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White House Forced To Deal With Crisis After Crisis


For the Obama administration, it's one crisis after another. The president and his staff have been preoccupied with the political turmoil in the Arab world. Now there's the terrible tragedy in Japan, a leading U.S. ally and trading partner. And at home, the budget crisis is still not resolved. Joining us to talk about these developments is NPR's Cokie Roberts. Good morning, Cokie.


WERTHEIMER: Perhaps the most frightening part of the Japanese disaster is the specter of radioactivity escaping from these damaged plants. Do you think that's going to have an effect on U.S. nuclear policy?

ROBERTS: Oh, sure. As you remember, I covered Three Mile Island back in 1979. And that really set back any nuclear power plant building in this country for decades. And the problem here is the same, in that there is - it's very difficult to gauge this; you can't smell it, you can't see it. And it's very hard to trust the authorities because often they dont know what they're talking about.

Whether it's the utility or the government or the regulatory agency, they are just so bombarded with contradictory information coming in, in these very frightening situations that I think it becomes difficult for people to have any faith in what anybody is saying. And so this is going to make it hard to try to have what has been talked about as a nuclear renaissance in this country, with President Obama saying that nuclear power is something we should be paying a lot of attention to.

WERTHEIMER: Because, of course, we are always susceptible to rises in oil prices and they're rising very rapidly now. There's obviously pressure on the president to allow more drilling to produce more domestic oil.

ROBERTS: Right. And we heard some of that over the weekend, particularly from Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who was criticizing the president for not doing enough along those lines.

He talked on Fox News "Sunday."

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY, Minority Leader): There's been a conscious effort to make it difficult to drill in this country, both onshore and offshore, by the bureaucrats who've been appointed by this administration.

ROBERTS: So pressure to drill more. But of course that won't doing anything immediately even if it happened. And oil prices are really being felt. You can see it. I was realizing in terms of my own shopping that the two words that had really made a difference to me were free shipping. And now, I think it would be very hard for companies to do that because, of course, the shipping costs will go way up. And it means the cost of everything goes up, just at a time when, of course, the government is trying to cut back.

WERTHEIMER: Turning to Congress, another government shutdown is looming on the government's authority to spend money; that ends on Friday unless Congress acts. Where do these negotiations stand?

ROBERTS: Well, as you noticed, Senate last week voted down both the Republican and the Democratic plans, but they're likely to keep it going. The question is whether just do another short-term stopgap, which is likely.

But the Republicans are being successful in each one of these stopgaps that they do; they cut back some more, so as to cut out some more spending. So it's working for them in terms of their goal of getting more spending out of the domestic discretionary part of the budget.

WERTHEIMER: But are Republicans courting political peril, do you think, in the kinds of cuts they're discussing?

ROBERTS: Well, you know, what happens often, as you well know, is that the party that gets into power starts to overreach. They think that the voters said one thing when the voters are usually just saying, We didnt like what was going with the other guy. And when you start to talk about Head Start programs, which particularly now with people hurting and not being able to afford private daycare, cutting that back; saying things like the Environmental Protection Agency will not have any control over greenhouse gases; those are the kinds of things that are not likely to go down well with the public. And they're likely to feel that next year.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much, Cokie.

ROBERTS: Thank you, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Cokie Roberts, speaking to us this morning from KQED, our member station in San Francisco.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cokie Roberts was one of the 'Founding Mothers' of NPR who helped make that network one of the premier sources of news and information in this country. She served as a congressional correspondent at NPR for more than 10 years and later appeared as a commentator on Morning Edition. In addition to her work for NPR, Roberts was a political commentator for ABC News, providing analysis for all network news programming.
As NPR's senior national correspondent, Linda Wertheimer travels the country and the globe for NPR News, bringing her unique insights and wealth of experience to bear on the day's top news stories.