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Fri September 20, 2013
Insider: 'Nobody Wins' In Budget Showdown
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Coming up, you've heard about the Tennessee woman who sent her adoptive son back to Russia because she decided she couldn't cope. We'll hear from an investigative reporter who says this actually happens more often than you might think because the Internet makes it easy. She's going to explain more about that in just a few minutes.
First, though, we're going to look at some of the latest political headlines.
Joining us now are two of our veteran analysts. They are both former White House aides. Ron Christie was an assistant to President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. He's now president of Christie Strategies. That's a consulting group. Corey Ealons is a former communications advisor to the Obama administration. He's now a senior vice president at VOX Global. That's a communications firm. They're both back here with us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Welcome back, gentlemen. Thanks so much for joining us once again.
RON CHRISTIE: Happy Friday.
COREY EALONS: Always good to be here.
MARTIN: Now I'd like to start with an event that - it is admittedly close to home here in Washington, D.C. - in fact just about a mile and a half south of Capitol Hill - and that was the shooting at Washington's Navy Yard that killed 12 people on Monday morning. And just last night, 13 people were shot on a basketball court on Chicago's South Side, including a three-year-old who's pulling through, you know, thankfully.
So, Corey, I'll start with you and just ask - you know, there's been a lot of talk about how little we're talking about this actually in the wake of incidents that are just really traumatic. So I'd like to ask, why you think that is. I mean, are we just - is there any policy conversation that anybody is willing to have about this stuff right now?
EALONS: Well, I tell you, I think we may have gotten our fill, unfortunately, during the gun debate earlier this year. I mean, if you can't get comprehensive gun legislation through after the tragedies that we saw at the schools with the children being killed, how in the world could you expect to get anything done otherwise? And so the fact that we're not having a visceral reaction to the events that have taken place this week is unfortunate. But I think...
MARTIN: So are the progressives just throwing up their hands on this? I mean, the Tea Party hasn't stopped trying to defund Obamacare...
MARTIN: ...So why is it that the progressives haven't continued to try to advance gun safety issues? They just don't...
EALONS: Well, I don't know that they have stopped. I know that there has been a lot of conversation amongst progressives, but the challenge is they're not the ones that need to be convinced. It's our folks - the folks you just mentioned - the Tea Party folks who are holding up everything in Congress right now who need to be dealt with. And so we'll see how the conversation develops over the coming days.
MARTIN: Ron, your thoughts?
CHRISTIE: I think it's always fascinating when you have a national tragedy that some on the left like to bring up the Tea Party, as if this is the Tea Party's fault. This was a former Navy reservist who actually had gone through a legal background check and had come through with this background check. To me, it's more striking that the Navy knew that he had mental issues and allowed him to have an honorable discharge, which then allowed him to have the ability to get a background check to obtain a weapon. So I don't see how another law would have changed this. The man actually followed the system that many of the progressives want to keep in place.
MARTIN: You don't see any policy lapse here. You think this is an administrative fail. Is that your idea?
CHRISTIE: I think this is an administrative fail. Absolutely. And by the fact that this man has had several incidents - has been arrested several times over the last several years - dealing with gun violence. He never should have had a permit to have a gun. Period.
MARTIN: So let's talk about the Food Stamp Program. The House voted yesterday to cut $40 billion from it. They cited widespread abuse within the program. Ron, could you just talk about the politics of this. You know, Republicans have been focused on this for a while. They originally tried to include this language in a farm bill, they separated, sort of, the issue. Now they're trying again. But why is this a priority right now? Can you explain that?
CHRISTIE: No, actually, I can't. I understand the need to reform the Food Stamp Program. I think many Democrats understand that we need to reform the Food Stamp Program. But when you say that we are at the lowest workforce participation rate in nearly 30 years, you have so many Americans who are looking for a job who don't have the ability to get it. The Republicans come across as being coldhearted, tone deaf, out of touch. I have no idea what thought went through the leadership and said, you know, with everything going on in the world, let's cut the Food Stamp Program right now. That's a great idea.
MARTIN: Corey, what are your thoughts about this? You know, certainly Democrats have reacted furiously to this. Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier ripped Republicans holding up - you know, she held up, like, steak and vodka and caviar on the floor to represent Republicans who took fancy trips abroad or took subsidized trips, you know, abroad. And said that - and got big food allowances and saying that, you know, people, you know, thousands of people in their district could've eaten on what they got in food allowances on these international sort of trips. So what about that on the Democrat side? What are we going to do about this?
EALONS: Well, I'll tell you this. It goes back to what Ron just said before. Ultimately, this bill was allowed to go to rules and then come to the floor. And so this was a leadership decision. This was a very conscious decision on their part. And I think it's because Boehner felt like he needed to give cover - individual, political cover - to folks who, maybe, are going to have to make some adjustments in their thinking and their voting in the coming days and weeks over big issues like the debt ceiling and other issues. So you put this out here.
It is a - it is not a real gesture. It is one that's meant to send a signal to a very small constituency in districts back home that, I'm still with you and we're still going to get these guys. Reform is still a big part of our agenda. But ultimately, obviously, it's not going to go anywhere.
MARTIN: Who do you think - forgive me for using this kind of language, I know people resent it because they feel it trivializes the issue - but who do you think wins this one, this round?
EALONS: Nobody wins. Nobody wins ultimately because, again, the Republicans continue to undermine their ability to redefine their brand. Reince Priebus has to be pulling his hair out right now.
MARTIN: He's the chairman of the Republican National Committee.
EALONS: Absolutely. And then on the other side, again, it takes away from the energy that we need here in Washington to get real things done. It's just one more distraction that we don't need.
MARTIN: Well, speaking of, you know, the question of whether it's a real thing or a distraction - the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare - Republicans are trying to defund it again. They've tried, apparently - what like, 40 times already?
CHRISTIE: It's less than...
EALONS: More than 40.
CHRISTIE: ...It's less than, actually 40, in the House. But I mean, oh, gee, is it 30, or is it 40? I mean, it's still a remarkable number of times.
MARTIN: So this is House Speaker John Boehner explaining why they're doing this. Here he is.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE JOHN BOEHNER: The law's a train wreck and it's going to raise costs. It's destroying American jobs and it must go.
MARTIN: So, Ron, what do you make of this? I mean, I think people have noted this week that Senator Ted Cruz, who's considered extremely conservative as a Tea Party favorite, he opposes the law but he says defunding it is not realistic and it's just not a good use of their time. What's your take on the politics?
CHRISTIE: I agree with that. If you are going to repeal the bill, repeal the bill and replace it with something else. I think that the notion of we're going to defund Obamacare in the House and send it to the Senate, that it's going to pass the Senate and reach the president's desk - it's a fantasy, it's not going to happen. Harry Reid said yesterday that it's dead. It's dead. It's not going to pass the Senate.
So, again, from an optic standpoint, I understand that. If you want to have a bill that's going to replace Obamacare, put that on the floor and say, here's our policy disagreement. We want to repeal Obamacare. Here's what our vision, our plan, is and this is why it's better. But the notion that we're going to defund this and somehow put the government in a position of being in a government shutdown I think is foolish policy.
MARTIN: But the difference here, Corey, is that this law is now being coupled with a bill that would be needed to avoid a government shutdown. So it strikes me that people are suggesting right now of the possibility of a shutdown really is likely. First of all, do you agree with that? And secondly, would then the Democrats share some responsibility for that, or how do you think this would be seen, politically?
EALONS: Oh, certainly not. The Democrats would not share any responsibility in that but that's certainly how people who are putting this issue forward are working to position it. But look, here's where we are, first and foremost, we're not going to not pay our bills. We're not going to stand by and let the full faith and credit of the United States be undermined by political posturing. That just can't happen. So the president is taking the right position by having a no-negotiation stance on this particular issue.
And when it comes to Obamacare - look, the Congress passed it, the president signed it, the Supreme Court upheld it. It's a done deal. So this is a fight that needs to be exorcised and done away with. And here's what we know - polls are telling us right now that as much as people supposedly don't like Obamacare, what they want is for Congress, if they don't like it, to fix it. They don't want it to go away. That's what polls are telling us right now so that's - if Republicans in the House and the Senate have issue with the bill, with the law, then they need to fix it.
MARTIN: But do you think the public really sees it that way or does the public just see it as yet more dysfunctional government. So people - a pox on both your houses, you know, as it were. You know, whatever the facts indicate, do you think the public sees it that way? I mean, wouldn't the public see this as yet another sign that their government is dysfunctional?
EALONS: It is that, but here's the thing - the fact that they are now coupling these two issues. We've been through this - we've seen this horror movie. 2011 is the first time we had Tea Party members come in and hold the American people hostage. The Republicans paid for that. The economy paid for it, but the Republicans paid for it as well. The fact that they saw that movie and they also appreciate that if you don't like Obamacare, we should fix it - those two things combined contribute to the sense of dysfunctioning that we have.
MARTIN: Could you tell - help us understand this a little bit more, Ron, because I think that - I don't know if you agree with Corey's assessment of past history here...
CHRISTIE: I don't.
MARTIN: But during the Clinton administration, the government shut down, he's saying, really redounded to the detriment of Republicans. They were blamed for it, they paid a political price for it in the midterm elections. It was was a lose-lose - it was a lose for them - it was a lose-lose for the economy. But from a political stand point, the Clinton administration and Democrats benefited from it. So the politics are all negative on the Republican side. Your assessment?
CHRISTIE: Well, two things here - I remember sitting in the leadership room when then Speaker Gingrich was saying what a great idea this was and he said, wait, what did you just say? Because I leaned to my boss, then the former chairman - the House Budget Committee chairman, John Kasich, and I said, we're going to get blamed for this. And he said, what do you mean? I said, we're going to get blamed for this. They're going to stick somebody out on the Mall and sure enough, what do they do? They had the cabinet out there in the Mall saying, oh, well, you would've had this tour except the Republicans shut the government down. So I think from an optic standpoint I've been through the la vida loca - I don't want to go through that again.
But here's where I disagree with Corey. I think if you look at the most recent NBC Wall Street Journal poll, it says that 63 percent of Americans don't believe that they're going still be able to have the same level of coverage with their healthcare coverage now. If you look at the UPS, if you look at the University of Virginia, if you look at unions of either thousands of people will lose their coverage or thousands of people will lose spousal coverage, I think the more that people learn about this bill as we head closer to the open enrollment on October 1st, they realize this really is a train wreck. Premiums really are going up. My ability to have a good coverage is going down. So we do need to repeal and replace certain aspects of this law that are hurting people rather than helping them.
MARTIN: So you're saying the Republicans will benefit from being seen as having the correct assessment in the end?
CHRISTIE: No, no, no. Republicans in the end will benefit if they actually have a concrete plan that says this is what we're for, these are the deficiencies in the current law that we need to fix. But if they say let's defund it, we're going to lose.
EALONS: Which they failed to put forward over the past five years, so we got to think there's no there there. I think it's very clear.
MARTIN: Corey Ealons is a senior vice president for VOX Global and a former director of media for the Obama administration. Ron Christie is a Republican strategist. He is a former assistant to President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Now president of Christie Strategies. Thank you both so much for joining us.
CHRISTIE: Always a pleasure.
EALONS: Good to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.