Week In Politics: War Powers Act; GOP Debate Robert Siegel speaks with our regular political commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of The New York Times.
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Week In Politics: War Powers Act; GOP Debate

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Week In Politics: War Powers Act; GOP Debate

Week In Politics: War Powers Act; GOP Debate

Week In Politics: War Powers Act; GOP Debate

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/137254030/137254022" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Robert Siegel speaks with our regular political commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of The New York Times.

SIEGEL: Well, that is not the only issue of national security policy that's proving contentious this week. Congressional Republicans have also challenged the administration over the War Powers Act. They say the president is exceeding his authority in Libya.

That is one topic for our regular commentators, David Brooks of The New York Times and E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution. Good to see both of you.

Mr. DAVID BROOKS (The New York Times): Good to be with you.

SIEGEL: Let's start with E.J. What do you make of the House Republicans finding long lost common ground with Congressman Dennis Kucinich over the War Powers Act?

Mr. E.J. DIONNE (The Washington Post): Politics is a wonderful thing, isn't it? I mean, the Republican Party has always had a strong anti-interventionist wing. Some people call it an isolationist wing, going back to the days of Robert Taft. It sort of went away in the anti-communist years, then it came back. And a lot of the Republicans didn't like the intervention in Kosovo or Bosnia under Clinton.

When George Bush became president, it became a party line position to support intervention abroad. And so, what it think you're seeing is a lot of Republicans, both Libertarian kinds of Republicans and more traditionalist, returning to their old positions of being against sending American troops. And of course, anything connected with President Obama is not popular among Republicans.

SIEGEL: David, do you see it that way?

Mr. BROOKS: Well, parties out of power are always less interventionist than parties in power because when you're in power you know you have to do things. You're America, you're the global super power. When you're out of power, it's just easier to complain about how much it's costing. And so that's true, I think, universally.

I'm not a huge fan of the War Powers Act, but the Obama administration's argument that what we're doing in Libya is not, quote, "hostilities" is kind of ludicrous and laughable. And so I wish they would just consult - you don't have to go through the whole War Powers rigmarole, but just once in a while pick up the phone and talk to members of Congress, bring them into the process. You wouldn't have all these problems.

SIEGEL: You think this might have been avoided?

Mr. DIONNE: Yeah, I agree. I mean, I think that there is a responsibility for the executive - and for goodness sake, Democrats were unhappy about what they saw as unilateral actions by the Bush administration. I think it's reasonable when a new Democratic president is in power, even if he believes he has to act, that he should honor the fact that Congress does have some role in this.

SIEGEL: But in Monday's Republican presidential debate, rather, up in New Hampshire, we heard people talking about the world and, David, it sounded like that old Republican Party E.J.'s talking about.

Mr. BROOKS: Yeah, I'm a little dubious it'll actually be that way when in power. Like I said, it's easier to criticize. And, you know, we're always on the lookout for isolationism in this country. It never actually arrives.

Mr. DIONNE: But I think that there was a kind of reckless interventionism in the Bush years and it's created a backlash. And the other thing is, Americans are simply exhausted from fighting two wars over 10 years. A lot of Americans want this to end and the Republicans are speaking to that.

SIEGEL: I'm gonna get insular now. Let's turn to domestic matters. And there seems to be a very broad agreement that the country's biggest problem at this moment is the recovery is not generating enough jobs. So if jobs is seen as the huge problem of the day, do you hear any huge or appropriate solutions being talked about out there, David?

Mr. BROOKS: No. No, there is really nothing short term. We've just had the world historical size stimulus. It's had some effect, but sort of a disappointing effect. The deeper problem is really structural. Small business formation has been dropping for the last 30 years. Male wages have been stagnate for 30 years. What it requires is a very big and long term agenda which crosses the partisan lines.

Republicans are probably right that we need to transfer money from Medicare and old people to young people and innovation. Republican - or Democrats are right, we need to invest in basic research. We need to invest in infrastructure, things like that. But getting one party to have a trans-partisan growth agenda is very hard in this climate.

Mr. DIONNE: I think you need to do some immediate things. Some of the - except for the part about killing Medicare, of course, that's not what David said. I agree with a lot of what he said. But there was a meeting of Senate Democrats, a lunch last week where they kicked around, what can we plausibly do to boost the economy that has any chance of getting through a Republican House and a Senate where Republicans can block anything?

And basically, they decided mostly what you can get through are tax cuts, which is why continuing the payroll tax cut that started last year for another year is in the mix. They're also talking about tax breaks to encourage energy efficiency. But there is a shot at passing a decent public works bill and perhaps even the infrastructure bank. We ought to be investing in ourselves at a time when interest rates are so low and when we need jobs.

Mr. BROOKS: Well, you have to show some budget discipline. You look at what's happening in Greece, you look at nervousness about debt all around the world. If we could show some long-term budget discipline, then the short-term stuff would be possible. Right now, really we've no prospect of doing more spending, more tax cuts.

SIEGEL: Well, what hopes to the two of you have that the negotiations between the Vice President Biden, the administration more broadly, and Republicans on the Hill could put together some kind of bipartisan package that might make someone more confident about the country's prospects?

Mr. BROOKS: I'm very gloomy on this. I think the markets are vastly under appreciating the amount of political risk here. I think they could come up with some sort of B-minus solution where they pretend to some shallow spending or deficit cats, which really push the problem off. I think it's much more likely that there will be significant defaults, crackup's, semi-government shutdown, something the markets haven't yet paid attention to.

But I'd be very pessimistic about what's going to happen in Washington over the next couple of months.

SIEGEL: E.J.

Mr. DIONNE: David and I seem to switch side on optimism and pessimism.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DIONNE: I think that there will be some kind of deal that will at least look like a couple of billion dollars in cuts, so they can pass...

SIEGEL: A billion? A trillion dollars...

Mr. DIONNE: A couple of trillion dollars in cuts so they can get the debt ceiling approved. It'll include things that won't make people excited, like accepting the wars will end and counting a trillion dollars from that. I think they know they got a good deal and I think they'll get something. But the long-term solution won't happen till after the next election.

Mr. BROOKS: Trillion, billion, what's the difference?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DIONNE: There we go.

SIEGEL: David Brooks of The New York Times, EJ Dionne of The Washington Post, thanks to both of you.

Mr. DIONNE: Thank you.

Mr. BROOKS: Thank you.

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