Friday, January 29, 2010
President Barack Obama discussed the need for more job creation, and more bipartisanship in Washington, D.C. during his first State of the Union address. What were the key elements of the speech, and did the president inspire Republicans and Democrats to do a better job of working together?
GLORIA PENNER (Host): This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner. I’m at the roundtable today with Kent Davy from the North County Times and John Warren from San Diego Voice & Viewpoint and Joe Garren from the Daily Transcript. And we are going to talk about the fact that it’s been one tough year for President Obama and the rough times aren’t over yet. Based on what we heard from him in Wednesday’s State of the Union speech, the clearly partisan reaction in the House chamber when he was speaking, some sat on their hands and some applauded loudly, and you can guess which was which, and the ensuing response from the nation. So, Joe, yes, the healthcare debate hasn’t helped the president but the country’s angst is about the economy and about jobs. And the president says the economy is growing again. Did he make his case?
JOE GARREN (Editor, San Diego Daily Transcript): We’ll see if he made his case. The stock market, so far, doesn’t seem to necessarily think so. It’s been mixed or, I think, today when we came in it was just slightly above. So as far as that, the investors may not be buying into it. And when President Obama walked into the chamber, he, to me, looked like – almost like a prize fighter. He had this really concentrated look on his face. He was focused and determined and, of course, he was jovial in some regards but he was focused and I was kind of surprised by that and I thought, well, I guess maybe he felt he was in for a fight of his political life and, you know, he threw some punches.
PENNER: Well, he has been using the word ‘fight’ a lot lately, not only in the State of the Union address but around the country. He was in, what, Elyria, Ohio and he must have used that word five or ten times. But as I said a little earlier, John, the Commerce Department reports that the U.S. economy surged at the end of 2009. The gross domestic product rose at 5.7%. Do you think people might be overreacting to what they perceive as a troubled economy in not giving the president the benefit of the doubt when he says the economy is getting better?
JOHN WARREN (Editor/Publisher, San Diego Voice & Viewpoint): I think you have three groups reacting. You have a Republican group that’s not going to be satisfied even if he walks on water and levitates. You have the Democrats who have a party obligation to support him. And you’ve got the people out there who are unemployed and without jobs and who are looking for some instant relief. And none of the three can be satisfied at once; it has to be a comprehensive approach, which he’s done. The most important thing he said in the speech was, look, before I walked in the door, these were the problems. He didn’t create the problems. He’s attempted to deal with them. And it’s like the Republican Party is more party oriented than it is solution for the American people, is more bent on arguing their position. No person can be all wrong. How do you have a president who has done the things that have taken place in the past year and yet you sit there and all you can do, when he finishes, complain? His eyebrow went up, he looked left, he turned right, he did – It’s ridiculous. I mean, the American people want solutions. He’s put the emphasis now on the jobs program. They didn’t spend all of the toxic assent monies he’s redirecting. The things that were done with the banks, the auto industry, the housing market, he even explained why we have to have a trillion dollar deficit in terms of dealing with this. So I think he’s doing an excellent job and I think that those who aren’t satisfied wouldn’t be satisfied no matter what.
PENNER: Well, the polls are starting to run against him, though, John. And, Kent, let’s talk to you about that a little bit. I mean, John is saying that the Republicans are more interested in the party than in helping the American people but the American people are starting to respond to the fact that they don’t feel helped because the popularity of the president has gone down some 20 points.
KENT DAVY (Editor, North County Times): His polling numbers certainly have sagged, probably faster than anybody, any president at least in my memory. He’s got three elections now that have run against him, in Massachusetts, Virginia. Those are indications, I think, of some dissatisfaction. The question that I would have about this speech is that – is did he really articulate a robust jobs package or not? And I think that – I think that’s an open question. For instance, he said I’ll give $5,000 to small businesses for every new job created. But a $5,000 credit is not much money for a new business and – or, for a new job. And if it’s good – if we need jobs and it’s good for small business, why wouldn’t you open that up to any business to say, well, let’s create jobs across the board. He urged passage of the House bill in the Senate. Most of the House bill is contained with extension of unemployment benefits, from adjustments on COBRA payment – or, COBRA premium caps, I think it was, and some material like that that is directed at helping unemployed, which is a great thing to do but that’s not really job creation at all. I think it’s a – I think he took an odd kind of a public position but I’m not sure the substance is there.
PENNER: Okay, Joe, let me go back to you on this, picking up on what Kent said. Has the president done or is he doing anything comparable to something really big like Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s WPA project that tried to put everyone back to work. I mean, do we have something we can grab onto and say that’s an Obama initiative?
GARREN: Well, I don’t know. And he seems to have stepped back and made smaller promises like this jobs program instead of doing a major program. I think that the – you know, he’s not doing an FDR type of initiative, at least at this point. And this – You know, actually I’ve heard some economists say that this jobs program, as far as the $5,000 incentive for small businesses, may actually work. It may help more. I mean, will it be enough to bring it – unemployment down where it’s manageable? Well, that’s the – remains to be seen, and it’s going to take time. Any program any president tries to get across, first they’re going to have to get the approval but it’s going to take time for it to take root. So…
PENNER: Let’s – John.
WARREN: I want to make three points. The first one I want to make you said the election was not against the president in Massachusetts, it was against the candidate. The numbers show that the people in Massachusetts are still in support of the president. The second point is that if you followed the CNN poll, they had those who liked much, very much, the numbers came up to 78% when you added them in terms of acceptance of what was being said. And, yes, he might’ve had some sag in terms of the numbers. If you look at the employment issue, in 1978, we had the Comprehensive Employment Training Act pass, which put people to work. We’ve had an extension of the unemployment insurance benefits, which he’s put back on the table, that helps people. So we don’t need new – He’s doing programs in relationship to what he’s learned from history because when we put it across the board, unemployment is not at the same level in every place. That’s why we had the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act that put a trigger in that when it hit 6% in some areas, then it’s supposed to kick in with some benefits. So he’s looking at the whole picture. And the people who are unemployed just want jobs but history shows that training programs are not the answer if there are no jobs at the end of the training.
PENNER: Okay, let’s hear from our listeners on this. Let’s start with Bill in Escondido. Hi, Bill, you’re on with the editors.
BILL (Caller, Escondido): Thank you very much. I just wanted to say a couple of things. Number one, I think people are, you know, forget that we’ve had an administration prior to this that really put our country in debt.
BILL: So from a surplus to debt, debt, debt. And I think you’re right in saying that, you know, what we’re trying to do is resolve these problems that were kind of given to Obama. The second thing is I don’t think in America, especially in some areas of America, we did not plan for people, let’s say, that were in the auto industry with specific types of jobs being trained in other types of jobs. You know, they’ve known for years and years, they’ve been cutting back, they’ve been cutting back but they just – you know, Americans haven’t trained for the new jobs that are on the table now.
PENNER: Okay, thank you very much. And let’s take one more call and then we’ll get some comments from the editors on this. Ian in Solana Beach. Ian, you’re on with the editors.
IAN (Caller, Solana Beach): Good morning, Gloria.
PENNER: Good morning.
IAN: I have two basic questions for the editors. The first is, or they’re related. The first is, why are you Democrats so insistent on not having tort reform in their health plan. By the way, I’m an independent voter. And secondly, why don’t they allow people to buy insurance across state lines? If they did that then it would pull the rug out from under the Republicans.
PENNER: Okay, thank you, Ian. So obviously Ian has taken the conversation and sort of switched it over a little bit to healthcare. But, you know, that was sort of the 800 pound gorilla in the room. What about healthcare? And certainly that keeps coming up in the conversation. The president did plead his case not to abandon healthcare reform. But he’s been unwilling at this point, and the Democrats have been, to talk about limiting the malpractice insurance returns or refunds or paybacks or what have you. That’s called tort reform. Kent?
DAVY: Well, you know, you can draw a line, I suspect, between the position on not attacking tort reform in a vigorous manner. There was a pilot program talked about in one of the bills and I don’t remember more specifics about it but there has been no overarching kind of push that direction. That has been one piece of the Republican so-called alternative, is to do that. But the dotted line between not doing anything about tort reform is the trial attorneys and their campaign contributions and support for Obama and the Democratic party. And to the extent that you react – you, a party, reacts to its constituents and its money donors, I think that’s part of what goes on.
PENNER: Well, buying insurance across state lines, that’s all part of the same package, isn’t it, Joe?
GARREN: I believe so. And I thought it was also interesting in the State of the – in his speech, which is a speech, you know, to the House and also to the people of the country, the American people, is that healthcare didn’t come up until like – I mean, he was 45, 50 minutes into his speech, and so I think he’s showing that this is not, you know, right now a pressing matter for him, that the economy, education, energy, these were issues that were more important at this point.
PENNER: But the medical costs are now at 17% of the nation’s gross national product and climbing. I mean, I remember when they were 7 or 8%. How can this not be at the top of congress’ agenda?
GARREN: Well, I think that they feel that they’re bogged down. They’re mired in this and he’s not making any progress. The president is under pressure to show some progress on something, to have something where the Senate will approve it and maybe he’s finding a different place to go.
WARREN: The president did a very significant thing. He didn’t downplay the importance of healthcare. People are saying that healthcare is dead because of the vote in Massachusetts shifting the numbers in the Senate to 41% as opposed to having that 60 majority that the Democrats would’ve had. That does not automatically make the matter dead. And Fred Brown has made it clear he’s, in effect, open to talking to the president…
WARREN: I mean Scott Brown. But when the president makes a statement that with the freeze that he’s implementing that he’s going to exempt Social Security and Medicare and those issues, he still pointed out that this is – healthcare is important, all of his numbers. It doesn’t matter what point in the speech it came at. The important thing is that he mentioned it. If he’d put it at the beginning, he would have been accused of being limited in his focus because he didn’t see the broader picture, so unemployment was first.
PENNER: Okay, we did have one call but looks like the caller was gone and I think that the caller was going back to my Roosevelt example. I’m not going to give up on that one, though, because I think that that was really interesting. Again, the president said that he felt as though he really has not been given any – sufficient credit for pulling us back from the brink of another Great Depression but I’m thinking back to World War II. The country recovered from the Great Depression when World War II kicked up the defense industry, sent men to war, put everyone else to work in the war plants. Right now we have at least two wars going, Kent. Why isn’t that turning the nation around economically?
DAVY: Well, it’s a different – It is an entirely different kind of phenomena between the two wars being prosecuted now and what the country experienced in World War II. In World War II, the entire nation was mobilized. Everybody participated in some fashion, all the way from various kinds of rationing to save your tin cans to putting women in the production lines. The factories opened up to produce a huge amount of war goods and material. The entire nation, and the world, was at war. In the instant case, and it’s, I think, part of the answer to this is that in prosecuting both Iraq and Afghanistan, while they’re expensive in terms of money out of the federal treasury, most of the – most of America is not directly affected by it.
DAVY: Maybe their taxes go up twenty bucks.
PENNER: So I’m going to ask you one final question, John, a sort of a unification question. What is it that might unify this nation enough so that we don’t have the divisiveness that we’re hearing in congress and that we’re hearing from the nation in general.
WARREN: We no longer have crises on the national scale that we had before. In the World War II example you had, it was the Hill-Burton Construction Act that brought people together and waived certain labor union laws and everything so that things could work. With the question that you raised about retraining people, we already have on the books a Trade Adjustment Assistance, which – if it didn’t sunset, which trained people for new jobs. We are not looking at what we have done. We’ve reached a point where people in congress are making decisions on the spur of the moment. They’re no longer looking at the broad, historical picture to reach back to what took place. So that’s why – And without a national crisis, we can’t get to where you want to be.
PENNER: Okay, well, let’s hope we don’t have a national crisis. I want to thank the editors who were with me this morning. Kent Davy from the North County Times and John Warren from San Diego Voice & Viewpoint and Joe Garren from the Daily Transcript. Thanks to our listeners and to our callers. This has been the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner.