Post Politics Hour's Daily Politics Discussion

Ben Pershing Congressional Blogger
Monday, January 26, 2009 11:00 AM

Don't want to miss out on the latest in politics? Start each day with The Post Politics Hour. Join in each weekday morning at 11 a.m. as a member of The Washington Post's team of White House and congressional reporters answers questions about the latest in buzz in Washington and the Post's coverage of political news.

Ben Pershing, congressional blogger and author of The Rundown, was online Monday, Jan. 26 at 11 a.m. ET to take questions about the latest D.C. buzz and the Post's coverage of political news.

A transcript follows.

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Archive: Post Politics Hour Discussion Transcripts


Ben Pershing: Good Monday morning to you all. This week looks likely to be all about the stimulus bill, the bailout and more bad economic news. Depressing, isn't it? Let's talk it through together.


New York : Best line of the new year:

"There's millions here for the purchase of contraceptives. How is that going to stimulate the economy?" John Boehner Obama Details Recovery Plan (Post, Jan. 26)

Ben Pershing: Agreed that was a great line. And you just know Boehner wanted to make another joke along those lines but thought better of it, given that he was standing in front of the White House and it's such a serious topic.


Falls Church, Va.: Both the Burris and the Gillibrand appointments are a finger in Obama's eye, aren't they? Clearly he would have preferred Kennedy and preferred no appointment in Illinois. Are these just special cases, or does it mean something that he's been faced with this defiance?

Ben Pershing: It's just a good reminder that Obama's clout has its limits. Governors in most states have this appointment power and, as the Blagojevich case crudely illustrates, they're not going to just give it up for free. Both Blago and Paterson were thinking of their own interests first, and that's to be expected. Paterson, in particular, is thinking about his own reelection in 2010 and decided he'd rather share a ticket with Gillibrand than Kennedy.


Who's Buying?: Individuals are not spending. Small businesses are not spending. Large corporations are not spending. Can someone ask Rep. Boehner who, other than the government, he thinks will actually reach for their wallets and get the economy moving again?

Ben Pershing: Put simply, Boehner and other Republicans argue that people and businesses will spend more money if they have more money to spend. So they argue that cutting taxes is the best way to get the economy going again. And Obama agrees, to a point, which is why he included tax cuts in his stimulus proposal. But he and most Democrats also think increased government spending is necessary. The next couple of weeks will be all about striking the right balance between tax cuts and spending increases.


Florissant Valley, Mo.: Good morning, Ben. Every day we hear worse and worse news about the state of the economy -- layoffs especially. Do you think we are approaching a crisis if the government doesn't act soon? Or did we get burned last fall, when the Bush folks cried wolf -- huge bailout was passed but as far as we know none of it served any purpose other than balancing a few big banks' books. What's new this time around? Thanks

Ben Pershing: It's hard to argue that anyone's crying wolf given the daily headlines about the worsening economy. And the problems aren't just here, they're everywhere; look at the story in today's Post about unrest and riots in Eastern Europe. Now, it's true that there's a lot of unhappiness about how the first bailout has gone so far, but a lot of economists will argue that the economic situation would actually be much worse today had that bailout not happened.

_______________________ Economic Crisis Fuels Unrest in E. Europe (Post, Jan. 26)


Washington, D.C.: Looks like more companies are laying people off. This is truly unprecedented, especially with the amount of global companies who are on the brink of going under. Times are hard and they are about to get harder. Do you really think that a stimulus package is going to do anything for the amount of rising unemployment rates? Also will this be known as Obama's downfall or will this be a carry over from Bush?

Ben Pershing: Four years is a long time, so Obama has some breathing room before he has to face voters again. If he's lucky, the economy will be on the upswing again by 2012 and he can take credit for that. If the economy is still in the dumper it will be hard for Obama to blame Bush. In the near term, that strategy might work for Democrats. But not in 2012.


Fairfax, Va.: What do you make of the Obama administration not including anything about the Employee Free Choice Act on their official Web site? If the administration doesn't push for the bill, will congressional Democrats still put it up for a vote and pass it?

Ben Pershing: The White House web site is a work in progress so I wouldn't read too much into what is and isn't posted yet. But it is true that it's been difficult to pin Obama down on the subject of the EFCA, otherwise known as the "card check" bill. Both sides of this debate are watching very closely -- labor wants to know if their loyalty to Obama during the campaign will be repaid, and business wants to know whether Obama is willing to compromise on this.


Aldie, Va.,: Senator Oprah Winfrey? Now that would've been change we can believe in!

Ben Pershing: Absolutely. For those who missed it, Rod Blagojevich said in an interview this morning that he considered naming Oprah Winfrey to the Senate. First of all, there is no reason to think she would have accepted the job. But Blago did manage, once again, to attract a lot of attention to himself and temporarily distract us from the fact that he is under indictment and likely to be kicked out of office soon.

_______________________ Impeachment Trial to Proceed Without Ill. Governor (AP, Jan. 26)


Paterson's Best Interests: But isn't there now a possibility that Cuomo will challenge him for the governorship? I thought he was going to nominate Cuomo for that reason?

Ben Pershing: The theory that most New York political observers have on that question is that Cuomo already ran -- and lost -- one gubernatorial primary against an African-American candidate (Carl McCall) and won't be willing to do it again against Paterson. Cuomo probably is irritated about this, but seems like he'll have to just bide his time until some other opportunity opens up.


Boston, Mass.: My understanding is that economists and previous data all agree that government spending has a higher multiplier effect and thus is a better stimulus than tax cuts. Now at some point, this has diminishing returns, which is why there is also tax cuts in the stimulus bills. But why don't I ever seem to see push-back from reporters when Republicans simply assert that tax cuts are a better stimulus (and therefore present a stimulus bill that is ALL tax cuts and no spending)? It's very strange.

Ben Pershing: It's rare that you can get economists to agree on anything. There does seem to be general consensus that public works projects can be simulative, and also that certain kinds of tax cuts can be simulative. That's why striking the balance is key. Republicans are pointing out that much of the spending stimulus package is not, in fact, for public works projects but for other projects that may or may not actually be simulative. I think you do see some push-back from reporters on both sides' arguments.


Atlanta, Ga.: How much of the Republicans' reluctance to endorse the stimulus package is a bluff? At what point does Obama say "to hell with you" and decide to pass a package on a party line vote (assuming he can peel off two moderate Republicans in the Senate).

Ben Pershing: I think Obama is pretty close to doing just that, though he might say it more politely. At this point no one knows how the stimulus is going to play politically. If the economy turns around by 2010, Democrats can claim it was the stimulus that did it and tar Republicans for voting against it. If the economy is still bad, Republicans can say the stimulus didn't work and that Democrats are wasting taxpayers' money.


Arlington, Va.: Are you as appalled as I am that Gov. Blagojevich, in trying to exonerate himself, is comparing himself to Nelson Mandela and Gandhi? Talk about the height of nerve!

But I do think he's being very shrewd by going on Larry King to plead his case, because by doing this, he's influencing public opinion about himself and trying to win the public over.

Ben Pershing: Blagojevich may also be trying to win a potential jury over. You have to remember that all of this will likely end in a federal courthouse, and Blago will want the jurors to have that (ridiculous) Gandhi/Mandela comparison in mind.


Ben Isreali: Hey Ben. It's cold out again isn't it?

Quick question. In regards to the stimulus bill many conservative commentators and those in the Senate have been criticizing Obama's proposals because they say a recent CBO report states much of the money for the stimulus won't hit the economy until 2010 or even 2011. Today I read that this CBO report does not even exist and will come out later in the week. Is this correct and if so how can someone cite a report that doesn't exist?

Ben Pershing: It's true that there is no official report from the CBO yet "scoring" the entire stimulus package. What the agency did is run a portion of the stimulus through it's standard formula and then gave the basic data to some members of Congress, and it's those results that we've seen written about in the press. The coverage has been a bit misleading.


The Democratic Palin?: Before being named to the Senate, Kirsten Gillibrand served only two years in Congress, during which time she had a baby, and she likes to hunt. How much is she just the Democratic equivalent of Sarah Palin? How likely is Gillibrand to lose in 2010 what ought to have been a secure Senate seat for the Democrats?

Ben Pershing: I don't see why it matters that she had a baby or likes to hunt. Just because she happens to share those characteristics with Palin doesn't mean that she necessarily is or is not anything like Palin. Gillibrand now has two years to show whether she is a good senator and a good candidate for reelection.


Poplar Bluff, Mo.: Ben, which Blue-Dog Democrats or moderate Republicans do you see President Obama reaching out to in order for the passage of the bailout? Thanks.

Ben Pershing: I would watch the two Maine Republicans -- Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. They are likely targets for Obama lobbying in the Senate. Not clear yet where most Democrats will be on this issue yet. Both Nelsons might be in play -- Ben from Nebraska and Bill from Florida. And Mary Landrieu usually asks for one concession or another before she'll give you her vote.


"The coverage has been a bit misleading.": Care to tell us how misleading it was? What we were misled about? Will there be a correction in the Post?

Ben Pershing: I don't think a Post correction is necessary. The first WaPo story on this subject described it accurately, saying: "The report does not analyze the entire $825 billion package" and makes clear that only a portion of the stimulus proposal was studied. You can argue about whether the word "report" should have been used but the substance of the data was correctly described. But since then the numbers have been thrown around, particularly on TV, to suggest that the entire package has been analyzed by the CBO, and it hasn't.

_______________________ Stimulus Projects May Be Slow, CBO Says (Post, Jan. 21)


Sunnyvale, Calif.: Why not cut the number of H1-B visa's dramatically? There are lots of unemployed engineers in Silicon Valley that can do the job better and need the work!

Ben Pershing: Your question reminds me that it's been awhile since the immigration issue was on the front page, or at the top of anyone's list of priorities. I haven't heard Obama suggest he's going to address it one way or the other in his first year, have you? But it's true that the worsening economy and rising unemployment might put more pressure on Washington to curb immigration -- both legal (H1-Bs) and illegal.


Arlington, Va.: This has been brought up before, but does the "standing for reelection with Kennedy" idea even come into the calculus? I'm a Republican, and we have enough to worry about going after seats that are slightly less blue than New York.

Ben Pershing: It does come into the calculus for Paterson. It might be tough for Republicans to win the Senate seat but it's not ridiculous to think they could win the governor's race. Especially if Paterson looks weak and indecisive, as he did throughout this whole Kennedy saga.


I would watch the two Maine Republicans : But did you note that both Kay Bailey and Lisa M voted for Lily Ledbetter?

Ben Pershing: That's true, but I'm not sure how that vote relates to a bailout vote. Kay Bailey Hutchison really is worth watching for another reason -- she is exploring whether to run for governor in 2010, so she is likely to take whatever vote on the bailout best helps her for that contest. My guess is that she will see voting against the bailout as a safer bet for her gubernatorial hopes.


Fairfax County, Va.: Why has the confirmation vote on Daschle not yet occurred? Or did I miss it? There's a lot going on!

Ben Pershing: There are two possible explanations. One is that the Senate Finance Committee has been too busy working on the stimulus package to schedule a vote on Daschle. The other is that Senate Republicans are still poring over Daschle's background, tax returns and private sector record and haven't yet given the go-ahead. It's probably a combination of those two reasons.


Senator Oprah: Think of the bright side: C-SPAN ratings would have shot through the roof!

Ben Pershing: Maybe Paterson should have picked Rachael Ray for the NY senate seat. And let's get Tyra Banks in there too.


Governors: Conventional wisdom once opined that governors, with their daily administrative grind, were best suited to the demands of the presidency. Now with the fresh examples of the Bush failures, and the circuses in N.Y. and Ill., just trying to appoint new senators, maybe the governor's office isn't the best proving ground?

Ben Pershing: I wouldn't extrapolate too much about governors in general from these two examples. There are some very flawed governors out there, but there are also plenty of flawed -- and scandal-prone -- members of Congress.


Evanston, Ill.: Who is going to be commerce secretary?

Ben Pershing: I wish I knew. I just read a report that John Thompson, the retiring CEO of Symantec, is seen as a leading candidate. (Would be even better if it was the former Georgetown coach Thompson. Oh well.)


Northern Virginia: I'm seeing Terry McAuliffe emerge as the frontrunner in Virginia for the gubernatorial primary even though our locally grown candidates have invested more time and attention on Virginia throughout their careers, and Virginia is much more an Obama state than a Clinton state. Would he have a chance in the general election?

Ben Pershing: That's a very good question. McAuliffe has no longstanding ties to Virginia, no background in the southern part of the state and doesn't really seem to be a moderate in the Mark Warner/Tim Kaine mold. So he has a lot going against him from the start. On the other hand, Democrats in general are on the upswing, he is a tireless campaigner and a champion fundraiser. Should be a great race.


Henly, Tex.: My prediction is that that Burris, and especially Gillibrand, could turn out to be better appointments than the politicking and blundering on the part of their appointers might make them appear at first blush.

Burris can, if he's smart, gracefully assume the role of elder statesman/placeholder until the special election, at which time he steps aside, having Preserved the Union. There's nothing to indicate that he will vote or act in any way that is detrimental to the Senate majority. He can leave the Dems in a strong position to field a candidate "of the people's choosing."

Gillibrand appears to be a bright, smart, and capable woman who knows how to represent her congressional district. So what, if she is supportive of constitutional gun owner's rights? Supporting constitutional rights seems to be gaining rather than losing favor right now. After all, John Dingell has had a hugely successful career as a Democratic stalwart who supports gun ownership, no?

Ben Pershing: Burris and Gillibrand could turn out just fine. And I'm really not sure how the gun rights issue will play out for Gillibrand. It may well hurt her in the Democratic primary but not necessarily in the general election. It's worth remembering that upstate voters are generally a lot more supportive of gun rights than New York City voters are.


Rachael Ray for the New York senate seat: And she's even from upstate!

Ben Pershing: Exactly. She really brings a lot to the table, so to speak.


Ben Pershing: And with that bad pun, I'll sign off. Thanks for the great questions everyone.


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