STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Let's talk about politics, the economy and more with NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, who's on the line.
Mara, good morning.
MARA LIASSON: Good morning Steve.
INSKEEP: Okay, we heard Speaker Boehner's proposals having to do with this supercommittee that's supposed to reduce the deficit. The president takes his swing at this on Monday, right?
LIASSON: Right. That's right. He's going to send his recommendations to the supercommittee. The big question has been whether he would revisit the grand bargain. Grand being defined as Republicans agree to some kind of tax or revenue hikes, and Democrats agree to entitlement cuts. You just heard John Boehner rejecting that idea.
And the big question is, will Obama revisit the grand bargain he tried to strike with John Boehner earlier this year? We know that he's going to offer more than $1.9 trillion in cuts to spending and tax hikes. We know that he won't touch Social Security - that was discussed with him and the speaker earlier, but he's not going to propose changes there.
And the big question is whether he will propose the kinds of changes that he and the speaker were discussing in Medicare: raising the retirement age, hiking premiums for wealthier recipients. It sounds like the appetite for a grand bargain is certainly weakening elsewhere in Washington. And now the big question is how hard will the president push.
INSKEEP: You just said $1.9 trillion in deficit reductions over a decade. That's actually a good deal more than the committee is required to come up with.
INSKEEP: He's going bigger.
LIASSON: Yes. Well, first of all, the committee has to come up with 1.5, but the president wants them to make sure that if they don't accept the pay-fors for his jobs plan, they find $450 billion to pay for it. And he wants them to do more than the minimum.
INSKEEP: OK. So let's talk a little bit about the politics here. There were a couple of special elections this week for House seats, open House seats, both of them won by Republicans, including one in New York City where, if I'm not mistaken, Democrats outnumbered Republicans in the district 3-1 and still the Republican won that district.
LIASSON: That's right. This was a real blow to Democrats. It was a heavily Democratic district, heavily Jewish district. What the Republican managed to do in that race was nationalize the race, tie the Democrat to President Obama. It was effective. It really shows that Democrats have a lot of problems going into the 2012 election. The economy is a huge drag on the Democrats, and the president is a drag on Democrats, even in this extremely Democratic district in New York.
INSKEEP: And you can't be happy if you are the incumbent in the White House, whoever you are, to see a report like one that came out this week finding that one in six Americans living under the poverty line, pretty disappointing number.
LIASSON: Yes, this was a 10 year study. Over 10 years the number of people in poverty have risen. We also learned that median income is now the lowest it's been since 1996. This shows you what a bad environment this is for an incumbent to run for reelection in. It's not just nine percent unemployment, it's these long-term trends. Now, of course the 10 years that this report reflected, eight of them were under Bush and two of them were under President Obama.
But he does own the economy now and voters are holding him responsible even if they don't blame him for creating it.
INSKEEP: Well let me ask about some of these poll numbers, Mara Liasson, because the president's approval rating remains quite bad, well south of 50 percent. And yet there was an interesting fact in a Reuters Ipsos poll today, which compared him to the Republican, leading Republicans ? Romney, Mitt Romney, and Rick Perry.
And I was a little surprised to see at least in this one survey the president seemed well ahead of both of them, even though he seems to be well behind in the overall approval of the American public.
LIASSON: Well, that's true, but there have been other polls that show him uncomfortably close to his potential Republican rivals, sometimes beating Mitt Romney by only a point or two, beating Rick Perry by just a couple more points. So the president can't take heart from the overall polls on this.
We also saw some new polls recently from blue states that highlight the problem the president is facing among what should be his most reliable supporters. In California his approval rating is down to 50 percent. A year ago it was 61. A poll in New York showed him at only 45 percent. Another poll in New York showed support among Democrats for the president down to 67 percent. Now, that sounds pretty healthy, but it was at 86 percent previously.
The president needs very strong support among his base. That is weakening too. So the problem is not just independent voters souring on the president. It's also his own base.
INSKEEP: Now, in just a couple of seconds here, is Rick Perry still the Republican frontrunner after being attacked by his rivals in the last couple of debates?
LIASSON: Yes, I think you'd still have to call Rick Perry the frontrunner. There's no doubt that he's taken some dents. He's under a tremendous amount of scrutiny. His record in Texas is being poured over by journalists, And some polls show the gap between his ? the way he runs against President Obama and the way Romney runs to be widening.
LIASSON: But I still think he is the frontrunner.
INSKEEP: OK. That's NPR's Mara Liasson right here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.