A writer explores his father's mysterious imprisonment, and accusations that he was spying for the CIA, in revolutionary-era Iran.
A new Congress convenes with the GOP putting in new rules for tax and spending bills. President Obama makes changes among his closest advisors. And a White House panel blamed BP, its contractors and U.S. regulators for last year’s massive oil spill in the Gulf. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Susan Page Washington bureau chief for USA Today.
- Naftali Bendavid national correspondent, The Wall Street Journal.
- David Welna congressional correspondent, NPR.
Friday News Roundup Video
Diane and the panelists discuss the Republicans’ efforts to repeal the health care reform bill:
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Republican John Boehner was sworn in as the nation's 61st Speaker of the House. President Obama tapped former Clinton-era officials to fill top vacancies at the White House. And the Labor Department reported employers added 103,000 jobs in December, lowering the unemployment rate to 9.4 percent. Joining me for the first Friday News Roundup of the new year, NPR's David Welna, Susan Page of USA Today and Naftali Bendavid of The Wall Street Journal. We'll welcome your calls a little later in the program. Join us on 800-433-8850. In the meantime, you can send us your e-mails, join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning and Happy New Year, everybody.
MS. SUSAN PAGEHappy New Year.
MR. NAFTALI BENDAVIDGood morning.
MR. DAVID WELNAGood morning. Happy New Year.
REHMIs the job market finally beginning to improve, Susan?
PAGEIt's so painful to see this report this morning. On the one hand, there's good news -- unemployment rate down to 9.4 percent. That's the lowest in close to two years, and people really look at the unemployment rate. That's going to make Americans feel a little better. But then you look at the number of new jobs created -- 103,000 net new jobs. That's below the number of new jobs that need to be created just to keep the unemployment rate steady, given the growth in the U.S. population. We need much stronger job growth to really bring that unemployment number down to a more acceptable level. What this reflects, in part, is that people have gotten discouraged, dropped -- stopped looking for work, and that's why they're no longer counted as jobless.
BENDAVIDWell, still, it's hard to see it as anything other than good news, that the unemployment is down to a relatively low rate, and, I think, this continues to tell a story that we've seen over the past few months, which is that things are moving in the right direction. But it's sort of a halting, somewhat struggling progress, and all this, of course, in addition to being important to workers, it has political implications. Because if the economy continues a steady, albeit slow increase over the next two years, then the 2012 elections may be fought in a very different political climate than the last ones were.
WELNAI think one thing that this also reflects is that people are eligible for unemployment benefits only up to 99 weeks, and we are just past two years -- past the 99 weeks since the economy really collapsed. And I think one factor driving down the unemployment rate is simply that there are more people who are ineligible now for unemployment benefits. So it's not all good news, as Susan said. This isn't even enough to keep up with the growing job market, this 103,000 job increase. And over the last few months, it's only been enough to keep up with increase.
PAGEIt's such a sign of the times that you could say people are eligible for unemployment only for 99 weeks.
PAGEThink about that -- 99 weeks of unemployment. But we see millions of Americans getting past that terrible benchmark.
REHMSo Ben Bernanke is speaking on Capitol Hill this morning. It sounds as though he is defending his decision to put more money into the economy.
BENDAVIDYeah, that was, of course, a fairly controversial decision, and he's been on the defensive about it. But, of course, now, there's a very different landscape on Capitol Hill than there was, really, just a week ago. And people, really, in both parties -- but perhaps more in the Republican Party -- have been very critical in really asking about what the Fed is doing. I think a lot of economists would tend to feel that some of their moves, like the quantitative easing that you're talking about, you know, made a certain amount of sense. But there are people who are very suspicious of this relatively secretive agency.
BENDAVIDI mean, you know, one of the interesting things that I think we've seen about the job numbers -- which always can be interpreted in so many different ways -- is the Republicans today are saying unemployment continues to hover near 9 percent, and Democrats are saying unemployment dropped by almost a full half percent. And, to me, that sort of exemplifies the fact that this is a, you know -- it's sort of a rocky, shaky recovery, albeit one that seems to be moving in the right direction.
WELNAWell, I think the reactions from the two top leaders from the two parties in Congress today, gives you a sense of that. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid immediately praised the Obama administration for bringing that number down. Speaker of the House John Boehner merely put out a release saying that this shows why we have to cut spending now. In a sense, it's puzzling why, if the unemployment rate drops, that means spending should be cut. But that's been the mantra of Republicans, and he's sticking to it.
REHMDavid Welna of NPR, Naftali Bendavid of The Wall Street Journal, Susan Page of USA Today. Do join us, 800-433-9950. Well, let's ease in to the new Congress, the newly installed Majority Leader John Boehner saying, hard work, tough decisions ahead, but, yesterday, Republicans started with a whole bunch of brand-new rules. David Welna, what are these about?
WELNAThese are rules that make it easier for Republicans to do what they want to do in the House. For one thing, they passed a rule that says that the chairman of the Budget Committee can unilaterally set the spending limits for the different subcommittees of the Appropriations Committee, and this is something that is normally done by passing a budget. And they say, well, we don't have a budget, so we're going to let one person, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, set those limits. It doesn't seem to be in step with the kind of accountability that they say is going to be a hallmark of this House.
REHMNot only accountability, but working in concert with Democrats.
WELNAThat's true. Another thing that they said was that they would have hearings on all major legislation before it's taken up in the House. One of the first things that they've done this week is to bring up a major piece of legislation, a repeal of the entire health care law. And there's not been a single hearing for that. And they say, well, that's because the committees haven't been put together yet. Well, why not wait a little bit to let the committees come together?
WELNAWell, they say, we made a promise, and we want to show that we're keeping it. But, in doing so, I think they're having to kind of trample on some of these new rules that they've just passed. For example, one of them is that every law should have some -- or every bill should have some provision showing what the constitutional authority of Congress is to pass that bill. This repeal of the health care law has no such provision.
BENDAVIDYeah, I mean, I think one of the things that's happening is within 24 hours the two parties are immediately reversing roles, you know. So the majority Republicans are defending their policies, and the Democrats are sitting back and throwing bombs, which is what the Republicans have been doing for the past two years. But the health care bill really was a striking part of all this. The Republicans passed rules that said that, you know, any bill has to be paid for -- which is something that the Democrats did, too -- but they made these big exceptions. One of them is tax cuts don't have to be paid for, and the others, the repeal of the health care bill -- which, according to Congressional Budget Office, would cost the Treasury quite a bit of money -- that doesn't have to be paid for either.
BENDAVIDSo the Democrats sort of had a field day yesterday, you know, lobbying those criticisms at the Republicans. And the Republicans, after two years of being on the attack, found themselves on the defensive.
PAGEYou know, I thought there were a couple of bumps yesterday. I mean, the first day when they -- the new Republican House was sworn in was a pretty good day. They got a chance to make their case. It's always, you know, kind of an emotional thing, that day of everyone getting sworn in and the families being there and so on. But, yesterday, they had a ton of trouble. And you mentioned the health care rule that they passed. This is, of course, something they're going to vote on next Wednesday, and they'll make a big deal about it, fulfilling a promise to a lot of those Tea Party supporters.
PAGEBut it turns out, two members of Congress -- two Republicans weren't on the floor for the swearing-in -- one of them a very senior member, Pete Sessions from Texas. Then they went ahead and voted on the rule in the Rules Committee yesterday. And it's caused questions about whether they have to do it all over again even, perhaps, delaying the health care vote because they were not constitutionally sanctioned to exercise their votes as members of Congress.
WELNAThis, on the day when they actually read the Constitution on the floor of the House for the first time in the history of the House.
REHMWith some deletions.
WELNAAn edited version of it. There were portions of the Constitution that are generally seen as regrettable now that were excised from this reading. It turns out that the House of Representatives does not have an official version of the Constitution even to refer to -- this institution that is supposedly based on the Constitution -- and there were objections, especially Jesse Jackson Jr. from Illinois, said that he thought that taking out the parts that referred to black slaves as three-fifths of a person and that they couldn't cross state lines for refuge, those parts should remain as a reminder. And, I think, as a reminder of the fallibility of the Founding Fathers, something that these sort of fundamentalist Constitutional advocates in the Tea Party don't seem to want to acknowledge.
PAGEYou know, a lot of Democrats, I think, saw this reading of the Constitution as a real stunt. But there was a moment which I thought was beautiful, which was when John Lewis, the congressman from Georgia and a hero of the civil rights movement, read the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery in this country. That was a moment.
REHMNow, what about the CBO estimate on the health care reform bill and John Boehner saying, well, they can have their opinion, but that doesn't make it true?
BENDAVIDYeah, the Congressional Budget Office, which is non-partisan, has estimated that a repeal would cost $230 billion to the U.S. Treasury over the first 10 years and actually...
BENDAVIDA repeal would cost that to the Treasury and, actually, considerably more in the next 10 years.
REHMNow, why would that be? Explain that to me, Naftali.
BENDAVIDWell, there are elements of the -- this is actually consistent with what they were saying when the health care bill was passed. And they said that it would add money to the Treasury, and that's for a lot of reasons. There are taxes imposed on various large industries that are about to get a huge market share increase -- pharmaceutical manufacturers, for example. And so in return -- and many of them were onboard with this -- they were going to pay a certain amount, you know, to the U.S. Treasury. There's also taxes that have to do with people who choose not to get health insurance. They pay taxes as well. So, for these reasons, the health care bill was going to reduce the deficit.
BENDAVIDThe Republicans argue that they were given all kinds of faulty assumptions and that that's a myth and that nobody in their right mind would think that this huge bill would actually save money for the Treasury. But the Democrats point at these Congressional Budget Office scores, and it's become a pretty big point of contention. And, you know, as I say, suddenly it's the Republicans who are having to defend everything they do, who are having to defend against accusations of inconsistency, and it's the Democrats -- I mean, to me they almost seem to be enjoying it. Of course, we all know, they'd rather be in the majority. But there's something about not having responsibility for doing anything, only having to criticize, that seems to be enjoyable.
WELNAYeah, one of the biggest savings that's projected is in Medicare spending, especially cutting back on Medicare advantage. And Republicans say that simply is not going to happen. You know, politically, that's not possible. So Boehner's contention is sort of that, well, yes, I agree that if we're going to add to the cost, we have to compensate for it. But I don't think those costs are going to be there. Still, they passed a rule that exempted this from those -- from that -- from paying for all of this.
REHMDavid Welna, congressional correspondent for NPR.
REHMAnd welcome back to the first Friday News Roundup of 2011 with Susan Page of USA Today, David Welna of NPR, Naftali Bendavid of The Wall Street Journal. One question I should have asked, Susan, when you said Pete Sessions was not where he should have been yesterday, where was he?
PAGEHe was at the Capitol Visitor Center with a freshman member of Congress, Mike Fitzpatrick. There was an event for Congressman Fitzpatrick's supporters. Some people called it a fundraiser. He said there wasn't a charge to go there, but they -- I think they lost track of time. And so when they saw the swearing-in going on, on a TV monitor, they stood up, raised their hands, took the oath of office. But, of course, it's sort of like when the news says something you don't like or you're watching Jon Stewart in a shout-back. I don't think it counts.
BENDAVIDYeah, so there was this whole thing that happened in the Rules Committee where they went through this fairly elaborate setting of the rule for the vote on repealing the health care law. And then it turned out -- I think some local newspaper, actually, in Pennsylvania figured out -- or maybe it was Texas -- that these guys hadn't been sworn in. And that required an abrupt adjournment of the Rules Committee.
REHMOh, my goodness.
BENDAVIDThey had to go back and rethink it.
REHMOh, I see.
BENDAVIDAnd they're still trying to work it out. I mean, they're still hoping to work out a deal where things the Rule Committee did, still count.
PAGEWell, they need unanimous consent of the Democrats to do that. And, you know, given relations -- the state of relations between Republicans and Democrats in the House, I just wonder if Nancy Pelosi will go along with that.
REHMYeah, good question.
BENDAVIDYeah, I mean, she could either choose to show it as a sign of bipartisanship or as a sign to stick it to the Republicans. But it -- you know, as Susan was saying earlier, there have been a series of glitches, and maybe that's to be expected in the opening days of a Congress. But I think the Republicans are finding that it's -- you know, there's a lot of problems that come fairly quickly when you're in the majority.
WELNAYeah, and even before this came to light yesterday, Senate Democratic leaders held a news conference attacking House Republicans for blowing what they said was a $1.3 trillion hole in the deficit. And they were asked at this news conference, well, what are your plans for this next Congress? And Charles Schumer of New York, who's in charge of the messaging for the Senate Democrats, said, well, we'll get to that later. We want to just focus right now on the House. And, really, I think they're having a good time just standing and watching how House Republicans are having to answer all these questions.
REHMWell, the American people are not going to be very happy if this kind of foolishness continues. Let me ask you about something that has been talked about somewhat. Is it true that there's going to be a 60 percent increase in health insurance costs for the State of California, Naftali?
BENDAVIDWell, apparently, Blue Cross of California has requested this sort of a insurance -- or sort of notified the state that this kind of an insurance increase is going to happen. It's actually happening in a lot of states across the country, although California is the biggest one that I've heard of so far.
BENDAVIDYeah -- close to that. I think it's not quite 60 percent, but close to that. There are states, actually, where the commissioner of insurance can turn down an insurance company's request. I'm not sure that's the case in California. But this has immediately prompted a debate where people who are in favor of the health care bill are saying, this is why we need health care reform. And opponents are saying, it's because you passed the health care reform that insurance rates are going up.
BENDAVIDAnd that prompted, actually, the head of this California insurance company to issue a letter saying, well, it really wasn't because of health care reform. This is something that we were going to do because of trends in the market in any case. But it's going to be an interesting driver of the debate because people are seeing their premiums skyrocket in a fairly dramatic way.
REHMWho in the world can afford to pay that kind?
WELNAWell, I was talking with Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, yesterday about this by Anthem's request for an increase in fees. And he said that's fine. They can ask for this increase, but you know what? We have a new law that says insurance companies have spent 85 percent of what they take in on actual benefits for people. And he said, well, you know, that's going to mean they're going to have to provide a lot more benefits. But, in terms of a competitive marketplace, they're not going to be viable if they keep paying up that much to their customers.
PAGEAnd that's a rule -- the -- I think it's an 80 percent rule, isn't it? That the insurance companies who pay 80 percent of their premiums…
PAGE...back to customers, either in services or in wellness programs or so on, that's a provision of the law that went into effect seven days ago on Jan. 1, along with some other provisions that will be pretty popular. And one of the interesting things we're seeing now is Democrats trying to make the case that they failed to make in the past two years, which is that this health -- or in the past year -- that this health care bill is a good deal. We had a poll in the paper this morning, a new Gallup poll that came back. Only 40 percent of Americans think this -- the health care law should stand -- four out of 10 Americans. I mean, six out of 10 Americans don't feel that way about a law that's -- was enacted in March. There's really a task that remains to be done by the White House and Congressional Democrats.
WELNABut I think that response has to be nuanced a little bit because there are people who don't want it to stand because they want it to go a lot farther than it goes. Those who are opposed to it, philosophically, I think, tend to be about 35 to 40 percent of the people responding. But you have 15 percent to 20 percent who think that there should have been a public option.
REHMNational health program.
PAGEBut, David, I would disagree with you. The question in the poll was, should we repeal the law or not? And only 40 percent said not.
PAGESo whether they think the law didn't go far enough or went too far, they think the law ought to be repealed -- 46 percent, not all of them. Some people didn't have an opinion. So this is a huge challenge, I think, going ahead.
BENDAVIDAnd Democrats really are seeing this moment -- when Republicans are going to go to the floor on Wednesday with a repeal bill -- as an attempt to re-litigate, in a sense, and re-argue this argument that they -- many of them feel they lost last year.
REHMNow, someone, Barbara from Medford, Ore., focusing once again on the Congress, says, "Congressman Issa has already said he wants to investigate corruption in the Obama government." She wants to know, "How much is this going to cost American taxpayers?"
BENDAVIDWell, it's obviously hard to quantify that exactly. Under the Clinton administration, there was the hiring of a lot of lawyers in the White House, you know, to respond to congressional investigations and inquiries. What Issa has said is that he's not going to undertake those kinds of investigations, but rather more substantive ones that have to do with everything from Afghanistan to the FDA, to other kinds of, you know, legislative policy issues.
REHMBut, I mean, how can you investigate the nation's president? How can you say each of these policies is flawed, and, therefore, we're going to undertake this investigation? I don't get it.
BENDAVIDWell, you know, there's this committee, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. It's been, traditionally, a place where there are these real attack dog-type members of Congress, whether it's Henry Waxman or Dan Burton or now Darrell Issa. And they see it as their job to keep the administration honest. It is a remarkably wide-ranging committee, in that almost anything in the government...
REHMSounds that way.
BENDAVID...seems to be under their jurisdiction.
BENDAVIDAnd Darrell Issa has sent very clear signals that he intends to use that power.
PAGEYou know, Diane, you've been taking questions off Twitter for some time, and I'm a big fan of Twitter myself. And Darrell Issa has changed his Twitter photo that goes on with each feed. I saw it yesterday. I don't know if he changed it earlier. And it shows, like, him as a cartoon figure wearing a big policeman's hat, and it says, the nation's watchdog. So that's how he is seeing himself going forward.
WELNAAs opposed to the nation's attack dog. But, actually, the House yesterday voted to cut the budget of all committees and all members of the House by 5 percent. So if they got ambitions to carry out these big investigations, they're going to find that they're not going to have that much wherewithal to actually carry them out.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about these latest changes at the White House for President Obama's top advisors. Wednesday, we heard that Robert Gibbs is leaving in February. And, Thursday, President Obama tapped Commerce Secretary William Daley as his permanent chief of staff. And, today, he's expected to name Gene Sperling as head of the National Economic Council. So, Susan, what do all these changes indicate?
PAGEI think that administrations -- presidential terms have chapters. I think we are entering a new and different chapter from the first two years of the Obama administration, and Bill Daley's taking over the role of chief of staff reflects that. We're not -- it means, number one, that the president is looking for a lot more outreach to the business community. Bill Daley is, in some ways, a poli (sic) -- certainly comes from one of the nation's top political families, the Daleys of Chicago. But he's been in banking. He was the Commerce secretary. He has great ties to the business community. That's been a huge weakness for this White House. They're going to have to do a lot more with Republicans. Things will not happen.
PAGETheir programs are -- you know, they're on defense on some things. They want some things to get done. They need to have better relations with Republicans in Congress than they have before. And you're going to see a different agenda, I think, too. We've had two years of huge pieces of legislation being enacted. Now, we're going to have two years of trying to defend them from being repealed, from trying to implement them and trying to set up the case for the president's reelection campaign in 2012.
REHMLiberal Democrats may not be too happy with the choice of Daley, or sympathetic with the idea that the president hasn't been close enough to the business community.
BENDAVIDYeah, and we saw that already. The minute that Bill Daley's appointment was announced, there was some negative reaction from liberal groups. There was a remarkably positive reaction from conservative and business groups. You know, Tom Donohue, the head of the Chamber of Commerce, as well as Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader -- neither of whom love to give compliments to the White House -- were, you know, effusive in their praise of Bill Daley. I think that alone has made liberal groups suspicious. But there's another element to what's happening here. It's not only, I think, that President Obama is confronting a very different political landscape.
BENDAVIDHe's also getting ready for re-election. And it may seem pretty early for that, but that's how administrations work. And having a guy like Robert Gibbs and a guy like David Axelrod outside the White House, where they're a little bit freer, not only to attack Republicans but also to do things like organize and raise money and do various things that you can't do when you're observing the proprieties of being inside the White House, I think, is part of laying the groundwork for the re-election campaign.
WELNAI agree with Susan, that we are kind of going into a new chapter right now. The first two years were really the legislative chapter of bulldozing these big bills through with gigantic majorities in both chambers. Those are gone now. And, I think, we see the White House turning to the things that it knows need to get done but need bipartisan support, things such as overhauling the tax cut, for example, or looking at entitlement reform, even such things as getting a trade deal with South Korea through. That's something that needs bipartisan support. Those are the kinds of things, I think, that the White House is going to be focusing on and that shores up its credibility, also both with the business and also with independents, something that it really needs going into 2012.
PAGEAnd, you know, the first big test we may see, about whether these two sides can get together, will come with a debate over raising the debt ceiling, which could come in March. You know, we had a warning this week from the Treasury secretary that we may hit the debt ceiling by the end of March. That will be a real test of the Republican leadership in the House, their ability to muster the troops to support a debt ceiling -- the White House. It will focus the debate on spending, which is going to be, perhaps, the biggest and most fundamental debate we'll have this year.
REHMAnd it has been turned catastrophic if that debt ceiling is not raised, and yet you've already had some Republicans say, not going to do it.
WELNAWell, what happened is that the idea of raising the debt ceiling is a very powerful symbol. And during their last campaign, quite a few Republicans who won ran, in part, by thrashing Democratic incumbents for voting to raise the debt ceiling last time around. So, now, they're not exactly in a position where they can turn around and vote to raise the debt ceiling. On the other hand, if the debt ceiling isn't raised, it would have very negative impacts. I mean...
WELNAWell, the government probably wouldn't default right away, which is what people say because you -- they can move things around. But there's no question that the government's creditworthiness and trustworthiness, you know, would plummet. And that would affect interest rates. It would affect all kinds of things. Nobody really wants to see that happen, nor, in my opinion, will permit it to happen. So the dynamic you have right now is Republicans trying to exact significant spending cuts in exchange for their vote...
WELNA...to raise the debt ceiling.
WELNAAnd that's what you're going to see play out in the next few months.
PAGEBut you're going to see brinkmanship over this. And it -- when you have that kind of fight, you don't really know whether you're going to end up going off the side of the cliff or not.
WELNAAnd, also, I think, the key is how much they're going to raise the debt limit by. Because Republicans would prefer to do it in small increments, thus increasing their leverage and their ability to keep going back and asking for more spending cuts.
REHMDavid Welna of NPR. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Presidential commission investigating the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill released a summary of the findings this week, and that suggested that there was blame all around. Naftali.
BENDAVIDIt did, but it also did kind of focus it on the managers at BP. I mean, you know, they -- there's a sense in there that there was a single overarching failure, a failure of management -- and by that, they mean corporate management, and they mean, primarily, BP's management. But, to me, one of the real interesting things in that preliminary report was that they describe it as a systemic problem, that if it's not corrected, there will be other problems.
BENDAVIDBecause one of the big debates, ever since this spill, has been, was this an aberration? Or is it something that's system-wide in terms of the way we do oil drilling offshore? And, you know, there was a hearing a few months ago where all the CEOs of other oil companies came and basically said, hey, this was BP's problem. It was the way they did it. It would never happen to us. And this report sort of suggests otherwise. It suggests that there are broad problems and big changes that need to be made.
REHMSo what does that indicate about the president allowing more offshore drilling until those kinds of systemic problems are corrected?
BENDAVIDWell, logically, he wouldn't do it.
BENDAVIDAnd that seems to be a fairly strong policy implication of all this. Interestingly, Mary Landrieu -- who is a senator from Louisiana and one of the big proponents of offshore drilling because of the state that she comes from -- sort of tried to frame this as showing why we should lift the moratorium, but I wasn't quite understanding what her case was. And I think, you know, you'll see a strong push from people who feel like we need big changes before lifting the moratorium, citing this report in making their argument.
PAGEYou know, it's certainly true that the companies -- BP, Transocean, Halliburton -- all got hammered in this report or got really slammed in this report for taking shortcuts that made this accident possible. But the federal government got a lot of criticism, too, for -- it was a failure, also, of the oversight rule of the government...
PAGE...to prevent the companies from making shortcuts that allowed this spill and accident to happen.
REHMI want to talk about red ink at the Pentagon and the cutting that Defense Secretary Gates announced of, what, $78 billion. I had heard earlier in the week, it was going to be $100 billion. What happened there?
WELNAWell, there's some confusion about this because of what Gates said last August, which was that he was going to seek to cut spending at the Pentagon by $100 billion...
WELNA...over the next five years -- although he would take that savings and then apply it to new programs in the Pentagon. It was going to be a net result that they -- spending would stay at the same levels. Then the White House decided that, no, there really have to be real cuts. They wanted about $150 billion in cuts. And in the end, Gates prevailed on getting about half that amount over the next five years, and this is not to say that defense spending is going to diminish by $78 billion over the next year. This is simply reducing the projected increases in spending by $78 billion.
BENDAVIDYeah, I mean, I think what we're seeing here is the collision of two sort of longer term trends. Ever since 9/11, there's been a build up of the national security state. There's no question about it. The military has increased. On the other hand, we're in a really tough financial time. And, so far, the military has, to some degree, been spared. And I think this is a sign that that's not going to be the case anymore. I mean, like David says, really, what we're going to see is a leveling off of defense spending. It's not like we're going to see some huge cuts.
BENDAVIDBut Republicans are in a very interesting position here because they are very strong proponents of national security and of the military. They're also strong proponents of fiscal austerity. And this is a situation where those two are arguably in conflict. And you're seeing more and more Republicans, like Eric Cantor or like Mitch McConnell, saying, well, you know, everything's on the table. The military can't be spared, and, I think, one reason for that is if you're talking about cutting huge percentages from the budget, you can't exempt the military.
REHMNaftali Bendavid of The Wall Street Journal, David Welna of NPR, Susan Page of USA Today. When we come back, time to open the phones. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd here's our first message from Facebook. Chris says, "John Boehner had the opportunity yesterday to end, unequivocally, the Birther conspiracy for his caucus for the next two years. Instead, he said, it's not up to me to tell them what to think. He could have said they were wrong, he wasn't going to waste any of Congress or the nation's time with legislation. He chose not to, and that's disappointing." And I watched this interview between him and Brian Williams, Susan.
PAGEYou know, this came up yesterday in the reading of the Constitution. Congressman Frank Pallone from New Jersey was reading the provision of the Constitution that establishes the requirements for people who want to run for president. And when he talked about having to be native-born, a woman in the gallery said, except Obama, except Obama, and was quickly escorted out. But one of the -- this is an issue that doesn't seem to be able to go -- doesn't seem to be going away. One interesting thing is the new governor of Hawaii -- who knew Obama's parents when the future president was born -- says that he is going to make an effort to open up additional records in Hawaii to settle, once and for all, the issue of where President Obama was born.
BENDAVIDAlthough I wonder if that would help. I mean, it seems like a lot of this is based not so much on a...
BENDAVID...rational examination of documents and sort of...
BENDAVID...some need to believe that Obama is something foreign and different. And I think, you know, among other things, it shows the difficult road the Republicans are going to have, the tension they're going to have with some of their most, you know, fierce Tea Party supporters and how you sort of keep those -- and that -- I mean, it was one thing to do it when they were the minority. But now that they actually run part of government, I think that's going to be a tension that they're really going to have to deal with.
WELNAI think the kowtowing to the Tea Party that we've seen in the fist days of 112th Congress -- the reading of the Constitution, the move to repeal the health care law -- this is in a House where only 35 of the 242 Republicans were elected with explicit Tea Party backing. So in Congress they're actually a tiny minority, and yet they seem to have quite a sway over the leadership at this point.
PAGEBut even Republicans who weren't elected with Tea Party support, some of them worry about Tea Party challengers in their primaries next time around. We certainly saw the Tea Party was able to oust some long-term members of Congress last year by running against them in primary, so their influence is more extensive than their numbers might indicate.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Rochester, N.Y. Good morning, Thomas.
THOMASYes. Hello. Maybe you've covered this before -- and I do support the health care plan -- but how would the repeal of it add to our deficit?
REHMYeah, we did talk a little about that before. Go ahead, Naftali, if you could briefly reiterate.
BENDAVIDSure. Well, as part of the health care plan, there were certain costs imposed on industries that were participating, that were going to -- that would bring money to the Treasury. And, also, as David pointed out, there were certain savings that were to be had in the Medicare program. So passage of the health care bill was found by the Congressional Budget Office to bring money into the Treasury, and its repeal will therefore cost the Treasury money.
REHMAll right. Jim in Michigan wants to add to the conversation. How do you pronounce your town, Jim?
JIMIt's actually pronounced Okemos.
REHMOkay. I got it. Go right ahead.
JIMOkay. More in the health care, I guess. I'm pulling over because I don't want to get in trouble with Diane.
JIMSusan and David were talking earlier about statistics and polls related to health care, and, I guess, I just -- I'm an employer. I have health care for my employees. And it is so incredibly complex that for me to conduct the poll where you're asking someone whether they think it should be repealed or not touched is silly when these people would have absolutely no idea. Getting through an explanation of benefit statements is tricky enough, let alone trying to understand what happens now -- what's happening in 2014.
JIMI wish the Democrats would get someone, some great communicator to stand up, to spend the time with a big chalkboard and say, okay, here's the status quo. Let's look at some examples. Here's a 50-year-old guy. He's in good health. He goes to the gym every day. He gets -- you know, this happens. Take six examples of status quo versus what this bill is going to do, try and make it simple and digestible so people can, you know -- that we'll stop wasting time trying to go back. The Republicans are making so many silly arguments about why does she go away. Just blow it out of the water.
PAGEYou know, Jim -- but, perhaps, Bill Daley will be on the phone with you shortly to offer you a job on White House staff. Because, of course, the White House congressional Democrats need to do that if they believe the health care bill makes sense, serves people, is to -- going to be to the benefit of Americans. They need to explain to Americans why that's the case.
REHMAll right. To Paducah, Ky. Hi, Nathan.
NATHANHello. Thank you. I just have a quick comment or question that goes back to the earlier part of the program about the two gentleman who didn't show up for work. It really upsets me for some reason. It may not be as important as the other things, but I'm wondering if there are any repercussions for Sam, besides redoing the votes, that, you know, wasting more time and taxpayer money through this stuff. Anything happen to those two people for not showing up?
REHMYeah, talk about a waste of taxpayer money. Naftali?
BENDAVIDWell, I think it's unlikely. I mean, nobody's talking about that. They presumably should have been in the chamber during the swearing-in and lost track of time and didn't make it. All the talk right now has been about how do we remedy if we need to remedy some of the votes that the rules committee took? Maybe they should be, you know, reprimanded in some way, but I don't think that's worth the drive. (unintelligible)
REHMYou doubt it. All right.
PAGEI do think it's kind of embarrassing for them.
BENDAVIDThat's true. Especially, one of them was a fairly senior member of Congress concessions.
BENDAVIDHe was the head, and he continues to be the head of the Republican House campaign arms.
REHMSomebody got his calendar mixed up maybe. Let's go to San Antonio, Texas. Good morning, Michael.
MICHAELHello, Diane. Yes. I would like to just take a minute. You know, Darrel Issa has been on TV lately talking about the administration being corrupt and so on and so forth. But I don't hear anybody in the media taking time to take a look at Darrell Issa. You know, he's been accused and convicted of car theft in the past. He had, like, illegal gun possession, insurance fraud. He spent $1.5 -- $1.7 billion, his own money, to recall Gray Davis out of California. And he has a checkered past. But I don't hear anybody in the press going back to take a look at this guy and say, you know, who was he to be throwing stones at the president when he has his own issues.
BENDAVIDWell, I mean, it is true that, I mean, some Democrats have pointed out that Darrell Issa, you know -- he run this company that was -- I think they helped invent LoJack or something like that, the car alarm system. And it's true. He was very involved in the recall of Gov. Davis. I have a feeling it's not going to be too long before Democrats do train their sights on him because he's made very strong statements about this being one of the most corrupt administrations. And that kind of thing makes you a target, and my guess is it won't be long now before we see some of that happening.
REHMAnd to South Bend, Ind. Good morning, Jerry.
JERRYGood morning. My comment relates to the Congressional Budget Office and its analysis of cost of bills, et cetera, and the fact that the Congressional Budget Office basically takes whatever assumptions it is given by Congress and does the analysis. So they are currently working on the assumptions that were delivered by the Democratic Congress, and there was a whole bunch of moving of items forward and back and assumptions made which can never be met, such as cutting Medicare by $500 billion. So to rely upon their $200-plus billion class specimen is -- to me, it doesn't make sense. In fact, one of the things that Congress should do is take a look at Congressional Budget Office and perhaps bring their analysis up to the 21st century.
WELNAYeah, that's been a debate that's been going on for some time. For example, the Bush-era tax cuts that just got extended. When the CBO was making its projections for the coming years, it was assuming that those tax cuts would not be extended. And so the budgets are very different in terms of the kinds of deficits that the government would be running. And, of course, they're going to be running greater deficits because those tax cuts were extended. And it does call into question about what should the CBO realistically be considering. Now, one thing is that the CBO does consult a range of opinions on what the impact of legislation might be, and it usually settles on sort of the middle opinion. So there is some leeway that they're -- they have in their estimates.
REHMHere is an e-mail from Heather in Belmont, N.C. "Please ask Susan Page if she knows the results of poll questions that specifically address particular components of health care. Because of the misnomer government-controlled health care which Republicans have used, many say they want health care repealed. But when asked if they want coverage for pre-existing conditions, coverage of children up to 26, Americans are hugely supportive."
PAGEThat is certainly true. And the Kaiser Foundation, the -- which is a nonprofit foundation, has done a lot of polling in this area. They've got a website that's interesting to look at. It certainly shows that some provisions of the health care bill are very popular, but some of the provisions that make it possible to put together this complicated puzzle that is health care reform are not popular. For instance, the mandate that all Americans are -- virtually all Americans buy health insurance or have health insurance.
PAGEThat's a key provision. It's kind of the thing about which everything else stems. There are a lot of suspicion about that. And we've talked about the effort to repeal the health care law in Congress. There's also two dozen lawsuits in federal court attacking the health care law on the constitutionality of that individual mandate. That is something that almost certainly will end up being decided by the Supreme Court.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Eric in Cleveland who says, "Will the Senate reform the filibuster?" David.
WELNAWell, the Senate right now is in the process of looking at ways -- not necessarily to change the filibuster by itself in which you need to get 60 votes to get past this extended debate. They're looking, really, at more of changing the circumstances in which the filibuster can be used on the motion to proceed, which means trying to bring up a bill on the floor. There's -- Democrats are saying this should not be something that could be stopped by a filibuster. And, in fact, there's a Senate rule that allows the majority leader to bring up something in the first two hours of business, and it can't be stopped by a filibuster. But Majority Leader Reid just hasn't done that.
WELNABut I think that Republicans recognize that if they don't reach some kind of a deal with Democrats, Democrats could resort -- when they come back in session on Jan. 25, and it will still be the first legislative day because they're only in recess. They haven't adjourned -- that they could, with only 51 votes, change the rules. I think there are Democrats who are leery of doing that just because it could lead to a lot of fratricide in the Senate if they did so.
REHMAnd don't you -- hasn't the filibuster -- in its old sense, hasn't that gone out the window? Doesn't somebody just have to say we're going to filibuster but not stand up there and read the telephone book for nine hours?
WELNAIt's the threat of a filibuster...
WELNA...the threat to keep debating. And the problem is that the ways the rules are written, if you have somebody out on the floor arguing against the bill, for example, in saying, it should not come to a vote, that person at some point can call for a quorum. And if you don't have at least 50 senators on hand, the session can be suspended. And then when they go back in session, the debate can continue. So what it really does is it makes the majority or those who are defending the legislation that they want to advance, it requires them to stay all night and maybe only one or two of the people who are opposing it.
REHMDavid Welna of NPR, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here's a kind of a good summation from Dino in Ann Arbor, Mich. He says, "This is all incredible stuff you all are talking about for the first few days of Congress. Missing the swearing-in, read a reductive version of the Constitution -- really, the strict construction is edit the Constitution -- ignore their new rules right out of the box. It reinforces that Republicans talking points are a ruse. They simply want power for the sake of having power." I don't agree with that.
BENDAVIDYeah, I mean, I think, you know, in fairness, the opening days of a new Congress, right after transition of power, can be a little bit rocky, and I think that's one of the things that's going on. I think another thing that's going on is you do say certain things when you are running, when you're in the opposition, and then suddenly you have to govern. What John Boehner says about the fact that they're going to push through this health care repeal without amendments is, look, I said I'd have a more open process.
BENDAVIDI didn't say every single bill would have the most open process possible. And Democrats have not had an open rule for the last two years. So, I think, they are running into some glitches. I think they're finding, as I said earlier, it's not always so much fun to be in the majority. I think we have to see how the next few months play out to really get a sense of how they're doing.
PAGEAlthough your mother always told you, you only have one chance to make a first impression. And Republicans in the House are making their first impression, not on one day, not on one day's flubs. But they don't have two years to demonstrate to Americans how they plan to govern.
REHMAnd here is an attempted clarification from Anthony. He says, "Only 46 percent of Americans want the bill repealed, not six out of 10."
PAGEThat's correct. Forty-six percent wanted repeal, 40 percent said it should stand, 14 percent didn't have an opinion. That's exactly right.
REHMRight. Okay. "So that the upshot," he says, "is the nation is split with no majority either way."
PAGEThe nation is split, but you can look at these numbers and figure out why Republicans are proceeding. Eight out of 10 Republicans want the bill repealed. This goes straight to the Republican base. It unifies the Republicans, and it pleases the Tea Party movement.
REHMI'd like to hear your thoughts on what happens next after this vote next Wednesday.
BENDAVIDOn health care or in trying to...
REHMYes, on health care. Forgive me.
BENDAVIDWell, I think, clearly, we know that the Senate is not going to probably even consider this, let alone pass it. And if, by some strange chance, they did, President Obama would veto any repeal. So I think what happens next is Republicans look for ways to bite off smaller pieces, to either repeal small items of it or to defund small items of it. And that's going to be the big fight over the next few months for sure.
REHMNow, will that defunding work in effect to undermine the whole of the health care bill?
PAGEYou know, it's definitely a complication because the HHS and states need additional funding to implement big parts of this health care bill. But the administration also has the ability to shift some money around, so it's a complication. But it doesn't -- no -- the answer to your question, no. I don't think it undermines it entirely.
PAGEI don't. I think -- but, I think, it's one more -- what we're going to see, I think, is a year of pitched battles, of re-litigation of the fight that we thought was settled when that law was signed in March.
REHMI mean, this is -- talk about a waste of taxpayer money. I don't get why Republicans would use -- as you said, they've only got two years. And, as you've said, do they want to waste it on this whole thing?
WELNAI think that they are running a huge risk of repeating what Democrats did during the past two years, which is focusing on an issue that people say this does not really get me a new job. That's why they called the repeal, the repeal of the job killing health care law.
REHMDavid Welna of NPR, Susan Page of USA Today, Naftali Bendavid of The Wall Street Journal. Happy New Year, everybody.
WELNASame to you.
BENDAVIDHappy New Year.
REHMAnd thanks 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.
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