For this month's Readers' Review: "Drown" -- the debut collection of short stories by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Junot Diaz. Twenty years ago, Diaz published ten heart-breaking tales about a fragmented family from the Dominican Republic finding their way in 1980s America.
Last night President Barack Obama signed into law an agreement to reopen the government and avert a U.S. government default. The law was passed yesterday in the Senate and hours later approved by the House. The law funds the government until Jan. 15 and raises the debt ceiling until Feb. 7. It also calls for a new round of negotiations on the budget and entitlement spending. The shutdown cost billions, inflicted hardship on many and will likely dampen fourth quarter growth. Conservative House Republicans who staged the 16-day shutdown and threatened default have, at this point, little to show for their strategy. Diane and her guests discuss what’s changed and what hasn’t and the political process ahead.
- Ryan Grim Washington bureau chief, Huffington Post.
- Jackie Calmes national correspondent, The New York Times.
- Ron Elving senior Washington editor, NPR.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Americans and indeed much of the world had a front row seat for a 16-day political crisis initiated by conservative House Republicans. The partial federal shutdown and possible debt default was averted last night when President Obama signed a bill passed by the Senate, approved by the House.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about the crisis, how it may shape the political process ahead: Ron Elving of NPR, Jackie Calmes of the New York Times, and Ryan Grim of The Huffington Post. I know you'll want to weigh in today. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook, or send us a tweet. Well, welcome to the end of it all.
MS. DIANE REHMJackie Calmes, is it the end of it all?
MS. JACKIE CALMESHi, Diane. No, it's just a truce. We have more deadlines ahead of us, a...
REHMA temporary truce.
CALMES...temporary truce, right. And, you know, the question will be whether this experience for the conservative Republicans was chastening enough that it will discourage them from, you know, taking this next stage to the limit and beyond as they've done this time or not. And I tend to think -- I'm skeptical that they will be chastened because you already see the conclusion they've come to is that they didn't have enough unity in the Republican Party.
CALMESIf they'd only been more united, they could've won this. So it sort of reminds me of the end of the 2012 election where, after losing the presidential election in 2008 and 2012, their conclusion was not that their party had the wrong message, perhaps, for national election, but that they didn't have a candidate that was conservative enough.
REHMRyan Grim, what about the hot stove theory?
MR. RYAN GRIMSure. Well, you know, I prefer to think of it as the dog catching the car. You know, they've been chasing this car for years, and finally they caught this thing. And now they have a tire in their mouth, and the car backed over them. You know, this was a debacle for them.
REHMThat's quite an image, right.
GRIMThe dynamic that has been driving this entire thing, of course, has been redistricting, which has packed so many Republicans into safe seats. The corollary to that is primaries. Now, come next year, a lot of the primary filing deadlines will have passed, so a lot of these Republicans will have a lot of the political pressure relieved from them. And they'll have much less incentive to demagogue this issue since they're cruising to reelection without a primary opponent and with no general election opponent to speak of in these districts.
REHMRon Elving, what Speaker Boehner said yesterday was, we've been locked in a fight over here trying to bring the government down to size, trying to do our best to stop Obamacare. We fought the good fight. We just didn't win. Does that mean we just didn't win for now and we're going to keep on fighting or what?
MR. RON ELVINGThat's the implication, that they're going to keep on fighting, that we just didn't win this time. We haven't changed our minds about any of the issues, and we don't think that our tactics were wrong or our strategy was misguided. That's what he said. Whether or not that's what he really thinks is another question.
MR. RON ELVINGI think Jackie's absolutely right about skepticism, that it's not easily believed that these folks can get together and do something serious about either eliminating sequester or eliminating this kind of brinksmanship that we go through every few months and getting a long term budget agreement that would really carry us year by year and getting the default question off the table permanently.
MR. RON ELVINGIt's skeptical that you need to be. However, there is at least the glimmer of a possibility of a chance that, as Ryan suggests, the lack of the same kind of political tension in some of these fortress districts, the Republicans lose the November election...
ELVINGIf they worry a little less about their primary because they're already into the new year and because they have shown such fortitude in fighting Obamacare this year and marching behind Ted Cruz, if they're safe in their primary, then you may see them be willing to edge a little closer to John Boehner and what turns out to be a fairly substantial portion of the Republican caucus in the House that wants to be conservative, yes, but not necessarily Tea Party.
ELVINGAnd as a result, they could see this as an opportunity to really grapple with some of these fiscal issues for the long term and the approval that that would win not just in the financial markets, not just among elites, but I think among Americans across the board -- would be enough to carry them forward politically.
REHMWhat about President Obama's refusal to negotiate? How did that play here?
ELVINGIt played pretty well in Washington because I think a lot of people who are involved with the government were tired of seeing him pushed around not only by the Republicans but by some elements of his own party and just thought it was time for him to take a stand somewhere on something, and this was a big something.
ELVINGAnd he did it, and it seems to have worked out for him at least in the short run.
CALMESI agree with that. And, you know, the White House saw this, from the beginning, as a high stakes, high reward strategy. I think the stakes were higher than the reward, but this is one that didn't start in this fight. The president resolved even before the fight in mid-2011, when they were going right up to the brink of the debt limit and the economy suffered as did both parties poll ratings and the president's, he resolved then he was never going to do this again.
CALMESBut he had a problem in that he's had a reputation, fair or not, for drawing red lines and then, you know, as I wrote in last Sunday's paper -- earlier this week, watching his foes march right over them with no retribution. But he did convince people and, you know, only recently, though. And he had the benefit of an astonishing united party behind him, which, you know, to the extent he needed any lead in his spine, they were ready and willing to provide it.
GRIMSure. And he was standing up for what you could call the ransom principle, that you cannot allow, you know, one chamber of Congress that is one-third of the government, to govern the country by holding the global economy hostage. You know, the president really believed that he was fighting not just for himself, but all future presidents. I mean, we had more than a yearlong presidential election.
GRIMWe spent a lot of time covering that thing. I almost want that time back because it seems as if those elections don't really matter. You know, the election went through. It was fought largely over Obamacare. Obama was reelected, yet here is the House trying to nullify that election. So the president was standing up for the principle that elections do matter.
REHMWhat happens to Ted Cruz and his loyal followers when he really led this battle, Jackie?
CALMESWell, he, you know, he became an idol to those people in the base, and there are a lot of them who agreed with him and, you know -- but he has caused himself irreparable damage within the Senate, which some people would say, well, so what? But if he wants to ever get anything done for a state as big as Texas, it's going to be very difficult if he continues on this path. Just a few days ago, he and others who agreed with him were talking about the surrender caucus, and then he came in yesterday and went and -- you know, he could've blocked this agreement, but he didn't. And, you know, so his...
REHMCould he really have blocked this agreement, Ron?
CALMESFor a time.
ELVINGFor 24 to 36 hours is the best estimate I heard.
REHMYeah, OK, right.
ELVINGHe couldn't truly filibuster it. It's a privileged motion. And he couldn't truly stop it with a filibuster, otherwise this whole fight might have been somewhat different.
CALMESBut then that raises the question why he just didn't press the fight if, you know, just for symbolic purposes, like his previous filibuster was merely symbolic.
GRIMWell, what he told the press was that, I can't win at this point. I could filibuster, but I'm not going to change the outcome. I would just only change the timing of the outcome. And if you push the timing towards the end of this week, you could actually default, and then any remaining political capital that he has left completely evaporates along with trillions of dollars of global wealth.
REHMSo the question is, does he still have political capital?
GRIMHe has a very dedicated and passionate following.
GRIMIt is one that has grown during this. His list, you know, his email list of followers has dramatically grown. If you watch Fox News during the day, he and Mike Lee have been running ads, 30-second ads, for months now, asking people to call them, give them money to continue this fight, which is really what this was about the entire time, which was to build their list and to build their campaign war chest. I don't think that they actually thought that the House would go along with them because they didn't have a strategy to take it all the way through.
REHMThat is so cynical sounding. It really is.
GRIMWell, but, look, we've been saying for years, since 2009, that the Tea Party is a force in American politics but that it isn't really an organization and it doesn't have a leader. It's still not an organization, but now it has a leader. They know who their leader is, and last weekend, in the midst of all this other, we had a meeting here in Washington of a group called The Values Voters.
GRIMThey come every year. They have a Values Voters summit, and it's a group of conservatives, social conservatives, by and large, and religious conservatives. And usually they have a straw poll, and they had one again. And this time, the dominant choice for president among this group of voters was Ted Cruz. Overwhelmingly, on a ballot of more than 10 names, he got almost a majority of the votes, overwhelmed all the other candidates, and that's what the polling shows as well. So Ted Cruz knows what he's doing.
ELVINGAnd the sad part about this is that it's estimated to have cost the country about $24 billion in lost economic growth.
ELVINGAnd if the purpose of this was to raise money for Mike Lee and Ted Cruz, it would have been far cheaper for the country if we just all agreed to write him a tiny little check to not do this. Here, here's a couple million dollars, now don't slow down the economy, don't jack up unemployment, don't throw 800,000 people out of work, don't slow down the CDC and scientific research, and we'll call it even.
REHMNow, are you all really saying to me that Ted Cruz did not really believe even from the start that he could get rid of Obamacare and that this whole effort was designed to raise money for Ted Cruz?
CALMESI think that's almost inarguable because this is a guy who's an Ivy League graduate. He's a very smart man, and he knows the president of the United States can veto that. He was never going to sign that into law.
REHMJackie Calmes, national correspondent for the New York Times. Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Here looking at the outcome, the end of, for now, the government shutdown, the debate of the debt ceiling, and we hope the end of the debate for now over Obamacare: Ron Elving, senior Washington editor for NPR, Jackie Calmes of the New York Times, Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post.
REHMHere's a comment from Brian who says, "I'm a Republican. I applaud the Tea Party. At least they're trying to avert more debt and spending. The populace loved the Democrats and all three handouts. I work and tire of endless spending. Somebody needs to challenge the status quo. How about a conservative perspective?"
CALMESWell, the problem with this fight is that it was -- the line was drawn over Obamacare which doesn't -- instead of doing something about annual deficits and debt. And we are in the -- you know, we do have some ongoing cuts as we go. And in fact, the resolution of this potentially is going to do something that wasn't being done before this showdown, which is to bring the House and Senate together in a conference committee to negotiate their differences over the annual budgets they pass. And in that conference they will get to all of these issues for a long term further deficit reduction plan.
CALMESAgain, we should be skeptical of the results of that because the Republicans, John Boehner has said this week, that once again that they will not consider any new revenues until they're willing to consider new revenues as a balance to reductions in the entitlement programs. The president won't even -- and the Democrats won't even support their own proposals on entitlement reductions. So you still have the same standoff we've had for three years.
GRIMBut using the Tea Party's own metric, reducing the debt, these debt ceiling crises have been total failures for them because they have actually increased the cost of debt. When you threaten, you know, your lenders that you're not going to pay them back, then you have to pay them a higher interest rate. So whatever their actual goal is, what they're doing is costing taxpayers much more money by going through this to the tune of billions and billions of dollars.
REHMRon, here's an email from Kerrville, Texas. Linda says, "I resent the blaming of conservatives. It was the president and Senate not compromising and none of them doing their job ahead of time."
ELVINGYes. Well, that is certainly the perspective of the Republican Party and of conservatives generally, that in response to this refusal to pass a funding bill for the government and to raise the debt ceiling, that the response to the Republicans should have gotten to that tactic was that the Democrats should have come and sat down at the table and said, what price do we need to pay to get you to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling and negotiate at some sort of a price?
ELVINGThat's the sort of hostage politics that we've been talking about for weeks now. And the Democrats in this particular instance -- and granted this is a divergence from what we've seen in the past, so it's no surprise that people are surprised. But in this instance, the Democrats with remarkable, as Jackie said earlier, almost unprecedented unity among the Democrats in House and Senate and in the White House, they said, no, we're not going to do that. We're not going to give you that ransom.
GRIMRight. Our political system has a mechanism by which we are supposed to resolve these differences and they're called elections and we've had a number of them. And we had one in 2012, and the result was that a Democrat was put into the White House, the Democrats controlled the Senate, and Republicans controlled the House.
GRIMFor the Republicans to then say, well, this is our position, and we're going to govern from that position, you know, belies the fact that there was an election that they did not win. There is another one coming, and if they want to make the argument that you need more cuts, that their -- we ought to default or, you know, whatever their position is, they can make that case going into the election. If they win and they occupy the seats of power, then they can implement their agenda.
CALMESAnd I would just add quickly that if you want the other side to negotiate with you, you have to make a demand that is negotiable. You don't go to them with a nonnegotiable demand. That would've been as if Tip O'Neill and the rest of the Democrats who controlled both Houses of the Senate -- or, I mean, the House...
CALMES...for the first six years of Ronald Regan's administration, had gone to him and said, we're not going to increase the debt limit, which, by the way, had to be increased a number of times during Ronald Regan's presidency. We're not going to do it unless you repeal your tax cuts. I mean, it's just nonnegotiable. So you cannot negotiate unless the other side has a realistic ask.
REHMAll right. Let's move on. Ron, explain the stakes for the broader budget talks that now lie ahead.
ELVINGThe stakes are the entire fiscal picture for the United States present and future. This is an enormous set of issues. If you want to have a truly wide ranging negotiation, it is a field of plenty for things that can be negotiated, where things can be split the difference, where you can look at numbers and you can do math.
REHMDo you believe it will happen?
ELVINGI think there's a real chance that it could happen. And I think that there was a chance back in the summer of 2011 and that John Boehner was truly blindsided by his own people because he thought he could negotiate a grand bargain, as we called it at the time, that would lower the deficit over time, that would begin to address the Medicare, Social Security balloon payments that'll have to be made a decade from now and later and that there was a chance we could get our fiscal house in order, as people say.
ELVINGAnd he and the president were well along the path to doing that. But then he found out that the people that had just been elected in 2010 back in his caucus, and who could take away his majority in the House by deserting him, weren't with him in that bargaining. They weren't ready to go with him, and he couldn't deliver the House. And that is essentially the morass we have been in for the last two years and three months.
ELVINGMuch of it depends on how much House Republicans are willing to do on revenue. And what I've heard from them is that if they can get rate cuts down -- you know, individual rate cuts are the Holy Grail for them -- then they're willing to do a lot of revenue in terms of closing various loopholes. And if they're willing to do that, then you can get a lot of Republicans on board.
ELVINGBut you still then have a problem with Democrats because they hate the term grand bargain. What they see is a decade of wars and tax cuts that led to a high debt. And now we're going to cut Social Security and Medicare to pay for that. They don't see that as a bargain at all. You know, they see that as a rip-off.
ELVINGSo they don't want to go to any deal that cuts Social Security and Medicare because if the purpose of government is to help each other, is to fund programs like Social Security and Medicare, then why would you trade less government for more revenue? That doesn't make sense. If you already have the government, then they're fine. They'd rather just keep Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare in place than get more revenue for less government.
CALMESOn the revenue question, I would say that the key is that when you -- tax reform could be the opening here for a resolution because both sides say they want it. The Republicans want lower rates, but you have to have some of the new -- when you close loopholes and you bring revenue back into the government that way, the Democrats and the president say some of that revenue has to go towards deficit reduction. It can't all go to lower rates. So there's a real limit to how much you can lower rates.
CALMESThe Republicans don't want -- they want it all to go to lower rates. And they want what we call revenue neutral, so that none of the additional revenues would go towards the deficit. So that's going to be the rub. They can maybe finesse this somehow but it's still going to be hard. And one thing I might add, we talked a lot here about the Republicans divisions. This is an area where, as Ryan gets at, that the Democrats have their own divide right now.
CALMESThey're -- the base of the party, as he described, does not want to touch Medicare and Social Security and Medicaid much at all. And if you are going to do anything, for instance, for Social Security, there -- the solution as they see it is to raise the taxable wage cap so that you bring in more revenues. Not to touch benefits as Republicans will demand and as, frankly, the president's...
REHMBut isn't that a good compromise...
CALMESIt could be -- it certainly...
REHM...on Social Security?
CALMESIf there is to be a Social Security compromise, it certainly will be a piece of it. It won't by itself sort of make Social Security actuarially sound for the long term, which is to say about 75 years. But it gets you a good part of the way there, but you won't get Republicans signing onto that without also having some sort of benefit reduction.
CALMESAnd that's where this consumer price index change, the chained CPI would come in where, you know, economists say it's actually a more accurate measure of inflation, but it would have the effect of reducing people's cost of living adjustments. The other side says -- liberals and seniors say that, well, that doesn't take into account enough -- our higher costs for things like health care and pharmaceuticals.
GRIMAll true. And you, Diane, just said the magic word, compromise. Now, if you're going to have a compromise, if you're willing to have a compromise, if your goal is ultimately to get to a compromise, then all this can be negotiated. All of it can be understood. All of it can be talked through.
REHMBut don't the past 16 days indicate that the country is ready for compromise?
GRIMThe country taken as a whole, yes, I believe that's true. But there is a sizeable portion of the country -- let's say 30 to 40 percent, or at least a third let's say -- that really is not ready for compromise because they feel as though they have been down so long in their view and they have been put at the wrong end of Washington decisions for so long in their view, that they absolutely will not compromise anymore. And they feel that it's time for them to have the whip hand and go forward. And to that group Ted Cruz speaks very eloquently, and they believe he is their champion.
ELVINGRight. And there is a group of people that feels like the only time that Washington talks about sharing is when they talk about sacrifice. You know, it's not as if the poor or the middle class contributed over the last 10 years to this deficit. So it wasn't as if the wealth was shared. You know, wages have not moved since the 1970s. So whenever the word sharing comes up, it comes in the context of sacrificing. So the middle class and the poor are, I think, quite reasonably saying, how about you sacrifice? We're poor. How are you going to reduce this deficit on the backs of the poor?
ELVINGIn other words, the left is not in any mood to compromise either back.
REHMAll right. So without a lobby for the poor on Capitol Hill, are Democrats going to be strong enough to stand up to Republican demands that you cut the cost of living increase on Medicare, that you -- or Social Security? How are you going to do it?
CALMESWell, the Democratic side I think is strengthened by this outcome in the short term at least. And, you know, the CPI to change their -- the president has proposed that himself as a compromise if the Republicans will agree to revenues. So -- and I'm fully convinced that he could've sold that deal two years ago to the -- and House and Senate Democrats would've passed it.
REHMJackie Calmes of the New York Times, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." 'Course the financial repercussions of not coming to a deal before the next deadline are potentially even greater economically than this that we just skirted, Ron.
ELVINGSurely that's right. The stakes always get higher. And the longer we go in the sort of situation that we're in now, in terms of building up debt year after year, the higher those stakes are going to get. We do know that while the deficit is falling, as a percentage certainly of the total economy, and even as an absolute number -- in fact, it's come down dramatically in the last year from what it was the couple years before during the years of the recession and after the recession in the first Obama term -- we saw annual deficits well in excess of a trillion dollars.
ELVINGThat is, you know, unprecedented in itself. And that's one of the reasons that the people that I was talking about a moment ago dug in their heels on the right and said, this debt has exploded. We've always had debt. Sure, we understand that. There was debt in the Bush years, but even in the Reagan years, yes, we understood that. But this is just too big a number, and we don't understand what we're getting for it. So...
REHMAll right. Let's open the phones, 800-433-8850, and first to Jeff in Parkersburg, W.Va. You're on the air.
JEFFHi, Diane. First time caller, longtime listener. Love your show. Thank you.
JEFFMy question is actually more of a comment. I saw a video last night in regards to Rep. Chris Van Hollen when he was on the floor and trying to bring a clean vote to the floor to reopen the government through House Rule 22 Clause 4.
JEFFAnd apparently on Oct. 1, right as we were hitting the government shutdown, there was kind of a quiet amendment or resolution that was passed by the Republican House to make it to where only the majority leader or the attendant of the majority leader could bring about that vote and basically disempowering the House and making it to where only the Republican-led House could reopen the government.
JEFFAnd I want to get the panel's reaction to that because it's something that shows that they were truly intending on holding the American people hostage for their own means.
REHMAll right. Ryan.
GRIMYou know, as strange as it may sound, Jeff is precisely right. This did happen. Prior to Oct. 1, there was a rule in the House that said that any bill that came over from the Senate could be brought up by any member of the House of Representatives, and it would get then an up or down vote. They changed this rule so that only Eric Cantor could bring a bill to the floor.
GRIMAnd what this shows is kind of a consciousness that the Democrats and a coalition of Republicans had the votes to keep the government opened and probably to raise the debt ceiling as well. So they had to do everything that they could to make sure that that bill didn't come to the floor until, of course, it was forced upon them.
CALMESIf I could just clarify...
CALMES...Rule 22, which is a very important rule of the House, still stands. What they did was change it just to -- so that in this case Rule 22 did not apply.
REHMAll right. To Lona in Parma Heights, Ohio. You're on the air.
LONAThank you for taking my call, Diane.
LONAI want to go back to yesterday. I tried -- the whole expressed intent of the head of the Republican Party, when President Obama was running the first time and he won the first election, was we do everything in our power to stop him. What they forgot or refused to remember is that Obamacare, as they call it, is the law of the land.
LONAAnd I don't believe that we have the right to change the law because we don't like parts of it. We are now in a position where we are not the world's leader of anything. And that's too bad. And I believe the public can and should hold those responsible accountable. And they can do that at the ballot box.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Jackie Calmes.
CALMESThe listener expresses an oft stated opinion among the president supporters. There is a right though to change laws and -- through amendments, through legislation. And the -- but in this case, which goes to the caller's frustration, the Republicans have tried more than 40 times to do that through the legislative process. This time they decided to take it to, you know, essentially demand ransom.
REHMJackie Calmes of the New York Times, Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post, Ron Elving of NPR, they're all here to answer your questions after we take a short break.
REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about the end of the 16-day shutdown and the avoidance of a default on the U.S. debt ceiling. Here's an email from Doug who says, "How can the Democrats not understand that the U.S. cannot continue to borrow money from China to pay our bills? This is why conservatives continue on their quixotic quest. Neither you nor your guests would laugh with contempt if they were taking a stance for reproductive freedom or gay marriage." Dear heavens, what...
ELVINGThat's a little hard to imagine shutting the government down over gay marriage.
ELVINGBut I suppose that it could happen under a different set of circumstances, and I suppose there would be a rough parallel there. But let's talk about the debt. Is the debt the issue? Is that why the government was shut down for 16 days? Is that why we threatened to default? As Ryan was pointing out, there's nothing like threatening to default to make sure your debt's going to go higher because you're going to have pay more money for the money you borrowed.
ELVINGAnd so if the debt is an issue, if the debt in the long run or the short run is the issue, let's talk about the fact that the deficit this year has been plunging at an all-time high rate down. It's shrinking. And as sequester goes forward -- and that doesn't necessarily mean an endorsement of the sequester.
ELVINGBut as it goes forward and as revenues continue to improve and if the economy were to be allowed to improve, you would see that deficit continue to shrink so that in the short run it should get down to pretty near zero. So if that's the issue, let's talk about that issue, not Obamacare. This government was shut down over Obamacare.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about some of the dollars and the rather wide difference between Republicans and Democrats over entitlements. The House plan, I gather, would cut mandatory spending on Medicare and Medicaid by 900 -- pardon me, $62 billion over 10 years. Senate budget resolution would cut spending by a much smaller amount, Ryan.
GRIMThat's right, and that's one reason that it's taken nine months or so to get to conference because these parties were so far apart. And, more specifically, because this budget that the House Republicans are bring to conference is the famous Ryan budget -- and this is the one that just ends Medicare as we know it and changes it into -- for people 55 and under a voucher system so that the government will give a coupon and you can go out and buy insurance in exchanges very similar to the ones that Obamacare has set up.
GRIMAs the cost of insurance rises at a certain rate, the coupons will only rise at a -- at a cost of living rate. So over time, seniors will be paying more and more for their healthcare. And that's how they save money. It certainly saves money for the government. It doesn't save money for seniors.
CALMESTo the caller -- at the risk of sounding like I'm taking up for the Democrats, which I'm not -- I just want to -- his premise suggests that Democrats are, you know, don't care about the fact that our debt is growing and will grow again in future years once more baby boomers start retiring and drawing benefits. It's -- well, the Democrats led by the president -- I mean, it's just a fact that they have proposed entitlement reductions, which is a very tough thing for them to do for their party. They're just not willing to take it without additional revenues.
CALMESThe Republicans say, well, we raised revenues when the Bush tax cuts expired. We let them expire effectively raising taxes on the wealthy at the beginning of this year, but the amount we bring in, over $600 billion over 10 years, is less than even John Boehner initially proposed during bargaining in the past couple years. So there's -- Democrats feel there's still a ways to go on revenue to balance the fact that you're asking for entitlement reductions for people.
REHMAnd what about the sequester? How long does that stay in effect? Is that part of the negotiation, Ron?
ELVINGIt's a crucial part of the negotiation because Democrats really hate the sequester. They don't like it as a method and they don't like the way it's biting programs that they care a great deal about. And a great deal of the weight of that has fallen on the poorest and the most needy in the country. The right hates it -- at least elements of the right hate it -- because of the effect it has on the military.
ELVINGAnd we are hearing in the background, and I think it'll come into the foreground in the weeks ahead, a great deal of objection, not only from the Department of Defense, but also from those parts of the economy that benefit from the spending on defense and this is a big deal. In future years we will have less defense because of the sequester. It's at the margin, surely, but it is less defense, and it will make a difference. So this is a very big part of the negotiations, and it could be the point where you begin the agreement and widen the agreement out.
ELVINGIf both sides hate the sequester equally, you could begin there.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Joe in Louisville, Ky. Hi, you're on the air.
JOEMorning, Diane. It's always a pleasure.
JOEI was calling -- the -- it seems like we always hear about the grownups have stepped in and taken over the reins and made some kind of agreement. Well, I'm down here in Kentucky, the land of Mitch McConnell, and this isn't the first time that he's done these things. Since Obama -- and the previous caller had mentioned this -- since he came into office, Mitch McConnell said he was going to do everything to defeat this president.
JOEAnd I think he's been doing that, and he supplied the matches and the gasoline to people like Mike Lee and Ted Cruz. And then he encourages them, fans the flames, so to speak, and then he rushes in like a fire chief to put the flames out at the last minute and takes credit for saving the country. This is a ploy that he's been using for years, and he gets away with it. And then the national press and everybody jumps on the wagon and says, oh, what a great man, what a great compromiser he is. Thank god for Mr. McConnell.
REHMWell, of course, you have your own rights at the ballot box, Ryan.
GRIMAnd it shows the difficulty of trying to be a leader of a party while also fending off a Tea Party challenge. At the same time, you know, he's got his work cut out for him, but, absolutely, John Boehner did the same thing. He, in 2009, 2010, saw the Tea Party wave coming. He's talked about this. And he did everything he could to fan its flames so that they could -- they could take over the House. And so they are -- you know, they -- you got to be careful what you ask for, I guess.
CALMESAbsolutely. You know, I think, too, that Mitch McConnell, as he faces reelection next year was liberated somewhat from the sort -- you know, we've seen all year long where he was holding back because he does -- the Tea Party is suspicious of him, and he has drawn a Tea Party rival for the Republican primary. In this time we've had all this jousting back and forth, the Tea Party has endorsed his rival. So he's sort of -- it's, like, he was liberated to just, you know, do what he needs to do.
CALMESAnd it's not just his electoral fortunes that are at stake here. He was seeing in this shutdown and in this brinkmanship that the -- in the polls and in the remark of a panicked Republican establishment that the chances of the Republicans, once again, capturing the Senate, which they once again had hopes of, are shrinking by the day as this goes on, and he needed to end it.
ELVINGYes, absolutely. That, I think, was a driving factor, that and the phone calls they were getting from their financial people who were saying we're not going to be able to raise money from people who usually support the party in an election year if we have become the party of default.
REHMAll right. To Lynn in Houston, Texas. You're on the air.
LYNNThank you for taking my call, Diane.
LYNNI love your show. I appreciate the sanity meeting of journalists you always bring to the discussion of national issues. My question is about redistricting. Your panel this morning and others have mentioned that the problem -- or really the problem that creates the dysfunction in Washington is the way districts are drawn now so that they're safe for Democrats or Republicans and that this creates a lot of polarization.
LYNNSo I'm wondering what we can do to change that. I know redistricting is controlled by state legislatures. But what can citizens of the United States do to make sure that this polarization doesn't continue?
REHMAll right, Ron Elving.
ELVINGThis is one of the great challenges for the saving of democracy in the 21st century. Something needs to be done about the extraordinary effect that computers have had on the redistricting. Redistricting was always something that was done for partisan advantage.
ELVINGBut it usually wasn't done that well. People would redistrict to help their own party and wind up drawing the districts in such a way that they didn't.
ELVINGThat's right. And in some ways, in the end, it didn't help them. There was a famous case in Indiana in the '80s where they drew it to be all Republican, and it wound up being 7-to-2 Democratic. And, you know, I mean, it just went awry. Along came the computer and the software, and now they do it perfectly.
ELVINGIt's unbelievable how well you can predict the voting behavior of a given congressional district when you have the computer information from the census bureau that they have today and a computer. So we need to do something more like what Iowa does with a commission instead of a state legislature. California's got a version of that. Florida's working on it. That's the future.
REHMRon Elving of NPR, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." How much incentive is there for a way to improve redistricting, Jackie?
CALMESWell, I think there's a lot of incentive. The caller expresses a view that's very...
CALMES...widely shared in the country and -- but it's really a difficult thing, especially since it is the state's purview really to change the election laws in their state.
REHMAnd the court empowers purview?
CALMESRight, and it's just -- you know, redistricting has its -- has been a complement -- or it's what's bringing out the -- the redistricting's bad enough. But what you also have on top of that are these groups now that are spending so much money, especially -- particularly on the right like -- and activism, Heritage Action, Club for Growth, the Senate Conservatives Fund. And it's those -- well, redistricting explains the House polarization and the fact that people don't feel like they need to move to the -- or feel they can't move to the center.
CALMESIt's not affecting the Senate in this way because those people expect in the primaries -- Ryan alluded to this earlier -- that they're going to get not just a -- it used to be they'd get a candidate from the far right. But that candidate wouldn't get any money, and they could beat them easily. Now those candidates are backed by lots of money and activism.
REHMSo you've got activism on the right. Don't you have the same kind of activism on the left, or is it nonequivalent?
GRIMWell, you don't have the same kind of money on the state level on the left.
REHMAnd where is it all coming from? Is it coming from these activist organizations?
GRIMYes. And a lot of it is Koch money and Adelson money and others who very smartly over the last several years spent money on the state level in 2008, 2009, 2010 to try to take over state Houses going into the redistricting process. And they succeeded in doing that. It was a brilliant strategy. It wasn't insanely expensive. Democrats probably could have mustered a little more money to be competitive there, but they didn't. And it was also the Tea Party wave happened to come at the moment when redistricting was happening, so that locked in those gains for the next decade.
REHMAll right. Here's what I want to ask now before we close. Who is going to be on these budget reconciliation negotiating committees?
ELVINGThe selections will be made, I believe, by the leadership.
CALMESRight. They've been announced. I don't have all the names, but it's sort of the usual suspects.
CALMESPaul Ryan as the chairman of the House Budget Committee, Patty Murray as the chairman of the -- democratic chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and people like Chris Van Hollen who is a House democratic leader. He's Paul Ryan's democratic counterpart. So you have a number of people who both sit on budget committees, appropriation committees, finance, ways and means, and, you know, leadership reps.
GRIMAnd if you want to know where this is heading look at Paul Ryan's vote last night.
GRIMHe voted no which is voting to default. All of the rest of the House leadership voted yes with the compromise. Paul Ryan said, no, which seems to be a declaration that he's kind of breaking from them. So the idea that he would go from there to then making some sort of compromise in the next several weeks is...
REHMBut why wouldn't you have people on there who are willing to make the compromises that this government was founded on?
CALMESWell, you have to have people on it who represent the fringes, especially the Tea Party fringe because -- here's the reason why. If you don't have those people represented on the committee, you lock in their opposition when, if there were to be a compromise and it comes to the House floor, you would -- you know, there's no incentive at all for anybody in that -- of that opinion to vote for it. If they have their representative on that committee and that person can sell them on the compromise, you have a better chance -- still not a great chance, but you have a chance.
ELVINGYeah, not a big -- it's an enormous if. And as a result, John Boehner remains, in a sense, held hostage by this one element of his caucus, maybe 30 members, maybe 40 members, who can call the tune because of exactly the dynamic that Jackie just described. So that means it's back again to the fall of 2011 and the Super Committee, which was very much like this. Some of the same people were on it, and they were given the same set of problems. And they came up with nothing, nada, zero. They could not reach a...
REHMNothing. But surely you're not expecting that to happen again.
ELVINGWell, you know, those who expect something different, when they do exactly the same thing, with the same people...
REHMI may have to go down there myself, I mean, really.
CALMESIf you ask -- if you ask me to bet, I would not be betting on success.
ELVINGThe one thing that's different is that we saw what happened after 2011, and we saw what happened now in the fall of 2013. And there is that possibility that people will actually learn from experience and that, as you mentioned earlier, the hot stove theory will apply. And having been burned -- and I think that this was a pretty serious burn for some people -- we will see people actually be educated by it.
GRIMI don't -- I don't see how it can possibly come together by Dec. 13, especially with, you know, with Paul Ryan dug in. Democrats are already organizing against Social Security and Medicare cuts, so, you know, I just don't see the path.
REHMI don't see how they cannot do something.
CALMESWell, here's the best hope.
ELVINGThere's an opportunity, too, for the president. The president has an opportunity here to put something forward that costs him, in terms of his own support...
ELVINGWell, like a package in which he is...
CALMESLike the package he's already put forward.
ELVINGThat's right. Like in 2011, go right back to it, go back to the grand bargain from his side and say, let's really look at this. Let's really look at this, and you tell me what's wrong with that for anyone other than the Tea Party faction of the House and the Senate. Now, of course, some of the Democrats aren't going to like it, but they are going to see it as the way forward.
CALMESI agree with that. And it's just -- it's there. Everybody knows -- and it's not just the Democratic position. If you, you know, talk privately to a lot of Republicans, as I do, there is a majority in both Houses for that kind of deal. And this is the moment for...
REHMFor the 2011 deal?
ELVINGLook at the votes last night. Look at those votes.
CALMESBut then you have to go back to the electoral factors we've just been talking about in terms of the redistricting and money from the conservative side and drawing a rival. All those things are offsetting the policy incentive.
REHMLet's hope that finally reason can prevail. The 16-day shutdown, I think, has been very difficult on everyone. Let's get on with it. Jackie Calmes of The New York Times, Ron Elving of NPR, Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post, thank you all so much.
ELVINGThank you, Diane.
CALMESThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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