Congressional Republicans' Agenda For 2011

Guests

Reihan Salam, columnist, National Review
Alex Vogel, partner, Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti

Republicans have big plans as they prepare to take the majority in the House. And after an election that focused on jobs and government spending, they face questions about which issues to pursue, when to cooperate with Democrats, and how to bring together conservatives, from Libertarians to Tea Partiers.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

With the scale of their victory last week now clear and almost all the races now decided, Republicans can begin to decide what to do with their majority in the House of Representatives and strengthened numbers in the U.S. Senate.

This evening, a transition committee convenes in the office of Speaking-in-Waiting John Boehner, to begin to lay out some ideas for procedural changes. But there are major questions about the short term, the next 10 weeks before they take over; the agenda come January, what they are for, as well as what they are against, and the look ahead to 2012.

Extension of the Bush tax cuts may now be easier, but what about don't ask, don't tell? Being for smaller government is easy, but what do you cut, defense, Social Security? And do you block the president and the Democrats at every turn or look for at least some ways to work together?

Later in the program, Andy Beyer on the legacy of Zenyatta. But first, the GOP agenda, and we want to hear from those of you who voted Republican last week. What do you want the party do to now? 800-989-8255 is the phone numbers, the email talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org.

Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And we begin with Reihan Salam, columnist and blogger for the National Review, co-author of "Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream." He joins us from NPR's bureau in New York. Nice to have you back on the program.

Mr. REIHAN SALAM (Columnist, Blogger, National Review; Co-author, "Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream"): Thanks for having me, Neal.

CONAN: And what's first on the agenda?

Mr. SALAM: Well, I'd say that during the lame duck session, there is going to be a lot of attention paid to extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. And one thing that people don't always understand is that both Democrats and Republicans advocate extending the biggest and most expensive of those tax cuts, and the real disagreement is about a much smaller component of the tax cuts for folks earning high incomes.

SIEGEL: And didn't the White House sort of raise the white flag on that in the past couple of days?

Mr. SALAM: Well, what they've done is said that they want to make those most expensive tax cuts, the middle-class tax cuts, permanent, and they want to allow a two- to three-year extension of the additional tax cuts.

The trouble is that for fiscal conservatives who are concerned about the long-term imbalance, it is those tax cuts that are the problem. Which is why President Obama's former budget director, Peter Orszag, floated a different plan of making all of the tax cuts not permanent but rather extending all of them for two to three years.

That's a plan that Boehner has said he's open to, and that's a plan that I think would be much more prudent, but alas, it doesn't appear to be on the table.

CONAN: Well, in other words, the fiscal conservatives, who are ordinarily against any tax increase that they can find, are arguing they may have to raise taxes?

Mr. SALAM: Well, no. I'm saying that fiscal conservatives who are concerned about the fiscal imbalance - not necessarily self-describe fiscal conservatives - but ought to be concerned about all of the tax cuts.

CONAN: Oh, indeed. There is also a proposal by Secretary of Defense Gates today that the lame duck Congress ought to pass repeal don't ask, don't tell before the new Congress takes office in January.

Mr. SALAM: That is true, and it's also an issue where it's not clear that there's a partisan valence. There were many Republicans who were concerned about repealing don't ask, don't tell before there was a full review from the Pentagon, but it does appear as those that is going to happen. Whether it happens now or whether it happens in the next Congress is an open question.

CONAN: Okay, then to the bigger questions, and we heard Speaker Boehner and Speaker-to-be Boehner and many other Republicans say cut government spending.

All right, we can figure that maybe earmarks are going to be up, but as pernicious as those may be, that's a very small percentage of the budget. Waste, okay, everybody argues they're going to find lots of waste. Very few actually find it. Then, if you're talking about some really difficult decisions.

Mr. SALAM: That is very true, and there you have a great deal of disagreement within the Republican caucus. One very significant event is that the ranking member of the Budget Committee, Paul Ryan, is likely to become the chair of the Budget Committee, and Paul Ryan has very controversially advanced a number of deep cuts to future spending; particularly entitlement changes - entitlement reforms, one might say - for folks who are under the age of 55 that are designed to address the long-term fiscal imbalance.

CONAN: So people under the age of 55. What you're talking about is Social Security.

Mr. SALAM: Social Security, but Representative Ryan has also proposed very big structural changes to how the Medicare entitlement works.

CONAN: And so this would make could make deep inroads into the deficit, but boy, that's not going to be easy, and it's not going to be politically safe.

Mr. SALAM: That's very true. But one of the interesting developments during the last campaign is that John Boehner, Marco Rubio - the newly elected Republican senator from Florida - both explicitly said that they are willing to make deep cuts to entitlements.

Both of them specifically talked about raising the Social Security retirement age. Now, think about that: A guy who is running for the Senate from Florida said that he'd be open to doing such a thing would suggest that maybe at the edges, at the margins, something really has changed.

CONAN: What about the defense budget? Obviously, we're still in the middle of two wars, but nevertheless, a lot of people, including the new senator from Kentucky's father, says we need to make big cuts in defense.

Mr. SALAM: There is a lot of disagreement about this among Republicans. It's something we're going to see hashed out in the weeks and months to come. You saw, for example, the leaders of leading conservative think-tanks in Washington, D.C., making an appeal to Tea Partiers, telling them that we need to keep defense expenditures very high.

And the reason they felt the need to do that is precisely because many grassroots conservatives are skeptical about what they see as bloated defense budgets, and they see room for savings.

So it's open question of whether or not a lot of the self-identified Tea Party conservatives in the new Congress are going to fight for cutting defense expenditures.

And let's not forget that Defense Secretary Robert Gates is himself a Republican who served in the Bush administration, and he reflects, I think, an emerging view among many so-called establishment Republicans that maybe defense is a place where you can find cuts.

CONAN: We're talking with Reihan Salam about the upcoming Republican agenda, what they're against everybody knows that. What they're for: That's a little more difficult. 800-989-8255. Republicans, what do you want to see your party do now? Email us, talk@npr.org. Laurel's(ph) on the line, calling from Ann Arbor.

LAUREL (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi.

LAUREL: Yeah, I do not want the Republicans to compromise with Obama. I think Obama does not believe in American exceptionalism or American nationalism. I want them to oppose his radical agenda as strongly as possible.

CONAN: Oppose anything he proposes?

LAUREL: Well, I don't see him proposing anything that's in line with our American ideals, so probably yes.

CONAN: Okay. Reihan Salam, the Republicans made a fair amount of hay in the previous Congress, opposing the president on a great many things, if not almost everything.

LAUREL: Yes, for sure.

CONAN: I was talking to our guest. Go ahead.

Mr. SALAM: I think that that is fair to say, but I also think that one complication is that John Boehner and other members of the Republican leadership have made it very clear that what they don't want is a replay of the late 1990s, and what they definitely don't want is a government shutdown.

That means that at some basic level, they're going to have to reach an accommodation, and that is one of the reasons why many of the folks in the new majority are already pressing the point that hey, wait a second, guys, we can only accomplish so much with a Democratic president, which is why many conservatives are already looking to the 2012 presidential election.

CONAN: Laurel, one of the things the government does from time to time is raise the debt limit. This has been done under Republicans, as well as Democrats. It's going to come up again in the new Congress. Should Republicans vote to raise the debt limit?

LAUREL: No, we can't. Our government is way too bloated. We need to shrink government, not raise the debt limit at all.

CONAN: All right, Laurel, thanks very much.

LAUREL: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's bring another voice into the conversation, Republican strategist Alex Vogel, former chief counsel to Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, now partner at Mehlman, Vogel & Castagnetti - and he joins us from his office in Washington. Nice to have you back on the program.

Mr. ALEX VOGEL (Partner, Co-founder, Mehlman, Vogel & Castagnetti): Good to be on.

CONAN: And voting against raising the debt limit. Is that going to be a salable proposition?

Mr. VOGEL: You know, it's going to be a very ugly dynamic facing the speaker-elect on this one. Obviously, you know, the last time that the debt limit had to be raised, I believe a grand total of zero Republicans went along, which was a relatively easy vote to do because fundamentally, it was a free vote.

This time, it's not a free vote, and the consequences of not actually extending the debt limit, depending on who you talk to, range from a rhetorical game that Republicans might lose to global economic meltdown.

So I do think it becomes extremely tough, when you've suddenly got these situations of folks who ran on shrinking government dramatically, and some of their earlier votes are how to pay for the tax cuts, whether to increase the debt limit, and it's tough to do.

And frankly, if I was, you know, Minority Leader Pelosi, I think I frankly would be saying hey, you guys didn't help me. Why should I do this to make this easier on you?

CONAN: I was just about to say: She could force Speaker Boehner to get the the Speaker-to-be Boehner to get just about every one of his Republicans to vote for that if he wants to pass it.

Mr. VOGEL: Frankly, right, exactly. And again, given that there are 80-some-odd freshmen coming in to Congress, most of whom on the Republican side ran against this, it'll be very hard.

CONAN: There is another Laurel was talking about another tactic opposing the president on just about every turn, which again was pretty much the tactic in the last two years. Is that going to be something that's easy to do again?

Mr. VOGEL: Well, you know, I know Republican leader Mitch Connell in the Senate took some heat for effectively saying that his job won't be done until President Obama loses and the idea that somehow that was not the right thing to say.

Look, you know, the last time I checked, if you're in the minority, your job is to implement your agenda and stop the other side's agenda. It doesn't mean you can't work together.

But, you know, that being said, as was pointed out, that's hard to do as long as there's a Democratic president in office who can control the agenda or veto the congressional agenda.

So to some degree, I think that it has to be a combination of both. On issues related to jobs, it's clear that the Republican Congress is going to have to work with the administration to find places to work together to get growth going. At this point, that just has to be the case.

But on tax policy and other things, they're not going to agree, and there's going to be a lot of pressure not to compromise.

CONAN: William's(ph) on the line from Fort Hill in Georgia.

WILLIAM (Caller): Yes, sir. How are you all doing today?

CONAN: Very well, thank you.

WILLIAM: Yes, sir. I just wanted to say that I've been voting Republican for a long time. I'm 52 years old. I'm a truck driver. And ever since really since Reagan ran for president against Jimmy Carter.

And I support the Tea Party. Although I'm not a member of the Tea Party, I do support a lot of what they stand for. But the one thing I wanted to say to them is this: Being 52 years old, they've been I've been paying into Social Security for now 36 years. I've been working a public job. And I can't afford to lose that. And I'm not going to stand by and have them take that away from me.

And the thing that, you know, that seems mighty funny to me is all those years when Social Security was taking in far more money than it was paying out, and everything was fine. As long as they was basically taking the money and spending it on other things, it was all fine. But now when the deal is coming due, they don't want to pay it. And quite frankly, I don't want to hear that.

CONAN: William, thanks very much for the call. You've raised a critical point, and we're going to take it up right after we come back from a break.

WILLIAM: Well, thank you very much for a good show.

CONAN: Thanks very much. Thank you. We're talking about the GOP agenda. If you voted Republican last week, what do you want the party to do now? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan.

Republican leaders have big plans as they prepare to take the majority in the House come January, and after an election that focused in large part on jobs and government spending, they face a number of questions about which issues to push and what to cut, when and when not to cooperate with Democrats and how to bring together conservatives from libertarians to Tea Partiers.

We want to hear from those of you who voted Republican last week. What do you want the party to do now? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Our guests are Reihan Salam, he's a columnist and blogger for the National Review, co-author of the "Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream." And Alex Vogel, a Republican strategist, department partner at Mehlman, Vogel & Castagnetti in Washington, D.C.

And Reihan Salam, our caller, William in Georgia, raised, well, a point of dilemma: Yes, I'm all for smaller government, but don't touch my Social Security.

Mr. SALAM: Well, William makes a very important point in part because when you look at the unraveling of the Republican majority, starting in the mid-2000s, a lot of it had to do with President Bush's Social Security push.

And part of the problem is the president didn't do a very good job of articulating his goal, and I think that conservatives now face a similar dilemma.

There are many people who really feel ownership of that Social Security benefit and do feel a real anxiety because, you know, not many a lot of Americans don't have adequate private savings, you know, for retirement. And when you look at what's happened to many people's 401(k)s, et cetera, this is a real source of vulnerability.

But I think that part of the issue is that when you're look at the best Social Security reform proposals, what they do is they reward workers for working for a longer period of time. They make gentle tweaks that could actually make the program cost much less over time but that actually will not impact workers who, for example, have physically grueling and demanding jobs.

There are ways to make reform a win-win proposition, but certainly, politics will get in the way.

CONAN: I was going to say, Alex Vogel, gentle tweaks can be, in the context of a political advertisement, made to look like a guillotine.

Mr. VOGEL: They can. They can be absolutely brutal. I mean, you know, one of the things you've seen that was interesting was, and certainly Mr. Rubio was able to do this in Florida very effectively, is you talk about Social Security reforms in the context of folks who are not, frankly, from a personal perspective, already wedded to the fact that they're going to get it.

Many younger people decided a long time ago it wasn't going to be there for them because contrary to what the caller said, things were not always fine with Social Security. People have been making the argument for a long time that the train wreck was coming.

So some younger folks long ago decided it would never be there. It's much easier to talk to them about changes down the road than folks who are either currently getting the benefit or very close to getting it. And I think that's one of the real avenues to talk effectively about reform.

CONAN: Let's get Wanda(ph) on the line, Wanda with us from Sacramento.

WANDA (Caller): Yeah, I don't I'm a registered Republican, have been for many years also, but I don't want to see the Republicans go in and try to repeal the health plan that was put into place, especially since there doesn't seem to be any organized organization to get one that's better.

It's just almost like they want to do it because the Republicans haven't done it, and the Democrats did, so...

CONAN: Alex Vogel, one of the few things that Speaker Boehner and Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, were unanimous about was repeal and replace Obamacare.

Mr. VOGEL: Right. I mean, you know, of those 80 people who got elected and the 13 new Republican senators this year, seven of which were filling old Republican seats but are still new to the institution, many of those folks campaigned on getting rid of this.

When you look at the exit polls, almost half of all voters say one of the reasons, the key reasons they voted was because of the health care bill.

So what you're going to see, especially in the House, is it's very hard for Mr. Boehner not to give those folks a straight up and down vote on full repeal. The reality is because of the rules of the House, that almost certainly can pass the House, and because of both the vote totals in the Senate as it will be configured in January, and the rules, it's almost certainly not going anywhere in the Senate.

So again, it's a lot of political theater, but I do think you will have, at a minimum, a full repeal vote go forward in the House.

CONAN: Reihan Salam, though, some say we can defund health care reform.

Mr. SALAM: Yeah, that's very true. I think that the thing about the health reform, the new health reform law, is that it's actually a super piece of legislation that includes many different discrete bundles.

And some of those things are things that conservatives would like. For example, the Independent Payment Advisory Board is something that I think President Bush would have really loved to have.

But then when you look at the planned Medicare cuts, those are things that we tried in 1997, and actually, that's why we needed a so-called doc-fix further down the road.

The chief Medicare actuary, not a Republican nor a Democrat as far as I know, and someone who was quite critical of the Bush administration in some respects, has said that actually those cuts are likely to be pretty problematic and might have to be reversed.

So I think that looking further ahead, whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, I think there are many things about this legislation that will definitely have to be fixed, and it's possible that outright repeal might actually be a sensible approach.

CONAN: You can find a lot of people who disagree with that, including Wanda.

Mr. SALAM: Absolutely.

WANDA: Yes.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, appreciate it. Let's see if we can go next to Will(ph), and Will's with us from Columbus.

WILL (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Go ahead.

WILL: Other than jobs and Obamacare, you know, I'm a registered Republican. I just graduated from college, and I'm concerned about my jobs, too. But I think my resume will eventually come around.

But a thing that I think that Republicans and Democrats can both work on together that hasn't been talked about much is enforce tougher sanctions on Iran.

I mean, I feel like that we've been way too easy on Iran with the flotilla incident and Israel and everything. I feel like we need to get a lot more embrace our relationship with Israel more, who is our biggest ally in the Middle East.

And Iran is clearly, you know, giving, you know, supplies and stuff to our enemies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And I feel like that the current administration has put a real sort of backburner on our relationship with Iran and sanctions that need to be enforced to show that we really mean business over there.

CONAN: Reihan Salam, is there a big partisan divide on Iran?

Mr. SALAM: Well, I think that there is certainly a divide in terms of rhetoric, and to a lesser degree in temperament on the issue. But I think that President Obama really is in charge of our foreign policy, and there's relatively little that Congress can do on that front.

In fact, some have argued that because the president achieved many very big legislative goals during the first two years of his presidency, it might be wise for him to focus, you know, and be more keenly attuned to these big foreign policy questions, some of which have been allowed to smolder over the last couple of years. And I certainly think that Iran is going to be near the top of the list for the president.

CONAN: Alex Vogel, hard to see I've not seen Republicans being too critical of the president on enforcement of sanctions against Iran. On relations with Israel, yes.

Mr. VOGEL: Yeah, you know, first, I don't think it's an accident that the president is on a multi-country worldwide swing immediately following the election. We have a time-honored tradition to leave town and focus on other things when elections don't go well.

It is interesting how little foreign policy played in this midterm election. I mean, in times of heightened concern about national security, the one thing that will knock even it off the table is the economy, which is what we had.

But I do think there are folks who are going to want to play, and there is now you know, suddenly, Republicans have oversight that they can exercise in the House, and I do think you'll see some of these issues come up.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Will.

WILL: Great, thanks.

CONAN: Let's go next to Jarod(ph), Jarod with us from Syracuse.

JAROD (Caller): Hi, thanks for taking my call. I enjoy the show always.

CONAN: Thank you.

JAROD: I guess I just three quick points. The first for the military, I'm a captain in the Army, also a physician. And I certainly think, and I think Gates also agrees, that, you know, we're a changing military, and we have different warfare that we're, you know, fighting now, a lot of cyber-warfare and more tactical and strategical warfare that requires a different military that could probably be smaller and more agile and less costly.

The second point is that, you know, as far as Medicare and the medical part of the reform, you know, a lot of those things are not going to be able to be repealed, but certainly I think the Republicans could make a point to say, hey, we need to do some malpractice reform and other things that are going to help prevent doctors from doing defensive medicine, which is then going to bring down the cost of medical care throughout the industry, not just Medicare and Medicaid but also in the private industry, which is going to be a huge boon for the economy.

And then the last thing is I really like the ideas from Governor Christie. I mean, you know, when you think about security, it's Social Security is, a lot of ways, a pension form. And quite frankly, when Social Security was first brought up, people weren't living as long. And now that they are living longer, we miscalculated on that, and we need to make cuts.

And obviously, I couldn't agree with one of the comments that was said earlier, is that, you know, with Social Security a lot of people are depending on that, but if they're in their 30s, like I am, I think most of us understand it's not going to be there, or we're not planning on it.

And so maybe what you do need to do is raise that retirement age for the 40s and 50s, and for the 60s, it's going to be just as it is, but for under 40s, it's like, you know what, start planning elsewhere, and start privatizing some of those things.

CONAN: Jarod, thanks very much. We talked about Social Security earlier. The defense budget, Alex Vogel, you're going to get a strange bedfellows coalition. There was legislation introduced by Rand Paul and by excuse me, by Ron Paul and Barney Frank before the elections to make deep cuts in the defense budget. There are going to be progressives who want to cut defense and deficit hawks.

Mr. VOGEL: Yeah, I mean, you do have this unique combination folks who you saw this playing out this Congress with some fights over the what was known as the alternate engine between...

CONAN: F-35, yeah.

Mr. VOGEL: F-35 engine they were trying to get going. And you've seen this fight play out, and you've seen these strange bedfellows. Again, the spending dynamic is going to create a completely different relationship. And suddenly you have the it's really appropriators versus the rest of the world in terms of how they're going to spend the money, instead of the normal constituent relationships people might have had in the past.

CONAN: Reihan Salam, tort reform, a hardy perennial on the Republican agenda?

Mr. SALAM: Yeah. I, unfortunately, don't think that tort reform is going to yield tremendous savings. It's certainly a good thing to do at the margin. But I think that when you look at things like competitive pricings for all Medicare plans, that's an idea that's been floated that I think would do a great deal to sharply reduce the cost of the Medicare entitlement in the short to medium term.

So I actually do think that there are more opportunities for achieving real efficiencies than folks fully appreciate. And, you know, with regard to the military issue, I think that it's important for people to understand that, actually, health costs are a very, very big component, and general personnel costs are a very big component of the defense budget. So when you're thinking about transitioning to a smaller, lighter, more agile military, that could yield great savings without great costs to our national security.

CONAN: Let's go to Bill(ph). Bill with us from Kansas City.

BILL (Caller): Yeah, thank you for taking my call. It seems to me that one of the reasons that Obama had such trouble here was that he wasn't able to create jobs, and we're almost halfway through the program, and I haven't heard the words jobs mentioned yet. And I'm just curious what are the Republicans going to do to create jobs that the Democrats haven't done?

CONAN: Alex Vogel, what do you think?

Mr. VOGEL: Well, I think, number one of that is extending the tax cuts. I mean, there's, you know, the firm belief that...

CONAN: But they're in effect now, so that's pretty much awash.

Mr. VOGEL: They are in effect and the key is to keep them in effect because, obviously, if you start jacking up people's tax rates in the middle of this, you're going to slow down growth...

CONAN: Again...

Mr. VOGEL: ...and you'll have less money to invest in the process.

CONAN: The slogan that it could have been worse didn't help the president last time around. So what are you're to do to increase the number of jobs, rather than reduce the number of losses?

Mr. VOGEL: Well, again, look, this is where the expectations game gets very hard for - especially for a speaker like Boehner, in that there's very little he can do. He's not the chief executive. He does not get to decide on broad monetary policy issues or other things, and all he could do is try and make sure that the incentive structures are there or not there. The disincentive structures are not there.

CONAN: And, Reihan Salam, one thing that we can pretty much, I think, expect is that federal aid to the states, the money that's been sent to keep teachers and firefighters and cops in their jobs, there could be less of that.

Mr. SALAM: Yeah. That is definitely very true. I think that states are facing a serious fiscal reckoning. For the last decade, state governments grew at an unsustainable pace, and I think that they're going to have to face a pretty serious fiscal crunch, and that is going to have economic repercussions. On the other hand...

CONAN: Including the loss of a lot of jobs.

Mr. SALAM: Including the loss of - certainly at least some jobs, but it's also true that there are ways to, for example, stretch education dollars and also in other core services. You know, we forget, for example, the tooth-to-tail ratios when you're looking at a police force. There are, you know, many cases in which you could actually replace high-cost public employees with lower-cost public employees because really we're talking about the overall wage bill, not necessarily the number of personnel employed.

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much, Bill, and appreciate the phone call.

BILL: I didn't hear anything that convinced me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well...

Mr. SALAM: Well, I'd be happy to talk about it at greater length.

CONAN: All right.

BILL: Thank you.

CONAN: Thank you, Bill. We're talking with Reihan Salam, which you just heard, a columnist and a blogger for the National Review, and Alex Vogel, partner at Mehlman Vogel and Castagnetti, former chief counsel to Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's go to Lana(ph). Lana with us from Lake City in Florida.

LANA (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

LANA: I'm a registered Republican, and this is what I would ask for the Republican Party. I'm 56 years old - be 57 next week. And I am really - I think like most Americans - tired of the fighting in politics. I would want the Republican Party to just say here's our core values. This is what we believe in, and this is what we want to do. Left, right or center, Republicans all have a certain set of core values - less government, more of a hand-up, less of a handout, that sort of thing. And I would like us to focus not so much on fighting with the Democrats because the Democrats have some pretty good ideas, too. We need to work together in the spirit of cooperation to make this country great again, or we risk losing it all over a bad campaign ad.

CONAN: Lana, you're not asking for much for your birthday, are you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

LANA: World peace.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Reihan Salam, is this going to be in the cards? Are we in for another partisan dogfight between now and November 2012?

Mr. SALAM: Well, one signal that John Boehner had sent is that he wants to have more comity in Congress. He wants it to be a less adversarial environment.

CONAN: C-O-M-I-T-Y, not E-D-Y.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SALAM: Right, exactly. But I also think that, you know, there's a structural issue here, which is that back in the days before 1994, when control of Congress wasn't really contested in the way that it is now, it was easier to have an era of good feelings because, you know, frankly, if you were a Republican legislator, the only way you were going to wield influence was by building friendships with folks across the aisle.

But when control of Congress becomes contested - and we see that now it looks like it's going to split back and forth a lot more quickly than it did back then - then it creates this powerful incentive for scorched earth politics. And I just don't think that's likely to go away. I think that it's really structural.

CONAN: Alex Vogel, after the election, everybody said: Clearly, the voters want bipartisanship on my grounds.

Mr. VOGEL: Right. And, you know, I agree. There has been an attempt by both -by, certainly, folks on the House side, Mr. Boehner to - you know, there has not been this massive victory lap. If you remember when the Democrats took over in 2006, there was something of a victory lap: Hey, we've wrenched this back from them. Instead a lot of the rhetoric has been: Hey, Republicans have been given a second chance to try and do what Republicans want to do and to put forward those ideals.

So I think you will have this period of messaging detente where folks aren't throwing things at each other and trying to cut a few deals. As a practical matter, though, the president is up for re-election in less than two years at this point, and I think folks will very quickly decide after reaching whatever compromises they can on taxes or other things, that it's back to relative gridlock.

CONAN: So if anything is going to get done, it better gets done maybe in the first six to eight months of next year, or it's going to get sticky after that?

Mr. VOGEL: I think they have about nine months here to really work some magic.

CONAN: All right. Lana, we wish you a very happy birthday. Thanks so much for your phone call.

LANA: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And our thanks to our guests, Alex Vogel - you just heard - a partner at Mehlman Vogel and Castagnetti, and thanks very much for being with us today.

Mr. VOGEL: Thank you.

CONAN: Reihan Salam, a columnist and a blogger for the National Review. His book of which he is co-author is "Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream." Appreciate your time today.

Mr. SALAM: Thanks very much, Neal.

CONAN: And he joined us from our bureau in New York.

Up next, the great Zenyatta came up a nose short in the Breeders' Cup on Saturday. We'll talk with Andy Beyer of The Washington Post about her legacy. 800-989-8255. Email us talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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