On the 100th anniversary of the publication of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken," a discussion about why the poem and poet are well-loved but misunderstood.
Guest Host: Susan Page
Under pressure from the public and his own party, President Barack Obama moved to allow insurers to restore canceled health policies for another year. House Republicans are expected to pass a bill today that the White House warns could dramatically undermine the Affordable Care Act. The White House released disappointingly low numbers of those who have now signed up for health insurance through the law’s new websites. The Senate blocks another Obama nominee to the District of Columbia Circuit Court. And Janet Yellen defends Federal Reserve policies during her confirmation hearing. A panel of reporters join guest host Susan Page to discuss the week in news.
- Jeff Mason White House correspondent, Reuters.
- Karen Tumulty national political reporter, The Washington Post.
- Greg Ip U.S. economics editor, The Economist and author of "The Little Book of Economics: How the Economy Works in the Real World."
The panel reacts to a Roll Call article criticizing Federal Reserve chair nominee Janet Yellen for wearing the same outfit at her nomination hearing as she wore when President Barack Obama announced her nomination. Jeff Mason of Reuters pointed out that the media continues to comment on the appearance of many women in powerful positions, including Hillary Clinton. Washington Post reporter Karen Tumulty pointed out the inequality Yellen faces, noting that former Ben Bernanke didn’t face judgment over his attire during his congressional confirmation. “It’s 2013, it’s not 1953, and the fact that very distinguished women nominees for big offices are still having their clothing commented on is distressing,” said guest host Susan Page.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane will be back on Monday. President Obama says he fumbled the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. Federal Reserve chair nominee Janet Yellen appears before senators in her first confirmation hearing. And two Secret Service agents are cut from Obama's detail after alleged misconduct.
MS. SUSAN PAGEJoining us for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: Greg Ip, U.S. economics editor at The Economist, Karen Tumulty, national political reporter at The Washington Post, and Jeff Mason, White House correspondent at Reuters. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. GREG IPThank you.
MS. KAREN TUMULTYGood morning.
MR. JEFF MASONGood morning.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation later in our hour. You can call us at 1-800-433-8850. That's our toll-free number. Send us an email at email@example.com. Or find us on Facebook or Twitter. And you can even watch us live. The video of this hour, the Friday News Roundup, is streaming live on the web at drshow.org.
PAGEWell, Jeff Mason, an extraordinary news conference yesterday at the White House by President Obama. You were in the room. You asked the final question that was posed to him. Was this different from the previous times you've seen the president address reporters, answer questions?
MASONYes. I think it was. I mean, President Obama is not known for coming out and not being combative when he's under fire, and he's obviously under fire right now. Normally, when he's getting a lot of criticism from Republicans or from his critics or from his opponents, he throws it right back at them. And yesterday he said, look, this time it's deserved. And it was that kind of language -- it's deserved, it's on me, I regret -- those types of phrases and words that we heard from him, that is very unusual for this president and, for that matter, for any president, and...
MASONAnd it reinforces what a big deal and what a big problem this is for him right now.
PAGEHe was contrite. At times, it seemed he was almost confessional. And he, Karen, outlined a significant retreat on a provision of the law we call Obamacare. What did he say he was going to do?
TUMULTYWell, it's -- the question remains whether it's significant. Basically, he said that through executive order, through the regulations, they are going to allow insurance companies to continue these policies on the individual market that had been canceled. The actual effect of that -- and the president is supposed to be meeting with insurance executives today -- is questionable because the insurance companies are saying, wait a minute. You know, we've been doing all of our planning -- and, you know, I'm not an actuarial scientist.
TUMULTYBut they have been adjusting their rates and their risk pools and all this thing assuming that the, you know, the program, the exchanges are going to launch. And to tell a group of people who are probably relatively young, relatively healthy, oh, you guys don't have to get into the pool, sort of throws off all of their actuarial evaluations for what is going to happen with the exchanges. So the question is whether the exchanges can really work if all of a sudden a lot of people are told, no, you can keep your old insurance.
PAGESo the insurance companies have raised objections and concern -- some state insurance commissioners who have to approve insurance plans in states -- about the late hour at which they're being asked to make changes. Greg Ip, do you think that this proposal by the president will succeed in addressing the concerns of millions of Americans who have lost plans they liked because they don't meet the standards of the new law?
IPWell, we don't really know yet. It depends really on the extent to which state insurance commissioners do allow companies to reinstate those plans and the extent to which the companies themselves are willing to reinstate those plans. It's kind of a no-win situation for Obama because if they don't comply or follow his advice, then he continues to get these complaints.
IPBut if they do, it significantly weakens the fundamental logic behind the Affordable Care Act. We have to remember that the fact that some people are going to have to pay more for richer plans that they didn't want before, that's a feature of the act. It's not a bug. It's necessary to get people to pay more for insurance that includes features they may not have wanted before to subsidize the sicker people.
IPThe insurance companies need that. So in some sense, if the fix is too successful in allowing people who are healthy to stay with their cheaper plans, it makes the economics much more troublesome for the survival of the program.
PAGEYou know, one reason this issue has taken off is because of problems with the website where people or Americans, who want to buy health insurance, are supposed to be able to go on, look at the marketplace, choose among plans, see their subsidy. The White House on Wednesday put out really disappointing numbers on the number of people who have succeeded so far in signing up for healthcare. What did they report, Jeff?
MASONYeah, very disappointing numbers. It was roughly 100,000 people that had signed up for the health insurance, and only about 27,000 who had signed up for health insurance through the actual federal website. And that is -- I mean, they wanted millions to have signed up. So that was very disappointing.
MASONThey had been forecasting for some time that it wouldn't be especially positive for them. So it was out there. But it just reinforced the fact that, as Greg was saying, they need people in these pools for this program in general to work. And having different fixes, having different issues that keep coming up just makes it a larger problem. And those figures really demonstrated that very vividly.
TUMULTYAnd I think the key figure was the fact that, of that hundred and four or five thousand, that only 26,000 of those -- about a quarter of them were actually able to go through the federal exchange, which is how it works in most states. Most states have not set up their own exchanges. If you want to get insurance through the Affordable Care Act, you have to go through this federal exchange.
TUMULTYAnd that is why I thought, at the president's news conference yesterday, the line that really jumped out at me and that I think, in some ways, was the most devastating admission that the president made during this news conference is what we're also discovering is that insurance is complicated to buy. That, again, is something that, you know, I think it was a pretty extraordinary admission this far into an initiative to essentially transform one-seventh of the U.S. economy.
PAGEAnyone who's bought insurance even through their employer knows that insurance is complicated. And, you know, the president also said he wasn't directly informed. I'm not 100 percent sure what that means -- wasn't directly informed there were problems with the website. You know, Greg, this is a president who was elected with a very sophisticated campaign operation that used the latest technology. He's -- we know he's a smart man. How could this series of screw-ups happen?
IPWell, it certainly feeds the impression, which has been growing over a number of issues, that the president his either willfully keeping himself out of the loop or that his people are, for whatever reason, not keeping him in the loop on some important things. This came up, for example, with the NSA eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The president didn't know.
IPAnd, as you say, it's at odds with the image he has projected of not only being hands-on but being extremely technologically savvy. And I thought during the press conference one of the, you know, surreal moments was when he was responding to this accusation that he was, like, not kept in the loop or that he didn't understand technology. He pointed at the success they had in their campaigns on technology. Unfortunately, that tends to reinforce the image of a guy who's very good at campaigning and somewhat detached when it comes to governing.
PAGESo we've talked about the substantive issue here. What about the political problem? How big a political problem is this for the president, Jeff?
MASONIt's a really big political problem. That's actually what was my question at the end of the press conference yesterday about what this means for Democrats and how concerned he is, and he was pretty clear by saying, I feel personally responsible for the fact that this has made it harder and not easier for Democrats who stood up for this law.
MASONAnd you can see that it weighing on him -- just the body language in the press conference, the look on his face, again, not that confident battling president that we often see but somebody who was contrite and humble and genuinely feeling bad that this is hurting his party.
PAGEThe Gallup organization put out poll numbers yesterday. They track the president's approval rating every day. His approval rating was at 42 percent, which is not the worst, but it's pretty anemic. It's about in the neighborhood for George W. Bush, who had a lot of problems in his second term at this point. It also showed for the first time that a majority of Americans say the president is not a strong and decisive leader. That, of course, is one of the fundamental characteristics we look for in a president. Karen, is this -- can he repair this problem?
TUMULTYWell, I think the most damaging number is the numbers for trustworthiness as well. I mean, this has been President Obama's strength with the electorate. Can he repair it? If, six months from now, this program is just working dandy, I mean, we may well decide that, you know, this was just a blip. But it is hard to find -- in fact, you cannot find a president in recent history, in the history of polling, who has been able to, in a second term, recover from this sort of fall.
PAGEYou know, his booming economy would help his reputation, a website that works as of Dec. 1, as they promised, would help. But he does seem to be in some significant travail here.
IPNow, Obama could say, well, I don't have another election to run, and so he can say, I'll just accept the poll numbers. It's a much bigger problem for the other Democrats in Congress. If you think back just a couple months ago on -- as the government shut down because of Republican efforts to defund Obamacare, the generic Democrat had a nine point lead on the generic Republican on the Congressional ballot.
IPAnd that -- amazing as that is -- completely evaporated. So at least, as it stands today, the hope's that Democrats would retake the House this coming fall -- those are gone. And now you have red state Democrats very nervous about the repercussions for their own futures of these problems, and that's why Republicans are seizing advantage by -- are now are rolling out legislation to make permanent -- the ability of the insurance companies to offer their old plans.
IPFred Upton in the Republican -- in the House of Representatives has a plan like that. It's going to be a real test for Democrats whether or not they vote for that plan because if they don't, Republicans are going to make them pay for that.
PAGEAnd you see, Democrat unity on this issue has been one of the strengths for the White House. That's been lost. You see these Democrats in the Senate who are running for reelection next year really looking for a chance to cast a vote that shows where they stand.
MASONYeah. And you heard some of those people yesterday, grateful that the president had come up with a solution but not completely endorse him yet. Mary Landrieu said there might still be a need for legislation to make this fix actually work. And I think the politics is one of the particularly interesting parts of this story. I mean, the fact that Democrats have harrowed with this for years not only under Obama, but under Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton when President Clinton was in office. This is their signature issue, and it's not working out.
PAGEJeff Mason, he's White House correspondent for Reuters. And we're also joined this hour by Karen Tumulty, national political reporter at The Washington Post, and Greg Ip. Greg Ip, he's U.S. economics editor at The Economist and author of "The Little Book of Economics: How the Economy Works in the Real World." We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk about some other issues facing Washington, including immigration. And we'll take your calls. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. It's the first hour of our Friday News Roundup. With me in the studio: Jeff Mason, Greg Ip, and Karen Tumulty. Well, John Boehner made it clear that immigration reform is not going to be taken up in the House next year. You know, after the election last year, there was a general consensus that this was the moment to pass a big immigration bill. Karen, what happened?
TUMULTYA number of things. One is that it -- as we've seen all year, basically John Boehner leads a very deeply divided House Republican conference. And to get consensus from them on an issue like this is impossible. And I think also that they have decided that they've got something good going here with the great disarray over healthcare. So, you know, essentially they don't -- they're not feeling the imperative to work on this.
TUMULTYNow, I think a lot of people within the Republican Party believe this is very short-sighted, that they are on the wrong end of demographics here, and that to try to -- you know, as they talk about potentially pass immigration piecemeal is not going to do much to make any inroads with the Hispanic vote. And, again, some very smart senior people in the Republican Party think this is almost a death wish on their part.
PAGEAnd some of the big business interests that traditionally back Republicans are also speaking up on the need for immigration reform.
IPYeah, in fact, you had also faith-based groups this week coming to Washington, Archbishop Tim Dolan pressing John Boehner to move on this issue. Even more remarkably, this comes just a week after the elections in New Jersey and Virginia where Chris Christie, a Republican governor, wins a blue state with -- and he actually wins the Hispanic vote partly because he supports a path of citizenship whereas Ken Cuccinelli, who nearly lost Virginia, was very, very tough on illegal immigration.
IPAnd you'd think that this would be a pretty profound lesson, but, as Karen was saying, it speaks to the deep divisions within the Republican Party, which make it very difficult for John Boehner to move forward on things that he himself and leaders of his party know are in the long-term interests of the party.
PAGEYou know, Boehner's got problems with members of his own party. He was also at his favorite diner, and two young illegal immigrants came up to challenge him on this issue. What did he tell them, Jeff?
MASONWell, he said, I'm trying to find some way to get this thing done. And so I think Boehner, despite his comments that they're not going to go into negotiations this year, I think he realizes that this is still very important for him and still very important for his party. I mean, and he said to those girls, it's, as you know, not easy -- not going to be an easy path forward. So I think he was a little startled by that. But I think he obviously knows the importance of it for his party. But not everybody -- as Karen rightly said, not everybody in his caucus shares that, and that's going to be the big challenge.
PAGESo if the topic is things Congress is not doing, we can talk about confirmation of a nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals. The Senate -- Republicans in the Senate blocked that confirmation this week, Karen. Was it because they were opposed to the nominee?
TUMULTYIt -- primarily -- first of all, to -- you have to take a look at what this judicial seat is. It's, in many people's belief, second only to the Supreme Court in importance. The nominee, Cornelia Pillard -- I don't know if I'm pronouncing that correctly -- is a Georgetown law professor who has a fairly -- a very liberal record on abortion. And so, you know, a number of Republican senators said that that alone was enough to make them block this nomination. It fell just short -- 56 votes short of the 60 it needs to overcome a filibuster.
TUMULTYAnd, once again, you hear rumblings of the so-called nuclear option to end the practice of making judicial nominations filibusterable, (sic) if that is a word. It's -- I think, you know, we hear this every few years, and this nomination -- this is -- no one is questioning her qualifications, but it is specifically her ideology that is being called into question.
IPYeah, there's almost a larger sort of power play going on as well. Right now, this is a court with 11 equivalent full-time justices, but there are three vacancies. The eight remaining are split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. Obama would very much like to tilt that balance in favor of Democrats because, as Karen was saying, this court is extremely powerful in terms of the ability of any given administration to move forward on its agenda.
IPThis court has already blocked the administration on, for example, the contraception mandate that's a part of the Affordable Care Act, on requiring states to reduce air pollution, on the reopening the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. And so you can almost predict that, even absent specific issues with this particular nominee, Republicans would be very determined not to allow that balance of power to tilt too heavily towards the Democratic side because they know how high the stakes are.
MASONBut the political question for Democrats and for Harry Reid in the Senate is whether or not they want to try and pursue filibuster reform because of that risk that we've just sort of hung over our whole discussion today as to whether or not they're going to maintain that majority in the Senate. As soon as the Democrats decide, look we want to change this so only 51 votes would achieve the ability to get these nominees passed, a year from now, they may lose control of the Senate. And then that exact same measure would be used against them.
PAGEYou know, one of the things I think that annoys people about politics in Washington is the way the next election so contrives what Congress and the White House is willing to do. Now, you know, it's 2013. We've got a whole other year before the 2014 midterms and three years until the next presidential election. And yet, Karen, it is a constant refrain that that is telling us what we'll get done and won't.
TUMULTYAnd the other thing is we're just not even -- you know, we're barely a year past the last election. And one of the things that elections are supposed to settle is, you know, who the president will be. And the basic presumption is that he gets to appoint people to the court who reflect his philosophy. That is one of the things that elections are supposed to be about.
PAGEHas it always been this way, Greg, or has this gotten to be more the case?
IPOh, it's gotten much more the case. The filibuster is used much more often. And I would defer to Karen on this, who is one of the country's leading authority on the issues, but it is certainly used a lot more. And the Democrats are not blameless in this respect. Sen. Rand Paul pointed out that when President Bush was in power, the Democrats were making the same argument Republicans are, that, you know, the Circuit Court for the District of Columbia doesn't need that many judges.
IPIt's not -- you know, doesn't have that big a caseload. And now that power has switched, the arguments have also switched. But there's a process that goes on which is that each time one party reaches for another extreme weapon, it is only a matter of time before the other party uses it as well and becomes a standard part of the arsenal. And it gets harder to get stuff done.
PAGEWell, let's go to the phones and let our listeners join our conversation. Let's go first to Denise. She's calling from San Francisco. Denise, you're on the air.
DENISEJust listening to the beginning part of your discussion, I mean, it moderated a little bit. But I cannot believe that Jeff Mason already called the 2014 elections a year out saying it's impossible for this Democratic Party to get the House. All this president has to do is go to the majority of the people that elected him and say the truth, you know, that he has spent years cleaning up other presidents' mistakes.
DENISEHe's not being allowed to enact his agenda. We don't have a jobs bill. We don't have an immigration bill. And even those blood red districts, like Ted Yoho in Florida where I live part time in Gainesville, Fla., I guarantee you that seat's in play because people are sick of this, you know.
PAGEAll right. Denise...
DENISEI'm sorry. I'll take my answer off the air.
PAGEDenise, thanks so much for your call. I think that was actually Greg Ip who made the comment you referred to, so let me give him a first chance to respond.
IPYeah. Don't let Jeff have to sort of endure the slings and arrows of outrage. It should be directed at me. No. What I said was that, as we stand now, looking at the polls and what we can see over the next 12 months, it's going to be very difficult, if not impossible, for Democrats to retake the House. Keep in mind that because of the way so many districts have been rewritten, the Democrats don't just need to be ahead of Republicans in the generic ballot. They need a spread of, I think, 10 to 15 points in order to win enough districts by a large enough margin to retake the House.
TUMULTYAnd, I mean, certainly we've seen the control of the House swing more times in the last 15 years than we've seen in the previous practically century. But it is getting harder and harder because of the way these districts are drawn. As the Democrats will tell you over and over and over again, their House candidates in the last election got more votes than the Republican House candidates did.
TUMULTYAnd yet they didn't win back the House. And that is because of the way that voters are distributed among these districts. It's -- you know, politically, you can argue, you know, one way or the other, but the fact is there are some technical issues here at work.
MASONI would add to that caller as well that just because the chances look sort of difficult because of the gerrymandering and the way districts are drawn as well, you're still going to see President Obama out there. You're going to see Nancy Pelosi out there traveling a lot in the next year, trying very hard to win that back, even if the chances aren't really on their side.
PAGEDenise, thanks so much for your call. Let's go to Ellen. She's calling us from Falls Church, Va. Ellen, you're on the air.
ELLENHello. Thank you for taking my call. I am a person who has been affected by Obamacare in that my family buys its insurance in the open market. We're self-employed. We received a letter saying that our current plan did not meet the standards of Obamacare, and we had to select one of the options that did. A plan that was not as good as the one that we currently have will cost us $270 more per month, and we don't need maternity care. We don't need addiction services, et cetera, et cetera.
ELLENBut I was struck yesterday with President Obama's press conference where -- and he offered to delay unilaterally, as though he alone has this power -- he will delay the mandate and let us keep our insurance plans for an additional year. Well, what will happen at the end of that year? We'll be in the same exact situation. So I'm just struck that nobody has thought this through and that it is having very real grave consequences for people. Thank you for your consideration.
PAGEThanks you, Ellen, for your call. You know, one thing that I wondered about when the announcement was made was, does the president have within his power to do this administratively, to delay for a year this provision of the law? Does anyone know?
TUMULTYYou know, I believe he does because this provision of the law was itself done administratively. There was a grandfather clause written in that does not -- again, a lot of these laws are carried out not in the statute but in the regs. And I believe the thing that triggered a lot of these policy cancellations was the grandfather clause that was written into the regs, I believe, in March of 2010.
MASONAnd it's also worth noting that state insurance commissioners and states in general have to play along. So basically I think what he and the White House wanted to do yesterday was take the burden off of Obama for saying this is why these plans are being cancelled. He wants to say, OK, let's put that back on the insurance companies. But it doesn't mean that they're going to play along, and it doesn't mean the states are going to play along either.
PAGEHere's an email from Jonathan. He writes, "I'm still confused as to why the inability to keep people's healthcare was a surprise -- perhaps for the White House. But why didn't insurers raise a red flag about certain policies? I'm also concerned insurance plans will raise premiums and wonder if the Affordable Care Act could actually implode as it's implemented.
PAGE"And if it does" -- here is the last point from Jonathan -- "is a single-payer option up for discussion?" And, you know, I've got to say I've gotten a lot of email and Twitter commentary of people saying, yes, this opens the door to the single-payer plan that was not really seriously considered when the Affordable Care Act was passed three years ago. What do you think, Karen? Is it possible?
TUMULTYWell, I think politically it's not, but I certainly know a number of single-payer advocates are out there saying, hey, look, we told you so. The fact is the degree of difficulty that is being attempted with this law is extraordinary because it's not like setting up Social Security or even Medicare, which is basically the federal government.
TUMULTYYou know, you go to the doctor in Medicare, and it is single-payer. You go get a service, and the federal government writes a check to cover it. This is trying to take a system that is based on private insurance to build an entirely new marketplace and set up a system of paying for services. It's a degree of difficulty that's probably 10 times greater than single-payer.
MASONI would also add that one reason that I think that people are surprised by this is that most people are focusing on the fact that the vast majority of people get their insurance from their employer or from the federal government as Medicare or Medicaid, and they, in fact, will get to keep their insurance. So the people who are affected are a very small set of people, about 5 percent of the population.
MASONAnd a good chunk of those people are getting subsidies that more than offset the cost of the higher -- of the more expensive plan. So, again, it's a very small portion of people that are affected. And I think that is one reason why perhaps the insurance companies nor the administration were better prepared for this backlash or more focused on the fact that there would be some people negatively affected.
IPBut I also think the issue of implosion is real, and that's one that the Republicans are absolutely hoping is what will happen. And you have to wonder if some of them are scratching their heads and wishing they hadn't pushed the government shutdown so forcefully earlier this fall because basically what they wanted is happening. They're seeing this massive, massive disastrous rollout occur. And the idea that not enough people are signing up in those figures that we've seen could lead to real issues there.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Well, you know, it does strike me that, for three years, we've heard nothing but Republican assault on this law.
PAGEAnd yet, in the past six weeks, because of the administration's own missteps over the website and over the lack of clarity on what was going to happen to people who are in the individual market -- has done what the Republicans failed to do for three years, and that is really a road -- confidence in the plan. Is -- Greg, do you think this idea that Jonathan raises, could it actually implode as it's implemented? Could it?
IPIt could, but I think it's way too soon to make that prediction -- unlike my prediction about the outcome of the midterms -- for a couple reasons.
IPFirst of all, if you go back to what happened in Massachusetts when Romneycare came in and did something very similar, I think it was, like, only about 100 people signed up in the first month. And in the final month, it was around 7,000. So it's not unusual for these new complicated plans, number one, to have technical problems and, number two, for people to be slow to sign up.
TUMULTYActually, my colleague Glenn Kessler who runs our fact check operation, though, points out that there's a lot that is very different about the way the rollout worked in Massachusetts. For one thing, it was done in phases. And so the first phase was actually quite limited.
TUMULTYAnd I would also add that the Massachusetts plan, as much as it's seen as a model for this, at the time, Massachusetts had a relatively low population of uninsured, and it had a lot of money available with which to do this. And so while the basic, you know, bones of the plan were the same, the challenge was a lot smaller. And they also had the ability to essentially build their software from scratch.
MASONIt's also important to note, though, that this website can be fixed. And so if they get it right, more people may start signing up. And, as Greg indicated, they were sort of expecting numbers to be low -- not as low as they were, but they were expecting them to be low. And there's still the opportunity and the chance that a bunch more people will start signing up once it works.
PAGEAnd here's an email from Celia. She writes us from Dallas. She writes, "I've not heard anyone talk about the fact that most of the states shamefully, including my own Texas, opted not to set up exchanges and not to expand Medicaid. The states not doing their part has put a heavy burden on the federal website and system. Surely that has contributed to some of the problems." Karen, you're from Texas. Do you agree?
TUMULTYWell, I -- and I have written -- when I was at Time magazine, I wrote a cover story about my own brother and his problems in the individual insurance market because he had a policy. He paid for it for six-and-a-half years until he got sick. And then all of a sudden, he found out it wasn't going to cover anything.
TUMULTYCelia's absolutely correct that the fact that about half the states have chosen not to expand Medicaid is going to leave this really paradoxical situation -- perverse situation where the people who are in the greatest need financially, the poorest people are actually going to be too poor to be covered by this program. They won't be covered by Medicaid, and they are too poor to qualify for subsidies. That is, I think, something that was -- I think that many people will say the Medicaid expansion was a design flaw in the law.
PAGEWe're going to take another short break. When we come back, we'll talk about Janet Yellen, and we'll talk about commentary about what she was wearing at that confirmation hearing. Stay with us.
PAGEJanet Yellen was testifying yesterday before the Senate Banking Committee, the first confirmation hearing for her nomination to chair the Federal Reserve Board. Here's an email we got from Dan in Aventura, Fla.: "On Janet Yellen's testimony, she answered all the questions fully without equivocation, but I see the bottom line the same as the same old song -- $85 billion a month free money for the big banks and the 1 percent Wall Street people. The vast majority of us can just eat cake." Greg, you were covering this hearing. What did you think?
IPWell, I think that for a week in which almost everything went wrong for the administration, this is something that went very right. After a really bungled nomination process where one of the leading candidates, Larry Summers, basically had to pull out, Janet Yellen goes up to the Hill already carrying the burden of being thought as the second choice of the president, and she acquitted herself really well.
IPWhen a central banker goes up for confirmation, their main job is not to make news, not to make waves, to make sure that nothing he or she says compromises the ability of the Central Bank to execute policy the way they want, but also not to so rile their adversaries on the political side that it puts their confirmation in danger.
IPAnd that's really what happened. She did not at all back away from what she felt was the appropriateness of the Fed continuing to buy bonds, the $85 billion a month, as necessary to support an economy that is still too weak. But in accommodating the concerns especially of Republicans, that this process is basically just helping Wall Street and only feeding acid bubbles, she was very, very understanding.
IPShe kept saying, yes, we are worried about costs. We're watching those things. I will not rule out the possibility that we'll need to change policy if these things become a problem. But never did she allow those concerns to come out as reason to stop doing what the Fed is doing. And I think the stock market liked that message which is why it hit a record high yesterday.
PAGESo any question that she'll be confirmed, Jeff?
MASONIt doesn't look like it. I mean, she absolutely, as Greg said, didn't make any missteps yesterday, and I was also struck by in a parallel universe what that same confirmation or what that same hearing would have been like if Larry Summers had been sitting in that chair.
PAGEWhat would it have been like?
MASONIt would have been a lot -- I mean, it would have been much, much, much more heated, I think, and, I mean, the softball questions -- not that she only got softball questions yesterday, but you would've absolutely had some much stronger questioning of Larry Summers about his own past and not just what the Fed was doing. But she, you know, she acquitted herself well, as Greg said, and I think it was a good day for the administration.
PAGENow, Sen. Rand Paul says he will try to delay a vote on this until he gets a vote on legislation he's been backing to allow for bigger audits of the Fed. Will that slow things down, Karen? Will he get what he wants?
TUMULTYI don't know if he's going to get what he wants. He probably won't. But it does look, at this point at least, especially given the reaction that she got from people like Sen. Corker and Sen. Heller of Nevada, like she's in pretty good shape.
PAGESo she's a distinguished economist. She's been nominated to head the most powerful nation in the world's central bank. And here's what a story on Roll Call said about her. Somebody spot Janet Yellen some new threads. And it makes fun of her for wearing the same outfit yesterday to her confirmation hearing that she wore when President Obama announced her nomination.
TUMULTYYes. I'm really anxious to go back and Google and see all the stories they wrote about the number of time Ben Bernanke repeated an outfit.
MASONActually, they did used to make fun of the way Ben Bernanke dressed because, having spent a life in academia, he would, in the early years of his good tenure in government, make such fashion faux pas as wearing beige socks with a dark suit. He eventually did learn to wear dark suits, dark socks, dark shoes, and people stopped commenting on that. But I would say that if the most controversial thing that came out of this hearing is the outfit she was wearing, that is probably a good sign for both the Fed and for the administration.
PAGEI would say it's 2013. It's not 1953. And the fact that very distinguished women nominees for big offices are still having their clothing commented on is distressing.
MASONWell, and it certainly is something that you see more and -- well, not more and more, but as more women come into very, very important decisions in politics and in policy, it continues to be an issue. I mean, look at Hillary Clinton. Still, decades after she's been on the national stage, she gets attention for her hair. She gets attention for her pant suits, et cetera, et cetera.
IPBut it shouldn't take away, though, from the incredibly, like, momentous fact that there is a woman being nominated to run the most powerful economic institution in the world, and none of the senators yesterday actually commented on that fact, at least that I noticed. It is now basically seen as a tertiary to the issue. This is person that people seem pretty happy to vote for based on tremendous qualification and a very good demeanor yesterday at the committee.
MASONExactly. Not because she's a woman, but because she's the right person for the job.
PAGENow, we're on the radio so no commentary on what we are wearing, but we do have some critics out there, several of whom who have sent emails along the line of this one from Vicki. She writes, "Once again, your entire conversation has been about the horse race, how each issue affects the political parties. We want you to talk about how the issues affect people. My daughter has been out of work for 18 months and spent every day of that time looking for work. I'd really appreciate a conversation about creating jobs." Fair point?
IPI think it is. And let me just connect that to the hearing for Janet Yellen because she was asked this couple times. I think the first question from the chairman of the committee, Tim Johnson, was, what are we going to do about all this unemployment? And she directly linked her nomination and the task ahead of her to fulfilling the Fed's mandate for low unemployment. And a few Republicans brought up a concern you hear a lot that savors the elderly are suffering because they're only getting zero interest on their certificates of deposit.
IPAnd she rightly pointed out that savings is a broader concept than just what you're getting on your CD. It's also about whether you can find a job that pays well, that enables you to save for your retirement. I thought that was a very astute linkage and made it clear that as far as she's concerned and as far as the senators voting on her confirmation should be concerned is that what the Fed is doing is very much about creating jobs.
TUMULTYAnd I would also think that, if I can defend this show, that I think that criticism that "The Diane Rehm Show" of all shows doesn't delve deeply enough into the issues is somewhat unfair because this whole show has just one single issue show, one after another that really does go very, very deeply into the policy.
PAGEAnd I would just note that the first hour of the show on Monday will deal with what the changes to the Affordable Care Act will mean for consumers and for insurance companies, so we hope people will tune in for that. Jeff?
MASONI would just add that the policy and politics are so interconnected. I mean, these things -- the politics drives the policy and vice versa, and that's why it's such a big issue both on healthcare, on the economy, and all the other issues that we've touched on.
PAGELet's go to the phones. We'll go to Kentucky and talk to Gay. Gay, hi, you're on the air.
GAYOh, good morning. I didn't call about the clothing. I just heard it on the phone. You know, Mark Zuckerberg has been criticized about him wearing the same green T-shirt all the time, and he answered that by saying he's got 20 of them in his closet. Now, my comment was about the insurance things. These insurance companies have been playing Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Mo with the American people for decades.
GAYAnd we've been complaining about it for decades. There was a Congress hearing -- I don't know if the House or Senate -- a year ago, maybe longer than that. I remember a woman doctor who was on one of these insurance panels that denied -- and she apologized that she denied coverage to people when doctors called in for coverage for certain procedures. And I wonder what their profits are.
GAYShe said that she got bonuses from every denial that she issued. What are the profits of the insurance companies? Nobody's mentioning that right now. They're just saying, oh, poor insurance companies, they're going to have problems with the whole industry. What are their profits? Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Mo is still going on. Now, it's en mass.
PAGEAll right. Gay, thanks so much for your call. You know, I think the one hope that the White House has that some of the anger that's been directed at them is going to be redirected at insurance companies.
IPAlthough you've heard some insurance companies now fretting that they're basically being thrown under the bus because, as the administration makes this change to allow them to renew policies, they're going to instruct the insurance companies to tell policy holders that they don't have to buy this. They can actually buy this other policy that might cost more but has all these other features.
IPOne of the things the administration has tried to do is not make the insurance companies their enemies because they kind of need them for this to succeed. So it's a dicey political game to play if they are going to try and redirect anger from themselves to the insurance companies.
MASONAt the press conference yesterday, the broad theme of what President Obama said was mea culpa, I'm sorry, we got this wrong. But he also fit in a couple digs at insurance companies. And he made sure to mention that, look, despite the fact that our rollout hasn't gone really well, there's a reason we made this law in first place and that's because the system was broken. So, you know, I think we'll probably continue to hear that in the coming days, despite the fact that they have issues, they really were trying to fix the problem.
PAGEAnd Joanna writes a kind of defense of President Obama in this point. She writing us from Laconia, N.Y. She writes, "Why don't we give the president some credit, one, for tackling a hugely unjust and ineffective health insurance system, introducing many fixes that everyone approves of and starting to tackle the more complex issues and, two, for taking responsibility humbly and openly for the rough spots in the transition?" Joanna, thanks very much for your email. Let's go to Shawn. She's (sic) calling us from Richmond, Va. -- or he. Shawn, hi.
SHAWNHey. How's it going? Thanks for taking my call. I just had a quick question. You know, obviously if you've been following politics, you've heard that the Democrats kind of swept the top three state positions. You know, there's probably going to be a recount for attorney general, but it's looking like Herring is going to squeak by just barely.
SHAWNAnd this is a fairly, you know, at least -- and as soon as eight or nine years ago, it was a fairly conservative state, you know, socially. And I'm wondering, you know, in the midst of this fumbled healthcare rollout, is this kind of a model for Democrats in the future for swing states, where, you know, even though there was this kind of, I don't know, distrust and dissatisfaction with the rollout, they've still managed to kind of squeak my and take all these positions for the first time, I think, in 40 or 50 years.
SHAWNSo is this, you know, a model or is this kind of just they barely got in at the last second because -- I mean, there's some people out there that say if the election had been held a couple of weeks later, then maybe the Democrats might not have been so lucky. So I was looking to get you all's opinion on that.
PAGEAll right. Shawn, thanks so much for your call. Karen?
TUMULTYYou know, one thing, Shawn, I think that's an excellent question, but I'm also going to be watching very, very carefully in Virginia because one of the main things that the new Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe ran on was the idea that Virginia, which has refused to expand its Medicaid program, should, and that it would actually function as an economic stimulus for the state. I will be very interested to see whether the sort of bungled rollout of the Affordable Care Act makes that task any more difficult.
PAGEAll right. Thanks for you call. Let's go to Kelly calling us from Traverse City, Mich. Hi. You're on the air on "The Diane Rehm Show."
KELLYHi. Thank for taking my call. I was listening. I'm an avid listener, and I was listening to you talk about the Fed and job creation and unemployment and the woman who wrote in and said her daughter had been looking for a job for 18 months. I own a business here in a fairly middle-sized city, and I can't find employees. I own a landscaping company, so they're not -- they don't have to be particularly skilled or educated in any manner.
KELLYI pay way above the minimum wage, and the only real requirement that I have is that they must have a clean driving record. And I have tried since August to fill a crew leader position and have had less than 1 percent of the people who applied have any interest really in having a job. The bulk of them were just trying to meet the requirements that Michigan gives for keeping your unemployment. And so, you know, I really wonder how much unemployment there is versus how much, like, desired employment there is.
PAGERight. Kelly, thanks so much for your call. Greg, what do you think?
IPWell, it's encouraging to hear that there's somebody who's actually out there trying to hire people. But we also know that even at times when the economy was extremely weak as it is now, there are always pockets of companies and communities where there are jobs going unfilled because they cannot find the right candidates.
IPIt doesn't seem to be that that is a broadly felt factor for most of the country now, that the main reason the unemployment rate is still over 7 percent is weakness of demand, lack of sales. Most companies are still complaining about that as a factor, but the good news is that, at least in the last few months, we have had some numbers from the government that suggest job growth might be picking up. So perhaps more communities and more business will be as lucky as you are.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We had two Secret Service agents cut from President Obama's security detail after alleged misconduct. Jeff Mason, as the issue is the security of the president, what are these guys accused of doing?
MASONWell, these guys, one gentleman in particular was accused of trying to get into woman's hotel room at the Hey Adams Hotel, which is right across from the White House, after he had been in the room with her and took his gun out and removed a bullet and then apparently accidentally left a bullet in the room. So that led...
PAGEAccidentally left a bullet in the room?
MASONHow does one leave a bullet in a room? I don't know the answer to that either, but it -- the woman wouldn't let him back into the room. And then that led to this becoming discovered and then it being investigated by the Secret Service. I mean, it's just another issue that is raised in the whole story about the Secret Service, and it's the issues that came up when the scandal in Columbia...
PAGEWhich involved prostitution. This is such an elite law enforcement unit, Karen. This is -- this always surprised me when we hear these allegations of kind of stupid misbehavior.
TUMULTYAnd this story, which was broken by The Washington Post, my colleagues Carol Leonnig and David Nakamura, just sort of reminds us that the Secret Service appointed its first female director seven months ago. It does seem to suggest that there's a culture issue here that goes pretty deep and that, you know, they are still struggling. They have not gotten beyond that prostitution scandal a year ago.
MASONAnd, as they noted in their very good Washington Post story, there's going to be a report about the culture of the Secret Service coming out in the coming weeks, so that'll keep this story alive.
PAGEWe discussed on the news roundup the case of the colonel who headed the Air Force sexual assault unit being arrested on sexual assault charges himself. He got acquitted this week, Greg. I thought we should mention that, discuss it just briefly since we had reported when he was accused.
IPYeah, he was acquitted, I believe, on Wednesday in county court of groping a woman outside a bar. It was, of course, the charges were a big problem for the Defense Department and the administration because he was associated with the investigation -- the sexual assault investigation's branch of the military.
IPAnd it comes at a time when there are several movements afoot in the Senate to actually change the way the Pentagon deals with the military with the sexual assaults and other felonies. One being pushed by Sen. Gillibrand, for example, has caused a lot of heartburn at the Defense Department and the administration because it would essentially move the treatment of these types of offenses out of the chain of command and put them in the hands of an independent prosecutor.
PAGEAnd it's also divided, too, very prominent women Democratic Senators Claire MacCaskill and Kirsten Gillibrand.
TUMULTYThat's right. Claire MacCaskill does not believe that it should be taken out of the chain of command and that, you know, it's more an issue of dealing with prosecutors.
PAGEKaren Tumulty, national political reporter at The Washington Post, and we've also been joined this hour by Greg Ip, U.S. economics editor at The Economist, and by Jeff Mason, White House correspondent for Reuters. Thank you all so much for being with us this hour.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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