Week In Politics: Jobs Bill; Spending Bill; GOP Presidential Race

Michele Norris speaks with our regular political commentators E.J. Dionne, of the Washington Post and Brookings Institution, and David Brooks, of the New York Times.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And since it's Friday, we turn now to our regular political watchers, E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and David Brooks of the New York Times. Welcome to both of you.

DIONNE: Good to be with you.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be here.

NORRIS: I'm gonna ask a question, first, on behalf of our listeners who write us an awful lot of letters that essentially say this, why does this process have to be so ugly?

DIONNE: It's a good question and in this case, it's really remarkable what's happening up on the Capitol. I think that the core problem is that the center of gravity of the Republican Party has moved so far to the right that even basic business can't be transacted. We're not talking here about passing a big health care bill. We're talking about disaster relief to places that have been hit hard. We've been providing disaster relief through Washington since the beginning of our Republic. And the fight here is the House says only 3.65 billion and it has to be offset by a measure that would, I think, kill some jobs.

The Senate says, no, we should spend 6.9 billion 'cause that's what they need. Ten Republicans actually voted for the Senate bill. Speaker Boehner is having a lot of trouble controlling the House and I think as long as the Republicans give so much power to their right wing, it's gonna be very hard to govern here.

NORRIS: David, do you agree that the Republicans are largely responsible for this gridlock?

BROOKS: Well, the two sides have a different view on the role of government. I sort of agree that we shouldn't have offsets for disaster relief spending. I also don't think we should be doing industrial policy, spending that much money on electric car programs which were probably - don't need our help if they're market-friendly. So I think both sides have a point, but the - E.J. is right, the two sides have become more polarized and they want to stage these kind of fights.

I think the thing most people would see is how incredibly parochial it is. We've got the European economy sliding maybe into a double-dip recession. We've got a pre-Lehman situation with a bunch of banks over there possibly collapsing, dragging our markets down, dragging our economy down. We're looking at a decade of slow growth and they're fighting over these little things. I think that, fundamentally, is what unnerves the markets and unnerves Americans.

NORRIS: So as we're inching toward gridlock again on Capitol Hill, the president is seemingly in a new state every day talking about big things, his big plan to try to create more jobs. Let's take a quick listen.

BARACK OBAMA: If you want construction workers rebuilding America, pass this bill. If you want teachers back in the classroom, pass this bill. If you want to cut taxes for middle class families, pass this bill. If you want to help small businesses, what do you do?

CROWD: Pass this bill.

OBAMA: If you want...

NORRIS: That's President Obama speaking yesterday in a call and response form there in Cincinnati. He's just about losing his voice going all around the country to push this bill. E.J., is it worth all that effort? Does this bill - does it look like Congress will actually pass this bill?

DIONNE: Well, I think it's worth all this effort because President Obama looks a lot stronger today than he did a couple weeks ago. I think his biggest problem coming off this summer where he kept trying and trying and trying to be the reasonable person who could make a deal with the Republicans and they kept walking away. And now, he's saying, all right, they're not going to work with me. I'm not gonna keep pursuing a strategy that doesn't work. And it's frightening listening to those rallies.

Pass this bill sounds like - an awful lot like, yes, we can. When the - and I think he's laid out - instead of pre-compromising something, giving things away at the beginning, he saying, look, here's where I stand. Here's how I would cut the budget, which includes some - not even as many tax increases as the Simpson-Bowles commission call for, about 1.5 trillion and some cuts. And here's stuff we have to do now to get the economy moving.

And as David said, you look at what's happening in Europe, you look at what's happening on the stock market, we have to get this economy moving again. The federal government has to step in and whether or not Congress is gonna pass it, it is clearly the right thing to do. I think he's much better looking stronger than trying to make concessions no one's going to pay attention to.

NORRIS: David, I'm anticipating a bit of disagreement from you. You've essentially been saying for some time that the president needed to go big or go home in laying out his jobs plan. And judging from reading your column this week, it sounds like you don't think he went big enough with his jobs bill.

BROOKS: He didn't go big. He didn't go plausible. You know, I think what the country needs is some basic fundamental confidence that we're doing things that will improve growth over long term, not trying to fizz up the economy. I'd love it if he did a big tax reform 'cause then we could all say, okay, something big is gonna be accomplished. But instead what he's doing is he's trying to raise taxes on charitable giving.

DIONNE: That's a take...

BROOKS: He's got the Buffett - well...

DIONNE: I'm sorry, David, that - go ahead.

NORRIS: David, finish your point 'cause we don't have a lot of time to...

BROOKS: He's doing the Buffett rule, which is fine by me, but it's economically trivial. Temporary some job tax credits. I'm for a lot of these things. They're just trivial compared to the size of the problem. What he should be doing is something big. The idea that we can get some fundamental balance in the economy without touching the bottom 98 percent, it's just snake oil.

NORRIS: We'll have to leave it at there. That's E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and David Brooks of the New York Times. Thanks to both of you.

DIONNE: Thank you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

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