In Politics: Debt Standoff And Bachmann's Bid
MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin and you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, a trailblazer in the world of faith, Alysa Stanton. She is the first African-American woman to be ordained as a rabbi. She'll share the story of her spiritual journey and tell us about her plans for the future as she leads her first congregation. That's ahead in Faith Matters. But first, it's time for our political chat. Summertime often means a slowdown in the political world but not this week.
Recess is cancelled for the Senate. They're going to work through the July 4th break to get closer to an agreement on raising the debt limit. Several states have also dealt with serious changes to abortion laws, and Tea Party favorite, Michele Bachmann officially announced her White House bid. We wanted to make sense of some of the stories that grab the headlines this week, so we've called upon Linda Chavez, she's a former White House official in the Reagan administration. She's a syndicated columnist and she's the chair of the think tank called the Center for Equal Opportunity. Welcome back, Linda. Thanks for joining us.
LINDA CHAVEZ: Great to be with you.
MARTIN: Also with us is Maria Teresa Kumar. She is the executive director of Voto Latino. That's a non partisan organization that encourages Latinos to be civically engaged. Welcome back to you Maria Teresa, thank you for coming.
MARIA TERESA KUMAR: Thank you for having me, Michel.
MARTIN: So, first thing I wanted to start with is this whole big debate fuss, whatever you want to call it, about the debt ceiling and, of course, the debate over spending limits. Republicans are saying that they won't vote to raise the debt ceiling unless there are also - there's an agreement to cut spending significantly. The Senate will not take it's July 4th break next week. They're back to work on Tuesday. That's after President Obama chided Congress in a Wednesday news conference for failing to reach agreement.
He said, you know, we should stay here and get to work. Here's what he said.
(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)
President BARACK OBAMA: This is a jobs issue. This is not an abstraction. If the United States government for the first time cannot pay it's bills, if it defaults, then the consequences for the U.S. economy will be significant.
MARTIN: Linda, Republicans have been very critical of Mr. Obama's tone in that press conference but I have to tell you I think a lot of people don't understand that they're saying politicians criticizing another politician for being a politician. Can you impact their criticism for us and tell us whether you think it's valid?
CHAVEZ: Well, I do think that he was in campaign mode, not in governing mode. I mean, the whole point of his remarks was to try to get the people who are at the table back to the table and really negotiating and unfortunately I think because of some of the examples he used, he , you know, acted as if the Republicans are out there trying to protect write-offs for corporate jets and if they would only do that we could save student loans. Well, we are talking about a three billion dollar savings over ten years compared to a 42 billion dollar program.
So, there were a lot of things that he used that just seemed to be, again, much more in campaign mode and it is absolutely true that they have got to come to some sort of an agreement. I'm not one of these Republicans who believe that you can just let the debt ceiling collapse and not borrow anymore money. I think that would cause us tremendous problems around the world, and I do think that they've got to reach a compromise. But the president I don't think should be in campaign mode when he's trying to motivate the Republicans.
MARTIN: Let me ask Teresa, house speaker John Boehner said that the president's remarks ignored legislative and economic realities. Doesn't he have a point? I mean, given that when Mr. Obama was elected he campaigned on certain things. He said for one thing, I'm going to deal with healthcare, he did it. A lot of Republicans didn't like it but it was he claimed the mandate that he felt that he had because of the election. Aren't the Republicans now doing the same thing since many of the members particularly in the house campaigned saying that they were not going to raise taxes?
And that's they're fulfilling their promise to the voters so, doesn't Mr. Boehner have a point?
KUMAR: I think he has a point to an extent but I think Linda hit it on the head is that this is a much bigger problem than just a U.S. problem. When we have folks such as, you know, the economists stating, look, if the Democrats and the Republicans don't come together this is very much an inside baseball game, but what - you start talking to Republicans that are not elected into office saying look this is something that we actually have to come out and figure out, because the fact that we don't pay our debts it's not just going to hurt the person that depends on us for social security.
It does not hurt us just for the folk for veterans but it actually starts sending signals worldwide of whether or not we're a smart investment. That's the problem, and I think that was the message that the president was trying to state the other day with his press conference and trying to speak frankly and look, it's got to be frustrating when you are negotiating and all of a sudden someone gets up and walks away saying we're just not going to listen to you anymore and they cross their arms and are saying, well, we can't raise taxes.
We sort of have to. I mean, how else are we going to make sure that we're working smartly? Americans understand that they're not enjoying the luxury of tax breaks on not only luxury vacations and corporate jets but they're also trying to struggle how to meet their daily bills and unfortunately what's happening right now with these conversations that it's hurting not only our perception internally but externally worldwide.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're talking about the week in politics with Linda Chavez, chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity. That's a center-right think tank. And Maria Teresa Kumar, the executive director of Voto Latino. That's a group that tries to pump out political participation among Latinos. We recently saw Congress and state legislatures introduce bills to ban funding for some abortions through strict insurance coverage for abortions, to force women to get ultrasounds before having abortions.
I mean, it just seems like there's a tremendously aggressive push on the state side to institute new regulations that will restrict access to abortion. So Linda, I'm wondering whether you think that this means that abortion is back on the table as a national issue and could we see this as a factor in the upcoming presidential elections.
CHAVEZ: You know, I really don't think it's going to be a national issue in part because I think that everybody's worried about the economy. I think people are worried about jobs. That's going to be the issue that's going to determine this election. Now, that's not to say that you're not going to have candidates who campaign as pro-life or campaign as having a right to abortion. I think that you are going to see that that. Interestingly, the American public is really in between the two party positions.
Americans do by and large favor making - keeping abortion legal but they are also in favor of some restrictions. And so what you see being played out in the state level legislatures is some of the debate about some of what these restrictions ought to be.
MARTIN: But so, the argument on the people who are in favor of more expansive abortion rights is that these regulations are so onerous that they are in fact making it impossible to actually exercise that right. In Kansas, for example planned parenthood and other abortion providers say they can get a license to keep performing abortions if they abide by new regulations that go into affect today. The Department of Health and Environment there says they can now tell providers what kind of equipment and drugs they have to have, what size the rooms have to be, how hot or cold the recovery rooms are. And supporters of these regulations say that they were bringing these providers in line with other medical practitioners, and opponents of these restrictions say that's it's really an attempt to harass them out of business.
So, Maria Teresa, I'm wondering if you feel that these state level actions will elevate this issue to a national level?
KUMAR: These state level legislations, what they're doing is chipping away at a woman's right to choose, period. And eventually it's trying to overturn Roe vs. Wade. Unfortunately, who does it disproportionately impact? It impacts young women and it impacts poor women. Nothing galvanizes a lot of independent moderate women as the idea that they can't choose what is right for their body, what is right for their family.
What folks misinterpret is that the majority of women that have abortions, they're actually already mothers so, they understand the time commitment, the importance of actually being able to nurture and often times the reason that they do choose to seek an abortion is because they feel that they're not going to be able to have the time and the appropriate ability to actually nurture those children.
Planned Parenthood just got a million new members within the last six months because of this antiabortion legislation and anti woman's right to choose.
MARTIN: Yeah, sometimes it goes the other way. For example, at least as it plays out publicly, let's talk about - the final thing we wanted to talk about, Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann, who has thrown her hat into the ring. She's a member of Congress, provocative, high profile member of Congress - a Tea Party favorite. She, throwing her hat into the ring. And abortion is one of the issues that she's - anti-abortion is one of the issues that she's identified with. She says she opposes abortion partly because she's been through a miscarriage. This is what she had to say.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
Representative MICHELE BACHMANN: When we lost that child, it changed us and it changed us forever. And so we made a commitment that no matter how many children were brought into our life, we would receive them because we're committed to life.
MARTIN: And she's a mother of five and one of the, I think, attractive things about her as a candidate, she's also fostered more than 20 children. So, Linda Chavez, what do you think Michele Bachmann adds to the race? And do you think she could be a serious contender?
CHAVEZ: Well, you know, I think she is going to be a serious contender. Her numbers are looking very good in Iowa. Of course she has some home court advantage there. She was actually born in Waterloo, Iowa. And I think that she does appeal to the Tea Party segment and to a lot of the pro-lifers and the social conservatives within the Republican Party.
The question in my mind is as the primaries go forward, are Republicans going to look at Michele Bachmann and say, yes, you know, she does appeal to a portion of the Republican base, but is she going to have the broad kind of appeal to reach out to those independents, whom Republicans absolutely need if they're going to win the election. So that's going to be her challenge.
MARTIN: Maria Teresa, what do you think?
KUMAR: Michele Bachmann definitely is going to have a force and it's because that folks forget that she was the first person that basically brought the Tea Party onto national stage and was supporting them before any other of the Republicans in the House. And I think that demonstrated not only her ability to sense trends deep into the grassroots level, but also elevate them and actually speak their language.
I think the trouble that she's going to have, though, is that at the end of the day she's going to have to - once, you know, she is - if she doesn't become the nominee, she's going to have to figure out how to become much more moderate and actually tailor a lot of her views. Because at the end of the day, the Tea Party only represents a fraction of the Republican Party. So that will be her challenge if she does become the nominee.
MARTIN: You know the other thing that fascinates me though, is here's another candidate whose members of her own staff say is unqualified. What do you make of that? Linda, I don't know, I'll give you the last word here.
CHAVEZ: Look, Michele Bachmann has had a problem with gaffs. She sometimes just doesn't know when to quit talking and I think that gets a lot of candidates into trouble. But she is substantive. She is a person who does know public policy. I think she's going to make a good run for it. Again, I think Republicans are going to look at her as we get closer to the actual general election, and say, is this somebody who is going to be, you know, our best opponent against Barack Obama? And I think they're probably going to decide no on that.
MARTIN: Linda Chavez is a former Reagan White House official. She's a syndicated columnist and she's the chair of the think tank, the Center for Equal Opportunity. She was nice enough to join us from her home office in the Washington, D.C. area
Maria Teresa Kumar is the executive director of Voto Latino. That's a nonpartisan group aimed at civic engagement - aimed at pumping up civic engagement among Latinos. And she joined us from Chicago. Thank you both so much for joining us. And happy 4th.
CHAVEZ: Great to be with you.
KUMAR: Thank you, Michel.
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