Nine years ago, former FBI agent Robert Levinson disappeared in Iran while on a mission for the CIA. The story of his secret journey to Iran, the CIA cover-up that followed and efforts to rescue the longest-held U.S. hostage.
Guest Host: Tom Gjelten
Congress approves a measure to avert a government shutdown next week. The continuing resolution keeps agencies funded through September, but the big fiscal battle still looms. The House passed Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s 2014 budget; the Senate immediately rejected it. Democrats there are now preparing their own version. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid introduces a gun control bill with expanded background checks but without an assault weapons ban. And sales of previously owned homes in February increase to the highest level since 2009. A panel of journalists join guest host Tom Gjelten for the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup.
- Michael Scherer Washington bureau chief, TIME.
- Julie Hirschfeld Davis national political correspondent at Bloomberg News.
- Jerry Seib Washington bureau chief, The Wall Street Journal.
Featured Video Clip
A caller to the show argues that “gun control” has a negative connotation. She says Americans would be more inclined to adopt new laws if it were called “gun regulation.” Julie Hirschfeld Davis of Bloomberg News points out that the Obama administration prefers the term “gun safety,” and keeps the substance in proposed gun reform measures the same despite its title.
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MR. TOM GJELTENThanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's visiting East Tennessee University. She'll be back Monday. Congress passes legislation to keep the government running through September. Existing home sales grew to their highest level in three years. And polls show opinions on immigration and same-sex marriage are shifting.
MR. TOM GJELTENJoining me for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal, Julie Hirschfeld Davis of Bloomberg News and Michael Scherer of Time magazine. You could also join us. We're at 1-800-433-8850. You can email us, firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning.
MR. JERRY SEIBGood morning.
MS. JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVISGood morning.
MR. MICHAEL SCHERERGood morning.
GJELTENSo let's begin with this continuing resolution, the spending bill that incorporates or makes permanent or semi-permanent some of the sequestration cuts. Right, Julie?
DAVISAbsolutely. Yeah. It leaves in place the $85 billion of sequestration cuts that take effect this year. They did do a little tinkering around to make sure that some of the cuts didn't hit some of the more vulnerable populations in a way that would be damaging veterans, a program for pregnant women and their children. They gave the Pentagon some latitude in how to budget so that they wouldn't be as damaging on training and readiness as defense officials had worried that it would be.
DAVISBut they did leave in place the actual cuts, the amount of the cuts. And the striking thing about it to me was that, you know, this is the first time that they actually came together and did a budget bill or a spending bill in the last several months without, like, a big crisis or cliff or panic attack before it happened.
DAVISThey had basically decided earlier that, you know, this was going to happen, the sequester was going to go into effect. And now it's just a question of sort of housekeeping that came together and funded the government through the rest of the year. The big question now is will they be able to get a broader budget deal.
GJELTENWell, Jerry Seib, how surprising is it to you, to the administration, to the Republican Party that this terrible thing called sequestration turned out to be kind of a yawn. I mean, I think, wasn't there an assumption that these cuts were just so draconian that neither party could accept it?
SEIBWell, I think everybody is a little surprised. And it was interesting in the vote Julie was talking about in the House. A majority of House Democrats voted for the continuing resolution that basically embodies the sequestration cuts for the rest of the year which tells you everybody has acquiesced in this. Now that doesn't make the sequestration any smarter, frankly. I mean, what those cuts do is they cut the parts of the government that were already shirking, the discretionary domestic spending and defense spending and that aren't creating the deficit.
SEIBAnd they leave alone the parts of the deficit budget that are growing, entitlement programs that are creating the long-term deficit. So it's still not a smart way to do business. But I think, from Republicans' point of view, this represents a victory 'cause it shifted the conversation to spending and away from taxes, and that's what they've been trying to do for a long time.
GJELTENWell, Michael, Julie was a little surprised, if I can say that, that this actually went through on a semi-bipartisan basis, right? I mean, does that hold the prospect for, you know, sort of more bipartisanship going forward? I mean, we got different indications, different pieces of evidence here.
SCHERERYes. And just on sequestration, just because we've gotten past this stage, doesn't mean the pain is over. One of the elements of sequestration is it wasn't something that was going to hit the first week as much as it would hit the fourth or fifth month. And so we're still going to see now -- it's sort of a guaranteed we're going to see government furloughs, maybe not in the Pentagon but in other agencies. And you're going to see more pain hitting local communities, and you're going to see more stories.
SCHERERAnd members of Congress are going to go home and face their constituents, maybe not this recess, but by the summer recesses and have to explain why there are these cuts in their districts. So that story is not gone. What the bipartisan agreement is that it's better to fight this battle in September than to fight it right now. And whether they can come to a bipartisan deal in September, you know, once they get there, it's still an open question. I think there are some good signs.
SCHERERI mean, we had the week of dining with Republicans by President Obama a couple of weeks ago. That has led to continued positive talk in the Senate among a number of Democrat and Republican members of the Senate that there are lots of ways to creatively do something here. I think there are still Republicans who don't agree with John Boehner that all revenues are totally off the table no matter what.
SCHERERAnd there are increasingly Democrats who are saying, look, if were going to be witnessing a shrinking of the discretionary budget because of these entitlements, maybe we should actually deal with these entitlements this year as suppose to pushing it off. So you know, the environmental factors are there for a deal but, you know, it's not something, having lived through the last three years in Washington, I would bet on...
GJELTENWell, Julie, there were couple other votes this week, one on the Paul Ryan budget which, of course, passed the House and went down to a resounding defeat in the Senate. And then, of course, the Senate Democrats came back with a version of their own. So if you look at those votes, you don't see much sign of bipartisanship.
DAVISRight. So at the same time as they're all getting together, as Michael said, to kind of kick the can down the road a few more months on the bigger deal, you see how far apart they both are. Paul Ryan's budget cuts something like $4.6 trillion and would balance in 10 years. Patty Murray's budget in the Senate is on the other side of the spectrum, raises taxes, does not contain a fraction of the cuts that are in the Ryan budget.
DAVISAnd they're clearly no closer, in a broad sense, to a consensus on how to tackle the debt problem that they have. Now you are hearing some talk, and I think it -- you know, the CR vote and the sequestration taking effect actually helps Republicans maybe come to the table a little bit on this because they can point to this and say, look, you know, this is steep cuts.
DAVISWe insisted that it happen. We made the Democrats join us and pass this austere spending bill for this year. So that may give them a little of the cover they need to go and negotiate a broader budget deal that might include some revenues.
DAVISYou now have some of the folks who have been interested in fostering an environment for a grand bargain like Mark Warner, Democratic senator from Virginia, talking about how he's going to roll out some new ideas for revenue raisers that Republicans haven't yet rejected. So I think there is a desire to get to a reset where they can kind of come back to the table and talk about this. But if you look at the two budgets that they passed this week, there's not a lot of middle ground.
GJELTENWell, Jerry Seib, do you buy this idea that maybe the Republicans are open in some form to more revenue and maybe the Democrats are open in some form to serious entitlement reform? What's the scenario?
SEIBWell, certainly some Republicans are open to more revenues, and certainly some Democrats are open to serious entitlement reform. There's one more shoe to drop here, which is that President Obama now has to present his budget. And it'll be interesting to see if he comes down the middle between the House Republican budget and the Senate Democratic budget.
SEIBAnd I think the key to watch in there is whether he does something in the budget to kind of break the glass on entitlement spending, which is to say, does he include in his budget officially, not just in rhetoric, something like reducing Social Security benefits down the line by changing the inflation measure by which they're increased or something more on Medicare? So the Republicans could point to that and say, well, now you're getting serious about entitlements, now we have something to talk about.
SEIB'Cause the only way there's going to be revenue conversation is if Republicans can say, well, we got from the Democrats serious steps toward entitlement reform. But if that happens, and it doesn't have to be a lot to get the conversation going, I think there's an opening here. The other thing that the budget -- the sequestration and the two budget bills do is they kind of create a space of five or six months now in which this conversation can happen before we get to the next crisis, which is when the country hits that debt ceiling again at the end of the summer.
GJELTENMichael Scherer, tell us a little bit about where the so-called Tea Party caucus on both the Senate and the Republican side -- Senate and the House side stand in this. I -- it caught my attention some of the Republican senators who voted against the Paul Ryan budget when it came over to the Senate, Mike Lee, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. Why would these three Republicans in particular actually oppose the Paul Ryan budget?
SCHERERThey don't think it's cutting quite enough. I mean, right now, you have several different benchmarks that people are using. The Democrats are saying, what we want to do to get the ballot budget in order is to make sure that the budget is no longer growing faster than GDP. But it would still be growing. I mean, the budget deficit would still be growing over time. What Paul Ryan has said is in 10 years, we want to technically balance the budget so that we're not growing the deficit at all.
SCHERERThose senators you just mentioned want even more. They believe in this sort of household metaphor for the government that you shouldn't be spending more than you take in, that you can do this immediately that we shouldn't wait quite as long. I think that position though is still very much an outlier probably even more of an outlier as we get closer to actually making these very difficult decisions. You can't -- what you end up talking about when you're talking about these things is entitlements.
SCHERERAnd one of the interesting facet of this debate so far has been the desire of Republicans to cut spending, but then when it comes down to actually saying what entitlements they want to cut getting cold feet. And with the exemption of some in this Tea Party caucus or plans to restructure entitlements in ways the Democrats will never accept. I think we're coming to a point where those sort of protest votes will probably have less weight, not more.
GJELTENJulie, before we move on from this discussion of cuts and spending, who are some of the winners and losers in that final spending bill?
DAVISWell, I mean, I think you have to say that Republicans who had pressed to keep the sequestration in place, not turn it off were, you know, Boehner had a much easier vote on this than he's had on previous budget votes that they've taken this year and last, the speaker of the House. And I think you could also say that Paul Ryan, you know, got some points for putting a very aggressive budget out there that makes the cuts and actually balances much more quickly than his previous budgets had.
DAVISSo they got sort of some message points there. And you know, I think the jury's right that it really put the ball in President Obama's court to try to sort of tease him out and say what he's willing to on his budget. So in that regard, it was a win for them. It also was a win for Democrats because -- particularly the Senate Democrats who are pushing their budget -- they have a much more concrete leg to stand on when they make their arguments about what should happen in the longer term deficit agreement.
DAVISThey can really -- they have some concrete examples of what the Ryan budget would do that they say is, you know, bad for the economy, bad for the government, bad for working people. And so, you know, Patty Murray, I think, got a lot of credit. Also, Barbara Mikulski, who managed the continuing resolution on the floor, got a lot of credit in the Senate for managing that and kind of drawing a lot of attention to the debate.
GJELTENIt appears that Monsanto was also a winner in that. The White House failed to get money wanted to implement health care, and cyber security industry got some money. So there were some winners and losers in those sectors. We're going to take a short break now. And when we come back, more questions, more discussion of domestic news. Stay with us.
GJELTENI'm Tom Gjelten, sitting in today for Diane Rehm. This is the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup. You can join our conversation at 1-800-433-8850 or with an email, email@example.com. Our panelists this morning are Jerry Seib, Washington bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, congressional correspondent for Bloomberg News and Michael Scherer, the White House correspondent for Time magazine.
GJELTENBefore we move on to some of the other news that came down this week, we should mention that we're going to have a new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Julius Genachowski, the current chairman is announcing today -- or just announced that he will be leaving in the coming weeks. Jerry Seib, what is -- this is such a time of change in the technology and communications sector. What are the big issues that swirl around the FCC that we will be paying attention to going forward?
SEIBWell, I think the biggest issue, the overriding one, in the Genachowski era at the FCC was trying to shift the agency away from an agency that pays a lot of attention to phone lines to one that's paying attention to broadband. And he was trying to do a couple of things. He was trying to make broadband more widely available to Americans and also trying to sort out the question of who owns the spectrum, you know, which company which -- own which parts of the spectrum, what does the government own, what's it worth and what should the government get out of those things.
SEIBAnd I think that both of those big enterprises are sort of only halfway through. They're continuing ones. But the big question here is can the FCC regulate an entirely new world of communication, which is broadband and wireless, not wired phones? And I don't think we're quite there yet.
GJELTENAnd, Michael, it's certain to be -- the FCC has become much more of a battleground, hasn't it, between committing political interests because so much is at stake as Jerry just said.
SCHERERNot just political interests but corporate interest. I mean, this really is a place where you have different industries that go head to head with enormous amounts of money. I mean, one example, one of the big things Genachowski did do in the last few years was strike a compromise over the issue of net neutrality, which is this idea that people who are providing you information can prioritize some traffic, video traffic or certain types of feeds online.
SCHERERAnd he basically cut a deal where he said, look, if it's a wired broadband network, your service provider, whether it's Verizon or AT&T or Comcast, can't choose which information comes quicker over that. But if it's a cellphone, if it's a wireless network, they can. And those are the decisions going forward that the agency will have to be (word?)...
SEIBAnd it all happens, by the way, in an environment in which some people aren't even sure there should be any government regulation in this area at all. So it's a difficult task 'cause you start with a lot of people in that world who think they should be left alone entirely, and not everybody agrees with that, obviously.
GJELTENAnd this decision by Julius Genachowski to resign, to leave the commission came only after it became apparent that a Republican member of the commission was also going to leave, and that would ensure that President Obama would be able to keep a Democratic majority on the commission.
GJELTENLet's go back to politics and the U.S. Congress. The -- so many big issues are being discussed there. Another big one this week was the gun bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he will bring that bill to the floor when the Senate comes back to work in two weeks. But he's leaving out the assault weapons ban, which is something that was dear to the heart of Dianne Feinstein. Julie, tell us his thinking there.
DAVISWell, it was really about political reality. I mean, it is dear to the heart of Dianne Feinstein and a lot of other Democrats who have worked on gun safety issues and gun control issues over the years. But if you looked at the votes and the makeup of the Senate, they really weren't there. And it was really only a question of how hard of a time Sen. Reid was willing to give to red state Democrats who would have to go out on the record on a vote like that.
DAVISBy not putting it in the base bill, he makes an amendment. I mean, it's obviously going to come up. Somebody is going to offer an amendment, probably Dianne Feinstein along with a lot of her allies on this issue. It's not like they won't have to take a vote. But by not including it in the underlying legislation, it gives a lot more cover to people who have to really vote their states. I mean, there are a lot of Democrats and Republicans in some of these states that are very much against the idea of an assault weapons ban.
DAVISThey're, you know, the NRA has been very strongly against this and outspoken about it. And so, you know, I think he -- it was about political reality. It was also a bargaining chip that he sort of cashed in in the interest of getting, I think, what everyone considers a lot more doable on this, which is the expansion of background checks.
DAVISYeah, I think, you know, Democrats and Republicans who have been working on this feel like that's the ground that they can actually come together on. And if you have a big animated fight about an assault weapons ban that everyone acknowledges is not going to pass, you're going to sap a lot of the momentum for a compromise like that.
GJELTENThe political thinking, Michael, that Julie just laid out is certainly obvious. On the other hand, President Obama, in his State of the Union speech, said the victims of gun violence "deserve" a vote. So you could also make the argument that if you're going to oppose the assault weapons ban, you should have the courage to say that you're opposing it. That would be the other argument, I guess.
SCHERERWell, there technically will be a vote. There will be an amendment put forward, and so people will vote on it. But it was never likely to pass. I mean, even when they were pulling together this gun commission, if you read between the lines of what Vice President Biden was saying, he would always separate the assault weapons ban from the other issues he was pursuing. It was always clear. And at the time, Sen. Reid would say he didn't think the assault weapons ban was going to be going forward.
SCHERERI think the bigger news is that they're having so much trouble even getting a deal on background checks, which is an issue that, you know, depending on how you ask the question on the poll, 80, 90 percent of the country agree that we should expand background checks to include sales at gun shows or include sales by non-licensed dealers to other people. Right now, that conversation is hung up over the issue of what records will be kept by sellers when those sales happen.
SCHERERThe National Rifle Association and a number of republicans are concerned that if you create a system where any recordkeeping is established for showing that a sale happened, that it is one step closer to some sort of a gun registration and confiscation scheme, which they have always talked about fearing.
SCHERERAnd Democrats and gun control advocates are saying, look, if you don't have any piece of paper that's produced from a gun sale, then how will we know if any of these are actually being background checked? I mean, it will be a totally unenforceable provision. And so even the most popular thing in the menu of things available right now is still -- I mean, it'll be introduced in a couple of weeks, but it's still unclear if they can get 60 votes to get it through the Senate.
GJELTENJerry Seib, Michael just mentioned the polls on the issue of background checks showing such broad support for them. How closely are the Republicans in Congress watching the polls these days? We're in sort of this period of self-reflection. The Republican Party just released this critique of their own party. Are they -- are the leaders at the Republican Party paying close attention to public sentiment on the gun and other issues as well?
SEIBWell, I think probably less on the gun issue than others because if you're from a red state, it doesn't matter what the national polls say on guns. It matters what happens to it more broadly, absolutely. And I think what they're really concerned about isn't any particular poll finding but a general deterioration in the Republican brand name. I mean, it has been -- it's been eroded considerably in the last two election cycles, they think. And the report that you mentioned that came out this week was actually pretty scathing.
SEIBIt essentially said we're perceived as a party of grumpy old men and young voters roll their eyes when the subject of Republicans comes up, and we're on the wrong side of many women's issues. I mean, very few Democrats or people in the press were as hard on the Republican Party as that group of Republicans was on the party itself. And so I think there's a lot of introspection.
SEIBWhat the report didn't really do, though, and this is where it gets difficult is it didn't really try to translate those problems into specific policy positions. They were specifically told not to do that as a matter of fact. So what do you do about the social issues? What do you do about guns? How do you translate your policy positions into this broader appeal that the report says is required? Well, that's a little -- that's unspoken at this point.
GJELTENWell, let's take a couple of those issues where action is going to be coming, one is immigration, one is same-sex marriage. Julie.
DAVISWell, actually, one of the issues that they did, they made it clear in the report we're not taking policy positions, but they did actually call out immigration and say we need -- the Republican Party needs to be for comprehensive immigration reform. Now, it didn't spell out what that means. It didn't say a path to citizenship. It didn't say a path to legalization.
DAVISBut it was very clear in the report that in the conversations they had with people and the folks who are really doing the autopsy of what went wrong in 2012 feel like the Republican Party has been on the wrong side of that issue. The vocal base of the party has been an anti-"amnesty," anti-legalization for the undocumented immigrants who are already here.
DAVISAnd they feel like that has to change or -- there was some pretty tough language and the reports see their appeal really shrink nationwide. They're -- they didn't talk about gay marriage in the report, but I think we can see -- if you look at the national polls as you said -- a real movement in public opinion on that. And it's going to be really interesting to see, as the court takes up the Defense of Marriage Act, how that all plays out on the Hill.
DAVISWe already saw Republican Sen. Rob Portman come out last week and say that he is in favor of same-sex marriage. It's a change for him. He once sponsored a defense of marriage bill in the House because his own son is gay and he feels that, you know, gay people should have the right to marry. It's not an overarching position of the party, but we're certainly seeing some movement and some acknowledgment on the part of Republicans that they need to rethink how they talk about the issue.
GJELTENWell, let's -- you mentioned that poll. It's a Washington Post-ABC poll that show that 58 percent of Americans now believe it should be legal for gay and lesbian couples to get married. But I think you alluded to, perhaps, the more important finding here which is that a slim majority of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents under 50 now support gay marriage, whereas, seven and 10 of those age, 65 and up, oppose it. So we see a pretty clear generation gap here even among Republicans, don't we, Michael?
SCHERERYeah, that's right. And I kind of giggled every time I heard them say, this is not a policy report. It's like saying there's no gambling that we know of in this casino. It was very clearly a policy report, but they were doing it in a delicate way because they can't set policy. And the fact is, you know, they said in this report that we support -- Republican Party has to get behind comprehensive immigration reform undefined. Five months ago in the party platform, it said, the Republican Party opposes amnesty in any form.
SCHERERI have never heard anyone describe comprehensive immigration reform as being we oppose amnesty in any form. It was clear that they were pushing the party in the direction it's already going. And on the gay marriage issue, they didn't mention marriage specifically but people who work on the report talked about it. And the report did say explicitly that if we continue to be perceived as not being accepting of gays and these issues, then we will lose the next generation of voters. So there was a clear message being sent there.
GJELTENWell, Jerry, as you said, the Republicans were harder on themselves than Democrats who are journalists have been. And, in fact, it's touched off or sort of reignited this kind of quite vitriolic debate between people like Rush Limbaugh on one said and the main stream of the Republican Party leadership.
SEIBRight. And that's going to be interesting to watch and difficult for Republican leadership to maneuver. You know, one of the things that has happened into the party is you have a lot of people -- not just social and religious conservatives but downscale voters, many in rural areas -- who have become Republican voters over the last generation mostly because they don't adhere to Republican economics so much as they adhere to Republican views on social issues.
SEIBWell, if those social issue views kind of erode and blend in together with the Democratic views, I'm not sure what holds them to the Republican Party. So there is a really difficult balancing act that has to be done by Republicans on exactly these issues.
GJELTENJerry Seib is Washington bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And our phone number is 1-800-433-8850, and we'll be going through the phones in a few minutes. But, Jerry, just to follow up on this subject, we sort of all agreed here to that the -- this report avoided specific policy issues. But one policy issue that it did address was the -- if you could call it a policy issue -- the role of debates and primary in the campaign season. Summarize what that...
SEIBPretty clear on that -- on those two subjects, and this is a consensus within the Republican Party which is that in 2012, we had too many debates. They produced too much -- too many scenes of Republicans slicing each other to pieces. And the primary season was too long. And as a corollary to that, we should move up to day to the convention so there isn't this long interregnum between primaries and when we actually officially nominate our candidates so that he can spend money.
SEIBThat's going to also be controversial 'cause lots of states in that primary calendar want us to keep their place in the primary calendar and have a standalone spot. But I think those two things are likely to happen. And I think there will be a change primary calendar, and I'm quite certain there will be fewer debates next time around.
GJELTENBefore we entirely move on, I should point out that we've been talking about the same sex marriage issue, and, of course, the U.S. Supreme Court is going to be taking up that issue in two cases this coming week. And "The Diane Rehm Show" will give you a preview of those cases on Monday. So, Michael Scherer, meanwhile, President Obama escaped Washington for these bitter debates and sort of quietly said to Prime Minister Netanyahu, "It's good to get away from Congress."
SCHERERBecause the Middle East is so much more peaceful than Washington is.
GJELTENYeah. But, meanwhile, these issues just continue to swirl around even without him here. And the latest is his appointment of Thomas Perez as being the -- to be labor secretary. Not a position that normally gets a lot of controversy or opposition but in this case, it seems to have touched a nerve.
SCHERERThat's right. He's been confirmed before the Senate, but there was controversy then and there will be again. He's someone who was most recently working as assistant attorney general for Civil Rights at the Justice Department. And that division of the Justice Department is historically an enormously controversial one that's involved in all of these hot button issues which tend to lead talk radio.
SCHERERAnd so as a result, Perez has been involved in a lot of things like suing of Joe Arpaio in Arizona which was controversial, the Black Panther voter intimidation case which came up -- it's now seems like ancient history, but it was a case in which there were some Black Panthers who sat outside a polling place in Philadelphia. The Bush administration said it was going to prosecute, and then the Obama administration pulled back from some of those prosecutions.
SCHERERThere's been other suits against voter registration in certain states that have angered particular senators, and they'll raise that issue. And then there's also a longer term issue which Jeff Sessions, the Republican of Alabama, has mentioned before that Perez has, in his past life as a public servant, been resistant to enforcement of immigration laws actually not far from here in Silver Spring when he worked in Montgomery County.
SCHERERSo all this, I think, will lead to probably a lot of fireworks and a pretty exciting confirmation hearing. That doesn't mean though that I think he is necessarily likely to be blocked 'cause he has been confirmed before, and this is sort of one of those nominations that unless something new comes up that is really surprising or jarring to the process, everybody gets their five or 10 minutes in front of the camera to complain and then, you know, a Democratic Senate gets him through.
GJELTENJulie, it sort of sounds like the Hagel nomination, the John Brennan nomination where, you know, as Michael says, it's an opportunity to say your piece on some sort of related issue, but in the end, you'll probably get confirmed. Do you agree with that?
DAVISAbsolutely. And, I mean, I think that we will see somewhat of a proxy battle on immigration. I'm sure he'll be very intently questioned on his views on that given that he will -- if he's confirmed, he'd be secretary of labor when this, you know, new immigration regime if they succeed in standing one up takes hold. So he'll be asked about that.
DAVISAnd also, as they're debating the Voting Rights Act and the court is taking up that issue, they'll, I think, that his confirmation hearings will be a form for a pretty heated debate over that and how it should be enforced and whether he was overly zealous in doing so as Sen. Vitter of Louisiana and others have said.
GJELTENJulie Hirschfeld Davis is the congressional correspondent for Bloomberg News. This is the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup on "The Diane Rehm Show." And we're going to take a short break here. When we come back, we're going to go straight to the phones. The lines are all full. We want to hear your questions and comments on the domestic issues of the day.
GJELTENYou can present them to our panelists. And, of course, our email is firstname.lastname@example.org. So stay tuned. When we come back, we're going to get into some of the economic news that came down this week, some encouraging numbers. And we have a lot of people that want to talk about guns and immigration and entitlement reform. Stay with us.
GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten, sitting in today for Diane Rehm. By the way, Diane Rehm is at East Tennessee State University, not East Tennessee University as we mistakenly said at the top of the show -- East Tennessee State University. She will be back on Monday. Meanwhile, we're holding down the fort here: Jerry Seib from The Wall Street Journal, Julie Hirschfeld Davis from Bloomberg News and Michael Scherer from Time magazine, and we're discussing the domestic news of the week.
GJELTENWe have a number of emails. You know, the Diane Rehm show is a national show, but we obviously have a lot of listeners in the D.C. metropolitan area. And many of our listeners would be affected by the sequestration cuts that would hurt the -- cut into the employment roles, the -- in federal agencies. And I want to read, "It was exasperating."
GJELTENThis is from A. Leonard, "It was exasperating to hear folks in "The Diane Rehm Show" discuss sequestration from such an impersonal view. Would you be so calm if your salary were going to get a 20 percent cut as DOD," that'd be Pentagon, "civilian workers are facing?" "Why is no one," this is a note from Ed, "Why is no one talking about the 800,000 people who are about to have their salaries slashed by 20 percent?"
GJELTENAnother one from Brian, who says, "I'm a government employee and planning for a minimum 20 percent pay cut." All right. So there's a whole stack of emails here from people who are going to see their pay cut -- going to possibly see pay cut although, Julie, we don't know yet, for example, whether or -- when or maybe even whether those cuts are going to take effect. Is that right?
DAVISWell, that's right. I mean, that's right to some extent. I think some of the furlough notices haven't gone out yet. But certainly there will be furloughs, there will be people who'll see their salaries cut. There will be people who see their unemployment payments cut as well if this continues. And so, you know, we shouldn't downplay the impact of that for people who will feel it.
DAVISThe interesting thing is, as you mentioned, you know, a lot of this is being felt already in the D.C. metropolitan area. You got area where there's a lot of defense contractors, there's obviously the Pentagon and many sectors and industries that are directly impacted by the government. What will be interesting is to see when that actually starts to take hold in congressional districts around the country and whether that has an impact on a willingness in Washington to get something more done than they've been able to get done thus far, to actually turn off the sequester.
DAVISRight before it took hold, when the White House was sort of waiting to figure out the politics of how this was going to work, I think there was an assumption by President Obama and his team and by Democrats and Congress that, hey, we're just going to sit back. And if Republicans won't come to the table, maybe when their constituents start to see their salaries cut and their, you know, jobs on furlough, maybe they will come to the table and work with us.
DAVISWell, that obviously didn't happen beforehand. So the question, I think, is going to be whether that happens afterward when people do start to see some of those painful impacts that our callers and emailers mentioned.
GJELTENAlthough it seems, Michael, that politicians have always been able to score political points by going after bureaucrats, right? What they call bureaucrats, so...
SCHERERAs long as they're not their own constituents. Always everybody else is bureaucrats.
SEIBOr that as long as they don't run a control tower at a small airport in there district, which they're going to be shut down.
SCHERERYou know, I think that's right. And the other interesting things here is in the past when you have federal furloughs, it's generally the case that after a deal is cut, all that money comes back to the government employee...
SEIBThat's not going to be the case this time.
SCHERER...and that's probably not going to happen this time. So those people who are facing these cuts are -- can't expect by Christmas the money to be returned to them. They're going to lose this money permanently, probably.
GJELTENOK. Let's go now to Joe who's on the line from South Bend, Ind. Joe, good morning. Thanks for calling.
JOEGood morning. I'm a small business owner, and I can feel for the federal employees that are looking at a 20 percent cut in their salaries. But over the past five years, I'm receiving probably 20 to 30 percent of what I was making five years ago. One of the things that we haven't seen is the housing crunch and the financial woes in the D.C. area. One of the areas that could be cut are the attorneys that are on the federal payroll. Thank you.
GJELTENJoe, what's your -- what business are you in?
JOEI'm a land surveyor.
GJELTENAnd your business has been affected by the broader economic decline, I take it?
JOETremendously, and the federal employees have kind of skirted the whole financial condition over the last five years.
GJELTENWell, Jerry, Joe makes good point that for all the complaining that we're hearing this morning from people in the D.C. area, actually the broader D.C. area, thanks perhaps to government spending, has come through this recession pretty well.
SEIBYeah. I think that's true. Although, on the other hand, as we've just noticed -- I think Julie just said that that's about to come to an end fairly rudely. And I think the real issue here is a much broader one which is the effect of this recession as it rolls through the economy. I guess, I would view the federal government is only just the latest victim of it.
SEIBYou know, one of the things that is -- if we're talking about pain from the sequester, one of the things we should not let go unnoted is the fact that it's probably going to cut the growth rate for the entire country by a half a percentage point or so this year because this is real money taken out of a real economy. And whether it's bureaucrats or programs or whatever you want to define it as, that has really economic impact, and that's true for everybody, not just the people directly affected.
GJELTENWell, will we feel that .5 percent cut in economic activity given that the economy actually seems to be improving? So it means -- so the growth will be five -- .5 percent less than it otherwise would've been, but we're still likely to see economic growth. The good news in economy this week from the Conference Board's index of leading economic indicators, that went up by .5 percent in February. That was more than forecast.
SCHERERRight. But it's, you know, we're talking about economic growth this year of maybe 2.5, 2.7 percent. That's nothing to write home about. It's OK, and if it could be half a percentage point higher, that's meaningful.
SCHERERAnd as what Richard Durbin, who's the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, said at a breakfast we had this week, so we're in this crazy position now in which the Federal Reserve is putting the accelerator down and trying its best to accelerate the economy through essentially bond purchases and printing money effectively while Congress is putting a break on by cutting spending across the board, it doesn't make any sense. This is not a coherent economic policy.
GJELTENWe should mention that we did have also very good news on housing this week. Builders started work on 27 percent more homes in February than they did a year earlier. On the other hand, the number of construction jobs in the United States was only 2.9 percent higher year over year. Let's go now to Dorothia (sp?) from Norwich, Vt. Good morning, Dorothia.
DOROTHIAGood morning. I'm just concerned about gun regulation which is a better designation than gun control, and it's less negative. And I think people would be more in favor of it if we use that term. And if there's precedent of this, the founders had called their militia...
DOROTHIA...regulars, and they have a manual which they had to abide by and they didn't like the ad hoc of militia springing up. So I think if we use the term and promoted that, we just have a better -- stand a better chance of getting something through on gun regulation.
GJELTENDorothia, do you have a lot of friends and neighbors there in Vermont who you think would be sort of less negative about gun regulation and that would be...
DOROTHIAOh, yes. Yes, indeed.
DAVISIt's interesting because that is one thing we have seen from the Obama administration from the beginning of this years when they started to push this effort. They talk about gun safety, and it's not about gun control which is a phrase that we've heard a lot in the past when they've had legislative debates and when the White House has been pitching similar measures.
DAVISSo it's not that the substance of what they're asking for is different, but I think they have and particularly Vice President Joe Biden, who was kind of in writing point on this for the White House, has really tried to talk about gun safety and go out of his way, sometimes way out of his way in a way that earned him some ridicule to say that he is pro-gun. He has guns. He likes guns. But, you know, we need to be able to have them used in a safe way, and that's what this whole effort is about.
GJELTENRight. Aileen from Novi, Mich. Did I say that right, Aileen?
AILEENYes, you did.
GJELTENWell, thanks for calling.
AILEENThe Congress has legislated a post office bill to put aside retiree's expenses way ahead of the time of need. And what I need to know is how much is in the account now, what is the remainder that's due on it, who was the original instigator and who profits.
GJELTENWell, you know, one of the dangers of coming on "The Diane Rehm Show" is you always get a pop quiz. So Jerry Seib is raising his hand.
SEIBI can do this one.
SEIBI can do this one. My brothers are mail carriers, so I know a lot about this issue. I don't know a lot about it. But, look, the complaint of the postal workers -- and, by the way, this was relevant this week because in the continuing resolution debate, there was a decision by Congress to stop the post office management for doing what it wanted to do, which was to stop Saturday mail delivery.
SEIBThat's not a popular move in Congress, and it's not going to happen. But the post office management says, we got to save some money somewhere. We're going broke. And one of the reasons they're going broke, they argue, is that in the Bush administration -- the George W. Bush administration -- a postal reorganization bill was passed that forced the post office and its employees to put way more money into their pension fund than is really needed.
SEIBAnd that pension fund has built up a giant surplus, while, in an operating level, the post office is going broke. So they're saying essentially, unlock that money, we'll solve our financial problem. This debate has not happened yet, but I think it'll be coming over the next six months.
GJELTENIt doesn't seem to me as a consumer that Saturday mail delivery, for example, you know, is such an important issue as it may have been years ago. I don't know about you, Julie, but...
DAVISYeah. Well, it was striking because you have members of Congress talking every day, all the time, particularly Republicans, about how we have to find places to cut, and we have to, you know, we had to shrink things down. And when this -- when the post office said that it wanted to do this, it was very quick kind of backlash on the Hill against this, and everyone decided we cannot do this. I mean, I guess everyone has post offices and postal carriers in their districts, and it just wasn't a popular idea. So I think Jerry is right, that's not really going anywhere.
GJELTENRight. Let's go now to Paul, who's on the line from Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Good morning, Paul.
PAULGood morning. Thanks for taking my call.
PAULMy question goes back to the gun issue, and borrowing from Dorothia's comment, perhaps it should be called gun effects or gun consequences. My question is regarding some things that's heard lately about the efficacy or possible benefit of autopsy photos of the tragic victims in Newtown being release perhaps by a prosecutor, law enforcement or an allowing parent most importantly.
PAULThat would be on the eve, perhaps, of an amendment process regarding ammunition clips or assault weapons particularly, and whether that would be likely to happen, could happen and what the possible effects would be positively on legislation if it did. And I'll take my answer off the air.
GJELTENOK, Paul. Well, I can just say from my point, I'm not sure I want to see those autopsy reports. But I think he is right that -- was it Michael Moore that suggested that these -- some of these photos be made public in an effort to influence the gun control debate, Michael?
SCHERERYeah. I would be surprised if that did happen given how traumatic it -- that shooting already has been for the country and also the privacy of the families of the victims there. But it is, you know, one of the interesting things about the gun debate not just this year but in past years is that the heat around the issue tends to follow these horrible incidents, these mass shootings. And as you get farther away from an event, the energy to bring political change tends to decline.
SCHERERThat said, you know, we've had a pretty consistent number of shootings. We have a shooting reported just today in Quantico, a military base near D.C., so I'm not sure it will entirely go away over the coming week. You know, one of the interesting things about language -- and I had loved these language questions because it actually does matter not on the substance but on the policy.
SCHERERThe best polls last couple weeks have been Republicans have been rallying around this idea that balanced budgets are what the American people want because the word balanced is in it, and people tend to say they like things that are balance. And just a few weeks ago, President Obama was rallying around the idea that we need a balanced approach to deficit reduction. When you put a word like balanced in a poll, you tend to get everybody to say they're for it irregardless of the fallacy. And so -- and it's very similar in the gun debate as well.
GJELTENMichael Scherer is White House correspondent for Time magazine. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's see. Let's go now to Michael, who's on the line from Miami, Fla. Good morning, Michael.
MICHAELGood morning. Thank you for taking my call. Just a quick anecdote. Here in Florida, I was posing as a gun buyer, and I asked the gentleman who own the place if automatic assault weapons were outlawed. And his response was, well, no, they just simply require a little bit more paperwork. This is the absurdity of what's happening in our country. And just very quickly, as far as the budget concerns, to the best of my knowledge, when Social Security was instituted, it was not designed for anything other than retirement. Thank you so much.
GJELTENOK. Two kind of disparate points. Well, when -- Michael, when that gun shop owner told you that automatic weapons -- the purchase of automatic weapons just requires more paperwork, it's actually probably literally true, right, Julie?
DAVISI think that's true. I mean, I think that the effort on Capitol Hill is to make it, you know, is to outlaw it altogether. But right now, it's just a more arduous process and...
SEIBAnd this also goes to Michael's point. What is an automatic weapon, and what's an assault weapon? Those are variable terms. There's no definition that make sense.
SCHERERIn the current law, as I understand it, is that machine guns -- meaning guns that you pull trigger and you hold it down and continues to fire bullets -- are still very heavily regulated. You can't go to a gun shop -- semi-automatic weapons, which are kind of automatic weapon, which is basically you pull the trigger 10 times in a row and it fires 10 bullets, are allowed to be sold.
SCHERERAnd there are ways of, you know, mechanically changing semi-automatic weapons after you purchase them to turn them into automatic weapons, so people have been getting around it that way. The -- one of the things that's really hurt, as Jerry said, the assault weapons ban is that the definition, what is an assault weapon, is really difficult to do. When we had the assault weapons ban in the 1990s, it was kind of an absurd definition.
SCHERERIt depended on, like, things like scopes and extra handles and things like that. And this time around, Dianne Feinstein actually tried to make a list of what she called an assault weapon, but it's something that a lot of senators, as we've seen, just don't want to get involve in choosing which gun is a really bad gun versus which gun is not that bad gun.
GJELTENOK. Very briefly before we end the hour, I just wanted to throw out that, of course, Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Fed, made another appearance this week and following a two-day Fed meeting. That, of course, raises all these questions about his popularity and also whether he is likely to stay for another term after his term ends in January 2014.
SEIBGood question. I don't know the answer. If I did, we'd told people in the pages of The Wall Street Journal. Most people think that he doesn't really want to stick around for another term. He rather to go back to writing in academia, but that's not decided. What he said in his press conference is that he's had a little bit of a conversation with President Obama about that subject. So the, you know, the betting is he's not going to be around for another term and then that later this year the White House will begin the search for a successor, but that's not certain.
GJELTENAnd is this administration committed to that very loose monetary policy keeping interest rates near zero?
SEIBWell, I think they certainly like it for the time being. What Chairman Bernanke said in that press conferences well on that subject was that there are going to be variable about how much loose money they still allow over the rest of the year. They're not going to shutdown their bond buying program, but they are prepared to taper it back.
GJELTENVery good. Jerry Seib is the Washington bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal. I was also joined this morning by Julie Hirschfeld Davis, the congressional correspondent for Bloomberg News, and by Michael Scherer, White House correspondent for Time magazine. Thank you all for joining me on this news roundup.
SCHERERThank you, Tom.
GJELTENAnd thanks to our listeners as well. I'm Tom Gjelten, sitting in today for Diane Rehm. She'll be back on Monday. Thanks for listening.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman and Lisa Dunn. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is email@example.com, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington, D.C. This is NPR.
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