Mortgage Giants And Campaign Controversy

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NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr talks with Linda Wertheimer about the week's news: Financial troubles for mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae; Obama and McCain deal with controversial statements from supporters; Congress passes long-stalled legislation on surveillance rules and Medicare.


This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. Scott Simon is away. I'm Linda Wertheimer. This week, financial troubles for the mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. The Obama and McCain campaigns both deal with controversial statements from supporters, and Congress passes long-stalled legislation on surveillance rules and Medicare. Senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us. Hello, Dan.

DAN SCHORR: Hi, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Welcome. We're having quite a week here. The housing crisis, of course, has been in the news for months. But now, investors are selling off shares of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae...

SCHORR: That's right.

WERTHEIMER: Which could further depress the housing market. A government bailout could cost trillions. How could something like this happen?

SCHORR: Well, at least a trillion. Let's not talk about the amounts. It would be disastrous. And while the authorities deny there's any intention of a bailout or a need for a bailout, that is what they would say up until the point where they had to do it. There is a shakiness in these quasi-public institutions. Senator McCain says something will have to be done about it, and they are really edging up to having to do something about it.

WERTHEIMER: Speaking of the economy and Senator McCain, the national co-chairman of the McCain campaign, former Texas Senator Phil Gramm, said this week that when it comes to complaints about the economy, Americans have become a nation of whiners.

SCHORR: You know, he could have learned from Jimmy Carter that telling the Americans that they're suffering from malaise is not a way to win a whole lot of votes. It was clearly very embarrassing for Senator McCain, who immediately announced he doesn't speak for me. I speak for me. Not mentioning, however, this was his campaign co-chairman, and that he has to take a certain amount of responsibility for it.

WERTHEIMER: Jesse Jackson was caught using some vulgar words about Senator Obama in a television studio when he thought his microphone was off.


WERTHEIMER: The Obama campaign brushed the remarks aside fairly easily, although Reverend Jackson's son, Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr...


WERTHEIMER: Came down hard on his father. Do you think Jesse Jackson did more harm to himself than he might possibly have done to Obama and his campaign?

SCHORR: Well, he obviously harmed himself if his own son had to take him to task. It's very hard to say why Jesse Jackson does this except that he doesn't want to, perhaps, be left out of things. And so he makes sure that people will be thinking about him. Now, he reminds me of way back in 1968, when he led a Poor People's March up towards Capitol Hill chanting all the way, I am somebody. I am somebody. And they all chanted with him. But now, I think that he is nobody.

WERTHEIMER: And feeling it, I guess it's safe to say. Senator Obama was one of the supporters of the new FISA legislation passed in the Senate this week...


WERTHEIMER: Which President Bush signed into law. The FISA bill was being negotiated for a very long time...


WERTHEIMER: Before this compromise was reached, and Senator Obama has taken some flack for voting for it.


WERTHEIMER: What is it in this bill that made it so difficult to reach a compromise?

SCHORR: Well, several things. One of the most difficult things of all was that the bill would relieve the communications companies that had allowed wiretapping at a time when it was illegal but on request of the administration. And now, they are going to relieve them of any suit for violation of privacy.

The rest of it is a large and complicated matter of how far do you go in taking away civil liberties in order to look for possible terrorists. And they managed to work out a compromise, in which the FISA costs will get this great deal of say. But as is typical for compromise, it wasn't perfect, but it was, for the Democrats who had voted for it, good enough to go along with.

WERTHEIMER: The Senate also passed Medicare legislation that had been stalled for quite some time.


WERTHEIMER: What about that bill that was controversial?

SCHORR: Another immensely complicated matter, where there was a bill that was scheduled to go into effect on July the 1st that would cut more than 10 percent from the repayments to doctors for Medicare patients. Doctors were threatening to stop taking Medicare patients. This all looked like an the administration effort to guide some of the money to insurance companies rather than directly to doctors.

There was a bill put in to rescind that July 1st headline for this thing. One most dramatic way, when Senator Kennedy suffered from a tumor and showed up all of a sudden in the Senate. For eight minutes there was a standing ovation, and then they passed the bill, which made Senator Kennedy and maybe some other doctors very happy.

WERTHEIMER: Let's go overseas for a second. Iran test fired at least nine medium-range missiles on Wednesday.


WERTHEIMER: How serious is that?

SCHORR: Well, I guess it's as serious as you want to make it. At one point, they sent four missiles up. Only three got up, and they airbrushed the photos to make it look as though all four had come up. That's embarrassing.

WERTHEIMER: What about Iraq? The U.N. mandate authorizing U.S. troops to be in Iraq expires at the end of the year. They...


WERTHEIMER: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said that any new status of forces agreement...


WERTHEIMER: Will have to include a timetable...

SCHORR: Right.

WERTHEIMER: For the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

SCHORR: And that's a real zinger that was thrown at President Bush and Senator McCain as well, who had said we will not accept a timetable because our friends in Iraq don't want a timetable. And now, it turns out that our friends in Iraq, yes, we do want a timetable.

WERTHEIMER: Senior news analyst Dan Schorr. Dan, thanks.

SCHORR: My pleasure

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