A writer explores his father's mysterious imprisonment, and accusations that he was spying for the CIA, in revolutionary-era Iran.
President Obama outlined a $447 billion jobs program before a joint session of Congress. The President’s address was followed by news of a specific, credible but unconfirmed terrorist threat tied to the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Texas Governor Rick Perry stirred controversy in his first GOP presidential debate Wednesday by calling Social Security a ponzi scheme. A panel of journalists joins Diane to discuss the week’s domestic news stories.
- Major Garrett congressional correspondent, National Journal.
- Chris Cillizza author of The Fix, a Washington Post politics blog, and managing editor of PostPolitics.com.
- Julie Hirschfeld Davis congressional correspondent, Bloomberg News.
Friday News Roundup Video
Why did Texas Governor Rick Perry get such a enthusiastic reaction when he mentioned the high number of executions in his state during the last GOP debate? He said it was because Americans recognize justice, but some were disturbed by the applause.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The president offers Congress a jobs plan. Fed Chair Ben Bernanke warns against continued political wrangling. And a specific but unconfirmed threat targeting New York or Washington, D.C., is received just days before the 9/11 anniversary.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about the week's top national stories: Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post, Julie Hirschfeld Davis of Bloomberg News, Major Garrett of National Journal. Throughout the hour, I'll look forward to hearing from you, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.
MR. CHRIS CILLIZZAGood morning, Diane.
MS. JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVISGood morning, Diane.
MR. MAJOR GARRETTGood morning, Diane.
REHMMajor Garrett, how did you react to the president's speech last night? Specifically, what's in there that makes good sense?
GARRETTWell, the president's speech is a policy proposal and a political dare. I'll get to the political dare in a minute. On the policy side, the president talked about infrastructure spending, creation of an infrastructure bank, increasing spending immediately on roads and bridge projects.
GARRETTHe talked about, instead of taking the payroll tax, reducing it by 2 percent as we did last year for employers, reducing it by half for employers, reducing the front end cost of adding jobs in the workplace. That is a big part of this. There is also a component of retrofitting or refitting schools, hiring teachers.
GARRETTAnd unlike the stimulus, which the CBO, Congressional Budget Office, now cost -- says cost $830 billion in total, this would be paid for by deficit reduction in the future. Some of it would be carried out by the super committee, enlarging its mandate for deficit reduction. Some of it would come in closing corporate tax loopholes and other changes to the tax code. That's the policy proposal writ large from the president.
GARRETTThe political dare that he laid before Congress is these ideas either have circulated or been endorsed by Republicans and Democrats before or in the current conversation about what to do with the U.S. economy. And if Congress doesn't act, then the obstructionist element will be the Republican Party. And this will be the dare: ignore me, ignore this proposal, while real-life concerns about the economic destiny of this country, at your peril.
GARRETTAnd the White House structurally -- very interesting last night -- had immediate emails sent out of all the people in the Democratic Party who support it: labor unions across the board, governors, mayors, a significant number of members of Congress. And maybe Chris will correct on this, but I looked very carefully last night for a Senate Democrat up for re-election next cycle, meaning next year. I didn't see one.
GARRETTAnd when you begin to see the Claire McCaskills, the Jon Testers, the Ben Nelsons, the Bill Nelsons, the Joe Manchins of the world also jump in, in favor of the president's proposal, then you will know it has genuine political throw weight. That's to be determined.
REHMAnd, Julie, what about Republicans?
DAVISWell, Republicans went into the speech, I think, knowing that President Obama was going to sort of call them out and say, either you're with me and you're going to help us get this economy going, or it's going to be your responsibility if things don't get better. And rather than come out saying, no, no, no, we can't do any of this, I think House Speaker John Boehner was very careful to sort of set the tone going in.
DAVISWe're going to listen to what he has to say. We're going to respect him. He's the president. We all have to figure out a way to get this economy moving again. And you didn't see people come out immediately with statements that were hugely critical of everything that the president laid out. What we did hear, however, was, this is not going to be enough.
DAVISSome of what he has proposed on taxes are things that we've considered in the past, such as the payroll tax proposal that Major laid out, that he expanded. But, you know, that's something that they came to in agreement on at the end of last year, and it's something that they can maybe consider. But nobody -- none of the Republicans are saying, you know, we've got a proposal here we can -- you know, we can all agree on.
DAVISAnd it's going to definitely be a big negotiation to figure out what parts of this can actually be worked into what the super committee is working on and what parts of it are just basically going to be kicked to the voters to say, you know, this is a debate between Republicans and Democrats, about how best to revive the economy. And we're going to take it to our constituents and see what they have to say.
REHMSo, Chris, which plans are likely to get passed?
CILLIZZAThat's a good question, Diane. You know, I think the payroll tax extension, as Julie mentioned -- I should say extension and expansion -- I think that's something that has been agreed to in the past, I think, could be agreed to in the future. Some of the infrastructure spending, I think, there' a possibility there. But, I think, to Major's point, I think some of it depends on how this proposal gets framed in the next week or two weeks.
CILLIZZAIs this -- and one very important word the president did not say last night was stimulus because he knows a second stimulus package won't work...
REHMBut he did say it's been paid for. It's paid for.
CILLIZZAAnd that's the key. That is the key, is do people believe that the deficit reduction that he -- I believe, it's Sept. 19, he said he's going to roll that out. Do people believe that is serious and credible and that this just isn't more government spending for the sake of government spending?
CILLIZZAI would say, in general, Diane, this close to an election -- I know, for most people, it doesn't seem close to an election at all. President Obama said we're 14 months away, and the American people can't wait for 14 months. But in the grand scheme of a four-year presidential election cycle, we are relatively close to an election.
CILLIZZAI find it somewhat hard to believe -- though I know this will sound cynical -- that the whole package, the Americans Jobs Act that the president laid out, will be passed in toto by this Congress.
GARRETTTo pick up on Julie's point, I think what you'll see from Republicans is a trench warfare with a smiling face. Republicans did not want to snarl in their deportment in the chamber.
GARRETTBecause they heard, during August, that there is a deepening sense in the business community, there's a deepening sense among average American voters and those who are unemployed or those who are worried about their jobs that Washington now is nothing but a place where people argue and fight and accomplish little or nothing.
GARRETTSo Republicans, through Speaker Boehner and Eric Cantor, the majority leader, and even, to a lesser extent, Mitch McConnell, said, look, tone it down. Speaker Boehner last night said the president's ideas merit consideration. That's not what I would call a...
GARRETT...enthusiastic response. That might be just one tick better -- and I wrote this in National Journal this morning. That's one tick better than held in minimum high regard. But it's not...
GARRETTIt's not forget it. It's dead on arrival, so that is, in one sense, a promising sign. I also wrote in the magazine this week, there is a very interesting way to measure what the future of this program will be. And it's about what's going to happen in the next two weeks to three weeks about things that are pending in Congress right now that have real-life job implications: FAA reauthorization, the transportation bill, getting a budget by the end of this month, dealing with disaster relief assistance.
GARRETTIf you're a victim of any of the recent disasters in this country and you're bleeding from your chest, you can't get a dime from FEMA right now because the money doesn't exist. Only life and limb aid is being provided by the federal government. The reason? Congress hasn't gotten together to fund the disaster relief fund. It's going to do that by the end of the month.
GARRETTIf these other issues, that have nothing to do with this big, global plan the president put forward, don't get resolved, I find it very hard to believe a bigger plan is going to get resolved.
REHMJulie, his tone was totally different last night.
DAVISAbsolutely, totally different than most of the big speeches that we have heard President Obama give when he calls a joint session of Congress together, either to give the State of the Union or any other big speech. First of all, as Major mentioned, in the beginning, it was in many respects a campaign speech. He had a consistent refrain. I think he said a dozen times, pass this bill, pass this bill, and then a couple of times he said, right away.
DAVISHe was really -- instead of the soaring rhetoric we often hear from President Obama, the big philosophical, hopeful kind of inspirational speech, he was -- he got really specific. He said, here's what you have to do, here's why you have to do it, here's what's going to happen to you if you don't do it. And, you know, frankly, we're going to take it to our respective -- we're going to take it to the voters, and we owe it to people to get something done.
DAVISThat's something that, I think, you know, he and Republicans in Congress are reading the same polling, which shows that people are just -- you know, he used the word political circus. We have to get beyond the political circus. People really want to see something get done.
DAVISAnd that's part of the reason we're seeing Republicans pull back a little from their, you know, right out of the gate, harsh criticism and also part of the reason why he kind of just switched it up and said -- you know, instead of coming and saying, generally, here's what I believe, he got, really, down to the brass tacks and said, this is what you have to do.
REHMSo the question is, will his speech have an impact on those members of Congress, Chris?
CILLIZZAWell, I get to be the cynical one of the three again. I mean, look, Diane, I think the broad impact will be that Democrats will feel like this is the Barack Obama that's been missing for the last two-and-a-half years. You heard it last night in the after-action commentary, of which I try to watch not all that much, but it's kind of there. A lot of that -- this is who we've been waiting for. Finally, he stepped up.
CILLIZZAPaul Krugman, who has been critical of the president for not going bigger -- The New York Times columnist -- praised the speech. If you're a Republican, I think you would have the opposite reaction to that. Though, to Major and Julie's point, they were purposely measured. I don't know that it has a huge impact on individual members of Congress. I think Major's point is an important one.
CILLIZZAHaving Nancy Pelosi be for this bill is not ultimately what will pass the bill. Having Joe Manchin, the West Virginia senator, Democrat, but from a state that has voted for George Bush and John McCain over the last three elections, he said he was concerned about the level of spending in the bill. Now, getting Joe Manchin is much more important than having Nancy Pelosi.
CILLIZZASo I do think that -- can the Obama administration, by hook or by crook, wrangle these folks who are in swing districts, who are going to be targeted, they know, in swing states, targeted, they know (unintelligible) ? Can he -- they get those folks on board? That would amp up the pressure on some moderate Republicans to sign on, and that's when the bill might get real momentum.
REHMChris Cillizza, he's author of The Fix, a Washington Post politics blog, managing editor of postpolitics.com, Julie Hirschfeld Davis of Bloomberg News, Major Garret of National Journal. Short break. We'll be right back
REHMHere is our first email from Matt. He says, "I find it interesting that congressional Republicans gave a standing ovation to the president's plan to put veterans to work, but did not stand or even applaud when he made the same point about teachers. I think their behavior last night shows just where their priorities lie." Major.
GARRETTWell, the theatrics of joint session speeches are revealing, and people take the measure of the response of members of Congress. And you are -- and the country's invited to make exactly that kind of evaluation. Stand up for veterans, not for teachers. What does that say about you? What does that say about your approach to national issues and politics?
GARRETTI would say that for our day planners, circle next Tuesday as an indicator of whether this speech may, in fact, prove persuasive and change the underlying political dynamic on the Hill. There's a special election in Anthony Weiner's district, the 9th District of Brooklyn, next Tuesday. It's closer than Democrats are comfortable with. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee just dropped a half a million dollars to save that seat.
GARRETTBarack Obama won that with 54 percent. John Kerry won with 55 percent. If Republicans win that seat, which they're not expected to win and are not predicting they were going to win, but if they do, that will have a tremor-like effect among rank-and-file House Democrats. And they'll say, you know, the president's political situation isn't good. It may be jeopardizing ours, and there may be a divergence.
GARRETTIf Democrats hold that seat, then they will wipe their brow and say, that was a close one if we can stick with the president and press forward. Those kind of things have real world effect.
REHMSpeaking of tremors, as I was driving to work today, I saw TSA cars along the way. We have new national security threats just days before the anniversary of 9/11. And Mayor Bloomberg says the 9/11 observance will go right ahead, but the threats are in New York, apparently, and in Washington, D.C. What do we know about what these threats are portending, Julie?
DAVISWell, we don't know much. We know some basics, which is that the Department of Homeland Security says that there has been a specific credible threat. There's some talk of a vehicle-borne attack, but they're not getting specific about what was actually threatened, and that it's coming from a credible source in Pakistan. But the administration has been very careful and quick to point out that it's unconfirmed.
DAVISI'm not sure, really, what that means. There's a threat that's been described as coming from someone they consider to be a credible source. But it's not something that's been confirmed to the point where they're willing to say what we know, when it might happen, we know what it might be. You know, there had been knowledge in the intelligence community prior to now that al-Qaida was interested in targeting locations and dates that pertain to 9/11.
DAVISAnd, clearly, we're coming up here on the 10th anniversary this weekend. And, apparently, there was some evidence seized in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden earlier this year that reinforced that notion, that al-Qaida wants to use these dates to launch some sort of attacks. But, again, we don't know -- that's basically where we are, and there's a lot still unknown.
DAVISAnd, I think, authorities in Washington, D.C. and New York are just sort of ratcheting up what was already going to be a pretty high level of threat and preparedness around the anniversary, just anticipating what al-Qaida might want to try to do.
CILLIZZAYou know, Diane, I just think it's striking. It's the latest example of a decade-long struggle between our freedoms and individual rights and our desire for security. You know, we heard earlier this week Janet Napolitano, the head of the Department of Homeland Security, say, soon, you will no longer have to take off your shoes when you go through a scanner, something that was greeted with -- by regular travelers, with tears.
CILLIZZAIt's not that long ago we had the fight over the Patriot Act. You know, you have Democrats like Russ Feingold. You have people who -- there are legitimate questions about how we balance our rights and our freedoms with our desire for security. I think it is something that will always be with us now.
CILLIZZAI think this event brings it home, obviously as will the anniversary on Sunday. But it's kind of the new normal, that, I think, we live in that constant push-pull.
GARRETTRichard Clarke, who was a former counterterrorism adviser to both President Clinton and President Bush, was asked by ABC News, what does it mean, credible but unconfirmed, and specific? He said, it probably means -- and his experience tells me it means they don't have names, ages, places of origin. But they have something that suggests to them a plot is in motion.
GARRETTAnd I think it's important to understand the choreography of governmental response. About a week-and-a-half ago, there was also talk of the potential threat of general aviation aircrafts, small aircrafts being used…
GARRETT...to dispense some type of chemical poison or something else. You did not see general aviation press conferences. You didn't see FAA announcements. You didn't see a sort of elevated public discussion of those agencies that regulate or police general aviation.
GARRETTYesterday, in very short order, you had this come from the administration. Then you had Mayor Bloomberg, Mayor Cathy Lanier -- I mean, police chief Cathy Lanier here in Washington, D.C., talk about specific measures they're taking to deal with it. That tells us all this is more serious than what we heard about a week-and-a-half ago. And local agencies are scanning their databases.
GARRETTPeople are sort of running all the stovepipes of information where intelligence is gathered to run their traps on what is a plot, but they don't have names, places of origin, things like that.
REHMAnd John Brennan, president's Homeland Security counterterrorism adviser, has said, we are concerned about the lone actors out there, concerned al-Qaida or others may try to take advantage of the 9/11 anniversary events. So, you know, what does that mean? Airports, train stations, nuclear plants, major sporting events, you know, everybody is concerned.
GARRETTAnd there will be a few this Sunday with the opening of the NFL season.
GARRETTAnd in the Lincoln Tunnel today, they were actually doing higher levels of scrutiny of those entering the Lincoln Tunnel. I mean, that's a very specific, measurable, visible kind of elevating of security scrutiny.
REHMA lot of people are wondering how the country has changed since 9/11. I would ask you, as journalists, how your reporting, how you feel journalism has changed since 9/11. Chris.
CILLIZZAI guess -- I don't know that journalism has changed that much because I think journalism is kind of the reporting and analysis of public opinion and news. But I do think the way in which people interact with public officials, the way in which they interact with their surroundings, has changed, Diane. I mean, I think the anxiety level, in general, is much higher.
CILLIZZAI will tell you, a few weeks ago, with the earthquake here in D.C., there was a palpable level of panic. I was down on Capitol Hill. I was with my wife, having lunch. People panicked. And the first thought was not, this is an earthquake. The first thought, this is a terrorist attack. And, again, it's -- that will always be with us.
CILLIZZAWhen you get on a plane now, unlike 11 years ago -- I know I do. I get on a fair number of planes -- it's at least in your mind in a way that is wasn't, and it's fundamentally reordered the way in which we view ourselves, which we -- I think we once viewed our country as kind of, yeah, wars and terrorism, that's for somewhere else. Well, not necessarily.
DAVISYeah, I think Chris is right. It's definitely changed sort of the psychology of being an American. And I think, you know, that affects journalists, just like it affects everybody. It also has affected, in a big way, the access that we have to public officials and how we do our jobs.
DAVISI mean, I went into the Capitol yesterday, through the Capitol Visitor Center, which is a brand-new multibillion -- multi hundreds of billions of dollars structure that was built, primarily, so that tourists would be filtered in. Visitors to the Capitol would be filtered in through an area that was not the Capitol itself. And that -- you know, after -- there was a shooting at the Capitol long before 9/11.
DAVISBut, certainly, since Sept. 11, the security has been ratcheted up around public buildings, around public officials, to the point where it can be a lot more difficult to get access to the events and the people that we need to do our job. And it's still possible, and I think Chris is right. There's still -- there's always going to be that tension of balancing our liberties with balancing our freedoms as Americans. And journalists certainly have experienced that.
DAVISBut I would definitely say that, from the standpoint of reporters, it's also altered our view of what the biggest story is that we could possibly cover. I mean, everyone sees security and, you know, our sort of -- our safety as a nation and the risk of terrorism as sort of the biggest thing, the biggest issue that we might confront.
GARRETTI think the biggest difference is we have now embedded within our psyche a component of dread that did not exist before 9/11. It's a low-level component of dread, but it exists. Especially for those of us who live in Washington, who live in New York City, everything that is out of the ordinary strikes us as, possibly, something dreadful. I was at the -- I was at Reagan National Airport flying to Ohio two days ago. Torrential rains were falling.
GARRETTThere was a massive lightning strike very near the airport, and it sounded like a bomb going off. And I was, for a moment, absolutely terrified. I'm sitting at an airport. We're five or six days from 9/11, and it -- oh, it's a lightning strike. But, for a second there, I thought there was a huge terrorist bomb going off in the airport. The same thing applies to the earthquake.
GARRETTThe prism for security and insecurity is now a, more or less, constant part of our life in ways I don't believe it was during the Cold War. The Cold War was Washington's problem. Security, anti-terrorism, counterterrorism is now every mayor's problem, every county commissioner's problem, every governor's problem. And I have friends in San Diego.
GARRETTThey just sort of went through a massive blackout from Southern...
GARRETT...from Anaheim all the way down south to my hometown in San Diego, all the way east to the Arizona border. For the first three hours, the reigning assumption was there was some sort of terrorist strike or imposition of terrorist activity to knock everyone off the power grid. And people got a little squirrelly about it. It was a human error. Power is now back on.
GARRETTBut even 3,000 miles away, untouched completely by 9/11, that embedded psychological default position reigns. If not supreme, it's very near the top. And, I think, that's a huge change for our psyche as a nation.
REHMMajor Garrett of National Journal. And I'm wondering what your takeaway is from Wednesday night's GOP debate, Chris.
CILLIZZAFor someone like me who loves politics, it was fun. It was, I think, illuminating in ways. I think the big story, and rightly so, was Rick Perry. This was his first debate. He only got in to the race about three-and-a-half weeks ago. Interestingly, it was -- I feel like Rick Perry had the reverse of what I expected. I assume, usually, when you're a new-ish (sic) candidate, you start off a little nervous.
CILLIZZAThese are nerve-wracking moments, and you struggle. Rick Perry was very good in the beginning and faded at the end with Social Security and climate change answers that, I think, are going to come back to, if not haunt him, force him to readdress.
REHMChris Cillizza of The Washington Post. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." He actually called Social Security a Ponzi scheme, Julie.
DAVISHe did, and he's done it before. And he was prepared to do it again. He -- I think he first used the phrase in his book that was published last fall, "Fed Up." And he actually said during the debate, listen, we're going to have -- we can't be afraid to use some provocative language here.
DAVISBut there's no denying that calling Social Security, which is a functioning, successfully and very popular program to millions and millions of senior citizens who vote and who are politically powerful, is a risky strategy. I mean, he's clearly trying to present himself as the person who will say the tough things to be able to, you know, fix the big problems that this country has in front of it.
DAVISBut Mitt Romney went after him pretty hard for that phrase...
REHMHe sure did.
DAVIS...and said, I would never even go close to calling this program a failure. Of course, we need to address the challenges and fix it and make it better for the future.
DAVISBut, you know, you just can't -- that's -- he -- and then in his campaign, came back and was even stronger and put out a document that said that he had been reckless and -- you know, and basically made the point that a Republican is not going to get elected if people think that they're electing someone who represents a party who considers Social Security a fraud.
REHMAnd what about Mitt Romney? How well did he do with Rick Perry in that situation?
GARRETTWell, of course, the accurate answer is that's to be determined.
GARRETTI will tell you my impression of Mitt Romney -- and I had expectations. I wondered, is Mitt Romney going to try to bait Rick Perry? Is he going to try to draw him out? Is he going to attack him? Is he going to be feisty? Is he going to get out of his I'm running my campaign, I'm running on my steam, my record? And I'm not going to try to draw him out or make this a huge fight between us? That was a choice.
GARRETTMitt Romney, more or less, stayed within his own rails, which conveyed a sense of confidence. I talked to a lot of Republicans afterwards who said, you know what? He's believing in what he's doing, and he believes it's going to work. And he has this sort of internal confidence that Rick Perry may be the flavor of the month, but check back in two or three months. Mitt Romney may be in a more subtle position.
REHMAnd what about Michele Bachmann? Some people wondered whether, after the debate last night, she was actually going to announce she was withdrawing, Chris.
CILLIZZAWell, she was barely there during the debate, Diane, so you could -- people, I could understand why they would assume that. I don't think she's dropping out of the race. I think she's going to stay in the race for the foreseeable future. That said, I do think her rise and fall is illustrative of the pace at which modern politics moves. And it's remarkable even for someone like me who stands very close to it and watches it every day.
CILLIZZAOn August the 13th, Michele Bachmann won the Ames Straw Poll, traditional indicator of strength in Iowa. Everyone, including myself, declared her the front-runner in Iowa. Now, that same day -- look back on it. Hindsight is 20/20. That same day, Rick Perry entered the presidential race.
CILLIZZAIn two polls that came out this week, Washington Post-ABC and NBC-Wall Street Journal, national polls, Michele Bachmann's support in a 2012 Republican primary cut in half: 16-8 in the NBC-Wall Street Journal, 8-4 in the ABC-Washington Post. She needs to find a second act. That debate isn't going to cut it. She seemed to be an afterthought.
CILLIZZAWhen Herman Cain feels like more of a presence in the race, in the debate, than Michele Bachmann, that's a real problem for her.
REHMWhat about Romney's jobs plan? Does he have specific things to offer, Julie?
DAVISHe has a lot of specific things to offer. He gave a speech on Tuesday, sort of scooped President Obama's jobs address by giving his speech out in Nevada. And I think it was a 59-point plan. He put out a big, 160-page pamphlet with all -- he has a lot of very specific ideas.
DAVISNot a lot of them are new to the Republican Party. I mean, it's all about lowering taxes, cutting spending. He advocates a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. One thing that he proposed that is a little bit of a departure from what we've recently heard is basically going after China for currency manipulation. That's something that's often talked about.
DAVISThe Obama administration has really criticized China strongly but hasn't actually taken that action. And you haven't heard other Republicans necessarily propose that. But other than that, it wasn't a big departure from what we've heard.
REHMJulie Hirschfeld Davis. She is congressional correspondent for Bloomberg News. Our lines are filled. When we come back, we'll take your calls. Stay with us.
REHMWelcome back. It's time to open the phones for the guests who are out there listening to this domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup. First, to Baltimore, Md. Good morning, William.
WILLIAMGood morning. I have couple observations. I've noticed that the Republican Party especially forgets that they are employees. We, the American people, are the employers, and we support their salary through our taxes. But yet, when it comes to what the American people want, like jobs, they don't seem to come through and actually give what the American people want.
REHMThat's really what the president was addressing last night, wasn't it, Chris?
CILLIZZAIt was. You know, I do think the line that stood out to me -- there were a few. But one that definitely stood out was when he said, you know, the election is in 14 months, but the American public can't wait for 14 months. I think a lot of people feel that frustration. You know, Diane, remember, this was a speech that they couldn't even agree on the day it was supposed to be given, which, I think, for a lot of people, was a throw-your-hands-up moment.
CILLIZZAThe question William points out, I think, in some ways, is viewed in a partisan lens, which is, if you are a Democrat, you likely believe that Republicans are not willing to do the things necessary to create more jobs in this country. If you're a Republican, you likely believe President Obama's proposals aren't the right thing to create jobs in this country.
CILLIZZAAnd, in fact, the proposals put forward by John Boehner and Eric Cantor, such as they are, are, in fact, the correct proposals. So it's a difficult thing to say one side is -- everyone is interested in creating jobs. They just go at it very, very differently.
REHMLet's go to Dallas, Texas. Good morning, Steven.
STEVENHey, Diane, thanks for taking my call.
STEVENOne thing that I was just kind of shocked at the other night in that Republican debate was when the moderator said Rick Perry had overseen 200 or 300 executions, and the audience clapped. I sort of gasped out loud when that happened at my house because I was just so shocked that, first of all, that would be something that would be celebrated. And it's just really troubling to me that that is sort of what Republican Party is all about.
DAVISThat was -- it was a remarkable moment during the debate. And, actually, after Brian Williams gave him the question about the executions, he then asked Gov. Perry, why do you think people applauded like that at the mention of people being executed? And what Perry said was something along the lines of the American people understand justice.
DAVISAnd, again, as he had with many of his positions that have been controversial in the past, like doubting climate change and calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme, he embraced that position and said, you know, this is something that he's proud of. It's something that, you know, he would stand behind and he wouldn't do differently.
DAVISAnd as you could tell from the applause in that room, I think he's definitely got the support of the Republican primary electorate, at least on that point.
GARRETTDiane, if I could put two things together on this topic. Gov. Perry also said he never had any second doubts about signing an execution order, and I'm sure that's true. I know other governors who believe in the death penalty who have, who wrestle with this. And I just thought it would have been a moment for any political leader to say, look, a murder case is a tragedy in our state. Someone is dead, and, now, the state is executing someone for that.
GARRETTThat is bad across the board, and every governor ought to wrestle with that. And our legal system must do everything in its power to ensure absolute, credible, believable, actual justice is achieved. There was no hint of that at all. And let me tie this to a point we've been raising about the Ponzi scheme thing. I don't think, for Rick Perry, the Ponzi scheme is going to be the more difficult aspect of his answer.
GARRETTThe more difficult aspect of his answer -- and I compliment John Harris of Politico for phrasing the question this way. Because in his book, Rick Perry also says, Social Security was wrong from the very beginning, from its origins, not in its financial problems going forward. But as an original idea, it was wrong, trampled on states rights and was an overreach of government.
GARRETTI believe with that, as thoroughly debated in this country, many voters will look at that and say, no, wait a minute. I'll agree with you, Gov. Perry. We should intervene. We can discuss what to do. But to say Social Security was wrong from its very origination, I think, is going to be politically problematic, and I believe that's why Mitt Romney seized upon it.
REHMAll right. To Cincinnati, Ohio, good morning, Maggie.
MAGGIEGood morning. I, unlike several of your other callers, don't believe that government can create jobs, nor do I believe that the unions can create jobs. What I do in my daily job is I'm out in the community in a 35-county area in Ohio, talking to job owners every day. And they are scared. Some of them have started to expand a little bit, but they stopped because they don't know what to expect from government.
MAGGIEIt is not up to government -- they cannot create any jobs other than a government job, which is founded and funded from money taken from the job creators in the community. And I don't think that this president or the Democrat leadership in Congress has a grasp of that. Central planning has never ever worked.
REHMYou know, it's interesting to hear that, Democrat as opposed to Democratic. What does that say to you, Chris?
CILLIZZAWell, it is something that has come into vogue over the last decade or so, that Republicans -- the idea is that to give Democrats the little D, democratic, that they're the democratic party, gives them some sort of moral high ground that they don't deserve. I tend to think it's just -- and I would say this.
CILLIZZAIf Democrats called Republicans republic or whatever the abbreviation would be, it just seems, to me, to be ultimately -- the problems that we're talking about in this country, it's a waste -- it seems to me a rhetorical excess of unnecessary proportion.
REHMAll right. Okay. So what about Maggie's point substantially?
GARRETTLet me jump in. The -- one of the things the president proposed is a $4,000 credit if you hire someone at your business who has been unemployed for a very long time, six months or longer. In my conversations with small business, governors, I think that's an interesting idea. But it just has limited utility in the real world. Let me just run the math down very quickly.
GARRETTLet's say you're a small business owner and you're going to hire someone at an entry-level salary of $30,000 to $35,000. That's an outlay of about $45,000 if you provide any benefits at all. If you provide benefits in training, it's about $50,000. Four thousand dollars is interesting. It's alluring.
GARRETTBut it doesn't mathematically push you over the edge, unless you believe that $4,000 is going to be a part of a profit stream you anticipate in the next 12 months of about $60,000 or more because no one is going to hire someone, carry on or add $40- to $50,000 of cost if they don't think they're going to at least get $10,000 or $15,000 more in profit in the next year, so all these figures are real. They're what small business owners wrestle with all of the time.
GARRETTFour thousand dollars is not nothing, but it is not going to be, in of itself, singularly decisive in adding or not adding an employer. And in the private market, as Maggie was describing, these are the kind of decisions made every day. Government can help, but they're not going to be decisive.
REHMAnd to Alex in Tampa, Fla. Good morning to you.
ALEXYeah, good morning, guys. How are you doing?
ALEXYeah, well, my comment is this: I don't know if the president plan is going to work or not because I don't know them. I'm not an economist, you know? But I do know that he made a (word?) last night to tell to the Tea Party people, like, it's time to stop playing games, stop playing with our lives, and it's time to get back to work.
ALEXAnd I do believe the Republican needs to -- they need to think about it, what was going on because, since the president took office, you know, they've just being playing, do nothing and won't support our president. And I believe that's the wrong path for their party to continue to do so. Thank you.
DAVISWell, President Obama didn't mention the Tea Party in his speech, but Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, said this morning -- he made a comment this morning about the Tea Party recession.
DAVISAnd I think that there's no doubt that President Obama and Democrats in general are going to want to make it clear to people that they consider the Tea Party and the conservative wing of the Republican Party the obstacle to getting done what needs to be done to revive the economy. And that's sort of the case that he was making with his entire speech.
DAVISHe mentioned that a lot of Republicans have taken this anti-tax pledge to never do anything to raise any taxes, and that now would not be a great time to make an exception to that pledge by rejecting his proposal for a further payroll tax cut.
DAVISSo there's -- he's definitely trying to set up this sort of opposition between what he wants to do and what the, you know, core supporters of the Republican Party want to do and what the Tea Party has laid out. Now, I think that there is a big debate here about, you know, the Tea Party would say that they are -- that their economic prescriptions would get the economy moving a lot faster, and that what President Obama is proposing, as Chris mentioned, is just not going to do the job.
DAVISSo that's something that will -- will have to be taken to voters in 2012. But that is sort of the opposition he's setting up here. And as the caller mentioned, I do think that hearing Obama say those things was appealing to people who support him. You know, he came out and said, here's what I believe.
DAVISIf you stand in the way of this, it's going to be on you, and, you know, sort of have a Harry-Truman-do-nothing Congress kind of moment there, which I think a lot his supporters have been yearning for him to do.
REHMAnd in the meantime, the threat of the Postal Service going pretty close to bankrupt has come up, Chris.
CILLIZZAWell, Diane, you know, they've said that by this winter, with nothing -- without anything being done to help them, they could run totally out of money. We've known the Postal Service has had problems in the past, you know, the -- raising the cost of stamps alone isn't going to solve the problem. They talked about cutting back delivery times.
CILLIZZAThis is another situation the Obama administration appears ready to give them three months more to come up with the money they need to fund their future retiree benefit program.
REHMBut the problem seems to be that fewer and fewer people are using the mail service.
REHMHow do you change that?
GARRETTHow do you change that behavior? Clair McCaskill, the senator from Missouri, said, you know, the Postal Service should go on a marketing campaign and tell people how wonderful it is to receive a letter in the mail. I think that's nice. It's quaint.
GARRETTBut it's not really relevant to what structurally changing in America with technology. Pay bills online. You communicate via email. You send e-vites that are -- have all this music and pictures, and that's fantastic. It's very creative. And it's not -- I -- it's not the same as sending letters through the mail.
GARRETTAnd the other problem is, in 2006, the Bush administration ordered the Postal Service in legislation passed and signed by the president, they had to prepay its pension and health care obligations. And it is overpaid, dramatically overpaid.
GARRETTThey have one of the few pension systems in America that is, like, absolutely busting at the seams with extra revenue because of the way -- from an accounting mechanism, the administration -- the Bush administration said, you've got to prepay all these obligations. If they would just be allowed to withhold those prepayments, they could get through this particular deficit crunch, which would give them time to more sensibly deal with these other structural issues.
REHMSo is three months going to do it?
GARRETTWell, the administration and -- Republicans and Democrats have criticized the administration for just waking up to this problem, that they have been alerting the administration for nine to 10 months. That is the big issue. The administration doesn't have a fully formed plan and are basically going to fall back. Well, we'll give them three months and see what works out. We'll find out.
REHMMajor Garrett of National Journal. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Rochester, N.Y. Good morning, Paul. Thanks for waiting.
PAULGood morning. Thanks for having me. The president -- I'm a -- first of all, I want to say that I'm a very strong supporter of this president. I am sort of star struck from the guy, whatever, because I find him -- when he speaks, or whatever, he comes from the planet Earth, to me. I see myself as a centrist for -- but I'm also from the Democratic Party.
PAULAnd he said a couple of things last night, and I just want to -- there was a previous caller here, Maggie, that said that the government never created a job. And one of the things that I think that's facing our country right now is we got to get our collective stuff together and realize that our competition right now, be it China, somebody should tell the Chinese government that they don't create jobs because they're eating our lunch right now.
PAULAnd we -- this president, when he got into office, our economy was, to say the least, having major problems. And one of things that he did was he helped the auto industry in Detroit, and he got a lot of flack for that for saying that there wasn't a position in the government to do that. And what I see, or whatever, is this is what is done on a daily basis in China. This is how they run. And how are we going to compete with that if we don't...
REHMGood question. Major.
GARRETTWell, government is not the sole or the principal creator of jobs in this country, but it is not indifferent in the economic equation. Let me give you a classic example that Maggie may appreciate if she's still listening. I was in Ohio delivering a speech earlier this week, and I met people in the Ohio legislature, Republican and Democrats.
GARRETTAnd the Ohio Department of Transportation is beginning to prepare stop work orders in anticipation of a lack of resolution of the transportation funding system. At the end of this month, if Congress doesn't get its act together and the president doesn't sign something, not only will construction projects stop, but the funding mechanism for the entire infrastructure creation in this country will stop because the 18.4 cent federal gasoline tax will expire.
GARRETTNow, if the Department of Transportation in a state like Ohio is already preparing stop work orders, I have to believe others states are as well. And if those stop work orders go in effect, jobs that are actually happening right now will come to a grinding halt.
REHMIs there money in the transportation fund, the highway construction fund now to continue...
REHM...with projects across the country without further congressional approval?
GARRETTNo. You have to reauthorize it. You have to reauthorize it...
REHMBut it's there.
GARRETT...to give the permission and to keep the funding stream going.
REHMBut it's there.
GARRETTIt's there as long as the funding is there. And there's a huge clash between Republicans and Democrats about how much to spend. Republicans don't want to spend any more than the gasoline tax brings in. Democrats want to spend more. If they don't resolve this and resolve it quickly -- that's what I was referring to earlier.
GARRETTThese are some pending basic governmental questions that have to be resolved in the next two weeks, and if they're not, real jobs are going to be lost instantly.
REHMAnd Cindy reminds us, "What about the Hoover Dam, the TVA, bringing electricity to rural areas, the National Highway System? Of course, government can create meaningful jobs."
CILLIZZAYou know, Diane, I think this -- to tie it back to the Republican primary and Rick Perry, Major made the point that his big problem will be saying Social Security was never a good idea. You know, in a lot of ways what Rick Perry did was reject the new deal in the debate, that the new deal fundamentally is just a government intrusion that did more harm than good.
CILLIZZAI do not know if, even in a Republican primary, there's a majority of people who agree with that large notion about American history.
REHMChris Cillizza, The Washington Post, last word for you today. Julie Hirschfeld Davis of Bloomberg News, Major Garrett of National Journal. Thank you all so much.
CILLIZZAThank you, Diane.
DAVISThank you, Diane.
REHMThanks for listening. Have a good and safe weekend, everybody. I'm Diane Rehm.
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