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Vetting the Next Pope; GOP Unveils Budget Proposal; College Savings Hits Record High; First Papal Vote Just aware

Aired March 12, 2013 - 10:30   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining us. Checking our "Top Stories" now.

In just about 30 minutes past the hour. Any minute now, former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan will roll out the Republicans' budget plan on Capitol Hill. The Wisconsin Republican says it will cut spending by $4.6 trillion and balance the budget in ten years all without raising taxes.

How? With more oil drilling, repealing Obamacare, overhauling Medicare and simplifying the tax code.

In just an hour, 115 cardinals begin the long process of selecting a new pope. Today is all about tradition and ceremony for the Catholic Church. One final public mass wrapping up before the conclave and then the cardinals will lock themselves inside.

CNN anchor Chris Cuomo and Miguel Marquez join us now from Rome. Chris, let's start with you. Tell us what happens in the next 15 minutes.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR & CORRESPONDENT: All right, Carol. This time, we actually have good information. When it comes to who the front-runners are, I have nothing because this is such a secret process. But we do know that there are some intensely detailed ritual that begins the conclave.

So what will happen is as the cardinals make their way from where they're staying now, they're going to go to the Pauline Chapel. Obviously, Saints Peter and Paul, the patron saints of Rome. So they'll go to his chapel and then they will make their way in a procession down what's called the Hall of Blessings.

It takes about a half an hour and as they go down, they're chanting at first chanting, they're saying out the names of certain saints. And then everybody responds in unison the following, "Ora Pro Nobis" and that means "pray for us." And they go through all these different saints and then they start singing a hymn to the Holy Spirit and eventually they make their way to the Sistine Chapel.

Ok once they get into the Sistine Chapel in unison, they take an oath of secrecy to protect the goings-on of the conclave. Then every cardinal individually must go up to the altar and make the oath, promise to affirm and confirm the oath that they all just did in unison.

So there's two layers of secrecy to it. Then the masters of ceremony there who is running it, he will close the doors and he will say the famous line, "extra omnes" in Latin means "everybody get out." Everybody who is not necessary has to go. And the door is shut, Carol. And they lock it. And that's where the word "conclave" comes from, the Latin for with a key. Because they are literally locked inside to do their business.

COSTELLO: Wow and then they take these series of votes. And it could happen in one day, two days, three days? Four days, we don't know?

CUOMO: Well, they then go through, again, a really slow procession of each individual cardinal walking up with the ballot in his hand after having written the name. And he holds it up and each one has to signed their own mark. And there's a reason for that because even though you don't want it to be too easy whose ballot it is, you may need to because a cardinal cannot vote for themselves.

So to verify a very close vote, you have to know, make sure they didn't. And then they go up for their ballots. The ballots are tallied. There's a lot of checking there. And then we hopefully get a pope sooner than later.

COSTELLO: I hope so Chris Cuomo thank you so much. Of course, you don't select a pope without knowing his background. And you won't believe where cardinals vet the next pope.

Miguel Marquez has that from Rome. Hi, Miguel.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, there, Carol, yes, this -- this is a hugely important decision always. But this time around from all accounts it is much more important. This -- this pope whoever it is he will be the most vetted pope in history.


MARQUEZ (voice over): In the politics of becoming pope, there's never been a race quite like this. The church's problems, enormous. The need for a powerful, unifying pope, never greater.

MONSIGNOR KEVIN IRWIN, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY: We have to finish this. We have to get on with this. If we don't do this, it's over. Blow the candles out.

MARQUEZ: The new pope will have to reinvigorate the church and bring its enormous bureaucracy, the curia, into the modern world.

(on camera): So we're talking -- we're talking the nuts and bolts. We're talking finances, we're talking being a good CEO. We're talking --

IRWIN: Well, the church does not run just on Hail Marys, I mean, you know we've got to make it work in terms of personnel and money and -- and being effective. And I think the question is how effective is the curia in an Internet 24/7 world. MARQUEZ: From the time a cardinal becomes a cardinal, the race for pope is on. They are judged on their intellectual, religious and spiritual heft, even their ability to communicate in Italian.

Politicking done, support secured in formal settings, and often in out of the way and unlikely venues.

(on camera): This is Venerina Restaurant it's just around the corner from the Vatican. Cardinals come here in the ones and twos, they have lunch, dinner, sometimes a little wine. But in places like this where a lot of heavy lifting is done.

Venerina Labbate has served meals to connected and powerful Vatican insiders for 21 years.

VENERINA LABBATE, OWNER, VENERINA RESTAURANT: Dozens of cardinals have been here the last couple of weeks, she says. When you're at the table, you decide things.

MARQUEZ: Deciding important for many reasons, as one cardinal jokingly told her during his last meal here, when the conclave is under way, he eats bread and water until a new pope is named.


MARQUEZ: Now, they certainly want to get that vote done. The first one will be in about three and a half hours. Now, we do not expect to see white smoke. That would certainly be a rare thing. We are hoping that by Thursday, maybe Friday, we'll know who the new pope is -- Carol.

COSTELLO: We hope so, Miguel Marquez, reporting live for us from Rome.

Just ahead, "Talk Back" question for you today. "Is closing the White House to tours prudent or pure politics?" Your responses and our panel discussion is coming up.


COSTELLO: Just minutes ago, Republican Congressman Paul Ryan released his budget proposal that he says will eliminate the deficit by 2023. Now, the plan hits the main GOP high notes, less spending, lower tax rates and a rejection of President Obama's health care reforms.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: What we have here is the House Budget Committee, Republican majority. Putting out yet again a budget that addresses America's needs; a budget that balances the budget. It's a path of prosperity and a responsible balanced budget.

We believe that we owe the American people a balanced budget. And for the third straight year, we've delivered. In fact, we balanced this budget in just ten years. This is a document, a plan that balances the budget in ten years. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Senate Democrats are set to release their budget tomorrow. And party leaders wasted no time in slamming Paul Ryan's proposal.


SEN. HARRY REID (D), NEVADA: Now, I know that Congressman Ryan is held out to be this guru who understands things so well. What he understands is gimmickry. And that's what he's done so well. He's pulled the wool over their eyes of those people in the House. And they continue following him.


COSTELLO: Both sides are likely to view each other's proposals as DOA, as in dead on arrival.

Joining us to talk about that and more, Jason Johnson who is the chief political correspondent for Politics365. And political science professor at Hiram College and Republican strategist Liz Mair. Thanks to both of you for being here.



COSTELLO: Ok so let's talk about Paul Ryan's proposed budget. It probably will pass the House because out House is, of course, controlled by Republicans. But after that, it's likely to go nowhere, so, Liz, what's he trying to accomplish, especially since his budget is predicated on Obamacare going away?

MAIR: Well, I think ultimately he believes that he has to put a budget forward. I think that he thinks that's his job first and foremost. And I think second to that, Paul Ryan likes to be a leader in terms of ideas and so putting proposals forward is very important for him, even if they are proposals that will ultimately not move anywhere else or if the Senate will ignore them. Because that is sort of his way of setting benchmark for where he thinks that the country should be going philosophically.

COSTELLO: Well and I'm not saying, Jason, that the Senate -- the Senate Democrats are going to release a plan that's any more bipartisan because they're not. According to Dana Bash, it's got a lot of tax increases in there and even a $1 is too much for Republicans. So what are we to take from this?

JOHNSON: You know, the Republicans have been screaming and yelling that Obama is playing politics by closing White House tours. This is Paul Ryan playing politics. What have we just done for the past two years? We've talked about the Ryan budget and the Republicans lost the election. People don't like his budget. They don't like his cuts. They don't like his plans. So while he's doing his job which is sincere, it's not going to go anywhere. Because the American people don't like what he's suggesting and that's what I think that sometimes being missed when he's making these kinds of presentations.

COSTELLO: So President Obama is going to, I guess you would call, shuttle diplomacy, he's going to spend three days on Capitol Hill talking to Senate and the House leaders from both parties. And he'd try to -- I guess he's going to try to -- to get both the two sides closer together with their budget proposals. Will he succeed?

JOHNSON: I don't really think so. I think Barack Obama is going to try -- it's like bringing the Jets and the Sharks together. They'll dance. They'll spin around in circles but they're not really going to get anything done. I think we're really going to see the end of the sequester battles sometime around late this week, early next week because that's when people's pay checks are starting to get affected.

That's when the eight percent, 10 percent, 12 percent cuts in people's pay are going to show up. Republicans are going to get calls from their district, Democrats are going to get call, that's where going to get things big, I don't think any of this is any more than dancing right now.

COSTELLO: Ok I want to talk a little bit about those White House tours because as you both know, they've been suspended in the quake of those four spending cuts. The Obama administration says it's the least painful way to enforce the plan.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The Secret Service presented options that ranged from canceling tours to potential furloughs and cuts in overtime. And in order to allow the Secret Service to best fulfill its core mission, the White House made a decision that we would unfortunately have to temporarily suspend these tours.


COSTELLO: But some Republicans say this is just an effort to make voters even more angry at Republicans. So -- so Liz, what is -- I mean, what's behind the suspension of these White House tours? Is it pure politics or is the White House trying to save money where it can?

MAIR: It's probably a bit of both. But in practice, I think this is really being overblown by Republicans. I mean, anybody who's lived in Washington, D.C. or has travelled here repeatedly over the last ten or so years knows that getting a White House tour in the wake of 9/11 has been tricky for your average American anyway.

So I don't really think that this is something that it's going to have a dramatic effect on people in any way shape or form. It's an interesting thing to argue back and forth about. Certainly, it's dominated a lot of chatter on Twitter. I don't think that it's anything that's really of substantial concern. Certainly, it is not to me, as a Republican. Yes. COSTELLO: Yes, but Jason, but this is something people can actually feel. I mean you mentioned you're going to start feeling it in your paycheck soon. I mean this is something that voters will feel and perhaps that will make them apply more pressure to lawmakers to come together on these budget proposals?

JOHNSON: Yes, this is like dad cutting the kid's ice cream budget so they'll pressure mom to give her Lexus back. I mean that's what's going on. Barack Obama is like I'm going to take this thing away from kids in America and parents so that they can go blame the Republican Party. And the issues is I don't know if the Republicans are going to want to give back that Lexus.

The larger problem here is the inability to recognize not just these symbolic issues but the actual day-to-day impact of families, of single moms out there who are losing $200, $300 a paycheck or that's what's going to happen eventually.

And so, you know, do I think it's good politics? No. Do I think Obama's playing politics? Yes. But then again, the Republicans are playing politics too with people's lives and their well-being.

COSTELLO: All right. Thanks to both of you. I want to get in our viewer comments on this question. So is cutting the White House tours prudent or pure politics.

This from Robbie, "Oh, wow, how we have to suffer by not touring the White House. What a spoiled people we've become. Get over it."

This from Rob. "Pure politics. I want to see pictures of the Obamas cooking their own meals and washing their own dishes because they furloughed the kitchen staff."

This from Kenny. "Mental health care professionals taking care of our returning veterans are about to be furloughed. This is a travesty, not the cancellation of White House Tours."

Please keep the conversation going, or tweet me @CarolCNN.

The number of families saving money for college has hit an all-time high. We will tell you how much, next.


COSTELLO: 49 minutes past the hour. Time to check our top stories. Five U.S. service members have been killed in a helicopter crash in southern Afghanistan. Chopper went down in bad weather. The NATO-led security force says there was no enemy activity in the area.

James Holmes goes to court in Colorado in about 15 minutes. He's the man accused in the July shooting rampage in a movie theater that killed 12 people and left 58 others injured. Holmes' attorneys have suggested they had might enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. If that's so, that could make it harder to get a death penalty conviction. To the Vatican now where in just about 30 minutes, 115 cardinals will begin their secret election for a new pope. Eventually, one name will emerge as successor to the retired Pope Benedict. Earlier this morning, the cardinals held their final publican, a mass before they locked themselves in a chapel to begin their work.

Kind of good news for universities. A new study shows American families are socking away more money than ever so their kids can afford tuition fees. Actually, I think that's better for the parents than the universities. Alison Kosik is at the New York Stock Exchange. Good morning.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. But you know what, it's good that a lot more Americans are contributing to these 529 savings accounts. Here's the thing, though, the average 529 college savings account, it has just over $17,000. It's not really a lot of money but it is up 12 percent from last year. Believe it or not, that's a record high. $17,000 is basically enough for one year at a public university, if you're lucky. You know, it's not all good news in this study by the college savings planet network. The number the accounts with contributions has actually fallen in each of the last three years, just 49 percent in 2012. What that essentially means is that a lot of accountholders out are letting the market do the work. Meaning they've stopped actually putting in money every year.

And only about 6 percent of college students are actually paying for college with 529 money. So the reality is, not many students are using 529s to pay for college. They're going with other options. Even though we're saving more, college, we all know this, it keeps getting more and more expensive. It's just really, really hard to keep up with those costs -- Carol.

It certainly is. Alison Kosik reporting live from the New York Stock Exchange.

After a break, we're going to take you back to Rome because the cardinals are now preparing to vote. It will start at anytime now.


COSTELLO: Oh, it is a rainy day in Rome, at the Vatican, but there is a sense of history in the air. In just over a half hour, the cardinals, 115 cardinals, will march in procession to the Sistine Chapel. Actually, they'll be entering the Pauline Chapel eventually. And there they'll take an oath of secrecy and get down to the business of selecting a new pope.

Those cardinals they'll cast votes in an election that has no clear front-runner. All morning, they've prayed for guidance in selecting the right man to lead their beloved church. CNN's Chris Cuomo is in Rome. He's following all the proceedings. Good morning.

CUOMO: Good morning, Carol, I can tell you, all this energy coming from above in this city right now where these cardinals are looking for divine inspiration. The Italians call them temporal, these storm cells that come through. They really have created an energy here that has not in any way dampened the spirits of the enthusiasm for what's about to begin. This really historic conclave where the church dealt with the resignation of Pope Benedict now moves forward after the general congregations where cardinals are really dealing with difficult issues about fiscal responsibility, about what the response will do to the sex abuse scandal. Big, big things that will require the change of a leader who can carry this burden.

COSTELLO: I know, you know, Italians are largely catholic, but even they have been disenfranchised with the Catholic church. Is there a sense that most Italians are paying attention to this election?

CUOMO: You know, carol, it's really the right question. Certainly, there's popular enthusiasm. You see it in the newspapers. Whether or not you're a believer, just a spectacle of the event. The mystery of it, the secrecy of it that it's so old, it's been going on for so long. It's a secretive process but the best one known in the world.

There is no question, however, it is depending on how you want to look at the Catholic Church, it's either in a period of growth or decline. When you look at Africa, when you look at Asia. Supporters of the church will say well it's growing very Briskly. Even growing in North America.

And yet there is this feeling among certain legions of laity that the church has lost touch. And now these cardinals have to deal with all those different themes and figure out how to move forward in the best way for the entire Church.

COSTELLO: Chris Cuomo, reporting live from Rome. We're going to get back to you right away. We have to take a break, though. Thanks, Chris. We'll be right back.


COSTELLO: I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining us today. "CNN NEWSROOM" continues right now with Ashleigh Banfield.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Carol. Hello, everyone. Nice to have you with us today.

Let the conclave begin.

It is official. A few final prayers, and then it is off to Sistine Chapel for the 115 Princes of the Church one of whom will emerge from the conclave as a brand new pope.