The Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of "Bloom County" on the revival of his beloved comic strip after a 25-year hiatus and a new book about the origins of Bill The Cat.
This week Diane and a panel of journalists discuss the House vote to repeal the health care overhaul law, the Chinese president’s visit to the White House, and the legacy of Sargent Shriver. Join us for an analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Lisa Lerer politics reporter, Bloomberg News.
- Major Garrett congressional correspondent, National Journal.
- Jerry Seib executive Washington editor, The Wall Street Journal.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. In a largely symbolic act, House republicans voted unanimously to repeal the health care law. Democrats are expected to kill the effort in the Senate. Chinese President Hu Jintao wrapped up a state visit to Washington by urging the U.S. to treat China with respect and as equals. And the presidential executive order will establish a new Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, headed by the CEO of GE.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup, Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal, Lisa Lerer of Bloomberg News and Major Garrett of National Journal. During the hour, we will welcome your calls, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to email@example.com. Feel free to send us a tweet or join us on Facebook. Good morning to all of you.
MR. JERRY SEIBGood morning.
MR. MAJOR GARRETTGood morning, Diane.
MS. LISA LERERGood morning.
REHMMajor Garrett, how much of a success, or otherwise, would you rate President Hu's visit the Washington and Chicago?
GARRETTWell, for the Chinese, it was a success because it was a state visit. The Chinese received every protocol deference that they sought from the U.S. government, which is significant because -- and Jerry may know this better than I do, but I think this is the first time ever a U.S. president has extended a state visit to a country that is holding a Nobel laureate in prison, Liu Xiaobo. And that is a significant point of friction with the United States and China over human rights. It came up with the press conference. And yet, the Chinese sought and received every protocol advantage that they wanted from the state visit.
GARRETTHuman rights came up -- the biggest issue right now between the United States and China is North Korea and there has been some movement in the last of couple days. The Chinese have agreed to exert more pressure on North Korea. There is a sense that the talks may restart between the six parties on the North Korea nuclear issue and that there might be more military-to-military conversations between North Korea and South Korea. This is the number one security issue.
GARRETTAnd in the last six months, the Obama administration has made it abundantly clear in ways it did not before to the Chinese that North Korea is no longer strictly a regional issue. It is an issue of U.S. national security. Ballistic missiles now, according to what Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said on a trip to China, could reach the United States from North Korea in five years. It's not just about regional allies and regional power for the United States. It's about our own national security. That's been conveyed. The Chinese have responded. So on that issue, there has been some progress.
SEIBWell, I think Major is right. The dynamics of this were much different -- when President Hu came in the last days of the -- or last year, I think, of the Bush administration he did, was not accorded the state visit protocols. They wouldn't -- not allow a state dinner. They had a sort of fake state lunch instead. There was a very embarrassing moment at the arrival ceremony where a Falun Gong protester masquerading as a journalist did something that very much upset the Chinese, which was to speak up and protest. There was a lot of tension.
SEIBThere was not much tension this time. It was different. And I think, partly, it was because I think both sides decided the image they wanted to project was about the two countries are neither friends nor rivals. They're somewhere in between. We acknowledged our problems. We'll deal with it. We're not gonna solve them here today. We're not even gonna try to solve them here today, but we're gonna deal with them. And that's really what the dynamic was all about.
SEIBAnd this is a footnote. The other thing that's changed is that in past, visits are tended to be the Chinese coming to ask for something, you know? Give us help to get into the World Trade Organization, for example, or, you know, give us, you know, help with the regional politics. In this case, it was pretty clearly a situation which the dynamic is reversed and it's the U.S. asking for help from China. Give us some help on currency. Give us some help on trade. Give us some help on North Korea and Iran.
REHMLisa Lerer, what about President Hu's reception on Capitol Hill?
LERERWell, that's a really good point to bring up. I think the reception on Capitol Hill illustrated some of the challenges in this relationship, particularly domestically for President Obama. You know, while they did have these very polite meetings -- series of meetings and a big state dinner in the White House, on Congress, it was a much harsher reception. They really -- this is political red meat for these guys. We saw a lot of ads, anti-China, China-bashing ads run during the election. Some of them were very successful.
LERERSo Congress had a series of meetings. And the discourse over there was pretty harsh. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid referred to President Hu as a dictator and then tried to dial it back a little bit. So I think the fact how politically potent China bashing can be illustrates the danger for President Obama and how he really has to balance this relationship between, you know, sort of setting a new balance internationally, but also keeping things a little bit -- the rhetoric a little bit inline domestically, particularly as they move into the presidential election.
REHMI thought it was interesting that when President Hu was pressed for a response on human rights, that portion of his response was blocked out in China, Major.
GARRETTA perfectly characteristic of the Chinese government and the Chinese controlled the media. When I traveled with President Obama to China, when he last met with President Hu back when I was covering the White House, there was incredibly strict controls of access. There was a town hall meeting that the president had. There was very strict controls internet and otherwise for the Chinese over media access to that. They don't wanna discuss human rights in China. They consider the issue of human rights, dissidents imprisoned to be a state security issue. And what you saw in the statements and what you saw in the (word?) President Hu, as we respect each other's sovereignty, and we do not mettle in each other's internal affairs.
GARRETTWhat that means in Chinese rhetoric is, we will continue our policy of imprisoning dissidents no matter what you say.
REHMBut didn't he somewhat dial back on that, Jerry?
SEIBHe did. He said, after giving a fairly standard Chinese government response when asked about human rights, he said one thing very interesting at the end. He said, we have progress yet to be made on human rights.
SEIBIt was an admission of a failing of sorts on the human rights question.
REHMAnd that was the part that was blocked out.
SEIBRight, yeah, exactly. But to say it in public before an American audience with the president by his side was significant, I think. I wouldn't have been said previously, I think, by this Chinese leader or any other.
REHMDo you believe that this visit is going to have a lasting impact on the relationship between the U.S. and China?
SEIBWell, I think it has to. I mean, there are a multitude of issues that can't be ignored. The Chinese recognize that they're not playing by the rules of the global economy and they have to start doing that. The answer we were just talking about on human rights was a recognition that they know they're going to have to deal with that. There was a sense in this visit that China realizes it has to step up to play a role as a global power if it pretends to be a global power.
SEIBIt was funny because it reminded me a little bit, the atmosphere around town this week, of what it was like in the '90s when Mikhail Gorbechev would come. I mean, everybody was sort of on the edge of their seat wondering what would happen in these conversations. It was that important. Well, now the Russian leader comes and goes and nobody pays much attention. But the Chinese president shows up and it's the same atmosphere and that tells you that everybody recognizes this is the preeminent relationship in the world today.
REHMJerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal, Major Garrett of National Journal, Lisa Lerer, she's politics reporter for Bloomberg News. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Lisa, let's talk about the vote in the House of Representatives on health care. Purely symbolic or are there some other ramifications we have not yet seen.
LERERWell, this was a purely symbolic vote. Of course the House voted to repeal the health care law put in place by the last Congress. That's very unlikely to pass the Senate. And even if it did, I can bet you the White House that President Barack Obama is not going to sign that bill. So was a symbolic vote designed to satisfy the base and fulfill a campaign promise to repeal and replace the law. Now, however, republicans in the House have to move on to the trickier part of that promise which is the replace section. And I think there are some political dangers for the party as they start getting into that part of this debate.
LERERFirst of all, most people -- I think polling shows that they are far more interested in the economy and jobs, then healthcare. There isn't a lot of interest in getting really bogged down in another health care debate, I think. And most importantly, the republican base is less interested in healthcare than democrats and independents are. So I think there's some danger there if they really get bogged down in health care they could make the same mistake that republicans accused democrats of making this last election, which was ignoring jobs, ignoring the economy to take on this really massive goal.
REHMWhat about the Senate, Major Garrett? Does the GOP have the tools to force a vote in the Senate?
GARRETTNo, not the tools to force a vote, but it can offer the repeal initiative in any series of amendments it wants to, which would require the democrats to use procedural tactics to prevent that from happening if they wanted to. And you may see that play itself out. The more important issue for House republicans who initiated this process and who are going to be judged now that they repealed this is, what is your mechanism to replace this law? And the word you hear most constantly used and invoked by House republicans to describe the process that comes next is methodical.
GARRETTBut it's hard to find a method behind a methodical process. They don't have a bill. They don't have an alternative. Even the alternative offer of last year in the heat of the Obama health care debate, the John Boehner substitute, is not the basis of action now. They're gonna basically start from scratch. And that John Boehner alternative extended coverage by 3 million people according to the congressional budget office, which underscores the philosophical difference republicans and democrats have on this issue.
GARRETTDemocrats believe you must cover everyone or nearly everyone to lower costs. Republicans believe you have to lower costs, then over time, you'll achieve expanded coverage. Well, they're gonna have to prove legislatively how they seem to accomplish that. They don't have anything on the table yet.
REHMSo Jerry, this goes back to Lisa's point, a division within the republican party on what to do next.
SEIBWell, a little bit, but also a divided country. You know, I mean, republicans had to do what they did in the House. You know, we did a poll this week, a Journal NBC News poll, that showed that almost 80 percent of republicans wanted to repeal the law, but if you broadened a camera out and looked at Americans as a whole, they're split right down the middle on this question of whether to repeal or not. They're split right down the middle on the question of whether the bill, overall, was a good idea or not.
SEIBSo there's not a consensus that republicans can work from or work towards and they'll have to resolve that amongst themselves.
REHMJerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal, Major Garrett at the National Journal, Lisa Lerer of Bloomberg News. When we come back, we'll talk about the latest polls on the president. Stay with us.
REHMAnd we're back with the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup. And certainly, this week, looking at these brand new polls that show that President Obama's poll numbers have moved up to the highest since July of 2009, Lisa Lerer, why do you think that is?
LERERWell, the number that I found really interesting in a lot of these polls was that his support among independents had gone up 10 points since last year. And I think that's -- you know, that's a -- that's something the White House has really consciously worked at. They -- starting in the lame duck, really, when they cut a tax deal with republicans, they've tried to position him as more of an independent. And there was this indication that more voters now view the president as independent versus liberal. And I think that's a message we're gonna see the White House continue to push as we move into 2012 elections and also push strongly in the State of the Union.
REHMAnd what about how republicans in Congress are viewed, Jerry?
SEIBYou know, they've sort of flat-lined a little bit since the election, which is probably predictable. I mean, you know, when the party wins a big election, people feel good about it and then they fall back and they think about it and they feel a little less good or a little less sure. And in our polling this week, that's sort of what you saw. You saw a little bit of a slump in numbers for republicans.
SEIBWhat I thought was most interesting in our poll in the numbers about President Obama was the share of people who considered him -- not considered him to be a moderate, a political moderate, as opposed to a liberal or a conservative. That's 40 percent now. It's 10 points higher than it was last year. So the repositioning that he's done since the election wasn't simply to say, I'll work with republicans. It was to move away from the image he had before, which is somebody who was more liberal, I think, than a lot of voters thought he would be when they voted for him.
REHMIs this all because of the lame duck session, Major?
GARRETTIt's because of the election first. Elections have consequences, as President Obama famously told Eric Cantor on their first meeting after he won the presidency and was inaugurated. Elections have consequences. The president, to a degree, is liberated in that he has a loyal opposition that he must confront and must deal with. That is now a new political reality, and his democratic constituency must recognize that. And he's recognizing it first, acting in accordance with that new political reality.
GARRETTThe lame duck session produced two things that republicans sought, a continuing resolution which put off spending until -- spending decisions for this year until March, giving republicans a chance to put their own stamp on that. And they got an extension, the Bush tax cuts, two things inconceivable before the midterm election. The president cut that deal for political and policy reasons. Why? Because on policy, he knew that was the better deal he could cut in the lame duck than any deal he could cut with republicans in control of the House.
GARRETTThe new reality has brought new politics and that new politics now has more of a republican tinge, which independents have responded to. And, in some of the polling data, you see less of the sharp division in republicans disliking President Obama. They've narrowed a little bit in that spectrum as well, which also helped his numbers.
REHMLisa, what do you think this could mean for the president's State of the Union address?
LERERWell, I think we're certainly gonna see -- I think the White House realizes that part of these numbers is also tied to the sense that the economy is recovering, but the -- you know, the -- they can also see -- people don't see more of an improvement in the unemployment rate. That support could trail off a little bit because, of course, the president, when the economy is good, takes credit, and when it's bad, he gets blamed.
LERERSo I think you're definitely gonna see a focus on job creation rather than sort of saving the economy, moving into a place where we're now creating new jobs or -- and I think you're also gonna see -- the other thing that people indicated in those polls that they liked was a change in tone in Washington. So you probably will see some focus on that, reaching a new civility. I think you're seeing a bit of a bounce from the speech he gave in Arizona. So, you know, you'll see -- continue to see those themes in the State of the Union.
SEIBI think the red flag in this, I think Lisa just referred to it, for the White House, has got to be the rise in these polls of unemployment as the issue. You know, the health care debate, as we were discussing, it's fallen as a priority. Even the deficit seems to be dropping a little bit. There is this intense focus on jobs. People think the economy is getting a little better. They want the proof to be creation of jobs. That's the danger, I think, for the president here because it is very hard for him to control the unemployment rate, try as they might. And it's very likely it's not gonna get a lot better anytime soon. And so I think there's the potential for fallback here when people are disappointed by a lack of progress on unemployment.
REHMSo what signal is the president sending by replacing Paul Volcker with GE's CEO, Jeffrey Immelt?
SEIBWell, he's sending a signal that he's recasting this panel that was looking into economic recovery into a council on jobs and competitiveness, the keyword there being jobs. And that goes back to what we were just talking about. It's a signal that I'm going to bring in business people, business minds, and we're gonna work together on creating jobs. We're not gonna fight with each other over why jobs aren't being created, which is kind of the tenor of last year. Is it symbolic? Yeah. Is it an important symbolism? Maybe. We'll see.
LERERWell, it's also a continuation of the White House's effort to corp business and corp CEOs. They definitely had a problem within the -- a perception problem, at the very least, within the business community where a lot of CEOs were very unhappy with the White House, felt that they were ignoring their concerns. So by putting Jeffrey Immelt in there in this job, it's a very high-profile position. Perhaps symbolic, but it's a very high-profile place to have a CEO. And Immelt was not always a supporter of the Obama administration. He gave donations to the McCain campaign. He gave donations to Hillary Clinton's campaign. But since the Obama administration began, he's become a lot more supportive of the president. He was there during the visit from the Chinese president. So putting him in this place is part of that campaign.
GARRETTPaul Volcker was brought into the Obama world as a wise man, an economic wise man, a verifier, for those who are skeptical about the Obama approach to economics during the campaign. Jeff Immelt is an action man and that's the big difference. He's in the fray right now. He is developing new ideas, new concepts, and all that is the transition from wise man to action man on the economy. And I think that's the best way to describe him.
REHMInteresting. Interesting. I want to ask you all about Darrell Issa, who has repeatedly promised to investigate this administration. This week, The New Yorker profiled Darrell Issa and it talked about past troubles. What did you think about those past troubles and how they might have an impact or reflect on what his intention is as far as the president?
GARRETTDiane, I cannot do justice to Ryan Lizza's work in The New Yorker here, and I urge anyone who's curious about this topic to go to The New Yorker website and read it. It's a phenomenal piece of journalism. And those of us in California, from California as I am, or who covered the recall election for Gray Davis, have read a lot of these stories before because they were brought up when Darrell Issa was bankrolling the recall effort against Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in the late '90s, which produced the Arnold Schwarzenegger governorship.
GARRETTIn a nutshell, as a young man, Darrell Issa had a lot of scrapes with the law and most of them involving his brother William, allegations of car theft and as a business owner, very contentious, unresolved -- well, resolved in the courts. He was never charged, but there continues to be friction between him and former business partners as to whether or not he might have been involved in arson of a building of the company that he owned. There was a lot of suspicious activity, some of which he explains, some of which left unexplained, about what he did before that fire. Like I said, no charges ever brought in many of these instances. If things were adjudicated, they were handled in a way that minimized the damage to Darrell Issa's reputation then, and, if not, harmed him in the main in his political career going forward.
GARRETTThe sum total of Ryan Lizza's piece is that this experience, having been investigated as a young man and having these issues continue to dog and revisit him as a politician, may make him more cautious, or at least more reflective, about subpoena power and the abuse thereof or the fear of abuse in the hands of republican oversight investigators. And he is the chairman of that committee.
REHMAt the same time, he's made clear his intention to investigate or have hearings on the Obama administration -- seven hearings a week times 40 weeks. Lisa.
LERERThat's exactly right, and I agree with Major. This was really just a devastating piece for Darrell Issa. It wasn't necessarily new information. I think a lot of folks, certainly in California, but also in Capitol Hill, knew about a lot of these accusations. But I can tell you from talking to republican aides that having them laid out in this piece that got an awful lot of attention caused some screaming in the republican leadership offices. This is something that republican leadership -- it's a concern they've had for a long time with Darrell Issa.
LERERHe's known as someone who really likes the spotlight and, you know, and they made that clear in the profile. He worked hard to raise his Washington profile by saying things, you know, playing to some more inflammatory statements. And that was a concern for republican leadership because they are -- they're really worried that this committee will turn into a witch hunt. And they think that that's something that could hurt republicans in the 2012 elections if they'll look like, while the economy is dealing with a 9.4 unemployment rate, Darrell Issa is wasting people's time by having sort of, you know, investigations that aren't really -- don't seem really driven by the issues.
LERERSo they have been sort of trying to push him to take a very measured tone. And I don't think this profile helps build him any -- build any confidence that that'll happen among republican leaders.
SEIBYou know, I think the -- one of the effects of these, though, might actually be beneficial to republicans because I think it probably compels Darrell Issa, even more than I think he was already inclined, to make the focus of what he's doing, things that are happening now, not things that happened before, you know? There was -- the precedent for this was Dan Burton, who was a conservative republican, who ran the same committee in the Clinton years. And he spent a lot of time going back and looking at the Whitewater scandal and things that happened in Arkansas and things about the backgrounds of the president, his aides, his wife. And ultimately, I think, the republicans felt that hurt them. Yes, President Clinton got impeached, but there was the sense that there was a kind of a witch-hunt going on. And lo and behold, you know, President Clinton was, you know, smashing re-election in 1996.
SEIBI think that Darrell Issa had already probably decided, because of the way he set up his hearing schedule, he was going to look at things that are happening now and more policy-oriented things, not personal things. And I suspect that this kind of publicity makes that even more likely.
GARRETTOne quick note, Diane. I wrote at National Journal two weeks ago that, picking up on Lisa's point, the level of concern about, not only Darrell Issa, but all the oversight processes, is very high in Speaker Boehner's office. And they are looking for and trying to find, it's not a particularly easy person to find, an oversight overseer, someone who, from the speaker's office, coordinates and sits on these chairmen who are running oversight. A, that they don't overlap, B, that they don't spend a lot of time on past issues that are not relevant to the economic equation or discussion and C, produce results and D, don't put republicans in the posture of saying, welcome to the committee, Mr. Witness. You're guilty.
GARRETTNow here's my first question, which has been the tactic principally used by republicans before, personified most memorably by Dan Burton. But other republicans have fallen under that trap, too. Allegations first, questions later. And the republican leadership wants oversight to create results that lead the legislative products to change policy, which is a different approach than republicans have used in the past.
REHMI must say I was particularly struck by the chutzpa that Darrell Issa and his brother must have had back in March of 1972, when they were arrested and charged with stealing a red Maserati from a Cleveland showroom. Who of us hasn't looked yearningly at a car like that?
REHMBut who's had the nerve to steal it from a showroom? We shall see. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I think it's interesting that Joe Lieberman has announced his retirement as he won't seek a fifth term in the Senate. Was that a surprise to anyone?
GARRETTNot to me. It was gonna be a very difficult re-election. He was going to have to run as an independent. Or if he chose to try to run as a democrat, he was gonna get a primary challenge. There was gonna be a significant republican opposition. It was gonna be a much tougher road. And I think Joe Lieberman looks at the next two years and has come up to the conclusion, as many already have, perhaps prematurely, that not much is going to happen. It's gonna be a lot of very aggressive back and forth, but not a lot of work product. And if you're summing up or culminating a senatorial career and you played an enormous pivotal role in something like the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, why not leave on a high note? I think he did.
LERERI think he also looked at some of what happened during the 2010 elections. You know, I'm thinking of former Florida governor, Charlie Crist, who tried to mount an independent bid for governor after he was pushed out. He wouldn't have won the republican primary when he was challenged by a candidate with a lot of Tea Party support. And that did not go very well for the former Florida governor. I think it's always been hard to run as an independent. You don't have the fundraising backing, the grassroots volunteer backing of both parties. But I have to wonder if that's gotten a little bit harder over the past election cycle, the past couple of years as it seems like voters have grown a lot more polarized in -- certainly, in primaries, but maybe in the general election as well.
REHMAnd you've also had the announcements of Kay Bailey Hutchison and Kent Conrad.
SEIBRight. And one is a safe seat for her party. Kay Bailey Hutchison's in Texas won. Kent Conrad for the democrats is not safe. So democrats look at this picture, and they say, we're actually glad. We're relieved that Joe Lieberman is retiring. We think that give us a chance to save that seat. They look at Ken Conrad and they're -- I don't -- I think despair is too long a word, but -- too strong a word, but I don't think there's much optimism they can hang on to that seat.
LERERAnd they do. They certainly look at the 2012 landscape in the Senate and know they have a pretty tough year ahead of them. There are 23 democratic seats that democrats will -- or 23 seats that democrats will have to defend. Republicans are only gonna have to defend 10. And some of those are in seats like Kent Conrad's that are gonna be tough for them to hold.
REHMNow, this week and certainly in the past few weeks, there's been a lot of talk about civility. There has also -- because it's the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's speech, his inaugural speech, so many people have concentrated on ask not what your country can do for you. But there was another portion of that speech that I was particularly interested in, and I'd like you to hear it now.
PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDYSo let us begin anew. Remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof.
REHMWhat do you make of that, Jerry, in today's parlance?
SEIBWell, in today's parlance, it's striking, given the debate that's going on. But it's also very similar to themes that Barack Obama struck in his inaugural address that didn't lead to much stability, frankly. So, you know, maybe it's a different time or maybe we remember more civility in the past than really was there. I struggle with that question myself a fair amount. Was it as civil in the past as we think it was?
SEIBI think it was more civil, but maybe it wasn't quite as civil as we think. But I do think that there is a broader problem here in Washington, which is partly related to the tenor of the debate but also partly related to what the Debate produces, which is even if you have a ranker's debate, I think there was a tendency 20 or 25 years ago to, at the end of the day, to decide the debate was over and then come together and figure out a solution. Now, I think we have the ranker's debate and no desire to come together and have a solution at the end of the day. And that's the real problem that I see.
GARRETTThere's a context for that inaugural address, of course. It was an incredibly close presidential election. And that there were some republicans who took on Richard Nixon and said, you should challenge this result. It was so close. Look at Cook County, look at Illinois. And then the context of what the times that President Kennedy was talking about, there was an agreement between these two varied archrivals, politically, to not have and not put the country through that. He was a benefactor, in a very small way, of a display of civility and a larger sense of what America ought to be about in the future. And he was trying to extend that forward.
REHMMajor Garrett and Jerry Seib, also Lisa Lerer. When we come back, it's time to open the phones. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd we've got lots of callers waiting, including Sam in Birmingham, Haymish (sp?) in Illinois, Frank in Charlotte. We'll try to get all to all of you. First, to Sam in Birmingham, Ala. Good morning.
SAMGood morning. I'm one of the -- I wanted to talk – I have a question about this the Affordable Care Act, the Obamacare. And I'm for repeal of that act, just to let you know my bias. But at any rate, I was wondering in the law itself, is there any severability, provisions which is something that would say if any part of the law was repealed and validated, the term is unconstitutional, that the remainder of the law would continue, valid or was that not -- was that left out of the law? Just any of your guests know that?
SEIBI don't know, but I don't believe so. And I think that's the backdrop of the debate about the legal challenges right now. Because the main legal challenge to the law is a challenge to the individual mandate. There's a part of the law that says everybody in the country is required -- essentially everybody in the country is required to acquire health insurance one way or the other. Much of the debate is about whether -- if you take that out in the courts, can the rest of the bill stand? But that's not because it would be legally invalid, but because practically the individual mandate is very important to making many other parts work correctly and to save money in the Democrat's view.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Elizabeth who says, "I take issue with your panelist who claims the GOP doesn't have a replacement plan in place. My understanding is republicans have an alternative health care proposal and it's been scored by the CBO." Major.
GARRETTYes, that's correct, they do have an alternative. It is not the alternative. It is not the operating alternative that republicans will use, going forward, to replace the president's health care reform act. I talked to Kevin McCarthy yesterday on the phone, it's in National Journal today, he's the House majority whip. He said, look, nothing is predetermined and everything is very broad. The House republicans, with their power yesterday, passed a resolution setting up about 12 priorities for this to replace legislation. They're all extremely broad.
GARRETTAnd I asked Kevin McCarthy and I've asked senior House Republican leaders, does the Boehner alternative, the one produced by House Republicans last year, form the basis of your new approach? Maybe yes, maybe no. I said, what about the McCain proposal from the 2008 campaign, which would have ended tax subsidization for business-sponsored health insurance coverage in exchange for rebates to individual consumers to buy their own health insurance on the open market? It hasn't come up at all. So the Boehner alternative is there, but it's not central, and the McCain idea, the less big idea Republicans have had, fully debated in a national campaign on health care, hasn't come up in the conversation. So it's all very broad.
LERERI think it's also important to think about what the republicans are doing in terms of replacement legislation, in terms of the process a little bit. They had -- there was a, you know, they had a press conference of the four committee chairmen who are gonna be in charge of drafting this bill yesterday, and they really stressed that this is gonna be a piecemeal approach. This isn't gonna be done how the democrats do it where you create this big bill and try to get it through Congress as this massive undertaking. They don't wanna get involved with that. They criticize democrats for that. They're gonna do a series of smaller bills.
REHMAnd weren't those smaller bills identical to provisions that are currently in the administration?
GARRETTWell, some will be and some won’t be. For example, there will probably be a bill that allows people to take -- to sell insurance across state lines, that's in the large legislation. They'll also probably be a bill that constructs barriers to malpractice lawsuits. I guess that should -- that will go well beyond what's in the legislation.
REHMAnd what about allowing up to 26-year-olds to stay on parents' policies and to allow for preexisting conditions?
GARRETTWell, certainly that the allowing kids to stay until they're 26, that's wildly popular, I don't think anybody will mess with that. Preexisting conditions, I think, will be a subject of debate.
LERERI think taking up the bill this way, this piecemeal approach, makes it awfully -- could make it awfully hard for republicans achieve their larger policy goals. They see that is about lowering cost. If you lower cost, more uninsured people will buy insurance and buy into the system, but lowering -- the fact of the matter is that health costs are accelerating faster than wages. So getting cost lower, you know, low enough that people afford health care I think is gonna be really hard unless you take over -- they're gonna find out what democrats found out, which is that this is really hard unless you deal with the whole system...
REHMSo just to clarify, Major, there is no total republican bill?
GARRETTNo, and there's no intention to create an omnibus or super large legislative remedy. And there's no timeline either. This will not -- you will not see this four committees of jurisdiction produce anything of a substantial nature for months and months.
REHMAll right. To Concord, N.H., good morning, Joe.
JOEHello. Yeah. I just wanna make a comment. Earlier someone had talked about polls that show roughly 50-50 for repealing health care legislation versus keeping it. I've seen a number of other polls that are more detailed, I think more comprehensive. You know, saying 50-50 gives you the impression that half the country wants to have the government get out of the health care business. But in fact, many of those being repealed, according to many polls, are people who want the government do more, want public option or want Medicare for everybody.
REHMShortly -- certainly it depends on how the question is asked. Lisa.
LERERWell, the -- I think the caller is right. The polling I've seen has shown that only 18 percent or so of people favor total repeal and 37 percent favor, you know, including additional that brings up to 37 percent favor some -- repealing some of the provisions. So people are divided on whether they approve, whether they like the law. But in terms of repealing it, I think overall, people are not that keen to repeal it. However, when you look at republicans, that number goes up significantly. A majority of republicans favor the bill.
REHMAnd to Sycamore, Ill., good morning, Haymish.
HAYMISHGood morning. My comment is we, the people, are so tired of them fighting each other. They need to fix the problems without -- not put bandage on them. And if they don't do this, I do believe that the president of the United States has the right to call them back into session until they do. And that's basically it. Thank you.
REHMAll right. Jerry.
SEIBWell, it's a voice from the election of 2010 right there. I think, you know, fix the problems seems to be -- honestly, and I think this goes back to something both Major and Lisa are referring to earlier that there is kind of a change in the approach here. There is a kind of a more let's get this solved attitude in Washington for now and we'll see after the president makes the State of the Union Address and presents a budget, and republicans have a budget, how long that lasts. And I don't think it's all because of the Arizona shooting. I do think there's a change in tone right now. And I think, you know, again as Major said, the president has been able to reposition himself to break loose from his party a little bit because of the results. And I think the net effect is a little bit more pragmatic approach for now.
LERERThe fact of the matter is, though, I think, when we talk about change in tone, return to civility in politics is that the inflammatory tone works in a lot of ways for politicians. We live in an era of 24-hour news cycle. I don't wanna blame it on the media with all of us here on the panel. But, I mean, when politicians make these kinds of inflammatory statements, it appeals to their base, it fires up their base. It drives fund raising. It can be erases their profile, you know, 'cause a lot of -- it's repeated over and over and over again. I mean, you just look at someone like Michele Bachmann who's known for making those kinds of statements, and I believe she's in Iowa today doing some, you know, and people are speculating whether she's gonna run for president. So for politicians, a lack of civility can rally them. It can work for them.
GARRETTOn the get-it-done front, the president has told his economic advisers he would like ideas that excite him. There are some very serious structural issues with the U.S. economy right now. The president talked in North Carolina last -- during the campaign about a Sputnik moment, that we need to find a way to move beyond the economic destiny or track of this country of the past 10 or 15 years, built on credit and consumption. That's a huge transformation of this U.S. economy. And with unemployment at 9.4 percent, dropping largely because people have given up trying to find work, and this structural long-term unemployment, longer than we've seen since the Great Depression, these issues are very, very difficult to resolve. And you had a big tax package in a lame duck. I'm not sure we're gonna see another similarly large idea worth that much money for the U.S. economy, nearly $100 billion. So the get-it-done spirit, I agree with Jerry, is here. The how-to-get-it-done is a bit more elusive.
REHMAnd now to Leslie in Pembroke Pines, Fla. Good morning. You're on the air.
LESLIEDelighted. Thank you so much indeed. I'd be brief as possible. It's about the U.S.-China relationship. For both the presidents, Hu and Obama, they speak about respect for each other, which I do agree with, but it goes beyond that. Respects mean that we should not intimidate as we've now been doing lately, with our military around the shores of China and other places. We speak about harnessing North Korea, which I do agree with. How about we harnessing Israel also, who have committed many atrocities? Madam, I have to go on and on, but there are too many things at this point to mention. I wish your permanent plans to be successful.
REHMThank you. Jerry.
SEIBWell, I don't think there's an issue of military intimidation between the U.S. and China right now. I think there is an issue of whether there can be meaningful military cooperation, which there has been and then it broke down because of a U.S. arms sale to Taiwan last year. And this was -- did not get a lot of attention this week, but what's a very important part of the dialogue is to rebuild that military -- to military cooperation precisely so that there will not be military confrontation or intimidation. The fact is, China is a rising power in Asia, and it's a rising military power as well as economic power. Everybody acknowledges that, and the U.S. wants to have a system for dealing with it.
REHMTo Susan in Culvert County, Md. Good morning.
SUSANGood morning. My question is about the president's visit with President Hu. We hear a lot from the media about what we asked of the -- of President Hu and of the Chinese. And my question is, well, what did the Chinese ask of us?
SEIBWell, one of the things they ask for is for less hectoring about their economic policies and understanding that they can't make adjustments very quickly, and, for example, the level of their currency rate because they have a big, complicated economy, and every developing nation's economy, now the developed nation's economy. And one of the things they didn't say very much but that they complain about is that the federal reserve policy on this side of the equation, by holding interest rates at essentially zero, is creating inflation in China and it's driving up -- is creating a lot of cheap money that's flooding into China and driving up real estate, and maybe creating the kind of real estate bubble in China that we just saw punctured in the U.S. So they have complaints too. They just didn't get as much attention this week.
GARRETTRight. Don't badger us on human rights. Don't badger us on currency. Don't badger us on trade access. And don't badger us on intellectual property. Well, the last three all have to do with the economic future of many American jobs, so the badgering will continue. One thing I think is interesting is the Chinese assumed, with the midterm elections and Republicans can't even control the House, the currency issue would die down. I would say it's not front and center for House Republicans, but it has not died down. And many House freshmen are energized on that issue in ways that will come to surprise, unpleasantly, the Chinese.
REHMMajor Garrett, he is congressional correspondent for the National Journal. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Now to Southeast Michigan, good morning, Bob.
MR. BOBGood morning. Just a brief comment. I have yet to hear anybody call it what I think it actually is. The House vote to repeal health care was about the most shameless bid of political pandering I have ever seen.
REHMAnd that's your comment. What do you think, Major?
GARRETTWell, I guess -- I'm sure he believes exactly what he said. Bob, you're not alone. Many democrats believe that. The White House wouldn't describe it that way publicly, but I'm sure there are one or two people who work for the president who would show your characterization. Bob obviously likes what is in law and wants to see it implemented, republicans don't. They don't wanna see it implemented. And the next stage of this, in addition to whatever policy republicans put forward to replace, there are going to be very intense battles over the purse strings of the money that's required to build the infrastructure to actually implement what remains. And there's a substantial bid that remains of the president's health care law, and that's where the next battle will be fought.
LERERI mean, this was a symbolic vote. It's not gonna -- they're not -- the likelihood of this law actually getting repealed is very, very, very small, if not non-existent. But it was a vote republicans had to take. This is something they promised to do over and over and over in campaign across the country. So they had to show the base that they were gonna do it when they got the power.
REHMBut Jerry, you do have 26 states now who have voted to whose courts had said this law is unconstitutional. This has got to go to the Supreme Court. What happens in the meantime? I mean, most of the law does not go into effect until 2014. Will the courts be finished with it? Will it be at the Supreme Court by 2014?
SEIBWell, two things will happen. There will continue to be a political debate about this bill for the next two years, because, as you say, it's not really implemented until 2014 and that was by design. And secondly, meantime, I do think the courts will probably resolve this issue by 2012, and that will be a big moment. Honestly, the people -- even the people who wrote this bill said, in 2009 and 2010, that no piece of social legislation this big is written and then implemented as written. It's inevitably gonna be tinkered around with for years and years as was Social Security, as was Medicare.
SEIBSo that's the process we're going through on a minor scale. On a major scale, it is a national debate that will be carried through the 2012 election. And so, it's messy and I, you know, pondering, I don't know. I mean, people, you know, as Lisa said, had a commitment to have this vote and they did it. Votes have consequences, as we were saying before, and people who wanted to be on the record as being for or against this legislation now are on the record and people can make their own conclusions accordingly.
REHMAnd Major Garrett, I cannot let you go without asking you about the mention of the possibility that you might replace Gibbs as spokesperson for the White House.
REHMAnd we hear you laughing.
GARRETTYes, I am laughing. It's -- I was in the Washington Post. It has not been repeated anywhere else. That's one thing that gives you an idea of the short arm of the great mentioner in this case. I'd never had the short arm of the great mentioner fall upon my shoulder before. It's an alarming thing. The White House has never talked to me. I can predict with absolute certainty the White House will never talk to me about this, and it's not going to happen. It was, in general, a compliment. The White House respects my journalism. I'm respected by my colleagues. I take the compliment, and that's as far as it goes.
REHMHow many others...
GARRETTOh, you didn't ask me of whether I'm interested or not.
REHMWell, we shall watch this space and see what happens. Jerry Seib at The Wall Street Journal, Lisa Lerer of Bloomberg News, Major Garrett of National Journal and who knows what else.
REHMThanks for being here. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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