TOPICS > Politics > Shields and Brooks

Brooks and Marcus on Unfinished Business as Congress Leaves for August Break

August 2, 2013 at 6:00 PM EST
New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week's top political news, including their take on what the latest jobs numbers say about larger economic challenges and where important issues stand as Congress vacates Capitol Hill for their summer break.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Brooks and Marcus, New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus. Mark Shields is off today.

Welcome to you both.

So, let’s go back to the lead story tonight, jobs report.

David, 162,000 jobs created in July, that was added, but it’s less than what was expected. What does it tell you about the economy?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think there’s a consensus growing both on left and right that we — the structural problems are becoming super obvious.

So when the — this recession started a number of years ago, you had 63, something like that, out of 100 Americans in the labor force. Now we’re down, fewer than in — than when the recession started. And so that suggests we have got some deep structural problems. It probably has a lot to do with technological change. People are not hiring — companies are not hiring human beings. They’re hire machines.

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It probably has to do with a skills shortage, that as technology increases, skills have got to keep up and skills are just not keeping up. It has to do with some sociological changes, men dropping out of the labor forces, women, and especially young women, never entering the labor force.

And so these are deep structural changes. And I think there’s a consensus growing that something really fundamental has shifted in the economy. And I wouldn’t say anybody in the political arena has much of a set of solutions the way they did in the progressive era, the New Deal era, even the Reagan era, that are commensurate with the size of this problem.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So how much reason for discouragement, Ruth?

RUTH MARCUS: I’m not going to be Ms. Rosy to David’s pessimistic scenario.

RUTH MARCUS: Here — this was another limping month in a limping recovery.

And here are some numbers to just kind of underscore that. The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution looked at job growth and said if we added 208,000 jobs — which, of course, is way better than we did this month — if we added 208,000 jobs a month, it would take us until April 2020 to just get us back to the place that we were in December 2007, when the mess began.

And so that just gives you a measure of the dauntingness. And you look not just at — everybody looks at 7.2 percent, the new unemployment figure. It is down a little bit. But let’s take a look at the total unemployment picture, the discouraged workers, the less — or the people who have just stopped looking for work, the people who aren’t working as hard as they would like to, as many hours as they’d like to.

That’s 14 percent of the labor force. I think David’s totally right when he talks about how we need to sort of get to some really structural solutions. And the thing that’s so disappointing is that we’re looking at a political system that doesn’t seem capable of achieving that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, how do you get to structural solutions? The president had a recommendation this week for changing the corporate tax rate. He said this could — this was one way to create jobs for the middle class.

Is that the kind of thing…

DAVID BROOKS: Well, that’s a good thing. I mean, changing the corporate tax rate — our corporate taxes are too high. They’re unrealistic. They’re internationally uncompetitive. We should change them. And he wants to take some of the money that would be produced by cutting those taxes and shift it over to infrastructure, and that’s also needed.

And so there are small steps in the right direction, I suppose. But you wouldn’t say they’re commensurate with the size of the problem. Now, we have got decades-long problems of wage stagnation, of widening inequality, just gigantic problems. And when I look at it, what the president is proposing and what the Republicans are proposing, they’re small.

And I don’t think they’re as big. And I don’t blame them, by the way. They’re in office. They’re busy. It’s not their job to come up with a gigantic agenda.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But isn’t this a priority?

RUTH MARCUS: And I think…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Whose job is it to…

RUTH MARCUS: Well, it is their job.

And just — there’s no huge, mega silver bullet step. There are a whole set of small things can that can help, and so job retraining, money for community colleges. Let’s start some infrastructure projects. The president proposed all of this. And I think you’re being too even-handed in your, well, there aren’t large ideas on the — among the Democrats or the Republicans.

The president put out this proposal, which — you know, look, it wasn’t a grand bargain. It was a mini-bargain. A lot of it was recycled from proposals he had previously done, but it offered something that Republicans in a rational world ought to have accepted, a lower corporate tax rate, which would be terrific for business and the economy and for job creation, and some short-term spending.

Landed with a thud. No possibility.

DAVID BROOKS: So I think I’m being not even-handed enough, as usual, as usual.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do we get credit for being even-handed around here?

RUTH MARCUS: David does.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

The Republicans, to their credit, have done — have suggested a bunch of big fundamental structural reforms, whether it’s a big comprehensive tax thing that Dave Camp in the House is working on, whether it’s a big entitlement reform that Paul Ryan is talking about.

If you want to talk about one of the fundamental problems, it’s that we have had entrenched institutions strangling policy-making increasingly for 30 or 40 years. And to clear that away, you need some pretty big structural reforms. And I think a big tax reform, a big entitlement reform would be at least gigantic things that would put us a little way in the right direction.

I do think Republicans deserve some credit for some of that.

RUTH MARCUS: Gigantic, but wrong, but we can continue this argument later.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But is that — is that dancing around the edges or do you agree those would make a difference if they could get the Democrats to go along?

RUTH MARCUS: Nobody would be more excited than me to have a really serious national conversation about fundamental tax reform. If there’s something to fault the president on in this corporate proposal, it’s that we really need to address individual taxes as well.

And I would love to have a serious conversation about entitlement reform. I’m not sure that I think Paul Ryan’s approach — it’s big, but it may not be the best way or the most economically sound way to do it, morally sound.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But all this is happening while Congress today has left town. They’re gone for the next — more than a month. They won’t be back until September, David.

RUTH MARCUS: Five weeks.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What does this say about — or where does this leave the big unanswered questions out there about government spending, about the debt limit? We could go on and on — immigration.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, just to continue a theme, the single biggest growth item in Washington right now is the immigration bill.

The immigration bill, according to the Congressional Budget Office, according to Doug Holtz-Eakin, a prominent Republican economist, would produce gigantic, significant increases both in revenue, in growth, in job creation. And so that is the biggest thing we have out in front of us.

And you have to say as they leave town the mood about immigration reform is not promising. And so that’s — that’s both a problem, because we can’t solve the problem, but it’s also a result. And somebody mentioned in the piece the stagnation has created a political fracturing of the country and a polarization of the country, as people are upset about their stagnant prospects. And that’s produced a political fragment — polarization, which then makes it even harder to fix the problem that people are angry about.

RUTH MARCUS: I’m very worried about the fall.

We had some green shoots of hope, especially on the Senate side, passing comprehensive immigration bill, pulling back from the nuclear cliff and getting some…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Over confirmation.

RUTH MARCUS: … agreements on confirmations.

But then we got to the House. And the House won’t do comprehensive immigration reform. The House — this week, we saw the amazing spectacle that it won’t — it can’t pass spending bills at the low level that it agreed to because it’s not enough spending and it can’t get a majority of Republicans to agree to cut spending that much.

So it’s the difference between the Ryan budget in theory and the Ryan budget in practice. So the — so what we’re facing when we come back in September is two things, really pretty quickly. First of all, we’re going to need to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government functioning past September 30.

If you can’t get agreement on these spending bill, which oughtn’t to be terribly controversial, how are you going to get agreement about what level to do that act? Nobody wants a shutdown — well, a few people want it.

RUTH MARCUS: But nobody sane wants a shutdown.

And then, speaking of sanity, we have the debt ceiling coming up and the question of what is going to be held hostage to get an increase in the debt ceiling.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In the middle of all this funding the president’s health care.

But what are the American people to think, David, as they look at Washington right now? I mean, is it just despair? Is there any ray of…

DAVID BROOKS: So far, we have been pretty…

JUDY WOODRUFF: OK. All right. We will…

DAVID BROOKS: We have been pretty upbeat the last eight minutes or so.

DAVID BROOKS: You know, it — my basic view is, Washington reflects the country. I think the members are responding reasonably rationally to the incentive structure they’re given, given their constituents.

And so the country is both fractured and excessively distrustful, not willing to compromise. And so I always blame the country as much as I blame Washington.

RUTH MARCUS: Now you’re being unfair to the entire country. My goodness.

RUTH MARCUS: I actually think — well, I think Washington, the parts of Washington are better than its product. So there’s a lot of people who are working really hard to try to solve these problems.

But the — yes, the country is fractured and it disagrees. Washington is reflecting its individual districts in the House. But the country wants Washington to fix these problems. It understands it’s not an easy solution. It’s tired of the bickering. And it wants it to stop. Whether it’s willing to punish the people who are preventing it from stopping and unwilling to compromise is another story.

But, boy…

DAVID BROOKS: I’m being excessively kind to the country.

RUTH MARCUS: Now you’re mean to America.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We have got to figure out how who’s nicer to the American people.

All right, complete change of subject.

Pope Francis this week, David, made news on the plane back to Rome from his trip to South America, talking about sexuality, talking about gays and saying, who am I to judge if someone chooses or is — happens to be gay?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The church doctrine isn’t changing. Does that change anything?

DAVID BROOKS: I once saw a mass on TV, and Pope John Paul II and the TV reporter got up afterwards and said, nothing new here.

DAVID BROOKS: The pope’s job is not to be new. That’s not his job.

And so I think what you signal may be an emphasis, a little emphasis in how interested they are in some of these issues. But church doctrine is not going to change, and the pope’s not in charge of that.

RUTH MARCUS: Well, I am tempted to say, who are we to judge?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

RUTH MARCUS: But since that’s our job…

JUDY WOODRUFF: But go ahead.

RUTH MARCUS: There was a significant and I think very welcome change in tone, a humility, an acceptance, an openness.

The — it’s — homosexuality is a sin in the eyes of the church, in the eyes of this pope and his predecessor, but I think a little bit of kindness and humility goes a long way, in columnists, as well as in popes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I was going to say it even works here at the NewsHour right here on Friday nights.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David Brooks, Ruth Marcus, great to have you both.

RUTH MARCUS: Thanks.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you.