tv Washington Week PBS February 18, 2011 8:00pm-8:30pm PST
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once again, live from washington, moderator gwen ifill. gwen: good evening. lawmakers this week have been debating everything from the future of social security to the future of cotton subsidies, the big, the small, and the darned near inconsequential all in the name of coming up with a working federal budget. the long-term debate is about the $3.7 trillion plan the president presented this week, essentially the launching point for a more sustained debate over priorities. >> just like every family in america, the federal government has to do two things at once. it has to live within its means while still investing in the future. that what we have done with this year's budget. gwen: the short-term debate is over a house plan to cut $61 billion from the federal budget over the next seven months. >> the president's budget is the clearest sign yet that he simply does not take our fiscal problems seriously.
it's a patronizing plan that says to the american people that their concerns are not his concerns. gwen: lets start with the long term. what was the president trying to do, john? we expect the budget plan every year. it's a big deal and then? >> it's always a big deal. it gets shot down by the opposition, you know. so that happened again. it's dead on arrival to use the washington cliche. knowing that, the white house tried to pass the minimum bar for seriousness. there are cuts in there. there are cuts kind of directed to things that obama can point to and say, look, there community block grants here. i was a community organizer. it's not just about the number. that's something i believe in and i'm even willing to cut that. to suggest that he is serious enough. but it wasn't so serious. they know at the white house they're never going to win a cutting battle with republicans so they didn't really try. they want to show they're serious enough and then hold back and hold basically the big negotiations about the long-term questions. the budget is for the next 10
years, but we're talking about long term. they want to hold those discussions about the long-term growth of the budget deficit is this a quieter way, not in a day-to-day may lay and hope they can manage the process they use with extending the bush tax cuts next year, do it behind the scenes and deliver to the public. gwen:, when they think about the economy at all, was there anything in the president's pitch which spoke to that? >> yes. he tried to identify the three areas that he really does want some money to go to and in terms of job creation in particular, it's the infrastructure piece of it. he is serious about wanting to improve roads and rail and that sort of thing and it's one issue where he has a joint statement from the afl-cio president, so he has business and labor backing on it. that is about job creation. he had two other priorities --
education innovation. both of those are long-term ways of trying to improve the job market. >> there were two sort of standard republican critiques it seemed to me in the budget. one was that it doesn't actually reduce the deficit. it increased it in the short term and the second one as john sort of alluded to, it didn't actually tackle entitlements. it kicked the can down the road. is that a fair criticism? >> it is fair they kicked entitlements downed road. they are issues that white house and republicans and congress are basically playing a game of chicken on. both of them say they're serious about it, but neither one of them wants to go first because they know it's politically, could be suicide. gwen: didn't we hear the republicans say they were going to come up with it? >> they said this week when they delivered the long-term budget, they get past the little brawl that is going on on the house floor right now, when they get to the long-term budget, they
claim they will deal with entitlements then. talking about dealing with it and actually doing it can be two different things. we have to wait to see if a serious proposal is put on the stage. >> paul ryan, the chairman of the house budget committee has some thoughts and ideas and has put them out in a road map. they haven't gotten support from republicans, they're very progressive. they have a lot of parts to them that can be politically tricky. gwen: means testing. >> means testing and changing the shape of the benefit for younger workers. remember george bush tried to do that with social security. it was a big failure in part because he didn't have the support of republicans. that's what the house republicans are up to. the white house is happy to let them go along, but the white house which includes a lot of people who were there to negotiate in 1995 when the democratic president was negotiating with house republican the end of o.m.b. and the president's top economic man
inside and their view is if this is going to get negotiated, don't start putting a plan out. if you put things out, things have to be on the table and off the table. let's do it behind the screens. the president in his news conference say a lot of this may happen that you may not see it. >> is there any sign that voters are ready for a serious discussion about their entitlements? is the conventional wisdom that it's political suicide to even go there correct? >> we're going to see now if the voters really understood the ramifications of the election. gwen: we're seeing that right now in wisconsin. >> we're seeing some of it in wisconsin. in that case, outrage from teachers who are going to get the cuts. who we don't really know about just yet are the independents and they're the ones that swung that election. they'll be the ones that swing the next. so how much of a stomach do the independents really have for the kind of budget cuts we're seeing and for real entitlement reform,
we don't know that yet. that will be the measurement that will be most important. gwen: let me turn the corner to the short-term debate, the debate that is happening on the floor of the house. hundreds and hundreds of amendments which john boehner has said, hey, bring it all on about everything. today they voted to take money away from planned parenthood. they were debating oil, gas leases. they were debating everything. and this is about a budget that has to be passed by, in two weeks? >> march 4. there is so much going on and it's fascinating. the question of pulling back and start from where we just were, the polls show the american people don't see a connection between getting deficit under control and their number one care which is jobs. so what we're talking about are big cuts right now, fast in the next two weeks. the question is whether republicans, they all say that's our big communications challenge, convincing people all of this cutting we're doing is going to help them with their jobs. but what it does help them with is their constituents, they can
go back home for presidents day, voting for the big cuts, $61 billion in cuts. in this process, john boehner let 1,000 flowers bloom. amendments coming all over the place. long days of amendments and crazy coalitions, tea party democrats with republicans killing programs here and there. this is all about boehner is saying to the 87 freshmen, go for it. knock out as much as you want. ask for more spending reductions than we have put on the table. let them see how the process works. they can say if the spending reductions don't go down, they tried and there was no market and later if boehner has to put together a deal with the white house which is how anything can get done, he can go back to the tea party freshmen and say, look, i didn't as a leader say you must do it this way. we got to put a deal together. he would have created some good will. this is how they see it in house
leadership, create some good will and get the 87 freshmen go along. >> when this hits the senate, how much sticks? we're talking about proposals that was pretty radical. it was to take the government out of any aid to family planning at all. they're talking about taking out the whole foreign aid budget. gwen: they're talking about defunding public broadcasting. >> the senate has taken a very different approach as typical the senate needs to do, and especially so now because the margins are so close. so anything that comes out of the senate has got to be the first of the bipartisan deals that are required here. and this week a group of senators, bipartisan, started working together to start thinking through what might be possible. and then immediately the conservative right started issuing press releases attacking the republicans who were in the room. so the senate has got a different process coming and a very different dynamic.
gwen: mcconnell had a meeting at the white house this they didn't tell us about until after it happened. >> they didn't want anyone to know. on the democratic side, the appropriations committee in the senate has been instructed to start to come up with the short-term budget that we're discussing now, but at levels at current spending levels. so that means whatever the appropriations committee starts with in the senate, it will be $60 billion more than what it is in the house because of the cutting that the house is doing right now. so the big problem that we have got here is time because the house has eaten up so much time with all of these amendments and they have done a lot of venting and they have had a good time over there but march 4 looms. the only thing that stops a government shutdown on march 4 is if there is a negotiated deal between the two and something signed by the president. to get that done -- gwen: since they're leaving town, not a lot of time to get it done. >> they got four days.
when they get back, they got four days. the question of the government shutdown. the republicans are saying they're going to shut down the government, scaring people, trying to, anyway, with the idea that republicans are so reckless and that brings up memories of 1995, the last time this happened. the republicans have said and they had a meeting today, the house republican leadership with the 87 freshmen, we're not going to let the government shut down justo you know. it was interesting last year when the president was trying to extend those bush tax cuts, the republicans had leverage because the president could never allow taxes to go up on everybody. republicans always knew they had to get a deal. in this sense it's reversed. republicans do not want a government shutdown. republicans never want to let the government shuts down. that limbs their leverage. gwen: they're watching closely in places like wisconsin which could spread to ohio or indiana, new jersey, which is the pushback against the new republican governors who are
saying i'm going to keep the promises i made during the campaign. everybody is watching that very closely. >> the states are so important. when do we talk about some of these states? about every four years with a presidential. so they are very important states. they are swing states. this is the big debate of the season and it's an opportunity to test out messaging. >> and the key question here is how fast you do these cuts. what the president is arguing is, yes, cut, but do it slowly because the economy could be in trouble. that's what is at stake in wisconsin is the speed. gwen: fascinating time. we're going to another fascinating place which is in the middle east. last weeks jubilation in egypt became this weeks tensions in bahrain, yemen, libya, and iran where versions of the uprising we saw in tahrir square continue to play out tonight. the president today condemned the violence and urged restraint,but it is not at all clear what leverage the u.s. has or whether this really is egypt redux. doyle, it seems like the white house is groping for a way
to handle these unexpected things. >> it is. in a way it's surprising and not surprising. when hosni mubarak fell in egypt, it really did unleash a wave. egypt is culturally historically the most important country in the arab world. in the region, you have old conflicts, different kinds of conflicts bubbling up at the same time. the administration, the president, decided in egypt he wanted to be on the right side of history. i think we look back at there, we already are, as quite a fateful decision. what that means is here is a wave. now, in the best of all possible worlds, we would like our friends, jordan, bahrain to surf the wave. we like those regimes to take advantage of that wave to get to a better place. we would like that wave to crash on the heads of regimes we don't look like iran and syria. that is not exactly what is happening at the moment because the iranans and syrians are more
repressive. what the white house has done is it's tried to boil its message down. today the president came out with a statement -- it wasn't on camera. it was a written statement. there is a little less than the constant talk during egypt where there was a little criticism of the president being overexposed and given a daily report. a very restrained statement, one paragraph. it said there are universal rights in every country including bahrain our friend and libya, not so much our friend and it's important for the governments to show restraints. the white house has come to a minimal message to try to fit all of these different circumstances. >> jim, you're back from cairo. i wonder as the white house struggles to figure its way out whether it's possible -- is there a one size fits all u.s. response, or is there any leverage that the u.s. can apply for all of these different -- >> absolutely not. as i was listening to you talk, the one place this message is not getting through to and frankly not being listened to, is that part of the world.
i was in tahrir square the night of obama's speech, very well delivered speech. he hit on many of the right notes, but people weren't listening there. you have decades of policy up against a few minutes of statements, right. and the people there are not easily fooled. they know which side the u.s. took in this conflict for years. one of the principal complaints if not the principal complaint about u.s. policy in this region for many of these countries is american's support more dictators like mubarak. they know the history. as i watch the white house from the region change its statements every day, the reaction from the people i spoke to there was not just skepticism, but it was anger. this is the best you have got. now, is it too late? i think that's a fair question. probably, but not necessarily because a message of unequivocal support would have value there, but as you have seen words parsed on repeated days, that's not the message that they have been been getting. gwen: it doesn't seem like unequivocal could work in that
region. >> that's the trouble. you're talking about history. but we weren't the only ones who were surprised by this, the u.s. government, right. if you look at the islamists, a statement today trying to sort of jump on the bandwagon or somehow create an identity with the protesters just as the iranan regime did, claim as a follow-on to the 1979 revolution. both of them are wrong. you see that in the streets. you know what is behind this and it has nothing to do with 1979. they were caught offguard as well. that is something that the u.s. can leverage. this is a huge defeat for the islamists. mubarak was in their targets for years. they go nowhere. in a couple of weeks' time, a bunch of young people empowered by technology and anger and a sense of hope arising from tunisia and other countries have done what we nor they can do. >> the wave and the administration trying to shape it. iran, they are trying to get a lot of the water to go on
ahmadinejad's head. how did they try to do this week, after egypt kind of using egypt and was it successful? >> at the beginning of the week, if you asked any administration spokesman to talk about any unrest anywhere in the middle east, iran. look at iran. look at how bad they are. they ought to be listening to their people. never mind the other places. our leverage there is pretty limited. iran has its own political dynamic that's been going on for a couple of years. to go back to that thing, the point about unequivocal support, the problem here is that the administration would love to have orderly transitions. well, that means not speeding the train up in a place like bahrain or jordan or yemen, it means slowing it down a little bit, which is kind of equivocal. >> irresistable forces there, youth and technical tong and two responses, change reform or crack down. gwen: they're cracking down. >> that's their response which may very well looks like --
gwen: libya, too. >> where are we in egypt right now? having just got back, what is the state of play and where does it go from there? >> a long way to go. the work is just beginning. you have more demonstrations now. those are strikes. it's a lot hard to answer those demands. they're talking about wages. they're talking about real issues. that's one reason why when i spoke to egyptian opposition leaders about whether they trusted the military to hand over power in a timely fashion, one reason they believe them is the military doesn't want to have to deal with postal workers' wages. they want to get back. they have done their job and kept the peace. so you have bread and butter issues. you have the real issues of changing, creating a whole new political system. they have to write a new constitution. gwen: there is a crackdown in bahrain, but we also have a lot of military, military there. there is a different impulse for our involvement there even though there seems to be
something much more brutal there. >> bahrain is a small base, half million people, it's an important place. >> next door to saudi arabia. >> next door where the oil is going by. the fifth fleet is headquartered there. they could go someplace else, in the worst case, bahrain is 2/3 shiah were to take over and kick the fleet out, that would be a huge symbolic victory for iran. gwen: there is a sectarian dispute that we wouldn't have necessarily seen in egypt? >> true, that can be overemphasized. that is something that you will hear from bahrain's rulers, wait, this is iran influenced shiah doing this. blaming foreigners, mubarak's regime did early on and the iranan regime, being on the ground in egypt during the most recent protests, the parallels are uncanny. violent crackdown and you blame the foreigners. you blame the journalists, foreign influences.
granted, each situation, you can't say they're all the same. >> you have old leaders who have been in there for a long time. the prime minister of bahrain who happens to be the king's uncle has been the prime minister for 40 years. he is a wealthy man and a lot of people in bahrain think he is corrupt. the president of yemen has been the president for 32 years and that country doesn't work very well. >> one thing that i think a lot of people wrestled with this week is how much did we know? could we have foreseen it? if we could, could we have done anything or should we have done something differently? do you -- >> there was a very interesting story this week because it turns out that the white house, the president commissioned a study about a year ago about the roots of instability in the middle east and it appears to have looked at these countries we're talking about, at egypt, at yemen, at bahrain, at jordan. but the real problem is, ok, that's great. can you look at the conditions and say there is going to be
trouble here because of all of these forces including the internet, including the revolution of rising expectations, what do we do about it? what can we do about it? american leverage in all of these places is much smaller than we like to think in washington. these events went much faster than anyone expected. gwen: go ahead. >> i wanted to ask you, jim, about the oil question and in terms of the way on the ground people are seeing u.s. motives. do they think that we backed some of these regimes because we have strategic interests or is it all about oil? how much is that a part of the conversation? >> a huge part. it depends on the country. if you go to saudi arabia and iraq, they assume that's the only reason we're interested in egypt. they think it's peace with israel. other strategic objectives there and people are not surprisingly well-read, but they're very well-read when you're there, they know the policy issues and can quote them back to you. they can be exaggerated.
there are conspiracy theories abound, but the truth is they're right in effect. the policy was built on interests there and we tried to push values as often as possible, push for reform in egypt. at the end of the day, this is our alley there. this is another problem you have, you can't run away from them in 72 hours, can you? gwen: is it fair to stage at this stage in this uprising which we can only believe is going to spread, there are healthy back channel communications going on now between the state department, the defense department because of our military interests, the white house and these governments, at least the ones that are friendly to us? >> sure, but they're not always going to listen because their survival is on the line. let's take the case of bahrain which has been very close to the united states. the one message the obama administration has tried to carry very clearly is don't shoot at protesters. but the bear rainis are on their
saudi sponsors than the american son source. they are less interested in human rates and more interested in preserving monarchies. >> there was talk of saudis being involved in the crackdown. gwen: thank you all. it's a complicated week and it will stay complicated for a while. as these stories continue to unfold, you can keep track of it all every night on the pbs "newshour" and online and send us your thoughts and reactions. you can find us at pbs.org. plus to all of the brave reporters risking life, limb and injury to cover the story around the world, thank you. see you next week on "washington week." good night. >> funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> we know why we're here. to give our war fighters every advantage. >> to deliver technologies that anticipate the future today.
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