Still No Deal On Debt Ceiling. Do Voters Care?

Guest

Ken Rudin, political editor, NPR

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell lashed out Tuesday on the Senate floor, saying no deal could be reached while President Barack Obama is in office. But by day's end he offered a backup plan that shifted the responsibility for raising the debt ceiling to the president himself.

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NEAL CONAN, host: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Obama seizes the center, Boehner backtracks, McConnell lashes out, then offers a Plan B. It's Wednesday and time for a...

President BARACK OBAMA: Eat our peas...

CONAN: edition of the Political Junkie.

President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad: Where's the beef?

Senator BARRY GOLDWATER: Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

Senator LLOYD BENTSEN: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.

President GEORGE BUSH: But I'm the decider.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAM)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us to recap the week in politics. Janice Hahn holds Jane Harman's seat in Democrat-friendly Los Angeles, but it wasn't easy. The recall process gets underway in Wisconsin. The House debates light bulbs, while Republican Ron Paul announces he's leaving to focus on his run for president, while liberal firebrand Alan Grayson wants his old seat back.

And we remember former first lady Betty Ford. In a few minutes, we'll focus on the politics of the debt ceiling - tick, tick, tick - but later in the program, Ahmed Rashid on the assassination of Ahmed Wali Karzai. But first, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. And we begin, as usual, with a trivia question. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal. Well, you forgot the big news of the week, and that is Central Public Radio of Pittsburgh, 90.5 on your dial, has just been one of the latest stations to pick up TALK OF THE NATION.

CONAN: And Political Junkie.

RUDIN: And Political Junkie, as they should. And thus, in honor of that, a Pittsburgh-related trivia question, and that is: Lynn Swann, you remember her...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: No, Lynn Swann, the great wide receiver of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who was elected to the Football Hall of Fame in 2001, was the Republican nominee for governor of Pennsylvania in 2006. Before Lynn Swann, who was the most - okay, who was the most recent person elected to the Hall of Fame in football, baseball or basketball, who also ran for statewide office?

CONAN: If you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question - that is, the most recent person elected to the football, baseball or basketball Hall of Fame who also ran for statewide office, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org.

RUDIN: Most recent besides Lynn Swann, of course.

CONAN: Most recent besides Lynn Swann, okay. And Ken, actual votes in South California, Southern California.

RUDIN: Well, there is. That's the 36th District and L.A. County, around Los Angeles, where Jane Harman gave up the seat after a bunch of terms to head up the Woodrow Wilson Center. And this is, you know, an 18-point Democratic majority in the district.

But Craig Huey - you know, one of the, Donald Duck's three nephews.

CONAN: Dewey and Louie, yeah.

RUDIN: Craig Huey, a multi-millionaire, retired businessman, spent a lot of money of his own, is the Republican nominee, and he held Janice Hahn to a nine-point victory. The Democrats won - ultimately, the Democrats won the seat. It was much closer than anybody thought. We think that after redistricting, that district will become even more Republican, or shall I say less Democratic.

CONAN: But more competitive.

RUDIN: Certainly more competitive, but Janice Hahn, of course her father - or her brother was the mayor of Los Angeles, her father was the legendary Los Angeles County supervisor. Her mother just passed away on Monday. But I mean a very famous, well-connected family. Janice Hahn keeps the seat for the Democrats but again only by nine points.

CONAN: In the meantime, other real votes cast yesterday, not all of them for real candidates, this in the Wisconsin recall process.

RUDIN: Well, what happened is, of course, because the Republican legislature put through this - Scott Walker's budget-cutting bill and also the bill, too, that would limit...

CONAN: Unions.

RUDIN: Collective bargaining for public employees, Democrats organized a recall for many state senators, Republican state senators. Republicans, on the other hand, organized recalls for Democratic state senators.

There are nine total recalls this year. The only reason Scott Walker is not among them is that state law says you have to be in office for a year before you can be up for a recall. So Scott Walker may be up for a recall next year. Anyway...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: I know, I know

CONAN: It gets complicated.

RUDIN: So anyway, yesterday there were primaries, and basically what happened is Republicans put up these fake candidates - not fake candidates but not legitimate candidates against some of the Democrats who wanted to run for the state legislature, and the reason they did that is by putting up a primary, it pushed off the general election till August. It gave their incumbents more time...

CONAN: Pushed off the recall elections.

RUDIN: The recall elections, exactly, until August, gives the incumbents more time to campaign and fight for their record.

CONAN: And this is what some of the campaign sounded like. One winner, Jessica King, will face Republican State Senator Randy Hopper.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADVERTISEMENT)

JESSICA KING: Politicians like Randy Hopper always say there's no money, but he found a way to give tax breaks to big corporations and rich folks like himself. Randy Hopper may be in touch with the politicians in Madison, but he's really out of touch with the folks back home.

CONAN: So that's a Democratic challenger making aspersions against the Republican incumbent.

RUDIN: As we saw with the state supreme court race earlier this year, millions and millions of dollars from around the country were pouring in. It was poured into Wisconsin for this. The point is, there are 19 Republican state senators, 14 Democratic state senators. So in other words, if the Republicans, if the Democrats have a net gain of three, they take control of the State Senate, and then of course that alters the shift of balance.

CONAN: And makes Scott Walker's life miserable should that happen. In any case, we've got partisan paralysis in Wisconsin there but real partisan paralysis next door, in Minnesota.

RUDIN: Well, that's still going on. That is the budget shutdown. Again, you have a Republican state legislature for the first time in 40 years. You have a Democratic governor, Mark Dayton, the first Democrat in 20 years. And, you know, Mark Dayton promised to raise taxes on millionaires, and the Republican state legislators say absolutely no taxes, no way.

So they're not compromising. Everything that's been put on the table has been squashed by both sides. And so the state is still shut down.

CONAN: In the meantime, that might remind us of a political fight underway here in Washington. But anyway, more about that one in a little bit.

RUDIN: Until debt do we part.

CONAN: Until debt do us part. In the meantime, you have a presidential candidate, Ron Paul, the former Libertarian presidential candidate, now running for the Republican nomination for the second time. But he says he will not run for re-election for his house in - for his seat in the House of Representatives.

RUDIN: Right, I mean others have done that in the past. Jack Kemp, when he ran for president in 1988, said he would not run for re-election to the House. But Ron Paul has been around for - I guess, you know, he first was elected to the House in 1976. He came back in 1996, I think, after, you know, he left to run for the Senate, then lost and ran as a Libertarian for president, then came back to Congress in the '90s.

But he announced yesterday that he's going to focus his entire attention on his third presidential bid, where he's raised over $4 million, not a lot of money but more than other candidates, and he will not seek re-election to his House seat.

CONAN: In the meantime, we have a new old voice, and that is someone who lost last time around, lost in the Republican wave of 2010. This is Congressman Alan Grayson, a Democrat from Florida, who announced his intention to run again for his old seat because he doesn't like the way the two parties in Washington are acting these days.

ALAN GRAYSON: The meanies want to take Social Security and Medicare away from Grandma and Grandpa, and the weenies are quite willing to go along with it and compromise.

CONAN: And if there's any doubt, he's running for the weenie nomination.

RUDIN: Well, you know something? I mean of course we've just lost a Weiner, just lost another weiner. But Alan Grayson, you know always talk about, we always talk about the anger on the Tea Party right. Alan Grayson was the progressive liberal anger on the left, defeated after one term in 2010 in South Florida. But he's raring to get his seat back.

CONAN: In the meantime, we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question. Again, that is the most recent inductee into the baseball, football or basketball Hall of Fame to run for statewide office, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org.

RUDIN: And don't blame me for this question. Blame Central Public Radio for carrying this - for the program.

CONAN: In Pittsburgh, who has just joined us. And let's see if we can start with - this is Corey(ph), Corey with us from Kansas City.

COREY (Caller): Yes, is the answer Steve Largent?

CONAN: Steve Largent, the great receiver for the Seattle Seahawks.

RUDIN: That's a good guess. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1995, and of course he ran for governor of Oklahoma in 2002. But he is not the correct answer.

CONAN: Nice try, Corey.

COREY: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go to - this is Steve(ph), and Steve's with us from Cambridge in Massachusetts.

STEVE (Caller): Oh, hi. Is it Jim Bunning?

RUDIN: Jim Bunning is the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding. Congratulations.

RUDIN: Wow, second guesser. As a matter of fact, the answer is right, right. Jim Bunning was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996, and of course he ran for governor of Kentucky in 1983, elected twice to the Senate before he retired in 2010.

CONAN: And of course pitched his perfect game against the...

RUDIN: The New York Mets on Father's Day, 1964.

CONAN: On Father's Day. There you go. Stay on the line, Steve, and we'll take down your particulars and in exchange for a political - for your promise to send us a digital picture of yourself to post on our wall of shame, we'll send you a fabulous Political Junkie no-prize T-shirt.

STEVE: Sure will, thanks so much, love the show.

CONAN: Congratulations. And I even pushed the right button and didn't push him away there. In the meantime, there is something going on in the House of Representatives and in the midst of all the talk about the debt ceiling and cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, the House rejected a plan to repeal a 2007 law that would phase out traditional light bulbs.

That's right, Texas Republican Joe Barton introduced the measure. He says it's about choice for voters.

Representative JOE BARTON: If you're Al Gore, and you want to spend 10 bucks a light bulb, more power to you.

CONAN: And this is those new twisty light bulbs that, according to a lot of people, would now by mandate have to replace the old Tom Edison incandescent bulbs. In fact, the incandescent bulbs just have to be 30 percent more efficient.

RUDIN: Well, it answers the question how many light bulbs does it take to screw in a congressman. Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: But this became a big ideological debate, the government telling us what kind of light bulbs to buy.

RUDIN: Exactly. It's not about this, and we no longer have Congressman J.C. Watts, which would have been another funny joke if I thought of at the time. But I didn't think of it.

CONAN: Who played quarterback? Never mind.

RUDIN: That's right. Not Hall of Fame though. But again, it's one of those choice things that government is too big, and that's what the message of 2010 was.

CONAN: And we're going to be talking about the extremely partisan debate over the debt ceiling and the deficit cuts, but we have to remember first lady Betty Ford, who died this past week, and who - there was a memorial service yesterday in Rancho Mirage in California, where she and her husband lived after he left the White House. And she will be buried tomorrow next to him at the presidential library in Michigan.

RUDIN: In Grand Rapids, right. Cokie Roberts, who gave one of the eulogies yesterday, would have been on the show today, but she's on a plane today. But Betty Ford and Betty Ford's people came to Cokie Roberts years ago and said: You remember when a time was different, when Democrats spoke to Republicans. And Cokie Roberts was obviously the perfect person to give a eulogy. Rosalyn Carter also spoke there.

But what Betty Ford was so amazing about, and on your - on the TALK OF THE NATION website there's a whole display of Betty Ford campaign buttons from 1976.

CONAN: You may not have thought she ran for office.

RUDIN: Well, except, you know, the button said I want Betty's husband. Betty Ford was so popular. She was controversial, yes, she was outspoken, but she spoke her mind. She spoke about her alcoholism and her breast cancer, and these are things that people didn't talk about. And so she was - you know, she was controversial. Not everybody loved her. Conservatives looked at her a bit wary. But for the most part, she was an extremely popular person as first lady and then the years after that.

CONAN: And Cokie Roberts the person to speak to the bipartisan spirit in Washington in the old days, not that they agreed on everything. Her father, Hale Boggs, was the...

RUDIN: House majority leader when Gerald Ford was the House minority leader, and yet they still talked to each other, and they didn't call each other by bad names.

CONAN: We're talking with Political Junkie Ken Rudin. When we come back, the standoff and the politics over the deficit and raising the debt limit. Who's talking compromise, who's threatening default, and why one Republican wants to let the president singlehandedly raise the debt ceiling. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. It's Wednesday, that means Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us. And if you want to see that display of Betty Ford campaign buttons, you can go to the TALK OF THE NATION blog. That's at npr.org/blogofthenation. We hope to have exciting news about Ken Rudin's blog next week. So be with us for that.

But the - you can find Ken Rudin's Political Junkie blog post there today, as well as now the deal-making or lack of it over the deficit and the debt limit. We asked you on Monday to tell us what you want your Congress member to do if you're a voter in either the Republican or Democratic primary. Since then, obviously, well, no breakthrough. If anything, it's gotten worse.

So we'll ask again: If you vote in your party's primary, Republican or Democrat, what do you want your member of Congress to do now? 800-989-8255. Drop us an email, talk@npr.org. And Ken, their rhetoric seems to have ramped up over the past couple of days.

RUDIN: Well, yes, once upon a time, and certainly since last week's show, there was some movement towards an agreement between President Obama and Speaker John Boehner that would have a $4 trillion deficit reduction package that would include entitlement spending cuts like in Medicare and Social Security, as well as some loopholes like not tax raises but removing some tax loopholes.

And Boehner seemed to be on board with it...

CONAN: This was the so-called grand bargain.

RUDIN: The grand bargain, and President Obama said, look, I don't want to do it measly. I want - the Republicans want a big cut in spending and a big cut in the deficit, here's a perfect way to do it.

CONAN: In a way, he outmaneuvered them by going bigger than they were asking for.

RUDIN: Well, he did that, and while the Democrats were upset about cuts in entitlement, the Republicans, to a person, just basically - and led by Eric Cantor, who is the number two under John Boehner, said look, this is not what we were elected for. We were not elected to raise the debt limit. We were not elected to raise taxes. And whether you want to call it, you know, a deal basically to cut loopholes and things like that, they still saw it as a tax raise.

CONAN: Revenues would go up, it would still be seen as a tax revenue, and that wing of the Republican Party is still saying the Democrats are not serious on cuts to Medicaid, to Medicare and to Social Security.

RUDIN: And when you saw President Obama at the news conference the other day, the word triangulation came back. When President Clinton cleverly ran against both the congressional Democrats and the Republicans; while he may have sacrificed his own party in the bargain, he did - won handily at re-election. And you wonder if President Obama is doing that too.

CONAN: Because you did see Democrats like Gerald Nadler from New York say, wait a minute, nobody asked us about these Medicare cuts. We're not going to vote for that. But he's a Democrat in Congress. He doesn't have a lot of power.

RUDIN: And then when the Republicans say, are we going to sign on it, go on board with - and then when Mitch McConnell comes up with his deal...

CONAN: The Senate Republican leader.

RUDIN: The Republican leader who said basically that, you know, we wouldn't have to have tax revenues or tax cuts or anything like that or entitlements, the president would have the power to raise the debt limit on his own with some votes in Congress - I mean, the conservative wing of the party just went ballistic.

CONAN: Including his - well, one of his leaders, that's Jim DeMint of South Carolina.

RUDIN: Jim DeMint, who has always been seen as a potential McConnell rival, and a lot of Tea Party/conservative Republicans saw McConnell - and perhaps Boehner as well - as too willing to accommodate, too willing to work with the Democrats. And DeMint is one of those no-prisoners kind of guys, said no, this is not what the Republican Party stands for, and we're not going to abide by it.

CONAN: In the meantime, you had some Republicans, David Brooks, the columnist at the New York Times, saying first of all, are you crazy, Republicans? The president has just offered you almost everything you could want in exchange for a couple of hundred billion dollars in tax increases. You get serious cuts and $4 trillion off the deficit, and that's not good enough for you.

RUDIN: Well, it sounds like you and I are - I think you and I - I agree with you. To me, I kind of agreed with Brooks' column saying that this is probably a deal that you never would have - they never would have expected several months ago. I mean, we're talking about $4 trillion in cutting of the deficit.

But again, they - it's not a stubbornness. It is an ideological inflexibility, which may be stubbornness. But it is what it - I mean, the fact is you may not get those cuts. You may not get that deep reduction in the deficit under the McConnell plan.

CONAN: In the meantime, you have more and more congressional Republicans signing on to a pledge to say they will not vote to increase the debt ceiling under any circumstances, unless the Congress passes a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution, which doesn't seem like that's going to happen in the next couple of weeks.

RUDIN: No, and exactly that. And that's part of the thing. So the Democrats are saying, well, what kind of compromise is there? We're talking about major, major cuts in entitlement spending. Where are the Republican - where is the Republican...

CONAN: Counter-offer?

RUDIN: Compromise going other than voting to raise the debt ceiling limit. I mean, if you're not going to give up on taxes, why should we be giving up on spending? And that July 22/August 2 deadline is rapidly approaching.

CONAN: And in the meantime, the plan proposed by Mitch McConnell in the U.S. Senate, this would have required the Congress to approve a plan whereby the president more or less on his own could raise the debt ceiling, as long as he submitted an equivalent amount of cuts to the Congress. The Congress did not have to vote on them necessarily, as long as the president submitted that. And it would have been, well, very, very difficult for Congress to change its mind about that.

And a lot of people said, you're putting the onus on the president? He's going to have to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling three times between now and election day, and that's not good enough?

RUDIN: And put the onus on the Democrats too, who would have to vote for this because the Republicans could just sit back and say, well, the Democrats are responsible for - but you know what happened? If we approach July 22 or April...

CONAN: August 2.

RUDIN: Well, August 2 is the actual date, but I think they wanted to have a plan by July 22. You know that the markets would go ballistic. And what party would get blamed? And I'm wondering what some of the phone calls we're going to hear from, what they feel that...

CONAN: Well, we're asking people to vote - who vote in primaries in their party - Republican or Democratic - to say what they want their member of Congress to do. So this is - if you vote in the Republican primary, this is supposed to be the activist, the core part of the Republican Party that, well, a lot of people say is wagging the dog, or some people say it is the dog.

But in any case, people saying no, hold the line, do not raise taxes, do not vote to increase the debt ceiling. And a lot of people in the Republican Party, including a lot of the presidential candidates, Ken, say what's the big scare about not raising the debt ceiling? Maybe Tim Geithner says - the secretary of the Treasury - says it's going to be terrible things, but the sun will come up tomorrow.

RUDIN: Well, that's - Michele Bachmann is one of those people who said that just the other day, when President Obama said, well, maybe the Social Security checks may not be sent out. Maybe there will be some delay in that. She said that's nonsense, and if we don't have the money to pay for it with all the revenue we're taking in, then somebody is not telling the truth in Washington.

And a lot of people in the Republican Party truly believe that.

CONAN: And this is what Michele Bachmann had to say on the issue in her first national television ad as a Republican presidential candidate.

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Representative MICHELE BACHMANN: I know that we can't keep spending money that we don't have. That's why I fought against the wasteful bailout, against the stimulus. I will not vote to increase the debt ceiling. I'm Michele Bachmann, and I approved this message.

CONAN: And there was no unless or if: I will not vote to increase the debt limit.

RUDIN: No, this is a very determined and definite - and, you know, we always talked about how some politicians on both sides are talking about flip-flopping and reversing positions. Michele Bachmann has never been and won't be one of those people.

CONAN: Neither is Ron Paul. We mentioned earlier the former Libertarian candidate for president of the United States, and he says there's no way he'll vote for an increase to the debt ceiling either.

Representative RON PAUL: I'm opposed to raising the debt ceiling. I'm going to vote against it. I don't trust the promises because the promises are 10 years out. The only budget that counts is this year's budget, and they're not doing enough to cut.

CONAN: They're not doing enough to cut.

RUDIN: You know, I don't know how far Ron Paul is going to get in 2012, and at the age of 75 I suspect he will not be the nominee. But I will say one thing, that once upon a time when Ron Paul was one of those little - few voices in Congress who talked about the debt and the increased debt, Ron Paul's positions have been taken over by - it's basically a mainstream position now in the GOP.

CONAN: We've asked Republicans and Democrats who vote in their party primaries to give us a call. What do you want your member of Congress to do? 800-989-8255. Bruce(ph) is on the line from Charlotte.

BRUCE (Caller): Good afternoon, how are you?

CONAN: Good, thanks.

BRUCE: Yeah, I was - I'm all in favor of the Mitch McConnell plan - excuse me. It gives the president the ability to go ahead and raise the debt limit, as long as he offsets it.

CONAN: As long as he offsets it with spending cuts.

BRUCE: That's correct. And I remember back in the day, gosh, it seems like when President Clinton was in office, it seems like they had to - it seems like there was a limit on - that they had to spend no more than they took in in revenue.

CONAN: That was the pay-as-you-go plan, and it had to do with the budget. You could not increase - offer to increase spending without offering a cut to balance it.

BRUCE: I mean, isn't that how we run our own households, you know? I mean, you can't spend more than you take in, so...

CONAN: There are constitutional questions about Senator McConnell's plan, as well as political questions about Senator McConnell's plan. And Ken, do Democrats support it?

RUDIN: Well, that's the funny part, and maybe that's what's getting Jim DeMint so angry. You're hearing more and more people, sources inside the administration, Democrats like Harry Reid and others, saying that they could very well go along with the McConnell plan. They think there's something that could come out of it, we're willing to...

CONAN: Or it's a basis for negotiations.

RUDIN: Absolutely, whereas Republicans say uh-uh, no way. And it's interesting how the Republicans are willing to give - or at least Mitch McConnell - willing to give the president more presidential power, and usually that's the antithesis of what the Republicans stand for.

CONAN: Bruce, thanks very much for the call.

BRUCE: Before I let you go, did you get an answer to your trivia question? I kind of missed that.

CONAN: Oh, we did. It was - the winner correctly identified Jim Bunning, the Hall of Fame pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, among others, and...

RUDIN: Hall of Fame 1996. 1995 was Steve Largent, so Steve Largent was actually the second.

BRUCE: Steve Largent. Yeah. I was going to say Steve Largent. OK. Well, thanks a lot.

CONAN: Thanks a lot, Bruce. You almost got a junkie T-shirt. Let's go next to - this is Richard. Richard is on the line from San Antonio.

RICHARD (Caller): Yes. I want my congressman to do three things. First of all, I want him to increase taxes. You know, our country, we pay some of the lowest taxes of any of the industrialized countries. So I want him to raise taxes. The second thing I want him to do is to do away with Medicare Part C. I just think that that's a subsidy to insurance companies, and I just don't see the value that insurance companies bring to Medicare. And then finally, I want the government to negotiate directly with drug companies to lower the drug expenses for Medicare recipients.

CONAN: And that would be Medicare Part D.

RICHARD: Medicare Part D, that's right.

CONAN: We'd have to have Julie Rovner in here to analyze Medicare Part C for us, but, Ken?

RUDIN: Richard, who is your congressman?

RICHARD: Lamar Smith.

RUDIN: Do we both agree that Lamar Smith will never vote to raise taxes?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RICHARD: Yes, we do.

RUDIN: OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: And that's the problem. I mean, you're in a Republican district with a Republican congressman who's one of the, you know, one of the leaders of the conservative wing of the party who vowed never to raise taxes.

RICHARD: Yeah. And I just think it's, you know, I'm - I consider myself a patriotic American, and I just feel that my taxes are too low. I just really feel that.

CONAN: The taxes as a percentage of GDP is lowest since, I think, 1950. Now, to some degree, that reflects the recession and all that other stuff. But, anyway, it is by some measures at historically low levels.

RICHARD: Yes.

CONAN: All right, Richard. Thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.

RICHARD: OK.

CONAN: We're talking, as we do every Wednesday, with political junkie Ken Rudin. There's a display of Betty Ford buttons, political buttons from Ken's vast collection. You can see those at npr.org. Click on talk - excuse me. You have to actually go to the NPR - TALK OF THE NATION blog. That's npr.org/blogofthenation, and you can also see Ken's blog there today as well. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION which is coming to you from NPR News.

And let's see if we can go next to - this is Phil(ph), and Phil is with us from Ballwin in Missouri.

PHIL: Yes, sir. I would like Tom - Todd Akin to vote to raise taxes, reinstitute the 2 percent of the Social Security tax that they, you know, gave us back, but Social Security, I want the Republicans and the Democrats to leave that alone. How would people feel if they paid in for something for 40 years and then when it comes time to collect what they were promised and you don't get it and plus the money they do give you has been devalued all because of the excesses of the government.

Also, we need to start - don't give any money, don't lend - don't give any money to foreign aid because we have to borrow the money to give it to them. That's like a big - pretend the United States is a beggar on the street asking a Chinese man for money to give to another beggar on the street. I...

CONAN: So what have you done for 40 years so that you're about to collect Social Security?

PHIL: I was a painter, a union painter, a journeyman painter for most of those 40 years.

CONAN: And which primary do you vote in?

PHIL: I vote in the Republican Party. I am the Republican Caucus chairman from Queeny Township here in St. Louis County, and the only reason I got active in the Republican - is because of some of the issues they generated over the years. But they have no intention of solving these problems because it brings people out to vote. We need people that are going to uphold the Constitution. A lot of the things that both the Senate, the House, the judiciary and the president are doing are unconstitutional.

And the American people are wising up. Hey, American people out there, read your Constitution; read Article 4, Section 4; read Amendment 4, read Amendment 9 and 10. Understand that rights are given to us by God, not by the government. The only thing the government can do is take away your rights.

CONAN: Phil, thank you very much for the call.

PHIL: Thank you for allowing me to speak. Thank you.

CONAN: All right. Bye-bye. And he raises a question which is that in a lot of ways some in both parties say we don't want to compromise on Medicare. We want the Republicans to be the anti-Medicare party. We Democrats think we can win on that issue in 2012. We Republicans don't want to give the president a victory and make him look like a compromiser. We think we can beat him in 2012. That's why we're not ready to compromise.

RUDIN: You've just painted the 2012 election season and basically the roadmap for both parties.

CONAN: And as we look ahead to 2012, you see some of the candidates, well, clearly, President Obama moving towards the middle, trying to portray himself as the person willing to compromise, the person willing to make a deal, up against obstructionist Republicans...

RUDIN: And you'll see...

CONAN: ...and raising a lot of money along the way.

RUDIN: And - plus the fact that the Republican Party, the Republican battle for the nomination begins in Iowa where, as we've seen before and said before, that the conservative, the evangelical wing of the party has tremendous power. There are these anti-same-sex petitions going on that Michele Bachmann has signed. Just for the record, Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney will not sign them, but it's just being - it's just pushing the party further to the right. And again, as Richard Nixon always said, you could run as a conservative as much as you can, but you still have to come to the middle for the general election, and the question is whether the Republican Party can do that.

CONAN: But the question that may come to be come August 2nd if there is the failure to raise the debt ceiling, well, nobody knows, really, what's going to happen. We think we know what's going to happen. The secretary of the Treasury says it's going to be bad. The secretary general of the International Monetary Fund says it's going to have some nasty developments afterward. But we don't really know, and it then depends on who gets the blame.

RUDIN: And, well, that's exactly right. In the Republican Party, many in the Republican Party keep saying that, well, just because the government is telling us Henny Penny that the sky will fall that doesn't mean necessarily that the sky will fall. Let's wait till August 2nd and see what happens.

CONAN: All right. Ken Rudin, thanks very much. Ken Rudin will be with us again next Wednesday, as he is every week, for another edition of the Political Junkie. Thanks, Ken.

RUDIN: Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: Coming up, Ahmed Wali Karzai was thought corrupt, ruthless, in the drug trade. Many NATO officers wanted him out of the way in Afghanistan. Now that the Taliban has claimed credit for his death, Ahmed Rashid argues Afghanistan is a more dangerous and more unexpected place. He'll tell us why next. And we'll also ask him to give us an update on the coordinated bomb attacks in Mumbai today. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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