Week In News: Gay Marriage, Debt Debate
RACHEL MARTIN, host: Let's bring in James Fallows now. He joins us most Saturdays for a look behind the headlines. Hi, Jim.
JAMES FALLOWS: Hello, Rachel.
MARTIN: Does this vote in New York have national ramifications?
FALLOWS: I think it does, not simply because the number of people covered by this law is now approximately double what it was before the New York vote. One significant fact is that the resolution passed last night a Republican-controlled body. Even though, of course, only a few Republicans voted for it, that's significant. Second, the initiative had the support of prominent, mainstream - quote-unquote - politicians, too, notably Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which is a different feeling from previous initiatives around the country.
There was a compromise made for religious groups where there were objections, and my sense is this a beginning of what will be a fairly rapid change of opinion and legislation around the country.
MARTIN: Let's move the discussion down here to Washington, where there is a high-stakes game of chicken going on between GOP leaders on one side, the Obama administration on the other. This is all over whether or not to raise the country's debt ceiling. Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor actually walked out on negotiations on this. Where are the fault lines in this debate, Jim?
FALLOWS: The fault line is the obvious one. They are between the Republicans and the Democrats. But there's probably an equally important one within the Republican Party, which has the potential of really harmful effects for the country as a whole. Because one reading on why Majority Leader Cantor left the discussions is, he was happy to be there as long as the negotiations were about cutting spending.
But as soon as any prospect whatsoever of any increase of any sort in federal revenues, including closing tax loopholes or having user fees - he just wouldn't be part of it. And that is part of his standing with the Tea Party faction of the new House Republican majority. And so if the Republicans cannot agree on any sort of revenue increase at all, the prospect for having agreement before the deadline comes near are dark.
MARTIN: There's been a lot of talk this week about the economics of war, after the president announced plans to start drawing down troops in Afghanistan. He made that speech earlier in the week. We talked earlier in the show about the dollars and cents of the drawdown. But Jim, talk to us about the politics of this decision and this announcement. Does the president win political points here?
FALLOWS: I thought there were two aspects of the president's speech, apart from the actual mechanics of the withdrawal, which were significant in long-term political positioning. One was his declaring the United States as having achieved much of what it had in mind in Afghanistan after the decapitation of al-Qaida with the killing of Osama bin Laden. The other was his argument that it was time for nation-building not just around the world, but here in the United States as well.
This was an almost Dwight Eisenhower-type appeal from his famous speeches in the end of his administration, so I thought those were themes the president and his administration can work on over the next year.
MARTIN: And finally, Libya, the war that's apparently not a war, according to the White House. U.S. operations there do not constitute, quote, hostilities and therefore, the administration - they say - didn't have to ask Congress for permission to intervene in Libya. Congress, obviously, disagrees - couple pivotal votes Friday.
FALLOWS: I confess that I am genuinely puzzled by the administration's strategy here because it's possible for clever lawyers to argue - as many on the administration's side have - that the technical definition of hostilities excludes what's going on in Libya now. But as a matter of grand politics, the administration opened itself up for the kind of rebuke it received this week in the House, by not bringing in the Congress from the very beginning - or having some resolution of support in the first week or two, when it would have been easier to get that marshaled. So I think by making this so purely an exercise of executive authority, the administration is really making it a high-stakes game politically apart from its geostrategic effects.
MARTIN: James Fallows is national correspondent with The Atlantic. You can read his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com. Jim, thanks so much.
FALLOWS: My pleasure. Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.