A molecular-biologist-turned-Buddhist-monk says altruism is the answer to many of the world's most pressing challenges. Can concern for others help solve wealth inequality, climate change and world hunger?
Guest Host: Tom Gjelten
A Pennsylvania judge upheld a controversial voter ID law that will go into effect starting this Election Day. Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants lined up in cities across the country to apply for deportation deferrals allowed by a new federal program. And retail sales in the U.S. rose more than forecast in July, the first gain in four months. Susan Page of USA Today, Major Garrett of National Journal and Lisa Lerer of Bloomberg News join guest host Tom Gjelten of NPR for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Major Garrett White House correspondent for National Journal.
- Susan Page Washington bureau chief for USA Today.
- Lisa Lerer politics reporter for Bloomberg News.
Friday News Roundup Video
The panel discussed the implications of Mitt Romney announcing Thursday that he paid at least 13 percent of his income in taxes. Major Garrett, congressional correspondent for National Journal, said Romney talked about his tax rate because a voter — not the news media — asked the question. Garrett said the Romney campaign has called requests to see Romney’s tax returns a diversion. “One thing I’ve learned in presidential politics is candidates don’t get to decide what a distraction is. If voters care about it, it’s not a distraction and you have to deal with it,” Garrett said.
MR. TOM GJELTENThanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR sitting in today for Diane Rehm. She's in Dallas. Thousands of young undocumented immigrants apply for deportation deferrals. Federal officials were overwhelmed. Pennsylvania's voter ID law stays intact, but now it's going to the state Supreme Court. And after weeks of speculation, Mitt Romney reveals his tax rate, but he's holding on to his tax returns.
MR. TOM GJELTENJoining me in the studio to talk about this week's top national stories: Susan Page of USA Today, Major Garrett of National Journal and Lisa Lerer of Bloomberg News. We'll be taking your comments and questions throughout the hour. Call us on 1-800-433-8850. You can also send us an email at email@example.com, or you can join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning everyone.
MS. SUSAN PAGEGood morning.
MS. LISA LERERGood morning.
MR. MAJOR GARRETTGood morning.
GJELTENSo, Susan, the Democrats finally got Mitt Romney to talk about his taxes.
PAGEYou know, any day that Mitt Romney is not talking about employment and jobs and the state of the economy is a good day for the Obama campaign, and that's what happened yesterday when Mitt Romney was asked -- he was doing an event on Medicare which was this week's chosen topic. He was asked about his tax returns, and for the first time, he said something subtle to it. He said -- in specific, he said that the past tenures, he's paid at least 13 percent of his income in taxes.
PAGENow, for most of us, that doesn't sound like very much. Most of us pay a lot more than 13 percent. But it fueled a whole debate about his taxes which the Romney people see as a real diversionary tactic and the Obama people see as something which reinforces the idea that this is a rich guy who doesn't live by the rules that govern everybody else.
GJELTENSo, Major Garrett, why did Romney even rise to the occasion? Why did he even take this on?
GARRETTMy suspicion is because he was asked by a voter, and to front off a voter, to ignore a question like that takes it out of the typical political back and forth and essentially tells that voter and every other voter along the way, you can ask, but I'm not going to answer your direct question. If it's important to a voter, it oftentimes is at least temporarily important to a political candidate.
GARRETTAnd I think Susan's right. There's a couple of issues work here. I was in Chicago a couple of weeks ago, and David Axelrod, senior advisor to the president, said, you know, Mitt Romney has been very collaborative with us in this narrative that we've been trying to portray that he is at balance, secretive. His default proposition is to be less revealing and less transparent than we think he ought to be.
GARRETTNow, campaigns can disagree about that, but the collaborate thing caught my ear because from the Obama campaign's point of view, Romney says, I don't want to give out my taxes, makes him look secretive. He doesn't want to talk about the hard drives that he took when he was Massachusetts governor, so people could look into that. There are Olympic records that are not fully available. There's documentation that is in conflict about when or -- he left Bain Capital.
GARRETTAll these things, from the Obama campaign's perspective, put together a narrative that Romney is less publicly available than most presidential campaigns historically have been. Romney campaign, as Susan accurately said, described that as a diversion or distraction. One thing I've learned in presidential politics is candidates don't get to decide what a distraction is. If voters care about it, it's not a distraction. You have to deal with it.
GARRETTAnd I would only say other thing and that 13 percent, that's not exactly the luckiest number in the numerology, but he also said, if you add all my charitable contributions, it would've been much closer to 20 percent which would be a politically more palatable number. But I think the one that is going to be tattooed on his campaign bus by Democrats is 13.
GJELTENOK, now we have to take his word for it that he has paid at least 13 percent in taxes over the last 10 years. But now the issue is his tax returns, right, Lisa? And the White House is coming out with some very specific demands about revealing his tax returns.
LERERRight. The White House sends a letter over to the Romney -- well, the Obama campaign, we should say, sends a letter over to the Romney campaign this morning saying that they want to see five years of returns, so back to 2007, three more years than he's given out already. I suspect they want to see those years because there's a lot of speculation about what exactly is in these tax returns. Now, he's given us his rate, but we haven't seen the papers.
LERERAnd a lot of that speculation centers on what his finances did during the economic downturn. And one popular theory -- and these are all theories, of course, 'cause no one has any idea -- is that he profited off the subprime mortgage meltdown which, of course, politically would look really bad. So I suspect that's why the -- or the other popular theory I should mention is that he also, because his money comes entirely from investment income that he was able to write down a lot of his losses and that helps lower his rate.
LERERThose are politically pretty unpalatable things, I think, to a lot of voters. And I suspect that's why the Obama campaign wants those specific years and set the bar at 2007.
PAGEYou know, the Obama campaign would love to discuss from now till Election Day, two years, three years, four years, how about five? And this letter this morning was very funny. I got it about 6:45 a.m. from this open -- kind of open letter from the Obama campaign to the Romney campaign saying, if you release five years, we promise not to criticize you for the number of years you release. They don't promise to not criticize you for what they could mine out of the additional tax returns. So this is...
LERERBut I, you know...
GARRETTAnd not surprising with the Romney campaign has responded already and said, this is the distraction. We're going to talk about the economy. We're going to talk about our plans for Medicare and the future of entitlement spending. You can obsess about tax returns -- that's from Matt Rhoades, campaign manager to Gov. Romney. So the back and forth continuous.
GJELTENWell, it is a distraction, isn't it? Because, I mean, as you said, Susan, the focus this week was Medicare which is something that American voters care very much about and probably want to hear about. And then there is the, you know, the issue of the federal deficit and entitlement spending more generally and Paul Ryan's budget plans and so forth. So, I mean, what is going to be the focus this week?
PAGEYou know, it reflects what's happened in this campaign. I think this week was the nastiest earliest presidential campaign I've ever covered. This is my ninth campaign. To be doing in August to have the candidates themselves calling each other names like liar, a campaign of hate, unhinged, the candidates and their campaigns, I think, is extraordinary. We've had tough campaigns before. Politics is not, you know, politics is a tough sport. But there's a tone to this campaign that I think is the worst ever.
LERERI also think it does reflect a slight shift in strategy by the Romney campaign. I mean, these were -- this campaign is -- was -- is unbelievably disciplined, they prize loyalty, and they have talked about the economy with singular focus for the first, what, two years of this election. And the past of couple of weeks, you start to see a change, right? Romney made his trip abroad. He went to Europe, in Israel and Poland. He's talking about foreign policy. They come back. He's talking about welfare.
LERERAnd then, of course, they picked Congressman Paul Ryan. They're talking about Medicare. So there has been a decision by Romney's strategists to talk about than just the economy. And what I suspect that reflects is the fact that there is just such a small percentage of actually undecided voters. It's something like three to 5 percent of people actually undecided, and about 10 percent say they could change their mind which is much smaller than in other years.
LERERIn the past years, it's been like 20, 25 percent maybe said they could change their mind. So I think there's recognition by the Romney campaign that part of how they do in this race will depend on shoring up the base. And a good way to shore up the base is by being awfully nasty, and that's what you're seeing from them.
GJELTENBut, Major, we have seen polls after poll showing this race almost tied. And the implication of a tied race is that swing voters do matter. So which is it? Is this a base election where it only counts to get out your base, or is it a campaign where you do as -- whether you're Mitt Romney or Barack Obama -- you do have to appeal to those swing voters, those few swing voters?
GARRETTWell, in Chicago, the assessment from the Obama campaign is that the Romney people have begun to focus almost entirely on a base and a slight swing vote addition. And they interpret that in the ad focus on welfare. They believe that's a base message. In the selection of Paul Ryan, which does not bring a lot of demographic diversity to the ticket, it's not particularly pleasing to women voters. It's not pleasing in any way, shape or form as far as its symbolism for Hispanic, Latino voters.
GARRETTSo the Obama campaign believes Romney is working on a base strategy with just a few other additional pickups of swing voters. Their -- meaning Chicago -- Obama's campaign understands that their base is smaller than it was in 2008. They believe they're at a floor right now of 48 to 49 percent in the polls, and they just need to get to 50.5 or 51. And they're perfectly comfortable working on a ground game for the registration and other means of motivating just enough voters to get over that 50.5 or to that 51 percent threshold to succeed.
GJELTENSusan, can we talk for a minute about the selection of Paul Ryan as the vice presidential candidate. I mean, the Romney campaign has tried to focus so heavily -- actually, I'm going to -- Susan is catching her -- getting rid of the frog in her throat. So, Lisa, let's talk about the selection of Paul Ryan. The Romney campaign has been so focused on job creation and the state of the economy. To what extent has the selection of Paul Ryan really change the focus of the campaign to entitlement spending, to the future budget issues, et cetera?
LEREROh, it shifted the race entirely. I think in the past week, we've seen, you know, a complete shift in focus from the economy to the role -- a larger debate about the role of government in society. A lot of people are hoping that this would elevate the conversation that we're having on the, you know, in the national political conversation. And we said before, it's sort of done the opposite, and it's gotten a lot nastier in the past week.
LERERBut definitely, that's solely attributable to the selection of Congressman Ryan who, of course, was responsible for sketching out the budget plans in the House and passing those through the House of Representatives and has been seen as sort of an ideological leader for Republicans. He also, though, is a really personable, affable guy, and that comes across in the campaign trail. I was traveling with him for the past couple of days. You know, he's greeting voters.
LERERHe's strolling around in a scuffed cowboy boots with a camouflage iPhone case. He's talking about milking cows at the Wisconsin state fair. He's referring to members of Congress as his gym buddies. That is not Mitt Romney. So I think that balance of having a guy who seems more in touch with middle-class, working-class voters was really important to the campaign as well.
GARRETTAnd, Tom, I would say the Romney campaign's focus this week to the degree that they had focused on, you know, they would say they didn't focus on it. Joe Biden said something in Danville, Va. about Wall Street regulation and stepping back from that as a Romney and Ryan campaign want to do might put people in chains. Romney campaign said, hey, that was an attack on us, and so we're going to call this a campaign of hate and anger.
GARRETTOne of the things systematically that the Romney campaign wants to deprive President Obama of is any sense at all that his campaign is about any larger aspirations or any nonpartisan elevation of politics, take that completely away from him so they can continue to sow the seeds of doubt about, aren't you disappointed with what you were promised in 2008 and what you have now?
GJELTENMajor Garrett is correspondent for the National Journal. Coming up, more on the Friday News Roundup. We're going to take a short break right now, and then we'll be right back.
GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten, sitting in for Diane Rehm, and this is the Friday News Roundup. In this hour, we're talking about domestic news with my guests: Susan Page -- she's the Washington bureau chief for USA Today -- Major Garrett, who's the congressional correspondent with National Journal, and Lisa Lerer, the politics reporter for Bloomberg News. We're going to be taking your calls and comments. You can call us and join this conversation, 800-433-8850. Send us your email at firstname.lastname@example.org or join us on Facebook or Twitter.
GJELTENNow, just before the break, we were talking about selection of Paul Ryan as -- and the significance of this for the campaign, and you were saying, Lisa, how young he is. He's talking about his workouts in the gym. He is also known for his very ambitious plan to reform entitlement spending and reform Medicare. These are issues that one might think young people would care about. Now, he's been careful to sort of exclude the over -- you know, the senior citizens, and some people say that's a dodge.
GJELTENBut could this actually energize a youth vote? I know that the youth vote has gone to -- went to Barack Obama, of course, in 2008. One of the things that caught my attention this week is an article in The Huffington Post -- excuse my language here -- "Why The Screwed Generation Is Turning To Paul Ryan." So is this possibly a factor where young people are going to look to Paul Ryan and say, he is a candidate who's actually thinking about our future?
LERERWell, I think certainly young people who are Republican or lean Republican could find his plans pretty appealing. But I think there's other factors in his record that could depress the youth vote. You know, his views on abortion, those may not play particularly well with young women. But, you know, there is a certain energy that you're sensing in the crowds. You are seeing -- I did see more young people at rallies over the past couple of days than I had in the past.
LERERAnd that energy also sort of transfers over to Gov. Romney, who seems actually much more comfortable on the campaign stump when Congressman Ryan is there. He's a lot more energized. He's a lot more friendly. They're going to be campaigning again together on Monday sooner than the campaign had initially planned in part because it brings this energy to the crowds and this -- and it is really a youthful energy for sure.
PAGEIt's interesting. Gov. Romney is a better campaigner when his wife is around.
PAGEAnd he's clearly a better campaigner also when Paul Ryan is around. And that's one thing I saw in the Wisconsin primary when they campaigned together. That was when I first said, well, maybe Paul Ryan would be a serious running mate because there was clearly chemistry between them. You know, Ryan, I thought, was an interesting choice. On the one hand, he means they have to defend the Ryan budget to some degree.
PAGEOn the other hand, Ryan is perfectly comfortable defending the specific policies in his budget and making the case they they're the kind of things that we need to do over -- on a long-term basis to make Medicare sustainable to address deficit and debt concerns. And the Republicans also announced this week that Chris Christie, the governor from New Jersey, is going to be their keynote address -- give their keynote address at the convention.
PAGEHe's also someone who talks in specifics about budget policies, hard choices that we need to make as a nation. So that strikes me as -- at least, opening the possibility of a substantive debate about some of these big challenges.
GJELTENMeanwhile, Major Garrett, The Washington Post criticized Paul Ryan's opponent, Vice President Joe Biden, this week not for his famous or infamous comment about you all being in chains, but for his flat guarantee to elderly voters that Social Security would not be changed in an Obama-Biden administration. So Joe Biden is not willing to tackle these tough issues, apparently according to that quote that Paul Ryan is.
GARRETTRight. And those assurances are probably true for the next four years if you look at the way this election is likely to turn out. It's going to be a narrow victory for one or the other and in more narrowly governed Congress, so we're going to be more narrowly divided than we were before this election after this election. Hard to imagine Social Security is going to get down in the next four years.
GARRETTThat's an inference from Joe Biden that's probably consistent with the facts, but it doesn't really speak to any sort of larger leadership ambitions, which was the core of The Washington Post complaint. Now, getting back to the youth vote and Paul Ryan, Barack Obama got 66 percent of the 18 to 29 vote in the 2008 election, a substantial amount. And the turnout was, in swing states, larger than it was in previous elections.
GARRETTThe Obama campaign believes that Paul Ryan is not going to win the youth vote or can't help Mitt Romney because he has opposed all reforms along the lines of student loans. He's against gay marriage. He is pretty consistently pro-life on the Republican side in ways that some younger voters might find discomforting.
GARRETTAnd in the main, the Obama campaign sees Ryan as someone who cannot, even though he has advocacy on entitlements, which are issues that are aspirational for young voters, these other things will complicate that process and give them not just a way to win but to take advantage of Ryan being on Romney's ticket.
GJELTENWell, there's the youth vote, and then there's the Hispanic vote, Lisa. And this week, we saw hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers lining up hoping to get a deferral on their vulnerability to being deported. Tell us what happened with that and what implications that might have.
LERERWell, the reaction to, you know, the...
GJELTENThis was the Obama administration's initiative to...
LERERRight. This was Obama administration's initiative to allow people who met -- so younger people who met certain criteria, military or high school graduation, to get a deferment from being deported and get papers to be able to work and stay in the United States. And the response was really -- I mean, the pictures were really quite something. There were lines a mile long in major cities, even surprised some of the officials -- the Obama administration officials of immigration...
LERER...law advocates. And the reaction has been somewhat mixed. Of course, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer immediately came out and said, well, you know, they can -- these young immigrants can stay in the country, but they're not going to get any of the state benefits. They won't get in-state tuition. They can't get driver's license -- licenses.
LERERAnd a lot of states are now reviewing how this law will interplay with their laws and figuring out what benefits in various states that young immigrants will be eligible for and what they won't be. And so this is a conversation that's going to be continuing for quite a while, I think.
GARRETTAnd, of course, it's not a law. It's an executive decision to create a window of deferred action and prosecutorial discretion, meaning we know you could be prosecuted under deportation laws. We're not going to do it. We're going to choose not to do that. Quickly, you have to arrive before your 16th birthday. You have to be continuously living in the United States since June of 2007, under 31 on June 15 of 2012 this year, you have to be in school, have a GED or honorably discharged in the military, no felonies.
GARRETTYou got to put your documents together, have to submit all the forms, plus pay $465. Then you're possibly eligible. We're talking about 4.4 million people -- 1.7 will probably qualify, and about half of that could be immediately termed eligible. The political impact of this is possibly that they be also become registered voters, and if in the Hispanic community, it is viewed as something that is long overdue that the Obama administration confronting a obstructionist Congress, at least, did something. In the context of an election year, that could be important in several swing states.
PAGEWe know how important the Hispanic vote is, and it's been a discouraged vote because President Obama running four years ago promised to act on comprehensive immigration reform that hasn't happened. So this is a way to get that part of the electorate energized and engaged and willing to turn out for him again. And in swing states like Nevada and Florida and some others, that could be the key.
GJELTENBut as Lisa said, the Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer quickly put out her own executive order, in a sense, denying benefits to some of those very people that would be getting deportation deferral. So her rating of the situation is this was not a popular move, and she's, like, acting to counter it.
PAGEWell, and that's certainly true with her electorate. It's been clear that they want to take the toughest -- the people who support her want to take the toughest possible line against illegal immigration. And, of course, there's a really active debate about it. But I have to say that the interviews that I saw on TV of these kids who were lined up waiting for hours for the opportunity to kind of figure out what documents they needed, how they should proceed and how -- you know, there are stories -- I was brought here when I was 5.
PAGEI've been saving all my report cards since then so I could someday make my case that I grew up here. I think of myself as an American. They told you why it has been possible for the president to act for this group of illegal immigrants and not for other groups because this is the most -- it seems to be the most sympathetic case of people who are here legally who came with their parents not of their own accord and have grown up here.
LERERAnd there is a recognition among Republicans that this is a particularly politically risky issue. I mean, you just haven't heard Gov. Romney talk about it hardly at all. He talked about it when the decision was first made, and I was out with him that day. He was basically strong-armed into making a statement. He wasn't eager to do it, and that's because he knows it's not a great issue for him at all.
GJELTENWell, we skipped over a little bit the discussion of what's ahead on Medicare privatization, Medicare issues, entitlement spending. Rose is on the line from Orlando, Fla. and has a question about the Ryan -- the Romney campaign's position on Medicare. Is that right, Rose?
ROSEYes. The Romney VP pick, Paul Ryan, he'll be campaigning tomorrow at Lady Lake. That's a large retirement community of about 60,000 seniors here in Florida, most of which are Republican and Tea Party members. I'm familiar with Lady Lake because my husband's aunt has also lived there. But regarding Paul Ryan's plan to privatize Medicare and possibly Social Security, how do you think the senior community would feel about this alteration of their retirement benefits?
GJELTENWell, we do know that that senior community is not going to be affected by any of the proposals that Paul Ryan has made, even if it were to be enacted, right, Major?
GARRETTWell, that's partially true. The Ryan budget, in all of its forms -- and there are about three different forms -- would seek the repeal of the president's health care law. If you do that, you take away some added financial benefits to seniors currently in Medicare who are in what is called the prescription drug doughnut hole.
GARRETTAnd I don't want to get too wonky or in the weeds here, but if you reach a certain amount of money that you have to spend every year on your prescription drugs, you fall into a gap where you receive no federal compensation. President Obama's health care law makes that gap smaller and provides more federal benefits. You would lose that under Paul Ryan's plan for current Medicare beneficiaries. So that's one thing that they would lose.
GARRETTIn the larger scheme, though, the transformation of Medicare from fee-for-service, which it has always been -- you go to a doctor, the doctor treats you, the doctor submits a form and the reimbursement comes from the federal government -- that's the current system -- will be replaced by what Paul Ryan calls premium support, what other people call a voucher. The government gives you a fixed amount of money every year.
GARRETTYou take that fixed amount of money. You purchase on the private market your own insurance policy, the thought being individual consumers, particularly the millions on Medicare, would have great buying power to lower costs, improve efficiency and reduce overall expenditures. That's the theory. Congressional Budget Office says, no, that could impose higher costs on Medicare recipients downstream. Paul Ryan says, this is a necessary thing to protect solvency for the program going forward next 20 or 30 years.
GJELTENWell, it sounds like you've been doing your homework...
GARRETTI tried. I tried.
GJELTENAn informed reporter. Major Garrett from the National Journal. I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And another big issue that has emerged this week that is not, on its face, political, but could have political consequences is the voter ID law in Pennsylvania. Susan, the -- tell us, first of all, what that voter ID law requires, and what's going to happen with it now?
PAGEIt -- this -- the law -- new law in Pennsylvania requires specific kinds of photo identification to vote, and it's been controversial because there are thousands of voters -- according to the Brennan Center in New York City, which has been studying this issue -- who don't have these specific things. It would be a driver's license or a piece of identification you get from the same place you get a driver's license, but it wouldn't -- it doesn't permit you to drive.
PAGEAnd the voters who tend not to have this kind of identification are -- tend to be minority and poor voters, and therefore they tend to be Democrats. And one thing that's made this law particularly notorious is that the speaker of the state assembly, when it passed, said, we've just made -- given Mitt Romney Pennsylvania as a victory in November. We don't know how much -- a federal judge this -- a Pennsylvania judge on Wednesday declined to block the new law.
PAGEThere's an appeal that is expected to be filed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. We don't know if the law holds -- just how much impact it would have. But some studies of this kind of law estimate that it could reduce turnout by maybe 2 percent. Well, you know, 2 percent in a year like this is a lot in a swing state like Pennsylvania.
GJELTENWell, as you say, the House majority leader, the Republican majority leader -- they are in Pennsylvania -- said that this law is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania. But, Major, 2 percent -- President Obama is ahead by more than 2 percent in Pennsylvania...
GARRETTYes, he is. Yes, he is. And it's worth pointing out that the lead plaintiff in this case, 93-year-old -- I hope I pronounce her name correctly -- Viviette Applewhite, today received a temporary ID card, so she can vote. The judge in Pennsylvania, Robert Simpson, said that the voter ID law did not impose a nondiscriminatory or non-severe burden.
GARRETTAnd all legal analysis I read in Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court, there is not likely to overturn this denial of injunctive relief because in Pennsylvania, as in many other states, you have to prove that a law that hasn't yet been put into motion is, on its face, unconstitutional. Well, they don't have that. Thirty states have laws like this, either some kind of new ID or photo ID, and they all grew out of an Indiana law in 2005 that was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2008. This is a movement that has gone on across the country.
GARRETTRepublicans argue, look, if you're perfectly capable of having an ID to rent videos or take out sporting equipment or do 100 other things you do on ordinary commercial life, you ought to be able to produce one if you think voting is so important. Democrats say, no, this is specifically designed to minimize, at the margins, elderly turnout, minority turnout and those who are on the sort of edges of society that are not as economically integrated as all these other people Republicans talk about.
GARRETTBut it's going to probably stay on the books in Pennsylvania. Two percent would not give Mitt Romney Pennsylvania. He would need to get a lot closer. They believe that they possibly can, but I've looked at all eight scenarios that the Romney campaign, when I was in Boston, has to get over 270. Only two include Pennsylvania.
PAGEListen, you guys may be sure that 2 percent wouldn't deliver Pennsylvania to Mitt Romney. I do not think either campaign would agree with you that that is a guarantee. Pennsylvania is one of those Midwestern votes -- Midwestern states that Barack Obama carried easily last time, but are very much implied this time in part because of the economy and because his lack of support among many working-class white voters.
PAGEThere's also a similar voter ID law in Ohio, which is a state that is almost always determined by the narrowest of margins. So I would not discount the political possibilities of this law.
LERERAnd in Pennsylvania, what's particularly interesting about Pennsylvania and what Democrats are worried about is it actually has one of the fastest-growing Latino populations in the country, particularly in places like Reading, Pa. And Latino voters are less likely to have ID. They -- there's been -- as they've shown. And Puerto Rican voters, in particular there was a law passed in Puerto Rico that said that all birth certificates given out by Puerto Rican -- Puerto Rico after 2010 are invalid.
LERERSo a lot of those people are trying to -- yeah, I know. It was a surprising -- it was a bit of a surprising law, I think. But a lot of those voters are now trying to figure out how to get ID, how to get birth certificates. There's a big Puerto Rican population in Pennsylvania. That could matter to Democrats.
GJELTENWell, another issue that's not -- that's somewhat related to this is the question of early voting and that the federal court in Florida gave five Florida counties four extra days of early voting in this fall's election. We're going to take a quick break here, and when we come back, we can talk about the possibility that this early voting decision might have some political impact as well. This is the Friday News Roundup.
GJELTENMy guests are Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today, Major Garrett, congressional correspondent for National Journal, Lisa Lerer, politics reporter for Bloomberg News. When we do come back, we're going to be taking your calls and questions. I'm Tom Gjelten. Stay tuned.
GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten, sitting in for Diane Rehm on this -- the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup with my guests Susan Page from USA Today, Major Garrett from the National Journal and Lisa Lerer from Bloomberg News. Just before the break, we were -- well, we first were talking about the voter ID law in Pennsylvania and the fact that that appears now to be -- likely to be upheld when it goes to the State Supreme Court.
GJELTENAnd Julie sent us a tweet, wondering if this was an isolated case or a harbinger for the rest of the country, and we did get into that a little bit. But that's not the only controversial voting issue. Just before the break also, we mentioned that there is a big issue in several states around the question of whether to expand or limit or allow early voting. Major Garrett, what's the controversy around early voting? Why should early voting be at all controversial?
GARRETTWell, in Florida, there was an attempt to reduce from 12 to eight days early voting in that state put together by the Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the state legislature. There are give counties in Florida under the Civil Rights Act that have to go through what is called a pre-clearance process at the Justice Department because of their history fraught with discrimination against minority voters.
GARRETTThose five counties are Hardy, Henry, Monroe -- those three have less than 100,000 residents -- Collier County, which is where Naples, Fla. is -- about 300,000 there -- and Hillsborough County, Tampa, home to the Republican National Convention in a couple of weeks. There's 1.2 million people there. Those five counties, because they have to go through the pre-clearance process, will have the full 12 days. The rest of Florida will only have eight days for early voting.
GARRETTAnd this will mean there is just this tighter window for early voting in Florida, which means if you've done it before and you're accustomed to it, you just need to be more aware of when that window opens and when it closes. And if you are concerned about those voters who have done it before and are in your turnout models like the Obama campaign is, you just have to pay more attention to that, which happens within this window. It's not necessarily discriminatory. It just narrows the window.
GARRETTAnd it narrows the window for everyone except in these five counties. And one other thing that have been going on in Florida is the state wanted to screen all potential voters against their illegal immigrant database. And the Department of Homeland Services -- Security rather, fought with Florida over this. They finally reached an accommodation on that. And they will now, under a closely watched federal process and state process, screen people out to see if they don't qualify. They could also have some ramifications on this but it is a tightening of access and time devoted to voting in Florida.
PAGEBut, you know, one reason this was seen as potentially discriminatory is that it eliminates the Sunday before the election as an early voting day. And one thing that happens in many black churches in Florida is that the pastor will talk about...
GJELTENGet out to vote.
PAGE...the importance of voting on that last Sunday before the election and then load up the -- people will come out and get in buses and take their cars and go and early vote. Of course, the overwhelming majority of those black votes will go to Barack Obama. So the idea that you're eliminating that Sunday, that's what gave critics the ammunition to charge that it was a very partisan act.
GJELTENWell, Susan, you scolded Major and me for saying that 2 percent would not be enough to change the election in Pennsylvania. But Florida and Ohio are also very important swing states, and this early voting issue is big in Ohio as well. So I think it's way premature. You're probably right. It's way premature to belittle the significance of these voting issues. Let's go now to the phones. You can call us at 800-433-8850. I'm going to begin with John, who's on the line from Danielson, Conn. Good morning, John. Thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."
JOHNGood morning, Tom. How are you?
GJELTENI'm good. How are you?
JOHNFine. I have a question on semantics. Why don't people in the media and politicians call subsidies to big oil, to big agriculture, import restrictions, let's say, on sugar and ethanol from Brazil and peanuts from Africa, entitlements? I consider them entitlements.
GJELTENAny time the government intervenes, in a sense, in the marketplace, it sort of distorts the market, you would argue.
JOHNRight. And -- but I consider them entitlements. And they don't bring those into the argument when they talk about entitlements. It's only Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
GJELTENWell, Major Garrett, when we talk about the strains on the federal budget in the future, those programs, what we commonly refer to as entitlement programs, are hugely significant, aren't they?
GARRETTYes. And there's a very straightforward answer to John's very rational question. It's a matter of what the law says. And entitlements are defined by federal law as that what you qualify for, you therefore receive. Everything he mentioned that are subsidies -- and many free-market Republicans would argue, though they don't necessarily vote this way, that they are distortions of a free market. But they are done on a discretionary basis, which means they have to come up in re-evaluation in Congress routinely.
GARRETTNow, that they are routinely extended or re-authorized is true. It gives them a sort of sense of permanence. But under strict interpretations of the federal code, entitlements are defined by things where -- in which you qualify and you programmatically receive no matter what until there is a change in that program.
GJELTENOK. John, does that answer your question?
JOHNYes. Thank you very much.
GJELTENAll right. Thank you very much. Let's go now to Cal, who's on the phone from Oklahoma. Is that right, Cal?
CALThat is correct, Tom.
GJELTENWelcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
CALWell, I listen every morning and it's a great show. I'll be brief.
CALTwo things, the nonsense about paying 13 percent, which is what -- oh, and by the way, I'm a Democrat. There are only seven in Oklahoma.
CALThirteen percent, and then he also says, Mr. Romney does, that he makes donations. Of course, those donations are deductible, most of them, so he doesn't pay 13 percent. Enough of that. This business about who gets a tax cut -- I'm a small farmer, 280 acres. We grow pecans, peanuts, corn, soybeans and alfalfa. The fact is, of course, that the only people that are going to get big tax cuts -- and the numbers are 264,000 under Ryan, 254,000 under -- oh, I'm sorry, under Romney, are the very, very rich. Us small people get nothing except tax increase.
CALOK. Thanks. Thank you very much.
GJELTENAll right. Well, thanks for your comment. So one of seven Democrats from Oklahoma have called us in.
PAGEThey could suppress the vote in Oklahoma. It wouldn't have any effect at all.
PAGEBut, you know, just to talk just for a moment about the facts of what Romney said about his taxes, he said he paid a rate of at least 13 percent...
GARRETTThat's an effective rate. That would mean his actual rate.
PAGEAnd, yeah, that's right, his actual rate. And then he went on to say that if -- that he gives generously to charity, we know that. That if he had -- if you -- if he hadn't given to charity, he would have had to pay another 7 percent. You can argue that's irrelevant. It was his choice to give to charity. But he is saying he had an effective tax rate of 13 percent and would have been larger if he hadn't made such large donations to charities.
GJELTENOK. We're going to go now to Jamie, who's on the line from Durham, N.C. And, Major, I think Jamie has a question for you. Is that right, Jamie?
JAMIEYes. I believe one of your panelists, Tom, was talking about how the immigrant youth who are eligible for deferred action are going to be potential registered voters, and I think that that's one of the scare tactics. I'm not saying your panelists is using it, but it's one of the scare tactics that the extreme right uses, saying that all the undocumented immigrants are not going to get the right to vote. I'll tell you this much. I've been in the states for 12 years of which four I've been a permanent resident, and it's impossible to register to vote when you're not a citizen, bottom line.
JAMIEAnd so I think that that's -- it's incorrect. And I know that you're educating the public by having your show, and we shouldn't be saying to people that these undocumented youth who are getting the right to stay here for two years and permission to work are going to be next voters tomorrow or in November. That's completely incorrect, and it shouldn't be presented as evidence of what's happening under the deferred action program.
GJELTENMajor, you're the one who made this point. I assume you're talking about down the road (unintelligible).
GARRETTWell, not -- down the road if, in fact, under deferred action they become citizens, which would be a long-running process. And the larger context -- and if I garbled it, I apologize because the caller is absolutely right. Those who can vote may be motivated by this action finding it responsive to their needs and that in the larger context, it may have some effect on turnout. That was -- if I garbled that, Jamie is absolutely correct in everything he said.
GJELTENYou know, actually a lot of our listeners wanted to call attention to that, but thank you for clarifying that. Lisa.
LERERAnd as Susan pointed out earlier, I think the pictures of these young people who, you know, are in school or have graduated from school, are working or in the military seem like, you know, they're on the right track with their lives lining up for miles in these cities and the stories -- they're telling their stories on TV, that could soften some feeling, I would think, among some voters towards the Obama administration. I think those are pretty evocative pictures that could have an impact on voters even those who aren't Latino.
PAGEAnd also this action of President Obama does not put these kids on a path to citizenship.
PAGESo it's possible...
GARRETTAnd it's on a case-by-case basis.
PAGERight. And so it's possible that at some point these young people would be able to become citizenships but not in the foreseeable future.
GJELTENRight. All right. Let's go now to -- actually, a lot of callers want to talk about Romney's taxes.
GJELTENThat's the big issue today. Good morning, Kathy. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show." Thanks for calling.
KATHYOh, hi. Thank you for taking my call. I just wanted to get the panels' opinion and let the listeners know that in 2002, when Mitt Romney was running for governor of Massachusetts from -- between January and June of 2002, Romney and his campaign kept saying, no, we didn't lie on the three years of taxes, 1999 through 2001. Trust us. Trust us. Come to find out in June of 2002, he actually was caught lying on and about three years of taxes, 1999 through 2001.
KATHYIn fact, he had to amend those three years of tax returns retroactively. And my point is if Romney was caught lying on and about three years worth of taxes back in 2002, why should we or anyone take him at his word now that he -- when he claims that he paid 13 percent effective tax rate? And also, why -- if that 13 percent effective tax rate enables him to have around $17 million of disposable income, why does he think that 13 percent tax rate is too high for people in his tax bracket to -- and it need an additional tax cut?
GJELTENWell, Kathy, I would -- first of all, I would say that it's pretty strong language to say that Romney was lying about his taxes. If you lie about your taxes, that's actually illegal. And I'm not sure that that's exactly what happened in this case. Major Garrett.
GARRETTI don't know the specifics of what Kathy is referring to in 2002. I'll just let her speak for herself. I don't know them independently. What I do know is the Obama campaign, first of all, was extremely sympathetic and in its own quiet way, encouraging of the person who I think in the last two or three weeks has reignited this entire issue, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who said something that I've never really seen a politician say about another political leader before.
GARRETTYou probably didn't pay any taxes for 10 years and some guy, you know, who used to work with me told me so and proved me wrong, which was an incredibly incendiary sort of thing to say. But it spoke to what Democrats believe is an underlying assumption that they believe is probably more true than less true, that there is something that Romney wants to -- or feels he politically needs to hide, not criminal, but politically injurious and want to force it out of him.
GARRETTAnd they want to keep this issue alive because they want to create the impression that Mitt Romney, for whatever his -- for all of his laudable business success, is sort of exotic financially and out of touch with middle-class voters, because if that can become a concrete point of view on Mitt Romney, it makes it very much harder for him to put his other campaign ideas forward and have them receptively received.
GJELTENMajor Garrett is White House correspondent for the National Journal. Excuse me, Major, I called you congressional correspondent.
GARRETTIt's not an insult.
GJELTENYou're actually the White House correspondent. And I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You know, we have not talked about the economy yet this morning. Consumer sentiment data just came out this morning and showed a little bit of an uptick. There has been some marginal good news on the economy. Retail sales have gone up, building permits have gone up even though new construction has gone down.
GJELTENNevertheless, Susan, it doesn't seem yet like we're seeing the kind of economic recovery that is going to really make much of a difference in this campaign.
PAGEIt's -- the economy isn't roaring back. But these concerns that we've had for months that it might be going into a stall may be easing a little bit those concerns with the economic numbers that came out this week. Now, people's perception to economy, that may be pretty much set for the rest of the year regardless of what happens, but this was a kind of a week of mixed numbers with the housing starts going down.
PAGEWe didn't expect that. But consumer confidence, the numbers that came out this morning, maybe that's the most important single number because consumer buying is the thing that we think will really bring the economy back. When people feel confident enough in their jobs, in their futures that they're willing to go out and spend money, that would be very good news for the economy.
LERERBut, you know, a lot of analysts warned, of course, not to overstate these numbers. Retail sales are up, and they said, well, it was a hot spell. People are buying air conditioners, back-to-school shopping. And unless you see more job growth, you're not going to see a big boost in the economy, and you're still going to have sluggish growth for the next couple of quarters. The other thing that analysts pointed to, which I think is interesting, is the uncertainty in the economy based on a couple large looming factors.
LERERWhat's going to happen in Europe with the debt crisis, the slowdown of this booming growth that we've seen in China? What's going to happen in Washington with the budget? So there were -- the positive news was accompanied, I think, by a whole lot of warnings to say, you know, don't get too excited. But politically, it was interesting because retail sales are, you know, and consumer confidence are really good glimpses into what voters are thinking.
LERERAnd if they are feeling like, you know, they can buy their kids a couple of -- some sneakers or some shirts for school, that's probably a good sign for the president, I would think.
GJELTENWell, I would think that consumer sentiment is one of the few truly empirical feeling and empirical measures of how voters might be feeling.
GARRETTAnd it might be affected by the recent -- very recent spike in gasoline prices due to refinery issues and supply issues. The consumer data is lagging that. We may find it a month now. People clamped down a little bit because they just have to pay more at the pump.
GJELTENWe have time for one quick final call from Bill. You're on the line from Chicago, Ill. Thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."
BILLThank you. Very quickly, where is the difference in the onerous documentation required for Pennsylvania voters that are U.S. citizens versus the documentation requirements for the deportation deferral program where hundreds or thousands of people apparently were able to line up with the documentation required and $465? And I'll take my question off the air.
GJELTENAll right. Thank you.
PAGEYou know, Bill, most of the kids who lined up for this did not submit their documentation. These were lines to get information about and counseling about submitting the documentation that's required. There's actually extensive document. You have to prove you were here before you were 16. You have to show that you're in school or that you graduated. And there's no appeal process. So you get one shot at making your case.
GJELTENWell, it's been a significant development nonetheless for all those hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of immigrants who are hoping to have their deportation deferred. I'd like to thank our guests this morning on the Friday News Roundup. Susan Page is Washington bureau chief for USA Today, Major Garrett is the White House correspondent for the National Journal, and Lisa Lerer is politics reporter for Bloomberg News.
GJELTENJoin us next week, next Friday morning for another edition of the Friday News Roundup. In the next hour we'll be talking about international news. I'm Tom Gjelten, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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 Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker 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 email@example.com, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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