THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN PANEL: PATRICK BUCHANAN, MSNBC; ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK; MONICA CROWLEY, WASHINGTON TIMES; GILLIAN TETT, FINANCIAL TIMES TAPED: FRIDAY, MARCH 12, 2010 BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF MARCH 13-14, 2010
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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Roberts' Revenge.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That was President Obama delivering a solar- plexus blow to the U.S. Supreme Court at his State of the Union address six weeks ago. Mr. Obama objected to the court's decision that allows corporations to spend on political campaign advertising with no limits. The Supreme Court members sat still and unmoved, except for Justice Samuel Alito. He winced in pain at the president's public rebuke. Six weeks later, Chief Justice John Roberts delivered his rebuke of President Obama.
CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE U.S. SUPREME COURT JOHN ROBERTS: (From videotape.) Members of one branch of government standing up, literally surrounding the Supreme Court, cheering and hollering while the court, according to the requirements of protocol, has to sit there expressionless, I think, is very troubling. To the extent the State of the Union has degenerated into a political pep rally, I'm not sure why we're there.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Was it a breach of protocol for President Obama to attack the Supreme Court in his State of the Union address? Pat Buchanan.
MR. BUCHANAN: Not only that, John. Sam Alito was right. The president misrepresented the situation. Foreign corporations can't contribute to American elections.
Secondly, the chief justice was correct in this sense. Obama has every right to criticize Supreme Court decisions. You don't do it with the justices, who are a captive audiences, sitting mute in front of you.
His second point is really valid. This State of the Union has turned into a bonfire, a high-school rally before a championship game at night, with guys clapping the president on his back coming down the aisle. They're cheering and hollering, standing up and sitting down. It's lost all decorum.
I think the justices ought to be out of there, John. Also the military men should be out of there and the diplomats should be out of there, and it should be left to the House and the Senate and the president.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On that last point, don't you think that the Congress did act as a body all together in jumping to their feet at exactly the right moment, a little too fast, maybe, almost on cue, to applaud the remarks?
MS. CLIFT: I doubt that, because I think a lot of Republicans applaud the Supreme Court decision. So I don't think it was a united display of emotion.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, I'm talking about the Obama statement. When Obama uttered that, they were right on their feet applauding him -- everybody.
MS. CLIFT: Well, they -- because the American people don't like that decision, because it seems to open the door to a lot more corporate money in politics. And the president was right. We have foreign corporations embedded in American corporations, and it's a lot easier now for foreign money to find their way into elections as well.
The Supreme Court is not the Vatican. We have branches of government here. They disagree. President Reagan spoke out against the school-prayer decision. The Supreme Court, in effect, politicized the decision by coaxing this case to the court and then overturning 100 years of precedence.
John Roberts doesn't have to be there. It's not forced attendance. But I think it's a nice thing for America that all of the branches of government can come together and the justices, who live in a bubble most of the time, can feel the emotion and hear what the representatives of the people are expressing. I think it was a fine display on the president's part, and I think Justice Obama -- Justice Obama -- Justice Roberts has his right to speak as well.
MS. CROWLEY: The president's behavior during the State of the Union address was a breach of protocol and a breach of etiquette. It was also inappropriate and, I think, a real affront to the separation of powers. Can you imagine in recent memory the chief executive, the head of the executive branch, egging on the legislative branch to jeer the judicial branch?
Pat is also right. He was absolutely wrong on the facts. And, frankly, Eleanor is wrong in misrepresenting what Obama put out there. He said it overturned a century of standard law. That is not true. What the Supreme Court did was leave untouched the 1907 Tillman law that outlawed direct contributions from corporations and companies.
And by the way, you know, the Democrats are all up in arms about this, but this allows unions to go forward and spend directly and indirectly now, right up to Election Day. And, by the way, in the last election cycle, unions spent half a trillion dollars in support of President Obama and Democratic candidates.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Supreme Court justice was attacking him on the basis of the venue. This was the State of the Union address. They were to sit silently there and just take it.
MS. CROWLEY: Right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There was no opportunity --
MS. CROWLEY: To fight back.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- to try to refute or represent their opinion.
MS. CROWLEY: Right. Right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And therefore, you think it was a dirty trick. MS. CROWLEY: I think it showed no class. I thought it was graceless. And what I appreciated, though, was the delayed response by the chief justice. He waited six weeks. It sort of had a nice judicial touch to it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Gillian Tett, welcome.
MS. TETT: Thank you.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What are your impressions?
MS. TETT: Well, I am apt to agree the -- (inaudible) -- venue was not quite the right one. But the fundamental message, the fundamental point about the issue of powerful corporations essentially buying their way into elections, is incredibly important.
And right now you have a very powerful Wall Street, which is lobbying like mad to try and make sure that regulation goes its way in the future, and a lot of people outside America are saying, "Hang on a sec. How can it be that America has just had this big financial crash, and yet somehow it's opened the door to powerful Wall Street interests to go forth and buy the election?" And to me, that's the more important issue than the actual venue.
MS. CLIFT: Yes. And for all the back and forth about the appropriateness of the venue, this is a very good issue for the Democrats, because one thing 80 percent of the American public agree on is that we do not need more corporate or union money in elections. And the fact that Democrats are opposed, even though it opens the door to more union money, suggests that maybe they're opposing it on principle --
MS. CROWLEY: This is --
MS. CLIFT: -- as opposed to --
MS. CROWLEY: This is a First Amendment -- this is a First Amendment issue.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pat.
MR. BUCHANAN: He did use this as a virtual rally speech. John, when we worked for Mr. Nixon or Mr. Reagan -- now the Democrats and the Republicans get up and down 10, 15, 20 times each. It has turned into a political rally, the slapping on the back going down the aisles, all of those things. It has really demeaned the State of the Union. Quite frankly, I think the whole State of the Union, if this is what it's going to be, it has lost its utility. And you shouldn't have the justices sitting there.
MS. CLIFT: People were jumping up and down when President Bush was in the office. That's part of the atmosphere of the event.
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, get the Supreme Court out of there.
MS. CLIFT: If that offends your sensibilities --
MR. BUCHANAN: No, the Supreme shouldn't be sitting there at a rally.
MS. CLIFT: Justice John Marshall could stand it. Justices sat there during the civil-rights era --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly. Monica.
MR. BUCHANAN: They didn't speak to Congress. They sent a message.
MS. CLIFT: No, they sit there and they listen.
MR. BUCHANAN: They sent the message.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Monica.
MS. CROWLEY: Just one --
MS. TETT: But there's a key issue here still, which is basically about having money in politics. And that's the fundamental issue.
MR. BUCHANAN: That's a legitimate political issue, but this is not a political forum.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you propose as an alternative?
MS. TETT: Well, I think basically there should be caps. I don't think Wall Street -- I don't think the unions should be allowed to buy their way into politics. I'm far less worried --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know --
MS. TETT: -- about the union influence than I am about the Wall Street influence --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know that --
MS. TETT: -- because that is --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- when he ran in 2008, when he was running for president, he said he would not take money from the government because he had a lineup of millionaires -- MR. BUCHANAN: He had 3 million contributors, for heaven's sake.
MS. CROWLEY: He had a huge flood of money.
MR. BUCHANAN: Just a huge pile of contributors.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, there is finance legislation in the Congress, which the president may have in mind, because he doesn't want to have it passed.
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, look, that's fine.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Thereby --
MR. BUCHANAN: That's fine. Let him support it. And let's fight it out in a political forum. But don't put the justices down in front of you and use them as a foil.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He wants to nullify the court's ruling so that Congress can pass --
MR. BUCHANAN: He wants to alter it --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- can pass legislation to contribute to his --
MR. BUCHANAN: He's got --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that true?
MR. BUCHANAN: He wants to -- what he wants to do is pass legislation he thinks will meet the criteria of the court, but he can't overturn the court decision.
MS. CROWLEY: Right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly.
MS. CROWLEY: That's right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly.
MS. CROWLEY: Just one final thought. The Constitution mandates that the president of the United States shall report from time to time on the state of the Union to the Congress. That doesn't mean that the Supreme Court, the third branch of government, has to sit there and take direct political criticism.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: If the president does not apologize to the Supreme Court, should the court then not attend his next State of the Union address? Yes or no, Pat Buchanan.
MR. BUCHANAN: No, I don't think he should apologize. But the president used to send a message. He didn't go up there. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why shouldn't he apologize?
MR. BUCHANAN: Because I don't think he deliberately tried to insult them. It was part of the format. I agree with Roberts, though.
Get the justices out of there, because they can't change what has happened to the State of the Union.
MS. CLIFT: No apology is necessary. And if Justice Roberts doesn't want to show up next year, that's his decision.
I would just recommend that when President Obama is re-elected, that he might want to remember the oath of office or else write it on his hand, so he doesn't screw it up a second time.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What does that mean?
MS. CROWLEY: Writing on your hand is very effective as a memory prompt, okay? (Laughter.)
Look, I think that if the Supreme Court really wants to rebuke the president of the United States for his inappropriate assault on them this year, then all nine should stay away. Next year, just stay away.
MS. CLIFT: I doubt the four --
MS. TETT: Yeah, problem solved. And get back to the real issues, which is money and politics.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think if they stayed away from the State of the Union, it would be such a breach of practice that it would cause a national uproar.
MS. CLIFT: They did it with FDR, so --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That was a long time ago.
MS. CLIFT: Right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's about 60 years ago.
MS. CLIFT: And I somehow doubt that the four justices who opposed this particular decision --
MR. BUCHANAN: No, look, they don't like it -- MS. CLIFT: -- are going to stay away --
MR. BUCHANAN: They don't like it any better than Roberts did --
MS. CROWLEY: That's right.
MR. BUCHANAN: -- sitting there for that whole --
MS. CLIFT: Well, Roberts talked about --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know, first of all --
MS. CLIFT: -- how he would --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It was a 5-4 decision, was it not?
MS. CROWLEY: Right.
MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So four of the justices were on Obama's side, right?
MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah, but they don't --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So he (comes down to ?) the whole court.
MR. BUCHANAN: But, look, they're sitting there too, Ruth Bader Ginsburg --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. Right.
MR. BUCHANAN: -- they guys standing up and down yelling behind them at a rally.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Of course he should apologize to the court and at least say his words were misunderstood. He said, "With all due regard for the separation of powers" at the start.
MR. BUCHANAN: They weren't misunderstood.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Then he's freewheeling for the rest of the way.
MR. BUCHANAN: He knew exactly what he was saying.
MS. CROWLEY: Right. And then he hit them with a backhand. Come on.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He may be too manipulative. That's what the thought is.
Issue Two: Biden and Israel. VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: (From videotape.) President Obama has been aggressive in his support of Israel and the commitment that Israel's security is closely tied to ours. We, in fact, are committed to Israel's security. Nothing has changed.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That was the message Vice President Biden brought this week to Israel. Mr. Biden's meeting with the Israeli government was the highest-level visit by any U.S. official since President Obama took office a year and a half ago.
Besides reaffirming America's support for Israel's security, the vice president also urged direct talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Earlier, the two sides agreed to hold indirect talks.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: (From videotape.) I'm very pleased that you and the Palestinian leadership have agreed to launch indirect talks. We hope that these talks will lead, and they must lead eventually, to negotiations and direct discussions.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But the exhortations came to an abrupt end. Just hours after the vice president delivered his remarks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his side, everything was undercut, because Israel's Interior Ministry announced that 1,600 new settlement units would be built on the occupied West Bank in Jerusalem.
In a statement, Vice President Biden condemned the new Israeli settlement plan. Quote: "I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem. The substance and timing of the announcement is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now. We must build an atmosphere to support negotiations, not complicate them," unquote.
Vice President in person spoke to this later on TV with what some describe as an icy rage.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: (From videotape.) The decision by the Israeli government to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem undermines that very trust, the trust that we need right now, in order to begin as well as produce -- have profitable negotiations. That is why I immediately condemned the action.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Was Biden's snub a premeditated maneuver, or was it an independent gaffe? Gillian Tett.
MS. TETT: I think it probably was premeditated, and I think it illustrates a very important point right now, which is, outside America, Obama is liked pretty widely, but he's not feared. And if you're not feared in the Middle East, you are pretty hampered. You don't have much respect. And without respect, it's very hard to get much done. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, if Israel is signaling that they're not going to take orders from the United States, whom do they want to hear that signal? Do they want Iran to hear that signal, meaning that "If the United States tells us not to use military action against you, we'll feel free to use it anyway, because we don't follow what the United States tells us to do"? Was he setting that up?
MS. TETT: I think they probably were, yes. And I think that's very dangerous. I mean, people should not ignore the fact that right now the situation in the Middle East is pretty scary.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Were you horrified by this?
MS. CLIFT: Well, settlements have been a dispute between U.S. presidents and Israel going back to Jimmy Carter. And the timing of this announcement, I think, did blindside Netanyahu, because in order to get his government --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Really?
MS. CLIFT: -- in order to get his government together, he gave the Interior Ministry to the far-right orthodox party. And it's sort of the Israeli equivalent of the Cornhusker deal. I mean, that's what he had to do to put his government together.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So --
MS. CLIFT: So he was blindsided by the timing here. This was to show who's boss.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think Netanyahu knew in advance that this was going to take place.
MS. CLIFT: I don't think he knew the announcement was coming, but I do believe he supports the building of the settlements.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you believe --
MS. CLIFT: So it's a distinction without a difference.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you believe that Netanyahu did not know in advance that his Interior minister would come forward with this while he's got the vice president there, who's saying the exact opposite?
MR. BUCHANAN: I think he knew, John, for this reason. I think Netanyahu -- this is payback for Obama, who came in and said, "You stop any additions on the settlement in the West Bank, any in East Jerusalem." And Obama's been pushing and pushing and pushing. He won that battle. So here comes Joe Biden, pandering all the way for 24 hours in an ungodly fashion, quite frankly. And I think Netanyahu put one right in his chops and sent the message basically to Barack Obama. I think your point is well taken that Israel is saying, "Look, when it comes to our vital national interests, the West Bank is part of them. Jerusalem is part of them. So is Iran. We make the decisions for ourselves."
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think of what he's saying right now?
MS. CROWLEY: I think that Netanyahu -- he apologized for the timing, but he didn't backtrack from the substance. The Obama administration made a serious miscalculation many months ago when they demanded immediately that Israel stop, full stop, building new settlements. So Bibi refused.
An American president cannot go out there and demand something without knowing what the answer is going to be on the other side. When Netanyahu refused, then that put the Palestinians in a box, and there was no way that there was going to be any kind of movement on peace talks.
So what we're seeing now is this administration trying to make some more progress here and the Israelis saying, "You know what? Okay, we agreed to this 10-month partial halt of settlements" --
MS. CLIFT: I think the Israelis --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on.
MS. CROWLEY: Excuse me -- exempting Jerusalem here. But now you've got the other aspect of this, which is Iran. And I agree with you. It was a shot across the bow.
MS. CLIFT: I think the Israelis --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me ask Gillian a question here. What's the impact in Europe on this?
MS. TETT: Well, a lot of Europe is still very baffled as to why America keeps supporting Israel quite so strongly in previous years. I mean, you know, and there is a feeling, a great sense of frustration, that Obama is simply not delivering the type of hope that he came in --
MS. CLIFT: I want to build on that. I want to build on that. I do think Israel overstepped here. Vice President Biden has been a long-time friend. You call it pandering. He went over there and underscored the special relationship. But the special relationship has to come with some strings. They can't act in a way that is directly against U.S. interests with impunity without expecting --
MR. BUCHANAN: Yes, they can.
MS. CLIFT: -- some blowback. MR. BUCHANAN: Yes, they can, because they have done it and done it and done it. And there isn't any blowback.
MS. CLIFT: Not with Iran.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question --
MS. CLIFT: Not with Iran. Not with Iran.
MR. BUCHANAN: There isn't any response.
MS. CLIFT: Not with Iran in the crosshairs.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Will the United Nations pass sanctions that have real bite? For example, a ban on gasoline exports into Iran? Yes or no. This goes back to my basic point. This was a message sent to the world and to the U.N. and to the United States: "We don't take any orders from the United States." So I want to know whether the U.N. is going to pass sanctions.
MR. BUCHANAN: You know, Russia is not going to pass sanctions on gasoline. The Chinese aren't going to pass them. The Congress will do it as soon as the Israeli lobby whistles. As a matter of fact, they've already got it on the table right now, John. They've already passed them. Barack Obama is going to have to veto them, and I don't think he's going to do it.
MS. CLIFT: There's another reading of this. If Israel was willing to blow up these tentative peace talks, maybe they're not that worried about Iran, because they need the U.S. to act with them in accordance -- I don't think they're going to mount a military attack on Iran without the U.S. being behind it. And the U.S. is not thinking along those lines at all.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Notwithstanding the events of this week, you feel that way.
What do you think?
MS. CROWLEY: Look, when the Obama administration put the screws to Israel on the settlements issue, they did so, A, without knowing how Netanyahu was really going to respond, and B, without extracting any kind of real concessions from the Arabs to go down this road.
I do agree with you on Iran. I do think it was a shot across the bow coming from Israel on this issue. But on the issue of --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Namely, "The United States does not call the shots for us."
MS. CROWLEY: Yes. Now, on the issue of crippling sanctions, I believe there are going to be some watered-down sanctions in the U.N. But when you have Russia and China, both veto-wielding members of the Security Council, not wanting to go down the road of crippling sanctions, it's not going to happen.
And then you have other members of the Security Council, like Brazil and Lebanon, also who are pushing back.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't you think that this was --
MS. TETT: And much of Europe is pretty worried too.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What?
MS. TETT: Much of Europe is pretty worried, too, about the sanctions.
MS. CROWLEY: Except for France.
MS. TETT: Yeah, except for France.
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, France and Britain will go along with mild sanctions in the U.N. But I think you get -- the gasoline, John -- the Congress is going to authorize the president -- they're going to tell the president he's got to do it. And he's going to have to tell them why he doesn't do it. And frankly, some of these companies are already being forced -- the gas companies exporting gasoline are being forced to stop it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Was that assassination in Dubai connected with this theory of mine, that that was also a message?
MS. TETT: I think it probably was. And, by golly, it was a message. I mean, that was a very blatant provocation, particularly for the British, I mean, to have those Mossad guys using all those British passports. I mean, could you send a clearer message that "We are basically going to do things our way"?
MS. CROWLEY: But remember -- to your point, remember that the person who was assassinated was a Hamas terrorist, and Iran supports Hamas as well as Hezbollah.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Rate Obama for the week.
MR. BUCHANAN: Not good.
MS. CLIFT: Struggling; head still above water; health care on the way. (Laughter.) MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's that -- a B, a C, an A --
MS. CLIFT: A B.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- for audacity?
MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.) That's hopeful.
MS. CROWLEY: You know what? I've got to give him a D, because he was out there flogging health care yet again. But it sounded -- he was trying to go back to his glory days on the campaign trail, saying, "I'm fired up." But he's lacking the passion because he knows it sucked so much out of him.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The president --
MS. TETT: It looks so disappointing to the rest of the world. It really does. You know, here was a guy who came in with such high hopes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you know he's postponing his trip to Indonesia because he wants to further battle in defense of his health care?
MS. CLIFT: Right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do they think of that in Europe?
MS. TETT: Well, on the one hand, they can understand it, because you have this ridiculous political gridlock that just puts America in such a bad light. I mean, you know, America does not have a political machinery that seems to work. And --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think this week was in the minus column for Obama.
Issue Three: Constitutional Cap.
REP. MIKE PENCE (R-IN): (From videotape.) The American people have an opportunity with this amendment to say, "You can have 20 cents out of the dollar that I earn, and that's it."
REP. JEB HENSARLING (R-TX): (From videotape.) Cap the limit of the federal budget to the growth of the family budget and tie it to the economy before we literally bankrupt the nation and put the next generation on a path to having less freedom, less opportunity, and a lower standard of living.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's the U.S. budget. Now the U.S. debt. Our national debt is big -- $12.5 trillion, thanks to Washington's borrowing and spending. Three Republican congressmen -- Mike Pence, Jeb Hensarling and John Campbell -- want to prevent the public debt from bloating at its current speed and volume. They want to cap it at 20 percent annually. They want to amend the U.S. Constitution.
That constitutional amendment would limit federal spending to one-fifth of the economy. Federal spending under President Obama went up last year to one out of every four dollars, 25 percent. And in 2011, next year, the Obama federal budget will account for -- get this -- 30 percent of the total economy. That type of spending means more borrowing, driving up interest rates higher and higher, further boosting the prevailing $12 trillion national debt.
Pence and Hensarling describe that level of borrowing as, quote- unquote, "generational theft." It robs the next generation, Peter, to pay this generation's Paul. The spending-limit amendment would make any budget exceeding 20 percent of the economy illegal. That 20 percent figure happens to be our average spending since World War II. The U.S. Constitution has not been amended in nearly two decades. Why go through the process?
REP. PENCE: (From videotape.) Everything we've tried up to this point hasn't worked.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would limit federal spending a good idea? I ask you, Monica.
MS. CROWLEY: Yes, I think it would be a good idea. I think these Republicans are definitely on to a brilliant idea. Unfortunately, I don't think it's going anywhere legislatively. But I don't think that's the point. The point is to really begin a national discussion about spending, about debt, about the size and scope of government. And what they intend to do here, by pairing it with a balanced-budget amendment, is focus the American people on the amount of spending going on and get a political buy-in to what would be tantamount to a national budget of sorts.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is this going to be manna from heaven for the tea partiers?
MS. CLIFT: Oh, it's something they can rally around. And this is clearly riding the wave of the anxiety about the growing debt.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think it's a bad idea.
MS. CLIFT: I think it's a bad idea and I don't think it's a going to go anywhere. You're not going to get 67 senators.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why is it a bad idea?
MS. CLIFT: It's especially a bad idea because the states, which depend on the federal government when they run into trouble, are not going to want to see federal money circumscribed. You would never get three-quarters of the states to go along with it. So let's recognize this for what it is. It's a political maneuver. It's not really to have a serious conversation about the debt that's facing this country.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pat.
MR. BUCHANAN: John, I think they're looking for a constitutional substitute for a backbone, which Congress does not have. The truth is, neither party is going to go after this spending, in my judgment. Certainly the Democrats aren't going to go after the domestic social spending -- Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security -- which are the reason for being of the Democratic Party. The Republicans aren't going to give anybody any new taxes.
So I think this is a good political idea. It's a good argument. It's a good statement to get up and make at Republican conventions. "We're for a balanced" -- you know, "We're going to get spending to 20 percent." But it ain't going anywhere.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's required to amend the Constitution, Pat?
MR. BUCHANAN: Three-fourths of the states and two-thirds of both houses of Congress.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How about a constitutional convention? Would that do it?
MR. BUCHANAN: A constitutional convention, I think you need three-fourths of the states to call it. And if you did, John, you'd have a lot of right wingers there. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Have we had a constitutional convention --
MR. BUCHANAN: They have not had a constitutional --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- since the first one?
MR. BUCHANAN: No, 1787 was the last one.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why have we not had a constitutional convention? Isn't there a lot out there that would like to have updated?
MR. BUCHANAN: I suggested it one time and the right wingers came after me, John. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You suggested that?
MR. BUCHANAN: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What did you want updated or amended?
MR. BUCHANAN: The whole thing. (Laughter.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The whole thing? MS. CROWLEY: Pat. (Laughs.)
MS. TETT: Maybe too ambitious. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you have thoughts on this?
MS. TETT: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I actually think that there are problems with this specific idea, because the minute you start creating rules and laws and limits, you can bet your bottom dollar that politicians and bankers will find a way to jump around them. You look at Greece and you look at, say, Europe and the Maastricht rules and stuff, and it's all been about fiddling around that.
However, the really important thing is right now America needs to start a serious public conversation about the debt levels, because you're heading --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think you're too soft on the public debt of this country, $12 trillion?
MS. TETT: It is terrifying.
MR. BUCHANAN: It would be simple.
MS. TETT: I mean, you are heading for a car crash. You really are.
MR. BUCHANAN: John, constitutions should be simple.
MS. CLIFT: The spending now -- the spending now is necessary because it's still digging us out of the great recession.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Forced prediction: Is the United States headed into a double-dip recession?
MR. BUCHANAN: Afraid so.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes? That's a yes?
MR. BUCHANAN: Yes.
MS. CLIFT: Sure hope not.
MS. CROWLEY: We hope not, but it looks likely.
MS. TETT: Probably yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Probably yes.
Happy St. Patrick's Day. Erin Go Bragh. Bye-bye.