JOURNAL EDITORIAL REPORT

Super Committee Goes Bust: Now What?

Hopes for bipartisan agreement dented

 

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," November 26, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," it's all over, but the finger pointing. The bipartisan Super Committee goes bust. What happens now?

Plus, the GOP candidates take on Obama and each other over foreign policy. How important will national security be in the coming election?

And the world's population surpasses seven billion. Rekindling an age old debate, are there too many of us on the planet?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Although Congress has not come to an agreement yet, nothing prevents them from coming up with an agreement in the days ahead.

As I have from the beginning, I stand ready and willing to work with anybody that's ready to engage in that effort, to create a balanced plan for deficit reduction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

That was President Obama this week, reacting to the failure of the bipartisan Deficit Reduction Committee failing to reach an agreement, calling on members of Congress to forge ahead with a compromise before $1.42 trillion in automatic spending cuts take effect in a little over a year.

How likely is any bipartisan agreement before the 2012 elections? Let's ask Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; editorial board member, Jason Riley; and Washington columnist, Kim Strassel.

So, Kim, this week, Barney Frank -- I know, your favorite congressman --

KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: Absolutely.

GIGOT: -- said that the failure of this Super Committee is good for Democrats, will make it easier for them to retake the House. Is he right?

STRASSEL: Well, look, this was -- what this was really about is the election, OK? What we have realized not just what it says on the Super Committee, but with the debt limit negotiations that preceded them this summer, this is about a different, fundamental difference in the philosophy of government. Democrats believe that all of the spending is fabulous and all you need to do is raise taxes. The Republicans have come to understand that this government growth is unsustainable and they want to do spending cuts and entitlement reform. Those differences, there's no middle ground. So what you have to have is an election and that's what they're fighting over. The Republicans think if they had agreed to taxes as part of this, it would have fundamentally hurt them in the election and they have a better shot having stuck to their principles.

Kim, why do Democrats think this is good for them? Why did Barney Frank want it to fail?

KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: Because they can come out and say, look, we want to preserve -- they're going to run this year on Medicare reform, suggesting that Republicans are trying to cut entitlements.

GIGOT: I see.

STRASSEL: They were never going to agree to a deal that dealt with entitlements because this is their election strategy. So they've now come out of this saying that they preserved these programs. And they'll be able to climb the Republicans are the ones that wanted to cut them.

GIGOT: OK, Jason.

JASON RILEY, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: And President Obama had no real stake in this committee succeeding and it would interfere with his reelection campaign theme, which is going to be to run against the sort of do-nothing Congress. If Congress that succeeded in this and the Super Committee had succeeded, it would have upset that rhetoric.

GIGOT: How do you run against a do-nothing Senate that's a Democratic Senate?

(LAUGHTER)

RILEY: And also, how do you do that, when for the first two years of your presidency, your party had control of both the House and the Senate. He's hoping that Americans have short memories.

GIGOT: Square this circle for me, Dan, politically. Did Democrats want this to fail? Did Obama want this to fail?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: I think so. They wanted to run against the Republican Party as obstructionists. That basically, as far as I can tell, the party's entire campaign platform, to run against obstructionist Republicans.

GIGOT: But, doesn't he need Independents? And wouldn't it help if they got some -- if he showed, look, we're making some progress on this, this problem.

HENNINGER: You know, you're asking me to explain Barack Obama's political strategy.

(LAUGHTER)

And that's hard to do going all the way back to Obama-care, which is now one of the most unpopular pieces of legislation that has ever been passed. So I can't quite explain Barack Obama. He has -- I've said many times, he has his principles and he wanted those taxes raised on the rich. That was his line in the sand and he wasn't going to get it --

(CROSSTALK)

HENNINGER: -- and now he's going to run on that.

GIGOT: He promised a veto in October of any deal that didn't include the trillion dollars of new tax revenue increases.

He must have known, Jason, that Republicans couldn't possibly raise taxes by that much, a year after they ran and won the House, saying we won't raise taxes.

RILEY: And remember the fallback position is a sequester, which is across the board spending cuts.

GIGOT: Automatic spending cuts.

RILEY: But not until after the election. And we know politicians can't think past the next election for the most part. His more immediate concerns here -- I think the Super Committee was a really sideshow as far as the White House was concerned. President Obama's immediate concern here is the extension unemployment benefits, the extension of payroll tax cuts. Those are coming down the pipe right now. He's much more concerned about that.

GIGOT: Kim, what about this concern a lot of Republicans have over dense again cuts. About half of the sequester, the automatic spending reductions, would hit defense and Homeland Security, pretty severely, so much so even President Obama's own defense secretary, Leon Panetta, called the cuts devastating. Can Republicans put together a coalition that can stop these cuts?

STRASSEL: I think they will, and that's what they're going to try to do. And when -- there are two things here, when you look at the big issue, the big numbers, over 10 years, those defense cuts do seem quite large. When you look at a one year thing, what it would take before they could get into office, for instance, if they were to win the White House, that number is a mistake. What they're going to try to do is bring the Democrats along and say, do you want the defense cuts that even Leon Panetta says, no. The president is already threatening to veto that. But the Republicans view is go ahead and do that, let's have a debate about the need to fund our military.

GIGOT: Will those cuts ever happen, Dan?

HENNINGER: With strong presidential leadership, they will. I'm very much for this sequester.

(LAUGHTER)

Really. We've supported it in the past, and it's the only way that Washington is going to cut that budget.

GIGOT: Look, Ma, no hands, no --

(CROSSTALK)

HENNINGER: No hand.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: The automatic slice and dice.

HENNINGER: We went through this in 1990 with President George H.W. Bush, led by his budget chief, Richard Darman. The majority leader was the Democratic Senator George Mitchell. They went out to Andrews Air Force Base. Remember the great summit out of Andrews Air Force Base? Ground through the question of a 5.5 percent sequester. They ultimately punted. President Bush pulled back. They passed some cats-and-dogs excise taxes and there was no sequester.

You need a strong president. If Barack Obama is president in January 2013, it's not going to happen.

GIGOT: It won't go on --

(CROSSTALK)

HENNINGER: No. No punting.

GIGOT: All right, when we come back, the Republican candidates tackle Iran, Israel and immigration in a national security debate. But just how vulnerable is President Obama on foreign policy, and will it be a major issue in the election?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: The GOP presidential candidates squared off this week in a debate devoted exclusively to foreign policy, taking on each other and President Obama on Afghanistan, immigration and other issues. But just how important will national security be in the upcoming election?

We're back with Dan Henninger and Jason Riley. And also joining the panel, Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens.

Let's start by showing a clip on Afghanistan between Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, R-FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Are you suggesting, governor, that he we just take our troops out next week or what's your proposal?

JON HUNTSMAN, R-FORMER UTAH GOVERNOR & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Did you hear what I just said? I said we should draw down from 100,000. We don't need 100,000 troops. We don't need 100,000 troops in Afghanistan.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTSMAN: Many of them can't even across the wire. We need a presence on the ground that's more akin to 10,000 or 15,000, and that will serve our interest in terms of intelligence gathering and Special Forces response capability.

ROMNEY: I stand with the commanders in this regard and have no information that suggests that pulling our troops out faster than that would do anything but put at great peril the extraordinary sacrifice that's been made. This is not time for American to cut and run.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: Who got the better of that debate, Bret?

BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: I think that Mitt Romney clearly did. Jon Huntsman's plan is essentially identical to what Joe Biden was proposing a couple of years ago, so maybe the governor is still working for the administration.

(LAUGHTER)

Look, you talk to generals, especially people at the colonel level who have been deployed to Afghanistan, and they tell you the counterterrorism -- the counterterrorism strategy can't work unless you also have a counterinsurgency strategy, which is a troop-intensive strategy. If you can't secure large provinces like Kandahar, like Helmand, you're going to find a vulnerable population. And it's going to be susceptible to Taliban reprisals. And it's not going to cooperate with your forces.

GIGOT: Jason, politically, Jon Huntsman must feel that this has resonance, even among Republican primary voters. Is that working for him?

RILEY: Among primary voters, it might. In the general election, I'm not sure. The fact of the matter is Obama has done some good things on the foreign policy front.

GIGOT: Right.

RILEY: And he's continued a lot of the Bush administration policies and the drone strikes, and we've gotten bin Laden. As a political strategy, I'm not sure this is the way to go for the Republican candidates.

GIGOT: The only other candidate pushing that line is Ron Paul, though a much more extreme version of Jon Huntsman. He'd pull everybody back from everywhere, and that's not going to work politically. But is Huntsman on to something here politically?

HENNINGER: I think there's fatigue in the country over Afghanistan, as there was with Iraq. And it was interesting because in previous debates, Mitt Romney was kind of over where Huntsman was about pulling back from Afghanistan. He seems to have moved himself. I'll tell you, Paul, if opinion polling suggests that Huntsman is in the wrong direction, and Romney has been doing opinion polling, then that means that the polls are saying, don't pull out of Afghanistan. Because Mitt's where the polls are.

(LAUGHTER)

STEPHENS: The essential here and the debaters focused on it, is Iran. That's where President Obama's legacy on foreign policy is going to stand or fall.

GIGOT: And that is where he's most vulnerable?

STEPHENS: That's absolutely where he's most vulnerable because that is where he's been weakest in the face of the gravest important policy challenge the United States faces.

Jason is right. Obama has done -- Obama's record on foreign policy is not entirely dismal. He's essentially created a containment strategy with China. He massively increased --

GIGOT: The drone program.

STEPHENS: -- the drone program. But this is the issue, where either the United States will remain a -- the preponderant presence in the Middle East or forced out with mullahs with nuclear weapons.

RILEY: This debate, I thought, on a -- just to make a broader point, I thought was very useful in determining who is a serious commander-in- chief contender. Among the top-tier contenders, you saw substantial of discussion between Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman. Jon Huntsman is not a top-tier candidate. But they can speak substantive about foreign policy. When Rick Perry and Herman Cain got involved, they were out of their depth quickly I thought. And that was why the debate was very useful, I think.

GIGOT: Let's have another clip here, this one on immigration from Newt Gingrich responding to an attack by Michele Bachmann.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, R-FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't see any reason to punish somebody who came here at three years of age and wants to serve the United States of America. And I specifically did not say we'd make 11 million people illegal. I do suggest, if you go back to your district, and you find people who have been here 25 years and have two generations of family and have been paying taxes and are in a local church, as somebody who believes strongly in family, you'll have a hard time explaining why that particular subset is being broken up and forced to, leave given the fact that been law-abiding citizens for 25 years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: Jason, the chatter is, after this debate, that this was a fatal blunder by Newt Gingrich because it's going to hurt him with primary voters because he showed some support for, even if attenuated down the line, for making illegal immigrants citizens.

RILEY: I thought it was Newt Gingrich's finest hour, frankly.

(LAUGHTER)

It may hurt him in the short-term, but the reality is the next president is not going to order the deportation of 12 million people.

GIGOT: Or even one million.

(LAUGHTER)

RILEY: The American people won't stand for it. Nor are we going to pass draconian laws that incentivizes these people to leave on their own. That's not going to happen. Something needs to be done short of that.

And Newt Gingrich should have credit for wanting to have an adult discussion for this and not produce an applause line.

STEPHENS: It's also the signed of a candidate who is actually looking beyond the primaries, to a general election, where the Republicans will need some Hispanic support in order to defeat Barack Obama. And if -- Newt Gingrich seems to be the only one who realizes it.

GIGOT: Dan?

HENNINGER: Well, I think that can be said about the national security issues as well. As Bret was suggesting, Obama has not been horrible on national security. He had Bob Gates as defense secretary and Leon Panetta at CIA, and replaced him with David Petraeus, continued the drone wars. And I think what Romney is doing is now positioning, as well as Gingrich, positioning themselves at this point -- first of all, it looks like they're going to be the two candidates and they're beginning to position themselves to run against the president in a general election. If Republican primary voters don't recognize that, their candidate is going to be in trouble.

GIGOT: OK, Dan.

When he we come back, the world's population hits seven billion and an old debate gets new life, are all of those babies an asset or a liability?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: The world marked a major milestone recently with the birth of what the United Nations says is the seven billionth person. That event has prompted handwringing from the usual suspects who say growing population leads to poverty, misery and environmental calamity.

So, Jason, is seven billion too many?

RILEY: Paul, the entire world's population could be housed in the state of Texas, in single family homes, four to a house, and the state would still be left crowded than the Bronx is right now. The world is an enormous -- the planet is enormous in size. These limit theories derive form the notion that there's some sort of trade off between population growth and economic prosperity, but the facts don't bear that out.

GIGOT: Would you want to live in that Texas?

(LAUGHTER)

STEPHENS: We live in New York City.

(LAUGHTER)

RILEY: I'm up in the suburbs.

(LAUGHTER)

No, I wouldn't, frankly. But the point is that 75 percent of the U.S. population lives on less than 4 percent of the land. So, we have an enormous amount of space here. But my point is that this trade off that people, who worry about population growth, don't have the facts to back them up on this. Some of the most sparsely populated regions of the earth are some of the poorest, such as sub-Saharan, Africa.

GIGOT: Right.

RILEY: And some of the most-densely populated regions of the earth are some of the richest places, like Hong Kong. So there's simply no correlation here.

GIGOT: Dan?

HENNINGER: There are two answers to this issue and one is called Taiwan and the other is called South Korea. Both countries, after World War II, were full of people and very poor. They put in place the right economic policies and they have boomed. Their people have grown in prosperity and wealth. But there are a lot of them in those two countries.

I think the criticism from the United Nations, development agencies and some of the other people are based on the fact that their economic policies, by and large, do not produce the economic growth that picks people out of poverty.

GIGOT: Because they're based on the state control and redistribution?

HENNINGER: Exactly. When that result occurs, and they're left with all of the people, their default is attack the people, now, argue population control, family planning and the rest of it.

GIGOT: What about the increase in food prices, commodity prices? Corn has been at a record now for almost a year or close to it? The suggestion is that that's increasing demand and we aren't able to meet that supply, and that's a sign we're running out of resources.

STEPHENS: Well, not a sign that we're running out of resources. it's a sign of monetary policy and a sign of huge investment in biofuels, which takes lands previously used to cultivate the food, corn for food --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: For energy.

STEPHENS: Yes, corn for energy. That's, again, another example of a policy failure. But there's a deeper sort of intellectual failure at work here. The Malthusians of the world think of human beings as essentially consumers of resources --

GIGOT: Malthusian, define that for people.

STEPHENS: Thomas Malthus, late, early 19th century British philosopher, who thought the population would outgrow the ability to feed itself.

GIGOT: OK.

STEPHENS: This prediction has been a staple of discourse for 200 years, and always has been wrong. The real truth of the last 200 years is human beings are also creators. Look at a guy like Norman Borlaug, who created the green revolution, first in Mexico, and then brought it to India. India how is able to feed itself. You don't hear about famines in India or China anymore. That's a testament to our ability to reinvent the resources around us.

GIGOT: Jason, on the flip side of this, this population argument is what you see in Europe and Japan, and maybe in 10, 20 years in China, which is that they aren't producing enough babies to be able to replace their current population.

RILEY: Right. And these are places turning into giant retirement communities, and they're in trouble, particularly because of the large welfare states, and a shortage of workers to continue funding those retirees. and smaller populations mean smaller work forces, less productivity. Fewer consumers, therefore, less capital investments. It's not the route America wants to go.

GIGOT: China could be, in 20, 30 years, because of its one-child policy, could be the first developing country in history that is actually aging rapidly.

HENNINGER: There's one right behind it, Paul, Russia. Russia's work force is dying at a greater rate than India's. And over the next 20 years, its working-age population, 15 to 64, is projected to decline by 20 percent. You have two great powers here whose populations are going to fall and put them into a position of both relative weakness, but probability tension over that weakness.

GIGOT: Want to know one of the main reasons the United States isn't in the same predicament?

STEPHENS: Immigration.

GIGOT: Immigration. That's right.

All right, thank you all.

We have to take one more break. When we come back, "Hits and Misses" of the week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: Time now for "Hits and Misses" of the week.

Kim, first to you.

STRASSEL: For more than a hundred years, whiskey maker, Jack Daniels, has been an economic engine in tiny Moore County, Tennessee. It's the county's largest employer. It provides a third of the tax base. The tax base brings more than 200,000 people to the county in the year. This got some citizens and politicians thinking it would be swell to impose another $5 million in taxes on the whiskey maker, that is until it became clear one of the solutions would just be for Jack Daniels to leave the state.

(LAUGHTER)

They've now killed that proposal. So here is a toast on a holiday weekend to Jack Daniels to remind people the tax barrel is not bottomless.

GIGOT: All right, Kim, thanks.

Bret?

STEPHENS: When you mention the name Haqqani in connection with Pakistan, you think of the terrorist Haqqani network that is responsible for the death of many Americans soldiers and has the not-so-furtive support of the Pakistani Intelligence Services. But there is another Haqqani, ambassador -- a lately ambassador, who say Haqqani, who has been a tireless opponent of extremism in his country. He served with distinction as a diplomat. He was just fired by the Pakistani government. I think the Pakistanis need to get their Haqqanis in the right order.

GIGOT: All right.

Dan?

HENNINGER: Paul, Ted Forstmann, the investor and philanthropist, sadly died this week. Amid the Occupy protests and president saying the rich should pay more, Ted Forstmann raised or gave hundreds of millions of dollars to cultural institutions, as does the 1 percent of this country. They support a vast array of such things. If the choice is between the government and Barack Obama choosing who should get that money, and Ted Forstmann, I'll take Ted Forstmanns of the world.

GIGOT: Hear, hear.

That's it for this week's edition of the "Journal Editorial Report." Thanks to my panel, and to all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. Hope to see you right here next week.

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