Week In Politics: Debt, Murdoch Media Resignations, Amazon Tax

The Congressional stalemate continues over raising the nation's debt ceiling. James Fallows of The Atlantic has a recent blog post highlighting who he sees as the main obstacle: Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA). Host Guy Raz speaks with Fallows about his post, resignations from Murdoch's media empire and California's decision that would make all Amazon purchases subject to sales tax.

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GUY RAZ, host: We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

Representative ERIC CANTOR: We are going to abide by our principles, and that's how it is. And I'm sure the speaker joins me in that.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER: Any suggestion that the role that Eric has played in this meeting has been anything less than helpful is just wrong.

RAZ: Republican House leaders Eric Cantor and John Boehner speaking to reporters yesterday about the ongoing stalemate over raising the nation's debt ceiling. Many in Washington are wondering whether there's a growing split between the two men.

James Fallows of The Atlantic might have that answer. He's with me now as he is most Saturdays. Jim, let's start with that stalemate. Unless congressional Republicans agree to raise the maximum amount of money the federal government can borrow, the Obama administration says the U.S. goes into default August 2nd. That is looking increasingly likely.

JAMES FALLOWS: Yes. And just to be clear for anybody who is still in doubt about this, this is both a very strange part of our governing system and a potentially very big problem. This is money past Congresses and this Congress, too, have already voted to spend. So in a way, it's as if you put charges on your credit card, then decide later whether you're going to pay for them.

The other factor about why it matters is that ratings agencies have already said that even though, of course, people know that the U.S. government is not going to finally renege on its obligations, the interest rate that the U.S. has to pay for its Treasury notes and other debt will probably go up if there is this default because it's always been defined as the most riskless investment in the world.

And if and when that happens, essentially interest rates for everything else - for mortgages, for city governments, for state governments - they will all go up, too, because almost all of them are benchmarked to the supposedly riskless Treasury rate.

RAZ: And presumably, those rising interest rates are going to have to be passed down to taxpayers, right, to pay for it.

FALLOWS: Oh, exactly. And I think even worse than that is there's a time when the economy's recovery is very much in question. There's nothing like an interest rate shock to send things back in the wrong direction.

RAZ: Jim, it seemed as if the speaker, John Boehner, and President Obama were close to coming to a deal. You have written that you think the primary reason the White House and congressional Republicans have not made a deal is because of one man, Eric Cantor, the Republican House Majority leader. In your blog this week, Jim, you compared him to Eddie Haskell from "Leave It to Beaver." You called him a weasel.

FALLOWS: I said he was acting like a weasel, and I will - well, I will try to explain respectfully what I was saying that the parties to this dispute are not the Republicans and the Democrats or the president and the Congress. But I think it really is, on the one side, the president plus the mainstream of the Republican Party, if you will, who are united in thinking that a default can't be allowed to occur.

And on the other hand, you have the Tea Party faction of the Republican majority in the House, which is a sizable amount, led by Representative Cantor who are acting as if it doesn't really matter if this default occurs. They'd rather bring on the default than compromise on the thing that matters most to them, which is raising taxes.

The part that Representative Cantor's comportment, which has, I think, has not been great, is his going right out of these negotiating sessions in the White House and saying all the offers that the administration has made, essentially assuming them on the table, then saying we want even more. And that does not help negotiations.

RAZ: Let me turn to another big story, Jim. Two top-level resignations from Rupert Murdoch's media empire this week, of course, in the wake of that phone hacking scandal. I was reading in The Economist last night. They are comparing Murdoch's rapid reversal of fortune to Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.

FALLOWS: Think of what's happened just in the past 10 days now, a major newspaper in England has been closed, The News of the World. The Murdoch interests have abandoned the biggest deal of Murdoch's career, the attempt to purchase all the BSkyB network. His closest lieutenant in England, Rebekah Brooks, has resigned. His closest lieutenant in the U.S., Les Hinton, has resigned, and there's no sign that this is over.

RAZ: You noted that there was largely an absence of a lot of coverage of the story into Murdoch-owned U.S. enterprises, The Wall Street Journal and Fox News.

FALLOWS: The more surprising of the omissions was from The Wall Street Journal as opposed to Fox News. Fox News has its supporters and its detractors, but its political identity is known. What was startling to me was that in yesterday's front section of The Wall Street Journal, there was no story about this huge controversy that was front-page news every place else. There was a little tiny box in the front-page saying see the B section for more about the Murdoch story. But their - in the entire front section of the newspaper, there was nothing.

RAZ: That's James Fallows. He's national correspondent for The Atlantic. You can read his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com. Jim, thanks again.

FALLOWS: My pleasure. Thank you, Guy.

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