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Shields and Gerson Survey Health Care Outlook, Economy

Columnists Mark Shields and Michael Gerson sort through the top news of the past week, including a key vote on health care in the Senate Finance Committee, bank earning reports and conflicting data about the health of the economy.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    And to the analysis of Shields and Gerson. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson. David Brooks is off tonight.

    Mark, is it — on the same subject, is it fair to say that a lot of average Americans are really upset about the huge profits and the huge compensation that has already begun to return to Wall Street? Do they deserve to be upset?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    They deserve to be upset.

    Wall Street has earned the rage and the fury of ordinary Americans. Just two firms, Citigroup and Merrill Lynch, last year lost $54 billion. American taxpayers, firefighters and nurses, and teachers and hairdressers came up with the money. They — they knew that it was important to keep them in business — came up with $55 billion.

    As they are losing $54 billion and borrowing $55 billion from the American people to keep their doors open, they award $9 billion in bonuses to their own people. Is that a sense of outrage? Is it justified, at that same time, Jim, that 14,000 Americans every day are losing their health insurance, when 5.5. million Americans have been out of work for more than six months, and we can't even get the Congress, the Senate in this case, to extend unemployment benefits to these folks, with 424 Americans every hour having their homes repossessed?

    Yes, there is a sense of rage, and it is totally justified.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Totally justified, Michael?

  • MICHAEL GERSON:

    Well, it's certainly there. You know, and it's hard to argue with that sort of attitude. And many Americans feel it, left, right and center.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    That's right.

  • MICHAEL GERSON:

    This is not a particularly big ideological issue. People feel like there is a different set of rules for the wealthy and for the middle class. I think that's true.

    It — the fact is that a lot of executive compensation on Wall Street and other places is done through bonuses and stock options. It's not done with salaries. That's the way they compete for workers and, you know, keep people in jobs. That's the way Wall Street works.

    And — you know, and a lot of Americans are angry, but a significant number are happy when they see the market over 10000, which is also helping some of these firms as well. And, you know — and I think, if you look at the facts, the compensation strategies of banks in the research doesn't really correlate very well with the performance of the banks. It's not the key factor.

    Greed is not the main factor here, but it is certainly a cause for a lot of resentment.

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