Nine years ago, former FBI agent Robert Levinson disappeared in Iran while on a mission for the CIA. The story of his secret journey to Iran, the CIA cover-up that followed and efforts to rescue the longest-held U.S. hostage.
Lawmakers have gone home for a five-week break, leaving a lengthy list of uncompleted work. Among the measures left behind are drought relief, postal reform, cybersecurity and a plan to deal with the Bush-era tax and mandatory spending cuts. Public approval ratings for Congress remain below twenty percent. Members campaigning for re-election are facing tough questions about their ability to find common ground on the big problems facing the nation. A panel joins Diane to discuss what the 112th Congress has, and has not, accomplished, and how that could affect the election in November
- Brian Baker president of Ending Spending.
- John Farrell congressional correspondent for National Journal and author of "Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned" (2011).
- Thomas Mann senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of "It's Even Worse Than It Looks."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Lawmakers have begun their five-week summer recess, leaving a slew of unfinished business, including a measure to provide relief for farmers and ranchers in drought-stricken areas. In this hour, we consider what the 112th Congress has accomplished and what it's left undone.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me for a look at how this could affect the upcoming elections: Thomas Mann, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Jack Farrell, congressional correspondent of the National Journal, and Brian Baker, president of Ending Spending. That's a non-partisan advocacy group focused on debt and budget issues. Throughout the hour, we'll invite your calls, 800-433-8850. Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning, gentlemen.
MR. BRIAN BAKERGood morning.
MR. THOMAS MANNGood morning.
MR. JOHN "JACK" FARRELLGood morning.
REHMGood to have you all here. Tom, give us some of the reasoning behind the five-week vacation for the Congress.
MANNBecause the Congress doesn't want to do anything and would much prefer being out of town, back in their districts, in many cases -- listen, during a presidential election year, they usually take an extended recess. The August recess gets longer because...
REHMLonger and longer.
MANN...it stretches into September because of the party conventions which we have in late August or early September. So they're coming back on my birthday, Sept. 10, so it's -- I wouldn't think of the key point here being the length of the recess. It -- frankly, they could stick around two, three more weeks, and nothing would happen.
REHMJack, I wonder, though, how the American public views this. Most people take two weeks if they're lucky -- if they're lucky enough to have a job that allows them that kind of break. This is a five-week break, and as Tom says, they probably wouldn't have accomplished anything more. But is there history to this?
FARRELLI think that politicians generally get roasted unfairly for taking vacations. My feeling is that it's good for their souls as it's good for ours, and anything that gets people back into their districts, listening to real people instead of in Washington listening to lobbyists is not a bad idea.
REHMWell, that's a good point. What did they leave unfinished?
FARRELLWell, the huge thing they left unfinished is what we call the fiscal cliff, which is all the tax cuts that are expiring at the end of the year and this sequestration gimmick that they established last summer which was supposed to cut spending before it clicked in. And now it's looking more and more like it's going to actually click in, so those are the two biggies. They also left a couple of smaller bills on the table that, really, in the history of the republic, are not going to be that big a deal.
REHMWhat about the consequences of failing to provide emergency help for farmers and ranchers?
FARRELLWell, that will get done, but it's not like that was emergency money to dig a canal from the Great Lakes and bring water to the fields. It's something that will get done that will reimburse people afterwards for the losses that they suffered. So it would've been a nice shot in the arm. It would've been a nice political relief for the farmers and the ranchers, but it doesn't have to get done at the peak of the drought. It can wait.
REHMBrian, tell us about Ending Spending, how it was established, who's behind it and why.
BAKERSure. Well, the businessman, Joe Ricketts, who founded TD Ameritrade at the end of 2009, looked around and looked at the government and said, what's the number one issue with Congress? And we had a lot of leaders on both sides, Russ Feingold and John McCain and others, who told us that earmarks, if we could help get rid of earmarks, we might improve the Congressional process.
BAKERSo we formed an organization. It's called Ending Spending. And our first goal in the first year-and-a-half of existence was to get the Republicans and Democrats to ban earmarks. So in terms of what Congress hasn't done this year, I'll tell you, they haven't done any earmarks, and we've been successful in that.
FARRELLYou should declare victory and go home.
REHMTom, lots of folks are calling this the worst Congress ever. What do you think?
MANNWell, that may be a bit hyperbolic. I'm sure we could go back to the 19th century and find something equally depressing. But certainly in the modern era, since records were kept about agendas, presidential initiatives and all of the statistics of Congress, this seems to be both the least productive, A, and the most harmful, that is to say steps they took because of the ideological agenda of the new Republican majority and Congress have been viewed by most of non-partisan economists as counter-productive.
MANNThat is, the idea was to take the country's full faith and credit hostage in order to achieve immediate cuts and discretionary domestic spending at a time the economy was not yet back into a self-sustaining recovery. It's sort of Econ 101. That is in how you proceed. They didn't get much in the way of spending cuts, but they did manage to decrease the confidence in the economy. And its objective assessments are that it really cost us, you know, half a percent of GDP growth.
MANNAt the same time, we took no steps when it became obvious that the economy was struggling to recover. There were no efforts taken at all to try to deal with that in a serious way. In fact, at the very time the austerity program, say in Britain, were producing slower growth and effectively higher deficits in spite of the spending cuts, they wanted to double down on that strategy.
FARRELLWell, in defense to my old friends, the House Republicans, is they passed an awful lot of tax cuts with the idea that that would stimulate the economy. They did it knowing probably that the Senate wouldn't go along with them. So you could argue that they should've approached it more seriously and tried to get in the bipartisan stimulus package. But they did do what they believed in, which was to try to cut taxes and put that marker down.
REHMAnd let's talk about the fact that they did vote on the health reform bill 33 times to repeal it.
FARRELLWell, this was an election year. And I -- they probably could've voted on it 60 times given how unpopular that bill is with their core constituency.
BAKERWell, Diane, I do want to talk about...
REHMGo ahead, Brian.
BAKEROne thing that the House Republicans did do, that the Senate hasn't been able to find a way to do, is to pass a budget. So the House Republicans passed the most ambitious conservative reform plan in a generation, and that's the Paul Ryan budget. The Senate refuses to debate it, and, of course, the Senate won't pass their own budget and hasn't done so in over 1,000 days. So I think that's pretty damning on the Senate's part.
REHMBut didn't the House know full well that the Senate was not likely to pass it?
BAKERWell, listen, the Senate's not likely to pass it, but the Senate could actually debate it. I mean, let's just have a debate. That's what they're there for. That's what we pay these folks for. Heck, I think they should go home because when they're here in D.C., they don't even do their jobs.
REHMOf course, John Boehner himself blames the polarization of the nation, saying that that's what's reflected in the Congress.
BAKERI think that's true. I think that's very true.
MANNI mean, you're right. The Senate should've passed the budget resolution. But it turned out in the agreement last year that the Congress reached with the president their -- they set a discretionary spending limit cap, so they -- what the budget resolution achieves, if you don't want to have more tax cuts and higher deficits, what it achieves is already achieved in law, so you live with that. And that's what the Senate decided to do.
REHMWhat seems to be happening right now is that Harry Reid, Jack Farrell, is focusing on Mitt Romney's taxes, claiming that he has had an inside source tell him that Mitt Romney has not paid taxes for 10 years. Now, that, I gather, excludes the two years that he has already released tax forms for. What do you make of this? Would Harry Reid go out on a limb that way? He's being called a liar by the opposition. What do you make of this? Is that one more indication of a dysfunctional group of people up there?
FARRELLNo. I think it's one more indication of where our politics has gone. The bar keeps getting lower and lower, and this is -- the big difference between this and sort of the Birther nonsense about President Obama is that this -- that was never said on the Senate floor by the majority leader. This is -- and if -- but he is succeeding at what he set out to do which is to divert the conversation to this issue instead of anything else, which is what the Obama campaign the Democrats would like.
REHMSo, as a reporter, you see absolutely no truth to the allegation that Harry Reid is making?
FARRELLThe indications are and the strength of the Romney response would tell me that probably the governor paid low rate of taxes but probably did not technically pay no taxes for 10 years. But...
FARRELL...that's a guess. That has to be a guess 'cause we don't know.
MANNListen, I won't defend Harry Reid's language or rhetoric. What I will say is that he's far from the first to make the call. It was actually prominent conservative activists who, a few weeks ago, were saying, listen, Gov. Romney, just...
REHMJust go ahead and just do it.
MANN...just release the forms. That's now the new norm in American politics. Previous nominees have done it. Your father has done it. Stop hiding, put it out there and take it.
REHMTom Mann, he is with the Brookings Institution, co-author with Norm Ornstein of "It's Even Worse Than It Looks." Stay with us.
REHMAnd here's our first email from Kai in Pembroke Pines, Fla., who says, "I rarely have any type of outward reaction to things I hear on radio, but listening to NPR News just before your show, a report from Marco Rubio introducing legislation to eliminate income taxes for Olympic medal winners caused me to blow my top at the radio. With all the issues plaguing our country, is this really what Congress people think as a reasonable use of legislative time? It makes me sick to my stomach." Tom.
MANNIt ought to make you sick to your stomach, and, sadly, that is much of what passes for serious congressional action these days, looking, you know, looking to do something that touches the patriotic feelings many Americans have. But it's just the wrong lesson. I can't imagine a worse idea at this time. It so detracts.
MANNIn my mind, what Marco Rubio did is here is more distressing than what Harry Reid said because, quite frankly, it goes to the heart of the problems confronting the country and the extent to which we've been so busy cutting taxes that -- and then crying that we're spending too much and have big deficits that we're in a big heap of trouble.
BAKERIt's certainly a good learning lesson for the American people. You see these Olympic champions preparing their whole life for this moment, and they win the gold medal, and the government reaches in and takes half. And I think that's a heck of a learning lesson. But as for a tax cut for it, I don't think, just like with earmarks, we ought to target tax cuts for any particular class of individuals like this. It ought to apply to everybody.
REHMHere's an email from Steven. He says, "The reform group No Labels is promoting a "no budget, no pay" bill, stating that members of Congress will not be paid if they fail to approve the budgets by the statutory deadline of Sept. 30." What do you think? Has this gone anywhere? Will it go anywhere, Brian?
BAKERI don't know if it's gone anywhere. I doubt it will go anywhere. Congressman and senators are not very good at cutting their own pay.
MANNDiane, No Labels is a group of serious citizens and activists, and they have proposed a number of constructive changes in Congress, including reform of the filibuster. But this one was put in at the behest of a member of Congress who thought it would play well with the public as if that incentive is somehow the dominant factor. I mean, we have a fundamental disagreement now between the parties, and the country ought to know about that. This is a distraction, not a serious reform proposal.
REHMBrian, 87 budget hawk freshmen took control of the House in the year 2000. How much were they able to accomplish?
BAKERListen, reform takes many years.
REHMActually, it's 2010. Forgive me.
BAKERCertainly. No, I mean, reform takes many years. And so I think that these new freshmen have accomplished a lot. I mentioned one earlier, eliminating earmarks, small but important change, passing the Ryan budget, a truly shape-shifting budget for the federal government. So those are things that are important, but reform takes many years. And I think that the freshmen who are elected, should they be reelected, they have a lot more to do to get, you know, progress and traction on their ultimate goal of shrinking the size of the government.
FARRELLYeah. I did a big story for National Journal on the polarization in Congress. You know, the smartest thing that was said to me was by Rep. Michael Capuano, which is that, you know, we are not appointed officials. We're elected. We reflect what people in our districts want. And we are in the country right now having a big, huge debate over these things.
FARRELLAnd to pick on them because they didn't pass a budget by a certain date and for their clumsiness as legislators or lawmakers sort of gets past the point which is that we as a country have to decide what kind of government we want, what kind of society we want, and that right now is up in the air.
MANNI used to talk like Jack. You know, all understanding, they have a difficult job. The polarization is part of the country as well, and all that is true. But we have now a set of very perverse incentives in our politics, which is for the opposition party to do everything it can to undermine the economy because that's their way back into power so it can be done in the name of ideological goals and interest. But with divided party government and separate presidential and mid-term elections, it's very difficult for the public to register and weigh in on that big debate.
BAKERWell, I mean, but I think, first of all, we have to remember, talking about House Republicans, they control only one-half of one-third of the federal government. And I don't think it's fair to say -- to criticize them for not accomplishing more or to blame them, as it appears Tom just did, for undermining the economy.
REHMSo to what extent do you think Democrats contributed to the gridlock?
BAKERWell, an equal extent. They control the other half of Congress.
REHMAn equal extent. Your book with Tom -- with Norm Ornstein puts the whole thing squarely on Republicans, Tom.
MANNThat's correct. That is we do say there's a general mismatch between our parliamentary-style parties and our separation of power system. So both parties have become polarized. But in the recent era, it's the Republican Party that's veered off the mainstream of American politics, both ideologically and procedurally. They are scornful of compromise.
MANNThey have no use for so-called settle facts, evidence, science, and they have become sort of aggressively oppositional like a parliamentary party. And that -- all it takes is one House of one Congress to bring the system down. That's how it works.
BAKERBut on the other side, we have to remember in the last two years, Republicans have controlled one House of one side of Congress. But for the first two years of the president's term, they controlled the entire Congress and the entire executive branch.
MANNAnd that's why so much got done.
BAKERBut I think what the American people got fed up with was so much got done but without truly being reflective of the wishes of the people. You know, a lot of the actions that were taken were very polarizing.
FARRELLWell, they were very polarizing in part because you expend an awful lot of energy on Capitol Hill getting something like health care law passed. You need to have somebody with a megaphone out there telling people why it's a good idea. The Democrats failed so miserably at that, and the Republicans were so successful with their megaphone telling people why this big, complicated bill was bad for them that, you know, if I had to answer you, Tom, that would by answer would be that, you know, it's politics. You beat these guys, and the Democrats have shown an inability to beat these guys.
REHMBut, Jack, hasn't the Congress been able to find common ground on some areas?
FARRELLYeah, you know, you can't underestimate the power of the Americans. There's really no establishment anymore. But the business establishment, when they come together and they say, you know, we need this to get done, then all of a sudden you'll find that an awful lot of members in the Senate particularly will forget that -- what the Tea Party wants and do what Corporate America wants, and things get done.
MANNBut then they frustrated. It's very interesting how Jim Inhofe and Barbara Boxer work together on actually trying to develop a serious piece of legislation but a real bill to deal with infrastructure and the like. But it was just killed, in this case, in the House because they want to cut spending, even spending for the core investments that will determine our economic future.
MANNThey didn't want to have any financing beyond the gasoline tax which hasn't been increased in ages and has been devalued because of increased efficiency of autos were hopelessly underfunding this area of government. That part of the budget is shrinking. We're eating our seed corn, and nothing gets done.
BAKERWell, as we recount (unintelligible) recounts in our new book called "The Fiscal Cliff," there's lots of examples. I mean, Simpson-Bowles is a great example. Former Sen. Al Simpson, a Republican, worked with former Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles to come up with a budget. A lot of Republicans voted for it, some were against it, some Democrats supported it.
REHMBut then they backed away from it, didn't they?
BAKERWell, Simpson and Bowles didn't back away from it, but...
BAKER...President Obama, who put this commission in place, backed away from it completely. And you had...
FARRELLWell, the Republicans backed away from it, too.
FARRELLThey didn't support it to begin with, actually. The House Republicans didn't support it to begin with.
BAKERRight, but Tom Coburn did in the Senate. But then if you looked at the House Republicans, Paul Ryan worked with Ron Wyden to come up with a Medicare plan that no Democrat will stand behind. So, I mean, I think that's why I say blame is on both sides.
REHMSo what's on the docket when they come back in September, Jack?
FARRELLIn September, it's really just a little bit of house cleaning. It's not going to be very dramatic.
REHMYou mean, the farm bill?
FARRELLWell, they have to do something about draught relief. They may or may not have to do something about the farm bill. Cyber security may go on until next year.
FARRELLThey do have to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government.
REHMAnd what are the chances of a shut down?
FARRELLI think it's very slim. I've had some of the Tea Party people tell me about it. We just don't want to -- we don't want to fight that fight in an election year. We're doing great. Redistricting gave us safe districts. We want to, you know, they're getting back to be politicians.
REHMBut two big things, how to avoid sequestration, what to do about the Bush tax cuts, not going to do anything before the election.
FARRELLNo, I think the most -- I mean, it could be a pipe dream, but I think the most fascinating thing about the whole thing is all those Republicans have signed these pledges not to raise taxes.
FARRELLThe Democrats hang tough and let the clock tick on New Year's Eve. Then, all of a sudden, you're not raising taxes anymore. You're cutting taxes. And you're not cutting taxes maybe as much as the Bush taxes cut taxes, but you are still voting for a tax cut. You can go home to even the most conservative district and say, I voted for that tax cut. I didn't like to break the pledge. It wasn't as big as I wanted, but, you know, we got together, and we gave you a nice big, fat tax cut. And that is a possible way out.
MANNThat is an important lever for getting things done. If the -- if all of those tax cuts expire, then you have a new base on which you try to write law for taxes. And everything you could say is an increase, but really isn't. It's sort of cutting from the old system and...
MANN...producing the revenues you need. But I think until the Republican Party backs away from unknown new tax pledge, we will not be able to deal seriously with our problems.
REHMHow likely is that, Brian?
BAKERI don't think that's very likely at all. The Republican brand has been built on, you know, for the last 20 years, promising the American people that they wouldn't raise taxes. And look at every time we see one these deals -- I mean, in the '80s, under Reagan, the Bush 41 deal in 1991 -- the tax hikes come immediately. The spending cuts never really materialize. So the people know that that's really just a great, big, grand hoax.
MANNBut it's not true. It turns out spending was completely under control in the Clinton years after we had that marginal increase in taxes. So it's one of these myths. What serious scholars have demonstrated is the old idea about starving the beast just doesn't make sense at all.
REHMTom Mann of the Brooking Institution. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We'll open the phones now, 800-4338-850, first to San Francisco. Good morning, Denise. You're on the air.
DENISEGood morning. My point, when you were saying that John Boehner had stated that, you know, the country is polarized and that's the reason that Congress is polarized, I think it's a little the other way around. I think it's the tail wagging the dog. And the more I talk to conservatives -- moderate Republicans that are conservatives fiscally, but socially moderate, what I'm hearing is they're getting really tired of the Palinization of this -- of their party, the party of their fathers and grandparents.
DENISEAnd I'm hearing talks of them about going into the voting booths and doing a quiet revolution of voting for every Democrat down the line to get these Tea Party hot-headed idiots out of Washington, D.C. once and for all because, ideologically, you can't run a government, and you can't run a society from the Bible.
REHMBrian Baker, what do you think?
BAKERWell, I understand the frustration that the caller feels, but I don't know about the Palinization of the party. You see, in a number of primaries around the country, Texas and in Nebraska and Indiana, the people in the Republican Party are voting for candidates backed by Sarah Palin. I think that a lot...
REHMTed Cruz in Texas. Mm hmm.
BAKERTed Cruz and Deb Fischer and Richard Mourdock. Look, I think...
MANNYes, but is she going to speak at the convention?
BAKERYou know, I don't know. I don't plan the convention, but if you ask me, I would think that Sarah Palin represents an important voice in the party and that people are frustrated. And, look it, a lot of people want to say that the Tea Parties -- the Tea Party people are the ones who are extreme. But simply standing up and saying, we can't keep borrowing 40 cents out of every dollar from China is not radical. Actually, doing it is radical.
REHMInteresting that neither President George W. Bush nor vice president are going to the convention.
BAKERYou know, this is going to be up to the Romney people. They want to put together the best package that they can. I think the Palin thing to me is fascinating because to snub her, I think, is a big deal, more so than even the former president because she so represents the energy of this part of the party, and Romney needs that energy. So, you know, it's interesting. One interesting thing about, you know, we talked about Cruz, though.
BAKERYou know, Cruz is a graduate of Princeton, Harvard Law, clerked at the Supreme Court. I mean, we have the shorthand, which is that all conservatives are Tea Party, and they're going to be unreasonable whackos. No, not this -- this guy is going to be -- he could be George Herbert Walker Bush II.
MANNExcept that he's much more ideologically sort of committed to a moral fundamentalism, as well as economic libertarianism, and that's where Denise is right. The Republican Party is now built upon bringing together economic libertarians and moral fundamentalists. And it makes some of those folks mighty uneasy.
BAKERI just don't think that's true. I think that the Republican Party -- you know, look at the presidential campaign. Mitt Romney talked all about fiscal conservatism. Ted Cruz, in his Senate race, he didn't talk about moral and fundamental-type issues. He was talking about the problem with the debt. Certainly, some of the other issues come up, just like they come up on the Democratic side. But, look it, the fundamental tenets right now, that the Republican Party is building their election chances on is, how do we stop the runaway debt?
MANNI just have to say, we had a balanced budget in the latter part of the Clinton years, at the beginning of the Bush -- it wasn't runaway government. We managed to sort of control things. And then we cut a lot of taxes. We started two wars. We added a Medicare Part D budget, and then we ran directly into the worst economic financial crisis since the 1930s.
REHMTom Mann, John Farrell, Brian Baker, they're all here to answer your questions after a short break. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about what the 112th Congress has achieved, what it's left on the table, what it's likely to do when it comes back in September after a five-week break. We have Deborah who wants to know, what about the stalemate on the Violence Against Women Act? Jack.
FARRELLThat is one that I think could move quickly when they get back in September before the election and if not in the lame duck. That's -- that is an unforgivable problem. This is the -- the extra language that was put in by Senate Democrats was, to a large part, to protect Native American women who -- the statistic that's used on the floor, in any case, is that one in three Native Americans women will suffer sexual violence in their lifetime and usually by someone who's not a Native American man. And so it's a very small thing, but the House Republicans objected to it and...
FARRELLIt's one more expansion of the great mythical beast of government, and they don't like it.
REHMAnd here's another email. This one from T.J. in Ann Arbor, Mich., "Why is getting rid of earmarks a good thing? They are the oil that lubricates the political process coming across the aisle, creating bipartisan legislation that's good to the largest number of people, and this nation is why we send these people to Washington. Why take away their ability to negotiate?"
BAKERWell, first of all, a great number of earmarks from state and local projects that the federal government has no role in funding. I've been long critical of Texas Republican Ron Paul, who's a big earmarker, and he puts in funding requests for things like bike packs -- bike paths in Texas. Federal government has no role in funding that. It's just totally not the role of the federal government.
BAKERNow, as to the caller's point about it being the grease that makes the wheels run, he's absolutely right, and that's the whole reason why we got to get rid of them. We don't send the men and women who represent us to Washington to just pass bipartisan legislation. We send them to do the right thing for our country. And what these earmarks are -- former Democratic Congressman David Obey, he called it internal bribery -- oftentimes they're used to pass big bills that otherwise wouldn't pass.
BAKERTo a couple of examples, the Medicare bill, passed during the Bush administration, a lot of people objected to the out-of-control spending in that bill. They used earmarks to pass it -- never would've passed otherwise. The health care bill, the so-called Cornhusker Kickback that basically chased Ben Nelson out of the Senate, same type of thing, so congressmen and senators shouldn't be -- have to be bribed, bought off for their vote.
FARRELLWell, the Cornhusker Kickback was not really an earmark. That was a sort of an absolution of Nebraska from having to fulfill some of the obligations of the health care act. And what was the other one? What was the first one? The bike paths in Texas. OK, I'll agree with you on the bike paths in Texas.
MANNRemember, the greatest piece of tax reform legislation that we all refer to as Congress working under Ronald Reagan, Tax Reform act of 1987...
MANN...'86 was the filled with so-called transition rules and particular provisions applying to individuals to help grease the system. So, you're right. It's a dilemma. Sometimes they help, but they can be used in ways to bribe members, but it doesn't have much of an effect on spending.
REHMAll right. I want to go back to the phones. To Providence, R.I. Good morning, Steve.
STEVEThank you for taking the call.
STEVEI want to come back to this Ryan Budget question and the -- I can't remember which of your panel is extolling the virtues of that as...
STEVE...a big success in the last Congress, the passing of it by the House. Just look at the current piece in The New Yorker about Paul Ryan. Go towards the end of the article where the writer is talking with Ryan about infrastructural support that his hometown of Janesville, Wis. has gotten his district. Some of it's current -- coming in the last couple of years, ironically, some of it's Obama stimulus money, some of it on the table to be coming. And Ryan says, oh, well, infrastructure is something that the government should do.
STEVEExcept, as the author knows, Ryan's budget cuts that kind of infrastructural spending, so the arithmetic in the Ryan budget does not square. The -- you can't square the circle. It's the same problem that Romney has got with this recent tax policy institute thing. The numbers do not add up. So extolling the Ryan budget as a big success is almost ridiculous.
BAKERWell, the numbers that don't square are the one that I said earlier. I mean, I want to know your response for how we keep borrowing 41 cents out of every dollar from foreign countries. That's what doesn't square. Do you know that in the last four years...
STEVESo what you had to do is tax people.
BAKERWell, in the last four years, we've had over a trillion dollar-plus deficit from the federal budgets. It's absolutely historic. Those are the numbers that don't square. And so my point about the Ryan budget is you have to really fundamentally reform the way in which the federal government provides its services and money back to the people.
FARRELLYeah. I would say this in defense of the Ryan budget, is that the House Republicans did a tough thing which was they left some magic asterisks, but they basically spelled out what they would do. The progressives in the House then came up with their own budget, which was a very nice liberal budget. And then the centrist Democrats came up with another budget. So, actually, in the House, you have a nice debate developing about what, you know, what's going to happen and where we're going to go.
MANNI see it all sounds nice again. Everything is working swimmingly in the Congress.
BAKERJust, Jack Pollyanna Farrell...
MANNI think the caller is absolutely right about the Ryan Budget. And those who have really followed through and looked at the numbers realize it's not a deficit reduction, debt reduction bill for about 40 years. And, ultimately, what it does is provides no room for discretionary domestic spending of any kind. We'll have room for defense and the trim back entitlements and taxes at a historically low level. That's like going back 150 years in our history. It's wildly unrealistic. If the public had a clue of what the implications of it were, I think they'd rise up and vote against the Republicans.
REHMWe have an email from Rich in Raleigh, N.C., who says, "Your guest just stated we borrow 43 cents out of every dollar from China. Please stop this state of fear lie. China holds about 7 percent of our debt. That means we actually borrow three cents out of every dollar from China. Most of the rest we borrow from ourselves." Brian?
BAKERYeah. I believe I said 41 cents, and if I said all from China, I said it incorrectly. We borrow 41 cents out of every dollar from a number of foreign countries and from ourselves. Now, your caller earlier said something about the -- what his plan is, is to raise taxes. So I'd love to hear Tom's response to the new Ernst and Young study which shows that raising taxes will cause 701 -- 700,000 jobs in the first year alone. I mean, that kind of irresponsible plan is another reason why our economy is bad.
MANNWell, as I recall, if we go back to the Clinton tax rates and the kind of job creation that occurred after that, it was huge. And after we cut taxes in the Bush era in his first -- the first year and third year, job growth was mediocre. Therefore, the relationship between taxes at the levels we're talking about in job creation just don't stand up to Brian's argument.
REHMAll right. To South Bend, Ind. Good morning, John.
JOHNDiane, I love your show.
JOHNI'm just commenting on a comment from one of your guests that said that Congress goes back and their decisions reflect on what their constituency has said to them. But here's my problem with this, is the -- what they do is they don't go back to everybody in their constituency because not all of the people voted for them. And, actually, only 10 to 15 percent vote in election, so that's my problem with it. It's -- I don't see how somebody is so far left or so far right that, you know, these decisions are being made. And I'll take my comment off the air.
FARRELLYeah. I think it's a great unfortunate part of American politics that you can continue to play to your base at all times. I thought that President Obama had a chance to change that paradigm, and he didn't. He didn't go to Alabama. He didn't go to -- I think he mentioned Nebraska maybe once. But, I mean, he did not spend his time out there talking to all the people. He went just to battleground states like every president before him and tried to appeal to the vote that he's going to need in November.
REHMWhat about redistricting? How is that affecting or going to affect races?
FARRELLUnbelievably. I think that's the great elephant in the room that nobody is really talking about. The Republicans with the Tea Party -- Congress also elected a lot of Tea Party legislators, and they voted to provide a tremendous number of safe districts. It's going to add to the polarization. The chance of a big wave election is being reduced. People are going to get dug in, and they're going to be amendable to change him. Right, Tom?
MANNI think the biggest difference from redistricting this time around is Republicans, rather than trying to gain more, have decided to shore up their vulnerable freshmen and other members. And it's -- it makes it all the more difficult for Democrats to have any chance, even if things swung in their direction, of winning a majority in the House.
REHMAll right. To...
BAKERDiane, I got a couple statistics if you want to hear them.
REHMSure. I am.
BAKERSure. This is from our ace guy Charlie Cook.
BAKERIn 2008, 85 members won cross-over districts that voted for one party for the House and the other way at the presidential race. In 2010, this number was cut in half. In 2012, it could be cut in half yet again to fewer than 20 representatives. That's a big parliamentary system.
REHMWhoa. Big change, big change.
REHMAll right. To Laconia, N.H. Good morning, Jeff.
JEFFGood morning. And thank you for taking my call.
JEFFMy point, going back to what your first caller mentioned, Denise over in California, brought up the subject of fiscal conservative, socially moderate individuals. And your forward kind of swept us under the rug, and I just had to call in. I've wanted called in a 100 times and raised this issue when you have a partisan panel. And I am so sick of being grouped into, you know, in supporting the right or the left. I mean, I am just a true and through a fiscal conservative, but I have to vote with my social views because I feel those are the most important.
JEFFSo I end up voting Democrat, even though I -- in most -- by all stretch of imagination support the Republicans, except when they have to get on the whole religion card. And that just -- it is such a segment of the population, I think, is not represented by -- you know, the far right has their media voices that are talking. And the far left has their media voices that are talking. There's no one in the middle that, you know, where is the common sense in our country anymore? It's -- I'm just so frustrated with the whole process.
REHMI think there are great many people out there exactly like you, Jeff.
MANNAnd, Diane, I think you'd find it especially among the younger voters who tend to be more sort of fiscally sensitive and conscious...
REHMSure. Sure. Jeff, how old...
MANN...but who are socially liberal.
REHMJeff, how old are you?
JEFFI'm 28 years old, and I would agree with that statement, that I do think it's age specific.
FARRELLYeah. And when we baby boomers finally fulfill our final duty, which is to die and get out of your way, you can change the society without having to fight the same old Civil War over Vietnam and marijuana and amnesty that we've been fighting for 40 years.
REHMJack Farrell, he is congressional correspondent for National Journal, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And to Charlotte, N.C. Good morning, Allen.
ALLENGood morning, Diane. How are you doing this morning?
REHMI'm great. Thanks.
ALLENYes. Actually, I have -- I wanted feedback actually off of Denise's comment as well. And the only thing that I would hope could actually happen from a legislative perspective is that our legislators understand there can only be one president, and, with an election, there are consequences. And being that there are consequences, we now wish and hope and pray that you guys now conduct yourself, guys and women, as adults and do what's best to lead the actual country. And I'll take my comment off the line now.
REHMThanks for calling. So -- all right, Brian, what happens if Obama is re-elected? Are we going to see any greater cooperation in the Congress?
BAKERI would expect to see so. If -- I think if President Obama is reelected, I would hope that he adopt some of the principles talked about in the Ryan budget and in the Simpson-Bowles plan. You know, our organization and expending is all about how we return the fiscal responsibility. And so we have to get the debt under control, and we have to get the economy moving. And I think, you know, look at...
REHMIs your organization in support of the no new taxes, the Grover Norquist pledge?
BAKERI think at this time with the recession, it's not a great idea to raise taxes. But in the same token, there is a need for fundamental tax reforms, so there's a difference there, right? You know, we could lower rates if we cleaned up the tax code. There's a great, great many tax expenditures that are out there that could likely be, you know, eliminated. Now, that might increase somebody's individual taxes. But if we lower the marginal tax rate overall, that would be a great boon to the economy.
REHMJack Farrell, what do you see happening if President Obama is reelected?
FARRELLI think the Democrats and Obama would take the Simpson-Bowles deal. I think that -- he didn't take it at the time because he was afraid about the liberal opposition.
REHMAnd the Simpson-Bowles deal would do what?
FARRELLIt's a 3:1 ratio of taxes to spending a tax hike to spending.
BAKERI think it's actually 2:1 is what our book shows.
FARRELLIt's 2:1. OK. And I don't think Republicans will, so I think it's going to be a really tough slug. I think the tax reform will try to give them some kind of umbrella that they can hide some increases in revenue in. They'll make us promises that tax reform is going to kick off this amazing new economy. The cycle is going to come to an end, and the economy will get better, and more tax revenue will come in, and that's like the only bright side on this process.
REHMIs the same thing likely to happen if Mitt Romney is elected?
MANNIt will be a different future because, if he's reelected, he will have a Republican House and Senate.
REHMWe're talking about Obama now.
MANNNo, I'm talking about Romney now. I'm sorry.
REHMOh, you say reelected. OK.
MANNIf Romney is elected with a Republican House and Senate, having campaigned on the Ryan budget and the plans, they are going to approve it through reconciliation, and then we're going to discover what it's all about.
REHMThomas Mann of the Brookings Institution, co-author of "It's Even Worse Than It Looks" with Norm Ornstein, John Farrell of National Journal, and Brian Baker, president of Ending Spending, a nonpartisan advocacy group focused on debt and budget issues, thank you all.
MANNThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Megan Merritt, Lisa Dunn and Rebecca Kaufman. The engineer is Toby Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information.
Most Recent Shows
President Barack Obama lifts the embargo against U.S. arms sales to Vietnam. We discuss what closer ties between the U.S. and Vietnam mean for trade, leverage on human rights and growing concerns over China's military expansion.
Mary Chapin Carpenter joins Diane to talk about her new album, the "artistic insight of middle age" and rewriting her life story in new ways.
Now that only three major candidates remain in the 2016 race for the White House, attention turns to the details of their policy proposals. Where the presidential candidates stand on key issues like job creation, healthcare, taxes and education.