From Nuclear Policy to a Budget Showdown

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Susan Page, USA Today's Washington bureau chief, talked about the week ahead in Congress and the White House response to domestic and international events. Senior fellow at Center for American Progress, Joseph Romm joined the conversation to discuss U.S. nuclear energy policy in light of last week's earthquake in Japan.

It's been a long, hard week for Japan — a 9.0 earthquake followed by a tsunami, a stock market plunge, and then two nuclear power plant explosions. Disaster in other forms are all over the world. In Libya, Gadhafi's violent fighting continues and closer to home, a potential government shutdown. So, a new week begins with a lot on our minds.

Joseph Romm said, what's happened in Japan is a serious setback to the nuclear energy industry. The earthquake and the tsunami overwhelmed the nuclear plant systems in Japan, and there are plants are also at risk in the U.S.

We have plants that are exposed to tsunami risk that are on the coast. We have plants that are exposed to earthquake risk and we have plants that are exposed to flooding risk so I think this is the time to take a look.

Susan Page agreed. The new discourse about climate change and desire to become less dependent on foreign oil is what has made us move towards nuclear energy, but now it may take a back seat.

This accident hits the pause button again when it comes to nuclear power. What it really does, whether it actually will prevent us from going forward and it may depend on what happens in Japan but we're really watching the situation with a lot of concern.

Closer to home, President Obama's budget has $36 billion for loan guarantees in 2012 budget for nuclear power. At the same time, the  Republicans budget plan includes cuts to tsunami warning systems, NOAA's hurricane monitoring and warning system and FEMA's grants to plan for hazards and respond to them, Romm reported, and this is a tough situation.

It's clear from what's happening in Japan that while these accidents don't happen very often, when they do happen, they tend to be of catastrophic proportion and that means you have to bend over backwards to make sure that things are being done safely, particularly in this country where the tax payer's on the hook if things go wrong.

According to Susan Page said, there are risks in holding off on nuclear power and there are risks in moving forward, but with the crisis in Japan, it may be easier to get some of these Republican budget cuts back up for discussion.

Crossing the globe to the events in Libya, Page said the U.S. administration is split on what to do with the proposed no-fly zone over Libya, but there's a polarizing political nature to it.

What I think you see some Republican leaders doing, is seeing a little bit of an opening against President Obama. In this political climate, as the presidential election approaches, there's certainly no opening that's going to go unexploited by either political party.

As for the budget deadlock, this Friday the continuing resolution expires, but Page said there are plans in the works to extend it for another few weeks into April.

If this three week deal goes through, the Congress will have cut more money than the Senate Democrats originally the Republicans are winning some budget cuts by going ahead with this stop gap deal on budgets, but I think there will be a point...when there is much more pressure to actually get an overall budget deal and not just another continuing resolution.

And for the departure of NPR's CEO, Vivian Shiller last week, Page said this might make it harder to get the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's piece of the pie off the chopping block.

At a time when Congress is struggling to find big things to cut, small symbolic things to cut become very hard to defy.

And for some much needed comic relief, Susan Page is the President of the Gridiron Club this year. The prestigious group of journalists in D.C. had it's annual dinner last night. According to Page, this was the best joke of the night:

The best joke I thought was when President Obama stepped to the podium to speak and if course the band played, "Hail to the Chief," and he said, no, no, play the other song we talked about. And then they played, "Born in the USA."