Friday News Roundup - Domestic

Transcript for: 
Friday News Roundup - Domestic

MS. DIANE REHM

10:06:56
Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Negotiations to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff continued. A fight over U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice heated up, and President Obama had lunch with former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Joining me in the studio for this week's domestic News Roundup: David Leonhardt of The New York Times, Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal and Ari Shapiro of NPR. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning, and happy Friday, everybody.

MR. ARI SHAPIRO

10:07:45
Hi, Diane.

MS. LAURA MECKLER

10:07:46
Good morning.

MR. DAVID LEONHARDT

10:07:46
Good morning.

REHM

10:07:47
Welcome back, Ari.

SHAPIRO

10:07:48
Thank you. It is nice to be back from the campaign.

REHM

10:07:51
I'm glad to see you. There was some optimism earlier this week about finding a resolution on the fiscal cliff negotiation. What is the mood this morning?

SHAPIRO

10:08:04
Well, yesterday, the White House presented an offer that Republicans sort of swatted down. It included $1.6 trillion in tax revenues over the next decade, about $400 billion in entitlement savings. The Republicans say this is totally unrealistic, you know, I can't say there is some good news which is all of us covered the debt ceiling talks last year when people were walking out of negotiations and not returning phone calls. It has not sort of devolved to that just yet, but the tone right now is not as optimistic as it was at the start of the week.

REHM

10:08:35
Laura.

MECKLER

10:08:37
Yeah. I think that this is sort of to be expected. I mean, really, what the White House put forward yesterday was a collection of their wish list of everything they'd want. What President Obama has put forth in the past in his budget, he didn't go beyond that. A lot of Democrats welcomed that. They feel like he's negotiated with himself too often in the past.

MECKLER

10:08:54
But he put forward sort of everything as a wish list, and there are some new things too that haven't really gotten a lot of attention yet such as increased infrastructure spending, renewal of the payroll tax, reduction -- payroll tax rate reduction and, intriguingly, an end to the congressional approval for increasing the federal government statutory borrowing authority.

REHM

10:09:17
Was that totally pie in the sky?

MECKLER

10:09:21
Probably because Congress -- and this is a bipartisan point. Congress does not like to give up its authority. It likes to keep control over what's going on. And presidents of both parties in the past have had to work to get the debt ceiling increase, non-quite so hard as President Obama last year. But -- so that, I think, is a little bit more of a jurisdictional question than partisan question, but it's also partisan. And I highly doubt that Republicans are going to give up that kind of leverage that they have.

REHM

10:09:48
So, David, is there anything that they can agree on in this package, or is it totally up to the president now to go to the general public for his plan?

LEONHARDT

10:10:03
We still know what a final deal probably looks like. It -- look, the president has asked for $1.6 trillion in higher tax revenue, and John Boehner has talked about 800 billion. And so you can assume maybe they compromise somewhere near 1.2 trillion, right? You can assume it includes some cuts to Medicare. It probably won't have Social Security. You can assume it has some cuts to other things. So we know from a kind of substance of perspective what the final deal probably could look like.

LEONHARDT

10:10:34
I think there are two questions. One, having won re-election, is Obama less willing to agree to entitlement changes than he was in 2011? He'll probably be a little less willing. Is he so much less willing that there is no deal there? My guess is the answer to that question is no. I think Obama actually wants to do some of this entitlement stuff. He almost wants the Republicans to force him to do it. He wants a deficit deal for his own kind of legacy and stature-in so he can move on to other things

LEONHARDT

10:11:03
Obama is more willing to cut Medicare than a lot of other Democrats. The second question is, can Republicans get their minds around the idea of higher taxes? And I think we don't know the answer to that question. I would -- yes, the answer to that question is yes, but I don't think we -- I don't think we know the answer to that question.

REHM

10:11:18
Laura.

MECKLER

10:11:19
Well, I think that the knob of the issue. I mean, what David just said is exactly right, where these two challenge orthodoxy in both parties. But we've seen a lot of flexibility with -- among Republicans on the tax issue. For starters, the day after the election, House Speaker John Boehner came right out and said that he was open to new revenue. So we started this debate in a very different place than we were, you know, 15 months ago when we last dealt with these sorts of negotiations.

MECKLER

10:11:47
And we've also seen other people such as Congressman Tom Cole from Oklahoma who is no liberal at saying that, you know, let's just go ahead and extend the lower tax rates for the middle class, those earning the income less than $250,000 a year and let it expire for the upper income earners and move on with it which is the Obama position. So that, you know, that's striking. So now that's not the whole conference, but it is notable.

LEONHARDT

10:12:13
And that is a very big deal because while the fiscal cliff talks at most what been happening behind the scenes, what President Obama has talked about the most in public is pushing Congress to vote on this extension of the Bush era tax rates for, he says, 98 percent of the American people. The fact that Tom Cole is a powerful Republican in the House has said, yeah, let's go ahead with that and then deal with the top 2 percent later.

LEONHARDT

10:12:35
It would be a big victory for President Obama and something that I think many Democrats and outside observers did not expect him to get quite as easily is it looks like it might be on the verge of happening.

REHM

10:12:44
Has he, in fact, drawn any line in the sand?

LEONHARDT

10:12:49
Well, the -- you know, he -- the White House says the line is tax rates must go up on upper income Americans. They say the president is not wedded to any part of this plan specifically. Except for the principal, the tax rates cannot stay the same above $250,000 of income.

REHM

10:13:04
And how come Tim Geithner was sent to deliver this message?

SHAPIRO

10:13:10
Geithner and Obama are pretty close. They seem to have a real fondness for each other and they have ever since they first met during the waning parts of the campaign. They're almost exactly the same age. They both have Asia in their background from growing up. Obama has a lot of faith in Geithner. Geithner is also on his way out the door.

SHAPIRO

10:13:28
And so if you were to send someone else who might be taking another position in the administration, you would worry that they would get some scars and build up some bad blood with the Republicans that could affect them going forward. I think Geithner is happy to sort of get some of those scars on the way out.

SHAPIRO

10:13:45
Geithner also is someone who can deliver a message, both to Republicans about, hey, guess what, we're not budging on this idea that the top rate must go up, and then he can turn around and say to Democrats, you got to accept some cuts to entitlements.

MECKLER

10:13:58
Listen, there are two interesting points here. One is that, as Ari sort of alluded to, the White House is not insisting that the top tax rate go back up to where it was before, which is what would happen under current law. All rates would return to their previous higher levels. And so there has -- there was shown some flexibility this weekend. We heard from the White House sort of indirectly that they were willing to let those rates go up but maybe not quite as high as they would under current law. So that is a subtlety, but it sort of points to a direction where a deal may be had.

LEONHARDT

10:14:35
When Obama was asked in his press conference shortly after the election, must tax rates go up, as Ari and Laura have said, he said, yes. And then someone said must they go up to 39 percent, which is where they were under Clinton, and he very pointedly ducked the question.

MECKLER

10:14:47
Yeah.

LEONHARDT

10:14:48
And so that's -- but when you imagine the compromise, that's part of the compromise. Thirty-seven percent, 38 percent, I don't know what it is. But it's somewhere probably between 35 and 39.

MECKLER

10:14:53
Yeah. Right.

REHM

10:14:54
How much of a difference to the president and to the Republicans does the election itself make?

LEONHARDT

10:15:04
Oh, you know, as Laura said, the day after the election, we saw Congressman John Boehner say I'm open to new revenues. We've seen lots of Republican...

REHM

10:15:10
But then he backtracked.

LEONHARDT

10:15:12
Well, he says he's not going to embrace higher tax rates, but more revenues is something that he offered the day after the election that I don't think we would have seen if Mitt Romney had won. Similarly, you know, the Grover Norquist anti-tax pledge that so many Republicans are backing away from now, I don't think we'd be seeing that if the election had gone a different way.

LEONHARDT

10:15:34
You know, there are all kinds of demographic issues here about young people, about minorities where Republicans see their base shrinking, they're trying to expand the pie. And I think all of that informs how they're negotiating.

REHM

10:15:45
How many have backed away from Grover Norquist's pledge?

MECKLER

10:15:51
I don't know what the total is. I mean, I don't think we're talking like massive numbers of people.

REHM

10:15:55
Exactly.

MECKLER

10:15:56
I mean -- but the signals from the leadership matter, you know, and they're not being asked yet, not -- the rank and file is not yet being asked, but they're being told right up from the beginning that there are tax revenues on the table. There's no way that this happens without taxes. And that wasn't 100 percent clear, you know, 15 months ago. In fact, we got through the debt ceiling negotiations without any increases on taxes last time. So I think that it's -- we have a very different environment, and it's directly related to the election results.

REHM

10:16:27
And just to let our listeners know, Grover Norquist will be a guest here on this program on Monday. How much of a backlash is he likely to generate against those who step away from the pledge?

LEONHARDT

10:16:47
Oh, he will certainly try to generate a backlash against them. He's been very clear about that. I think the real question here is are we at the end of the great era of American tax cutting? We in The New York Times today have a big project where we look at total tax rates, federal, state and local. And what we discovered is that for the vast majority of Americans, nearly all affluent people, nearly all middle-class people, not all poor people, people are paying considerably less in overall taxes than they were, not only in 1980 but even after the initial Reagan tax cuts.

LEONHARDT

10:17:16
We've had basically 30 years of mostly tax cutting. That's a big reason why we have a deficit, right? Democrats have won on spending. We've increased spending. Republicans have won on taxes. We've lowered taxes. We're left with a deficit. And I think the question is are we at the end of that era?

LEONHARDT

10:17:28
And the fact that we're seeing Tom Cole and some of this discomfort with the Grover no new taxes stuff raises the possibility that, in fact, Americans are going to side, you know what, I like low taxes, but I'm not willing to trade getting rid of the safety net, getting rid of Medicare, as we know it, for lower taxes.

REHM

10:17:44
Two points: Are we going to see a deal and when?

LEONHARDT

10:17:51
We'll, I think we will at least see a short-term deal to get us through the New Year.

REHM

10:17:54
Short term.

LEONHARDT

10:17:54
If not a long-term deal before the New Year then a long term deal after the New Year. I think it's important that, you know, to your question about both accountability and the consequences of the election, Pew and CNN both polled Americans and asked would you blame the Republicans or President Obama more if the country goes over the fiscal cliff? In the Pew survey, 53 percent said Republicans would be more to blame, 29 percent said the president would be more to blame.

LEONHARDT

10:18:19
In the CNN survey, 45 percent said Republicans, 34 percent said the president. So I think the Republicans realize that President Obama has the upper hand here, and that informs every aspect of their negotiation rate.

REHM

10:18:30
Quick point, Laura.

MECKLER

10:18:32
Well, I just love this quote that was in the Journal today from Congressman Rob Andrews who said, "In order to reach a deal, it has to look like there was a lot of fighting before you got the deal."

REHM

10:18:39
Laura Meckler...

MECKLER

10:18:39
Both sides need to show that they're resisting.

REHM

10:18:42
Laura Meckler, White House correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. Short break. More news when we come back.

REHM

10:20:05
And we're back with the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup. Now, turning to Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nation, she had some more setbacks this week in what is assumed to be her nomination to the secretary of state. She went up to the Hill. What happened, David?

LEONHARDT

10:20:33
She went up to the Hill to talk to several Republican senators, Susan Collins, John McCain, and these meetings were meant to smooth things over. Republicans have criticized her for the fact that she came out shortly after the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi and said some things that, it looks like in hindsight, were not correct. It also looks like at the time she was speaking with the best available intelligence.

LEONHARDT

10:20:55
But I think it's fair to say that in the initial period after Benghazi, the Obama administration did not handle it that well. And I would guess that part of the reason was they were nervous in the run-up to the election about what they were saying publicly. Susan Rice was really just acting as an administration spokesperson here. And so the idea that she was doing something fundamentally different from other administration officials is probably off.

LEONHARDT

10:21:14
I actually like the people who have pointed out that the bigger reason to criticize Susan Rice is her role in Rwanda in the 1990s where she actually played a more substantive role, and there's more criticism there. But this whole situation is very odd. I mean, she hasn't been nominated yet, and she's going up to the Hill.

REHM

10:21:26
Exactly.

MECKLER

10:21:27
Right.

LEONHARDT

10:21:28
And I guess we all assume she's going to be nominated because Obama doesn't have a record of making very surprising picks. But who knows?

REHM

10:21:35
Sen. Corker, the ranking Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, "We want somebody of independence." What does he mean?

MECKLER

10:21:47
Well, he doesn't want someone who's going to be going out there and just sort of, you know, repeating talking points if they aren't true, I think, is what he's probably referring to there. But again, this is really sort of a dicey situation. She's sort of taking the fall for this sort of mixed wrong messages that came our early. The concern that David alluded to in the run-up to the election was that Obama was running on a strong anti-terrorism record.

MECKLER

10:22:15
He talked every day on the campaign trail about decimating al-Qaida. It wasn't going to necessarily look real good to have a terrorist attack -- al-Qaida attack on the U.S. consulate, you know, happening in four Americans, including the ambassador being killed. You know, having said that, though, I think there are a lot of questions about whether, you know, how much of this is really her fault.

MECKLER

10:22:34
But it doesn't even matter at this point, really. It seems like whether it's her fault. The question, I mean, it matters in a larger way. But the political question before us now is, does President Obama want to say basically, you know, I don't care what you have to say, you know? Make my day. I'm nominating her. She is the one who I want for this job. He defended her enthusiastically at his press conference.

MECKLER

10:22:58
He -- at every chance he has, he does the same. Or does he say, you know what, I have enough on my plate with the, you know, fiscal cliff and everything else going on. John Kerry, who has been very loyal to him, you know, helped on the campaign and the debate preparations. You know, he's -- the Republicans are basically begging for him to be nominated for secretary of state. He wants the job. Why not just go ahead and nominate him?

SHAPIRO

10:23:23
I mean, Republicans have very successfully painted President Obama into a corner here because whether he was actually intending to nominate Susan Rice for the position or not. Now, if he does nominate her, it will look like he's picking a fight to kick off his second term. And if he does not nominate her, it will look like he's caving to pressure from Republicans.

LEONHARDT

10:23:40
From a purely political perspective, I actually think the Kerry appointment would create more problems for Obama. I think presidents underestimate the damage they do to themselves by nominating sitting senators. Scott Brown could win that seat in Massachusetts.

SHAPIRO

10:23:55
He's the most popular ex-senator in America right now possibly.

LEONHARDT

10:23:57
Yeah. And so Democrats say, well, we don't need the 55th seat. They do need the 55th seat. That's one closer to 60, and the map for the Democrats looks bad in two years. And so I actually -- I think it's sort of interesting to see whether the Democrats make what is a kind of narrow tactical mistake because of their -- because of Obama's admiration for Kerry.

REHM

10:24:18
Are there other names out there?

SHAPIRO

10:24:21
Oh, I mean, I think there are lots of other names out there floating around, you know, both from inside and outside of the current administration line-up. But Susan Rice and John Kerry are the two that we hear the most. And I think, you know, John Kerry would have an easy time getting to the Senate.

MECKLER

10:24:34
Well, one name also we hear is Tom Donilon, who is the National Security Adviser right now. And one possible approach for Obama is to move Susan Rice as his National Security Adviser that does -- the position that does not need Senate confirmation. If she doesn't get state, I think that that is a likely second option for her.

SHAPIRO

10:24:53
But having talked about the drawbacks of this fight for the president, there's also an advantage, which is that when, you know, an overwhelmingly white male Senate beats up on African-American woman in line for a very powerful position, again, to go back to this issue of demographics, it doesn't help the Republicans who were trying to expand their appeal to groups beyond older white men.

REHM

10:25:11
Talk about a little bit of Susan Rice's role at the U.N. yesterday with the Palestinians seeking to gain some recognition. Laura.

MECKLER

10:25:27
Well, you know, the U.S. was in a difficult position because the majority of the general assembly supported the Palestinian effort to, which was successful to be recognized, upgrade their status at the U.N. This has been obviously dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that the U.N. has been a long-term problem for Susan Rice. And most people think that she's actually done a pretty good job.

MECKLER

10:25:50
The bigger sort of fault line came about a little over a year ago when they were seeking recognition from the Security Council. And that was a more significant vote. And the U.S. really had to work it to get members, the countries that were serving on the Security Council at that time to oppose that move and succeeded. In doing so, that failed. And this move that going to the general assembly was a fallback for the Palestinian authority.

REHM

10:26:19
So, David Leonhardt, do you believe that President Obama will move forward and nominate Susan Rice to be secretary of state?

LEONHARDT

10:26:31
I guess I like probabilities and I would put a greater than 50 percent chance on it. But I don't think it's at 95 or 99 percent.

REHM

10:26:39
How about you, Laura?

MECKLER

10:26:41
I like the way David approached this, OK.

MECKLER

10:26:43
I don't get boxed in. Yeah, I think we're in the 60 to 70 percent range. I think 'cause just because he has gone so far down the road, it's like some people have said he's practically nominated her already. But I do think there is a significant chance that they're going to look at this from a Realpolitik point of view and say, you know, we do need to pick our battles.

REHM

10:27:03
All right.

SHAPIRO

10:27:04
And whether at the end of the day he nominates her or not, his language about her has been stronger than the language I've heard him used to defend almost anyone else in his cabinet. At his press conference, he said, come after me. Don't go after her. Come after me. More recently, he said, "Susan Rice is extraordinary," during a cabinet meeting. I mean, these are strong unequivocal statements.

REHM

10:27:22
All right. Let's talk about the filibuster and the movement on Capitol Hill to reform the filibuster. Talk about how it's used, Ari.

SHAPIRO

10:27:36
Well, it's used by the party that does not have the majority to block the Senate from putting things through when they have 50 plus votes but not quite 60. You know, the filibuster has become sort of the de facto means of stopping anything in the Senate no matter what it is. And, you know, when the Democrats have the Senate minority, President George W. Bush was nominating judges the Democrats didn't like.

SHAPIRO

10:27:59
And the Democrats were filibustering. Republicans tried to change the rules, and Democrats said, you're breaking the rules to change the rules, trying to get to rid of this filibuster on just a 50 plus vote, a majority vote. Now, the tables are turned. Sen. Harry Reid says Republicans are abusing the filibuster. He wants to change the rules on just a majority vote. And Sen. Mitch McConnell, who is in the other seat the last time, says, now, it's the Democrats who are trying to break the rules to change the rules.

LEONHARDT

10:28:25
If you look at the numbers, first of all, the filibuster is not in the Constitution. It is something that has come up over the years. And so it's not something that would be that difficult to get rid off from a government perspective. It's not like a lot of other things in our government. If you look at the numbers, what you see is that each party, over the last 30 or 40 years, has increased the use of it.

LEONHARDT

10:28:44
But what the Republicans have done since being in the minority has taken it to a whole new level. And so I think the question here is, do we get some kind of change here? I think it's hard to argue that there isn't something wrong, or to put it without the double negatives, there is something wrong here. When George W. Bush nominates people, he should be able to get most of them to serve.

LEONHARDT

10:29:06
When Barack Obama nominates people, he should be able to get most of them to serve. And even if you don't want the Senate to become the House, we seem to have gone too far in the other direction where it is difficult for government to do some of its very basic functions when you have people representing 20, 25 percent of the population who can lock up the Senate.

REHM

10:29:23
But, you know, I'm old enough to remember filibusters when people would stand up there and read the telephone book. Now, all they have to do is say, I'm going to filibuster, and that's it.

MECKLER

10:29:37
Right.

LEONHARDT

10:29:37
That's right. And that's one...

MECKLER

10:29:38
And that's one of the reforms that Harry Reid was talking about...

REHM

10:29:40
Exactly.

MECKLER

10:29:41
...is to force people to actually hold the Senate if you want to do that.

REHM

10:29:43
Stand up there.

MECKLER

10:29:45
There are really two things that are working against this, I think. One is that everybody who's in the majority knows that it could just be two short years before they're in the minority. So -- and this will be a technique that they want to have at their disposal. The politics change in the Senate on a fairly frequent basis, certainly from a historical point of view. Secondly, there -- the Senate is a body that really treasures its sort of institutional prerogatives.

MECKLER

10:30:12
I mean, there's a lot of faith in the institution itself, and there's nervousness about the idea that they would change the Senate rules on a simple majority vote, which -- and there's some controversy over whether you're allowed to do that. The question is whether you're allowed to do it on the first day.

REHM

10:30:26
On the first day.

MECKLER

10:30:27
So this is just sort of an -- a short open window.

REHM

10:30:29
Yeah.

MECKLER

10:30:30
So, you know, there's people who feel like this is just not the right way to do things.

REHM

10:30:34
David.

LEONHARDT

10:30:34
What's interesting is the Senate talks so much about its history here, but the -- what we've had for the last five or 10 years is not consistent with Senate history. For most of Senate history, the filibuster was not an ordinary part of doing business. And so, to some extent, returning to the Senate of old is changing the way it is now.

SHAPIRO

10:30:52
And we should note that Sen. Reid is not proposing eliminating the filibuster. He's proposing eliminating the filibuster to begin debate on a bill and also requiring filibustering senators to actually talk, as you described. So the filibuster would still be a tool available to senators. It just wouldn't be as widespread and used as easily as it is right now.

REHM

10:31:11
All right. I want to ask you about Arizona becoming the latest state to decline to set up state-based health insurance exchanges. What does that going to mean, Laura?

MECKLER

10:31:26
Well, the larger story here is that it's up to individual states whether they want to run their health care exchanges under the new Obama health care law, and if they don't, then the federal government will do it. This law was created and intended for the states to run these. And, you know, there have been quite a few states now that have said -- I think there's an up to nine that have said they won't. I think there are 17 that have said that they will.

MECKLER

10:31:49
There's -- they -- states have until the middle of December now to make their decision. They don't just get to create any old exchange. They have to do it under federal rules, and that's the complaint of these Republican governors, is that, you know, I don't have any flexibility. I just have to follow so many different -- so many guidelines that are prescribed in the bill that -- what's in it for me?

MECKLER

10:32:10
One of the big questions and why this, I think, matters the most is that there's an open question as to whether the subsidies that are at the core of the bill that help people buy health insurance will be available to people who get their insurance through the federal exchanges rather than the state exchanges. There are a lot of conservatives who argue that the bill is written in a way that excludes that if these exchanges are run by the federal government.

MECKLER

10:32:33
And just one final point, just to -- for people who might not understand what the exchange is, what that is is essentially a marketplace, a government-setup marketplace where private health insurance companies will compete to sell people insurance.

LEONHARDT

10:32:44
So here I guess I am willing to make a prediction, and I should say that there are a whole bunch of people who disagree with this, both liberals and conservatives. But I would predict that, ultimately, these states will overwhelmingly sign up. These are basically, if you get away from the technical part, these are programs to make it easier for people who don't have health insurance and can't get it to get it. That tends to be popular.

LEONHARDT

10:33:04
If you look at the history of these federal programs, when Medicaid was started -- Sarah Kliff from The Washington Post wrote a really nice piece about this -- when Medicaid was started in the '60s, only six states originally signed up for it. And so if you think about the politics here, it really takes only one governor, Democrat or Republican, in the history of the state, to sign up. So maybe it'll take some states three years and others 10 years.

LEONHARDT

10:33:25
But I think, eventually, what you will see is these are basically governors who can get federal money for their citizens. Once they do, it'll be almost impossible to reverse.

REHM

10:33:32
David Leonhardt of The New York Times. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Finally, before we take a break and go to the phones, Ari Shapiro, were you a fly on the wall at the lunch yesterday?

SHAPIRO

10:33:49
The white turkey chili was delicious.

MECKLER

10:33:52
Just the three of you.

SHAPIRO

10:33:52
I -- just the three of us: just me, Barack and Mitt, you know? I can't think of a story in my recent memory that had so much interest and so little information. I mean, people at the White House were begging for any morsel of detail about what they talked about.

REHM

10:34:10
So -- well, they got the food.

SHAPIRO

10:34:11
Well, yeah, we got the food, that it was white turkey chili and a Southwestern chicken salad, which some conservatives said could have been a jab at Mitt Romney. And then they also put out -- the White House put out this sort of, you know, bland statement about they talked about American leadership in the world and how to preserve that, and they promised to keep in touch. And, you know, there was like this grainy photo from a distance with a super powered zoom lens of Romney entering the White House as though it were like Lindsay Lohan going into a rehab or something. But yeah.

MECKLER

10:34:41
Well, I think that most people who have watched this are not expecting a new partnership between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. It was interesting, four years ago, Obama had a similar meeting with John McCain. That meeting, I think, had a lot more sort of import to it. John McCain was in the Senate.

REHM

10:34:57
Sure, sure.

MECKLER

10:34:57
Now the two of them ended up working together on, as far as I can tell, precisely nothing, but they did have potential for it. This time around, you know, who knows what Mitt Romney is going to do? He may not even know yet, you know? But I would not be holding my breath for the next, you know, collaboration between these two guys, who made little secret of the fact, during the campaign, that they really did not like each other.

LEONHARDT

10:35:20
There's a lot to joke about here -- the turkey chili. The photo was pretty awkward of them shaking hands in the Oval Office. I would simply add, though, that I still think it's a good thing that they did this. I think it's a sign of the way things should work in a democracy. These guys don't like each other. They ran a nasty campaign. There were times during the debates where you thought they wanted to get into some sort of physical altercation.

LEONHARDT

10:35:41
And the mere symbolism of greeting each other in a civil way says, hey, you know what, this is a democracy, and we can fight these issues out, but that doesn't mean we can't be civil at the end of the day.

REHM

10:35:50
All right. And we have had an email from Paul in Oklahoma City, saying, "Why not the great explainer, Bill Clinton, for secretary of state?"

SHAPIRO

10:36:05
I don't think he is quite ready to take orders from Barack Obama, frankly. That would be my short answer.

MECKLER

10:36:14
Why would either of them really want that? I mean, why would Bill Clinton want to return to a cabinet job like that when what he has now is, from his point of view, I think, so much better? He has his Clinton Global Initiative. He's doing all sorts of things in the world. He's incredibly popular. You know, he knows how hard that job is, having watched his wife do it, not to mention his own secretaries of state.

MECKLER

10:36:36
And I don't really think, as much as Barack Obama is grateful or should be grateful for Bill Clinton's help during the campaign, I don't think he really wants somebody of that stature there.

REHM

10:36:45
Any hints about what Hillary Clinton will be doing?

LEONHARDT

10:36:50
I think it's very hard to know. I'm not sure that she knows. I have heard people who are fairly close to the Clintons in senior Democratic circles predict it both ways, which I think means that either she doesn't know or she hasn't told people. I always assumed if Obama lost, she would almost certainly run. Attention would turn to her immediately. All Democrats would have imagined, whoa, how did we mess up?

LEONHARDT

10:37:12
You know, how did we not nominate the person who's going to win two terms here? Now that Obama has won, I think it's a trickier calculation for her. I think if she's smart, one of the things she wants to do is try to figure out how valuable the Democratic nomination is, how strong a position Democrats will be in, and I just don't think we'll find out yet.

REHM

10:37:27
All right. We shall watch that space and take a short break here. When we come back, it's your turn. We'll open the phones. I look forward to speaking with you.

REHM

10:40:05
And welcome back. David Leonhardt of The New York Times, Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal, Ari Shapiro of NPR are here to answer our questions. We'll go first to Rocky Mount, N.C. Good morning, Melanie.

MELANIE

10:40:25
Well, good morning, Diane. I would like to know how the Republican Tom Cole can say that we should go ahead and pass an extension of the Bush-era tax breaks for those making under $250,000 and get that out of the way and then address some of the other concerns of the fiscal cliff and be told by the Republican leadership that that would dilute their bargaining power, and yet John Kyl and Kay Bailey Hutchison have introduced a Republican version of the DREAM Act, which does not offer a path to citizenship and only addresses a portion about immigration problem.

MELANIE

10:41:08
And they are touting that as a way to solve something first that everybody wants done. And yet we can go later on, piecemeal down the road, addressing the other immigration issues.

REHM

10:41:22
Laura.

MECKLER

10:41:23
Well, I think that those issues are a little bit different. On immigration, we've seen a lot of movement on the part of Republicans, and I think genuine movement, not just bargaining position of wanting to address this issue partly for just pure politics. Mitt Romney lost badly, badly with Hispanic voters who are a growing portion of the electorate. It was remarkable. He won white voters by 20 percentage points and still lost the election because he did so poorly with minorities. So this is something Republicans want to address.

MECKLER

10:41:51
As far as the Kyl-Hutchison bill that -- a lot of people didn't put a lot of stock in that legislation. They are both retiring. They sort of were putting it down as a possible marker. It's probably not going to really have a lot of impact. That's not an ongoing negotiation. Whereas what Tom Cole said was part of a very hot ongoing conversation right now and does, to some extent, dilute the Republican bargaining positions. So I think that that's true, whereas on the other side, you basically have just another kind of idea being put out there.

REHM

10:42:23
All right.

SHAPIRO

10:42:24
And immigration doesn't have the same deadline looming that the tax cuts did.

REHM

10:42:26
Quite right. To Front Royal, Va. Good morning, Joe.

JOE

10:42:31
Good morning. Thank you. Part of the benefit of the long Thanksgiving is to be able to -- for benefit or detriment depending on -- like you said, to be able to watch a lot of the media on this topic. And I would say, outside of The Wall Street Journal, the print and the broadcast media has just been obsessed with the tax part of this.

JOE

10:42:51
And even if you assume, you know, lets take President Obama's numbers, $80 billion is only 8 percent of the deficit problem that we're trying to address. And yet when you follow the media and follow the stories about it, I would say 92 percent of the stories are about Grover Norquist and everything else. Why aren't we hearing 92 percent of the stories and 92 percent of the coverage about the SEIU, about AARP, about, you know, the more liberal, if you will, interest in keeping this spending up?

LEONHARDT

10:43:27
Well, first of all, I mean, I'd say that New York Times led the paper a few days ago with the fact that Democrats are struggling to come up with spending cuts. So I don't think it's right that the media is ignoring the spending side. But I think it is true that the media is giving more attention to the tax side, and that's because the politicians are.

LEONHARDT

10:43:42
Here's the way to think about it: Obama ran on tax increases for the wealthy. Republicans did not run on short-term Medicare cuts. They ran on this long-term change, but it achieved no savings in the 10-year window. And so if you have one party running on tax increases and you don't have the other party running on spending cuts, it's naturally going to focus more of the debate on one side of the question. I completely agree with the caller that in the long-term, there is no way we have a solution without both. I don't think it's 90-10, but I don't think there's any way we have a solution without both.

REHM

10:44:15
All right, to Houston, Texas. Teresa, good morning.

TERESA

10:44:20
Good morning, Diane. Love your show.

REHM

10:44:22
Thank you.

TERESA

10:44:23
I'm having a problem understanding why the Democratic Party does not come out and state that the tax cuts that we started talking about or that the tax relief that Obama is talking about will affect the people who make less than $388,000, and that the increase on taxes for those people who make more than 338,000 or $388,000 a year are paying the same tax rate as me, who might made $250,000 with two people working. Now, why is it that the Democratic Party doesn't spell this out?

REHM

10:45:01
David.

LEONHARDT

10:45:02
I think the caller's referring to the fact that everyone gets a tax cut even with the Obama plan relative to what would happen if we go over the cliff because it -- and she makes a good point here, which is Obama has not done that good a job of explaining that if you make a million dollars, you still would get a tax cut on your first $250,000 of taxable income. And by extension, the media, we haven't done that great a job of covering this. We often lapse into the phrase tax cut on people. It's tax cut on income, and it applies to people who make more than that income.

SHAPIRO

10:45:35
Well, right. I mean, I agree with David completely that it's also, I believe it's $200,000 per individual and $250,000 per couple, which is another distinction we've not been very good at making.

LEONHARDT

10:45:44
And it's taxable income, so it's actually higher than that. I mean, if you make $300,000, there's a very good chance you'll have absolutely no tax increase under the Obama plan.

REHM

10:45:52
Interesting. All right, to Melbourne, Fla. J.D., you're on the air.

J.D.

10:45:58
Good morning, Diane. Good morning. I would like to pose a question to your panel. And as I understand it, Obama wants to increase the tax burden for the very wealthy and the Republicans believe that that would reduce the spending power of the citizenry. Romney, on the other hand, his program was to reduce or to eliminate deductions. But by eliminating deductions, you would also reduce the spending power of the population. So is there any real difference?

J.D.

10:46:38
What you do is to increase the revenue for the government and reduce the spending power of the population, and the Republicans don't want to respond because they think that will kick us into recession. However, if you eliminate deductions, you, again, reduce the spending power of the population.

REHM

10:46:57
All right, Laura.

MECKLER

10:46:59
Well, one thing is that Gov. Romney was not talking about a net increase in taxes. When he was talking about reducing deductions, he was talking about that as a way of paying for other tax cuts. So let's just keep that straight in terms of what Romney was proposing. What we're hearing right now, though, from House Republicans is that they don't want rates to go up. They are willing to look at closing loopholes as they say. And that is, yes, you know, taxes are taxes, but they're sort of orthodoxy within that Republican Party that says that tax rates themselves need to be lower.

SHAPIRO

10:47:33
It's important to remember that everybody wants the wealthy to pay more. The question is do you get them to pay more by eliminating deductions or do you get them to pay more by raising tax rates.

REHM

10:47:40
But you can't get enough.

MECKLER

10:47:42
Right.

SHAPIRO

10:47:42
And the White House says eliminate all the deductions for the wealthy you want. It's just not going to get you the revenue you need.

MECKLER

10:47:47
But they -- yeah. They put out a memo yesterday that essentially said if you do this in what they refer to as a realistic way, in a way that's sort phases it in, in a way that spares charitable donations because people are very concerned about a drop-off in charitable giving, you really are only going to get about $450 billion from closing deductions on the wealthy which, compared to 800 billion or one trillion.

REHM

10:48:12
What about the mortgage interest deduction?

LEONHARDT

10:48:16
That's part of what Laura was talking about.

REHM

10:48:17
Yeah.

LEONHARDT

10:48:17
So the thing is you can't just say well, hey, if you make a lot of money, you can't have any mortgage deduction. You could say you can't take it on a second home, you couldn't move the ceiling down from, what is it, $1 million now. So you could do things like that. But that's part of that package that gets you to about a half a trillion. That's not nothing. I mean, a half a trillion dollars in the scope of this is a significant amount of money. It just can't get you to the kind of targets the White House is talking about now.

SHAPIRO

10:48:41
But to another aspect of the caller's point about spending -- boosting the economy, one sort of below-the-headline part of the plan that President Obama proposed yesterday was infrastructure investment and government spending that he says is necessary to boost the economy.

SHAPIRO

10:48:53
I heard Rand Paul, interviewed on Marketplace this morning, the senator from Kentucky saying, no, no, no, spending does not boost the economy, which is this classic divide that we've seen all throughout the election. Now that President Obama has won, he says, all right. It's time to invest in government infrastructure to boost the economy.

REHM

10:49:09
All right. To Vienna, Va. Tricia, you're on the air.

TRICIA

10:49:14
Thank you, Diane, for taking my call.

REHM

10:49:16
Surely.

TRICIA

10:49:16
I'm a middle-class taxpayer. And if we go back to the Clinton rates, the wealthy will pay 800 billion. If we go back to the middle class, it's three trillion. We need to go back to those rates. We cannot be carrying this burden to our children. And I just -- I feel like we should all be pitching in. And it's all -- it's not a Republican or Democrat thing. We all need to pitch in. And at some point, the middle class is going to pay.

REHM

10:49:44
David.

LEONHARDT

10:49:45
I agree. At some point, the middle class is going to have to pay more. You can't solve the long-term deficit just with tax increases on the affluent. I think that if you look at the trends of the last 30 years, taxes are falling, by far, the most on upper-income people, by far. And so there is an argument that you start there. That's the argument that the White House is making. I think one of the really interesting questions here is is Obama willing to go over the cliff?

LEONHARDT

10:50:11
And we were talking at the beginning of the show is how the -- about how the election had affected this debate. And I think it's possible that the biggest way it will ultimately affect the debate is Obama will be willing to go off the cliff because he doesn't have to run for office ever again. And going off the cliff means you have all the tax cuts go away. It is wonderful for the deficit. It does -- it almost eliminates the medium-term deficit. It doesn't deal with the long-term health care cost, Medicare deficit.

REHM

10:50:35
And taxes would then go to?

LEONHARDT

10:50:39
Taxes would then go to the Clinton rates. But it's no quite as simple as that for two reasons. Its -- I think there's a real argument against that as well. The argument against it is twofold. One, we still have a weak economy after a financial crisis, and as Ari was talking about, that pulls money out of the economy. And two, this isn't the late 1990s. The middle class and the poor have just had a really bad dozen years economically. And taking away a couple thousand dollars from a typical middle-class family would be quite painful.

REHM

10:51:07
How are you defining the middle class?

LEONHARDT

10:51:10
You know, that's a fair question because it's defined in some silly ways, right? I'm sort of defining it in just sort of broad sections. I mean, for the purpose of this, you can think about the bottom third being lower income, the middle third being middle income, so that puts you kind of, you know, in the 40, the 90,000 realm for household income very roughly and then the upper income.

REHM

10:51:29
But the president keeps talking about 250,000.

MECKLER

10:51:31
Right, which is...

LEONHARDT

10:51:33
There's a bipartisan conspiracy to define the middle class at a crazy level.

MECKLER

10:51:37
I mean, which is 98 percent of taxpayers are in the "middle class" under that definition, which is, you know, a pretty big middle.

SHAPIRO

10:51:44
It's worth remembering that what we're describing as a fiscal cliff is not just tax rates going up to what they were before the Bush tax cuts. It's also this sequester package of deep cuts in spending in discretionary programs and in the Defense Department. And even if you want to cut that much spending, say, from the Pentagon, the sequester says it has to be across-the-board cuts. So you can't say, well, this program is obsolete.

SHAPIRO

10:52:06
We'll eliminate it altogether and do the cuts that way. You have to lose 10 percent from this, from that, from the other thing. Nobody wants that to happen.

MECKLER

10:52:12
But, you know, I think that David made a really good point about Obama being willing to go over the cliff, and that is the big difference between what we see now and what we saw in August 2011. At that point, Republicans appeared willing to default on the U.S. obligations and not raise the debt ceiling. That gave them tremendous power in those negotiations 'cause the White House was not willing to do that. President Obama has made clear that he is willing to let this happen.

MECKLER

10:52:38
He is for his own -- perhaps his own politics or his own negotiating power, whatever you have put together, it means that the balance of power is different.

REHM

10:52:49
Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Boston, Mass. Good morning, Russ.

RUSS

10:53:01
Good morning, Diane. I have a quick but important question. Since everyone is talking about entitlement reform, why isn't Social Security on the table? I'd like to see the cap for contributions removed. If you're a millionaire, you can pay the same percentage of your income for Social Security that I do and for means testing it. If you're millionaire that, you know, couple thousand a month or couple hundred a week that you get after retirement really isn't all that important. It makes a huge difference to lower-income and middle-class people.

REHM

10:53:33
Laura.

MECKLER

10:53:34
Well, I would say two things. Number one, its possible there will be pieces from Social Security that do end up in this. In 2011, the president was willing to reduce benefits through a change in the formula in order to get a deal that obviously never happened. Secondly, though, the reason why people aren't talking about it, though, is that Social Security is not a driver of the current deficit. Social Security has its own long-term solvency problems.

MECKLER

10:53:56
But the federal government owes Social Security money because, for years, the Social Security was giving surpluses to the government, and they have this bond that are essentially due the program. Now, that's all kind of on paper. Some people say it doesn't really matter. But what experts and Social Security will tell and certainly what advocates for the program will say is that this is not a driver of the deficit. It belongs in this own separate negotiations.

MECKLER

10:54:20
So, you know, I don't think -- I wouldn't rule out, though, the idea that we do end up with this Social Security piece. But the more likely path and the probably the one that makes more sense is to really deal with Social Security, and that will no doubt involve a combination of benefit reductions and tax increases.

REHM

10:54:34
All right. To -- finally, Cincinnati, Ohio. Good morning, Brad.

BRAD

10:54:40
Good morning, Diane. I've got a couple of points. First of all, you know, the Democrats are always considered compassionate compared to Republicans. I mean, in the media, we hear that all the time. But yet Obama, for political reasons and for other reasons unknown, is willing to go over the fiscal cliff. And how compassionate is that for all the people that will be adversely affected by that?

BRAD

10:54:59
Point number two, historically, Ronald Reagan was promised by the Democrats spending cuts for every dollar of tax increases that he was willing to take by the Democrats. And he went ahead with it, never got the spending cuts, but we still got tax increases. And then Bush Sr. was promised by the Democrats $3 of spending cuts for every dollar of tax increases that he was willing to accept, and he went along with that Democratic plan. We got the tax increases.

BRAD

10:55:26
George Bush Sr. never got re-elected because of it, and we got the tax increases but no spending cuts. So I don't know why the Republicans should trust the Democrats here to ever enact spending cuts. And the last point that I want to make is that this will affect sub-chapter S corporations. This $250,000...

REHM

10:55:46
All right. OK.

LEONHARDT

10:55:48
There's a lot there. So I would say that both parties have been guilty of not cutting spending. Certainly, Republicans and Democrats have been guilty of that. I think on the first point, the question is why would Obama be willing to go over the cliff? Think about it this way. He just ran for president saying, I want to raise the top rate from 35 to 39. He won. It was arguably the point he made most. Now, let's say Republicans come to him and say, no, sorry. We're not willing to compromise at all. It remains at 35. No deal.

LEONHARDT

10:56:13
He has in his back pocket this fact that if nothing happens, it defaults to 39. So what should he do from his perspective? He ran on 39. He won. If Republicans say, no, sorry, we won't compromise at 37, should Obama say, OK, I forfeit, I give up, we keep it at 35? Or should he say, you know, what, I'm willing to let it go to 39 until you're willing to negotiate with me? I think that's it from his perspective.

REHM

10:56:34
All right. Here's what I want very quickly. Will there be an agreement and when? I'll start with you, David.

LEONHARDT

10:56:45
So I'll go back to percentages, and I'll put a 50 percent chance that we go over the cliff and get a deal in January. I'll put a 40 percent chance that we get a deal shortly before Christmas, and I'll put a 10 percent chance that we get something much earlier or in the week between Christmas and New Year.

REHM

10:57:02
Quickly, Laura.

MECKLER

10:57:04
I think we will get the deal. I think it'll be right before Christmas.

REHM

10:57:06
All right.

SHAPIRO

10:57:06
Yeah, right before like hours because that's the way Washington likes to do things. And I think that the tax cut for under $250,000 income will definitely happen this year.

REHM

10:57:14
Ari Shapiro, White House correspondent for NPR, Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal, David Leonhardt of The New York Times, thanks for a great Friday News Roundup.

SHAPIRO

10:57:28
Thanks, Diane.

LEONHARDT

10:57:28
Great to be here.

MECKLER

10:57:28
Thank you, Diane.

REHM

10:57:29
And thanks for listening, all. Have a great weekend. I'm Diane Rehm.
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