Post Politics Hour

Paul Kane
Paul Kane
Paul Kane
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Wednesday, January 28, 2009; 11:00 AM

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White House national political reporter Paul Kane, was online Wednesday, Jan. 28 at 11 a.m. ET to answer reader questions about the latest news from Washington and the transition.

A transcript follows.

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Paul Kane: Good morning, folks. Big vote today on the House side. Everyone's focused on how many Republican votes there will be, not on whether it will pass or not, since that's a foregone conclusion. One thing I'm gonna watch: how many Dems vote no. That will be an indication as to whether these Democrats sitting in tough districts feel that Obama is plenty safe enough to back him on the stimulus plan. Not sure if there will even be 10 Dems voting against Obama, but it's worth watching.

On a personal note, it's now been more than 10 days since I did NOT go watch the Springsteen-U2-et al concert on the Mall, so I could instead watch the Eagles blow a 1-point lead in the 4th quarter to the stinkin' Cardinals. Man, Bruce, your halftime show at the Super Bowl better be good, help make me forget another NFC title loss. On to the questions. -pk


Stafford, Va.: Included in the House stimulus plan are $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts and $650 million for digital TV conversion coupons; how does the administration justify spending money on projects like these that have nothing to do with stimulating the economy? Wouldn't zeroing out the coupon funding force consumers to buy new TV's? Perhaps doing that six months ago would have saved Circuit City and its 1000s of jobs?

Paul Kane: Obama faced lots of questions on these sorts of funding projects yesterday from Republicans. For now, he and the Dems have agreed to jetison 2 of the more questionable projects -- the $335 million for family planning and $200 million for contraceptives. As for the digital TV conversion, we'll see what happens there, but it seems a lot of people feel this program change wasn't properly handled. Those funds might stay in the bill. As for the NEA, that's gonna be tough sledding, I think. (Sorry for any snow metaphors, but we had our first noticeable snowfall in several years here; only 2 inches, but hey, it's something.)


Boehner's obsession?: What's with Boehner's obsession about the government providing contraceptives to poor people who want them? Doesn't he realize that having a child when one is already mired in poverty renders a person less able to stimulate the economy? Or is this just an alternative way to promote the now-discredited "abstinence only" sex ed?

Paul Kane:

Boehner is one of 12. Comes from a huge Catholic family. He doesn't wear his religion on his sleeve like some lawmakers do, but he has these values deeply within him.

_______________________ John Boehner Biography


Sarasota, Fla.: As we begin doing our taxes ... what impact will the recent legislation (very recent) have on my 2008 tax return? Do you foresee other tax implications coming after this 'bailout'?

Paul Kane: The Make Work Pay provision is the one that will directly impact people the most. But it's not something that will show up in the '08 returns. As best we (Shailagh Murray, Lori Montgomery and myself) can figure, the 2008 returns will be used to determine eligibility for receiving the $500/$1,000 benefit. If you are eligible, what you'll see at some point later this year is fewer dollars withheld per paycheck. A single guy making $50,000 a year, who gets paid twice a month, would receive about $21 per paycheck more, under this plan.


Fairfax, Va.: Hi Paul, just suppose the current legal "contest" does not resolve the dispute between former Minnesota Sen. Coleman and challenger and former SNL comedian Al Franken, despite the Minnesota canvassing board certifying his apparent win. Might the Minnesota Supreme Court just appoint somebody like esteemed Vice-President Walter Mondale as an independent Democrat on an interim basis until a special election can be held?

Paul Kane: Eh, that would be the most unconstitutional thing ever, making the Blago-Burris situation look quaint. The only talk along those lines that I've heard, was that Gov. Pawlenty has explored the idea of declaring the seat vacant and appointing Coleman to hold it while the fight continues.

It's unlikely Democrats would accept such an appointment, as they believe that only the Senate can declare a seat vacant. The doomsday scenario here is New Hampshire 1974, in which state officials punted to the Senate, which conducted its own investigation of a hotly contested Senate race. Ultimately, the Senate declared they couldn't tell who won, so they held a do-over election in the fall of '75.


Columbus, Ohio: Hi Paul, Marc Fisher's column about Virginia and Maryland and the death penalty has me a bit angry. It acknowledged and even condoned the fact that the governors of these states are governing based on their religious beliefs. It even went so far as to say, "And even among death penalty supporters, the idea of a governor who stands up for his religious principles has some appeal." I think this is incredibly unappealing. Are we not supposed to have separation of church and state in this country? Governors should not be making laws based on their own religious preferences. Translating your personal religious beliefs into a law that everyone must follow is at best an abuse of power, and at worst unconstitutional, in my opinion. Virginia Follies (I): Death And Voting (Raw Fisher, Jan. 28)

Paul Kane: Well, Kaine campaigned for governor saying he would administer the death penalty as the law called for it, despite his deep seated religious opposition to the death penalty. This is something that, if he really is letting his religion impact his policy, is a deep contradiction from how he campaigned.


Farmington Hills, Mich.: Paul,

I keep reading about Republican objections to the stimulus bill based on the need to limit spending and keep the deficit down. What I don't hear is reporters asking these same congressmen why they did not support the same policies under the Bush administration when they voted for the Medicare drug bill and the endless funding for the Iraq war. We're in a hole because of the way these guys spent money for the last eight years and now they want to position themselves as fiscally prudent when it is really obstructionist. I wish reporters would call them out on it.

Paul Kane: We do call them out on it. It's just not news to keep writing something that's so obvious. The historical nature of the huge deficit spending we're in now dates back to the early '80s and the implicit deal between the Tip O'Neill Dems and the Reagan White House. Huge military spending and huge domestic spending. That set this all in motion. Even when the fake economic run of the late '90s/early '00s put is in a position of having net positive annual surpluses, we were still sitting in the red overall because of the many years of deficit spending prior.

Neither side sits on high ground here, folks. The question is, who's going to really deal with this for the future? Not who's more to blame for the past.


Washington, D.C.: On Monday at 10:00 are you going after Bruce tickets at the Spectrum or the Verizon Center? Will they add a second night in D.C?

Paul Kane: OK, gotta make a couple points on Bruce. He's coming to town on May 18 -- which happens to be two days after Lauren and Brody's wedding, and they're off in Europe on their honeymoon by the time the Boss takes the stage here. Lauren's crushed. Not sure what to do for her, but she's crushed. Meanwhile, the rest of us are secretly happy that, at the least, the concerts don't conflict with the wedding two nights earlier.

So, yes, I'm definitely going to the Verizon Ctr show. Maybe shows, if he adds another night. The legislative calendar shouldn't be too crazy at that point -- although war funding could be up by then for some tough consideration -- so I should be able to make it to the Irish Channel by a good hour for pre-game discussions about what the one song is that we all want to hear.

OK, everyone, what's your prediction for Bruce's halftime set list? I figure he's got 3-4 songs. We know we're hearing at least 1 new song (Working on a Dream?). What are his other songs?


Queens, N.Y. : The Franken thing is cut and dried, even if the final vote wasn't: there's a legal procedure set out for just this situation, and it should be followed, and enough with parroting the right wing talking points. The constitution had a clear procedure set out for determining the winner in 2000 also, but the Supreme Court felt comfortable blowing the whole thing up because of fuzzy-thinking pundits who think that expeditiously bringing the thing to a conclusion is the only consideration. Legitimacy and following the rule of law is supposed to trump everything else. It apparently doesn't any more.

Paul Kane: Thank you, Queens. This is generally an accurate presentation of the law. But there's a chance the 3-judge panel could decide to review some or all of the 12,000 absentee ballots that are still considered rejected. That's a count-all-votes attitude. If they do that, and those votes flip for Coleman, I'm not sure that the Franken supporters will continue to say that things are "cut and dried" and instead they will then support him filing appeals to the Minne Supreme Court and possibly the US Supremes.


Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: Paul -

You wrote: "Well, Kaine campaigned for governor saying he would administer the death penalty as the law called for it, despite his deep-seated religious opposition to the death penalty. This is something that, if he really is letting his religion impact his policy, is a deep contradiction from how he campaigned."

No, it isn't. He's opposing expanding the death penalty, not enforcing it as it currently exists.

Paul Kane: Ah, OK, if that's what Kaine is doing, then that's fine in terms of his campaign pledge. I may have mis-read the first questioner.


RE: "Questionable Projects": Hi Paul--

Can you explain what you mean by "questionable projects"? It is one thing to say that others (some Republicans in this case) are questioning the proposed projects and another thing for you to deem them "questionable," which implies your own judgment and/or that these programs for providing contraception etc., are inherently suspicious.

Paul Kane: Look folks, the objective of this bill, as stated by Obama himself countless times, was to create jobs. Or to just save jobs from being slashed. That's what a stimulus plan is about. That's where Obama pulled the term "shovel ready".

As the talks continued, the focus evolved into a broader concept about also funding transformative projects, emphasizing things like renewable energy resources and a health IT project that would lay the groundwork for a national health-care plan. Those are laudable goals.

When the legislation was released, there were countless billions of dollars on projects that simply had nothing to do with either of those objectives. It's not my own judgment here, it's a real fact based on the stated goal of the legislation.


Washington, D.C.: Hey, Paul -- this may be a bit of an obscure question, but what is going on with the Solis nomination to labor? Not only does the Prez seem completely unconcerned, I'm beginning to wonder if he remembers that there is a Labor department. We (I work there) have no one telling us what to do right now. The transition team is gone, and no one has replaced them. That would be fun if we could act like kids in the labor-regulation candy shop but, instead, no decisions get made about anything.

Paul Kane: OK, I'm pulling an Al Haig here and declaring that I'm in charge of the Labor Dept. Don't go to the candy shop, go outside, take a snow day, it's icy outside, go beat the traffic home, check on yours kids at home if they had off from school today. Build a snowman with your toddlers. There's no on there to make you pay for your transgression!

Ok, I'm kidding. Here's the deal with Solis nomination. Republicans are deciding whether or not to make her nomination a symbolic battle royal over the legislation known derisively as check-card -- labor organizing. Some Republicans want to make the Solis nomination a full-throttled fight over it, because they feel the public is on their side over legislation that would, to some degree, take away the secret ballot on union organizing elections. They don't oppose Solis as the nominee, that's not the issue. They're just deciding whether to make her nomination the first battle in a domestic policy fight.


School's closed for what?: As a So. Calif. unfortunately relocated to this area, I have often wondered at how often locals don't come in to work when the weather is bad, but in this case, the new president (and I voted for him) needs to understand that "snow" is NOT "ice." His children don't have to walk to a school bus on ice and he doesn't have to drive to work on untreated streets. Perhaps he should keep his mind on more important things this winter.

Paul Kane: The guy spent the last 20 years of his life in Chicago, he's hardened against snow/ice/wind, all things weather. He's toughened against this. If McCain and his Arizona attitude were in charge, the whole federal gov't might be closed. (for those not aware, Obama suggested DC got some "flinty Chicago toughness" in its dealings with the winter after Sasha and Malia got their first snow day in the White House.)


SW Nebraska: Paul, how's the SCHIP doing? It seems to me that insuring more children would stimulate the health care industry. I know quite a few families who are covered by the program here in Nebraska and believe it has been extremely beneficial and kept members of my own family from extreme poverty.

Paul Kane: SCHIP should pass the Senate by tomorrow or Friday, but there may be a few slight differences with the House version. if so, those would be ironed out next week and passed by the end of next week, or early the following week. This will pass, will be signed into law.

For a while it looked like SCHIP would be the first major piece of legislation signed into law by Obama, but the Lilly Ledbetter bill making it easier for women to sue for workplace discrimination has now cleared both chambers. A signing ceremony is imminent.

Last night, I asked Sen. Barbara Mikulski if there would be a big photo-op ceremony, or if she wanted Obama to sign it quickly into law. She thumped her chest and bellowed: "Equal photo-op for equal rights."

Expect a big signing ceremony with Mikulski, Pelosi and other leading female rights activists surrounding Obama shortly.


Questionable projects 2: Do Americans work building stages for theaters? Do they work cleaning up or securing museums? Do they get paid to direct or act or make costumes for thousands of community theaters? Do some people follow their calling at starvation wages by playing a piano, violin or bassoon?

Yes they do.

Yet the first writer opposes a piddly bit of the stimulus package because he knows that these are the sound bite pieces and that no one will stop to take the ten seconds of thought to realize that that puny $50 million from the NEA supports millions of jobs.

Paul Kane: There's little evidence that this $50 million for the NEA would save or create any new jobs. Sorry, there isn't much evidence of this.


Obama/Limbaugh: Do you think that by mentioning Rush Limbaugh, President Obama has inadvertently validated him as the voice of the right? Or is it likelier that by so doing, Obama is craftily marginalizing the right as the extreme right?

Paul Kane: I don't know which it has done, but clearly Obama is attempting to do the latter. He did it again in the closed-door meeting with House Republicans when he stood up for his tax plans, telling them they could go out and mock him on "Fox News." We'll see if it works.


Bruce Halftime Prediction: 10th Avenue Freezeout Working on a Dream Born to Run

Paul Kane: That's a night little prediction. Others have suggested "Badlands", which was the coda to every 1st set on the "Magic" tour, but might be a bit obscure for 88% of the audience. I think there's a pretty good chance of "Promised Land", not necessarily because of the crowd's recognizing it but because it's an uplifting song about beating the odds -- and Bruce is all about hope these post-Bush days.

Definitely gonna get Working on a Dream, after all, he's promoting the new album so we're getting something new.

As for the new album, I defer to Josh du Lac on all things, so I take his word that this album isn't all that great.


St. Paul, Minn. : Hi Paul -- How would you assess Obama's relationship with the press so far? Seems like it's a little prickly so far. Does the press need to back off a bit, or does Obama need to lighten up? A combination of both?

Paul Kane: Hey, Obama's relationship with the Capitol press corps right now couldn't be better. for the past 16 years, through the Clinton and Bush eras, presidents and their vice presidents came up to the Capitol once or twice a year -- or once a week, for Cheney -- and never acknowledged our existence. Yesterday, Obama stopped at the microphones and gave some comments in between meetings, and then afterward did 3 minutes to the reporters assembled outside the Senate GOP meeting, taking our questions. For me, it was great.

Of course, in his final week in office, Cheney actually answered a question of mine, after 8 years of ignoring us. He was leaving the swearing-in of Roland Burris and I shouted, "Hey, how was it meeting Senator Burris."

Cheney stopped, looked at me and said, "Good, he'll do well."

And with that, Roland Burris had Dick Cheney's endorsement. You know it's all downhilll from there.


Sewickley, Pa.: You assert both parties are to blame for deficits and of course that's true to an extent. But who was it that actually began to tackle these problem and put the federal budget on the path to balance? Oh yeah that guy Clinton, but the GOP can always find a reason why problems are actually his fault.

Paul Kane: Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott would tell you that Clinton put the nation on the path only after they forced him into it.


Wake Forest, N.C.: I wish all of you media types would go back and look at the articles you wrote about the Republicans and George Bush in the early days of his administration. It might be a good lesson for you to revisit how you covered that administration over this one.

Paul Kane: I'll do that over the weekend. Back then I wrote for Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper. I assume what I'll find are stories about how feckless the Dems were. I'm not certain, but remind me in two weeks when I'm here chatting again, and I'll let you know how my coverage was.


New York, N.Y. : C'mon, Paul. You're spouting the GOP line, and you know it. Everybody knows that infrastructure projects could easily be expedited, that the economy will need additional infusions for years to come and that the real reason for shunning infrastructure was to make room for the GOP's pet tax cuts. You honestly thought everything in the bill was going to be "shovel ready"? Really, Paul?

Paul Kane: Obama's the one who pushed for all these tax cuts. There are $275 billion worth of tax cuts, and 60% of those come in the Make Work Pay provision, which was a central plank of the Obama campaign. I ain't spouting anyone's line here, folks.


Wokingham, U.K.: How will the success or failure of the stimulus package be judged in a year from now? By the level of unemployment?

Paul Kane: Yes, I think the level of unemployment is the easiest barometer, as well as GDP. If unemployment stops around 9%, hovers there for a while and then declines, then it will be considered a success. If it keeps going up and past 10%, it might be deemed a failure. That's just a ballpark guess, however. It's all inside the national psyche, which is a more difficult thing to measure.


Reality Check Please: Paul: The reality is that your life is way more exciting than Spingsteen's. He rides on a bus all day and sings the exact same songs every night.

Paul Kane: This person is just plain crazy.


Fair Lawn, N.J.: Eagles fan, eh? I was struck by the fact that, at a recent NBA game in Philly, McNabb was roundly booed by the home crowd. Interesting, because I don't remember another Eagle quarterback who lost in the big game, Ron Jaworski, ever getting that sort of treatment. Why do you suppose that is, aside from the obvious?

Paul Kane: dude, you don't remember Jaws getting booed? He did all the time, people wanted Joe "Miracle in the Meadowlands" Pscarcik to start, then cheered when Randall Cunningham came on the field for 3rd and long as a rookie. We're tough people in Philly. Obama might even call us "flinty".


Bruce at Halftime: Given the mentality of the Super Bowl, he'll surely have to do "Born in the USA."

Paul Kane: OK, I'm gonna wrap up in a second, but I guess I have to make my own predictions here. I think "Born to Run" would be a bad song to play, because both teams are pass oriented. But it's the most likely tune in the set list. Born in the USA is meant to be such an anti-war/anti-Reagan song, that it would be an odd choice, although the night Phelps won his 8th gold medal, Bruce announced it on stage and played USA in the encores.

however, my guess is this: Promised Land, Working on a Dream, and a medley of 10th-Born-to-Run-Rosalita (the medley lasting about 8 minutes long).


Paul Kane: Alright folks, on to the House vote tonight on the stimulus plan. Up next after that is the Senate debate next week. I'll be back here in two weeks, at which point we'll be deep into the final countdown of trying to hammer out the differences between the two bills and passing it before the President's Day recess. Should be a fun 2-week sprint. -pk


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