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Last week, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a budget bill which eases the impact of sequestration and would prevent another government shutdown. This week, the Senate is expected to take it up. But even though the bill easily made its way through the House, politics in the Senate have held things up. Several conservative Republicans have said they’ll vote against the deal. And following the recent rule changes on the filibuster pushed through by Democrats, there’s less appetite for compromise. What’s in the budget deal and the politics of the negotiations.
- Jonathan Weisman congressional reporter, The New York Times.
- Susan Davis congressional correspondent, USA Today.
- Lori Montgomery financial reporter, The Washington Post.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Last week, the House easily passed a temporary budget deal. This week, the Senate is expected to take it up before leaving for the holiday recess. Here to discuss the latest on the budget deal and the politics of negotiations: Susan Davis of USA Today, Jonathan Weisman of The New York Times, and Lori Montgomery of The Washington Post. I do invite you to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And welcome to all of you.
MS. LORI MONTGOMERYGood morning, Diane.
MS. SUSAN DAVISHi, Diane.
MR. JONATHAN WEISMANHi.
REHMSusan Davis, what happened in the Senate? It looked as though everything was going to, you know, go through easily, pass through the House. What's happened in the Senate last week?
DAVISIt's a really interesting dynamic because, for so long, in a lot of these fiscal confrontations, we've seen House Republicans be the point of opposition and friction in getting to a final agreement, and now it's the opposite. Mitch McConnell who has been sort of integral in negotiating prior agreements has, I don't believe, yet said how he's going to vote on this so that there's widespread belief that he's going to be against it.
DAVISI think a couple of things. I think there was, among Senate Republicans, an early position that they should never go above what we've been calling the sequester levels of spending, which was $967 billion. So when you draw that line in the sand early and then it goes above that, it's put a lot of them in a difficult position.
DAVISI also think that a lot of them think it's not a particularly good deal in that the savings that they get over 10 years should not make up for the two years that they're partially alleviating the sequester. And then you have another group of Republicans that really hate the changes that they've done to military pension benefits, so that's sort of a minor issue in it that's not going to let you get certain votes. And, on top of all of this, we have at least seven Senate Republicans facing primary challenges.
WEISMANYeah. There are a lot of politics involved in this thing.
REHMYes, no question.
DAVISSo the politics are very clear.
REHMLori Montgomery, what's the timeline for this week?
MONTGOMERYWell, this week, Sen. Reid filed a cloture on the measure yesterday, Sunday afternoon, which sets up the first test vote for us probably tomorrow morning. It needs 60 votes to clear that hurdle, and, by all accounts, it's going to get 60 votes. Even the Republicans who plan to vote against the bill, a number have indicated that they would be willing to vote to proceed to debate on the bill allowing it to move forward without their support. So we could see final passage on this thing by, I think, Thursday at the latest and maybe earlier.
REHMOK. Jonathan Weisman, who has said they'll vote against it, and why?
WEISMANA lot of people have said they'll vote against it. As Sue said, every Republican with a credible Tea Party challenger in 2014 has said he will vote against it. That's Pat Roberts. That's Lindsey Graham. That is -- we haven't heard from Lamar Alexander, but certainly John Cornyn. I think every one of them has said no because they are getting heat from the right and heat from organizations like Club for Growth and Heritage Action, which they do not want to throw money at their primary challengers on.
WEISMANYou also have Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, two likely 2016 Republican presidential candidates. They're not only saying they're going to vote no, but they're actually actively working against it for political purposes, for their own purposes. And Jeff Sessions, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, hates it. He's actively working against it, and he's also miffed that his counterpart in the House, Paul Ryan, negotiated this deal and left him completely out.
REHMSo would you disagree with Lori's assessment that it'll probably come to a vote by Thursday?
WEISMANI think that most Republicans -- even a lot of Republicans who oppose this thing cannot even imagine it dying in the Senate after that overwhelming House vote. So there will be, somehow, 60 votes. It's amazing. You can't really count 60 votes yet.
WEISMANBut there are a bunch of undecideds that are waiting to see if they're needed.
MONTGOMERYPlus, the alternative here is that we face the specter of a shutdown on Jan. 15. And who doesn't want a shutdown on Jan. 15? Mitch McConnell who is himself up for reelection this year and is running as this sort of elder statesman who's been able to cut these deals. And one of his biggest prizes, yes, was the sequester, keeping spending at 967, but Mitch McConnell, of all people, does not want us facing a shutdown again.
REHMHow much is the new Senate rule about filibuster entering into this debate, Susan?
DAVISI don't know if it's entering as much into the budget debate, although there are certainly senators that are still furious about it. I do think it's entering into a separate question of, when is the Senate going to be able to leave town, and how many of these nominations are going to be able to be completed before they leave?
DAVISAnd that is sort of overlapping with schedule issues. We also have a defense bill that they need to wrap up this week. But in terms of the budgets' deal specifically, I don't believe the Senate rule change is affecting it as much as it is affecting getting out of town and what they're going to be able to accomplish next year.
WEISMANAlthough there is just a certain amount of retribution going on from the Republicans. And Sen. Rand Paul from Kentucky has said he will give his consent to any unanimous consent agreement when hell freezes over. So if we have a vote on Thursday on the budget, it's because Rand Paul will not let it happen before then.
REHMYou know, if you, as reporters, or your children doing their homework, left everything to the last minute, you know, you'd be furious. And the American people are furious that this happens every single year. Why is it, Lori?
MONTGOMERYBut they didn't this time. The deadline's not until -- it was last Friday. The House passed it before the...
MONTGOMERYBecause, you know, like all of us -- well, not like all of us, more like Congress -- these things are hard for them, and it's very difficult for one side to capitulate in one way or another before the last minute. And I think that's part of the reason why you saw them actually make the deadline this time. There's no capitulation in here by anybody. The deal is, you know, in some ways, hardly worth doing unless you are really dedicated to the idea of getting rid of the sequester.
REHMHow big a deal is it?
MONTGOMERYIt's $62 billion in extra spending over the next two years. Most of that comes in the current fiscal year, $45 billion. It spares the Pentagon from a big hit. Everybody was worried about (unintelligible).
REHMAnd that's what John McCain is so worried about.
MONTGOMERYThat's right. And the Democrats get back another $22-ish billion for domestic programs that they have complained about, but failed really to show the disastrous effects of. So, you know, and then we've got another 20-ish or 19-ish that's going to come into play in the following fiscal year. But the sequester, beyond that, stays in place.
MONTGOMERYDemocrats have not achieved their primary goal, which was to wind back this entire thing. And Republicans, what are they -- how are they selling it? Well, they're selling it as cutting the deficit over the long term. But how does it do that? It does it 10 years from now when it extends the sequester into 2022 and 2023.
WEISMANAs Tim Huelskamp said -- he's a very conservative Republican in Kansas. He said, we won't see this until Hillary's second term, which is waving the white flag in multiple ways.
REHMYeah, I should say. What about House Leader John Boehner criticizing the Tea Party that seemed to come from the very depths of his being?
DAVISI think there's a difference here between Tea Party and this mainly a trio of outside of outside groups, Club For Growth, Heritage Action, Senate Conservatives Fund. There's a debate over whether, I think, people like John Boehner would consider those actual Tea Party grassroots groups and are they more sort of astro-turfy grassroots fueled by numbers of donors, rich donors, who exist to sort of serve their own interests and raise money off of being against whatever the establishment Republicans are.
DAVISOne of the things they pointed to is that some of these groups came out against the deal before it was even announced what it was. You know, is that nothing will ever be conservative or good enough. A number of Tea Party candidates -- I have a Republican candidate who's challenging Pat Roberts in Kansas -- came out opposed to the deal, like, two or three days before it was announced. So there's a certain amount of gamesmanship going on here. What I think was interesting about this time -- 'cause these groups have really had tremendous sway over...
DAVIS...particularly House Republicans, particularly the younger members, the rank and file. I think they have played a role in derailing earlier efforts to get to budget agreements, particularly on John Boehner.
DAVISAnd what was really interesting this time is that with Paul Ryan being sort of the face of this deal -- is the face of the deal, who helped negotiate it -- it's really hard to make an argument that something that Paul Ryan supports is not conservative enough, considering that this Republican almost singularly has created the foundation of the Republican Party's fiscal message, that his budgets for the past five years have become sort of the foundation of the party's fiscal argument.
DAVISThis is the guy that proposed completely revamping Medicare into more of a voucher-like system where people would buy off the private market. I mean, this is someone who has particularly fiscally conservative ideas and that he's endorsing this and saying it's a step in the right direction, for them to key vote against it and oppose it. I think that enough rank and file this time around took pause and said, you know, maybe we shouldn't give them as much flak.
REHMSo, number one, are you surprised at Paul Ryan's role? Number two, are you surprised at John Boehner's testiness?
WEISMANI'm surprised at neither. One of the knocks on Paul Ryan has been he's, you know, the big thinker of the Republican Party. He is the philosopher king of conservatism. But he's never struck a deal. I mean, this is a guy who, before now, has had two pieces of legislation to his name, a change in the excise tax on bows -- or arrows, I'm sorry, that go in the bows and a changing of a post office in his district.
WEISMANSo, you know, he wanted to show that he can get things done, and this was the time to do it because it's well in advance of 2016. And he wants to get that backing. Boehner has hated these groups, Club For Growth, Heritage Action, Americans For Prosperity, Senate Conservative. He has hated these groups for a long time. He was waiting for his moment to punch them, and he punched them hard. And it makes -- I think that's actually the most important thing that's going to come out of this.
REHMJonathan Weisman of The New York Times. There are unconfirmed reports of explosives at Harvard. Four buildings have been evacuated. We'll keep you up to date on that news as it arrives. Take a short break now. When we come back, your questions, comments. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the budget deal reached in the House last week now awaiting approval in the Senate. However, we do have this email from Michael who says, "Just for clarity sake, is this budget deal actually a budget in which case it will be the first budget since 2008?" Lori Montgomery?
MONTGOMERYIt is a budget in the sense that it sets spending levels for the Appropriations Committee to move forward. It doesn't actually prevent the shutdown. All it does is it enacts this cluster of savings and then rolls back the sequester and says to the Appropriations Committees, you can spend up to this level. And the next step that has to happen is that the Appropriations Committees have to actually write the spending bills.
MONTGOMERYAnd they have to pass before Jan. 15. But it is not a budget in the sense that it includes, you know, revenue levels and, you know, what we do about Medicare. It doesn't have any of that stuff in it. It's very narrowly focused on getting the appropriations process back on track.
WEISMANIn the last four years, when Congress has not passed a budget, the budget has become this mythological figure, that it's so important. Budgets are not that important. The fact is a budget is never a piece of legislation. It's guidelines for appropriators, which this does do. If it has something called reconciliation language, it makes it easier to do tax legislation or Medicare legislation, entitlement legislation later on.
WEISMANBut it is not the huge deal that Republicans have made over the last three years for political purposes. And, really, this thing does the most important thing, and it's actual legislation. This is actually more powerful in some ways than an actual budget.
MONTGOMERYWell, and it's an improvement over the -- in the sense that it's not another continuing resolution, which is what we've been operating on in the absence of a larger budget agreement, which just sorts of kicks things down the road at the same level they've been at and the same programs are funded. This actually, for the first time, I think what the caller might be interested in is it allows lawmakers to decide where the money should go for the first time in multiple years.
REHMI think that's really important to stress because here's another email from Jeff in Indianapolis. He says, "There's lots of talk of whether the budget deal is a breakthrough in the way work is being done or not. I think the key is how the American people react to the deal overall. If the compromise, the "C" word, can become acceptable or even laudable, then maybe this will become a breakthrough," Susan.
DAVISWell, I think that Patty Murray and Paul Ryan who reached this deal certainly said that, that this is a breakthrough. Well, I thought it was really interesting the night that they announced that Patty Murray said that they acknowledge that it's small. But that she used the term heal the wounds of this Congress, which I thought was really interesting phraseology in that they both said that maybe -- and it's very speculative and way too early to say -- that the fact that they could move forward, it does sort of free up some of the bandwidth.
DAVISIf you think of the past three years of divided government, so much of the argument has been around fiscal issues. It's been over shutdowns and debt ceilings, although we may still have a debt ceiling fight. But a lot of the confrontation has been over fiscal matters. And if you can, for two years, sort of let some of the dust settle, then maybe you can start to focus on other issues, move other legislative programs and find other small compromises. I'm still very skeptical that anything grand is going to come out of these.
REHMAnd there's some people who are skeptical of John Boehner's outburst. Michael says, "Why would Boehner disenfranchise any part of the conservative wing? How is it good for him politically? These are the same people who put him in office in 2010," Lori.
MONTGOMERYYeah. There was a really interesting dichotomy between the way Paul Ryan handled these groups and the way John Boehner handled these groups. You saw Paul Ryan on the Sunday show say, oh, I don't -- you know, we need everybody in our coalition. I don't want -- these groups serve an important purpose.
MONTGOMERYBut Boehner, for the last two years, has had his attempts -- his small attempts to govern tanked by these groups repeatedly. And Boehner's office will be happy to point out that these groups who now want to so vociferously defend the sequester opposed the sequester in 2011 when the debt ceiling deal was put together. It wasn't good enough for them. They tanked Plan B during the fiscal cliff. They forced him to pull various bills off the floor over the past year when the Senate...
REHMSo you believe his outburst was genuine.
MONTGOMERYThey hate these people. And one of the reasons that they hate these guys so much is they don't see them as a true part, as Sue was saying, of the party. They're -- and if you talk to Chris Chocola, for example, of the Club for Growth, he will tell you, we don't care whether the Republican Party succeeds. We want our conservative ideology to succeed.
REHMWhat about Grover Norquist? Where does he fall in this?
WEISMANWell, Grover Norquist is the consummate politician. If he sees he's going to lose a fight, he will not take the losing side. That's why he actually didn't oppose the fiscal cliff deal at the beginning of this year. And on this one, he was somewhat agnostic, too. They put out -- Americans for Tax Reform put out an analysis that showed what they didn't like and what they did like and never said what they were going to do because Grover Norquist never, ever wants to lose.
REHMSo is the strength of the Tea Party waning?
WEISMANYes, it is. I mean, the fact of the matter is that John Boehner wanted to -- he wanted to highlight and marginalize the very far right wing of the Republican conference through this whole thing. And he succeeded. I mean, if you look at this vote, it was an overwhelming vote, 300-something. There were only about 50-something Republicans who voted no. And almost all of those were really -- that is his -- the group that is always nipping at his heels.
WEISMANAnd, as Lori said, if you look at Paul Ryan's response and John Boehner's response, you see one person who sees a long future in politics and one person who is kind of gracefully going his way. And everybody expects Speaker Boehner to retire in the next few years. And I think that he wants to retire with the Republican Party stronger, not weaker, and with a national presence.
DAVISThe thing about the Tea Party -- and I agree with everything Jonathan just said. But I do think that there is still a difference between the groups that have tried to establish the Tea Party as we've seen and what is still, I think, a very clear ongoing civil war within the Republican Party on a grassroots level. And I do think, particularly in the Senate -- and there's varying degrees of competitiveness.
DAVISBut when we started off talking about this vote, the fact that seven out of 12 of the Republicans in cycle in the Senate this year are facing primary challenges and are all voting scared and paying attention to that and are very aware of that from -- and including the top two Senate Republicans, I think there is still very much a potent anti-establishment grassroots, whether you want to call it Tea Party or call it something else.
DAVISBut I think there's two levels to it. There's sort of this establishment group, the Chis Chocolas and Grover Norquists, and there's still, you know, voters in Kentucky and Texas and states that are still very angry.
WEISMANIt's a regional phenomenon, is what it is.
WEISMANI mean, you look at Kentucky. You look at Texas. The Tea Party is extremely strong, Georgia. I mean, all -- it's a southern to Sunbelt phenomenon, but it is not a national phenomenon anymore. We know -- I don't think that you're going to see what we saw in 2010 where Tea Party candidates were swept to power in Illinois and New Hampshire. In fact, what we're seeing is a lot of the Tea Party comeback candidates coming back in a much more mellow way in those northern states.
REHMSusan, you wrote that this could be a career turning point for Paul Ryan.
DAVISI think so. And, like Jonathan said, there was a test for him in that, is he going to be the ideological guy, or is he going to be a guy that can get something done? And I think Paul Ryan made a choice in this deal. He could've walked away and could've still been celebrated as this ideologically pure fiscal conservative who wasn't going to compromise on taxes. And that's not a bad place to be in the Republican Party right now.
MONTGOMERYHe still is that, though, Sue.
DAVISRight. Well, there...
MONTGOMERYThat was preserved.
DAVISBut there are still people that are critical of him and the fact that he's on the other side of the fence of people like Marco Rubio and Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. And I think Paul Ryan is smart and calculates these things and thinks about this stuff. And I think that, as someone who is -- I'm more skeptical just personally from what I see and hear from people that like him, that he's really interested in a presidential bid.
DAVISBut that I do think he's someone that would love to be the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and rewrite the federal tax code. I also -- I'm not sure he harbors aspirations to be Speaker of the House, but I think he also likes being the person that's talked about as being a potential presidential or speaker of the House.
MONTGOMERYI did a pretty deep dive into Paul a couple of weeks ago, and he's interesting because I think he realizes that he's very young. He's only 43 years old. He has lots of time. He has no real interest in raw politics, which is what the Speaker of the House has to do. He has no real interest in tactics, but he does have a strong interest in policies. And he does want to be Ways and Means chairman. I think he's probably not going to run in 2016 because he's got plenty of time to do that. His people will tell you, he could run in 20 years, and he would still be a young candidate.
MONTGOMERYSo what he's trying to do is, I think, try to harness the ideological power of the Tea Party and direct it into a more positive place than all this fighting over the budget. And his next big thing is he's going to roll out an anti-poverty plan and try to -- you know, one of the big criticisms of the Romney-Ryan ticket was that people didn't think they cared about them. So Ryan wants to fix that.
DAVISAnd he's also very interested in immigration which is another thing that he's quietly worked behind the scenes. And that's another problem with the Republican Party and their reach out to Hispanic voters.
MONTGOMERYBut that's why I think it was in his interest to do a small deal that just avoids crisis and move on.
REHMAll right. We're going to open the phones, 800-433-8850, first to Jerry in O'Fallon, Mo. You're on the air.
JERRYGood morning. I'm listening to this discussion about Paul Ryan, and he's very earnest looking. He has a great head of hair. He's telegenic, which I think goes a long way to making you a viable presidential candidate in the United States. However, I have yet to hear in any sit-down reporting situations someone question the fact that -- and there's nothing wrong with this -- his family fortune comes from Ryan Construction.
JERRYAnd they made their money with federal highway projects. And yet he is another one of these candidates who seems to be unable to differentiate between government spending and government investment. And I would like to hear him kind of square that circle.
REHMAll right. Susan.
DAVISIt's a good question. I actually do think these questions have been raised about Ryan, particularly in the 2012 campaign. And he will also -- not only from the -- his family business, but he also acknowledged that he went to college on student loans. And also his father died young, and he benefitted from Social Security benefits. And this was part of the question raised towards him, was that you built your life on a lot of these entitlement programs, and now you want to change them.
DAVISI mean, he would argue that he wants to change them because he thinks that they're not working well enough for enough people. And he has a different way to make them work better. And that's up for debate, but he's sort of acknowledged that head-on. And he just has a different vision for what those programs should look like.
WEISMANI think for -- Paul Ryan has served a lot of functions for the Republican Party in the last two or three years. And one of them has been a lightning rod for Democratic anger. You hear these things a lot. When are we going to challenge Paul Ryan? When are we going to strip the veneer off him and show that he's an emperor with no clothes and things like that? He served that function well for the Republicans. And part of the deal on striking this deal is to show that in fact he's not just an ideology, that he actually is a problem solver.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Mark in Dallas, Texas. Hi, you're on the air.
MARKGood morning, Diane. A couple of quick questions. And so I can gain some perspective, I know that the sequester was rather ham-fisted and certainly not the surgical approach we like to take. But I'm curious as to what percentage cuts were actually mandated by the sequester.
MARKAnd also, for comparison purposes, what is the broad defense budget right now as compared to say 2006 when we were in the middle of an Iraq War? And why do we not hear any so-called liberals in the Senate objecting to a budget agreement that throws more money at the defense complex and doesn't do anything for hopes of other problems, for instance, the long-term unemployed?
REHMAll right. Lori, the percentage of sequester cuts.
MONTGOMERYYou're taking me back a little bit here. I think it was about 9 percent on the domestic side...
WEISMANNo. It was 6 percent on the domestic side and 9.6 percent on the defense side. But remember that the sequester didn't hit until March. They had to hurry up, and a lot of these programs actually ended up getting about a 12 percent cut. It hurt, but they also were -- in that first year were able to do a lot of account juggling, take accounts that weren't really active and say, well, we're going to take the cut out of this or defer maintenance programs, especially in the defense budget.
WEISMANThat's why people were really worried about the second year of the sequester because a lot of the gimmicks that were used to avoid the pain in the first year, you know, were one time gimmicks that couldn't be done again. And I want to say something about the defense budget. He's actually right. If you -- you look at the defense budget and the defense budget was going to take a hit, a pretty big hit. But it was only getting down to about the 2006 level. What was happening in 2006? It was the surge in Iraq.
WEISMANThe reason that the defense budget is hurting right now is because there was all of this equipment and material that was worn down in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the Defense Department had been warning us that this wave of repairs and replacements were coming, and we've been waiting and waiting and waiting. And, suddenly, you know, we have a fighting force that's spent after more than a decade of war. And a lot of things needed to be updated and replaced, and suddenly the money dried up.
REHMWhat about NIH? That lost a good bit of money during the sequester.
MONTGOMERYWell, roughly the same as other domestic agencies. I mean, this has been some of the -- part of the problem. I mean, money is fungible, right? So the administration has had a very difficult time, I think, demonstrating that they can't -- that they couldn't survive on these sequester levels. And I suspect that's one of the reasons why Democrats agreed to this deal, which doesn't do many of the things that they wanted to do but does give them a little bit more sequester money. Because what they didn't want -- what Republicans wanted to give them was the flexibility to decide how to spend the money at 967.
REHMWhat about the lack of extension of unemployment benefits, Susan?
DAVISYeah, I mean, that's very realistic.
DAVISAnd particularly in this budget deal, there was a lot of Democrats, particularly in the House, who were trying to use it as the vehicle by which they could pass an extension of unemployment benefits. I believe it's about 1.3 million American long-term unemployed are going to see their benefits run out -- I think it was Dec. 28, roughly the date -- and they didn't do it.
REHMGreat Christmas gift, huh?
DAVISAnd John Boehner said -- I mean, Republicans have reluctantly gone along with UI extensions in the past couple of years. And part of what he said was, we'll do it if the White House and Democrats bring me something and it's paid for. And I don't -- they weren't able to reach an agreement on what those terms were, and they weren't able to get it in the budget deal.
REHMSusan Davis of USA Today, Jonathan Weisman, The New York Times, Lori Montgomery, The Washington Post, they'll answer your questions after a short break. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. It's time to open the phones again. Let's go to East Lansing, Mich. Hi there, Jennifer. You're on the air.
JENNIFERHi. Thank you. I just had a comment to make. I heard your two female panelists discussing Paul Ryan and his future aspirations. And one of your guests said that now he wants to make anti-poverty kind of a focus of his. And I guess, to me, it seems like it's kind of an about face. He knew that that was why people were upset with him in the election, that, you know, the whole 99 percent and 1 percent. And I guess I feel like it's so transparent and obvious what he's trying to do. He's only tackling that as an issue because it will help him politically. I guess that's my perception.
JENNIFERAnd it seems like the Republicans do that a lot. You know, now they're trying to appeal to females because they turned us all off. And it's -- it's too late because you've already said what you've said and done what you've done. So I guess, to me, it just seems like it's a joke because they're only doing it because they want to advance politically.
REHMJennifer, thanks for your call. Lori, it does seem as though the public is growing more and more cynical, realizing that, you know, somebody like Paul Ryan -- who did stand with Ron Nate during the election, who seemed to dismiss the lower-income individuals within our society -- now to turn around and say, let's do an antipoverty program, raises, you know, all kinds of questions.
MONTGOMERYYeah, especially given the 47 -- the infamous remark Romney made about how the 47 percent were basically lost to the Republican Party. And Ryan, by all accounts, was mortified when that became public. I think, in his defense, that he has always been interested in these issues. And the budget...
REHMHe sure didn't show it during the election process.
MONTGOMERYHe tried. The first thing that they said to the Romney campaign, the weekend that he was chosen to be vice president, was he wanted to return to his roots because he started in politics with Jack Kemp, who, you know, was known for compassionate conservatism and visiting public housing projects and trying to empower people using conservative ideas. Ryan very much deeply believes in this sort of conservative path to up by the bootstraps for the poor, how can government help you help yourself kind of thing.
MONTGOMERYHis budgets, you know, people who don't agree with him ideologically would argue that this is, you know, the opposite of what his budgets do. But his budgets, from the moment he began rolling them out in, I think, 2008, talked about wanting to change entitlement programs because he believed that the federal government had constructed a hammock society that prevented people from getting up and, you know, following their own enterprise.
WEISMANRight. His line about safety nets...
MONTGOMERYSo Paul -- Paul has always been interested in this. Now, if you're a liberal Democrat, you're not going to agree with the prescriptions that he's going to bring to the table. But I think it's a little unfair to say that this is totally a reaction to the disastrous Romney campaign on this issue.
DAVISHe -- the thing I thought was interesting, too, that Paul Ryan said on the House floor right before they voted -- the House voted to pass this last week, and he sort of admitted it, and he said, this is -- to be candid about the politics of this, if we, as Republicans, want to advance these agendas, we need to win some more elections. I mean, he sort of acknowledged on the floor of the House that Republicans have alienated a lot of these groups -- the poor, women, minorities -- and that they need to make some amends if they want to sort of advance the bigger goals.
REHMHe's an email from Erin in Maryland. She says, "As a budget staff member for a government agency, the waiting till the last minute tendency adds greatly to the perceived dysfunction of government, our fellow budget staffers harassed to do the extraordinary in limited time -- yes, it did happen at my agency, myself included -- while reducing our benefits.
REHM"No private sector company would be able to do what the budget staff is asked to do in the uncertain environment that we do it in. To say that the sequester had no real impact is shortsighted. Just ask the kids without Head Start. It had an impact on me and my family, greatly taking a fiscal hit. This is not a victimless issue."
WEISMANNo. And, you know, remember that, when we saw the impact of the sequester -- when everyone saw the impact of the sequester at the control towers and security lines...
REHMLittle by little, it got rolled back.
WEISMANWell, basically the one big thing that every member of Congress was seeing was the delays at air-traffic controls.
REHMAirports, of course.
WEISMANAnd immediately, we reversed it. The Congress jumped in. But Head Start is the best example because its impact was real. It was measureable. And it had no political impact whatsoever.
MONTGOMERYBut what hasn't been demonstrated, though, is that we can't craft a budget at 967 because Democrats would never permit Republicans to give them the flexibility to actually craft a budget at 967.
WEISMANI disagree with you.
MONTGOMERYThat's the difference.
WEISMANI disagree with you on that because Republicans were unwilling...
MONTGOMERYI -- that's true -- I -- that's true.
WEISMANRepublicans were unwilling to take the defense hit that was involved in 967. So what was left, after they plussed-up defense, made the domestic programs impossible.
WEISMANThey could not pass -- they could not pass a domestic bill in the House based on those numbers.
REHMAll right. Now, hear this email from Fred, a commander in the U.S. Navy, retired. He says, "Imagine yourself as an 18-year veteran of ground combat forces. You've had two tours in Iraq, three to Afghanistan. Maybe you have a Purple Heart or two. How do you do that to a soldier, a Marine, or a Navy Seal, thinking of retirement in two or three years -- how do you feel when he hears your panelists describe the cutting of military pensions as a minor issue?"
REHMI guess, when less than 10 percent of the country is doing the heavy lifting when it comes to national defense, the other 90 percent can adopt the out of sight, out of mind philosophy. But when retention and recruitment figures drop, this won't be such a minor issue. Lori.
MONTGOMERYWell, in the sense that it would have a pretty minor impact on the military pension system, it is true that it is a very minor issue. What they're talking about here is affecting only people who take early retirement between the age of 40 and 62. They would not affect their base pension. They would affect the cost-of-living increase they get during those years. It would go -- it would be reduced by 1 percent.
MONTGOMERYAnd, when they hit age 62, they would get a one-time plus up, so that they aren't disadvantaged in their actual retirement -- or what most people would experience as actual retirement. The idea here is that people are able to retire from the military at an age when they can go get another job, which they often do. So the taxpayer winds up paying out retirement benefits so that somebody can go get, you know, make a lot of money as a contractor.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Derek in Miami, Fla. You're on the air.
DEREKThank you for taking my call, Diane.
DEREKOne of the things that I hear so much about is entitlements. You know, Joe Scarborough, Paul Ryan, they love to talk about, we need to cut entitlements -- Medicare, Social Security. But there's another big entitlement that really destroys our standing and our budget, and it's the entitlements given to oil companies, the drug companies. Nobody ever talks about ending those entitlements, which is billions of dollars a year. But we talk about ending $40 a month for a lady with four kids to feed her kids. And we need to quit that.
REHMI understand, Derek. Thanks for your call.
WEISMANWell, we're talking about scale here. We're talking about billions of dollars a year versus hundreds of billions of dollars a year. And what is driving -- you could get rid of all the tax loopholes that Democrats have talked about for years about oil and gas -- for oil and gas companies. It would not really affect the trajectory of the U.S. that...
REHMIt's the perception, Jonathan.
WEISMANIt is. And...
REHMIt's not the amount. It's the perception.
WEISMANAnd the reason that they could not get a even moderately large deal -- a medium size deal here -- is because Republicans would absolutely not give an inch to close any of these tax loopholes or change any of these tax things. And Democrats weren't going to say, you know what? We're just going to take your cuts without you giving us something. So even though, scale wise, what the Democrats were asking for wasn't much in terms of dollar figures, it was philosophical debate. And ultimately they just said, well, we're just not going to do either one.
REHMAll right. To Jerry in Miami, Fla. You're on the air.
JERRYHi. This thing about Ryan really amazes me. He has been leading the charge in the so-called war against women. He's very anti-abortion. Yet, if you check it out, when Tom DeLay was majority leader, when Bush was president and mandatory abortions were going on in the Northern Mariana Islands and the people behind that were bringing in -- giving lots of campaign money to the Republicans, Ryan said nothing, did nothing -- I looked at his website. They've got every press release he ever sent out -- never did anything to stop the mandatory abortions. And people ought to be aware of that.
WEISMANYou know, I love these issues as they come back because they become pieces of religion here. The Mariana Island issue is actually a Jack Abramoff issue. Jack Abramoff was the lobbyist for the Mariana Islands. He had a bunch of House Republicans at that time basically at his beck and call, many of whom -- some of them actually went to prison.
WEISMANAnd, yes, you're right. Paul Ryan probably didn't speak out. But he was not one of the -- he was not one of the Abramoff cohorts. And in a Congress that might not do a lot, but at least it has a lot on its plate, you can't expect every Congressman to speak about every issue. And I'm not going to hold Paul Ryan's silence on the Mariana Islands against him at this point.
REHMHere's an email from Barry, who says, "The Republicans in Congress spoke of jobs, jobs, jobs, during the entire 2012 election. But they are still the party of no and run the risk of being known to sharpen their budget pencils on the backs of innovation and jobs. What positive job creating ideas do the Republicans stand for?"
DAVISWell, I think if you asked House Republicans that, they would say they have put forward lots of jobs bills. I think if you ask Eric Cantor, who's the majority leader, they'd say they voted on dozens of them, but they have not gone anywhere in a Democratic Senate. They've sort of done these fire -- rifle-shot bills on small jobs bills, but they're not moving anywhere. They would politically blame Senate Democrats and Obama for not getting along what their vision is. Some of the bills they put forward, obviously, are very common Republican ideas. A lot of it is tax credits.
DAVISA lot of it is deregulation. A lot of it is...
DAVIS...Keystone oil pipeline. I mean, they are not without policy ideas, but I don't think that they have been able to advance many of them.
REHMSusan Davis of USA Today, Jonathan Weisman, The New York Times, Lori Montgomery, The Washington Post, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." The Keystone Pipeline, where's it going? Is that going to have a decision anytime soon, supposedly, from the State Department, but clearly from the White House?
WEISMANI think the State Department is supposed to make its next decision early next year about the environmental impact. And, remember, Barack Obama said that he will only approve it if it can be shown not to measurably increase global warming. So, you know, it's keyed up. The question really is whether or not -- I mean, I think this is a political question -- whether or not he can afford to say no.
REHMWhat do you think, Lori? I think Republicans should ask for it on the debt limit again. You know, maybe that'll get it through.
DAVISIt also has a tremendous amount of support. I mean, even among Democrats in the Senate. Heidi Heitkamp's a Democrat from North Dakota is one of the strongest advocates for it.
DAVISAnd there's probably enough conservative state Democrats that would get on board for it.
WEISMANThere's a majority of support. If they do away with the filibuster on legislation, guess what, Keystone passes.
REHMAll right. To Derek in Belvidere, Ill., you're on the air.
DEREKThanks, Diane, for taking the call.
DEREKLots of you -- much of your conversation is essentially bickering over small -- these are issues. They're important -- but the long-term picture is what you're not talking about -- is that, long term, gerrymandering will be reversed in the Supreme Court. At some point, the Republican Party is going to be so fractionalized that it just won't exist.
DEREKIt won't be able to win elections. 2014 is going to be pivotal. You're going to see a swing way to the Democrats. The immigration problem is not easily promoted on the Republican side in any way. The demographics are just against the Republican Party. By 2016, it's just not going to be -- it's not going to function.
REHMAll right, Derek. Thanks for your call. One really wonders, is gerrymandering going to come before the Supreme Court next year?
WEISMANI do not think so. I mean, it's a one-man, one-vote issue. A lot of liberal advocacy groups have thought -- have talked about it as a Supreme-Court-worthy issue. But it never has. And, remember, this is a Supreme Court that has been rolling back regulations passed -- campaign finance regulations passed on the predication that there's one man, one vote. So I -- why would the Supreme Court weigh in on gerrymandering?
REHMYou know, he does raise an interesting issue, however, which is Tea Party advocates, Republicans, Democrats, each have their areas carved out. Is anything going to change in the 2014 elections congressionally that's going to change anything we've talked about here?
MONTGOMERYWell, Republicans could take the Senate. I think that's probably the most likely major change. Otherwise, you've got status quo and stasis. But, if Republicans take the Senate, you've suddenly got a situation more like Clinton faced in the mid-90s where, you know, the Congress will be able to pass things and force Obama to make a decision.
REHMHow likely do you think that is, Susan?
DAVISWell, I would say I would take issue with your caller who said there's -- we're going to see a big swing toward Democrats in 2014. If anything, from what we know right now, The Cook Political Report, which is a nonpartisan analyst, they put out new ratings last week that said that House Republicans are at the advantage to gain seats in the House of Representatives. And Senate Democrats, their control over the Senate is tenuous at best. I mean, they're -- they have 55 seats now. They're probably going to lose at least three. And they have about a dozen seats up for grabs, so...
REHMAnd all we can say now is, we'll wait and see.
REHMThank you all, Susan Davis, Jonathan Weisman, Lori Montgomery. Hope you have grand holidays.
GROUPAnd you, too.
REHMThank you. And thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCERThe Diane Rehm Show is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Denise Couture, Susan Casey Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn, Danielle Knight and Alison Brody. The engineer is Erin Stamper. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones.
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