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The House approved a four-day stopgap spending bill, deferring a vote on a longer-term measure to next week. The Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of the new health care law’s key provision — the insurance mandate — raising the possibility of a decision during the height of the 2012 presidential campaign this summer. On wednesday, a federal judge upheld most of Alabama’s far-reaching immigration law. And a federal program to help homeowners avoid foreclosure ended short of it’s goals. A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup.
- Matthew Cooper editor, National Journal Daily.
- Jackie Calmes national correspondent, The New York Times.
- Laura Meckler White House correspondent, The Wall Street Journal.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane is on vacation. Congress avoids a government shutdown again. The Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to uphold the constitutionality of the new health care law. And New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is feeling the push to get into the presidential race.
MS. SUSAN PAGEJoining us for the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup, Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal, Matthew Cooper of National Journal Daily and Jackie Calmes of The New York Times. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MS. LAURA MECKLERGood morning, Susan.
MS. JACKIE CALMESGood morning.
MR. MATTHEW COOPERThanks.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. Our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. You can always send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Twitter or Facebook. Well, Laura, the White House is pushing for the Supreme Court to make a quick ruling on the health care law, a surprise to some. Why did the White House decide to do this?
MECKLERWell, the White House decided to essentially skip asking the full court in Atlanta to review the last negative decision. The three-judge panel had ruled that the individual mandate in the health care law was unconstitutional. They could've asked for the full court to review that. Instead, they decided to skip that and go directly to the Supreme Court.
MECKLERThe importance of this move is that it essentially guarantees that the court will be hearing this decision in the coming year and be issuing a decision in the heat of the 2012 presidential election next year.
PAGEAnd before we talk about the political implications of that, Jackie, what is the core issue that the court is going to be considering?
CALMESWell, there are a number of issues. But the core issue is this issue of an individual mandate, the provision of the law which actually has its roots in Republican proposals in the mid-'90s but is now very much opposed by Republicans, almost as a litmus test for their presidential candidates. It would require people to have insurance, much like they have to have insurance to drive a car, on the theory that right now, you have a lot of healthy people, especially, who don't feel a need to buy health insurance.
CALMESIf they get sick or have some, you know, calamitous bills, the -- in effect, the rest of us who do have insurance subsidize that. So in order to get universal coverage, which was the goal of the Obama health care law, you need to have some way of enforcing that everybody that can buy insurance, does buy insurance. The Republicans say this is unconstitutional, and so they've challenged it.
PAGENow, critics, of course -- advocates say this is a way to get to universal health care. Critics dispute the likening it to getting insurance if you're going to drive a car 'cause you can choose not to drive a car, but you can't choose kind of not to live in to the -- this verdict require you to get health insurance is pretty low.
MECKLERThat's true. I mean, it's impossible to avoid it, essentially. You can't just opt out. But the other critical part of the individual mandate is that the law also requires that the health insurance company sell insurance to everybody and not discriminate against somebody -- charge them more if they have a preexisting condition of some sort or any sort of illness.
MECKLERRight now, if you're sick and you go to get insurance, of course, they charge you more 'cause they know you're going to cost them more. Under the Obama law, you wouldn't be able to do that. But the only way to really make that system work, if you're going to say to insurers, listen, you can't charge people more if they're sick, they've got to have healthy people in the mix as well to balance those people out.
MECKLERThat's how insurance works, so if this gets struck down -- the important part here is that if this gets struck down, a lot of the Obama health care law will unravel. You know, for better or worse, that's what will happen.
PAGESo, Matt Cooper, the administration, the Obama administration moved to make sure there was a decision in the shortest period of time. They must figure it's going to be good for them politically when a decision comes out next summer. Is that right?
COOPERI think so. It's a gamble in many respects. I mean, obviously, if the court strikes it down, it's a legal defeat. But it also gets them to say, look, all the stuff you liked about the health care law -- the fact that kids can stay on their parent's insurance till they're 26, as Laura said, the preexisting condition provision -- all that is going to be in danger. So that gives them something to go into the fall with.
COOPEROn the other hand, if it's upheld, it kind of keeps the critics at bay. It just says, look, now, even the Roberts Court agrees that this is not some unconstitutional thing as the Tea Party has charged. It's a perfectly mainstream law. So it's a little bit of a roll of the dice, but, I think, at the end of the day, it's better than the alternative, which was to have all these lower courts kind of nibble at it.
PAGEDo you agree, Jackie, on the politics of this?
CALMESI think the -- I do agree for the most part. I just think the politics are very, very hard to unscramble here. I think both sides would acknowledge that. And it's just -- but, you know, by taking it straight to the Supreme Court now, like Laura said, it does guarantee that this will be taken up. You know, it's hard to know whether the justices will argue -- will rule on the merits or on some technical grounds, like whether or not the plaintiffs have standing to even be suing.
CALMESBut, you know, I think it does have an appearance of the Obama administration taking the offensive and making it look like, you know, we're so confident in this, we're going to the court.
MECKLERAnd another thing I was told also by people familiar with the White House thinking is that they didn't actually have much of a choice, that if left on its own devices, this was probably going to land before the Supreme Court, before the election anyway so that this actually may move it a little bit further from the heat of the political season by moving it back to June and back to the spring.
MECKLERSo there are some people who disagree with that analysis, but I was told that that was also part of the thinking.
PAGEIt's been more than a year since the law was enacted. Is it -- do Americans support it now, Matt?
COOPERWell, they like parts of it. You know, they like the idea that you can't get turned down for preexisting condition. They like the idea of something close to universality of coverage. But in the abstract, they don't. It's, in a way, it kind of echoes people's feelings about government. They like particulars, my Medicare check, my Social Security. In the absence, they hate Washington. So this law is a little bit of a microcosm of that.
PAGEMeanwhile, we had a report this week by the Kaiser Family Foundation that showed the average annual premium for family coverage, for people who get their coverage through their employer, went up 9 percent last year. That's a big hike at a time Americans are hurting on a lot of economic fronts, Jackie.
CALMESRight, absolutely, and that's a hike on a scale that had been occurring in recent years, but it had fallen back last year and, you know, sort of igniting hopes that that was a trend, which, of course, it was not. Only a small part of that is said to -- is thought to be related to the passage of the Obama health care law because its main provisions have not even taken effect yet.
CALMESBut there's an anticipation of it on the behalf of -- on the part of the insurance companies, and there is a limitation on -- starting next year I think it is, that there is going to be government review of any -- if they impose rate increases of a certain level. So they're trying to get in under that deadline.
MECKLERI think there's, like, a broader problem here also for the White House on -- when we see news like this, which is that this law was sold as decreasing health care costs. And there are things in the law that aimed to do that. Those things are structural things, though, that are going to take a long time to take effect, if they work at all. So the idea that this -- we're seeing headlines about health insurance premiums going up.
MECKLERI don't think that this is, as the Kaiser Family Foundation said, all that much related to the law, but it's just not a good kind of information to be out there at a time when we're talking about the Obama health care law a lot.
PAGEMeanwhile, in Alabama, a federal judge ruled Wednesday upholding much of an immigration law in Alabama, though it's even tougher than the law we've talked a lot about in Arizona. What's the importance of this decision, Matt?
COOPERWell, there's political and legal ramifications. On the legal front, it's a fascinating question of what kind of prerogative states have to essentially set a federal function of immigration policy. The states are stepping into what they see as the breach of the federal government refusing to really crack down on illegal immigration.
COOPERThe federal governments can be -- has been arguing, will be arguing, that this is a federal prerogative, that it's -- Alabama can't have a separate immigration policy. I mean, we're thinking of a separate foreign policy. The political implications seem kind of obvious, that this is a president who's increasingly dependent on Hispanic votes, especially in swing states like Nevada and Colorado, and those who are sympathetic to more illegal immigration.
COOPERSo, I think, as with the health care decision, it makes a lot of sense for the Justice Department to step in boldly.
PAGEAnd the Justice Department is thinking, Jackie, about challenges in some other states that have also moved to pass very restrictive immigration measures. What's at work there?
CALMESI think it's the same -- much, you know, the political factor that Matt mentioned is, you know, some of those other states, like Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, the administration has really been on the defensive. We saw it just this week when President Obama had an Internet sort of Q and A session with an audience on Hispanic issues.
CALMESAnd he was challenged about his failure so far to overcome Republican opposition and pass what's called the DREAM Act, which would, you know, allow students who have been brought in here to the country by their parents and through no fault of their own are undocumented immigrants, in effect. But there's all these states where the administration -- where Hispanics could make the margin of difference in the Electoral College next year.
PAGEYou know, we've seen how this enflames the Republican electorate, Laura Meckler, Rick Perry, the governor of Texas who was hailed as kind of hero for conservatives and Tea Party Republicans, in now in a kind of a pickle because he supports a DREAM Act sort of law that he signed in 2001 in Texas. Why does this resonate so much, do you think, with Republicans?
MECKLERThere is just a huge, I mean, a huge amount of antipathy for illegal immigration among Republicans. I mean, some of it may be cultural. Some of it may be sort of law-abiding roots. I mean, there are lots of things behind it that -- but it's been going on for years now, and it's been building over time, especially as the numbers went up and up and as there was an effort by Democrats to do what Republicans would call amnesty, which is to allow people who are already here to have a path to citizenship.
MECKLERSo this has become a very divisive issue and, as Jackie said, very important political implications, and it's very interesting what's happening inside the Republican primary, both with Rick Perry and also possibly with Chris Christie, which I'm sure we'll talk about later, the governor of New Jersey, whether -- if he gets into the race.
PAGEThat's Laura Meckler. She's White House correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. We're also joined this hour by Jackie Calmes, White House correspondent for The New York Times, and Matthew Cooper. He's editor of National Journal Daily. Our phone lines are open, 1-800-433-8850. Give us a call, or you can send us an email at email@example.com. We're going to take a short break.
PAGEAnd when we come back, we'll talk about what's happening with the Florida primary and the primary schedule for next year's Republican presidential nomination. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. With me in the studio for the first hour of our Friday News Roundup, Matt Cooper from National Journal Daily, Jackie Calmes from The New York Times, Laura Meckler from The Wall Street Journal. Well, we expect a decision today from Tallahassee on when Florida will hold its presidential primary. Matt Cooper, why do we care?
COOPERWell, because it jumbles the race considerably. I don't think it'll happen. But, you know, we have a set pattern in this country of allowing a couple of small, mostly Caucasian, largely rural states kick off the primary season -- Iowa and New Hampshire. Iowa is not that small, physically, but you get the idea. And, you know, this happens every four years.
COOPERYou know, another state tries to jump the line, basically, and, inevitably, chaos ensues. But at the end of the day, New Hampshire and Iowa still...
PAGEWell, you don't think Florida would jump forward? Or you think Florida would jump forward, and everyone else will then jump forward, too?
COOPERI think either they'll jump forward, Florida will get kicked back. Four years ago, we had an issue in Michigan, where they jumped forward, but then their delegates weren't allowed to be seated at first. So I think it's understandable why states want to jump the line, especially states that feel like, hey, we're more important to the coalition.
COOPERWe're more important, in a sense, in any Electoral College victory. But I think, at the end of the day, these things get beaten back.
PAGESo last -- I remember last, four years ago, I spent New Year's Eve in Des Moines, Iowa, which is a lovely place. Is that going to happen again this year, do you think, Jackie, with that kind of forward calendar?
CALMESWell, it could, by virtue of Florida trying to jump in front of Jan. 31, ahead of the four that are sanctioned: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. It's -- you're going to have those four states jumping ahead of -- trying to jump ahead of Florida. And it could go into late December, early January. So Happy New Year at the, you know, Des Moines Hilton.
PAGESo, Laura, who gets -- does somebody get helped on the Republican side if the calendar does move forward, as it looks it likely will?
MECKLERI mean, I think what it means is, obviously, there's less time between now and when the voting begins. So I don't know if we can say today who is helped by that. Basically, whoever is ahead earlier is going to benefit. So it's less time for someone like, say, Jon Huntsman to catch up. It's less time for a Chris Christie, if he wants to get into the race, to try to get his act together and get into it. It may be too late for him already.
MECKLERBut if he were going to try, that's, you know, a month less time, which is significant at this point. So, I mean, it's -- I think, from a listener point of view, if you're not involved with politics, I think the question you need to ask yourself is, do you want a longer primary season? Or do you want a longer general election season? Because what it's going to do is it's going to accelerate everything.
MECKLERMost likely, we'll have a Republican nominee more quickly, and then that, essentially, kicks off the unofficial beginning of the general election.
COOPERWell, it's this question that comes up every four years, about money versus momentum. You know, to play in a big state like Florida with such expensive media markets, you need a lot of money. And the question is whether, you know, a candidate can get sort of the bounce out of those early states to be able to play in Florida.
PAGEYou know, we have at least three Republican candidates -- non-candidates who might become candidates. There's Chris Christie, who said -- apparently thinking about it. There's Sarah Palin, who said she would announce her intentions by the end of September. I believe we are there. And there's former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who continues to be tantalizing about whether he'll run.
PAGEDo you think the field will get bigger, Jackie, or do you think it's set?
CALMESI tend to think it's set, but I've been surprised before. I mean, what's interesting is, even if you bring the campaign forward by these primaries, in each of the first states, you can -- there's no one -- not Mitt Romney, not Rick Perry, none of the others -- that can run the table, who can, you know, take Iowa, then go to New Hampshire. Somebody different is favored in each state. But, really, no one's favored, you know, really, everywhere.
CALMESAnd even in Florida, which both Rick Perry and Mitt Romney had really targeted as a must-have, you know, and we saw in the straw poll, Republicans there, just recently, that Herman Cain came out on top. So it is a real mix there, but I tend -- if I had to bet, I'd say Chris Christie is not getting in, and -- nor Sarah Palin.
PAGEWhy the talk, all the talk, though, Laura, about these additional candidates? Does it tell us something about Republicans just being unhappy with the choices they've got now?
MECKLEREvidently, it does. I mean, poor Mitt Romney. He's been running for president for, what, five years now. And, you know, he's running a much better campaign this year, most people feel, than he did in 2008. He is, you know, putting himself out there. Everybody keeps saying, well, who else might there be, you know? And then when someone else pops up and they prove themselves flawed, who else might there be?
MECKLERSo there's this constant sense of unhappiness among Republicans with the field. You know, none of these candidates is perfect, and so they are really struggling. And I -- but I tend to agree with Jackie. I think that the field is likely set, and they're going to have to make the choices among who we've got.
PAGEMatt, do you agree? Do you think the field's probably set?
COOPERI think the field is probably set. And, you know, both parties go through this, whether there's a search for a white knight who's going to come in. And, you know, in 1992, there was great disappointment when Mario Cuomo wouldn't get in or Richard Gephardt or some other leading line of the party back then. You know, there's a reason dogs don't chase parked cars.
COOPERYou know, people have an instinct to want what's fleeting and what's evasive. And that may seem sexy now, but, I think, we all know the day Chris Christie or Sarah Palin gets in, it's all downhill from there.
MECKLERWe -- the Journal has a story today about Chris Christie and has taken a huge number of moderate positions. I mean, some of the things people don't like about -- Republicans don't like about Rick Perry is, well, he's too soft on immigration, supposedly. Well, I don't know that they're going to like Chris Christie much better. He has taken, you know, compromising positions on, you know, abortion, gun control.
MECKLERHe said some things about immigration people aren't going to like. I mean, this is -- he's no more perfect in the eyes of a lot of Republican voters than anybody else.
PAGEAnd he also referred to some conservative critics in one debate as -- in one dispute as the crazies. I don't pay attention to the crazies. That's also something you might hear more about if he ran.
MECKLERRight. I mean, that's, you know -- is that any worse than what Rick Perry said with people who disagree with him on immigration, you know, don't have a heart? I mean, would you rather be heartless or crazy? I don't know. But either way, it's probably bad.
PAGESo, you know, you wouldn't think that the fact that the government didn't shut down this week would be something we would need to include on the news roundup. But it seems, week to week, it is an issue. So, once again, Jackie, through a rather peculiar set of circumstances, we didn't have to see a government shutdown this week. What happened?
CALMESWell, they've agreed to, you know -- how many times you heard this phrase? -- kick the can down the road. They, you know, have this continuing resolution to fund the government for the fiscal year that begins this weekend. And it got snagged on disaster aid for the many parts of the country that have had floods, tornadoes, hurricanes. And the Republicans wanted to offset the cost of that.
CALMESThey were on the defensive for holding up this bill, so the House is in recess this week. They agreed to just do short-term extension of government funding through to next week by unanimous consent, and then come back and vote for a six-week extension next week. So we can talk about it again next week.
PAGEYou know, the Gallup poll this week found that 81 percent of Americans -- a record number -- say they do not -- they're dissatisfied with the way the government works, the federal government works. And I got to think that the spectacle of funding week -- the federal government week-to-week by continuing resolution and unanimous consent has got to feed the perception that things are just not working in Washington.
MECKLERAbsolutely. Who are the 19 percent who think it's working well? I don't know. The -- maybe those are the, you know...
MECKLER...as John McCain said, you know, paid staffers and, you know, and close relatives. The -- it absolutely feeds this perception. I mean, Congress just seems unable to do the most basic functions. I mean, they've -- and, keep in mind, when we're talking about funding the government for the coming fiscal year, we just had a big debate about that this summer.
MECKLERAs part of the debt ceiling negotiations, the parties agreed on what the spending levels should be if there's a trillion-dollar cut in discretionary spending that's being played out. And so we already sort of have set some of the big questions. But I do not put it past them to find a way -- to find new ways to disagree. And then the question becomes, when you disagree, it automatically, you know, goes to defcon 10.
MECKLERYou know, you get a threat of a government shutdown every time somebody disagrees or a threat of an aviation bill shutdown or something else along those lines. It's just a -- it's a remarkable specter here in Washington.
PAGEAnd we have this deficit super committee that's begun to meet, Matt, with the hopes -- you know, established with the hopes that it would bypass some of the stalemate that we see generally in Congress. What clues are we seeing about how well it's working?
COOPERNone to indicate that there's some great breakthrough coming. You know, they're charged with trying to come up with $1.5 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade. They might get part of the way there, you know, on some low-hanging fruit issues of which both parties can agree. But I don't see them getting all the way. You know, the real issue here is it's not that both parties love to squabble.
COOPERIt's that the Republicans have taken on a new strategy, which is to basically kind of throw out the Geneva Convention that governed Congress about things you wouldn't do. You wouldn't shut down the government over a debt ceiling. You wouldn't do this. And now, basically, they've decided, whether you think it's noble or crazy, to use every pressure point possible, every threat of a shutdown to try to cut spending.
CALMESWell, the members of this joint House-Senate committee met twice this week privately. They had been having open hearings. They met for, I think, six hours on Monday and eight hours on Tuesday behind closed doors. And as someone put it -- someone on the committee put it to me, don't judge by those number of hours that we made progress.
CALMESAnd what's a bottom issue here is the fundamental one that's been stopping a so-called grand bargain from the start, which is that the Republicans absolutely refuse to entertain new tax revenues, new tax increases. And having -- since Congress and the White House have had two rounds this year already of cutting spending -- they cut spending for the current fiscal year, which ends now, this weekend.
CALMESAnd then they cut about $1 trillion by setting spending caps lower for the next decade. So given that backdrop, the Democrats said, enough with the spending cuts. Going forward, we have to balance spending cuts with some revenue increases.
PAGESo we've had three wave elections in a row that shifted power for one party to the other. Americans continue to be overwhelmingly dissatisfied with what they're seeing. Maybe another wave election coming in 2012, but I guess I don't know. What can get the government kind of off the dime on issues that everybody agrees we ought to be addressing?
MECKLERIs this a multiple choice question? Or, I guess, it's essay. The -- I don't know. I think that the we -- the idea -- I think anybody who expects that the fundamental sort of way that Washington's been operating or not operating is going to change before the next election is going to be disappointed. I think we're going to just muddle our way through the next year. I think then we'll see what happens in 2012.
MECKLERThat will be a defining election, as many are, and we'll see -- you know, does it -- does everybody get tossed out? Do we get -- do Republicans lose the House? Does Obama lose the White House? I mean, if we see a lot of change, maybe. And if it's read as, you know, Americans just frustrated with the way Washington works, maybe new people will come in who see it differently.
MECKLERBut I don't think we really know. I think that's a very unsettled question right now.
PAGELet's go to the phones and invite some of our listeners to join our conversation. We'll go to Jeff first. He's calling us from Chapel Hill, N.C. Jeff, hi. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
JEFFHi there. Say, thanks for taking the call. I have a question, and I'd also like to make a statement with regards to that question and take the answers off air on it, if you don't mind. The question is that one of the candidates on the Republican side has been one, two or three in the straw poll or the Republican debates, and that person is not named by anyone there.
JEFFAnd it seems to me that there's this media blackout all across the whole galaxy of media that we have, and it dismays me as to why this happens. And it seems to me, like, when people say our government is dysfunctional, I also include our media as dysfunctional, so this sort of a, I know, maybe a slap on you guys there, too, because I see that NPR was asked about its non-coverage of The Wall Street people that are trying to make a statement about Wall Street.
JEFFAnd NPR has chosen not to cover it. So I see this -- just all this whole thing that people have to work with that are out there working, that try to work everyday or find a job, and we have dysfunctional media information. It turns out, you know, it's just more or less propaganda. And then we have someone who's very viable.
PAGEAnd, Jeff, thank you so much for your call. Jeff is a supporter, I believe, of Ron Paul. He told the screener when he's -- when he called in. And it is true that we don't talk a lot about Ron Paul. And we also -- Jackie mentioned Herman Cain, who won the Florida straw poll. We don't talk a lot about Herman Cain either. Why is that, Matt?
COOPERIt's a good question. I mean, I think the caller has actually got a point. I think Jon Stewart had a very funny segment a week or two back about the -- all the ways in which Ron Paul was not being mentioned, even though he'd done well on some of these early polling and contests. On the other hand, we know where the Republican electorate is.
COOPERWe know how Ron Paul did last time. You know, there are -- you know, we know in terms of fundraising, although Ron Paul has had some nice pops, it's not in the same league as Romney or Perry. So by all the metrics we have -- and they may be crazy metrics, but they are the ones we use -- he'd -- there is a reason there's a lot of doubt about whether Ron Paul can be the Republican nominee.
PAGEYou know, Ron Paul clearly resonates with a part of the electorate. He energizes people, gets a lot of support, but always in the 13, 14 percent range in national polls. And he -- but I think one reason the press doesn't cover him more seriously is that he's shown no ability to get beyond that, to get to the point where he might actually be nominated, which is not to say we shouldn't cover him when he's worth covering.
MECKLERRight. I think that's the problem. The problem that the media has is that when you have a limited amount of space in a newspaper article or a limited number of pages, limited amount of time and you have so many candidates -- you don't want to ignore anybody -- but where are you going to put your focus on? You want to help readers and help voters understand what their choices are.
MECKLERAnd if Ron Paul, as you said, hasn't really proven that he can get beyond his very core, very enthusiastic base -- so the other candidates, I mean, who -- the ones who have gotten the most attention -- Mitt Romney, Rick Perry -- are people who have shown that they can, especially in early states, have shown -- put up big numbers. So I think that's what tends to happen.
MECKLERI think that an example, for instance, Michele Bachmann didn't get a lot of coverage in the beginning. But then she showed that she really was building a strong case and did very well in the debate, did -- won the Iowa straw poll. She got a huge amount of coverage. Well, then her numbers really slipped when Rick Perry came along, and her coverage kind of slipped with it. Now, what comes first, the chicken and the -- or the egg?
MECKLERYou know, it's sometimes hard to pull that apart, I agree. But I think that there are -- there is some reality here that the media is responding to.
PAGEAnd Herman Cain -- I was down covering the straw poll in Florida last weekend, and, clearly, a lot of Republican voters have liked Herman Cain. He's done well in the debates. He always gets a good response from the audience. But even people who were going to vote for him in the straw poll said to me, I don't believe he can meet the nomination. But I don't like anybody else right now, so I'm going to vote for him.
PAGEWell, we're going to take another very short break. And when we come back, we'll continue our discussion of the week's news, and we'll take some of your calls. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today. It's our weekly news roundup, the domestic hour. We're here with Laura Meckler from The Wall Street Journal, Matt Cooper from National Journal Daily and Jackie Calmes from The New York Times. Let's go to the phones and take some more callers. Ken is calling us from Oklahoma City. Hi, Ken.
PAGEGo ahead. You're on the air.
KENOh, great. Get you on speakerphone there. Good morning. My basic question -- early in your show, you talked about Florida jumping into the race. You still there?
PAGEYes. Yes, we can hear you, Ken.
KENOkay, yeah. I just want to make sure my phone doesn't -- and you're -- you were -- you were discussing that Florida entering into the primary sooner or not, and my basic question is, if Florida does jump in into the primary early, why should that make a difference in the primary? And if it does make a difference in the primary, wouldn't it make a difference in any primary for any state -- Iowa, New Hampshire, whatever it might be?
KENIn the order -- if there's a difference in the order a primary happens for the outcome of the election, then the whole election is skewed. And if that's true, if Florida jumps in early and that creates a problem and skews the election, then that just shows us the system is skewed. And maybe we should vote primary the same as we vote at general election, all at once.
PAGEOh, like a national primary. Ken, thanks for your call. Laura.
MECKLERI think, as a practical matter, what Florida's decision -- if they, in fact, do decide to set their primary for Jan. 31, will do -- is not going to change the order in which the states vote. What it -- the response will be that the traditional early states will move ahead of that, so it'll just move the whole calendar up.
MECKLERThe reason why most people support a system where states sort of trickle in and why the parties like that is because if you have a system where everybody voted the same on the first day, that basically whoever was ahead on day one would win. I mean, that would be the end of it.
MECKLERYou wouldn't have a chance for somebody to say, do well in Iowa, or maybe have a surprising second-place finish in New Hampshire, and then capitalize on that to raise more money, get more support, and then put that forward to the next primary -- in the next primary states. So I think a lot of people like the idea that we kind of have a rolling system where people can -- the race can unfold over time.
PAGEAlthough there is, I think, frustration with the idea that a few states not necessarily representative of the country as a whole have such an outsized influence on what happens. I mean, that's one thing that Florida's talking about, right? Why should Iowa and New Hampshire, which are great states and the people there are very engaged in politics, wonderful places to go and interview people -- but why should they have so much say over who the president is going to be?
CALMESWell, and the other thing about this is that it's just got -- you're not just talking about the whole electorate of both states, Iowa and New Hampshire. You're talking about the party electorates so that in Iowa, for instance, the Democratic electorate tends to be more liberal overall, where the Republicans are more conservative than the party overall. And it forces the candidates to the extremes.
CALMESAnd so it has that effect. But I guess, you know, it is a flawed system, but I guess I've come to be more of a supporter of it as I covered presidential elections. If only because these states that otherwise don't have a huge impact in the electoral college map -- the residents of those states really take this seriously and educate themselves on issues.
PAGEYeah, that's really true. We've got in a lot of emails, that follow up on Jeff's call, you know, Jeff called about why we weren't doing a better job of covering Ron Paul, but he also mentioned the Wall Street protest. And Becky sends us an email that says, "Why is there no mention on the news roundup of the protest happening on Wall Street? Is this not news? The media seems to be ignoring it." Matt, tell us what's happening there.
COOPERWell, we're not ignoring it now on the roundup.
COOPERWell, it's been going on for a while now down on Wall Street. Protesters who are upset about the big banks and what were brokerage firms, about them getting off easy after the financial crisis, about there not being criminal prosecutions, about there not being tough enough regulations from the protesters' point of views.
COOPERIn the last couple of days, a lot of upset -- the New York City Police Department over a pepper-spraying incident that was caught on video and has gone viral on YouTube. You know, I think, they make a point. I mean, it's -- you know, it's been a serious protest, you know, ought to get the same kind of coverage as other kind of protests.
PAGENow, Laura Meckler, you actually work for The Wall Street Journal. So do you think they've gotten -- the Wall Street protests have gotten adequate coverage?
MECKLERTo be clear, they're not protesting us. But, you know, I think that there is -- at least I don't think they are. But the -- you know, it's hard because a lot of protests feel like they don't they get enough coverage. And I don't know that I'm in a position to, you know, judge whether they have or they haven't. They would like to -- I think a lot of people who are behind this see themselves as sort of a Tea Party movement for the left.
MECKLERThey would like to say, you know, this is the beginnings of something bigger and where it's going to catch on, and then that's going to spread and be a counterforce to this very conservative influence on what's become the whole country from the right. So, whether they can do that or not, I don't know. And, you know, the longer it goes on and if they're trying to spread it to other cities -- I know there was something in Chicago.
MECKLERI think there was something in Boston. I think as that -- if that continues to happen, I think it probably will get more coverage.
PAGEYou know, the story about Solyndra, that green energy company, just refuses to go away, much to the disappointment of the Obama White House, which has been caught in controversy over it. What do we find out this week, Matt, about it that has -- makes this continue to be a story?
COOPERYeah, well, it's kind of become the Democrats' Halliburton in some ways. You know, it's one of these corporate things that sort of epitomizes a party for -- you know, in the view of the opposition. Just as Democrats were outraged by Halliburton's conductor in the Gulf War and such, this is kind of galvanizing the right.
COOPERTheir obvious difference is in terms of scope and other things, but it's got that kind of symbolic value. We found out more this week about the extent of the government's loans to this failed solar company that's now under criminal investigation. And it's embarrassing for the White House 'cause President Obama visited there, and they held it up as a model of the kind of green energy plans that they're promoting.
COOPERWe found out this week that there was, you know, a series of financial benefits given to them, even after the company had declared bankruptcy, that they just kind of kept putting money into it. Now, the government says, look, we want to get the money banked, you know, back just 'cause they had declared Chapter 11.
COOPERYou know, a lot of places get Chapter 11 and still get loans. And that's been the argument, but it hasn't looked very good. And even Democratic members of Congress were saying, how did this happen?
PAGEWell, what's -- what do we -- what do the critics suspect the administration did that was wrong?
CALMESWell, there is this suspicion that it's, what they like to call, crony capitalism, that there was favoritism shown to this company because there are people associated with it that have been Obama supporters and that, you know, they tried to, you know, hasten the decision to grant the loan so that when Joe Biden, I think, was going to go visit there, they -- it was still hanging out there.
CALMESAnd they wanted to have it done so that he could go announce it on schedule. And so there's been much made, especially of the fact that the executives came before Congress, before this Republican chairman's committee, and repeatedly took the Fifth, so they wouldn't incriminate themselves. And so much was made of that.
CALMESBut the fact is, legally, their lawyers should be sued for malpractice if they didn't ask them to take the Fifth because of this criminal investigation, which goes to the question of, did they misrepresent the company's finances in their loan applications?
MECKLERI think what the reason why this story has the sort of legs that it does is because Solyndra is a symbolic company on both sides. For the Democrats, it was sort of a symbol of the new economy. This is what President Obama talks so much about and still does, about the idea that we need to be ahead on green jobs. We need to be investing in our future.
MECKLERWe need to pick the targeted places and spend money there, even as we cut back elsewhere. And this was the example of that, so, obviously, an example that went poorly. And then Republicans say that, you know, government is not very good at picking winners and losers. We should stay out of it altogether. And here's an example. They picked somebody they thought was a winner and turned out to be a big loser.
MECKLERSo, I think, that's why this -- I don't think this is so much a scandal as it is sort of a representative of a very -- two very clashing -- different clashing philosophies.
CALMESAnd on the bigger import of this whole Solyndra issue is the issue of, you know, President Obama has made a centerpiece of his administration to promote green energy, green technology. And solar, in particular, is an area where we have really fallen really low in market share as China, which heavily subsidizes its industry, has become the dominant -- overwhelmingly dominant country in this technology, which arguably is, you know, among the energy sources of the future.
CALMESAnd so, to the extent we discourage, you know, American investments in these technologies, you know, the supporters of this administration program would argue that we are, you know, continuing to dig deeper -- lower than China in market share when we should -- you know, we should be pioneering this.
PAGEWell, Matt, how big a problem do you think this is for Obama?
COOPERI don't think we'll know until this criminal investigation gets farther along. But, you know, I think it's potentially a big deal. You know, no one is saying -- well, actually, people are saying we shouldn't invest in solar, but -- and it would be crazy to decide our solar policy based on one company.
COOPERBut, that said, it is a criminal investigation into a company that got a lot of money from the administration, that the president singled out as a great company. And, you know, that just looks bad.
CALMESAnd what's been amazing is you had this $800 billion to your stimulus program, and this is really that first scandal they've -- or "scandal" that they've been able to make, which is pretty astounding, considering that about 60 percent of that $800 billion was spending. That's a lot of money that you would've, you know...
COOPERThat is true.
PAGEThat's impressive. On the other hand, the stimulus bill has gotten kind of a bad aura with a lot of Americans who think it didn't work. So it's quite damaging, I think, to say that -- not a small amount of money -- $500 million, went to a company that maybe shouldn't have gotten it.
MECKLERMm hmm. And this is --you know, the whole idea of the stimulus was to, you know, push the money out fast, but also to push it out for things that the administration liked. So they were trying to push money out fast for a priority that they had. And when you go fast, maybe this is one of the results.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's take another caller quickly. Hogan is calling us from Athens, Ohio. Hi, Hogan. Hogan, are you there? We hoped to be joined by Hogan, but instead we'll go to Honor, Mich., and talk to Bryan, who's been very patient. Bryan, thanks for holding on.
BRYANWell, good morning, panel. It's nice to speak with you. I have two little questions to ask. First, is, what happened to the Democratic Party? I don't see anybody counterpunching to all the stuff that's coming out from the Republican candidates, Republican Party. They seem to be just setting back. Where's Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi? Democratic Party is in a prize fight for next year's event.
BRYANAnd they don't seem to be doing much counterpunching. And the other thing I'd like to ask is when they have these debates, either the candidates or the presidential debates, it'd be nice to have the first half hour were questions, the second half hour is fact check, and then they confront them with the good and bad of what they were speaking about during the first half hour.
PAGEYou know, Bryan, that's a great idea and something a lot of news organizations have tried to do, step up fact-checking so people can know whether what people are saying is right. Well, Matt, does Bryan have a point that Democrats are not counterpunching effectively?
COOPERI think less of one than it might have been the case a few weeks ago. You know, it's really up to the president, who's got the biggest bully pulpit here, to do that. And he has taken on a more combative tone. I mean, his declaration that any new spending cuts better be paired with revenue hikes was a big line in the sand.
COOPERYou know, and, I think, these cases that the Justice Department is presenting that we talked about earlier in the show against state anti-illegal immigration laws and to promote the Obama health care plan are pretty aggressive stances. So I think he's taken on a more combative tone. You know, the question is whether that's going to work.
COOPERIs it going to rally Democrats, rally the base -- to use that overused expression -- or is it not going to make any difference?
PAGEYou know, the Gallup poll finds that enthusiasm among Democrats about voting is lower than it's been since 2004. This has got to be very worrisome to the White House.
MECKLERAbsolutely. I mean, you see the president out on the stump where he usually is at fundraisers, talking to his loyal -- most loyal supporters. And these are the people who should like him the most, the people who are paying money to come see him. And he says, you got to hang in there. I know there have been disappointments. I know we didn't get everything we wanted.
MECKLERI mean, he's apologizing to people, almost, as opposed to, you know, rallying them and getting them psyched up. I mean, he does that, too, obviously, but it's striking.
PAGEWe have a caller, Dave from Ithaca, N.Y., who says, "Who is more to blame for the dysfunction in Congress, Democrats or Republicans?" Lot of Americans would say both of them. But is that what you -- do you think one side is more to blame than the other?
CALMESWell, that's a very tough question to answer in a way, and it sort of -- the problem with it is the same as the caller who called in and said the media doesn't cover Ron Paul enough. It's become a recurring question and criticism of the media these days from people who are either Democrats or Democrat-leaning and -- that say that it's, you know, this thing that serves us false equivalent in the media, like a pact on both of your houses, when, in fact, the Republicans are more to blame.
CALMESI think without -- you know, at the risk of people saying, you know, that I'm speaking against the Republicans, the Republicans themselves say they don't want to compromise. So if you're going to place blame because you want to see more compromise, I think it, by definition, falls to the party that says they will not compromise.
PAGEI wonder, though, if it goes to what their agenda is. Democrats want to do some things. Why do Republicans want the government to do less? I mean, so blocking action is, you know, kind of fulfilling what they would like to see the government do. Is that fair, Laura, or do you think not?
MECKLERWell, I mean, yes. It's absolutely fair from the point of view, are they doing what the people who elected them sent here -- them here to do? And I think the answer is yes. I mean, people get elected with an agenda. I don't think there were a lot of surprises in what they're carrying out here. Now, whether that's also to blame for the stalemate that we see, that may be the case. But, as you said, stalemate may be all right with some.
PAGEAnd, Matt, you mentioned the more combative tone that President Obama is taking. I wonder if that actually makes it less likely the things -- I wonder if you have to make a decision as a president between moderating your rhetoric and trying to get some things done with the other side or taking a more combative tone and making the chances of a compromise less likely.
COOPERYou know, I think compromise on these budget questions was kind of gone by the time he made that statement. I mean, there are few ancillary things, like these, you know, trade pacts that can get through Congress and some other things, you know, that are apart from the central issue of the budget. But I think, at this point, it's -- you know, that was more about cosmetics than anything else.
MECKLERBut I don't think -- one thing we haven't mentioned here and, I think, is important is that if the super committee does not come up with a recommendation, there is a sword hanging over them. And it includes $1 trillion in automatic spending cuts, including half of that from defense, which is a big deal for a lot of people.
MECKLERSo, you know, I'm just -- that is definitely in the front of my mind when I think about this. I don't think we can just say, you know, nothing is going to happen necessarily.
PAGELaura Meckler from The Wall Street Journal, Matt Cooper from National Journal Daily, Jackie Calmes from The New York Times, thank so much for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show."
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Sarah Ashworth, Lisa Dunn and Nikki Jecks. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. A.C. Valdez answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information.
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