For this month's Readers' Review: "Drown" -- the debut collection of short stories by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Junot Diaz. Twenty years ago, Diaz published ten heart-breaking tales about a fragmented family from the Dominican Republic finding their way in 1980s America.
Guest Host: Susan Page
Health insurance enrollment under the Affordable Care Act passes 4 million, well below target. Republican David Jolly defeats Democrat Alex Sink in a special House election in Florida. And the Justice Department investigates the General Motors recall. A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top domestic news stories.
- Manu Raju senior congressional reporter, Politico.
- Margaret Talev White House correspondent, Bloomberg.
- Sheryl Gay Stolberg Washington correspondent, The New York Times.
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The Justice Department is investigating a potential decade-long failure of General Motors to address safety flaws in its cars. A new report released this morning indicates hundreds of deaths may be associated with GM’s failure to recall defective vehicles. There are concerns among federal investigators that GM knew about the faulty cars, didn’t disclose the information as required by law and may have lied to investigators. Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times noted the investigation is a test for GM’s new CEO, Mary Barra, the first woman to head a major auto manufacturer.
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MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on vacation. Health insurance enrollment under the Affordable Care Act passes 4 million, well short of the administration's goal. Republican David Jolly defeats Democrat Alex Sink in a special and expensive House election in Florida.
MS. SUSAN PAGEAnd the Justice Department investigates the General Motors recall. Joining me for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times, Manu Raju of Politico, and Margaret Talev of Bloomberg News. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MS. SHERYL GAY STOLBERGGood morning.
MR. MANU RAJUGood morning.
MS. MARGARET TALEVGood morning.
PAGEWe're going to invite our listeners to join our conversation. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find us on Facebook or Twitter. And you can even watch us today. Video of this hour, of the Friday News Roundup, is streaming live on the web at drshow.org. Well, let's start with a late night announcement from the White House on the issue of immigration and deportations. Sheryl, tell us what the White House announced last night.
STOLBERGWell, President Obama says now that he would like to make deportations more humane. And he has ordered his Homeland Security secretary to conduct a review to see how to make that happen. The president has deported more illegal immigrants than any other president. The number is nearing 2 million.
STOLBERGAnd he has been under intense pressure from Hispanic activists who are very frustrated not only at the number of deportations but also that no immigration overhaul has passed. Just last week, the head of the National Council of La Raza referred to President Obama as the deporter-in-chief. And this was obviously a wound for the president who, after all, has had a lot of support.
STOLBERGLatinos came out to the polls in droves, twice, to elect the president. Just at his most recent inaugural, there was a big Latino inaugural, sort of a side inaugural in a way, celebrating the rise of Latino political power. And I think Hispanic activists are very frustrated. So the president says he wants to make these policies more humane. He doesn't say exactly what he wants to do. We don't know exactly what will happen or what can be done. It's possible that they could order relief for parents of children who have been brought here illegally and perhaps not deport those parents. We'll have to see.
PAGEWell, Manu, I thought the president has long argued that there was nothing he could do. I mean, he's had protestors, hecklers at events about to stop the rate of deportations. What changed?
RAJUYeah. It's -- you know, actually, the president said last year, when he was heckled at that event, and he's giving a speech, and said you have the power to stop deportations. And his quote was, actually, I don't. So, you know, the White House has been very clear on the record that they do not -- can't do anything under the law.
RAJUThey'd use that as a way to try to pressure Congress to get a comprehensive immigration bill through. But, look, it's a recognition, Susan, that a immigration bill is not going to pass this year. I mean, the chances are virtually gone in the House to get something through or reconcile that with the Senate.
RAJUThis is something that the president has been under a lot of pressure from his own supporters to do. So he needs to show that he's doing something. But given the fact that, you know, he's -- they've made this very clear statement that there's nothing they can do under the law. It's not clear what they can do to actually please those folks. He'll try to probably carve some sort of middle ground and probably anger folks on both sides of the issue.
PAGEMargaret, what do you think is happening here?
TALEVI think it's a combination of two things. I think part of this is a circling of the wagons on the part of the president so that internally the Democrats are not divided and he's not the bad guy. And part of it is a way to keep attention and pressure on the Republicans by saying, look, I'm trying to do something. They're the ones who are blocking the change.
TALEVIt's really not entirely clear. Is this an about face? I don't know, maybe. Or maybe it's, like, really not that much. And part of it is maybe also signaling to the, you know, law enforcement officials at the border, hey, this is what the president wants.
PAGEDoes this mean that the White House has given up on the idea of passing an immigration bill in the foreseeable future, Sheryl?
STOLBERGI don't know if they've given up. I think there could be possibly a small window perhaps after the lame -- you know, when there's a lame duck session or maybe after primary season for the Republicans when -- you know, Republicans right now are running scared on immigration. They don't want to confront the conservative right which is very anti-the idea of giving people who came here illegally a path to citizenship.
STOLBERGSo perhaps after some of these primaries and the Republican kind of landscape settles out or perhaps even in a lame duck session, they -- some are trying to keep hope alive for immigration reform. But I think, as Manu said, it's not a good outlook right now for the bill that the Senate passed last year.
PAGEManu, you're the senior congressional reporter for Politico, and sometimes it seems like that must not be a very busy job because Congress has so much trouble getting things done.
RAJUTell that to my editor.
PAGEBut after months of negotiations, the Senate has finally reached a deal on extending unemployment benefits. Boy, we've been talking about this for months on the Friday News Roundup. What's the deal?
RAJUThe deal is a five-month deal, basically extends jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed that expired at the end of December. So it pays those benefits back retroactively, and it goes until -- through May. So, really, if this gets passed, it's probably about another month before Congress comes back and has to decide whether or not to continue with this program.
RAJUIt's a deal that came out from 10 senators split evenly between Republicans and Democrats. And it's about $10 billion in costs which will be paid for by expanding fees on goods coming through custom as well as changing how companies pay into their pension's programs. Really, it will pass the Senate now that it has the five Republican votes. The question is the House.
RAJUThe House is giving no indication that they will take something like this up. And, like I just mentioned, if it does pass the House, they're going to be right back at it in May. So this is a small step forward, but it's hardly the end of the road on this issue.
TALEVBut, you know, it's interesting. When you look at, you know, some of the Republicans who are on board, at least in terms of on the Senate, talking about Republicans from Nevada, Republicans from Ohio. These are places that are really hard hit with unemployment and joblessness problems. And so it -- this is, once again, one of these questions about House Republicans vs. Senate Republicans. Either Republicans band together to help each other, or just this -- this has really become a political thing, like, well, I don't need this in my district.
PAGEBut how many stories have we read about the long-term unemployed? I mean, it's been a terrible problem that, especially for older workers who get laid off, they have a terrible time finding another job. Do you think, Sheryl, that there is actually relief on the way? Do you think this is going to actually get passed by Congress?
STOLBERGI'm too smart to make that kind of prediction. But here's what I would like to say, that I think this is also -- it needs to be construed in a political context, right? You have President Obama making issues like income inequality and the long-term unemployed major political issues. They're trying to create -- Democrats are trying to create what I might call a compassion gap, arguing that Republicans are unfeeling toward the poor, toward the long-term unemployed.
STOLBERGIf this does pass, it in effect deprives Democrats of that argument against Republicans for a little while. And we are seeing that Republicans are concerned about this issue of compassion. Republicans like Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman and possible presidential candidate, have come out talking about the importance of caring for the poor, of addressing problems of the poor, and I suppose, more broadly, the jobless. So I think we also have to construe this a little bit in a political context.
RAJUYeah. You know, it's -- because we saw it in Florida, the special election down there this week, the Democrats really need issues to run on. You know, the Democrats are getting hammered on Obamacare. They know this is going to hurt a lot of their guys in key swing states, Senate races, House races. Seizing on an issue like income inequality is something that the president talked about in his State of the Union in which the party's really running on aggressively.
RAJUThey need something to run on. They don't have issues like taxes anymore because that issue was generally resolved within the fiscal cliff deal. Something like this, the jobless benefits, minimum wage increase, those are things that Democrats are going to hammer home this election season.
PAGEWhen you talk about the whole effort to bolster the middle class and to address income inequality, we saw another announcement by President Obama this week, Margaret, asking the Labor Department to change the rules on overtime pay. Explain exactly what it is he's looking at doing.
TALEVSo traditionally you think of overtime as time and a half if you work more than 40 hours a week. But when's the last time anyone here worked 40 hours a week?
PAGEWe work more than that, just to be clear, not less. I don't want the listeners to think we're, like, never working as much as 40 hours a week.
TALEVThat's probably important to point out. That's exactly right. So there is sort of an exemption for this overtime pay if you have, like, a white-collar job that requires some independent thinking, such and such, but that's -- you know, that's a misleading term. It's not like people making $100,000 a year. This is people making $24,000 a year, can find themselves exempted from having the right to get paid overtime when they work more than 40 hours.
TALEVSo this is, again, part of this thematic, you know, what can Obama do when Congress doesn't want to help him, and how can he address this issues on income inequality? So what he's asking for is for a rulemaking process that would sort of revisit what should the threshold be for people to be exempted from overtime pay.
TALEVAnd the thinking -- although it could take, like, a year and a half, really, to work out this rulemaking. The thinking is that it might raise that threshold at which you can become exempted by your employer to something closer to $50,000 so that if you're working for 25 grand a year, you don't get stuck basically working all the time and not making extra money.
STOLBERGYou know what I found interesting that, as with the immigration order, in this case, the president asked his Labor Department secretary to do something about this. There wasn't really anything specific. And in both cases, we're seeing a continuation of the pattern of the president doing what he said he was going to do in the State of the Union, which is I'm not going to wait for Congress. I'm going to act myself.
STOLBERGI'm going to use my executive authority to try to get things done. And we've seen this with Obamacare. We've seen it with the president's ordering an increase in minimum wage paid by companies that do business with the federal government. Congressional Republicans are not happy about this. They see it as an overreach, and I suspect that he'll fall -- the president will fall under that criticism for this as well.
PAGEAnd, Manu, just briefly, what's the reaction from the business community with the idea of changing these overtime rules?
RAJUThey're not happy. I mean, they really see that there really is not this problem that the president has laid out. You know, they said that, look, this is actually going to cost jobs if you add -- if you look at what's happening on healthcare, healthcare costs increasing, regulations increasing. This is -- and adds more uncertainty to the business world, particularly since we don't really know what this rule is actually going to entail.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk about some other big stories. The enrollment deadline for the Affordable Care Act is approaching. And we've seen a new report linking deaths to GM's recalled cars. We'll talk about the Justice Department investigation. And to that, we'll take your calls and questions. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio, Margaret Talev. She's White House correspondent for Bloomberg News. Manu Raju, senior congressional reporter for Politico and Sheryl Gay Stolberg. She's Washington correspondent for the New York Times.
PAGEYou know, we have the enrollment deadline coming up at the end of this month for the Affordable Care Act. The administration announced that 4.2 million Americans have signed up for plans on the health care exchanges. 4.2 million sounds like a lot of people. Margaret, it's fewer than they had hoped.
TALEVIt is. They were looking for something closer to 5.5, a little bit more than 5.5. And just on the merits, it is a lot of people. 4.5 million people who didn't have health insurance who are going to get it now is like a big deal. But the question has always been, will this thing pencil overtime to a point where you have the right ratio of young people versus older and sick people, where you have enough people to broaden the sort of risk pool that this thing holds up and doesn't get picked apart by lawsuits and bad quarterly reports.
PAGEAnd here's a question we've gotten in an email, Sheryl, from Chris who's writing us from Indiana. He says, "Since the administration claims it does not have the ability to track how many enrollees have actually paid any premiums, do we know whether or not the enrollment numbers are double counting those who might have dropped for nonpayment of premiums and subsequently reenrolled?"
PAGEI mean, there's also just the argument that it doesn't matter if you signed up for a health care plan. It matters if you've paid the first premium.
STOLBERGThat is absolutely right. It's a good point. We do not have figures, the caller's quite correct, on how many people have actually paid their premiums. Another very interesting thing that I thought with the release of these numbers is just how uneven they are. If you look at the states and you measure it against the administration's own internal targets which were leaked, you can find some states have enrolled 200 percent of what their target was.
STOLBERGConnecticut 200 percent, Massachusetts where the website is a mess -- and interestingly Massachusetts was of course the model for Obamacare -- 6 percent, other states, Oregon also where the website is having problems, only 20 percent. So if you look through these numbers you see that the enrollment patterns are very uneven state to state. And we also know that there's great unevenness because some states have refused to expand Medicaid. And Medicaid enrollment has been a big part of the plan to cover the uninsured.
STOLBERGSo I guess I'm wondering, overtime how are these numbers going to track? Will things even out? Will it become a sustainable program with the correct mix? And it really is simply too soon to tell.
RAJUYeah, the mix is critical. I mean, the administration had hoped about 40 percent of the enrollees would be in that coveted 18 to 34 demographic. I mean, there was a hope that, you know, these people who are younger, healthier would sort of defray the cost of people who are older and require more cost for their health care coverage. But right now they're nowhere near that 40 percent target. In fact, they're around 20 percent or so.
RAJUIn this -- this is a big problem for the administration, which is why you saw the president go on with Zach Galifianakis this week in the Funny or Die skit, a very unusual scene where the president tried to make the case in a humorous setting for young folks to enroll in Obamacare. And that's going to be the big push for the administration here in the final weeks before the deadline this month.
PAGEAs someone who is not 18 to 34, I'm a little hurt that my -- I'm not seen as such a valued customer for health care. But what did you think about that skit that the president did, Margaret? I mean, we know that's presidents communicate in new ways, presidents send Tweets, presidents do late night comic shows. What did you think about this one?
TALEVAs a student of this president, I was fascinated by it but maybe not for reasons entirely devoted to health care. On the health care part, these were the sort of raw numbers that we saw immediately after this went up on the website, that it drew something like 3 million clicks right away. But that those 3 million clicks transferred to only around 19,000 people in that sort of age group probably going to the health care website. And probably a smaller number than that actually registering for anything.
TALEVSo if you want to chip away at it bit by bit, that's fine. I guess every number counts, but it's not like this went up and wow, millions of new young people were insured. What I thought was really interesting about the video skit was number one, that Obama always, since the 2008 campaign, has been looking for ways to push the envelope with social media. His team is good at this. They're smart about this. And even when other people think it's like a stupid weird thing to do, often it works anyway.
TALEVBut the other -- the notion that he loves being picked apart and criticized and teased for stuff like, you know, Kenya and drones was hilarious to me. Because if you actually cover him instead of being a comedian in Hollywood who supports him politically like, you know, that was sort of, I think, fake anger and fake disdain on his part as opposed to can you imagine tossing that out in a press conference...
TALEV...how that would go over? Insanely.
PAGESheryl, what did you think?
STOLBERGI have to confess, I wondered if it was a little scripted with reference to the -- Between Two Ferns appearance. You know, we've talked for a long time about do things like this demean the office, are they beneath the office. I think beneath the office kind of went out 20 years ago when Bill Clinton appeared on MTV and was asked, you know, do you wear boxers or briefs?
STOLBERGSo we do know that this is a president who is interested in finding new ways to reach an audience. And I do have to say that one thing this appearance on Between Two Ferns did get him was a little bit of pop in the old fashioned media like my newspaper because we wrote about it. So it wasn't just limited to getting to his target 18-to-34-year-old audience watching the internet. He also got a little bit of a ripple effect because we all took note of it.
PAGEManu, we know that the administration has moved to delay any number of big deadlines connected with the Affordable Care Act. The biggest deadline of all is at the end of this month. Individuals are required by law then to have health insurance or to pay a fine. Will that deadline be extended?
RAJUNo. The administration is being pretty firm that they are not. It would be really, really detrimental for them politically if they delayed it at this point. You know, the issue is going to be, you know, folks will have to pay a fine next tax season if they have not paid for their health insurance for about nine months.
RAJUSo the question will be the number that they announce at the end of this month, will that be the actual amount of people who have paid? Right now it looks like about 20 percent of the people who are actually signed up have not paid for their health insurance according to some of the larger insurers. So this is going to be a big question for the administration.
TALEVBut even so, there are new concerns now about various loopholes. They may not need to prove whatever hardship exemption they're going to claim. I think, like, the overarching theme of what we've been talking about is that the real effects of whether the implementation of this thing is working, is going to pencil, is going to work, is going to do what it's supposed to do, cannot be measured in like one-month and three-month increments. We just don't know yet.
STOLBERGYeah, I've been talking actually to a lot of health policy analysts this week and they draw the analogy to the CHIP program, the Child Health Insurance Program, which they say was deemed roundly a failure when it first began. And it took about five years for that program to settle out and really enroll a lot of people. And today, nine out of ten eligible children for either CHIP or Medicaid are enrolled for insurance.
STOLBERGSo the experts say that a faulty -- or faltering start does not necessarily make for a failing program. It can make for a failing program but we really won't know and we probably won't know for several years.
RAJUAnd then the hard thing will be politically selling that if they don't know for several years.
STOLBERGRight. And, of course, unlike CHIP, the Obamacare program is politically divisive. CHIP was covering kids. Everybody can get around giving kids health insurance, good coverage.
TALEVYeah, the midterms may not wait for the studies.
STOLBERGI don't think the midterms will wait, as we saw in Florida this week.
PAGEAs we saw in Florida this week, Republican David Jolly won a special House election in Florida. And in that race there was an enormous focus on Obamacare as an issue. Is it a bellwether, Manu?
RAJUYeah, absolutely it's a bellwether district at least. And this was something that the president won in '08 and '12. This is an area where Democrats actually thought that they could win this seat even though it had been occupied for a Republican bill of young for about decades. But, you know, this was -- they had -- the Democrats had really a recipe to win.
RAJUThey had a well-funded candidate. They had someone who's running -- actually Alex Sink ran actually a pretty good campaign. They were running against a pretty flawed Republican candidate who was underperforming according to the eyes of many Republicans. And they had -- and they were in a swing district where they could actually win. And David Jolly, the Republican, ran hard against Obamacare, lashed out --tied Alex Sink to the president whose poll numbers are not very good right now in that area of Florida.
RAJUAnd what happened? The Republican won. This is a major concern for Democrats going forward because even though this district has mostly -- well, the demographics are older, they're whiter than a lot of other places in the country. Those are the types of places that Democrats need to win if they want to be successful in this midterm election.
PAGEHuge amounts spent in this race. I saw an analysis on one of the TV networks that there was about $50 per voter spent in this race. But we do have some listeners who are pushing back on the idea that this is a bellwether. Here's Jamie from St. Petersburg who write, "Jolly was elected in a district that has traditionally voted Republican. It's not a referendum on Obamacare. The media is reading too much into the selection.
PAGEAnd Leana also writing from Florida says, "We were expecting a Bellwether on Obamacare with the congressional race here. But with only 33 percent of the voters turning out and Jolly only winning by less than 2 percent and not getting a majority, does this really tell us anything?
TALEVI actually agree with both of those callers. Maybe it's just because I lived in Florida for five years and know the area, you know, sort of well. But I just -- it was a close contest. It was held for more than a half a century. It's been a Republican seat. And Jeff Garen's (sp?) a pretty good poster and he did a memo, this memo that -- sort of describing his analysis of the impacts of Obamacare.
TALEVI don't know if I would agree his contention that it helped Sink more than it hurt her, but there were some numbers in there about how independents feel about this issue, their preference of Democrats who support improving Obamacare over Republicans who support repealing it. I am not convinced that this was -- I think there are Democrats who are already worried or looking for reasons to be worried.
PAGENow Alex Sink is a pretty experienced familiar Democratic candidate in Florida. She's run statewide before.
STOLBERGShe is. She's run statewide before. She was the chief financial officer of Florida. She ran for governor in 2010. She was popular. There's something else that listeners might not know about Alex Sink that is so intriguing, I absolutely have to mention it. She is the great granddaughter of Chang Bunker, one of the original Siamese twins.
STOLBERGHer grandfather and his brother were conjoined for the 63 years of their life. They traveled the world as sort of like a circus kind of, you know, freak show act. And they ultimately settled in the tiny town of Mount Airy, N.C. where they, between them, fathered 21 children. Don't ask. No one knows the mechanics. But Alex Sink grew up in the home that her great grandfather built.
PAGEThis is the kind of insight you can only hear on the News Roundup on "The Diane Rehm Show." Thank you.
STOLBERGAnd I'm glad to provide it.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email at email@example.com. And you can watch video of this hour streaming live on the web. It's at drshow.org. We've got to talk about this GM recall. A new report this morning, Manu, that indicates that there may have been hundreds of deaths associated with the failure to recall these cars.
RAJUYeah, this is a big problem for GM. I mean, the Justice Department has opened up an investigation that could lead to either criminal or civil charges into General Motors for -- you know, it's a decade-long failure to address safety concerns in a number of its vehicles, namely the Chevy Cobalt. This all relates to the vehicle's ignition system.
RAJUYou know, there are concerns among federal investigators that GM knew about this and didn't disclose this in a timely fashion as required by law and that they actually may have lied to investigators. So this is an investigation that's ongoing and it certainly couldn't come at a worse time for GM, at a time when it started to rebound and it started to pay off all of its auto loans from the auto bailout. And now all this negative scrutiny is going to be coming forward.
TALEVThe auto bailout is creating its own really weird complicated problem, which lawyers and the administration are both going to have to figure out how to work their way around. But as part of the bankruptcy arrangement, there is some thought that GM may be shielded financially...
PAGEBecause it's the new GM it may not have the obligations of the old GM.
TALEVAnd this could be a real problem. Lawyers all over the country and in Washington now are looking at various legal strategies to argue around this because, you know, criminal investigation aside, if folks are trying to go after civil penalties for this ignition switch problem, they may find trouble doing it.
STOLBERGAnd, you know, this is also a real rest for GM's new CEO. She's Mary Barra. She took over in January. She is the first female to head a major auto manufacturer. And she has said that she would cooperate with authorities, but I think a lot of executives, a lot of women are actually watching how she will perform under what is bound to be a very, very trying inauguration for her.
PAGEScrutiny for GM, also some scrutiny for federal regulators, Manu, who failed to catch this problem. It's been going on apparently for years costing perhaps dozens of lives.
RAJURight. I mean, what it relates to is that, you know, in this ignition switch if you have a key that -- a very heavy key or a heavy key chain, that it could actually disengage the -- disable the engine and disengage the airbags. So a very, very serious concern that regulators failed to catch and that allegedly GM may have failed to disclose.
PAGESo what's going to happen now? Who's investigating this and what's likely to happen next, Margaret?
TALEVWell, I mean look, the Justice Department -- this is going to be a massive federal investigation. And then also a massive private investigation again with attorneys who have potential claims to seek.
STOLBERGAnd a congressional investigation.
TALEVAnd congress, yes.
STOLBERGWe're seeing already plans for hearings in both the House and the Senate.
PAGEAll right. Let's go to the phones and let our listeners join our conversation. We'll start with Frank. He's calling us from Pittsburgh. Hi, Frank.
FRANKHello, Susan. Hello. I wanted to ask, is it true, I heard in Massachusetts to get young people to sign up, they would wait until they'd go to the emergency rooms and then they'd sign them up. Because it's hard to get them to do it on their own.
PAGESo they'd come in for an emergency room visit and they'd say, hi, we want to fix your broken arm but first sign up for this health care plan?
FRANKFirst you've got to sign up for health care.
PAGEInteresting, Frank. Let me ask, does anyone on our panel know what's happening there?
STOLBERGI don't know. I do wonder if the caller's referring perhaps to the earlier -- the Massachusetts version of Obamacare. Perhaps that is something that they were doing when Massachusetts passed a universal care program in 2006. I don't know the answer to that. Certainly the federal program is aimed at signing people up through a website than a more conventional way.
TALEVLike motor voter. I love it. It's like motor voter. Like so much for Zach Galifianakis and, you know, Lady Gaga. Let's just go the old fashioned way.
PAGEWhy is it so hard to -- why has it been so difficult to convince young people to sign up for this?
STOLBERGWell, I think a couple of reasons. Number one, young people feel invincible, as parents of young people know, so they don't worry so much about whether or not they're going to get sick. Some conservatives would argue that young people feel resentful of this program, that they are being expected to sign up for insurance that they don't really want in order to bring down premiums for their elders. And so there's a certain amount of we're putting this program on the backs of young people.
STOLBERGIt may just be also that young people are busy with their lives and they're in school or they're working or they're doing other things and they're just not motivated. I don't think we -- I think it's probably a combination of all three.
PAGEWe're talking with Sheryl Gay Stolberg. She's Washington correspondent for the New York Times. And also with me in the studio this hour for our Friday News Roundup, Manu Raju, senior congressional reporter for Politico and Margaret Talev, White House correspondent for Bloomberg News.
PAGEWe're going to take another short break. When we come back, we're going to talk about an extraordinary 40-minute speech on the Senate floor by California Senator Diane Feinstein and a war that's begun between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee. And we're going to go to the phones. We'll take some of your calls and questions. 1-800-433-8850 is our toll free number. You can always send us an email firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us.
PAGELet's go back to the phones to Pennsylvania and talk to Ben. Ben, thank you for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."
BENThanks for having me.
PAGEDid you have a comment or a question?
BENI just wanted to comment about what you were talking about earlier in reference to some young folks, you know, not feeling -- feeling that the Obamacare is a burden on them. They don't want to sign up. I work in agriculture on a vegetable farm and I'm just very thankful to have a health care option, you know, for myself and I speak for lots of other farm hands in the region.
BENYou know, being protected is a pretty big deal to a (word?) industry, but it's something that, you know, I don't want to give up just because it doesn't offer health care.
PAGEAnd, Ben, tell me, how did -- are you covered because of the Affordable Care Act or were you covered before?
BENWell, I'm actually not -- I wasn't covered before and I'm not quite eligible yet. But my birthday is coming up, so I got to, like, work on it. But, yeah, it's coming up the pipe for me.
PAGEAll right. Ben, thank you very much for your call.
BENAll right, thank you.
PAGEHere's an email we got from Rhoda who writes, "As a family that has benefited from the Affordable Care Act as less than half the price of COBRA, my husband and I are healthy and in our 40s. I get tired of the debate that does not acknowledge the real benefits to real people." Here's another emailer on the Affordable Care Act. Wayne is writing us from Florida. "There's a report on NPR telling of the misunderstanding of much the penalty would be."
PAGE"That is if you're uninsured and don't sign up by the end of this month. Yes, it's $95, but also 1 percent of income, whichever is greater. And $95 per individual. Please have the panel address this." So, Sheryl, it's a bigger penalty perhaps than some people might be expecting.
STOLBERGYes. And I think that misperception perhaps also is driving coverage decisions or decisions to sign up because people think, well, it's just $95. And for many young individuals, it is just $95. They'll think, well, I'd just rather pay the $95 and, you know, not worry about health care.
PAGEManu, we had this extraordinary speech by Senator Diane Feinstein this week on a dispute between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee over their oversight. What's been the fallout from that on the Hill this week?
RAJUIt's been really interesting to watch. I mean, Democrats have started to unite behind Feinstein and her contention that the CIA has been withholding its information of its treatment of prisoners and really try to intimidate her committee staff while investigating this program. But Republicans have really been quiet about this. You know, the Republicans on the Intelligence Committee have sort of recused themselves from this investigation to begin with.
RAJUThey were not involved in this ongoing investigation in which Feinstein alleges the CIA improperly interfered with. So they have been quiet and they said that we need to have more discussion, debate, investigation internally. You saw the forced response by the Senate yesterday when they confirmed Caroline Krass as the general counsel to the CIA, largely in response to the concerns that Feinstein raised that the previous acting general counsel had a conflict of interest in referring a criminal penalty to the Justice Department about the Senate Intelligence Committee's alleged wrongdoing and improperly accessing a CIA internal report that was classified over its detention and interrogation practices.
RAJUSo what we're seeing here is a real power struggle between the executive branch and the legislative branch that is not going away and is really intensifying. But the debate is largely playing out behind closed doors right now.
PAGEDoes -- the CIA is demanding a criminal investigation into the Senate Intelligence Committee. The Senate Intelligence Committee is demanding an investigation into the CIA?
STOLBERGIt's fascinating. And this really lays bare sort of the behind the scenes jockeying, jousting that has been going on, really, for at least five years ever since President Obama decided to put an end to the very controversial interrogation and detention program, the program that many people associate with water boarding. Five years ago, the Senate decided to look into this.
STOLBERGThe CIA offered up some limited information about it and a way for Senate staffers to access it. And what we're seeing now is this bitter dispute over who had access to that information, whether or not the CIA tried to take some of it back, who was hacking into whose computers. And to me what was most extraordinary was you had Senator Dianne Feinstein, long a staunch defender of the CIA.
STOLBERGDemocrat, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, take to the Senate floor and literally denounce the CIA and say that this dispute goes to the heart of the Congress' ability to oversee this agency. And these tensions have gone back, frankly, to the -- from the time the CIA was first started in 1947. We have see these kind of tensions. But to see them spill out in the open around a classified document regarding of the Senate Intelligence Committee that is also supposed to be classified was very, very extraordinary.
PAGEShe described this as a constitutional issue, one that goes to the separation of powers and the ability for Congress to oversee the work of the CIA.
TALEVAbsolutely, that's right. I mean, this is a nightmare for the Obama White House. On the face of it you think, well, this whole investigation is about George W. Bush era administration practices. What's the big deal? Don't they want to just dump all the stuff out there and make Bush look bad and make themselves look good. But the truth is that, on so many levels, this is not what the White House wants to wait into.
TALEVThey set a predicate for themselves if they yield to the Senate on this. On the parallel track, they have got this NSA fallout over the Edward Snowden leaks. And they need the goodwill of members of both parties in Congress when it comes to their spying, their surveillance and their terrorism practices and this blows all of that up.
RAJUAnd it's really going to come to a head in the Senate later this month. I mean, Dianne Feinstein made very clear that she's going to move to try to declassify this report and have a vote in her committee to force the disclosure of this report that could really embarrassed the CIA and really lay bare some of its very harsh interrogation tactics. Certainly, some in the administration does not want this. It's something that they're debating internally right now.
STOLBERGAnd it's not only about the harsh interrogation tactics, though. Now this has moved to becoming a story about the conduct of CIA now in terms of its willingness to, Senator Dianne Feinstein alleges, interfere with the Senate investigation. So you've got the report about what happened during the Bush era. But the subsequent actions all occurred under the Obama White House, which is why this is so problematic for the president.
PAGEAnd remember, this is a Democratic senator addressing a Democratic administration. On this program yesterday, we had Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, also a Democrat, also a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who said he now regretted his vote to confirm John Brennan to head the CIA, that it turned out to have been a mistake. We heard the president asked yesterday about John Brennan. What did he say, Margaret?
TALEVThe president is a staunch defender of John Brennan and it's in the president's interest to staunchly defend everything that's going on. But what the president has been saying is that he wants to declassify all of the stuff, that he is a proponent of declassification. At the same time, there are like 9,000 pages that the White House is hanging on to that they will not give the Senate committee.
TALEVAnd declassification means a months, maybe years-long process by which every agency inside the federal government vets everything in those thousands of cajillions of pages of reports to figure out what they want out. Declassification process does not mean here's everything that Dianne Feinstein wants to see and let's release it to the public.
RAJUAnd remember, if they remove John Brennan, they'd have to go through another confirmation process right now.
PAGEAnd it also should be said that John Brennan, President Obama's CIA director, is very vehement about arguing that the Senate Intelligence Committee report contains inaccuracies. He produced a 122-page report of his own detailing what he felt was inaccurate about the Senate's work. So you've got -- you -- this is a clash that's been brewing for months behind the scenes and it's now burst out into the open for all of us to see.
RAJUIt's fascinating because that response to the Senate report, you know, the Democrats in the Intelligence Committee say that that's actually inaccurate. It conflicts with the CIA's own internal investigation about these practices. And the CIA says you should add that...
PAGEYou shouldn't had it.
TALEVYou shouldn't know what our internal report says.
STOLBERGAnd that's why they called the Justice Department.
PAGELet's go to Greensboro, NC and talk to Chris. Chris, thanks for holding on.
CHRISThank you for taking my call. I wanted to make a quick comment. I think if immigration reform gets to pass, it also will help the Affordable Care Act because there will be new 14 million eligible people to apply for the health care act. So I think it go hand by hand to do -- to have insurance that way.
PAGEAll right, Chris, thanks so much for your call. What do you think, panel?
RAJUThat's an interesting point. You know, I think that it kind of reminds me some of the Republican and the conservative Republican argument against immigration reform. You hear a lot of conservatives say, why should we enact this law, this legislation? This is only going to help Democrats, help Democratic policies, bring in more Democratic voters. And it's one of the reasons that's driving a lot of the opposition on the right, particularly in the House right now.
PAGEHere's an emailer with a question that goes to the discussion about the CIA. Peter in New York writes, "Do any of your guests have any thoughts about what Congress is going to do to protect themselves from CIA spying? And could and will that spill over to also affect the NSA? Because, of course, a lot of Americans have been concerned about whether the nation's intelligence services are gathering information about them.
TALEVWell, the CIA is not supposed to be spying domestically anyway. So that's what was going on. It's hard to know what Congress will be able to do to protect itself if it's already prohibited. And that's part of what this whole discussion is about. But politically -- I understand the caller is asking a substance question. But politically, it's true that all of this goes to the sort of pervasive discomfort among Americans who would like to be well-protected against terrorism but feel like they don't really know what the government's up.
TALEVPresident Obama keeps saying, look, we're not looking at everyone's emails. We don't care what you're saying in your texts. But every time something like this happens, it just churns those uncertainties more.
STOLBERGI think that's right. I think this CIA dispute has to be seen in the broader context of the whole NSA debate and the great unease that many Americans have with the power and reach of the federal government to look into people's private lives. And now you see with the CIA, in effect, being accused of spying on a congressional committee, it's not so far-fetched to think that callers would think that CIA would be spying on members of Congress.
PAGEIt might go to the general -- even though they're separate issues -- to the general issue of trust of government agencies that are doing things in secret for your protection allegedly but perhaps also raising concerns.
RAJUAnd trust of government in general, too. You know, we've seen polls...
STOLBERGWe're seeing polls showing the trust is gone, especially among young people.
TALEVBut isn't it interesting that when it's the NSA and Congress doesn't feel threatened, these are the same people who are staunch defenders.
RAJUThey better not spy on them.
TALEVWhen it's on them and all of a sudden their guys are in the crosshairs of a Justice Department probe and they feel like they're being obstructed, it is like go to the Senate floor and call holy hell on the whole thing.
PAGELet's go talk to Carol. She's calling us Peoria, IL. Carol, hi, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
CAROLHi, my comment is my daughter graduated from college just in June and she's only 23. And I don't have -- I never had health insurance either. But she can't count my health insurance. But my point is, she's paying a rent, has a minimum wage job, barely making $200 a week and paying student loans, which is over $400. She can't afford health care with all the bills. And that is my comment.
PAGEWell, Carol, thank you very much for calling. Has she signed up for health care yet?
CAROLNo, I know she's not because she rather -- she'd rather pay the $95 because she's not even making that much money. In fact, she had to pay taxes because of her student loans.
STOLBERGI do wonder if someone like that might be eligible for a subsidy under the program. It's possible.
PAGEIt's possible. Carol, it might be worth going on the website and just seeing whether -- just what it would cost her with health care because some people have been surprised by how much it costs. But we do hear stories about people who are surprised about how affordable it is with the government subsidies.
RAJUThat's right. And I think this to reason why they're having such a hard time encouraging young folks to sign up, that people realize that the trade off just may not be there to sign up for the program and may not realize that they actually qualify for the subsidies which goes to the concern from a lot of Democrats that the White House has not done a good enough job educating the public.
PAGECarol, thanks for your call and we hope things work out for your daughter. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Well, this week Congress drafted a plan that would radically change Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. If this overhaul passed, Manu, what would it look like? What would the overhaul look like?
RAJUWell, we haven't really seen all the details yet. But generally speaking, the two leaders of the Senate Banking Committee, Mike Crapo, Tim Johnson, Republican and Democrat respectively, they announced a bipartisan plan that would wind down Fannie and Freddie and replace it with another entity that would essentially -- if the mortgage industry took a major hit, taxpayers would not be on the hook in that situation.
RAJUA private institution instead would pay for some of the problems that would occur in the case of another mortgage meltdown under this proposal. But, look, I'm not sure this is going to pass. This is something that, you know, while there's a bipartisan agreement in the Senate Banking Committee, this is much different than a bill that was passed under the House Financial Services Committee by Jeb Hensarling, the chairman, the Texas Republican who authored that bill.
RAJUIt seems to be sort of laying the groundwork for a large debate over the next couple of years.
PAGEAnd of course that's sometimes what happens with these big issues, right, is that you have bills come out, you have a debate, nothing happens but it lays the groundwork for action later on.
TALEVYeah. I mean, look, the housing crisis and the housing market is sort of one the last big question marks left over from the 2008 financial crisis. Fannie and Freddie backed something like 60 percent of the mortgages in this country. The trick in winding them down is how to preserve something like the 30-year mortgage so that people can -- like s that broad cross-sections of American society can still continue to buy homes.
TALEVBut if they are able to get enough consensus to move forward with a plan like this, it would -- essentially, the way to think about this is that the government would be hoping to back -- to secure mortgages but not institutions. And because underwriters would have to put up more money upfront, there would be -- they would have more to lose by writing irresponsible mortgages. And the idea is to, A, deter the writing of irresponsible mortgages.
TALEVAnd, B, shield the government a little bit more from holding the bag when their bad deals would go down.
STOLBERGYeah, I think there's a will to, frankly, do away with Fannie and Freddie is only because the names are frankly so tainted from the 2008 mortgage meltdown and there was a feeling that they had gotten simply too big, the taxpayers were too much on the hook, there was too much exposure, that it is important and smart social policy to try to help people who really need the government's help in buying homes and sort of need that insurance. But these two organizations had simply taken up too big a chunk of the mortgage market.
RAJUYeah. They had about, you know -- and during the '07, '09 period during the mortgage crisis, we saw them get about $180 billion in federal dollars. I mean, this is a huge amount from this $10 trillion mortgage industry. They play such a central role and taxpayers are really on the hook when they got hurt. There is a bipartisan interest to do something about it. But it'll be interesting to see when this bill comes out, how the left reacts particularly in the Senate Banking Committee.
RAJUPeople like Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, what they think about this proposal.
PAGEWe've spent the last five years as a country dealing with the terrible economic consequences of the collapse of that housing market. Let's hope that never happens again. Well, I want to read an email we've gotten from Laslo (sp?) who writes, "I just got a recall letter telling me that my 2007 Saturn has a defective ignition and advising me that in the case of a crash, I have an increased risk of injury or death. And then the letter says, 'parts are not currently available.'"
PAGE"Not only does GM condemn me to a death car, they have no solution and I can't sell my car. And the good news, GM closed the Saturn division. The dealerships are gone. I'm looking forward to the class action suit." Well, Laslo, we hope things work out for you better than that. I want to thank our panel for joining us this hour on "The Diane Rehm Show." Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Manu Raju, Margaret Talev, thanks so much for being with us.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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