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Shields and Brooks on Jobs Report, ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Negotiations and Jim DeMint

December 7, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
Judy Woodruff and NewsHour political analysts Mark Shields and David Brooks discuss the week's top political news, including the November jobs report, the U.S. budget negotiations and Sen. Jim DeMint's resignation for a job at the Heritage Foundation.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.

MARK SHIELDS: Judy.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So we got in the habit during the campaign of talking about the unemployment numbers at the start of every month.

So, Mark, today, it is past the campaign, but let’s not break the habit. The report comes out, more jobs created than expected. The rate went down. What does it say about the economy?

MARK SHIELDS: It’s always a great — better than expected, that’s when your candidate finishes fifth in the New Hampshire primary. Hey, it is better than expected.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: Judy, the numbers were better than expected, but it’s not good news for the economy.

We have a lower rate, 7.7 percent, for the worst possible reason, not that more jobs were created, but, quite frankly, that Americans got discouraged and stopped looking.

So, there’s fewer people looking for work. And then we find out that the jobs created in September and October were not what we hoped for.

This is Jack Welch’s revenge, remember, the former president of General Electric, who accused the whole thing of being rigged. And it was just a bad joke. But, I mean, no, but it’s not good numbers. Construction numbers — employment was down, and so was manufacturing. So, I just don’t think — in spite of better than expected, not good.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you see a silver lining somehow?

DAVID BROOKS: No.I too fixated on the labor force participation rate, which I think there were 350,000 fewer people in the labor force.

And I think if you step back and look at this recession, the collapse in labor force participation is astounding, and especially male labor force participation, when you were up here, and over decades, it’s just collapsed. I think it’s down around in the high 60s.

And so that’s just historically very troubling news, that a lot of people are retiring early, a lot of people are trying to get on disability, a lot of people not entering. And so there are a lot of men in particular, but women, too, men in particular in their 50s and 60s. And they’re out of the labor force.

And that’s just bad for them and bad for the economy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, every month during the campaign, we talked about whether this was good or bad for the president or for Mitt Romney.

What about right now, Mark, with what the president is trying to do, the fiscal cliff, other issues? Is this a factor?

MARK SHIELDS: I think it’s probably a disincentive about not reaching a deal.

I mean, I think that this adds a little sense of urgency to the process that the economy is precarious. And, therefore, we don’t need to test it by putting it in a further stress test of not having some sort of a resolution of the current dilemma and crisis.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, David, what about the fiscal cliff? I mean, where does everything stand? We had Speaker Boehner come out today and say, no progress.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think that was just the public show.

I think there has been progress, not substantive progress, but atmospheric progress. I think the Republican Party, I think the House Republicans have rallied around Speaker Boehner. The ones who were troublesome for him a year-and-a-half ago have essentially said, you cut the deal, we will go along with you. You have our support.

And so that is a big gift of flexibility to Boehner. And I think it’s an acceptance of the reality that rates are going to have to go up, at least a little.

And then, as for the president, we don’t know much. That is still an opaque box. But my sense is that they know the issues. They have been through this before, that the atmospherics are right. And now it’s a question of their skill as negotiators, because there’s delicate balances here.

The Republicans want to give, probably a little on the tax rates. The president has to sort of lure them over and say, OK, you’re giving — we will give you this on entitlements. And you have to do this little dance here, and do it gently, and with a little gift, a little carrot, a little stick.

And if they can do it competently, I think there is a pretty good chance now, just atmospherically, that we will get a fiscal deal before we go off.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see the dance?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t see it quite the same way David does.

I think the Republicans are facing reality. Everything is going against them. It wasn’t simply the election return, the reelection of the president. But, today, an Associated Press poll came out. His job rating is at 57 percent, the president. Other than the blip that he got after the Navy SEALs’ operation against Osama bin Laden, this is the highest it’s been in three-and-a-half years.

The Republican brand as a party remains an albatross around people’s neck. And the Republicans have seen throughout this debate as people who are apparently willing to raise taxes on 98 percent of Americans in order to shelter the 2 percent from paying any more.

And I just think that argument and the dynamics politically have hurt against them — against them. There is a sense of inevitability, that the rates are going to go up. I agree with David on the necessity for a delicate touch and all the rest of it.

I don’t think John Boehner has control of his caucus right now. I’m not sure he can sell a tax increase, even if it does involve entitlement — taming of the spending of future spending on entitlements, seriously. I think he’s in a tough bind. I think they have the goodwill, but I’m not sure he has the votes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you’re saying the president in your mind clearly has the upper hand?

MARK SHIELDS: Has the upper advantage and has the upper hand. And the question is, I mean, is he going to be sensitive to Boehner, that Boehner can come out of it with his dignity and self-respect and reputation intact?

I mean, this is what you do, Judy. John Lindsay was the mayor of New York. He was a marvelous public figure in many respects. He had three separate negotiations in which he basically decided to negotiate with the teachers, the subway workers.

He gave them what they wanted, and they ended up hating him, because he somehow just didn’t have that ability to honor his adversary, to elevate his adversary.

I think this is a test for the president and for the administration on how they handle it, that John Boehner can come out of it not a diminished figure. But he’s got all — he’s holding all the cards right now, Barack Obama.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you see the president having as many cards as Mark?

DAVID BROOKS: No.

I think the president clearly has the upper hand. I do think, if we do go off the cliff and we do go into recession — and I think the fiscal cliff is completely unpredictable, and it could really — especially with a fragile economy.

The Wall Street and the corporate economists are deeply scared about it, that recession really would, you know, wreck his term, because we would be obsessed with that for the next couple of years.

And so I don’t think it’s a total walk for him, but I think he clearly has the upper hand. And then there is just the sheer fact of the numbers. Say they reach a compromise. And I think the Republicans are likely to cave on the rates. And then you close a few deductions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You do think they will?

DAVID BROOKS: I do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Because they are saying right now they are not going to cave.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. There is going to be no deal with that.

And they are not going to go into January, as Mark said, and say to the country, hey, we’re going to raise your taxes, but we have got to serve the rich people. They’re just not going to do that, with the polls, so they’re going to cave. And they are not going to get up to 39 percent, but they could get up to 37.

But then — so say you get to $1.2 trillion in new revenue. You still need some spending cuts.
And so the president, I think, and the — Boehner, they know what the options are. There is the Social Security what they call the COLA, how fast Social Security benefits go up. They’re raising the Medicare retirement age — or Medicare eligibility age, which is not so great.

There’s Medicare Plan B, raising the cost of the premium there. There’s lots of options on the table. And to get something that matches the $1.2 billion — or trillion in new revenue, you have got to have some real cuts. And that is something he can offer Boehner.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But what about that — you touched on that — what about this conservative chorus now in the House who are saying that Boehner has already given up by just even being willing to raise revenues?

I mean, and they’re now — some of them are saying, we’re not sure we’re going to vote for him for reelection. How much — does he really have serious pressure from the right or not?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, the problem he has is, if 18 of them — he threw four people off committees this week, three of them for not being sufficiently supportive of the caucus position, being to the right of the caucus.

And so he starts off by making four enemies, basically, Walter Jones of North Carolina being sui generis, being very much of a maverick. But he’s made enemies. If 18 of them decided not to show up and vote for John Boehner on the 3rd of January, he wouldn’t be the speaker.

I don’t think that’s going to happen. But he’s in a position where he’s got to — he’s got to be able to come back to his people, as David said, with, look, yes, we’re going have to vote for these increases. We can’t be tarred as the party of millionaires and billionaires, even though we raised everybody else’s taxes. And these are the cuts we got.

I think it’s easier to make people who are better off pay more under Medicare than it is to cut benefits.

DAVID BROOKS: Plus, part of the deal is going to be the Democrats are going to have to promise 100 votes for the thing in the House, so you can get a number.

JUDY WOODRUFF: To get it there.

DAVID BROOKS: Republicans who will — they are going to say to 100 Republicans or some large number of Republicans, you guys are in danger of being primaried. You are vulnerable. You can vote against this.

And they have got to give a lot of Republicans permission to vote against this thing. But they can still do that and pass it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: One of the voices criticizing Boehner was Jim DeMint, the senator from South Carolina, who surprised everybody and announced yesterday, David, that he is stepping down from the Senate.

What does that say about him? What does it say about conservatives in the Congress? What does it say about the Senate?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, it says a couple things.

One, he gets a nice payday now, running the Heritage Foundation. He will make some decent money. And he’s not a rich guy. He’s not, by senatorial standards anyway.

Second, I think it says he’s not a legislator. He has never been — he is good at filibustering. He’s good at blocking things in the Senate. He has never been somebody who is crafting complicated legislation, cutting deals. He’s not involved in that.

And then, finally — and I think this is the big story — like a lot of people in the Tea Party, he likes the purity, he likes the bold stroke. He doesn’t like the messiness of politics. And, in my view, people like that tend to marginalize themselves.

They tend to go off to a place where they can be pure, but as a result of that going off to where they can be pure, they make themselves more marginal.

And I think that is what DeMint is doing. And I think a lot of people in the Tea Party are going to say, I would rather be pure than in the fight. And they’re going to go off where they can be pure and protest.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you…

MARK SHIELDS: Well, there is a lot of money there. And I don’t mean for him personally, but there is a lot of money on the right.

We saw Dick Armey, the former House majority leader, left the FreedomWorks, which is a group very associated closely with the Tea Party, walked out with an $8 million buyout. You know, you don’t get that, for goodness’ sakes, in Wall Street today, I guess. Maybe you do.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think are you wrong about that one.

MARK SHIELDS: All right. OK. David is — David knows.

DAVID BROOKS: … expert on…

MARK SHIELDS: David knows these people better.

DAVID BROOKS: … golden handouts.

MARK SHIELDS: But I just say, he’s going to make a million dollars. He’s the fourth poorest…

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean his salary at the Heritage.

MARK SHIELDS: At Heritage, at least a million dollars.

But I think the key is, Judy, that it changes the whole definition of what a senator is. The two senators who preceded him to South Carolina served a century between them, Strom Thurmond and Fritz Hollings. And here he is in the middle of his second term.

And he is not a legislator. He isn’t interested in crafting compromises or consensus of anything of the sort. He’s been very open about what he does believe and what does matter to him. And out he’s going to be a — basically a political figure with a platform and a good paycheck outside. And he can be pure. He doesn’t have to worry about the rest of the caucus.

He leaves with his legacy, Marco Rubio, whom he supported earlier, Pat Toomey, whom he supported against Arlen Specter. But he also leaves, you know, senators — Democratic senators reelected in Nevada and Missouri and Delaware as a consequence of his supporting unelectable primary Republicans.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We have about only 20 seconds, but one of the moves in the Senate among these conservatives was to deny the U.N. treaty on the rights of persons with disabilities.

How does something like that happen?

DAVID BROOKS: It’s an embarrassment for the country.

This was a treaty that could have given Afghan vets who have lost limbs the greater ability to go abroad and live with dignity. And to do it for black helicopter reasons, to vote against this, it is an embarrassment.

MARK SHIELDS: You have heard of a profile in courage. This was a profile in cowardice. It really was, I mean, Republicans who are terrified of a primary, of a challenge on their right. And so they come up with this bogus explanation or theory about blue-helmeted U.N. soldiers coming into homeschooling parents and ripping their child away, having disembarked from the black helicopters.

It’s a total fabrication. And to do it as Bob Dole sat there on the Senate floor asking for their support is a travesty.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gentlemen, we thank you both, Mark Shields, David Brooks.

And Mark and David will keep up the talk on The Doubleheader, recorded in our newsroom. And that will be posted at the top of the Rundown later tonight.