The Cook Political Report's Amy Walter discusses why President Biden's popular policies haven't translated to popularity among voters.
Guest Host: Katty Kay
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s 2015 military budget proposal would reduce the army to pre-World War II levels. President Barack Obama calls on Congress to fund infrastructure projects by reforming the nation’s tax code. The president discusses the proposal during a private meeting with House Speaker John Boehner, the first time the two have met privately in over a year. In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer vetoes a controversial anti-gay bill. In Texas, a federal judge strikes down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. And the FDA proposes changes to nutrition labels. Guest host Katty Kay and her panel of reporters discuss the week in news.
- Ruth Marcus Columnist and editorial writer, The Washington Post.
- John Stanton Washington bureau chief, BuzzFeed.
- Susan Davis Congressional correspondent, USA Today.
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Next week, on March 12, marks the 25th anniversary of the creation of the World Wide Web. A new Pew Research Center poll provides a snapshot into how Americans think of and use the Internet. A majority of adults see the Web as a positive force on society and would find it difficult to give up their Internet connection. “It’s amazing how fast we’ve become addicted,” said guest host Katty Kay. Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post compared the ubiquity in smart phones to the once-ubiquitous landline phone. “The Internet is such a baby, and the technology that grows out of the Internet is in such its infancy,” Marcus said.
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MS. KATTY KAYThanks for joining us. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane is getting a treatment for her voice. A new Pentagon budget scales back the army to pre-World War II troop levels. Arizona's governor vetoes a controversial anti-gay bill and John Dingle, that longest-serving member of Congress announces that he's going to retire.
MS. KATTY KAYHere to discuss the top domestic stories on our Friday News Roundup, John Stanton of Buzz Feed, Ruth Marcus is here from The Washington Post and Susan Davis of USA Today. Thank you all so much for joining me.
MR. JOHN STANTONGood to be here.
MS. SUSAN DAVISThanks for having us.
KAYThe phone number is 1-800-433-8850. Our email address is email@example.com. You can send us a tweet @drshow. We'd love to hear from you. I'm going to open the phones in about half an hour, but first of all, we're going to discuss what has been a very busy week here in the United States. Let's start with same-sex marriage. And I was gonna start with Arizona, but since there is news coming in from Texas, Ruth, that you have, let's start with that.
KAYIn Texas, of course, a federal judge this week struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage, but there are developments this morning that's going to be appealed.
MS. RUTH MARCUSWell, the state attorney general, the Republican state attorney general, who defended the Texas law unsuccessfully at the district court is working on getting ready to file an appeal with the federal appeals courts. That's not a surprise. What's really just been fascinating, though, to watch the developments in Texas and elsewhere is how quick, how widespread, how now southern these developments are.
MS. RUTH MARCUSYou know, the federal constitution is the federal constitution no matter where you are, but you have federal judges now in states where you might not assume judges are so liberal agreeing with their colleagues in the bluer states. And you have, simultaneously, despite the Texas attorney general supporting the Texas law, you have attorneys general with the encouragement of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder declining in six states Democratic attorneys general saying, I just can't stand up in court and support law or constitutional amendment of my state's constitution, even though my voters have said this is what they want.
KAYJohn, as Ruth suggested, we see this now in Virginia, Utah, Oklahoma, not states you might necessarily expect. Is this going to end up, do you think, at some point, in the U.S. Supreme Court or are we just...
STANTONYeah. It think it's definitely gonna come back. You know, I think what happened is the Supreme Court basically gave judges throughout the country the okay, essentially, to say this is not -- this is a bad thing. These rules that we have created on same-sex marriage and marriage equality are bad. We're gonna get rid of them with their ruling this past summer. But I don't think anybody anticipates this will not make its way very quickly.
STANTONI mean, in the next year or so, I would imagine, we'll have another round of Supreme Court cases that come through. They'll really sort of end up deciding this issue fully, once and for all, whether or not anyone can say at any level of government that two people can't get married based on their gender. I think that's -- it's heading that way much more quickly, I think, that other people might -- than people might have imagined.
KAYSusan, how rare is it for Eric Holder, unusual was it for Eric Holder to weigh in on giving guidance to state attorneys general on the issue of same sex marriage?
DAVISIt's extremely rare and it's rather provocative what he's doing. He's equated the AGs not enforcing the law on gay marriage to civil rights issues, to segregation issues saying that if you feel that this does not pass a certain level of moral scrutiny that you should not have to enforce the law. What's provocative about it, if you take away the issue of same-sex marriage, which is still very divisive in this country.
DAVISI don't think that there is a complete -- there is not complete consensus that these laws need to be overturned, is that an attorney general advising that you do not have to enforce current law. And it raises sort of this philosophical question of the power of the rule of law. And Republican attorney generals who have pushed back against Eric Holder have said, you know, there's lots of laws I don't agree with, but it is not the role of state AGs to determine.
DAVISAnd that's a very slippery slope. So for Holder to not only advise this, but I would say, in some ways, encourage it, is a rather provocative position for a federal attorney general to take.
STANTONIt seems like it's also part of this broader trend, frankly, of Holder's which has been to basically sort of say, if I think it's okay, then I'm going to do it. And he has created, in his own mind, I think -- and this troubles a lot of people, this notion that he is sort of the moral arbiter almost of the country as attorney general. So if you look at his activities with spying on the media, for instance, you know, he sort of said, well, I'm going to do these things.
STANTONWhether or not it's appropriate, I don't care. And he doesn't take criticism one way or the other. He just sort of says, whatever. I don't care. I'm going to do this. And he's sort of now encouraging other people to do that.
MARCUSI'm not sure I would agree with that, but I do think that both Republican and Democratic attorneys general on the state and federal level really need to think -- Susan makes an important point -- very, very carefully before they engage in what's essentially attorney general nullification of duly enacted laws when they're laws that we abhor, as I feel about laws preventing people who love each other from getting married.
MARCUSMaybe we feel good about that. But when there are laws that we like, we don't necessarily want attorneys general on their own stepping in there. But the question is, is the issue of same sex marriage much like the issue of interracial marriage was in 1967 when the Supreme Court decided Loving versus Virginia. But the pace of this change is so remarkable which gets us to Arizona.
MARCUSI thought one of the, you know, it wasn't just fascinating that Gov. Jan Brewer in Arizona vetoed this law that...
KAYOkay. Hold on a second because I want to go back and I want to say what this bill actually was proposing. So let's talk about Arizona. Susan, the governor of Arizona vetoed a law that some had interpreted as a law that would allow private businesses not to offer services to people who were gay based on their religious beliefs. What did the law say? What might it have done?
DAVISWell, provoke this court case or I mean, the ruling in the legislation was this -- it became from sort of the gay wedding industry, whether florists, bakers, people that provide services that may have a religious opposition to gay marriage to refuse those services. Where there was never actually any really good concrete examples of that happening, it was sort of the theoretical question by which this came around.
DAVISThe legislature passed a law that essentially said that a business owner could deny services if those services violated their religious beliefs. There is very broad interpretation of whether that's religious protection or discrimination and that's where sort of the disagreement came into play. Jan Brewer vetoed the legislation. It's also worth noting that Kansas, the House in Kansas, state House, has also passed similar legislation, but it's unlikely to move in the Senate there.
DAVISSo Kansas has gotten a little less attention. But Jan Brewer, under tremendous national pressure, I think, decided to veto the legislation and I think what was also an important factor in Arizona that has come into play was the business community played a really fundamental role in shaping the way people thought about this. The Hispanic Bar Association cancelled their annual convention that was to be held in Arizona.
DAVISThe Super Bowl, which is slated to be held in Arizona, the NFL started saying, well, maybe we'll take the Super Bowl out of Arizona if they continue to do this, which there's precedent for in Arizona that they have already removed that.
KAYJohn, I thought that was what was so interesting was the response from the business community and the way that Jan Brewer responded to that business response. Because actually, if you listen to her press conference, it wasn't actually a ringing endorsement of gay rights. It was, you know, her language was pretty tepid when it came to the gay community. In fact, I don't think she even mentioned the word.
KAYIt was more, I suspect, that she had had her ear rung off from phone calls from business saying, listen, you cannot do this. Now, why were businesses so concerned about what Arizona was doing?
STANTONWell, in addition to things like, say, the Super Bowl or people's conventions, there's also just the basic facts of tourism. A lot of people go to play golf in Arizona. It's a place that a lot of retirees go in the wintertime. Tourism is a huge, huge part of their economy. And, you know, if you talked to John McCain or Jeff Flake, for instance, they both said, you know, this is going to kill us on tourism.
STANTONPeople are not going to want to come to a state where this is the kind of thing that we do. And, you know, we already have problems with the check your papers laws and some of the other things that Jan Brewer has done. The business community has looked at those activities and I think that, you know, in the state, they felt like they didn't step up enough in those fights and say, you shouldn't do this. This is giving us a bad name.
STANTONYou know, a lot of the business community still remembers the Martin Luther King Day episode from 20 years ago when the state refused to recognize it. The Super Bowl didn't come and it began this huge deal. And I think, you know, she clearly, I don't think, has much love for the notion of marriage equality necessarily. This was definitely a business decision on her part.
KAYBut that's what's so interesting, Ruth, isn't it, the response of the business community, to me, felt like a mirror image of what has happened so fast in American over the last five years even. That the change in climate, the change in culture in this country and the business community has picked right up on it.
MARCUSAbsolutely. Discrimination is not good for business. Looking like you're a state that's unwelcoming is not good for business and it was fascinating that the two Republican senators from Arizona, as John says, weighed in on this. I remember discussing the issue...
KAYNeither of them particularly socially liberal, by the way.
MARCUSI remember discussing, in particular, and this is another illustration of how quickly things have changed when John McCain was running for president, I asked him what his position was on the employment nondiscrimination act. They still have not passed federal law that would protect people from being fired or discriminated against in the workplace because of their sexual orientation. He didn't want it. He didn't support it.
MARCUSI think he's since changed, but that's another illustration of how quickly the times have changed.
KAYOkay. We're gonna have a lot more to discuss on this. I'm sure there will be callers calling in on it. Before we go to break, quickly Susan, I want to ask you about Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel. Dramatic reductions that he announced in U.S. troop levels this week.
DAVISIt's true. I think there has to be a little bit of a reality check on this. The often cited fact that we're not at pre-World War II levels sounds like this sort of horrifying, jarring number. I think it's important to remember that we only have 520,000 active troops today and that number's going to go down to about 450,000. So it's not -- it is a pre-World War II level, but we were also in a world war and it was at a height of 8 million at that point.
DAVISI think what's fascinating about what Chuck Hagel did this week is this is the first war budget we've had in the post-9/11 era that's acknowledging that the wars are ending. And what does the future of the Pentagon look like? And I think it's a leaner force. In the future, wars are less likely to be fought on the ground. They more likely to be fought by technology, which is where I think you see a lot of shifting of the priorities.
DAVISAnd he has said that we need leaner budgets to basically pay for the army that we have right now not only because one of the biggest expenses eating the defense budget is pensions and healthcare and what is essentially the entitlement system within the Pentagon. And if they don't get that under wraps, the Pentagon is not going to be able to afford more soldiers in the future to begin with.
KAYSusan Davis, congressional correspondent for USA Today. Ruth Marcus is with me. She a columnist and editorial writer at The Washington Post. I'm also joined by John Stanton. He's the Washington bureau chief for Buzz Feed. The phone number here is 1-800-433-8850. Email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. We have got a lot more to get to during the course of this hour and we will be taking your calls and questions after this short break. Stay with us.
KAYWelcome back. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC sitting in for Diane Rehm. You've joined the Friday News Roundup, our domestic hour here, looking at a very busy week in the country. We were talking just before break about the cuts that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has proposed for his 2015 budget that would reduce American troop levels to pre-World War II levels. John, I mean, I think, this was putting this perspective.
KAYThe U.S. defense budget is $600 billion. China's defense budget is $112 billion. Russia's defense budget is $68 billion. If you put together Russia and China, it's still less than a third of the U.S. defense budget. So whilst troop numbers are being cut, the budget is being reduced. The size of the military still pretty big.
STANTONRight, exactly. And I think, you know, there is this -- a bit of a panic. But I think it's driven in part, in large part, by members of Congress who have a lot of money at stake in terms of production of military goods and weaponry and things like that in their districts. These are jobs, there are a lot of revenue, sort of the famous, like, this is a jobs program for the civilian sector as much as it is for the military.
STANTONAnd I do think that, you know, there is this growing awareness, particularly in the Pentagon, that they need to change how they do war fighting. The problem, though, is that the civilian side doesn't want to see that. And we're no one is sort of starting to shift back to what it was 10 or 15 years ago where everyone is very afraid to cut the defense budget because they don't want to look like they're soft on the military.
STANTONThey don't want to look like they're giving in to the terrorists or anything like that. So you have members, even those that might support cuts that are starting to get a little squishy and say, well, maybe we should read, you know, the sequester again and, you know, I think it's -- you're getting back into sort of the traditional fight over this stuff.
KAYSusan, Ruth, mentioned before the break this particularly tricky controversial issue of entitlements in the military and the extent to which that is a budget threat to the U.S. defense operation and how much can that actually be addressed and how much is it addressed in Chuck Hagel's new budget proposal.
MARCUSWell, the question of how much it can be addressed is a matter that's ultimately up to Congress. And I have to say, we have not -- Susan is precisely right that the entitlement system embedded within military pay and, like, let's be clear. People who serve the country deserve not just our thanks, but they deserve a good retirement, a good health care system and everything else. But personnel costs, health care costs are eating the defense budget.
MARCUSAnd until there's a willingness to get those under control, there's not going to be enough space for the spending we have to do. And we just saw -- there was a slight change passed in how you calculate military retirement benefits and the cost of living allowance. Variance groups were squealing about it. Right after raising the debt ceiling, Congress almost unanimously voted to undo that slight change. And that does not bode well for the capacity to get this under control.
KAYOkay. Let's talk about tax reform, John. This week, the Republican Ways and Means chair offered his vision for reforming the tax code. What's in Congressman Camp's proposal? Any chance we're actually going to get tax reform anytime in the country?
MARCUSNot this year.
KAYEven though every business person I speak to in the country says this is one of the key things that has to happen to stimulate the economy.
DAVISAll of the business lobby came out against this tax reform plan.
STANTONAlthough the thing -- the thing I found fascinating about this...
KAYOne of the trickiest issues.
STANTON...this week is that he's gone after this session. He's retiring. So, in...
MARCUSNot retiring. He's term limited.
STANTONHe's term limited, right. His term limited.
MARCUSFrom his chairmanship.
STANTONFrom his chairmanship. So he's no longer going to be the guy writing the bill. And to a certain degree this is very much him trying to...
KAYRemind us what he's proposing.
STANTONHe's proposing -- it's a series of largely cuts -- changes to the tax code for business and try to streamline it to get rid of some of the loopholes, but to bring down overall corporate tax rates and they're all changed into personal tax.
KAYYeah, bring the top individual rate down to 35 percent from 39.6 percent. Corporate rate would come down to 25 percent from 35 percent. But the problem, Susan, every time we come to this idea of reforming the U.S. tax code, which is incredibly cumbersome, eats away small businesses profits in time, we come up against all the vested interest on the tax deductions.
DAVISI think in some ways we have to give Dave Camp credit. It is an act of political courage to actually put on paper what you'd like to see the federal tax code to. The politics of this are what is even more fascinating in that, you know, the saying of if you're -- if you don't have anybody following you, you're just a guy on a walk. And you're not -- there's no leadership here. I don't think -- Camp did not build the coalition behind him that he needs to do something as fundamental as overhauling the tax code.
DAVISWhat was fascinating was how swiftly, I thought, the CEO lobby, the private equity lobby, the hedge fund lobby, came out and said -- how quickly, which I think is often seen as a Republican constituency came out and completely -- they said, nice work but this is an outrageous plan and we can't support it.
DAVISWell, and partly because of what he does which is rather provocative for a Republican chairman in this climate to suggest is surtax on the wealthy. He does reduce the top bracket down to 25 percent but says that a 10 percent surtax should be charged on what, I believe, 450,000 is the income threshold. And that is still very anti-orthodox for a lot of people that see a conservative rewrite of the tax code.
DAVISSo went out on a limb there. He just didn't have anybody behind him to support him when he came out with it. How quickly even the speaker of the House, I think, his response was blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, to this plan. I mean, even his own party, their own outside coalition, I mean, just immediately tore this thing down. And I just think it shows not only how hard it is to overhaul the tax code, but how much of the groundwork politically you need to lay down before you can even try.
KAYOkay, Ruth, there was also news from President Obama on tax reform this week linking infrastructure spending to reforming the tax code. What was he proposing?
MARCUSAnd similarly, good luck with that. Here's the problem. The nation's infrastructure is crumbling. The highway trust fund that is funded by the gas tax to help us repair that infrastructure is quickly running out of money. We haven't raised the gas tax in eons. There is no willingness to raise the gas tax. And so, therefore, the president proposed dealing with some, yes, deductions, corporate tax deductions in order to help fund this infrastructure program.
MARCUSThe problem is, guess what, there are corporations who are particularly interested in those tax deductions and the willingness to do that is pretty minimal. It's all quite -- it's very much related to this issue we were talking about military personnel system. Every time you propose a change in law, there is a particular constituency whose ox is gored. And I don't know what oxen sound like when they're being gored, but I know what lobbyists sound like when they're being gored.
KAYYeah. And members of Congress are certainly responding to that. Okay, let's go to the phones to Kathleen who is calling us from Boulder, CO. And, Kathleen, you have a comment and a question, I hope, for my panel on those defense cuts.
KATHLEENYeah, I wanted to know -- and I missed the early part of the show. I spend a lot of time volunteering at a VA in Dayton, OH where, you know, you're talking to vets who has been there with missing leg or missing arm. One guy who went out to the parking lot blew his brains out because they're not getting the care that they need. So and then my dad is a World War II vet and I spent a lot of time in nursing homes talking to World War II veterans.
KATHLEENI mean, I just don't think their health care benefits or pension should be touched in any kind of way, whether I agree with a particular wars or not. So, can you talk about the suicide rate and whether they're getting the mental health care that they really need and whether there'll be budget cuts. And I also hope you guys talk about the AIPAC conference this weekend and what they're going to be lobbying for.
KAYOkay. Let's -- Susan, I'm going to give that one to you. Thank you very much, Kathleen.
DAVISI think that what your caller hits on is exactly right about why this is so difficult is the idea that you would reduce benefits or pension for veterans is viscerally -- has so much visual opposition. I would also say, though, that it's important to remember that a lot of people that do receive the pension are retired military but not -- they're not all disabled. And part of the expensive cost of this is that if you serve 20 years in the military and retired 42 years old, you immediately begin collecting a working-age pension that you collect until you die.
DAVISNow, the military pension system, from just a budgetary point of view, has the same problem that the Social Security and Medicare systems have. People are living a really long time, and that cost is exponentially going up. Now, it's great that we're all living longer. That's a positive thing and a result of a good health care system.
KAYIt's the same problem the car industry face effectively.
DAVISExactly. It's the same pension issue that the state of California is facing and it's the same budgetary problem. How you address it and I think part of what the defense -- what he's doing is by reducing the current number of soldiers is you're reducing the number of future retirees. And that is the more -- the explanation as to why -- part of the explanation as to why we just need fewer ranks of soldiers.
DAVISI do think she does raise a separate, very good policy point is about the quality of care, which is very different to the cost of the care. And I do think that that the -- particularly when she was talking about suicide among soldiers, that has been a huge issue, particularly among veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan. But that is more a question of quality and how they're being treated than it is necessarily the cost of it and availability of it.
KAYAnd there is a bid debate in the health care system in general about how much quality is related to cost.
DAVISQuality and also whether it's encourage. The part about military health care is that is our soldier is given the opportunity to seek mental health care and that's a sort of a different social policy equation than fiscal policy equation.
KAYIn a way, Ruth, this has hit the U.S. Defense budget and what Chuck Hagel is trying to address and it's very difficult to do it is the overriding challenge, I think, facing not just the United States but European countries as well, Western countries where people have been promised something that their governments actually can no longer afford to give them.
MARCUSAnd we are not just an aging American society, but an aging global society in a lot of ways. We have made a lot of promises both governmental and private. We need to -- I have been arguing for years now about the need and I know I'm going to get in trouble with some callers about the need to make changes sooner rather than later in terms of Social Security, not in order to take benefits away from people but to ensure that benefits are there when people come to retire.
MARCUSBecause if you make these changes sooner, they become less costly and less painful. But I think one of the things that the response on the military and the tax reform debate show is that, as difficult as it is to do things in a large, comprehensive way, that's the only way to get things done in Washington because if you single out a group, if you single out veterans and ask them to make a sacrifice on their pensions, well, why is that group of all the groups being asked to give something?
MARCUSIf we do it more broadly in terms of entitlement benefits or in terms of tax reform, it's difficult. But it is fairer.
KAYAbsolutely. Okay. And talking of an aging society, the age of members of Congress might be about to become slightly younger because John Dingell, the longest serving member of Congress in history has announced his retired. John, he is 87 and he said he was not leaving because of his age.
STANTONI think -- I mean, he's -- he was serving before a lot of the members of Congress were even born at this point. You know, he's a legend on Capitol Hill and Washington in general. I mean, the things that he has been involved in, whether it's union issues, whether it's creation of sort of the modern environmental regulatory system in this country, helping with clean water and clean air, that kind of thing. A lot of our commerce from his time as chairman.
STANTONYou know, he is a titan. And his wife Debbie is also, frankly, a titan in D.C. She is one of the most well-known figures in the city. She is powerful in her own right.
KAYAnd you raise her because?
STANTONShe, today, this morning announced that she is going to run for his seat. I would say that based just on the name recognition alone, she's probably a pretty solid choice to win that election. You know, but I think it's fascinating to watch. And this is going to be one of those weird moments where I think everyone is okay, at least for temporarily, in a bit of nepotism because, you know, it's passing the torch a bit. So...
KAYI'm Katty Kay of the BBC. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And if you'd like to join us, do call 1-800-433-8850 is the phone number. You can send us an email to email@example.com or of course send us a tweet as well. Ruth, you wrote about Congressman Dingell resigning this week. He is the third longtime Democratic member of Congress to retire this year. What does this group, this trio of departures tell us about the state of Congress?
MARCUSWell, I hate to continue my negativity, but to some extent...
KAYIt's hard when you're talking about Congress to be positive.
MARCUSBut you do. To some extent, nothing good. These are three -- I'm going to use John's word -- titans of the House. The Dingell story is incredible. He and his father combined served more than eight decades. He was holding the gavel when Medicare was enacted into law by the House. But you have not just John Dingell, but Henry Waxman, the chairman of the -- once-chairman, now ranking member of the House Commerce Committee.
MARCUSGeorge Miller, the chairman, now ranking member on the Education and the Workforce Committee. They are three men who understood how to do something that Congress doesn't do very well these days, which is legislate. They were literally lawmakers, not law stoppers. And the capacity to not just write the laws the way you would like to see them as a liberal Democrat, but to write laws in a way they can get across the finish line and get signed into law by a president is something that they bring to the table.
MARCUSOne the other hand, you mentioned generational change, Katty. And, look, the -- if you look at the House Democratic leadership, I don't want to say old age, but it has been a remarkably compared to the Republican's older group. And to the extent that these changes make way for a new generation of Democratic leaders, I also think that's probably healthy for the House Democratic Caucus.
KAYOkay. Let's go back to the phones to David who is calling us from Chesapeake, VA. David, you've joined "The Diane Rehm Show."
DAVIDHi, thanks for taking my call.
KAYYou're very welcome. You have a question for the panel.
DAVIDYeah. Well, I have a comment concerning the, you know, the businesses and so forth against Arizona, I think it was Georgia too, trying to ban, you know, what they're doing. And I think that, you know, with all of the economic, the businesses that were in opposition of that, you know, not once did you hear them mentioning anything about rights but as only an economic impact and the negative.
DAVIDAnd it kind of shows that they don't really -- they're not giving any weight to the religious beliefs of those individuals who own businesses and so forth, which is protected by the Constitution under the First Amendment. And then that also impacts the same kind of mentality as how they treated DOMA. DOMA, no one thought about the fact that all of the citizens, U.S. citizens who are in straight marriages had rights and were protected under the First Amendment and the Fifth and the Fourteenth under the due process.
DAVIDInstead, they just said, no, we don't care about your rights and they turn around and deem part 3 as being unconstitutional when, you know, even Judge -- Justice Marshall (word?) said that Congress had the right to make those laws even, you know, whether they are enumerated or not enumerated or unenumerated, I should say. And on top of it, you had a majority of states who had already put laws in effect. And all of that was just upheaval.
KAYOkay. David, I'm going to jump in because we are going to go ahead into a break. And I want to give John a very quick chance to respond.
STANTONWell, you know, I think this is obviously one of those kind of issues that I think everybody has a lot of feelings about. I think that the -- it's becoming very clear that, you know, the country is no longer comfortable with the idea that we were not provided the same protections for a class of people because of their gender or because of, you know, they might be the same sex and they want to get married.
STANTONI think that is becoming increasingly nuclear. Even, you know, places like Iowa, it's one of the -- it was one of the first states to allow this. And, you know, Iowa people seem to be pretty comfortable with that. And that's not exactly, you know, Manhattan, one say. So I think it's one of those changes that are just happening.
KAYAnd what we saw in Arizona was a reflection of that change. John Stanton. Do stay with us. We are going to have more of the domestic roundup just after the short break.
KAYWelcome back. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC, sitting in for Diane Rehm. An email had come into us from Clay in Charlottesville who asks, "Can you explain to listeners the differences between benefits to disabled veterans through the VA and the medical retirement benefits for retirees through the DOD. It's a huge point that seems to be completely misunderstood by almost everyone. And the lack of knowledge about it leave the door wide open to the type of inflammatory rhetoric in favor of obstructing any sort of reform to the military system." Susan?
DAVISYes. I mean, I cannot get into the specific policy nuances of where all these funding goes. But in terms of treatments for soldiers, they have medical care through Tricare, is the system that provides health care and to veterans and members of their families and is a very -- and only to veterans. So it's their sort of health care system. Disability benefits through the military or its own sort of program the same way the disability benefits through Social Security and things are their own sort of program.
DAVISThe bottom line is that what we're -- the core of what we're talking about is that it's expensive. And we -- it's becoming increasingly hard to afford. And it's not that it's an incredibly complicated puzzle to solve, which is why I think we have seen no real attempts to try. But if we don't, it's going to be a problem. Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, before he has testified before Congress that the cost of these programs are eating the defense budget.
DAVISAnd they're worried about it, the secretaries of the Navy, the Army, the top military officials. And these are obviously people that are advocating for the troops and what they need are still saying if we don't get our arms around this problem, we are not going to be able to pay for our actual defense needs.
KAYAnd there's an incredibly complicated and very emotionally fraught issue to try and deal with.
KAYLet's move on to other news. President Obama, John, and Speaker John Boehner met on Tuesday. I think it was the first time in what?
STANTONYes. It's the first time the two of them have sat down.
KAYSince the last century, no, since December of 2012.
KAYDid they have a very jolly chat and decide that they were going to agree on lots of things and get lots of things done together?
STANTONYou know, this is the thing about those two that I find fascinating is I think they actually agree on quite a lot, on most issues that if you would elect just the two of them outside of any sort of other contacts, without having to do with Congress or the parties, or us in the media, they can come to agreement on almost everything.
KAYOver a cigarette behind the bike shed.
MARCUSDon't tell Michelle.
STANTONThey're very similar guys. I think they have sort of close -- their world views are very close. But, you know, unfortunately, they both represent parties that right now really, really hate each other. And hate, in some case, it's them, and particularly John Boehner. So, the fact that they sat down is good. But I don't think it signals that we're going to suddenly have a grand bargain or that we're going to really get anywhere in this country, frankly, until at least next year sometime at the earliest. I think we're still stuck in the same rot.
KAYOkay, Ruth, you mentioned Michelle, which brings us elegantly...
KAY...very nicely to our next subject. She has got involved in food labels this week. What is Michelle Obama proposing? What would it change in the way that we consume our food?
MARCUSWell, I hope it's going to change in the way which I consume my food. Look, anybody who's looked at these food labels understands a few things. First of all, you need, if you're my age, your reading glasses on steroids to be able to read what is in those labels because it's in very teeny, teeny, small print. We're not going to have the calorie counts in bold. Also, we're going to have serving sizes that are deemed appropriate for real people and not imaginary people.
MARCUSSo that now, the serving size -- the serving size for ice cream is a half a cup of ice cream. I would like to know the person who's capable of consuming only half a cup of ice cream 'cause she doesn't live in my house. So they're changing the serving size, for example, for ice cream to a cup. If you have a little bag of...
KAYSo that you actually know how many calories you're consuming.
MARCUSSo that when it says it's 230 calories per serving, that's an actual realistic serving, not some imaginary serving that just allows you to believe that you're eating less and lets the food company convince you that you're eating less than you actually are. I think knowledge is power, especially when it comes to nutrition. So these are very good changes. Cost free in the sense that all they're doing is empowering people to make wiser choices.
KAYOf course, critics, Susan, will turn around and say what is the government doing getting involved with more regulations, more involvement in what should be my free choice.
DAVISThat's true. And it's not going to be without cost. I think early estimates is that, over the industry, it's going to cost about $2 billion for people to revamp the way they do their labels.
KAYSo how much pushback was there from the industry?
DAVISIn the beginning, you know, what's been really interesting about the Let's Move program and what Michelle Obama has done is there's been a lot of buy-in from the food industry. And I think partly it's beyond the federal level. There is a consumer demand and interest in healthier food. We've seen it -- I mean, if you've seen the rise of gluten free foods and sort of the GMO conversation and the fight over trans fats and sugar or what Michael Bloomberg's done.
DAVISI mean, there is a grassroots or at least -- among the people, there is a demand in it. So I think the food industry is already kind of going there and they've been moving in that direction. I think the FDA and what the administration is doing is trying to put a finer point on it and give some structure to it. If it does go through the way they've said, it's probably going to take at least two years.
DAVISThey do give the industry time to sort of plan and budget. So it's not going to be the surprise thing that they have to turn around by the end of the year and do. But there will be pushback. You know, if you look at seatbelt laws and helmet laws, at the original nutrition labeling that's only about two decades old. I mean, there's always been pushback. And in retrospect, almost all of these things have had a positive effect on public health.
DAVISSo, you know, they're get -- it's more about getting with the times than really anything else.
KAYJohn, it's the first major overhaul of food labels in the country in 20 years since the early 1990s but it comes, interestingly, in the same week that the CDC has reported that there's actually been a drop of 43 percent in young childhood obesity in the country. I mean, should we have had this 10 years ago? I mean, you know, if obesity rates have -- obesity is still a huge problem and a huge cost to this country. But if obesity rates are starting to fall anyway...
STANTONNo, I agree. And I think, this is, you know, this is -- the public is already going there. And I think when you're talking, you know, even the family of mine that is sort of very, you know, rustbelt kind of family have suddenly started looking at their foods and say, this is about -- probably these Twinkies or these Ding Dongs are probably not the best things for us to be eating. You know, maybe I'm not going to eat an entire bag of Cheetos.
STANTONAnd they are looking -- people are increasingly looking for better options. The government is always a little bit slow to react and pick up on these kind of things. The lack or the drag, I guess, on it is a bit of surprising given the fact that people are talking about childhood obesity in this country for years. And it has been considered an epidemic for years and years. And the drop is significant but not really in the broader scheme of things when you consider that these are children.
STANTONThese are generations of children that are going to have to deal with, wholesale, having diabetes, for instance. Of like, you know, it's going to be a commonplace thing. Whereas for my generation, it's not commonplace.
KAYRight. And we've talking in the program about the cost to the country and what we can afford and what we can't afford. And that is something we definitely cannot afford. Okay, let's go back to the phones to Judy who calls us from Fairview Heights in Illinois. Judy, you've joined "The Diane Rehm Show."
JUDYOkay. I am an accredited veteran benefit representative. I work for the state of Hawaii as a veteran benefit counselor. So we were taking claims for veterans to get compensation for their injuries or whatever happened in the military. And I have actual proof of my supervisor submitting false benefit claims. When a guy is discharged from the military, he gets a DD-214. And in this specific case, the character of discharge was complete blacked out.
JUDYWell, as an accredited representative, you learn that you cannot submit something like that because the guy could have gotten a bad conduct discharge. He was actually kicked out of the Marines for being a witness to a double homicide. So I kept a copy of this. I have contacted the Office of Inspector General. I also recently -- because I moved back to Illinois -- there's a National Records Center, and they have actual, you know, they should have the unaltered copies.
JUDYSo a couple of weeks ago I took it to them. My point is that, you know, there are fraudulent claims, which means some veterans aren't getting what they're entitled to while others, you know, are manipulating the system. And nobody is -- nobody, you know, I was -- when I said I called the inspector general, I have not received a response from them and this is, like, two years.
KAYJudy, I think -- I mean, when you are dealing with a system as vast as this, Ruth, it is almost impossible to totally eradicate the prospect of some sort of fraud or manipulation. Isn't that correct? I mean...
KAYThe system is so vast and so byzantine that there is window, there is room for this to happen occasionally.
MARCUSIn every very large system, there is going to be an unfortunate and doesn't mean it's right level of fraudulent claims. But the bigger question about the affordability of both the health care benefits and the retirement benefits, I think the caller is talking about disability benefits, which are a different issue, remains an issue even if we eradicated all the fraud that is out there in the system we would still have a big problem on our hands.
KAYOkay. Let's go to Shelley who joins the program. Shellie, you are on "The Diane Rehm Show." You have a question for the panel on the Arizona decision. Shellie, can you hear me? Hello, Shellie? No, it doesn't look like we have Shellie on the program. Let's go to another caller in just a second. But first of all, I want to read an email that has come into us from Michael who writes, "In your opening teaser, you referenced the Arizona anti-gay law. You are 180 degrees from the truth. Fact checker say it is not anti and it is not a gay law." John, you're shaking your head.
STANTONYeah. No, it's clearly an anti-gay law. Just because people say it's not, that doesn't mean that that's true. It is designed specifically to allow people to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation. So that's -- I mean, it's pretty clear that's what it is. I mean, it does open the door to other potential kinds of discrimination. For instance, a Muslim business owner could, in theory, say I don't want to serve women who aren't wearing a head scarf or a burqa.
MARCUSSo there is -- it does open for other things. But the reason they wrote this law was to try to give people the ability to say I don't want to make a wedding cake for two gay men. So...
KAYWhich is why Jan Brewer said that the law had been overly broadly written.
KAYLet's go to Doug in Birmingham, AL who wants to pick up on this point. Doug?
DOUGI sure do. Would they be in favor of compelling a doctor to perform an abortion under threat of a lawsuit. You know, if you want to expand rights, if you want to expand some rights, you have to respect the other rights that are ain't right in the Constitution. Would you force a pharmacist who, under religious belief reasons, didn't want to prescribe the morning after pill? Or would be comfortable with that?
DOUGOr would you, you know, or a caterer who didn't want to cater a skinhead gathering or a contentious objector, would you force him, you know, to serve in the military under threat of, you know, being in prison? You know, where do you stop? When you force people to do things that they object to, to bake a cake, you can surely get a cake baked at another bakery. There is an easy remedy to this problem that we created, you know. You have choice just like you can go to another doctor.
KAYOkay, Doug, hold on a second. I'm going to let John jump in here. I mean, the point is, whether people are allowed to discriminate against people because for whatever reason.
STANTONI mean, I think, like in the case for instance of abortion. If you're a doctor that provides that as a service, the state could, in theory, say you have to provide that service to everyone equally. They would not tell a doctor who does not -- that is a service to say, well, you now have to do that. You know, again, I think -- I do think that if a skinhead wedding wanted to have a cake baked and you said, no, I'm going to discriminate against you based on your, you know, religious beliefs or your political beliefs, you know, we in this country say that's not an acceptable thing to do.
KAYWe have laws that prevent discrimination.
STANTONRight. And, in fact, you know, if you look at race or gender, we do have laws that say you're -- that businesses are not allowed to do that until, you know, those laws have not yet been extended fully to the LGBT community but that is something that people are working towards. So...
KAYI'm Katty Kay of the BBC. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And if you'd like to join us, do call 1-800-433-8850 is the phone number. I want to get quickly to the EPA and the authority to regulate greenhouse gases. The Supreme Court had a case this week.
MARCUSYeah, this is an outgrowth of an earlier Supreme Court case in which the justices said that the EPA does have authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Now the question is, okay, exactly how the law as written by Congress doesn't exactly make it easy to do this because of the amount of particulate matter and the number of people that would be affected if the EPA were applying the laws exactly written.
MARCUSIt's actually very analogous to trying to fix some of the Affordable Care Act issues by regulation rather than going back to Congress to fixing it. And so, it did seem like there were some justices who were questioning the EPA -- whether the EPA had authority to essentially rewrite the law to make it more sensible. But the fundamental question about the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions stands no matter what the court decides in this case.
KAYOkay. My favorite story of the week. On March 12, 1989, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. The anniversary is actually next week, but the Pew Research Center this week came up with a fascinating poll, which really gives us a snapshot of the last 25 years and tells us about our attitudes to the internet. John, what did Pew find?
STANTONWell, I thought one of the most...
KAYAre we as addicted as we seem?
STANTONYeah. I think, clearly, you know, we are. I think it said something like 96 percent of adults with a college education use the internet on a daily basis. We use it through our phones. Sort of all the obvious things, I think, that we, you know, in the modern era think that by looking around as we see. One of the things I thought that was most fascinating about this was that they found that a majority of Americans, or at least respondents to the poll, that may be part of the problem, thought that the internet was a positive place.
STANTONAnd that they'd not had a negative interaction, which they must not be journalists because they're...
KAYThey don't have Twitter feeds.
KAYAnd all of the abuse that we get every day.
MARCUSThey don't get comments on their stories.
STANTONRight. You know, they've never been involved in a Facebook thread about politics or religion, you know. It's a fascinating idea that because they have people have to have seen these kind of crazy arguments that go on, you know, my Facebook page all the time. My friends start going at it when I post a story. But the fact that they see that not as a negative thing, maybe that's a good thing.
STANTONMaybe they feel like having public discourse, even if it gets a little crude or rude, is a positive. Maybe that's good. I don't know.
KAYRuth, a lot of people said that they would find it very hard to give up.
MARCUSYes, indeed. Almost impossible to give up if you've ever had the experience of having your internet down for an hour or two. You know that you are...
KAYIt is amazing...
KAY...how fast we've become addicted.
MARCUSYou are paralyzed in your work life. I mean, being on the internet -- and there's a line about this in the report on the study -- is essentially the primary activity of many, if not most, Americans. That' what we do. I kind of -- sometimes I think what I do is I go to work and I manage my email. But to look at this and to recognize that the internet is such a baby and that the technology that grows out of the internet is in such its infancy and how dramatically it's transformed our lives.
MARCUSOne of the little numbers that's embedded in here is the sliver of people who now think -- I think it's 17 percent -- would have a hard time living without their landlines. Landlines are an artifact of the past. We now -- but we cannot live without our cell phones and our smartphones.
KAYThe World Wide Web which turns 25 next week. If you've got a moment, check out the Pew poll. It is absolutely fascinating. Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post, John Stanton of BuzzFeed, Susan Davis for USA Today, thank you all so much for joining me.
DAVISThanks for having us.
KAYI'm Katty Kay of the BBC. I've been sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thank you so much for listening.
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