Week In Politics Reviewed
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From Olympic rancor on the West Coast to political rancor on the East Coast now and efforts to heal it. We're talking about that old perennial: partisanship here in Washington.
President BARACK OBAMA: There are many issues upon which we can and should agree.
Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader): What I'd like to emphasize is there are some areas of potential agreement.
BLOCK: That's President Obama and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell sounding harmonious after a bipartisan meeting at the White House about jobs on Tuesday. What's happened since? Well, here to talk about that is our own bipartisan team - E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times. Welcome back to you both.
Mr. E.J. DIONNE (Columnist, The Washington Post): Thank you.
Mr. DAVID BROOKS (Columnist, The New York Times): Good to be here.
BLOCK: There was a bipartisan jobs bill that was worked out in the Senate yesterday, a pretty rare thing these days, and then suddenly something happens. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid scuttled a lot of it. He shaved it back to four core ideas to try to move it quickly through the Senate, seemed to befuddle a bunch of his fellow Democrats. David, what's going on?
Mr. BROOKS: I enjoyed the 35 seconds of bipartisanship...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BROOKS: ...we actually experienced. It was wonderful, it was like spring with 30 inches of snow. It exemplified a lot of what's wrong with Washington mentality both in the bipartisan and the partisan way because that bipartisan deal that Senator Baucus worked out with Senator Grassley was filled with earmarks and pork and stuff that had actually nothing to do with job creation stimulus. So, it wasn't so great, but it was bipartisan. And then Harry Reid heard from the left of his party that even that was unacceptable to them. It gave too much away to corporations. And so he pared it back to some things that were less business-friendly but had some business job creation elements in it.
And so he went ahead in a more partisan manner. It should be said, it's totally trivial on economic terms. We have no money. We're maxed out. So on economic terms, it's totally trivial. On political terms, it's disappointing because you had bad bipartisanship being replaced by bad partisanship.
BLOCK: So, E.J., be careful what you wish for when you ask for bipartisanship, do you think?
Mr. DIONNE: Well, David is exactly right. The bill that was put together really was K Street pork. And, in fact, one of the reasons there was a lot of pressure on Reid from Democrats to back away from it is an AP story that said well, the Democrats have agreed to this bill, which does a lot for lobbyists but not much for job creation. There was an extraordinary disconnect here, too, because Reid had decided to scuttle the bill, but the White House didn't seem to know this and actually endorsed the Grassley-Reid proposal. And it was a comedy of - it's not even a comedy of errors. It's a comedy that happens in Washington when you try to do bipartisanship and no one really means it.
BLOCK: Where are we on health care, do you think? There's supposed to be a meeting on that in two weeks at the White House, a summit between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans say, we've got to start over on the whole thing. E.J., will Democrats go along with that, where are we going to go, where are we going to end up on that?
Mr. DIONNE: Well, I think this bipartisan summit is important not for bipartisanship but to give some spine to probably 10, 11 Senate Democrats who are uneasy about the only strategy that will get a bill through, which is for both Houses to pass the Senate bill and both Houses to use reconciliation that's otherwise known as majority rule - a bill you can pass with 51 votes in the Senate - to get some amendments through. They don't have the votes for that right now in the Senate.
And I think the hope of supporters of the bill who say we've got to do something, we can't put in all this work and come up with nothing, is that this meeting will either, a small chance, move some Republicans their way, much more likely will show that the Republicans really don't want to cooperate but make it easier for the people who are uneasy about the process to say, all right now we can go ahead and pass this bill.
BLOCK: What does this bill end up being, then, David? What are we left with, do you think?
Mr. BROOKS: Oh, I notice E.J.'s hoping the bipartisan meeting stirs up partisan solidarity and yeah, you know...
Mr. DIONNE: That's a fair assessment.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BLOCK: Solidify your base.
Mr. BROOKS: You know, I just think it's hard. I mean, this is actually not a Washington problem. If you average say the last 10 or 15 polls on where the public is on this bill, it's about 55 percent against 38 percent for. So, it's just hard to pass the major transformation domestic reform of our generation when the public is not there. And so I think it's - I'd give it an 80 percent chance that we'll get nothing just because it's very hard to pass something that's unpopular in an atmosphere of incredible distrust. And that really has to be underlined. We've had a whole bunch of polls that came out this week which underline we are at historic levels of distrust of Washington, distrust of Congress, distrust of everything.
BLOCK: Let's talk about those polls, there is one in particular in The New York Times today, New York Times/CBS poll speaks to this whole question of bipartisanships: 62 percent of the people polled believe the president is working with Congress. About the same percentage says Republicans are not trying to work with the president. David, where does that leave Republicans, do you think?
Mr. BROOKS: It sort of weird when you compare it to, say, 1994 and other big elections. On the one hand, the Republicans as the out party are not as popular as they were in '94. Both parties are now unpopular. On the other hand, the desire to change Washington is actually stronger or as strong as '94. So, people desperately want a change, they just don't see any alternative. And the level of cynicism and disgust is really at historic highs. So, the question is can the Republicans in the next six, eight months establish themselves as an alternative. They are not there yet.
BLOCK: E.J., who is less unpopular, maybe this...
Mr. DIONNE: Well, the only good news for Democrats in these polls is all the bad news for Republicans. And I think one of the striking things on health care, for example is, David is right, in general people say no. But that New York Times poll asked about a whole bunch of specifics inside this health care bill and those specifics were approved by a very substantial number. I think the most disturbing thing for Democrats in all of these polls is that the people who feel strongly are people who are strongly against President Obama and strongly against what the Democrats are doing - they are a minority. But they are a minority that could in a low turnout election have a real impact.
BLOCK: E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and The Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times. Thanks, enjoy your snowy weekend.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. DIONNE: Same to you.
Mr. BROOKS: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.