In Politics: Neither Party Budges On The Budget

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., at the Capitol in Washington, June 13, 2011. Cantor recently announced that he would not return to the budget negotiations. i i

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., at the Capitol in Washington, June 13, 2011. Cantor recently announced that he would not return to the budget negotiations. J. Scott Applewhite/ASSOCIATED PRESS hide caption

itoggle caption J. Scott Applewhite/ASSOCIATED PRESS
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., at the Capitol in Washington, June 13, 2011. Cantor recently announced that he would not return to the budget negotiations.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., at the Capitol in Washington, June 13, 2011. Cantor recently announced that he would not return to the budget negotiations.

J. Scott Applewhite/ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Obama has announced plans for scaling back on troops in Afghanistan. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor walked out on the deficit-reduction talks. Obama's former Ambassador to China, John Huntsman, announced plans to seek the GOP nomination for president. Host Michel Martin talks about this week's politics with Republican strategist Ron Christie and Atlanta Journal Constitution columnist and blogger Cynthia Tucker.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin, and you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, we'll talk about the first book in our Summer Blend Book Club. That's a summer reading series, where we're dipping into fiction about the experience of being mixed race in America. We're talking to Danzy Senna about her new collection of short stories that's called, "You Are Free." That's coming up.

But first, to our weekly political chat and there is a lot to talk about. Efforts to find a compromise on the debt ceiling hit a wall yesterday when House Majority leader Eric Cantor dropped out of the bipartisan deficit reduction negotiations. He declared that the Democrats position on taxes was a non-starter. In a Capital Hill press conference, House Speaker John Boehner supported Cantor but held out hope for cooperation.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

Representative JOHN BOEHNER: I understand why he did what he did, but I think those talks could continue if they're willing to take the tax hikes off the table.

MARTIN: And, of course, there was President Obama's primetime speech on Afghanistan and there's a new face in the presidential race. To talk about all of this, we've called once again Cynthia Tucker. She's a blogger and a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She's here with us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Hi, Cynthia.

CYNTHIA TUCKER: Hello, Michel.

MARTIN: Also joining us, Ron Christie. He's a Republican strategist, a former aide to then-President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. He's now a communications consultant and an author. He's in NPR's New York bureau. Welcome back to you, Ron.

RON CHRISTIE: Good to talk to you today.

MARTIN: So, let's start with the bipartisan deficit reduction talks being led by Vice President Joe Biden. As we said, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia who is passed with kind of leading the Republicans in these negotiations announced that he does not plan to return to the talks. So, you know, does anybody disagree that the consequences of not reaching agreement are pretty dire. Does anybody disagree with that idea?

TUCKER: They're extremely dire. But, yes, there are certainly Republicans in the House who disagree with that. They say, oh, nothing terribly bad will happen. Well, some of us remember when the stock market dropped 800 points in three days when the House refused to pass the bank bailout. And then when they realized the consequences, they came back hurriedly and passed the bailout. It still took the stock market a while to recover. Well, the consequences of this could be much, much worse.

The United States dollar is considered the safest currency in the world. It's the world's chosen reserve currency because we pay our debts. Investors like us. But if we default our economy may never recover.

MARTIN: Well, just to clarify for folks who aren't sure what we're talking about. Part of the issue here is that the debt ceiling needs to be raised. If it's not raised by August 2nd, that's a big problem. And the issue here is that both sides have been saying - well, the Republicans particularly have been saying they want to reach a larger agreement on reducing the debt before they will vote to raise the debt ceiling. And the Congressional Budget Office says that the national debt would grow to two times the size of the GDP within 25 years if drastic changes aren't made - if there isn't some effort to get this under control.

So, Ron, what can you tell us about Eric Cantor's reasons for walking out? Now, you know, I have to say there have been a number of tough pieces this morning in a number of papers saying that really what this is about is Eric Cantor not wanting to take responsibility for doing what needs to be done, which is that both cut spending and raise taxes and that really he just wants the speaker's hands to be on that agreement and not his. Do you think that that's true?

CHRISTIE: Oh, I don't necessarily think that's true. Listen, this doesn't really faze me. And I think the media is making a bigger deal out of the negotiations. I remember when I used to work for the then-former House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich and we were negotiating with the White House to get a balanced budget through the House and through the Congress.

And the White House negotiators and the congressional negotiators had reached a certain point, and then we recognized that it would be up in the hands of the speaker and the president, then-President Clinton and then-Speaker Gingrich to hammer out the end of the deal. And I don't think that's any different from where we are here.

MARTIN: But why wouldn't he give John Boehner, the speaker, more notice of that. I mean, the reports are that he gave him a couple of minutes notice before he walked out. I mean, what does that say about the relationship between the two of them? And what does that mean for these negotiations? Aren't they supposed to be on the same team?

CHRISTIE: They are on the same team. I've known both men for several years. I think that there are also those who like to make some big rift between the two or that there's some tension between the two, there is not. Eric Cantor was negotiating in good faith with the vice president. I think that the negotiations reached the point where both sides recognized that they could not go further.

And the vice president himself said this the other day that, you know, they both had to report back to their bosses and the bosses had to get this over the finish line. So, I think this is much to do about nothing. I think that we will have an increase in the debt limit. I think we will reach an agreement by August 2nd. And I think both sides are going to have to give a little and it's now time for the speaker and the president to push this over the finish line.

MARTIN: Now, Cynthia, some of the bloggers I follow on the Democratic side have made an interesting point. Their argument is why aren't the Democrats more effective in pressing their argument for why you need to raise more revenue. Why don't they - well, let's just play a little clip from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

NANCY PELOSI: We do want to remove tax subsidies for big oil. We want to remove tax breaks for corporations to send jobs overseas. That list goes on. I don't know if that's a reason to walk away from the table.

MARTIN: One blogger I follow, Anne Cooke, makes the argument, she's a centrist Democrat and she says, you know, why aren't the Democrats making this about closing tax loopholes? I mean, her argument is that the Republicans are still winning the argument. They're saying it's about tax increases. She says what it really is about is closing tax loopholes. And she says the Democrats aren't particularly effective in getting their message out either. Do you agree?

TUCKER: Well, I disagree with the notion that Democrats are losing the argument over revenue increases whether you talk about tax hikes or closing loopholes, because polls already show that Americans overwhelmingly agree that taxes need to be raised particularly taxes on the wealthy. There's also polls show people want the loopholes taken away for the oil and gas industry.

The part where Democrats are losing the argument is this idea that both sides need to give. The Democrats have given. They have already - they started out putting $2 trillion worth of cuts on the table, over the first decade. $2 trillion worth of cuts. Republicans haven't given an inch. They're saying absolutely no revenue increases of any sort. So that's where Democrats need to make an argument that we have compromised, Republicans refuse to do so.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're talking about the week in politics with Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and blogger for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Also with us, Republican strategist Ron Christie. He's a former aide to President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Ron, I will go to you first on this one. Of course, the other big story this week was President Obama's speech, primetime speech detailing his plans for scaling back U.S. troops in Afghanistan. If I could just play a short clip for those who missed it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

President BARACK OBAMA: Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on the war at a time of rising debt and hard economic times. Now, we must invest in America's greatest resource, our people.

MARTIN: Ron, there's so many different points of view on this, and I'll just ask you your reaction. Since you were there at the beginning of this campaign and obviously this is something that you've been thinking about through, you know, for the last eight years really.

CHRISTIE: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: What's your reaction?

CHRISTIE: I just am so disappointed in this president's leadership, both at home and abroad. I think that the decision that the president made in his speech on Wednesday was terrible. This is the president who endorsed the surge strategy. This is the president who said that we were going to keep troops on the ground until the situation warranted their removal. And now, he's taking 10,000 out by the end of the year. And miraculously, he's going to take another several thousand out by September of 2012.

MARTIN: So, what should he do? What should he do?

CHRISTIE: What should he do?

MARTIN: Yeah.

CHRISTIE: He should listen to the generals on the ground. We have made significant progress in Southern Afghanistan. By taking our troops out - the Afghanis are only controlling one province in the entire country. By taking American troops out that we have, frankly, taken territory back from al-Qaida and the Taliban. That's only inviting them to come back in. It's going to destabilize the region and that's in America's geo-strategic interest to do so.

And so, while the president made a good calculated political decision for himself, I don't think that this was the decision that was in the best interest of the United States and our NATO allies.

MARTIN: Cynthia?

TUCKER: I think the president made the only decision he could make, which is to speed up troop withdrawal, because the war is growing increasingly unpopular. And that's among Republican presidential candidates as well. Interestingly, Ron sounds like he's more hawkish than Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, both of whom have said that the troops should be brought home fairly quickly.

We have done what we can do in Afghanistan. You cannot pull the troops out so quickly that we actually destabilize the country. But there's not a whole lot more that we can do there. Karzai has a very corrupt government that is not going to change. He has not been a good partner for the United States. And so, I think the president has very little choice but to bring the troops home more quickly than he had anticipated.

MARTIN: And just in the couple of minutes that we have left, you mentioned Jon Huntsman, former ambassador to China, Republican, former governor of Utah, formally kicked off his presidential campaign. And we hear that Michele Bachmann is expected to make her formal announcement on Monday.

Ron, what do these two bring to the race, in your view? These are your people.

CHRISTIE: My people. Well, let me tell you. As far - and let me say this - Cynthia is exactly right on her previous point. I am more hawkish than Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman in the sense that I think these gentlemen are making calculated political decisions rather than calculated military decisions.

MARTIN: How do you know that? I'm always fascinated when people criticize people's motivations. And I'm not criticizing you, but how do you know that those aren't principle decisions? Like, for just like with the budget talks. People say Eric Cantor's playing politics, but he says it is a matter of principle and economic philosophy. How do you know it's just politics?

CHRISTIE: You know, for having spent four years in the White House and closely observed the vice president and the president of the United States, particularly in their roles as leaders of the United States military, the thing that always struck me is that the president went out of his way to solicit and enlist the support of his military advisers.

What you're seeing in the papers right now I find fascinating. Everyone says, well, the military leadership has endorsed the president's position. Well, they have to because he's the commander-in-chief and they'll be dismissed if they don't agree with him.

My only observation is that if I'm running for president, I'm on the Republican side, I'm going to try to say the thing, and Cynthia's right again, that this is an unpopular war and people want to remove the troops because it's not popular politically. What I take exception with, with some of the folks who are running for office is, is that what the troops, is that what the commanders in the field have said is the best strategy? And what we've heard is they were all concerned that we were taking too many troops out too quickly. That's my point.

MARTIN: OK. Thirty seconds, unfortunately. On Jon Huntsman, what does he add to the race in your view?

CHRISTIE: Not too much. I think he is kind of like John McCain light without the military experience. I thought his announcement speech was rather boring. And, frankly, I don't think he's going to be at the top of the ticket when the Republicans select their nominee.

MARTIN: Well, gee, one day maybe you'll come out of your shell and tell us what you really think.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CHRISTIE: Indeed.

MARTIN: Ron Christie is a Republican strategist. He's a former aide to President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. And he was nice enough to join us from NPR's bureau in New York.

Cynthia Tucker is a blogger and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She was here with us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Thank you both so much.

TUCKER: Thanks, Michel.

CHRISTIE: Always a pleasure.

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