going to be very well-funded. And he can't really step in and play that traditional role that he has been.
ROBERTSNow, Kerry, (sic) apart from the political theatrics, you all just said this is never going to happen. But there are real world consequences of a stalemate here. And Ben Bernanke, head of the Fed, talked about that very much this week, saying there could be "very serious consequences" in terms of shaking up the markets, which have been doing pretty well.
ROBERTSI mean, Dow set new records this week. But talk about that, Jerry.
SEIBThis was a classic picture of the Fed pulling in one direction and Congress pulling in another direction. And that's true on two fronts. I mean, on just the sort of the chaos front, I mean, the Fed is very worried that at just at the time when it had thought that it would be able to call an economic recovery sufficient to allow it to tighten up money a little bit, that's not really happening.
SEIBAnd it's not really happening in part because there's so much uncertainty about what Congress is going to do, and that could become -- that could go on steroids in a few weeks if the government shuts down or, even worse, if by late October, the country is defaulted on its debt obligations because there's no budget agreement.
SEIBThere's also a feeling, if they had a little less explicitly articulated by Chairman Bernanke, that the Congress is pulling back on the fiscal reins too hard, that the recovery isn't sufficient yet, that the government can start taking stimulus out of the economy, and so the Fed is, in effect, putting it in because Congress and the civilian leadership won't put it in. So that's one reason that the Fed is keeping interest rates low. It's a lack of stimulus in the eyes of Fed governors coming from Congress.
ROBERTSAnd it was somewhat surprising this week that the Fed, which had been signaling that it probably would start easing off on its bond buying stimulus program, said, well, the growth projections are not quite as good as we thought, not quite as robust, and we're going to hold off.
SEIBYeah. It was a surprise. Although I think, frankly, the market had kind of assumed it knew what was coming in ways that weren't really justified. You know, the Fed had been signaling maybe this fall, maybe in September, we will see enough growth, we will see enough progress on employment that we'll be able to start pulling back, that we will reduce the bond buying program, that the amount of stimulus we're pumping into the system won't be as necessary, and we'll start to taper off -- which has become the term of Art.
SEIBAnd it didn't do that. I think the market had over-assumed that the Fed was going to do what it was going to do...
ROBERTSAnd the market was thrilled with this news. I mean, it set a new record.
SEIBOf course. Yeah, no, 'cause it's another shot of sugar in the system, you know, and they can stay high on it for months now. And it may be that -- this is awkward in a couple of ways. Maybe by December, the Fed will do it, but we're getting close to the end of Ben Bernanke's tenure.
SEIBYou had a feeling he wanted to start winding this down now so that it wouldn't be dropped in the lap of his successor because winding down this enormous stimulus program that the Fed has enacted over the last couple years is going to be a tricky thing. I think he wanted to start it on his watch. It's not clear now that that can happen. It may be next year.
ROBERTSNow, Karen, you mentioned back in the mid-90s, when we both covered Congress, that we went through this scenario. And in the end, the government shut down briefly, but then it -- back to work. But what is your best estimate here? It's a very different Congress, and it's a very different mood. As John was saying, you have new House members who seem to be in control who are not disposed to negotiations of any kind. In the past, usually, Congress has found a way out of this fix. Is it different this time or not?
TUMULTYRight. Yeah, I think John is really right. It's, you know, a car without a driver on a road without a guardrail. And also, the effects of the shutdown are going to be much greater this time because the last time it happened, Congress had actually passed a number of normal appropriations bills. So it was really just, you know -- it was a partial shutdown that affected a lot less of the government than this would.
TUMULTYBut, you know, it's just -- you know, again, the uncompromising nature, particularly of the House Republicans, and John Boehner's inability to have exercised any kind of control, very unlike what Newt Gingrich had because, you know, he was really the guy who had brought this faction to Congress.
TUMULTYAnd so when he finally said, OK, it's time to stop this, they listened. And Bob Dole told Newt Gingrich, you know, I'm pulling out of this and going off to run for president. Those -- you know, those kinds of big figures who could really, you know, exercise more influence over their caucuses just don't exist anymore.
ROBERTSSure. Now, one other thing that happened, John Stanton, this week, House Republicans did pass a bill that would cut about $40 billion out of food stamps, and separated food stamps from its traditional connection to the larger Farm Bill. Talk about the significance of that bill.
STANTONWell, this is, I guess, something of a win, actually, for leadership. You know, they've had a lot of trouble over the last couple of years with the Farm Bill. It has always been viewed by conservatives as this just huge pork barrel spending. They don't like the food stamp program very much. It's unclear though if this is sort of a momentary kind of a victory for them. Frankly, though, I'm not sure that the Senate is particularly interested in splitting these two things up.
STANTONDemocrats don't like the idea of breaking it apart. And the cuts are pretty dramatic, and I think, you know, they're going to be back in the same position that they were a couple months ago with this bill when some kind of a conference comes back from the Senate that doesn't include as many cuts.
ROBERTSAnd a lot of the rhetoric, it really -- my years had echoes of the Reagan years of welfare queens, and, you know, there was one crack off that these people shouldn't sit on the couch and wait for the government to feed them. There seemed to be a resurgence of this notion that people on welfare or food stamps are malingerers.
STANTONThere definitely is a bit of hostility in the rhetoric. And it is ironic to hear it now because a lot of the time, it's these same Republicans are the same folks that are pointing out that the unemployment numbers are much lower than they really should be because so many people are no longer looking for work, that the economy is still very bad. So...
ROBERTSThat's John Stanton of BuzzFeed, Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post, Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal. I'm Steve Roberts of George Washington University, sitting in today for Diane. We'll be back with your calls, so stay with us.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane. It's the domestic hour of our News Roundup as always on Friday morning. With me Jerry Seib of the Wall Street Journal, Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post, John Stanton with BuzzFeed. You can give us a call, 1-800-433-8850. Drshow@wamu.org is our email address.
ROBERTSJohn Stanton, also this week the shooting at the Navy Yard brought the city to a halt on -- earlier in the week, 12 dead and then the shooter, Aaron Alexis. And in the postmortems, a lot of attention is focused on the fact that he had a long history of mental instability, difficulties with his bosses. And yet he kept the security clearance that enabled him to get into the Navy Yard. And Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel himself said, we ignored or missed red flags of warning. Update us on where that stands.
STANTONWell, right now, they have started a review, so they're sort of looking at it being a top-to-bottom review on security clearances for folks, contractors, and for members of the military. It's going to be a very difficult thing for them, though, frankly, because his ability to actually get onto the base was not necessarily connected to his security clearance. They have separate processes to get a badge to go onto a military base from those things.
STANTONAnd, you know, in talking to people that work on these issues, it sounds like, even if they had had all the information, which a lot of them do not believe they necessarily would've known about all these incidences of his -- like, where he was hearing voices in hotel rooms and things like that -- those kinds of things don't generally get told to security clearance personnel. You know, they -- only if he was arrested or he was charged with something would they have ever found that out.
STANTONBut even if they had known about it there is this sort of long process that is designed to protect people who are being, say, falsely accused or who are just maybe eccentric. And even if they had known about this -- you know, this last incident was in July -- they're not sure that they would have been able to pull his security clearance. It's going to be a very difficult review for them.
ROBERTSAnd then word today that the same company that checked out Edward Snowden was the same subcontractor that did this investigation. Maybe there's a connection there. Of course, we don't know yet.
STANTONNo. And, you know, again there is this -- there's also this other issue that is percolating in the background amongst particularly veterans, which is, you know, for a long time, coming forward and saying you felt like you were suffering from PTSD was a stigma because you could lose your security clearance. You could lose your way of life.
STANTONAnd the military has done a lot of work to try to make it so that people don't feel that way, so that they are willing to come forward and say, I'm having these mental problems. And there is now this, I think, legitimate concern that there could be a backlash that could force people back out into the shadows essentially with these kinds of problems.
ROBERTSNow, Karen, of course, as it often does after a tragedy like this, talk turns to possible new moves on gun control. There was a big push after Newtown, which failed in the U.S. Senate. A compromised bill on background checks fell five votes short in the U.S. Senate. What's your read about whether there's any appetite for anything happening on the Hill as a result of this?
TUMULTYWell, I think in -- we also had these two recall elections in Colorado as a result where -- which suggested that, you know, the NRA's clout is alive and well out there.
ROBERTSThese were two legislators who had voted for tougher gun laws and were recalled by the voters of Colorado.
TUMULTYRight. There are a number of reasons beyond the politics, I think, that would suggest that this is not a tragedy that lends itself very easily to calls for gun control. This happened in a city that has some of the toughest gun control laws already in the nation. The guns apparently were purchased legally. The initial reports, which were that he had an assault weapon, turned out not to be true.
TUMULTYAnd it's also a case where it's difficult -- I mean, this is a person who actually had access to the mental health system through the VA. He used that access. You can say that their response was not what it should've been. But -- so this is really not necessarily a tragedy that either on the politics or the substance kind of lends itself to the old types of debates that we've seen, unfortunately, so many times already in this country.
ROBERTSAnd during the debate over Newtown, the bill that ultimately failed, there was an amendment that passed almost unanimously in the U.S. Senate to provide more funds for mental health services. And that's one area where gun control and gun rights owners seem to have at least a potential area. Do you see anything potentially happening there?
TUMULTYWell, again, this is somebody who had the services available.
TUMULTYAnd, you know, as John was saying though, there is this kind of -- first of all, you can say, you know, the Navy particularly may have dropped the ball after, you know, he was involved in a strange incident in Rhode Island. And, you know, the police there reported this to the Veterans Administration. And they did not seem to be as aggressive as they should have been, to put it mildly. But, again, there is this big debate over, you know, where do you start pulling people's security clearances? And, you know, do you decide that, you know, somebody who's on antidepressants, you know, shouldn't have a gun?
TUMULTYIt's a really difficult debate, I think, beyond the question of whether there are enough resources in this country for mental illness.
ROBERTSAnd, Jerry, it's also true that even the proponents of gun control, Harry Reid the Senate Leader and others basically said, we don't have the votes, so don't bother.
SEIBNo. I think this felt much different from Newtown in that sense. There never really was a sense that there was going to be a gun control debate that was going to be ignited by this event. It just didn't feel that way, didn't happen, didn't sense that anybody thought it was going to happen. It just felt different that way.
SEIBI think the one thing that probably will happen will be not only a further discussion of mental health issues -- 'cause that Newtown did spark that, as you suggest Steve -- but also this idea that so you had a government contractor doing a security clearance on another government contractor who'd go into a Navy facility. I mean, this is the end result of years of kind of trying to shrink down the number of people who are actually employed by the federal government.
SEIBAnd my guess is the security guards on the -- at the Navy Yard are probably also government contractors. And so I think there's going to be some rethinking, but this will be a slow process of what's the role of contractors in the government. If we want to have control over these processes, should we not employ our own people?
ROBERTSNow, one other story on the domestic front, Jerry, that got some notice was the decision by Walgreens' major employer provider of pharmaceutical sales in big stores all over the country, well-known brand, deciding to end its in-house insurance program, health insurance, and, in effect, outsource it by saying, you know, we'll provide a certain amount of money. And then people can purchase their own insurance on these new exchanges that are being set up as a result of the Obamacare law. Talk about the (unintelligible).
SEIBWell, yeah, this is a big deal. This is the -- and, by the way, the exchange that Walgreen is sending its employees to is actually not one being set up by the Obamacare law. It's a private exchange that a company is setting up. But it tells you that, in this sense, the Obamacare is probably pointing towards something that was going to evolve anyway, which is a growing detachment of the healthcare system from the employer system in the country.
SEIBThat's been -- those two things were whetted after World War II. They've been locked since. At some point, I think employers would like to find a way to break that lock, and this is the way, I think, that more of them are going to do it. Some will send their employees to the healthcare exchanges that the law is going to set up with the government, either the federal or state governments will run.
SEIBIncreasingly -- and I think Walgreens is one of only about 16 or 17 companies that have already decided they're going to send their employees to this private exchange to do essentially the same thing the federal law is going to do. They'll get a voucher essentially. They'll be told, go here, buy the health insurance that you want.
SEIBThat may be a way to introduce new efficiency into the system to make consumers take responsibility for what they're doing. It also may be a way for employers to steadily pull back. They just don't -- the vouchers don't keep up with the cost of insurance. That's the fear people have.
ROBERTSAnd, John Stanton, interestingly, some of the commentaries said, well, this is good for consumers in the sense that it gives them more choices. But it also puts more risk into the system. There's a possibility that people, particularly younger employees -- and Walgreens has a lot of young single employees -- would underfund their insurance and then get thrown back into the, you know, emergency rooms and those other systems.
STANTONWell, that's the danger of this, I think. You know, they do -- I think a majority of their employees are under 30 years old, and I think, you know, there is this argument that is made, well, young people don't need as much insurance, and they maybe could use that money for some other things, which is true. But young people also don't generally think, well, I'm going to need insurance for something if I get some kind of illness that is a major illness or something. And they could suddenly find themselves...
ROBERTSOr text while driving.
STANTONText while driving, right.
TUMULTYThe other thing, though, you know, presumably those policies would have catastrophic coverage for those sorts of things. There's another issue, though. Insurance -- those young people who don't spend a lot on their health care are actually helping pay for the older people and sicker people who do.
TUMULTYThat's sort of the way insurance pooling works. So, you know, I think that does raise the question -- you know, again, it's probably a pretty good deal for most younger people to be able to go out and, you know, buy a policy that is sort of a high-deductible catastrophic policy because, you know, your body's like your car. It's not in the shop that often when it's new. But, again, it's a question of whether, you know, whether, as a result, costs for older, sicker people are going to go up.
ROBERTSAnd, Jerry, the one analogy I thought was interesting was that this is -- as you point out, it's part of a broader trend that's happening in terms of relationships of companies with their employees on many levels, including the movement from defined benefit programs to 401ks. This is the analogy a lot of people...
SEIBAbsolutely right. You know, we were talking about government contractors before. That's a significant change in the workforce. The government doesn't hire its own people. It hires contractors. And those people probably, in many cases, don't have the kind of benefits that traditionally went with jobs.
SEIBI do think it's interesting though, just as a footnote here, that, you know, there were some new numbers that came out this week that showed that, yet again, the increase in health care costs is slowing down. They're still going up, but they're not going up as fast as they were. And there are some indications that, to the extent people have to take more responsibility for their own health care spending and not just assume their employer's giving them a blank check, they make better decisions. And those decisions do actually reduce the cost overtime, so...
ROBERTSWell, that was an issue, though, Jerry, in the debate originally about Cadillac plans that were often secured by negotiations through unions and that there was a lot of concern that these plans were too lavish and that they were helping to drive up cost.
SEIBRight, and that they introduced irresponsible behavior both by consumers and also, frankly, by health care providers because they figured, well, somebody's going to pay for this. So let's go ahead and do it. And that is coming to a halt in this country.
ROBERTSLet me read some emails from our listeners. Michael writes to us from Jacksonville, Fla. "I find it interesting that no one is pointing out that the offer by Republicans is to completely torch Obamacare in return for kicking the budget only a few months down the line. Even if the president would be willing to cancel a signature legislation, he would never do it for a return of only a few months. The Republicans know 100 percent that this will never pass, but then they can blame the president for the government shutdown, which is going to happen." What do you think, Karen?
TUMULTYYou know, I don't think anyone believes that the president or the Democrats are going to share much of the blame for this. It's just -- you know, you can already see it in the polling numbers. That's the problem for a lot of senior Republicans. They see -- they know how this movie ends.
ROBERTSAnd, John Stanton, let me read this from Chuck who says, "The threats, A, to shut down the government and, B, to refuse to raise the debt ceiling are not favorable environments for Wall Street. To what extent does the money weigh in, i.e. the Wall Street wing of the Republican Party have any impact or influence on the Republicans in the House?" Interesting question.
STANTONYeah, well, I think in the House, it's, unfortunately for them at least sort of minimal. I think that the House right now is very much controlled by the Tea Party sort of libertarian style wing of the party. In the Senate, you definitely see this influence. You know, the chamber has the ear of a vast majority of the Republicans, I think, in the Senate. You know, Ted Cruz for -- has had an excellent ability in terms of influencing the House, but his members in the Senate, not so much. There's only, like, 13 of the Republicans are willing to go down this road with him at this point.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Jerry, this is really a reflection of a much larger split that's been developing for a long time in the Republican Party. You know, the old notion that the Republican Party is a party of Wall Street, the party of big business, is really very much outdated. The Tea Party is much more of a populist-based in the south and the west. And in many ways, the single biggest debate going on in Washington right now is between wings of the Republican Party.
SEIBYeah, and I think in the house the Republican Party, as Jonathan suggested, is a small bank, small business party. And that's not what the stereotype tells you. You know, ask Larry Summers how this goes because when Larry Summers was thought to be a candidate to become the new chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, he was thought by a lot of liberal Democrats rather to be -- have a history that shoes he's too friendly to big banks.
SEIBThat bothered them. Well, it turns out that bothered some Republicans on the Senate banking committee, too, and that combination pretty much did him in. So this is a different Republican Party. It's more populist, and in the House it's very much a grassroots small business party that has as much antipathy toward big business and big banks in some cases as Democrats do.
ROBERTSAnd one bit of evidence, here's the Chamber of Commerce, once considered one of the most powerful lobbies, coming out against this policy. And it seemed to make almost no dent at all.
SEIBNo, that's right. But there's also another factor, though, Steve, which is that I think there's a feeling in the White House that the big business community -- to the extent it can influence things on this debate -- hasn't engaged yet because they just think it's -- we're not going to go down this road again. Everybody in Washington is too smart for that.
SEIBWell, that turns out not to be true. So there was a reason President Obama went this week to talk to the business roundtable, which is big business, to say, look, guys, take this seriously. This is -- if you don't think a shutdown of the government or a default on the national debt is a good idea, you better start saying something about it.
ROBERTSWe have an email, Karen Tumulty, from Michael who takes a somewhat different view. "If the majority of people wish to stop Obamacare and Republicans pass laws to do this and Democrats constantly say, dead on arrival, why are Republicans seen as obstructionists?"
TUMULTYBecause while, again, a majority of people do not necessarily like this law, what they appear to dislike even more -- and again in all the polling -- is the idea of bringing the government to a halt to stop it. There are a lot of laws that a lot of people don't like. But they know that there is, you know, a process -- there has been in the past -- where people amend laws, where people change laws, where people occasionally repeal laws.
TUMULTYAnd I would also remind you that there was a gigantic poll on this law done last November, and Barack Obama was re-elected president. And so, again, I mean, while people would like to see changes in the law, while people are confused about the law and they're very worried about what it's going to mean, they do not believe that sort of essentially, you know, torching down the House is the way to get it done.
ROBERTSNow, John Stanton, could this also be part of a larger debate over the role of government? And it struck me this week listening that perhaps part of what we're seeing here is the ambivalence a lot of Americans have toward government. 'Cause you ask them, do you like government? They say, I hate government. I hate Washington.
ROBERTSI hate taxes. I hate bureaucrats. But then when you talk about specific things that government does, they often have a different view. And that the Republican view is, well, people hate government, therefore we're on the right side. But when it comes to specifics, the poll numbers can change significantly.
STANTONNo, that's true. And I think, you know, this is the problem for a lot of Democrats. They haven't necessarily had to articulate it. But even when they have, they don't do a very good job, I think, which is, you know, on the Obamacare repeal issue, the fact -- their argument is, look, we have given in on all of these other issues in terms of the role of government in life. We are now helping to bring down the deficit.
STANTONWe're bringing down spending. We're helping trim government. This is one place where we're not going to give that up. And, you know, I think that the public for a long time wanted to see something like that. And it has happened now. And when the Republicans say, well, now we're going to shut down the entire government, that, I think, does become a bit of a bridge too far for most people in this country.
ROBERTSAnd, Jerry, also the president has been taking to the road, and it got overshadowed by Syria and then by the Navy Yard shooting. But he's going to be back on the road again in the weeks ahead talking about investments, talking about the good things government does. He talked about education several times in upstate New York. So we're going to hear the president trying to say, as part of this debate, wait, I hear that you don't like government, but there are important things government can do.
SEIBRight. And it's a tough argument to make in this climate in some sense, but he's arguing basically for the idea. The programs he pushes aren't going to get anywhere in this Congress.
ROBERTSJerry Seib, Karen Tumulty, John Stanton, thank you for being with us. We're going to have your comments and your calls, so stay with us.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane. And as always, on Friday mornings, this is our first hour, the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup. John Stanton of BuzzFeed is with me, Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post, Jerry Seib of the Wall Street Journal. Karen, let me read this email from Mary who writes to us, "I am a moderate Republican, and I can see and understand the chaos that a government shutdown would create.
ROBERTS"I think there should be a compromise, but I sense that you and your panelists do not understand the out-of-control ANGER" -- in capital letters -- "ANGER that so many people feel about government, doctors who are intelligent folks" -- again, capital letters -- "FURIOUS about the Affordable Care Act and are right now seeing Medicare second-guess hospital admissions and having to repay millions. Doctors expect to be next, and that's what our Congress is hearing and acting on."
TUMULTYWell, first of all, the law is not yet fully in effect, for one thing. And what they are seeing is not just Medicare, but private insurance companies are also second-guessing a lot of medical procedures. I think that, in some instances, people are, you know, conflating what is going on with medicine in general with what they fear will go on in a law that is not yet into effect. And, again, I mean, anybody who has dealt with managed care over the last 15 years know that doctors and hospitals do not have the kind of, you know, flexibility and power that they used to.
ROBERTSJohn Stanton, let me read this from Elise Castelli who's with the Professional Services Council. She says, "Just to clarify a point a speaker just made on the show, the clearance process for contractors is the same, exactly the same as the process used to clear military and civilian government personnel. Also, Alexis got his clearance while he was still in the Navy. That is before he was a contractor. Clearances are good for 10 years. So this is not a contractor issue. It's a clearance process issue."
STANTONWell, it is true. I mean, to get a pass to go on a base, though, the process is not nearly as rigorous as it is to get a top clearance, a secret clearance, I guess, is what -- which is what he had.
STANTONAlthough, she was right, you know, he did get this while he was in the Navy, before he had really sort of exhibit some of these sort of mental health issues. It does sound like he was already under review, or they were beginning to pick it back up. They do this every 10 years and maybe might have gotten caught then. And, you know, as some folks have said to me, they may have already been in the process of pulling his clearance. But even if his clearance had been pulled, his secret clearance, that does not necessarily mean he would have lost his badge to be able to come on to the base.
ROBERTSAnd, Jerry, here's an email from Jay Efting, who writes to us: "Anybody who has investments or has a 401k should be very worried about the recent GOP actions. Last time they threatened to block the debt increase..." -- that, of course, was two years ago -- "...my 401k," he writes, "took a massive hit. This is costing real Americans real money."
SEIBWell, it's not yet, but it might. And that's, you know, that's the danger. That's exactly what the White House wants people to start thinking about over the next two weeks. And, you know, the -- if we saw the reaction on Wall Street, which may or may not have been logical this week to what the Fed didn't do, you can be sure there'll be an equally large and potentially equally illogical reaction if there's a government shutdown.
SEIBI think the one to worry about is not that one, though. The one to worry about is the default on the debt. That has never happened before. The idea that that could happen is -- would change people's views about the trustworthiness of the United States government and its debt. And that changes the views of everybody in the entire financial community not just in this country but around the world.
ROBERTSAnd two years ago, when there was even a threat, bond agencies downgraded the rank of government bonds, which had the effect of raising interest payments and costing the government more money.
SEIBRight. And one of the things to keep in mind is that there's going to be a debt -- a substantial debt bill for the United States federal government for the foreseeable future no matter what happens. And you have to be worried about your creditworthiness if you're going to be borrowing that much money for that many years to come. And that's where we are.
TUMULTYAnd can I just -- this might be a good moment to remind people that the United States is one of only two countries in the world that even has a debt ceiling, Denmark being the other. This whole procedure does nothing to control spending, does nothing to control deficits. It's just all about whether you're going to pay the bills you've already run up.
ROBERTSLet's turn to some of our callers. And Lewis in Miami, Fla., you're first. Welcome. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show," Lewis.
LEWISThank you, thank you. I heard one of the guests say that the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, was unpopular. My question is, is that it's unpopular with who? I heard that there were a lot of uninsured people in the country and people that were being turned down because of preexisting conditions. And I wonder, who is the act unpopular with? Thank you.
TUMULTYWell, there has been a lot of research done and most recently this week by my own newspaper that shows people are confused about the law. They're very weary of the law. And, yes, there are many people who have already benefitted from it -- you're right -- people who had preexisting conditions, people who have children who are under the age of 26 who now can keep them on their own policies.
TUMULTYBut those are, you know, relatively small effects of the law. And the other thing that really stands out in the polls is how many people are just almost unaware of what the law is and what it's going to do.
ROBERTSAnd, Jerry, it was a political problem for this president from the beginning with this law that a vast majority of Americans had health coverage and were happy with it. And, in fact...
ROBERTS...to answer the caller, even though it affected a lot of people, it was still a relatively small number compared to the whole.
SEIBRight. And those people who have insurance are increasingly worried that something bad is going to happen to it. But that's not the only problem. We -- in the polling that we've done, it's fascinating that lower income Americans who do not have health insurance, i.e. the very people who stand to benefit clearly from this law, no matter what else happens to anybody else, they're split on it. About half of those people don't think it's a good idea either. So even they haven't been convinced that's it's a good idea. So the unpopularity is a big problem, and it's broad based.
ROBERTSNow, Andrew from Houston, Texas wants to get in on this very subject. So, Andrew, welcome. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
ANDREWYes, thank you. I wanted to make a comment. Karen Tumulty was talking about the, I guess, the big poll we had in November when Barack Obama was reelected and this issue was front and center. Those same exit polls showed that, despite him getting reelected, the health care law was indeed unpopular. He was upside down on that issue. So in every other poll I've seen shows that people are opposed to the poll -- to the health care law, excuse me.
ANDREWSo I don't think this issue is by any means settled. A lot of people have some very legitimate concerns. And, frankly, the Republicans who are opposing this so vociferously, I'm quite certain most of them, if not all of them, ran on this issue in their district, and they were elected as well. So I'm just curious what your panel has to say about that. Thank you.
ROBERTSKaren, he mentioned you.
TUMULTYWell, yes, and I have stipulated, I think, probably at least a half dozen times on this show that this law is indeed unpopular. But, again, the also even more unpopular is the idea that you would bring the government to a screeching halt over it. And, you know, that was sort of the point I was trying to make there. Obama was reelected despite the fact that people had misgivings about this law. So this is not, again, something that people see as worth the consequences of doing what the Republicans are talking about doing.
ROBERTSLet's turn to Erin in Kittery, Maine. Erin, thank you. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
ERINHi. Thanks for taking my call. I have a comment and question related to the issue of the mass shootings recently and the dialogue going on in the media about gun control. And one aspect that I haven't heard discussed -- and maybe they just missed it -- is that, as far as I know, 100 percent of the perpetrators of these mass shootings have been men, young men or, you know, older men. And I haven't heard that discussed at all.
ERINAnd I'm wondering if it has been and I'd missed or what your panelists might have to say about the need for a dialogue about that and why does that men who have mental illnesses or go through experiences where, you know, whatever experiences they have led to seeing that as an option. Why is that -- there's something male culture that ends in this way?
ROBERTSThank you, Erin, I appreciate it. John Stanton.
STANTONWell, that is true that, I think, in the history -- at least within the United States -- generally speaking, the people that commit these kind of crimes are men. They're white men. They're generally in their 20s or 30s.
ROBERTSAlthough Alexis was not a white man.
STANTONRight. Alexis wasn't. The D.C. sniper wasn't. There are definitely examples. In Mexico right now, for instance, they're also having an uprise in the number of women that are committing sort of these kind of violent acts where they, you know, they've killed a number of people. But, you know, it is -- this is the reality in this country, that this is a thing.
STANTONAnd, you know, there's been -- I'd seen a lot of people say, well, maybe it's a part of, you know, the middle classification of men where they no longer have an outlet for things where, you know, they feel like they have to be macho, but they're still working in these white collar jobs. I'm not sure, frankly, exactly what it is although it is something that we don't talk about very much...
ROBERTSAlthough we had a discussion of this on "The Diane Rehm Show" earlier this week. And Daniel Webster, who's an expert on statistics of gun violence around the world, made the point, Jerry Seib, that America does not have a higher incidence of anger or higher incidence of mental illness. What it does have is a higher incidence of availability of weapons and that perhaps the availability of weapons to men as opposed to women is maybe one of the very -- but this is -- Webster would say, I think, that his statistics would indicate that.
SEIBYeah. But I also think there's another potential analog to this question that isn't discussed in quite these terms -- but maybe it is, you know, by default -- which is there is a lot of discussion about violence in video games, for example, as a contributor and, you know, that Aaron Alexis apparently was a participant in that. And that's a young male phenomenon by and large. So I suppose around the edges maybe we're getting at this question, but not in quite the way Erin supposes that we ought to.
ROBERTSLet's talk to Ryan in Advance, Mo. Ryan, welcome. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
RYANYes, thank you. The longer you all talk, the more I want to respond. But to stay on topic, as far as the Farm Bill and the food stamps, you know, it seems to me like -- that people liken to Eric Cantor and John Boehner and Mitt Romney have, over the years, made it so possible for corporations to move out of this country and put people out of work and then bring jobs back as a minimum wage job.
RYANTo cut food stamps out any kind of a program would be to say to people, OK, if you're able to, go out and get a job, or go steal something. And if not, go ahead and starve to death, and that will fix the problem for us. And I just don't see that as much of a fix.
ROBERTSOK, Ryan, thank you. Karen?
TUMULTYYou know, one thing I think that's worth mentioning about this House vote last night is that it was a relatively narrow vote. It was 217 to 210. So I think that this whole idea of cutting back food stamps is something that a lot of Republicans, even conservative Republicans, have some misgivings about. I noticed that, for instance, Shelley Moore Capito who's running for the Senate seat in West Virginia where close to one in five people are on food stamps, voted against this.
ROBERTSYou know, in another dimension of this, Karen, of course, embedded in the food stamp bill are work requirements. And I noticed in your newspaper, right next to the food stamp story, there was a big picture of a job fair of thousands of people coming to a job fair. And we were talking earlier about the lack of a robust economy, a jobless recovery, unemployment still at 7.3 percent. So that is part of the picture right now. You can talk about there are a lot of people on food stamps who would love to work and can't find jobs.
TUMULTYYeah, the way the law works is you're supposed to be -- most people are supposed to either be working 20 hours a week or be in some kind of job training program to get food stamps. But more and more governors, more and more states, as this recession has deepened, have applied for waivers from that provision of the law. And that is another thing that has sort of caused some controversy.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Time for a couple of more callers. And let's turn to Tom in St. Louis, Mo. Welcome. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show," Tom.
TOMThank you very much. My company has announced changes to our health care plan because we have a Cadillac plan. My question is my senator and congressman that are elected into the offices must have a Rolls Royce plan, and I'd like to know what kind of penalty they will be paying.
ROBERTSJerry, do you have any idea?
SEIBYou know, I confess that I don't. I mean, there has been much more discussion about what is happening to congressional staff members than to the lawmakers themselves.
SEIBAnd there has been a lot of controversy about them seeming to have been exempted from some of the law. But I don't think lawmakers are going to be in an emergency room seeking health care.
TUMULTYThey -- well, they are covered under the federal employees' health benefits plan, which is the same plan that covers all federal employees. And essentially it has, you know, a menu of different kinds of plans that you can buy sort of, you know, like these private exchanges that we were just talking about.
ROBERTSLet's turn to Charlie in Paw Paw, Mich. Charlie, welcome. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
CHARLIEHey, thanks for taking my call. I'm a conservative. I'm not anti-government and anti-Obama. Real quick, it seems like the Fed that's a house of cards, the 85 billion a month stimulus into the system, and even the very hint that Bernanke might drop back to 75 billion turns both the domestic and the foreign markets into turmoil, especially India.
CHARLIEAnd at some point, don't we have to address a little bit of paying, get entitlements under control, bring maybe the programs down a little bit and maybe necessarily we'll have more slower growth but consistent growth? It might not be double digit but give something that's more reasonable because that seems where, you know, our issues are at right now because the economic environment is so out of whack with all that excess stimulus. Help me.
SEIBWell, there's a lot packed in there. First of all, the market's going to -- you can be sure the markets are going to overreact whatever happens, that's just what markets do. And even though they know there's a tapering off this program coming, when it comes, they will react. And that will have global consequences. That's certainly true. You know, I think that the tricky part about this and one of the reasons that Ben Bernanke wants to get it started is that is going to be a difficult dance to maneuver once this starts.
SEIBThe second part, though, I think an important point here, he mentioned entitlements. And I'm not sure that has much to do with the Fed's stimulus program. But one of the things that gets lost here is all this conversation about budget and austerity in Washington, the one thing that's not being addressed in any of this entitlement program, I mean, we are arguing about a third of the federal budget that is not creating the deficits that everybody's concerned about. And we're not talking about the part of the budget that does create the deficits.
ROBERTSI'm glad you made that point, John Stanton, because two years ago, there was a lot of talk about a grand bargain, putting both revenues and entitlements on the table. The president has advanced some significant ideas, including reducing the rate of growth and Social Security. And yet, as Jerry says, there's almost no talk right now about any kind of negotiations on a bargain that would deal with the deficit problem.
STANTONNo. And that -- it shows the -- just how bad the partisan, I think, split has become in this country and within the city at least, you know. John Boehner and Barack Obama were able to come up with a deal that would have, I think, done a lot towards bringing down some of the entitlement spending and the deficit we're getting from that. And almost just because the two of them were involved in it, neither party really wanted to have anything to do with it. And then scuttled it.
ROBERTSKaren, final word. What's going to happen, you think?
TUMULTYWell, I think on this bigger thing and, you know, it seems like the watch word in Washington these days is never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
ROBERTSAnd old line from Abba Eban about the Palestinians.
ROBERTSSo, you know, there can be a government shutdown?
TUMULTYLooks like it.
ROBERTSOK. That's going to be the last word from Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post. Also with me this morning, Jerry Seib of the Wall Street Journal, John Stanton of BuzzFeed, your debut on the show. Happy to have you here. I'm Steve Roberts of George Washington University, sitting in today for Diane. She has a cold. She'll back as soon as she possibly can. And I'm delighted you were able to spend an hour of your morning with us.
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