American homes today are triple the size they were in the 1950s. And with more space has come more stuff. But a growing number of advocates say it is time to simplify. The lure of the minimalist lifestyle – and what it could mean for our health and happiness.
A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories: President Obama announced he would outline a new plan for job creation in September; The Justice Department is investigating whether S&P improperly rated mortgage securities in the years before the financial crisis; Gov. Tim Pawlenty withdrew from the Republican presidential race; and Warren Buffet called on the new deficit “supercommittee” to raise taxes on rich people.
- Nia-Malika Henderson national politics reporter, The Washington Post.
- John King anchor of CNN's John King, USA, and chief national correspondent.
- Laura Meckler White House correspondent, The Wall Street Journal.
Friday News Roundup Video
A caller who says she campaigned for President Obama expresses her disappointment that he hasn’t been more forceful, or “audacious,” in pushing his agenda since taking office in 2009:
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Mounting concerns this week that the U.S. could slide into another recession. A jump in the consumer price index for July added to that bad news. President Obama says he has a plan for jobs creation. And the Justice Department announced it's investigating rating agency Standard & Poor's.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me for the week's top domestic stories on the Friday News Roundup: Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal, John King of CNN, and we welcome Nia-Malika Henderson of The Washington Post. Good to have you with us, Nia.
MS. NIA-MALIKA HENDERSONIt's great to be here, Diane.
REHMAnd what news do we have this week? The economy is at the top of the list. And, Laura Meckler, it was another day of turmoil yesterday. This morning, the markets seem to be making up their minds. Everybody is wondering, are we on the verge of a second recession?
MS. LAURA MECKLERThat's true. And there's just a huge amount of anxiety out there. I think what Washington is doing isn't necessarily giving anybody all that much confidence that they're prepared to deal with this. There's so much gridlock. There's no agreement on what, if anything, the federal government can do to spur growth. And so you have these huge market swings -- wild.
MS. LAURA MECKLERAnd I don't think anyone's as concerned about the swings up as they are about the regular swings down. And on top of that, it just seems like every economic report that comes out is more bad news. We have...
REHMConsumer price index jumped again, John King, raising fears of stagflation. Explain that.
MR. JOHN KINGWell, it's a relatively modest increase in inflation. We're in a good economy. You'd shrug it off and say, okay, people can afford that. But wages are not going up, and the housing market is down. And so you have a situation where the things you want to be going up, like consumer confidence, are going down. Housing sales, you want them to be going up. They're going down. The manufacturing index, you want that to be going up. It's going down.
MR. JOHN KINGAnd the things you want to be going down, like inflation, like, you know, energy prices, a subset of inflation, are not. And so you're in this environment where part of it is the data. People look at the data, and they say there's a risk of falling technically, by economic statistics reasons, falling into another recession. Now, part of this is psychology, Diane. And this is just a fear, the fear index.
MR. JOHN KINGThey keep a fear index on the market. It's way, way up. And some of that is people look at the data and get scared. Some of that is people look at the politics and get scared, whether it's our politics in Washington or Europe's continuing grasping, trying to come up with a way to deal with their debt crisis. So you have a -- I think, in addition to all the statistics, you have a crisis of confidence that's hurting the markets.
REHMAnd, Nia, President Obama says he has a new plan for job creation, but he's not going to announce it until after Labor Day. Is this a time to sort of tease out I've got a new plan, and then go on vacation?
HENDERSONRight. And you've seen him get a lot of pushback in criticism for going on vacation. He, of course, left yesterday for Martha's Vineyard. He's staying at a pretty lavish estate. I think it's a $50,000 a week estate there. And so he's gotten quite a bit of pushback on that. But this is pretty much what happens every summer. But he will unveil this plan in September, sort of a reset to what the jobs plan has been so far.
HENDERSONHe keeps talking about turning to a jobs plan, so he'll finally do that in September. I think one of the reasons why he waited is that Washington pretty much empties out in August. So what's the point of him, for instance, canceling his vacation and padding around the White House and thinking about job creation? So he will roll out a plan. There will also be a speech as well, where he lays this out.
HENDERSONHe's likely going to call for some stimulus money, some with construction and infrastructure projects. He's going to call for this super committee of 12 people to actually have a higher deficit, cut more than the $1.5 trillion that is their mandate. So there's a mix on a range of things that he'll call for.
HENDERSONI think the question is whether or not he's got the political horses on the Hill to do that, not only with Republicans, who have notched a lot of W's over the last couple of months, but also with Democrats. You've got 23 Senate Democrats who are going to be up for re-election in 2012. And I think one of the political realities, coming back in the fall, is that it's going to be every man and woman for themselves 'cause they're going to be looking at 2012 and whether or not they're going to be able to get re-elected.
MECKLERAnd also, the president is in a bit of a box because he has been consumed by negotiations over reducing the deficit, which has very little to do with spurring job growth. In fact, arguably, it's the exact opposite. We're to -- that's about cutting. Spurring job growth is about spending, whether it be through stimulus spending or tax cuts. So he's trying to -- you know, the White House explains, you know, one's short term, and one's long term.
MECKLERAnd, yes, that makes sense. But it's a hard message to deliver. And I think the White House is at risk of having another three months bogged down by messy, ugly negotiations on Capitol Hill that they have very little control over, about should we raise taxes and how much should we raise taxes by, rather than what, I think, their political people would, in some ways, prefer to be talking about, which is job creation.
MECKLEREvery time he tries to talk about job creation, it just somehow goes away.
REHMAnd meanwhile, his own popularity drops to a new low, John.
KINGIt is stunning when you look at the numbers. His overall approval rating is below 50. But if you look particularly at the issues by which the people will judge him -- they judge any incumbent president. How's his handling of the economy? How's his handling of the jobs crisis? He's way, way down. The Gallup poll this week showed him at record lows. He's down in the 40s. In some of the statistics, you see him in the high 30s among support.
KINGAnd so the president, at a time he is at his weakest in his presidency, is taking a huge political gamble. Why didn't he call the Congress back now? Well, Nia's right. They tend to leave. They're so polarized. It would serve no purpose right now. There's -- they're nowhere near consensus on these issues.
KINGSo the president is gambling that, through his bus tour and just through all of this sinking into the American people, even if he's relatively silent on vacation, that enough of these Republicans come back and tell their leadership we need to do something because I need to be re-elected.
REHMBut, you know, John, even that bus has gotten criticism.
KINGIt's the president running around the country saying, I want to boost made in America on a made in Canada and refitted-in-America bus. This is -- we -- CNN owns a bus, the CNN Express. And we looked into this when this mini controversy started. Our bus is made by the same company. You can't find a company in America that makes these big buses.
REHMSo it's made in Canada.
KINGThe shell is made in Canada. Then you bring it down to a company in the United States that, you know, puts in the couches and does the refitting and customizes it for you. The president can say, you know, this was a Secret Service purchase. But everything is fair game. When you're the president of the United States and you're in a political environment like this, everything you say, everything you do and everything you ride is fair game.
REHMNia, I want to go back to the 12-member committee. How likely is it that they will be able to agree on something that will help boost the economy and help get jobs?
HENDERSONWell, it's hard to imagine. I mean, given the gridlock that we've seen so far, it's hard to imagine this committee coming to any consensus. The president, of course, is going to put his plan out there and look to sway things. And, you know, he's also going to be out on this -- he's going to try to sell his plan. He's going to try to, you know, leverage the American people as a kind of sixth man and have them press on Congress and -- to get something done.
HENDERSONBut, you know, I think it's probably just as likely that they deadlock these six folks, you know, obviously six on both sides. So it's hard for me to imagine. Maybe I'm just a big cynic, but I've certainly seen over the last months in Washington the enormous amount of gridlocks. So it's hard to imagine...
REHMAnd remind us what happens if they do gridlock, Laura.
MECKLERWell, if they do gridlock, then automatic spending cuts kick in, about $1 trillion of spending cuts. And fully half of that is from the defense accounts. So we're -- the people who really care about defense spending are very worried about this in particular. So that's about $500 billion over 10 years from defense and about an equal amount from domestic programs.
MECKLERThere are some domestic programs that are sheltered from those cuts, mostly ones that aid low-income Americans. But still, that means even deeper cuts for the rest of the domestic budget.
REHMAnd meanwhile, the Justice Department announces it's investigating Standard & Poor's in terms of what happened with the mortgage crisis. They say that the investigation began long before Standard & Poor's came out and downgraded the U.S. economy.
KINGAnd they can document that it began before Standard & Poor's downgraded the U.S. economy through the, you know, request for information and the interviews and the like. So they can make the case, yes, we can prove it. Here's the paper that shows.
REHMWhy didn't they say so before?
KINGSo why didn't say so at the time is the great question. In Washington, of course, you have every conspiracy theorist and even non-conspiracy theorists saying, hey, wait a minute. So Standard & Poor's embarrasses the president and embarrasses the country and downgrades the United States credit rating. And lo and behold, a week later in the newspapers, voila, we're investigating Standard & Poor's.
KINGPart of that is, you know, is it just an idle coincidence? Or is it the way Washington works, a little bare-knuckle politics? Look, there's no question. All of the ratings agencies have some explaining to do about what happened back in 2007 and 2008. If they are the good housekeeping stamp of approval, they were putting their stamp of approval on things that turned out to be worthless, or things that turned out to be way more risky than the market was describing them.
KINGSo there's no question there are credibility questions for the ratings agencies. But the timing here makes you scratch your head and think, is somebody out there just trying to deliver a political elbow?
REHMAnd, Nia, Los Angeles and a number of other cities have said they're dropping Standard & Poor's as a rating agency.
HENDERSONExactly. I think you've seen this ratings agency really take a beating in terms of the confidence folks have in it, whether it was because they obviously gave pretty good ratings to some of these, you know, mortgage-backed securities that were really at the center of the financial meltdown. And I think there's just this sort of larger culture role, a movement in terms of not really believing in these agencies that we believed in before.
HENDERSONWhether it's government, whether it's the presidency, whether or not it's Congress, there's, I think, just a growing lack of faith in these institutions that used to be sort of the voice-of-God institutions.
REHMYeah, and what's behind the investigations? What are the allegations or the implications of this investigation?
MECKLERI think what they're looking at is whether there were analysts who wanted to give a lower grade to some of these mortgage-backed securities and that people in the business units sort of overruled them. That's the question on the table. And in other words, was S&P giving them a higher rating in order to keep their business as a ratings agency?
MECKLERBecause the way it works is that the people being rated, not the government, but the companies that are rated, they are the ones who pay for the ratings. And they can choose to have -- be rated by somebody else.
REHMLaura Meckler, White House correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back to the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup this week, with Nia-Malika Henderson, national politics reporter for The Washington Post. John King is anchor of CNN's "John King, USA," chief national correspondent, and Laura Meckler, White House correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook, or send us a tweet.
REHMThis whole question about GOP candidates, and we had Gov. Perry make some controversial statements this week. Nia, what do you have to say?
HENDERSONYes, indeed. A number of things, one of which was that he would like to abolish the Department of Education, and that's sort of a throwback to Ronald Reagan, who ran on the same premise, that he would want to abolish the Department of Education. In terms of global warming, he said that he doesn't believe in global warming, that it's still a matter of debate among scientists.
HENDERSONAnd, I think, probably the biggest gaffe -- if you can call it a gaffe -- is talking about Ben Bernanke and saying that if he printed more money, it would be treasonous. And if he went down to Texas, he'd be handled pretty roughly. Now, this brought out, obviously, a lot of criticism from the right, even. Karl Rove came out and said this is something that, you know, a presidential candidate should not say. Of course, we know that Karl Rove and...
REHMGeorge, the Bush family.
HENDERSONYeah, the Bush family not, you know, big fans of Rick Perry. But I think one of the things you've seen him do, even over the last week since his debut, is he's dialed down the rhetoric a little bit. He was in New Hampshire over the last couple of days. He's in South Carolina today.
HENDERSONHe came out today, for instance, and said that his book "Fed Up!," which has a lot of these very controversial statements about Social Security being a Ponzi scheme, he's come out to back off of that. But I think we're going to see him be thoroughly vetted, not only on the ground, you know, when he's doing this campaigning, but also the national press is finally going to get a look at -- a good look at him.
HENDERSONThe thing, I think, going in his favor is that he's a Tea Party guy. And, I think, over these last days, he's been looking to consolidate the support, you know, the Bachmann supporters, for instance, the Paul supporters, and a lot of the things he's said have certainly resonated with some of the things that those folks believe. But I do think, over the next couple of weeks, we're going to see him, perhaps, make some more stumbles.
HENDERSONAnd I think we'll have to look out for how Romney reacts. How does he respond? Is he sort of…
REHMHe's been pretty quiet.
HENDERSONHe's been pretty quiet. Does he hang back, which has worked for him? He's sitting on a pretty comfortable lead. He's got, you know, the money advantage. Does he still hang back as Perry really makes a go at him? Or does he finally come out fighting?
KINGIt makes for great chess. We're early in the campaign. We have five months to go until the real votes. The Ames Iowa straw poll did eliminate Gov. Pawlenty, but the real votes don't start until the Iowa caucuses. But Gov. Perry has added a lot of adrenalin to the race, for better or worse. And the Ben Bernanke comment is just un-presidential.
KINGI don't think you have to, you know -- of course, we're in the objective business, but that's an un-presidential thing to say. And so the criticism there comes from all quarters. There's a Hatfields and McCoys between the Bushes and the Perrys, so you have to discount some of the stuff that comes from the Bush people. It's because of personal rivalries and grudge matches and the like. But you're tested, Diane.
KINGYou've seen this with any number of candidates, whether it's Sen. Obama, whether it was Sen. Clinton last time. Running for president is different than running for any other office. And some of these guys say, well, I'm a three-term governor. I'm tested. It doesn't matter. When they get on the national stage, it is different.
KINGYou're going to different states, where people might not be as conservative as Texas, might not translate your Texan as favorably when you say, we'll treat you a little ugly or we'll rough you up or abolish the Department of Education. So he's -- he came in with a full-throated appeal to the Republican base, which, if you want the Republican nomination, makes sense.
KINGHowever, Republicans think they have a pretty good chance of winning the general election. So the question is, do some voters put ideology aside and say, I need someone who can beat that Barack Obama guy? He's a pretty good debater. He, even though he's in trouble right now, has proven in the past that he can appeal to the middle. Do I want this guy who says those things? That is his challenge, and that's why, as Nia said, he's dialed it back a little.
MECKLERYeah, I think that from the Democratic point of view, Rick Perry's entrance to the race is only good news, frankly, because he essentially puts more attention on these, you know, really sort of out-of-the-mainstream views. And the question, of course, as Nia alluded to, is, you know, how does Mitt Romney have to respond? Does he have to respond?
MECKLERDoes he get pulled into this and have to, you know, appeal to this Tea Party point of view to compete with both Perry and Michele Bachmann, who are both sort of taking that same point -- starting from that same point with the electorate? So I think that -- I mean, Mitt Romney has tried very hard to essentially run a general election campaign from the beginning to appeal to, as much as he can, to middle-of-the-road voters, as well as Republican voters.
MECKLERAnd so far, it seems to be working. But the more Rick Perry stays in, the more traction -- if he does get traction with the Republican electorate, the harder that's going to be to do.
REHMAnd, of course, he announced on the very day of that Ames straw poll, sort of drawing some of the attention away from Michele Bachmann, who came out rather a big winner in that.
KINGAnd so there are some who say, how dare you? You're taking away from an established event. Why couldn't you wait a day? Why couldn't you wait a week? And there are others who say, you know, that's the Texas macho bravado.
REHMThat's the way you go.
KINGYou get in, and you show people you want to be tough. And he has redefined the game in just a week. We'll see if he fizzles. Is he the next Ronald Reagan? Is he the next Ryder? Is he the next Fred Thompson? Does he come in with all this great appeal and then fizzle out? But everybody is making different calculations, either publicly or privately, because of Gov. Perry's first week in the race.
REHMThe claims that he's made about the jobs growth in Texas -- our listeners have called and said, check out those claims. Check out the graduation from high school. Check out the jobs for low income people. All that is going to come under really tough scrutiny.
HENDERSONIt is. And you've seen some articles come out that -- come out about that already, basically saying that the Texas miracle was really a mirage. His claim is that 40 percent of the jobs over the last two years have been created in Texas. Now, if you look at some of those jobs, a lot of them are lower income jobs, minimum wage jobs. Some of them are government jobs.
HENDERSONAnd you even hear Romney on the stump, talking about one of the strategies that Perry used to create jobs, which was to advertise in other states, to bring their jobs to Texas, which, you know, you can't really replicate that on a national stage. We can't, you know, advertise in Canada that they move jobs here.
HENDERSONSo I think you're going to see the Democrats really talk about Texas as a whole, not only, you know, this job creation, but also what are the health insurance policies like there? How many people are health insured -- have health insurance? I think it's something like 25 percent don't have health insurance. They've got a poverty rate that is tied with Mississippi for fourth. They've got the highest number of adults without high school diplomas.
HENDERSONSo I think you're going to see that. But I do think it's a challenge for Democrats to really try to poke holes in the job numbers, partly because Democrats can't lay claim to creating jobs themselves. So it's going to be a little hard to -- it's almost -- it would almost be like someone poking fun of someone who's got a used car and all they have is a skateboard.
HENDERSONSo I think that's going to be a challenge, but I think they're going to make him really run on Texas as a whole.
REHMIn the meantime, you've got Wisconsin that held a couple of recall elections in the last few weeks. The last two Democrats held on to their seats. How close does this make the opportunity or the possibility of a recall for the governor, John?
KINGWell, the forces who want to recall the governor still say publicly they want to go forward with that. The question is, do they decide in the end that is a waste of energy, or do they keep going? What this was nationally, people maybe on the other parts of the country say, why do I care about this? This was a test. How much would the Republican base continue to turn out, you know, almost a year later?
KINGHow much is organized labor and other Democratic organizing forces? What lessons did they learn from 2010? And how much money are they -- how much can they raise, and how much are they willing to pour in? Recalling a governor is a pretty extreme step. We did see that's what brought Arnold Schwarzenegger to the national state, so it does happen in some states where they have this power.
KINGBut you're going to watch -- in the end, the Republicans kept their Senate majority. It shrunk a little bit, so we'll see how much business they get down there. We'll see if Gov. Walker learns a lesson here. You see Gov. Kasich already now in Ohio saying, let me try to renegotiate with the labor unions. So you win an election. Then you come out with your agenda. And smart governors are aggressive.
KINGRemember, George W. Bush won the presidency, didn't win the electorate -- didn't win in the, you know, popular vote and still went ahead with his tax cut, huge tax cut, when everyone else said, retreat. If you're smart and you win, you'd be bold. And then you re-adjust. And we'll see if Gov. Walker re-adjusts and if he can take some of the steam out of the recall effort.
REHMThat's an interesting way to put it, John. What do you think Barack Obama has done in the way of moving ahead forcefully and then compromising?
KINGWell, in health care, they moved ahead and compromised. And they came out with, you know, much more of an activist government role. And there were some people yelling at him, pushing him to do the single-payer, and he said I can't do that. He let -- they let Congress write the plan. I think that putting health care first was keeping a campaign promise, and it was a promise he thought he could keep.
KINGI think there are a lot of people now, including in team Obama or people who have left team Obama, who's saying in hindsight that we'd be in a lot better shape if you had done jobs first.
MECKLERWell, I think the best example of where we've seen him change his approach is that, you know, he didn't run for office saying, I'm going to reduce the deficit. He didn't run for office saying that I'm going to find ways to, you know, raise taxes, cut entitlements, you know, cut discretionary spending. He's been pulled along by all of that from the Republican Party.
MECKLERSo, you know, he -- sort of it has been small steps, but it's galloped up to a full run as he's trying to catch them on this issue. So, I mean, you don't really see him now putting forward, you know, big, bold plans for just about anything. Right now, what we really see him doing is trying to say, me too.
REHMAll right. And Warren Buffett came out, calling for higher taxes on the rich. He took out a full New York Times op-ed piece on Sunday, saying, my friends and I have been coddled long enough by billionaire-friendly Congress. It's time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice. Nia.
HENDERSONYes. I would certainly love some of that coddling. But he's basically saying that his tax rate, I think, was something -- the taxable rate on his income was something like 17, 18 percent, whereas folks in his office had basically double that. And, I mean, the problem here is that, you know, people, in some ways, dismiss Warren Buffett as, you know, doubling down on what Obama has already said.
HENDERSONYou had some pushback in The Wall Street Journal against this op-ed, but, yeah. I mean, he's obviously right in line with Obama, saying that, you know, the rich need to be -- millionaires and billionaires, they need to, you know, have a increase in their taxes, but...
REHMPay their fair share is what he said.
HENDERSONRight. Pay their fair share. Pay -- you know, pay the same rate that, say, a secretary in their office has. But this is an argument that has not gotten traction. It's not an argument that, you know, is going to find purchase in this Congress, where you have this huge Tea Party contingent in the House of about 84 folks who say no new taxes.
MECKLERWell, I think that that, to some extent, is an open question still 'cause we're going to have another round of this with the super committee.
MECKLERWe're going to see, as Jay Carney said, you know, super is as super does. Well, we'll see what they do. But one of the questions on the table is going to be, are Republicans going to be willing to agree to some new increase in taxes? Now, a lot of people say, no, they're not going to. And then the question becomes, do they let these automatic cuts happen or the Democrats cave?
MECKLERI think that either one of those are plausible scenarios for what we've seen out of Washington, but we are going to have another round of this question about, should there be any sort of taxes in the mix?
REHMLaura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First to San Francisco, Calif. Good morning, Denise.
DENISEGood morning. I just find it disturbing that almost all of the blame is being laid at Obama's door. I find it ironic that nobody is really talking about this kind of "Lord of the Flies," almost flat earth-ish (sic) perspective of some of these Tea Party members that said that the debt ceiling didn't matter. They pushed the world economy right to the edge, and then Standard & Poor's was there to tip it over the edge a week later.
KINGRight. It's an interesting point. And it's a fair analysis, that there are a number of players here, and it's not all the president's doing. However, in terms of American politics, history tells you the buck does stop with the president. And in a national election, he will be held accountable and judged by the state of the economy. Now, to the point about the Tea Party, yes, some of them have been completely uncompromising.
KINGAnd they have said, you know, we won't raise the debt ceiling or we won't raise the debt ceiling unless we get a boatload of spending cuts. And a lot of people out there say, how can they do this? I would just say this. I would just say this: the American people, collectively, are responsible for this.
KINGIn 2008, they elected a president left of center who wanted to come and make government an instrument of good in your life, a little bit more government -- not an extreme amount in more government, but more government. Then in 2010, they did just the opposite, and they (word?). Now, there are people out there saying I didn't vote for Obama, and there are people out there saying I didn't vote for the Tea Party.
KINGBut the collective result of these two elections is a president left of center and now a Republican House right of center that believe in diametrically opposite things. They were sent here both by the American people. So part of this will only be resolved if the American people send a clearer message in 2012 when we have the tiebreaker.
MECKLERIt's -- the president has tried to make the point of the caller repeatedly. He said, I'm the one who's trying to compromise. I'm the one who's trying to make this happen. These guys are the ones who are being unreasonable. He...
REHMBut should he have said that more strongly earlier?
MECKLERYou know, I think he had -- has been making that point. The point that he's willing to compromise, I think, he's been making for quite a while now. Whether, I mean, a lot of people think he shouldn't -- maybe he shouldn't have been so willing to compromise. He should have taken a stronger point.
MECKLEROn the stump this week, he had a line where he said, when I'm -- you know, when Michelle and I are deciding what we're going to spend our money on, she -- you know, maybe she gets 90 percent of what she wants and I get 10 percent of what I want. But I still get something. And, you know, the question is well, 90-10. Is that how you view it, you know? So...
HENDERSONYeah, that line was eventually dropped when he (unintelligible) in appearance because...
REHMI would think so.
HENDERSONWell, he always says that line a little different. It's always about -- something about between -- you know, he's trying to bring it home. But the point is that there are a lot of people who feel like he has been too on the left, feel he's been too compromising. But what he's trying to do, you know, desperately trying to do, is convince people that he is the reasonable man in the middle. That, so far, doesn't seem to be working for him.
KINGAnd we'll see in the next election how many of these uncompromising or less compromising Tea Party members get re-elected. That'll be one test. But I just want to say this: I'm not defending them. That's not my job. We cover them. We don't defend them or criticize them. But, Diane, if a politician breaks a promise, we excoriate them. If you go back to the campaign, they are doing exactly what they said they were going to do.
KINGThe question is, can they keep the support of their people back home? They don't have to win in a country of 300 million people. They have to win in a district of 500,000 people. And if those people send them back, if you go back to the ads and you go back to the campaign debates, go back to the interviews...
REHMThey're doing exactly what they said they were going to.
KING...they said we won't raise the debt ceiling because the spending is out of control. And so they're doing what they said they would do. A lot of people might take offense at it. But normally, we applaud politicians when they actually keep their promises. And the American people will decide in the next election whether they should have changed their mind or whether they should have held firm.
REHMAnd how many times has the debt ceiling been raised without any problem at all?
HENDERSONI don't know the exact number. It's 18, 17 -- 18, over Reagan's term.
REHMIt's like 17, something like that.
HENDERSONSo, no, you're -- but I agree with John. This is what they ran in. And they all signed Grover Norquist's pledge saying that they wouldn't raise taxes, so they are certainly keeping their word with that.
REHMNia-Malika Henderson of The Washington Post. When we come back, more of your calls, comments. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMThe domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup is being videotaped. Clips will be up on the Web in about an hour. Here's an email that apparently represents a number that we've received. It says, "It's been reported that the investigation of Standard & Poor's began before the downgrade. If that is true, is the downgrade a result of the investigation?"
REHMWhat do you think about that? Who knows?
KINGLook, to the same point, if the leak was a way to throw a political elbow, maybe from Standard & Poor's point of view, you know, the downgrade was a way to throw a political elbow. I do think we can't read minds here.
KINGI do think that what was the criticism of not only Standard & Poor's, but all of the ratings agencies, that they were too soft, that they were too willing to turn a blind eye or too willing to be overly optimistic about the forecast and the value of these mortgage securities and the like. So if the knock on them was they weren't tough enough, maybe this was their way of saying, fine, we're going to be tough now, and we're going to downgrade.
REHMBut on the other hand, a $2 trillion mistake was found, and then they shifted the rationale from making the downgrade.
HENDERSONYeah, I mean, to look at the reasoning behind it, it really read like a political document. It was a real castigation of Congress and the gridlock there. It didn't seem like just a straight kind of analysis of what was going on in terms of how much did they need in terms of cuts to actually raise this debt ceiling.
HENDERSONSo, yeah, I mean, I think this is something that people are going to have conspiracy theories about what came first, the investigation or the downgrade. And so, you know, and again, I think their reputation will probably continue to suffer.
REHMAll right. Let's go to The Woodlands, Texas. Good morning, Lisa.
LISAGood morning. I have a question. I saw a really interesting piece on The Daily Star earlier this week about how, particularly, the television news media is completely ignoring Ron Paul and his second place showing in the Iowa straw poll...
REHMWell, John King, you get the responsibility for that.
KINGAnd I will say that thank God. Congressman Paul was asked about this, and he was complaining about this. And he specifically mentioned my show and saying he'd been on several times, so I'm going to take a little gold star for this one. And Wolf...
REHMAnd he's been on here.
KING...had him on yesterday. Look, I applaud the fervor of Ron Paul support and he -- on CNN, he's on quite frequently. I can't speak for my colleagues at other networks. I will say this, that in the sense that he performed very well in the Ames straw poll, it is not necessarily representative of American democracy. He has a core base of support. We saw a nice turnout in New Hampshire the other day.
KINGWhen I travel the country, you find them everywhere. He has yet to prove -- and this might anger (word?). He has yet to prove that he can take it to the next level that he can get from the teams into the challenging for the nomination. That is his test this time in this candidacy. And we should cover him, and we should watch him because, in a crowded field, his base of support is meaningful. Can he grow it? We'll see.
REHMAll right. To Tampa, Fla. Good morning, Mary.
MARYGood morning. President Reagan called America the shining city on the Hill, but the shining city's infrastructure has been falling apart for a long time. I believe President Obama's plan to rebuild our infrastructure is great for jobs and our national morale. I think half the funding for this project will come from the federal government, but Obama is also counting on the business community to do their share.
MARYI believe the government's incentives to get corporations involved is a proposal called the infrastructure bank proposal. Could someone on the panel explain how this proposal works? And are low-interest loans to businesses part of the plan?
MECKLERWell, this is a plan where you're trying to use federal dollars to leverage private money. I don't know the details of exactly how it works, but that's the idea, that it's a financing proposal. It isn't just the federal government going out and spending money on infrastructure. It uses small amount of taxpayer money to leverage private money into, you know, roads, bridges, all sorts of projects that are needed.
REHMIs there any indication that business will do its part?
MECKLERYeah, I think that there is some interest on the business side. The problem is that this proposal has not gone anywhere in Congress, and this is a victim. There has traditionally been bipartisan support for infrastructure projects for roads and bridges. The Highway Belt traditionally is the most bipartisan piece of legislation that has ever passed.
MECKLERHowever, now, we have a really different mentality in Congress, and that is it's so anti-spending. And anything that is viewed as spending is bad. So as a consequence, this has not gone anywhere.
REHMThis reaches a point of ridiculousness.
HENDERSONWell, in -- what was interesting about this, you know, Obama obviously calls these investments, and, you know, Republicans obviously call it spending. But you had, when he initially announced some of these, you know, investments in infrastructures, spending on infrastructure, you had the unions and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce come out and say, this is a good idea.
HENDERSONBut again, you hit a roadblock in Congress with -- there just being real unwillingness to spend. You have, for instance, the Black Caucus. They come out to back this. They're calling on the president to say, you know, this is a good idea to invest in infrastructure, invest in schools, many of which are crumbling across the country. And you would think that this would be something -- you know, people drive the highways every day.
HENDERSONThey go to their kids' schools and see them maybe in not the best shape. You would think that this would something that would find some resonance with Americans. But again, you know, whether or not this is going to be able to get through Congress, it's hard to say.
KINGThis will be a test of the president's persistence because he can win this argument. If you talk to Republican governors -- they might not say it on the record, but they will mumble under their breath, of course, we need this. Our state's economies need this if it is a minimal amount of federal money, which is the proposal. Kay Bailey Hutchison is a Republican from Texas. She is behind this proposal.
HENDERSONNot up for re-election, right?
KINGNot up for -- the chamber of commerce likes it. The unions like it. You use a small amount of federal seed money, essentially, to guarantee loans and to encourage projects around the country. I was talking to Bobby Schilling -- he's a Republican congressman, rural Illinois -- at the president's event the other the day where the president makes this point.
KINGAnd the president's -- the important point the president would need to keep making is look at what China's doing. If you want to compete in the global economy, you have to do this. And Bobby Schilling said, it's not Republican or Democrat. It's red, white and blue. So it sounds like he's for it, and then it was like the switch went off. He said, but not if it's more stimulus money.
REHMOh, great. Oh, boy.
KINGStimulus has become this poisonous word. This is a test for that, why not call them back now? When they come back to see, if back home, they've been told by people, you know, some of this is reasonable.
REHMAll right. To Oxford, Ohio. Good morning, Shelley.
SHELLEYHi. I campaign for the president. And the audacity of hope, that expression was very inspiring to me. And I don't understand why the president can't be more audacious. And certainly, the Tea Party is audacious in a negative way, but audacious. And I don't see why, you know, he can't be more audacious economically, you know, for example, FDR-type of work programs.
REHMWell, we do know, of course, that Martha's Vineyard does get "The Diane Rehm Show."
REHMSo audacious is the word that the president will hear.
KINGYou know, the anxiety of hope has taken over much of the country because of the downward economy since the Obama presidency. And, in part, he suffers maybe unfairly because he so raised our hopes and expectations. You had this transformational, aspirational, inspirational politician who said Washington was going to be different. Things were going to change for the better.
KINGWashington is no different. It's probably worse. Things have not changed for the better. I'm not saying it's all the president's fault. There are a number of players and shared responsibility, including the news media and my crazy business, 24-hour cable, that contributes to this stuff. But the president's being judged that way. It is in his nature. He is more professorial. He is more conciliatory.
KINGAnd it is the knock on him from people very close to him, his political advisors who wish he would fire it up a little bit more, and it's the knock on him from his critics. But when you get to be 50 years old, you are who you are, and that is his DNA.
REHMAll right. Let's go now to Williamsburg, Va. Hi there, Allen. You're on the air.
ALLENMy comment is simply that I think it's terrible that the government is investigating Standard & Poor's. I mean, the first time that the unvarnished truth about this horrific debt problem comes to light in Washington, D.C., that's very rare for unvarnished truth to come to light at Washington. And our government responds by, you know, investigating the rating agencies. And everyone says that the rating agencies caused the problem in 2008.
ALLENThat was a systemic failure, not only on the rating agencies but in banks, in government, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, everything chained together to bring our economy down. So that's basically what I wanted to say. I think it was, well, terrible response.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. Nia.
HENDERSONWell, again, I think the jury is still out. What came first? Did the investigation come first? Did the downgrade come first? But I think this is going to be one of those cases of, you know, let a thousand conspiracy theories bloom.
REHMAnd here's an email from Andrea in Raleigh, N.C. "Thank you, John King, amidst all the finger pointing during this debt crisis. I've been waiting to hear someone mention the responsibility of the electorate, those who voted and those who didn't bother to vote." Let's go now to Annapolis, Md. Good morning, Nelson. You're on the air.
NELSONThanks for taking my call.
NELSONYou know, I just wanted to comment that earlier in the program it was mentioned that the president was suggesting a jobs program, perhaps an infrastructure bank, and also cutting the deficit a lot even more than what's proposed. And the immediate response was, well, there are so many Democrats up for re-election, people have to worry about re-election, you know. I must say, you know, how dare them worry about re-election.
NELSONYou know, we have children starving in this country. We have millions of people out of work. We have Republicans saying jobs, jobs are the first thing. You know, maybe I'm just old and naive, but I really feel that we the people of the country are paying these people to do our work. And if jobs are what we need, unless they have a better idea, they better vote for President Obama's idea.
REHMThanks for calling, Nelson. That's an impassioned comment. Nia.
HENDERSONYes, indeed. And in some ways you hear President Obama making that same argument when he was out on this -- on the bus tour, saying, let's put politics aside...
HENDERSON...and election, you know, election time is for later. Let's focus on jobs now. So, I mean, we'll see, again, if that argument actually works when he comes back in September.
REHMDoes this all go back to the comments made by McConnell and others that Mr. Obama is going to be a one-term president? We are going to see him fail?
KINGAs a political leader, that is supposed to be Mitch McConnell's goal as the Republican leader. Should he have said it so bluntly? Perhaps not. However, I'm not defending Sen. McConnell. Sen. McConnell was more than happy to negotiate a bigger deal with the president on deficit reduction. So Sen. McConnell is a dealmaker and a pragmatist. He's a conservative, and he's a Republican who wants to defeat the president.
KINGBut he is actually someone who can come to the table and do business between now and the election. If you noticed, we're going through an interesting conversation that, I think, to the earlier point about elections, matter. The callers from San Francisco and New York have a different view than the callers from Texas and maybe Nebraska.
KINGThis is not just a fight, the Ds and the Rs, because a Republican proposed it, the Democrats are against it, because a Democrat proposed it, the Republicans are against it. We live in a 50-state, pretty complicated, diverse puzzle where people think differently. And so they send these people to Washington, and they just think differently. Or the people back home think differently.
KINGThis is not just a fight about politics. It's a fight about ideas. Everyone says job creation is their number one priority, but they have very, very different ways to get there.
REHMJohn King of CNN. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Now, to Banner Elk, N.C. Good morning, Lynn. You're on the air.
LYNNGood morning, Diane. Thank you for talking my call.
LYNNAnd I love your program.
LYNNMy question is -- or my comment is that the old saying, actions speak louder than words. We have a president who says he cares so much about the people, his constituents. He's so sorry that things are going wrong. And now, he's off in at palatial vacation while the people that he represents and says he cares about are out of work. Their retirement is diminishing. They're afraid to spend money.
LYNNAnd they are afraid to go on a vacation, and he doesn't seem to care about that. And I will take any comment off the air.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. Laura Meckler.
MECKLERWell, as Nia said earlier, I don't think there's been a president yet who hasn't gotten some criticism for going on vacation. You know, I don't think he takes a extraordinary amount of vacation time. You know, he...
MECKLER...you know, certainly compared to President Bush, his number of days off...
REHMAnd to Ronald Reagan.
HENDERSONYeah, more than Clinton, but certainly less than Bush.
MECKLERYou know, he's -- so the real question is, does he care about the people that the caller is talking about? Is he fighting for them? You know, he would say he is. He would say he's out there trying to come up with some plans and trying to cut things through Congress. You know, whether he's fighting hard enough is a judgment that will be made.
MECKLERBut I don't know if it's related to the vacation.
REHMTo Inez (sp?) in St. Louis, Mo. Good morning. You're on the air.
INEZIt is such an honor to be speaking to you.
REHMOh, thank you.
INEZI love your show. You're my hero.
INEZI just want to speak in my own opinion about the elephant in the room when it comes to all this, and that is the fact that a lot of the obstructionism that is happening in Congress is not just about Rs and Ds. It is, really, truly about the fact that we have the first African-American president in our country. And some of the veins that get tapped based on that are not necessarily all that pretty and not that pleasant.
INEZAnd, you know, as you say, Mitch McConnell declares they would defeat Obama. That is his job as a Republican who want his party in. But at the expense of our country, at the expense of our welfare, at the expense of our well-being? It just doesn't make any sense.
REHMThanks for calling. Nia, how do you respond as an African-American?
HENDERSONRight. Well, I mean, this is something that I've heard from, you know, different people when I'm out on the road and in talking to African-Americans, talking to my hairdresser. So there is this sense that some of the real...
HENDERSONYeah, the real kind of power behind the desire to defeat Obama has its, you know, underpinnings with race. You know, I think we live in a divided country. Obama, you know, won by about 10 million votes. And I think that will be a question, you know, whether or not, you know, whether it's Romney or Perry can get in there and take away some of those votes, or Bachmann, whoever.
HENDERSONBut I do think there is a sense among a lot of people that some of this has to do with race. And America hasn't come as far along as we thought it had in terms of accepting Obama, accepting that a black man is in the White House.
KINGYou do sense some of it out in the country, sadly. It's -- you know, we may not be alive if America ever puts this chapter behind it, where racial tensions affect our choices, whether they be our political choices or where we move or where we go to school or whatever else.
KINGI am just going to stay right here and, you know, pray to the Lord that those people, the 535 people who put their hand on the Bible and swore an oath to the country, do not make decisions based on the color of the president's skin. And one would hope. And if there are examples of it, they should be called out. But in that building, if there's racial motivation to anybody's decision, you don't see that openly. And let's just pray that it doesn't exist.
REHMLaura Meckler, very briefly.
MECKLERI'll just throw in there -- that's interesting -- his poll numbers with African-American and Hispanic voters are still pretty good. Almost all of the drop has been among white voters. That doesn't necessarily mean it's because of race, but it's just an observation.
REHMLaura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal, John King of CNN, Nia-Malika Henderson, The Washington Post. Thank you, all. Have a great weekend.
MECKLERYou too. Thank you.
REHMThanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Sarah Ashworth, Lisa Dunn and Nikki Jecks. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. A.C. Valdez answers the phones.
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