A molecular-biologist-turned-Buddhist-monk says altruism is the answer to many of the world's most pressing challenges. Can concern for others help solve wealth inequality, climate change and world hunger?
Congress agrees to fund the government for another three weeks. The Environmental Protection Agency proposes new emissions standards for U. S. power plants. And Fed Chair Bernanke says the recent surge in oil prices will not damage the American economy. 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.
- John King anchor of CNN's John King, USA, and chief national correspondent.
Following the Congress’s passage of the latest short-term budget resolution this week, Diane and the panelists discuss what paths the House and Senate debates about the federal budget and deficit may take in the months ahead – including the nature of continued threats to funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS, and NPR:
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President Obama said the U.S. is safe from high radiation levels, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will conduct a review of all U.S. nuclear plants. Congress approved a stopgap measure to fund the government for three more weeks. It's the sixth short-term spending bill in 2011. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she will not seek another term or run for president. Joining me for this week's Friday News Roundup of the week's top domestic stories, Naftali Bendavid of The Wall Street Journal, Susan Page of USA Today and John King of CNN. I look forward to hearing from you. Join us a little later in the program, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Naftali Bendavid, good morning to you and everybody else.
MR. NAFTALI BENDAVIDGood morning.
REHMWhat did the president say about what was happening in Japan and its potential impact on the U.S.?
BENDAVIDWell, he got up, and he tried to be very reassuring. I mean, I think a lot of Americans have looked at what's happening in Japan and just found it shocking, an earthquake followed by a tsunami and then this incredible nuclear drama that's unfolding as a group of workers tries to keep the radiation contained. And he evidently felt the need to tell Americans, look, serious radiation is not heading our way. Of course, it's hard to know how this is ultimately going to unfold and whether the situation will get worse before it gets better.
BENDAVIDBut, clearly, there was some pressure on the president's part to send a reassuring message, I think, because a lot of Americans are feeling anxiety about this thing that they're seeing on their TV screens every night.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThat's particularly true of Americans who live on the West Coast or in Hawaii. You see a run on iodine tablets, which is something you take to block your thyroid if you're going to be...
REHMNot a good idea.
PAGENot a good idea at this point. Maybe something you want to have in your medicine cabinet...
PAGE...for some time down the road. As a young reporter, I covered the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster. And I can tell you, in this situation, citizens, I think, are not inclined to take the things their government says at face value. And in the cool light of day, when this crisis is over, we'll look back, the Japanese people will look back and, I think, be assessing whether they could trust what their government was telling them at the time it was going on.
REHMHow are U.S. warnings different from those in Japan, John?
MR. JOHN KINGWell, it's a very interesting question and an interesting point because of what Susan said. Not only did the people not necessarily trust what they're hearing from the government, it's clear the Obama administration doesn't trust what it's hearing from the Japanese government. They have deployed military assets. In addition to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the tools and the testing devices they would have at their disposal, they're now using military devices that are usually used to monitor what's going on in North Korea, to fly over these facilities in Japan to take their own readings because they weren't trusting the information they were getting from the Japanese utility through the Japanese government. And so you have those -- equipment now at their disposal. The question is, where does it go from here?
KINGAnd so, if this goes on for months, which many think it will, and you have low-level emissions -- hopefully, low level emissions -- for months as they try to put it out, they're going to have to keep at this. But the run on tablets, this anxiety in the United States of America, and the safety review the president announced, is not insignificant. There are -- I was talking to the governor of Illinois yesterday. He has four of these very same designed nuclear reactors in his state. And he says he thinks they're safe, but he's going to go back and triple check now.
PAGEAnd a delicate process in terms of not being totally confident on what the Japanese government is saying and dealing with one of our closest allies without seeming to have a rift. I think that's one reason he went to the Japanese Embassy yesterday in an unannounced visit, signed the condolence book, and in his message in the Rose Garden, also talked about our solidarity with the Japanese people and our willingness to stand with them through this difficult time.
REHMHow is the U.S. helping Japan, Naftali?
BENDAVIDWell, the president has said all the right things about offering whatever assets he can, and he's talked specifically about heavy equipment that can help lift things and help with the recovery. But that, too, is a delicate issue because countries in this situation want to feel self-sufficient, and especially a country like Japan that's very eager to show that it's in the first rank of powers. But, at the same time, you know, a lot of countries need help. So the president has tried to walk this line, I think, of being skeptical but also reassuring and being helpful without being too critical.
BENDAVIDSo there's a lot of delicate stuff going on. And, you know, whenever we see a major country and a major economy suffer something so difficult so unpredictably, I think it has a kind of psychological effect here. We've seen the stock market react kind of not necessarily so well -- not because of specific economic impact so much, but I think it's almost a psychological thing. It's a reminder that we're all ultimately somewhat vulnerable.
REHMAnd the U.S. is working with other countries to stabilize the end.
PAGECurrently, the whole world is concerned about the effect of this catastrophe on their own economy. That includes -- in the United States, you know, Japan creates -- produces 40 percent of the technical -- the things that get used in computers and weapon systems and a million other things.
PAGEAnd automobiles. Japan is the world's third largest economy, just recently surpassed by China. So, clearly, what happens here is going to have an effect everywhere else in the world, including in the United States.
REHMInteresting that General Motors became the first to shut down one of its plants, at least temporarily.
KINGAt least for a week. That plant's in Shreveport, La. It makes small trucks. It's the beginning and a reminder of the integrated global economy, that parts -- even for American-made cars, a lot of the parts come from overseas -- not just Japan, but a lot of them -- significant important parts come from Japan. They hope that it's a one-week shutdown, and General Motors says it hopes that it's just that one plant. But we can't answer that question. You have seen production in Japan -- Honda, Toyota -- slowing or stopping production.
KINGThey need a reassessment. The infrastructure has been heavily damaged. The factories that make, whether it's the computer chips or the small parts and other parts in cars -- have been knocked offline. So it's going to take us a week, three, maybe a little bit longer to figure out the long-term impact of the supply line, not just for Japanese automakers but for American automakers and American computer and technology makers as well.
BENDAVIDI mean, these things are complicated, you know. We have a very complicated set of interlocking relationships with Japan, and things happen that have a double-edged aspect to them. For example, we sell a lot of things to Japan. Maybe we'll be able to sell less because of the devastation. On the other hand, they may need more food and more construction equipment from us. And, similarly, some of the supply lines that John was mentioning, maybe there'll be ways for U.S. manufacturers to step up. And so that will create more jobs here. So the economic relationships are fairly complex, and I've been kind of struck by the fact that, despite the enormous impact of the Japanese economy, its size and its importance -- it's not clear that it's some huge devastating thing that's going to happen right here because of that.
PAGEWell, like with everything -- as with everything else, we need to wait and see what happens here. What happens with the nuclear plants? How long does this crisis go on? One other economic factor is Japan is second only to China as a holder of U.S. treasury notes. So if Japan finds itself in a situation where it needs to sell off those notes to raise some cash for reconstruction, that could have an impact on the economy here as well.
REHMAnd the human devastation that we have seen, I mean, you can hardly believe your eyes.
PAGEIt's terrible. And the bravery of many of the Japanese we see on television reports here, the workers at the nuclear factories who have put themselves in -- at the nuclear plants, who have put themselves in such harm way -- harm's way and the actions by Japanese at old-age homes and at hospitals to stay in dangerous places because their patients could not be moved.
KINGAnd the sad part is it's only going to go up. We're at a lower 6,000 confirmed dead. They list maybe 10- to 15,000 missing. But they also acknowledge, especially, the number of missing is really a guesstimate because you have so much debris, and the debris is sometimes 15' deep. I remember when I was in Banda Aceh after the tsunami. And five, six, and then 10 and 12 days out, when things finally start to dry out, that's when you finally start to discover the scope of the devastation that is horrible.
REHMYou mentioned Illinois. What do you think this disaster could do to the nuclear industry in this country, Naftali?
BENDAVIDWell, there's no question that it's already prompting a second look. I mean, there was a lot of feeling, I think, even among people who are generally liberal and Democratic, that nuclear power might be a solution to a lot of problems -- doesn't contribute to global warming. It's not a fossil fuel. It's not dirty in the same way. And there was sort of this emerging consensus that's come out in the decades since Three Mile Island that maybe this was something that really could help us out in a lot of our energy problems. And now it's already prompting a second look. There are reviews of all kinds.
BENDAVIDEverybody is going back and looking at the plants that were built in sort of the same way at around the same time as the one in Japan. And, I mean, we have to see how it plays out, but, I think, it's already had an impact in the way we think of these things.
PAGEAlthough, interestingly, President Obama yesterday reiterated that nuclear power is part of the picture for America when it comes to energy production. So I think there's, I think, definitely -- it's -- we've hit the pause button on development of new nuclear power plants, but that -- I don't think it's clear that we're really going to step away from it. I think, again, as with so many other questions, we have to see what actually happens going forward.
KINGGov. Quinn said he would hit the stop button, not the pause button -- that he would hit the stop button and move to renewable. But that's easy for him to say. That's one governor. We'll see how this plays out. But the issue -- the biggest problem in Japan now is not the reactors themselves, but the stored -- the spent fuel rods. And that is a question the whole nuclear waste conversations since they delayed and stopped Yucca Mountain. That was supposed to be the solution. We are going to move most of it out there. This stuff is sitting, and Illinois has the most of it than any state in the country. It is sitting and, look, we hope it's more secure than it is in these Japanese sites.
KINGBut as you watch this play out, that part of it, I think, will complicate the debate. If it takes weeks and months for the Japanese to deal with what do we do with the spent fuel rods and the other problems there, I do think it will cause a very serious reassessment.
REHMAnd, conversely, could it cause an uptick in alternative sources?
BENDAVIDWell, that's certainly a possible outcome, depending on what the verdict is. I mean, one of the things that's interesting to me is there was a time, I guess in the '80s when the idea of a nuclear meltdown was very much in our psychology. There was that movie, "The China Syndrome," you know, and there was this whole no nukes movement. I mean, that was kind of the big thing on college campuses and elsewhere. And since then, I think it's really faded. And one of the questions is going to be not only the practicality of the whole thing, but how this ends up entering our culture in our psychology.
REHMBut hasn't there been a move on Capitol Hill to defund federal assistance for alternative energy like solar, wind and so on?
KINGWell, if you cut across the board, everything gets cut. And there are some people who say -- there are some people who argue the government shouldn't get involved and that -- let the marketplace take care of itself. If there's a market for wind or solar, then let the market do it. For the most part, though, tax incentives to support those industries have generally received support. How much support in this budget cutting environment? Big question.
REHMJohn King, he is anchor of "John King" on CNN USA and chief national correspondent. Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back to our Friday News Roundup this week with John King of CNN, Susan Page -- she's Washington bureau chief for USA Today -- and Naftali Bendavid, national correspondent with The Wall Street Journal. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to email@example.com. Feel free to join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. We've got a number of e-mails on what's happening to state governments and John Kasich's budget-cutting strategy. How does it differ from that in Wisconsin and Scott Walker, John King?
KINGWell, it differs. Gov. Kasich has not been quite as confrontational with his public employees unions as yet, although Ohio seems to be heading down the same path. Every state, whether you have a Democratic governor or Republican governor, you're being forced to cut because you don't have the money. And so they're looking at how you cut programs and everything else. And Kasich has come across, and we've seen his approval ratings drop quite quickly in the state of Ohio. He -- it is who he is, and he was like this way when he was the chairman of the House Budget Committee. He is this guy who aims at his target, and he just goes for it. And if anything gets in the way, he tends to bully it over. He can be kind of abrasive, and I think he's having a hard time. But he has decided that this is the way to do it.
PAGEBut he did this interesting event Tuesday night where he's trying to sell his plan and sell it as a positive plan, not as something that was all gloom and doom but as sort of the right thing to do and something that was going to have this long-term benefit. I'm not convinced he persuaded many Ohioans that this was true. And when you're closing an $8 billion budget shortfall, it's likely to involve some pain. But I thought it was interesting that he was trying to pitch this as something that we could do -- we could do together, could lead to a better Ohio.
REHMGood for Ohioans.
BENDAVIDI mean, this is a reflection of -- or a version, I guess, of a fight that's happening across the country. And, in many cases, there are Republican governors -- a lot of them new -- and they're coming in with fairly aggressive cost-cutting strategies. And we see this in big states -- Indiana, Michigan, Florida, New Jersey, as well as Wisconsin and Ohio -- and, I think, how this plays out is going to be very important to the economic and political landscape going forward. In other words, if voters end up feeling, well, these Republican governors, they did the right thing, they did what needed to be done, that's going to be very important.
BENDAVIDIf they conclude they overreached, they were mean-spirited, they did unnecessary cutting just for the sake of cutting, that's going to have a very different look. And so how these -- and so -- and we're seeing -- I mean, as John mentioned, John Kasich's popularity has dropped pretty precipitously. And that could be a foreshadowing of what we're going to see.
REHMInteresting. Nearly six in 10 Ohioans said they supported the unions in the budget battle. Thirty-seven percent said they back Kasich.
PAGEWell, we know that, from public opinion polling, generally, that Americans support the idea of collective bargaining. They like teachers, firefighters, police officers. These are people they see in their communities every day doing important jobs. On the other hand, a poll this week -- I think it was an ABC-Washington Post poll -- also showed that a majority of Americans support freezing public employee salaries and trying to lower pension -- the pension rights of new employees. That is when a new state or local employee is hired, they may not have the kind of pension guarantees that existing employees -- police -- do. I mean, I think Americans have -- it makes them distinguish on some of these fights that involve public employees.
REHMInteresting. I ran into Frank Luntz the other night, and he says the outcome of the Ohio budget battle is a bellwether for the 2012 election. Ohio is the most important state for the GOP and the entire nation.
KINGHistory -- at least recent history -- proves that true. Republicans in the post-Civil War days have not won the White House without winning Ohio. And so you would say that to be true. And, guess what? President Obama probably needs Ohio, too. You can put the map together without Ohio, but for anybody trying to become president of the United States -- because Ohio, you have the urban areas and you have the farmers. You have parts -- Southern Ohio is kind of like the South.
KINGSo, if you can win Ohio, that means you're going to do well in Kentucky, and it means you're probably doing very well in Pennsylvania. So it's not just about Ohio because of the bellwether nature. And one of the reasons -- one of the fascinating things here is that these Republican governors, the political advice they are getting and that they are taking is to go hard and go fast, to not -- no. Let's not have a two-year conversation about this. Let's do it now. And the calculation is you will suffer politically, and we are seeing them go down somewhat.
KINGBut then you will rebound faster if you succeed. And, essentially, to Susan's point, their argument is I won't -- I don't -- their argument is we -- it's not that I dislike the unions. But if I give them what they want, then you're going to have fewer teachers. I will have to raise your taxes. Is that what you want? So we're going to have a big debate about this over the next year.
PAGEYou know, if Ohio is the most important state electorate, Wisconsin might be a close second when it comes to the presidential race. And there's another way in which this impacts the 2012 race, which is it could impact who the Republicans choose to nominate. You know, we see a couple of different kinds of candidates. One are these pragmatic governors who say they're delivering on hard decisions. Another is kind of the more populist voices like Sarah Palin or Mike Huckabee, so, if these governors succeed, it could bolster that part of the GOP and give them control of who to nominate against the president -- against President Obama in 2012.
BENDAVIDBut I think a lot of all this is going to depend on how the economy goes, and that's something that's not really, you know -- I think doesn't really have that much to do with what the governors or maybe even the president does. But if the economy turns around, then everybody is going to say, okay, good. What they did, worked. It's fine. Let's vote for them. There'll be some fight for credit between President Obama and the governors, but I think voters have been in a sour mood for a really long time.
BENDAVIDThey took it out on the Democrats when they were in power. They took it out on the Republicans when they were in power. If they continue being in a sour mood, these governors are going to suffer. But if things turn around a little bit, maybe not so much.
REHMWhat about these under-the-radar Republican potential nominees for the president -- for the presidential race? Sarah Palin is hardly under the radar. But is she going to run, or is she not?
PAGEWell, I don't think anyone could answer that except Sarah Palin and maybe not even her. I mean, she -- the rules that apply to the other Republican candidates do not really apply to her. She doesn't need bigger name ID. She's got that. She doesn't have any problem raising money if she chooses to run. So I think it's hard to know if she's going to run. I think on one of the other big candidates that are at the top of the GOP field and polling now, Mike Huckabee, increasing conclusion by political types that he is not going to run. We see some of the key players, including his campaign chairman from last time, signing on with other campaigns.
REHMOh, I see.
PAGEHe's not doing the fundraising the other candidates are doing. So I think it looks as though Mike Huckabee is not running.
REHMAnd what about Mitt Romney?
BENDAVIDI think Mitt Romney is going to run. I'll just say that right now. I mean, I don't think that's going out on a limb. But we are at this fascinating moment where there's all these candidates out there, and none of the major ones have declared. And yet they're all being very active. They're going to Iowa. In the case of Sarah Palin, she's going to India and Israel, I guess. But, you know, more commonly, they're going around the country as though they're candidates. But I think nobody wants to be the first because then you become a target.
BENDAVIDI also think the political environment is still shifting and unclear. And so people are kind of not sure exactly how they want to position themselves. So whereas four years ago there was a lot of active candidates by this point, we have people like Tim Pawlenty, like Mitt Romney, like Haley Barbour that are certainly acting like candidates, but haven't officially declared.
REHMWhat about Newt Gingrich?
KINGHe's in. I mean, he's formed the exploratory committee. Many thought that he would flirt again and not run, but he's actually raising money. He is as far out as any of them. He's actually filed the paperwork to have his committee, so he has a legal fundraising committee established. He is full speed ahead unless something gets in his way. He can still -- he has the right to say, well, I was just exploring. I'm not going to run. But I've had several conversations with him, and he is in. Mitt Romney is in. He just needs to do the official paperwork. Pawlenty is in. We'll learn pretty quickly about Haley Barbour and Mitch Daniels, two other governors. We'll learn from them over the course of the next month.
KINGThey're both -- in Haley Barbour's case, he's leaning way forward. Mitch Daniels is sort of a little bit more tentative about it. The interesting thing about Gov. Palin is her numbers have slipped a little bit among conservatives of late, and there is zero evidence. I made a bunch of phone calls on this last week to fundraisers, big fundraisers. Not getting calls from Sarah Palin saying, hey, hold off, wait for me, wait for me, and no evidence of organizing in Ohio and New Hampshire. And, yeah, she's a rock star in the Republican Party, and the rules don't apply to her. But you can't wait too long. The early contests are about organization, and people want you to come and say, I need your help.
PAGENot only has her standing among Republicans started to erode some. More significantly, if she's -- if she does run for president and get the nomination, her standing among independents -- the people who really decide presidential elections -- is just dreadful. So it's possible to calculate how Sarah Palin wins her Republican nomination. It becomes very difficult to calculate how she actually wins the White House.
KINGShe's David Axelrod's favorite candidate.
REHMInteresting that President Obama himself has not declared he's going to run for a second term. But in that light, fascinating that Secretary of State Clinton has said she will not serve as secretary of state in a second term and will not run for president. She told your colleague, Wolf Blitzer, that.
KINGShe did. And you can go online and see the exchange. It was a great exchange. He asked her would she be secretary of state again. She said, no. Would you like to be secretary of defense? No. Would you like any other job in the cabinet? No. Are you going to run for president? No. It was a very fun and playful exchange. The question is, do you believe her?
KINGThe question is, do -- well, I don't know. The question -- if the president -- is it serious that her mindset right now is finish four years and then go off and do something else? I take her at her word. If the -- she's the most popular member of the Obama cabinet. If the president of the United States says, I need you to stay a couple of years, or would you like this other challenge, would she say no? And has she completely ruled out running for president down the road? I don't believe that. To the point about the president, within two weeks, two and-a-half weeks, he will file his official paperwork.
PAGEWell, I have to say politicians almost never give you a straight answer to a question. And, in this case, she gave us series of straight answers. And I do take her at her word, and I think that she is out of there after the end of his -- after the end of his first term.
REHMYour turn, Naftali.
BENDAVIDWell, what strikes me about this is, you know, when I saw that exchange, is -- I mean, are we seeing the Clintons exit the political stage after 20 years? I mean, Bill Clinton was president. Then she was a senator. Then she was big presidential candidate. Then she's been secretary of state. They're these larger-than-life figures that have been in our political conversation for almost two decades now. My sense is they're not gone, gone, because, you know, President Clinton, of course, has his foundation. You know, Hillary Clinton, I'm sure she'll do something interesting. But they've really been part of our drama for so long, and that could be drawing to a close.
REHMLet's talk about what's happening on Capitol Hill. One continuing resolution after another -- we've had six so far in 2011. How can you run a government this way, Susan?
PAGEJust the way we've been running it. I do think lots of signs on both sides that this is the last of these short-term, kick the can down the road kind of budget.
REHMIs that a prediction?
PAGEThat is a prediction.
PAGEI think, on April 8, which is the next deadline coming up, there is a lot of sentiment on both sides that they need to have a deal that goes through the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30. The shape of that deal, not clear. A letter, though, going to President Obama today signed by a majority of the U.S. Senate, a bipartisan letter saying, let's talk in big terms together, holding hands, about deficit reduction. So there -- you do see -- you don't see people talking about the specific steps, the specific, difficult steps that that would involve. But you do see a lot of attitude that we need to get serious about deficit reduction.
REHMBut if you had the Tea Party calling for $60 billion in cuts and so far -- what, you've got a total of 10 billion? How could this be the last continuing resolution?
KINGBecause you see both ends -- Susan is right. Both ends say this is -- you need to try to be grown up. The leadership says we need to try to be grown up. And, remember, people get confused sometimes. This is about funding the government through October.
KINGJust through October.
KINGThen we have to have a conversation about the next fiscal year and the big entitlement picture. They have decided this is no way to run a railroad. And the leadership and the White House, both Democrats and Republican leaders said we have to do it this time. However, I think you make a great point because the dichotomy between the House the Senate is striking. These bipartisan groups of senators sent a letter saying, all right, let's try to be grown up here. Let's sit down. You've had a few -- a very few -- but a few Republican senators say, I don't want tax increases, but I'm open to tax increase if it's the only way to get a big picture deal. In the House, they say no way, cut more, no taxes, cut more.
REHMJohn King of CNN. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
BENDAVIDWell, there's also this very interesting phenomenon in the latest vote in the House, which is that 54 conservative Republicans defected. In other words, the Republican leadership said, we really need to extend spending for three more weeks. We're going to cut $6 billion during that three weeks. But we need to give ourselves breathing room to reach a deal. Well, more than 50 of the Republicans said, no, that's not cutting enough. We need to do more. And they voted against their own leadership. And I think the big question -- everybody wants a deal. Nobody wants the government to shut down. But can John Boehner influence his conservative and freshmen members?
BENDAVIDAnd, you know, the way this used to work is Democrats and Republicans would sit down in a room, they work out a deal and they go back and essentially enforce that deal on their own troops. And the question of whether or not John Boehner wants to or can enforce a deal on his own troops is going to be a big one, so I think there's a possibility. Even though my guess is there will be a deal, there's a possibility that there'll be a rebellion on the right in the House, and that that could create a real obstacle.
REHMAnd, of course, you've got -- next week, Congress is off?
REHMThey've got to get this done by when?
PAGEBy April 8. That is when the continuing resolution that has just passed runs out, so not much time. On the other hand, we've been talking about this for a year, this particular budget, so you would think that they'd be somewhere down the line on it.
KINGBut there's a huge disincentive to talk publicly about what you might do on April 8 now because, the minute you put it out there, everybody will start picking at it. And, I think, an excellent point was just made in that you have 54 who left, bolted this time. So the Republicans want more cuts. The Democrats -- well, the liberal Democrats held their noses and voted for this. They don't want any more cuts. And so the next deal is going to have to have more cuts. How do you keep enough Democrats and enough Republicans?
KINGAnd does John Boehner want to cut that deal? Does he want 80 of his guys to vote against it or 70 guys? What does that do to his speakership if that happens? So there is a fascinating game of chess going on. And it's very, very important one (unintelligible) country.
BENDAVIDAnd there's another aspect of this, which is this isn't just about numbers. There's a number of what are called policy writers that have been attached to the Republican bill, things to defund Planned Parenthood to, you know, say, the EPA can't implement greenhouse resolutions, to defund the corporation for public broadcasting in NPR. And, you know, there were Democrats saying, no way. And the Republicans say, absolutely, we need these. So in addition to a fight over numbers -- and sometimes you can split the difference over numbers -- it's a little bit of a trickier task to deal with these policy issues.
REHMJust to mention the debate that took place yesterday on the floor of the House on NPR, President Obama has not said he would veto such a measure if it came to him. Unlikely for it to pass in the Senate? Am I correct?
PAGEAlmost certainly, this will not pass in the Senate, but that does not mean things are smooth sailing ahead for NPR because, I think, this is a fight we'll see again when we think -- when the debate is on about next year's budget.
REHMWhy is it such a harsh debate?
BENDAVIDWell, you know, defund the left has been this rallying cry of conservatives for a long time. They focus on organizations that get federal money that they claim -- that they feel are liberal. And they try to prevent that money from going to them. We're seeing that with Planned Parenthood. We actually saw it with ACORN last year. We see it with all kinds of agencies and independent organizations. And so that's something that, I think, NPR has become a part of. The debate -- I think it was yesterday on the House -- was kind of lively. You had, you know, the Democrats -- one Democrat proposed defunding Fox, you know, as sort of a counterpoint that military commercials shouldn't run on Fox.
BENDAVIDAnd then Anthony Weiner, a congressman from New York, got up with a big picture of Tom and Ray, the hosts of "Car Talk" and said, you know, the Republicans have found the real problem with America. It's not the economy, it's "Car Talk." And so this debate got very emotional because we're not really talking about the money, you know. We're not talking about the funds that go to NPR and the corporation for public broadcasting. We're talking about cultural, social issues, and, I think, that's why this has become emotional.
PAGEMeanwhile, you know, there was a California congresswoman, Democrat Anna Eshoo, who said, our country faces the threats, but "Car Talk" is hardly one of them and neither is Diane Rehm.
PAGEThank you. I appreciate that.
BENDAVIDI agree with (unintelligible). You're not a threat to the nation.
KINGYour point about the president is very important though because, in the end, there's going to have to be a grand deal. And if -- so the president is keeping his cards. If John Boehner comes in and says, look, there aren't enough cuts here. My conservatives are mad. I need NPR. The president is going to say I need this. Could it be a trading card in a grand deal? That's why you listen to everything the president says right now.
REHMAbsolutely. Short break. And when we come back, your calls.
REHMAnd here's our first e-mail from James, who says, "When one in six Americans is unemployed, and many who are working have jobs at, or close to, minimum wage with no insurance, why isn't the talk and action in Washington centered on job, jobs, jobs?" Susan.
PAGEWell, you know, the administration has tried, at several points in the past two years, to focus on jobs, jobs, jobs, and other things have just repeatedly intruded. First, they decided to pursue the health care plan. That took longer than they had expected. You know, even today you see events abroad just demanding attention -- the situation in Libya, the situation in Yemen, the situation in Japan -- that's made it, I think, hard for the focus on jobs. And a lot of Americans, like James, would like to see -- be the center of attention here.
REHMAll right. To Rarden, Ohio. Good morning, Sharon.
SHARONHi, yes. I have to admit, I think, the Republicans, the Tea Party conservatives in general have pulled off a real coup here. In 2008 and '10, they told the middle class they shouldn't resent the rich for being rich. They don't want interclass warfare, and I think they've turned the middle class against themselves. All you hear these governors say is, you know, look at the poor private sector people. These companies pulled the rug out from underneath them. They have no good retirement. They have poor health care benefits. It's time for the public sector now to suffer the same fate and...
KINGWell, I do think the public sector is in the middle of this debate. The big debate is about -- in Washington, it's, where's the money? The short-term budget fight is one thing, but the bigger question about getting on a path to more fiscal sanity -- where's the money? It's in the entitlements. It's in Medicare and Social Security and the defense budget to a degree. At the state level, it is in this big retirement programs. And so it is inevitable that the public employees are in the middle of this. Is it class warfare? Is it ideological warfare? To a degree, some of these Republicans, no doubt, are acting on ideology. Others -- and at least in their public argument -- all of them say, no, I'm just arguing on the math.
REHMAll right. To Blanco, Texas. Good morning, Byron.
BYRONHi. My question is, what is the real motivation for the GOP to cut public funding from such hardworking reporting as we have at NPR? And I think I have an answer. You tell me. But after the Arizona Immigration Reform scandal happened, NPR broke a story involving private detention facilities contributing financially to anti-immigration legislation. And, of course, this would have profited millions of dollars to these facilities, and there were kickbacks to judges. It was a mess. Do you think that there might be some connection with the GOP, and they're angry about this?
BENDAVIDWell, I mean -- you know, it's hard for me to attribute specific motives to people for those kinds of cuts. I mean, there are two things going on. The Republicans argue the government just shouldn't be in the news business. You know, there's a lot of things they should be doing, but at a tight time, you know, this isn't the place where we should be spending money. And the congressman who's been hardest pushing on NPR says he loves NPR. He just thinks it should thrive on its own and not with government help. Having said that, there's little question that conservatives feel like NPR is a liberal organization that goes after conservative causes and institutions. And that's a very strong sentiment there. So I think both things are at play.
PAGEWell, you know, some Republicans argue it's about the money. I don't really think it's about the money 'cause what NPR gets is like spare change in the federal budget. And, in fact, this vote that was taken in the House yesterday does not reduce federal spending. It just sets new rules on how the grants by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting can be used by local NPR stations. So ideology is clearly -- really, I think, you could say, in fairness -- the driver of this debate.
REHMBut it seeks to prohibit local stations from acquiring paying for programming from the network, which we're talking about "Morning Edition," "All Things Considered," "The Diane Rehm Show" -- all of it.
KINGThe proposal that was brought up yesterday does not deal directly with the funding because of House rules. It's arcane. You don't want to send people to sleep by explaining it. And Democrats were objecting to it even being brought up under the way it was brought up. But they will get to the money in the later debates. This will become about the money. In the meantime, there are people -- that is trying to make a political point.
REHMAll right. To St. Louis, Mo. Good morning, Art.
ARTThank you for taking my call.
ARTNationwide, and also on the discussions on NPR as well, the election coming up in 2012 is depending on the selective amnesia of all of us voting citizens of how we got into the debt. It wasn't NPR. And all of your commentations there online -- just go ahead and discuss what got us into this mess. It wasn't NPR and the other workers. Thank you.
BENDAVIDWell, there's a lot of things that are contributing to the debt if you look at it. And it's true that the discretionary domestic spending that we're talking about, even all told, is only about 13 percent of the budget. And it's -- a lot of people say that what we need to be talking about is entitlements, that is to say Social Security and Medicare, as well as the Defense Department and as well as taxes, and that these things all have to be brought into the mix. So you have two simultaneous debates going on that sometimes overlap. One is just about the spending for this year and how are we going to get through this year. And the second one is about this broader, long-term budget outlook and how are we going to tackle that.
BENDAVIDAnd my sense is that there is some political momentum, actually, for coming up with a grand deal that will tackle Social Security, Medicare, taxes, military spending -- all of it -- and try to put us on a more healthy trajectory in years to come.
REHMWhat about those six who were supposed to be working behind the scene?
PAGEThe six senators -- a bipartisan group continue to work behind the scenes trying to find some common ground. Now, this wouldn't necessarily result in, you know, the budget that gets us through the rest of this fiscal year. This is more in terms of the kind of grand scheme...
PAGE...that Naftali was talking about. I think -- I've been surprised by the amount of momentum behind these efforts. I was surprised when that bipartisan commission that President Obama appointed managed to get majority support for what was really a pretty bold plan, not enough to get it to Congress. It needed the super majority for that. And I've been surprised also by the level of -- at least rhetorical support for the effort by the six senators.
KINGAnd if they get to a critical mass point, then what they need is presidential leadership. And some Republicans have been trying to bait the president into this debate. At the White House, they've been saying, let's see how this builds and grows. But if it does build and grow to a substantial point -- and it's pretty close -- will the president hug them and say, let's do this together? Risky going into a reelection campaign when you want to tap into the anchor of those unions and say, come with me, fight with me, to say, we're going to talk about Social Security, which the, you know -- the big unions say, well, don't do that right now. We're going to talk about Medicare. It's a -- it will be a risky bet for the president to take.
REHMAll right. To Cincinnati, Ohio. Good morning, Donavan.
DONAVANHey. In speaking about potential Republican presidential contenders, it seems essential that the public discourse includes Rand Paul. Many younger Americans, like myself, are completely disenfranchised with the entire United States' political structure and endless bureaucracies. And he's -- you know, Rand Paul's about dismantling these government agencies and starting fresh. And I liken the nuclear reactor situation in Japan to our whole political system. It's something that's kind of been washed under the table or colluded with different government agencies and governments to where, you know, you just put something off over and over again. And, you know, you're where we're at where we have an impending national disaster in this country, and it's political system.
PAGEWell, Rand Paul is always part of the conversation because the people who believe in him and support him are very impassioned. And they believe very strongly, and they're very smart. And, you know, there's a lot of forums and a lot of places you can go to where there's a handful or more of Rand Paul supporters. I guess I don't think he probably has enough support to be a major candidate. It's not clear to me that he's going to run. But he's always part of the conversation because he represents something to (word?).
REHMThe other person we didn't mention is the former ambassador to China.
PAGEOh, John Huntsman. You know, this is so interesting. He's a popular former governor of Utah, served President Obama. I guess his term isn't quite up. I guess his resignation hasn't quite taken effect as ambassador to China. I think the White House takes him pretty seriously, and that's why they have been tweaking him about the fact that he has been such a loyal member of the Obama administration. And the president, in a speech at the Gridiron dinner last week -- which many of us around this table were at -- talked about how much he would be supporting John Huntsman in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.
KINGThat's love Gov. Huntsman doesn't quite want or Amb. Huntsman doesn't quite want at the moment. It will be in an ad. If Gov. Huntsman -- I'll call him Gov. Huntsman -- runs for president, that will be in an ad by one of his opponents or some outside group -- the president giving him all that love. The White House believes he would be a very, very credible general election candidate. They have a lot of questions about whether his views on social issues, which tends to be more moderate or more libertarian, could get him to the Republican primaries.
REHMAnd I must say, as the president of the Gridiron Club, Susan Page did a fabulous job that evening. I had no idea you were such a comedienne. It was terrific.
PAGEWell, thank you.
REHMLet's go to Cunningham, Ky. Good morning, Jeremy.
JEREMYGood morning. I'd like to hear a little bit more -- no. I'd like to hear a lot more of people in the media talking about the cuts that could help fund a lot of the programs that we need. Why don't we talk about cutting both the military budget and ending some of this outrageous, no-bid contract spending that we've got going on? And then, also, we hear about the tantrums and the problems with supposedly funding benefits for teachers, nurses, police officers and firemen, but nobody talks about the fact that a senator or a representative can work four years, get voted out and retain ridiculous lifetime benefits.
KINGI do think the benefits of the members of Congress are going to come to the floor as you start to get into this, especially if the tensions out in the state debates keep rippling. They're going to have no choice because sometimes you get surprised -- I remember when Christie Whitman almost beat Bill Bradley years and years ago. There was a property tax revolt going on in New Jersey. A senator has nothing to do with it. Bill Bradley went home to run for re-election and almost got wiped out by the anger in his state. So we see things happening in the states that will eventually ripple their way into Washington.
KINGTo the point about the cuts, there are a few people -- Haley Barbour, the governor of Mississippi, who's probably going to run for president, he is one of the few Republicans who says, hey, look, we got to put the Pentagon budget on the table, too. You can't do it. You can't ask people to cut things that are important to them if you don't cut everything. Will we have a -- every American family, in the last few years, because of the tumultuous economic times, has had to have that priority conversation the caller was just talking about.
KINGHow much money do we have? What do we want to spend it on? What's most important? Let's make a list and go through it. Hey, we're out of money. Draw the line. These things don't get money. That's what families have had to do in the last few years. And that's why they're so frustrated when they look at Washington -- and, in some cases, their state governments -- because they don't see open, rational calm and then tough conversations about priorities.
BENDAVIDI think the military actually has become a subject of conversation to a surprising degree. You are seeing Republicans start to talk about it. And Secretary Gates, the defense secretary, has put a number of cuts on the table. That's probably in attempt to deflect, you know, other cuts. But nonetheless, it's one of the things that signals to me that there is the possibility and greater seriousness about a grand deal because people who previously might have stood just without any wavering whatsoever against military cuts are starting to entertain the possibility that they would happen.
REHMNaftali Bendavid of The Wall Street Journal, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Now, to Alexandria, Va. Good morning, Hassan.
HASSANGood morning, Diane. I like your show. I listen to it all the time.
HASSANI wonder your panel couldn't know whether Sarah Palin will run or not. We know the road to the White House begins in Israel. I know she will, but whether they say she will.
BENDAVIDWell, I'm -- you know, I'm not convinced that she will. I mean, I think there's two schools of thought, one is that she wants to be president and the other is that having people think that she may run for president is the best way to keep attention and focus on her and on her comments. Because the minute she were to say that she's not going to run, I think people would start paying more attention to people who have declared. It's true that she's going to Israel and India.
BENDAVIDI'm not sure I see it the way the caller does exactly, but I think that there's a -- you know, she was criticized in the past for not having foreign policy knowledge and experience, and she was criticized for making ostensibly foolish comments about Russia and other things. And, I think, going to two of the big hotspots -- the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Indian-Pakistani conflict -- I think, you know, could be a way for her to establish those credentials.
PAGEYou know, we were -- but the debates are about to start. May 2 is supposed to be the first debate of the Republican presidential candidates at the Reagan Library, another debate scheduled for May 5 in South Carolina. One thing to look for is what standards do the organizers of these debates set for people to participate and who chooses to participate.
REHMAnd speaking of standards, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson released a plan Wednesday that would reduce emissions of mercury and other toxins from coal burning plants. How significant is this?
KINGWell, it is significant for a number of reasons. Number one, she's responding to a court case that, if my memory is correct, predates the Obama administration. The government, no matter who was running it, was required to submit a plan to do this. And so, on the one hand, this administration could say we're following a court case that predates us. On the other hand, Republicans -- especially House Republicans -- have picked a lot of fights, and they see many more fights coming with this administration on environmental regulation.
KINGAnd you've heard, from out in the states, governors saying, maybe we need to have a conversation about this. But, right now, we don't want to do anything that, you know, smuggles out the economy a little bit. So there's ideological issues here. There are also some philosophical debates about energy regulation.
BENDAVIDThe EPA has become maybe the biggest political football out there. The Republicans have talked about cutting its budget by 30 percent, which is an enormous amount for a major regulatory agency.
BENDAVIDWell, to them, it's the epitome of an agency that imposes onerous burdens on business, and then those costs get passed on to consumers. And so they see it as sort of the ultimate in all the things that they don't like about big government. And Democrats say, look, you're talking about protecting our air and our water. How could you possibly object to that? And so this particular issue, this plan on mercury emissions that's just come out, is, I think, an ideal prism for both sides to feel their grievances and their -- you know, their beliefs about the scope and reach of government.
PAGEWell, what a long fight this has been, though. This debate really started with passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970 and got renewed with the renewal of the Clean Air Act in 1990. And the debate over how to control the toxic substances, like mercury that come out of these coal-fired power plants, is one that we have been talking about through a string of presidents.
KINGAnd it's -- to your point earlier, why can't renewables -- why don't we have renewables, whether we're talking about the Japanese nuclear crisis and its impact on the United States, or now coal-powered power plants, that we're having this fight for 20-plus years? Where are renewables? Well, one of the reasons we are reliant, 20 percent on nuclear -- why we're still reliant so much on coal plants is because we're still a generation away, even if that technology is being developed in a laboratory right now, to get it on the scale and the scope to actually meet our power needs. So these fights are going to continue.
REHMSo how big an impact could this kind of rule have on emissions?
PAGEWell, it could have a considerable impact on emissions. I mean, that's -- you know, we have about 400 of these coal-fired plants, but half of them have equipment already that's designed to -- this was at a national standard and forced the other 200 to comply.
BENDAVIDAnd the EPA says it'll save thousands of lives and prevent thousands of illnesses. I mean, so there's a lot of impacts. There's also a financial impact. So it's -- I mean, I think these are not insignificant.
REHMNaftali Bendavid of The Wall Street Journal, Susan Page of USA Today, John King of CNN. Happy Friday, everybody.
REHMThanks for being here. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth and Sarah Ashworth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our e-mail address is drshow.org. And we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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