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Election campaigns are often reduced to sound bites and slogans, but the 2010 midterm could have far reaching consequences. A panel joins Diane to discuss how the results could redraw the political map for the next decade and what’s at stake for the economy, health care, spending and other issues important to Americans.
- Karen Tumulty national political reporter, The Washington Post.
- Norman Ornstein resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and coauthor of "The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track."
- William Galston senior fellow, Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution and a former policy advisor to President Clinton and past presidential candidates.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. In eight days, midterm elections will determine the political composition of Congress and many state governments. The results could bring more cooperation or more confrontation over the budget, the economy and other major issues facing the country in the next two years. It could also draw a new political map for the next decade. Joining me to talk about what's at stake after Nov. 2, Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post and William Galston of the Brookings Institution. And, of course, throughout the hour, you're invited to join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.
MR. NORMAN ORNSTEINGood morning.
MS. KAREN TUMULTYGood morning.
MR. WILLIAM GALSTONGood morning.
REHMBill Galston, I know that you are a former policy advisor to President Clinton and to other past presidential candidates. How does the situation you see now compare to the 1994 election when President Clinton faced similar criticism?
GALSTONWell, like everybody who was in the White House November of 1994, you know, I will never forget the morning when the role of defeated Democrats was read in the senior staff meeting. And it was like the tolling of a bell. The conventional wisdom at the time was two-fold. First of all, that we were in for unending confrontation, and second, that President Clinton had been rendered irrelevant and was perhaps a lame duck, one term president. Neither of those two predictions turned out to be accurate. There was a year of confrontation.
GALSTONThe Republicans led by Newt Gingrich shut down the government in the full belief that the American people would approve of what they did. The American people did not approve and said so loud and clear. And then the gridlock was broken, and there was actually more cooperation, not only in the presidential election year of 1996 -- where Bill Clinton easily won reelection -- but also in 1997. So that is one possible scenario for 2011, 2012 and 2013, but certainly not the only one.
REHMBut, Norm Ornstein, forecasters have been calling this a wave election. What does that mean?
ORNSTEINWe have seen these waves before. Let me turn it in a different direction. It's a hurricane, Diane. One of the things that we're all caught up with right now is we're meteorologists, knowing that a hurricane is coming. It isn't going to be a tropical storm. We're trying to figure out if it's a category 3 hurricane -- which is what happened to Ronald Reagan in 1982 in his midterm -- you know, a serious wound, but they lost back most of what they gained in the House and held their own in the Senate, or a category 5, which is what hit Clinton and the Democrats. One difference is that in 1994, many of those Democrats were out sunning on the beach, not even knowing that a storm was coming.
ORNSTEINDan Glickman, who was a congressman from Wichita at the time, had a poll a couple of weeks before the election that showed them way up by 30 points or more. So we stopped campaigning and lost. This time, everybody, including people who've never seen a storm before, have boarded up the windows and dug deep into the cellar. Is that going to be enough to keep that 175-mile-an-hour wind from overcoming them and destroying their houses? Possibly not. One comment on what Bill said -- he's right.
ORNSTEINThey had a year of terrible confrontation that culminated in the shutdown of the government and then cooperation as Newt realized that he had overreached but still had enough clout with his colleagues to be able to pull them back to cooperate so that they could win a second consecutive term in the majority, even if it meant Bill Clinton winning. I'm not sure that John Boehner will have the clout with his colleagues. Many of them, far more ardent than that class of 1994, true believers that if they shut down the government and keep it shut down, the American people will finally realize and see the light. And we may not be able to pull back from the confrontation quite so easily.
REHMKaren Tumulty, that's quite a weather forecast. What is on the line in this election?
TUMULTYWell, if we just look at congressional races, it's control of the House, which I think most people at this point would say is more likely than not to go Republican, and possibly control of the Senate. Although, again, you know, we're looking at the last few bits of polling data here, and it does look like the Democrats are probably going to lose a few seats. But they do stand a pretty good chance of keeping control of the Senate. I would, though, add one more thing that happened after the '94 election -- was that Bill Clinton ended up getting impeached. And one thing that will happen if even one House changes hands is that we will see the Republicans getting subpoena power, which I think could, in fact, be relevant and could, in fact, make it a lot more difficult to cooperate.
REHMWhere would they use it? How would they use it?
TUMULTYI -- if you listen to particularly Congressman Darrell Issa, who would be sitting essentially in the same spot that Henry Waxman had been before, they're -- they would be looking into a lot of how the Obama administration has spent money, a lot of things like that. And again, this is something that, you know, people have argued, well, maybe it would be a good thing for President Obama in some ways to actually be dealing with the Republicans. But this is one area where, I think, it is absolutely one main reason they don't want to see either House in Republican control.
REHMWhat about the governorships and how that affects the outlook, not only for 2012 but for years ahead?
TUMULTYWell, there are something like two-thirds of the governorships are on the ballot this time. And there are a number of things that we will be talking about. One is that redistricting battle start next year. It is also true that who controls the governor's mansion is a major factor as you go into a presidential election. It's also going to be up to the states to implement the new healthcare law. And so if what you have are a bunch of hostile governors put in to power, a bunch of hostile attorneys general, that could also have a major effect on President Obama's biggest policy achievement to date.
REHMKaren Tumulty, she is national political reporter for The Washington Post. Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution. Do join us, 800-433-8850. I look forward to hearing your calls. Bill Galston, is this election a referendum on the Congress? Or is it a referendum on President Obama and what he has done? Or is it a throw-the-bums-out kind of referendum?
GALSTONDo I have to choose?
GALSTONYou know, because I would say that to some extent, it's all three of those of things. It's about the Congress and about the Democratic congressional leadership. Speaker Pelosi is one of the most unpopular national figures one can find these days. It's also about President Obama, many of whose ratings have fallen significantly. And in addition, there is a populist uprising against the bums -- wherever they may be found -- to throw them out. You put all of that together, and you have one of the most volatile political mixes I can recall for a very, very long time.
REHMOkay. Let's, just for argument's sake, assume that Republicans control the House but not the Senate. How does the political climate change, Norm?
REHMOr does it?
ORNSTEINIt will change, and one of the reasons being what Karen suggested.
ORNSTEINIt's subpoena power. It's also the ability to call officials and to testify. And one of the things that will happen is that Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of Health and Human Services, Don Berwick, the head of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the people responsible for implementing the healthcare plan are going to be spending more of their time responding to demands that they come up and testify before dozens of committees to keep them from actually doing the jobs of implementing the healthcare plan.
ORNSTEINWe're going to see the power of the purse used even though Republicans will not be in a position to pass laws and having them enacted over a president's veto or over a Senate filibuster or over a Senate with a Democratic majority that won't like what it's doing. That means we get no appropriations. We have none now, and we may get a confrontation...
ORNSTEIN...to shut down the government sooner rather than later. And one of the things that will happen here, Diane, is that the ceiling on the debt limit will be hit probably sometime in the first quarter of this next year. I cannot fathom a Republican House voting to increase the debt limit without a confrontation and a shutdown. And that, plus the subpoenas, means we're headed for some nasty and brutish times, perhaps mixed with a few areas where we can see cooperation.
TUMULTYAnd one thing, I think, we ought to mention is one of the effects of the Tea Party movement is that it wreaked great havoc in the Republican primaries this year. That means, you know, whether we have a dozen Tea Party members or five Tea Party member -- however many Tea Party members get elected at the House, I think the greater impact is going to be that every Republican who gets elected to the House is going to be looking over their shoulder. They're all going to be nervous. They're all going to be worried about primary challenges. And that is going to make, as Norm said, everybody very reluctant to -- the safest vote is going to be a no vote on everything...
TUMULTY...and especially something that has money attached.
GALSTONI agree with everything that has just been said. But one of the great enduring features of our constitutional system is that in after presidential years, 40 percent of the people in the midterms judge what 60 percent of the people have done. And then two years after that, 60 percent of the people then judge what 40 percent of the people have done. And one reason why the past two government shutdowns in '90 and '95 were resolved is that the American people said no (word?), we don't like this.
REHMWilliam Galston, senior fellow in government studies at the Brookings Institution. Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We are talking about the upcoming elections, what is likely to happen and what the effects actually could be on what happens in the next two years. With me, Bill Galston -- he is a former policy advisor to President Clinton -- he's currently senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Norm Ornstein, he's at the American Enterprise Institute, Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post. I just got an e-mail from Kevin, saying, "It's the economy, stupid." How much of that is correct, Norm?
ORNSTEINThere's a lot that's true there.
ORNSTEINYou know, people have talked about how Barack Obama is such a terrible communicator now. Well, Ronald Reagan was the great communicator, and his standing was about a little bit below Barack Obama's at this stage of his presidency because of a lousy economy. Bill Clinton is the best communicator alive today. His standing was about the same as Barack Obama's. In fact, if you wanted to look at voters' judgment, we could take it back, ironically, before Obama became president. The TARP vote in the Bush administration started this populist uprising against Washington. The Republican standing is lower than that of Democrats right now. And I think, getting to what Bill was saying, a part of what we're going to have here is we've got a backlash against the party in power. Throw the ins out, bring the outs in. But always, the party that comes in under those circumstances believes they've got a mandate.
ORNSTEINAnd they overreach. And the question is whether this time, with some of the new people coming in who are not beholden to their own party or leaders, they're going to listen to that 60 percent of the public quickly enough. We may get the government shut down, a tax disaster, a lot of things that could bring serious damage before we can actually get the votes together to correct them.
REHMKaren, here's an e-mail from John in Dallas. He says, "I've been wondering if Republicans are really going to clean up so well in this year's midterms. Or is the minority just louder than the majority? It seems while many are upset about some things President Obama has done or not done, I simply don't see the outcry from centrists and liberals that the right or the Tea Partiers claim. It appears to me the minority are simply louder, as a result, have created an atmosphere that's creating swing votes and garnering much media attention when, in fact, it's only a minority angered."
TUMULTYWell, there's a minority of people out there, you know, screaming. That is true. But the anxiety is very wide felt. And I think I probably mentioned before on this program, I think the single-most important poll number out there right now is when pollsters ask people, have you or has someone in your family lost a job within the last year? It is now up to almost four in 10 Americans saying yes. And that, I think, it's -- maybe it's not loud, but it is anxiety. And I think that is driving things.
REHMAnd here's another e-mail from Jack in Argyle, Texas. "What is the probability that Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska leaves the Democrats and joins the Republican Party?" Bill Galston.
GALSTONWell -- to steal a thought from my colleague Norm Ornstein -- it's greater than zero, but the record of people who switch parties in the election after they switch isn't a terribly encouraging one for party switchers. There is a price to be paid. And if I were giving advice to Sen. Nelson, I would say, remain a conservative Democrat because if you switch parties, you may very well make enemies out of your friends without making friends out of your enemies.
ORNSTEINI think the only way that this would be a possibility is if the Senate ends up 50-50, and that's not impossible or unlikely. Nelson comes from a Republican state, and it's one where a -- just as when we saw Richard Shelby switch parties when Bill Clinton was president in Alabama, it didn't hurt him. So it's -- I don't think it's out of the question that he could cut a deal. I don't think it's likely to happen. It's more likely there than it would be for Joe Lieberman switching. Let me raise one other interesting scenario for you, Diane.
ORNSTEINIf the Democrats on election eve maintain the House by just a tiny margin -- let's say they lose 36 seats -- there'll be a euphoria for a day. And then we're going to start to see some horse trading. Republicans will try and convince some of those blue dog Democrats to switch over. I don't think they will for the reasons that Bill suggested. But then they'll try and elect a blue dog as speaker of the House, and that is a real possibility.
REHMKaren, what would a big win for Tea Party-supported candidates mean for healthcare reform?
TUMULTYWell, the thing that you hear over and over now on the campaign trail among Republicans is that they want to defund it.
REHMHow would they go about defunding it?
TUMULTYWhat they are talking about is, as one candidate I heard mention, they know they can't dismantle it. They don't have -- they aren't going to have the votes for that. But if they don't provide the money that it is going to take, for instance, to -- one of the most expensive aspects of it is the government subsidies for those who can't afford healthcare on their own to buy them with. I heard one candidate comparing it to having a car in your backyard without putting any gas in it.
REHMWhat about tax breaks for the wealthy, Norm?
ORNSTEINWell, we have an interesting situation, Diane. The -- all the tax cuts, the Bush tax cuts, expire on Jan. 1. The widespread expectation that we would see some deal met before that, and particularly before Congress left for the election, was not met. They will be back in a lame duck session...
ORNSTEIN...in November. Many conservatives have been working very hard to de-legitimize that lame duck session, which, of course, includes the current Congress, many people who will be defeated, Democratic majorities. But if they can't reach some sort of a compromise on taxes, one that either extends them all for a year or that does as President Obama wants and does away with the tax cuts for the -- those making over $250,000 or maybe even a little bit higher while maintaining the others, then we have to wait for the new Congress that comes in on Jan. 3. That'll mean all the tax cuts...
ORNSTEINAnd that Congress is not going to be in a position to want to make a compromise of any sort. So...
ORNSTEIN...we may see a real chaos on the tax front for quite a while.
REHMYou've got some other things that are left hanging: reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, the job creation legislation, energy, environment legislation. Don't Ask, Don't Tell, you've got that hanging here. Is this lame duck session going to be able to accomplish anything, Bill Galston?
GALSTONI was hopeful six months ago. For many of the reasons that Norm just stated, I am decreasingly hopeful...
GALSTON...with each passing day. Having said that, I do think that some of the items you just ticked off, Diane, including energy legislation without cap and trade and also some form of reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, are areas of potential agreement in 2011. But I don't think the lame duck session is going to have the appetite or the energy for much of anything.
TUMULTYIt's also interesting because the Senate that comes back for the lame duck session may not be the exact same Senate we have now because a number of these Senate seats are appointed positions, which means that whoever wins the election becomes the senator in November. This is the case in Illinois, in Colorado, in Delaware and in West Virginia.
REHMSo that you're saying these new winners would then step into the lame duck session.
TUMULTYI believe that is the case in all four of those states.
REHMIs that right, Norm?
ORNSTEINYes, it is. And, you know, in a couple of instances, it may mean a party switch. It -- it's looking less likely in others.
ORNSTEINI would mention one issue that may be more important than all of these others, Diane. I believe it's the START treaty. President Obama put an enormous amount into trying to reach an agreement with President Medvedev in Russia. And there's a lot at stake here that goes way beyond arms control and the treaty itself. We've used that to help get cooperation with Russia on Iran. They've refused to send these SS-3 missiles that would provide Iran with a very potent anti-aircraft system.
ORNSTEINIsrael, if that went in, I think, would strike before it happened. We're getting a lot of cooperation. If we can't get a START treaty through, it's going to be a serious blow to our relations with Russia. And that could have repercussions that go very broadly here. And if you can't get that done by January, you need 67 votes. I'm very skeptical we get it.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Tom in Ann Arbor, picking up on that, Norm. He says, "The major issues are nuclear proliferation and climate change. If Obama loses his clout, he won't be able to follow through with his agreements with the Russians, and he won't be able to work on climate change either." We're going to open the phones now. First to Ormond Beach, Fla. Thomasina, good morning, you're on the air.
THOMASINAYes. Good morning, Diane. FDR had Republicans putting the same pressure on him in the 1930s to stop stimulus spending. And when he did, the country fell into an even deeper depression. Working people must realize that big money and corporations do not pour money into Republican campaigns because they want to help working Americans. They spend hundreds of millions so that them and their corporate buddies will get richer and maybe, just maybe, throw us some crumbs to working Americans. The Republicans keep saying that we Democrats are not enthusiastic -- not true. Abraham Lincoln said, there are more of the working class than the rich. We have the voting numbers on our side, and we will use it on Nov. 12.
REHMInteresting. Bill Galston, your reaction.
GALSTONWell, for your sake, I hope you use it on Nov. 2 and not Nov. 12.
GALSTONFDR had six years of new deal economic policies before 1938. He didn't change course two years after he was elected, and that's a big difference. And I am not -- I am really not sure what the effect of ending the stimulus will be at this point. But we're going to find out because there will be no robust second round of stimulus. I think the political outcome on Nov. 2 will guarantee that.
REHMAnd what about her point that Democrats may seem quiescent right now, but wait 'till Election Day.
TUMULTYWell, interestingly, we don't know. We don't know what turnout is going to look like. But there is one indication, and that is in early voting. Dozens of states already -- people are actually already voting. And the initial numbers at least look like the Democrats are coming pretty close to holding their own. In most of these states, Democratic turnout is greater than Republican turnout. However, it's -- you know, the caveat here is it's not as great as it was in 2008, but it does seem to be sort of on par with the last midterm election in 2006.
REHMKaren Tumulty of The Washington Post. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Clemson, S.C. Hi there, Abel.
ABELHi. Good morning, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
ABELI have two quick questions. My question, what exactly are the Republicans running on or for that is making them seem so popular to ordinary Americans? And my second question sort of piggybacks on that. During the time of economic insecurity and economic recession, they seem to be running on the idea that government's not going to do anything for you, and that's the best thing for you. Please explain that to me.
TUMULTYWell, it was sort of interesting. There was a -- what are the Republicans running for, is a good question. And there's been a bit of a split between the House and the Senate. John Boehner, who wants to be the next speaker, has put forward a Republican governing agenda, he has said. Mitch McConnell, who wants to be the majority leader of the Senate says, hey, look, we're running on one thing. We'll put the brakes on Barack Obama.
TUMULTYAnd interestingly enough, as I've been out on the campaign trail -- at least since the Republicans have unveiled this agenda -- I don't hear a lot of them talking about it. In fact, a number of Republican candidates, you ask them if they've even read it, and they say, no. Essentially, they don't want anything to do with anything coming out of Washington. And I do think the main thing they're running on is slowing down or stopping Barack Obama.
ORNSTEINIt's less taxes, less spending, smaller deficits. Those things don't add up. And if you look at the -- their Pledge to America, they don't add up. But, you know, this is not about a positive program, frankly, and most of our elections are not. It's about throwing the ins out. And that's all it takes, it appears, to...
REHMBut the Republicans have convinced many, many voters that everything Washington is doing is wrong, Bill Galston.
GALSTONWell, that's exactly right, Diane. This reminds me a lot of 1980 when Ronald Reagan ran on the proposition that government wasn't the solution, government was the problem. And unfortunately, the disappointing results of the Democrats' economic policies over the past two years have thrown a lot of fuel on that particular fire. And I think that's the essence of what the Republicans are running on this year -- the proposition that Democrats trust government and we, the Republicans, trust you, the people.
ORNSTEINYou know, there's one interesting element to this. If you look at surveys, voters don't blame Barack Obama for all of the problems here. They continue to blame George Bush, and they believe that Bush's policies didn't work very well. But where Republicans running for office have had success and where Obama and Democrats have failed is more voters believe that these Republicans will be different...
ORNSTEIN...that it won't be a return to the Bush policies.
REHMDifferent from what they were before?
ORNSTEINDifferent from the Bush policies.
ORNSTEINYou know, frankly, where they're getting that -- well, they're getting it one place, which is there was a lot of spending in the Bush years. And you have a lot of people, including many Republicans who were there, saying we were wrong about that. But as a general matter, I think it's a leap of faith that voters are making because they simply want change. And they've made the agents of change from two years ago, the enemies of change now.
REHMHow thoughtful do you think American voters are being right now, Karen?
TUMULTYThat's an interesting and somewhat loaded question.
TUMULTYI think that people are primarily acting on the basis of anxiety. But that does not mean that, you know, they don't understand what they see going on around them. I mean, people are very aware of those once-a-month job numbers that come out on the first Friday of every month. And so, you know, again, all they -- all the sense they have is that whatever is going now just isn't working.
REHMAll right. And certainly I do want to get back to what effect the results of State House wins or losses will have on the future because that's how you determine certain districts within that state. And all of that will be up for grabs when we come back. You'll have a chance to pose your questions to Karen Tumulty, Bill Galston and Norm Ornstein. Send us your e-mail and your Facebook and Twitters.
REHMAnd welcome back. Here's an e-mail from Sharon who's in Charlotte, N.C. She says, "I find it rather ironic that after last week's uproar over the Juan Williams' firing and Diane's protestation that NPR and her show are balanced, today, her quests all seem to be left-leaning. Haven't heard them say one positive thing about Republicans taking over. In addition, not one of them has noted that Bill Clinton had to moderate his positions considerably after the 1994 elections. It almost appears they're all trying to scare voters about what the future holds if Republicans win." Norm.
ORNSTEINWell, actually, I think if you listen to most of the Republican candidates out there, what we're -- what we've been talking about, it was Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia who got up on the campaign trail at a meeting with value voters and said, this time we're going to shut down the government, and we're not going to make the mistake we made the last time and reverse ourselves. We've had all kinds of talk about reversing the healthcare plan from candidates. We had Darrell Issa...
REHMWell, then maybe that's good in her view, shutting down the healthcare plan, shutting down the government. And maybe she feels none of us have said maybe that's a good thing. Karen.
TUMULTYWell, I mean, I'm a reporter. I'm just sort of reporting, as I said. I mean, Republican candidates are talking about defunding the healthcare plan. You know, it's not a popular plan, so I don't believe that I've made a value judgment one way or the other.
REHMAnd well, let's be clear, because parts to that healthcare plan are popular. For example, keeping young people on that role until age 26, being able to come on with a pre-existing condition and so on.
ORNSTEINYeah, but you can't do those without having other consequences.
ORNSTEINAnd one of the difficulties here is how are you going to find a compromise if you're going to end the notion of insurance companies barring people with pre-existing conditions? You have to vastly expand the risk pool, and you can't just declare it by decree. So governing is going to be difficult. Now, is it the case that Barack Obama may be forced to moderate? Yeah, absolutely, and I actually think there are some positive elements here. One of your callers earlier had talked about the failure to act in climate change.
ORNSTEINI actually think, while we're not going to get any kind of cap and trade, that a deal where you get more robust funding for research and development of alternative fuels, along with some nuclear power, for example, could easily happen. An extension of No Child Left Behind in a new form with the Race to the Top could reach bipartisan support. We could see some trade agreements.
MANIt's not all negative.
REHMLet's go to Northeast Missouri. Good morning, Jim.
JIMGood morning. I was just thinking that what's going on now appears to be just what happened in 1992, 1994. The Democrats had control of Congress, and there was absolutely no compromise, none whatsoever. The media then wasn't leaning so far to the left, and actually would say every once in a while, the Democrats aren't compromising. They're trying to ram all the stuff through. And the healthcare bill -- I mean, the good parts of the healthcare bill, everybody believes there's good parts of it. But you can't go over 2,000 pages of lawyer speech. And I don't think any of your people on your panel can -- have ever read a 10-page insurance policy in 40 minutes and understood it. Well, how can you read a 2,000 or 2,500-page bill that's written by lawyers, while funded by the Democrats? I don't understand.
REHMBill -- okay. Bill Galston.
GALSTONWell, as someone who was in the Clinton White House, I have to disagree a little bit with the premise of the caller's question. There is a lot of compromise, even in 1993 and 1994. Bill Clinton went against a lot of people on the Democratic Party to put on the table a budget that actually moved the country towards fiscal sanity and balance for the first time in a very long time. And then a few months later, he actually split the Democratic Party down the middle by pushing two trade agreements that were very, very unpopular, particularly among the more liberal elements of the Democratic Party. And so what happened in 1995 and 1996 wasn't as profound a shift of orientation on the part of Bill Clinton as a lot of people thought it was. In fact, he continued with some adjustments down a road that he'd begun to march down in '93 and '94.
REHMAll right. To Louisville, Ky. Good morning, Joe. Thanks for joining us.
JOEGood morning, Diane -- another panel of distinction there. I wanted to make a quick comment and then ask a question to your panel.
JOEPeople are saying that there's, a lot of times, more compromise in the off season. I don't see that. I think they've -- the Republicans have already painted Mr. Obama, President Obama, as a radical, almost terrorist foreigner. And I think they've already laid the groundwork to oppose and even get on to the impeachment program as soon as they take over in the House. I mean, they were talking that earlier about Darrell Issa starting to raise questions, and the people have already started talking about possible impeachment of him. So they're just going to run Obama into the ground for two years. It's the way I think. Now, my second -- the question I'm asking is nobody seems to be talking about international politics. I know it's midterm. I know it's homegrown grassroots thing, the economy and all, but is anybody talking about an international agenda as far as where Obama is going with the country?
REHMGood question. Karen.
TUMULTYYou know, I'm wondering that myself. Because the president -- we're due to have this December assessment of where things stand in Afghanistan, and the president is pledged to begin the drawdown next July. And I do think it throws into question, if the Republicans are controlling one or both Houses of Congress, how difficult that might be to do.
REHMWhat about -- go ahead, Will.
GALSTONThere is something very big going on right now, namely, a really serious negotiation between the United States and China over the future of our increasingly joined economies, and that the Secretary of the Treasury, today, is having an unscheduled meeting with his Chinese counterpart in order to try to prevent a currency war from breaking out and to produce some alignment. And those discussions are going to have huge economic consequences over the next few years.
REHMBut there is also the question about conversations -- I surely wouldn't say negotiations, but conversations on Afghanistan.
TUMULTYThat is true, too. And so, again, what you're going to have is -- the fact is you're going to have larger -- probably larger Republican numbers anyway in Congress, but I think that there will be a lot of questions raised about that, just about, you know, who we're negotiating with.
ORNSTEINYou know, on the international front, President Obama may have a lot of headaches from his own left. And that would be true in other areas as well. But on the trade front, if he decides to pursue free trade agreements with Columbia and South Korea, as he said he would, labor and much of the left would be unhappy. On Afghanistan, they're bitterly unhappy. The one area, ironically, as well, where we may get bipartisan support is in taking a tough stance towards China. There are many conservative Republicans joined with liberal Democrats, and that's another big headache for the president.
REHMHere is an e-mail from Barbara in San Antonio. She says, "The Republicans ask, where are the jobs, but how did they expect to increase jobs?" Do we have any statement, a fact or projection from Republicans on that score, Karen?
TUMULTYWell, the argument that Republicans will make is that by making the business climate better, you...
REHMLowering taxes for small business.
TUMULTYLowering -- and lowering, you know, cutting regulation and that sort of thing, that what you essentially do is create a climate in which it is easier for businesses to hire people. Again, this goes to the, you know, kind of fundamental, almost theological differences between the two parties.
REHMBut isn't that exactly what was done during the Bush years?
ORNSTEINYeah, and it certainly was, and we did not have job growth. The problem we have now, Diane, is that when you get a downturn that's caused by a financial crisis, there's almost always a jobless recovery. And it's been particularly true with private sector jobs. The job growth that we've had of late has been in the public sector partly driven by the stimulus. Businesses have plenty of cash. We see the stock market doing extremely well, but in this environment, they do not want to invest in new jobs. And there are ways with tax breaks, perhaps, to encourage it. There's certainly ways to use stimulus to do it. Whether you get the two parties agreeing on this...
ORNSTEIN...and understanding that, no matter what, we're going to have very slow job growth for the next few years. That's just the nature of these kinds of downturns. It'll be interesting to see how voters react to it when we get a change in power.
REHMLet's go to Deerfield Beach, Fla. Good morning, Bob.
BOBYeah, good morning. Questions for the panel and Diane, with regard to the forthcoming December report from the deficit commission. First part, what impact do you think the reports -- with your own speculation about what exactly they'd come out with -- will have over the period of the next periods of legislation? And second, irrespective of what the deficit commission says with regard to the military budget -- which now is $703 billion and apparently accounts for some 37 percent of the increase during this whole decade of increases in the federal budget -- Congress may be prepared to address over the course of the next period and taking into account the strategic issues of U.S. necessity for defense spending. I'll take the answer off the air.
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for calling. Bill.
GALSTONWell, you've asked two good questions. As for the deficit commission, it's structured so that any recommendation needs support from members of both political parties. Fourteen of the 18 members have to agree in order for a recommendation to issue forth from the commission.
REHMYou think they'll get that?
GALSTONWell, it's possible. I talked to members of the commission -- who would rather not be named from time to time -- and they don't rule out the possibility of some agreement on something significant. They're not predicting it, but they're not ruling it out. If that happens, then I think the Congress and the White House will have to pay serious attention to the recommendations. And some people are speculating that agreement on the outlines of a Social Security package might be the most likely agreement of all, which would be ironic given the status of Social Security traditionally as the third rail of American politics.
REHMWhat kind of agreement on Social Security?
GALSTONIt would not be a major structural reform Social Security. It would not be a partial privatization or anything like that. It would be modest nips and tucks on both the benefit side and on the revenue side.
REHMDo you agree with him, Norm?
ORNSTEINI do think that that could be a possibility. What they're talking about is a larger package that would have one-third taken on the revenue side not by raising marginal rates, but by broadening the base in dealing with tax expenditures, some of which are corporate breaks. But others include things that are near and dear to people's hearts like the healthcare exclusion and even the mortgage interest deduction -- two-thirds on the spending side. The real problem as I see it, Diane, is that, you know, they're going to be talking about taking a bite out of defense, a bite -- freeze on discretionary domestic spending in some fashion, which does very little, but which is a necessary component, and then something serious on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
ORNSTEINWhat I fear is that you could get this incredible feat, 14 people with strong ideological views actually coming to an agreement through this horse trade and have Republicans say, tax increases of any part of it -- no way. And then Democrats are going to say, touch Social Security or Medicare -- no way. And we're back to the dysfunction that we've had for some years.
REHMNorm Ornstein, he's with the American Enterprise Institute. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's now go to Indianapolis. Good morning, Richard.
RICHARDYes, Diane. I was -- I've had this thing kind of running around. I mean, it's like a month or almost, but I don't understand that, you know, Bush pinned us into oblivion, and basically the -- and all of his policies were directed towards the rich, saying that if you give rich people money, that they all give us jobs or work. I'm currently out of work, and I'm -- I've been unemployed for a while now.
REHMTell me what's your base of employment was.
RICHARDI was a machinist.
RICHARDAnd basically, if you look at the way that the Bush tax cuts directed most of the cuts towards the wealthy, when you have wealthy top 2 percent making $18,000 for every dollar that I make, you would think that they could come up with some money from the rich folks to kind of take care of some of the debt, pay it down, pay the Chinese off and kind of reset everything.
REHMRichard, I'd be interested to know what your salary was when you lost your job and what happened to your job. Did others lose their jobs in your company as well?
RICHARDWell, the -- I was making $22 an hour.
RICHARDAnd basically, my job was cut because of -- it was a small job shop, and I think the -- from what I understand, the owner just ran out of money.
REHMHmm. Lots of people like that across the country.
ORNSTEINLots of people like that across the country. It's not clear where those kinds of jobs are going to come from. It's not clear whether we can get high-value jobs -- $22-an-hour jobs -- created sometime in the foreseeable future. And keep in mind as well that one of the reasons that companies are not creating new jobs, they can -- we have more efficiencies and productivity so you can get people who have jobs working longer. You don't have to provide benefits, additional healthcare, additional pension benefits, and that's one of the stubborn elements of increasing employment in this kind of a recession.
REHMLast word, Bill.
GALSTONWe have a big opportunity in this country -- infrastructure. It's decaying badly. We have millions of people who want to work. We have trillions of dollars in infrastructure investment to make, and we have trillions of dollars of private capitals that can help do it.
REHMBill Galston of the Brookings Institution, Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post, thank you all so much.
ORNSTEINThanks you, Diane.
REHMThanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our e-mail address is email@example.com, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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