What's on Congress' agenda in the final weeks before the August recess? Our panel takes a look at what needs to happen, and what can realistically get done.
Democrats wrapped up their national convention this week with key speeches by Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren and former President Bill Clinton. Manufacturing and construction spending reports showed continued sluggish growth ahead of the August jobs report. And the Department of Justice approved a New Hampshire voter ID law. Greg Ip of The Economist, Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post and Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times join Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Greg Ip U.S. economics editor for The Economist and author of "The Little Book of Economics: How the Economy Works in the Real World."
- Sheryl Gay Stolberg Washington correspondent for The New York Times.
- Ruth Marcus columnist and editorial writer for The Washington Post.
Friday News Roundup Video
The panel discussed why Democrats made two last-minute changes to the party’s national platform. The revised document mentioned the word “God” and declared Jerusalem the Israeli capital. Ruth Marcus, columnist and editorial writer for The Washington Post, said Democratic strategists didn’t read the platform’s language on the Middle East well enough before the convention in Charlotte, N.C. New York Times correspondent Sheryl Gay Stolberg said the Jerusalem gaffe was problematic because it’s contrary to the Obama administration’s foreign policy. Economist editor Greg Ip said the changes were more symbolic than practical.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President Obama made his case for reelection on the last night of the Democratic convention. The Labor Department reported employers added just 96,000 jobs in August. The unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent. And the Department of Justice approved the New Hampshire voter ID law. Joining me for the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup: Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post, Greg IP of The Economist and Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times.
MS. DIANE REHMPlease feel free to join in our conversation. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning everybody.
MS. RUTH MARCUSGood morning, Diane.
MR. GREG IPGood morning, Diane.
MS. SHERYL GAY STOLBERGGood morning.
REHMGreg Ip, how would you characterize the president's speech last night?
IPI think it was a solid speech. It was definitely a play to the base speech. It was sort of a strange mixture between, you know, an -- a very sort of, like, high-minded visionary speech and a laundry list of things that he would like to do. It didn't really sort of set out a very clear agenda for what he wanted to do at his next term, and, on that front, I think it was a bit of a disappointment.
IPThere was, you know, references to aspirations such as creating a million manufacturing jobs, cutting the growth of, you know, tuition cost and so on. But mostly, it was a reiteration of steps that he had already taken or wanted to take, and then at the end, trying to, I think, recapture some of that magic from four years ago when people really were voting for him, less based on the specifics of what he plans to do but on the inspiration he could bring about.
MARCUSI'm pretty much in line with what Greg had to say there. If it was a laundry list, he didn't exactly tell us how he was planning to get the laundry done -- and pardon the domestic metaphor here. And also, there was a little bit of recycling in the laundry. We had heard before about the $4 trillion deficit cut that he wanted to achieve and things like that. And I thought -- I'm going to be a little bit more positive in just a second.
MARCUSBut to me, the most disappointing part was that the Republican -- the Democratic criticism of the Republican convention that they talked about, making hard choices and then didn't follow through on what those hard choices might be, was completely fair. And then the president talked in his speech about how he was the one who was truth-teller, that he had never told people it was going to be easy, that they needed patience, and that's all true. But that he wasn't going to shy away from telling them the truth.
MARCUSAnd then I have to say, there was not a lot of truth-telling in the speech in terms of the sacrifices that are going to be required, the taxes that are going to be required, the changes that are going to be required in Medicare going ahead. It was aspirational. Look, acceptance speeches are not states of the union, they're not budget submissions, but it was devoid of the hard truths that he kind of promised.
STOLBERGYeah, I often thought in this election that Barack Obama isn't really running against Mitt Romney. He's running against Barack Obama, right? He's running against the Barack Obama of four years ago and eight years ago, the man of hope and change. And he himself acknowledged in the speech a lot has changed since then. Our hope has been tested by two wars and by one of the worst economic crisis in history.
STOLBERGAnd his job in this speech was to kind of recapture the old Barack Obama, to recapture the hope, to rally the base. I think it's too soon to tell how the speech will play outside of the hall. Inside of the hall, clearly, people were excited and thrilled to be there. But he's got a tough job to do now, especially with the jobs report that came out this morning. He made the case last night that we started on this journey together, don't turn back. Let us finish together what we started.
STOLBERGThe election wasn't about me. It was about you. And this morning, he's confronted with a jobs report that is less than what he had hoped for, and hope collides with reality.
REHMI thought it was interesting that the signs within that arena had changed from 2008 from the word change to the word forward, Ruth.
MARCUSWell, because looking back is good if you're looking back to the Clinton term -- terms. It's not that good if you're looking back at the last four years because there is an argument, there is an answer that the Democrats eventually came up with today, answer a question of, are you better off than you were four years ago?
MARCUSBut basically, the president's task and the Democrats' task at the convention was to explain that their prognosis and their prescription for the road ahead is a more positive one, a more achievable one, one with a better track record than the Republicans which they cast as a return to George Bush's trickle down economics.
STOLBERGYeah. I want to say one thing I thought he did well, and that was to cast himself as the commander-in-chief. And he really capitalized on Mitt Romney's failure to mention Afghanistan in his acceptance speech. Barack Obama talked about the troops. He talked about, you know, the wars and the sacrifices that Americans have made. And he very pointedly said -- without using Mitt Romney's name.
STOLBERGHe never said Mitt Romney. He called him my opponent. But, you know, my opponent doesn't have much experience in foreign policy. And I do think he scored a point there.
REHMSheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times. Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post. Greg Ip, he is U.S. economics editor for The Economist. He's author of "The Little Book of Economics: How the Economy Works in the Real World." We do invite your calls, comments. Join our conversation between now and the top of the hour. Greg Ip, President Obama's speech was focused on the economy and job creation. He did offer some specific targets that he hoped we would make within his next four years if he is reelected.
IPYes. For example, he talked about the 1 million manufacturing jobs. I mean, it's not uncommon for presidents and presidential candidates to set out these goals. I think Mitt Romney is promising 12 million jobs overall. It's rare that they're held to these promises except by their opponents because it's just very hard for a president actually to have that much influence over the economy. Regrettably, as Sheryl's referring to a minute ago, this morning, we wake to news that those goals still quite a ways away.
REHMHe also talked about cutting oil imports in half.
IPThat's right. And, again, that's another sort of ever agreeing. I think every president has promised either to eliminate our dependency on imported oil or to reduce it significantly. That said, it is a true statement that our imports of oil have dropped significantly in the last few years, and the president was very, very sure to take credit for some of that, although the real reason is that the economy has been weak. So we're consuming less energy, and the price of oil has gone up.
IPAnd so that market forces alone have driven people towards alternatives. But, hey, you know, if you have that piece of good evidence, you definitely want to use that.
REHMSo, Sheryl, what impact do this morning's employment numbers have?
STOLBERGWell, I don't think they're good for Barack Obama. Already, we're seeing Mitt Romney saying that, you know, that there are evidence that the president's policies have failed. What we saw was 96,000 jobs added during the month of August. That was less than expected. The unemployment number actually dropped, but it's deceiving. The reason the number -- the unemployment number dropped to 8.1 percent is that people are growing frustrated. They're dropping out of the labor market.
STOLBERGThey're not looking for jobs in those great numbers as before, and I think it makes it difficult, more difficult for the president to come off of his election or his convention with any kind of balance. You know, usually, a candidate comes out of a convention and has a few days to kind of luxuriate in the, you know, bask in the glow of being surrounded by the party faithful. And both President Obama and Mitt Romney will be campaigning today in New Hampshire and Iowa. And, you know, last night is already old news, and they'll have to address this.
MARCUSI'm actually a little bit rosier in terms of the impact on the Obama campaign than Sheryl is. The points that she makes are all valid, the disappointing actual number of job created, the reason for the slight decline to 8.1 percent. But I think that the Obama campaign was braced for way worse. I think this is a kind of...
MARCUS...stay the course, baked in a cake kind of off number.
MARCUSPeople -- who knows how to judge 96,000 jobs out there?
MARCUSPeople understand 8.1 if they'd like to see it under eight, but it feels like it's going in a decent direction. One interesting thing though in comparison to the million manufacturing jobs that the president created last night, if you look inside these numbers, you'll see a 15,000 drop in manufacturing jobs. You know, these things go up and down. But it just shows how difficult these promises -- easy these promises are to make and how difficult they are to both check and achieve in the longer run.
IPOne of the reasons this morning's numbers came as a bit of a cold shower was that there was a lot of build-up. People were actually hoping that maybe we would get twice as many jobs. On Thursday, the stock market hit its highest level in four years.
IPWell, that was actually partly anticipation of good economic news, but more important, signs a real progress in Europe getting through their crisis. The European Central Bank signaled publicly for the first time, they we're prepared to buy as many bonds as necessary of troubled countries provided they're sticking to their debt reduction programs. Next week, we'll hear from the Federal Reserve, their strong anticipation.
IPThey will take new actions, stronger than they have in the past, get the economy going. The stock market always looks forward. You can make a case that the rise in the market in the last week is previewing strong economics numbers several months from now. I think the big question is, which -- who gets to reap the reward? Will it be a President Obama or a President Romney?
REHMYou know, it's so interesting to see that stock market jump and see the employment numbers go down because the president and the vice president have claimed that in the past four years, you have seen this steady increase. In jobs, however small, it's there. Greg Ip is U.S. economics editor for The Economist. Our program this morning is being videotaped, should be up online afternoon.
REHMAnd welcome back to the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with Greg Ip of The Economist, Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times, Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post. Here's our first email from Mike in Fairfax. He says, "I think your guests fundamentally misreads Obama's new slogan, Forward. It's not meant to make people ignore the last four years which are chock-full of accomplishments, I might add, but rather to encourage people to build upon that start. Not everything in campaigns is a hide-the-ball strategy." Sheryl.
STOLBERGWell, I think that is a fair point. I mean, Barack Obama can look back at the past four years and say that he'd save the auto industry. He passed a health care bill, which was a very, very high priority for him. You know, so he has -- he ended the war in Iraq, which was a promise that he made. There are some promises that he wasn't able to fulfill. Immigration reform and climate change was a problem he wanted to tackle and didn't. So I think the guest makes a fair point that the slogan, Forward, is designed by the White House to talk about building on what they've already done.
REHMMm hmm. Indeed.
STOLBERGI have to say, though, it just doesn't feel like a very catchy slogan to me.
MARCUSWell, two points. One thing I would add to Sheryl's list of achievements is the stimulus package that the Republicans attacked at their convention as, you know, just chock-full of corporate pork and Solyndra and all wasted money. That's completely inaccurate. A third of it was tax cuts that went to mostly to middle-income individuals, as per Republican requests. So I think that the stimulus package is an achievement of the president.
MARCUSSo I think to the list of things he didn't accomplish, I would put changing the tone in Washington and ushering in a new era of red and blue cooperation. But I think that the essential point which is that the economy has been a disappointment and a slow disappointing recovery for the American people and for the president is an element of why it is better to look forward than to look back.
IPI wanted to add something to a point Ruth just made about him failing to change the tone. And that was one of the striking characteristics of the speech yesterday. You didn't see much effort to play to the center. And I think that speaks to a couple of things. It speaks to the fact that the theme of both parties is to identify the enormous divide between our divisions in the country. But it speaks to the fact that most people have already made up their minds.
IPAnd the two parties are fighting over, number one, a very tiny slice of the electorate that says it's undecided and getting their own support to the polls. And so near at the end of the speech and Obama was, you know, really, really revving that up, get out there and vote. Get out there and vote. It probably works from a point of view sort of get-out-the-base strategy. But I think, again, it weakens the argument for saying that he has a path to actually get stuff done in his second term.
REHMBut contrast that to Bill Clinton's speech, which did indeed seemed to be one that talked about compromise, talked about the center, talked about finding new ways.
STOLBERGBill Clinton, and only as Bill Clinton can, did talk about compromise, finding the center, finding new ways as he skewered Mitt Romney point by point. And I think, in a way, Bill Clinton took on the traditional role of the vice president as the attack dog in this convention and, in fact, point of fact, replaced Joe Biden in the traditional slot.
REHMI want to move on to talk about the two last minute changes that the party made to its platform. The first had to do with Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The second, related to the word God. How come?
MARCUSYou know, how come the Republicans didn't know what Clint Eastwood was going to do? Every convention has its foul-up moments. And this I was thinking as I was coming over here about what grades I would give to the conventions. I think I would give the Democrats a B plus. And I think I would give the Republicans a C, just on technical issues, not on substance. And the reason the Democrats got a B-plus is in significant part because of this distraction that the platform created. It was on...
REHMAs opposed to an A. OK.
MARCUSAs opposed to an A. They get points off. I was talking to folks about this in Charlotte yesterday and the day before as the furor was building. When you -- of all the parts of a platform, OK, the thing you should read really, really carefully is the part about the Middle East, and you should compare and contrast. And the explanation I got, which made no sense to me honestly, was that they just didn't read over carefully, and they didn't realize they had left out Jerusalem. Hello?
MARCUSThat is such a very emotional and central issue to an important voting bloc, and it was just inevitable that it was going to come up, and it was smart of them to fix their mistake as with the God mistake 'cause, you know, you want to leave him or her in there.
STOLBERGBut, you know, fixing that mistake and inserting the language saying that Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel puts the Democratic Party and President Obama at odds with the policy of the administration. Our embassy is in Tel Aviv. Our official policy is that the status of Jerusalem is something to be decided by negotiations. And one reason this gaff was, I think, so problematic was because the president himself made the decision to change the platform.
STOLBERGSo now he is in a position of having articulated his own personal view in the Democratic Party platform, which is at odds with his view as president. And he already has strained relations with Bibi Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel. So it wasn't good.
REHMAnd Mitt Romney immediately seized on this, Greg, saying that the Democrats and particularly President Obama are simply soft in Israel.
IPI think that the reason this was such a serious own goal for the Democrats is because it actually does aggravate a suspicion among some people, particularly the party's Jewish backers that Obama is not as tough on Iran and is supportive as -- reflexively supportive of Israel as he should be. I mean, and this comes out through a very, very prickly relationship the administration has had with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israel.
IPJust a few days ago reportedly, we heard that there have been -- there was a shouting match between the American ambassador to Israel and Netanyahu over the whole issue on how to confront Iran. So, you know, the irony here is that most of the time platforms don't matter. They are not binding on the president and the Jerusalem issue in particular because, you know, year after year, the parties put that in their platform.
IPAnd year after years, presidents don't do anything about it because they know, as Sheryl was saying, that's to be decided in final status negotiations. The mysteries why the Democratic Party would therefore allow something that's not -- that does not have, you know, a practical value to become a symbolic problem for them are the very important part of the electorate.
REHMOf course, the word God as you said, I mean, what was the Democratic Party -- Democratic strategist trying to achieve by putting that word back in, Ruth?
MARCUSWell, you know, a piece of the Republican argument against President Obama has been that he is conducting a war on religion, much as the Democrats have been arguing about the Republican war on women. You saw Cardinal Dolan at both conventions, but...
REHMThat was interesting.
MARCUSThat was very interesting.
MARCUSAnd I thought it was good and interesting for the Democrats to have him their. But the question -- has -- there has been a question for a while, especially among religious voters about whether the Democratic Party is adequately inclusive of faith and faith-based organizations. The administration has made some accommodations. But it also staked out a position that it then backtracked from in terms contraceptive access that riled up a lot of Catholic voters.
MARCUSAnd if you want to think about who you don't want to annoy in an election, it's bad enough to annoy Jewish voters, but Catholic -- but they constitute a very small sliver of the voting population, though, a larger percentage of donors and important part of the Democratic Party donor-based. But Catholics are a third of the country, and they heard in their churches on Sunday mornings about this contraceptive rule. And you do not want to follow that up with taking out God.
REHMHow about Michelle Obama's speech? What did you think, Greg Ip?
IPIt was a very strong speech. I mean, she, like her husband, is a very, you know, mesmerizing speaker, although in different ways, very powerful and doing as first ladies or, you know, wives of presidential candidates are supposed to do, avoiding, you know, overtly political statements. But I thought it was interesting that a theme that ran through a lot of it was the humble, you know, origins of her and her husband's, you know, background...
IP...the fact that -- you know, all this stuff about, like, the hole in the car that Obama drove when he picked her up for a date, you know, the shoes that were too small, the coffee table he got out of the dumpster and the fact that he turned down more lucrative careers, all of it subtly drawing a contrast with Mitt Romney, of course, a very wealthy man.
REHMBut all that is true, is it not?
IPAll that is true, and it's also of a piece with the entire convention, which was to try and emphasize that the Democratic Party, you know, honors and -- the values of all workers and all contributors in society, that, yes, entrepreneurialism and risk-taking is great. But, you know, again, you know, as Clinton said, everybody's in it together. It's not, you know, you're on your own. I think that was the point that the first lady was trying to subtly drive home.
STOLBERGI thought Michelle Obama was a big winner, frankly, in this convention, and I thought she had, in a way, a harder task than Ann Romney, or she took on a harder task. The traditional task of the wife is to humanize the husband, to show the public the side of the husband that the public doesn't see, and Ann Romney did that very well, I thought. But Michelle Obama also very slyly made policy attacks on Mitt Romney without ever mentioning Mitt Romney's name.
STOLBERGI was very struck by a line in her speech where she talked about -- she says, "I've seen how the issues that come across the president's desk are always the hard ones -- the problems where no amount of data or numbers will get you to the right answer, where the judgment calls, where the stakes are so high and there's no margin for error." And she talked about how, at the end of the day, it's your values that help you make this decision.
STOLBERGAnd that line about no amount of data or numbers was really a direct hit on Mitt Romney, who is kind of the data-driven, you know, Bain Capital consultant candidate. And Michelle Obama did that in just a very sort of sly, subtle way, contrasting her husband with his opponent that I thought lent it a policy element to her speech that added to her humanization of him.
REHMSheryl Gay Stolberg, she is Washington correspondent for The New York Times. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Ruth Marcus, you wanted to add to that.
MARCUSWell, I thought Michelle Obama's speech was quite brilliant for some of the ways that my colleagues have said. And one other thing I would point out is that she talked about when Barack Obama graduated from law school, he turned down lucrative job offers in order to go work in communities that were hit by the closure of a steel plant. Well, we know about the Bain Capital investments in steel plants that's closed.
MARCUSShe, without mentioning Mitt Romney at all, really made that contrast. And I think in a much -- I thought Ann Romney's speech, where she did talk about how they ate tuna fish and pasta on the ironing board, nobody -- everybody understands that the Romneys were never really worried about whether they were going to be able to pay their student loans. I actually don't think they probably had student loans, and everybody understands that the Obamas did.
MARCUSI thought that Ann Romney's speech was particularly unsubtle in her shout-outs to women. Women, I love you. We're all sisters. We're all mothers. Michelle Obama didn't need to do that, and -- but she was much more skillful in the way she delivered the message.
STOLBERGAnd talking about how their student debt was more than their mortgage, I thought, was a very compelling line when they were first married.
REHMInteresting. New Hampshire voter ID law, Greg Ip, what did the Department of Justice approve, that new voter ID law, when they were taking a very close look?
IPWell, New Hampshire is one of a group of states which, for some time, has had to have changes to voter ID law approved by the Justice Department because of past history of laws that were judged discriminatory. So, in their case, they wanted to pass a law that requires voters to present a certain form of government-issued ID at the election. Now, as it happens, for this election, voters will still be able to show without ID and then swear on an affidavit and have their photo taken.
IPBut subsequent to this, they'll have to have some kind of photo ID. Now what's interesting is that what New Hampshire seems to have put forward is not, you know, one of the more onerous types of restrictions on voting because this whole issue of what you have to do to get registered and to vote has become a very, very big deal in this particular election. There have been, I believe, 11 states since 2010 that have put in some form of voter ID law.
REHMAnd all because of what is perceived as voter fraud?
IPExactly. For which the evidence is extremely slim. But some of the states go much further. For example, in Florida, they have tried to, for example, to limit the ability of nonprofit groups to do voter drives. If you sign up a name, you have to actually register that person within 48 hours. Now, I believe that that particular provision may not have actually stood in Texas, you know, getting birth certificates and other documents, paying for those documents to get registered.
IPAnd it just, I think, shows how, like the ground game, getting people out to vote has become such a key flash point in this election because many of these states bringing in these laws have Republican governors.
REHMWhat's the difference between New Hampshire's and Texas' voter ID laws?
IPI can't speak that specifically to it, but as I understand it, Texas do require you to, you know, get a variety of documents such as birth certificates and so forth that may actually cost you a lot of money and take you a lot of time, in some cases, according to the Department of Justice, driving as many as hundreds of miles to get those documents.
REHMAnd a three-judge federal court panel in Washington ruled last week that Texas' 2011 voter ID law violates the Voting Rights Act.
STOLBERGRight. I think we've seen a number of these states enact, you know, or try to enact tougher voter ID laws. In a way, this is really code for a Democrat versus Republican, right? Democrats are very worried that these -- the more onerous the requirements, the more difficult it will be for the poor, for people who maybe don't have cars, let's say, certainly don't have driver's licenses, for people who can't, you know, take a day off from work and go down to the, you know, department of statistics and get the birth certificate...
STOLBERG...to produce the kind of documentation that is necessary to vote. And Republicans have cast this as an issue of voter fraud, and it can, you know, it can make the difference in a narrow election.
REHMAnd how much discussion might there be in this upcoming election about voter ID laws, Ruth?
MARCUSA lot of discussion both about voter ID laws and also the other related laws that Greg mentioned, the purging of the voter rolls that is going on and in the midst of a court battle in Florida, some of the other restrictions. It's all -- to my mind, it's a little bit of a problem and a solution in search of a problem because the evidence of voter fraud is pretty minimum.
REHMRuth Marcus of The Washington Post. Short break, then your calls.
REHMAnd welcome back. First, before we open the phones, this from Dottie in Tallahassee, Fla., "This loyal listener is wondering if your Debbie Downer panel listened to the same two conventions I did. Are they on anti-depressants? The Democratic convention was filled with a diverse message targeting many different voter markets from veterans, educators, women and so on. We covered the gamut of energetic appeal. There will be a bounce from this convention, and I believe the president will strengthen his lead in the polls for good." Sheryl.
STOLBERGOne thing that's important then that the writer didn't mention was the appeal to gay voters that we saw throughout this election, and it really, really was a first. The platform included language endorsing same-sex marriage. And you saw speaker after speaker talking about, you know, we support you no matter who you love. One of President Obama's accomplishments, the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the military policy barring gays from serving openly.
STOLBERGAnd so I do think it's true that they -- there was certainly an appeal to that segment of the electorate, and even President Obama mentioned gays last night in his speech, and also an appeal to women.
REHMAll right. Let's go first to Westminster, Vt. Good morning, Leslie.
LESLIEGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
LESLIEI loved Obama's speech last night, and I am so fired up to go out and vote for him and to work for him. And I just want to say an analogy came to me this morning, and it was one of us being in a burning building. And the reason we're in a burning building is because under Republican watch, it was not regulated when it was being built, and the Republican solution, which I think was starkly drawn between these two conventions, is that those that are closest to the exit, who could buy the most expensive tickets that happen to be there, just make a way for the exit door and leave the rest of us behind.
LESLIEThe Democratic appeal and what I thought Obama did beautifully last night in his appeal to our citizenship is to say we're in this together. Look to the left. Look to the right. Look in front of you. Look behind you. Pick up the people that can't make it to the exit door on their own and help the people around you.
REHMInteresting. Ruth Marcus.
MARCUSAnd I think that that was a very, very strong piece of the president's message and a strong contrast that he drew with what, you know, obviously the Republicans would not describe their policy that way. But it is a more individualized less role for government approach than the Democrats. Back on the Debbie Downer point, I do think it's -- I don't mean to be Debbie Downer.
MARCUSI'm not sure if I'm Ruthie Rah-Rah, (sp?) but it is -- I think everybody who was at both conventions and who probably watched both conventions did take away that there was greater energy on the floor, greater enthusiasm for President Obama than there was for would-be President Romney. That's just a sort of fact of the difference between the two parties.
IPWell, I apologize if I come across as a downer...
IPAs Grim Greg as opposed to Gregarious Greg. I have only had two cups of coffee this morning. Maybe that's the issue. I'd say that the fact that Leslie is fired up to vote does suggest that the president achieved his desired aim, which was to get the people who got him into office four years ago to the polls.
REHMAll right. To Southern Pines, N.C. Good morning, Gail.
GAILGood morning, Diane, and thank you for taking my call.
GAILAnd I heartily agree with Leslie from Vermont. However, my point is that the press and the media seem to have very short memory when it comes to the bills that President Obama has put forth and have been voted down by the Republicans in their lockstep voting procedures, and I didn't realize we were Nazi Germany until I heard that. And I, you know, they talk about dysfunctional Washington.
GAILWhy is it dysfunctional? I think we know why, but it's not reported in the press. The Republicans allowed themselves to be blackmailed by Grover Norquist? Come on. What kind of a country do we have?
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Greg.
IPI think that one of the interesting things was he didn't put forth a lot of some of the details that some of the folks have been looking for. One -- he did actually, though, touch on two things very briefly. One was he wants to reform the tax code. He's mentioned that in the past. And he's -- for the first time in my memory, and perhaps Ruth or Sheryl remember otherwise, he actually associated himself with the Simpson-Bowles debt commission.
IPHe said, I want to get a deal based on the principles of the bipartisan debt commission. This is significant because he hasn't really put forth credible plans on either those things. He's talked about frameworks of those things, but he has not done anything. As the caller pointed out, it's been difficult for him to do anything because he hasn't had a negotiating partner willing to make compromises on that score.
REHMAnd the question is if he is reelected, is he going to have anymore voting partners than he did in his first term, Ruth?
MARCUSI think that is the question, sort of what happens the morning after. The theory of the case for the White House when you ask them, so why should we expect it will be any different, is that the -- well, two-fold, really, that the Republicans will -- if they suffer an electoral defeat for the presidency, if they lose seats in the House, if the Democrats retain control of the Senate -- that the republican fever on taxes, as the White House puts it, will break, that they will recognize that this is not a winning strategy for them, that their demographic strategy with losing Hispanic and African-American votes is not a winning strategy and that the reasonable voices in the party that understand needs to be a balanced approach to debt reduction, will have a stronger hand.
MARCUSThere is the threat of Grover Norquist. I do need to not let the Nazi analogy go unmentioned. The Republicans have voted in lockstep, and as far as I'm concerned, in a very unproductive way in terms of their unwillingness to recognize a need for new revenue.
REHMWith a reference to Nazis.
MARCUSBut they were elected Democratically.
MARCUSThey vote Democratically. They can be taken out of office in a Democratic process, and it is a -- Nazi analogies are never a good idea, and this one was similarly completely unfounded.
REHMTo Arlington, Va. Good morning, Mary.
MARYYes, Diane. This follows right to what you're discussing. I voted for President Obama in 2008. I voted for President Clinton. When I listened to his speech and he said that no president could have fixed this, I thought, no, you would have adopted the Simpson-Bowles. You would have sold that to the American people, much like Barack Obama spent so much time so many speeches on health care. That's what our economy needs. It needs certainty. We would be further along right now.
MARYWe wouldn't be waiting for the election. We would be moving along, and families would be doing better. And that's what's got me so upset and so disappointed in the whole process. And I can't -- we -- six months from now, our country is going to be having a very serious, sober debate about the issues of taxes and entitlements.
REHMWell, and indeed you're going to hear that debate between the two candidates twice, three times and then the one debate between the two vice presidential candidates.
MARCUSTwo points. We will be having that debate in less than six months for the reason that we are approaching a fiscal cliff...
MARCUS...with the expiration of the tax cuts, the hitting of the sequester that was agreed to by both parties. It is astonishing how that was the missing conversation in both conventions, what both candidates proposed to do about the fiscal cliff. I also agree with the caller. I have been so frustrated by the president's initial silence on the Simpson-Bowles framework. He has sort of edged up to it in the past, but he did not seize on that moment to try to lead the country to a very difficult place.
IPThere's a lot of sort of, you know, coulda, shoulda, woulda going on with this whole thing. I think the White House's view at the time that the commission reported at the end of December was absent a strong bipartisan consensus within the commission itself to adopt the report and move on it. But the president made it his own proposal. It would become the democratic position, and then he'll be forced to negotiate to the right from there.
IPAnd so their view was, you know, let's sort of, like, hang back and not poison the well by associating with ourselves. It was probably a miscalculation because if they had taken a stronger view now, they would have a stronger response, I think, to some of the attacks on them. However, it doesn't, I don't think, rise to the incredulity I think Paul Ryan caused when, in his acceptance speech, he attacked the president for failing to endorse it even though he voted against it.
REHMAgainst it. Here's an email, let's see, from Debra. "Please comment on President Obama's philosophical emphasis on the wee of citizenship versus the eye interpretation of Republicans and how your guests interpret the impact of that chasm on moving the country forward economically." Sheryl.
STOLBERGWell, I think, in a way, that encapsulates the very debate that we're having as a country. We are very, very divided as this country -- as a country. As Greg noted earlier, the candidates are fighting over a very, very slim portion of the undecided electorate. And President Obama did lay out the philosophy last night, you know?
STOLBERGAnd as President Clinton did before him, that we together are better and can move forward together as a society, that we owe it to one other, that government isn't always the answer, but it sometimes can be the answer versus the sort of stand-on-your-own society that they would -- Democrats would argue Republicans favor.
REHMI don't like to jump ahead on this Friday News Roundups, but I do wonder what each of you anticipates we might get from those debates that we have not gotten yet from either or any of the candidates. Ruth.
MARCUSI think that the debates are a critical fill-in-the-blank opportunity because both of these candidates, and for completely understandable political reasons, have not wanted to fill in the blanks their program.
MARCUSPartly -- and the caller was right. Of course, nobody wants to have a stadium full of cheering people or even an arena full of cheering people listening to 75...
MARCUS...point wonky plans and, you know...
IPThere's only 59 points.
MARCUSYeah. Well, no, I was, you know, I know Mr. Romney says only 59 points, but nobody wants a spreadsheet at a convention. Nonetheless, you want tax reform. OK, fine. For example, Mitt Romney wants to cut tax -- lower tax rates in a way that would require him, if he wants to do it without further adding to the debt, to raise something close to $5 trillion in revenue. Well, by closing what loopholes? By eliminating the deductions? That is something that is very easy to elide in a convention speech and harder to duck in a debate. And there are many other examples of that.
STOLBERGThat's right. And we saw President Obama saying, you know, President Obama filled in the blanks for Mitt Romney last night by saying, you know, I'll never take away the homeowner's right to, you know, deduct their mortgage interest. It's been easy for Democrats to fill in the blanks for Republicans and vice versa. But, you know, I also think the debates will be important for the likability factor. I think that a lot of Americans really do vote on likability. That's been...
REHMWhen it comes down to a time like...
STOLBERGWhen it comes down to it, it's who they feel comfortable with. And we'll see the personalities of these candidates come up against one another. And that will be important as the policies are too.
REHMSheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Lexington, Ky. Good morning, Jodie.
JODIEGood morning. Thanks for taking the call.
JODIEI have several comments and then...
REHMJust one, please, sir. We're almost out of time.
JODIEOK. Well, let me then cut to the question.
JODIEEvery months ADP, the payroll processor, reports a number that is significantly higher than the White House jobs report. Why is that? I mean, yesterday they reported 200,000 jobs added by employers and yet we're getting 80,000 from the White House.
IPIt's actually not always significantly higher. Sometimes it's significantly lower. What is more predictable is that it's usually significantly off, which is why people, you know, don't tend to put so much weight on it. ADP is a private company that tries to reproduce what the Bureau of Labor Statistics does.
REHMWhat does ADP stand for?
IPAutomatic Data Processing. They, you know, if you get a paycheck, odds are, ADP processed it for you. But they do not have good visibility into lots of parts of the economy, for example, very small firms that don't use payroll processing things. And there's a lot of, sort of, seasonal adjustment and other stuff that the government does. And so that's why ADP has had trouble getting their number exactly where the real number comes out.
REHMOK. And to Kurt in Boston, Mass. Good morning. Kurt, are you there?
KURTGood morning. My question is this whole dialogue has been based around Obama versus the Republicans. How do people feel the interaction would be with any other Democrat? Is this a Democrat versus Republican dilemma? Or is this a Republican versus Obama conflict?
REHMWell, that gets to a question that many people have raised, and that is has race been involved here? Ruth Marcus.
MARCUSWell, I don't know if I actually take it as a question of whether race has been involved here but really sort -- if we know about what kind of Democrat Barack Obama is. I have a column in The Washington Post this morning about whether he is a Clinton Democrat, a new Democrat or a different kind of Democrat, a kind of pragmatic progressive. And I think it's astonishing that after two presidential campaigns and nearly a full term in office, we're still debating this.
IPI thought Clinton himself made an interesting point. He said, you know, when I was president or even now, I often disagree with Republicans, but I don't hate any of them. But you had this extraordinary phenomenon where many Republicans really hate the president. But...
MARCUSMany Republicans did hate Bill Clinton. We tend to forget it.
IPI was about to exactly make that point. So before...
MARCUSI'm sorry. I'm sorry, Greg.
IPNo, but I think that's exactly the key point. Before you lead to race as a driver, we have to remember the vitriol directed at Clinton, especially during the impeachment affair was -- it was pretty much as intense as it is now.
STOLBERGAlso I think it was just that Obama came in with so much hope. I mean, you must remember when he was inaugurated and 80 percent of the country was behind him. And it -- he...
REHMBut why that statement from Mitch McConnell on the day he, not the Democratic Party but he, Barack Obama, was elected. Why the statement?
STOLBERGThe statement that their number one task was to reclaim the White House.
STOLBERGWell, because that's what political parties do, right? Republicans want to run...
REHMSo you don't think race had anything to do with it?
STOLBERGYou know, I actually think that Americans felt and still feel very good about electing the first African-American president.
REHMI'd like to think that.
STOLBERGI'm -- I view it on the more optimistic, on the brighter side.
REHMSheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times, Greg Ip of The Economist, Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post, thank you, all.
REHMHave a great weekend.
IPThank you, Diane.
REHMThanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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