MR. DICKERSON: The Supercommittee packs up without an agreement while the GOP contenders debate America’s place in the world. Plus, is your holiday shopping list a little thinner this year? I’m John Dickerson in for Gwen Ifill tonight, on “Washington Week.”
SENATOR JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL): The Republican members of that committee wanted an agreement and they wanted to do something more than just token.
SENATOR JOHN KERRY (D-MA): No committee is ever to solve America’s problem unless we get people to stand up and do a balanced job.
MR. DICKERSON: But how do they get there and how urgent is the problem.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If Congress doesn’t act by the end of the year, then the typical family’s taxes is going to go up by roughly $1,000.
MR. DICKERSON: We’ll discuss the fallout and next steps.
Meanwhile, the Republicans who want Barack Obama’s job highlight their foreign policy credentials on immigration.
FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R-MA): Saying that we’re going to say to the people who’ve come here illegally that now you’re all going to get to stay, that will only encourage more people to do the same thing.
FMR. REP. NEWT GINGRICH: I’m prepared to take the heat for saying let’s be humane in enforcing the law without giving citizenship, but by finding a way to create legality.
MR. DICKERSON: And on Pakistan.
GOVERNOR RICK PERRY (R-TX): The bottom line is that they’ve showed us time after time that they can’t be trusted, and until Pakistan clearly shows that they have America’s best interest in mind, I would not send them one penny. Period.
REPRESENTATIVE MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN): With all due respect to the governor, I think that’s highly naïve.
MR. DICKERSON: The holiday season is officially upon us, but there’s no vacation from politics.
Joining us tonight Susan Davis of “National Journal,” David Wessel of “The Wall Street Journal,” Gloria Borger of CNN, and Dan Balz of “The Washington Post.”
ANNOUNCER: Award-winning reporting and analysis, covering history as it happens, from our nation’s capital, this is “Washington Week” with Gwen Ifill produced in association with “National Journal.”
ANNOUNCER: Once again, from Washington sitting for Gwen Ifill this week, John Dickerson of “Slate Magazine” and CBS News.
MR. DICKERSON: Good evening. We hope your Thanksgiving week is going well. Congress knocked off early for the holiday. Having failed to come up with a deficit reduction plan, members of the Supercommittee said they worked hard, but in the end they just couldn’t come together, so they turn their energies to finger pointing.
SENATOR JOHN KYL (R-AZ): Our Democratic friends said we won’t cut one dollar more without raising taxes, and I think that tells you a lot about the ethos here in Washington.
SEN. KERRY: And I will say to you after these three months that it is clear to me that the problem is a huge ideological divide in our nation, a value system divide. And people need to resolve that over these next months so that a small group of people, extreme in their view, cannot hold America hostage any longer.
MR. DICKERSON: So, Susan, how did we get here?
MS. DAVIS: I think there is two things you can point to for why the Supercommittee failed. The first is that it was a poor construct from the start. The idea that came together over the summertime when we were facing an earlier crisis over the debt ceiling. And this idea was put together as a last minute ditch effort by Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, to come up with additional deficit reduction measures.
The idea that 12 members appointed by their leadership and in many ways beholden to them could solve a problem that the broader Congress could not solve is flawed in itself.
The second point, which Senator John Kerry alluded to, is that on the two issues Congress needs to address to really address the deficit question, the tax rates, particularly the Bush tax cuts that are a point of contention, and Medicare, there was never any real give by either side, despite the finger-pointing that’s there, blaming one or the other. Republicans did put a certain amount of revenues on the table. Democrats did put a certain amount of Medicare cuts on the table, but they never really got to the red meat of the problem.
So the idea that they failed is not surprising, but it is terribly bad policy for what’s going to happen next, which is if they don’t solve it before January 12, we’re going to have an automatic across-the-board cut of $1.2 trillion that there’s almost universal agreement that that’s a bad idea.
MR. DICKERSON: David, when we’ve seen this drama before, we’ve had several of these brinksmanship moments, always people said, well, the economy could crater if there’s not a deal. In this case, there didn’t seem to be that sense of urgency with the economy. Is that the way you see it?
MR. WESSEL: Well, I think that’s right. It did demonstrate once again the dysfunction of Washington on this really big, long-term issue, but I think that the reason that the markets, while they reacted negatively didn’t react more severely was they didn’t really expect anything to happen here.
The other thing that’s going on is for every embarrassment, every instance of gridlock here in Washington, the Europeans have six of them. And so the markets are so focused on this complete collapse of the European system that they’re kind of ignoring Washington and that’s given the members of Congress a pass because they don’t feel quite as much pressure to actually do something. And the test of that is that the U.S. government can still borrow almost unlimited amounts of money for 10 years at less than 2 percent. No other country in the world can do that. Even Germany is beginning to run into trouble.
MS. BORGER: What about the possibility of sort of undoing these automatic spending cuts in defense and social spending that are supposed to take effect in 2013. There’s talk Republicans want to undo all of these defense cuts. Isn’t there a – the president said he would veto it, but isn’t there a problem in the Republican Party if you want to undo the defense cuts, but yet you’re fiscally conservative?
MS. DAVIS: Well, that’s a great question because immediately after they announced failure, immediately after that, the Armed Services – members on the Armed Services Committee said we’re going to try and rejigger the sequester. Republicans agree $1.2 trillion is what they need to cut, where it comes from is now a matter of debate. The president has said he’s going to – he would veto any attempt to change it. Democrats, at this point, feel that they may have some leverage. We are now reaching a point where two things are going to happen at the same time if Congress isn’t able to act next year. You’re going to have the across-the-board cuts happen, which are not going to be pleasant for defense or non-defense spending, and the Bush tax cuts will expire at the exact same time.
Now, Democrats politically think that they might have some leverage now – that they can say to Republicans maybe we’re willing to give on defense cuts if maybe you’re actually willing to talk about the Bush tax rates now.
MR. WESSEL: And clearly, we’re going to be talking about this for the next year and they’re going to be arguing about it. And the chances of this question being resolved before the November 2012 election are very slim. I think there’s a more immediate question, though. At this end of this year, 2011, the payroll tax cut that both parties agreed to expire and the unemployment compensation extension, the one that gives people out of – who are out of work for up to 99 weeks a paycheck, that expires. And the economy is in no shape to take those hits. If – it would mean raising taxes on the average working person by $20 a week. That’s over $100 billion taken out of the economy. So what’s more – seems to me the focus will now turn to those.
I think most people think the Republicans will not want to be on the side of, quote, “raising taxes on working people,” so they’ll probably find a way to make common ground with the administration to pass a payroll tax extension, maybe even not pay for because they don’t like to pay for tax cut. The fight may be on unemployment compensations – $50 billion, the Republicans will probably want to offset that somewhere else, and that may be a bone of contention.
MR. BALZ: After last summer’s debt ceiling debate, both the Congress and the president took a hit politically. Confidence in Washington just went off the edge of the cliff. What’s the fallout likely to be from this failure?
MS. DAVIS: I do think – because of that, I think one of the things we did see in the Supercommittee fight was a non-existent Barack Obama – that he did not weigh in on this fight at all and in part because I think the president took a lot of hits after the earlier fight that he had with Congress, and they don’t think that the president had much to gain by getting involved.
Secondly, he is being somewhat criticized now for not getting involved, but if anyone that paid close attention to the committee would know that the lawmakers on the committee all said they preferred him not to, that they thought it would be easier if they could talk in a room without the president involved and that it could add – inject politics into the deal.
MR. DICKERSON: Well, I was just going to jump in there and say, David, you’ve watched a lot of these before and in this case you know –
MR. WESSEL: Thanks.
MR. DICKERSON: Well – (laughter) – that’s why you’re here, to give us the benefit of your experience. And in the past, there were tough issues and tough politics, but things got done.
MR. WESSEL: Right. Well, this is never going to get done – I hate to sound like a political candidate – without presidential leadership. These are really hard decisions. I believe that the members of the Supercommittee actually worked pretty hard and they learned a lot about the budget process and the budget choices we have to make, but the only way we’re going to get a compromise here is with the cooperation of the political leadership of the Congress and the White House. And so I don’t think that the president had very high hopes for this thing. I think Sue’s right. He thought that the political advantage would come to him by – he wants to be able to blame it on Congress, but in the end, if we have a dysfunctional government, if the economy is lousy throughout the year, this is not going to play well for the president.
MS. BORGER: But we know that the president is going to run against Congress.
MR. WESSEL: Right.
MS. BORGER: That’s sort of a given, right.
MR. WESSEL: How do you run against change when you’ve been president for four years – run for change?
MS. BORGER: Right, well –
MR. DICKERSON: He needs a new slogan.
MS. BORGER: Yes, he does. (Laughter.)
MR. WESSEL: And really mean it this time.
MS. BORGER: But he’s going to run against Congress, which means that he’s also running against Democrats to a great degree, and the public looks at this and says, really? What’s going on here? Could this be sort of anti-incumbent again? Could you see another swing here as a result of the fact that they can’t seem to get this done?
MS. DAVIS: I mean, Congress approval rating right down is – on the latest Gallup poll, whether you’re Republican, Independent, or Democrat, is between 11 and 13 percent I believe. I mean, this is – we’re getting down to like members of Congress as immediate and extended family, instead of the only ones that are approving of their job. So I think that naturally feeds an anti-incumbent. I do think – I think that we have been in an era of waive elections. I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility. And just simply looking at the Congress structure now, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Republicans take the Senate. And when that question, when that part of the equation is on the table, while we do need presidential leadership, I would say that Republicans don’t have a ton of incentive to negotiate with a president they think they can beat and take the Senate.
MR. WESSEL: Do you think this plays in the Republican presidential primary?
MR. BALZ: I don’t think a lot at this point. I think, one, the expectations for this Supercommittee were so low everywhere. This is the least surprising failure – (laughter) – we can remember in a long time. So I think that, you know, in the sense – in the same way that the markets weren’t that worried about it for economic reasons, I think the political system just felt okay, this has to run its course. So I don’t think it will necessarily be a big issue in the Republican primaries.
MS. BORGER: Yes, I was talking to a senior person at the White House this week who was sort of playing this out, saying that if President Obama gets reelected – and I don’t know what you folks think about – if he gets reelected, they then believe that he is in a good position before the cuts would take effect to sort of push Congress up against the wall in a lame duck session and say get something done.
MR. WESSEL: Absolutely. If the president gets reelected, it’s going to be a very productive lame duck session, and we will not get any vacations again. (Laughter.)
MS. BORGER: I agree with that.
MR. DICKERSON: Productive because – there will actually be a sword hanging over everyone.
MR. WESSEL: There will be a sword. The sequester was very carefully written.
MR. DICKERSON: Sequester meaning across-the-board cuts.
MR. WESSEL: Across-the-board spending cuts to make it uncomfortable for conservatives to go along with these defense cuts. The Pentagon will be pushing against them. The Bush tax cuts, not just on rich people, but on working people. And poor people will be expiring. If the president’s reelected, he’ll at least claim he has something of a mandate. I don’t think these big questions that John Kerry spoke about, the ideological divide is going to be resolved in November, but I think that may be the moment where they’re forced to do something. And I think what the White House hopes is, well, a year from now, the economy will be a little stronger, so that it’ll be better able to take a deficit reduction bill.
MR. DICKERSON: Okay, well, we’ll leave it there. We’re all now in the Supercommittee deciding what to cut and what taxes may or may not go up.
In the race for the White House on the Republican side, the fresh new frontrunner is a familiar face in Washington – Newt Gingrich. Having risen in the polls with his professorial and combative debate performances, he was behind lectern again in Washington, earlier this week, along with his rivals, debating national security issues. But it was on the topic of immigration where Gingrich went against the grain.
MR. GINGRICH: If you’ve been here 25 years and you’ve got three kids and two grandkids, you’ve been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don’t think we’re going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you up.
REP. BACHMANN: Well, I don’t agree that you would make 11 million workers legal because that in effect is amnesty. And I also don’t agree that you would give the DREAM Act on a federal level. And those are two things that I believe that the Speaker had been for and he can speak for himself. But those are two areas that I don’t agree with.
MR. DICKERSON: Gloria, you were there. You talked to the Speaker right after he came off the stage. He didn’t back off that position.
MS. BORGER: No, he spoke for himself. (Laughter.) He did not back down. And he said, look, I don’t think that any serious-minded – “serious” was I think the word he used – people would believe that we could actually deport 11 or 12 million people out of this country. And I think the thing about Newt Gingrich that’s so interesting is that he never fails to surprise you. He’s an intellectual, a professor. And sometimes he seems to be having a debate with himself right up there on the stage, but I think last night a lot of people were stunned because immigration and the question of immigration reform has been the quicksand for Republican presidential candidates. You go back to John McCain’s presidential race. He was for a path to citizenship. Remember that? Well, didn’t go over so well. In fact, when he ran again, he had to kind of disown that entire policy.
You look at Governor Perry in this campaign. He talked about the so-called DREAM Act, and that didn’t go over so well. And now you look at Newt Gingrich. And the question, here he is, rising into that top tier, has to do well in Iowa. Conservatives in Iowa this past week already came out and said, ah, this is a problem for us what Newt Gingrich has said, but he’s not backing down.
MR. DICKERSON: He’s not backing down, Dan. What do you think? How is this going to play out?
MR. BALZ: Well, here’s the fascinating thing. He said almost exactly the same thing about immigration at the debate at the Reagan Library in September that he said this week, and it caused not a ripple. And that was because nobody was paying attention to Newt Gingrich in September. They thought, you know, he wasn’t a viable candidate. Everybody was watching Governor Romney and Governor Perry that night. So he said the same thing this week in Washington. And it is a – at least a moderate uproar.
I emailed him the day after the debate and said how worried are you that this is going to be a problem. And he emailed back and he said, none. I’m not worried. I have been saying this to Republican audiences for years, whenever it has come up in town meetings. He is confident. But I think what he underestimates is the degree to which the words of a frontrunner or near frontrunner resonate in ways that when you’re a minor candidate they don’t.
MR. DICKERSON: He does not lack confidence. And Ronald Reagan, in 1984, in a debate with Walter Mondale said almost the exact same thing. So for a party where people are trying to be like Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich was Reaganesque.
MS. BORGER: And Newt Gingrich voted for Reagan’s immigration bill, but, you know, again, what’s interesting about Newt Gingrich is he’s been around for so long. He’s never been a leader of the Republican Party now. He’s been a leader of the Republican Party 15, 20 years ago, whatever, not now. This is a different Republican Party from the party that Newt Gingrich brought into the Congress when he became the speaker. And he learned that when he criticized Paul Ryan’s budget plan, calling it right wing social engineering. He was sort of out of step with his own party.
MR. WESSEL: But America’s a different place now than it was when Ronald Reagan was president. The number of Hispanics who will be voting in November 2012 is higher than it was just four years ago. And that’s got to be an important constituency for the eventual nominee.
MR. BALZ: I mean, I think the question is has Gingrich caused himself a real problem or has he found a way to talk about this issue because he’s not talking about a path to citizenship, which is what George W. Bush was promoting and what John McCain had promoted, but a path to legality. Has he found a way to talk about this that will prevent inflammation of the Republican base, but tamp down on any aggravation between the Republican Party and the Latino community.
MR. WESSEL: What about Mitt Romney, what does he do now on this?
MS. BORGER: Well, he runs to the right. He runs – whenever he can, and he’s running to the right of Newt Gingrich on the amnesty issue. And the question is whether in the last campaign he was to the right on the amnesty issue, I mean, we’re all going to have to go back and kind of parse everything that Mitt Romney has ever said on that.
MR. BALZ: He has lacked precision on the question of what you do about –
MS. BORGER: That’s a nice way to put it.
MR. BALZ: – well, of what you do about the roughly 10 or 11 or 12 million illegal immigrants who are here in this country. He’s had a variety of things to say, but he’s not been precise about that.
MS. DAVIS: But is Newt a viable candidate or is this just the latest anti-Romney version of the Republican Party voicing its dissatisfaction with Mitt Romney, who still seems like he’s the guy?
MR. BALZ: Well, somebody is going to become the challenger to Mitt Romney. I mean we all assume that Mitt Romney will be in the finals of the Republican –
MS. BORGER: Newt says it.
MR. BALZ: Yes. And Newt believes that it will be Romney who will be the candidate. He’s viable in this sense. A lot of other people have had their ups and downs – Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry. To some extent, that was because they were not particularly well known. And the more that people saw them, the less they liked them.
With Gingrich, he comes in as a pretty well-known candidate, and he came in after an implosion of his own campaign. So he’s been able to rise up again. We don’t know because Gingrich has been his own worst enemy over the years, and he’s fully capable of causing himself problems between now and the Iowa caucuses.
MR. DICKERSON: He may kill himself and rise again two or three more times.
MS. BORGER: Well, you never know which Newt is going to show up, right? Is it the Newt Gingrich intellectual, professor, who’s interesting to listen to, or is it the nastier Newt Gingrich taking on the media at every opportunity, the more cutting Newt Gingrich. You don’t know.
MR. DICKERSON: Gloria, let me ask you a question about another thing that came up at the debate, which was interesting, another kind of fissure we see in the Republican field here on the question of aid to Pakistan.
MS. BORGER: Right.
MR. DICKERSON: Michele Bachmann and Governor Perry of Texas got into it a little bit.
MS. BORGER: Well, Michele Bachmann, by the way, who serves on the Intelligence Committee, really showed that her credentials actually matter when she was talking about Pakistan in the debate. And she made the case that Pakistan was, quote, “too nuclear to fail.” That Perry made the case that we were giving Pakistan a blank check and that we ought to stop doing that because we weren’t getting anything in return. And she turned to Perry and said that that was naïve, that in fact, of course you have to deal with Pakistan and of course you have to support Pakistan to a certain degree. And by the way, you may not know this, Governor, but yes, we are getting some intelligence in return and I would know that because I serve on the Intelligence Committee and you don’t. So it was a very – was a very telling exchange, and it also speaks to the larger question – political question about foreign aid because Rick Perry has said, you know, he would start at zero and then build up.
MR. BALZ: For everyone.
MS. BORGER: For everyone, right.
MR. DICKERSON: What else to be learned, Dan, about the shape of the Republican field from that foreign policy debate?
MR. BALZ: Well, I mean, we learned a couple of things. One is that there are some real disagreements within the Republican coalition about some of these foreign policy issues. There was a clear disagreement between Governor Romney, for example, and Governor Huntsman over the pace of withdrawal from Afghanistan, Huntsman arguing for a more rapid withdrawal, Romney saying, no, we should go slower.
There are disagreements on a whole series of this, but I think overall what we learned is that this is a group that is collectively, with the exception of Ron Paul, a more hawkish group in terms of foreign policy than President Obama. And there will be a foreign policy debate. And it was interesting before the debate happened the degree to which the Democratic National Committee, the Obama campaign, the National Security Adviser Tom Donilon were all out talking about foreign policy and aiming criticism, particularly in the case of – something the Democratic National Committee did – aiming criticism at Governor Romney on foreign policy. They want to – the president wants to run as a president who’s had foreign policy success.
MR. DICKERSON: He wants to talk about that much more than certainly the economy.
Gloria, let me ask you about Herman Cain. He was once a big deal in this game. (Laughter.)
MS. BORGER: When was that, a week ago? (Laughter.)
MR. DICKERSON: He’s had some bad moments on foreign policy on questions of Cuba, on Libya. How’s he – where’s he standing?
MS. BORGER: I think in the debate he was not very much in evidence. I think – I just don’t think he’s comfortable talking about foreign policy. He keeps going back to the old thing, oh, I’ve got to consult my commanders. This is important thing. The commanders on the ground, I need to talk to the generals. I don’t need to know that much about foreign policy, he has said before last week’s debate. I don’t need to know because I trust my commanders.
The question then that you ask is, well, what if your commanders disagree, which has been known to occur, what do you do? So I think in the CNN debate – I don’t – I don’t think he was much of a player on foreign policy in the least. Do you disagree with me?
MR. BALZ: No, I don’t. I thought – I had the same reaction.
MR. DICKERSON: And yet in Iowa, he still lives a little.
MR. BALZ: Well, he – for somebody who has gone through a very, very difficult period, his numbers in the polls are holding up. I think there is a sense, though, that he’s slowly fading. And it’s not a collapse, not like we saw with Governor Perry, who was very high and then went way down. Herman Cain has been on a kind of slow decline. But there’s a recent poll in Iowa that Bloomberg did that had a four-way tie basically in Iowa. And I was on Iowa a week ago, and Iowa is wide open at this point. I think it’s anybody’s game.
MR. DICKERSON: Well, good. Lots to talk about in the coming weeks. Thanks to all of you. That’ll have to wrap it up for tonight, but be sure to check out our Webcast Extra, where we’ll pick up on some of the other stories of the week, including Mitt Romney’s controversial ad in New Hampshire. That’s at PBS.org, where you will also find some picks by our panelists for holiday reading and gift giving. Gwen will be back next week. I’m John Dickerson. Thanks for watching us. Goodnight.