TOPICS > Politics

From Ohio to Nevada, Voters Fed Up With Debt Ceiling Deadlock

July 28, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll found 80 percent of American are either dissatisfied or angry with the federal government's inability to reach a compromise to avert default. Judy Woodruff discusses the public mood with a reporter and a political columnist.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: It has become increasingly clear that most of the American public is fed up with the federal government’s inability to reach a compromise to avert default.

A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll found 80 percent of Americans are either dissatisfied or angry with how Washington works.

At the White House briefing today, spokesman Jay Carney cited that negative reaction as a cause for confidence that a deal will be reached.

JAY CARNEY, White House press secretary: We believe that the American people have made clear that they want a compromise. They are so frustrated by what they see as dysfunction here, as unnecessary fighting over issues that could be and should be easily resolved. They want to see Washington work on the problems that affect them directly.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, over on Capitol Hill, the two main players working to get a bill to the president’s desk are Speaker of the House John Boehner, as we have heard, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

They hail from Ohio and Nevada, respectively, two states also sure to be at the center of next year’s presidential campaign.

Well, for some insight now on how the battle in Washington is playing out at home, we are joined by Karen Kasler — she’s capital bureau chief for Ohio Public Television and Radio — and Jon Ralston, political columnist for The Las Vegas Sun and host of the television show “Face to Face with Jon Ralston.”

It’s great to see you both again.

And, Jon Ralston, I’m going to start with you. Is that description we heard from Jay Carney at the White House, the voters are frustrated with dysfunction, does that sound like what you’re hearing in Nevada? Or what are you hearing?

JON RALSTON, The Las Vegas Sun: Yes, Judy, I think it is pretty of the same out here or even worse than it is in the rest of the country. Remember, we have maybe the worst economy in the country, highest unemployment rate. We are the center of the foreclosure crisis in America.

More than half of the people who live here who are homeowners, their homes are underwater. And so people up here are upset. They have been for some time. And, yes, the anti-Washington sentiment, which is kind of endemic to Nevada in the first place, is only accentuated by what is going on right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So what’s going on right now, you’re saying, plays into a feeling, a sense that’s already there?

JON RALSTON: It is here. And then we have this other crucible here. We have the first special House election in the history of the state, in which both candidates are talking about the debt ceiling. In fact, one had an over-the-top ad showing a Chinese invasion of Capitol Hill. Neither of them want to talk about what party they are. But both want to talk about how Washington is broken and how they’re going to go back to Washington to fix it.

So that is out there in the atmosphere too and I think makes it a bit worse.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Karen Kasler from Ohio, what — how would you describe the mood, the comments you are hearing from voters there?

KAREN KASLER, Ohio Public Radio: Ohio is a strangely divide state. When you look at the election of 2010, a Republican tsunami swept the state. Every single elected officeholder statewide who won was a Republican.

And Ohio’s congressional delegation went from 10 Democrats and eight Republicans to 13 Republicans and five Democrats. But then recent polls have shown that maybe the Republican tide is waning a little bit. Gov. John Kasich, who was elected last fall — he is a former congressman — he — and a conservative Republican at that — his approval rating is down to 35 percent in the latest Quinnipiac poll about two weeks ago.

And also in that poll, we found some interesting ideas about where Ohioans feel about the budget, not necessarily the federal budget, but our own state budget. And while Ohioans said that they support President Barack Obama over his closest Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, 45-41 percent here in Ohio, when asked about their own state budget, voters 2-1 said that they wanted to see the budget balanced — there was an $8 billion deficit, we’re told — budget balanced with spending cuts only and not a combination.

Now, in the end, in the same poll, they responded that 50 percent didn’t like the result of what happened, which was that the budget was balanced without any tax increases and only cuts. At least that is what we are told.

So it is interesting to try to get a sense of where Ohioans are. There is still a Democratic leaning here in the state. The state is purple, not bright red, but it hard to get an idea of exactly which solution Ohioans favor.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jon Ralston, tease out for us the Democratic and Republican views there in Nevada, in terms of, are they both frustrated with what is going on here for the same reason? How do you – how do you separate that out?

JON RALSTON: Well, it’s interesting because we did just finish a similar budget crisis right here, Judy. And the polling showed people wanted it balance with spending cuts and tax increases.

Of course, Republicans wanted more spending cuts, Democrats wanted more taxes. The state is not evenly split. There are about 60,000 more Democrats than Republicans here. The Democrats, of course, are still supportive of Harry Reid. But as people know from that amazing election in 2010, even though Harry Reid has very bad numbers here, he managed to defeat Sharron Angle.

His numbers are still not so good here. Neither are Barack Obama’s, even with a Democratic plurality in this state. Both of them have at least 50 percent, maybe a little bit more, that disapprove of their job performance. So that is a problem for them.

But the polling I have seen here, mostly private polling, shows that people want a mix of spending cuts and taxes to solve this current problem, just as they did for the state problem. Democrats, of course, and Republicans split about the same way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Karen Kasler, just picking up on that, do you get a sense in Ohio of which side the public would blame if either the debt ceiling isn’t reached, if it isn’t raised and there is default, or, conversely, if it’s passed and it’s just not enough in the way of cuts?

KAREN KASLER: I don’t know, because, certainly, Ohioans are very concerned about the economy. I mean, our jobless rate has been rising steadily. It was in a bad place for a while.

But in the last month, it went down — or it went up, rather, two ticks. And so a lot of people are very concerned about the economy. We lost a lot of jobs, especially manufacturing jobs, and the foreclosure crisis hit Ohio very hard and is still affecting Ohio. So a lot of Ohioans are still very concerned about the economy and very curious about how the reforms that the Republicans who are now in charge here have put into place.

And then, of course, pairing that with whatever happens at the federal level, I think a lot of people are very concerned and you’re hearing a lot of that, that all this will eventually trickle down to me here in Ohio.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jon Ralston, we know the Tea Party were a factor in elections in your state the last go-round. And we see the Tea Party in fact giving the Republican leadership fits right now as the leadership tries to round up these votes.

What do you see — how do you see that Republican Tea Party tension playing out there?

JON RALSTON: Well, the influence is still here, Judy. Even — and even Sharron Angle is still floating around. And, as many people may know, she put out a statement defending the Tea Party Hobbits today after John McCain used that Wall Street Journal editorial on the Senate floor.

You had a Republican congressman here who won in the wave of 2010, Joe Heck, do a conference call with the media just a couple of hours ago in which he tried to make it sound as if he had agonized over whether to support the Boehner bill, finally came to the decision this morning.

But clearly the Tea Party influence is being felt there in that district, which is one of the key swing districts in America, Congressional District 3. Of course, only in Nevada — we don’t even have our lines drawn yet, so he doesn’t even know exactly who is going to be in his district. But that influence is still here. It’s felt within the Republican Party, and it’s a constant tug-of-war for some of these candidates to play to the moderates or play to the conservatives.

It’s going on, as I mentioned, in that special election for the House to replace Dean Heller, who is now in the Senate. The guy who is running as the Republican, Mark Amodei, was a fairly moderate state senator. Now he is now sounding like Grover Norquist has invaded his soul and he’s completely changed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Karen Kasler in Ohio, what about that? How much tension do you see between the mainstream Republican Party and the Tea Party folks?

KAREN KASLER: Well, the Tea Party activists were actively courted by the Republican candidates who ended up flipping the congressional delegation balance from Democratic to Republican. So there is definitely a Tea Party influence here.

And Gov. Kasich, as I mentioned before, a congressman who was involved in a budget showdown, so to speak, back in ’97 with President Bill Clinton, he has been speaking both to Tea Party activists, but also to Republicans, in some of the statements he has been making. He’s talking about how politicians in Washington need to suck it up and get back to leadership and get this done.

But he’s also saying things like he doesn’t like the idea in Speaker Boehner’s plan of a commission to find savings, but then he says he would support Speaker Boehner’s proposal. So there is an interesting dichotomy going on as he looks at his own Republican Party, I think, and tries to bring together both sides, because, indeed, the factions are there. He has recognized it and a lot of other folks have recognized it as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it sounds like both Ohio and Nevada have plenty of your own issues to deal with at the same time you watch what going on in Washington.

Thank you both. It’s great to see you again, Jon Ralston, Karen Kasler.

JON RALSTON: Thanks, Judy.