Stimulus, Gregg Dominated Week In Politics

The House approved the economic stimulus and Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) withdrew his nomination to be secretary of Commerce. Ruth Marcus, of the Washington Post, and David Brooks, of The New York Times, review the week in politics.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Well, to cap the week in politics, we're joined by two political observers, columnist Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post, filling the seat of E.J. Dionne today. Hey, Ruth.

Ms. RUTH MARCUS (Columnist, The Washington Post): Hi.

BLOCK: And David Brooks of the New York Times. Welcome back, David.

Mr. DAVID BROOKS (Columnist, The New York Times): Hello.

BLOCK: Let's talk about this path towards stimulus and how they got there. If you want to do a, sort of, woulda-coulda-shoulda version from the White House. Ruth Marcus, what they do wrong, and where did they end up?

Ms. MARCUS: Well, I'd say emergency sausage is the least appetizing sausage. There were missteps along the way. The biggest misstep was letting this, to some extent, get a little bit out of their control when it was first unveiled in the House. A lot of it was - the Republicans seized that opening and ran with that. I think it was actually more effective for them and sort of better argument than they thought they were going to have. And so, therefore, you saw this kind of clustering-together behavior.

I don't think anybody and - first and foremost not President Obama - could've imagined at the start of this process that he would lose more Democratic votes than gain Republican votes.

BLOCK: David Brooks, do you think the White House in the end successfully recaptured that message?

Mr. BROOKS: Well, I don't know anybody who's really happy with the bill. Most liberals think it's probably a little too small. Most conservatives think it's the worst bill published in 50 years. I think they could've really gotten the bipartisan majority if they had done two things. First, if they had had a big payroll tax, which goes to the lower middle class - a lot of Republicans support that idea, a lot of Democrats support that idea. And second, if they had given us an exit strategy. This will raise the federal spending by a huge amount.

But if they had said, okay, we're going to raise spending now. But in the medium term, or in the long term, we're going to take a whack out of entitlements - maybe we're going to means-test some entitlements. And that way will bring us our federal budget back into some sort of long-term balance. Then you would've had lot of moderate Republicans, fiscal hawks, saying, okay, that's sensible. But they didn't go that way.

Ms. MARCUS: David, you are really asking them to do an awful lot at the same time. You want these guys to come forward with the spending package, and simultaneously ask the people who are going to vote for the spending package to cut entitlements. I mean, I'm all in favor of a grand bargain, but I just don't think an emergency spending measure is the moment to do it.

BLOCK: David?

Mr. BROOKS: Well, when Ronald Reagan ran the budget deficit up to 6 percent of GDP, people were outraged legitimately. We're now at 8, we're headed toward 12. That is a serious worry, not only for the long-term health of the country. It's a serious worry for rising interest rates, for freaking everybody out.

BLOCK: We just heard Andrea Seabrook say that promises of bipartisanship - or the premise of bipartisanship has been strangled in its crib. Ruth, any sign that this may rise from the grave and then resuscitate itself?

Ms. MARCUS: Well, it certainly depends on what you mean by bipartisanship, right? You have, sort of, invite the guys over to watch the - guys and gals, sorry - over to watch the Super Bowl. And we're kind of good at that bipartisanship…

BLOCK: Over to the White House.

Ms. MARCUS: Right. And I think that's important. You have what speaker of the House sneeringly referred to as processed bipartisanship, which, you know, give everybody a chance to have their amendments and have their debate and have their votes, and then the other side loses. I think that the Republicans had a very compelling argument that they didn't get at the end, especially, any of that. And, I think, President Obama's promises on the campaign trail - that we're not going to have any of these deals cut in secret in Washington anymore - turned out not to actually apply to this measure.

As to - but I think you could improve on that in the future. As to really getting people to come together and agree, I'm actually less sanguine even than David is about whether that even could have been ever done here.

BLOCK: David Brooks, we also have the most visible sign perhaps of the faltering of bipartisanship yesterday, when Republican Senator Judd Gregg decided he would not be a great choice for secretary of Commerce. What has happened with bipartisanship that these…

Mr. BROOKS: Love is rocky.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: And Valentine's Day is just a day away.

Mr. BROOKS: You know, I think we're actually - I don't think there's any back story here. I think he loves Obama. A lot of people really are impressed by Obama the man - and as a leader. But, when he got - thought through the idea of defending things like the stimulus, day after day after day, he just couldn't do it. And the question Ruth raises is whether there's actually middle ground, substantive middle ground here. That's what's really been cast into doubt. And I think the Obama administration is staffed by moderates, but they're getting whacked from the left for not, for being a little tepid.

They're getting whacked from the right, simply, because it's fun for people on the right to whack Democrats. And there is absolutely no support, no visible large set of arguments for any sort of moderate action. And so, it's kind of depressing for those of us who think there should be.

BLOCK: Thanks to you both for coming in. Have a good weekend.

Mr. BROOKS: You, too.

Ms. MARCUS: Thanks.

BLOCK: David Brooks of The New York Times, and Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post.

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