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.
Guest Host: Steve Roberts
The White House releases a report on climate change that says “this is not some distant problem of the future.” Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services, faces her first day of confirmation hearings. The House votes along partisan lines to form a panel to investigate the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen tells a Senate committee that she is optimistic about economic growth but still concerned about unemployment. And Monica Lewinsky speaks out in a story in Vanity Fair. A panel of journalists joins guest host Steve Roberts to discuss the week in news.
- Juliet Eilperin White House correspondent, The Washington Post.
- Damian Paletta Economic policy reporter, The Wall Street Journal.
- Jonathan Weisman Congressional reporter, The New York Times.
Watch A Featured Clip
Tea Party candidates aren’t poised to win many state primaries in 2014, if any at all–a sign that could indicate the party is losing steam.
Other than one close district in Mississippi, most of the 2014 races favor Republican Party candidates, not those backed by the Tea Party, said Jonathan Weisman,a congressional reporter for The New York Times.
“This is the year when the Tea Party goes on the run,” Weisman said Friday on The Diane Rehm show.
While its candidates may not make it to November’s elections, the Tea Party still has considerable influence on Capitol Hill, said Juliet Eilperin, the White House correspondent for The Washington Post.
That influence will likely factor heavily into debates around immigration reform, as House Speaker John Boehner (R) seeks to pass new legislation.
Watch Live Video
Starting at 10/9c on May 9, watch live video of our Domestic News Hour.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSThanks so much for joining us. I'm Steve Roberts of the George Washington University. Diane is away. She'll be back on Tuesday. A White House report on climate change urges immediate action. The nominee to head Health and Human Services faces her first day of confirmation hearings. And Monica Lewinsky breaks her silence.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSJoining me for this week's top domestic stories on the Friday News Roundup: Damian Paletta of The Wall Street Journal, Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post, and Jonathan Weisman of The New York Times. Welcome to you all.
MR. DAMIAN PALETTAThank you, Steven.
MS. JULIET EILPERINGood morning.
MR. JONATHAN WEISMANGood morning.
ROBERTSYou can join us as well, 1-800-433-8850. We'll be taking your calls and your comments. You can send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Of course, as always, you can comment on Facebook or on Twitter. Juliet, the report issued this week, a part of a series of reports--been issued over several years now on climate change--take a pretty clear and dramatic viewpoint here. What did it say?
EILPERINIt really emphasized that the impacts from climate change are happening now across the United States in every single part of this country as opposed to being some distant far-off threat.
EILPERINAnd so whether you're talking about more intense storms and flooding, sea level rise, drought, warmer temperatures, it really was trying to bring it home to Americans how global warming and the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions are actually changing the way we live, work, grow crops, you name it.
ROBERTSNow, of course, there has been considerable skepticism in some quarters of the whole issue of climate change. You think this report is really going to make much difference in terms of quelling some of the doubts?
EILPERINWell, I think, for those -- you know, there's been a lot of polling on the people who are most skeptical about the connection between human activities and climate change aren't going to change their minds. They probably aren't even going to read this report or pay attention to the press coverage. But there certainly are some people in the middle, and those are the people that the president and his aides are trying to talk to.
EILPERINAnd they are hoping that by kind of both highlighting some of these impacts and having them be recognizable, having people look and think about when plants are blooming or what's happening in their own communities, that they may take this issue more seriously and be more open to the federal government taking action on it.
ROBERTSNow, there's been virtually no movement on Capitol Hill on this issue. But the White House is going to take some executive action on this.
EILPERINExactly. In terms of coming up in just a matter of weeks, they're going to undertake their biggest action to curb greenhouse emissions, which is issuing a regulation, a proposal for existing power plants, which are one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. But even today, the president is doing an event out in California where he's going to be using his executive authority to do a few different things.
EILPERINHe's going to be talking about, for example, the Internal Revenue Service is going to issue guidance to make it easier for people to invest in solar power. He's going to dedicate $2 billion to improving energy efficiency in federal buildings. And he'll be highlighting some of the private sector commitments, including Wal-Mart, who is already a big player in terms of solar power installations. They're going to pledge to double their on-site solar projects at their stores and distribution centers by the end of the decade.
ROBERTSNow, Jonathan, as Juliet points out, any attempt to limit climate change is going to have an impact on existing power plants and therefore existing economic and political interests.
ROBERTSAnd one of the reactions that always happens is that this is a war on coal.
ROBERTSGiven the politics of this on the Hill that you watch for The New York Times, what's been the reaction so far? And is there any movement as a result of this kind of report?
WEISMANIt's interesting. I was watching Mitch McConnell a couple of days ago on the Senate floor talking about this, the senate minority leader, maybe the senate majority leader next year.
ROBERTSWho comes from a coal-producing state.
WEISMANComes from Kentucky, and he always talks about the war on coal. It was interesting to listen to him talking about climate change because he wasn't being a climate denier at all. In fact, he was basically acknowledging that there -- it is a real issue. But he was saying that whatever the United States does, as long as China and India keep belching out coal, it's going to be -- any of our modest changes will be swamped anyway.
WEISMANAnd so he's not -- it's a subtle shift. But it is a shift. He's not saying there is no climate change. What he's saying is, don't cripple my state for a fool's errand, because, whatever we do, unless China goes along, it's going to be pointless. And I think that you're on an important point. The fact of the matter is -- there was always a line from the Democrats and from President Obama that, you know, the impact would be minimal nationally to the economy. If you measure the economy writ large, that might be true. But if you look more narrowly at places like Kentucky...
WEISMAN...at West Virginia, places that really rely on coal, but also, you know, big rural states, like Montana, where any kind of carbon tax is going to really hurt and hurt real people, you know, working-class people. These are actually regressive taxes.
ROBERTSWell, in addition to the question of producing the raw materials, Damian, there is a larger debate about jobs versus climate. And there has been a resistance for -- against aggressive action and the argument that this is going to cost jobs and -- so fill us in on that piece of the puzzle.
PALETTASure. I think one of the most interesting things about this report is it tried to get to the economic impact of not doing anything. They said that the economic impact of Superstorm Sandy, the economic impact of some of these wildfires, those are the sorts of costs that are also being borne now on the other side of climate change.
PALETTASo it's almost like a lot of the scientists who are involved in this were trying to present the other side of the economic argument, that if nothing is done, there's going to be economic consequences, and there's already economic consequences to this. I mean, I'm sure that in the Kentucky Senate race and the West Virginia Senate race, the Democratic candidates can be very careful, you know, not to embrace this kind of rapport...
ROBERTSAnd Ohio. I mean, there are a number of other states where this comes in.
PALETTAAbsolutely. Ohio, yeah, of course. And so, you know, the political consequences of embracing, you know, big curbs on coal are dire right now, especially in a year when Democrats are playing on their heels. So -- but reports like this are going to keep coming out, and we're going to be talking more and more about the economic consequences, especially after we have these, you know, severe events that seem to come up.
WEISMANAnd we will see them. My colleague Coral Davenport was just down in Miami Beach watching what they called sunny day flooding, which is how storms are -- because of rising ocean levels, there are these storm surges, I mean, not storm surges, just tidal surges that rush into Miami through the soft limestone underneath and flood Miami Beach, you know, flood the laundromat, flood the liquor store, just because the city is not built for the sea level that it's at now.
ROBERTSBut, Juliet, the -- for all of this dire warnings, the polls show that voters are not particularly concerned about this issue. And while the Obama Administration has long talked about making this an important political and legislative priority, it really has remained on the back burner for virtually their entire presidency.
EILPERINAbsolutely. Well, they are getting engaged now in a way that they haven't before. But you're right. I mean, this is something that is -- it's an intense issue for a small minority of voters. It's not something that's in the upper mind of Americans. What the White House is trying to do now is, one, as Damian mentioned, they do think that highlighting these economic impacts may resonate even more than -- well, they still talk about "green jobs." They think that that might resonate.
EILPERINThey see that they're kind of laying the table for 2016. They are convinced that in a presidential year, the Democratic candidate is going to be talking about this a great deal. The Republican will not. And they think this will help them with young voters. But, again, at this point, it's not going to be a major issue, you know, going forward in the midterms. And simply, they were going to see, if they highlighted enough, could they influence people going forward?
ROBERTSDamian, quickly, one other energy-related issue that keeps getting talked about in a political and economic context is the Keystone pipeline. A lot of pressure on the president to move forward. He has resisted this. Give us a quick update on that.
PALETTAYou know, I thought this was going to get addressed earlier in the year, but now it's looking more and more like it might be an October surprise type thing. I mean, the president -- there's litigation that's sort of tied up the State Department's review. The State Department, you know, is going to issue some sort of ruling on the impact of this pipeline. And then the White House will have to sort of give a thumbs up or a thumbs down decision. It's just giving a lot of fodder for Republicans and making a lot of Democrats squirm because it's an easy issue for Republicans to say, we want to create jobs. This is an easy one for us to do.
WEISMANIn the Senate, it's a big issue right now in the Senate because you have a situation where some of the most endangered Democrats, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, they're pushing the Keystone pipeline very hard. And it puts President Obama and Harry Reid, the majority leader, in a sticky situation because if he resists them, they look weak.
WEISMANThey look ineffectual. They go back to their constituents. They'll say, why can't we do this? If they give in -- if he gives in, you know, Obama is really being pushed to the right by the 2014 political dynamic.
ROBERTSNow, 2014 political dynamic leads to the fact that this week there was important primary Republican primaries, primarily in the state of North Carolina where Thom Tillis, the favorite of the establishment, won easily. And this is part of a pattern, Jonathan, in many states where, after two cycles in a row, Republicans have lost a number of Senate races because they nominated a far-right candidate who could not win statewide. The results of North Carolina show that the party establishment is fighting back.
WEISMANYes. In fact, Thom Tillis, the speaker of the North Carolina House, won easily. He got the 40 percent he needed to avoid a run-off. He was running against -- in Doug (sic) Brannon. He was running against an obstetrician that had the backing of Rand Paul. He was running against a Baptist minister who had the backing of the religious right. But Thom Tillis had the backing of the Chamber of Commerce and the Republican establishment, and he won easily.
WEISMANAnd I think you're going to see this everywhere. Mitch McConnell, at one time, there was some notion that this Tea Party candidate Matt Bevin was going to present some kind of challenge to him. It's really faded. There's really only one race in which the Tea Party challenger really has a shot. And that's down in Mississippi against Thad Cochran. But, really, that's kind of the exception that proves the rule. This is the year when the Tea Party goes on the run.
ROBERTSBut, Juliet, they still exert a lot of influence on Capitol Hill. Single best example perhaps is in immigration reform remained stalled in the House of Representatives, even though a bipartisan bill passed the Senate fairly easily. So talk about the Tea Party's demise. Can -- some sense premature. They still have a lot of power.
EILPERINAbsolutely. They have a huge amount of power. They have, you know, power in both chambers although in the House, it's a lot easier for some of these conservative candidates to win. And so what you're seeing is John Boehner who really does want to get immigration reform passed before the end of this Congress is in a pickle. And it'll be tough for him to do it.
ROBERTSWe'll be right back with more of your comments and your calls and our experts on the Friday News Roundup. So, please, stay with us.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane. It's the Domestic Hour of our Friday News Roundup. Damian Paletta of The Wall Street Journal's with me, Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post, Jonathan Weisman of The New York Times. And there were also a number of events on Capitol Hill this week worth mentioning, starting with the vote yesterday to create yet another committee to study the Benghazi tragedy that happened in Libya in September 2012, Damian. This was largely a partisan party line vote. What triggered yet another investigation, even though there had been a number before?
PALETTAWell, the White House might not have anyone to blame but themselves for this one because there was this email that came out recently through court litigation.
ROBERTSOh, yeah, yeah.
PALETTAYeah, and the -- it disclosed a new email from, you know, I think, Ben Rhodes at the White House to someone. And it sort of reveals a senior advisor on foreign policy, yeah.
WEISMANThat's right. And it revealed something new that the White House in effect had not turned over before. It probably isn't the smoking gun of the century, but it does suggest that maybe the White House wasn't as forthcoming as they had claimed to have been with all these Republican investigations. So this was kind of the thing that apparently really angered John Boehner, the House Speaker.
WEISMANAnd he decided to create this new commission, committee, whatever it's going to be, to further investigate Benghazi. Now, the interesting thing about this is it could go either of two ways. Obviously, the Democrats really don't know how to respond quite yet. They're nervous that if they participate, it could validate the whole thing. If they don't participate, then the thing could, you know, end up embarrassing them. But...
ROBERTSAnd they lose a platform to rebut the Republicans.
WEISMANExactly. But the Republicans -- and we're already seeing this -- some are committed to taking this very seriously, being very procedural and, you know, not, you know, sort of blowing this out of proportion. But we've also seen some fundraising, quite frankly, on this as well, suggesting that it could be kind of a political circus.
ROBERTSWell, when you talk about fundraising, Jonathan, and we were talking about the 2014 elections, I was doing a column on Benghazi this week. I put the word in the search engine. Up popped a site that sold 401 different products with the word Benghazi (unintelligible)...
ROBERTS...mugs, T-shirts, sweatshirts, backpacks, so someone's making some money off of this. Without demeaning the seriousness of the issue, there are other incentives at work here.
WEISMANYou have to look at the political dynamic here, what we were just discussing, the Tea Party versus the establishment. The fact of the matter is that the establishment has the Tea Party kind of on the run. But once the primaries are over, they need those Tea Party voters to come back and vote in November, right.
WEISMANSo you beat them at the polls in the primaries, but then you have to show that you know, you're doing things that they are interested in. So you put up the ongoing IRS investigations and the Benghazi probe. These are messages to those Tea Party voters that the Republican establishment in the face of John Boehner is looking out for their interests as well.
ROBERTSAnd also, Juliet, many folks think that the Tea -- that the Benghazi issue really relates to 2016 and the potential candidacy of Hillary Clinton and that I noticed, for instance, Bill O'Reilly on Fox had a program this week, Will Benghazi Stop Hillary Clinton From Running in 2016. And in some ways, that's as important as 2014 from a political point of view.
EILPERINThere's no question that this happened when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. And people see one of the biggest benefits but potentially a downside to Republicans is that this Benghazi investigation becomes all about her and not really about anything else. And...
ROBERTSAnd she has called it the biggest regret of her tenure as Secretary of State, the death of the four Americans.
EILPERINYes. I mean, she's clearly spoken about this, but, you know, said just this week that she didn't see a need for an additional investigation. And so I think that we're -- you know, she's clearly a player in this. And while it absolutely could benefit on a certain level Republicans, if they can discredit her competency as Secretary of State, there's no way that it doesn't look political at the same time.
ROBERTSAnd there's some concern. Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post this morning talking, Damian, about the possibility of a backlash, that Benghazi might appeal to the Republican base, but it's not what most Americans talk about or care about around the kitchen table and that they can look disconnected and detached from the real interests of Americans if they focus on it.
PALETTAThat's right. And I think actually Speaker Boehner probably has a little bit of hesitancy. I think one of the reasons he hadn't created this commission in the first place is 'cause he didn't want Republicans to get too sidetracked and go down this kind of this rabbit hole that might just end up embarrassing them down the road.
PALETTABut the fact that this new email came out, it sort of armed -- it sort of fueled this belief that a lot of Republicans had that the White House has been, you know, not providing all the information they had. And that's -- quite frankly, Boehner probably had no choice but to give in at this point.
ROBERTSWell, and also there were several other appearances on Capitol Hill, all of them involving female appointees of this administration I noticed. But you mentioned, starting with Lois Lerner, Jonathan, who had been a major official in the IRS, got caught up in the scandal about the allegations of targeting conservative groups for strict scrutiny in terms of their tax status. She resigned and has refused to answer questions, now cited for contempt by a congressional committee.
WEISMANThis is another case in which the Republicans in the House are really trying to signal their support for their Tea Party wing. The fact is the Tea Party groups feel that the IRS specifically targeted them for additional scrutiny. Lois Lerner headed the division. She's not an Obama appointee. She's actually a career IRS official. She headed the division of the IRS that was doing the screening of 501 (c)(4) nonprofit applications. And she's really taken the fall here.
WEISMANNow Lois Lerner is a name that virtually no Americans know. I mean, no one -- if you go -- I'm sure if you polled the name Lois Lerner by -- NBC-Wall Street Journal, they want to do their fever polls -- she would be very cold because nobody knows who she is. But the people who do know who she is...
WEISMAN...care, and care a lot. And that's what -- I think that's what this is all about.
ROBERTSNow, also, a somewhat more amicable hearing, Juliet, on Capitol Hill this week, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the new appointee to succeed Kathleen Sebelius' secretary of HHS, when she came up before Senate confirmation for her previous job, head of OMB, unanimous confirmation, several Republican senators much more favorable. So this one seems to be far less partisan and polarizing this.
EILPERINRight. I mean, this was the most positive hearing that I think the senators had on the Affordable Care Act, although again it really was praising Burwell as opposed to praising the law. There was criticism for the law but even and in fact, you know, there were kind of humorous moments.
EILPERINJohn McCain, the Republican from Arizona, introduced her and, of course, talked about her being his -- her friend but also wondering whether it was a thankless task, that when you tell someone after the Titanic has hit an iceberg to come be the captain. But, you know, she's going ahead. So you really saw, well, you know, certainly there was questioning about a few different aspects of the law. She seems poised to sail through.
ROBERTSAnd also this week Janet Yellen, Damian, new Chairman of the Federal Reserve on Capitol Hill, always closely watched, particularly a new chairman whose positions are not as well known, so always very careful scrutiny. What did you learn from her testimony?
PALETTARight. And especially because the Fed's at a real transitional stage now. There's a lot of attention on, you know, how quickly the Fed's going to move possibly to raise interest rates or to dial back even more quickly their kind of bond program. I think what we learned from her is that this slowdown, this sort of unexpected slowdown we saw in the winter was possibly a lot more weather-related than we thought.
PALETTAThere wasn't some sort of intrinsic weakness in the economy that we should all be particularly concerned about. However, she did say that unemployment is not going to -- the unemployment issue in this country is not going to be resolved very quickly. And she also said...
ROBERTSEven though the latest figures show it down to 6.3, it's still pretty high (unintelligible).
PALETTAThat's right. That's right. And the long-term unemployment issue's a real concern. But also housing, which had been getting some juice in the last few years, has kind of hit a wall. And that's a huge concern because that's -- it's one of those things that affects every American, and it affects consumer behavior a lot, not just in housing but a lot of other decisions as well. So that's something that they're watching very closely.
ROBERTSAnd this always, of course, Jonathan, an important political dimension. We talk about how people don't care about Lois Lerner or about Benghazi. They do care about jobs and the economy. This is the issue that is always number one in every poll. And both sides use the Yellen hearing as a platform to frame the economy, Democrats emphasizing that things are getting better, Republicans emphasizing that there's still a lag on the jobs front. So what was the politics of this?
WEISMANYou know, I always thought that the whole huge fight over the Affordable Care Act was somewhat of a proxy war about the economy. And that once that fight diminished with the end of the sign-up period, regardless of how it would go, it would clear the underbrush. And then we would realize actually we all are much more worried about the economy than the fate of the Affordable Care Act. And I think that's exactly what's happened.
WEISMANAnd I think that the problem for Democrats is you can't convince a man or a woman that he is better off than he feels. And you can't -- and for Republicans you can't convince somebody he's worse off than he feels. The fact is, people know how they feel. And right now they're still not feeling very well. The benefits of this recovery have just not distributed well.
WEISMANAnd it particularly has not distributed well for Democratic voters. If you look at how the president's approval ratings have kind of settled down, for anyone who's earning over $75,000, he's held his own. And if you look down the income scale, he's losing support even among African-Americans, even among his base because...
ROBERTSAnd one of the key economic statistics that continues to be a drag on this national mood and on the Democratic base is wages and the fact that in real terms wages have actually gone down. So as you point out quite correctly, you can tell someone you're supposed to be better. Look at the stock market, look at all of these figures. But if your wages are not going as far, you're going to feel it, right, Damian?
PALETTAThat's right. And that's sort of the crux of this new book, which is the number one New York Times Best Seller by Thomas Piketty, the French economist, "Capital." If you have capital and you have money in the stock market and you have investments and you can afford, you know, to enjoy this recovery, but if you're stuck, you know, counting on your wages in order to pay for your kids to go to college or whatever, save for investments in your house, you're in really rough shape. And you have not enjoyed a recovery at all over the past several decades.
PALETTAAnd that's so frustrating for the White House. You know, part of that plays into this whole minimum wage fight that the White House is continuing to try to advance. But the fact that the economy, the private sector just isn't, you know, loosening up the purse strings to raise wages, you know, is something that both parties are struggling with.
ROBERTSBut interestingly, Juliet, when asked about minimum wage, which is an issue of course the Democrats have used quite vigorously in the last few months, crafting votes and Congress talking about it, when Janet Yellen was asked about it, she gave a very mixed answer saying yes, it could improve wages for some people. But she also gave credence to the counter argument that it could also cost jobs. So it was not necessarily a strong endorsement to the idea of raising the minimum wage.
EILPERINRight. And that probably was not the answer that the White House was looking for.
EILPERINBut, you know, I mean, I think frankly, you know, you need the chair to be showing independence and so, you know, people will listen to what she's saying with seriousness. I do think, you know, when you talk about these analyses, and that book is something that the White House is reading and they are just trying to figure out how can they move the needle on the issue of inequality. And, you know, what are the tools available to them because they see that again as a huge part of the president's agenda for the second term and part of his legacy.
ROBERTSAnd how, Jonathan, do you think this is going to play out in the fall elections? I mean, you know, there's really, in many way, only two slogans in American politics. You never had it so good and it's time for a change. And the incumbent party always has to argue things are good. But as we've been saying, this argument is not as strong or as vigorous as it might be given the way people are feeling.
WEISMANYeah, the Democrats actually have been kind of testing out their -- an argument not so much that things are great for you but that things are improving but we need to do more to help the middle class. And the Republican counter argument is, you guys have controlled the economy for six years.
WEISMANDon't start blaming us. And, you know, the fact is, that's a pretty good trump card.
ROBERTSNo matter what else anybody says, whoever controls the White House has to take responsibility for the economy in the eyes of many Americans.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's listen to some of our callers and get to folks who have called here. And Betty in Baltimore, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
BETTYYes, thank you. Like many, I was outraged to hear that Republicans were using Benghazi as a campaign fundraiser, but I wasn't surprised because I remember after 9/11, the midterm elections were coming up. And the GOP were planning to use a photo of George W. Bush looking out the window of the Air Force One at the fallen towers where 3,000 Americans died. There was a lot of criticism, and the plan was dropped. But obviously they didn't get the message, and they're repeating bad behavior.
ROBERTSThank you. Thank you, Betty. Juliet, Benghazi is an ongoing political issue.
EILPERINAbsolutely. And I think what you're saying and you're hearing with Betty's comments is that this something that really outrages people who are staunch Democrats as well as, you know, staunch Republicans. They feel passionately about this. But as we mentioned, it's hard to imagine that's going to be a central issue when people are worried about, you know, whether it's their jobs, their healthcare or other issues come this fall.
ROBERTSLet's turn to Brian in Grand Rapids, Mich. Brian, welcome. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
BRIANOh, good morning everyone. My point on climate change is that the climate change deniers sponsored by the Koch Brothers in this area and the tens of millions that were spent from the DeVos family and the Prince family on climate change denying. And the senators from the coal states, they're benefitting at the expense of the other states that are having to breathe all that -- you know, all those particulates, and causing asthma rates to go up and healthcare costs to go in these states that are not advantageous, that don't have coal under the ground. And that's my point.
ROBERTSOK. Thank you. An interesting one, Damian, that we talked a lot about, the coal-producing states. But climate change is one of those issues that cross the state boundaries.
PALETTAAbsolutely. And the tricky -- one of the many tricky things about climate change is -- I mean, it's one thing to look at the science or look at the data and have some findings. It's a whole other thing to come up with policies to address it, right.
PALETTAI mean, one of the findings in this report is that it's not too late, they argue, to, you know, take action on methane or carbon dioxide. But to get a policy that's embraced by a majority of politicians or anybody in America is very difficult because it is going to have an impact on somebody's job, someone's community.
WEISMANAnd the fact is, if you put a price on carbon, it means you're going to raise the costs not only for burning coal but for burning oil. And everybody burns oil. I mean, the fact is that in a state like Montana or Wyoming or any place where people have to get in a pickup truck and drive long distances, they are not going to like a higher gas tax. And that's really what we're talking about.
ROBERTSWe have an email from Reed Scherer who is a distinguished research professor of geology and environmental geosciences, so he knows what he's talking about. He says, "It was mentioned on the show that a carbon tax would severely impact rural states. Why not do what they do in Sweden, create an income tax reduction for work-related driving, including long distance commuting where there is no public transit. That worked very well for us when we lived in rural Sweden."
EILPERINIt's an interesting point, and I think it speaks to the complication when the administration is trying to do everything through executive authority as opposed to getting a solution through Congress, which at this point obviously is very difficult. If you impose some sort of tax and you can give it back to people in different ways, whether it's payroll tax or, you know, just a direct rebate or targeting it for work-related driving, that's a way you can kind of address the complications that come from making carbon cost more.
EILPERINBut when the administration is using the Clean Air Act, a decade-old law to do this, they don't have that same flexibility. They're dealing with a kind of traditional command control and you're not necessarily going to see utilities distribute the costs in the same way.
WEISMANThat's right. A couple of years ago when -- oops, sorry.
ROBERTSWe got to cut it off right there. We're going to be right back though with Jonathan Weisman, Juliet Eilperin and Damian Paletta and your phone calls and your messages. So, please, stay with us.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane. This is the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup. My three guests this morning: Damian Paletta covers economic policy for The Wall Street Journal, Juliet Eilperin, White House correspondent for The Washington Post, and Jonathan Weisman, congressional reporter for The New York Times.
ROBERTSAnd one story that I wanted to mention, Juliet, Monica Lewinsky broke a long silence, wrote a long article in Vanity Fair talking about her life and, of course, the famous incident with Bill Clinton. How did you read that? And what impact do you think it will have?
EILPERINWell, I think no one can read that without feeling sorry for this person who was thrust into the limelight. I was covering impeachment. I was only a couple of years older than Monica Lewinsky when that story broke and I wrote about it. The presidency was obviously at stake. But you really see how these events can reverberate years later. And I thought, you know, there were a couple interesting points.
EILPERINOne was how she spoke about how it would have been worse in this day and age if a video of her had gone viral and other aspects. I thought that that was fascinating. And you also wonder -- she talked a lot about how she has had a tough time finding a job. And one thing that comes up is the idea that she had gravitated towards public relations, which would have put her in close proximity to journalists, and she didn't want to do that. And so, at some point, of course, one does wonder, could she have chosen something else? But it was poignant, I thought.
ROBERTSBut it also, Jonathan, we were talking earlier about how the Benghazi issue might affect Hillary Clinton's potential candidacy in 2016. This is another issue. Any Clinton in public life comes with baggage and comes with a history. And this is a reminder of a part of that.
WEISMANRight. Remember, Hillary's personal approval rating skyrocketed during the Lewinsky scandal. It was, you know, a woman scorned that people felt sorry for her. But that doesn't necessarily hold when she's running for president. The fact is one of the Clintons' great assets is that Americans seem to look back at the '90s as this halcyon days where everyone got along, where things were done in a bipartisan fashion.
WEISMANAnd they've kind of forgotten that Bill Clinton was impeached. I mean, it was not -- there were some very vituperative partisan exchanges. And obviously any reminder of the Monica Lewinsky scandal is a reminder that, in fact, things weren't that great back then.
ROBERTSFair point. Damian, I want to read you a tweet since you're The Wall Street Journal reporter here, the economic expert here. "Please" -- this is from A.J.: "Please explain how a carbon tax is regressive. Working class people have smaller homes, drive less, more skin, and using less energy."
PALETTAI actually don't have a smart answer to that question.
WEISMANWell, let me jump in because I'm the one who was saying it. That's a very urban question. You have to look at the rural side. I mean, yes, you're right. Poor people who live in the city and take public transit don't use oil. But if you look in urban America -- and remember the United States Senate is dominated by rural senators -- they are the ones that are looking at constituents who drive great distances, who use inefficient vehicles, trucks, pickup trucks and such. And they aren't going to buy a Prius to go haul, you know, haul the horses across Montana. This is not -- this is an urban versus rural issue as much as a poor versus rich issue.
ROBERTSAnd Ed in Kalamazoo, Mich. also wants to get in on this subject. So, Ed, please, join us. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
EDYes. I was going to throw this into the mix. What about Dr. James Hansen's idea, a carbon tax which is revenue neutral and refundable so that you would collect the carbon tax and after six months or after a year you would reimburse a check per capita, you know, of what he called a fixed check for everyone so that would reduce the regressiveness of the tax on the poor and the middle class and try to encourage and conservation and smaller cars and that kind of thing and not creating a bureaucracy. Just having a revenue-neutral, refundable tax.
ROBERTSThanks a lot. Juliet, you were talking a bit about that, the whole issue of using the tax code to refund and smooth out some of the potential impacts of a carbon tax.
EILPERINRight. And Dr. Hansen, for some of your listeners, he really sounded the alarm on climate change back in the 1980s. He, for years, headed the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and now is a real activist on this issue. So that's absolutely something that could smooth out those wrinkles in imposing a price on carbon. But, again, it would really take a legislative solution.
ROBERTSLet's turn to Rosalyn (sp?) in West Palm Beach. Welcome, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
ROSALYNThank you very much. It's Rosalyn.
ROSALYNI wanted to say that, you know, I'm really concerned about the economy. And the Republicans' answer to the economy for this year and last year and the year before has been Benghazi, the IRS. I mean, every bill that the president has brought before Congress, whether it's the infrastructure bill or a jobs bill, it's all been shut down. They have timing to look at these redone, redo over and over and over again.
ROSALYNBut they are not concerned about the middle class and what they can do to help people who are struggling, who don't have jobs. And for them to bring Janet Yellen in and start yelling at her the other day about, you know, why isn't, you know, your program working better? Why isn't their program working better? They are so disingenuous. And I hope the American people see it and vote.
ROBERTSThank you, Rosalyn. We were talking about this earlier, Jonathan, that there are Republicans who were concerned that the focus on Benghazi, the IRS and other issues like that miss what most Americans really care about.
WEISMANRight. I mean, in fact, the House has passed a series of what they call jobs bills. They were fairly partisan and they were fairly narrow and they've been complaining bitterly that they haven't gotten any attention for those bills. But now, you know, when they start doing these Benghazi investigations, when they actually start whipping up news that is off topic, they do risk this backlash.
WEISMANBut they also understand that elections are about zeitgeist. They're not about specifics. And the zeitgeist is if six years into a presidency the economy is still not going well, then the president and his party will be blamed. Republicans just think they have a pass on this.
ROBERTSAnd also, Juliet, particularly off-year elections focus much more on turning out your core base voters. And Democrats are not worried that folks who voted for Obama are suddenly going to vote Republican. They're worried that they're not going to vote at all.
EILPERINRight. And that's one of the reasons they are so focused, for example, on unmarried women. This is a slice of the electorate disproportionately favors Obama, came out and was crucial in...
ROBERTSVoted, I believe, almost 2-to-1 for Obama, unmarried women.
EILPERINRight. And really, you know, had a huge -- really a huge impact at how he won women last time. And they're really concerned that they're going to stay home. And that's one of the reasons you see them talking about whether it's equal pay for equal work or whether it's the minimum wage, other issues. That -- this is a real focus of theirs in this election.
ROBERTSBecause what often defines the difference between married woman and unmarried women is economic vulnerability.
ROBERTSYou look at the statistics and everybody thinks of unmarried women as being young people in the workforce, which is true. But it's also a lot of divorced women with kids and it's a lot of older women who have been widowed and are living on small income.
EILPERINAbsolutely. So what they're really trying to see, can they convince them that they have enough at stake that they need to vote in this off-year election even if they don't have, for example, an important race going on in their own state.
ROBERTSDamian, let me -- go ahead.
PALETTAYeah. Well, I was just going to say, another reason for this focus on climate change is that the young voters who really helped the president in 2008 and 2012, they largely stayed home, I think, in 2010. And if they stay home in 2014, that's a huge vulnerability for Democrats because they need those people to come vote. And if they don't, then they're going to be in bad shape in a lot of states.
ROBERTSAnd Obama got 60 percent of the youth vote. You're absolutely right. Jonathan, we got an email from Dan in Sacramento, raises another dimension that we haven't really talked about, and it's sort of this political climate. And he quotes an article in The Washington Post that read, "It's possible the GOP's increased emphasis on Benghazi is partly due to a recognition that the ACA, the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, is not shaping up as the certain long-term winner for them that they anticipated." What are you hearing about that?
WEISMANI think that he is right. I mean, I think that the Democrats have certainly been making that point that the Affordable Care Act has come faded as a real hot-button issue. And the fact is, it has because nothing is really going to happen with the Affordable Care Act until basically October, November timeframe. The first sign-up period is done. There's not going to be a lot of movement in that area.
WEISMANIn October, we'll start seeing what happens to, as small businesses, as the larger business begin to gear up for the mandates that have been put off until November. We might start seeing some stirring of the pot there. But the fact is 8 million people signed up for the Affordable Care Act through the exchanges. And a lot of the big fights over the Medicaid expansion, all of these things, they're fading away. You can't -- in politics, eight months is a lifetime.
ROBERTSAnd truly the Democrats always argued, or at least hoped, that as people did sign up, 8 million people signed up, that there would be a different narrative instead of the focus on the disaster of the rollout in the fall and the bureaucratic botching that the narrative would change to the benefits that real people were deriving who now could afford healthcare. Are you starting to get any sense that this narrative is changing? That they were right in predicting that once the law kicked in, the good news would start to counterbalance the bad news?
EILPERINWell, interestingly, you don't see a real change in the polling. If anything, the law has remained controversial. And in fact, one thing we see in -- Kaiser had a recent poll on this recently -- is that when you ask people did enrollment exceed or underperform on its goals, people by a wide margin think that it underperformed.
EILPERINSo that news hasn't gotten out yet. But now we have, as Jonathan mentioned, several months for these groups to make the case and these candidates to make the case on the ground. And so the real question is, can they get the engaged voters to believe that this is a real asset for them? And so you're going to see particularly a bunch of liberal groups really get mobilized in the months to come on that.
ROBERTSLet's turn to David in Hedgesville, W.Va. David, welcome, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
DAVIDGood morning, all. I just think it's kind of ironic that you're talking about the National Climate Assessment and immigration and income equality at the same show, and nobody has mentioned the fact that the supposed immigration reform 744 will increase our population, like, 10 percent, like, 30 billion people, over the next couple of decades. I know that it's hard to oppose the immigration bill as such.
DAVIDBut with the, I think, 1 percent is supporting low wages. But if we could get our population under control, we could make some progress in our percent of the world's greenhouse output, and also we could raise wages. I know since the immigration rates went up in the '50s, the middle class has really taken it in the shins. So, you know, President Obama could reduce their output and raise working American wages just by putting a moratorium on immigration visas right now.
ROBERTSThank you, David. I'm Steve Roberts. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Of course, the economist disagree with the caller. Virtually every economic study that's ever been done says that immigration actually increases economic activity and increases wages for everybody and increases jobs. But...
PALETTARight, and reduces the deficit and leads to, you know, a whole another -- a whole bunch of other benefits for the economy. Obviously, there's a lot of risks involved as well that -- and one of the reasons Republicans are very hesitant on this is because they're very suspicious because of the way the White House rolled out the Affordable Care Act that it was going to kind of pick and choose how it might roll out an immigration bill as well.
PALETTABut, you know, I mean, quite frankly, on wages, when you have high unemployment, when you have a lot of people that are looking for jobs, there's an impetus on employers to pay more to the ones, the people that have jobs. Quite frankly, a lot of those people might be lucky to have jobs, right? They can be replaced by someone who's cheaper, you know, the next day. So...
ROBERTSAnd also, Damian, we're talking earlier about how important in American politics is mood, the sense of whether people feel that things are getting better or this is at the core of how they're going to vote. And one of the factors here that when you look at the unemployment numbers, they mask the fact that a number of people since the recession might be working but they're working in jobs that pay less than they did.
ROBERTSThis is really part of this sense of frustration in this economic picture.
PALETTAThat's right, especially in states -- I mean, we said the long-term unemployment benefits ended, you know, end of December. A lot of Americans who were getting those extended unemployment benefits had to take jobs just to have any income whatsoever. And so we saw a lot of Americans taking lower-paying jobs than they were willing to accept, you know, sometime in 2013.
PALETTAThere's a lot of overqualified Americans, over-educated Americans working jobs that they never thought they'd be working in just so they can have some income. And that's something that, until the unemployment rate comes down even more and people are more settled, they're going to have to continue to live with.
ROBERTSWe got time for perhaps one more caller and Tom in New Bedford, Mass. Welcome. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
TOMThank you very much. Here's my question. If Hillary does get the Democratic nomination by her party for the 2016 election, and assuming that Chelsea can't be her running mate, who do you think she might ask?
ROBERTSWho's got an answer?
WEISMANActually my colleague Jennifer Steinhauer wrote a story about this, interestingly, to ask if Hillary Clinton is the heir apparent, what does this mean for all the women who had hoped to be vice president because, you know, usually it's been, you know, a man gets the nod, and he picks a woman for the ticket. Can you actually have two women for the ticket?
WEISMANBut you could make the argument that, in fact, having two women on the Democratic ticket would be quite, you know, a show of force in an era where change -- you know, change obviously in 2008 was the big rallying cry. How do you make change new in 2016? How about two women on the ticket?
ROBERTSBut, of course, Juliet, also one of the reasons why so many Democrats are hoping that Hillary Clinton runs is because the bench is pretty thin. And if she doesn't run, there are not a lot of likely alternative.
EILPERINRight. And that also complicates the vice presidential stakes because often you turn to someone who had also sought the presidency. But if they're only going to be a tiny handful of Democrats who seek it along with Hillary Clinton, you know, where does she turn?
EILPERINI mean, I certainly think, while I'm no expert on this, you would imagine she might want to look outside of Washington for someone in the states because certainly people -- in a time when people are a little frustrated with what's happened here, someone who's shown results on the ground, out in the country would be a smart pick, whether it's a man or a woman.
PALETTAPerhaps Joe Biden would be available. You know, one of the reasons Obama picked Biden is because Biden had so much sort of Washington experience, same with Dick Cheney and George Bush. I could definitely see her going for some sort of Hispanic, excitable Hispanic leader that, you know, will sort of electrify the Democrats on things like immigration.
ROBERTSThat's going to have to be the last word. That's Damian Paletta of The Wall Street Journal. Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post has been with me, and Jonathan Weisman of The New York Times. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane Rehm. She's going to be back in this chair on Tuesday. Thanks so much for spending an hour of your Friday morning with us.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Denise Couture, Susan Casey Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn, Danielle Knight and Allison Brody. The engineer is Toby Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts and podcasts. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is email@example.com. And we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington D.C. This is NPR.
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