Should Business Be Worried?
By Maria Bartiromo
Charlie Cook is one of the preeminent political analysts in America. If you're a journalist covering politics, you read Charlie before you get out of bed. Cook publishes a nonpartisan newsletter, The Cook Political Report, and is a political analyst for National Journal magazine and NBC. When I caught up with him, he was taking a train back to Washington from New York after a long night of Election Day coverage for NBC, where his team was first to call the power shift in the House.
How worried should business be about the outcome of this election?
I don't think the business community as a whole is worried because no one has...a working majority. The markets like paralysis. Now if I were a pharmaceutical company or an oil company or a managed-care company, I'd worry.
Why oil and pharma?
Drug reimportation [Americans buying U.S.-made prescription drugs from other countries at prices lower than available at home] is probably a done deal. There is a strong chance we will get Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices. And some of the tax treatment that oil companies have had, the incentives to drill, I'd worry about those if I were an oil company. But the Dems are only going to have a slight margin in the House...five seats more than what Republicans have had. That's a tiny majority. Anyone who uses the word control, as opposed to majority, in the context of the House and Senate...is just wrong. What will it be in the Senate...50-50, 51-49?
What will the top three economic issues be for Democrats in the new Congress?
[Presumptive House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi has her talking points out there--income equality, raising the minimum wage, but the business community doesn't care about that. I mean will McDonald's (MCD ) and Wal-Mart (WMT ) be unable to pay minimum wage? Of course not. There are very few businesses that pay anyone minimum wage anyway. It's a false issue.
Can business expect any relief from Sarbanes-Oxley?
No. No one wants to crack open Sarbanes-Oxley. No one thinks it will get cracked open in the next year or two. What business people want is certainty. They are not crazy about [SarbOx], but they don't want the rules changed every year either. They just spent an enormous amount of money complying...they don't want to pay $100 million to change the policy again.
Lots of Americans find themselves in dire straits: No more equity to get out of their homes and big credit-card bills. Plus, Republicans made it tougher to declare personal bankruptcy. Will the Dems try to rein in credit-card companies?
The Democrats will not have the votes to start taking apart every segment of the business world, nor do they have the desire. It would be suicidal for the Democratic Party to declare war on the business community. Look at Pelosi's first 100 hours list, and you'll see her priorities. They are pretty innocuous. They remind me of the Contract with America. Not a lot of controversial stuff because the Dems don't have the votes to win any fights that are terribly controversial.
Immigration reform is enormously important to business. Where will that be on the Democratic agenda?
I have never seen that on any priority list. Dems have remained very silent on this issue, and why shouldn't they? Republicans have torn themselves apart [over it].
Iraq played a big role in this election. How significant were economic and pocketbook concerns?
I think Iraq...is about 70% of what happened in this election. It was a repudiation of the war and of President Bush, and scandals were of tertiary importance. Economic and business issues were very small--a fourth or fifth priority. The economy is worse in Michigan than any place in the country, yet no incumbent lost.
Is there any correlation with the housing market--for example, increased concern in softening markets?
No, that will be next year's crisis. When you have 10 million to 15 million people in danger of having their homes repossessed, that will be an issue.
Maria Bartiromo is the anchor of CNBC's Closing Bell