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Brooks and Marcus on Prospects for Obama’s Jobs Plan, Solyndra Saga

September 16, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus review top political news, including former Vice President Cheney's new memoir, the special election in New York, the GOP response to the president's jobs plan and more.
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JEFFREY BROWN: And now to the analysis of Brooks and Marcus, New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus. Mark Shields is away.

Welcome.

RUTH MARCUS: Hi.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, let’s — responding — we were watching Vice President Cheney.

And, Ruth, we had to restrain you…

RUTH MARCUS: You did…

JEFFREY BROWN: … at certain moments.

RUTH MARCUS: … have to restrain me.

I wasn’t sure that I was going to have anything new to say about Vice President Cheney, because I have seen him interviewed before. But I have to say he had my blood boiling in the discussion about deficits, because let’s get serious.

When President Bush and Vice President Cheney came into office, they inherited a surplus. The reason that we are facing deficits now and deficits and we have piled on so much debt in the future is in significant part because of the tax cuts that they instituted and refused to find a way to pay for.

He talks about entitlement problems, because of the largest increase in entitlements guarantees, the prescription drug plan, which they instituted and refused to pay for, and because of the wars. So, don’t — I’m sorry. Don’t blame President Obama for all of it.

JEFFREY BROWN: David. OK. David.

RUTH MARCUS: And your turn, David.

DAVID BROOKS: I agree about the Bush-Obama tax cut, which the president — the current president has fully endorsed, the prescription drug plan…

(LAUGHTER)

RUTH MARCUS: Not fully endorsed, not fully endorsed.

DAVID BROOKS: … which Obama has fully endorsed.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: I think they are all consistent.

One thing I would like to say about Cheney, he got a lot of heat for something he mentioned, and it ties back to something that was earlier in the program, and that was Syria. He describes in the book, apparently, a meeting…

RUTH MARCUS: He’s changing the subject.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes, I see.

DAVID BROOKS: I agree with Ruth on everything she said.

RUTH MARCUS: All right. I will be quiet now.

DAVID BROOKS: So, on Syria, they had a meeting in the White House, “Should we bomb the Syrian nuclear reactor?” several years ago. And one person said yes. And that was Dick Cheney. Everyone else said no.

But he was actually right about that. If the Israelis had not taken out that reactor, imagine where we would be today, where we heard in the news summary about thousands of people being killed by the Assad regime. What if they had nukes right now? This would be a very scary world.

And so I’m not a big Cheney fan. I was more on the Rice side of things, but I think he was right about that one.

JEFFREY BROWN: We heard Judy at the end ask him about the Romney comment. That makes me wonder, what is Dick Cheney’s position in the party today and in American politics?

DAVID BROOKS: You know, it’s funny. I would say that, in general, the Bush/Cheney regime has a very small position in the party. They are not well-thought-of. That may come back in a few years. They don’t want anybody outside the party disrespecting to Bush and Cheney, but the Bush/Cheney years within the party right now are not seen as successful years, in part because of what Ruth mentioned, in part because of the spending and the deficits.

RUTH MARCUS: And you have to wonder, if Dick Cheney had taken the opportunity to throw his arms around Mitt Romney and endorse him, whether that would have made Mitt Romney happy. It certainly wouldn’t help him in a general election, which is clearly what he is looking at.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. All right, to current politics.

There was a much-watched special election in New York this week. Republican Bob Turner won in what had been a heavily Democratic district. Do we read much into these things?

DAVID BROOKS: I think, in general, you can read a couple things.

One, there has been a lot of talk about the Jewish vote, whether the Jews are sour on Obama. They are, but wait until they get a load of Rick Perry. I don’t think that is going to be a big problem in the fall.

I think the bigger significance of the New York Nine is that the state of play in the electorate in 2010, which was so pro-Republican, is still essentially the state of play, that the president and the Democrats have tried to alter the political landscape, but essentially they have not altered it.

I don’t think we can say anything useful about whether Obama is going to be re-elected from this, but I think you can say useful things about the Senate races coming up next time, in which the Democrats have twice as many people up. And I think, if the landscape stays the way it is, I think you can look for Harry Reid as majority leader may be very short, may not last past the next election.

JEFFREY BROWN: Really?

What do you read from this election?

RUTH MARCUS: Well, there is always a temptation, particularly for the winning side, to over-read the results of a special election.

That being said, this is not a good-news election for Democrats. But — and I take David’s points, but I would also say you had earlier in the year a special election in a traditionally Republican seat going for the Democrat after the Medicare vote. Now you have this seat which had been held by a Democrat for almost a century going for a Republican.

It’s an electorate that is fed up and wanting to see some results from President Obama, but it’s also a very volatile electorate. And that’s another lesson.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. And Charlie Cook, the political analyst, says that he’s never seen an election where the “throw the bums out” applies to both parties simultaneously, and he is wondering if we may be on the verge of that.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, of course, while this was happening, the president himself was on the road most of the week pushing his jobs plan: “Pass this bill, pass this bill.”

What is your sense a week later after that speech? Is anybody listening?

RUTH MARCUS: Listening, perhaps, but not necessarily responding as he had hoped.

We saw some interesting developments this week. The most interesting and to me the most disappointing was House Speaker John Boehner, who came out and said, OK, with the super committee, which of course — and that of course ties into the jobs plan — we’re not going to have any tax increases.

And that get — affects the jobs plan because it affects the way you could pay for the jobs plan. The Republicans, who…

JEFFREY BROWN: Were you expecting otherwise, because…

RUTH MARCUS: Well, the Republicans had sounded — well, two things.

First of all, the Republicans had sounded a much more conciliatory tone in the first week than they were in the second week. Second of all, even though to some extent Speaker Boehner wasn’t saying anything that he had not said previously about this super committee, at this point merely reaffirming that bright line, no new taxes, is problematic, and he clearly behind closed doors had been willing to be more flexible. So that was a disappointment.

And I think the other thing that is going on is Democrats don’t seem to be rallying in huge numbers around — especially the Democrats who are up for election, around the totality of the president’s plan.

JEFFREY BROWN: Some specifically saying maybe piece by piece.

RUTH MARCUS: A la carte.

JEFFREY BROWN: A la carte.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. Yes.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, where do you see…

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I share the disappointment, for different reasons, though I agree with Ruth’s reasons.

Democrats walking away, they don’t want to vote for another stimulus. But, to me, the biggest disappointment was how the president has leaked that he was going to pay for it. And that’s in part by reducing the charitable tax deduction and other deductions that go for the rich.

This is a political nonstarter. If Democrats controlled the Senate and the House, it would be a political nonstarter then. God knows it’s a political nonstarter now. And so they went back to an old idea that has already been rejected. And that is a sign they are not really serious about passing this thing. It is just more of a political statement.

DAVID BROOKS: So, I am a little disappointed they went back to this idea, which is not going to pass and which, by the way, is bad policy.

RUTH MARCUS: No, it’s good policy. You’re totally wrong.

(LAUGHTER)

RUTH MARCUS: It’s good tax policy, because it doesn’t eliminate deductions, but it makes the benefit that you get from the deductions for the richest people among us more equivalent to the value of the deductions for others.

And so it’s good policy. I do agree with you, since you have been kind enough to agree with me on something, that it is not…

(LAUGHTER)

JEFFREY BROWN: Oh, this is awfully sweet.

RUTH MARCUS: Yes, yes, yes.

(LAUGHTER)

RUTH MARCUS: We will get over it — that it’s not going anywhere. And so it is curious that that was what the president chose to lead with on that.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. If I could just say, it’s bad policy because it will deduct billions of dollars from the amount charities and foundations get.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, what do you make of Speaker Boehner yesterday? Because he said the so-called super committee really has — what did he say? He said one path, right? He said spending cuts and entitlement reform, nothing to do with taxes.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. So that means we won’t reach a deal. I don’t think it’s a shocker, but he has now set it down. We’re not going to have a deal. We will probably have some sort of sequester.

And that’s very bad, actually. It’s bad because you want to — if you are going to cut, which we need to do, you want to do it intelligently, with some sense of strategy. That makes it much harder now to do it that way. In Defense Department, you know, what is our strategy going to be? And so I think it’s grim, what’s about to happen.

JEFFREY BROWN: Your sense is — is it your sense that we won’t have a deal, or do you think that people on the Hill and people at the White House think we won’t have a deal?

DAVID BROOKS: I think everyone thinks we don’t have a deal.

JEFFREY BROWN: Really?

RUTH MARCUS: I agree. But keep your eye on the trigger and the bullet, because the trigger gets pulled in January.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. Remind people what that means.

RUTH MARCUS: In other words — I’m sorry.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. Right.

RUTH MARCUS: The impact of not reaching a deal is that there are these sequesters, these automatic cuts, that have already been agreed on that go into effect.

However, it takes essentially a year for those cuts to go into effect. So we’re going to be watching this bullet, which includes some very big defense cuts, some cuts for Medicare providers and things like that. We are going to be watching this bullet travel for a year. That is going to incentivize perhaps some deal-making. But I agree with David. It is going to be very hard to achieve before then.

JEFFREY BROWN: You have the president coming out Monday with a deficit reduction.

DAVID BROOKS: Right.

JEFFREY BROWN: So you are saying, at this point, it’s a sort of Kabuki dance down to another deadline.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I think what we have learned is that — you know, the president said in the speech, the very good speech the other — last week, that we — the unemployed don’t have 14 months to wait.

JEFFREY BROWN: Right.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, they had better wait. And not that I’m saying this would necessarily create a lot of jobs, but I think he thinks, I think the Republicans think this is part of the campaign, not part of the legislative process.

JEFFREY BROWN: There is one more question in our time left, one more issue. That’s — another story that got a lot of attention this week is the — Solyndra, the solar-panel company, got major government loans, then went bankrupt, questions about whether the White House and how much the White House helped push it, push those loans.

Is this an important story, do you think?

RUTH MARCUS: It is looking important. It is a terrible story for the White House at the absolutely worst time.

If you were talking about whether we needed another program to help create jobs and more government spending to help create jobs, the thought that the government knowingly, recklessly, potentially, risked money to a company that had a huge lobbying presence, a huge fund-raising presence is just the exact opposite of the story the White House wants. And whether or not there is real fire there, the smoke is terrible for them.

DAVID BROOKS: There’s the scandal involving that, the potential scandal, but then the bigger problem is that they have this big program, tens of billions of dollars which they hope to use to create 65,000 jobs. So far, they have created something like 3,000 jobs.

And so the green energy package — or the green jobs package, which was really for three years a centerpiece of Obama’s energy package, it may be good policy because we may get some innovative technologies. It is not a jobs policy. The jobs are simply not being created in green energy.

JEFFREY BROWN: What about the potential scandal, though? Where is that being pushed and where might it lead?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, the scandal would be that in part because there is a big Democratic donor supporting Solyndra, in part because it seems that, within the government, within the bureaucracy, even the professional bureaucracy, some of the steps you take to get this loan were bypassed.

And there may have been pressure from the White House to get people to bypass these steps.

RUTH MARCUS: And there was concern expressed at the Office of Management and Budget about whether it made sense to extend or renew, or whatever it was, this loan and how that was going to look and whether taxpayer money was going to be even further put at risk.

That is just not — it’s not — it’s not just good — it’s not just bad optics; it may be bad facts.

JEFFREY BROWN: And this is the kind of thing it looks as though people are looking into harder and harder?

RUTH MARCUS: Well, there’s an incentive. You have a Republican — this is the impact of a Republican-controlled House.

And I’m not complaining about that, because I have talked a lot about the importance of congressional oversight. And we’re seeing some congressional oversight here. It’s not always pleasant for the people who are being overseen.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right.

Ruth Marcus and David Brooks, thanks a lot.

RUTH MARCUS: Thanks.