Post Politics Hour

Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Friday, January 30, 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 buzz in Washington and The Post's coverage of political news.

Washington Post National Political reporter Perry Bacon Jr. will be online Friday, Jan. 30 at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions about the latest transition and executive branch news.

A transcript follows.

Political Browser, a collection of the biggest and best campaign stories of the day from across the Web.

Get the latest transition news live on's 44: A Transition to Power, or subscribe to the daily Post Politics Podcast.

Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts


Perry Bacon Jr.: I'm Perry, one of the political reporters here at the Post. Looking forward to your questions.


Centreville, Va.: Mr. Bacon, from your story today: "'The president's call for bipartisanship has been completely ignored by the House Democrats,' Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), the No. 3 man in the GOP House leadership, said on the eve of Wednesday night's stimulus vote."

Also from your story: "'We have reached out to the Republicans all along the way. And they know it,' said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)."

So, which is it? Were the Republicans allowed to offer input into the legislation or were they completely ignored? It seems to me only one of the above statements can be true. Personally, I stopped believing what the Republican Party has to say a long time ago. GOP Stakes Its Claim With Stimulus Vote (Post. Jan. 30)

Perry Bacon Jr.: This question gets to the core of a debate going on right now in Washington, "What Does Bi-partisanship mean?" Pence would argue it means taking lots of ideas from Republicans and putting them in the bill; Pelosi views that as reaching out to Republicans, letting them be part of the process, etc. I think Pelosi said yesterday her goal was to be "non-partisan" (putting the best possible bill through) versus "bi-partisan( making compromises that weaken the bill in her mind.) Obama is trying to thread the needle here, taking up some GOP ideas like business tax cuts that are unpopular among Democrats, but insisting on payroll tax cuts the GOP does not like.


Syracuse, N.Y.: I think it's a hoot that so many people are all tied up thinking that it was a "mistake" for Obama to "engage" Rush Limbaugh. Most thinking people view him as what he is, an entertainer. The dittoheads view him as what Rush thinks he is, the clear speaking voice of conservatives.

I like what the owner of the Arizona Cardinals was recently quoted a saying. "You can listen to talk radio or you can lead a normal life. But you can't do both."

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't know if Obama is engaging Rush in some formal way, like bringing him to the White House. That said, Obama's remark about Rush acknowledges reality; Rush has lots of influence among rank and file conservatives.


Washington, D.C.: Given that Obama's concessions and courtesy to House Republicans on the stimulus bill resulted in zero votes, should we expect to see a final version of the bill that dials back on the right-leaning aspects and dials up the left-leaning? Or does he still hope to pick off some Republican votes in the end?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think Pelosi yesterday indicated the bill would largely keep its current structure and Democrats wouldn't shift it to the left. As one of our pieces on the House vote said today, House members will get another chance to vote on this bill when it gets through the Senate and moves into conference and I suspect some moderate Republicans will back it and argue the Senate made some modest changes to it.


Arlington, Va.: The Republicans mustered an impressive display of unity by voting unanimously to reject the president's stimulus plan. Is this a sign of things to come? Would an effective strategy to retake the House or Senate include voting against every single Obama bill in the House and filibustering every bill in the Senate? If they can torpedo all of Obama's agenda and send the country into a deep recession, they might convince the public that the Democrats can't govern, no?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I would in some ways question the premise that Obama's agenda and the economy are so closely tied that not passing Obama's bills will kill the economy. If the GOP blocks an Obama proposal on say SCHIP, I'm not sure this has a big impact on the larger economy. But the answer to your question is no, the Republicans won't oppose everything, as you saw SCHIP pass yesterday. They don't want to be the party of no, and if you look at their statements, they are arguing their version of the stimulus is just better.


Washington, D.C.: As a Democrat I have really enjoyed reading stories like yours today about how "energized" the Republicans are feeling now about their legislative opposition strategy. Reminds me of all those press stories about how "energized" they were after Palin joined the McCain ticket.

Perry Bacon Jr.: They were a lot of Republicans who were energized by Palin and will be excited by the no vote. It's a fact. Does that help them win elections? A different question. Things your party's base loves often aren't great ideas to win elections. Palin was a drag with moderate voters; I"ll be curious if this anti-spending push by the GOP will have the same effect.

_______________________ GOP Stakes Its Claim With Stimulus Vote (Post. Jan. 30)


San Diego, Calif.: I don't understand what House Republicans are thinking with their lockstep opposition to the stimulus bill. The stimulus is quite popular, and people aren't going to magically forget the massive deficits they ran over the last eight years so they could give tax breaks to the rich. Obama will get credit for trying to be bipartisan, he has the votes to push the bill through anyway, and this makes him less likely to work with Republicans down the line on things like entitlement reform. The lockstep voting doesn't make them look powerful, it just makes the move look even more nakedly political. Is this just a play for the base or something?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Remember that 11 Democrats voted against the stimulus too, all from moderate or GOP-leaning districts. The public is broadly for a stimulus, but the public was broadly for immigration reform too; the loudest voices, particularly on the right, are against the stimulus right now. And like i said earlier, there are some people who can vote against it now but for it later.


Roseland, NJ: I'm just kind of bewildered over how ecstatic the GOP is that no house member voted for the stimulus. Even some in the press are portraying it as a "victory" for Eric Cantor. I mean- hello? The economy is in total free-fall, and their whole party just said in unanimity, "If the country doesn't use our parachute, it can go hit the ground for all we care." Isn't this one of the biggest political gambles in history, and isn't it making at least some party leaders nervous?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I really don't have a good sense of how to predict how the public will read a vote and the only evidence we will really have will be almost two years from now. In the sense of purely getting your members to vote as you want them to, ten Democrats voted against Pelosi-Obama, all Republicans with Cantor and the GOP. was this a mistake for the future? maybe.


South Riding, Va.: As someone who grew up in Illinois, I am happy to see that Blagojevich has been removed from office. I hope the new governor does a better job. Is Blagojevich mentally OK? From his various TV appearances, he didn't seem to be connected to reality. He clearly had his moment of fame, but definitely didn't earn my respect. I can't help but wonder if he thinks he can use this as a launching point to run for president. A Bitter End for Blagojevich (Post. Jan. 30)

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think his political career is over. I would suggest the Burris pick selects the governor is mentally fine. He knew his career was over so his media blitz was harmless I thought.


Stone Ridge, Va.: How much of the current stimulus package is for "shovel-ready" infrastructure projects and how much is really for implementing Democratic social engineering policies (e.g., dollars for NASA to conduct global warming, er, climate change research)?

Perry Bacon Jr.: We don't have an exact answer to this question. Obama's staff has put out one report, the Congressional Budget Office a couple of other reports. There are billions of dollars in education and health care funding, although Democrats think this spending will help people afford health insurance and accomplish other important goals.


$500 tax rebates: Hi Perry, what is your take on the Obama logic of a $500 tax rebate? It's an expensive thing to do that has in the past had little to no impact.

Perry Bacon Jr.: It's not clear the tax rebate under Bush last year helped very much, and I'm not what impact this will have either. Obama campaigned all around the country on this idea though, so I'm not surprised he is doing it.


Northern Virginia: I just read about Judd Gregg being a possible Commerce Secretary. Apparently, the holdup is once again the stupid process whereby he would be replaced.

I don't even know what a principled Democratic governor or principled Republican senator is SUPPOSED to do in this circumstance. It is ridiculous. Assuming Gregg would be fabulous as a Commerce secretary, for the sake of the argument (I don't actually know much about him), it is infuriating that the very existence of the gubernatorial appointment power is once again interfering with the smooth and democratic process of government.

Do you think Russ Feingold's constitutional amendment has any chance? Because for me, this episode is the last straw. The way the gubernatorial appointment process works is hurting the country and it needs to be fixed.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I wrote about Feingold earlier this week, noting that he is trying to get of the appointment process for governors. Constitutional amendments take years and sometimes decades, my guess is the swirl over New York and Illinois will get some states to change their laws and stop allowing appointments by governors. That said, as members of Congress increasingly vote their party, I"m not sure how important these appointments are. They don't make that much different in what Congress does. Kennedy, Gillibrand, Cuomo, etc. would all have voted the same way as HRC on almost every bill.


Arlignton, Va.: It's worth mentioning that lots of people, including moderates, don't think that the bailout helped the economy, and the stimulus sounds like another bailout. Remember that a few Democrats voted for no, too.

With that said, this was clearly more important to energize the fiscal conservative base of the Republican Party and a shot across the bow at Obama.

Perry Bacon Jr.: One of the other questioners mentioned this, but redistricting and the way primaries work in this country (controlled by activists) have created a very partisan House. The Southern Democrats are shrinking and the New England Republicans are gone. Most of the House GOP members were never going to vote for this bill; they are quite conservative, political strategy aside.

_______________________ GOP Eyes Seats of Appointed Senators (Post. Jan. 28)


Abingdon, Md.: I remember the days when the Republicans were in charge of both houses and hearing DeLay's comments on simply getting the majority of the majority to vote on various bills for passage that I used to get so angry about being excluded from the process to the point of essentially being treated as a persona non grata in this country when it came to being represented. Now that the shoe is on the other foot (as one day it will once again change again)I find it equally distasteful to find Dems doing the same thing -- or so it seems. This perpetual "screw the minority" attitude is what gets people frustrated. We all want to be heard, and while there are philosophical differences between the parties, there must be a way to work through these things. Otherwise, these folks should find another line of work -- I don't need to hear my senators/representatives do nothing by complain about each other for about $175,000 a year. Just venting...

Perry Bacon Jr.: The bill passed ;it's not like Congress is doing nothing. Disagreements about proposals are natural. And let's remember bi-partisanship is not always perfect. Conservatives hate No Child Left Behind, Liberals hate the Iraq War, both were passed with many votes from both parties.


South Riding, Va.: Where exactly is the $800 plus billion coming from? T-bills sold to China?

Perry Bacon Jr.: It's more deficit spending, which people in both parties are concerned about.


Long Island, N.Y.: "Palin was a drag with moderate voters; I"ll be curious if this anti-spending push by the GOP will have the same effect. "

I think it's fair to say that most of the House GOP members really don't care what the moderate voters think -- due to redistricting, most of the GOP congressmen/women are from strong Rep districts who at this time would be considered "safe" and would argue they represent their individual district rather than the U.S. at large.

And there's probably some in the GOP who have placed their bets on the Rush "I hope Obama fails" strategy and see where those chips land in 2010.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I largely agree with this point, while again noting members of Congress also do vote for what they believe and being a Democrat in the House versus a Republican denotes a lot about your views on issues.


Rochester, N.Y.: It's interesting -- a lot of journalists are saying that the Obama-Rush flap is a mistake for Obama, but now liberal groups are running ads asking "Rush or Obama" about the stimulus package? Isn't it pretty clear that making Rush Limbaugh the face of the Republican party is a huge mistake for Mike Pence et al.?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't think the GOP wants Rush to be their face for television and he won't. Cantor, Pence, whoever becomes RNC chair, Jindal, etc. will be major players. But opposition parties always have some voices who fire up the base but make comments swing voters might not like. I would say played this role in the 2004-06 period. If the GOP sends Rush to debate Larry Summers on Meet the Press, then I think it gets interesting.


Washington, D.C.: I laughed out loud this morning when I read in your story that House Republicans felt emboldened to oppose the stimulus bill after receiving "dozens of e-mails and phone calls." Dozens? Nothing could highlight the ultimately losing nature of their strategy than this --that they are reacting to a small corps of hardcore conservatives rather than doing what's best.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I would make an analogy to immigration reform here. Conservatives were vocally against it and flooded congressional offices with calls bashing it, but the tone of the debate hurt Republicans with Latino voters in 2008. But like I said, it's one vote, very early on. And Republicans I suspected lowered the number of people who back this stimulus by highlighting some of its more questionable items.


Re Arlington, Va.: Yes, I'm sure that show of GOP muscle has terrified President Obama as much as a single mosquito will scare me away from the beach on a perfect day. Hahaha...shot across the bow... that is good political humor.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I agree you that President Obama probably slept okay on Wednesday night. He's still pretty popular and in a honeymoon period.


Pittsburgh, Pa.: By President Obama (and the media) shining a public light on the big bonuses that execs of bailout-receiving companies have already received -- not the least of which the Merrill Lynch case, where John Thain gave them out in advance before Bush left the presidency (not to mention his office redecoration...) -- how much prospect is there that the court of public opinion will succeed in getting some of these bonuses returned?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think that Obama's pressure will help inspire some bonuses to be given back. I think his voice on this issue will make a difference.


Abingdon, Md.: "I find it equally distasteful to find Dems doing the same thing -- or so it seems.": Or not. I don't remember President Bush trekking to the Capitol to reach out to the Democrats the way President Obama did earlier this week.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Ted Kennedy had many, many meetings with Bush and others on education in 2001. Democrats work closely on the Iraq war resolution with Bush. I think Obama did spend more time on Capitol Hill, but the in the actual details of the bill, Republicans objected to some parts of it.


Rhode Island: Hi Perry,

I have to disagree that "it makes no difference" that govs appoint senators. Just think back to when Tim Johnson was seriously ill, back when the Senate was split down the middle. Had he died or retired, a Republican gov would have named his replacement. An unprincipled gov would have named a Republican, upending the balance of the Senate -- and thereby undoing the choice the voters had made.

Similarly, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen would be in a position to appoint a Democrat to fill Judd Nelson's seat if he accepts a job in the administration, inching the Dems closer to the magic 60.

It's very un-Democratic. I agree the Feingold amendment doesn't have much chance, but I hope these recent incidents induce states to take a look at their laws and call for special elections rather than appointments.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Yes, when the governor is a different party than the senator leaving, like in New Hampshire, that can have a big political impact. I should have said that.


Washington, D.C.: Whether Republicans were smart or not politically to vote against the stimulus is debatable. My larger questions for the Republicans are: Do you have any other economic plan other than tax cuts? And if tax cuts are so great, why after 8 years of them are we in such a mess?

I have to agree with Gene Robinson that Republicans have missed the change that the rest of the public has made.

Perry Bacon Jr.: The Republicans have an alternative stimulus proposal that is full of tax cuts for individuals, businesses, etc. The question about the last eight years is an obvious one and a point Democrats are making.


Gregg for Commerce?: Thinly disguised ploy by the Dems to get to 60 in the Senate?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Too much is made of this 60 number. Dems would love more senators on their side. That said, Ben Nelson, Democrat from Nebraska, is as conservative (or liberal) as Olympia Snowe, Republican of Maine. If Snowe says a bill cost too much, Kent Conrad and Nelson will be making similar noises. Obama's agenda wont' just sail through with 60.


Re the Stimulus: I don't understand why the Republicans are so vociferous about Obama's stimulus package; is it so different from the one Bush proposed?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Republicans want to forget the last year of Bush's term, when they backed a huge bailout conservatives hated. That's part of what's driving their concerns about the stimulus; conservatives see this as another big spending bill that won't help the economy.


Dunn Loring, Va.: You unquestionably accepted an earlier questioner's statement that Obama and other Democrats made concessions to the Republicans. Other than removing funding for contraceptives, what concessions were made to Republicans? Indeed, hasn't Obama followed his usually tactic of listening but ultimately ignoring conservative viewpoints while supporting the most liberal position advanced?

Perry Bacon Jr.: One view of the bi-partisanship.


I find it equally distasteful to find Dems doing the same thing: But they are not. They allowed some amendments. They (even Obama) consulted. They brought in a bill with a third tax cuts. The Republicans think they are being oppressed if the Dems don't completely cave in.

Perry Bacon Jr.: And another.


Santa Barbara, Calif.: What do the tax cuts do for the vast number of Americans who have lost their jobs?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think both Obama and the GOP would say the tax cuts we know help those people pay for things and in theory could help businesses if people spend that money at retailers who are struggling.


Aldie, Va.: Little has been said about the 10 Democrats who voted against the stimulus bill -- is there a common theme to their no votes (e.g., conservative districts)? Is the Dem House leadership concerned? And are there Dems in the Senate likely to vote against it?

Perry Bacon Jr.: We mentioned this in a story today on the House vote. The ten Demo are from conservative areas and Sen Democrats from places like Nebraska are making similar noises.


Sunny California: I'd like the funding for family planning to go back into the bill. Any chance of that?

Perry Bacon Jr.: My guess is no; the GOP won the PR war on that.


2010: Candidly, the only people who will remember that 0 Republicans voted for the latest stimulus bill are the ones who participate in chats like this (no offense). The vast majority of voters won't remember or care. At that point, Obama and the Democrats will own whatever economy we then have, and voters will base their choices on that.

Good whipping by Cantor, though.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think this comment makes a lot of sense.


West Falls Church, Va.: Where was Jesse Jackson during all the inaugural festivities? He was front and center on election night, but was noticeably absent, by choice or by force, during the inauguration.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't remember seeing much of him either. It shows that Obama and Jackson aren't terribly close that the previous biggest vote-getter among blacks played so little a role. I suspect if a female Democrat is elected in Hillary Clinton's lifetime, Clinton will be honored in some way during the inaugural weekend.


Los Angeles, Calif.: Hello, Clinton was impeached and stayed in office. Blagojevich was impeached and didn't stay in office. What was the difference?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Being impeached is like being indicted. The Senate, at both the state level in Illinois and at the federal level, has to convict you to kick you out of office. The Senate didn't vote out Clinton, but in the State Senate in IL dumped Blagojevich.


With all due respect: I don't think the GOP wants Rush to be their face for television and he won't.

Uhhn...GOP congressmen have to crawl to Rush and beg forgiveness for saying anything that doesn't include his "dittoes." It is public humiliation of the worse kind.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I thought it was hilarious a member of Congress went on Rush's show to apologize for offending him. Rush has a lot of grassroots power and I can't think of the obvious Democratic equivalent to him. Maybe one of you guys can.


Boston, Mass.: Over the past couple of chats there have been a lot of back and forth on a little cheap shot Mike Pence took at $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts.

One poster said he couldn't imagine that money for the NEA would actually protect jobs. I decided to take a look at that idea, and it turns out there are five million Americans working for non-profit arts organizations across the country. And, because the biggest benefactors of those organizations are financial institutions and private investors that arts job market is getting decimated. These orgs are too small to get the 10,000 layoffs needed to make it into the headlines, but you add them up across the country and you end up with tens of thousands of people on the unemployment lines. In today's world of trillion dollar bailouts and million dollar offices, $50 million doesn't seem like that big a number to help save jobs.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I can't speak to the job creation of NEA spending. What is obvious is the Republicans took a bunch of small projects ($200 million for National Mall) in a $800 billion bill and argued they represented a bill that is mainly spending on projects many Americans would likely support and tax cuts.


Anonymous: Now that Illinois is better are we done with all the scandals now ?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I'm sure the answer to that is no, but will we ever have a politician quote poetry better?


Bowie, Md.: So, if the majority party uses their electoral victory to muscle through the policies they campaigned on and which won them the election, they get bashed for not being bi-partisan. If they take a long time to pass every bill to allow debate, re-write and compromise, and then ultimately pass a watered down bill, people whine about a "do-nothing" Congress. No wonder they have such low approval ratings all the time. I'm not one to pity politicians, but it seems like Congress as a whole (especially the party in majority) is perpetually in a no-win situation.

Just a little reminder to the American people that you can't have your cake and blah blah blah.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Except that they have built a system that guarantees 85% of them keeping their jobs for as long as they want them no matter what happens.


S-CHIP: How soon will President be signing S-CHIP?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I assume early next week.


Rockville, Md.: What kind of a put-down is this, anyway?

"Most thinking people view him as what he is, an entertainer."

So was Will Rogers, but what he had to say was important. Rush seems to miss that mark, but is is not reason to not listen to him. When did "entertainer" become a bad word?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think Al Gore shifted to a more entertaining role and look at how his life has changed. Anyhow, thanks for the chat. have a great weekend.


Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company