04/03/2011 09:11 am ET | Updated Jun 03, 2011

TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

Hello and good morning and what have you to your Sunday Morning semi-live, quickly-typed, blog of ruminations and quips on the news of the day, filtered through some shallow people on the teevee and painted, like a cave wall of colorful dyes, onto the internet, while you all visit one another and hopefully live meaningful lives. My name is Jason. Today it is time, I'd guess, for GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN PANIC to take its place alongside Libya and Japan as the complete disaster that only these idiots on the flickering screen would believe it to be. I think we're slowly moving past the semi-serious tone of the last few weeks, and pressing back to political telenovela territory. But who knows?

Today I am ceding preamble duties to Sham 69:

OK, excuse me while I caffeinate. As always feel free to leave a comment, or send emails, or, if you want, follow me on the Twitter.


Paul Ryan has some new budget plan. That's exciting! He's best known so far for a plan to reduce taxes that actually raises them on nearly everybody, a plan to balance the budget that doesn't balance the budget, and a plan to reduce long-term health care costs that essentially rations out vouchers that diminish in value over time, relative to rising costs, so that they eventually become worthless. So, his "plans" could stand some improvement, right?

Oh, ha! This plan is for "next year," so I guess we're punting on those promises for this fiscal year. Anyway, Ryan wants to cut spending next year and address the fact that Obama has "punted on entitlements." But Ryan says now that he's going to cut more than $4 trillion, and for some reason, he's adopted this Ron Popeil tone that is slightly annoying Chris Wallace. "How do you do that?" he asks. Oh you know, reforming entitlements and growing stuff. The "hows" are platitude-based: we have to have a discussion, stop making empty promises, and start addressing the drivers of our debt. Once again, here are the "drivers of our debt":

Are we building up to an exciting announcement where Paul Ryan calls for the end to the War in Afghanistan? Let's see! No: statutory spending caps, which the GOP has famously fallen out of love with before, and which Obama has also proposed, but not to Ryan's liking. "Our numbers are moving around," he says, "we want government back to it's historic size." What that means is unknown. I mean, 1804?

Now Paul Ryan is talking about the fiscal commission, who Ryan did not support because it called for revenue increases. And so, today, he says he won't raise taxes on people. He'll have to do something about this "Paul Ryan" fellow, though, who raises them on nearly everybody. (Of course, it's possible that by "people," Ryan is not counting, "non-rich people."

Now, they are talking about his "leave people high and dry" health care voucher system. As it turns out, Ryan insists that plan is off the table for the time being. No vouchers. He's moved away from it, and the new proposal is instead modeled on the Medicare prescription program. Ryan says that it's "indentical to what he gets as a member of Congress," so, we're now on board with government health care?

"There's nobody saying that Medicare can stay on it's current path," Ryan says, and that's true. As far as his worry about Social Security, remove the income caps, problem solved. Social Security is a problem of arithmetic. Level with people, fix it, and be done with it.

Okay, so budget! "Let us look at why we're in this position," Ryan says.

Ryan says that they don't want to shut the government down, and for what it's worth, I don't think anyone really wants it, and I don't think it's actually going to happen.

Wallace wonders how Ryan will pull off $4 trillion in cuts to come if there's such fighting over the ticky-tack cuts right now. Ryan punts and yammers about how the President has decided to pick this moment to launch he re-election campaign. Uhm... he kind of has to at some point? And I think that someone's just going to send out an email, and maybe there will be a YouTube or something? This is not going to be a big deal, Paul.

"Isn't your plan dead on arrival?" Wallace asks. "I don't know the answer to that." Ryan says he wants to be able to look his kids in the face and blah-blah secured their future. But Ryan's going to have a long career in Congress and will retire to a top dollar lobbying firm or corporate boards or both and he'll earn thousands of dollars for having a haircut, so I don't know what he's worried about, his children will always be just fine. like all the children of all the people in Congress.

Senator Marco Rubio is here now, and I hope that Chris Wallace will leave him alone on the whole "are you running for President thing," because he's been very good about making it clear that he wants to keep just being a Senator, seeing as he's only done it for a few days. But we'll see, Wallace brings it up right off the bat.

Anyway, Rubio won't raise the debt limit unless he gets tax reform and a balanced-budget amendment and magic ponies who poop gold doubloons. Wallace asks if he really intends to not vote to raise it if his colleagues can't grant him a djinn with wishes in a few weeks time. Rubio says, basically, he'll vote this time to raise it as long as people promise him really, really with sugar on top that this will be the last time and also promise really, really to do other things that make him happy.

Naturally, Wallace asks if this is a stunt similar to Obama's vote against raising the debt limit. Rubio says that he is offering a "clear alternative." But he's open to someone else's alternative! Wallace says, well, it's easy to say this when you won't be the deciding vote. Rubio repeats a series of platitudes.

Ben Bernanke says that a failure to pay interest on the debt would create an economic crisis, though, so Wallace really wants to know if he'd put the country into default. Rubio says that he'll vote to raise the debt limit as long as he gets his ponies.

Rubio wants the Senate to authorize the use of force in Libya for the purpose of regime change. Rubio, I feel, is not wrong in his worry that the conflict will lapse into a long stalemate or get to the point where the tide inexorably turns in Gaddafi's favor. But WOW, man, WOW. You were just talking about drawing a line of death over the debt and you want the Senate to call for another regime change? Oy.

Should we send in ground troops? Rubio says, uhm, probably not, but we should not say either way. So specific.

Wallace asks why he has a problem with sharing the cost with other nations. Rubio says he doesn't, it's just that it takes the United States' unique capabilities to "prevent a genocide and a massacre of civilians." (SOME RESTRICTIONS APPLY, VOID WHERE PROHIBITED (BAHRAIN, SYRIA, IVORY COAST, SUDAN, ETC.))

Wallace wonders why it's not a good thing that the French are going to be enforcing the no fly zone instead of us, and Rubio says that allies are great, but the U.S. has special capabilities, blah blah.

Rubio says that he won't be running for president or vice president in 2012.

Okay, so, Panel Time, with Hume and Liasson and Kristol and Williams. "Libya," Wallace asks, "Are we heading for a stalemate there?" (SPOILER ALERT: YES.)

Hume says, "What we don't have now is the prospect of regime change." Also, humanitarian crises loom, so if that's what brought us into Libya, what now? Liasson points out that "air power has its limits" and it isn't reversing the "dynamic on the battlefield." But Gates has ruled out boots on the ground and training the rebels. Arming the rebels remains on the table.

Oh, and Libya is crawling with CIA agents right now! And we know about this, because it was leaked. Kristol isn't happy with how British and French planes aren't as good at exploding things as our planes are. Williams suggests that the American people don't want to be deeply involved in Libya. Kristol doesn't know how we'll reach a worthwhile goal in Libya, then. Williams counters by saying that Obama wants to win in Libya using someone else's forces. But how? No one knows!

Meanwhile, Terry Jones burned a Koran and everyone flipped right the frack out in Afghanistan. And you know -- I can't sit here and pretend to find murdering people because a book got burned is anywhere remotely in the spectrum of what I consider to be a rational response to life. But Hume sits there and says, "You'd think Terry Jones was Billy Graham...he runs a two-bit church." Well, Brit, Jones' amplification is something for which you and the rest of the media can take full responsibility.

Liasson blames the internet! "This isn't something we'd pay attention to," she says. WRONG, MARA. I watched a multi-network press conference, featuring Jones, everyone waiting with bated breath about his decision -- would he burn his Koran or not? And Jones lied and said he'd made a deal with the people who were planning the Ground Zero mosque. When the "internet" pointed their attention at Jones, the internet was quick to say that he was nuts. When cable news pointed their cameras at Jones, they treated him as an important newsmaker. There are distinctions.

Okay, so, government shutdown. Basically, I'd say everyone is close to a deal but Boehner has to pretend that he's fighting a pitched battle so that the hotheads in his caucus will treat they deal he's probably close to reaching as a battle won. As Liasson points out, the end result of negotiations in a divided government is that both sides get something they can point to as a victory.

Williams says that he's impressed with what Paul Ryan wants to do even though he specifically cites the least impressive thing about his plan -- it doesn't require actual retirees to make sacrifices along with everyone else, and that's by design: it's a vote-retention scheme. He also doesn't understand by Ryan is averse to raising revenues -- perhaps he is not familiar with the modern GOP?


Every week I say I'm going to do this faster, and every week I'm quick on the TiVo pause and then I'm into the last twenty minutes of Meet The Press and it feels like swimming in the seas of migraine and hopelessness. Sorry! Here's Bob Schieffer. He's going to chat up Harry Reid and Lindsey Graham about everything that's going on in the world.

Schieffer tells Reid that Petraeus has sent word to all the Sunday Morning shows asking them to emphasize that he personally condemns the Koran burning. Reid says "religious extremism in any form is wrong," and that he's disappointed that Jones decided to do this. Will Reid "introduce a legislation to condemn this?" Reid says they'll "take a look at it," and suggests there may be "hearings," which is a weird thing to do if you want to deny Jones "publicity."

Should we arm the rebels? Reid says he spoke to Obama yesterday and apparently there's not much certainty about the rebels, when, coupled with the availability of other arms-lending party, means that we are in a wait-and-see mode.

Reid doesn't "see us getting involved militarily" in Syria.

Can a government shutdown be avoided? Reid says, "This involves more than number, this involves people." And he hates HR 1 like crazy. I mean, this is "Harry Reid anger" we're talking about, so it looks like "the mild irking of a normal person." But inside, Reid is a ball of animal rage, frothing and roiling, filling his mouth with the coppery taste of pure bloodlust!

"We need to look at the long term impact that our spending habits have created," Reid says, citing oil and agricultural subsidies, but why not look at this?

What would Reid like to have happen? Reid says that the President has been "heavily involved," and now it's time for John Boehner to just "decide what's best to do for the country." (Obama probably shouldn't be any more involved than being the person who remind Boehner and Reid of each others' phone numbers.)

Lindsay Graham in the hizzy, now. (I like his tie, today!)

Graham says that he is "not afraid of the tea party," which is interesting because last time I checked they were gunning for his seat. He says, though, that the Democrats are "holding on to old ideas that everytime you reduce spending it's being cruel and mean."

Is there going to be a government shutdown? Graham predicts no, and is actually big upping the previous CR's, at last, for cutting spending.

Asked about Terry Jones, Graham goes in the wrong direction: "free speech is a great thing but we're at war." Oy, just counter ideas you don't like with you own ideas. And if you don't think that giving a crazy guy like Terry Jones a lot of publicity is going to end well, don't do it in the first place. That's my position. And yes, you can apply it to just about anything, in case you were wondering.

For some reason, there is a shot of an empty chair.

Libya? What total show of force and DO SOMETHING SPIRIT does Graham want to show this week? he wants to "go directly after Gadhafi" with anti-tank missiles in the hands of the rebels. He says that our strategy is going to "lead to a stalemate" and we need to "take the battle to Tripoli" but not with ground troops, which I guess means turn Tripoli into Dresden. He also says we need to arm the rebels, "where it makes sense," and have U.S. planes in the air instead of British and French planes.

Graham has some feelings about Iraq. Those feelings? Too many troops are leaving! They need to stay! Graham won't vote for a "State Department army." But it's not up to him! The Status of Forces Agreement that we've signed require our troops to withdraw and only the Iraqi government can alter it. Now, don't be surprised if something happens to change that dynamic.

Graham seems to be surprised that private military contractors provide security for the State Department. Schieffer says he finds it "hard to believe." Where have they been, this decade?

Anyway, burn Tripoli down to the joists, Graham says, the end.

Anyway, Schieffer says that the Nixon presidential library will mount a Watergate exhibit with the National Archives, so hooray, we'll finally maybe get to the bottom of that, now that we're done holding the people behind the Teapot Dome scandal accountable. We'll eventually get to punishing the people who destroyed the economy in about 2041, and BP? You guys are totally going to get yours in the mid 2050s!


Colonel Gadhafi. I have some feelings.

Here's Dick Durbin, here to use the word "extreme" about a million times, per his roommate Chuck Schumer's instructions. But first, what is Durbin going to do about all the Koran burning? He's concerned and he's going to maybe make a big deal about it and force him to "accept responsibility." "I hope he's roundly condemned by everyone in America." Next time, let's not make him famous.

"I wish you'd never mention his name on the air again," Durbin says, "But I know that you have to report the news." IT'S NOT NEWS! There could be freakjobs all over America burning Korans right now! Don't make them famous!

Meanwhile, what's going on with Afghanistan in July? Durbin wants to see a "clear trend line" that indicates our "troops are coming home." A "token withdrawal" is "not enough." It has to, at the very least, for Durbin, be the beginning of a significant withdrawal. Good luck with that. We'll be in Afghanistan FOREVER.

Durbin does not want a government shutdown. "We've agreed on a number, now we need to agree on the component parts." He says that Boehner is in a difficult and delicate political position and he understands that.

Could Durbin vote for a budget bill that included the political riders? Durbin, essentially, says no.

Now Gregory asks about Schumer's conference call and his instructions to call the GOP cuts extreme. "Are you going to win that battle?" Durbin says that he thinks that some of their cuts go too far. He also says, essentially, that both sides stuff their folks full of mindless sound bytes to repeat to reporters. YES, WE KNOW. (For instance, it's clear that today, the Democrats on these shows are out to tell America that Obama is playing a role in the discussion that's "visible" to lawmakers if not discernible by Americans (they say this because their counterparts are saying "the president is not leading," and the president is not visibly leading because he's learned that everything he touches gets instantly polarized, and that there's no rush to "do something" when "doing nothing" nets you results that are just as decent in terms of deficit reduction.

Meanwhile, what's the "Plan B" in Libya? Durbin, uhm...says that we're doing things that are "consistent with the international mandate," so, what's the need for Plan B? I think that the way forward in Libya is largely seen as one in which economic sanctions and defections and bad feelings make Gadhafi step down. The alternative is, of course, that Gadhafi is a psychopath who presses on militarily against his own people and shores up his regime after the fact. Hope is not a plan, people!

Dick Durbin does not want to run the DNC. So, great.

Now here's Representative Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), who chairs the House Select Committee on Intelligence, so maybe he can explain all the CIA agents in Libya? No, he can't comment. But he hints that the CIA is providing real-time intelligence to the government and the military.

Is there a terrorist element in the rebels? Rogers says, "it's a concern, we know that they're there." How do we arm those guys then? "We just need to learn a lot more," before we arm them, he says.

Now Rogers is just filibustering by running down current events. Gregory asks a long and circuitous question about whether or not Ghadafi should remain in power. Rogers says he should not, but he's not keen to make the future of Libya anyone's political problem, and is pretty much of a similar mind as Durbin -- the pressure we're putting on the regime is sufficient to the task.

Is Libya a vital interest to the United States? And how do we form a policy that's consistent with our professed humanitarian values? Rogers says that we were right to treat Gadhafi the way we did, and suggests that he's well armed with WMD and is a terrorist threat to boot. So, that's the difference between Ghadafi and the Ivory Coasts of the world? I wonder how robust Gadhafi's (and again, I know I'm probably spelling his name all over the map today, sorry!) WMD program is. Shades of Iraq, right? And all I've heard about it some mustard gas.

"If we leave Iraq," Gregory wonders, "Does Iran become the dominant player in Iraq?" That's not the right question. You need to ask, "If we invade Iraq, does Iran become the dominant player in Iraq." And the answer is a two parter: 1) Yes. and 2) It's too bad you idiots don't have a time machine because we could maybe go back in time and ask the most obvious question in the goddamned world when it might have made even a scintilla of difference.

Okay, I think we're going into panel time with Mark Morial and Doris Kearns Goodwin and E.J. Dionne and Mike Murphy and Daniel Yergin, after what I hope is ten minutes of commercials followed by my apartment catching fire.

What? I'm still alive? Drat! Okay, so, here's the panel. What's going on with the Government Shutdown Panic? Murphy says that we won't have one, and that there's a bigger budget fight to come. Dionne agrees that Boehner wants to "get out of the first round and into the second round," and that Obama will have to fight harder on the second round, but who cares? Just have Boehner deal with Reid! Morial says that the Ryan budget will "put a lot of pain on important constituencies" of the president in the second round (sounds like the better to mobilize those constituencies, then.)

"A big part of this Libyan strategy is about protecting our oil interests." Oh! We can just say that now? I thought it was "giggle giggle freedom sandwiches tiny American flags for rebels!"

Goodwin and Dionne lament the way we only seem to be motivated to solve problems when it comes time to make a decision about exiting the fire-surrounded frying pan. Unfortunately, a big reason those conditions exist is that any idea we have in advance is dissected in terms of its effect on electoral hopes by the media within seconds.

How about Obama's Libya speech? How much should Gregory read aloud to everyone? And is America still an indispensible nation? Goodwin says that the speech indicates that the U.S. has to lead the "start" of the process to "prevent humanitarian crises" but not be the world's cop. But what about the Ivory Coast? Whatever, says Mark Morial, Obama played it "brilliantly," and can't other means avert a catastrophe there? (Answer: Apparently not.)

Murphy says that the speech got muddled but he supports the policy on the merits -- "finger on the scale" style "gunboat diplomacy." Murphy predicts that Ghadafi will probably lose, even in a stalemate. (Which by definition, would not be a stalemate.)

Dionne says that it's hard to define an Obama doctrine, that Obama is anti-doctrine, but I don't know, seems like it's pretty possible, actually.

Dionne points to Nick Kristof, who argues that it's better to "inconsistently save some lives" than consistently save none. Well argued, but think of how our consistency would appear if we made better choices and had more resources available to save lives. As it is, there's nothing "inconsistent" about the areas in which we intercede on humanitarian grounds. Where there is a strategic interest, we intercede. And "saved lives" is like the eggroll in "with six you get eggroll." Where there is solely a moral interest in doing the right thing, we pretty consistently let people die. We feel bad about it afterwards.

Ho hum, politics. Goodwin doesn't think that Obama will be blamed for the complete collapse of the economy. (Still would rather have a lower unemployment rate!) Murphy still frets about the GOP's basic demographic problems, but notes that in the short term, they have a competitive road in 2012. Long term, though, it's a grave problem that the GOP needs to address. Dionne says that the GOP could also just stop people from voting! He also says that there are some "decent enough" candidates -- Pawlenty and Daniels -- who may achieve DUKAKISNESS.

Goodwin praises the late start, pointing out that there are only so many months of Presidential campaigns that we can tolerate before shooting ourselves in the face. Okay, she puts it much milder than that.

Also, baseball started, so tough break Mets fans!

Okay, woo! We survived another Sunday together, hooray! Thank you, as always, for seeking out and finding this liveblog, even if it mostly concerns boobs. Have an excellent week, and we'll see each other again next Sunday.

[Goodbye and thanks for joining us. The liveblog returns in a week. If you'd like to pass the time between then and now, here are some people who can help. It can be a thankless job, criticizing SEC head Mary Schapiro, but Moe Tkacik has done an excellent job in the New York Observer. Please read. Wisconsin reaches the "farce" stage of its fractious fracas. Here's a handy guide to Richmond, Virginia. And you should consider taking advice from my friend Molly, because you won't be any worse off, I promise you.]