Inflation is high. The GDP has shrunk. But the job market has never been better. The Washington Post's Damian Paletta helps make sense of the U.S. economy today.
The White House claims victory after health care sign-ups surpass seven million. General Motors Chief Mary Barra and the nation’s top auto regulator testify on Capitol Hill. And the Supreme Court strikes down limits on overall campaign contributions. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Greg Ip U.S. economics editor, The Economist, and author of "The Little Book of Economics: How the Economy Works in the Real World."
- Shawna Thomas White House producer for NBC News.
- Reid Wilson Staff writer, The Washington Post. He writes The Post's new political tipsheet email called “Read In”.
Watch a Featured Clip
After Wednesday’s shooting at Fort Hood–the second in five years on the base in Killeen, Texas–some wonder whether military leaders will take action, on base there as well as on bases across the country.
Beyond the issue of mental health, this week’s incident could also mean the return of discussions on background checks, NBC White House Producer Shawna Thomas told Diane Rehm on her Friday radio program.
“There’s a conversation to be had there,” Thomas said.
For the full discussion, watch the video below.
Watch full video of the April 4 Domestic News Hour.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Unemployment in March holds steady at 6.7 percent. A Senate panel votes to declassify part of a CIA interrogation report. And the Supreme Court strikes down limits on some campaign contributions. Joining me for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: Greg Ip of The Economist, Shawna Thomas of NBC, and Reid Wilson of The Washington Post.
MS. DIANE REHMI do invite you to be part of the program with your telephone calls to 800-433-8850. Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And happy Friday, everybody.
MR. REID WILSONThanks.
MS. SHAWNA THOMASThanks for having us, Diane.
MR. GREG IPHappy Friday to you.
REHMGreg Ip, what do you make of these latest unemployment numbers?
IPThey look good. But they're actually even better when you look below the surface. So we learned that we created 192,000 jobs in the month of March. But they revised up prior months by 37,000. The unemployment rate didn't change. It's still 6.7 percent, still far too high. But if you look inside, you'll find that the reason the unemployment rate didn't go down was because we had half a million people enter the labor force, a lot of them looking for work. And that's actually a good sign. It shows that people's spirits are picking up a little bit.
IPIf you look at the proportion of people that are either working or looking for work -- we call that the participation rate -- that's actually started moving up in recent months. That's very encouraging. Another positive sign is that the number of people unemployed for six months or longer actually went down. Most of the -- that was last set a little bit by the short-term unemployed going up. But we've been very concerned about that very large stock of people who haven't been able to find work for so long. So that's encouraging.
WILSONYeah. This is another report in sort of the slow trickle towards a larger question of when Americans start feeling better about the economy. I mean, we're in the middle of one of the most uneven recoveries in the nation's history, if not the most uneven recovery. And this is going to play politically. I mean, this is why President Obama and the Democrats are having so much trouble in the 2014 elections.
WILSONThe blame game now has been going on for about seven years, essentially since the 2006 election, so I guess eight years. When the economy started to sputter, Republicans took the blame then. Democrats are now the incumbents, and especially in the United States Senate. If attitudes towards the economy don't begin to change and if people don't begin to become more optimistic about the economy, then, you know, this is going to be the singular issue of the 2014 midterm elections.
REHMAnd, Shawna, some economists say they expect the job numbers to get even better through March and April.
THOMASAnd we might see revisions up like we saw in January and February. A lot of this has to do with weather, people leaving their homes, people searching for jobs. And especially with retail numbers, people actually going and shopping, that encourages people to actually hire more people. But I think it's interesting.
THOMASThe White House took the unemployment numbers, put out a statement already, and they lauded the long-term unemployment, that that's gone down. But they used it as a chance to push the Senate and the House into extending long-term unemployment insurance, which has not been extended. So there are a lot of people out there who are not getting any kind of paycheck anymore.
REHMSo are these job numbers going to play into the president's push for a raise in the minimum wage, Greg?
IPIndirectly. On the one hand, he wants to take a victory lap, saying, look, the number of people employed by the private sector has fully recovered all the losses suffered during the recession. But he doesn't want to make it seem so wonderful that the economy doesn't still need help. And the other point he's going to play up is that, notwithstanding the fact that more people are finding work, the amount of money they're getting paid isn't going up very much.
IPIt's been running at around a 2 percent annual rate for the last few years. And Janet Yellen, the Federal Reserve Chairman, recently pointed out that this is extremely weak by historic experience. So you could expect Obama to continue to hammer home his point that, even if people are finding work, the government needs to do more to ensure they're being paid well for the work that they get.
REHMWhat about Janet Yellen's comments this week, sort of a corrective to her earlier six-week flub that some are calling it?
IPSo a few weeks ago, at her -- at the end of her first policy meeting as chair of the Federal Reserve, she had a press conference, which was interpreted as somewhat hawkish, implying that she might be in more of a hurry to raise interest rates than had previously been thought because of some of the ways she phrased herself.
IPThis week, she had an opportunity in Chicago addressing a special conference to talk about how she still believes the economy's very, very weak, unemployment is far too high, there are problems with people who are working part-time who'd like to find full-time work, wages are weak, and that long-term unemployment problem is still very severe.
IPNow, if you listen to this, you could say, oh, this is a person who's not in any hurry to raise interest rates. However, if you also look more carefully, you do find that she didn't actually say anything that contradicted anything she said a few weeks ago. So she's kind of trying to learn that art of sounding sympathetic, saying all the right things without allowing too much new information that's going to disturb the market.
IPThe bottom line is we can still look forward to interest rates extremely low at current levels for at least another year.
REHMGreg Ip, he's U.S. economics editor for The Economist and author of "The Little Book of Economics: How the Economy Works in the Real World." Shawna Thomas is White House producer for NBC News. Reid Wilson is staff writer for The Washington Post. He writes The Post's new political tipsheet email. It's called "Read In." So do join us, 800-433-8850. Reid, talk about the Supreme Court's big decision this week.
WILSONSo this week, the Supreme Court decided in a case called McCutcheon v. FEC that the so-called aggregate limits on how much an individual can give to political candidates and parties is unconstitutional. Now the aggregate limits are the amount of maximum contributions that you can give to a -- specifically to political parties. So you, as an individual, can contribute up to $5,200 to a federal candidate, somebody running for House or Senate, in any given election cycle once, you know, $2,600 for the primary, 2,600 for the general election.
WILSONAnd you're only allowed to give the maximum amount to about -- to a certain number of candidates, up to about $48,000. Now, federal election rules also allow you to give about $70,000 to political parties for a grand total of $123,200 to both candidates and parties. Well, the Supreme Court this week, in a decision -- a 5-4 decision authored by Chief Justice Roberts, said that that limit was an unconstitutional limit on free speech and that now aggregate limits are gone.
WILSONSo you, as an individual, can contribute the maximum $5,200 to every candidate running for federal office if you want to or the maximum of about $30,000 to political parties, you know, the national political party and their House counterpart and their Senate counterpart, up to, really, however many people you can find to write checks.
REHMSo, Shawna, how quickly could this change the picture?
THOMASSo what the Supreme Court said was that, within 25 days of the decision, this -- those caps go away. So this is going to affect the 2014 election. You will see people who will be able to give not an unlimited amount of money to one candidate -- those caps stay in place though Justice Thomas actually had a separate dissenting opinion that said he thought those caps should go away, too -- but that within this election, you will start to see people, very rich people, start to give much more money to each individual candidate.
REHMSo how much pressure does this put on the parties? How much pressure does it put on individuals? How is this going to work, Greg?
IPWell, ironically, it might actually be seen as a positive for the parties because, since the Supreme Court struck down the ability of these super PACs to give unlimited amounts of money to political causes but not candidates, you've seen power and influence bleed away from the parties towards this unregulated money.
IPNow that the parties are more or less free to raise millions of dollars from individual donors, that could start to funnel more influence and power back to the parties and they can more effectively set priorities for their party and their own candidates. So that actually -- it will increase the amount of money at work in elections, but it might ironically start to reverse some of that drift of influence away from the parties themselves.
REHMHow do you think the American people are going to feel about this? What do you think, Reid?
WILSONWell, this case is actually not the case that is sort of breaks the dam on campaign finance rules. But what it does is it makes very clear what the Roberts Court thinks. They don't think that campaign finance reform is -- or that limits on a lot of campaign spending, if not most limits on campaign spending, are unconstitutional. There are -- they laid out a very specific path here towards, you know, maybe taking away those individual contribution limits or certainly taking away limits on how much somebody can give to a political party.
WILSONAlready at least one state, Massachusetts, has said that it will drop its own aggregate limits, and the other 12 states that have aggregate limits are going to take a look at whether or not they now have to get rid of them, too. But the point is here that this is a pretty specific path towards campaign finance deregulation that the court started with Citizens United and is now continuing with the McCutcheon case.
REHMSo New York Times editorial wrote the real losers in the McCutcheon case are the vast majority of average Americans without barrels of cash to dump on elections, Shawna.
THOMASWell, what you're going to see is -- you already see it, especially in House races. These candidates, these members of Congress are constantly trying to get money. You're going to see them have to kind of belly up to those rich donors that they know now are not limited to people anymore.
THOMASBut the interesting thing to see is, will we actually see all that many more ads on TV in the next year, the -- what Citizens United did, what the Supreme Court has done in the past? The super PAC money is already flowing sort of freely. And it will be interesting to see -- do you just see more pointed ads? Or is it going to kind of look the way it has already looked?
WILSONThe aggregate limits actually only apply to a very small number of people. In 2012, only 591 people reached those aggregate limits. And Shawna brings this up, that the members of Congress who are now going to have to go back to these people who reached the aggregate limits, not to feel sorry for people who are donating $123,000 a year. But a lot of them have told some of our colleagues here in D.C. that once they reach that limit, they have an excuse to be able to say to members of Congress, sorry, I can't give you any more money. Now that excuse is gone.
REHMShort break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back to the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with: Greg Ip of The Economist, Shawna Thomas of NBC News, Reid Wilson of The Washington Post. Here's our first email from Earl in Newfane, Vt. "If limits on political contributions are considered restrictions on First Amendment rights, why have any limits at all? I believe the best approach to corruption and influence peddling would be for all campaigns to be publicly financed. It should be all one thing or the other." What do you think, Reid?
WILSONWell, that's what a number of states are trying right now. New York State is trying a very small sample of public funding in the state comptroller race. There's some other states that have experimented with public funding in various forms. But, on a federal level, the lawyers who oppose campaign finance reform -- the McCain-Feingold Reform and even the original Campaign Finance Reform Act that established the FEC after Watergate -- have been very systematically targeting some of the provisions in these reforms that are up for debate.
WILSONThere are cases from the '90s, cases from the 2000s. Now that the court has seemingly moved in a more conservative direction on campaign finance reform, there have been a flood of cases. And there are already a number of these lawyers who are targeting specific -- sort of the next step. And we're going to see assaults on things like state limits, on how much you can give to state candidates, and limits on how much you can give to political parties, and then, eventually, as Shawna mentioned about Justice Thomas, maybe even an attack on how much an individual can contribute to a specific candidate.
IPAlthough it's kind of interesting. If you read the rationale that John Roberts gave in the majority opinion, he said that if you look back, the original intent of Congress was to limit campaign contributions so as to avoid the appearance or fact of corruption. However, he said the intent was that you cannot use that to therefore also say we're trying to level the playing field between the wealthy and the not so wealthy. And that's why he struck down these aggregate limits but preserved the individual limit. That suggests that, at least for this court for the time being, the individual caps are going to stand.
REHMLawrence Lessig was on this program yesterday, and his view was that the word corruption had been too narrowly defined in this decision. We'll see what happens as we go forward. Monday marked the end, Shawna Thomas, of open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act. Final numbers really were pretty good.
THOMASAnd the White House was very happy on Tuesday -- 7.1 million is the number that they say enrolled in private healthcare plans through the state and federal exchanges. We -- there are a couple things we still don't know about those numbers. Usually, there's about a two-week lag time on things -- on the breakdown of the age groups of who those people are, which people are going to say -- is going to play into if the Affordable Care Act is going to work, how many young and/or healthy people are also sort of propping up people who could be older and less healthy.
THOMASAnd the other thing people are going to ask is, how many people have actually paid for their first month's premiums? And people are going to ask, how many of those people were uninsured previously? Because one of the whole tactics of the Affordable Care Act was to try to get people who did not have insurance into either a private insurance plan or into one of these Medicaid expansion programs.
THOMASAnd there was something interesting that happened yesterday. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation came out with a survey that said they found that, since September of 2013 through the beginning of March, 5.4 million people gained health insurance. And that's not just private plans. That can be Medicaid expansion. That can be CHIP, the Child Health Insurance Program. But it does start to point to that maybe we'll see that some of these uninsured did get insurance.
REHMNow there is an April 15 new deadline for enrollment.
WILSONOr the people who had started to enroll but weren't able to finish. So this final 7.1 number is going to go up a little bit. Most states that run their own exchanges have extended their own deadline for those who have started as well. Interestingly, they are relying on the good word -- the honest word of those who are still -- who have yet to sign up -- who have yet to complete their sign up, I should say.
WILSONSo I don't exactly know what's stopping somebody from starting a process right on (unintelligible)...
REHMThe honor code. The honor code. Now, Democrats running in 2014 have pretty much distanced themselves not only from the Affordable Care Act but from Obama himself. The question is, are these numbers now likely to change that scenery?
IPThey definitely changed the conversation. Instead of having to labor under this cloud of Obamacare, not just being disliked but a implementation failure, they can point out and say, no, actually the implementation was a success. That helps a lot. It's also forced the Republicans to slightly change their message because again, the problems with implementation have been a very powerful message.
IPAnd you've already seen Republicans -- some leading Republicans start to sort of change their approach. Instead of calling flat out for the repeal of Obamacare, more people, more legislators are actually putting forth proposals to replace it. And the polling has also started to improve. People still don't like the law, but now majorities say, don't repeal it, fix it. And that is also the message you're going to hear from Democrats this fall.
REHMBut you have Republican Bobby Jindal put out a whole new replacement for the ACA.
THOMASWell, and Bobby Jindal said this week in a breakfast in a Christian Science Monitor breakfast in Washington that they can't run -- Republicans can't run on just repeal and maybe we'll do something later. And this is something that the president tried to focus on in his speech in the Rose Garden, in his speech in Ann Arbor this week, is that now that the -- not only has the law been implemented. Not only does the website pretty much work, though there were some issues at the very last minute, that now you have 7.1 million people presumably who have healthcare. And you have about another 3 million kids who are able to stay on their parents' plan. You can't just take that away.
WILSONOne of the longer sort of fallout elements of the Affordable Care Act is going to be that, in a number of states and the federal government, Democrats made the argument that government could be run efficiently. I would argue that President Obama was elected in 2008 in the first place more for the change than for the hope that George W. Bush's sort of operation of the government had failed in Hurricane Katrina and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
WILSONAnd President Obama had this sort of mandate to run the government efficiently. And there were the hiccups in the federal exchange, which, now that 7.1 million people have enrolled, are somewhat mitigated. But in a lot of states, states that are run by Democrats that implemented their own healthcare exchanges, their own websites, these things are disasters. In Oregon, you still can't sign up online. You couldn't sign up online through the end of the enrollment period.
WILSONIn Hawaii, only about 8,000 people enrolled because of similar problems with the website and with signing up. In Maryland, they scrapped their entire system and just imported the technology from Connecticut, which was actually working pretty well, after the enrollment period ended. So in a lot of Democratic states, you know, Democrats made the argument that government could work more efficiently, and then they couldn't get the websites working.
THOMASBut, interestingly, in Kentucky, it's worked great.
WILSONIn Kentucky -- mm hmm.
THOMASAnd they've -- from the very beginning, it worked well.
IPI think it's important to point out here that, just as the predictions that Obamacare would be a failure were premature a few months ago, the predictions that it's now a success are also premature. We need several more years to know if this thing works. Seven million is a good number, but they need about 25 million people in total over the next few years to sign up. And the key to that will be whether the economics work.
IPWill enough healthy people sign up to defray the costs of those who are sick? Because that will determine how much insurance companies are profiting from these new customers and how much they'll have to raise premiums. And we've already seen some insurance companies say that the people who have signed up so far are older and sicker than they had planned, and that will lead to premium increases next year. Whether that will be enough to dry up signups, that remains to be seen.
WILSONIn the short term, politically as well, NPR had a great poll this week that showed that Obamacare is more popular than Obama. At least the approval ratings for the Affordable Care Act are more popular -- or higher than the approval rating for the president. But, in the short term, that could change, and that could change because the first Americans are going to start having to pay taxes and pay the penalty for not having insurance, the $95 or, what is it, 1 percent of their salary for the first year.
REHMWhichever is higher.
WILSONWhichever is higher, and that grows as time goes on. And then the second thing that happens is insurance companies are going to come out with their premiums for next year, which are going to rise. Healthcare costs are rising across the country and...
REHMAnd have been for the last 20 years.
WILSON...for decades. But this is going to be blamed on the Affordable Care Act.
WILSONSo in the short term, Greg's exactly right, that the long-term picture we haven't seen yet, but in the short term, the political land mines are not gone just because open enrollment is closed.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about the shooting at Fort Hood, Greg Ip. What's the latest there? At first we heard that the young man, Army Specialist Ivan Lopez, a military truck driver, 34 years old, had -- apparently had brain damage. And the first announcement was that he had gotten that injury in Iraq. Now it turns out he never served there.
IPCorrect. He did not see combat. He was a truck driver. He reported himself that he had had brain damage, but he had been treated for post-traumatic -- I'm sorry, he was being evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder. He had not yet been diagnosed with it. He was however being treated for a variety of other problems, insomnia, anxiety, depression. This was a person who did have serious mental illness.
IPIt also emerges that he had had an argument with somebody else on the base a few days before that. He'd suffered several severe personal setbacks. His mother had died quite suddenly. So this appears to be an individual who had a lot of personal problems, but it is definitely too early to say that they were a result of his service.
REHMThe sad and worrisome aspect of this is that it brought up comparisons to Nidal Hasan who did bring in a gun. And there are so many people on this base. How do you prevent that from happening?
WILSONThere probably isn't a way for this to happening -- or to prevent somebody from bringing on an unauthorized weapon. Fort Hood is a massive installation with tens of thousands of troops -- I think I heard 75,000 troops on the base this morning. And that makes, you know, patting people down or sending them through security impractical.
WILSONAnd it's a military base. I mean, there are military police officers everywhere. And one would hope that that would prevent something like this, but, again, as you say, in two cases in a row and, you know, within a five-year span, this has happened at the same place.
REHMMike in Arlington, Texas says, "My question is, how many other soldiers at Fort Hood have the same condition that has unstable psychiatric or psychological symptoms? And what is he or anyone going to do to limit access to guns? If we cannot monitor and control these conditions on military bases, what chance do we have in the general population?"
IPWell, it's a very good point. As we were just discussing a minute ago, I mean, Fort Hood is a de facto city. And you cannot really close a city off to guns unless you impose more broad-based controls over guns. And this is hardly the first mass shooting we've seen that was linked to the mental illness of the person there. And yet the last effort to bring in expanded background checks after the Newtown shooting completely failed.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Then the question becomes, do you think that those in charge at Fort Hood will try to make some changes since this is the second time this has happened?
THOMASI think we have to see what the military decides to do about this. They -- the military police, as Reid pointed out, are there. There's only so much you can do. I think sort of a bigger question is, does this bring the background check question back up? We don't know -- I mean, we don't know if this man had PTSD. We don't know anything about that. But is this a conversation that the country is going to have again, based on what happened at Fort Hood?
THOMASI think it's interesting. I went back, and I read some of President Obama's speech from the Navy Yard shooting memorial. And he basically started this litany where he has to go to memorials because of these kind of tragedies with Fort Hood in 2009. So there is a conversation to be had there. There's sort of a beginning and an end. I'm curious to see if the White House takes that conversation further.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about the testimony of the GM CEO this week before the House subcommittee on the automakers recall crisis, apologies without a real explanation.
WILSONYeah, now let's remember that Mary Barra has only been on the job for about three months. She met with the families this week, and a number of the families expressed -- sort of told her the stories of their loved ones who had died because of these faulty ignition switches. And she expressed her remorse.
WILSONAnd then one of the relatives of somebody who died in one of these accidents started asking her a lot of questions. And, essentially, she said, well, because there's an investigation ongoing, I can't comment on that, which was not the greatest PR strategy. It probably didn't help that she was dragged before Congress which was going to yell and scream at whoever showed up there.
REHMExactly. Then she changed her strategy.
WILSONAnd became much more apologetic and much more sort of, well, pledging to do something in the long run.
WILSONBut something isn't quite clear, and I think the most interesting aspects of this case that have come out in just the last few days is that fixing these ignition switches costs something like 57 cents for every car. And now there have been a little more than 6 million cars recalled since the beginning of this whole process. But the number of actual ignition switches that aren't working is much smaller. So for a company like GM that has gotten so much government money, government help over the last several years, to obfuscate in any way is just a terrible PR strategy.
REHMSo what do you think is next for GM, Greg?
IPWell, this is going to be a very expensive problem. Now, as a result of its bankruptcy filing a few years ago, it's technically not liable for injuries caused by cars that were made before that date. But it's hard to believe that, from a reputational point of view, General Motors can basically, you know, plead immunity. It's going to have to come up with some kind of strategy for dealing with that. They've already hired Ken Feinberg, the compensation expert from 9/11, to try and find an equitable solution. The cost of -- the warranty costs alone are going to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
IPI think most regrettable of all for General Motors is that they have tried to portray themselves as a brand-new company with a new culture, a new sort of attitude on the parts of senior executives. And as Claire McCaskill, the senator from Missouri, sort of said, this looks a lot like the old GM, not the new GM.
REHMAnd sort of questions floating around whether Mary Barra was hired to that position to be thrown under the bus, Shawna.
THOMASI think we are going to have to basically see how she handles it. I'm not sure that is why she was hired. I do think that, in her testimony this week, there was something that she said. Someone asked her, would she let her son drive a GM car, and she said, well, as long as the only key in the ignition was just the ignition key. Those may not be the best answers to give in this case.
REHMShawna Thomas of NBC News. Short break here. When we come back, we'll open the phones. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're going to open the phones in one moment. But here's an email from Mike. He says, "I've been unemployed for the past nine months, trying incredibly hard to make ends meet with no income. Can someone please address the likelihood of when or if the emergency unemployment benefits will be reinstated? These benefits are a lifeline for many of us, and partisan apathy makes me feel invisible." Reid?
WILSONMike, the unemployment benefits are going -- are likely to pass the U.S. Senate on Monday. They cleared the procedural hurdle last week. The lead Republican sponsor of that bill is Sen. Dean Heller from Nevada. He has requested a meeting with House Speaker John Boehner to talk about passing this. But most House Republicans just don't think the compromise that was reached in the Senate is workable in the House, is passable in the House.
WILSONAnd it's unlikely that anything is going to pass in the near term at least. If Republicans come up with something in the House, it will have significant offset, cuts -- more cuts than the cuts that were in the Senate package. But there's really no movement in the House right now to bring up an unemployment insurance without program.
REHMAll right, let's go to the phones, first to Chicago, Ill. Hi there, Walter. You're on the air. Go right ahead.
WALTERI wanted to speak on the Supreme Court ruling. You know, money in the pocket of a politician is not free speech. If depositing a million dollars in a politician's bank account creates the appearance of corruption, then giving a million dollars to his political campaign equally creates the appearance of corruption. A gift is a gift is a gift.
REHMWhat do you think, Greg Ip?
IPSo the Supreme Court, it seems to me, for 40 years has been trying to walk this very fine line between, you know, what is actually corruption and what's not? It's interesting that this all dates back to the Watergate era when the Supreme Court in a key decision made a distinction between expenditures and contributions. Essentially, you can spend as much money yourself as a candidate getting yourself elected.
IPThat is seen as sacred expression of your own personal political views. It's the contributions which they believe are in direct expression of your political views that are subject to various types of political oversight. And for the last 30, 40 years, we've been debating that point. And under the Roberts court, we have moved firmly and consistently in the direction of removing those limits as well.
WILSONGreg brought up the point about what Justice Roberts wrote about corruption a little bit earlier. But it struck me how high a bar the McCutcheon decision placed on corruption. The appearance of corruption is much less important now than actual, direct corruption. You've got to clear a really high bar...
WILSON...to prove any of that, to put any restriction on campaign finance contributions.
REHMAll right, to Stephanie in Dayton, Ohio. Thank you for joining us. Go right ahead.
STEPHANIEHi, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
STEPHANIEYour show is just a pleasure...
STEPHANIE...to listen to, and we're really lucky in this country to have it.
STEPHANIEI thought I had heard one of your correspondents indicate that this now means the Supreme Court decision on campaign reform means that money can go directly into the party, for example, the Republican Party. So vast amounts of money can go into the Republican Party directly. Would this allow the Republican Party to wrestle control from some of the Tea Party nominees that seem to be hitting the ballots?
STEPHANIEIn other words, can Republican -- the Republican Party on a state by state basis have a little bit more control in preventing non-winnable Tea Party candidates from being on the ballot?
THOMASI don't know if they can prevent non-winnable Tea Party candidates from being on the ballot, but that is an interesting point that this does allow the RNC or the DNC or the National Republican Campaign Committee to get more money into their coffers and that will give them more influence over whose campaigns are able to be won. I think it's a really interesting point.
WILSONThe parties are clearly the big winners in the McCutcheon decision. In the wake of the Citizens United decision, which spawned all of these outside groups, they -- those outside groups were able to tell a big donor, hey, you can give us a million bucks, and we are able to spend 99 and 99.5 percent of that money directly on television advertisements.
WILSONWhereas the political parties would say, well, you can give a maximum of $35,000 to the Republican National Committee or the Democratic National Committee or any of their affiliates and will spend a bunch of that on trying to get a candidate elected, but we also have to spend about a third of that on salaries and on healthcare and on operating our buildings and things like that.
WILSONSo their money went way downhill. I would argue that one of the biggest winners out of this entire process is the Democratic National Committee, which is $15 million in debt. It has not been well-served. President Obama's political operation has not put a lot of effort into building up the DNC. And now they're going to be able to raise a lot more money from people who are used to giving to the Democrats Senate campaign arm or House campaign arm.
IPI think another interesting point is that you've seen in recent years a real weakening of the ability of the party leadership to control their own members partly because so much money now bypasses the party structures and because, for example, getting rid of earmarks makes it harder to reward or discipline wayward members. Now, they actually get back a little bit more leverage over their own members because they say, you know, you play by our rules, and we'll work a little harder to raise funds for you.
REHMHmm. Hmm. All right, let's go to Eric in New Bern, N.C. Hi there.
ERICHi. How are you, Diane?
REHMGood, thank you.
ERICMy comment -- it's more a comment -- was about the Fort Hood shooting. And I was just noticing that everybody seems to be kind of focusing on the mental health issue when, to me, the real issue is the access to guns. The guy bought new guns, what was it, three days before he did the shooting. I just wonder why this isn't a bigger -- there isn't a bigger push in the Senate and the House to get something done.
REHMWell, it doesn't look as though there's going to be. Shawna?
THOMASI was talking about this with other people last night. And the issue is that, if they could not get background checks done after Newtown, after multiple children died, it's very hard to see if this is going to push Congress in any direction. Maybe it will push the military into trying to figure out a different way to manage weapons on base maybe. But, as Reid pointed out, Fort Hood is huge. A lot of these military bases are huge. It's hard to do that. But the appetite wasn't there after Newtown. I don't know if the appetite is there now.
REHMAll right. Let's talk for a moment about the Senate vote to declassify the CIA report. What is this all about?
WILSONSo way back a number of months ago -- actually, a number of years ago, the Senate began investigating the CIA over whether or not their what some people call harsh interrogation techniques and what other people call torture of suspected terrorists actually yielded any information, any valuable intelligence, specifically in the pursuit of Osama bin Laden.
WILSONWhen Senate investigators were looking at a lot of these classified documents on computers at a remote location that was secured by the CIA, they started to notice that a lot of those documents were disappearing overnight, 500 pages, 50 pages there. They realized that the CIA was watching what they were inspecting. So they brought a number of those documents back to Capitol Hill to a secure location in one of the Senate office buildings.
WILSONThe CIA then accused the Senate of hacking into their computers. The Senate accused the CIA of hacking into their computers. And this all erupted a few weeks ago when Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, stood up on the floor of the Senate in quite a dramatic moment, I thought, and virtually accused the CIA of abusing its power of spying on another branch of government.
WILSONNow, they have decided to, in a bipartisan vote, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Susan Collins -- one of the top Republicans, I should say -- voted along with the Democrats to make this report public. It will now -- it's a 6,300-page report on the harsh interrogation techniques after Sept. 11.
WILSONThat document now goes to the White House which will be inspected for any classified information that must be redacted. But they're thinking that, within a month, we could have what, by all accounts, is a pretty damning report on some of those interrogation techniques.
IPIt's going to bring back to the surface a lot of stuff that sort of feels like old and kind of unpleasant history because this is about a program that began under Bush, ended under Bush. It hasn't been in place for a number of years. It's hard to say how it's going to really affect how policy in any of these sort of foreign or espionage-like operations does going forward.
IPIt poses a big issue for CIA Director John Brennan, though. This is a guy who, at the time of the program inside the CIA, was not comfortable, was not happy with this program. But a lot of his own people feel that the Senate Committee report is very biased. They really don't like it. They do not like the fact that a lot of the stuff came from the FBI, which has a grudge against some of the way the CIA took credit for intelligence findings that FBI itself uncovered.
IPSo you're going to have an interesting situation now in the next few months where the CIA is going to produce its own kind of rebuttal to the report. And they have to decide just how aggressive do they want to be in fighting their corner.
REHMIt's interesting. Diane in New York City writes, "It's the height of hypocrisy for Sen. Dianne Feinstein to rail against the CIA. Her advocacy at the release of a fraction of documents relative to forced interrogation techniques is risible in the extreme. It is only now that her committee's power has been challenged does she stand up and indignantly cry foul."
WILSONAnd I think it's more about the separation of powers that has Feinstein outraged. I mean, this report was coming out no matter what. What had enraged Feinstein was the notion that the CIA would either spy on Senate investigators or would accuse Senate investigators of somehow hacking into the CIA computers, which, on its face, seems like a strange charge.
REHMAnd, meanwhile, you had former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell testifying that there was no cover-up after the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.
THOMASYes. And the interesting thing about that testimony is that it was an open House Intelligence Committee hearing with the deputy director of the CIA. And a lot of the intelligence committee hearings aren't open. So that just -- that on its face is actually an interesting this to see. But, really, did anything new come out of this hearing? And from what we can tell, no. He had to go back to explain why Susan Rice went on the five network shows and said what she said about it being...
THOMASAnd the excuse they have used the entire time, the White House has said that Susan Rice had said this, the CIA has said this, which is they were on the information they had. And, as they got more information, things changed. And it doesn't mean that this isn't going to continue to keep coming up. It is, in some ways, not a bad talking point to run in 2014 if you're a Republican.
REHMEspecially if Hillary Clinton is running.
IPSo I think that this is really all about Hillary Clinton. There's a reason why the House Republicans keep having hearings on this and keep bringing it up because they believe that, if they keep it in the public's mind, it does damage Hillary Clinton, and it might be working because polls do suggest that this is one of the negatives that voters think about when they think about Hillary Clinton.
REHMInteresting. Greg Ip, he's U.S. economics editor for the Economist. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Pardon me. Let's go to St. Augustine, Fla. Hi there, Dan. You're on the air.
DANYes, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
DANVery briefly, I just don't see how you all can be comparing Major Hasan to Newtown and this other gentleman. Guns may have been used, but the causes were all different. There's a religious, an addict, and a mentally ill. How can we even compare them?
WILSONWell, one of the things that I think this Fort Hood shooting brings up, this most recent one -- it's terrible that I have to say this most recent one -- is that the U.S. military is going to have to deal with these cases of mental illness, the cases of post-traumatic stress disorder.
WILSONIt's going to prove to be one of the bigger challenges that the Pentagon faces over the next decade or so as they deal with a generation of American soldiers who have served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, and whether or not they are diagnosed with PTSD, you know, five years ago when they came back from their first tours or are still being evaluated like Sergeant -- Specialist Lopez was being evaluated.
WILSONThere's a lot of work to be done and there is -- I think, fortunately, there is an acknowledgement now that this is a big problem. There are efforts in Congress to spend more money on research and treatment. But this is going to be the challenge of the next decade for the Pentagon.
REHMAll right. And, finally, let's talk about the Paul Ryan budget. Greg Ip, what's in it? How does it differ from the bipartisan plan passed last December?
IPWell, what's in it? Much the same that was in the year before, and the year before that, and the year before that. Paul Ryan has -- you know, it's kind of like a greatest hits sort of tour by Paul Ryan. First of all, the difference is that the plan that was passed in bipartisan fashion between Paul Ryan's Democratic counterpart in the Senate, Patty Murray, is that that only covered two years.
IPIt covered only that part of spending we call discretionary that has to be renewed every year. Paul Ryan's budget covers 10 years, and it deals not just with that part we call discretionary but mandatory, which is stuff like Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. And for that reason, it's much more ambitious. And he trots out once again many of the proposals he's had in the past.
IPHe wants to convert Medicare from a government-run traditional insurance program to a voucher program where you buy private insurance. He wants to get rid of Obamacare and save $2 trillion over the next 10 years. He wants to reform the tax code, bring the top rate from 39 percent down to 25 percent. These are all sort of, like, pillars of his strategy. If there's one interesting wrinkle from this budget, it's that he found it harder to actually get the number to add so that he balances the budget in the 10-year window.
IPSo, this year, he does something interesting. He says, you know, this budget is so good for the economy, that's going to actually generate extra growth and extra revenue, and we can use that revenue to actually reduce the deficit. There's good economic reasons for taking that type of sort of approach, but it has not generally been the methodology that budget writers in this town use. Generally, you're supposed to stick to the rule that you do not take credit for revenue you raise just because you made the economy better.
REHMSo it's got virtually no chance of passing. Why does he keep bringing it up?
WILSONWell, Paul Ryan is a principled guy. He puts out his statement of principles every year in the form of this budget. This is probably going to be the last one he puts out. He's the chairman of the House Budget Committee. He will, it's likely, in the Congress, to become the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee because that chairman is retiring, and the committee seats all shuffle. But this is his statement of principles.
REHMAnd the president had some choice words for it.
THOMASThe president in Ann Arbor, Mich. this week referred directly to Paul Ryan's budget, and he referenced the Bill Murray comment in "Groundhog Day." He said, this is the same thing that they keep bringing up every time. He was derisive of the budget. But, much like his budget, this was a statement of principles. That is what budgets are.
REHMShawna Thomas, White House producer for NBC News, Greg Ip of the Economist, Reid Wilson of The Washington Post, thanks to all of you.
IPThank you, Diane.
THOMASThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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