SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
This week, more sobering economic news from the Labor Department. The country's unemployment rate jumped to 8.1 percent last month. That's the highest since 1983. Meanwhile, President Obama held a daylong summit on health care at the White House, and Secretary of State Clinton is making the rounds of the visits to the Middle East, Brussels and Geneva. NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us. Hello, Dan.
DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Scott.
SIMON: An awful lot of economic news this week.
SCHORR: And not very good, either.
SIMON: And let me ask you specifically, more than 650,000 jobs…
SIMON: …were lost last month.
SCHORR: Huh, huh.
SIMON: Now remember those big bailouts last fall, during the political campaign. They were supposed to stabilize the economy and let credit flow -which would employ people. What happened?
SCHORR: That's right. It was supposed to stabilize the banks, and then the banks would do their thing by lending. So they gave the money to the banks and the banks didn't do much about lending. And there we are. There may have to be some other way of approaching this thing because banks can't use money for their own purposes, including buying other banks.
SIMON: Meanwhile, the line asking for more bailouts is growing longer - banks, auto companies. General Motors says that it needs more government help or else it could go bankrupt. And on Friday, General Motors stock fell to $1.27 per share.
SCHORR: That was after an auditor of General Motor had said that you're very close to bankruptcy. And so it looks as though, unless the government -obviously the government will have to do something. As they say, they cannot afford to have this giant of American industry fail. But it gets to be very difficult. They've given them billions of dollars already, to steady them, and they appear to be unsteady. The question is, how far can you go? How far do you have to go?
SIMON: Meanwhile, the Senate stalled on a $410 billion spending bill that would include, past and present form, about 8,000 earmarks.
SIMON: A couple of Democrats - most prominently, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, who joined with John McCain and Evan Bayh, of course another Democrat, from Indiana - said they're going to go against the bill as it stands.
SCHORR: Right. You remember that President Obama, when he was campaigning, was told - does he want change the way business is done in Washington?
SCHORR: That is not yet evident in what's happening in the Congress right now. I mean, they are operating on something called the continuing resolution. A stopgap resolution has now been added on to until next Thursday. And meanwhile, there are just - $410 billion bill to cover all the agencies in the government, practically, plus as you mentioned, all the earmarks as well. And you have to break a stalemate, you have to break a filibuster. They don't have quite enough. They lost on an attempt to break the filibuster by one vote. They don't have that one vote. And if this is the new way, God help us.
SIMON: Meantime, though, President Obama held a daylong summit on health-care reform at the White House.
SIMON: If we can remember when another Democratic president vowed to make that a high priority.
SCHORR: Yes, that was about 15 years ago when President Clinton and Hillary Clinton were going to do a real job of getting universal health care for all Americans. But they drafted the bill in a secret task force session. And they indicated by the way they worked that they would not get very much help from Congress, which doesn't like to be treated that way. The new president includes everybody. There were Congress people there. There were even people who voted, in the past, against health insurance. Even the man who drafted the famous Harry and Louise commercial that was used in - 15 years ago to help to defeat the Clinton plan.
Well, this time it's being done more carefully. They're bringing people on board from all sides. And so far, I mean, they haven't done anything that's a mistake because they really haven't done very much other than to talk inspiringly about bringing health costs down.
SIMON: Some people have begun to wonder if President Obama is so ambitious - is he perhaps overextended.
SCHORR: Well I had said sometime a few weeks ago, I will admit, that he has a very big agenda that includes environment, that includes education, and that includes health. But I said he probably will not be able to get to it because there is this crushing need to handle - do something about the economy. I underestimated the president's ability to do - to keep four balls in air at the same time.
SIMON: Secretary of State Clinton has been traveling, including a stop at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
SIMON: What's going on with Russia and Iran?
SCHORR: Well, something very interesting is going on. First of all, President Obama has sent a message to the Russians through President Medvedev indicating they would like some help on a whole series of things, and that also, if they could contain Iran in its nuclear ambitions, well then maybe it wouldn't be so important to have an anti-missile system. At the same time, there is an approach been made in a very odd and roundabout way to Iran. That is to say, they want to call a conference on Afghanistan with all Afghanistan's neighboring countries there, including Iran. So now on one track, they're trying to contain Iran; on the other hand, they're trying to arrange a meeting with Iran.
SIMON: Last week, Dan, we taught you how to Twitter - how to tweet on Twitter. Andy Carvin, our social media swami here at NPR, set you up with your own Twitter account. And I think it's safe to say the outpouring has been fantastic.
SCHORR: Well, I can't believe it, and I want to tell all my friends, as we are called…
SCHORR: …our followers, as some call them, but I prefer friends - that I didn't know very much about this until a week ago. And now, all of a sudden, I've discovered this whole way of a civil society existing by simply being able to talk back and forth to each other by way of cyberspace. It's a revelation to me, and I love it.
SIMON: Tweet back at you, Dan. Thanks.
SIMON: Dan Schorr.
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SIMON: And by the way, you can reach both of us on Twitter. For Dan, it's DanielSchorr and for myself, NPR's ScottSimon - each of our names all one word.