Week In Politics: Unemployment Numbers; Debt Ceiling
NORRIS: And joining us now, as they do most Fridays, are our regular political commentators, E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of the New York Times. Happy Friday. Hello, both of you.
DAVID BROOKS: Hello.
DIONNE: And happy Friday to you.
NORRIS: Now, as we just heard, unemployment numbers are up for the second month in a row and the White House didn't want anyone to read too much into last's month dip, but here we are again. Is this a trend? And I'm wondering how the White House begins to answer that question posed by Congressman Hensarling of Texas. Where are the jobs?
BROOKS: Now, part of the problem is not their fault. When you have a financial crisis, you have a long, long, slow, very frustrating recovery. And we're sort of in the middle of a normal financial crisis recovery which is very slow and miserable. But the thing that can be done is, I think, over decades we've added weight after weight to the economy and made it less flexible, a little more rigid, made it hard for people to hire and fire with various regulations and taxes and things like that. And it's time for a generation-long effort to really reduce that stuff.
NORRIS: E.J., not their fault. Now, Republicans aren't buying that argument.
DIONNE: But politically, it's a huge problem for the president. Even if it's the Congress that's going to hold up action, this is starting to look like a boulder in the road, not just a bump. Washington is talking about deficits and the real economy is telling us that joblessness is the problem.
NORRIS: We're going to get to deficits in just a minute, though. But can the White House pull the levers to actually create jobs?
DIONNE: Well, they are talking about doing some things, but they don't have a lot of room to do things. They can try to pass another payroll tax cut, although it hasn't done much this year. They maybe can extend it to business. They're talking about their infrastructure bank, an idea which is a good idea, although it would take time to get moving. But again, given the make-up of this Congress, it's hard to see anything substantial getting through between now and the election.
NORRIS: And now...
BROOKS: If there's one thing we should learn from this - the government is really bad at short-term economic manipulation. It can lay the foundation for long-term growth, but manipulating jobs and the economy quarter by quarter, it's just beyond its power.
DIONNE: And just one thing on that, though. You know, David Leonhardt, a great blogger, economics writer at The Times, made the point that we've lost a half a million jobs in state and local government over the last two years and we're - if we added them at the same pace we were, we would've added a half a million jobs. That's a million jobs lost. Government can clearly affect government employment and the withdrawal of the stimulus from state local governments has been caused...
NORRIS: A lot of those were government jobs. You know, we're going to move to this debate over the debt ceiling talks and the sort of the sword of Damocles that's hanging over everyone's head. E.J., in your column yesterday, you say that the president's goal, at least politically, is to get through this negotiation and with a deal that keeps the government running, but also keeps his political center intact. And he's got quite a roadblock there in his own party, in the Senate Democrats.
DIONNE: I'm still skeptical. There's still a lot of liberal Democratic mistrust. The just say no wing of the Republican caucus is very big. I still think you end up back with some smaller deal. Although, who knows how they pass it? But now, at least, Obama can say to elite opinion, well, I tried to get the big deal. And he can say politically to everybody else, look, you know, the Republicans interested in cutting the deficit or not? So I think that's where it ends up.
NORRIS: Whenever you have a sort of high-level negotiation and this kind of brinkmanship, there's a little thing called leverage that often determines where you land. In the end, David, who has the leverage in this case?
BROOKS: And so both of them are feeling very vulnerable, and I think that's one of the reasons you see so much movement these days. I think what's happening in Washington is kind of great. You've got Republicans and Democrats, serious negotiators doing serious things. Liberals on the left, on the extreme left and extreme right are very unhappy. But this is the first time in years we've begun to see real talking on big stuff. I think it's kind of great.
NORRIS: You know, I talked to a senator today and he described this sort of disconnect that when he goes home, he's here are some people who think, oh, they're going to work it out, they're not going to shut the government down. They'll get a deal by August 2nd. And he says the people who are actually in the room and involved in the negotiations aren't so sure about that.
DIONNE: But Boehner is thinking like an incumbent, not just like an opposition person. He does seem to take seriously what this might do to the Republicans in the long-term.
NORRIS: What do you think about his role in this and his negotiating skills?
BROOKS: If it were up to Obama and Boehner, we'd have a deal.
NORRIS: So you - praise for Boehner but you say the Republican Party, in your column this week, may not even be a normal party anymore.
BROOKS: Right. And I think Boehner is a normal politician. Whether the Republicans in the Michele Bachmann base is ready to go along with him, that is a very open question.
DIONNE: Boehner's problem is he is stuck between a Democratic rock and a Tea Party hard place. In order to get Democratic votes, you've got to have some revenue in whatever deal they have. But if you put too much revenue in, you start losing Republican votes. And Boehner has the possibility of a rebellion against his leadership. So he's in a very difficult position.
NORRIS: E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution, David Brooks of The New York Times, thanks to both of you. Have a great weekend.
DIONNE: And you, too.
BROOKS: You too.
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