Friday News Roundup - Domestic

Transcript for: 
Friday News Roundup - Domestic

MR. TOM GJELTEN

10:06:54
Thanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane is away on vacation. The economy adds 175,000 jobs in February. President Obama releases his $4 trillion budget for 2015. And the College Board announces major changes to the SAT. Joining me for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: Jeff Mason of Reuters, Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post, and Chuck Babington of the Associated Press.

MR. TOM GJELTEN

10:07:22
Thank you all for being here this morning.

MS. KAREN TUMULTY

10:07:25
Good morning.

GJELTEN

10:07:25
And we know the Friday News Roundup is a popular segment here on "The Diane Rehm Show." You can join us by calling 1-800-433-8850. You can email us, drshow@wamu.org. You can join us on Facebook. You can join us on Twitter. And, by the way, this hour of "The Diane Rehm Show" is being video streamed so you can watch us on drshow.org. It doesn't mean you can ham it up for the cameras.

GJELTEN

10:07:56
Chuck, let's talk with -- let's talk about the Ukraine crisis first of all because this has had domestic, as well as international, ramifications. Seems to be kind of a two-edged story. On the one hand, there is bipartisan support for the administration in Congress. There's also Republican criticism. Let's start with the bipartisan side of the story.

MR. CHARLES BABINGTON

10:08:20
Right. Tom, there is -- you can sense that Congress, especially Republicans, are trying to feel their way on this thing, so they're -- by no means, are they a united party on this. The bipartisan element is there's certainly, I think, support for looking at some types of sanctions against Russia. Of course, our European colleagues, allies, might cause some problems there. There's certainly talk of types of, you know, should we kick Russia out of the G8 and that sort of thing.

MR. CHARLES BABINGTON

10:08:53
But they really haven't come to any decisions on that. The administration did announce that it's going to back off of some joint types of military cooperation that they've done in the past with Russia. I don't think that amounts to a whole lot.

GJELTEN

10:09:06
And -- but what about this loan guarantee?

BABINGTON

10:09:08
Yeah. The loan guarantee is something that, let's say, both parties have -- can agree to for Ukraine to help out the government that's struggling there.

GJELTEN

10:09:24
And it passed the House, Karen, but it hasn't passed the Senate yet?

TUMULTY

10:09:28
That's right. And, you know, the Senate debate to the degree there is going to be a debate, I think, is going to focus quite a bit on, you know, the partisan lines that we've seen, not the bipartisan ones. The Republicans really are very, very critical of President Obama in this. Paradoxically, they don't have many ideas of, you know, what they would do that is all that differently, but they are certainly taking this as a chance to hammer the president, saying that he is weak, that, you know, that his previous foreign policy actions in places like Syria have emboldened Putin.

TUMULTY

10:10:07
I think Sen. Lindsey Graham has gone the furthest on this, has actually said this all goes back to Benghazi. So, you know, on the one hand, I think the action is pretty clear. And, ultimately, they're going to coalesce around the president because there just aren't a lot of tools in the toolbox for this, but not before taking a lot of shots at his leadership and his -- more his leadership style, I think, than anything specific, any missteps he's made here.

GJELTEN

10:10:38
Although they are bringing up Syria, and they're saying that because the president backed down from his threat to use military force in Syria, that might have given Putin the idea of -- that he could go ahead with impunity.

TUMULTY

10:10:50
But that, again, you know, I mean, this is something that most foreign policy experts say is, you know, much more about Putin's own politics and his own view of his country's place in the world than it is about, you know, what has been happening in our country.

GJELTEN

10:11:05
Now, Jeff, why don't you just review for us what exactly the president has done already and what further steps, you know, they might take, you know, given other developments.

MR. JEFF MASON

10:11:14
Sure. The president and the White House announced yesterday that they would be putting some sanctions on Russians that were involved in the intervention into Ukraine, anyone who was involved in going into Crimea. The White House made a point of saying that the sanctions did not -- and the sanctions included travel bans, of freezing of U.S. assets. But the White House made a point of saying this doesn't necessarily affect Vladimir Putin specifically, and that was very deliberate.

MR. JEFF MASON

10:11:41
But they also said -- and the president came out yesterday into the press room and talked to reporters and said that these sanctions can be changed. They can be adjusted, both up or down, depending on what Russia does from here. To go back to the earlier point though, in terms of the foreign policy criticism, you had Obama's 2008 competitor, John McCain, saying this was an example of feckless foreign policy by the administration.

MR. JEFF MASON

10:12:07
And it's created this narrative of weakness that the White House absolutely objects to, but that is -- they're vulnerable on. And this is an issue again that sort of jumped up on them and on Republicans in the House.

GJELTEN

10:12:19
You know, but one of the things that's interesting to me about making foreign policy a political issue is that, while it may embarrass the president, it also brings out some divisions within the Republican Party itself. And you had just with this -- the consideration of this loan guarantee, you saw very different positions, Chuck, from Marco Rubio in Florida, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul from Kentucky.

BABINGTON

10:12:44
All of whom might very well be running for president, Tom. And that's exactly right. This is especially poignant in the Republican Party now because of the rise of -- we usually think of the Tea Party as sort more domestic and tax issues and that sort of thing, but there is a libertarian element to it. And, of course, the most notable libertarian-leaning Republican in the Congress right now is Rand Paul of Kentucky. He inherited that mantle from his father who was a libertarian hero, really.

BABINGTON

10:13:12
And, to a large degree, libertarian-leaning conservatives are going to much more dubious about foreign intervention, military action, and that sort of thing. And so you can see all these Republicans sort of jockeying for, you know, a position. Obviously John McCain's not going to run for president again, but he's very hawkish. He and Lindsey Graham maybe sort of anchor the most hawkish line.

BABINGTON

10:13:36
You see Marco Rubio, who, you know, took a ding on the immigration issue. That put a dent in his presidential ambitions. He's sort of looking for sort of a different route to come back into more prominence. And he is being outspoken on, you know, ways to be more forceful with Russia without necessarily making it a military type of intervention.

GJELTEN

10:13:56
And he's got a position in the Foreign Relations Committee that gives him that platform.

BABINGTON

10:13:59
That's right. He does.

GJELTEN

10:14:00
Um-hum. Well, let's move on to the budget. There's a lot more to say about Ukraine and the response to that. But we have a lot of subjects to cover and talking about, of course, again, tensions between White House and Congress. This week, Karen, President Obama released his 2015 budget on Tuesday to immediate and vigorous criticism from the Republicans.

TUMULTY

10:14:28
You know, we always say that the budget is more of a political document than it is a policy document. But that is even more true this year than it is normally because the fact is Congress has already passed a two-year budget that is going to take us through the end of 2015. So, really, what the two parties -- because the president has his budget, and he is required by law to produce one every year, and the Republican budget is being put out there by Paul Ryan, the chairman of the Budget Committee, they really are, I think, on the part of both parties, a statement of their values.

GJELTEN

10:15:03
Um-hum.

TUMULTY

10:15:03
And so we see from President Obama a budget that calls for $1 trillion in new taxes, $55 billion in new spending. Much of it is aimed at poverty programs, at education programs, at infrastructure programs. Congressman Ryan's budget is really heavy in its emphasis on things like reforming the welfare system, so it's really kind of interesting because they're talking about the same subjects which doesn't always happen. But they are -- you know, their policy prescriptions are very different. And that's the message out of the budget. Don't be looking for actual legislation.

GJELTEN

10:15:42
Now, Jeff Mason, one of the comments, one of the notable things about the president's budget is that he dropped any reference to cutting Social Security entitlement, which was in his message last year. Does that just go to Karen's point that this really wasn't really a serious negotiating document but rather just a sort of a statement of values?

MASON

10:16:01
Absolutely. They decided last year when they had that in the budget that they wanted to show the president was serious about coming up with some kind of a grand bargain with Republicans on cutting the deficit.

GJELTEN

10:16:07
Um-hum.

MASON

10:16:12
And the White House believed that, after having made that concession, Republicans didn't make a concession in return. So this year they decided -- and they got some criticism, we should also say, from the Democratic base for going that far. So they decided, we're not going to do that again, and made the budget absolutely focused on the values that Karen was referring to. So it is not seen as a negotiating document. It is seen as a way of a blueprint, really, for Democrats in 2014 to use as they're running for re-election.

GJELTEN

10:16:42
Now, Chuck Babington, one of the issues in this budget that really will be debated and acted on is the Pentagon budget. The -- and we had Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on -- up there on Capitol Hill defending these big proposed cuts in military spending. How big an issue is that going to be in the next few months and going into the midterm elections?

BABINGTON

10:17:09
It's a big issue, Tom. It's not one that's going to be easily resolved. You know, if you go back and remember Jeff mentioned the possibility of grand bargain -- we've talked about that for some time -- this would be the idea of a big agreement between Republicans and Democrats to tackle sort of everything at once.

BABINGTON

10:17:26
So that would include entitlements, Medicare, Social Security, which are big drivers of the long-term spending problem in this country that never came to be. And when the -- particularly in the Republican Party, when the strict advocates of low taxes and spending, you know, didn't go -- couldn't make that happen, then one thing that had to give way was, among other things, the military and the discretionary spending area. That's the big item.

BABINGTON

10:17:57
And so really the hawks in -- you know, the pro-military hawks in the Republican Party kind of lost out to the more Tea Party type Republicans, and therefore Hagel really is defending what -- the hand that's been dealt to him. And really these cuts are part of that whole sequestration, cuts that came out of this impasse on spending and taxes.

TUMULTY

10:18:17
You know, one issue, I think, is worth watching domestically is the cuts in the National Guard because there's a few things the governors are united on, and that's one of them. They are really opposing these.

GJELTEN

10:18:27
Karen Tumulty is national political reporter for The Washington Post. My other guests are Chuck Babington, congressional and national politics reporter for the Associated Press, and Jeff Mason, the White House correspondent for Reuters. We're going to take a little break here. Stay with us. We'll be right back.

GJELTEN

10:20:01
And welcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR sitting in this week for Diane Rehm. And this is the Friday News Roundup and this is the hour where we discuss national news. And just before the break we were talking about the president's 2015 budget which he presented this week. And of course one of the highlights of that was the big proposed cuts to military spending to the Pentagon budget. And, Jeff Mason, you were pointing out that even though Chuck Hagel was up there on Capitol Hill defending this budget, the administration was also making clear it's not itself happy with it.

MASON

10:20:35
Exactly. I mean, the Secretary has to defend the budget and they are making some cuts and some decisions that are unpopular about the military. But he said specifically, this is not the military the president nor I want. It isn't a military that this committee or this congress wants for America's future. And he's referring there to the limits on spending and the cuts that Chuck talked about earlier from the sequestration measure. So they are -- he's asking congress at some point, give us a little more room. Loosen the sequestration rules that have affected the military so drastically.

GJELTEN

10:21:07
So what's going to happen here, Chuck? Will there be a -- is there any prospect of a bipartisan budget resolution or how is the budget going to get negotiated this year?

BABINGTON

10:21:19
I think, Tom, there's very little prospect for a bipartisan resolution of any meaning. And we've seen that year after year. And as Karen noted, they've really -- as part of this year-end agreement they had to sort of hold off the debt ceiling crisis and that sort of thing. They did work out a somewhat bipartisan -- you know, Paul Ryan and Patty Murray -- agreement. And that really has set the spending limits for the next two years. All the more reason there's just not much more latitude for them to do anything here.

BABINGTON

10:21:45
These two parties are at a complete loggerheads on the issue of taxes and spending, and they have been the entire time that President Obama has been president. So you might see some very small things like perhaps broadening the earned income tax credit. That would expand it to low income workers who don't have children. But beyond something fairly small like that, I'd be very surprised.

GJELTEN

10:22:07
Karen, one of the -- we've been talking about how the administration's budget was -- demonstrated its values but one of the --let's say perhaps the justifications for sort of moving back from some of the more disciplined proposals that we saw last year, is that the economy has actually been doing better. The deficit is significantly coming down. And we did have a February jobs report this morning that showed 175,000 jobs created in February, which was a little bit more actually than what economists were predicting.

TUMULTY

10:22:42
Yeah, and that does take a little bit of the political pressure off of it. I think that you can see it in the polling. The deficit itself has kind of receded as an issue in people's minds. But people remain very, very nervous and tense about jobs and unemployment. And, you know, so that is one reason that, you know, those issues are going to remain there, maybe not be fought out as a deficit issue. And of course the long term issues, the demographic issues of how we get our entitlement programs to pay for a lot of baby boomers and a lot fewer workers going -- to pay for them remain. It's just that they're not going to be settled this year.

GJELTEN

10:23:27
Jeff Mason, whenever we have a jobs report, one of the first things we wonder about is how the fed is going to respond to the jobs report. There's been a lot of concern, particularly among the investors -- primarily among investors that the fed will begin to taper off the quantitative easing, the bond buying that it has been engaging in which has really propped up the stock market. How is the fed likely to respond to this report?

MASON

10:23:53
Well, I think, Tom, the fed will see this as justification for the program it's already started of tapering that support. The fact that the economy, from this report, seems to be doing well and has actually done better than economists thought and then better than the last couple months, will probably be read in the fed as a reason to continue tapering, to continue taking that support away from the economy that has been so important for the stock market and for jobs.

MASON

10:24:22
So this was, I think, a positive report. The unemployment number did tick up just a little bit.

GJELTEN

10:24:27
Do we know why?

MASON

10:24:28
Well, there was some weather questions and, you know, the White House will tell you in their statement, every month reads just about the same, not to read too much into a monthly number.

GJELTEN

10:24:39
Yeah.

MASON

10:24:40
But it's the job creation figure that most people will be focusing on.

GJELTEN

10:24:44
And we should remind listeners that the jobs report and the -- I mean, the job creation number and the unemployment rate actually come from different surveys. So they don't always correlate perfectly. Let's move on to the latest in the ongoing saga over Obamacare. Chuck Babington, this week the Obama Administration announced yet another deadline extension. I mean, how many has this made now since the law was passed?

BABINGTON

10:25:12
I've lost count. There's been quite a few. And it does -- on the policy level it does, I think, add confusion. Even though enrollments in Obamacare have been more encouraging, higher in the past few months, they're still not at the levels that were originally predicted. At the political level, it gives the Republicans just, you know, opportunity after opportunity to sort of portray this whole thing, which of course they unanimously opposed when it passed the congress in 2010 as, you know, misbegotten as a bad idea.

BABINGTON

10:25:47
And every time the president sort of unilaterally changes some of the guidelines, some of the rollouts they say, ah-ha, you know, he can't be trusted. He changes laws when he wants to willy-nilly. And they extrapolate that idea to things like immigration. Oh, we can't -- you can't trust him to enforce immigration laws because we've seen him sort of pick and choose what he wants to enforce in the health care area.

GJELTEN

10:26:11
Go ahead, Karen.

TUMULTY

10:26:11
Could I just say, I do think, you know, there's a point here though. And that if -- you know, if there had been a president Mitt Romney and he had unilaterally decided, as President Obama did, that for instance small businesses between 50 and 100 employees didn't have to comply with the mandate on time, the Democrats would be, you know, just raising a ruckus. And so, you know, at some point you do wonder -- you know, there are parts of the law that just are not working the way they should.

TUMULTY

10:26:42
And the problem is that there is no political way to go back and fine tune the law with congress, which is the way it should happen and the way in normal politics it would happen, the way it has happened in every major social program in the past.

GJELTEN

10:26:58
Now this particular extension will allow people who have insurance plans now that they thought they were going to have to give up and will give them -- is that right, Jeff?

MASON

10:27:09
Yeah.

GJELTEN

10:27:09
How many people are likely to be affected by this and how important is this particular change?

MASON

10:27:14
About -- between 500,000 and 1.5 million people could be affected. And that's important because that was the core group of people who might've had to give up their plans. And that was the core of the criticism among the others when the website didn't work very well, that Republicans and other opponents to the law said, Obama promised if you like your plan you can keep it, and it's not true.

MASON

10:27:37
So the White House never came up with a particularly good response to that. Basically they're saying we want you to have new plans because the plans that you have now aren't as good. So this extension gives them a little bit more breathing space. And going back to the politics, it takes it out of perhaps the firing line in November when congress is up for reelection.

GJELTEN

10:28:01
Go ahead, Chuck.

BABINGTON

10:28:02
Yes, just quickly, from a political standpoint the -- because Jeff's right that the president kept saying, you know, if you like your policy you can keep it. Well, that line was aped by almost every Democrat as, so now Republicans are having a field day. Now a lot of these hot senate races -- keep in mind if the Republicans pick up six Senate seats they take over the Senate majority. And democrat after democrat, in heavily contested states, is just getting pummeled by these ads saying, you know, your senator lied because he or she said you could keep your policy.

BABINGTON

10:28:32
So in one way, some senators such as Mary Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, is saying, hey I pushed all along to try to change this law so that you could keep your policy. So she's seizing on this decision the administration made last week and said, hey that was my idea. They adopted my idea, whether that's exactly true or not. Maybe it can help her in that regard but to a large degree, these democrats are still -- when you go out to these state and cover these senate races, Obamacare is the issue.

GJELTEN

10:29:00
Well, Karen, in this -- going back to what you were saying earlier, this -- there is -- the larger political context here also includes this issue of the president using executive orders to get things done that he couldn't otherwise get done. We saw this around the State of the Union. Does this -- how effectively does this play into that criticism of the president?

TUMULTY

10:29:20
Well, it does. I mean, this is becoming a louder and louder criticism on the part of the Republicans, that this is a president who ignores laws he doesn't like and, you know, changes laws to make them suit his purposes. One of the problems here, for instance, with delaying these deadlines means that if you believe that ultimately this new health care system is going to work, you are also delaying, you know, getting it up, getting it launched and getting it going.

TUMULTY

10:29:48
And there are some -- my colleague Amy Goldstein has, for instance, an interesting story in the paper today saying that the first surveys of the -- there's a big question of these people who are signing up for these -- under the Affordable Care Act, are these people who had other kinds of insurance or were they uninsured people before? And apparently the surveys now suggests that not a lot of people who actually lacked insurance before are signing up yet.

TUMULTY

10:30:15
And what those people are really going to need is a system that works smoothly, works well and is not expensive. And until they get all the parts working, it's really going to be hard to give them that.

BABINGTON

10:30:28
And the administration needs more people to sign up. And you're seeing sort of a last ditch effort now by the president and others to really encourage and find a way to get those numbers to go up. Obama yesterday gave a town hall to a group of Latin American -- or of Hispanic Americans encouraging them to tell their friends, sign up, sign up, sign up. There is a plan here for you.

GJELTEN

10:30:52
Okay. Let's get a quick survey of the three of you about whether the events of this week help or hurt the Democrats in these upcoming midterm elections. On the one hand, as you say, it does take away an issue that -- or apparently takes away an issue that Republicans were poised to use against vulnerable Democrats. On the other hand, there is this other narrative that the president is kind of just changing the law on a whim. So what do you think, Chuck Babington?

BABINGTON

10:31:17
I would say on balance it probably hurts Democrats because every time there's another headline that says another delay, another setback for Obamacare, I think it just feeds this narrative -- this general narrative that Obamacare is a failure.

GJELTEN

10:31:29
But, Karen, you wrote recently that some Republicans are warning that they should not be too focused on the Obamacare.

TUMULTY

10:31:35
Exactly. You know, just about -- for instance, you look at an outside group like Americans for Prosperity, which is the big Koch brother's finance network, 95 percent of their advertising right now. And they are the main game on airs. It's about health care. But if you look at the polls, most people are saying they're much more concerned about their job prospects.

TUMULTY

10:31:59
And so you have people like Bobby Jindal who are stepping up and saying, look, you know, as Republicans first of all we need to be talking about what it is people are most worried about at this moment. And second of all, we need to be better at articulating what we would do to fix the problem. And again, attacking the law as it is without articulating what you would do, doesn't get you to where most voters are in this election.

GJELTEN

10:32:28
Karen Tumulty is national political reporter for the Washington Post. My other guests are Chuck Babington, congressional national politics reporter for the Associated Press and Jeff Mason, White House correspondent for Reuters. I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And remember, you can call in. We'll get to the phone calls in a minute. Our number's 1-800-433-8850.

GJELTEN

10:32:48
So Jeff Mason, bottom line here is the White House -- how worried is the White House right now about the midterm elections and about the way that Obamacare's going to play out?

MASON

10:32:57
I think they're worried. I think you can see that in the fact that they're sending the president out on travel, that he's giving rile-up speeches to Democrats, as he did just this week, to encourage them to focus on the policies that he talked about in his budget, to focus on raising the minimum wage, which is a very popular populace policy that probably has no chance of happening, but is a rallying cry for Democrats.

MASON

10:33:23
And you see him doing that in travel in his speeches, and you see him doing that with this move on health care, whether or not it opens him up to more criticism about taking unilateral action. It does give Democrats some tools and it does give them a way of saying, look, yes this is an issue but we've worked to solve it and we've got some breathing space.

GJELTEN

10:33:42
Well, Chuck Babington, you mentioned earlier Mary Landrieu, the Louisiana Democrat who is vulnerable. You've been out on a campaign trail -- if you can call it a campaign trail yet, but you've been out sort of in...

BABINGTON

10:33:54
A path maybe.

GJELTEN

10:33:55
...the landscape. What are Republicans saying?

GJELTEN

10:34:00
Well, Republicans, Tom, as I said, are just hammering on Obamacare. And many Republicans feel like, let's don't talk about anything else. In fact, that's one reason that when you get to a subject such as immigration or maybe even some tax policy changes, there's a number of Republicans who say, we've got a winning hand here. Let's don't distract by bringing in other elements. Now Karen's exactly right. There are some Republicans who say, guys you can't just keep saying repeal Obamacare and not anything else, but there is a debate within that area.

BABINGTON

10:34:29
The Senate lineup of races this year are breaking badly for Democrats in that they're defending seats in seven states that President Obama lost last time. Three of those are where the Democrats are retiring. And so in these states like, you know, West Virginia, South Dakota, Montana, it's going to be very, very tough for the Democrats to hold their seats.

BABINGTON

10:34:52
And then they have incumbents running in places like Landrieu in Louisiana, Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Kay Hagan in North Carolina and Mark Begich in Alaska, all of which were states that Obama lost last time. They're fighting very hard but they're really getting pummeled primarily on Obamacare.

GJELTEN

10:35:07
And Karen, we just had primaries in Texas this week. And you had an interesting Tweet that reminded you of sitting up and listening to your -- following your grandfather run in a county commissioner race. Were you in Texas for this?

TUMULTY

10:35:22
I was not in Texas this week, but I really was interested in sort of the way these Republican primaries -- the initial headline made it look as though, you know, there had been a setback for the Tea Party. Because, for instance, John Cornyn, the incumbent Senator, managed to be back a challenge from basically a congressman who I don't think very many people consider very serious, Steve Stockman.

TUMULTY

10:35:47
But the real story as, you know, written by my colleague Dan Balz is that it was really and truly -- the Tea Party won this election before it ever happened. Because basically every Republican running statewide these days in Texas -- and mind you, no Republican has -- no Democrat has won a statewide race in Texas since 1994 -- every one of them is running on a Tea Party kind of platform.

TUMULTY

10:36:16
And, for instance, in the Lieutenant Governor's race, which is really -- that's the most powerful office in many ways in the state -- both of the candidates going into the runoff are so conservative that at one point during the primary they both supported the repeal of the 17th Amendment by which we directly elect senators. So they both backed off of that but, you know, they are, you know, that far into, you know, Tea Party territory.

GJELTEN

10:36:44
So you can beat the Tea Party by being just as conservative but not calling yourself Tea Party or something like that.

TUMULTY

10:36:48
Exactly. Ted Cruz has truly transformed Republican politics in that state.

GJELTEN

10:36:54
Well, meanwhile we had a race there for Land Commissioner and -- a primary race and it was won by George P. Bush. He is the son of former Florida Governor Jeff Bush, the nephew of former President George W. Bush and the grandson of former President George H. W. Bush. So the returns from Texas would suggest that the Bush era in U.S. politics may not be over. We're going to be talking about these issues and more when we come back. We are going to take a short break right now.

GJELTEN

10:37:29
Jeff Mason is with us, the White House correspondent for Reuters, Karen Tumulty, national political reporter for the Washington Post and Chuck Babington from the Associated Press. Stay tuned. We'll take a short break. We'll come back and pick up the phone.

GJELTEN

10:40:01
And welcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten, sitting in today for Diane Rehm. This is the domestic hour of our popular Friday news roundup. We have Jeff Mason from Reuters, Karen Tumulty from the Washington Post, and Chuck Babington from the AP. Let's go now to an emailer. This is Chris. And he points out that at the Conservative Political Action Conference this week, which I was just about to get to, he points out that Chris Christie says the GOP has better ideas on policy.

GJELTEN

10:40:28
"My problem is they don't have new ideas. They've been saying the same stuff for 15 years. Do your guests know what these better ideas are? This is not snark, I really want to know." So the Conservative -- which of you covered the Conservative Political Action Committee. I bet you were there, Karen.

TUMULTY

10:40:43
I was not, but I was watching. I was watching it from afar on TV. First of all, CPAC is not, I think, the kind of forum where you would put out, you know, heavy policy-laden ideas. It's almost like Woodstock for the conservative movement. You know, those policy ideas are presumably what the 2016 presidential race is going to be about. That is what -- that is really and truly, if you look in history, for both parties where when you get through, you know, philosophies being shaped, it is in these primaries where you see a party picking a standard bearer.

GJELTEN

10:41:25
Well, you know, Chuck, this last email pointed out -- quoted Chris Christies speaking at the CPAC. Now, Chris Christie, as I recall, last year wasn't even welcome at the CPAC.

BABINGTON

10:41:35
He was not invited last year.

GJELTEN

10:41:36
He was not invited.

BABINGTON

10:41:37
That's right, that's right.

GJELTEN

10:41:38
So what is going on here with Chris Christie, and Paul Ryan was there at the beginning who's not exactly considered a sort of a red meat kind of conservative.

BABINGTON

10:41:46
Right. You know, the CPAC, it's sort of odd in some ways who they pick and who they don't pick. It was interesting that they did invite Chris Christie back this year when actually he's in more political trouble because of the whole bridge controversy in New Jersey. So, he tried to make the most of it by -- it wasn't really a red meat speech. That's not his thing. But he did certainly have a lot of criticisms of President Obama who, of course, he was very chummy with during the federal aid for Hurricane Sandy Victims.

BABINGTON

10:42:19
I guess one thing I might say to Chris' point is that in fairness to the Republicans, they might say, look, do we have to have, you know, brand new ideas? We've been out of power for the past five years, will be for the next three years. And they're kind of saying, our standard ideas of low taxes, low regulations, low government interference in your life, those are the things to get back.

GJELTEN

10:42:40
I want to go now to a caller. Ted is on the line from St. Louis, MO. Hello, Ted, thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."

TODD

10:42:48
Yes, actually...

GJELTEN

10:42:48
Todd. Did I call you Ted? Todd, Todd. Sorry.

TODD

10:42:51
Hey, that's okay. I wanted to comment, Karen Tumulty brought up the idea that or the report that Bobby Jindal was saying, oh, we need to talk more about jobs and not so much about health care. And there -- they're very interrelated. And I'll give you a macro-perspective and a personal perspective. The macro-perspective is that the CBO, in various reports, shows that at least 2.5 million jobs are going to be killed by Obamacare either through cost to business or incentives for people not to work.

TODD

10:43:25
So they're connected. It's not a surprise we don't have jobs. It's not because of the cold winter, it was always cold. I'll give you the personal perspective. My insurance is excellent, Blue Cross Blue Shield, best there is possible, is being fearful and offered a new plan that will cost me, out of pocket, for my extensive medical expenses $3,500 a year more. And I was going to buy a car this year. Guess what's not going to happen? And...

GJELTEN

10:43:58
You can buy a used car.

TODD

10:44:01
Well, I'd probably need to buy -- I'd probably just stick with the clunker I got. Which, speaking of clunkers, sometimes when you have a clunker, you don't fix it, you get rid of it. And I think that's what Obamacare is.

GJELTEN

10:44:13
Okay, thank you, Todd. So, Karen, Todd certainly raises an important point and one that CBO actually supported. There is a link between employment and the Affordable Care Act.

TUMULTY

10:44:25
Yeah. There are a couple of things going on in Todd's point, though. The real question is that, you know, whether employers, because you don't have to provide benefits for your workers unless they're full-time workers, which means they work 30 hours a week. One thing that people have warned about is that people start saying, okay, you know, you're going to work 29 hours a week so we don't have to provide benefits.

TUMULTY

10:44:50
But the other side of the statistic and the White House has highlighted is, yes, there will be people leaving the workforce because, you know, maybe you're a spouse who wants to stay home with the children but you need to hang on to that job for health benefits or you're somebody who wants to retire in your 50s, but you can't do it because you're not eligible for Medicare. That -- you know, there is also an element.

TUMULTY

10:45:14
And, again, this is in the CBO report, you know, of people choosing not to work. But presumably the jobs don't go away, it's that, again, you know, the people have decided that, you know, I have enough money in retirement savings.

GJELTEN

10:45:29
Did you want to add anything to that, Jeff Mason?

MASON

10:45:31
Yeah. I would just say that the White House position on that is that it -- I think they're vulnerable on it -- but their response is, look, we've also created some freedoms here. We've created some opportunities for people who may be in the workforce who felt that they were tied to those health plans that are deeply connected with their employment and may want to try something else, whether it's to stay at home with their kids or whether it's to start their own business, which can also have positive ramifications for the economy.

GJELTEN

10:46:00
Okay, now to another issue and another listener, Robin, from Hanover, NH. Apparently heard us talk at the beginning of the show that we are going to be discussing the changes in the SAT and she wants us to get to that now. Robin says, "The redesign of the SAT tests sound to me like one more step into dumbing down of American education. A Washington Post story says the College Board hasn't yet cited examples of words deemed too obscure."

GJELTEN

10:46:27
"But punctilious, phlegmatic, and occlusion are three tough ones in the College Board study guide." Okay, maybe we should back up a little bit here and talk about what these changes are in the SATs and whether in fact they are amounting to a dumbing down of the test. Chuck, all of those of us who've had kids prepare for college know the nightmare around SAT tests.

BABINGTON

10:46:52
Absolutely. I'm so glad my kids are past that age. You know, I think you could argue that -- and I'm not an expert on this topic. I did see that two of the words, vocabulary words they are getting rid of are prevaricator and sagacious. And I'm thinking, you know, if you're trying to teach our children how to write...

GJELTEN

10:47:11
We want to teach them to understand American politics. Those are two important words.

BABINGTON

10:47:14
Exactly. But, you know, liar is a good short word for prevaricator, wise is a good short one-syllable word for sagacious. And, you know, Mark Twain said something along the lines of don't use a fancy 50-cent word if you can use a good old 5-cent word. So from a writing standpoint, I think it's just as fine that they not focus on prevaricator and sagacious. But, you know, the caller does have a point that you could argue that we're getting away from some of the tougher things that back in our day we had to study.

TUMULTY

10:47:41
Yeah.

GJELTEN

10:47:41
That's not the only change, though, in the SAT, Karen Tumulty.

TUMULTY

10:47:43
Well, I am on both sides of this divide. I am the mother of a high school junior and I'm also the mother of a college senior. And one thing that they are responding to are competitive pressures. For instance, the college my son goes to, Wake Forest, a few years back decided to make test optional because they looked at those SATs and they find, you know, this is not such a great indicator of whether this kids is going to do well in our, you know, very competitive academic environment.

TUMULTY

10:48:10
They're just not given us the information we need about the kids. So, you know, that's another thing that they are going after here.

GJELTEN

10:48:17
And, you know, Jeff Mason, you have to look at this within the context of the testing industry. And I understand that SAT was actually losing market share to its rival, the ACT.

MASON

10:48:26
Losing some ground to the ACT, yes. And that's one thing they were responding to and also responding to studies that show that children of higher income families and that come higher income households were doing better in the SAT and that may be partially because of the money their parents were willing to spend on expensive SAT prep courses. And so they wanted to take that factor out. They're also offering some free prep courses online.

MASON

10:48:51
And one of the biggest changes that they're making is taking out the essay requirement, which was not a requirement when I took the SAT, and they're taking that out now and returning to that standard 1,600 top score.

GJELTEN

10:49:02
And on the thing -- one of the ideas apparently is to align the SAT a little bit more with the Common Core so that there is a sort of a unity in terms of what students are studying in school and then tested on in order to get into college.

MASON

10:49:16
Right, making it more accessible, but also just more in line with what kids are learning. And that would ideally make it more a level playing field for everyone as well.

GJELTEN

10:49:25
Okay, let's go now to Bobby who's on the line from Nantucket, MA. Hello, Bobby, thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."

BOBBY

10:49:32
Hey, Tom, thanks for taking my call.

GJELTEN

10:49:33
You bet.

BOBBY

10:49:36
So my comment was that all the battles that Obama has right now not going to play too good for him in the midterms, except for probably a politician. So about that, I'm thinking that something that he could do right now is probably work with local administration to probably build the infrastructure, internet infrastructure to provide that opportunity for self-educating extra information.

BOBBY

10:50:09
Something that, you know, access to internet is probably -- I think that that's probably easier to achieve and then it might help him also in the midterm election and for his legacy. It's a job creation issue and then access to information, and then just, you know, affordable access to internet probably will be one issue that he could backup easier without all the opposition. And then little bit, you know, might help him the midterm election all because he has work with the local government.

GJELTEN

10:50:46
Okay, let's see what our panelists think about that. When things aren't going well, you can always change the subject. And Bobby -- Chuck, Bobby says that, you know, President Obama needs some new issues to focus on like access to the internet.

BABINGTON

10:50:56
Well, to the larger point, he's exactly right that the president has said that economic inequality is going to be a big, big -- I think he said it would be the big issue for him in the rest of his term. And he has called for more spending on infrastructure in general. I think he's -- Jeff might know more about this -- largely about things like roads and bridges and that sort of thing. You know, internet access is funny.

BABINGTON

10:51:19
I covered the second half of the Clinton administration and I remember going to events in rural North Carolina where President Bill Clinton, his whole topic was better broadband or fast internet access for the smaller areas. So that is a topic that has been on the radar for some time, the degree to which, you know, that has penetrated the whole nation, I'm not sure. It's certainly better than it was in Clinton's day.

MASON

10:51:44
It's on the Obama White House's radar as well. I mean, I've been on trips with the president before where he's gone to schools and said we need to make it easier, we need to have more broadband access here as well. It's absolutely on their radar in the education realm. Whether they're looking at something more broadly in terms of bringing down prices for all of us is a good question.

MASON

10:52:02
I think, though, that the broader topic we saw actually in the budget this week and that is that focus on poverty, less focus on deficits and more on helping, as Obama likes to say, bringing people up into the middle class or boosting the people who are in the middle class. And there may be some room for agreement between Republicans and Democrats on that because both sides are talking about it.

GJELTEN

10:52:22
Jeff Mason is White House correspondent for Reuters. I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's go now to Bob who's on the line from Lynchburg, VA. Hello, Bob, thanks for calling.

BOB

10:52:32
Oh, gosh, what was I going to talk about? First -- the first I heard about the essay being taken off just break my heart. That's tragic because I'm here to compliment the Obama administration, about Obamacare because of a letter. I've sent a letter to the White House explaining that I could not get it done online or over the phone. And I was sympathetic to them being overwhelmed. So anyway, I get a call from a woman in Philadelphia saying, I got your letter.

BOB

10:53:04
And here are two numbers you can call where you live, make an appointment and see what you can get done. So I go and I meet this man named Mr. Williams and in 20 minutes I'm signed up for Silver Care. It was one of the most reinvigorating experiences of my life. I mean, no one is more of an altruistic, naïve man than I am.

TUMULTY

10:53:26
Hey, Bob, it's Karen Tumulty. Can I ask you, are you currently insured or uninsured? And is this Silver Care plan, are you going to save money? Or are you going to be spending more?

BOB

10:53:37
I have been uninsured for four years because, in the recession, I was dropped by Anthem because they would not reduce my $600 premium. And it became a preexisting epileptic condition. And I said, can we please renegotiate, I'll pay you $400 because my income has gone down. There was no renegotiation. So I've lived without health care, and fortunately I'm a healthy man. I've been fine.

BOB

10:54:03
But -- so, no, I've been paying nothing, but I also haven't been going to the doctor either. But now, it's totally affordable.

GJELTEN

10:54:12
Well, Bob, your story puts you in two categories of unique people. As Karen was saying earlier, her colleague that there were -- there was a sort of a disappointing number of uninsured people had become insured as a result of the Obamacare Act, Affordable Care Act. And, second, you're someone that actually wrote a letter to the White House and got a personal call back. That's a pretty remarkable.

MASON

10:54:35
And I would say write another letter because they will want to use your success story on their road show this year.

BABINGTON

10:54:41
I think they're going to write to Bob at the end of the show.

MASON

10:54:43
The West Wing is cheering right now, cheering.

BOB

10:54:45
But, no, you should do -- you need to do a show on letter writing because -- I'm going to hang up. But I said -- as we signed up for this plan, I said where is Morley Safer? Where is Ann Bradley? Where is "60 Minutes"? They need to be filming this to quiet all these naysayers who has not had the opportunity to work with these kind people who know what they're doing. All these critics have never been through the process.

BOB

10:55:16
That's why we need people in Washington who've been through it. It was great. So please promote it.

GJELTEN

10:55:21
Okay. Thank you very much, Bob. And your earlier point that writing skills are important if you want to get action on the issues that concern you. So maybe the SAT should not have taken away they essay portion of the SAT. Well, we don't know how typical that experience is...

TUMULTY

10:55:44
Bob in Lynchburg needs to meet Todd in St. Louis.

MASON

10:55:47
I mean, there are success stories with Obamacare and there are failure stories. And both sides will use the ones that they want to hear and that they want to promote in this campaign. But certainly the White House is eager to show that there are some success stories like this one that's, you know, going back to our earlier point. That's one reason they want more people to sign up.

BABINGTON

10:56:05
And in the Senate races you're seeing -- there are success stories and the Democrats are certainly trying to bring them to the fore. But there's obviously a lot of negative stories. So each side can have plenty of anecdotes. But Karen mentioned the Koch brothers' group, American for Prosperity, they're really flooding the airwaves in certain states, certainly North Carolina.

BABINGTON

10:56:22
And I think it's harder for the Democrats such as Kay Hagan, so far anyway, to break through with the good stories because of the noise of the negative stories.

GJELTEN

10:56:33
Well, I guess it's probably too soon to know exactly how this issue is exactly going to play out, Karen, and even in the midterm elections.

TUMULTY

10:56:41
You know, I think it's going to be years before we know really and truly how well the -- because the exchanges have to work and everybody has to be in.

GJELTEN

10:56:50
Karen Tumulty is the national political reporter for the Washington Post. My other guests this morning were Charles Babington, congressional and national politics reporter for the Associated Press. And Jeff Mason, the White House correspondent for Reuters. This has been the domestic hour of the Friday news roundup. Thanks so much for coming in, folks. It's great to go over all these issues.

GJELTEN

10:57:09
There were a couple we did not get to, but we did cover a lot of ground I think. And in the next hour we'll be talking about the international stories. So, I'm Tom Gjelten. I've been sitting in for Diane Rehm this week. It's been a pleasure as always. Thanks to our callers. Thanks for listening.
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