A massive forest fire has been raging in Alberta, Canada, for nearly a month. Scientists say warmer, drier weather has increased the frequency and intensity of fires. For this month's Environmental Outlook: wildfires, climate change and threats to North America’s forests.
In a historic shift, the Senate narrowly votes to eliminate the use of the filibuster against nearly all presidential nominations. California becomes the seventh state to reject President Barack Obama’s insurance fix for cancelled health care policies. Obama’s approval rating sinks to an all-time lows amidst the troubled Affordable Care Act rollout. The Department of Justice reaches a $13 billion settlement with J.P. Morgan, the largest ever between the government and a single company. And the nation remembers President John F. Kennedy on the 50th anniversary of his assassination. A panel of journalists joins Diane to discuss the week in news.
- Molly Ball staff writer, The Atlantic.
- Olivier Knox chief Washington correspondent, Yahoo! News.
- Ron Elving senior Washington editor, NPR.
Fifty Years Later, Remembering JFK
Today marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Diane reflects on where she was in her life that fateful day of Nov. 22, 1963. She recalls visiting the East Room of the White House to pay respects to the president’s coffin before it was moved to the Capitol Rotunda. “It’s a moment etched in both my life and my husband’s life,” she says.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The Senate votes to eliminate filibusters on most presidential nominees. President Obama meets with insurance executives on fixing canceled policies. And America marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination. Joining me for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: Ron Elving of NPR, Molly Ball of The Atlantic, and Olivier Knox of Yahoo! News.
MS. DIANE REHMYou're invited to, as always, be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And welcome to all of you.
MR. RON ELVINGGood morning, Diane.
MR. OLIVIER KNOXGood morning.
MS. MOLLY BALLGood morning.
REHMRon Elving, senators had, this past summer, decided that they could work out or around this nuclear option. What happened yesterday?
ELVINGHarry Reid finally fired off the nuclear option.
ELVINGHe finally hit the button. Let's take, first of all, what he said on the Senate floor. He said that things had reached such a pass where the filibuster had been used so commonly that really it has become as much a part of the daily Senate schedule as the morning prayer from the chaplain.
ELVINGAnd it's used not only to stop pieces of legislation or to hold them up or to debate them at length, but it's also used to hold up nominations that are not objected to as nominees, where the Senate has no particular objection to the person who will eventually be confirmed with an overwhelming partisan -- bipartisan vote, I should say.
ELVINGBut they hold it up because there is some other item of agenda that some member of Congress -- usually a Republican senator but sometimes a Democratic senator -- has that he wants to have addressed or she wants to have addressed. So they use this process of holding up an executive nominee, often a judge, so that they can get attention to their particular issue.
REHMSo how broad or how narrow is this decision, Molly?
BALLThe change to the rules that Harry Reid made yesterday will stop this practice of filibusters for executive appointments, such as the Cabinet and other appointees to the executive branch and for judicial nominees, except the Supreme Court. They've left an exception for the Supreme Court, which is kind of strange because no Supreme Court justice has ever actually been filibustered.
BALLBut the idea that that advise and consent function, requiring a super majority, that need for a greater consensus, a sort of bipartisan agreement that goes beyond a party line majority vote, that is going to remain in place for legislation and also for these momentous nominees to the Supreme Court.
REHMSo how could this play out going forward, Olivier?
KNOXWell, one thing it's going to do is it's going to give a boost to the White House's regulatory agenda. You know, the White House -- one of the causes for this change was that the president has decided to move forward with administrative actions, executive actions, regulatory actions rather than try to get things through the Congress.
KNOXSo in the very short term, we might see a boost to the president's regulatory agenda. Over the longer term, I think we're going to see that, first of all, this isn't going to go away 'cause it's hard to imagine a majority ever rolling this back. And I think that the Democrats could discover that they've unleashed something unexpected here. And the next time they're in the minority, they could come to regret it.
ELVINGWell, I think that would be highly expected. I think that they would have a sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander, and that they would regret it indeed. But this is a risk that they feel they have to take at this particular point. Back in 2005, when Bill Frist was the Senate majority leader, the Republicans were in the majority with just about the same number of seats, as a matter of fact.
ELVINGGeorge W. Bush was president. Democrats were playing games with some of the cloture votes. And at that particular time, the Democrats, of course, said that this would be the end of the world as we know it. But actually what happened was we got into this era. And the kind of partisanship -- the kind of blocking everything behavior that the Democrats said might happen if you exercise the nuclear option, has already happened.
ELVINGHalf of all of the filibusters against judicial nominations, in the history of the Republic, have happened in the last 4 1/2 years. That's 82 out of 168. That is an extraordinary number. Just in the last 4 1/2 years, just while Obama has been president, this tool, which has always been a useful tool for the minority, has been used to the point where the majority now feels they have to cut it off. And I suspect that had it been abused to the same degree in the last administration, it probably would have been cut off then.
BALLAnd Ron makes a very good point, which is that, to Harry Reid's mind, this has all been caused by the sort of bad faith of the other party. When the deal was made back in 2005, that deal held for many years, and both sides respected it. And there was an idea that in the Senate this is the way things are done.
BALLThese gentlemen's agreements were struck so that things can continue to happen in the sort of orderly way that they always have in the upper chamber. But since 2010, when this current crisis was sort of set in motion, these deals have been repeatedly broken. Harry Reid has repeatedly struck deals with Mitch McConnell that have then, at least in spirit to his mind, been violated.
BALLBack in January, a lot of progressives and freshmen Democratic senators were pushing for a change to the rules. And Harry Reid didn't want to do it. He struck a deal with McConnell. And he really thought that that would lead to a decrease in these filibusters. It didn't happen. The filibuster threats kept coming.
BALLJuly, the same thing happened. A deal was struck. Harry Reid sort of won, got almost everything he wanted, but the filibuster threats kept happening. These three Circuit Court nominees were blocked. And finally he said he'd had it. And, you know, to his mind, McConnell threatening that things are going to get so much worse in the Senate as a result of this, things can't get much worse.
REHMAnd McConnell is saying that Harry Reid simply wants to change the subject from Obamacare, Olivier.
KNOXI think there's probably a connection. I don't think it's the driving force, by all means -- many means. I think probably a lot more important is that the turnover in the Senate -- actually, we have something like 40 senators elected since -- new senators, sorry, elected in the 2008 election or later. A lot of the new Democrats are younger. They're more liberal.
KNOXThey've never served in the minority. And on the other side, they're facing a lot of new Republican senators who have never been in the majority and who are driven by Tea Party politics. So you have sort of an increased polarization on both sides. And I think that's having a big effect on how the Senate works.
REHMDo you believe, Olivier, that this really is going to have a big impact on President Obama's agenda?
KNOXI do. I very much do. I think, you know, he's served notice repeatedly now in several speeches saying, if Congress won't act, I will. Well, if he can suddenly get people on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, the most important Court of Appeals in the country, the people who review executive policy, the people who review any regulatory policy, yes...
REHMAnd whose nominations were being blocked.
KNOXWere being blocked as recently as this week. Then, yes, absolutely, this can have a huge effect on his agenda and on what he gets done.
REHMWhat about Republicans' argument that there are too many people on that court and not enough work to be done.
ELVINGDifficult to understand why they even attempt to make that argument, really, because this is the most important of all of the appellate branches, of all the appellate courts in the country. It's often called the little Supreme Court. It's where Supreme Court justices often come from. It's simply the most important because this is where you go to sue the federal government.
ELVINGAnd it's where you go to contest disputes between states. And it's a very important court. And as a result, when it's got three vacancies, you're starting to feel the pinch. And to make the argument that somehow this court is not really important, doesn't really have a lot of work, that's utterly unsupportable. It's ridiculous to hear it made.
BALLWell, Republicans are essentially claiming that it would be unfair to have more Democrats than Republicans on the court. But this is the prerogative of a president who gets to make these judicial appointments, is to install appointees of his party. I'd just like to go back to what Olivier was saying about Obama's agenda.
BALLI think the reason you saw the president, the vice president, and a lot of the senior senators come on board, which was what enabled this change to be made, was a tacit recognition that the president's legislative agenda is dead. He's not going to get anything through the Congress. The House is not going to agree to anything, even immigration reform, which some people thought might happen. And so the way for him to spend the last three years of his presidency is by enacting change through the regulatory agencies, whether it's the EPA...
BALL...issuing power plant regulations, whether it's reconstituting the Department of Labor, which Republicans had largely blocked through the Labor Relations Board, or whether it's the Consumer Financial Protection Board, which Republicans had tried to stop from functioning by not letting a director be installed. This is the way Obama is going to now enact the changes that he wants to make.
REHMCarl Levin does not agree.
ELVINGCarl Levin is a senior senator from Michigan. He's retiring at the end of this term. He's been there six terms, I believe, and more than 30 years, going on 36. He is a traditionalist, and he believes in the old way that the Senate operated and would hope and wish that it could get back to that. Many do. I suspect Harry Reid is among them.
ELVINGI think there are probably a lot of older senators who wish we could go back to the Senate of the '80s, the Senate of the '90s perhaps even, but certainly the Senate of the '80s, the Senate of Bob Dole and George Mitchell and those kinds of leaders and the arrangements that they would make. And they would love to have that back.
ELVINGIt's not likely to come back. It's not coming back anytime soon. The new generation -- and the excellent point that Olivier made a moment ago about how young some of these people are in Senate terms -- if you push it back to the 2006 election, a majority of this Senate has arrived since the 2006 election. That's remarkable because 2006 is still less than eight years ago.
ELVINGIt used to mean that the Senate consisted of, you know, old men and their fathers. This is a very different group, and they are impatient, and they are not going to play by the old rules. And I just don't see that old world coming back.
REHMSo what are you all are saying is, yes, Democrats may come to regret this, but so be it?
KNOXAbsolutely. Absolutely. I mean, you know, the impatience point is really important. Some of these folks are running what used to look House of Representatives races to get elected to the Senate. The rhetoric's a lot tougher, and they are impatient. You know, you talk to them, and they don't understand. They come into the Senate.
KNOXThey don't understand why all these delays are happening. They regard some of the traditional Senate theatrics with deep suspicion if not outright dislike. The Democrats, they know that they're going to pay a price for this -- you know, some folks are already joking about what happens when we get Health and Human Services Secretary Rick Santorum -- you know, all these potential prices that they're going to pay down the line, but they're willing to pay them.
BALLLet's not forget, though, that for Democrats to pay that price, they would have to be in the minority. And currently they are slightly favored to keep the Senate in the next election.
REHMMolly Ball of The Atlantic. Short break here. When we come back, we'll talk about the Affordable Care Act and how it's faring. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We have an email from Stin in Jacksonville, Fla. "Please ask your panel to explain the procedural maneuvers that allowed the Senate to change the rules by a majority vote in midsession." He goes on to say, "I thought such changes could only be made at the start of a session but somehow Senator Reid did something to preserve that option."
REHMYes. And this was available back to 2005, as we talked about earlier, when Bill Frist was thinking about doing it. And essentially you have the presiding officer, who is always a member of the majority, make the ruling that 51 votes is going to be sufficient to close out debate. And of course that will immediately be challenged by some member of the minority. And then the ruling of the chair is supported by a simple majority vote. And that gets the job done. But that is something that no one was ever willing to do because it was understood to be straining the usual arrangement.
ELVINGNow, you know who first came up with this, the best I can find -- and maybe there's somebody who came up with this long before him -- but one person at least who in the past suggested that this could be done and that the constitutional option, as Bill Frist called it, rather than the nuclear option -- that was a Trent Lott invention -- was Richard Nixon when he was vice-president in the mid 1950s. And somebody asked him to prepare some sort of a paper as the technical president of the senate -- as the vice-president always is -- and to explain what could be done to eliminate the use of the filibuster against judicial nominees.
ELVINGAnd he said, well look, you know, the constitution says advise and consent but it doesn't specify any kind of a majority. And so it's not like ratifying a treaty where you know how many votes you need. It's not like approving a rule change because you know how many votes you need for that. It's not a senate rule. It's not a constitutional statement.
ELVINGSo we could just do it this way. Well, of course they didn't try it in the '50s. They worked out an arrangement. They didn't try it in 2005. They worked out the arrangement that Molly was talking about earlier, the gang of 14 deal. This time, no arrangement, different kind of Senate, Harry Reid pushed the button.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about the Affordable Care Act which the White House is now calling it no longer Obamacare. But this week New York and California both rejected the president's fix on the cancelled policies. How many more states do you see following their lead, Olivier?
KNOXI think quite a few, because this fix was always something of a cosmetic response to a very real problem, albeit a heavily political problem for the president, chiefly his promise -- his repeated promise that if you like your plan you can keep it. If you like your doctor, don't worry, it's not going to change. Well, they knew in real time that that wasn't going to be true because, of course, there's regular market churning and people were going to lose their plans.
KNOXSo they came up with this fix now under heavy fire from Republicans who accused the president of lying. They came up with this fix but it was basically a suggestion. It wasn't an actual change of the law. It wasn't a concrete proposal. He just said, okay, let's allow the insurers to keep people with -- keep plans that don't meet Obamacare standards. California was a big blow. About 900,000 Californians have seen their policies cancelled at least in part because of Obamacare. And California said, no, we're not going to implement this fix. It is a very disruptive fix. I would expect a lot more states to follow suit.
BALLOne point to make about New York and California is that these are two of the states who have relatively well-functioning state exchanges and state websites. So part of the reason that the policymakers in these states have said that they will not take the administration's fix is they say, unlike people who are on the federal exchange who are in this terrible position of having their insurance cancelled and not being able to buy new insurance through the website or to be able to see what subsidies might be available to them, you have the administration trying to say, well gee, most of these people will be better off. They'll get something better. Just believe us, because eventually there'll be a website where they can do that. But right now they can't.
BALLIn New York and California people can get on the state website and there will be people who lose out. There will be people who have to pay more. But the policymakers are claiming and hoping that most people will actually find themselves in a better situation when they go to buy health insurance.
REHMWhat's the latest on healthcare.gov, Ron?
ELVINGWe hear many different things. November 30 was the date that they said they expected it to be working fine or at least pretty well or maybe 80 percent of the people who went on it would be fine. And, you know, when you first heard them say November 30, you thought to yourself, when will they learn? Don't over-promise and under-deliver. Try under-promising and over-delivering for a change. But, like this other cosmetic change that we're just been talking about, they needed to say something that sounded better. They needed to say something that sounded a little bit less like, boy this just isn't working. We don't know what to do.
ELVINGSo they said, we'll have this up and running by November 30. And maybe, by some miracle, they will.
ELVINGBut we also have learned there are all kinds of other internal problems in terms of the system that's going to make the payments to insurers later on, and that isn't fully built and tested yet. We learned that from the deputy chief information officer of the centers of Medicaid and Medicare services, who has the unfortunate name that is one letter shy of being the word chaos. You know, this has not been a great week, as the week before was not a great week. And next week isn't going to be a great week either. This is going to go on for a long time. It's a mess and it's going to take a long time to resolve it.
REHMWhat about the privacy issues? Is the administration able to address those, Olivier?
KNOXThey are able to address them but, you know, everyone who has a credit card or a bank account has received emails saying, by the way, we think your private information was compromised.
KNOXThere's no way they can craft a bulletproof system. And in the meantime they're taking fire from Republicans who are picking at every flaw, every problem and turning it into a question of competence and honesty for the White House.
REHMI keep hearing that the real problem here was government procurement, Molly.
BALLThat was clearly an issue. And you do hear some talk starting about that. Darrell Issa is proposing some reforms to the procurement system because part of the problem is that the government contractor, who built the website, is one that has repeatedly failed at federal IT projects -- big federal IT projects.
REHMBut the problem is always that the government takes the lowest bidder.
ELVINGGenerally speaking that is true. And generally speaking that is not necessarily the best way to get the person who's going to do absolutely the best job.
ELVINGI suspect if this had all been run by Jeff Bezos, he would've probably been a little more successful at getting it to run given his experience. But he would've not had all these restrictions and all these responsibilities that government IT procurement people have to fulfill. They have to worry about all of these requirements. And that -- it sounds like an excuse, of course. It really sounds like an excuse but sometimes excuses are also part of the reason why something isn't working.
REHMAnd of course President Obama's ratings aren't working, Molly.
BALLHe's achieved some of the lowest approval ratings of his presidencies. Multiple polls now are showing him in the low 40s which is, you know, late stage George W. Bush territory. And clearly people are reacting to this mess, this incompetence, this spectacle in Washington. Republicans don't seem to be benefitting from Obama's drop. It's not the case that Republicans have suddenly emerged as a compelling alternative to the president. In fact, Republican ratings -- we were talking a few weeks ago about how badly they were doing after the shutdown. At this point, Americans seem to be turning their backs on both parties and really sort of throwing up their hands at what they see as just a universal disarray.
ELVINGAnd why not? And why not? How could you blame them? Why would you expect his approval rating to go anywhere but down in the midst of all this?
KNOXWell, a couple notes of caution here. First is that, actually if you look at some of the polls they show that in hypothetical matchups Republicans and the president, people trust Republicans more on the economy and incredibly on health care. It's a big turnaround from even six to eight months ago. The other one is that he's losing out on whether he's trustworthy. That's a really hard one to get back.
KNOXPopularity swings. You can be popular one minute, unpopular the next, popular again the next. Trustworthiness is a really hard thing to recapture.
REHMIs it because of you can keep your own health care?
KNOXIt is. It's absolutely part of that completely -- I'll call it a flawed promise, to be nice. It's because of that. It's also because the overall impression of competence. You know, when he says he's going to get something done and he doesn't, that also affects the trustworthiness.
BALLI think it's bigger than a single statement. I think it's the fact that the administration's central domestic achievement, something that has been building for years and years, something that much of the last presidential campaign was built on, people put their trust in that succeeding in some way. And it is falling apart.
REHMOkay. He's got three years to go. You could see this all come back together. You could see Affordable Healthcare work.
ELVINGYes, there's no reason to say that it absolutely cannot. We have lots of models of other programs that were rocky in the beginning. There was the Part D Medicare addition back in the early 2000s. That was a mess at first.
REHMHow about Social Security?
ELVINGBack in the 1930s. Then you have the example of what happened with Romneycare in Massachusetts, which was a slow rollout. And people had a hard time getting adjusted to it, and understandably so because it was quite new. Here we have something that's quite new, quite controversial and on a vastly, vastly larger scale. And that is also a factor. In a world of goodwill where everyone wants it to work, it would be difficult. In a world where at least half the people in the country don't think they want it to work, it's 57 percent unpopular right now in some polls.
ELVINGAlthough it is interesting to note that the Affordable Care Act is at least seven points more popular than Obamacare. And there are plenty of people who don't think they're the same thing or don't realize that they are the same thing.
ELVINGSo there's a lot of that out there too. But it is conceivable that this could be pulled together overtime. It's much more difficult when you have so many people polling against it coming together.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about unpopularity in another sense, and that's with JP Morgan and the settlement with the government for $13 billion. Molly, how did the Justice Department arrive at that and where is that money going?
BALLThis is all going back to the financial crisis and the subprime mortgages and all of the stuff that we're familiar with from that time. And the money is largely going to relieve homeowners. They've structured this settlement so that a lot of the -- this is not going to be a bundle of money that JP Morgan pays to the government. It is actually going to be in reductions to the principle of mortgages and things like that where they are trying to actually directly help the people who were most impacted.
REHMSo are you saying that checks will come individually and directly to homeowners who lost their homes? What are you saying?
BALLI don't think people will get checks. I think what will happen is people who are underwater on their mortgages will see some of that principle forgiven so that they owe less, and therefore their payments are less. And they're not incentivized to walk away from their homes.
REHMHow many people involved here?
ELVINGWell, we're talking about a lot of people. I couldn't give you the exact number. Do you know the exact number, Molly?
BALLI do not.
ELVINGIt's going to be in hundreds of thousands certainly because one of the groups that was taken over, one of the businesses that was taken over by JP Morgan was an outfit called WAMU, unfortunately, the same shortening as our station here. But it was from the State of Washington. Washington Mutual, W-A-M-U, and that was its abbreviation.
REHMAnd just to clarify, we never call this station WAMU. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." How about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? They got money back.
ELVINGYes, and that can work in the same way where people get a little better deal than they otherwise would've gotten with the working out of their particular situation. There are still a lot of people who are still wound up in the situation of 2008 and 2009. And they have never gotten out of that situation of being underwater, as Molly says. And all of that has to be addressed by getting at least some money back out of the people who made a lot of money at that time.
ELVINGThe amazing thing to me is that this entity could have set aside enough money so that they can pay this $13 billion, still be profitable, still pay big bonuses. It's going to be interesting to see how big bonuses coming up at Christmas.
REHMIs this representative of a more aggressive Department of Justice?
KNOXWell, more aggressive but overtime, I mean, we've had -- they've had, you know, four years -- four-and-a-half years to be really aggressive. This is the most aggressive we've seen them certainly. But, for example, there's no sign that anyone's going to go to prison for their role in the 2007, 2008 meltdown. You know, the Justice Department has stepped up its enforcement actions, as they like to call them. But for a lot of people, specifically Democrats and Liberals, this is, you know, a drop in the bucket. This is too little too late.
REHMAnd some cities are going to fare better than others, Detroit...
ELVINGYes. And also, you know, the problem was worse in a lot of places where people were victimized by being sold various mortgage products that were abusive and sometimes a little bit like bad insurance policies. But that was the only mortgage they had. And so when they went down, you can't really very well say, well, it wasn't a very good mortgage so you shouldn't be compensated for that. And these people should be first in line. They may not always be first in line.
ELVINGBut this question of sending people to jail has been an interesting on for the last several years and I think it will be for jurisprudence going forward. Because the laws are written in such a way that it's very difficult to individually criminally prosecute individual people who did things that led directly to this crisis.
REHMToo bad. Too bad.
ELVINGThe laws need to change. They have tried and it is difficult to get through the United States Congress a law that will literally hold an individual responsible for this kind of crisis.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about Congressman Trey Radel taking a leave of absence after pleading guilty to a cocaine charge. Tell us about him, Molly.
BALLWell, he is a Freshman Republican congressman from Florida. He is in a strongly Republican district on I believe the western side of the state. He took the seat vacated by Congressman Connie Mack who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate last year. So -- and he's a former journalist, a former news anchor and broadcaster. So clearly this is what happens when you elect journalists to public office.
REHMThank you very much. He also ironically, Olivier, voted in favor of a provision in the Farm Bill that would give states the option to drug test food recipients.
KNOXThat's right. And really none of the ironies of the Radel case are being missed here. You know, it's...
REHMWell, you know, he stood up before the country on the floor of the House making these kinds of huge statements. And it, once more, just goes to the heart of how hypocritical some members of congress are.
KNOXAnd he's taking the classic time honored approach to these kinds of scandals. He has tearfully admitted guilt. He has checked himself into a rehab facility. I figure we're about two weeks away from him having a religious experience and returning a changed man, a better man.
ELVINGDoes he start with a talk show of his own on some radio station down in Florida, will then make his way over to being a televangelist at some point?
REHMI think pretty quickly.
KNOXYou mean, go back to a talk show, right? Because that's what he was before.
ELVINGExactly. He was a talk show host.
KNOXWell, first he's got to -- we've got to figure out whether he stays in office at all, you know. And there are a lot of calls for his resignation in his district. Voters seem to be taking something of a wait-and-see approach. But there have been immediate calls for his resignation. If the House Ethics Committee decides to step forward and take steps on this, he could face some serious punishment.
REHMWhat do you think...
ELVINGBut let's note that John Boehner, who is the Speaker of the House, has taken note of the fact that as a Cincinnati area guy originally, Trey is kind of one of his homies. And also the speaker likes to vacation in the part of the world that is now Trey's district. So there seem to be some connections there.
REHMRon Elvin, Molly Ball, Olivier Knox, they're all here to answer your questions when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Time to open the phones. We'll go first to Phil in McHenry, Illinois. You're on the air.
HENRYGood morning, everyone.
HENRYI just finished the front page of The Wall Street Journal and I wanted to make a quick comment. I see the government is going to sell the remaining GM shares at about $38 a share. I have a video clip on my computer of Mr. Obama saying it would be a good investment and will easily shed at $50. I didn't buy on that investment advice and I don't believe Buffett did either.
HENRYAnd as a third generation family that has three generation of GM workers, I think we can finally proclaim this was a bailout and an investment, but I think UAW's going to find out when the government starts taxing those golden healthcare programs they'll get their $10 billion back. It'll happen.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call, Phil. Any comment?
KNOXWell, I don't think anyone has ever called it anything but the auto industry bailout. I not aware of -- I mean, obviously there was some emphasis on investment, some emphasis on saving jobs, some emphasis on getting money back, but I mean, I certainly haven't heard it called anything -- at least in common language, other than a bailout.
REHMAll right, to...
ELVINGAll the bailouts, it was probably the better of them.
REHM...Daytona Beach, Florida. Hi, Teresa.
TERESAHi, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
TERESAYeah, the nuclear option was long overdue. President Obama inherited eight years of disastrous Bush policies, including an economic meltdown. But the day that the president took office, the Republicans promised they would block everything he tried to do and their filibustering was a continuation of more obstruction. I'm tired of hearing the GOP say they are doing what's best for the American people 'cause if they cared about the American people, they would've supported the president's job and the infrastructure bill.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Molly.
BALLWell, I think one point about the nuclear option that we sort of passed over was this idea that it is only because Democrats did this now that they might suffer if they do eventually get into the minority. And what Democrats concluded from all of the tactical sort of ruthlessness that they've seen from Republicans, including the government shutdown was that if Republicans took the majority, they would just enact this right away and there would have been no point to Democrats having held off for this long.
REHMAnd to Diane in Cincinnati, Ohio, you're on the air.
DIANEThank you for taking my call.
DIANEIf the Washington court is the most important court, is not the Democratic actions in the Senate merely an attempt to control what gets to the Supreme Court to halt any opposition to Obamacare and is it not hypocritical, given Obama and Reid's opposition to this same move when the Republicans were in power?
ELVINGYes, absolutely. They've changed their position on it kind of 180 degrees because number one, now they're on the other side and in the majority and have the White House. That's the first reason. The other reason is that in the years since 2005, the use of this kind of filibuster has absolutely exploded and the situation has changed and all the things that the Republicans would have normally threatened to do in the event of the nuclear option have already been done to a large degree.
ELVINGSo in those senses, the situation has already changed. As far as the reasons for wanting to populate the D.C. Circuit, I think it's probably a better argument to say that that has to do with defending Obamacare than to say that this isn't a court that matters or that this is a court that doesn't have enough work to do and I think we're going to hear a lot more of that particular argument.
BALLAnd I'd like to correct what might be a misimpression of the caller's. This is not the most important court because it funnels the most cases to the Supreme Courts. It's the most important court because it is the venue for examining federal regulations. So the things that are done by federal agencies when they are challenged in court, this is where they come.
BALLBut the Obamacare cases, including the one that did go to the Supreme Court, those come from the circuit courts all over the country.
REHMAll right. Here's an email from Michael. "Does the nuclear option apply to Janet Yellen? If yes, is she not more important and controversial than the D.C. Court nominations constantly mentioned?" Olivier.
KNOXWell, Janet Yellen was never in any real serious danger of being blocked by filibuster. But this nuclear option or sub nuclear option, since you can still filibuster legislation and Supreme Court nominations. This will probably not have as much of a big impact on her as it will on some of his other nominees.
REHMAnd here's an email from John in Washington. "How much is the settlement compared to dollar amounts J.P. Morgan was found guilty of bilking? Also, how much were J.P. Morgan's quarterly profits? This is still just a slap on the risk and punishes investors and company, not guilty parties? Ron.
ELVINGThat's correct. It does not punish the people at Washington Mutual, for example, in the way that people would like to see them punished. It does not punish the people who made the decision to acquire Washington Mutual, except in the sense that they are giving up a rather large amount of money, which obviously is never easy for a Wall Street Bank to do.
ELVINGBut if what you want to see is the Wall Street Bank that bought Washington Mutual brought to its knees and forced out of business, it's nowhere near that. They're still going to be quite profitable. But there will be some money recovered that can go back to some of the people who were hurt in 2008 and 2009. If you force J.P. Morgan Chase totally out of business, that money would not be there and in the end, that's the devil's bargain.
REHMAll right. Let's talk briefly about the Cheney family. You have Liz Cheney running for office against Mike Enzi out in Wyoming. She and her sister got into kind of a public back and forth. One of our guests on the program we did earlier this week wondered whether it had been a created feud. What do you think, Molly?
BALLThis is a sort of conspiracy theory I've heard from some people on the left that maybe Liz and Mary Cheney, because they were these very close sisters, got together and said, here's how we can diffuse this same-sex marriage issue for Liz. We'll have Mary pretend to be mad at her and then all the people in Wyoming will believe that Liz must really believe this if she's willing to alienate her own sister.
BALLI have a hard time believing that just because I don’t think this is working out well for Liz Cheney politically. I think it has drawn more attention nationally and in Wyoming to her position and to the situation she's in where she looks like she's spurning her own family for a position that may be marginally popular among the Republican electorate, but it is the same position as her opponent and that she does not seem to be getting any great credit for when she's still trailing in the polls by as much as 50 points in this primary.
KNOXWell, my default settings with regard to any politician is suspicion and a readiness to believe virtually anything terrible. I also don't think this is a put-up job. I think it's hard. It cuts both ways on the family values question, as Molly pointed out, you know, standing up for what conservatives call traditional family values, but alienating your own sister is sort of a suboptimal message.
KNOXAnd I do wonder, I mean, are we in the last election cycle where this is going to work for Senate candidates, this kind of the opposition to gay marriage?
REHMAnd that's the point, same-sex marriage now legal in Illinois, the 16th state with the District of Columbia. Is this going to speed up now, Ron?
ELVINGIt seems to have already reached the point of -- well, let's say it's passed the tipping point, that the country now has accepted gay marriage, that even conservatives who don't believe in it and find it distasteful have accepted it as a political issue. They have accepted that this is going to be the nature of the law when it comes to marriage and people who don't accept it are going to look increasingly out of step.
ELVINGThere have been many other issues like this. The amazing thing about this particular issue, though, is how quickly we have gone from the issue being put on the table to the issue becoming completely acceptable to discuss to it being almost unacceptable to not be willing to let people marry.
REHMAll right. To David in Chesapeake, Virginia. You're on the air.
DAVIDHi. Thanks for taking my call.
DAVIDI find this another one of those four-hour shows, I think. My comment, and I have a question, but my comment is to address something earlier about Congress. You know, I think Congress in the past 10 or 15 years, even including the justices of the Supreme Court are now making judgments and laws and legislation and decisions based on personal political and now even religious views when they shouldn't be part of the equation.
DAVIDBut my question about Obamacare is this. You know, you hear a lot of talk about all of the uninsured and people who have, say, noncompliant insurance and so forth about insurance companies, but I'm wondering why no one has brought up the issue about the people who have, say, compliant insurance and work full-time jobs but are now, starting in 2014, having their insurance change to where, you know, it's compliant, but it's more out-of-pocket expenses.
DAVIDAnd if you meet the income requirements, you know, on all the different levels and caps, whether it's single or family, if you, you know, this whole thing was put out as that everyone was to have the option of either keeping your insurance...
DAVID...or changing or using the exchange and but if you have complied insurance, you can't go to the exchange and get any of the tax or cost benefits.
REHMAll right. Ron.
ELVINGThere are going to be people who are not going to feel better about their situation when they get down into the final details of it. I think that's probably something that was going to be discovered at some juncture all along. The question is going to be partly how much worse are they off, do they have better insurance for the additional money that they may be spending, can something be done to tweak the system to make it more favorable to those people, are there too many of them to deal with or are there too many of them to ignore?
ELVINGThe process continues. This bill was passed in 2009 and 2010 and it became the law and the Supreme Court upheld it and it is an ongoing process. It is not done and it is going to change shape many times.
BALLI would also say that the reason we're hearing less about disruptions to the employer-provided insurance market is because the biggest disruption has been to the individual market and there has been comparatively little disruption to the employer-provided insurance market and that is what Obama claims he meant to say when he said, if you like your plan, you can keep your plan.
BALLWhat he meant to say was if you like your employer-provided plan. But this is where most Americans who have health insurance get their health insurance and this is a large part of how this reform was structured, was attempting not to affect those people because we would really be seeing -- what we're seeing now in terms of outcry is nothing compared to what we would be seeing if the employer provided insurance market were coming crashing down because that would affect everyone and I think you would really see a revolt.
ELVINGYes. That's the 80 percent. You know, when you talk about a small percentage of the country, say, 5 percent at a particular moment, that doesn't sound like very much compared to the 80 percent who have employer-provided and should be okay. But when you take 5 percent against 300 million people, it turns into 15 million people. And 15 million is a lot. And when you emphasize the individual cases within that and strong anecdotes emerge, then you have an enormous political problem.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Chris in Johnson City, Texas, you're on the air.
CHRISYes, that's Johnson City, Tennessee, but...
CHRIS...regarding the filibuster, many of reports have been referencing Jimmy Stewarts "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" (word?) speaking, but maybe your panel can confirm for me, I seem to remember a previous change to the filibuster that eliminated the requirement to stand there and speak, that all they had to do was say, I'm filibustering it and that's what propagated all these many, many filibusters that's clogged up the system.
REHMI think Chris is quite correct, Ron.
ELVINGYes, indeed. When they went from making you do it for real, like Jimmy Steward famously did in the movie, "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington," and as people did throughout the civil rights era in the '50s and '60s, those famous filibusters were done live on the floor, very dramatically, went on for months in some cases. When they changed that to what we now call the virtual filibuster, you basically just threaten to do that...
ELVING...then, of course, it went from being the nuclear weapon you used only in the most serious cases, to being a side arm they wore every day.
REHMAll right. And we shall now recall that what happened in the White House this week was that President Obama bestowed the Medal of Freedom on 15 recipients. That Medal of Freedom was established by John F. Kennedy whose assassination we mark today. It occurred 50 years ago. I know, Ron, that you were in junior high school at the time. I was a young married woman and had the opportunity to go to the East Room of the White House to pay respects when the coffin was brought back to Washington, before it went to the rotunda.
REHMIt's a moment etched both in my life and my husband's life. You were 13 and studying algebra.
ELVINGMy algebra teacher stood at the blackboard and we had earlier heard the president had been shot, but we didn't know what his fate might be. And so some minutes had gone by. We were sitting in class. And when the principal came on and said, the president has died, the teacher paused briefly, said that's really too bad, that young man. She paused, she looked around and she said, well, let's get back to those equations.
ELVINGAnd she was that kind of teacher and that was probably the best thing to do with a classroom of young teenagers and probably the best way to go forward.
REHMYou know, for me, 1960 was the first year in which I voted so that the world seemed to change that day. Olivier, I'm sure you're far too young to think in those terms, but that's how it hit me. What's your feeling?
KNOXWell, you know, you're right that I'm -- I'm not young, but I'm too young to remember the JFK assassination. I think what has hit home over the years as I've studied the Kennedy presidency in college and graduate school and heard from people is how much work was interrupted or rather how much work he might have seen to fulfillment.
KNOXI mean, you talk about projects like the Peace Corps. You talk about the presidential Medal of Freedom. You talk about man's mission to the moon, you know, or if you're inclined to be a little more cynical, you look at, you know, a completely failed Cuba policy. A lot of things really started in that era, propelled by this extremely charismatic president and he never got to see whether they would succeed and fail.
BALLAt the same time, I mean, there was an outpouring of good will from the nation as the nation mourned and I think it is questionable whether things like civil rights legislation and a lot of the more ambitious legislation that Lyndon Johnson ended up implementing, if that would have been possible were there not this sort of galvanizing national unity supporting the new president in the wake of the assassination.
REHMAn interesting point. Thank you all. Molly Ball of The Atlantic, Olivier Knox of Yahoo News, Ron Elving of NPR. And thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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