What's on Congress' agenda in the final weeks before the August recess? Our panel takes a look at what needs to happen, and what can realistically get done.
President Obama makes the case that his signature healthcare law is working. He reports eight million people have signed up for insurance through federal and state marketplaces. Thirty-five percent of the enrollees are under age 35. The Justice Department reports new deportation cases brought by the Obama administration have steadily declined since 2009. Campaign spending in the first quarter of this year is running more than double that in the last midterm election in 2010. And the New York Police Department drops a controversial Muslim surveillance program. A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Jeff Mason White House correspondent, Reuters.
- Ruth Marcus columnist and editorial writer, The Washington Post.
- Alex Burns senior political reporter, Politico
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Watch the full video of our April 18 Domestic News Hour.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane will be back Tuesday. President Obama reports 8 million people have signed up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act. He and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor spar over immigration reform. And the New York City Police Department drops a Muslim surveillance program. Joining me to talk about these and other top national news stories: Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post, Jeff Mason of Reuters, and, for the first time on the News Roundup, Alex Burns of Politico. Welcome, Alex.
MR. ALEX BURNSThank you so much.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation later in the hour. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Jeff, we saw the president come out to the briefing room yesterday to announce a big number. What was he telling us?
MR. JEFF MASONA big number. He was talking about the number of people who have signed up for healthcare under Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act. And it's now up to 8 million, which is more than the White House, more than the CBO, more than independent analysts had predicted would happen. And this is just another, for the White House anyway, piece of good news after having reached that 7 million figure just a couple weeks ago after the disastrous rollout of the website last fall. So things are looking better for him.
PAGENow, the second important number that analysts were really looking for, that was 28 percent. Twenty-eight percent of those who signed up were 18 to 34 years old. Why is that demographic so important, Ruth?
MS. RUTH MARCUSSo that demographic is important for the reason that it's a proxy for health. The younger you are, the healthier you are. And so not that those of us who are a little bit older aren't also trying to do our best on our health, but -- so and that goes to the composition of the risk pool. So if you have younger people in there, you should have a healthier pool, so that should allow premiums to be down for everybody.
MS. RUTH MARCUSNow that 28 percent number is a little bit complicated because, in fact, the president used a different number because he threw in a bunch of children who were covered under Medicaid, which makes the pool look even better. Some people had hoped and anticipated as high as 40 percent compared to the 28 percent. But it's still -- pardon the pun -- a healthy number for a risk pool and another piece of evidence that Obamacare -- if you can't finally declare that it's working, you can at least declare that it's not the obvious disaster of Republicans' assertions.
PAGESo, Alex, in response, did Republicans say, oh, we're wrong, yeah, Obamacare's working? What is their response here?
BURNSYeah, no. Exactly. They've done that a lot the last couple years. No, of course not. So I think Republicans are grappling with this reality that Ruth is talking about, that if the law is not necessarily a smashing success, overwhelmingly popular, the hope that you heard from a lot of quarters last fall around the time of the government shutdown, that the law was going to collapse on its own, that's clearly not going to happen at this point.
BURNSAnd now what you see is the Republican Party trying to calibrate its rhetoric a little bit and talk in terms of, you know, we've got our own set of principles on healthcare reform. Just don't ask us to put forward really specific legislation.
PAGEAnd, of course, there were some important numbers that the White House and the administration's not put out. How many of these people have actually paid for their premiums for their first month? Have they paid for a second month of premiums? How many of them were uninsured before the law took effect?
PAGEThese are all things, I think, we will find out eventually, and that'll be important. But what about the political question for November, Jeff? I know that Democrats, especially those Democratic senators running for re-election, have been really concerned that Obamacare is going to be a killer issue for them. How does that look now?
MASONWell, the president made it clear yesterday what he thinks they should do about that. They said, you should be very proud of these figures. He should be very proud of the fact that something you did, something we did, is helping to insure millions of Americans that weren't insured before. He was asked about that directly.
MASONAnd his response was clear. I think the White House has maybe a more nuanced perspective on that though behind the podium. I think they want candidates to go out. They don't want people to run away from Obamacare. But they're not necessarily encouraging these candidates to bring it up either.
PAGESo, Ruth, is it now a good issue for Democrats, a neutral issue for Democrats, or is it still a dangerous one?
MARCUSIt depends on what Democrats you're talking about. This was clearly a terrific week for the Democrat-in-chief President Obama. They won the week on healthcare after some previous, really quite disastrous weeks. If you're talking about Democrats who are up for re-election or running for election in very iffy states, some of the endangered senators, the president called on Democrats yesterday to "forcefully defend" the law.
MARCUSWe are not yet hearing -- and I'll be surprised if we hear an absolute full-throated embrace by those folks. I think that the best and the smartest thing that they could do is to say, I voted for Obamacare, I thought it was a good idea, there are some issues, I'm trying to fix those issues, and then to pivot to other issues. Because, in those jurisdictions, it is far from clear that Obamacare is, at least for now, a winning issue.
PAGEAnd, of course, it may be a question of timing. You know, we -- every national poll continues to show that most Americans do not support the Affordable Care Act. Now, maybe over some time and persuasion, that will turn around if the law turns out to work. But I'm not sure, Alex, if that can happen by November.
BURNSAnd certainly not in the states that we're talking about in this election.
PAGESo what states are we talking about?
BURNSPlaces like Louisiana, North Carolina, Arkansas where the -- the states where the control of the Senate really hinges -- it is interesting that up in Alaska, where first-term Democrat Mark Begich is running for re-election. There's now a well-funded outside group sort of sanctioned by the party establishment running an ad with a woman from Alaska talking about how she's a breast cancer survivor, and she continues to have health insurance in spite of that -- because of the Affordable Care Act.
BURNSAnd I think that's going to be an interesting test case to see whether other Democrats in tough states like Alaska look to that as an example and say, well, maybe I can, you know, dip my toe in that water as well.
PAGEYou know, Jeff, other good news for the Affordable Care Act this week with a CBO report that deals with the long-term costs of the act. What did the CBO tell us?
MASONWell, the CBO said that the costs of -- that the deficits actually -- estimates would not be quite as high as possible or as originally forecast because the subsidies that are involved in the Affordable Care Act would not be quite as high. So that was another reason the White House came out and said, look, this is working. And they had some good numbers for them. The reduced health cost estimates made up the bulk of the $286 billion reduction in CBO's cumulative deficit forecast for the years 2015 through 2024. So that's a big number.
PAGEWhy do -- why were the costs lower than expected, Ruth?
MARCUSCosts are lower than expected because healthcare costs, as a general matter, are rising at lower rates than has been historically true. And you can get into a lot of discussions about whether and to what degree that is a function of changes that the Affordable Care Act has instigated and encouraged. But this is the most important -- not just for healthcare, but for the fiscal future of the country. Really, the most important development over the last couple years has been the slowing in healthcare cost.
MARCUSThere's a couple other really important numbers from CBO that I wanted to throw out because I think you mentioned the questions that we still don't have answered. And until we have some of those questions answered about where premiums end up, who's newly insured, how many people who sign up actually pay up the premiums, we're going to be a little bit arguing about the Affordable Care Act by anecdote, right?
MARCUSHere's this breast cancer survivor who has a wonderful story. Here's somebody who had insurance that she liked and has lost the insurance, and it's a disaster story. And she would have to pay -- mortgage her house to be able to pay her premiums. But here are some numbers that CBO had. We had, before the Affordable Care Act, 80 percent of non-elderly adults were insured, now 84 percent.
MARCUSBy 2016, that number is going to rise to 89 percent. That's, you know, not universal coverage, but it's pretty darn close. Similarly, and at least as important, premiums, according to CBO, are not as high as expected. And they're expected to remain below projections. So keep an eye on those two things.
PAGEAnd, of course, if you're looking at the next opportunity, Republicans would have really to significantly change the act if they elected -- if the country elected a Republican president in 2016. So by 2017, when that person would take office, maybe 90 percent of Americans will be covered and will know whether the law worked or not. I wonder if that will change at all, the Republicans' calculation, on whether they're better off, Alex, arguing, we still want to repeal and replace, or whether they're going to begin arguing, we should try to fix.
BURNSWell, and, Susan, this is what Republicans and sort of conservative policy thinkers warned. Starting a month after Barack Obama was elected, there was a national review conference in Washington where you had sort of conservative healthcare experts saying, you have to stop this proposal in its tracks because there is no modern Western country that has passed universal healthcare and then taken it back.
BURNSYou look at a country like Great Britain, the conservative party campaigns on, you know, you have billboards with David Cameron -- I'm the one who will protect the national health. I think we're a long way from that point in this country, but, sure, I think when you start to talk in terms of not this is going to cost so much money and maybe you'll lose your plan and isn't there all this uncertainty, but in terms of there are 400,000 people in Kentucky who have health insurance, or didn't use to, it becomes a very different sort of power equation.
PAGEYou know what else is different? For six years, we've been arguing on the Friday -- not arguing, but discussing it in an incredibly smart way in the Affordable...
MARCUSWe don't argue on the Friday News Roundup.
PAGEThe -- we've been arguing about the Obamacare or arguing about the Affordable Care Act or about President Obama's approach to healthcare. And finally we're talking about the actual results. I mean, it's as though real life becomes a part of the argument, which undercuts some of the ideology that's dominated for half a dozen years.
MASONI think that's also reflected a little bit in the polling that you referred to earlier though, as you say, a majority of Americans still don't like Obamacare. There's not a majority of Americans who want it repealed. So that type of disconnect on some level shows that they still want that healthcare. And that's something that you -- it would be interesting to see if the Republicans will start reflecting that in their strategy as well.
MARCUSAnd a majority of Americans may not like Obamacare, but a majority of Americans like -- and a significant majority of Americans are going to protest if it gets taken away from them -- elements of Obamacare that I think the Republicans -- the president talked yesterday about they're going through the stages of grief, and they hadn't quite gotten to acceptance.
MARCUSBut the reality is, is that some changes -- allowing your kids to stay on your insurance until age 26, covering pre-existing conditions, things like that -- are facts on the ground that are going to be very hard to dismantle. And Republicans aren't talking about dismantling those.
PAGERuth Marcus, she's a columnist with The Washington Post, Jeff Mason, White House correspondent for Reuters, and Alex Burns, senior political reporter for Politico. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk about what's happening on immigration. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. It's the Friday News Roundup with Ruth Marcus, Jeff Mason, and Alex Burns. You can actually not only see us -- not only hear us but see us. Video of this hour of the Friday News Roundup is streaming live on the web at drshow.org. And we're going to take your calls and questions shortly, our number, 1-800-433-8850, or send us an email to email@example.com.
PAGEWell, Alex, I'm not sure whether the news on immigration this week was good or bad. There was kind of a public war of words between Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, and President Obama. But then the story from Laura Meckler in The Wall Street Journal -- Laura being, of course, a friend of the Friday News Roundup -- that says Speaker Boehner has told donors and others that he is hell-bent on actually passing immigration legislation this year. What do you make of this?
BURNSWell, I think that both of those elements that you just mentioned are pretty telling -- these comments by John Boehner out west and then this exchange between Eric Cantor and the president where the two men had a phone call. Obama and the White House say that it was a perfect cordial exchange and called to wish the leader a Happy Passover. And Cantor says that he was just incensed and really took it to the president for disparaging Republicans the very same day.
BURNSI think for folks who are concerned about the possibility of immigration reform, who are opposed to the idea of a bill passing, they look at these two data points, and they say the fix is in, that John Boehner is indicating that he intends to sort of ram something through the end of the year and that Eric Cantor is really protesting too much at this point, that he's out there making all this noise so that later in the year, when the Republican leadership caves, they can say, you know, we fought like all -- you know, we fought like heck, and we just couldn't beat this guy.
PAGEYou know, when the president talks to Vladimir Putin, as he did this week, you can expect two very different versions of what was said. But when the president and the majority leader have such different versions of a conversation, who are you going to believe?
MARCUSWell, first of all, Happy Passover at the risk of getting everybody riled up. Apparently, that's a very dangerous thing to say. It is -- the immigration reform is the ultimate riddle because it's completely clear that there are kind of two Boehners, right? There is the real Boehner who I believe sincerely wants immigration reform, is hell-bent on getting it done, has done everything he can to try to get it done, but he is grappling with this party that is not with the program -- a rational program for the party.
MARCUSHe is grappling with a lot of people angling for his job and a very boisterous -- to put it nicely -- caucus and which -- and so he'll say -- one day he'll put out this set of principles on immigration reform, and the next day he'll pretty much announce that its done and, you know, he's pulling back. And so which Boehner wins out? Which one is able to win out, I think, is the kind of political mystery story of 2014.
PAGEJeff, what do you think?
MASONI think it also creates a difficult calculus for the White House because I think part of this year, they have felt very pessimistic about the idea of immigration reform passing. And I've detected just recently that there's just a little bit more optimism about the possibility of it passing.
MASONSo the calculus is, do they wait on taking executive actions on deportations, which is something that the activist community is pushing really hard for so as not to alienate potential supporters in the Republican caucus in the House. Or do they just admit that this is not going to happen this year and start addressing some of those criticisms from the activist community?
MARCUSIt's funny, you know, I've heard different levels of optimism and less than optimism from the White House through the year. But you have to wonder if this is the moment when the White House is feeling optimistic about immigration reform. And I just haven't had those conversations recently. Why does the president seize on what's really a pretty not important anniversary, the first year anniversary of the gang of eight's agreement on immigration reform?
MARCUSI mean, we're not talking about Senate passage of immigration reform to bemoan the stalled process and to accuse Republicans of having "no sincere desire to work together." That's not exactly the sort of fruit of an optimistic world view of we can all work this out if we can just keep the temperature down.
MASONAnd it does show that they're under a lot of pressure, and they want to continue to show to their base, to those activists, to others in the Democratic Party that they're on it, whether anything is happy or not.
BURNSWell, and I think part of the disconnect here is not just in terms of do Obama and Boehner both want to pass immigration reform -- I think they both clearly do -- but just what the definition of success is for both sides. The White House wants something comprehensive. Democrats, activists are not going to be happy if you just pass, you know, a border security bill like an education benefits bill. That's not success for the Democratic side of this.
BURNSFor Republicans, the main political imperative is going into 2016, being able to say they've done something that indicates that they're not relentlessly hostile to immigrants. And something piecemeal could get the job done for them.
PAGEIs -- I wonder if the White House feels that politically they're better off if they can blame Republicans for not getting anything passed, or if that's dangerous for them because it looks like, once again, President Obama failed to deliver on a campaign promise he made in 2008 and again in 2012.
MASONI think it's a little bit of both. I mean, when you talk to White House officials, they will say, we absolutely want to get this done. We're doing everything we can to get this done. But Democrats privately will certainly also admit that it's good for their prospects in the 2016 presidential election if they continue to show, look, Democrats are on the side of Hispanic and Latino voters, Republicans are not.
PAGEYeah, sometimes we should be careful about what we're sure we know. And one of the things I think the conventional wisdom held was that President Obama had been deporter in chief, that he had been more aggressive about deporting illegal immigrants than his predecessors. New numbers out this week that call into question some of that analysis. Ruth, tell us what these new numbers from the Justice Department show.
MARCUSWell, you know, the line about lies, damn lies, and statistics? It turns out that immigration and deportation numbers are a perfectly apt illustration of that because you can take these numbers and carve them all sorts of different ways. But, briefly, the numbers showed that deportations were down from 240,000 in the first year of the Obama Administration to 134,000 dollars -- 134,000 people last year.
MARCUSAnd though Obama has been called deporter in chief by some of the leading immigration advocates, he's played around with the numbers also. Because there was a time when it was to the administration's benefit as it was negotiating with Republicans in trying to show that border security was a priority and that it was taking it seriously. So it wanted to carve up the deportation numbers to make it look like they were huge, like it was 400,000 people a year.
MARCUSIt turns out that there was an excellent piece in your newspaper USA Today -- thank you very much, Susan -- that talked about these numbers. And it turned out that the 400,000 figure included people who were pretty much caught on spot and sent right back, didn't used to be included in those numbers, so that made the numbers look good. That was good for the administration when they wanted to look tough.
MARCUSWhen they wanted to look understanding and not like the deporters in chief, those numbers come out. So deportations overall are down. Whether they are down enough to satisfy immigration advocates and to take the heat off President Obama -- because it's not just Democrats feeling pressures in 2014 and 2016. It's Obama feeling pressure about what his own legacy is.
PAGEThat story was by my colleague Alan Gomez. Thanks very much for mentioning it. Alex, what do you think?
BURNSWell, I just think, isn't it amazing, if you take a step back, if you think back to the immigration debate in 2006, 2007 that you would have just a couple years later a Democratic White House trying to prove just how soft on illegal immigrants they really are, right? The idea that you would have this president out there aggressively now making the case that I'm really not deporting that many people against this backdrop of trying to pass a bill that opponents, you know, call in exaggerated terms amnesty, that's a pretty astonishing transformation.
BURNSAnd I think, even more to the point that the president's base feels emboldened to push for more than that, that they look at what he's done for other sort of big central left constituencies in terms of just coming out and saying, no, I'm not going to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court, just sort of these unilateral decisions to push a progressive agenda, and they ask, well, why not do the same thing on deportation?
PAGEIf they don't get an immigration bill, will he take more executive actions aimed at kind of addressing this constituency and the concerns that they have?
MASONI think so. It's not clear exactly when or what that would be but the White House has said that HHS is doing a review of deportation policy. And they're referring to Jeh Johnson continuing to do that. And I think that we can expect to see some results on that fairly soon. I think though that it goes back to what we were talking about earlier in terms of political calculus. How far they actually go with trying to address the criticisms of that program probably depends on how likely they think it is that they can get legislation through the House.
MARCUSAnd let's remember, the president -- yes, this is an important constituency, but it did -- he did give a significant benefit already to this constituency in terms of executive action and has gotten a lot of grief for it from Republicans when he allowed the DREAMers and children who had been brought to this country illegally. But when, through no fault of their own, had grown up here, allowed them protected status so they won't be subject to deportation, more than 500,000 people have gotten that status.
MARCUSThe president has also been very clear in discussions with immigration advocates that there are limits, he says, to what he can do with his executive authority. He can't simply, he says, suspend all deportations pending an agreement, but there may be other slices of the deportable population that he may be able to grant some degree of clemency to.
PAGEOne of the interesting angles of this story from reading this week is the huge and increasing backlog in deportation cases. More than 350,000 cases are backed up in court largely because of consequences of the sequester, which, when it happened, you know, there was some surprise that the sequester didn't seem to have such disastrous consequences. In this case, it's really had a dramatic effect.
MASONYeah, they haven't been able to hire judges. They haven't had enough -- and it's interesting, the immigration courts-- this is an interesting little factoid -- are part of the Executive Branch. They're not part of the Judicial Branch, which is very unusual. But the result of the sequestration has been that they haven't even been able to replace judges who have retired because of those funding limits. And so that has led to not having enough judges to deal with existing cases and certainly not to be able to take care of or address the backlog.
PAGELet's go to James. He's calling us from Atlanta, Ga. on our toll-free line. It's 1-800-433-8850. James, hi. You're on the air.
JAMESHey there. Good morning. How are y'all?
JAMESQuestion on the Affordable Care Act: How is Big Pharma coordinating the formularies with the plans? My understanding is that the first-line, very expensive drugs, medication used for cancer, HIV, that sort of thing, that the only way for participants to find out if, in fact, these medications would be covered was to actually buy a plan first and then find out.
JAMESAnd I do understand that, from The Wall Street Journal, that some of these pharmaceutical companies are not offering first-line medication coverage. And if they are offering any coverage for these types of conditions, it's more like second-line or generic, which could have potentially bigger side effects.
PAGEWell, James, that's a great question. It's an important question. I'm not sure it's a question our panel can -- is able to answer. Anybody on the panel want to take a stab at that?
MARCUSI'll take a semi-informed stab, which is that James raises an important point about the difference between generic medications and brand name medications. And different medications for the same illness can cost enormously different amounts. There's a medication for, I think, it's subthalamic cancer that could range from, like, $5,000 a month to $50 a month.
MARCUSAnd there's a really interesting societal question about whether -- who we want to give the authority to decide whether the more costly drugs are that much more effective that we want to spend that much more money on them.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We'll go back to the phones where we're taking your calls at 1-800-433-8850. Let's go to Battle Creek, Mich. and talk to Ralph. Ralph, hi. Thank you for joining us.
RALPHYes, hello. I just wanted to mention two things about the U.S. healthcare system that people should keep in mind, is that according to what I keep reading and hearing is that we have the most expensive healthcare system in the world by probably a factor of two. In other words, we spend more of our GDP than, you know, most industrialized countries. The other thing to keep in mind is that our outcomes are not that good. We're ranked in the OEDC countries -- the industrialized countries, we're ranked at 37. So...
PAGEYeah, Ralph. You know, these are just the kind of issues we've been hearing about. And I guess the president had hoped to address some of them in the Affordable Care Act.
BURNSWell, that's right. And I think if you look at places where -- in the United States where they've taken a stab at universal healthcare before, look at the State of Massachusetts, for example, the first challenge was getting as many people enrolled as possible. They succeeded in doing that in much the same way that the federal government appears to have sort of cleared the bar on the Affordable Care Act.
BURNSThe next big thing is cost controls. And if you look at what happened in Massachusetts from sort of 2009 to the present, they're still struggling with that. And, you know, it's for a lot of the reasons that Ruth just mentioned that everybody likes the idea of cost containment in theory. But they kind of like the -- they prefer the idea of cost containment for somebody else's healthcare as opposed to their own.
PAGEWe had "The Diane Rehm Show" first hour yesterday about this huge new database of medical information that's being created under the Affordable Care Act, aimed at kind of regularizing treatments, being able to figure out what treatments are most effective. Well, if you like campaign ads, you're going to have a great time the next couple of years because we have early campaign finance reports out this week. And they show that the rate of spending on campaign ads is more than double at this point during the last midterm election. What did we see in these reports?
MASONWell, the numbers are large. Fifty-six million dollars has been spent by outside groups already in 2014, which as you say, is double what was spent in the last midterm elections. There's some state breakdowns for some of that, 2.97 in Arkansas, 1.7 in Louisiana, 1.14 in Alaska.
PAGEThese are the places with the big Senate races.
MASONExactly. And so that money is flowing in, and it shows that the Supreme Court has had some effect on that ability for outside groups to spend.
PAGESo, Alex, who's doing the vest in campaign fund raising?
BURNSWell, it's funny because we talk about this huge explosion of outside spending, and it's totally accurate. But, you know, it's not evenly distributed. So when you talk about $56 million in outside ads, more than half of that is from this one group, Americans for Prosperity, funded by Charles and David Koch, the billionaire conservative industrialist brothers.
BURNSAnd so, you know, you do see Democrats trying to catch up on their side, some of their outside groups. House Majority PAC, Senate Majority PAC brought in about, I think, $16 million together in the first quarter of the year. That really shows that this sort of Democratic super rich are more engaged than they used to be. But, look, this is an arms race that we're only going to see escalate over the course of the year.
BURNSAnd if the people in these states are tired of campaign ads now, just wait until the DSCC and NRSC and Republican Governor's Association, all these groups dive in at the same time. The real winners here may be the Democrats, may be the Republicans, but it's really local television stations.
MARCUSAnd can I tell you who the real losers are? I know there's not going to be a lot of weeping for them, but the real losers are the lobbyists in Washington and the corporate executives who get hit up for campaign cash. Because with the Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon, they are no longer able to say the magic words, sorry, I maxed out. Now they can just keep on giving until it hurts.
PAGEWe're going to take another short break. When we come back, we'll go back to the phones, and we'll read your emails. Stay with us.
PAGEHere's an email from Phil. He's writing us from Hadley, N.Y. He says, "Please ask the panelists their view of the likely effect of the new gun control initiative that Michael Bloomberg is funding." You know, one thing that struck me about the announcement by former Mayor Bloomberg is he talked about giving $50 million to this as though it were pocket change.
MARCUSAnd it is.
BURNSAnd it is for him.
PAGEYeah, I guess so. How -- what kind of impact is it likely to have?
MASONWell, it really is -- I mean, this is an argument that is fought both rhetorically but also with cash. And the cash has largely been on the side of the National Rifle Association, which is a very, very powerful gun lobby and that has -- which has had a lot of effect on races in all over the country. And so I think what Bloomberg is trying to do is counter that, and the $50 million is his way of doing that. It's hard to say what kind of an effect it has.
MASONI mean, it's so engrained in U.S. culture. It's hard to shake that up. We saw that with the president's effort after the shootings in Connecticut. It didn't -- he didn't get through nearly anything that he wanted to get through. So whether money changes that equation is hard to say.
MARCUSAnd I would love -- my heart would love to say that Bloomberg money is going to make all the difference and turn around this debate. But money talks in American politics, but what talks even more in American politics is intensity. And the fact of the matter is that the intensity in the debate about gun control and additional sensible gun legislation has unfortunately been way more on the side of the NRA and those who oppose additional restrictions. And so, until that changes, money can help. Money might be able to help make that change, but it's going to be really difficult.
PAGEWe also saw acts in the Colorado debate over gun control last year that former Mayor Bloomberg's participation actually became an issue that was used against those who were advocating for gun control laws.
BURNSYou heard folks who are opposed to the new gun control laws using a lot of the same kind of rhetoric that you hear Democrats using about the Koch brothers that here is some out-of-state billionaire coming into our town with his wallet trying to buy himself an election, right? And Bloomberg got the short end of that debate out in Colorado.
BURNSHe has been successful in a couple of places. I think that just, you know, across the river here in Virginia, he dumped in a couple million dollars to the off-year elections there for governor, attorney general at the very end. And it was just devastating for Republicans who were already out-gunned, so to speak, on the financial front.
BURNSBut I think when you look at this current election year, you have to ask yourself where are the states really that are, you know, on the map in big elections where a message about gun restrictions is going to be helpful to even people who support gun restrictions? I don't think you're going to see, you know, folks like Alison Grimes, the challenger for Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, out there talking about gun control.
PAGEThe commissioner of the New York City Police Department announced this week that he is closing a unit that has spied on Muslims. That's been a controversy in the Associated Press today. Excellent story talking about this unit which apparently never generated a lead in several years of undercover operations directed at some Muslim groups. Jeff, does this represent, do you think, a kind of post post-9/11 era where some of the steps that were taken in the wake of those terrible attacks in 2001 are now being reconsidered?
MASONI think so. I mean, and that seems to be the message from this particular move. And I think the most interesting statistic was the one that you just cited that, despite the resources in terms of manpower and money put in by the New York Police Department on that particular unit, they didn't get any leads from it.
MASONSo, yeah, I mean, it's a question, I think, people at the federal and national level will probably continue to grapple with for years, how to deal with and balance that right to privacy and need for national security. Certainly, the White House has had to deal with that. But there does seem to be some shifting now.
MARCUSIt reflects -- that also reflects the fact of a new mayor in New York, I think.
PAGEI bet that's right. Let's go back to the phones. We'll go to Long Island and talk to Morgan. Morgan, hi, you're on the air.
MORGANHi. How you doing? I'd like to talk about the Obamacare. Actually, he has about a 40 percent approval rate, but in the -- this is where we have 15 to 16 percent who want it to go further. They want single payer or something better or get rid of the insurance companies. So I think these numbers are just going to increase. I'd like to just mention my brother. He had a $1,900 a month policy, now has $1,400 a month. He used to have a 4,000 deductible. He has no deductible now.
PAGESo is he a fan, I guess?
MORGANHe doesn't even like Obama, but he has to admit it now.
PAGEThanks very much for your call, Morgan.
BURNSWell, I think the White House and Democrats would be well served to track down Morgan and get him on some campaign ads, right? Because this is the big challenge for proponents of this law from the beginning is not just talking about universal healthcare in terms of CBO reports and, over a 10-year period, it's projected to do A, B, and C, but to say, now here is a guy who used to pay $1,900 and now he's paying $1,400.
MARCUSI would like to hear that ad and see -- have the guy say, I don't even like the guy, and I like this Obamacare.
PAGELet's talk to Carla. She's calling us from Grandville, Mich. Hi, Carla.
CARLAHello. Susan, thank you so much. I love the show. I'm interested in what the panelists think of the standoff in Nevada between the, I guess, cattle rancher and the DNR. He's got a lot of supporters out there, and they did talk to a couple of people. Other farmers aren't really happy with it because they feel this man has usurped this land for years. But there is a standoff going on out there. And I was wondering if the panelists know anything about it.
PAGEYeah. And it's gotten a huge amount of attention in some quarters. Alex, what do you know about it?
BURNSWell, I think this is sort of your ultimate sort of conservative activist tempest in a teapot in that you have this cattle rancher, Cliven Bundy, who hasn't paid his grazing fees for, like, my entire life. And the government is now coming to sort of confiscate his herd. And he'd become this kind of folk hero for people who are really, you know, not just conservative, not just critical of the government, but really anti-government folks who are sort of now out there in Nevada with, you know, carrying arms on the highway and that kind of deal.
BURNSHarry Reid, just yesterday, the Senate majority leader, called these people domestic terrorists. So I think this has become a big issue in Nevada. I think it's become a big issue in national conservative media. I think that if you look at what leaders of the Republican Party are saying, they're not sort of eager to get in the bunker with Bundy out of Nevada. That's a bridge too far.
PAGECarla, thanks so much for calling us. Let's go to Charles. He's calling us from Sarasota, Fla. Good morning, Charles.
CHARLESGood morning. Thank you, Susan, and respected panel. You know what? I think it's laughable that President Obama is bragging about the numbers because we're actually being held hostage and forced to sign up for this. Otherwise, we're penalized. So him being happy about this, the amount of numbers, is really ridiculous. It's sort of having gun being held to our head and, oh, isn't it great we're signing up. I mean...
PAGEAnd, Charles, does this affect you? Did you have to sign up for healthcare because of the law?
CHARLESI have not.
PAGEAnd do you have healthcare? Are you just going to pay the fine?
CHARLESYes, I do.
PAGEOh, you do have healthcare.
CHARLESYes, I do. And I'm going to pay a fine for years. Doesn't matter what it cost. I'm so against it and him. Thank you.
PAGECharles, thanks so much for your call. So not everyone is -- we had Morgan whose brother is really enthusiastic the Affordable Care Act. Charles clearly disagrees.
MASONYeah. And I think that is a good example of the divide on Obamacare in this country, which isn't going to go away no matter how positive those figures are. There is -- he's absolutely right. There is a penalty for people who don't sign up or show that they have some kind of healthcare coverage. The other thing that's worth mentioning -- you've got this positive figure of 8 million for the White House, but these signups have to continue.
MASONThere will be another open enrollment period starting later this year. They need to build on that momentum. And part of being able to do that will be tapping down on negative sentiment about the law and trying to show that not only is it working but that there are more positives than negative.
MARCUSThe signups have to continue. Also, people have to actually write the checks to the insurers to sign up. But just to be a tad snarky in response to Charles -- not that I've ever done that -- I want -- I understand people feel very aggrieved at the notion that the government is forcing you to do something. But I'd like to point out that the government is forcing them, taking money out of their paychecks actually, to pay for their Social Security, to pay for their Medicare.
MARCUSYou don't hear that kind of cry of outrage about that hijacking on forcing of them, into conscripting them into an actual official government program. And so I wonder whether that they die down in the end.
PAGEYou know, the other thing that has to happen in the future is that people have to also get the kind of care that they want to get under the Affordable Care Act. Doctors -- they have to find doctors who are willing to treat them. They have to figure out what's covered. You know, we had a caller talking about what kind of drug coverage was going to be available. I mean, the -- there is a point where reality takes over, which is, I think, maybe going to be a relief.
BURNSAnd I think proponents of the law have recognized from the beginning that there was going to be this period of disruption, this period of uncertainty. I interviewed the governor of Kentucky a couple of months ago. He was one of the sort of rare Democrats whose state is something of a success story in counts of enrollment and setting up a state exchange. His, I think, pretty optimistic view was, by the end of 2014, most people who are anxious about the law but not necessarily angry about the law -- and that's a majority -- will recognize that it doesn't affect them that much.
BURNSSo, you know, the test of the law over time is how many of these 8 million people who have enrolled feel like they're getting superior health coverage in terms of the short and medium-term political question. I do think there is this sense that if people just feel like maybe this isn't going to reach down into their personal health experience and be hugely disruptive, then that will be fine.
PAGEOne other element of a continuing debate is some states that shows not to accept the expanded Medicaid program. That we've seen a debate unfold in Virginia, for instance. Are those states -- I think there might be 24 states that declined to take -- accept an expansion of Medicaid. Are they likely to reconsider if this program works well, Ruth? Or is that done?
MARCUSSo that's a really interesting question. And the president was very sharp yesterday in his press conference in chiding those states for -- he said something like they were just mean -- the governors and the legislatures in the states that declined to expand Medicaid. And, by the way, it should be pointed out that, at least in the short term, the entire cost of the expansion are being covered by the federal government.
MARCUSAnd in the next several years, the vast majority of the costs are covered by the federal government. The president's argument was that those states were just being absolutely mean spirited to their poor citizens. I would like to say that there isn't an argument -- I'm not endorsing it. But there is an argument on the part of those states that they are concerned about, even that share of their Medicaid budgets growing and growing and growing and being eaten up.
MARCUSWhether there's going to be an enormous amount of political pressure in those states, it seems to me to be an open question because the people who are hurt are people who are in poverty, who are not the most common voters and not the people who are going to necessarily be in a position to bring direct political pressure on the people who are denying them the Medicaid expansion.
PAGEAnd it means you have this community in those states that's too poor to qualify for Obamacare.
MARCUSIt's so frustrating just to make sure that people understand what you're saying when you say too poor to qualify for Obamacare. There is this just gap between the people who clearly qualify for Medicaid under the current standards, unexpanded. Those folks give coverage to folks who are working and make enough money for the subsidies to get covered. But the people in the middle who would be covered by the Medicaid expansion if the states took it are the ones who end up with nothing.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Jeff, we had a sad anniversary this week in Boston, one year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings, a chance to check in on some of the people who lost limbs and loved ones on that terrible day.
MASONYeah, it was very powerful to watch. The vice president went, lots of dignitaries and family members who were present then, who were affected by the bombing. One of the things that struck me was from Patrick Downs who lost a leg, who talked about the outpouring of support that he and his wife got after they were injured. And I just want to read a quote from him.
MASONHe said, "We would never wish the devastation and pain we have experienced on any of you. However, we do wish that all of you, at some point in your lives, feel as loved as we have every day of this past year." So it was some very moving stories about the support that came out of a very tragic, tragic event.
PAGEThe resilience of some of the victims of the bombing was really striking when you saw these interviews with them. We saw them undergoing physical therapy, walking on artificial limbs.
MARCUSYeah. You know, the word was Boston Strong, and it really was. And with Jeff, I was just moved by some of the stories that you heard. You wonder if you would be quite as resilient in those circumstances, but hopefully we'll never have to find out.
PAGEThe Boston Marathon goes forward as usual on Monday, Patriots Day. Do we expect any changes, Alex?
BURNSWell, I think that you're going to see certainly a lot more coverage of the Boston Marathon than you normally would. But, you know, clearly, security is on high alert. There was this sort of really appalling hopes this week where someone, you know, left something that looked like it might be an explosive device near the marathon, and you sort of wonder what gets in to some people.
BURNSBut, look, I think that you really have to admire the way the city has come together over the last year, not just to sort of support the people who are affected by the bombing and sort of have the sense of local pride that Boston has always had, but I think it's really striking how little sort of anger and how little paranoia there has been afterwards. I think if you imagine an event like that happening in 2004, 2005, the city would not be on lockdown ahead of the marathon. You just don't have that level of, you know, suspicion of everything that moves.
PAGEYeah, that has been interesting. Meanwhile, the person who has been charged with this crime is awaiting trial. How does that look, Jeff? Do we know when the trial will take place?
MASONI don't know when the trial would take place, but I would highlight a comment that his lawyer made this week. They're trying to get him more access to his own family without having all of his conversations being listened to and then given to the prosecutors. So he does have a defender, and they're working hard to -- and they're saying actually that his relationships with his family is key to understanding what happened there. I think part of that may be having to explain whether or not his brother was more instrumental in that bombing, so it's -- they're working. Both sides are working on it as we speak.
PAGEThe question may be whether he gets the death penalty or not. The government has said they'll seek the death penalty, possible he'll reach a plea bargain that spares him that. Well, Ruth, I think we have to close with the biggest story in the world this week.
PAGEChelsea Clinton is pregnant.
MARCUSStop the presses. No one has been waiting for this announcement more than two people we know very well, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton. They have made very clear that they want a grandchild. And congratulations to them that they're getting one.
PAGEWe talk about the political implications of everything, of the Affordable Care Act, of immigration reform. OK, Alex, the political implication of Chelsea Clinton's pregnancy.
BURNSWell, it's a total game changer, Susan. I think we can all agree with that. The specific implications only time will tell.
MASONI think there's two actually if I can be serious about that just a little bit. One, I mean, people have speculated whether Hillary Clinton will really want to spend more time with her family instead of running for president, so some people will almost certainly ask that question.
MARCUSBut they'll be wrong.
MASONRight. And the other question is -- and Chelsea sort of hinted at it this week as well -- is what happens with her politically that she might herself be interested in running for office someday.
PAGEJeff Mason, Ruth Marcus, Alex Burns, thanks so much for joining us this hour on "The Diane Rehm Show."
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back on Tuesday. Thanks for listening.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Denise Couture, Susan Casey Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn, Danielle Knight, and Allison Brody. The engineer is Erin Stamper. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts and podcasts. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington, D.C. This is NPR.
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