You know that you are a completely hooked political wonk when you set your alarm clock on Saturday night so that you are sure that you wake up early enough on Sunday morning so that you don’t miss the 9 AM CDT live airing of NBC’s Meet the Press. That, sadly, has been the state of things in my life for several years now.
And you know that you are completely hooked on MTP when you find yourself missing the deep cuts that former MTP moderator Tim Russert used to apply to the bloviating orators of obfuscation, regulars that appeared on his show weekly.
I miss the "Russert Pounce."
Up until today that is.
Because today, David Gregory was channeling Tim Russert’s spirit. Either that or he has finally acquired the brass appendages that we have all been missing on our Sunday morning politics fix.
This morning, the entire program was devoted to a roundtable discussion between Gregory and the respective chairs of the NRSC, the DSCC, the NRCC and the DCCC. That is, the four gentlemen who are responsible for raising money for Democratic and Republican Senatorial and Congressional campaigns.
At issue was presidential press secretary Robert Gibbs’ unfortunate and unqualified comment that Democrats could lose the majority in November.
Of course they could. But the problem is, Gibbs never addressed the whole concept of “likelihood.”
At this moment of weakness Republicans pounced, and I saw the effect at the Pete Olson town hall meeting last Monday when conservatives in the meeting asked Olson what the plan was after the GOP retakes the House in November. The air sparked with the electricity of certain knowledge of a complete rout in November.
NRCC Chair Pete Sessions attempted to maintain the façade in his opening remark:
“I think the, the public sees this as a long-term debt issue of big government, more spending. The president and the House, at least, are two-tenths through a big government agenda. And the bottom line is, is that people back home see it where government is doing quite well and the free enterprise system and jobs back home are not doing so well. I think change is in the air.”
And it went on like that for the longest time. Gregory danced around the subject of a Republican agenda, but the discussion remained unfocused for what seemed an interminable amount of time.
Bob Menendez, chair of the DSCC and Chris Van Hollen, chair of the DCCC were being overly cautious, having been put there by a desire not to look like whiners that endlessly bemoan the fact that they and their party were put in that position by the policies of George Bush and the Republican Party.
So it looked like a stalemate was shaping up, if not a tilt toward a GOP victory in the debate.
Then at the beginning of the 2nd half hour, David Gregory pounced.
Addressing Pete Sessions (making this not a fair fight at all), Gregory posed this question:
“This has been a debate so far this morning about, you know, the relative merits of Republican rule during the Bush years and what this president has or has not accomplished so far. I think what a lot of people want to know is if Republicans do get back into power, what are they going to do?”
A very pointed question at which time Sessions executed the old Texas Two-Step when he replied [and believe me, I am only including the statements of substance here]
“…we need to live within our own means…we need to make sure that we read the bills …”
To which Gregory responded (as nicely as he could, I think):
“But, Congressman, that's a, that's a pretty gauzy agenda so far.”
Giving him credit that there was more to the GOP agenda than he actually revealed, and Sessions then gave lie to that idea, reasserting that the only two things that need to happen is to balance the budget and read the bills.And that’s it, I swear.
Appearing exasperated at this point, Gregory delved further. This is a questioning strategy not unlike that which 3rd grade teachers use to evoke some higher level critical thinking skills in their students.
“How do you do it? Tell me how you do it. Name a painful choice that Republicans are prepared to say we ought to make.”
Eliciting this response and subsequent exchange:
REP. SESSIONS: Well, first of all, we need to make sure that as we look at all that we are spending in Washington, D.C., with, not only the, the entitlement spending but also the bigger government, we cannot afford anymore. We have to empower the free enterprise system. See, this is where...
MR. GREGORY: Congressman, these are not specifics.
REP. SESSIONS: Oh, they...
MR. GREGORY: And voters get, get tired of that.
REP. SESSIONS: That, that...
MR. GREGORY: You want to deal with entitlement spending...
REP. SESSIONS: They are...
MR. GREGORY: ...will you raise the retirement age on Social Security, will you cut benefits in Social Security?
REP. SESSIONS: Let, let--let's go...
And so he went. Nowhere. Sessions never answered. He never stated specific policies that Republicans are willing to put out there to the American people. Policies that empower Americans to decide who they want to clean up the mess that George Bush left us.
So Gregory turned to RSCC chair John Cornyn. [Not fair really, Two Texas Republicans on the same side in the same room].
MR. GREGORY: Senator, I'm sorry, I'm not hearing an answer here on specific--what painful choices to really deal with the deficit. Is Social Security on the table? What will Republicans do that, that, that would give them--like '94, there was a Contract With America. What are voters going to say, "Hey, this is what Republicans will say yes to"?
And guess what John Cornyn, my senator came up with? The Debt Commission. The commission assembled as a Democratic initiative to determine where cuts should be made. That is, the Republican agenda to revamp the economy is to do what the Democratic Debt Commission comes up with.
MR. GREGORY: But wait a minute, conservatives need a, a Democratic president's debt commission to figure out what it is they want to cut?
Cornyn, backed into a corner, fought his way out by attacking Obamacare. Gregory switched topics and asked about the recently-passed Financial Reform bill. And Cornyn started sputtering about how the bill was too long to read.
“Well, I think--I mean, this is a 2,300-page bill that not even Chris Dodd, the principal Senate author, knows--he said, "We don't know exactly how this will impact the economy or our financial systems for some time to come." I mean, that's part of the problem, as Pete said, passing legislation with unintended consequences and based on an ideological approach as opposed to, "Let's solve the problem" and to help encourage the growth of the economy. As the folks in the business roundtable said, the job-killing agenda of this administration is to make...”
Then the grownup in the room interrupted.
SEN. MENENDEZ: Well, I think, actually, when you look at the choice between where the president has taken the country from what he inherited vs. what our colleagues espouse, which is in essence the Bush voodoo economics, the reality is, in that choice, they have a very clear preference for the president's economic policies. Let me answer the question that my dear friend John wouldn't. Yes, they want to repeal health care, and they say replace. Well, you'll have a whole host of issues that you enjoy today that won't be enjoyed anymore. You won't see seniors closing that prescription drug gap that they have, you won't be able to have pre-existing conditions no longer be a bar to you getting insurance; you won't have a child born at birth who now will be able never--if they have a defect--to no longer be denied insurance. And yes, we have cost controls in that bill. On Wall Street reform, look, two weeks before, two weeks before the Wall Street reform bill was passed, you know, a hedge fund manager ultimately raised a million dollars for Republican candidates two weeks before the bill was being voted on, and they tried to stop us four times in the Senate before we got the Wall Street reform. I think that people in America believe in a free market as we as Democrats do, but there's a difference between a free market and a free fall market.
I’m sorry that this went overly long, but I think we all need to see this for what it is. Republicans are simply out of ideas. It has gone beyond having a knee-jerk reaction to every Democratic plan of “NO.” I think today we have been served a dish called the Republican agenda, a dish served on a silver platter with a silver cover to keep it warm.
And upon having the cover removed, we now see that there is nothing on the plate. There is nothing there. Not because Republicans are incapable of coming up with an idea, not at all. It has become all too clear to me why Republicans offer no new ideas anymore.
The Republicans have run out of fuel. They are running on empty.