Post Politics Hour

Paul Kane
Paul Kane
Paul Kane
Washington Post Congressional Reporter
Thursday, October 2, 2008; 11:00 AM

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Washington Post congressional reporter Paul Kane was online live Thursday, Oct. 2 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest in political news.

The transcript follows.

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Paul Kane: Good morning, gang. Just breathed a sigh of relief because, as I peruse your questions, I see most are focused on the bailout/workout/rescue package, depending on your view of it. Personally, I'm now on my 11th straight day of being deeply embedded in the coverage of this, and, frankly, I've barely paid attention to anything else. (Example: I didn't see a single pitch of the the Phillies playoff win yesterday!)

So, we'll probably make this an-all-bailout-chat, unless I can figure a way to work in a Springsteen reference. On to the questions.


Indianapolis: Forget their voting records -- I want to know where representatives and senators have their money invested. Foreign or domestic?

Paul Kane:;

Those are just a couple of the Web sites through which you, the average or above-average citizen, can click through and find the personal financial disclosure forms that members must file every May 15. Go to it -- citizen journalism rules.


Raleigh, N.C.: Good morning. I have a question that will determine whether or not I will call my representative and tell him to vote no. The Senate bill adds $150 billion in tax breaks. Can you please describe them? How many years, how much and what do they cover? Thank you very much.

Paul Kane: By all means, don't let me stand in the way of democracy. Please call your representative. The general line is (202) 225-3121; that gets you to the main switchboard, but be forewarned, the phone lines are swamped. You'd be better off just going to the member's Web site and getting the direct line into the office. As for the description of the extending tax credits added to the bailout/workout/rescue package, read my colleague Steve Mufson's story today.


Southwest Nebraska: How friendly are senators across the aisle? There are reports that Obama went out of his way to greet McCain, and that McCain was not very affable.

Paul Kane: Senators pride themselves on at least the outward appearance of being very friendly to one another. They like to call the chamber the world's greatest deliberative body for a reason, because they all like to hear each other talk.

As for McCain and Obama, I wasn't here last night for the vote so I can't attest to the body language in their greeting. (Sorry, I'm working on a bigger project and needed to clear outta the press gallery up here, which has hopping mad with reporters and photographers as if it were an impeachment vote or State of the Union night. So I went home and did my work from there.)

Regardless, McCain is not a touchy-feely sort of person, so don't read too much into any reports that he wasn't affable toward Obama. he's just not an affable person.


Alexandria, Va.: Paul, I hear a lot about how close the Georgia and Kentucky Senate races are. Do you agree that they are? If so, do you think the Democrats have the resources (and time) to make either or both races competitive? Thanks.

Paul Kane: Boy, I've seen some polls of late showing these races tightening up, and I just have a hard time believing it. When the Chuckwagon lays out his top picks for Senate races, he never mentions Georgia and only references Kentucky in passing. (FYI: That's what I call Schumer, the Chuckwagon. Not sure anyone else really does, but from here on out in these chats, he's the Chuckwagon. Let's make that catch, people, start using it. Spread the word.)

So, the point is, if Democrats really have a chance in Georgia or Kentucky -- where relative no-names are challenging incumbents who were very popular a year ago -- then Democrats have reclaimed the chance at 58-60 seats, a prospect that they believed had faded away by mid-September, before the complete financial meltdown.


Bucks County, Pa.: "Personally, I'm now on my 11th straight day of being deeply embedded in the coverage of this, and, frankly, I've barely paid attention to anything else." Do you have a cot or something on the Hill? Do you just live there when this kind of marathon happens? P.S. Did you hear about the free Bruce concert on the Parkway in Philly on Saturday?

Paul Kane: Man, oh man, Bruce playing the Parkway in Philly. Just sounds awesome. As a reporter, I only could go to cover it, which wouldn't be any fun -- so personally, I won't be going and can't go. Bruce is never a work thing. By the way, my colleague J. Freedom du Lac, has been having fun on his chats trying to come up with the E Street Band's set list for the Super Bowl halftime show.

Meanwhile, my buddy Jack -- a Secaucus native raised in a Springsteen family, re-routed to the University of Maryland and now a public relations extraordinaire who can tell you everything you want to know about team tennis -- has his own guess: "No Surrender," "Glory Days," "The Rising," in some such order. I think "Born to Run" makes the cut.

Okay, I'm sorry, back to politics. Er, there were no politics in that question. Basically, I live four blocks from the Capitol. I've incorporated "Capitol" into my personal e-mail handle. I'm a loser, Congress is my life.


If You Call Him the Chuckwagon: Can he call you the Paulbearer?

Paul Kane: Most people use my last name to throw mocking nicknames at me: Co-Kane, Nova-Kane, Sugar-Kane. Dumbest one ever was The Paul Kane Pain Train. (Thanks, John, for not letting that one catch on.) P.S. -- My childhood nickname was Anchor Head. Damn, I'm giving you guys all my secrets today.


Washington: Hiya Paul. Please help me understand why the Treasury secretary needs a $700 billion account? Couldn't Congress provide a smaller amount now, see how the first round of the bailout goes and then add additional funds as needed? I think a lot of citizens are horrified by the amount of the bailout and the amount of discretion Secretary Paulson will have to administer those funds. If a bailout were doled out in smaller amounts as a check to see if Paulson is effective in administering the funds, I think a lot more of us would be more comfortable, and the overall bailout would be more palatable. Why $700 billion all at once?

Paul Kane: This is a great question, and frankly, one that has bedeviled most lawmakers. They essentially have done what you've suggested.

They're giving the money to the Treasury in what they call "tranches." It's a stupid French word that people in business use to make themselves sound smarter than the rest of us. Basically, they're giving Paulson the money in pieces: First bite, $250 billion, then $100 billion, and for the final $350 billion, Congress would be able to block the next Treasury secretary from accessing.

This has been a frustrating point that those who support this bill have not been able to get through the public din of opposition to this. The dollar figure -- why $700 billion? -- has been a real sticking point, a bone of contention, because people really didn't ever get a satisfactory answer as to why they requested $700 billion.


Bloomington, Ind.: Paul, if, for some reason, the House does not vote for the revised financial bill on Friday, will they stay in session until one is passed?

Paul Kane: Man, I don't know what to think will happen if they can't pass this bill on Friday, folks. Yes, they would tell you, they will stay in session until something's passed.

But wow, Monday's vote was the most suspenseful thing I've ever watched in Washington -- it was mind-blowing, it's impossible to explain to people what it was like, knowing the market was in pure free fall as Hoyer, Emanuel and Blunt tried to find the 10 votes they needed to switch and win. (They had 207 "ayes" at one point, to 226 "nays," but once it became clear the legislation was dying, two "ayes" switched back to nay.)

I just hasten to think how the markets would react. If they're not sure if they have the votes going into it, look for the House to not vote until Friday evening, after all markets have closed and won't reopen until Monday.


Dunn Loring, Va.: Despite asking Americans to "take action" in support of the bailout, reports from earlier this week stated that Obama had not called a single representative to urge their support of the bailout. Do you know if he has called any representatives since then?

Paul Kane: Yes, my colleague Shailagh Murray reported earlier this week that Obama began making calls to House Democrats on Tuesday, focusing on the Congressional Black Caucus.

Folks, you need to go back and read a story I wrote during the Democratic convention about the Pelosi-Obama dynamic.

Nobody read this because there was an avalanche of news at the time, but it's instructive of Pelosi's power over the House. Obama doesn't have that much sway with this crowd -- nowhere near as much as Pelosi, who they've known for decades.

They trust her implicitly. They barely know Obama.

Aside from CBC members like Jesse Jackson Jr., whose constituents love Obama dearly, Obama would have a hard time flipping members if Pelosi couldn't do the job herself.


Washington: Extraordinary to hear today on the radio the American people characterized as "divided." Feinstein's office alone received 91,000 calls from California, 85,000 of which opposed the bailout. Does not sound divided at all to me.

Paul Kane: A lot of offices have reported a change in their calls/e-mails/contacts since the House vote on Monday.

Feinstein, for what it's worth, told me last Wednesday night that she had received 50,000 contacts at that point on the bailout/work out/rescue package. And only two dozen were in favor.

I'll trust your numbers are accurate, because I checked in Tuesday night and they had 83,000 voter contacts, with 6,000 for. My guess is, while it's still running more in the "no" category, the number of people calling saying do "something" had increased rapidly, even in Feinstein's office, where a week ago just 24 people had said pass "something."


Burke, Va.: According to this AP report, Gwen Ifill: "Did not tell the Commission on Presidential Debates about the book. The commission had no immediate comment when contacted by The Associated Press." Shouldn't she be fired as moderator for concealing this information while she was being considered for this prestigious assignment?

Paul Kane: I've got news for everyone: Lots of reporters who are covering the presidential campaign on a daily basis (er, these days, hourly) have book deals that involve Obama. Pssst, I've got news for you, also: Lots of reporters currently covering the presidential campaign on a daily/hourly basis have book deals that involve McCain. This is what happens all the time.


Salinas, Calif.: "They had 207 'ayes' at one point, to 226 'nays,' but once it became clear the legislation was dying, two 'ayes' switched back to 'nay.' " So tell us Paul, who are those two gutless House wonders who switched back to "nay" just for some political tush-coverage for the folks back home?

Paul Kane: I'm so sorry, I don't know precisely who the vote switchers were -- there was some confusion at the end of the vote, as some names were called out and some switched. I'll say this -- Rep. Sullivan of Oklahoma, who was a "no" vote, walked into the well of the chamber and appeared to grab a "green card" from a clerk, signifying he intended to switch his vote to ''aye." (Members have ATM-like cards with which they slide into a slot, then push a green or red button, and once you're at the very end of a vote you cannot switch your vote without going to the front desk of the chamber and getting a different card and slowly and properly switch your vote.)

Once it was clear they were gaveling the vote shut, with the opposition winning, Sullivan switched back to "no."


New York: You wrote: "Obama would have a hard time flipping members if Pelosi couldn't do the job herself." Seems McCain, even after 26 years in the Senate, has the same trouble. Nobody on his side really listens to him, either. Right? I mean, he was supposed to wrangle all that support for the initial bailout, wasn't he?

Paul Kane: Remember, the House GOP never really has liked McCain -- they fought most of this decade about campaign finance reform, immigration, torture legislation and other issues. The idea that he was going to flip House Republicans was always a bit of a novelty, something his campaign wanted to float in the expectation of the measure passing.

The reality is, this bill needed McCain and Obama's public support, but now it really needs them to get the heck out of the way, if it's to pass.


Rockville, Md.: I guess we are so many years away from the farm that we do not use the same metaphors that I used to see. But I have expected to see "burn the barn to get the rats."

Paul Kane: I really have no clue what this means. I hope there's no sexual innuendo in it.

P.S. -- Growing up as Anchor Head in Maple Glen, Pa., I was a total suburban brat, whose idea of a barn was the wood fort we built behind St. Alphonsus Elementary School.


Atlanta: You must be a little crazy -- there is no way that this state will send Jim Martin to the senate. Perhaps, since the Libertarian is polling at 8 percent to 10 percent, there will be a runoff (yes, we're in the South, we have runoffs, please find the history somewhere so I don't have to explain why...), but there is no way Chambliss has any chance of losing. Wow, I can't believe anyone even said that...

Paul Kane: Just to be clear here, I'm not anticipating a Martin win. I meant to throw a lot of suspicion on the polls showing him closing in on Chambliss. Georgia, after all, was the one state in America that went more Republican in 2006. What I meant was, geez, if this race goes down to the wire, that means all those other races we think are tossups -- Minnesota, Oregon, Colorado, Alaska, North Carolina, in addition to near certain wins in Virginia and New Mexico -- those tossups would actually be lean Democrats right now. Which I just don't think I believe yet.


Your life: Do you expect to take some time off soon? When can we relax? Will the news ever stop coming so fast and furious?

Paul Kane: Cross all our fingers. There's a chance that, if the House can pass this thing Friday without any changes to the bill, sending it to the White House, that I'll join the Kane family in Avalon, N.J., for a long, long weekend. Hope to have a few Yuenglings at the Princeton.


"Burn the barn to get the rats.": In Vietnam they'd have said "we have to destroy the village in order to save it."

Paul Kane: And the Phoenix will rise from the ashes?

I guess that's what all this means. Well, 228 House members basically burned down the House and ran around burning thousand-dollar bills Monday, as the market went into free-fall. Still can't believe it happened.


West Chester: If Obama and Biden win the elections, what's the word on who their respective governors would appoint to replace them in the Senate? Any chance Beau Biden would be considered?

Paul Kane: I don't think there's any chance of Beaux Biden getting the appointment, because of his yearlong service in Iraq. Don't think you can appoint someone who's actually not able to serve immediately -- wouldn't seem right.

More likely, if Joe Biden had his way, they would appoint a caretaker who would get the nod until November 2010, when a special election would be held for the remaining four years of his term. (Biden is on the verge of winning his seventh term; he's on the ballot twice in Delaware, as vice president and senator.)

One name floated is a former state legislator named ... wait for it ... Bob Byrd. No lie. Is the Senate big enough for two Bob Byrds?

No clue about Illinois, although I think the entire House delegation wants the nod.

In Arizona, should McCain win, the Democratic governor would appoint someone until a 2010 special, when Rep. John Shadegg is sure to run.


Atlanta: If you laid out $700 billion end to end in $1 bills, how many times would it stretch to the moon and back? Approximately 57.

Paul Kane: Be forewarned, I have no idea if this is true; I'm hoping Atlanta here actually found this on our Web site. But I just kinda think it's cool.


Anonymous: What's the latest head count from the House for the bailout? Will Pelosi hold firm on needing 100 Republicans to pass the bill?

Paul Kane: Don't expect 100 Republicans tomorrow, that's what I'm told. But if they bring more than 80 Republicans to the table, I think the bill passes with a slightly comfortable margin.

The House Republicans are saying they're increasingly confident, but far from boastful.

For what it's worth, in the Tom DeLay era, the Republicans never lost a big vote that I can remember. They simply had a mantra: Losing is not an option.

Things weren't brought to the floor if they were gonna fail. Sometimes they didn't quite have the votes to win, but they knew whose arms they could break once they got them on the floor, away from staff, away from lobbyists, away from everything but the leadership.

Losing was not an option.

On Monday, it was.


Stupid process question: I was sure I heard someone say before Monday's vote that a bill such as the rescue plan, which deals with finances and Treasury, constitutionally has to start in the House. So if the House didn't pass it, how could the Senate even vote on it?

Paul Kane: The Senate took up an already-existing bill that the House had sent it -- the extension of tax credits for renewable energy and the AMT patch.

The Senate simply amended a bill that originated in the House. Granted, that's one helluva an amendment -- a $700 billion bailout that, in size and importance, dwarfed the underlying bill -- but because they were just amending an existing bill that originated in the House, it was kosher.


Lansdale, Pa.: Do you know how many, if any, Democrats who voted for the bail out on Monday are in close races? My own representative voted for it, and I am mad enough to vote Republican, but I think Pennsylvania's 13th District is a pretty safe Democratic district this year.

Paul Kane: Lansdale! For a brief stint in my life I covered the North Penn School Board for The Reporter up there, about 15 minutes from where I grew up.

Yeah, assuming you're in PA-13, Schwartz does not have a tough race -- that eastern Montgomery County area has gone so Democratic, she's home safe.


Alexandria, Va.: Paul, With all that's going on in Congress, when do you find time to sleep? A question about Sen. Stevens: If he is found guilty, could he still decide to leave the race? Would his name still be on the ballot? If so, could he say that a vote for him is a vote for the Republican who replaces him?

Paul Kane: Okay, folks, I'm even a few minutes over now, gotta get back to the reporting side of things. Tomorrow is D-Day once again. Big things ahead. Here's to hoping that I make it to Avalon this weekend. Go Phillies.


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