A molecular-biologist-turned-Buddhist-monk says altruism is the answer to many of the world's most pressing challenges. Can concern for others help solve wealth inequality, climate change and world hunger?
A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Michael Gerson syndicated columnist and author of "City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era."
- Lisa Lerer White House correspondent for Bloomberg News.
- David Corn Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine; recipient of the 2012 George Polk Award for Political Reporting; and author of "47 Percent: Uncovering the Romney Video That Rocked the 2012 Election."
Friday News Roundup Video
The Supreme Court has taken up briefs challenging the legality of the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8. Lisa Lerer, White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, said the high court’s decision is a big step for the Obama administration, which urged the justices to strike down bans on gay marriage. “The speed in which this has taken place has just really been remarkable,” she said.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Billions of dollars in spending cuts begin taking effect if lawmakers fail to stop the sequester today. The U.S. economy barely expands in the fourth quarter. And the Senate swears in new secretaries of defense and treasury, but postpones confirmation of the next CIA director.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me for the week's top domestic stories on the Friday News Roundup: David Corn of Mother Jones magazine, Lisa Lerer of Bloomberg News and syndicated columnist Michael Gerson. I hope you'll join the conversation. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.
MR. DAVID CORNGood morning.
MS. LISA LERERGood morning.
MR. MICHAEL GERSONGood morning.
REHMDavid Corn, first, congratulations on being the winner of the 2012 George Polk Award for Political Reporting.
CORNThank you very much, Diane.
REHMI'm really pleased for you. There is lots of confusion about when sequestration actually begins. Tell us what's happening today.
CORNOK. What time is it? It's about 10 hours after it officially began, but the cuts don't happen automatically. It's not like a thermonuclear device, like the doomsday machine of Dr. Strangelove. But these cuts are now coming unless something is done to avert them. Now...
REHMBefore midnight tonight.
CORNWell, the cut -- but it depends how they roll in. If you're a federal worker, in most agencies, they have to give you 30 days notice before they start furloughing you.
CORNSo if you're looking at the TSA people, the State Department people, food safety inspectors, those cuts -- those furloughs won't begin for a month. And then we'll see a decline in services. If you're looking at, let's say, Head Start, the pre-school program for low-income children, 71,000 kids are going to be cut out of Head Start because of this. But Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, says that it probably won't happen until September, the next enrollment.
CORNSo what the -- you know, so a lot of these agencies are doing everything they can to put the start of the cuts off, but national parks are already going to be opening later and have services cut back. It's going to be sort of this rolling tide of a decline in services and benefits for millions and millions of Americans.
REHMLaura Meckler, I gather each agency has been charged with sort of seeing where it can make the cuts and the furloughs.
LERERRight. Each agency has to make their own decision about what they're going to cut and when they're going to cut it. The president has until 11:59 tonight to officially kick off the cuts. The White House has been very cagey about saying they haven't said when they're exactly going to get those cuts started, when they're -- he's going to give that order. It's hard to think that he would do it before 11:59 and 59 seconds because, politically, the White House has spent much of the past several weeks talking about how bad this is going to be for individuals, for the economy.
LERERSo I imagine that they'll push it off as late as possible. Of course, that's something that they've had to dial back in the past few days as the cuts have become more of a reality. It's all but certain we will hit the sequester although the White House and congressional leaders are meeting right now at the White House. The Republicans went into the meeting. One of my -- saying that they were pretty convinced they weren't going to get a deal.
LEREROne of my colleagues at Bloomberg caught Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell going in, and he said, look, this isn't going to be a last-minute deal that we're cutting, and we're certainly not going to include increased revenues, which is the sticking point. No -- so no deal is likely. We're looking at 11:59 and 59 seconds in this little kick-off, but the impacts, as David was saying, will be -- will roll out over the next several weeks.
REHMMichael Gerson, how are Americans going to feel this?
GERSONWell, I think it's true that there could have been a little overselling go on here. This is not the doomsday device. It may seem to a lot of Americans more like the Mayan calendar debate where things don't end immediately overnight. They're rolled out over several months. And I think there's also an opportunity cost here for the president on these budget debates on issues like gun control and immigration where all of Washington, once again, is immediately focused after the sequester hits on the continuing resolution that expires at the end of March.
GERSONSome resolution to the sequester, the softening and giving more flexibility could come in the debate on the continuing resolution when they come to an agreement there. So I don't think we're going to get an immediate deal tonight, but we could get a softening of the sequester in the process of producing whatever follows the continuing resolution.
LERERAnd part of the problem here is that both sides see the sequester going into effect as a political win. They both, Republicans and the president, think they have the upper hand here. The White...
LERERWell, the White House is looking at polling numbers that show that the president's approval ratings are much higher than those of congressional Republicans. They're also looking at numbers that show a majority of American support raising tax revenue. So they feel that, you know, Republicans want spending cuts. We'll give it to them, and they will take the blame for -- when teachers start getting laid off and everything else. For Republicans, the dynamic is slightly different.
LERERThey came into office, especially these sort of younger guys in the House and the folks of more Tea Party backing, promising to cut spending. And this is an -- excuse me -- this is an opportunity for them to cut spending, and they really would -- many folks over in the House would like -- Republicans in the House would like to see these cuts go into effect. So House Speaker Boehner is trying to give them that opportunity.
REHMThe White House is saying that Republicans refuse to raise taxes on people, making $5 million plus versus putting the onus on poor and elderly.
CORNI mean, this is the fight we've been having, really, for a couple of years now since the Republicans gained control of the House after the 2010 elections. It was the core of the fight on the last election, which I thought was really well-defined. It was an ideological fight about priorities and overspending and tax cuts. And we're just continuing on.
CORNAnd, you know, the president, you know, has said, over and over again, he's willing to make cuts, even cuts that his own Democratic colleagues would prefer, even might oppose, in entitlements and other programs if the Republicans give on revenues. And that doesn't have to be raising rates. It could be closing loopholes through tax reform, something that John Boehner agreed to in principle and even to a lot of details in 2011, then backed away from them because Eric Cantor and others said, run away from this.
CORNAnd so we're still at the same point. And I would just say one quick thing, you know, while some Republicans are OK with the sequester, there's more division on the GOP side 'cause you have people like McCain and Graham decrying the defense spending cuts. Boehner has gone back and forth on that. The Democrats are far more united, and they, at this point, have the polls behind them.
GERSONI think that sequestration changes that debate a bit. There a lot of Republicans that would be open to a grand bargain of the type that David's talking about. But sequestration would be to do -- the president's approach would be to take something that's 100 percent cut right now and ask Republicans to replace 50 percent of the cuts with tax increases. There's literally no member of the Senate that would support such a thing. If Speaker Boehner were to propose it, he would lose his speakership, I think.
GERSONI'm pretty confident about that. This is a case where the Republicans are going to insist that a sequester that deals with 100 percent cuts has to be replaced with other cuts, not these irrational kind of across-the-board cuts, which, I think, are deeply problematic. But I don't think that -- I think that the grand bargain is a separate debate.
CORNBut they won't give us a list of those cuts, which is also a problem.
REHMAll right. Laura Meckler. (sic)
LERERNow, the way the White House sees...
REHMSorry. Laura Lerer.
LERERThe way the White House sees their way out of this is a divide-and-conquer strategy, right? They think they're going to be able to pick off some Republicans that, you know, folks who have districts with high military and defense spending, people who are maybe more pragmatist and worry about the impact of this on to the national party and be able to pick those folks off and build enough of those Republicans with Democrats in the House to be able to get something through.
LERERAnd that's how they'll see their way out of this. They think that'll happen in the coming weeks. We'll have to see. A lot of Republicans are districts that are a lot safer than in the past and the abuse of, you know, redistricting. And they really want to see their party go head to head with the president.
REHMLisa Lerer, she's White House correspondent for Bloomberg News. Reason I have Laura Meckler on the brain is that she had a baby this morning. She is one of our Friday News Roundup regulars. Forgive me, Lisa.
LEREROh, congratulations to Laura.
REHMExactly. And if you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. I'm still wondering, Michael Gerson, when it is and how immediate it is that Americans are going to feel the pain.
GERSONThis is not the 1996 government shutdown. This is, you know, five to 8 percent cuts, maybe a little more, that are coming over several months. So I agree with David. We're going to see the results. There were going to be serious results.
GERSONThe most serious results, immediate ones, actually come in the military because -- and that will happen with contractors first. And it's true. That's going to affect a lot of congressional districts around the country and create some pressure there for changes in the context of the continuing resolution.
REHMAnd what about travelers? What about those going through the security lines, Lisa?
LERERWell, homeland security -- the Department of Homeland Security has said that they will have to cut back some of the TSA agents, so security lines could get longer. I think there'll be a bit of political gamesmanship with these cuts 'cause agencies have some discretion. So it'll be interesting to see where those TSA agents get hit.
LERERAlready, we've seen Homeland Security release a bunch of undocumented immigrants from detention to try to save money, which is obviously something that tweaks some in the Republican Party and some of the Democratic Party as well. So I think there will be some political games that we see going forward.
REHMLisa Lerer of Bloomberg News, David Corn, he's Washington bureau Chief for Mother Jones and the recipient of the 2012 George Polk Award for Political Reporting, syndicated columnist, Michael Gerson.
REHMAnd welcome back. We also have to give a shout out to Molly Ball, reporter who was supposed to be on the program this morning. She, too, has had her baby. She was expecting -- very expecting the last time she was on. So congratulations to you as well, Molly Ball. (see correction at 10:40) Now, let's go to what Ben Bernanke had to say in his assessment of the effects of the sequester. Michael Gerson.
GERSONWell, he was very critical of the sequester. He said that it would undermine economic growth this year, by about .6 percent. It -- he also, I think, made a very sophisticated rational point that the best thing to do now would be to lessen the immediate cuts but to have long-term structural cuts and entitlement programs which is the rational approach to our current economic problems, but there's very little market for rationality right now.
CORNYou know, it gets to the large issue here, which is, you know, everyone says they're for jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs. These cuts are not good for jobs. This is what Ben Bernanke was, in essence, saying yesterday. This is going to be a drag on the economy. The economy is fragile. Government, it's a big creator of demand. If you cut back on demand, you will have less jobs. But yet, you know, the Republican approach has been that the real problem with our economy -- I don't know how they tied this back to the crash, but the problem with the economy has been government spending.
CORNThat's the only thing they talk about. It's not investments. It's not Wall Street running wild. It's spending. And if you get rid of spending, discretionary spending, we'll have a better economy. That -- I think most economists don't agree with that view, and certainly the president doesn't, and that's really the core of the fight that we've been having for the last two years.
LERERThere's also been an interesting disconnect, I think, between the macroeconomic view of these cuts, which says, you know, they could be a drag on the economy. We could lose three-quarters of a million jobs over the next year. You know, GDP was up slightly in the fourth quarter of 2012, just .1 percent, which was revised, and that sort of meager showing is something that some people attributed to the spending cuts.
LERERBut in the more immediate level, we've seen no reaction from Wall Street. The stock market has -- and traders have basically shrugged at the fact that these cuts are coming. What people over there have told me and my colleagues at Bloomberg is that because they're so used to this, they figure, oh, look, they'll get deal in the last minute, or they'll get a deal, you know, next week. This is a play that we've seen many, many times before.
REHMAnd yet, we are seeing that personal income has decreased by $505 billion in January or 3.6 compared to December, and that's the most dramatic decline since January of 1993. Consumer spending is up slightly but not a whole huge amount. I think this story goes on and on. And, of course, we'll continue to talk about this whichever way it goes on Monday. Chuck Hagel was confirmed as secretary of defense finally. How did the vote go, Lisa Lerer?
LERERWell, it wasn't -- it certainly was a tough vote. He -- Chuck Hagel had a lot -- was subjected to a lot of criticism about his policies on Israel and his critique of the Iraq War and the Patriot Act and his positions on Iran. Sen. John McCain led the charge against him, which was fascinating because the two used to be actually quite close but had a falling out in the 2008 election.
LERERAnd in the end, only four Republicans backed his confirmation. This puts him in a bit of a tricky position as he moves forward into the position. You know, he sort of needs to quickly move past this rocky nomination battle and dispel these concerns.
CORNI have a little bit of a different take in that I think right now, members of the Senate probably need him more than he needs them. You know, I think there's, you know, they all have districts. They all have defense with military contractors and military bases. They all, you know, have a need to have a good relationship with the secretary of the defense. And so I think, you know, this is going to be put behind everyone very quickly, and we're going to move ahead with other fights and other issues.
REHMBut if the sequester does come in, how is Secretary Hagel going to achieve 46 billion in cuts, Michael?
GERSONWell, it's very difficult to have Gen. Odierno on television this morning talking about how it was going to undermine readiness. He's not going to be able to train his troops. He's -- I think that Chuck Hagel is going to have an immediate task to go to Congress and in the context of the continuing resolution to say, you've got to soften these cuts, and give us more flexibility in the way they're implemented.
CORNFlexibility is key too because one way to -- best way to cut the Pentagon is some big cuts and some big programs that often the Pentagon doesn't want. But here's the rub: members of Congress do. And, you know, so rather than just discriminately cut across board, you got to get some of these big ticket items...
REHMWe have 35.
CORNYeah, you know, you can name them which will go along way to helping create money for readiness, and that will have -- will bring about a reaction from members of Congress.
LERERAnd in some of these districts, the impact has already begun to be felt. I was out at a -- in a district in Colorado last week that has an Air Force base and a large aerospace industry with a lot of contractors. And people there, particularly in the businesses, the restaurants, the shops surrounding the base said they had already begun feeling a slowdown because travel had slowed, contractors were cutting back in preparation for the cuts. So they're already feeling it, and they'll certainly feel it more immediately than most of the country.
REHMAnd the Senate also confirmed Jack Lew as Treasury secretary. Any issues with his confirmation?
LERERHis confirmation was -- went much more smoothly and much more quickly. There was a bit of an issue over some investments he had in the Cayman Islands, but that didn't seem to really slow it down all that much. I think he's also heading into a really tough job. There's going to be a series of budget battles.
LERERThe sequester is really just the first of what's likely to be a spring and maybe even a summer of really brutal budget fights with the CR. And then we'll have the debt ceiling in May. So, you know, he's been through this before. He was budget chief for Clinton. He was OMB director for Obama. So I'm sure he's very well prepared for what's to come, but it's going to be tough.
CORNYou know, the interesting thing is that Jack Lew was in charge of the White House negotiations on the last budget fight they had in 2011 when there was almost a government shutdown and then the subsequent debt ceiling deal. And a lot of Republicans on the Hill don't like him because they believe he snookered them that they got $35 billion in cuts, but that he structured it in a way that it would come in very slowly over time, including taking money out of programs that wouldn't be spending this money.
CORNAnd so they look at him as almost being too good and too sharp. No one knows the federal budget in this -- in the government now better than Jack Lew. So he's the guy, I think this is why Obama picked him, you want going into the next cliffs that we're going to have.
REHMDo you think he is at the White House this morning, too, Michael Gerson?
GERSONWho is? I'm sorry.
GERSONWell, you know, probably. I think that, you know, Jack Lew has a -- he has broad bipartisan respect. I think there is some dynamic of a field that he's very good at his job. And, you know, he has the upside now of being able to sign his name on the money and the downside of the worst job in Washington during a massive fiscal -- continuing fiscal crisis.
REHMAnd, Michael, why was John Brennan's confirmation as director of CIA postponed?
GERSONWell, there are two reasons here. One of them was that there is some questions about his role in the Benghazi talking points, which several members have requested more information before a vote takes place. The second one is really -- you said, you know, Ron Paul's concern about whether drones can be used domestically in the United States. He wants direct reassurance from the administration on that issue. So he has a different dynamic here. I think, though, they're very likely to get this new information. They're going to vote on the nomination probably soon.
REHMWhat new information?
GERSONAdditional information on the internal process by which, you know, the talking points were confused for Benghazi.
CORNThe White House has said, you know -- this is only what they claim -- that he was involved in changing two sentences. They've told us the sentence they've changed. Those seem to be innocuous. So -- and if there's more information, maybe it's not so innocuous. But on the drone policy, which -- I think the real legitimate thing is not Rand Paul's black helicopter fear of drones.
CORNBut Ron Wyden, a Democrat on the committee, in the Senate committee, has been making a case -- listen, we want to see the legal interpretations that you've developed for the use of drone strikes against Americans, but more overseas than here. And I think that's something where the administration hasn't lived up to its transparency claims, and indeed it's probably the most legitimate issue that's holding up Brennan's nomination.
GERSONYeah. I think that's also -- I think that's part of the concern, but I don't think that Brennan is going to be defeated because he's been too tough on the war of terror.
GERSONThat's not the eventual outcome here. I think the question is, both on left and right, some legitimate concerns about the standards by which the program is conducted, and they're airing those concerns in this Congress.
REHMSo do you believe he will be confirmed?
REHMAll right. Let's talk about Supreme Court and the Voting Rights Act, Lisa. Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in the Shelby County, Ala., vs. Holder. What did we learn from the questions from the justices?
LERERWell, we learned that this is still a very, very heated issue. There were a lot of tough words exchanged. You know, the conservative justices said the South had outgrown its troubled past. One comment that I thought was -- that sparked a particular reaction was Justice Scalia saying that the law, which was, you know, of course, a civil rights landmark, was -- amounted to now perpetuation of racial entitlement. Sotomayor and the more liberal justices shot back. So it was a pretty fascinating exchange.
REHMShe shot back with do you think that the right to vote is a racial entitlement?
LERERRight. And so this -- I mean, it was very, very heated, and this is something that could have huge implications. You know, if the Supreme Court strikes down or ends up gutting sort of this law, it could mean far less scrutiny of district line -- redrawing districts and hours and polling places and voter ID, which is, of course, requirements, which of course is a hot topic every election. So it could -- this could be a big deal.
CORNBut it could also be decided more narrowly than that. You know, Section 5, which is under question here, the formulas to determine this heightened scrutiny are based on 1972 data because the Congress...
REHMBut reaffirmed later.
CORNRight. But because the Congress really didn't update the law in a way that I think that the Supreme Court would have wanted it to. So it's possible that this is not -- in addition, it's worth saying that it's Section 2 of the law that creates the national standards on voting rights that can be enforced by the federal government. This just -- it takes some areas of the country and gives them heightened scrutiny, which was certainly justified when the law is created.
GERSONYou know, I just want to go back to Scalia's remark because, you know, he said a lot of things from the bench, but I thought it was actually stunning. And if you listen to the full remark, what he said was -- he pointed to the fact the law was reauthorized, what, 2006, a few years ago, with a 98 to nothing vote in the Senate. And he pointed that out. He used that as an example of this is -- that it's become racial entitlement and that people can't even challenge it because they're so cowed by racial, political correctness.
GERSONYet he himself is then presuming to take the role on of going, you know, of saving the world from these 98 senators who can't do this on their own. And I saw that not just as an example of judicial activism, but judicial megalomania. He -- and that, to me, was like one of the most stunning statements of judicial power that we've heard from the bench in decades.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." There were also briefs filed in two cases involving gay marriage this week. First, what's the significance of the brief filed by the White House in opposition to California's Proposition 8, Lisa?
LERERWell, the White House filed, you know, they filed a brief saying that they supported overturning Proposition 8, and this is a big step. The White House has come out. The president said he evolved on gay marriage. He's come out in favor of it, but now they're really taking it the next step and saying that they would like to overturn laws prohibiting it.
CORNBut they did not argue that it was a federal constitutional right.
GERSONNo, they argue...
CORNThey're very careful to say that they wanted to overturn Proposition 8 in California, but not to create a national standard that would impose that on Louisiana or Mississippi or Utah. And I -- that's the position the president took in May when he changed his view on this. He said that the states should be able to legislate on this.
GERSONAnd what's fascinating…
REHMI thought it was so interesting so many companies, large companies…
GERSONWell, this is fascinating 'cause -- there are two cases. One is the Prop. 8 case based in the California proposition. The other is overturning the Defense of Marriage Act...
GERSON...that was passed in the 1990s. And they're kind of going to be heard and maybe decided jointly by, you know, by the Supreme Court. In the DOMA case, you have, I don't know how many, dozens, maybe scores, I don't know if worth up to hundreds yet, of major corporations that have filed a friend of the court brief saying that they want this overturned because they have employees, and they have to have two sets of standards -- for those who have domestic partnerships and those who are legally married.
GERSONAnd they say, this is just kind of crazy, and there are other people who, you know, who are joining either one of the cases. Most interesting, you know, there's a friend of the brief court, I think, in the Prop. 8 case that was signed by Clint Eastwood, the man who made an empty chair famous, in favor of, you know, of gay marriage. So here's the guy who came out...
GERSON...and did what he -- did his own little song and dance about Obama, without Obama being there, and now he's fully on the side of those liberal, secular humanists that the right wing just hates.
LERERAnd, of course, all of this reflects changing public opinion on the issue that people are feeling more and more comfortable certainly with civil unions and even with gay marriage, and the speed in which this is taking place has just really been remarkable.
REHMLet's talk about Senate hearing on curbing gun violence. What happened, Michael?
GERSONWell, you had a hearing on the assault weapon ban this week and the beginning, actually, of some floor debate. The key, I think, to what's going on in the Senate right now is going to be the negotiations between Sen. Schumer and Sen. Coburn when it comes to background checks, comprehensive background check legislation because, right now, about 40 percent of guns are sold without background checks because of loopholes in the law. If they can come to some -- if those two can come to some agreement, that could really be a decisive moment in getting incremental reform on gun control.
REHMAnd would that include an assault weapons ban?
GERSONThat's a more difficult one because, you know, Sen. Feinstein, who has this ban, has specified 2,000 weapons for this ban, but some of it seems so arbitrary, you know, whether things have folding stocks or non-folding stocks and other things. And there's this impression that the previous ban didn't work very well. So the -- I think that there's going to -- that is a much more controversial measure than the background check portion.
LERERAnd that's something the White House always knew would be a long shot. And, you know, as early as January, at least six Democrats have come out and said that they couldn't support an assault weapons ban, which means that it's not going to happen unless there's really some movement. So I think that that feels at least and has felt, I think, to people for several weeks pretty unlikely. Background check is much more realistic.
CORNYeah. There's been a -- up to now, there's been an intensity gap between people who want gun safety measures and the NRA. Newtown has changed that, and the hearing showed that. It's going to have to -- they're going to have to keep having hearings like this to maintain the momentum for laws of this type.
REHMShort break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. First and foremost, huge apologies to Molly Ball who has not yet had her baby. We were given the wrong information. Molly, I do apologize. Laura Meckler, however, has had her baby. Let's go to Birmingham, Ala. Good morning, Sue. You're on the air.
SUEGood morning. Thanks for taking my call.
SUEI just really feel like this is a fake or manufactured crisis because from everything I can see, the short-term deficit is already coming down slightly. And this sequester bill was cast in 2011, why can't the House and Senate just get together, write a one-line bill to repeal the sequester?
REHMWhat do you think, Michael Gerson?
GERSONWell, I think that the -- I think that the bill surprisingly has support on both sides. I think there are elements the left that are happy with the large defense cuts which they would not get otherwise and that the cuts on entitlements are very limited, and Republicans are looking for cuts in government. There's an actual constituency for this law. And if you look at the polling nationally, it's a little more divided.
GERSONYou know, the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll had about 50 percent of people say -- saying these cuts are too severe. But about 45 percent is saying that we need to take drastic measures on spending. So this is not a measure that lacks some support. I view it as irrational and ill timed, but there are some support out there.
REHMI want you to hear an email from Elizabeth in Waynesville, N.C. She says, "I write because I believe the U.S. is one of the most stressful countries I've lived in. The government's inability to agree on issues that affect the working class of this country keeps constant stress on those employed and those looking for work. If stress is one of the main causes of ill health and depression, it's obvious no one is taking this into account by changing the way things are done. It seems every three months, there's a crisis in Washington and therefore a crisis for everyone regarding employment." David.
CORNWell, it is a manufactured crisis, and this is kind of an argument the president has made that there's no stability, there's no certainty when you go -- when you pass budgets that last three -- and debt deals that last for three months and then expire. I think the caller beforehand made a big point, too, which is, you know, you can see this reflected in Bernanke and even in the Simpson-Bowles report. There is no immediate need to go nuts over the deficit.
CORNWhen the economy is fragile, you know, you want to do this over a long term, and a lot of these deficit projections are based in 75 years out. There are some that are more, you know, closer in and more worrisome than others, but a lot of this is being driven by folks who say we're going to have a problem 10, 20, 30, 40 years, and people like this -- like the emailer who just wrote in, they're paying the price because it's affecting them in a day-in, day-out level and stress and other concerns.
LERERAnd politically, I've had many people attribute sort of this governing by crisis to me -- attribute the governing by crisis to a change in how the congressional districts look, that there are fewer swing districts than ever before because of redistricting. As a result, all these members go home to their districts, and they have districts that are really comprised of the base of the Republican Party, the base of the Democratic Party, and they don't necessarily want to compromise, so that's not the message they're getting back at home.
REHMLet's go to Denver, Colo. Good morning, Mark.
MARKYeah. I'm hoping the American people are looking at the fiasco that the Republicans are doing to us. And we're affecting the hurt. And mid-term elections need to put the Democrats back in the House.
REHMHow much should Republicans be concerned about mid-term elections, Michael?
GERSONWell, Republicans are actually pretty confident with mid-term elections. Usually, they -- the base of the Democratic Party does not turn out quite as well. And the president's polling, when it looks like -- when you ask the question, do you approve of his economic management, is actually quite low. It's in the 40s. So I think that many Americans would say that there is some shared responsibility here. I don't think the president's been particularly courageous about those long-term debt problems. But...
CORNBut, Michael, he did make, you know, whether he was going to follow through in this, he made concessions on chain CPI which is party for social security -- that his party hates. He did talk about some big whacks to Medicare, more on the provider and beneficiary side, but he's gone further than most Democrats would like.
GERSONHe's taken no risks, expended no capital, involved no rhetorical emphasis on these issues, but I agree that the long-term need here to create stability in this economy is not immediate dislocating irrational cuts but long-term structural reforms and entitlement programs.
REHMAll right. To Lanham, Md. Good morning, Mike.
MIKEGood morning, and thank you for your show. I've been a long-term listener. Thank you.
MIKEI want to disagree briefly with the caller, I mean, the person that just said the president hasn't taken any risks. It was called the election of 2012. His position was vilified by the conservatives. That was a big risk. He risked his entire presidency on it, re-election. The main reason I'm calling, this sequestration is not good government at all.
MIKENo matter what issue -- whatever your hot-button issue that gets you through the polls, this touches it. One of mine is guns -- safe -- gun safety. Sandy Hook put a spotlight on it. It's long overdue. I want to serve my country. There's a job tracing guns for the ATF, and I can't get that job even with a contract or much less with -- as a government employee because, now, they're not hiring.
LERERI think the caller brings up an interesting point which is that how much does -- do these budget battles -- which, as we said earlier in the show, we're going to go well into the spring and maybe even in the summer -- suck up all the oxygen to do anything else, get anything else done? You know, the president really has maybe a year and a half, two-year window to get much done before attention shifts to the next campaign.
LERERSo there are some folks at the White House who are worried about how this will impact his other priorities like passing gun legislation, passing immigration legislation. So far, the White House says they haven't seen that impact particularly on immigration where Republicans do have some political reasons of their own for wanting to see -- get an immigration bill done.
LERERThey think there's still room to get that done, there's time to get that done. But I think this could -- the sequester, the budget battles and the blame game around them as people position for the mid terms could just suck up all the oxygen.
REHMAnd, Michael, let's talk briefly about Gov. Chris Christie. The GOP seems to have gotten very angry because he's accepted Medicaid expansion for his state. He was not invited to the Annual Conservative Political Action Conference. What's this mean?
GERSONWell, this is not a predictably, ideologically controversial point he made. He has already refused to set up the state exchanges for Obamacare. I mean, he's opposed that. But adding to an existing program to help the people of New Jersey is really a no-brainer for any governor, and in fact, many Republican governors have already made this choice. His broader acceptance within the party, I'm not sure that that's indicated just by CPAC, which is a fairly marginal movement within the Republican Party.
GERSONBut there are clearly some Republicans that have reacted to the loss by looking for converts, which I think Christie has done -- and he is very popular in New Jersey -- and some that have reacted by looking for heretics, people that they want to blame. And you can't divide your way to a majority. And I think that Christie gets the better of that argument.
LERERLook, he's running for re-election in New Jersey, which is a pretty moderate, if not a blue state, so he needs to take steps like what he did on the health care law. And also, you know, his embrace of the president on Sandy Relief Aid, which is something that, of course, would have a huge -- has a huge impact on his state. He also is at least considering running for president in 2016. So the question he is facing right now is balancing what he needs to do to get re-elected as governor with what he needs to do to win a Republican primary in 2016, and that's the line that we see him strike.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Harrisburg, Pa. Hi, Tom. You're on the air.
TOMHi, Diane. Maybe this is pie-in-the-sky thinking, but if I'm in a swing district and I'm a Republican or even in a hardcore district -- by the way, we have a Navy depot, and notices have already gone out saying get prepared to get laid off. Why couldn't a congressman say, I disagree with this? However, we had an election. The president won. And I'm going to go with it, and we'll see what happens two years from now.
CORNThat's a great question. And I can tie it to, you know, what we're just talking about with CPAC. If -- you know, if I was writing a book about the conservative movement at the moment, I would call it the closing of the conservative mind. If you look at CPAC, here is a guy, Chris Christie, who is important to Republicans. He's conservative in some ways and not other things.
CORNThey're not even letting him talk. They're not even bringing him to debate him and refute his own positions. They're just saying, we can't hear you. We're not going to look at you. What you see in the House largely because the gerrymandering and other things is a hardening of positions. And I do think -- I mean, listen, you've had Norm Ornstein and Tom...
CORN...Mann on the show. And these are centrist guys through and through. And they've said there is a difference between Republicans and Democrats in this town over the last two years. Democrats have been more open to making these compromises to move the ball forward, and Republicans, time and time again, have been more obstructionists and more ideologically rigid as they answer to Rush Limbaugh and others of the far voices of the right, and they have no one there to guide them to a more enlightened positions.
GERSONI can only tell you that George W. Bush, when he was re-elected president in 2004, would have loved that same ideology. He was proposing Social Security reform. He didn't get it from the Democratic Congress. He won re-election.
REHMWell, what he got were three suggestions from the committee he appointed. Do you recall that?
GERSONWell, no, I realize that, but you can't just accept it. Just because a president is re-elected, he should get everything he wants. Members of the House were also re-elected themselves. And, in fact, majority of the House remained...
CORNA majority of Americans did vote for Democrats and Republicans. I mean, it's...
LERERI mean, I think a lot of these battles reflect of what we're seeing in the Republican Party right now...
LERER...which is a bit of a civil war between sort of the more Tea Party elements and, you know, the -- some of the social conservatives and some of the more, I don't know, establishment, whatever that means these days. Republicans who would like to see the party shift on things like gay marriage, on things like immigration...
REHMAnd they did vote yesterday on a Violence Against Women Act.
LERERRight, they did. And -- but how that act passed was with some Republicans but a whole lot of Democrats, and that's really been -- this is the third time House Speaker John Boehner has passed something through his House without a majority of his own caucus. So the first was, of course, the deal with the fiscal cliff at Dec. 31 or January -- early January. And the second was, of course, Sandy Aid.
LERERSo that seems to be how this -- how things are going to get through the House. Of course, that raises questions about whether he can hang on to his speakership.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Do you have questions about that very issue, Lisa, as to whether Boehner is going to hang on to his leadership?
LERERSo far his members seem to like how he's been doing things. They seem to have been sticking by him at least. Even if they don't like what's getting passed, they like -- they seem to like him personally in the way he handles the caucus. But it is a risky -- it's certainly a risky way to lead a Republican majority. But, look, there are things that have to get done and there are things that the leaders of the party think should get done. The Republican Party doesn't want to be seen as voting against violence, you know, Violence Against Women Act.
REHMAll right. To Cleveland, Ohio. Jim, you're on the air.
JIMGood morning, everyone.
JIMI'm a business owner and a business school graduate, but Washington seems to have their own methodology of accounting. That's the one I learned in school. Can you comment on the conservative position that this is just a decrease and the increase of spending? For example, if the Defense Department was supposed to get a 4 percent increase in this coming budget, they're only going to get a 2 percent increase. They're not actually cutting dollars.
GERSONWell, there's some truth to that. These cuts are against a projected baseline, that's true. But, of course, bureaucracies plan for these things. You do have some inflation. And so you are actually cutting back services when you're doing this. And I'll give you one example of how irrational across-the-board cuts are. Internationally, we provide AIDS drugs and -- to a lot of people. We'll probably provide to fewer -- about 165,000 fewer people under the sequester than there would have been otherwise.
GERSONThat doesn't mean we're cutting people off AIDS drugs, but it does mean that the projection of what we were going to do is going to be different. And that has real human consequences. That -- it is an abdication of governing to say, I'm going to cut everything equally: the bureaucracy, the fat, as well as important public priorities.
REHMAnd finally, let's talk briefly about the legacy of former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop. He really had a powerful place.
CORNI don't know if we can think of a more influential surgeon general in the history of United States. He really started, on a national way, the anti-smoking movement, which dropped from 33 percent smokers in America to 26 percent by the time he left but certainly went lower because of him. So this is a fellow who saved millions of lives, and he kick-started, against a lot of opposition and reluctance, the federal government reaction to the AIDS epidemic.
CORNAnd when he came in, liberals hated him. They were scared of him because he was very fervently anti-abortion, and they thought he was another social conservative. But he was a guy, back in these (word?) days, who let science be the guide, not ideology. He cared about health policy more than anything else. And he really showed the way.
LERERRight. He refused to push -- he, you know, he had moral opposition to abortion, but he refused to push that issue as surgeon general. And that got a lot of pushback from his own party. It's fascinating. It's fascinating to think what would have happened if he was in office now.
GERSONIt's really amazing. There were so much uncertainly and fear about AIDS at the time. People didn't know how it was transmitted. He had a pamphlet, a seven-page pamphlet, sent to every household in America, 170 -- 107 million households, the largest mailing of its kind on health issues in history, and helped, I think, turn the tide against stigma and ignorance on that issue. And he did it as a social conservative committed to public health. And I think that's an extraordinary legacy.
REHMWhat do you think he'd be focusing on if he were surgeon general today?
GERSONWell, he would -- he may well be focused on issues of global AIDS because it's an area where we have made a lot of progress, but a lot of progress needs to be done. But smoking is still a huge problem. And there are other kind of serious public health problems.
REHMMichael Gerson, syndicated columnist and author of "City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era," Lisa Lerer, White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, David Corn, Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine, a recipient of the 2012 George Polk Award for Political Reporting. Again, my congratulations.
REHMThank you, all. And thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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