Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., left, reaches out to Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, to celebrate as members of the bi-partisan House and Senate conferees on the payroll tax cut extension signed the compromise agreement.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., left, reaches out to Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, to celebrate as members of the bi-partisan House and Senate conferees on the payroll tax cut extension signed the compromise agreement.

Congressional lawmakers debated mandated coverage of contraceptives in the health care law. Several Democrats walked out of a hearing on the provision in the House of Representatives. Congress moved closer to ending the fight over the payroll tax cut exemption. The House and Senate are expected to vote today on the $143 billion dollar package. With a narrow lead in Michigan, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum defended his opposition to the auto industry bailout. And more good news on the economy as housing starts rose last month. John Dickerson of Slate.com, Susan Page of USA Today and Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal join Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.

Guests

  • John Dickerson chief political correspondent for Slate.com and CBS political analyst and contributor. Author of "On Her Trail: My Mother, Nancy Dickerson, TV News' First Woman Star."
  • Jerry Seib Washington bureau chief, The Wall Street Journal.
  • Susan Page Washington bureau chief for USA Today.

Friday News Roundup Video

The panelists discuss the ongoing debate on mandating health care coverage for contraceptives in relation to religious organizations and employers:

Transcript

  • 10:06:56

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Congress reaches a deal on payroll taxes, but it faces some opposition in the Senate. The economic upturn gives President Obama a boost in the polls, and GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum moved past Mitt Romney in Michigan. Joining us in the studio for the domestic hour, the Friday News Roundup, Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal, Susan Page of USA Today, and John Dickerson of Slate. I hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you and happy Friday.

  • 10:07:51

    MR. JERRY SEIBThank you, Diane.

  • 10:07:51

    MR. JOHN DICKERSONGood morning, Diane.

  • 10:07:51

    MS. SUSAN PAGEGood morning.

  • 10:07:52

    REHMThank you. And, Jerry Seib, what's this deal on payroll tax, anything of a surprise?

  • 10:08:01

    SEIBA little bit of a surprise, I think, in two ways. One that -- it turned out to be less contentious, more bipartisan than I would guess most of us thought possible a month ago, and it happened sooner than we thought. You know, it's one of those rare things in Washington that actually happened before the deadline had arrived.

  • 10:08:16

    SEIBBut I think all that was true entirely because Republicans decided they were playing a losing hand here, that the prolonged fight leading to an outcome they knew was predictable, which is that they would have to cave in anyway because they didn't want the payroll tax cut not extended, was going to lead to this conclusion. So why not get there earlier? Save yourself a beating, and take away a club that Democrats were more than happy to use over the next month against them.

  • 10:08:41

    REHMSo how much of a victory for President Obama, Susan?

  • 10:08:47

    PAGEWell, clearly a victory for President Obama, which I'm sure he'll claim because this is what he was fighting for while Republicans were saying they would do this only if they found offsets in the budget to pay for. But I think, also, a victory for John Boehner who was able to deliver a deal. You know, he's had some trouble with that since the 2010 midterm elections brought in all these very conservative Republicans and put the fear of the Tea Party in everybody, every Republican running for re-election.

  • 10:09:13

    PAGEI mean, this deal seems to be holding, and as Jerry said, it means that there's a weapon that Republicans were fearful would be used against them. They're taking that away.

  • 10:09:23

    REHMAnd what about the Tea Party reaction, John Dickerson?

  • 10:09:27

    DICKERSONWell, it's been relatively muted. I mean, the weapon would've been -- for Democrats would've been that Republicans don't want to cut taxes or, excuse me, they will keep taxes low for the wealthy but allow them to rise for working people -- 160 million people were affected by this payroll tax cut. They'd already lost once big on that, and the Tea Party members -- and Susan is exactly right about John Boehner. These Tea Party members had already bled and hurt the Republicans in the last time we had this fight, and Boehner was able to make the case this time. Let's just not do that again.

  • 10:10:02

    REHMSo what about Democrats on the Senate side who are walking away from this or balking? John Warner -- not John Warner. Mark Warner.

  • 10:10:12

    DICKERSONWell, look, here's the -- Mark Warner, yeah. Here's the problem, you know, that -- a year ago, we would've been having this conversation, it would have all been cloaked in, oh, this isn't -- more bad news for the deficit. There's another tax cut. It's not going to be paid for. It's going to add to the deficit. In an election year, the thing that the two parties can magically agree on is to do things without worrying about the deficit. But some conservative Democrats still don't like that idea.

  • 10:10:38

    DICKERSONThey know they're vulnerable to attacks, that they're big spenders, and this is going to add to that. And, you know, honestly, this is a sign that the deficit is not being -- this does not become the priority in an election year than it was for both parties in the year before a general election.

  • 10:10:53

    PAGEYou know, this is a second way to victory for President Obama because it'll help the economy in an election year, and that will help the incumbent president. You're not able to pass big stimulus programs now. Stimulus has become a bad name. This is effectively a stimulus spending for the economy. We see signs that the economy is getting better, little -- not so robust, but promising signs that things are getting better. That's all good news for President Obama.

  • 10:11:18

    REHMLet me understand. We're talking around or about the bill. What's in it, Jerry?

  • 10:11:24

    SEIBWell, it extends the reduction of the payroll tax, the amount of money taken out of people's paychecks to pay for the Social Security program until the end of the year. It's a 2 percentage point drop, was instituted a year or so ago to try to get some more money into the economy, to get spending up, to get the economy growing again. It would've died at the end of last year, was extended for two months. Now, it's going to be extended to the end of the year.

  • 10:11:50

    SEIBAt that point, if all goes well, the economy will be growing better on its own and it won't need to be extended further, and the payroll tax will go back to where it was. The key point here was that the debate wasn't between the Democrats and the Republicans over whether to continue the payroll tax cut. Everybody agreed that was a good idea, as Susan said, for the economy. The question was, do you have to find offsetting taxes or cuts to pay for it elsewhere? And in the end, everybody said, nah, don't worry about it.

  • 10:12:14

    REHMAnd what about those fees paid to doctors? That was really the issue.

  • 10:12:20

    PAGEThat was another fix called the Medicare Fix. We get the Doc Fix. We get used to doing this over and over again. There's supposed to be cuts in payments to doctors into the Medicare program, but that can keeps getting kicked on the road. The other big element of this package was an extension of long-term unemployment benefits, also important for those Americans who've been out of work for a long time. There was an extension of that, but some modification to address Republican concerns instead of a -- 99 weeks in many states for unemployment insurance.

  • 10:12:49

    PAGEThis sets the length of time you can get unemployment benefits, at 63 weeks in most states and 73 weeks in states that have very high rates of unemployment.

  • 10:12:56

    REHMSeventy-three weeks. Go ahead, John.

  • 10:12:58

    DICKERSONWell, I was going to say this is, you know, a symbol of how the landscape has changed to help the president. He's not likely to get a lot of -- nobody is, I don't think, going to get a lot of praise from the American people for doing this. You know, they found out that the White House, that a lot of times when they get to these deals, they weren't -- they were basically doing their job. Most people saw them as doing that. So, in a sense, this shows how much things have shifted in the president's favor, but it's not something that he's likely to get a big bounce because it's now habit.

  • 10:13:27

    REHMMore on the economy, is the rise in new home building a sign that the housing market is finally on the upswing, Susan?

  • 10:13:37

    PAGEWe think so. We think that's an encouraging thing. Building permits, also up. I mean, it's one of several things that we see. New claims for unemployment last week down to the lowest level in almost four years, that's also an encouraging sign. You know, it's not -- the improvement we see is not enough to really bring down the unemployment rate, which continues to be pretty high at 8.3 percent.

  • 10:13:59

    PAGEBut it means things aren't getting worse, and there's, I think, a sense of somewhat stronger confidence on the part of small business owners and others who could help this economy, that things are getting better.

  • 10:14:10

    REHMWhat about foreclosures, though? Aren't they on the rise as well?

  • 10:14:14

    SEIBStill up a little -- still up a little bit. You know, that's kind of predictable, though. You know, foreclosures, in a sense, is a lagging indicator. People fall behind, fall behind, fall behind, and then at the end of that road, they -- their home is foreclosed upon, and that -- the (word?) is still going up. It's not -- contrary to the idea that Susan was talking about, about an overall firming up of the housing market. It's not great, you know? It's kind of better but not great in the housing market.

  • 10:14:40

    SEIBBut the question there has been for four or five years, really, when will we find the bottom? That is, when will we have hit bottom, so then it could start to rise back up. And this might be a sign that the bottom has been hit. Some of that new building activity, though, was not single-family homes but multi-family homes apartment buildings, and that's not quite so great 'cause, you know, consumers don't go out and buy an apartment building.

  • 10:14:58

    REHMHmm, interesting.

  • 10:14:59

    DICKERSONOne thing to just add about the foreclosure numbers, there may have been -- the figures may have been stalled a little bit while the banks were working through this $25 billion settlement. And so while the banks were settling their foreclosure process, they weren't doing as many foreclosures. Now that that has been -- that agreement has been worked out, now the foreclosures that were sort of you could say stuck in the pipeline a little bit are coming through now. So that's part of why the number is up as well.

  • 10:15:24

    REHMI'm fascinated with new evidence of foreclosure fraud in California. Gretchen Morgenson reports that an audit of 400 recent San Francisco, Calif. foreclosures determined 84 percent involved illegal procedures and/or suspicious documents, Jerry.

  • 10:15:51

    SEIBWell, and, I think, a lot of that is sloppiness. You know, there was -- you have the sense that people were just sort of ramming through mortgages a few years ago. And, now, they're ramming through foreclosures. And the horror stories on the parts of consumers are pretty hair-raising, you know, that you can't get anybody's attention to say, now, my -- I should not be in foreclosure. This is wrong.

  • 10:16:11

    SEIBAnd the process just grinds away and grinds away, and it's not being overseen as well as it should, ironically, much as the mortgage lending process wasn't over seen as it should've been a few years ago.

  • 10:16:24

    REHMSo what is -- it seems to me, fraud ranges from failure to warn homeowners of an impending foreclosure. It's a felony in California to knowingly file false documents with any public office. Does that mean you're finally going to get some folks going to jail?

  • 10:16:50

    SEIBWell, the key word in that sentence, Diane, is knowingly, I think. I think that's the question. You know, the question going into the mortgages, did people really ask for all the information they should have? Did they knowingly skip the rules? And in coming out in the foreclosure, did they knowingly file false documents or were the banks just pressuring people to just -- let's just get this thing processed?

  • 10:17:12

    REHMSo...

  • 10:17:13

    SEIBAnd I don't think we know the answer to that.

  • 10:17:14

    REHMYeah. How are we going to break that down? How are we going to know the difference between those who were forced or those who knowingly, willingly moved forward?

  • 10:17:27

    DICKERSONInvestigations, you know, I mean, it's a tough thing to unwind, you know, and not -- you don't know whether the settlement from the banks kind of stops people taking as close a look as they did before. So I'm not sure what the answer to that is, Diane.

  • 10:17:43

    REHMBut despite all this, the economy is looking better, Susan.

  • 10:17:49

    PAGELeading economic indicators came out just, what, about...

  • 10:17:53

    REHMTwo hours ago.

  • 10:17:53

    PAGEOK, this morning, up 0.4 percent. That's not great, but that's good and a sign that this year continues to be -- the recovery hasn't gone upended. The idea that we're going to have a double repression receding, all good news for Americans.

  • 10:18:09

    SEIBAnd I think the interesting thing is, in political terms in particular, is that there is now an uptake in consumer confidence, which is also a lagging indicator. It takes people a while before they believe that good economic numbers or just good things they see around them are going to last, that they're real and they're going to last. And now you're seeing it. The Michigan -- University of Michigan consumer confidence -- consumer sentiments survey was up 10 percentage points in the last two months alone. So people are starting to believe maybe, maybe it's happening.

  • 10:18:35

    REHMJerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal, Susan Page of USA Today, John Dickerson of Slate.com. When we come back, we're going to talk about the contraception debate.

  • 10:20:04

    REHMAnd before we move on to other topics, here's an email from George in North Carolina, who says, "Please explain why it's a good idea to cut the only tax dedicated specifically to provide funds for Social Security and Medicare. What are the long-term implications of starting down this path?" Jerry.

  • 10:20:30

    SEIBWell, it's a good question. They're not great. I mean, on the one hand, it is theoretically robbing from the Social Security Trust Fund to pay for short-term stimulus. The countervailing argument is that's really -- there's no Social Security Trust Fund. It's kind of a myth anyway. The money is really not there. It's being used for other purposes all the time. It's just now being used essentially to fund a tax cut. So I don't think the president is great, however, you know?

  • 10:20:55

    SEIBYou do have to look at the Social Security tax rate and ask, is that enough to fund the Social Security program in the long run? And then they lower it by a couple of percentage points, and you really have to say, if that persists, there's going to be a long-term problem. Now, everybody will say, it's only for the -- only for this year, only to the end of this end of this year, then we'll be back to normal. But Washington is a hard place to get back to normal.

  • 10:21:16

    REHMYeah, yeah. Susan?

  • 10:21:18

    PAGEWell, and that's a reason that some Senate Democrats say they won't vote for this...

  • 10:21:21

    SEIBRight, exactly.

  • 10:21:22

    PAGE...deal because they're concerned about the impact on the Social Security system.

  • 10:21:26

    REHMAll right.

  • 10:21:26

    DICKERSONTemporary tax cuts have a hard time staying temporary.

  • 10:21:29

    SEIBRemember the Bush Tax cuts were going to be 10 years.

  • 10:21:30

    DICKERSONOr 10 years, right.

  • 10:21:32

    SEIBAnd what are we in now, year 13?

  • 10:21:33

    REHMOK. Susan, talk about what happened during yesterday's House debate over mandated coverage of contraception.

  • 10:21:43

    PAGEYou know, this was one of those Washington scenes that you just -- you can't make up the stuff. The hearing on contraception, big panel of religious leaders to talk about it, and they're all men. So they're talking about contraception for women, women's access to birth control through insurance coverage. And Carolyn Maloney, the Democrat from New York who's on the panel, raised questions about the make-up of the panel. Then there was an exchange with Darrell Issa, the chairman, that got contentious, and some of the women members walked out.

  • 10:22:18

    REHMAnd she said, where are the women?

  • 10:22:22

    PAGETo which there didn't seem to be a particularly good answer.

  • 10:22:26

    REHMAnd wasn't there a request by Eleanor Holmes Norton to have a young woman testify?

  • 10:22:35

    PAGEYes. There was an effort to have a woman who was a -- is a law school student at Georgetown University, who has pushed the University, which, of course, is a Catholic-affiliated university, to provide birth control services for its students, and the chairman refused to allow her to join the panel.

  • 10:22:52

    REHMIt's interesting. We have an email from Gordon, who points out that, "Both Margaret Carlson and E.J. Dionne have discussed over the past week that several Catholic institutions already offer contraception prescription coverage in their health care plans, some because of state laws, some because they need it to compete for employees. With this in mind, could the bishops be trying to keep this on the front burner for political reasons?" Jerry, I know you are Roman Catholic.

  • 10:23:33

    SEIBRight.

  • 10:23:33

    REHMI'm going to put you on the spot.

  • 10:23:35

    SEIBSure. No, we're all on the spot.

  • 10:23:37

    SEIBIt's a good question. I think the bishops believe what they're doing. I also believe, though, that it's -- what E.J. has written is correct. There are states in which similar exemptions aren't in place, but also there's -- Catholic institutions in those states that are getting around them and that are providing the services and rationalizing it in a lot of different ways. I think the bigger question here is, is the split between the church hierarchy and its own people one that's going to persist?

  • 10:24:11

    SEIBI think there a lot of people in the Catholic Church who don't agree with the bishops on the policy, on the position that they've taken but are not comfortable with the idea that the argument is between the church and the government. They'd rather have the argument between the people in the pews and the bishops, and that's -- in some of these states, that's how this is played out.

  • 10:24:29

    SEIBYou know, it's pressure from Catholics that has changed the way Catholic institutions are handling this issue, not pressure from the government. And I think that's kind of been missed in the debate here a little bit. This is a debate that a lot of Catholics, who would agree with the White House on the substance of it, are not comfortable with it because they don't want that debate happening between the government and the church.

  • 10:24:48

    DICKERSONAnd that was the bruise that the White House created, and what's happened then with this hearing yesterday, though, is now shifted, potentially, the public conversation about this on to much friendlier turf for the White House. It goes away from being a question of religious meddling by the White House into now a question about women and just not getting it at all.

  • 10:25:07

    DICKERSONAnd this is a, I mean, this sideshow yesterday and some of the other contraception issues that conservatives and Republicans have had recently have been a huge gift to the White House, which was on the defensive last week, and now can make it look like Republicans, when handling the same issue, are either just as out of touch as the White House was last week or even more so.

  • 10:25:29

    REHMAnd there was a comment from Foster Friess, a key Santorum supporter. He talked to MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell yesterday. He says he favors an inexpensive form of birth control.

  • 10:25:50

    MR. FOSTER FRIESSThis contraceptive thing, my gosh, it's so -- it's such inexpensive. You know, back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn't that costly.

  • 10:26:03

    MS. ANDREA MITCHELLExcuse me. I'm just trying to catch my breath from that, Mr. Friess, frankly.

  • 10:26:08

    REHMAnd I have a feeling that every woman in the country who heard that statement reacted as Andrea did.

  • 10:26:20

    PAGEKudos to Andrea for coming back with any comment after hearing that.

  • 10:26:23

    REHMAbsolutely.

  • 10:26:23

    SEIBRight. That's the pregnant pause there.

  • 10:26:25

    REHMAbsolutely.

  • 10:26:27

    PAGEI mean, this -- speaking in political terms, this is a debate Democrats will be happy to have from now until November. You know, if the debate is about the acceptability of birth control and contraception and a need for -- the health service need for many women to have access to those services, you know, that just plays one way. The big issue is more complicated, as Jerry said, and the White House did make a blunder when they first came out, but they pivoted.

  • 10:26:55

    PAGEAnd the Republicans are now, I think, are at great risk of overreaching in a way that really causes them some damage, especially among women and among independent voters of both genders.

  • 10:27:05

    SEIBAnd, you know, there's not -- this is -- another front here is an amendment sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, who would let employees opt out of any coverage that they find immoral. So this takes it outside of...

  • 10:27:18

    PAGEAny employee -- any employer.

  • 10:27:19

    SEIBAny employer.

  • 10:27:20

    DICKERSONAny employer, not just religious institutions.

  • 10:27:20

    PAGEThat's right. You wouldn't have to be religiously affiliated. Right.

  • 10:27:23

    DICKERSONSo again, this is the -- then if you just as purely...

  • 10:27:26

    REHMBoy, does that get complicated.

  • 10:27:29

    DICKERSONWell, and also just as a purely political matter, if the White House was losing on a small patch of turf last week that had to do with religious institutions and meddling with people's views about the relationship between government and their religion, now this bigger field that Sen. Blunt has opened up, that this hearing yesterday opened up and that Foster Friess messes with also, this is -- these are three different data points now on a larger question of meddling with women's access to contraception.

  • 10:27:57

    SEIBIf you want to know what the political impact of this is, well, you have to know whether, over the next nine months, this is framed as a debate about contraceptive services and women's health services or a debate about religious liberty and the government's ability to tell religious institutions what to do. If it's category A, I think Susan's right. The White House is way ahead on that. If Republicans manage to frame it successfully as category B, I think that's a problem for the White House, and they certainly see it that way, too.

  • 10:28:23

    PAGEAnd I would agree, and if you look at where -- the Catholic population, Catholics make up, what, about one in four American voters.

  • 10:28:29

    SEIBYeah, goes about 25 percent.

  • 10:28:31

    PAGEBut almost a third of voters in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania and in some states with big Latino populations, a lot of Hispanics are Catholic. A lot of them are culturally conservative. That's obviously a key voter group that Democrats are doing well with them, and the Republicans are trying to find a way to make some amendments with them.

  • 10:28:47

    REHMSo what kind of action are we likely to see in the Senate?

  • 10:28:54

    DICKERSONThere's going to be a vote some time at the end of the month. And now, the question is, I don't know if there's been news on it, but the question on that is where the conservative Democratic Senators are who were opposing the White House last week, but now where are they on this Blunt amendment? Sen. Casey from Pennsylvania, Sen. Manchin from West Virginia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

  • 10:29:13

    REHMSo going back to the statement by Foster Friess, does he -- did he, in that statement, represent Rick Santorum's belief?

  • 10:29:28

    PAGEWell, Rick Santorum says no.

  • 10:29:30

    DICKERSONRight. I mean, Rick Santorum says, I can't be on the hook for some nutty thing that a person who's bankrolling my super PAC says, and he's right, of course, about that. On the other hand, what's interesting about Santorum is that he has said that contraception itself, as a general matter, is a bad thing, that it -- that as a president, he will talk about how it's a bad thing, and in this context, which is that it leads to a disconnect between sex as pleasure and sex as procreation as is prescribed in the Bible.

  • 10:30:02

    DICKERSONNow, what Santorum also says is, look, as president, I'm not going to take it away. But I will talk about abstinence, and I will talk about contraception as not being a good thing in terms of using the bully pulpit as a president.

  • 10:30:17

    PAGECall me crazy. That doesn't seem like a smart political strategy to me.

  • 10:30:21

    DICKERSONNot in a time when people are worried about a lot of other issues.

  • 10:30:24

    PAGEAlthough in fairness, this is not an issue that Santorum voluntarily raises on the stump. You know, he does talk about issues...

  • 10:30:31

    REHMHe's talked about it, though.

  • 10:30:32

    PAGEHe's talked about it, but this is not the core of Santorum's campaign, that he's going to talk about the dangers of contraception if he's elected president.

  • 10:30:39

    DICKERSONNo. I mean, no, although he did bring it up -- I mean, he...

  • 10:30:41

    REHMHe sure did.

  • 10:30:42

    DICKERSON...brought it up with a -- the quote that everybody has been going back to was during the Iowa caucuses. It's a conversation within social conservatives and Catholics in them in the Republican Party. And also, part of the thing about the Santorum campaign is -- one of his great qualities, perhaps his best quality is that he talks about these issues, believes in them and will push for them when everybody else is galloping down the road talking about something else.

  • 10:31:06

    DICKERSONAnd that sense of constancy, that sense of talking about what these social conservatives and evangelical voters care about, even when people are moving on, that's part of his core and what they like about him. His balance, of course, is he's got to say yes, but that's not what defines me completely.

  • 10:31:22

    PAGEWell, and exactly right. And you see his effort. I was at the Detroit Economic Club speech he gave yesterday, and Sen. Santorum there was trying hard to talk about the economy, about his views toward government intervention in the economy and that kind of thing and talked almost not at all about social conservative issues.

  • 10:31:41

    SEIBYou know, the thing that's uncomfortable here is that there are public policy issues, and then there are sort of personal morality issues. And this subject has gotten them all inter-tangled. And that's not good for probably lots of people on the left and on the right, and it's not probably good for Rick Santorum. His bigger public policy issue on this front, frankly, has been gay marriage. I mean, that's the one where he gets challenged.

  • 10:32:03

    SEIBIf you go out with -- and watch the Santorum campaign, that's the one where he gets challenged, a lot -- particularly by younger voters. This one comes out of left field, and people are going back to things he said in 2005, the magazine interviews and things like that. But now, here it is, and the irony to me is that, I think, if the White House had started out with the policy proposal that it comprised to, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

  • 10:32:24

    REHMInteresting.

  • 10:32:25

    SEIBThere would've been a way for the church to say, okay, we've gotten enough of an exemption. There are -- institutions will provide contraceptive services, but we don't have to pay for them. We can live with that, or some could live with that at least, and it wouldn't have exploded the way it did. And that's where we are in policy terms. But now, this demon is sort of out, and it's not going to be easy to put it back in.

  • 10:32:46

    REHMJerry Seib, he is Washington bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Rick Santorum is clearly up in the polls. He released his tax records on Wednesday. What did we learn, John Dickerson?

  • 10:33:09

    DICKERSONWell, we learned he's made some money since being a senator. And...

  • 10:33:14

    REHMSince he left the Senate.

  • 10:33:15

    DICKERSON...since he left the Senate. And he -- we knew this before, of course, that he does his own taxes. The Romney campaign is -- or somebody, an adviser affiliated with the Romney campaign is giving him grief because his charitable contributions are not sufficiently high. And I think the larger -- I mean, the -- what's interesting about what's happening in Michigan is then we have three polls that has Santorum ahead of Romney outside the margin of error.

  • 10:33:43

    DICKERSONIt's probably a lot closer that the Romney campaign feels like this is a moment of swoon for Santorum, and that once things level back -- to give you some sense of the moment of swoon, people have -- are so enthralled with Rick Santorum that in CBS's national poll of Republicans, when you ask voters, what qualities do you look for a candidate, they list moral character and values as number one and number two, which are obviously Santorum's strong points.

  • 10:34:08

    DICKERSONBeating Barack Obama, which Republicans used to be obsessed about, they list that fourth. Now, Republicans haven't totally changed the way they think about the election. But because they are enthralled with Santorum, they're sort of -- for the very moment, and this is just a snapshot -- they're sort of seeing the race through Santorum lenses.

  • 10:34:24

    REHMIt's fascinating that in Michigan, which is Romney's home state, that Rick Santorum is saying he would not have funded the automobile manufacturing bailout. Yet the auto manufacturing has roared back because of the bailout, and Romney is down in the poll.

  • 10:34:49

    PAGEIt's -- the auto bailout, I think, is remarkable. And remember yesterday, GM reported record profits.

  • 10:34:54

    REHMYeah. Set some billion...

  • 10:34:54

    PAGEWhat a relief to Americans that the auto industry is back on its feet. Rick Santorum, in fact, not only says he was -- would be -- would've been against the auto bailout, but that he'd be against bailouts of every type and criticizes Mitt Romney for supporting The Wall Street bailout. The other thing that Santorum did yesterday that I thought was so interesting was he criticized not Obama but George W. Bush for starting the United States down the path of the government offering bailouts to the private sector.

  • 10:35:22

    PAGEAnd, you know, George W. Bush's name is almost never mentioned when you're out there covering this Republican contest, never mentioned as -- in a favorable way. Here it's mentioned and in a negative way. I thought that was an example of what John talked about, which is that Rick Santorum does tend to say what he actually thinks.

  • 10:35:40

    SEIBBut Mitt Romney is the one who's actually advertising the fact that he oppose the GM and Chrysler bailouts, much more loudly than Rick Santorum. He did an op-ed piece in the Detroit News this week. He's talked about it on the trail.

  • 10:35:52

    REHMHe was against it before he was for it.

  • 10:35:55

    SEIBWell, no, I don't think so. He's been a -- well, he's been against it pretty -- he was -- he basically praised an element of the Obama package that was tough on the UAW. But I think he's -- he was never really in favor of it. What I find interesting is that, while going into the Michigan primary, would you put that up on a postal and shine a light on it and brag about the fact that you are against the GM and Chrysler bailouts. I think that's an interesting strategy.

  • 10:36:19

    PAGEI think I can answer that. You know, I think it's because they knew they had to deal with it.

  • 10:36:23

    DICKERSONYeah.

  • 10:36:23

    PAGEAnd so you might as well shine a light...

  • 10:36:24

    DICKERSONThe best defense is a good offense.

  • 10:36:25

    PAGE...light on your own flaw and try to turn it into an asset. And I think it's not a huge problem for him in the Republican primary. Frankly, it's a, you know, a lot of conservative Republicans, big Tea Party contention in Michigan, but, boy, what a problem if he makes it to the nomination and is running in places like Michigan and Ohio in a general election.

  • 10:36:47

    REHMAnd as CNN has canceled their March debate, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul pulled out of Atlanta. Where is Newt Gingrich these days?

  • 10:36:59

    SEIBHe's somewhere yelling at a member of a press -- is somewhere. He's off raising money. He's -- he needs some money to keep his campaign going. He's disappeared in a number of different ways. He's disappearing in the polls. I mean, the -- both the national polls and in the state polls. Support that was going to Newt Gingrich is moving over to Rick Santorum. This is a problem for Mitt Romney who would prefer the two of them would continue to split the vote.

  • 10:37:23

    SEIBAnd in some states, they are a little bit more splitting the vote. But Romney would like them to split the anti-Romney vote. It's a problem if there's a single anti-Romney contender, and that looks like what Santorum is at the moment.

  • 10:37:34

    REHMJohn Dickerson, Susan Paige, Jerry Seib. Short break. When we come back, we'll open the phones. Stay with us.

  • 10:40:04

    REHMAnd one more point before we open the phones. We asked: Where's Newt? And, Jerry Seib, you've got some news on...

  • 10:40:15

    SEIBWell, yeah. We did a story this week in which we said that Sheldon Adelson, who's been -- he's the Las Vegas casino owner who's been the principal financer of the super PAC that's supporting Newt Gingrich was going to donate another $10 million to that super PAC to keep Newt Gingrich going. But what he's telling people is, I'm doing that to keep Newt going but as much to stop Rick Santorum because if -- I like Newt Gingrich, and I'll support him. But I don't want -- I don't like this rise of Rick Santorum.

  • 10:40:40

    SEIBI don't want him to get the nomination because if he does, I think he can't beat Obama. If Newt Gingrich can't get the nomination, I'd rather Mitt Romney have it so I'm going to support Newt to stop Santorum.

  • 10:40:50

    REHMInteresting. All right. Let's go first to Winston-Salem, N.C. Good morning, Gray. (sp?) You're on the air.

  • 10:41:00

    GRAYGood morning. I had a quick thought while I was listening to you guys. You asked the question if Foster Friess was speaking for Rick Santorum. I wonder -- go back a little bit -- was George Stephanopoulos speaking for the administration when he had that bizarre question rant at the New Hampshire presidential debate? That's question one. And just a statement maybe you got to maybe comment about. It seems a bit audacious, I think, that the administration is leading with such a liberal punch this early in the election.

  • 10:41:35

    GRAYI don't think that the Republicans are doing a very good job of getting the message out there. What we're talking about here are benefits. I think people -- conversations and they think rights. Health care, if your employer provides it, is a benefit, and the extent to which they want to provide it as a benefit. What they don't provide is really up to you. I mean, you know, I have to buy my own ibuprofen and allergy medicine. It's not covered by my insurance. And, you know, contraception is not really that expensive when it comes right down to it.

  • 10:42:06

    REHMComes down to about $600 a year for a woman.

  • 10:42:11

    DICKERSONWell, let's take those in the order they were asked. In one of the New Hampshire debates, George Stephanopoulos went round and round the mulberry bush with Gov. Romney on the question of contraception at the state level and didn't get anywhere on that question. I think, you know, that was just between the two of them, and I don't get the connection with the administration.

  • 10:42:36

    DICKERSONOn the question of contraception, what the caller is -- there are some people who do point out and say, wait a minute, that, you know, this is not -- the right to health care is not enshrined in the Constitution. Let's not talk about this right to contraception as if it were a protected constitutional right. That is true.

  • 10:42:55

    DICKERSONAnd a good debating point in a legal context, I think, in a political context, when women, who are playing an important role and particularly an important role as swing voters, that if you get into that debate and men, in particular, start making judgments about the cost and need and necessity of contraception, I think that you're on the wrong end of a political argument if your aim is to get elected.

  • 10:43:23

    REHMAll right. Jerry.

  • 10:43:24

    SEIBThere is, embedded in all of this, one some more subtle problem for the administration, though, which I think has gotten overlooked a little bit, which is if this starts people, who are sitting on the fence in their views about the health care reform bill thinking, well, you know, I don't like the way this is playing out. If they can do this, maybe the big government death panel argument that I didn't pay attention to two years ago, maybe there's something to that.

  • 10:43:45

    SEIBI think that's a problem for the administration. That if it makes people think that -- well, I agree with the administration on this, but I'm not comfortable with the fact that the reform has opened the door to lots of government intervention in health care in ways I hadn't anticipated. Maybe I'm not such a big fan of that, overall, and I think they have to be concerned about that.

  • 10:44:01

    REHMAll right. Let's take a caller in Tokyo, Japan. Jennifer, you're on the air.

  • 10:44:09

    JENNIFERHello, Diane. Thank you very much and hello to all your guests today on the panel today. I was just calling because -- I heard a comment on the news the other day regarding the -- basically, a lot of the more conservative supporters who are leaning towards Rick Santorum currently and basically how this is affecting the Republican race. And I don't necessarily believe that, you know, President Obama, you know, made this an issue now on purpose.

  • 10:44:41

    JENNIFERIt doesn't seem to have -- actually, you know, it doesn't seem, you know, a wise move. But I'm wondering why it might not end up helping him in the end because I don't think that Santorum is necessarily a candidate that independents are going to be inclined to support. But it's also going to force Romney and addressing issue that might lose him support with independents. And basically this seems to be causing a lot of problems for the Republicans at this moment. So...

  • 10:45:05

    REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. John Dickerson.

  • 10:45:09

    DICKERSONI think this goes back to Jerry's point, which is, it depends how the debate happens, how it goes forward now. Is this about contraception? Or is it about religious life? And I think you could -- let's take it even higher, which is, who is going to, when the lights are not shining on them, mettle in the sacred spaces of your life? I mean, is it going to be the president, who has got a big government meddling in the things you hold dear, your religion?

  • 10:45:31

    DICKERSONOr is it going to be a Republican administration, who's going to, when people aren't looking, mettle in contraception and in personal choices? That's where this debate comes, and how it turns out, basically depends on who frames it the right way.

  • 10:45:46

    PAGEYou know, what -- and I think kind of cool to get a call to get from Tokyo, so Jennifer, thanks for listening.

  • 10:45:49

    REHMYeah. Absolutely.

  • 10:45:51

    PAGEI -- one of the things we've seen happen with Mitt Romney, who was trying to steer kind of clear of these social conservative issues, is the rise of Rick Santorum has forced him to deal with him in a bigger way. It's forced him to talk in a somewhat harder-edge way about some of these issues. He's now talked about the morning-after pill as an abortive pill, which is the kind of language he was trying not to use when he was preserving his standing with independent voters in the fall.

  • 10:46:16

    PAGEBut he's now being forced to take these positions and talk about it more in an effort to beat Rick Santorum in this Republican contest.

  • 10:46:24

    REHMAnd here is an email from Misty in Charlotte, N.C.: "How dare you and your guests speak for all women on this issue? There are huge numbers of women who chaired Santorum when he said women could keep their knees together. Don't act like having virtue and morals is such a bad thing. Many of us believe it's basic to a cultured and civilized society in which I want to live."

  • 10:47:01

    PAGEWell, Misty is exactly right. There's a variety of views among women in America on these issues, although the issue of contraception is one on which an overwhelming majority of women, including a majority of Catholic women, support.

  • 10:47:16

    DICKERSONRight. I think the -- we're talking about just the political landscape as the polls suggested exists, and -- but I don't think anybody was trying to speak for all women (unintelligible).

  • 10:47:26

    REHMAll right. To Paducah, Ky., good morning, Jimmy.

  • 10:47:31

    JIMMYGood morning. Thank you for having me.

  • 10:47:33

    REHMSure.

  • 10:47:34

    JIMMYMy question, I guess, revolves mostly around separation of church and state. On one hand, you have the Catholic Church wanting to hide behind the separation of church and state by denying their employers contraceptive drugs. And on the other hand, you want them -- they want to be employers, as in hospitals and colleges and things of that nature. I agree that they should be able to do different things with their employers in the church setting, in church employees.

  • 10:48:04

    JIMMYBut once you're out of that setting and you're a hospital employee, you should have certain rights that are federally protected under workers' rights. And I just feel that the Catholic Church is trying to have their cake and eat it, too, when it comes to separation of church and state, and we see this time after time after time when it comes to the church doctrines. And they want to, on one hand, have separation of church and state and, on the other hand have, you know, claim that, you know, that they have everything right under (unintelligible).

  • 10:48:39

    REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for calling. Jerry.

  • 10:48:41

    SEIBWell, I mean, that's the crux of the argument. I'll give you the reverse argument, which is that Catholic Church leaders look at this and say, well, you know, we've established universities, hospitals, clinics all around the country, schools in intercity neighborhoods that serve community way beyond the Catholic Church. We view that as a part of our church mission. If the rules now require us to pull our horns in and serve only Catholics because that's the way the rules are written, how is that serving the greater good?

  • 10:49:11

    SEIBWhat we're doing is serving a much wider community, but we should be allowed to run those institutions the way we want to because they're not government institutions. So that's the reverse argument.

  • 10:49:19

    PAGEBut the distinction that Jimmy is making is exactly the one that the government makes because there is an exclusion to -- a waiver from this rule for religious institutions like a church. And it only -- the obligation to provide services to your employer -- employees only kicks in when you're a hospital who has a lot -- with a lot of employees and patients...

  • 10:49:40

    REHMWho may not be Roman Catholic.

  • 10:49:42

    PAGE...who may not be a member of your church.

  • 10:49:43

    REHMSusan Page of USA Today, Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal, John Dickerson of Slate.com. He's also political analyst and contributor for CBS. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And here is yet another comment on contraception from Tampa, Fla. Good morning, Lorraine. Go right ahead.

  • 10:50:18

    LORRAINEGood morning, Diane. I just want to say I don't like the way this whole issue has been framed by the media. This is not the Catholic bishops being against contraception. This is religious freedom. This is being -- this issue is the Catholic bishops being forced to pay for artificial contraception, which is totally against their teachings and their beliefs, and it has been for 2,000 years since the inception of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is the one being forced to pay for something that is intrinsic, intrinsically against its disbelief system.

  • 10:50:50

    LORRAINEAnd the Obama administration picked this fight. The bishops did not pick this fight. And don't forget that the other part of this mandate is sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, and that is anathema to the Catholic Church, which is totally pro-life.

  • 10:51:06

    REHMJerry.

  • 10:51:06

    SEIBWell, I think, in Jimmy and Lorraine, you have the two sides of this debate, almost framed almost perfectly. And, I think, Lorraine is right. I mean, I think for the bishops, this is a question of, like, of moral -- of a moral versus immoral behavior, funding services we don't agree with. For a lot of Catholics, it is about government intrusion in religious institutions, not about contraception as said before.

  • 10:51:30

    SEIBAnd so, you know, we're back to the how is this -- what is this argument about? Is it about contraception or is it about a religious liberty question in which people are forced to do things they don't agree are proper by the government?

  • 10:51:44

    PAGEAnd, of course, the administration in its compromise when it was forced to peel back on the original rule tried to device a way that prevented the Catholic institutions from actually having to pay for birth control by having the insurance companies pay for it. Now, for insurance companies, this is, in fact, a money saver because pregnancy is so expensive. If you prevent unwanted pregnancies through birth control, that's a money saver for insurance companies. So that was a way in which the administration tried to kind of finesse the issue that Lorraine is talking about.

  • 10:52:13

    REHMAll right. And to Brian in Grand Rapids, Mich. Good morning.

  • 10:52:19

    BRIANGood day, Diane and guests. I'd like to comment on the upcoming election. With the Republicans effort to limit voting, i.e., voter IDs, I call it disenfranchisement of voters. And I'd say no wonder. Looking at the counts, the caucus in Iowa and Maine, Republicans don't know how to count. And so that's my evidence that this whole voter fraud things spring up out of their own paranoia.

  • 10:52:48

    DICKERSONIt has been bad year for Republican caucuses.

  • 10:52:51

    DICKERSONI mean, I think, they're, you know, we're going to have -- the voting is going to be done, and there are still going to be results coming in from Maine and Iowa...

  • 10:52:57

    REHMWhy is this happening?

  • 10:52:58

    DICKERSON...and they could still be in Nevada, I don't know. It's -- I don't know what the -- I mean, we know what the answer is in individual states, which is just him, you know, kind of a sloppiness. But, you know, why -- how it all attaches? I think, in part A is if you had a perfectly wired system, it's expensive. And this is, you know, something that they tried to do a little bit on the cheap. And if it's not close, that's not a big deal, but it's get -- it gets quite close, so every vote really matters.

  • 10:53:26

    PAGEI love the latest news out of Maine, which is some of the results went into their spam folder, and so they didn't find them until after they had announced the results.

  • 10:53:34

    SEIBWell, but a caucus isn't a primary. I mean, we now know that for sure. It's absolute -- 'cause -- and there's no official oversight. I mean, there's no -- there, you know, state parties make up the rules as they go, and they're different in every state.

  • 10:53:45

    REHMAll right. And finally, to Munster, Ind. Good morning, Dave.

  • 10:53:51

    DAVEGood morning, Diane. Thank you very much for taking my call.

  • 10:53:53

    REHMSurely.

  • 10:53:55

    DAVEI just -- I'm very frustrated by the fact that this is being framed as an institutional clash. This isn't the United States government versus the Catholic Church or Catholics. I'm saying that as someone that was raised Catholic. This is a matter of individual choice, and it is the individual's choice to purchase and exercise birth control. However we would like to frame that argument, even if it is covered under insurance, the individual covering or being covered under that insurance can opt out of this birth control.

  • 10:54:29

    DAVEIt's a very slippery slope to get into this sort of societal argument. I mean, there are other religions who prevent, say, the consumption of alcohol, but society still have to deal with drunk drivers and all the consequences there. There are certain religious groups that ban the use of certain food, but the government may subsidize the production in sales of that food. So this is a very dangerous subject that I just -- you know, just with existing practices in society, we can't have this opt-out clause apply to everything.

  • 10:55:01

    REHMSusan.

  • 10:55:02

    PAGEWell, here is the way -- I think, Dave makes a very sophisticated point. But here is one way in which it is a clash of institutions. The new federal -- the not-so-new federal health care law mandates coverage for contraceptive services for insurances plans. And that is what has been kind of the starting point for this debate. So it is the government saying you have to provide access to contraceptive services in your health care plan, and you've seen this Catholic-affiliated institutions raise objections to that.

  • 10:55:30

    REHMNow, once the White House compromised on this, John Dickerson, did you think the issue was going to die down?

  • 10:55:30

    DICKERSONI did. I mean, certainly the White House had hoped it was going to lie down and go away. And you thought it would still go through the Republican primaries because like the decision on the pipeline, the Keystone Pipeline, it's an issue where they can clobber the president. As Jerry pointed out earlier, it gets into government overreach into your life, into religious liberty. It's something they can all enjoy beating the dickens out of the president.

  • 10:56:03

    DICKERSONAlso, Mitt Romney had some potential exposure because of his health care plan in Massachusetts and his position on this issue in Massachusetts. So you thought, well, you could see Santorum and Gingrich bringing that up. But I didn't expect it to be something that Republicans would grab and take to this new turf, which is less politically advantageous for them.

  • 10:56:22

    PAGEI do think it's a sign the economy is getting a little better, that the debate can be so focused on the some of these social issues that faded when people were overwhelmingly concerned about what was happening with their jobs and their lives.

  • 10:56:33

    REHMJerry, do you agree with that?

  • 10:56:34

    SEIBNo. I told you I wrote a column this week, and I said the two things that have changed here. The economy is -- it's altering the 2012 landscape. The economy is getting better, and social issues are rising, and that wasn't true two months ago. And that's a big change.

  • 10:56:45

    REHMJerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal, Susan Page of USA Today, John Dickerson of Slate.com and CBS. This hour was videotaped. It should be up on our website in about an hour. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

  • 10:57:04

    ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Nikki Jecks, Susan Nabors and Lisa Dunn, and 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. Our email address is drshow@wamu.org, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.

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