For this month's Readers' Review: "Drown" -- the debut collection of short stories by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Junot Diaz. Twenty years ago, Diaz published ten heart-breaking tales about a fragmented family from the Dominican Republic finding their way in 1980s America.
The House voted last night to approve a two-year budget deal. Its passage should reduce the chance of another government shutdown over Christmas break. The measure now moves to the Senate where Democrats have been busy confirming President Barack Obama’s backlog of nominees. House Speaker John Boehner criticizes conservative groups for opposing the bipartisan deal, saying they have undermined their credibility. In the wake of its bungled rollout of the Affordable Care Act website, the White House makes some personnel changes. And a look at whether the gun control debate has changed a year after the Newtown shooting. A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top domestic news stories.
- Major Garrett chief White House correspondent, CBS News.
- Janet Hook congressional correspondent, The Wall Street Journal.
- Ruth Marcus columnist and editorial writer, The Washington Post.
Time magazine named Pope Francis its “Person of the Year” for 2013. Major Garrett of CBS News, who identifies as Catholic, said the pope has been transformative and a point of conversation for many of his fellow parishoners. “He has rhetorically and through his own actions conveyed a different sense of what Catholicism means in the streets,” Garrett said. Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus said Time’s runner-up, Edward Snowden, had a significant impact on the year by totally changing the dialogue about the surveillance state.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane is visiting WUNC in North Carolina. She'll be back on Monday. Last night, the House of Representatives passed a compromised budget deal. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified before Congress on rising enrollment in healthcare plans. And the nation remembers the tragedy at Newton one year later.
MS. SUSAN PAGEJoining me for this week's top domestic stories on the Friday News Roundup: Major Garrett of CBS News, Janet Hook of The Wall Street Journal, and Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MS. JANET HOOKGood morning.
MR. MAJOR GARRETTGood morning.
MS. RUTH MARCUSGood morning.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Janet, you cover Congress every day. Here are numbers we don't often see in the House of Representatives, 332-to-94 last night in the vote on a budget deal. What happened?
HOOKNot since they named a post office have we seen a margin like that. No, the House doesn't often vote on important bills by that kind of a wide bipartisan margin. It's probably a measure of how really small and uncontroversial the elements of the deal ended up being, which I think is also a measure of -- I mean, Paul Ryan, one of the authors of the deal, said that this budget agreement, which is designed to kind of take the edge off of some of the spending cuts that were expected to take effect in January, that the goal of this -- their negotiation was to find common ground.
HOOKWell, there ain't much common ground between the Democrats and Republicans. But what they found passed overwhelmingly.
PAGESo now it goes to the Senate, Major. Now, usually, we have the Senate passing things and the House blocking them.
PAGEAre things aligned up for easy passage in the Senate?
GARRETTI wouldn't say easy passage, but I would say the White House feels this deal will hold in the Senate. There could be some procedural complications. There is a secondary war going on in the Senate right now because angry Republicans are still angry that Democrats changed the rules on the executive calendar, that means nominations being passed now with a simple majority vote, depriving them of their usual 60-vote threshold which they leveraged as much as they could for other issues.
GARRETTSo this budget deal could get complicated by that. But the White House believes ultimately it will hold. But the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, not in favor, John Cornyn, the second Republican, not in favor.
GARRETTWhere are the Republican votes going to come from? That's still a question. There could be some rebellious Democrats who don't like components of this deal -- might use that leverage to say, hey, we would like to see unemployment benefits due to expire on Dec. 28 -- 1.3 million Americans will lose their long-term unemployment benefits if Congress doesn't act. That could become a lever in this conversation as well.
PAGESo you mentioned Sen. McConnell, Sen. Cornyn. They share a characteristic which is they both face Tea Party challengers in Republican primaries next year. And, you know, Ruth, there is the battle between Republicans and Democrats. But more interesting yesterday was the battle between the establishment Republicans and the Tea Party Republicans. And John Boehner had unusually harsh words to say. What did he say?
MARCUSWell, he said essentially, I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore. He said, enough is enough. He popped off actually twice this week, talking about how the Republican conservative groups out there were criticizing and blasting this deal before they even saw the contours of it. And then he basically said that they were using younger members in order to get their way and raise funds -- the worst thing you can say about anybody in Washington unless you're raising funds yourself.
MARCUSAnd I think it was a fascinating measure. Remember John Boehner, for months and years now, has gone along with the caucus and has been less of a leader than a sort of follower and mediator. And he doesn't want to see another shutdown. He did this deal, which is really -- Janet had the greatest analogy. It's the moral equivalent of a post office naming in terms of how little it really achieves, except for not shutting down the government. And the notion that this phalanx of conservative groups would criticize him on that, he just said, all right, forget it. I'm drawing the line here.
PAGEIs this a turning point? Will things be different from now on? Or is this a one-off?
MARCUSI think it is more of a one-off than it is a turning point because -- to Major's point about the Senate -- I think it will end up passing the Senate. But it is, for exactly this reason, having difficulty in the Senate. The pressures of the Tea Party which did not at all threaten it in the House are totally at least complicating its life in the Senate.
GARRETTI would make this observation. I think it's long lasting in a couple of respects, not in changing the way we do our budgets fundamentally, which is the Holy Grail that everyone keeps chasing and never accomplishes legislatively or politically. But as Janet and I know, having covered a lot of these deals before, this is a very familiar time of -- or method for Congress getting out of a budget fix. You raise spending currently above projected levels, and you agree to cut spending much later. That is a time-honored tradition in Congress.
GARRETTThat's one of the reasons the Tea Party groups don't like it because it looks like all the old business as usual as you break down the numbers. Sequestration, the automatic across-the-board spending cuts are lifted to a certain degree. The defense budget is protected more than the domestic side of the budget. That's another time-honored tradition in Congress. And all the savings -- or many of the savings are projected to occur far down in many years' hence. That's the way Congress always used to do it.
GARRETTAnd the Tea Party people would say, well, damn it, that's how we got in the problem in the first place. And so this passes, and there are this many Republicans -- 169 voted for it, and Boehner turned against the Tea Party and invited their wrath -- does seem to me to indicate, at least within that internal conversation, a different atmosphere.
PAGEYou know, Janet, you mentioned Paul Ryan. He's been not a really visible high-profile figure on Congress lately. But he was this week in announcing this deal. And he got a lot of flak from some conservatives who have been inclined to support him in the past.
HOOKWell, sure, I mean, that's kind of the Tea Party crowd outside Congress' -- is part of the constituency he looks to when he thinks about running for president. I do think -- I mean, this deal is really sort of the anti-Paul deal, which is that Paul Ryan is the man who made his name by thinking big, aiming at really grand restructuring of government and the tax code.
HOOKAnd in this, he became kind of a garden variety, you know, Budget Committee chairman who does the doable. And he tried to kind of cast it in broader terms which are -- actually, I thought the best line he delivered at the end of his speech on the floor was, hey, guys, if you don't like this, too bad. We got to win some elections before we can do more.
PAGENow, he wants to be president, we think. He's interested in that. Some of the other Republicans who are interested in being president came out against this deal. Is that the safe place to be in a Republican primary?
HOOKYeah, probably. And I think, you know, you're talking about Sen. Rand Paul who you would expect him to oppose it whether or not he was thinking of running for president.
HOOKMarco Rubio, a little bit less obvious, and, you know, I personally think that by the time the primaries come around, this is going to be, like, not a big deal for anybody 'cause it is such a small scope policy change. Nobody's going to say, Paul Ryan shouldn't be president because he gave it away at the conference (unintelligible).
PAGEWell, maybe some Americans would say Paul Ryan should be president because he was able, finally, to reach a deal on something.
MARCUSThis was a sort of grownup realistic moment in Washington. But I think I disagree with Major about whether it's -- what it says about the longer term precisely because of the size of the deal. It doesn't say anything about Washington's capacity to reach agreement on the things that are really hard, that don't involve kicking the can down the road and having some budget gimmicks that allow you to do that.
PAGEBut maybe you need to take baby steps before you take big steps.
MARCUSBut baby steps -- but less dysfunctional is better than more dysfunctional. But it's not equivalent to functional.
PAGEYou know, there are fun jobs in Washington. I think all of us in this room have fun jobs in Washington. I would say Kathleen Sebelius does not have a fun job in Washington, back on the Hill, taking fire. Major announced an internal review of healthcare.gov. Does this address some of the fire she's gotten for how it's not worked well?
GARRETTWell, some of it. I mean, she said that she would ask the inspector general to look into entirely how the website was put together, how it was contracted, what the contractors did or didn't do. What was the communication? All of those things--and that inspector general's report will probably tell us things largely that we already know, but with some added details.
GARRETTI will tell you this. The White House perspective on Kathleen Sebelius is this has been a very hard time for her. The rollout has affected everyone in the West Wing and the Department of Health and Human Services. But they do consider her, at least for the time being, a rock that they can send up to the capital and take these withering questions and survive, and not only survive but beat back some of the harshest criticism. And that's not always true in times of distress for our White House.
GARRETTI'm not saying Kathleen Sebelius is going to remain in her job forever. But the White House does view her as someone in these moments of extremis to be, if not an asset, someone who doesn't make the situation worse. And there is a story right now of improvements in the website, which I can tell you, being at the White House every single day, as they were going through the nightmarish beginning of this, they always said, look, it's a website. Eventually, it's going to get fixed.
GARRETTAnd that's a point of the story where we're at now. The website is functioning. It doesn't crash. The queuing system, if it's a little bit heavy traffic, you can come back later. Most people like that. It's working well for them. The enrollment numbers are up. The traffic is heavy. They're still way, way, way behind in signing up the number of people they do to make the larger economics of Obamacare work.
GARRETTBut they at least have turned an operational corner, and they don't have this publicly visible albatross around their neck of their own creation, which was dramatically driving down the president's political numbers and undermining political support on the Hill for the law itself.
PAGERuth, do you think Kathleen Sebelius survives in the job? I mean, it's one of the Washington parlor games as who gets fired for the way this thing has been bollixed up?
MARCUSWell, I think she probably does survive because the president's M.O. is not too fire people. And, really, if he wants to blame somebody, he might want to blame himself. And he can't really fire himself. Sorry to be so rude about that. But talk about classic Washington moves. I'm naming the inspector general to investigate how we all here at HHS massively messed this up, you know, and so then I won't be able to talk about it for months or years while the inspector general does this.
MARCUSGive me a break. And I would just say one more thing since I seem to be the epitome of negativity this morning -- I don't know why. Yes, the website is functioning better. There are a lot of things to worry about functioning down the road, chief among them, whether the people who think that they have signed up and gotten through all the hassles with the website have actually managed to purchase insurance, or whether they'll go to their doctor in January and find out that they didn't.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation. We'll take some of your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Our phone lines are open. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio for the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup, Ruth Marcus. She's a columnist and editorial writer for The Washington Post, Janet Hook, congressional correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Major Garrett, chief White House correspondent for CBS News.
PAGEWe were talking about the cost to -- potential cost to Kathleen Sebelius of the healthcare rollout. We saw real evidence this week of the cost to President Obama's standing, not just his overall job approval rating but the perception of him as a leader who can get things done, as someone who is honest and trustworthy. A lot of polls out, Major, that illustrate what a tough year this has been for the president.
GARRETTWell, a flat year more or less as far as accomplishments, but a tough year the last quarter, a very tough last quarter for the president. And the White House knows that. We had a CBS News New York Times poll that actually had a couple of kernels of good news for the White House in that views of the healthcare law had improved, views of the president's own handling of healthcare had improved, largely because Democrats were sort of coming home on that issue.
GARRETTBut across the board -- and the White House cannot ignore this -- the biggest problem the president sees in all polling data for the last month is his numbers on trustworthiness and honesty and credibility have reached new lows. And they didn't budget in our polling. So though there was good news on healthcare and some tiny good news on approval, credibility remains a problem.
GARRETTThat's a steady problem across the scenarios for the president. And as all of us know, having sifted through polls for many years, in some cases decades in my regard, those numbers tend not to turn around for a president. When you get on the underwater side of credibility and trust, that’s kind of a psychological breaking point. It doesn't mean your presidency is over, but it means it's the kind of number you have a very difficult time moving back up.
PAGEYou know, we had a USA Today Pew Research Center poll out this week. Everybody had polls out this week since it's getting toward the end of the year. And our polling editor Jim Norman did a chart that compared President Obama's job approval rating with that of other second-term presidents since World War II.
PAGEAnd the alarming thing, I think, for President Obama is that he is faring much worse than President Clinton, than President Reagan, and President Eisenhower. He's doing better than President Nixon. You know, you'd expect that. He was forced from office. He is right exactly tracking the course that George W. Bush took during his second term. And, for Bush, he proved how hard it is to recover. He never did.
HOOKNow, if I could speak up for The Wall Street Journal poll that came out this week, we also found that there was a lot of bad news for President Obama, including record disapproval. The thing that really struck me, though, was that our poll also showed that people were feeling much more optimistic about the economy and that they thought that -- you know, that their personal financial situation was going to improve in the next year, so that often the president's approval rating tracks the general mood of the country. But right now that doesn't seem to be the case.
PAGEOf course, a good economy can do a lot for a president. So if the economy really comes back gangbusters, you kind of assume that will really help President Obama recover.
MARCUSYes, maybe. But I saw -- and I'm just going to continue on its -- this is -- I'm depressing even myself, but here's the thing about the problems with Obamacare. I think the problems with the website are fixable. I think that the law is fundamentally sound. And so I do think that that can be a success in the end.
MARCUSBut, in a sense, the bigger problem for the president with Obamacare is with himself and not with the law because the ability of people to understand that he promised them that if they like their healthcare they could keep it, that breach of trust is a lot harder to repair than the website is.
PAGENow, Major, we had a kind of a minor staff shakeup at the White House, some people coming back. Is this -- tell us about the people who are coming back and what it likely signals.
GARRETTSo right now we're in a position of addition, no significant subtractions from the White House team that has surrounded the president for the second term, and in some cases, since the presidency began.
GARRETTPhil Schiliro, who was the president's former legislative liaison to all of the House and Senate, living in New Mexico, had left the White House, had left this fabulous city of intense politics for New Mexico, was invited back to help the White House with what it considers its top political and legislative priority for the next four months, keeping House and Senate Democrats, particularly Senate Democrats, aware, in tune and on the reservation as regards the president's healthcare law.
GARRETTThat's Phil's number one portfolio item. I'm sure other things will creep into it as inevitably does as senior position in the White House, though temporary it is. And because of his stature on Capitol Hill, known very, very far and wide and because he was integral in writing the law as it was going through the legislative process, there are no lengthy conversations he needs to have. He knows the politics, the policy, and all the underlying dynamics and can again speak for the White House. That's a big deal.
GARRETTJohn Podesta comes back to the White -- comes to the White House. He handled the president's transition in 2008 and 2009 as he was coming into the presidency, leader of the Center for American Progress, former chief of staff to Bill Clinton, comes in as a counselor to aid Dennis McDonough, the president's existing chief of staff to bring some intensity, some different eyeballs, and probably some different communication strategies to where the president is. I believe in the very near future, after doing a couple of additions, there'll be some subtractions.
PAGEYou say that John Podesta will bring some intensity to the White House. Anyone who's met John Podesta knows that that's true. You think there will be, though, staffers leaving the White House.
GARRETTThe White House has made it very clear in ways that they don't -- haven't customarily made clear. Well, it's the end of the year. A lot of people make assessments about where they are in their careers and make different choices. I'm sure we'll see that. I mean, that's been said from the podium twice this week. That indicates to me that, yeah, some people will be moving on out. Exactly who and when, to be determined but this will not be the same team in February that it is now.
PAGEJanet Hook, as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, I know you'll be kind of an expert on the Volcker Rule -- I can't even say it. Five federal regulatory agencies this week approved it. This is a more aggressive stance toward Wall Street and the big banks from the Obama Administration, yes?
HOOKWell, what it is is actually implementing a law that was passed in 2010. It has taken them a very long time to write the rules on this. It was a core part of the Dodd-Frank law that was passed to crack down on Wall Street, and it involves trying to limit the sorts of risky investments that banks have been -- used to make that were thought to be part of the financial crisis. It's kind of another chapter in how Obama's legacy really was passed by Congress in 2009, 2010. And it's taken a long time to roll it out and see what its real impact is going to be out in the real world.
PAGELet's take some callers, let them join our conversation. We'll start with Frederick. He's calling us from South Portland, Maine. Hi, Frederick.
FREDERICKThanks for taking my call. You know, I wanted to get the panelists' impression that the Democrats must stand behind the president and continue to roll out the economic agenda that the American people desires (word?) taxation on wealthier people, unemployment compensation being continued...
PAGEFrederick. All right. Frederick, I'm afraid that we seem to have lost you, but I think we have the gist of your question. Ruth.
MARCUSWell, I only got part of the gist, but on the -- the question is how to implement that agenda given the legislative realities. And let's just take one example, which is the extension of unemployment compensation, OK. It is total -- I absolutely believe that unemployment compensation should be extended. This has been a downturn like no other in American history in terms of the extremely high percentage historically of Americans who are long-term unemployed, out of work for six months or more.
MARCUS1.3 million, as Major said, are going to be losing coverage. It is hard, at the end of the year -- another equivalent number in the first six months of the next year -- and it is hard to see, at least in the very short term, how that is going to get past the finish line because the leverage of the shutdown and getting the budget deal done is gone. That wasn't part of it. And will we see that happen? That's not something that the president can make happen, no matter how much he puts his shoulder into it.
PAGEYou know, we know that statistically the longer you're unemployed the harder it is for you to get a job. So why didn't that make it into the budget deal, Janet, given that we heard Democrats like Chris Van Hollen, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, talk about it as a real priority. Why did it get left out?
HOOKWell, it goes back to what I said at the beginning about the nature of this deal was -- it was -- the Democrats and Republicans involved in putting it together focused entirely on little things that they could both agree on as opposed to, here you take this trophy, I take this trophy, and we both go home. There were no trophies, and there also weren't -- no tough pills to swallow. And that would've been a tough pill for Republicans to swallow.
HOOKIf they -- they said that, OK, well, you can extend those benefits if you can pay for it. And it cost $25 billion to extend them for a full year. So I think that there was just -- it didn't fit into the kind of minimalist concept. Toward the end there was some effort. And I have to say, one thing that I didn't see much was Obama putting his shoulder to the wheel on it. I mean, he really didn't talk about it very much until very late in the game. I mean, that's the kind of thing that would've taken a sustained political effort in advance of the eleventh hour. And that just didn't happen.
PAGEWe started in Maine. Let's go across the country to California to San Francisco and talk to Denise. Denise, hi.
DENISEHi, how you doing? This supposed -- Ruth, this supposed lie about keeping your coverage was always based on the premise that there was going to be a basis -- a baseline for every coverage, whether it would be bronze, silver, gold, platinum, whatever. There was always going to be a basis where people couldn't be taken to the cleaners for this healthcare, charged a maximum premium, and then, when they actually get sick, have it cancelled. The whole idea of Obamacare is about getting healthcare to people.
DENISEAnd I think what you're going to see in 2014 is people waking up to the realization that they have a choice between the crazy right people -- the crazy Tea Party people and giving this president two years of an eight-year presidency that the majority of the people elected him twice. And he deserves to have two years of his agenda being enacted, no matter what that is.
DENISEIf it's his jobs bill, if it's his farms bill, if it's something on the economy, if it's something about the Middle East, this is a president that deserves after all the fire that he's endured from the right, the insanity from the right, he deserves two years. That means that Congress is going to go to the Democrats in 2014. I believe it.
PAGEYou know, Denise, I know the White House is happy to hear your call. Let me ask you. You sound like you know a lot about the healthcare.gov. Are you yourself buying insurance on the exchange?
DENISEAbsolutely. And let me tell you just a little bit more. My husband -- my beloved husband that died at the age of 44 went through -- he had the best coverage insurance could buy, and he had a heart transplant. Well, he also needed a kidney transplant because they kept him on bypass for 13 hours.
DENISEAnd our beautiful, wonderful health insurance max capped us out at 1.5 million. If he hadn't been in stage renal, we had assets. So instead of, like, selling everything I had, I was able to go on Medicare. Healthcare is necessary. I haven't had healthcare for eight years because of the fiasco of my husband dying, so, yes.
PAGEWell, Denise, we're sorry for the loss of your husband. We appreciate your call and your point of view.
DENISEWell, it's been eight years.
PAGESo, what do you think, Major?
GARRETTWell, I think Denise speaks to something that the White House is certainly hoping will happen and that it can find a way to effectively harness, which is overall gradual first, acceptance and then appreciation for the insurance protections put into the healthcare law. They understand there will be some disruptions. Republicans, they know, will make a great deal of -- or try to bring a lot of publicity to those disruptions. And I think the disruptions are going to be manageable for the White House if there are more people like Denise who call into shows like this.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. So we've gone from Maine to California. Let's go to Texas and talk to Rhonda. Rhonda, thank you for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show."
RHONDAYes, thank you. I am going to try to combat the Debbie and the David Downers (unintelligible). And you all know who you are sitting there at the table. I want to tell you that people who are benefitting from Obamacare are people just like me in Murphy, Texas. My daughter was diagnosed with cancer at 25 years old, just in time for her to stay on my husband's insurance. It has helped to save her life in this last year.
RHONDASo when people say that the law doesn't work, it is not true right here in Murphy, Texas. I spoke to my congressman, Sam Johnson, who was determined to turn this law around -- and it is a law. He's determined to defeat it. I spoke to him face to face a few months ago at a luncheon, and I showed him my face and my daughter's face, who this very community helped send to college, by the way.
RHONDAAnd now they want to say that they want to discontinue a bill to save people's lives like my child? It's not going to happen. So when people who support the president are benefitting from what he is trying to do, we need to speak up more. I like to be quiet here in Murphy, but I can't be quiet anymore. So it's people like me that need to rise up and tell the truth about what this law is doing in our own lives.
RHONDAAnd so just last week Congressman Johnson sent out a postcard that he is still trying to defeat this law. I turned it around and sent it back to him and reminded him of our conversation in the summer when he looked me in the face and he smiled at me as though he was understanding my position.
RHONDAHe's not understanding it because, see, his children and him have been on the public payroll for almost all of my life as a military person and as a congressman. So they've got their stuff taken care over there. But for regular people like me here in Murphy and other places in this country, we need to speak up and say, this is how this law is benefitting us. We can't be quiet anymore and let the negativity keep drowning us out. Thank you.
PAGEAll right. Rhonda, thank you so much for your call. It's good to hear. I hope your daughter is doing well. I would say that one of my kids, when he got out of college, he had a job that didn't have health insurance. He stayed on my health insurance plan for about a year, I guess, before he got a job with benefits.
PAGESo that was a great advantage for our family. But I have to say, when you ask Americans about something like that, like keeping a kid on your health insurance plan until they're 26, people say, yes, I'm for that. But you ask them, are you for Obamacare, are you for the Affordable Care Act, the numbers go way down.
MARCUSIt's true. And Rhonda's actually right that, as far as the Democrats are concerned, they want to hear more from people like Rhonda who kind of tell their story about how they've helped. It's kind of -- we're in a funny position as far as the healthcare debate is concerned. I think Republicans basically have backed down from the idea they were repealing the thing. And so it's not clear now what they want to do next. But I do know that the ammunition that they're using are the anecdotes of people who are hurt by changes or whose situation changes and they attribute it to Obamacare.
MARCUSI mean, a lot of the individuals who received cancellation notices, they're saying it's because of Obamacare. I mean, actually the individual market has a lot of churn, and they might've lost it anyway. Anyway, the point is that both sides are now arguing by anecdote. And I think that one of the problems with Obama's whole handling of the debate all along has been that he hasn't done a very good job of preparing people to understand the broader benefits so that now it is kind of reduced to, you know, well, I was helped, I was hurt.
PAGEAnd, you know, he also never talked -- or not never, but I think you had to make the argument, there are going to be some benefits, there are going to be some costs so that people understood that going in.
MARCUSThat's exactly right. The last two callers have been so powerful in underscoring something I completely agree with, which is that powerful need for the Affordable Care Act and the failures in the existing healthcare system. But -- and the big end -- the first caller was totally right about how, yes, it has been an essential thing that the -- whatever benefits package you chose, you were going to get real insurance as opposed to insurance that turned out to be just a fallacy when you really needed it.
MARCUSBut the president did not prepare us for that. And he also, in fact, prepared us for the opposite which was that it was going to be disrupting the healthcare system. And fixing it and changing it and improving it without any disruption, that was never realistic.
PAGERuth Marcus of The Washington Post. And in this hour, we're also talking with Janet Hook of The Wall Street Journal and Major Garrett of CBS. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk about the new CEO of General Motors, and, by the way, she's female. Stay with us.
PAGEI hope Ronda in Murphy, Texas is still listening to us because we've gotten a lot of reaction to the call we took from her just before the break. Here's an email we've gotten from Joseph. He writes, "I have to disagree with this whole narrative that the AHA" -- I think that means the ACA -- "is going to" -- Affordable Care Act, the ACA -- "is going to bring down Obama and the Democrats. Now that more stories will start coming out about the benefits, this will turn more into a redemption story, which the media loves almost as much as reporting on massive failures."
PAGEAnd here's another one from Cecilia who writes us from Wheaton, Md. She says, "Let's make a commercial with Rhonda and her daughter and play over and over again in red states. Maybe the people who have been brainwashed will figure out how important the ACA is and that healthcare is not just for the families of the well-to-do." Well, this week, Mary Barra was named the new CEO of General Motors. What kind of company is she taking over, Major?
GARRETTA much stronger company by far. Now, it's stronger because of internal changes that GM made in part because she was there at the executive's table, vice president of global operations and engineering before being named CEO. General Motors settled its accounts with the federal government this week and the Treasury Department. There's a net $10 billion loss from the TARP intervention.
GARRETTThe bailout of the auto companies began, I should remind people, under President George W. Bush, continued and expanded under President Obama. The first -- and many Republicans hope, and I think even the White House hopes the last great industrial policy intervention of this century. The government would never like to go back to this again. But it was a bailout for Chrysler and GM.
GARRETTIt worked because it was also a means by which internal reforms at General Motors and Chrysler were achieved with labor unions and contracting and wages that were never achieved under any other set of circumstances. So things had to get to the precipice of destruction before things could be changed. But now that they've been changed, GM is a stronger company, as is Chrysler to a certain degree.
PAGEAnd Mary Barra steps into a company that is on the rise. And her ascension to that position is significant not just for her, not just for General Motors, but for the entire business community in America, it seems to me. So, Ruth, some attention paid not just to the job she's getting but to her gender. How unusual is it for a woman to become CEO of a big company like GM, the CEO of an auto company?
MARCUSUnprecedented at an auto company and way too unusual in general. And my response to her selection was, how cool is that? And for two reasons. The first is that it wasn't a stretch. This is not some outsider to GM who knows nothing about the auto business. Her father was in the business. She's worked for the company since she was 18. She's an engineer. She went to Stanford Business School.
MARCUSShe knows the company inside and out. And so this wasn't one of those things that you can look at and say, oh, she was picked only because she was a woman. She was picked because she knows the company inside and out, and all power to her. The second thing that I thought was really cool about it was she's not shy about being a woman or about being a mom. I was reading an interview with her where she talked about how she ended a meeting at 4:00 in the afternoon because she need to pick up her daughter.
MARCUSShe's got teenage and older children. And she said that men at the meeting thanked her for that because one of them had to go meet his wife for an appointment. And so the more we have women in positions like this where they are totally qualified but also unabashed about their needs to juggle, the better off all of us will be, men and women.
GARRETTOne quick thing she did at GM when she was vice president of engineering and product development, she shrank from three to one the number of supervising engineers GM would assign to develop a new product. So it has three engineers, and she said that's just ridiculous. It's redundant, and it's claustrophobic. It's not allowing creativity for product design to move quicker, more rationally and with greater tempo. That's an internal reform that she did long before she got this position. It's one of the reasons she is where she is.
MARCUSAnd she got rid -- when she was head of HR of the company's dress code on the theory, she said the dress code is dress appropriately. And how great is that? If you treat your employees like grownups, they have a tendency to behave that way.
PAGELet's go to Indianapolis and take another caller. We'll talk to Pat. Pat, hi.
PATHi, how are you?
PATGood. I have a question -- a comment and a question about the gun issue. You know, tomorrow is the Sandy Hook anniversary, and I've been involved for a year here in Indianapolis. But I really would like the Washington reporters to take a look at what's going on out in the country, especially ALEC and its influence on Stand Your Ground and all this other legislation, like bills that tend to become law in states. And I just don't hear enough of it. You're not really talking to us about what we're going through. You're talking about what's happening in Washington only.
PAGEAnd, Pat, you've been working on the gun control issue in Indianapolis. What's happened there?
PATWell, I'm a part of Moms Demand Action for guns -- common sense in gun issues. And we've been -- when we first started, there was a bill that would arm the teachers. We got that reconsidered. It's been hard because this is Indiana, and one of the bills that became law weakens gun common sense instead of strengthening it. So we've got a long road to go.
PAGEAll right, Pat. Thanks for your call. You know, Janet, I saw in the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll that support for gun control measures, which went -- grew, went higher after the tragedy at Newtown, has now subsided significantly in your latest poll. And we didn't see success, did we, for any of the new gun control measures in Congress this year?
HOOKRight. Even in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, which was about as abhorrent as you can imagine, you know, a bunch of 6-year-olds being mowed down. And when public opinion for gun control peaked, I mean, it was really quite strong. Even then, Congress proved unable to pass even a modest gun control law.
HOOKAnd so, in fact, our caller points to an important dynamic in gun control and in other areas in fact that state legislatures are more active than Congress is. And on gun control, I actually -- I question the importance of public opinion polls at this point given that support for gun control was so high and so little legislative accomplishments came out of it.
PAGEYou know, the one year anniversary is tomorrow, Saturday, of Sandy Hook. And the -- a lot of the citizens there asked the national news media to stay away. And that's not surprising. What is surprising is that a lot of news organizations said, OK.
MARCUSAnd the families, I'm told, are not going to be around just in case our ghoulishness gets the better of us. It is such a sad anniversary, not just because the tragedy was so terrible. And I've interviewed some of the Sandy Hook moms, and you cannot maintain your composure when you talk to these women that the loss that they've gone through. But it's not just, as Janet was saying, the inability of Congress to pass the most minimal of measures, including enhanced background checks.
MARCUSIt's actually the sort of depressing backsliding in the state legislatures. Some passed things, Colorado most particularly. But there was a backlash, and people lost seats. And there have been more loosening of gun restrictions in the last year than there have been additions to reasonable gun control measures. And I just find that really just continued Debbie Downer, just really appalling.
GARRETTJust one thing I'll say for those who might like to try to tap into the lingering emotions for the parents. On "CBS This Morning," we had one of the fathers who lost a 6-year-old daughter at Sandy Hook. He's a jazz musician. And he penned for us -- it was like a nine-minute letter to his son, his surviving son. And it is among the most poignant and beautiful things I have ever seen put together, this father's letter to his surviving son.
GARRETTAnd the description of his sense of loss and how music has allowed him to, in some small ways, cope with his tragedy. So though people will not be available tomorrow and the news media is, I think, respectfully keeping its distance, there are means by which you can tap into this ever emotional story. And I would just invite people who are curious to go to CBS News website because it's there, and it's beautiful.
PAGEOur thoughts are certainly with the families in Sandy Hook. Let's go to Miami, Fla. and talk to Emilio. Emilio, thanks so much for holding on. You're on the air.
EMILIOHi, thank you. I mean, I've been hearing the anecdotes, and, honestly, I would have my own anecdote. It probably negatively affected me because my healthcare cost is going to go up 500 bucks in, you know, a month, and I'm borderline. But I'm not going to bore you with that. My concern is this. We've seen that the employer part of Obamacare, they kicked the can down the road a year.
EMILIONow cancelling people's insurance policies, that's been kicked down the road for a year. Now, two questions. What in a year is going to change that's going to make that situation any better? Obviously, they kicked the can down the road because they're making it worse for certain people. And the other thing that concerns me is this, just like Medicare, this Obamacare, Affordable Care Act, whatever you want to call it, does not address the biggest problem in healthcare.
EMILIOAnd the biggest problem in healthcare is cost. Nobody has addressed this because it is treated differently than everything else out there where it's not the cost. It's the consumer's willingness to pay and ability to pay. And we've taken everything out of the hand of the person that consumes the healthcare and put it either in the hands of the government or the hands of the insurance companies.
EMILIOAnd, you know, there's millions of problems -- and go back to basically making insurance benefits untaxable and, you know, and therefore, you know, these group plans where we've separated the consumer from going -- you can get an MRI for $300 or $400 if you pay cash. Now if the insurance company pays for it, it will be $3,000 or $4,000. And we're all paying for that in premiums. And Obamacare has basically turned into a transfer payment from taxpayers or people who are going to get insurance like myself and pay more into the hands of the insurance companies.
PAGESo, Emilio, let me...
EMILIOAnd, I mean, (unintelligible) I've had -- none of this has been addressed. I mean, all we get -- I mean, I feel like I'm at an -- honestly, honestly, I feel like -- I mean, I'm not a -- I'm not really Republican or a Democrat at this point. But I'm saying, you know, I feel like I'm at an Obama rally, and I can't watch Fox News because I feel like I'm, you know, I'm at a caveman rally. So, I mean, we got to bring it back to common, real common sense.
EMILIOYou know, the consumer, you know, yes, we do need to help some people. I agree with that. We can't let people die and all that sort of stuff. I mean, at least we got to try not to. But, you know, the consumer should have some ability or something to say. And they should have the ability to shop. We don't have that, right? It does not exist. It's like they tell you, oh, it costs me $4,000 to do an MRI. How do we know that?
PAGEYeah. Well, Emilio, thanks so much for your calling. I would just note that we did take your call -- not exactly part of an Obama rally -- and that the comments that we made about the cost of the bungled rollout of healthcare.gov was something we discussed at some length on the show. But let me give you, Ruth, a chance to address Emilio's points.
MARCUSSure. Well, Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, from my point of view, had two elements that were in some sense equally important. One is the moral imperative of expanding healthcare to more people. But the other is the moral imperative of helping get costs under control. And I do think that there are a lot of cost control elements in the Affordable Care Act, including the kind of transparency and sensitivity to prices that Emilio was talking about. So I think he might just have missed some of that.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You know, Janet, we did have that House act on a stopgap measure yesterday to avert what's called the dairy cliff. That is the prospect that at the beginning of the year dairy prices would more than double because of the failure to pass the farm bill. Will the farm bill ever get passed? We've been waiting more than a year.
HOOKYes. Actually, they are very close to reaching an agreement. In fact, I think this very morning, they are continuing their negotiations. And the House passed that stopgap one month extension of the farm bill, I think, as much as a kind of cover your butt kind of thing. We tried to keep the milk cliff from happening. So two things, first of all, I don't think the milk cliff is -- actually the problem is that, in the absence of action, cost of a gallon of milk with skyrocket.
HOOKWell, that won't happen on Jan. 1. They have got some more time. The Ag Department told them that if they pass a bill, in January, they'll avoid this big price spike. And I think that probably they will reach a deal. They've gotten very far along. They're very close. They may not pass it until after the first of the year, though, because the House has left.
PAGEI love the headline in National Journal yesterday. It said: Farm Bill Serves As Poster Child for Congressional Dysfunction.
MARCUSRight. And, Janet, isn't the fundamental sticking point, though, the amount not whether there will be cuts in food stamps but the amount of cuts in the food stamps and there is a very big gulf between the $4 billion that the Senate passed and I think the $40 billion that the House passed. So how does that solve itself?
HOOKYes. No, it's a big gulf. It's narrowing, and it's not going to be anywhere near as much as the Republicans had been seeking. So we'll see. I don't know the final details yet.
PAGETo the surprise of no one, Time magazine names Pope Francis its person of the year. He has truly been a remarkable figure.
GARRETTSure, absolutely. And transformative for Catholics. I am one. And I know that within my parish, the conversation about Pope Francis is almost never ending before and after mass. The sense that he has rhetorically, and through his own actions, conveyed a different sense of what Catholicism means in the street. And when he says, get gritty and get out of the sort of elegance of the church and get down to the people and carry out the social justice component of Catholicism, it is profoundly moving.
GARRETTAnd I will tell you that I have had conversations with many non-Catholics who are also captivated by this idea that a religious figure will bend down and carry out in not only his words but his deeds something that is more consistent with the stories that we all -- that many of us grew up with -- I don't want to say all -- about Christ's ministry.
GARRETTAnd he's a significant figure. I just -- I will mention Miley Cyrus was on the top 10 finalists list. And I wrote a column at National Journal this week saying, come on, click great journalism has to have some boundaries, and Miley Cyrus in the top 10 person of the year list has got to be the most offensive application of click great journalism. And it's got to stop.
PAGEBut I tell you, somebody on that list I thought was interesting, Edward Snowden. And there are people who think, you want to talk about someone who's had an impact on the country and the world this year, you'd have to put him on that list.
MARCUSHe was number two. He was the runner-up to the Pope and in a very, very different way has had a very significant impact on the year. Probably not on the longer term, but in terms of totally changing the dialogue and expanding the dialogue about the surveillance state. He is one of the persons of the year.
PAGERuth Marcus of the Washington Post, Major Garret of CBS, Janet Hook of the Wall Street Journal, thanks so much for being with us this hour on "The Diane Rehm Show."
HOOKThanks a lot.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back on Monday. Thanks for listening.
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