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Shields and Brooks on the Job Report, Sequestration, and Tea Party Primary Wins

August 3, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks discuss the week's top political news, including the latest report on jobs, what sequestration means for the presidential campaigns and recent Tea Party wins in election primaries.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Gentlemen, good to you have with us.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, whether we use that strange word sequestration, or whether we talk about automatic budget cuts, David, with so much at stake, why couldn’t they come to an agreement on this?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, remember, it’s supposed to be terrible.

The idea of sequestration, it’s an enforcement mechanism. They said to themselves, we’re going to force ourselves to cut a budget deal with each other. And if we don’t do it, we will hit ourselves in the face with a hammer. And that will be so bad, we will do it.

They said to themselves, we're going to force ourselves to cut a budget deal with each other. And if we don't do it, we will hit ourselves in the face with a hammer. And that will be so bad, we will do it. The problem is, suppose you don't do it. Then you end up hitting yourself in the face with a hammer.David Brooks, New York Times columnist

The problem is, suppose you don’t do it. Then you end up hitting yourself in the face with a hammer. And so that’s the basic situation they’re in. The problem is with people who actually have to make policy.

Like, you’re sitting in the Pentagon, you have to plan the next 10 years. It may not hit you next month, but you’re trying to figure out what you are going to cut, what you are not going to cut. You don’t know with any remote idea how much money you’re going to have for the next 10 years.

And so you may have the dumbest possible cuts coming down the line, and therefore you just cannot plan.

And so everyone in the policy world is in a panic over this sledgehammer. And I wouldn’t expect them to solve this before the election. I wouldn’t totally expect them to do it in the lame-duck session.

I think this is all going to get wrapped up in some sort of huge deal for the next president.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Some kind of a huge deal.

At this point, Mark, is one side or another getting the better end of this politically?

MARK SHIELDS: I’m not sure, Judy.

I mean, I think the Republicans are trying to make the case, which is a hard one to make, that sequestration is this terrible plot foisted upon them. Seventy percent of congressional Republicans voted for it, including chairman McKeon, who was interviewed by Margaret and spoke so scathingly against it, passing over the fact that he himself had voted for it, as did the leadership of his own party.

It wouldn’t have passed with just Democratic votes. There weren’t enough Democratic votes. It was a tie among Democrats in the House. So it is interesting to me, because the argument of Republicans historically has been against government spending. The only government spending that creates jobs, according to Republican theology, apparently is defense spending. All other is wasted.

But this is serious. David is right. And it’s not just about defense. I mean, immediately, half the cuts come out of school lunches and Head Start.

JUDY WOODRUFF: As Margaret was reporting.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right, and domestic spending as well.

DAVID BROOKS: It is true that the ghost of John Maynard Keynes has come down and landed in the Republican Caucus. Suddenly, they believe in government stimulus spending.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

DAVID BROOKS: So that’s a bit of hypocrisy.

The point the Republicans make which I do think is accurate and endemic to the Obama administration is they are asking him to offer a plan. And some of it is just a gimmick to get him on record in support of some cuts. But, in general, I do think it’s true that if you are a president, you do have to lead. You do have to have budget plans.

And if you remember, a couple years ago, when Obama let Paul Ryan go first, that was politically cagey. It was not particularly presidential. And I think, in this case, the White House is to be faulted for not at least showing the road map, so some people can have some sense of where — what is going to happen.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mark, the president does bear some of the responsibility?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, yes.

In defense of the president — and he’s not blameless in this — but this sequestration came directly from the failure of the grand bargain and — between him and Speaker Boehner last summer, and that this was — the United States lost its credit rating, you will recall, as a consequence of this showdown and shutdown…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right. Sure. Sure.

MARK SHIELDS: … or potential shutdown.

And so the president was at the time, according to best reporting or most reporting, ready to offer this grand bargain. The speaker was as well, but found out that his own caucus, there would be a mutiny.

This — David is right. This was to be the enforcing mechanism. And you can see it is a serious enforcing mechanism, because it has gotten their attention.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, you were also saying earlier today this highlights a division among some Republicans, the defense hawks versus the so-called Tea Party hawks.


JUDY WOODRUFF: How much of a factor is that?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. It has really opened up over the last year or two.

You have got the defense hawks, who really think this would devastate or think cuts in defense spending in general would devastate our national security. And they’re led by John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

On the other hand, you have the more Tea Party-oriented people, who are just not that — they’re not against defense spending, necessarily, but it’s not a priority for them. Lowering taxes and economic — domestic economy is a priority for them, and they are quite happy to see the defense budget really decrease, not all of them, not Marco Rubio, but certainly a lot of them.

And so are you seeing this rift opening up between the defense and — the defense hawks versus the tax cut hawks. And I would say, if you look at the balance of the Republican Party, they are in the tax cut hawk. And so support for high defense spending is probably decreasing in the Republican Party.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Which is interesting, Mark, the timing this week of — Ted Cruz, the Tea Party candidate in the Republican primary in Texas, won, defeated the more establishment Republican.

So if we’re going talk about the Tea Party for a minute, how big a deal is that? What does it say about the Republican Party?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think David has identified one of the few cleavages in the Republican Party in Congress right now.

The Republican Party has become a far more homogeneous, far more ideologically similar, identical party. The victories in these primaries, primary after primary, where a Republican — and David Dewhurst was not Dick Lugar, by any means, in Indiana — but where compromise or working on the other side is somehow considered to be a disqualification.

I mean, Ted Cruz is a smart, well-educated, thoughtful, intelligent man. But he brings to politics a belief and a conviction that compromise is not an alternative course. It’s not a legitimate activity.

And I think, Judy, one couldn’t look at this race in Texas without looking at Steve LaTourette’s retirement in Ohio. Steve LaTourette is not…

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Republican congressman.

MARK SHIELDS: The Republican congressman, nine terms, a player on the Hill, respected on both sides of the aisle, a Republican, very close to Speaker Boehner.

But because he strayed occasionally from the orthodoxy of his party, because he didn’t raise enough money for the party coffers, he was going to be denied a leadership position and just finally said — and he said in his farewell remarks: Compromise has become a dirty word among my party.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see all that? And we don’t know whether Ted Cruz is going to win. It is expected he will win in November.

DAVID BROOKS: That’s right.  

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s Texas, but…

DAVID BROOKS: It’s likely.



So, I would say Mark used the word conviction, and that’s the right word here. This was a guy at age 13 he was going to seminars and learning about Hayek von Mises, libertarian economists. He went to Princeton. He studies with Robert George, a very serious conservative — conservative intellectual. He goes to Harvard Law. Then he goes to clerk for Justice Rehnquist.

He has come up through the ranks of the conservative intellectual machine, if you want to put it that way. He is one of these cadre. And has a very Madisonian vision, that the government has really — the U.S. has really strayed off from this Madisonian vision, and he and people who think like him are really going bring it back, and they are firmly convinced of that.

So, it is not necessarily that they’re going to vote that different from any other Republican, but the conviction is firmer. The ideology or philosophy is firmer. And in the end, the idea of compromise is probably a little more remote.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So what does that mean for Washington in the next years?

MARK SHIELDS: It means, if the Republicans do win the Senate, as Republicans are hopeful they will, that Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, is going to have more than his hands full, because these are folks that really aren’t going to compromise in the majority any more than they were willing to in the minority.

And the majority has a responsibility to try and pass legislation and keep the government open. I think it doesn’t augur well for any sense of consensus and coalition in this city.

DAVID BROOKS: The only thing I would say is, you know, these people are not stupid.

They know you have to have an enactment strategy. They know there are not going to be 60 House senators — or Republican senators. And so they are going to need Democrats if they want to get something done. And so, at some point, you have to say, how are we going to maneuver this so we can get something done?

And it’s hard to see now. But the alternative is just never passing the stuff they want to pass. And, so, at some point, if you want to do — get something done, you do have to compromise.

MARK SHIELDS: But the reason I said Steve LaTourette is he walked away from a sure, safe seat.

And Republicans or anybody else who is facing a re-nomination fight in his own party, all he has in his ears is, Mike Castle in Delaware went down to Christine O’Donnell, a bizarre candidate, Bob Bennett in Utah, Dick Lugar in Indiana.

I mean, it’s after — race after race, this has been the case, Judy, where the more extreme, the more pure, the more ideologically driven, the less-compromising candidate loses.

DAVID BROOKS: I had a meeting with one of the most conservative people in the United States Senate. And he was terrified of being primaried from the right.


DAVID BROOKS: And if he is — if this guy is really conservative, but if he is primaried, they are all terrified of it. And it really is having a powerful influence.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We must talk about the unemployment report that came out today, David, the 163,000 new jobs, but the rate went up a little bit, as we were hearing. Impact of this on the campaign, on the country?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think the — well, first, the substantive impact on the country, I’m really struck there were 400,000 people dropping out of the labor force.

Male labor force participation is just plummeting. And this is a long-term trend. And it’s just continuing. This is a deep national problem. So that’s substantively. Politically, I think what we are seeing is this odd bifurcation.

In most of the country, in about 40 states, people are not seeing a lot of ads. They’re just looking at the national news. They’re looking at these economic numbers, and Romney is doing pretty well, especially in the red states. His numbers are just going up, up, up, up, up.

In the swing states, where they are seeing a lot of ads, you would have to say that in the past couple weeks, Obama is winning, that there has been an uptick in support for them. And so the ads seem to be trumping the national economic news, which is not so great.

And so you have to say that these have been reasonably good weeks for Obama trying to win the Electoral College.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And when you talk about ads, you are talking about Obama…

DAVID BROOKS: Obama running the Bain ads and all that other stuff…


DAVID BROOKS: …which at the moment, at least politically, in those key states seems to be trumping this very mediocre or poor economic news.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But this month of July report, Mark, how much of a dent one way or another does it…

MARK SHIELDS: Well, it’s better news than it was.

Any time you hear better than expected, 163,000 jobs, when 100,000 were expected, not you what hoped, not that it is going to drive down the unemployment rate, 29 consecutive months of private sector growth in the economy — the loss again is in the public sector. We’re still laying off teachers and firefighters and police officers and public workers.

But, you know, Judy, it was — it gave the market a little bit of a lift today in that sense. But what we’re looking at is not a turnaround between now and election. And I am just wondering if maybe the electorate, voters, have already baked in these figures.

I mean, this is a race that is tied. We have had nothing — we have had — this is the best economic news we have had in jobs since February. We have had really bad economic news, and yet the race remains tied. So you just wonder if they haven’t maybe processed that in.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And they’re just not hearing it.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, they have discounted — not discounted this, but I mean that they have figured that in already in their decision.

I mean, this is a race that is rather remarkable how constant it has been, even with all that has happened.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Last thing, postscript, any final word on the Romney trip overseas? He came back earlier this week. Does it change anything?

DAVID BROOKS: I thought — I liked mostly what he said about culture in Israel.

Most of the things I cover that have gone bad is because politicians don’t understand the importance of culture, when you are talking about Europe, or you are talking about Iraq, you are talking about the U.S. It was completely misapplied to the Palestinians. But to at least be thinking about things other than economics, to think about the importance of culture, I’m not going to slap him for that.

MARK SHIELDS: I will slap him for Israel.

I thought it was shameless to go in there and basically to turn his back on bipartisan American policy of both parties, presidents on the settlements, on a two-state solution, on Jerusalem and the capital, and then just to basically use it as a backdrop for a $50,000 fund-raiser where he honored Sheldon Adelson, the man who had funded 87 percent of Newt Gingrich’s PAC to attack Mitt Romney.

I mean, it just — to me, it just looked like kind of sleazy politics.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The two of will you never be a backdrop for us.

Mark Shields and David Brooks, thank you both.