What's on Congress' agenda in the final weeks before the August recess? Our panel takes a look at what needs to happen, and what can realistically get done.
President Obama unveiled a proposal to cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 28%; Republican presidential candidates debated in Mesa, Arizona; and dozens of state attorneys general wrote to Google about concerns over its new privacy policies. Eleanor Clift of Newsweek, Ron Elving of NPR and Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post join Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Ron Elving Washington editor for NPR.
- Eleanor Clift contributing editor for Newsweek/The Daily Beast.
- Jennifer Rubin "Right Turn" blogger for the Washington Post.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President Obama unveiled a new plan to cut the corporate tax rate. Republican presidential candidates look toward primaries next weekend -- Arizona and Michigan. And dozens of state attorneys general express concern about Google's new privacy policies. Joining me in the studio for this week's top national news stories on the Friday News Roundup: Eleanor Clift of Newsweek/The Daily Beast, Ron Elving of NPR, and Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post.
MS. DIANE REHMDo join us, 800-433-8850. Send your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you. Happy Friday.
MS.JENNIFER RUBINGood morning, Diane.
MR. RON ELVINGGood morning, Diane.
REHMGood to see you. Thank you for joining us. Jennifer Rubin, the first time we've had you on this program. Eleanor Clift, I'm going to start with you. We've gotten some good news this morning about consumer confidence surging. Talk about why.
MS. ELEANOR CLIFTWell, I wish I knew the whys, but, you know, the unemployment rate has come down some. It looks as though we are generating jobs that -- better than 200,000 a month, so it looks like the recovery is finally picking up. It's still weak, and, I think, the concern among politicians is that if the president goes out and takes any credit for a revived economy that people will resent that because they are not really feeling it. But this number shows that people are beginning to open their wallets and feeling some confidence in terms of spending.
REHMJennifer Rubin, how do you see it?
RUBINWell, I think, as with everything these days, it's always a mixed bag. And we did have a good unemployment number last month, but the Fed itself -- those would be Ben Bernanke, who is the president's appointee -- has told us that the cameo is going to remain remarkably weak through 2014 with very high unemployment. So I think everyone is waiting to see whether we can continue on an upward trajectory this year and whether that unemployment number continues to come down or whether we hit a rough patch.
RUBINNow, although I don't think consumers react to this, I do think that we've gotten some additional good news from Europe. And I think the attempt to and perhaps the successful momentary temporary resolution of the Greek debt crisis is a good sign. I think we're now going to have to look to Italy and see whether that has ramifications here, but that's also, I think, a positive step for this year.
ELVINGThe consumer confidence number we saw this morning comes from the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters, which is something of a gold standard in measuring this particular sentiment. But Bloomberg news yesterday also found that consumer confidence or, as they measure it, consumer comfort -- perhaps a slightly different measure -- was at the highest point in four years. Now, this is a volatile question. Just last fall, Bloomberg found that consumer comfort was at a two-year low. So we've had a major rebound from September, October.
ELVINGAnd I think we can all feel that in our own minds and hearts after what we went through last summer and last fall. There was a sickening sort of feeling about where the economy was headed. And now, we see, six months later, that the economy seems to be giving people a little more confidence and a little more comfort. Interestingly, this coincides with the sudden spike in gasoline prices, and this is an issue that's been raised in the last several days. We can expect to hear a lot about it in coming weeks, but it does not, as yet, appear to be affecting consumer confidence.
REHMDoes it affect the president's standing? Could it affect the president's standing, that is, the uptick in gas prices?
ELVINGThe uptick in gas prices would seem to be very bad news for the president going into his re-election campaign. On the other hand, at least, at this point, the statistical evidence seems to be somewhat to the contrary. I heard Frank Newport of Gallup last night talking on public radio and saying, you know, there doesn't seem to be much correlation between what happens with gas prices and what happens with the president's approval rating.
ELVINGThe president's approval rating, of course, tracks very closely with his re-election prospects, and so, incidentally, does that University of Michigan consumer confidence number.
RUBINWell, I think all of these factors play into the president's campaign message. And he is going to try to make the election about a choice between the Republicans, who he'll paint as extremists and crazy people, and himself. The Republicans are going to try to make this, as do all challengers in a re-election year, as a referendum on the president. And they are going to point to every bit of data that they can see, whether it's the debt, whether it's unemployment , whether it's gas prices, and the strength or weakness of that argument is not necessarily within their control.
RUBINAnd that's why, I think, you see some of the Republican candidates developing some alternative arguments and some alternative messages because, frankly, they know more than we do. They have economists, but those economists, I'm sure, of -- are of mixed mind, just like we are.
CLIFTThe Republicans are trying to blame the president for the high gas prices. And they're tying it to the Keystone Pipeline, which the president has stalled, rejected for the meantime, and it would bring oil from Canada into Texas. And Senate Republicans introduced legislation that if the president would want to tap into the strategic oil reserve to ease gas prices that he would have to do it on the condition that he would accept the Keystone Pipeline.
CLIFTThe dirty, little secret, though, is that, even if that pipeline were approved, that oil would not stay in the U.S. It's scheduled for export out of Port Arthur, Texas, which turns out is an international trade zone where you can have tax-free transactions, but...
CLIFTYeah. But, anyway, that doesn't stop the political messaging that the president somehow is standing in the way of more oil exploration when, in fact, the oil production is at a high, and we actually exported oil last year for the first time.
REHMRon Elving, I want to ask about the president's proposed tax rate cut on corporate taxes. Give us a brief outline of his plan and then the question, how feasible is it.
ELVINGIt's no feasible this year to begin with a bottom line because it would require some cooperation between the parties in the face of an impending election. The president knows that. Everyone involved knows that. But the president wants to get on the side of cutting corporate taxes but broadening the corporate tax base. So he wants to bring the rate down from the nominal 35 percent rate to a nominal 28 percent.
ELVINGAnd I say nominal because, for a variety of reasons, a very few major corporations that have good corporate tax attorneys and auditors need to pay that rate. They know how to handle their revenue flows so that they can pay as little tax as possible. That's what we all do. We try to handle our revenue flows if we can, if we have any income other than straight wages, so that we don't have to pay a higher tax rate.
ELVINGAnd that, of course, is what corporate America does, too. So what the president is proposing is we lower the rate to make the rate seem a bit less onerous, and then we broaden the base so that fewer things can be written off and so that more of that revenue flow to the corporations is taxable. In theory, the whole thing turns out to be revenue-neutral, and it doesn't increase the deficit. Of course, you know, the devil is always in the details, and his Republican rivals have put forth similar plans that lower the rate even further.
RUBINIt's actually not revenue-neutral. In fact, the president has been very candid that this is a method of raising taxes overall, which is a substantial objection by the Republicans. If you compare this to Mitt Romney's corporate tax, that is revenue-neutral. And that is a traditional tactic of lowering the rates and broadening the base. For the president, the problem that conservatives will have with that, and have already expressed, is, first of all, it's increasing the overall tax burden when the economy is still weak, as we were talking about.
RUBINSecondly, that it makes us less competitive internationally because it begins what we've never had before, which is a minimum tax on overseas earnings. In the past, we've essentially not taxed monies unless they've come back to the United States. The Republicans, of course, moving in the opposite direction, saying that, even if you repatriate that money, all you should do is pay the country's -- the foreign country's taxes. It also adds great complication to the tax code. It seems to be moving in contravention of the simplification because there's a new rate for manufacturing.
RUBINThere's a new rate for super-duper forward-looking manufacturing, and there are a lot of these good-guy, bad-guy sort of elements in there. So, I think, for lots and lots of reasons, it's a non-starter. I think Republicans like just the parts they like. And the Democrats like just the parts they like, and (unintelligible).
CLIFTWell, it's a non-starter for now, but it does set the groundwork. There will be this kind of tax reform whoever is elected. And, in fact, there's a bidding war now among the Republican candidates. Romney would take the corporate tax down to 25. And all the others would take it much lower. So I think there's broad agreement, and everybody says it will be revenue-neutral. But the president does say he would raise -- he would compensate for some of the lost revenue by raising taxes on the -- on millionaires, if you will, for shorthand.
CLIFTAnd the Romney campaign, I understand, is going to release how their pay (word?), so they understand that this -- there's some funny money here as well.
REHMAnd we keep talking about broadening the base when, in fact, what we're saying is closing loopholes.
ELVINGThat's right. And both Jennifer and Eleanor are quite right about this. There is a difference between the Obama plan and what tax it would yield, and the Republican plans. And the Republicans, of course, are much more interested in making it absolutely revenue-neutral so that they can say it's not a tax increase. President, of course, has a certain amount of percentage in being able to say, I am not just increasing taxes, but I am getting more revenue from those who aren't paying their fair share.
ELVINGThe only point about neutrality that I would emphasize is that, going back to the 1986 Tax Reform Act, the whole idea has always been lower rates and broaden the base. If, in fact, you leave the base broadened and you don't come back in in the very next Congress and start poking a lot of holes with a lot of new loopholes and new exceptions, that can work. Question is, of course, how you keep the faith in the next Congress.
RUBINThat's exactly right. And we've had this discussion to a certain degree within the Republican primary race, and particularly when Herman Cain, which was a lifetime-and-a-half ago, started talking about a new tax. And this is the fear that conservatives have, that, when you set a rate and you take away those deductions, it becomes easier for politicians to nudge up that rate. Oh, it's a quarter percent. It's a half percent. And, conversely, corporations look at this as a opportunity to get their little goodies. And this is the continual battle in Washington.
REHMJennifer Rubin is the "Right Turn" blogger for The Washington Post. Ron Elving is with NPR. Eleanor Clift is contributing editor for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. Short break here. When we come back, we'll talk about ultrasound among other things.
REHMWelcome back here in the studio for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup. Jennifer Rubin, she is the "Right Turn" blogger for The Washington Post. Ron Elving is Washington editor for NPR. Eleanor Clift is with Newsweek and The Daily Beast. What knocked Virginia's bill to require women to get an ultrasound before an abortion off the fast track, Eleanor?
CLIFTThe realization that that would require an invasive probe because you can't judge the age -- gestational age of a fetus externally if it's very early, and I think people on both sides of that issue really weren't fully aware of what was involved. And when that became known -- and, actually, I give Jon Stewart a lot of credit for turning this around because he brought it out, made fun of it. "Saturday Night Live" did a skit on it. Amy Poehler said transvaginal was her favorite airline.
CLIFTSo it drove home how invasive this procedure was, and the governor who has vice presidential ambitions realized that he was going to be characterized as very extreme on this issue. And he backed off. They didn't have the votes. They've softened the bill. Women would still need to have an ultrasound, but, you know...
REHMAn external ultrasound.
CLIFTAn external -- right, where they rub jelly on your belly, and, you know, it's my understanding that Planned Parenthood, when they perform abortion services, it is routine to do that kind of -- so this is part...
CLIFT...of abortion services, actually.
REHMSo, Jennifer Rubin, does this mean the measure is dead? Or are they going to come back and deal with it in this jelly on the belly manner?
RUBINWell, I think Bob McDonnell would like the whole thing to go away for a good long time.
RUBINAs Eleanor indicated, he does certainly have vice presidential aspirations. And it's ironic in a way, because, if you think back to 2009 when he ran for governor, he had a reputation and a record of being a very staunch social conservative. But he said to the voters, I want to talk about what you want to talk about, and then never mentioned these issues again.
RUBINAnd, as a result, because he ran on bread and butter issues, because he comes across as an extremely reasonable guy like your neighbor next door, he not only won the state by almost 20 points, but he won in Fairfax County, which had been unheard of for a Republican in a number of years. So to see him kind of pulled back in this vortex of social issues is probably not where he wants to be.
REHMYou know, it's fascinating to me, Ron Elving. I was listening to Rush Limbaugh yesterday, as I do fairly frequently. He was saying that it is the media concentrating on social issues when the people are interested in economic issues. If I'm not crazy, I hear nothing but social issues from Rick Santorum, from Newt Gingrich, from even Mitt Romney, so I'm not sure it can be blamed on the media. Perhaps you all have different ideas.
ELVINGIf you get your information about the presidential campaign from the media -- and most all of us do -- those who are not out -- going around with the candidates, covering the candidates, you are going to get the impression that the media are talking a great deal about social issues because the candidates and the campaign have shifted onto that ground in recent weeks for several reasons, among others, that Mitt Romney was not being knocked off of his pedestal on economic issues. And so some of the candidates shifted to social ground, which they were more comfortable on.
ELVINGAnd also, because the economy, as we referenced at the beginning of the program, is improving a bit -- a bit -- and we're not getting carried away here. But the sense that everything was going down, down, down, it has been replaced by a sense of, hmm, maybe things are getting a little better. Therefore, it's not a salient cutting-edge kind of political issue, and someone like Rick Santorum is very comfortable shifting over to the social issues he can see doing better for him in the primaries.
RUBINI'm not a big fan of the blame-the-media argument that permeates on the right. I know that's an act of heresy for conservatives. But, listen, Rick Santorum has said a lot of very extreme, very noteworthy things. He has chosen to speak about it. He has chosen to bring issues that were never previously policy issues, at least not in the last 40 years or so...
RUBIN...into the scuffle. Contraception, that has not, to my knowledge, been an issue, certainly, in my adult lifetime. And so you can't expect the media to ignore these things. I also think that it's the case that the media has actually been covering other things as well. And I think it's been appropriately balanced, depending upon the client -- depending upon the candidate. Mitt Romney doesn't talk about these issues very much, and so people are talking about his record on health care. They're talking about his economic plan.
RUBINAnd Michigan, exactly. Rick Santorum has chosen to be, as he says, a cultural warrior. He wrote a book about it. By the way, I think everyone in the media who hasn't read it cover to cover is delinquent. It is quite an eye-opener. I must say I've read it and written on it and will probably do more. But if you choose to make this one of your signature issues, one of your signature themes of your campaign, you can't very well complain on the media that covers it.
CLIFTI have some sympathy with the politicians who say, well, we are talking about other issues. But they're not saying anything new on the economy. They're saying the same things. And when you introduce contraception as an issue when people thought that was a settled issue for 30, 40, maybe 50 years, I mean, that is news. But the documentary on PBS that has been running about President Clinton this last week, it pointed out how gays in the military took over his early months in office.
CLIFTAnd he would complain, I spend maybe 10 minutes a day on this issue, and people out there look at this presidency and thinks this is all we care about. So there is kind of a disconnect. I have some sympathy with the politicians.
REHMBut, you know, it's interesting you bring up gays in the military. Maryland has just become the eighth state to allow same-sex marriage. Where is this issue going, considering the presidential campaign?
CLIFTWell, the long view is we're going to get to legalizing gay marriage. It's probably not going to happen this year or maybe not in the next several years, but it's on its way. But, in the meantime, it's a very inflammatory issue that both sides of the political agenda are going to use. And the fact that it's going to be on the ballot in Maryland, most likely -- because the reason they are able to get this law through is they left the door open to get it put on the ballot -- it will encourage a lot of people to come to the polls.
CLIFTAnd depending which side you're on, you're going to think this is a good thing or a bad thing. And we're going to see that in several other states as well.
RUBINWell, first of all, I think, perhaps, Barack Obama should get with the 21st century. He still has not come out in favor of gay marriage. And I think that's, in some ways, a bigger problem for him than it is on the Republican side because Republicans can simply say, I'm in favor of what their little catch phrase is, traditional marriage, and off they go. But the president has a different problem, which is that certainly -- I haven't looked at recent poll numbers. But certainly a majority of Democrats favor equal rights for gays, gay marriage.
RUBINAnd he has held on to this historic position that presidents have held for a while, which allows them to skate through. And, I think, it's past its prime. It's not going to get him anywhere. As far as the Republican Party goes, my view for some time has been that this is a generational issue. As Eleanor said, the country, as a whole, is changing. And there is a big difference when, from the conservative perspective, a court finds a right to gay marriage as they did in the Massachusetts Constitution. Mitt Romney's line on that was John Adams, who wrote the state constitution, would be amused to find that out.
RUBINOf course, law doesn't work that way. You look at general language, and there are rights that flow from that language. But, be that as it may, there's a difference between fighting the imposition from a court decision and having the people, by referendum or by popular elected legislature, vote for something. That puts the Republicans in a very untenable position, I would suggest, and that is being anti-Democratic. So they turn around, say, OK, we'll get a constitutional amendment. Where are the state votes for this going to come to ratify this if we have state after state?
RUBINSo I think, ultimately, this is an issue that is going to get washed away in the annals of time. And I think Republicans, because they have a very strong social conservative block now, which feels very strongly about it, are not going to move technically. I also think you're not going to see them do very much about it.
ELVINGInteresting that the president occupies what he obviously considers the safest ground, civil unions, out letting the courts proceed, which the courts are doing in addressing the gay marriage issues, as we watch the California Prop 8 case go forward in the federal courts, probably on its way to the Supreme Court. And the individual states, as Jennifer says, they're taking this on. Interesting also that Maryland is the eighth state to legalize gay marriage, whereas Virginia has just been on the brink of being the eighth state to require ultrasounds for abortion.
ELVINGOnce again, the Mid-Atlantic split between those two states.
REHMInteresting. All right. Let's turn to the primaries and where these candidates stand going into next Tuesday's primaries in Michigan and Arizona. Jennifer.
RUBINWell, I have learned this campaign season to be modest in one's predictions and to be tempered in analysis because they seem to change day to day, week to week, moment to moment. But, as of this moment, coming on the air, there were two polls out post-debate showing Mitt Romney with a small lead in Michigan. That is consistent with what I've heard about internal polling from candidates who are doing that. As you know, they not only rely on external polls, but they take their own. And I think it's consistent with the impression that Rick Santorum did very poorly in that debate this week.
RUBINSo I think we may very well be headed towards a situation in which, from the brink of disaster and with threats and promises of bringing new candidates into the race, Mitt Romney comes out standing next week. I think the expectation is that he will do very well in Arizona. Actually, a great number of votes have already been cast there because they have early voting. And the Romney people, being very organized and professional, have done a good job as they did in Florida, as they say, banking those votes, getting those people out and getting them to vote early.
RUBINAnd so they have a confidence level that, on people who've already cast votes, they have a good, healthy lead.
CLIFTWell, I think the media, in collusion with the voters, are trying very hard to make this race interesting, but it looks like we could well end up with Mitt Romney, Mr. Inevitable, from the beginning. I mean, watching the debate last week, I felt like, you know, the demolition of Rick Santorum was underway. Mitt Romney really took him apart in that debate and, you know, with the help of Ron Paul, I might add, who has an ad out calling Rick Santorum a fake.
CLIFTAnd he was asked about that ad in the debate, and he said, yes, he is. And Rick Santorum held out his arm and said, I'm real, touch my arm. I'm real. But I think that the negative advertising that the Romney campaign and the Romney super PAC are dumping on Santorum will probably do their job in Michigan as they have in every other state.
REHMSo no surprise candidate at the convention, no third party candidate, Ron Elving?
ELVINGWe have to be skeptics about this. The system is not really set up to make that happen. It's set up to find somebody in the primaries, less than it was in 2008, less than it was in 2004, but that is still the prejudice of the primary system. I still think Romney will get it before we get to Tampa.
REHMRon Elving of NPR. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." There is so much money in this campaign coming from super PACs. One-fourth of all super PAC donations last month came from five donors. Eleanor, what do we know about them?
CLIFTWell, we know Foster Friess, who has backed Rick Santorum, seems like a jolly, jolly fellow, who reminded us all what contraception was in the 1950s. He was joking, but there aren't enough people alive who remember that that was a joke back in the '40s and '50s. Then you've got Mr. Simmons, I think, who has bankrolled a couple of the candidates, and he's got some business interests.
CLIFTAnd I think the point -- The New York Times has an interesting editorial today. They make the point that, you know, we can all be -- stand back and kind of really be aghast at these individuals having this kind of money and this kind of influence. But we have to remember that they do have agendas. And, you know, it's like we're going back to an earlier age in American politics where big moneyed interest can blatantly buy a politician, and it's out in the open. And we have to remind ourselves what the agendas of those various people are.
ELVINGThe current set of rules that we're operating under was greatly influenced by the Citizens United decision everyone's heard about from last year from the Supreme Court that loosened the rules considerably about what kind of money can get into the political system. And now, as a result, these super PACs, political action committees as we call them, are really taking over the game. They have equaled and begun to exceed the contributions that are coming from the national parties, from the national campaigns. They are really the source of the money.
ELVINGAnd as we saw in South Carolina, in Florida and again and again, somebody comes in, puts a big thumb on the scale in the last week or so, buys a lot of ad time, puts up an ad that's against a particular candidate or for a particular candidate, but does not actually violate the technical rules about too much coordination with the campaign -- even though we all know who's who in this thing -- and, therefore, they are really hijacking which used to -- what used to be a system of candidates and parties.
ELVINGAnd now, we have something new that's really the most bald influence of money that we've seen in a long time, more than a century.
REHMWhat about this effort to once again take Citizens United back to the court?
ELVINGWell, Justice Ginsburg has spoken of that, and I think Justice Kennedy, who wrote, I believe, the Citizens United decision and made observations about -- well, the citizens will not necessarily perceive that their democracy is up at auction or for sale. I think that's in serious question at this point, and one hopes that the attention that's being drawn to this and the -- what small degree of transparency we do have is letting people know what is going on here. And it seems to be a popular uprising that seems to be what's going on and that should, I think, influence the justices.
RUBINBut I think we have to make a distinction. Citizens United is not about Foster Friess or about Sheldon Adelson or about anyone else. Individuals have always had the right to spend unlimited amounts, just buy ad time and do all sorts of things, so long as they don't coordinate with the campaign. Citizens United was the ability of corporations and unions to do this. Foster Friess is not a union. And he doesn't need a corporation. He can just write checks. So I think this is a different problem. I know this is a different problem than the Citizens United.
RUBINCitizens United is what gave us groups like American Crossroads that are a corporation that solicit many people to give, set up a corporation for legal reasons, and then want to give. That's a different bird than these individuals, and I don't know, within the First Amendment, what you can do about a Foster Friess or what you can do about a Sheldon Adelson.
CLIFTWell, but they have enabled these so-called super PACs to thrive, and I do think Justice Kennedy opened the door to a challenge. Now, I think what you would have to prove is that all of this extra money coming into the system is corrupting in some way. And, in the end, we may end up with the same candidate that we would have even if all that money was not spent. But Mitt Romney's standing, I think, has really diminished in a process that many people feel has been trivialized and corrupted.
REHMEleanor Clift of Newsweek and The Daily Beast. When we come back, we'll open the phones. We'll also have little music.
REHMAnd welcome back. Time to open the phones. First to Dallas, Texas, good morning, Tom. You're on the air.
TOMGood morning, Diane. It's such an honor to be on your show with you and your guests, the greatest one in the cosmos.
TOMI was calling -- I've been three years in the Franciscan brothers of the Northeast Province, which Father Mychal Judge belongs to, the St. Francis Church on 31st Street. And I don't have any theological degrees or anything, but we all know that when our wives are pregnant for nine months, we can be romantic for the nine months. And Mother Nature creates a contraceptive that nothing can get to the uterus in those nine months 'cause it seals itself up. And after our wives are over 40 years old, when she conceives, many times, she's not even aware of it because Mother Nature just -- of it.
TOMAnd I believe a gynecologist would say it's around 60 percent of the time when a woman is over 40 years old. And so I think the bishops are a little bit in -- very dishonest to say that, you know, we should use contraceptives when Mother Nature provides contraceptives for us naturally. And I think it's just trying to keep uneducated people following their rules and regulations in having babies every nine months and (unintelligible).
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for calling. Eleanor.
CLIFTWell, I think the bottom line is that contraception is a very personal thing. And I don't think we want government making too many rules about it.
RUBINWell, I also think, you know, the Catholic Church has a stance which Catholics are taught, and they believe in very strongly about artificial contraception. But I think Eleanor is right, and I think this is not an issue in which even Republicans want to make a political issue. That's how far out we've gone.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Vienna, Va. Good morning, Mary.
MARYYes, Diane. Thank you for taking my call. I'm a long-time listener.
MARYDiane, last November, I was at a speech with Alice Rivlin, who was Clinton's former OMB director and a member of the Simpson-Bowles commission. And when asked why the president did not embrace the bipartisan commission that he set up, she seemed to be of the mindset that they were not going to entrust entitlement or tax reform until after the election. My question is: Why did he not embrace it?
MARYWouldn't the economy be having a more robust recovery? And are we, next year, going to be talking something about -- more similar to Simpson -Bowles? Or are we going to be talking about something like Peter Orszag has in mind, a reversal of all the Bush tax cuts?
CLIFTWell, I had a piece in Newsweek two weeks ago. I spoke with Sen. Simpson and asked that very same question, why the president didn't embrace it, and he said he didn't embrace it 'cause he knew he would get beat up. And so he chose not to do it. The commission fell short of the number of votes it would have needed to require an up-or-down vote in Congress. And I think the president felt if he came out in favor of its components, which included entitlement reform, that his own Democrats would be furious at him for seating an issue before the election.
CLIFTAnd Republicans would use it against him as well, so, politically, he backed off. But Simpson-Bowles remains the framework that, I think, both parties will eventually have to come to follow after the election when some of the differences are sorted out.
REHMAll right. To Louisville, Ky., good morning, Matt.
MATTGood morning. Thanks for taking my call.
MATTI just had a quick question. Why is it assumed that we need to be cutting corporate taxes at a time when corporations are raking in record profits? There's no evidence that the last time they tried broadening the base and lowering corporate taxes in the '80s, that it had any affect whatsoever on increasing revenue. I just think at a time when unemployment is 10 percent, millions of people are in foreclosure, and then now we're talking about cutting corporate taxes, it's basically, you know, a thumb in the eye of most middle-class Americans right now.
REHMWhat do you think about that, Jennifer?
RUBINWell, no one is talking about cutting corporate taxes. That's the difference between cutting rates and cutting taxes. Mitt Romney says his plan is neutral. We'll see if it's credible once he brings out his details. The president is going to be actually increasing the burden that taxes -- on taxes that come from corporations. So there are a number of theories for why we want corporate tax reform. We want more efficiency. We don't want government skewing investment decisions, hiring decisions for political reasons. We want to minimize, particularly for small businesses, the tax burden.
RUBINBut at least these moves are not an attempt to lower the burden -- overall burden of taxes on corporations.
ELVINGThe president also is doing special things for manufacturing corporations because he wants to attract manufacturing jobs back into the country. Manufacturing jobs tend to be somewhat more high-paying in many cases, more of a multiplier effect for some of these communities and great politics if you're running for re-election. And the Great Lake states are a major focus for him. Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania are really critical to his re-election.
REHMAll right. To Columbia, Mo., good morning, Brendan.
BRENDANHi. So people who take the standard reduction under income taxes are no longer able to deduct that mortgage interest from their houses, and that's been the case for two years. I've never heard that talked about in the media, and it seems like it's been a tax increased for lower middle-income people. Secondly, I heard Jennifer say something how unlikely it would be for a constitutional amendment to go through about gay marriage.
BRENDANBut there are various ways to amend the Constitution, and one is to go state by state and get two-thirds of the states to amend their constitutions. And that has happened for banning same-sex marriage. And once there will be a favorable Congress and president, it'd be possible that that could go through.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. Eleanor.
CLIFTYes. In the Simpson-Bowles commission, they do address the mortgage interest deduction. And I believe they suggest, like, putting $500,000 cap on it, you know, no second homes, that sort of thing. I mean, they would not strip it for the ordinary homeowner.
RUBINWhen I talked to Mitt Romney's people this week, as he rolled out his plan, I asked about that and other items like the charitable deduction. What they're looking at is for those people who would be in his 28th percent bracket -- that would be the highest bracket -- that they would use some combination of the various smorgasbords of suggestions that Simpson-Bowles made. Some of these are capped. Some of these are phased out. Some of these are limited in their entirety. In their words, everything would be on the table.
RUBINJust very briefly on the constitutional amendment, if you don't have two-thirds of the states that are willing to do this, you can't get the amendment through, obviously.
REHMRon Elving, let me ask you about the White House proposing an online consumer privacy bill of rights yesterday. What kind of guidelines are they offering?
ELVINGWell, they outlined seven major rights, as they're calling them, and it's not exactly clear yet how these would be applied. It's more in the sort of hortatory phase of, wouldn't these be good ideas if all of our online providers were to follow these principles? And there are things such as individual control. People should be allowed to decide how much of their information gets shared and with whom and how. They should be transparency in the sense that the provider should make it very clear exactly how much of your information is being marketed to other people in the world.
ELVINGThat -- and I do mean in both the cyber world and in the global world because this information goes all over the world. Respect for context is another one of the principles they're putting forward. That is to say if you collect personal information for one reason, you should only have it disseminated for that one reason and not then shared with all kinds of other people with commercial interests and so on: security, access, accuracy, focused collection, accountability, things that everyone would be for, of course, as in so many things.
ELVINGIt's in the application of these principles, and the devil is always in the details.
REHMSo how far are companies going on their own to help this process, Jennifer?
RUBINMany of them are doing this. Google came out with its own privacy standards and guidelines. And I think, although it seems like the Internet has always been with us, in many respects, it is still an evolving sort of thing. And I think one of the things that Google and other large Internet presence has shown is that innovation is a good thing. There are different ways of attacking this problem. I do think, however, that the president is smart.
RUBINThis is a very good issue that, I think, cuts across party lines. Who among us is not disturbed by having our clicks monitored and the uncomfortable feeling of seeing advertising pop-up on your screen that is very customized to your experiences, your trips, your interests? So, I think, it is something that strikes a chord with Americans, and I think this goes back to some of the other issues, that Americans don't want government making and viewing personal decisions. And, to a large degree, they feel the same way about big corporations.
CLIFTYeah. I think protecting privacy is a losing effort in this modern age. I think there are some conditions that can be put up. Google is announcing in March that they are going to be collecting information across the various -- its various platforms that people use, and that has some folks worked up. And I would add Google just named former Congresswoman Susan Molinari to head their Washington, D.C., office. She was a liberal Republican, if you will, from Staten Island, and, I think, she's endorsed Mitt Romney.
CLIFTI see this as a political appointment. And on somebody who knows Washington, Capitol Hill, there's going to be lots of lobbying around these issues in the coming years.
REHMAll right. To Ann Arbor in Michigan, hi there, Brandy. You're on the air.
BRANDYHi, Diane. Thank you very much for taking my call today.
BRANDYIt seems to me that, you know, whirlwind in this legal travesty of issues surrounding abortion, it seems that it's just a chess match that's heating up. And what I think of it is just pitting on, one side, a woman's right to privacy with what the other side sees as the right for the unborn. You know, the right to privacy only goes so far. And I would think of an example of, you know, a woman or a man doesn't have the right to sexually abuse a child in private.
BRANDYAnd so what I think is happening is that it seems to me that pro-life side is attempting to humanize the fetus and maybe at the very least, allow the accused to kind of face their accuser. And I actually think that's what really underlying this whole issue.
REHMThat's a long discussion, Ron Elving.
ELVINGThe term that is used frequently in our current debate about the status of the fetus is personhood, and there are many states that have already addressed this question of whether or not they consider a fetus to be a person. If, of course, you do impart full personhood rights to a fetus, that then, of course, changes all of the debate with respect to all of these different considerations. It would probably have some impact on the contraception debate as well as the abortion debate, so that's the direction that things are going.
CLIFTAnd, so far, in the states where that's been considered -- Colorado and most recently, Mississippi -- it's been turned down.
REHMTo Alexander in Indianapolis, good morning to you.
ALEXANDER(unintelligible) campaign during the elections.
REHMAlexander, are you there?
ALEXANDERYes, ma'am, I'm here. I'm sorry.
REHMGo right ahead, sir.
ALEXANDEROK, so here's my question. I'm from Indianapolis, and I've got -- we got Mitch Daniels. You know, he gets a lot of hype in the press, like being a good candidate.
ALEXANDERBut my question is this: What can you get do to get the candidates to begin to speak about things specifically that are going to make a difference for job growth?
CLIFTYeah, we kind of lost that issue along the way, didn't we? You know, the terrible truth is that there's not a whole lot a president can do. They can operate around the margins. And the Republican mantra, that you cut taxes and it unleashes all this animal, entrepreneurial spirit, you know, that's primarily their answer, and, you know, lift regulations. But those are old arguments, and I don't think they have attracted that much following.
REHMEleanor Clift of Newsweek and The Daily Beast, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." The president made big news this week by singing at a tribute to the blues at the White House. Let's hear a little bit of that.
REHMI mean, really, what's going on? But, to be fair, let's hear Mitt Romney from a few weeks ago singing in Florida.
REHMSo what's going on with all this singing, Jen?
MS. JENNIFER RUBINWe've had a long tradition of presidents doing this. Bill Clinton had his saxophone that he played on Arsenio Hall. We've had presidents who had children -- Harry Truman famously complained to a critic who criticized his daughter for her musical skills. I think, number one, it's an effort by these politicians who are so scripted, who are so contrived, to express themselves in some little modicum of humor of humanity. I think it's a good thing as long as they sing on key, that is. And these two were pretty good, I mean, not exactly in Herman Cain's category, but they were good.
REHMWhat do you think, Ron?
ELVINGWell, first, keep your day job. This is not the future career for either of these politicians. But, on the other hand, yes, Jennifer is exactly right. We want to think of these people as being human beings. We want them to be in some sense or another super capable human beings who have knowledge far beyond our own and capabilities far beyond our own and better luck than our own. But we also want them to be people we can relate to.
ELVINGWe used to call this to the have-a-beer-with factor. Which one of the candidates would you like to go out in the evening, have a beer or perhaps in Mitt Romney's case have a cup of -- no, I guess we couldn't do that either. We would have to go out and perhaps sing some patriotic songs together with Mitt Romney. And that's one of the reasons that he is looking for ways he can humanize himself, in part, because he is, you know, a bit of a stiff fellow and a person who is not seen as a good-time Charlie.
CLIFTI think they are if it's to connect with the voters. And I do want to point out that Michelle Obama says that her husband sings all the time at home.
REHMAll the time?
CLIFTYeah. But he's a private person. And he created all of this excitement in 2008, and then we discovered he's a pretty conventional person who really doesn't emotionally relate to the voters. And so, I think, letting out some of the inner Obama is part of what this is about. And, I think, with Romney, he's so tightly scripted, that singing and reciting patriotic music is -- he thinks that's his way...
CLIFTHe actually recites the verses of patriotic music at campaign rallies.
ELVINGI would say Barack Obama sang better at the Apollo a few weeks ago when he was there. And he did a few -- just a few bars from Al Green's, "Let's Stay Together" and was pretty good, and a lot of people were impressed with that. And YouTube...
CLIFTHe's got a good voice.
ELVING...went viral. And he does have an interesting smooth falsetto, and maybe the setting the other night with all those, you know, legendary musicians on the stage, maybe that was a little overwhelming.
REHMIs this all part of politics, Jennifer?
RUBINYes, it is. But Eleanor raises a very interesting point, and that is for all the talk about humanizing candidates and connecting and being emotional, being one of the guys, we may wind up with two candidates in 2012 who are sort of cold fishes and who have more in terms of personality in common with one another than in policy obviously.
REHMJennifer Rubin, "Right Turn" blogger for The Washington Post, Ron Elving of NPR, Eleanor Clift, of Newsweek and The Daily Beast, thank you all so much. And have a great weekend, everybody. Thanks for listening, I'm Diane Rehm.
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