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Politicians Disagree On Fix To U.S. Economy


There's a lot of overlap between the members of the NATO military alliance and the members of the G-8, the world's biggest economies. And those members got a two-for-one deal out of the trip to the United States, attending a G-8 meeting at Camp David, the presidential retreat. Many of those world leaders disagree on how to fix the world economy, and their disagreement mirrors the political debate here in the United States.

Joining us, as she does most Mondays, is Cokie Roberts. Cokie, good morning.


INSKEEP: This does sound familiar, doesn't it? They've been debating policies that promote economic growth versus economic austerity, cutting back.

ROBERTS: Right, trying to get those deficits down, trying to get the debt down. And there's some ironies here, because it's the Democrats in this election cycle who are talking about growth, which has really been the Republican way out of deficits since Ronald Reagan's administration. And it's what the - and it's the Republicans who are calling for what the Europeans are describing as austerity, and that's, of course, budget cuts.

But look, both sides claim they're arguing for growth in this country. The Republicans say the absence of government will promote growth, fewer regulations, fewer taxes. And Democrats say it's the presence of government. Spending on infrastructure projects, schools, and clean energy, they say those - that kind of investment, as they call it, would lead to growth. So it really does get to the fundamental difference between the parties, which is why this election's so significant.

INSKEEP: And does that political divide explain why House Speaker John Boehner would choose this moment to talk again about reviving the debate over the federal debt ceiling?

ROBERTS: Reviving it before the election, he has said, which has sent shivers through a lot of people in Washington, remembering how rough that debate was last year. But look, I think what he's doing is trying to focus the conversation back on the economy, and particularly deficits and debt. And he's been successful at that.

That was the whole conversation on Sunday talk shows yesterday. It's the conversation today in Washington. And that works both for candidate Romney and for him, because he has been having some trouble as speaker. He's had this group of Tea Partiers, freshman fiscal conservatives who have been upset that they haven't been able to make a bigger dent in the debt.

But now, you know, Republicans are beginning to think that Romney can actually win, and that is creating a very different dynamic here in Washington, where they are now trying to - people are trying to make Romney think that they are important. And Speaker Boehner is at the top of that list.

So when he talks about the deficit and debt, he focuses the campaign back on the economy, which is something that Romney very much wants to do, so he seems helpful to Romney. And he also plays to those conservatives in his own party who have been restive. He said yesterday he's quite sure that he remains speaker if the Republicans continue to control the House. But one way to assure that is to keep that focus on the economy.

INSKEEP: You know, Cokie, everyone points out that the economy is likely to decide the election, but then having said that, we do end up talking about social issues a fair amount, like gay marriage.

ROBERTS: Well, because I think neither side is quite sure how the economy works for them, even though they think it is the issue. The president obviously has the record of the last three years to contend with, the still-high unemployment rate. And Romney has the negative characterization of his tenure at Bain Capital. Although he got a boost yesterday, Steve, when an Obama surrogate, Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, said he thought that attacking Bain was a mistake.

But look, this is the way that the candidates compel you to their bases, is on social issues. But the campaigns have to be careful here, as Romney allies learned when one considered mounting an ad based on Obama's association with his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright.

INSKEEP: And decided not to run that ad after all. Of course, that was a so-called superPAC involved there. How are those superPACs affecting the election, very briefly?

ROBERTS: You know, it's interesting. We thought it was going to be all corporations and labor, but they're so toxic for some voters, that it's really only individuals, big individuals giving money, and wealthy individuals. And even they are worried about their branding.

INSKEEP: OK. Thanks very much. Her brand is solid analysis. Cokie Roberts, we hear from her most Mondays right here on MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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.