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Week In Politics: Minimum Wage And Boehner's Pressures


And it's time now for our regular Friday political chat. I'm joined once again by David Brooks of The New York Times. Hey there, David.


CORNISH: And filling in for E.J. Dionne this week is Jonathan Capehart also of The Washington Post and contributor to MSNBC. Hey there, Jonathan.

JONATHAN CAPEHART: Hi, Audie. Thank you very much.

CORNISH: So as we just heard in Scott Horsley's piece, CBO's, the Congressional Budget Office, minimum wage report is causing some heartburn for Democrats and on The Washington Post editorial board this week, Jonathan, they wrote that the prospect of an election year legislative promise, never bright, now seems fainter than ever. So minimum wage, is it DOA basically?

CAPEHART: I don't know about DOA, but the prospects are not good. Look. Everyone looks to the CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, to be the referee and there's something in this that gives hope to Republicans or I should say strengthens the Republican argument that raising the minimum wage would have a dampening effect on jobs.

But on the other hand, the report shows the benefits of raising the minimum wage for the people who would actually benefit and get that. But we're talking about this in the atmosphere of Washington where nothing can get done, no matter how good of an idea, yeah.

CORNISH: A referee (unintelligible), right, because people always hate the call. David, is this just an election year rallying cry at this point?

BROOKS: I think so. You know, policy is often about trade-offs and this is a trade-off. You're lifting 900,000 people out of poverty. You're helping a lot more, but you're costing some guess of 500,000 people losing their jobs. I happen to think the people losing their jobs, that's a bigger cost even though the number of who would be lifted up out of poverty is higher because when you're out of labor market, the long term effects of that are completely ruinous. So to me, it's a bad trade, though I can see making the case for the other side.

What I do not understand is why we're not all talking about the earned income tax credit because this is a policy that has the positive effect on those low income workers without the negative job effects, so why aren't we talking about that and I think the narrow reason is politics, lowering - raising the minimum wage is good politics for Democrats so the focus is on that and not on the EITC.

CORNISH: Jonathan?

CAPEHART: And that's the very point we have in our editorial today, you know, as part of a three-part process, the third one being augmenting the earned income tax credit, which has benefited wildly lower income people to actually put money in their pockets that they actually spend.

BROOKS: Yeah, and it should be said there's been some Republican give on that so Marco Rubio and other people have also talked about raising the EITC so there's some bipartisan opportunity there, which we're not seizing for political reasons.

CORNISH: And then, looking ahead, President Obama's gearing up to release his budget. The first tidbit floated this week his plans to withdraw his offer to change the way cost of living increases are calculated under Social Security. People refer to this as chained CPI. Now, this offer has obviously been there in previous budgets, especially when the White House was making overtures towards the so-called grand bargain.

Never mind that the grand bargain is a little bit of a unicorn, I think. What do you guys make of the fact that the president is dropping this?

BROOKS: Well, I like unicorns. I've been worshipping this unicorn for a long time, waiting for it like Charlie Brown with the football.

CORNISH: Oh, you're the one.

BROOKS: They're very beautiful. White horses, beautiful. And so I'm for the policy substance of chained CPI. You save $390 billion the first decade. You save a trillion dollars the next decade. That's money that can go to domestic discretionary programs so I think it's great policy. I also would like just to see the president embrace the basic idea that as a sign of fiscal responsibility we all know there's going to be no grand bargain.

I guess they pulled it for political reasons to please the left. But I like to see a little sign that we are going to at least make an effort for that magical unicorn.

CAPEHART: Well, you know, I would say that the president's been pushing the unicorn out there to Republicans for the last couple of budgets now. This is an idea of Republican leaders. And the moment the president said yes, let's talk about it. He put it in his budget, much to the consternation of the Democratic Party base.

There are Democrats on the hill who are furious with the president that he put that in his budget and put it on the table. But the Republicans wouldn't take him up on it. They would not take yes for an answer, all because the president asked in exchange to close corporate loopholes, tax loopholes, and to raise taxes on the wealthy, however that would be defined.

And Republicans wouldn't take him up on it and I just think his pulling chained CPI from the budget means that he means what he says. The overtures to Republicans are now over.

CORNISH: Now, I want to talk about Republicans just for the last few minutes here. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner, really taking a lot of heat from Tea Party activists and conservative activists. Obviously Mitch McConnell in the midst of a pretty intense Senate race. David, talk a little bit about how both these leaders are trying to take a stand against the kind of forceful minority in their caucus.

BROOKS: Yeah, well, as we say in Washington D.C., they're beginning to cowboy up against some of the Tea Party folks who - they're just - John Boehner's annoyance with them is now transparent and I'm glad it is. He's beginning to show some guts and they can't be dominated by a minority which seems to have little strategic sense. McConnell's in a trickier position because he's actually vulnerable, and so he's trying to dance without offending anybody. The McConnell race in Kentucky, by the way, is a fascinating race because it's an older guy who has brought in the poor, who has power, versus a younger guy in the primary who's just as fresh. And in those kind of races when the public's unhappy, McConnell may lose. Right now he's considered the favorite, but you smell a surprise there.

CORNISH: Jonathan?

CAPEHART: You know, the interesting thing about the Kentucky race is that here you have Senator McConnell, the minority leader, who's trying as best he can to have it both ways in that he's trying to please the primary voters by showing how conservative he is, and therefore what he did when it came to the debt ceiling vote last week has really enraged Tea Party voters and Republican Party base voters in Kentucky.

But on the other hand, when we went through the debt ceiling crisis of a year ago, it was Mitch McConnell who came forward with the solution to actually raise the debt ceiling.

CORNISH: Well, you're playing his song that I've been hearing from the campaign trail there.

CAPEHART: Right, and here's the other thing that I want to point out. I said something on television saying that what Mitch McConnell did in that instance showed that he put governing over politics and how important that was. He used that clip in an ad in Kentucky, which appeals to the general election voters in Kentucky, but I doubt you'll see that ad as we get closer to the primary. He doesn't want to remind people of that.

CORNISH: We'll be watching more. Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post and contributor to MSNBC; David Brooks of The New York Times, thank you both.

BROOKS: Thank you.

CAPEHART: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.