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Week In Politics: US-Israeli Relations, Congressional Budgets – NPR

NPR’s Melissa Block speaks with political commentators E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution and Ramesh Ponnuru of the National Review and Bloomberg View.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And now let’s turn to our Friday political commentators, E J Dionne of The Washington Post and filling in this week for David Brooks, Ramesh Ponnuru with the National Review. Welcome back to you both.

E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Good to be here.

RAMESH PONNURU: Thank you.

BLOCK: And let’s pick up this question of the White House posture toward Israel, especially in light of the hard-line tone from Prime Minister Netanyahu during the campaign. When we hear the White House say it has to rethink its approach at the U.N., E J, what does that imply for U.S.-Israeli relations?

DIONNE: Well, we don’t know what it implies for the long term and whether the United States actually will follow through and say allow the U.N. to vote to recognize a Palestinian state as opposed to vetoing it. What we do know is that there is fury on this side. Don Gonyea said earlier that the relationship between Netanyahu and Obama is complicated. He should be a Middle East diplomat.

BLOCK: (Laughter).

DIONNE: It is terrible. It’s an awful relationship. And, you know, with – Netanyahu is trying to back away from what he said in the campaign, which essentially amounts to his being against a two-state solution before he was for it before he was against it before he was sort of for it again. And I think the administration is sending a signal – this is not good enough. We notice that you came over here and accepted the Republican’s invitation to bash our Iran policy. And it’s going to take some time to heal all these wounds.

BLOCK: And, Ramesh, if it does take time to heal, where does the administration go from here? How do you see this playing out?

PONNURU: Well, two weeks ago, speaking at AIPAC, the president’s national security advisor, Susan Rice, said that it was wrong and ugly to single out Israel at the United Nations in these resolutions. Given that I think that cooler heads are ultimately going to prevail in this administration. They are not going to abandon Israel at the United Nations. A lot of Democrats would be deeply concerned if they did. Senator Schumer of New York has already expressed his opposition. I think that Netanyahu’s comment before the election – the operative word was today. He said it would be destabilizing to have Palestinian statehood today. That isn’t a blanket statement of opposition. It’s a recognition of the realities that obtain unfortunately in the Middle East right now.

DIONNE: But just on ugly resolutions, there are resolutions at the U.N. that have been ugly – the famous, old Zionism is racism resolution. There are other resolutions that are not inherently ugly. The U.S. position – and once upon a time, Netanyahu’s own position – was recognizing a Palestinian state. So that’s where I think it gets complicated. And the way Mr. Netanyahu ran his campaign at the end – that call – the Arabs are voting in large numbers. This left a bad taste in the mouth of a lot of American supporters of Israel.

BLOCK: Well, how do you figure this plays out in terms of partisan politics here at home? We just heard from Senator Marco Rubio. There’s the ongoing battle between the White House and Republicans over the nuclear deal with Iran. Ramesh?

PONNURU: Well, I think it means that Israel continues the trend of becoming more of a partisan issue. It hasn’t always been, of course. In fact, historically, there been times when the Democrats were a more pro-Israel party than the Republicans. But that seems to be changing now. And the Republican Party is presenting itself as the more pro-Israel party. And the Democratic Party, while maintaining itself as also being pro-Israel, doesn’t certainly have the same kind of commitment to the government of Israel that the Republican Party right now does.

BLOCK: E J.

DIONNE: Right. I think that if Isaac Herzog and the Zionist Union – you know, the labor party aligned with the former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s party. If they had won, a lot of Democrats would’ve been relieved because it would’ve restored an easy relationship with the government of Israel. I think that right now it’s becoming a partisan issue could be very dangerous. And the fact that Speaker Boehner is going over to Israel right as the Iran nuclear talks are reaching a climax is only going to make everything more partisan.

BLOCK: Complicated (laughter).

DIONNE: Complicated indeed. Today is brought to you by the word.

BLOCK: The word complicated. Let’s pivot and talk about the budget – a lot of talk about the budget this week. We had both House and Senate Republicans releasing their budgets. Both would cut spending on Medicaid and Medicare, repeal the Affordable Care Act and would add tens of billions of dollars in military spending or emergency war funding, busting through spending caps. Ramesh, you’ve got Republican deficit hawks and military hawks doing battle here. Who wins out?

PONNURU: You know, they’ve found ways to paper over this conflict in the past and they probably will again. But ultimately the question is going to have to be faced by these Republican presidential candidates because the sequestration, which a lot of fiscal hawks in the Republican Party have championed, bite pretty deeply into defense, and the defense hawks are saying it’s not worth it.

BLOCK: These were across-the-board spending caps?

PONNURU: Yeah, across-the-board, but about half of them in defense. The other issue that’s going to come up that’s going to split Republicans, I think, is that the Senate Republican budget backs away from the Medicare reforms the Republicans have been standing for these last few years. Senate Republicans in previous Congresses, when they weren’t in the majority, they voted for the Paul Ryan budget that included Medicare reform. This budget doesn’t include it. They’re walking away.

BLOCK: E J, how do you see this shaping up?

DIONNE: Well, first of all, President Obama will not accept anything remotely like these budgets. They claim to have $ 5 trillion in spending cuts…

BLOCK: Over 10 years.

DIONNE: …Over 10 years, but they, you know, they – there is – they do a very brisk business in magic asterisks. There are a lot of things that are not specified in these budgets. And there are a lot of conservatives who have looked at them and said, as James Pethokoukis said and the American Enterprise Institute said, this is an unserious budget. It’s not a real plan. And there are steep cuts in programs for the poor. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that both plans are about – at least two-thirds of their cuts are in programs for lower-income, middle-income Americans. So these are not going to go anywhere, so they’re going to fight with each other for a while, but then they’re going to have a huge fight with President Obama.

BLOCK: OK. And we’ll have to leave it there. Thanks. You both have a great weekend.

DIONNE: Great to be with you.

PONNURU: You too.

BLOCK: E J Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution. Ramesh Ponnuru with the National Review.

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