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Shields and Brooks on the Week in Politics

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - December 10, 2010

JIM LEHRER: And to Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks. And then, Mark, what is going to happen after Monday?

MARK SHIELDS: Monday, there will be a cloture vote at 3:00. And the betting is right now that the votes are there to invoke cloture, and that the Senate will move to vote up or down on the bill in the next day or two.

JIM LEHRER: And then the same -- and then in the House?

DAVID BROOKS: I think eventually. Obviously, there is a lot of rumbling in the House. The Democrats had sort of an informal vote, a voice vote, within their caucus yesterday against the thing. But, listen, if they do nothing, then the taxes will go up. Everybody will be really angry at President Obama. And then a Republican House will come in and they will cut the taxes on their own terms. So, there is pretty much no choice here. This thing will go through.

JIM LEHRER: No choice here?

MARK SHIELDS: I think there is a choice. I think there -- the -- I think David's right that Speaker Pelosi doesn't want it to go down. But she does want it changed. And there really -- this is real in the House. This is not a pro forma...

JIM LEHRER: You mean the protests the Democrats...

MARK SHIELDS: The protest is -- is authentic. It is based on both the means by which it was done, but, more importantly, the substance of it. I just was reading, between 1971 and 2001, median income of the average worker showed historically no gain. During that same 30 years, the income of the top 100th of 1 percent went up by almost 500 percent. That is why the Bush tax cuts are immoral. Those are words written in this autobiography by Barack Obama.

That is what he made the centerpiece of his campaign, domestically, in 2008. And so there is a sense of that, of betrayal on what is a defining issue to his presidency. And he just kind of walked away with it and with the stain and contempt toward Democrats who didn't embrace it and who had been his most steadfast supporters for the last two years, and many of whom paid for their loyalty to the president with tough, difficult votes that put their careers at risk.

JIM LEHRER: And, yet, David Brooks wrote in the -- this morning's New York Times that this was a terrific week for the president and the Democrats.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think it was.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Brooks?

DAVID BROOKS: First, I sort of understand the House Democrats on the method. The White House didn't do a good job of rewarding the loyalty that has been flowing up. They didn't do a good job talking and communicating. Nonetheless, I think the president got a remarkably good deal. Look at the context he was in. As I mentioned, there is about to be a Republican House. The tax cuts are going to go away. And you had a series of Democratic senators from red states who wanted all the tax cuts preserved. And so this was an extraordinarily weak hand they were dealt. And yet the White House got -- managed to get out of the negotiations a whole lot of things the Democrats want, on the earned income tax credit, on college scholarships, on the payroll tax. They got a lot of stuff. They did remarkably well for their side.

So, there are a lot of Republicans who are unhappy, because this is sort of a balanced package. And, as for President Obama, he says it is immoral. He disagrees with the policy. That much is clear. But guess what? This is Washington. This is real life. You have got to do negotiations.

And given the context he had, and the context he faced, and the ruinous cost, if everybody's taxes went up in the middle of a recession, he had to make a deal. And he made a deal. He is probably not happy with the deal. The Republicans are not totally happy with the deal. But it is a deal. That is what a deal is.

And we're not used to that happening in Washington too much recently, but it happened. And so, on balance, I think it's probably good for the economy for the next two years, and I think it's good for Washington that we actually -- somebody actually made compromise.

JIM LEHRER: Of course, former President Bill Clinton said a couple hours ago here in Washington, after meeting with President Obama -- he had a news conference, and he said, there's -- I believe there is not a better deal out there than this one.

Is he speaking for himself?

MARK SHIELDS: I think he's speaking -- he is a very informed, insightful observer.

I would point out, Jim, two words that were spoken reverentially on this set in the last couple of weeks: Simpson-Bowles. We were talking about the debt.

JIM LEHRER: The deficit, the deficit.

MARK SHIELDS: The debt in the country and how important it was. And we were in a new era and we're going to deal with this.

Nine hundred billion dollars of red ink just out there, and $120 billion of it goes to the top 2 percent, at a time of the greatest income inequality in this country since 1928. David says the president cut the deal. The president cut a deal after no fight.

He did have -- not have a weak hand. He had 60 percent of the American people believed, according to a Bloomberg poll, asked specifically this week, during the fight itself as it was emerging, do you favor repeal of these taxes for the richest? Was there a fight made? That's when you come to a compromise, is after a fight.

I will tell you what the problem that Barack Obama has right now in the political world. Republicans are secretly gleeful. I haven't heard any Republicans who are condemning this, with the...

DAVID BROOKS: ... talk radio.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, talk radio. I'm talking about those who are going to cast votes on it.

But the problem is, they don't know where Barack Obama will fight. They don't know what his backbone -- and whether he does have a backbone. It's a question that is always asked about liberals: How tough is he?

And he -- at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the United States and the Soviet Union stood at the bridge of the war, Dean Rusk put it -- he said, we were eyeball to eyeball with the other guy, and the other fellow blinked.

And with Barack Obama, you got the sense that he blinked the minute he walked in the room, and gave the Republicans what they wanted.

JIM LEHRER: But your point is -- correct me if I'm wrong, David -- you can state it yourself if you would like -- that this wasn't the time to fight. This was the time when the country wanted no fighting anymore. Let's get this thing done and...

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