Week In Politics: Budget; Debt Ceiling

Originally published on July 1, 2011 5:07 pm
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BLOCK: Here in Washington, deficit reduction talks have hit rough waters with Democrats and Republicans at odds over taxes. At stake is whether the government will default on its debt if Congress doesn't vote to raise the federal debt limit. Well, our regular Friday political commentators E.J. Dionne and David Brooks join me now to talk about this and more. E.J. Dionne here in the studio. Welcome back, E.J.

Mr. E.J. DIONNE (Washington Post, Brookings Institution): Good to be here.

BLOCK: And David Brooks, today joining us from Aspen Public Radio in Colorado, where he's been thinking deep thoughts all week. David, welcome to you.

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

BLOCK: President Obama held a news conference on Wednesday and he chastised Republicans in Congress, told them to work harder to get a deal done, which prompted Republican Senator Pat Roberts to suggest that he take a valium and calm down and come on down and talk to us. E.J. Dionne, a way out here, do you think?

Mr. DIONNE: Well, first of all, if this was Obama being over the top, then Saint Francis of Assisi was a warmonger. I mean, this was not over the top. He was pointing out - in fact, if he really wanted to be tough, he would have said that it's absurd to be having this whole discussion. We should raise the debt ceiling and then argue about the budget. The Republicans have voted over and over again to raise the debt ceiling in the past and suddenly, they find purity?

But I think he did make a very good point that you're going to hear a lot, which is - does it make any sense to default, to risk default to defend tax breaks for corporate jets? David can count the number out on the tarmac there in Aspen. But for corporate jets, hedge fund managers and oil companies, you do that, you save those and cut Pell Grants for college kids? It's crazy. And so I think he's just beginning to ratchet up the rhetoric, but this was hardly over the top.

BLOCK: David Brooks, do you think the president has a successful shaming strategy here? Is this something that the public will get behind him with?

Mr. BROOKS: First, let me say there are a lot of corporate jets out here, but they're all owned by liberals. You know, what's - I don't think that what public matters. What's happening in private is kind of interesting. The Republicans are holding extremely tough on not making even the slightest concession and basically, sort of threatening to throw the country into economic turmoil. And to be fair, the Democrats have moved a long way. They've caved on most of the issues.

And the Republicans are still holding very tough. Now, the question is, are they holding tough because it has proved to be an extremely effective negotiating tactic or are they holding tough because they actually believe it? And I don't think they know the answer to that because there are a lot of Republicans who actually believe it and will not vote for a debt ceiling limit.

The leaders, clearly, would like to make a compromise, but I'm not sure where the party is right now. So this is sort of a moment of discovery of what the party is. Either way, so far it's been a very effective negotiating technique.

Mr. DIONNE: And that's - if I could, that's why it was important for Obama finally to come out there and say, wait a minute, what are they doing? I talked to a very smart budget person this week who used the metaphor of the guns of August - appropriate enough, since the deadline is at the beginning of August -that people on each side may miscalculate and before we get into the soup, that we could accidently go over the edge. Which is why I think they better get pretty serious pretty quickly, which is why I think Obama himself said, let's get to work here. I think they're starting to worry that something that no one is calculating could happen.

Mr. BROOKS: If I could just add, I just think that's a real concern. I do think we're likely to have a moment of panic sometime this summer. And who knows whether it will spiral out of control. Normally, what happens is that the parties of the incumbents say, let's get together, Mr. President, you'll probably be re-elected if you do a deal, so we Republicans will hurt our Republican nominee.

The Democrat says, you Republicans in the House will probably get re-elected if we do a deal. I'm willing to hurt my congressional Democrats. Let's - party of incumbents, let's us stick together. But that logic just doesn't seem to be holding right now.

BLOCK: Let's move on and talk about the presidential campaign. There is a new Fox News poll which shows Massachusetts governor - former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney running at 18 percent, among Republican primary voters. In second place, actually, is somebody who's not running, at least not yet, and that's Rick Perry, the Texas governor, at 13 percent. David Brooks, what do you think about the chances that Rick Perry may actually jump into the race?

Mr. BROOKS: A lot of rumblings about Rick Perry these days among Republican fundraisers and insiders, a lot of people thinking he's likely to run. And he certainly has to look at the money that's been raised, which has been pretty pathetic, the polling, and he pretty much has to see a pretty wide-open opportunity for him to give it a serious run. So I would say Rick Perry's stock as a potential candidate is on the upswing.

BLOCK: Do you think so, E.J.?

Mr. DIONNE: Well, I think what we're seeing in these Republican polls is Republicans are consistently saying, give me somebody else. Donald Trump's name got in the mix and then - he, of course, wasn't running - he soared up in the polls. Last couple of weeks, we've seen Rick Perry speculation, now he's soaring in the polls.

What struck me about this week is that the week was dominated by two people. One, Mitt Romney, who was just bashing away at the American economy. He's using an adlib conservatives used against the British Labour Party back in the '70s and saying Obama isn't working.

The other person who got all the attention was Michele Bachmann, and some of it was negative about all the money she's gotten out of the government, as an anti-government Republican. You know, in terms of subsidies for agriculture and other subsidies for her husband's...

BLOCK: Family business.

Mr. DIONNE: ...business, yeah. But still, she's in the mix and the other guys have disappeared. So, for at least this brief period, it's been Romney and Bachmann, which is why maybe people are looking at Rick Perry or almost anyone else.

BLOCK: Let's end on this note. It was a good week in politics for this man.

Mr. STEPHEN COLBERT (Host, "The Colbert Report"): Now, please form an orderly mob. My unpaid staff and I are ready to shake my little moneymaker.

Unidentified Man: Right here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: That's comedian Stephen Colbert are shaking his moneymaker after the Federal Election Commission, yesterday, voted to allow him to use Viacom money to form his Colbert Super PAC.

David Brooks, aside from being great fodder to make this the campaign year more fun, anything else here we should be talking about with Stephen Colbert?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BROOKS: Well, I hope he's the last candidate to shake his moneymaker in public.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BROOKS: You know, so far what's been striking to me is he's going to raise - he may out-raise a lot of the Republican candidates.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BROOKS: So it's been pretty paltry, the amount of money so far. I suspect it'll kick in later.

Mr. DIONNE: Melissa, you should run.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DIONNE: Why don't you go out there?

BLOCK: Well, thanks to you both. Have a great weekend and a great Fourth of July.

Mr. DIONNE: Thank you, Happy Fourth.

Mr. BROOKS: You, too.

BLOCK: EJ Dionne of the Washington Post and Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of The New York Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.