A molecular-biologist-turned-Buddhist-monk says altruism is the answer to many of the world's most pressing challenges. Can concern for others help solve wealth inequality, climate change and world hunger?
Following record-breaking losses for Democrats in Congress, House Republicans take aim at President Obama’s agenda. The Federal Reserve uses a controversial tool to stimulate an anemic recovery. And GM expects to show a profit. A panel of journalists joins guest host Frank Sesno for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Byron York chief political correspondent, Washington Examiner, and author of "The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy."
- Lisa Lerer politics reporter, Bloomberg News.
- David Corn Washington bureau chief, "Mother Jones" magazine; author of several books, most recently, "Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War." He blogs at politicsdaily.com.
News Roundup Video
The panelists discuss the likely Republican agenda following Tuesday’s midterm elections, including the chances that the party will be able to repeal the health care reform bill passed earlier this year:
MR. FRANK SESNOAnd thanks for joining us. I'm Frank Sesno, host of "Planet Forward," director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, and I'm sitting in for Diane Rehm today. She'll be back on Monday. And we've got some news. The U.S. economy added jobs last month for the first time since May, but unemployment remains high. And yesterday's stocks reached their highest level since September 2008, following the Federal Reserve's move to inject $600 billion into the economy.
SESNOPresident Obama said he'll be seeking immediate action on tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year. Well, joining me to talk about these and other national news stories of this very significant week, David Corn, Washington bureau chief of Mother Jones magazine, Lisa Lerer, politics reporter, Bloomberg News and Byron York, chief political correspondent, Washington Examiner. Good to see you all.
MR. BYRON YORKGood morning.
MR. DAVID CORNGood morning.
MS. LISA LERERGood morning.
SESNOAnd quite a day it's been so far. Let's start with the jobs report because this is very significant. Economy added 151,000 jobs in October. That's a big change from four months of job losses. Other numbers have been revised so that the previous months don't look quite as bleak, but hardly a raging bull here that's going to put America back to work. Byron?
YORKWell, the headline number is 9.6 percent, which is that the unemployment rate has stayed at 9.6 percent third year -- third month in a row. And I think that that is what people are going to take away from it. The subheadline is, yes, there -- jobs have been added, not enough to bring the unemployment rate down. But if you're looking for green shoots, that, and perhaps what the Fed has just done, possibly means good news on the horizon. But for everybody else, it's 9.6 percent.
SESNOThere's another percent, Lisa, that actually matters as well, and that's 17 percent. And 17 percent is the percentage of underemployed, people who are working part-time, plus the unemployed who would like to have jobs. So a very, very long way to go even though there may be, as Byron said, some green shoots here.
LERERWell, that's exactly right. I think for most people, you know, most people who voted in the election, most voters out there in the country, they're not really seeing this as much improvement. They're looking at the 9.6, as you said. They're also looking at their home values. Maybe there -- I think 23 percent of people are underwater in their foreclosure. That's where a lot of people's money is, right, tied up. So they're not really feeling this in terms of their personal economic situation, and so we're going to see that reverberate through the politics. And certainly, we're not going to see a softening of feeling, I think, towards President Obama because of these numbers.
SESNODavid, how do you read the new numbers?
CORNWell, you know, you have to create about 150,000 jobs a month just to keep even with population growth, let alone make up for the 8 millions jobs that were lost because of the Bush-Cheney crash. So, really, they start feeling the impact on this. For people to see Obama making up the ground that was lost at the end of the Bush-Cheney years, you're going to have to basically double these numbers, maybe triple them. And it's going to take months, if not years. I mean, economists talk about a five-year trend on the path we're on now to get back to recovering some of -- making up for some of that job loss. And that's going to take dramatic action.
CORNThe stimulus wasn't big enough to put us in that type of accelerated job growth. The Fed is now moving in because, quite frankly, the Republicans are coming in and, you know, they want to just gut regulations and cut taxes, which is what we had during the Bush years. And it didn't show an explosion in job growth then, and, you know, the White House is right to point out that this is the 10th straight month of some job growth and a total of more jobs created privately than through the eight years of the Bush years.
SESNOBefore we move off the news of the economy, let me just point out this, that the breakdown here is that private companies created about 159,000 jobs...
SESNO...in October, while the government cut about 8,000 jobs. These are government jobs, state jobs that are cycling out, perhaps because of budget cuts and other things.
YORKTea Party people should love this news.
SESNOBut the question I've got here for all of you is what does this mean if we look at that private sector number? It's some, but clearly not enough. It exceeded expectations, but expectations were low. Byron?
YORKI think it means that very, very little has changed. This is better, but it's only a tiny bit better. And the fact is is that because demand is not where it needs to be right now. Businesses are not adding jobs. They're not expanding, and we're stuck in this cycle at the moment.
LERERAnd another thing, I think, it's important to remember is, quite frankly, right now, the Fed is really the only -- it looks like the Fed is going to be the only game in town to spark growth. Because with the results of the election, Republicans coming in the majority in the House and, you know, having a larger group in the Senate, I think it's quite likely that we're going to see a lot of gridlock over the sort of normal tools of fiscal policy, things like, you know, doing more stimulus or tax changes. So it's all going to be up to the Fed, and Obama is really going to be staking a lot of, you know, his hopes for recovery by 2012 on the Fed.
SESNOWell, in fact -- go ahead, David.
CORNNo, I was just going to say, the interesting thing about that is what the Fed is doing is probably going to generate some opposition from the right, from Republicans, not from Democrats. So there may be a battle between Bernanke and Boehner and Mitch McConnell and Michele Bachmann. And at some point, they're going to have to explain why they're not just obstructing Obama on the stimulus end, why they're going to be obstructing Bernanke on the monetary end.
SESNOSo President Obama made a statement, as we know, right after these numbers came out, saying that he's pleased with somewhat healthier job growth but conceding that the economy isn't producing enough jobs to accommodate the people who need to work, to accommodate population growth, all of that kind of thing. He knows that. But then he went on to say that he -- and I'm quoting here, he's "open to any idea, any proposal that will jumpstart the economy." Is this the start of some kind of a big reach?
CORNNo. He said that from the beginning. I mean, the Republicans, you know, if you read through their pretty thin, you know, manifestos -- pre- and post-election -- you know, they basically are saying, let's just cut taxes and gut regulations, and that will stimulate the economy. Well, we've done that. And if they think, you know -- what regulations do they want to gut, the ones for, say, underwater drilling, for mine safety? I mean, they can't really tell us what they want to gut and how that's going to create jobs. Maybe it will create more oil cleanup jobs.
YORKWell, if the election was anything, it was a referendum on policies like the stimulus, where large majorities of the American people feel that it did not work or it did not work as well as advertised. Actually, I think it's probably beyond dispute that it did not work as well as advertised. And there is no political momentum for doing more of it. Republicans have suggested...
SESNOSo what are these any ideas that he's open to? What are these...
YORKThey're going to be the same old ideas. Republicans are going to suggest a significant payroll tax cut or certainly extending the Bush -- all of the Bush tax cuts and making them permanent. It is the same old argument. There's not some sort of new, fantastic thing out there that would solve all of our problems that nobody will pass.
SESNOWell, the new, fantastic thing out there -- well, I don't know if it's fantastic...
SESNO...we'll see, will be the new Congress, will be the new political dynamic in this town.
LERERRight, that's exactly right. And I think what you see -- those kinds of statements coming from the White House is what you see is the Obama administration trying to win back pieces of the coalition that put them in office in 2008. And statements sort of saying that they are open to any ideas, that's their effort to win back independent voters. You know, they won independents by eight points in 2008. They lost them by 18 this cycle, so they're trying to do that. But they're going to be in a tough spot because they also have to sort of try to bring back, you know, business allies who've split from the White House. We hear all the time at Bloomberg from CEOs who are really frustrated with the administration.
LERERAnd you saw in his press conference, you know, he commented that maybe those relationships -- the president had said that maybe those relationships hadn't been managed as well as he ought to have managed them. And he also, at the same time, has to win back elements of his liberal base who are frustrated, feeling that his initiatives didn't go far enough. They want to see a public option healthcare. So he's in a really tough spot. And there's no way he can make all these groups happy, especially given that Congress is going to be pretty much gridlocked.
SESNOByron York, how do you read the lesson from this electoral torpedo?
YORKWell, clearly the one thing that happened was that I think the last couple of years of the Obama administration and four years of Democratic control in Congress made independents feel more conservative. If you look at the exit polls more than characterized themselves as conservative Democrats, state Democrats, Republican state Republicans -- those independents really did switch over. The -- I think the two important dynamics at work here are, one, the Republican candidates who won campaign mostly in favor of repealing ObamaCare and cutting federal spending -- those of the one-two punches all around the country -- they really believe that, and they want to try to do that.
YORKTwo, the president, not only in his news conference after the election but in his upcoming "60 Minutes" interview, seems to suggest that his biggest problem in the past couple years is that he has not communicated his accomplishments effectively enough to the American people. That is a recipe for irreconcilable conflict, which is, I think, what we're going to have...
YORK...the next two years.
SESNOThat's what you hear -- your prediction is...
YORKWell, there will be things that can be agreed on, and there will be some smaller issues that are agreed on. But in terms of the big issues facing it, which is what you do about the economy, what you do about ObamaCare -- no. There's not going to be any agreement.
SESNODavid Corn, gridlock square?
CORNOr tripled or, you know, quadrupled. The -- for the last 18 months, Barack Obama has faced an opposition that has used fear and demagoguery. They called healthcare death panels. That was an inaccurate and a non-factual charge, and they repeated it again and again. Republican leaders -- I think Eric Cantor and others said this -- said that the stimulus created no new jobs, not like not enough, but none. And again and again, they said things that were not so.
CORNAnd I think the White House completely dropped the ball in the debate for defining what was happening. They won these tremendous legislative victories, passing the stimulus bill, passing healthcare, passing Wall Street reform. You have student loans, child healthcare, a lot of other things, by being very nuanced and putting their noses to the legislative grindstone. And the Republican view was, we're going to just block, say no, not participate. But we're going to get out there in the public square and say things that aren't true.
CORNWe're going to hold rallies -- let me just (mumbles) one last point. They held a rally in November 2009 in which they had a crowd of Tea Partiers start chanting, Nazis, Nazis, about the Democrats who were in favor of healthcare reform. I don't think you can deal with people like that, and I think the president missed an opportunity to show the public what was going on because he was too busy with the legislative details.
LERERI mean, I think, definitely we're in for a Congress of gridlock, even if you just look at the composition of who's come in. This election has left the House a much more polarized place. I think the blue dog Democrats...
SESNOMore people -- people around the country are going to be hearing you and saying, more polarized than it's been?
LERERI know it's hard to imagine, right? But you look at the blue dog Democrats, which of course are fiscally, you know, conservative Democrats who, you know, tend to cross lines and work with Republicans. That caucus is half the size it was, you know, in October, just right before the elections. And you also -- the class of Republicans who are coming in, a lot of them are affiliated with the Tea Party movement. They're new to politics. They have sort of -- they might have outsized expectations of what can get done. They're more ideological. It's going to be a tough place there.
SESNOWe'll have more on the week that's just gone by and what it all means. We'll take a quick break, and then we'll be back.
SESNOAnd welcome back to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Frank Sesno, sitting in for Diane today. Our guests, David Corn, Washington bureau chief, Mother Jones magazine, author of several books -- most recently "Hubris : Inside the Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War" -- he blogs at politicsdaily.com. Lisa Lerer, she's politics reporter at Bloomberg News. And Byron York, he's chief political correspondent, The Washington Examiner, author of "The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy." And we are talking, of course, about the week that was and is and will be going backwards and forwards, folks. And we already have a number of questions from our audience.
SESNOLet me invite those of you who are listening. If you'd like to join us at 800-433-8850 to do so, we'll get to you on the phones in a few minutes. Or you can e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Before we come back to this and some other things, let me go to a couple of e-mail questions we've already gotten because they are real good ones. Mike has written, "Could the panel talk about the Republicans' agenda, a lot of things they promised, such as repeal of the 14th and 17th Amendments, repealing of healthcare, balanced budget, holding the debt ceiling?" Lisa, take a shot at that. What do you expect to actually come off some of those agenda items?
LERERWell, one thing I know a lot of Republicans are talking about trying to do, at least, is repealing the healthcare law that was passed, of course, last session. I think that's going to be awfully hard, if not impossible, to do because Obama, of course, is not going to -- he's going to veto, I would imagine, the idea of repealing his own -- one of his own strongest legislative accomplishments. There's a question...
SESNOAnd has virtually -- I mean, you know, he's right. He's going to -- that he would -- they're not...
LERERHe's not going to allow that.
SESNOThere's no vote to...
SESNONot enough votes to override it.
CORNThe Democrats still control the Senate.
LERERAnd in the Senate -- yeah, Democrats still control the Senate, so it's not going to happen. And...
SESNOAnd the Democrats -- yeah, not going to happen, but maybe in the states. Byron York?
YORKI think -- well, I think the thing to do if you're looking at Republican agenda in the House where they do have control -- they didn't run on repealing the 14th or the 17th or any other Amendment. Look at the Pledge to America, this document that they rolled out a few weeks before the election talks about cutting government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, capital and discretionary spending, capital and -- cut Congress' budget, get rid of TARP once and for all, repeal ObamaCare, medical liability reform, Read the Bill, advance word of legislative language, all of this stuff. Now, it may seem boilerplate to a lot of people, and it may have been criticized a lot when it came out. But they actually take the stuff seriously, so they are going to try to enact what they said they would do before they got elected.
SESNOIs there any chance that they or anyone else can move toward a balanced budget?
YORKWell, if -- by moving toward a balanced budget, you mean reducing the deficit?
SESNOWell, not from $1.4 to $1.2 trillion, but from 1...
YORKAlthough that would be an improvement.
SESNOWell, of course, it would. But, you know, if we want to get serious about...
CORN...you know, at the same time, their number one agenda item, I think, by far is extending tax cuts on the wealthy, which will add close to $1 trillion dollars to the deficit. So they're talking about cutting $100 billion from, you know, discretionary spending, meaning, you know, environmental regulations, education, mine safety and all that stuff, and...
CORNBut yet, they're adding $900 million in terms of, you know, tax cuts for the well-to-do. Their deficit, you know, problems are not that serious. And if they want to go after -- I mean, Dick Armey sent out a memo. You know, he's sort of one of the established Washingtonians who is trying to lead the Tea Party movement, saying that the first order of business really should be repealing healthcare in its entirety. Are they really going to go out there and say, we're going to put a lot of companies go back to pre-existing conditions? We're going to take kids who are on parents' plans up to the age of 26 now and rip them out of those plans?
SESNOByron York, a quick response, then I want to come a little to this.
YORKWell, a couple of things. One, I would advise our listeners to go to something called Historical Tables at the U.S. Budget. It's published by the Office of Management and Budget. You'll see that between 2007 and 2010, federal spending went from $2.7 trillion to $3.7 trillion before, you know, it went up about $120, $150 billion a year. But then it just, wham, zoomed up there. So idea of restoring spending to those levels is not at all unreasonable, and by the way, the federal budget deficit in 2007 was $160 billion. That's with Bush tax cuts.
SESNOLisa Lerer, let me ask you about the tax cuts to start with. Okay? Because the -- some of the first signals from the White House this last week after the election revolved around this tax cut package.
SESNOYou're from Bloomberg News. You track these things closely. What are you seeing by way of signals? What do you read from them?
LERERI mean, I think the White House has signaled that they could be happy with a one-year extension of upper incomes as long as the middle class tax cuts were made permanent. I don't -- I mean, a lot of people hope -- think that this will get done during the lame duck session. Of course, all the rates go up on Jan. 1 if nothing happens. I don't -- I just see that hard to -- I find that hard to imagine. I don't see the politics as such, really, coming together in a way that could actually get some kind of sustainable solution to the tax cuts.
SESNOSo what happens with it?
SESNOBut this is -- this matters because...
SESNOBecause if nothing is done by the end of the year, everybody sees their tax rates go up to some extent. And if you're thinking about the impact on the economy -- wow.
CORNWell -- but it actually could be done in the next session, quick off the bat, made retroactive.
CORNIt's better if they do it beforehand...
CORN...but it's not, you know, the end of the game. They don't...
SESNOIs that what you expect?
CORNYou know, I think it's 50-50, whether they're going to work this out or not.
YORKI think Republicans are going to get what they want on this because...
YORK...a number of Democrats had been caving before the election about making -- if not making them permanent, extending all of them for, say, three years.
SESNOI think we heard this last week, too. The shot that will be heard around the next election then because, if on this tax cut issue, tax cut -- tax hike issue, depending on how you see it, the solution is to kick the can down the road two years. Well, guess what two years from now is?
SESNOAll right? So aren't we already framing the next presidential election with this tax issue?
YORKI don't know why Democrats didn't say they were going to prevent the Bush tax increases because that was built into the Bush tax cuts that they would, indeed, just last 10 years. But the fight is going to be over making them permanent. I think in terms of extending them for, say, three years, Republicans are just going to win on that.
SESNOThere is an op-ed today in The Wall Street Journal written by John Boehner under the headline "What the Next Speaker Must Do." The presumption is that's going to be him, right?
SESNOAnd here's -- among the things he says is, no earmarks, let Americans read bills before they're brought to a vote, so all bills would be posted online for three days before there are any votes so people can read these bills. No more comprehensive bills, the sort of 1,000-page monstrosities in which all sorts of things can be buried, that even the congressional members themselves may not know about. No more bills written behind closed doors in the Speaker's office.
SESNOIs this for real, to reform?
CORNWell, first I say, good luck and Godspeed getting rid of earmarks and some of these things that members like on both sides. But let's look at the last one there -- no more bills written behind closed doors. Well, Republicans -- and to some degree, Democrats -- the Republicans made, I think, more of a habit of this, of inviting lobbyists into the bill-writing process. When Tom DeLay was running the House, he actually had a committee of top lobbyists who wrote and drafted legislation.
CORNAnd so, if John Boehner, whose connections to corporate lobbyists have been well documented, is truly serious about ending secrecy in Capitol Hill, then I think he should just say which lobbyists he's meeting with, what are they suggesting and ask the Democratic leadership and others to follow suit. I've asked him -- and I think we at Mother Jones have asked him -- if he will do this, and he just won't even answer the question. So I think a lot of this is more -- is for show, and I don't think he's really serious.
YORKFirst of all, on the three things that Boehner suggests -- on earmarks, he is going to have trouble, probably not in the House, but with the Senate, where, yesterday, Mitch McConnell spoke to The Heritage Foundation -- was very cool to the idea. Clearly, not going to happen from his point of view. The Read the Bill bill -- there's a bill actually requiring -- put bills up for 72 hours. I think that's very popular. It was co-sponsored by a Democrat as well. I think you're going to see that, whether they -- Democrats said they would do it -- didn't do it, especially in the healthcare thing. It was -- the healthcare process, I think, was a travesty by a lot of people's estimation.
YORKAs far as the comprehensive bills are concerned and who writes the bills, if you heard Republicans say anything in the campaign, it was that we've learned our lesson. We're going to do better. They contemplated -- they never had a lot of time to do it but contemplated why they were so heavily defeated in 2006 and 2008. And this is one of the things that they vow to change.
LERERBut at the same time, I think future speaker Boehner is going to find out that perhaps winning control of the House was a little bit easier than controlling his own caucus maybe because, I think, you have this group of Tea Party-backed candidates coming in. A lot of them are new to Congress. A lot of them, you know, don't quite know how it works. And they have really, you know, big expectations about what they're going to get done. And at the same time, I would imagine he wants to at least be seen as, you know, getting things done on the economy, passing legislation through, you know, that could help Republicans in 2012.
SESNOSo, Lisa, what are you saying? How much did Tea Partiers help the Republican Party in this wave? And how much then are they -- by what you're saying -- going to complicate it going forward?
LEREROh, I think they definitely helped the Republican Party. I think they helped them win a lot of seats in the House. You know, people...
LERERYeah, give -- you know, make voters more energetic on their side, get people out to the polls. People have grumbled that, you know, it hurt the party in the Senate because, you know, some of the candidates that were...
SESNOLindsey Graham and others said some of these Tea Partiers -- the Delaware race and others -- cost them seats in the Senate.
LERERRight. People have made their case, but I would argue that it really helped them in the House.
LERERI mean, we did a quick analysis of the number of the 60 members that had been endorsed by Sarah Palin or by the Tea Party Express or FreedomWorks, and it was at least half. So I think it really helped get a lot of these, sort of, new folks on the Republican side into the House. But now, it's going to complicate things. There's no question.
SESNOLet me go for a sort of a lightning round of questions with you here because we've got some...
YORKHow many points?
SESNOHow many seconds? We've got some great questions from the audience. I'd like to get them in. This one is from Melissa. "Could your panelists talk about the implications for energy legislation and how Republicans might go after the EPA for its classification of carbon dioxide, what it means for the global warming..." Melissa says, "...debate?" Lisa?
LERERI mean, I don't see -- I think the idea of curving greenhouse gas admissions is over, and I think it's over for a long time. The Senate didn't want to do it. The issue became very, very toxic last year. Even sponsors of the legislation -- the Senate said cap and trade. They didn't want to use that term anymore. It'd been totally polluted -- forgive the pun. But -- so...
SESNOThere have been a few of them here so...
LERERRight. I mean, I think the debate is going to be whether they do -- whether Democrats decide to do some things on energy that could be seen. You know, things that could get through could be seen as throwing away carrots for getting -- you know, getting limits on greenhouse gasses later on. So I think that's going to be the debate, but I don't really anticipate seeing all that much on that topic.
SESNOAll right. This one is for you, Byron. This one comes from Matthew. "I'd like to hear what your panelists think about what the election really told Washington. The polls, I hear," Matthew writes, "on NPR told of a very mixed message. We don't like Democrats or Republicans. We like some of the healthcare bill but not the process. What was the message?" Matthew asks. Is the economy stupid, or repeal the last two years?
YORKI think that if you can say one thing about the public's attitudes about what's been happening in Washington, is that they felt that the Obama administration and the Democrats in Congress were doing too much. They were going too fast, and they were going too far on the number of things that Americans did care about and that they weren't -- not paying enough attention to the economy during the year that they spent on healthcare. So I think it was simply a big message that said, you weren't listening to us. We told you what we wanted. You weren't listening, and this is what happens.
SESNOI'm Frank Sesno. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." If you'd like to join the conversation, please call us at 1-800-433-8850. Or send an e-mail to email@example.com. I'm going to move to your calls in just a minute. But before we do that, David Corn of Mother Jones magazine -- David, Sarah Palin, very visible role for her. She's leading in name recognition and maybe is the favored presidential candidate for the Republicans right now. Though I don't know how much that really means. We're so far out. How do you assess how -- the role she played and how that has positioned her as a result?
CORNI think in terms of TV ratings, she's doing very well. She's getting more attention. She gets it whenever she wants. I mean, if you had, you know -- and, I think, she had a, you know, a mixed night. I agree with Lisa. I think that whole Tea Party energy, you know, sometimes in a diffused way, really helped the House Republican candidates. On the Senate side, you know, it's a little more balanced. Easily, the Republicans could have won Nevada and Delaware, had the Tea Party candidate not won in the primary -- that being Christine O'Donnell and Sharron Angle, and they won in the -- and you can say the same thing in Alaska, too, with Joe Miller. And they all got tremendous boosts from Sarah Palin's endorsement.
CORNI think she still is the 800-pound grizzly in the room and that no one can make a move presidentially without, you know, taking into factor whether she's going to run or not. I happen to think Michelle Bachmann is probably more interested in running for president than Sarah Palin, but there's no telling. And she is just going to continue -- you know, what happened on Tuesday night preserves her position as the paramount Republican that we talk about.
SESNOByron York, the Palin quotient?
YORKActually, I kind of agree with that. She had about a 60/40 night, which was good for her, but I think Republicans are pretty divided about her. If you ask them who they want to see run for president, she's not many of them's (sic) first choice. I remember speaking not too long ago to the head of the Palmetto Research Council, which is kind of the family research council for South Carolina, asking him about his members' feelings about Palin. He says, well, about half of them would not want to see her run, and the ones who do want to see her or wouldn't mind seeing her run, don't all support her. So she's -- she remains a very divisive figure, even among Republicans.
SESNOLisa Lerer of Bloomberg, before we go to the phones, let's come -- let's connect the dots one more time on politics and the economy. How do you anticipate that this politics economy equation is going to be affected by what the Fed has done with the $600 billion worth of quantitative easing -- QE2, it's called. Printing money, it's called. What impact is that likely to have?
LERERWell, you're certainly going to see a bit of an uproar in Capitol Hill amongst some of the folks who came in with Tea Party backing. The Tea Party movement is pretty concerned about the Fed and about their power. And I think, you know, there's sort of an alliance between more liberal members and more conservative members. You know, they want to audit the Fed. They want to open up the Fed. That was a problem during the re-nomination of Ben Bernanke. So I think you're going to see, definitely, some kind of outcry in Capitol Hill. And it's -- you know, it could get a little tricky, because, as I said before, that's the -- really, the only tool that's left in President Obama's arsenal at this point, given the gridlock -- everyone anticipates on Capitol Hill.
SESNOSo we'll go to the phones. And Bob joins us from Miami, Fla. And Bob, thanks for being so patient, and thanks for calling.
BOBThank you. Thank you. Thank you for having this discussion. My comment was regarding the divisiveness that exists in our country today. On the one hand, I like to see that there is a Tea Party movement, only because it energizes a little bit more politics in our country than we have had. We have tremendous apathy when it comes to politics, so it's nice to have some bur in the saddle getting people to think. But I think Mr. Obama is missing a tremendous opportunity to show real leadership, and that is that, now, the dye is cast. He has two years to get some things done or continue to do his work, and I don't see him as a bridge.
BOBI really see him talking about politics as if it's a game, commenting on shellacking. This is -- this politics that we're dealing with right now is as serious as a heart attack. Everybody in the country is feeling it, and there are no easy solutions. And I think that I look to him for leadership. I don't look to him for politics.
SESNOOkay. Thank you very much. A very thoughtful and important question, and, David Corn, I wonder then, taking -- starting from Bob's premise that we have such a divisive environment, political environment, what is the role -- what should the president -- what could the president be doing to bridge that?
CORNYou know, I think the president tried. I think he made one-third of the stimulus bill tax cuts as reaching out to the Republicans because that's their preferred method...
SESNOWell, that was then. This is now.
CORNNo, no. That was then. But what I'm saying is, you know, now didn't start on its own. I hear the music coming up, so we can pause for a second, I think.
SESNOVery good. You did my job for me. We're having a conversation, our news roundup. We'll talk more about politics, the economy. I'm going to take your calls for our panel after this very brief break.
SESNOWelcome back to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Frank Sesno, sitting in for Diane today. We've got our Friday News Roundup. And we're talking with David Corn, Washington bureau chief of Mother Jones magazine, Lisa Lerer, politics reporter at Bloomberg News, and Byron York, he's the chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner. And we're taking our listeners' calls and questions. Another question that's come into us via our e-mail, which is firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to call us, it's 1-800-433-8850. Let me just rip through a couple of these folks and get a quick response to you before we go back to the phones.
SESNOHere's one from Terry in Dayton, Ohio. "The Republicans say they've heard the people's concerns, but one concern that's being ignored is that we, the people, are sick of the partisan bickering in Congress." Another person. "Your guest mentioned exploding deficits when Obama came into office and moved the budget for those -- for the wars to the public books. What's the impact of putting those into the budget?"
SESNOAnother one. "I watched my local electoral district carpet bombed with ads from groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The claims made by these ads, dishonest and slanderous," says Gordon who's writing from Rochester, N.Y. "How can our Democracy withstand this type of manipulation? Most people don't have any idea of the extent to which the wealthy are gaining the system." Finally, one more, from David. "Call me crazy, but I'm a middle class taxpayer who would like the government to cancel all the Bush tax cuts and use the money to pay down the debt." Byron.
YORKCan I address one of these? This is a misleading talking point that you occasionally hear on the left, which is that Bush hid the cost of the war, and he moved them off the books and Obama moved them on the books. If you look at the Congressional Budget Office or the Office of the Management Budget for every year, it has total receipts and outlays of the federal government. It always included the wars. Bush passed separate appropriations bills, which were debated publicly, about the wars. But the cost of the wars has always been public knowledge.
LEREROh, I wanted to take the question about the money in the campaigns. The amount of money spent in this campaign, quite frankly, was mind-boggling. It was the most expensive congressional midterm election campaign in history. And I think even more than the amount of money coming in from 527s and all these groups, which of course have, you know, less disclosure rules than ever before, was the number of self-funders. I mean, I think one thing we took away from this election is that funding your own campaign is a really bad idea. There is about 60 of them that ran, that put in more than half a million dollars. And of those, I think less than one in four actually won.
SESNOAnd Meg Whitman had real good return on investment, didn't she?
LERERRight. Meg Whitman, I think, she spent -- they work to that, it was over a -- over -- well over $140 million. And I think it ended up being $50, $55 a vote. And she -- I mean, just blowing through wads of cash. It's unbelievable to me.
CORNBut it turns out, if you're a secret billionaire, things go pretty well for you in campaigns because, now, you can put in as much money as you want into electing or deselecting people and not even have it be disclosed. I think that, you know -- I think what we saw in this election, with the dark money and the unlimited amounts of money, was really just a warm-up. I don't think it's going to stop in the off year, 2011. I think these groups going to keep trying to weaken and soften...
SESNOOn all sides.
CORNOn all sides, but I think more so on the side that, you know, on the Republican side with Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie already saying they're going to keep the ads going, even the lame duck session. And there is an advantage on the Republican side. It outspent the Democratic side by about $50 billion. And I also would argue that while you have unions doing the work, doing this sort of stuff, favor Democrats. If you have groups that are funded by secretly -- a union is not funded secretly. But funded secretly by small numbers of individuals, millionaires, corporate titans with their own interest, that's a lot different than unions pouring money in something, which I think the union money is a problem -- it's not the same type of problem.
SESNOByron, since you wrote "The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy."
YORKWell, the union money is being spent kind of coercively in the sense that, obviously, not all union members would like to have their money spent in this way. And I believe the biggest single spender in this race was the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. And the last thing...
CORNThat's actually not true. They're lower down the list.
YORK...is, I kind of choose -- I subscribe to George Will's point, which is the entire money spent in the entire politics this political season is less than Americans spend on potato chips a year. It's not something that bothers me.
SESNOMay I just say, before we go back to the calls -- and you can respond quickly to this if you'd like -- that what strikes me from these comments is that what's come out of this election is hardly a rush of enthusiasm, idealism and hope, which often attends our elections, less so in the off years and certainly when the economy is down. But what really cuts through is this amplification of this notion that America is on the wrong track, that there's deep suspicion about anybody who spends money, and anybody, virtually any politician, who makes any assertion about anything and about the media. The role that the media are playing, this show excepted...
SESNO…in this conversation. This is a disaffected, angry, alienated country.
SESNOAnd that should be concerning to everyone.
CORNYou left out one adjective -- impatient. I mean, to recover 8 million jobs that were lost at the end of the Bush-Cheney years is going to take years, not 18 months. I mean, they take a decade to go -- to bring back. And that's if you have the right policies, and you do everything pretty smartly. But if you're sort of voting people in and out of office based on anger, you're not going to have any continuity. And it's going to be counterproductive.
LERERI've been actually calling this the Mel Gibson election. People are frustrated. People are angry. And they were showing that at the polls. And, you know, I think you saw that in some of the candidates. They -- some of the people that were put up for office weren't the most experienced or didn't have the longest resumes, and I think that's because people said, well, listen, we put in all these lawyers and longtime politicians, and they haven't solved this problem. So why don't we try, you know, a guy who's a farmer and a gospel singer from Tennessee, who's -- who took John Tanner's seat.
LERERSo it will be interesting to see how that works out once all these people actually come to Washington. Do they get co-opted as Trent Lott has predicted? Or do they, you know, sort of stick to their principles? It will be fascinating to watch.
SESNOTo the phones. And Mike joins us now from Indianapolis. Hi, Mike.
MIKEHi, how are you?
SESNOVery well. Go ahead with your question. Thanks for calling.
MIKEWell, I'm interested in thoughts around the unintended consequences of regulations, the recent implement laws. And I think a good example is the healthcare law. You know, there's this appeal, right to appeal, which will require that notices be sent out every time a claim is processed, even a pharmacy claim, if there is a co-pay or cost sharing of $10. Someone has the right to go to an external panel and have that reviewed as whether or not they should have to pay the $10 co-pay. And I -- it's just bureaucratic and very costly, and I just will listen to your thoughts about that.
SESNOThanks, Mike. Byron York.
YORKWell, that is a huge point about the implementation of the healthcare bill. And I think since Republicans now control one House of Congress, it's very likely you're going to see Kathleen Sebelius testifying a lot before various committees of the House as they go into this. And this is one of the areas in which Republicans, who probably will pass bills to repeal ObamaCare, which of course has not yet make it to the president's desk. This is one of the areas where you're going to see them cutting around the edges of the bill.
SESNONext caller is George. He's phoning us from Cleveland, Ohio. Hi, George.
GEORGEHi, good morning.
GEORGEI had (unintelligible) I guess former Democratic voter in Cleveland here. My main comment was when Nancy Pelosi said we had to pass the bill to see what was in it. I just got fed up, and I thought it was emblematic of the way they were running things in Washington. And, I guess, until they get the message, I'm going to not be able to vote as a Democrat anymore. And I'd just like your panel to comment on anti-Pelosi...
SESNOOkay. But before you go away, George -- don't go away. So you say you're a former Democratic voter. Where you -- did you vote Democrat in 2008? And this is when you flipped? Or had you flipped earlier?
GEORGENo. I voted for Mr. Obama. And I thought he was really going to change things. And what he came out with wasn't what I thought was going to happen, and the way the Congress...
SESNOAnd what disturbed you most? What were you most disappointed by?
GEORGEI think initially when he very first said that we're going to put the whole federal budget online and go through it line by line, and you're going to be able to see where it goes, and then they passed a stimulus package and a TARP package and all that, and you find out, you know, through news reporters where some of that money went -- it was just disgusting. And people are still out of work. There's still no freight to haul in Cleveland. And the things they're doing aren't working.
SESNOOkay, George. Thanks for -- thanks...
GEORGEYou know, they're supposed to be one of the ones -- they're supposed to be the party -- and I always thought they were -- that made government work for the average guy. And when they got in, they haven't made government work. So why depend on the government?
SESNOGeorge, thanks for your comment and your question about Nancy Pelosi and the healthcare bill. David Corn, what's your thought?
CORNGeorge represents the big problem that Barack Obama has. I mean, to begin with, the federal budget was online. Anyone could look. And in terms of the recovery package, all the money that was spent -- I know this because I'm a reporter. I went through it -- you know, was put online and people could look it up. Now George, though, didn't feel the impact in a direct way, so to him it seems that nothing happened. You know, in the TARP bailout, which I was not a fan of at the time -- and it's a big point for the Tea Party people, actually was just reported, was it last week or the week before, that the U.S. government made a $25 billion profit on this. And they're going to probably get most of the money back, and it's not going to add to the federal deficit and might have, you know, even though implemented poorly and done out in the right -- all the right ways, it might have been a net gain. You know, that's, you know, making -- government making money is something the Tea Party people should like.
CORNSo I think there are a lot of things get wrapped up all together. And Nancy Pelosi never said we have to pass the bill to see what was in it. Her point was that there's a lot of misinformation about this bill. This was her perspective. People, you know, hear a lot of different things about it. Once we pass it, and they see it working. And they see the benefits of it then they'll come to appreciate what we've done. So, you know, I don't want to, you know, criticize George, but there's a lot of stuff flying around these days. And sometimes it's easy to get the wrong impression.
YORKSo George just doesn't know all of the really great things that Democrats and the president have done for him?
CORNDid you just listen to me, Byron? I mean, you can be snarky if you like. I just said that he didn't feel it directly because maybe in his situation. But every major economist, mainstream economist, says that the stimulus created or saved two to three million jobs.
SESNOBut you don't -- but here's the central problem that Barack Obama faces. It's not unlike, actually, the problem that George W. Bush faced with the issue of terrorism, right, in a sense. You don't get credit…
SESNO...for what doesn't happen.
SESNOVery, very difficult. Byron, you're a reporter.
YORKWell, this is the problem, I think, for Democrats and the president as they go forward, because, if you remember, just before the election, the president was at a fundraiser -- I think it was in Massachusetts -- and said that when people are scared, we're hardwired not to think clearly, suggesting that, you know -- like people were voting for Republicans, vote Democrats out of office, they would not be thinking clearly. So you have this twin idea of the electorate is not really thinking clearly, plus the president has failed to communicate his message even though he gave, I guess, 50-plus speeches on healthcare. Democrats are not facing the basic on popularity of a number of things that they have done.
LERERThis is, I mean, this is a problem -- this problem of the economy, the recovery not happening fast enough is something the White House is going to be grappling with all the way to 2012. People talk a lot about, you know, what happened with President Clinton, President Reagan. They had losses in midterms. They recovered. But what they forget is that Clinton saw unemployment was already declining by 1994.
SESNOListen, folks. I'll date myself a little bit here. I was covering the White House and Ronald Reagan in 1982. I remember being on the bus when we got the news that the unemployment rate had crossed 10 percent, double-digit unemployment, for the first time since the Great Depression. I remember Reagan's number is going down. They were actually lower than Obama's numbers now. I remember what happened in 1982 when the Republicans lost a couple of dozen seats plus in the House. And then what happened? Then the economy turns around, and suddenly people were working again. We had a good Olympics in 1984. The country felt good. And it was morning in America, and '84 was a landslide. The question ultimately and always revolves around the lives that people are living outside of Washington on a day and day basis.
SESNODo they have jobs? Do they have hope? Do they have confidence...
SESNO...and whether they feel optimistic?
LEREROur predictions, at least at Bloomberg, for what the economy is going to look like in 2012 are not -- is not as rosy as it looked during Clinton or Reagan, where, you know, our economist tells 8.7 unemployment then, which isn't something...
SESNO8.7 in 2012. (unintelligible)
LERERIn 2012, which isn't something that's going to make people feel very less -- any less anxious about their personal situation.
SESNOIt may not be morning in America. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Frank Sesno. If you want to join our discussion here in the final minutes of the show, we're 1-800-433-8850. You can e-mail us at email@example.com. Donna from Indianapolis joins us. Hi, Donna.
DONNAHi. Thank you for taking my call. I...
SESNOYou bet. Go ahead with your question.
DONNAWell, I'm curious -- I'm not just curious. I'm a little frustrated with the media, and I wonder how you all plan to go forward. It just seems to me that through years, you're just being co-opted with your language. ObamaCare, ObamaCare, ObamaCare, death panels, death tax, death tax. You know, my mother died, my father died, there was no tax. That's an estate tax. And I really wonder what the media plans to do about language in the future.
SESNODonna, thanks very much for your question. Who wants to start?
SESNODonna's got lots of company, by the way, in not being real thrilled with the media these days.
CORNYou know, I'm sure -- I -- it's actually -- it's a very important question. Because how you define the terms of a debate, often determines who comes out ahead, you know, in politics, not always in policy. And, you know, the media often has trouble because each side tries to lobby for its terminology -- whether you're pro-life or pro-choice is a good example. And the media often has trouble trying to figure out how to call these things for what they are or be fair and square about it. But ultimately, I do think it comes down to the participants in the policy debates. You know, each side gets its best shot and has to make the best pitch it can. And if, you know, Sarah Palin wants to get out there and call something a death panel when it's not a death panel, well, then I do think in that -- on those instances, the media has an obligation to sort of take a good look at it and say, listen, she's just not right.
SESNOPart of the -- Byron, part of the problem...
SESNO...it seems to me, though, is not just the language that is used and is chosen. And, as David says, it's often the politicians who try to frame the issues with the language they choose, and then the media followers don't, as the case may be. But the media, especially some of the cable and online media components, have leapt on the conflict because conflict sells. And what's unsettling to people is this becomes sort of a reinforcing cycle. And people are pointing to the media and saying, what's your responsibility in breaking this cycle? What are you going to do about it? Any response to that?
YORKWell, two things. People are talking -- perhaps are exaggerating a conflict that does exist. We have a lot of problems. The economy is terrible. We know all this. And there are fundamental differences between the parties over how to handle it. And we just had an election, and, you know, the Republicans won this one. Clearly, Democrats won the last two in a very, very big way. These are fundamental differences between the parties.
YORKAnd let me say one thing about unemployment, which is, voters did not miraculously expect unemployment to go way down this time or even for the next election. They were voting on whether they thought things were on the right track or whether what the present Democrats were doing would lead us to a better situation. And they concluded that they weren't. So they do not expect miracles, but they do expect the government to be doing what they view as the right thing.
SESNOLisa Lerer, I'm going to pull the rug out from under you here and with the one minute or so remaining -- there was one other topic we wanted to get to, and we're not going to give it sufficient time -- but I do want to touch upon it. And that's George W. Bush's new memoir that's just out, and in it says that he approved of some of the waterboarding against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He says that he defended the decision to go into Iraq, saying that the Iraqi people are better off with the government that answers to them instead of torturing and murdering them. What's the impact likely to be of George W. Bush's take on his own legacy?
LERERWell, one thing I really enjoyed reading about was how he said that Kanye West comments, that he doesn't care about black people, was something that really hurt him, and he really felt that. I always find it fascinating when we get these sort of glimpses of humanity into these -- our presidents and our leaders. So I found that really interesting sort of side part of that what's come out about that book.
SESNOVery quickly, Byron.
YORKHe said that he thought he'd given diplomacy a chance to work in Iraq. That wasn't true. The inspectors were there. Things were going forward. He cut that process short. He wanted the war.
SESNODavid Corn, Byron York, Lisa Lerer, thanks so much for the look back and look ahead. Appreciate it. Have a good day. You've been listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
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