Week In Politics: High Court On Health Care

Robert Siegel speaks with our regular political commentators, E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of the New York Times. They discuss the latest from the campaign trail, and next week's health care arguments at the Supreme Court.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

President Obama was asked about the Treyvon Martin case today and here's part of what he said.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I can only imagine what these parents are going through. And when I think about this boy, I think about my own kids.

SIEGEL: He said if he had a son, he would look like Treyvon Martin. And that's where we'll begin with our regular political commentators, columnists David Brooks of The New York Times and E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution. Good to see you both.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be here.

E.J. DIONNE: Good to be with you.

SIEGEL: Let's talk about the death of Treyvon Martin. We've heard just now some statements by people who are - by the president and his likely rivals. Rick Santorum, David Brooks, sounded the strongest, saying it was terrible that they didn't prosecute the gunman.

BROOKS: Yeah, I thought his statement was good. I thought the president's statement was good. He doesn't usually get personal, but I thought the statement about what his son would look like was quite appropriate and quite a good minimalist, but elegant and forceful statement. One of the issues that hasn't been talked about is just citizenship, what citizenship is. If you're doing community watch, you're supposed to be the eyes and ears of the police, you're not supposed to be some sort of grandiose Dirty Harry going out, meting justice.

And to me, one of the things - I'm amazed the police weren't offended by this guy who went against what the 9-1-1 - dispatcher was telling him and sort of - well, as far as we know, we don't know that much, as far as we know, sort of took things into his own hand by being aggressive. And this is an offensive to the idea that the state has a monopoly on force.

SIEGEL: E.J.? Thoughts about this.

DIONNE: I agree with David that both the president and Santorum spoke well on this. When I was listening to the president, I was reminded that very recently, a friend of mine who's white was teaching eighth grade in an inner city Catholic school. And during a field trip, they stopped at a rest stop and all of these African-American kids poured out of the bus and my friend said of seeing a lady with her - white woman with her child. And as soon as she saw all these black men, young black men, she just grabbed her child and got very nervous.

And then she saw the two white teachers and relaxed. And my friend was very silent for a long time and one of the kids put his arm on him and said, don't worry, this happens to us all the time. It's very hard being a young black man. And it doesn't mean we're all racist. It doesn't mean we haven't made racial progress. And I think these stand-your-ground laws are so dangerous because they're based on subjective feeling of being threatened, which is the last thing a conservative should want law based on.

And I think they're especially threatening to young black men because a lot of white people do feel threatened by them and we've got to face it.

SIEGEL: The law does have "reasonably" in it somewhere so that there is some standard by which you should be reacting. It's not sheer gut that justifies...

DIONNE: But it, it's very hard to determine what reasonable means and it does sort of seem based on gut.

SIEGEL: Let's move on to some other matters. David, this week, Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, proposed a budget. He said he wanted to give the GOP presidential nominee, whoever that might be, an alternative that contrasts with President Obama's budget. Are Congressman Ryan's ideas etched in stone for the ticket in the fall or might they prove more ephemeral like, I don't know, a sketch on a magic slate or something like that?

BROOKS: (Laughing) You know, what's actually interesting is how Paul Ryan has become, sort of from being the edge of the Republican Party to being the center. Though, what was interesting is how much he got attacked from the right for this budget because at no time over the next 10 years does it actually balance the budget. It increases spending by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years and increases spending about 3 percent a year.

So there's a lot of spending in there. There's a lot of government in there. But at least he has gone farther than anybody else. And it doesn't tell how he's going to pay for everything, but he's gone farther than anybody else to getting us to avoid a fiscal catastrophe. And so, for that - it's not my perfect budget - but for that I think he deserves a lot of credit. And it's an enormous political risk for the Republican Party for which I think they're to be saluted.

SIEGEL: But is it a basis for potential talks, E.J., the end of this year to avoid massive sequestration of spending and the blanket expiration of all the Bush tax cuts?

DIONNE: I think the answer is absolutely not. And I don't see what's courageous about a Republican budget that continues $5.4 trillion in the Bush tax cuts and then, on top of that, adds $4.6 trillion in tax cuts by cutting the top rate. And he eviscerates government in the process. Now, Ryan says, oh, we'll have tax reform. But there's nothing specific about what he would take away. And so, I think that, in fact, this becomes a serious campaign issue.

Bob Greenstein, at the Center On Budget and Policy Priorities, a more progressive group, said that this would be one of the most massive redistributionist budgets from bottom to top. And I think that's what it is.

SIEGEL: David?

BROOKS: Well, you know, first of all, it doesn't eviscerate government. As I mentioned, it goes up 3 percent a year. It's only 13 percent over the next 10 years, less than what Obama is proposing. But it is a serious budget. It is a budget that gets us in the direction of not having a fiscal catastrophe. If the Democrats can come up with a budget, their own budget, which gets us in the direction of avoiding a fiscal catastrophe, then we can compare two plans.

But so far, we have one plan.

SIEGEL: I want us to look ahead to next week a little bit. Three days of arguments at the Supreme Court over the health care law, which is viewed so differently by its supporters and its opponents. This is what Barack Obama said when he signed it into law two years ago.

OBAMA: The bill I'm signing will set in motion reforms that generations of Americans have fought for and marched for and hungered to see.

SIEGEL: For conservatives like Rick Santorum, the same law is an assault on American liberty.

RICK SANTORUM: Ladies and gentlemen, this is the beginning of the end of freedom in America. Once the government has control of your life then they got you.

SIEGEL: There are going to be technical arguments before the court, E.J. Dionne. These are not technical differences we're talking about. These are basic issues of what government is supposed to be doing.

DIONNE: No and they are - I think this argument is very disturbing. By Rick Santorum's definition, every Western European nation that has some system of national health insurance is somehow not a free country. And there's an enormous irony here, because the health care mandate - the mandate to buy health insurance was originally a conservative idea. And conservatives said, quite reasonably, that there are rules that say if you walk in to an emergency room you have to get care, which is true.

Well, somebody has got to pay for that care. And what the mandate says is we're going to share the costs.

SIEGEL: David?

BROOKS: Yeah, I don't think it's the road to serfdom, I guess, as Rick Santorum believes. But I do think it is a fundamental argument we're going to have this election. We have a fundamental disagreement about what cost control is. Republicans tend to think each - you got to create some market competition. Democrats tend to believe in this top-down IPAB rationing board. That's a fundamental disagreement. We'll have it.

SIEGEL: David Brooks, E.J. Dionne, thanks to both of you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

DIONNE: Thank you.

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