Week In Politics: Taxes, Jobs, Gay Marriage

Melissa Block talks with E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution and Michelle Barnard, CEO of the Independent Women's Forum, about the Bush tax cuts, jobs and the ruling overturning California's same-sex marriage ban.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And that leads us into our Friday political chat with columnist E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post. Hi, E.J.

Mr. E.J. DIONNE (Columnist, The Washington Post): Hey, how are you?

BLOCK: And back for a repeat performance, filling in for David Brooks today, Michelle Bernard, head of the Independent Women's Forum. That's a conservative think tank here in Washington. Michelle, welcome back.

Ms. MICHELLE BERNARD (CEO, Independent Women's Forum): Thank you.

BLOCK: Let's start with the economy. Unemployment 9.5 percent, as we heard, slumping consumer confidence and now, again, an economic battle shaping up over tax cuts, and specifically whether to extend the tax cuts enacted under President Bush, the ones for the wealthiest Americans.

We heard this week Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner call that a $700 billion mistake. Michelle Bernard, what's your take?

Ms. BERNARD: You know, I guess the best way to discuss this is I had someone who said to me, my employer makes $250,000 a year and I am pleading with the government not to raise his taxes, because if his taxes get raised, I'm out of a job.

So for many people who feel, well, if you're making $250,000 a year or you run a small or medium-owned business, of course the Bush tax cuts, you know, should be allowed to go out of place. These people are wealthy, they should be taxed. There are a lot of people who will say, you know what? That's going to have a negative impact on me. I may lose my job. Don't get rid of the tax cuts because I need to be in a position where somebody is able to actually hire me and keep me on the payroll.

BLOCK: E.J. Dionne, though, the White House is saying, look, there's really no way to get to any semblance of fiscal responsibility without these tax cuts expiring on the wealthiest, what, 2 percent, I think, of taxpayers.

Mr. DIONNE: If I heard Michelle right, that person is in good shape, because everybody wants to cut taxes for people 250,000 or less, wants to keep the tax cuts going. We're only talking about increasing them for this very small number of people above that. And the truth is, if you keep those low-end tax cuts, lower-end tax cuts in place, people will still get a big tax cut quite a ways beyond that.

What we're talking about is, I think, a real problem for Republicans because they keep saying we are concerned about deficits, deficits, deficits, except when it comes to protecting tax cuts for the very wealthy.

And as far as the economy is concerned, I think there's very widespread agreement pretty much across philosophical lines that tax cuts for the wealthy don't give you much of a kick on the economy anyway because they don't spend the money.

If somebody wanted to say, let's have a payroll tax holiday instead of the tax cut for the wealthy, that might at least be a serious proposal. But I think the Republicans are caught in this contradiction between yelling about the deficit, but please don't give away tax cuts to the rich.

BLOCK: Michelle Bernard, when you think about the election coming up, the midterm election heading our way, do you think Republicans are in a good place given the economic numbers that we're looking at and a president who doesn't seem to be getting traction on the economy?

Ms. BERNARD: The Republicans seem to be in a good place - as good a place as anyone can be, and I think that for the most part, incumbents in general are in danger. I think that most of the polls show that Americans in general, whether they are Republicans or Democrats, are completely unexcited about this election.

Most polls will show that the only people that have somewhat - and I really mean somewhat - of an interest in what's going to happen in November are people who did vote for McCain in the last election.

But that being said, Republicans have a lot to do to get people excited. Nobody has come up with a firm answer as to what people are going to do to get the millions of Americans that are unemployed new jobs, you know, that the unemployment rate is hovering at about 9.5 percent. In the African-American community, it can go anywhere from 17 to 25 percent. And Republicans and Democrats need to do a better job of explaining to the American public how they're going to put all those people back to work.

BLOCK: E.J. Dionne, points of agreement there?

Mr. DIONNE: Yeah. No, I agree with much of that. I think the, you know, there are three little bits of good news in these numbers. David Leonhardt has a lovely blog every month on these things. The length of the workweek increase, the average hourly pay increase, the number of people working part-time, because they could not work full-time, that number has gone down for three months in a row.

Having said that, this is not good news for the administration. The administration hoped to have 150 to 200,000 private sector jobs a month. This is less than half that.

But as Michelle suggests, the people aren't wild about the Democrats right now, but they're also not wild about the Republicans. And if the Democrats have any chance to hold down their losses, to hold on to the House and Senate - I think it will hold the Senate - but to hold on to the House, it's going to be because people say, well, in the end, I don't want to give power to those Republicans again. And that's where the election's going to be.

BLOCK: I want to shift gears here. It was a big week for the 14th Amendment in two very different stories. It was the 14th Amendment, the underpinning for the California court ruling in support of gay marriage from Judge Vaughn Walker using the equal protection clauses in that amendment.

And we now also hear some Republican leaders embracing the call to repeal the 14th Amendment's guarantee of birthright citizenship for children born in the U.S. Obviously, two really dissimilar topics.

Michelle, you're a lawyer. And good week for the 14th Amendment? What do you think?

Ms. BERNARD: Excellent week for the 14th Amendment. Excellent week for the U.S. Constitution. I'm going to quote a buddy of mine, Gene Robinson at the Washington Post, who said bigotry has suffered a grievous blow.

You know, and I am someone who firmly believes in limited government, personal responsibility and free markets. But I've got to tell you on the Republican and the conservative front, I was absolutely astonished that anybody could pretend to be sane and actually argue that we repeal, you know, repeal aspects of the 14th Amendment, because of, quote, unquote, "anchor babies."

What has happened with Proposition 8 in California I think was absolutely phenomenal. I salute David Boies and Ted Olson for the legal work that they did on this case and in protecting the rights of gays and lesbians in the state of California. That case is going straight to the Supreme Court.

BLOCK: OK. We're going to have to leave it there. Thanks to you both.

Mr. DIONNE: Thank you.

BLOCK: Michelle Bernard...

Ms. BERNARD: Thank you.

BLOCK: ...head of the Independent Women's Forum and E.J. Dionne, columnist for The Washington Post.

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