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The House of Representatives passed the so-called “Paul Ryan” budget without a single Democrat voting for the bill; Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney received the endorsement of former President George H.W. Bush; and both parties braced for fallout from the Supreme Court hearing arguments on the healthcare law. Ton Elving of NPR, Nia Malika-Henderson of The Washington Post and Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times join Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Nia-Malika Henderson national politics reporter, The Washington Post.
- Doyle McManus columnist, Los Angeles Times.
- Ron Elving Washington editor for NPR.
George Zimmerman following the altercation that killed Trayvon Martin:
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The House approved the Ryan budget plan. Personal income rose a smaller level than expected. And Republicans and Democrats brace themselves for a long wait for a ruling on the Affordable Care Act. Joining me for the week's top domestic stories on the Friday News Roundup: Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times, Nia-Malika Henderson of The Washington Post and Ron Elving of NPR.
MS. DIANE REHMI look forward to hearing your questions, comments. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning and happy Friday.
MR. DOYLE MCMANUSIt's a happy Friday.
MS. NIA-MALIKA HENDERSONGreat to be here, Diane.
MR. RON ELVINGGood morning, Diane.
REHMGood to see you. Ron Elving, let's start with the House-approved Paul Ryan bill. Tell me about that. I gather there was not a single Democrat who voted for that.
ELVINGNo Democrats last year, no Democrats this year. And one slight difference, four -- I believe six Republicans voted or -- a handful of -- four Republicans voted against it last year. Ten Republicans voted against it this year. That's a slight difference.
ELVINGBut it may indicate a relative lack of popularity for the idea of going through the Ryan budget again this year in an election year when a lot of these Republicans will have to defend the provisions particularly regarding Medicare, changing the system, essentially, partially privatizing it and pushing it in a direction where it would no longer really be a government program in the long run, and, of course, also cutting taxes for corporations and cutting taxes for people whose investment money is their main income -- cutting taxes for the wealthy, if you will.
ELVINGThose are tough defenses in an election year, and some Republicans feel that they would be better off not trying to defend those. And, of course, as we know, this has no future in the Senate whatsoever, so it was a political vote.
HENDERSONThat's right, very much a political voting. You saw Democrats go up almost immediately with a big billboard in Paul Ryan's district basically saying that Republicans favored millionaires, and it was the Democrats who were really going to save Medicare and protect folks who are on Medicare. So, again, this is very much a political document, and everyone is playing their roles very well here.
HENDERSONJay Carney came out from the White House to say that, again, Republicans really want to end Medicare. And, of course, we know that this budget would send Medicare back to the States. It'd be a voucherized program instead of it being a large federal program. And so this has allowed Democrats to really make the argument to seniors, who are such an important voting bloc, that this would really hamper their ability to get the kind of care and coverage that they're used to.
MCMANUSIt's not just Medicare. I mean, this is a huge, ambitious, bold budget that would restructure the tax system. It would lower the top tax rate to 25 percent. That would be a great gift to upper-income families. It would ostensibly -- Mr. Ryan says that he would also eliminate a lot of tax credits, tax deductions, tax loopholes, tax expenditures, call them what you will, but those were never spelled out.
MCMANUSIt would also lower domestic discretionary spending -- that is, all of the things the federal government does other than defense: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security -- from about 4 percent of GDP to 2 percent of GDP, an enormous change. You have to give Republicans credit for doubling down, sticking to their guns and sticking to the Tea Party government-cutting and deficit-cutting proposals that they made two years ago in the face of a lot of public skepticism.
REHMBut, clearly, as Ron Elving said, it's going nowhere? Doyle.
MCMANUSOh. No, it is -- it's already dead in the Senate. You know, as Speaker Boehner sometimes says, he only runs -- and barely runs at that -- one-half of one branch of the government.
REHMYou know what I don't understand, frankly, is that everybody knew it was not going to go anywhere in the Senate. Why waste what precious time there is to pass a bill like this?
HENDERSONWell, it's very much an election year, and they want to put down their markers in terms of what they're going to run on in November -- their views about the deficit, about entitlement spending. So you see Republicans really taking a hard look at reforming some of these entitlement programs that their supporters very much see as a drain on the government. So that's where you see that.
HENDERSONAnd I think, indeed, bold of them to double down on this Ryan plan, which was an issue in the special election in New York and that many people see that it cost a seat, a Republican a seat, because there was a special election in New York where the main issue was the reformation of Medicare in this Ryan budget. And, again, Republicans very much wanted to double down on this, sent out emails to their supporters in the different districts saying that Democrats wanted to bankrupt Medicare. So it's very much a political and an election-year document.
ELVINGThis is a Republican majority in the House. Unlike the House Republicans we have seen in the past, they are not focused in an election year on independence. They're focused on their own party base. They're focused on, in some cases, people who may still be voting on them or against them in a Republican primary. But even beyond that, and on a philosophical-ideological basis, these are people who came to Washington with a mission, particularly the 80-some Republicans who were elected as freshman in November of 2010.
ELVINGThey want to reverse the direction of the federal government. They don't want to cut spending on national defense, but they want to cut spending on everything else, no matter how popular some of these programs may be. So they won't campaign on cutting Pell Grants, for example. A few may campaign on cutting food stamps. Most of them probably won't mention that.
ELVINGWhat they'll campaign on is cutting spending, just spending. They'll say, we're going to restrict the federal government. We're going to make it a smaller part of your life, and we're going to give you more personal liberty as a result. And the rest of the details, well, we won't worry about that.
REHMBut at the same time, you had House Democrats voting to end $20 billion in federal subsidies to the largest oil and gas companies, knowing that that would fail, Doyle.
MCMANUSWell, look, let's remember we're talking here about a budget. This is not an appropriation bill. This is not a binding document. It is guidance for the rest of Congress. So this is not where either side had to make a compromise. And, at the moment, neither party is in any shape to make a compromise. Remember when Speaker Boehner last year was negotiating with President Obama over what might have been a grand bargain and discovered that he couldn't bring the rest of his Republican Conference with him.
MCMANUSSo, no, this is still, as Ron says, an exercise in drawing lines and waiting for the election to sort it all out.
REHMAnd I'm worried about the highway bill, Nia-Malika.
HENDERSONRight, the highway bill -- and that's something that they're obviously discussing now. And just to get back also to these oil subsidies they voted -- they wanted to vote to in these $20 billion in oil subsidies, they look at an oil and gas industry that, I think, was something like $140 billion in profits last year. And so here is an administration that's very much worried about the rising gas prices. I believe they're, like, $3.97 a gallon. People are saying...
REHMDepending on where you go.
HENDERSONYeah, depending on where you -- I think they're higher here...
HENDERSON...in Washington, D.C., and people are saying that they could get to be $5 a gallon by this summer. So the White House very much wants to -- and Senate Democrats very much want to say, we're doing something to regulate the gas industry, to look at these -- that these high prices of gas, even though they admit that even if they roll back these subsidies, that it wouldn't really affect the price of gas. So, again, another, you know...
REHMSo what's happened on the highway bill extended for 90 days?
ELVINGNinety days, which is really minimal, although for a while, it looked like they might only be able to get 60 days. And, really, this is another one of these examples of where John Boehner says, we've got to do this. We don't want to take down all these projects around the country where they're improving roads and bridges. We don't...
REHMHave they already begun those projects?
ELVINGYes. Many of these are already going forward. We've had an unseasonably warm winter over much of the country.
REHMSo what happens? Do they have to stop?
ELVINGWell, all these jobs would go away if that were to stop overnight, and no one really wants that. I mean, these are dedicated funds that come from a fund that's fed by the gasoline tax. That's pretty steady. And these are monies that don't really affect the federal deficit or anything of that nature. This is just going forward with the ordinary routine business of the federal government. But all kinds of things get attached to it. All kinds of little riders get attached to it because it's must pass. And so it gets controversial. It becomes difficult for the speaker.
ELVINGAnd, as Doyle has already pointed out, the speaker has an extraordinarily difficult time containing and controlling his own majority. And so it becomes difficult to pass a long-term reauthorization of all these projects so that they can go forward on a long basis for, like, say, a year-and-a-half. And they just keep doing these little stopgaps the same way they do with appropriations. We don't appropriations anymore. We do continuing resolutions. We do stopgaps, one right after another. And that's because the Congress is in these philosophical irons that it's in. It's manacled itself to its ideology.
REHMBut highways, bridges, roads have to be built, Doyle.
MCMANUSThey -- well, they have to built, and not only do they have to be built, that fuel tax is -- if it's not collected, it just goes away. In some cases, the states end up scooping it up, so it is not only lost jobs. It's lost opportunities. In the end, a highway bill will get passed. We may run from -- you know, we may go from 90-day extension to 60-day extension to 30-day extension.
MCMANUSIt is ridiculous. You know, the other vote we ought to be talking about, of course, Diane, this week -- same phenomenon, different symptom -- is the vote on Simpson-Bowles where two brave members of Congress, Jim Cooper and Steve LaTourette, one a Democrat, the other a Republican, brought up the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction compromise that well-meaning people on both sides have said, gosh, we really should have embraced it.
MCMANUSGosh, you know, Republicans have said President Obama should have endorsed it. We should have done it. So they got it to the floor. They put it up to a vote, and it got hosed. It went down in flames.
REHMThirty eight votes for it.
MCMANUSYeah. And that just, you know, confirms everything we're saying, that this is not a year or a season where anybody is in a mood to make tough bipartisan compromises. Of course, Simpson-Bowles, the problem is it would've raised taxes, which Republicans hate. It would've cut Medicare, which Democrats hate, so nobody was willing to bite the bullet.
REHMDoyle McManus, columnist for the Los Angeles Times. I look forward to hearing your comments. Give us a call. Send us an email. Join us on Facebook or Twitter.
REHMAnd welcome back. Ron Elving of NPR, Nia-Malika Henderson of The Washington Post, Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times are here. If you'd like to join us, give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us your email. We now learn that the Commerce Department says that consumer spending rose 0.8 percent last month, income grew 0.2 percent, matching January's weak increase. And, when taking inflation into account, income after taxes fell for a second straight month. So what do we take away from all this, Ron?
ELVINGThe incredibly grudging recovery continues. There's a slight upward movement in most all of the numbers, another good report on initial jobless claims. We've seen some pretty good data over the last several weeks. And once in a while, the stock market takes heart and says, well, maybe the recovery is true and real, and it has a big day like Monday. But, more often, it has down days or flat days like it's had since Monday. And there is a lack of full confidence in this recovery.
ELVINGFederal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke said this week that things were moving in the right direction, but the GDP needs to get bigger. The economy needs to get more robust. Growth needs to be more robust, and these little improvements in job numbers, little improvements in some of these other measures, small increases in consumer spending, they're really not enough to sustain the kind of recovery that we really need to come back from 2008.
HENDERSONAnd they're certainly fragile because of gas prices and because of the drop in housing prices and housing sales. And you see the Republicans grappling with this, trying to figure out the Republicans who are running for president. And it'll likely be Mitt Romney who's the nominee. You see him grappling with how to talk about the economy, how to talk about this recovery. He finally admitted that there actually is a recovery. But his argument now is to say that, well, if he were president, it would be a more robust economy.
HENDERSONAnd if Republican ideas about relaxing regulations were implemented, it would be more robust and quicker. So it'll be interesting. I mean, I think, obviously, the White House welcomes this news. It certainly beats losing jobs and certainly beats a downturn in terms of consumer confidence. But they -- and you know what I think? They're bargaining that they'll be able to run on the trend. Even though it's a slow uptick in some of these numbers, at least it's going up.
MCMANUSAnd that appears to be showing up in the public opinion polls. President Obama's job approval rating, which is the key index of how a president is doing in the public's eyes, is -- has pretty well made it to the 50 percent mark and appears to be staying there for at least a while. Well, you know, last summer, he was down below 40. And in the head-to-head polls, which don't mean anything real at this point -- but, still, we love to look at them -- he's beating Mitt Romney rather handsomely.
MCMANUSNow, obviously, you know, as my colleagues have said, none of this tells us what's going to happen in November, and it depends heavily on whether the pace of this recovery is sustained or picks up a little bit. But the White House has to be a little encouraged.
REHMWhat about Ben Bernanke's comments that the overall economy is something of a puzzle? What's he mean by that?
MCMANUSWell, you know, there have been a lot of odd little statistical glitches that just don't make sense. I'll give an example. The GDP growth number, 3 percent in the fourth quarter of last year. OK. The personal income number for the fourth quarter of last year was up 4.4 percent. Now, that doesn't match up. You can't have personal income up 4.4 and GDP up only three. So one of those numbers is too big, or the other is too small.
REHMSo how does that happen?
MCMANUSYou know, it's...
MCMANUSI don't know.
ELVINGI don't think Ben Bernanke knew about it.
MCMANUSI'm looking for (unintelligible). If Ben Bernanke doesn't know...
HENDERSONIt's a mystery. It's a puzzle.
REHMIt's a puzzle.
ELVINGAnd we see this regularly with the jobless numbers, too, where the unemployment rate moves independently from the number of new jobs created. Now, you would think that a lot of new jobs created would automatically mean a better unemployment rate, but it doesn't necessarily because we have two different measurements here. They're taken in different ways. They're not directly related to each other in the way that they are arrived at.
ELVINGAnd, in addition to that, you have all these funny things like people who are or are not part of the workforce, people who are continuing to look for jobs or have become so discouraged that they've given up. And that throws the statistics off, too. We know -- we really in a kind of scoreboard culture. We want to see metrics that give us a definitive answer, a hockey game number, 3-2. It's over. One side won. The other side lost. It's not like that in an economy of this size. It's not like that when there are so many limitations to what the precision of any of these metrics might be.
HENDERSONAnd I'm sure the White House is betting that, you know, the average American isn't going to drill down so closely at these numbers, the 3.0 percent GDP and the 4.4 percent in terms of personal income, but that this general feeling that things are getting better -- people are buying more, people are buying clothes more, people are buying automobiles more -- will slowly mean that the wrong track-right track numbers will have this president in a good place come November.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about the arguments and the questions over the Affordable Care Act before the Supreme Court. The justices are offering their first vote today. And what was your reaction?
ELVINGThe justices will be holding a conference today, where we assume they'll take their first vote on what they heard Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and maybe even start assigning opinions. Who knows? But that will then take a long process time while they put these opinions together. And, since the justices tend to lump their actual decisions late in the term, we may not hear until June what, essentially, the justices will know today. These are very closely held pieces of information. These conferences are not only closed door, but the justices just don't leak.
ELVINGAnd, to some degree, it will take a certain amount of divination, even on the part of their clerks, what the exact disposition of the court is. So while there will be enormous effort made to try find a leak on this, what the justices know at the end of today will possibly not be known by any of the rest of us until June. But everyone's been reading the tea leaves (unintelligible) ...
ELVING...the questions that were asked, especially because we got to hear them on tape a little quicker than usual.
REHMWasn't that marvelous?
ELVINGYes. And, you know, I think even Nina Totenberg was glad to have a chance to back off from personally performing each of the nine justices.
REHMBut I have heard such disparate comments and reactions to both the questions and the arguments by the solicitor general, by the argument for the others. I mean, how can anyone know at this point what the outcome is going to be?
MCMANUSWell, you can't. And, of course, Supreme Court watchers warn us all the time, don't infer from the questions they're asking where they're going to come out in the end because they're often asking questions to set up an answer they'd like to hear. They're often asking questions to make an argument to the other justices. But what's striking in this case, how many of those same seasoned court watchers, after hearing especially some of Justice Kennedy's questions, said, uh oh, he sounds like he's ready to strike this law down.
MCMANUSAnd it really came out at the -- almost at the very beginning of that argument about the individual mandate, where Justice Kennedy asked the solicitor general, the government's lawyer, wouldn't -- doesn't this law fundamentally change the relationship between the citizen and the federal government? And that was a -- that's a very weighty question.
REHMBut at the end of one of the sessions, Justice Kennedy said something very, very different, Doyle. He said something like, if those people without insurance go to the hospital, the rest of the country is bearing the burden, and perhaps that's unfair.
HENDERSONThat's right. And that's the essential argument that the president had to begin to make with the individual mandate. He was a candidate who didn't initially run on the mandate, but learned, I think, in laying out this bill, that the individual mandate had to be a part of it in order to have a fair system and a system that would actually reduce health care costs. It's an argument that you also saw -- or a question that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had where she essentially said the same thing. And they, in some ways, articulated that argument much better than the solicitor did.
HENDERSONAnd I think a lot of people sort of -- with his, in some ways, stumbling responses to some of Kennedy's questions, to some of Scalia's questions, people really began to wonder if he was up to the task. You had the White House come out and say that he's a fine attorney. But I think we saw, over these last couple of days, something that people didn't expect. And that was that this mandate really could be imperiled. And I think if you look back two years ago, it was unbelievable, this idea that this law would be challenged and then make its way to the Supreme Court.
HENDERSONI think the fact that it did is already, in some ways, a victory for Republicans and conservatives.
REHMAnd the issue of severability was really a big one, Ron.
ELVINGYes. If the court were to knock out the key element of the individual mandate, does that then mean that the insurance companies are so disadvantaged by that because you don't have all this new money coming in from all these people being forced to buy insurance and yet the insurance companies are being asked to cover people with pre-existing conditions and take away limits on lifetime, you know, accumulations of cost and so on, is that so fundamentally unfair to the insurance companies, to these major actors, that the whole law really needs to be taken down, popular provisions as well as unpopular provisions?
ELVINGNow, polls show clearly that while the law is not popular and while the individual mandate is clearly not popular, many other aspects of the law are popular, and many people don't know they're part of the law. They think they are just something that has happened, and they don't associate it with these other things they don't like.
REHMNow, yesterday, we had three court watchers in here. We had Joan Biskupic, who was in the court. We had Susan Dentzer, who writes for Health News, (sic) and we had Stuart Taylor, an astute watcher of the court, all of whom said, predicted the justices would uphold the law, saying that throwing it out would be saying to the Congress, you no longer have the right to make legislation, which is a fascinating point, I think, that some of the other court watchers did not bring out. So we shall see.
HENDERSONWe shall see, indeed.
REHMAll right. Let's turn now to Mitt Romney. Where is he going in right now?
HENDERSONWhere is he going? Well, he is going to the White House, he would like everyone to believe. He has had a pretty good week in terms of having big-party establishment figures coalesce around him, George H. W. Bush being one of them and his wife. They sat down in Texas and talked about the need for the party to get behind Mitt Romney. And you saw Paul Ryan come out and endorse him today. Marco Rubio did the same thing. So he is looking good, going into Wisconsin. There was a lead that, I think, Rick Santorum had for a couple of weeks going into it.
HENDERSONAnd we've seen this happen before, where Romney goes in, his super PAC goes in and fills up the airwaves with ads and is able to close that gap and overcome it. Many people are saying, for Santorum, if he doesn't win in Wisconsin, this should or could be his last stand. But, again, you know, that argument has been made almost out of all of these contests, and he's got Pennsylvania obviously coming up, April 24. That's his home state. You imagine maybe that will be his last stand. And if he can't do well there, a lot of the argument for his candidacy goes away.
REHMI was interested that Sheldon Adelson said of Newt Gingrich, his campaign was at the end of the line.
MCMANUSAnd Sheldon Adelson is the Las Vegas casino tycoon who has poured nearly $17 million into Newt Gingrich's super PAC, which makes him either America's gutsiest gambler or America's worst investor.
REHMSo would he then give his money to Mitt Romney?
MCMANUS...he has said that, yes. If Mitt Romney is the nominee, he would give money to Mitt Romney and Mitt Romney's super PAC. So the Romney campaign should be well funded if, indeed, Mr. Romney collects that donation.
REHMAnd Santorum says he won't change his tone, but neither will -- no, he will change his tone, but he won't drop out. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I want to ask you about Trayvon Martin. And this week, the parents testified before Congress. They called on the public to refrain from violence. We have surveillance video footage of the alleged killer, George Zimmerman, after the shooting. He had claimed that Trayvon Martin attacked him and that he fired at the young man in self-defense. What does that video footage show us?
ELVINGWhat it appears to show is a person who looks pretty normal, sobered, but not in any sense battered. And now, look, this is surveillance video that is taken by the police as a routine matter in this holding area, where he's getting out of the police car for the first time. We don't know that he was taken anywhere to be treated for any injuries after the tragic incident took place. We don't have any reason to think he's been taken somewhere and cleaned up.
ELVINGAnd that may be -- you know, that may show up in court at some point or another, but he seems to have come directly from the scene, where he was detained, and he's being taken in handcuffs into custody. And the video does not get really close into his face or show the back of his head or give us too terribly much information. But what it doesn't do is it doesn't give us reason to think that he is in some kind of tough shape...
ELVING...that he has nose bloodied or that he has been bruised and battered.
REHMBy the way, that video footage is on our website, drshow.org, if you'd like to see it. Nia-Malika, the other question I have about this is that the police wanted to charge Mr. Zimmerman. What happened there?
HENDERSONThat's right. You had one police officer who did want to charge him with manslaughter, and he filed an affidavit to say as much because he didn't believe the testimony of Zimmerman, which was that Trayvon Martin actually attacked him first, came up from behind and decked him, laying him out on the grass and then jumping on top of him and slamming his head into the concrete and bloodying his nose.
HENDERSONAgain, that doesn't seem to be apparent in the video that you guys have on your website and has been viewed so much on cable news. But, yeah, and I think that is what people -- people want to know what happened with this case. Why wasn't there more investigation done? And that's essentially what you saw Trayvon Martin's parents call for when they were on Capitol Hill.
MCMANUSAnd, apparently, what happened is that the prosecutor, the state's attorney in that county, decided not to go ahead and investigate and prosecute Mr. Zimmerman. This is all, quite properly, now being reinvestigated. There were witnesses. There should be medical evidence, as Ron said. At some point, we ought to be able to get to the end of -- to the bottom of this.
REHMDoyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times. We'll take your calls when we come back. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd let's go right to the phones. First to Tallahassee, Fla. Good morning, Bobby. You're on the air.
BOBBYYes. How are you doing?
BOBBYI just want to say this -- the argument with Scalia and Mr. Kennedy, suggesting "changing the relationship between government and people" -- and we done it before through slavery, desegregation, through the abortion bill -- isn't it not -- is it not the government's role, in some cases, to change the relationship between government and people, given the proper circumstances, particularly in this case?
ELVINGYes. The government has had many things to say about relationships between people. What is being argued here is actually a fairly fine point within the Constitution known as the Commerce Clause. And so the question is, can the government regulate commerce? Yes, it can. The court has upheld that for a long time. But can the government create commerce? Can it say you must affirmatively, as an individual, go buy this product or such a product as health insurance?
ELVINGThat's a difference from the ways that the Commerce Clause has been applied in the past in general, although that is one of the things in dispute here, one of the things that some of the defenders of the law say has happened in the past. The government has created commerce or compelled commerce. But it's the commerce that's the focus here as opposed to the relationships between human beings.
MCMANUSAnd the counter-argument to that that the government made is that, actually, you're already engaged in health care. When you're born, you're normally in a hospital. When you get hit by a bus, you go to a hospital. And so, whether you like it or not, you're already in that market, and what this bill does is not create the health care market but regulate the health care market.
HENDERSONRight. And that non-activity is, in itself, activity.
REHMHere's an email from Chris, who says, "Voting your conscience is a democratic right. So what gives George H. W. Bush and other politicians the right and arrogance to tell voters who they should vote for? An endorsement is one thing, but," Chris goes on to say, "I think it belittles voters when telling them it's now time to disregard their opinions and get behind the frontrunner."
HENDERSONYou know, and that's certainly something you, you know, in covering these folks -- obviously, with Santorum, covering him in Louisiana, and that's what you hear from people. They want this to go on. They don't want to listen to these party elders. And I do think the whole idea of endorsements, as much as it is a political ritual -- and Mitt Romney has rolled out endorsement after endorsement through his whole campaign, but they haven't made a lot of difference. They've been symbolic.
HENDERSONBut if you look at South Carolina, for instance, he had the endorsement of the governor there. Nikki Haley didn't do him much good. He had the endorsement in some of these -- in Minnesota, in these caucus states, didn't do him much good there. So I do think you have people pushing back against this idea that there are these party elders and party leaders who can tell people to fall in line.
MCMANUSBut what was fascinating to me this week was that the endorsement that mattered for Mitt Romney wasn't the party elder, George H. W. Bush, 87 years old. It was 40-year-old Marco Rubio, the Tea Party senator from Florida. And that's because it wasn't just an endorsement. It was an, OK, he's conservative enough for me.
REHMHere's a tweet from a listener, which says, "Democrats might budge on Medicare if Republicans would give any indication they would consider revenues." Ron.
ELVINGThat is the Democratic argument that if they're willing to give on something that is as close to their hearts as anything else, Medicare, that, certainly, the Republicans should be willing to, at least, adjust rates on certain kinds of income or adjust rates on the very highest income. So, for example, you have the Democrats proposing a millionaire's tax only affecting people who make more than $1 million a year. Could this possibly be conceived of as an unfair tax to ask people who make over $1 million a year to give a little bit more?
ELVINGAnd that's a good rhetorical position for the Democrats to be in. Republicans, of course, will always say the problem is not revenues. The problem is we don't have enough restraint on spending. We just spend too much money. We're piling up too much debt. And the Republicans argue that these people aren't "the wealthy." They are "the job creators." And since we all need more jobs in this economy, if you really want to see a robust recovery, you should lower taxes on the wealthy.
ELVINGNow, that's a pretty stark difference between the parties. One is saying let's tax the people who make more than $1 million a year a little more, and the other party is saying, no, let's cut their taxes. That's a choice -- that's a clear choice for the voter's to make.
REHMBig choice. Go ahead, Susan in Washington. You're on the air.
SUSANHi. I'm a white, middle-aged professor at a historically black college, and I cannot believe the Trayvon Martin case. And I -- all I can say is that if the tables were turned and this were a black shooter and a tall, skinny, white kid with a hoodie on, I just don't think we'd be here. I really don't. And I admit that I'm probably influenced by, you know, so many of the young black men that I teach and the stories they tell me, but I'm just speechless that we're at this place.
MCMANUSSo are a lot of us. And it is striking and, in a sense, heartening, I think, that this has not really turned into a partisan issue. There have been plenty of Republican and conservative voices speaking up, saying, you know, there really was something wrong here. In fact, there was a conservative commentator who even said this week that Al Sharpton was right. So it is -- there's no question something went terribly wrong. The question is, can we learn something useful out of it?
REHMBut what about Sabrina Fulton's statement, his mother, saying, they killed my son, now they're trying to kill his reputation? Because, apparently, Trayvon was suspended by Miami-Dade County School because traces of marijuana were found in a plastic baggie in his book bag. He was serving suspension when he was shot Feb. 26. He -- the mother, the family says the police leaked that bit of information. Their attorney says it has no bearing on the case.
HENDERSONThat's right. And you've seen a lot of the right-wing blogs really pump this up, this idea that he was suspended for this marijuana baggie and, I think, some graffiti in a locker or something like that. And the parents and critics pushed back and said, this doesn't have anything to do with the case. Here was a kid, 17 years old, walking at a neighborhood, minding his own business, according to the police tapes, and then George Zimmerman comes along and sees him and imagines that he might be some threat to his neighborhood, that he might not belong there.
HENDERSONAnd the cops, of course, say, you don't necessarily need to go follow him. And then who -- everyone is trying to figure out what happened from there. But this is an unusual case because it has galvanized people on the right and the left and blacks and whites. It's not like the Troy Davis case or the Sean Bell case, some of these other highly charged racial cases that usually are all about black people really criticizing and being the most vocal. But you have seen, I think, a real bipartisan sense of outrage with this case, and it's very unusual.
REHMHow is it or how unusual is it, Ron Elving, that we have not seen George Zimmerman, and people say we don't know where he is?
ELVINGI don't think it's hard to understand why his attorney wants to speak for him and keep him away from the media. This has already become a case that is being, in large measure, adjudicated in the media. And one of the reasons that people on right-wing blogs have tried to assassinate Trayvon Martin is because they've seen so much media -- CNN, everybody else, all the cables, everybody showing pictures of him, younger pictures of him, perhaps, a little bit in some cases -- but showing him as a kind of angel, showing him as a perfection figure, an idealized figure.
HENDERSONAnd middle class, I think, is also very clear. Yeah.
ELVINGBut -- and also very middle class. But there is this absolute innocence about his face and so on. This angers people who feel that the whole thing is being turned into some sort of a parable that casts them as the villains, so they come back and say, oh, well, look, he wasn't such an angel. He had this on this record, that on his record. None of that is relevant at all to the facts of the case of what happened on that occasion and what should happen in terms of the punishment process with regard to the shooter.
ELVINGAll of that has to be adjudicated over time. All of it is going to have to be in the court of law, and that's probably a pretty good reason for George Zimmerman to stay out of the public eye.
MCMANUSAnd one problem we all have in a case like this is we have a terrible case of national impatience. We wanted -- we want to figure out the answer before we have the evidence. We have ludicrous statements like that from Geraldo Rivera saying, well, if he hadn't worn a hoodie, none of this would have happened. You can't blame a hoodie for a young man's death.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Cincinnati, Ohio. Good morning, Richard.
RICHARDGood morning. I would like to ask the panel a question about the Affordable Care Act. As I listened to the arguments this week, it struck me that this was a case where the way the argument was framed was very bad for people who support the act.
RICHARDAnd I wondered why it was presented as an individual mandate, as a demand that people buy something, instead of put through as a tax and a tax credit that, you know, everyone would be subject to this tax -- if you purchase insurance, you would then get a credit that would remove that tax -- instead of as a penalty -- if you don't buy insurance, you have to pay this penalty to the IRS. And, you know, it doesn't make -- it doesn't criminalize anyone for not having insurance. It would criminalize people for not paying a tax.
MCMANUSGood question. In fact, Justice Sotomayor asked the same question, and it was quite clear that the kind of structure you're talking about, a tax that everyone would pay like the Social Security tax or the Medicare tax, would have been totally constitutional. There wouldn't have been any challenge at all. When the Obama administration and the Democrats in Congress were trying to design this thing back in -- way back in 2009, if any of us can remember that far back, they looked at that option but here is the problem.
MCMANUSPresident Obama had run for office saying he would not raise taxes on the middle class. Republicans made it very clear that if there was a health care tax, they would attack it as a tax on the middle class. Lots of people would look at it and say, sure, it kind of looks like a tax on the middle class. So the White House and the Democrats backed away and cobbled up this mandate provision instead.
ELVINGYes. In hindsight, gee, what if it were a tax? If it had been called a tax, it never would have passed. There would be no Obamacare. There would be no Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.
REHMAll right. Now, supposed this whole thing gets thrown out by the Supreme Court and the court says to the Congress, go back, start over again, how long is it going to be before we see another health care plan?
HENDERSONFour hundred years or something I would say.
HENDERSONAnd you saw the court grappling with that on this last day, trying to figure out if they toss this thing out, what would be the will in Congress? What would be the sort of political solutions to this from that body? And I can't imagine there would be much given how hard a slug it was to get to where they are now, which is at the Supreme Court and possibly having this whole thing tossed out, but I think it'll be interesting. If it's tossed out, it'll be interesting to see how Obama runs on this and how that affects his re-election chances.
REHMNia-Malika Henderson of The Washington Post. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Ann Arbor, Mich. Good morning, Chuck.
CHUCKGood morning, Diane. Great show. Thank you so much for the work you do.
CHUCKMy question really overlaps Richard's question. I hope it's not redundant, but it gets back to the framing question. And my question really was why are we talking about this as forcing people to buy something they don't want to buy, leading us to all this broccoli debates, instead of saying it was about forcing people to pay for something they're already getting? Because it seems clear that every American in a sense has a form of insurance.
CHUCKBecause if I'm in a car wreck tomorrow and I haven't chosen to pay for insurance or don't have employer-provided insurance, I'm going to get care at a hospital. In fact, if two people were involved in that collision and we both need the same kind of care and one of us has insurance and one of us doesn't, it's going to be hard, at least initially, to distinguish between the care that the person who holds insurance get versus the person who doesn't hold insurance. So we all have a form of insurance as Americans. It seems the Affordable Care Act just forces people to pay for it.
ELVINGI don't know if the caller has a courtroom experience, but...
HENDERSONCertainly sounds like it.
ELVING...he sounds as though he would have been well-prepared to take part in the arguments on Tuesday. This is something, I think, that has mystified a lot of people. Why call it an individual mandate? Why not call it universal participation? Why not call it universal responsibility? Why not call it something a little bit more positive than individual mandate, which sounds like individuals, whom we all are, are being forced to do something by somebody big and nasty, like the federal government? So it's never going to be popular. Good question.
REHMSo who came up with the word mandate?
ELVINGOK. This is a 20-year-old concept. It goes back to something that came from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative group, and which was adopted by a lot of Republican senators and other congressmen, but particularly by Republican senators who like the idea of making it a responsibility concept. And they always described it in such terms.
ELVINGAnd along the way, this word mandate crept in because the insurance companies wanted to be sure that there wasn't any messing around here, that it wasn't just putting terms of you ought to but you have to because, otherwise, the insurance companies would not have the funding they needed to do their part.
MCMANUSAnd among the champions of the individual mandate concept was Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, who embraced all of that logic and put it in his plan. And the reason a state can do it is that a state has what's called police power and the federal government doesn't.
REHMWow. So there we are. We've been talking about it. We'll think about it. We'll probably hear about it until June. I have a huge question. The Mega Millions jackpot is up to a world record, $540 million and counting. I want to know which of you has bought your ticket. Doyle.
MCMANUSI have not but I'm sorely tempted.
HENDERSONI am in my office pool at The Washington Post, so we're going to buy a bunch of tickets.
REHMGood for you.
ELVINGI have not and I should because then I could start my own super PAC.
REHMAll right. I wish you all success. I'll be off next week. I'm going to have a voice treatment, so my good friend and colleague Tom Gjelten will be sitting in next week. I hope you'll tune in as well. I'll miss you. I'll hope to be back a week from Monday. Thanks to all of you, Ron Elving, Nia-Malika Henderson, Doyle McManus. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Nikki Jecks, Susan Nabors and Lisa Dunn, and the engineer is Tobey Schreiner. A.C. Valdez answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. 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. This is NPR.
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