Post Politics Hour
Thursday, February 12, 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 congressional reporter Paul Kane, was online Thursday, Feb. 12 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest stimulus news from Capitol Hill.
A transcript follows.
Paul Kane: Good morning, folks. Holy cow, we've actually got a House-Senate compromise. The stimulus bill -- actual legislative draft still to come -- will be voted on tomorrow in the House, per a little bird who just e-mailed me from inside the Democratic caucus after hearing Steny Hoyer's announcement. Vote probably around lunchtime, sending it to the Senate by mid-afternoon, where they'll have several scheduling conflicts and procedural issues that might delay this vote till Saturday. Happy Valentine's Day!
Meanwhile, with the Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger in full bloom here on Capitol Hill, I'm allowed to talk about Springsteen without making non-Bruce fans angry because, well, this is a congressional chat. I've got the Hershey Park August 2008 show going on my iTunes as I type for inspiration. Now, on to the questions. -pk
Tucson, Ariz.: Hi Paul, what is the process for putting out details of huge appropriations legislation? Does it leak out to you guys in little bits, is their an official publication date of the legislation... Specifically, I want to know if the pared down home buyer's tax credit will need to be repaid.
Paul Kane: Great question. Basically, 90% of the bill was the same between the House and Senate versions, allowing for the possibilities that there were slight differences in dollar figures.
But the final negotiations over key issues -- the house-purchase tax credit, the reduction in Make Work Pay credit, the $54 billion in state aid -- those details began to emerge from staff before lunch yesterday, which is why you might have seen reports from the AP and on Washingtonpost.com about a "deal" about to be reached. Relying on aides like that, we can't say a deal is reached but can say a deal is near and here are the final issues. But then senators began to emerge from Harry Reid's office and confirmed aspects of the deal they just negotiated. Once you have principals telling you this, then we report it out. As for the actual bill draft, they're still doing that now. Just so you know, as of 5:30 last night, they were still working off of legislative drafts labeled with Monday's date. And a lot of changes had been made to the bill since then, including all the centrist cuts in spending.
So it may take a few more hours to finish off the actual bill's details.
Washington, D.C: How long will tax payers be paying off the new stimulus bill and when will we know if it actually met its goal of creating four million new jobs?
Paul Kane: As for the latter part of that question, look for a story in tomorrow's paper by my indefatigable colleague Lori Montgomery exploring just this issue. Without giving away her reporting, it's not all that clear, for sure.
How long will we pay this off? That depends, in many respects, on the answer to the latter part of the question. If it's successful and the economy rebounds, that will help pay this off.
San Francisco, Calif.: Some people were concerned about protectionist language in the House of Representative's version of the stimulus bill. Is the final version of the bill that came out of the conference committee more protectionist, less protectionist, or not protectionist at all?
Paul Kane: The final version, according to what Senate Finance Chairman Baucus told us last night, is nowhere near as stringent in its Buy American provisions as the House version. I'm sorry I don't have the precise language on that, but I know it's much closer to the Senate's language.
Washington, D.C.: In the current stimulus legislation, the middle class tax cut is supposed to be $400 for singles and $800 for married filing jointly. When does eligibility phase out begin and when does it end?
Paul Kane: The phase outs for this tax provision were what the House wanted. It begins to phase out at $75,000 and completely phases out at $100,000.
Silver Spring, Md.: So a stimulus question. Shocking I know. I am closing on a condo in early April and make just under $75,000. Would I be eligible for the full $8,000 credit, assuming I pay in at least $8,000 in federal taxes? Would I get it all when I file my 2009 taxes next year or is it paid out over time?
Paul Kane: Yes, if you're earning under $75,000, my understanding is that you're fully eligible for this $8,000 credit. Above $75k, it begins to phase out and completely phases out at $95,000, I'm told.
I believe it all comes in the 2009 forms filed next spring, but please don't call me a liar if that's not accurate.
New York: Paul, was it considered bad form for Sen. Lugar to refuse Pres. Obama's offer to ride with him to Indiana? Thanks.
Paul Kane: No, this wasn't necessarily bad form at all, particularly since Lugar was probably the closest friend of Obama's from the other side of the aisle in his first days in the Senate. Not great friends, but good colleagues. They sponsored nuclear proliferation legislation together on the Foreign Relations Committee. Obama even used Lugar's name and image in advertisements during his campaign to prove his bipartisan bona fides.
When Obama did that, I went to a Lugar press conference on a non-related issue to ask him about Obama's ads, thinking he'd be upset because Lugar was backing McCain and maybe he'd want Obama to pull the ads down.
Lugar politely told us reporters he didn't believe in censorship and that the Obama ads were an accurate depiction of their relationship. It was pretty classy, the way he handled it.
Obama and Lugar are fine.
Providence, R.I.: Thanks for chatting, Paul. Should we anticipate another White House cocktail party after the stimulus is passed by both Houses?
Paul Kane: Once this sucker is passed and signed into law, I think Obama should throw a kegger for all of Congress, particularly the staff who spent the countless hours, anonymously, working the issue to death behind the scenes. Yes, a kegger on the south lawn of the White House. And just to make the Blue Dogs happy, Obama can raise money to reduce the deficit. $2 a cup, unless you voted against it, in which case it's $3 a cup.
Florissant Valley, Mo.: Hey, Paul. Yeah, I know you'll want to vent or exult about Bruce for a few minutes, but then can you address this one: do you think the House members caved too easily on the issue of aid to the states? Their version had $40B. What did it get reduced to? $8B? Was that a deal-breaker for the three special Republicans? Thanks
Paul Kane: Ok, here's the back-of-the-envelope math on the state stabilization fund. The House version had $79 billion, the Senate's version had $39 billion. Most of this money was meant to shore up education costs so there would not be massive teacher layoffs. Republicans thought this was way too generous. Lamar Alexander says his home state, Tennessee, has an $800 million hole in its budget, yet the House version would have given the Volunteer State $4 billion.
So Susan Collins and Ben Nelson knocked it down to $39 billion in the Senate, and they also wiped out a fund of almost $20 billion for new school construction. Collins is ideologically opposed to the federal gov't becoming so involved in local school districts that Uncle Sam is building schools -- once they start doing that, the feds won't ever stop, she and the GOP believe.
The compromise was to bump up the state stabilization fund to $54 billion and free the governors' hands so that, if they want, they can spend some of their money on school RENOVATIONS. This was key, and this was part of the big dispute between Pelosi/House Democrats and the Senate in the final hours. "Not new," Baucus told us last night, saying no new construction could begin with the funds.
Los Gatos, Calif.: Good Morning:
What do you think the chances are of health care and Social Security reform coming out of this Congress? Is there any possibility of Republicans working with the administration on either of these two issues?
Paul Kane: These are really big-ticket items. There was talk that health care was slipping, even before Daschle pulled out as HHS nominee, but then there was talk that it was fine and moving along well.
It's hard to know what the fiscal mess means in all this. Advocates are certain a nationalized health system will reduce costs, but I'm not certain that there aren't lots of transitional costs -- same with any Social Security reform.
These issues have been around so long, I'm just always a bit cynical of anyone's ability to finish them off. But we'll see.
Toledo, Ohio: I read that Democratic House members could be heard screaming at each other last night about the details of the stimulus compromise -- did the Senate roll the House on the package?
Paul Kane: "We want more" was their chant inside an emergency meeting of the House Democratic caucus. That's probably going to be turned into an ad by Republicans or conservative groups pretty soon.
I know they believed their hearts were in the right place, but it just sounds a bit over the top and insensitive given the $1.2 trillion deficit. If they had to do it over again, I think they would've selected a different chant.
Another House Question:: I bought my house back in August, am I out-of-luck?
Paul Kane: In terms of the $8,00 tax credit, you're out of luck.
But hey, if bought at the right time, in terms of overall sale, you'll be ok.
if you're earning under $75,000, my understanding is that you're fully eligible for this $8,000 credit. : Is it a rebate or is it more like a loan?
Paul Kane: It's not a loan, not for 2009. That's the old law, that it functions like a loan, but this is a full credit.
St Paul, Minn.: Hi Paul, I read that Al Franken is in town "readying himself to serve in the Senate." Is this the longest a state has gone without an election being decided? And what has happened to Sen. Coleman's staff in limbo?
Paul Kane: Actually, the 1974 New Hampshire Senate race was never decided. The state officials counted and recounted, the leader flipped back and forth, then the US Senate investigated and threw its hands up and said it could not declare a winner. They had a do-over election in the fall of '75.
Read all about it.
Pittsburgh, Pa.: I know we both were wishing for an all Keystone-State Super Bowl, but still, How 'Bout Them Stillers! On a politically-related question, how is it playing in D.C. that team-owner Dan Rooney, a lifelong Republican, endorsed Barack Obama for president last year, and even presented him with a Steelers jersey? Here in the 'Burgh, some diehard Republican fans were really ticked off by this, and then again when Rooney acknowledged Obama again immediately following Feb. 1's Super Bowl victory. (Bonus points if you know what Rooney had against McCain, other than possibly Sarah Palin).
Paul Kane: Yes, and the word on the street is that Rooney's up for the greatest ambassadorship of all -- Ireland. FYI, for those that are interested, Bruce plays RDS Arena July 11, 4 days before my birthday. I'm thinking now that the Post may want to send me to Dublin to profile Ambassador Rooney in July ... Hmmm.
Bremerton, Wash.: "Yes, a kegger on the south lawn of the White House. And just to make the Blue Dogs happy, Obama can raise money to reduce the deficit. $2 a cup, unless you voted against it, in which case it's $3 a cup."
It better be Pabst Blue Ribbon since Budweiser's now owned by Brazil!
Paul Kane: Come on, dude. Yuengling, America's oldest brewery, from wonderful Pottsville, Pa., just outside Philly.
Obama drank a couple Yuenglings during the 6-week Pennsylvania primary.
washingtonpost.com: U.S. Senate/Do-Over Election
Bipartisanship?: How do you expect the Republican leadership will punish Sens. Collins, Snowe and Spector for their party disloyalty in voting for the stimulus bill? Collins just got reelected, so could plausibly claim a voter mandate from Maine, but Specter is up for reelection in 2010 in Pennsylvania, where he could easily lose in the primary.
Paul Kane: Collins is fine shape. She is up front, for the most par, in her dealings with her conservative colleagues. And they just appreciate having her here rather than a Democrat.
As for Specter, he almost always faces a conservative primary challenge, so he's girding for that. But Democrats are on the march in PA, so he knows he's gonna face a tough general election -- something he hasn't had to worry about the past two re-elect battles, in '98 and '04. His main worry, former Rep. Pat Toomey, seems more interested in the governor's race, so it's unclear where the primary challenge would come from.
Bruce Question, N.J.: I think he should have started with 'Glory Days' and ended with 'Born to Run' at the Super Bowl and forgotten about the slide!
Paul Kane: I think the female viewership probably loved the slide, right down to the crotch ending up in the camera. I know it was a personal highlight for my friend, Lauren.
As for the rest of the set, I thought it was fine -- except for when the ref walked on stage and threw a flag. Way too cheeeeezy. However, at least Bruce has thrown a flag on Ticketmaster. There are key fans of Bruce working in the offices of Rep. Bill Pascrell and Sen. Chuck Schumer, the two lawmakers leading the charge against the merger with Live Nation.
Justice is now looking at it, and Sen. Herb Kohl, chairman of the antitrust subcommittee, is going to hold hearings. Maybe Bruce will come testify!
Boston, Mass.: Hi Paul,
It seems everyone is saying this is first Obama victory, but the extended child health care benefit was a huge losing battle for Dems way back in the Bush era. It seemed to have passed and been signed with minimum fanfare.
Paul Kane: Yes, the SCHIP bill and Lilly Ledbetter fair pay for women legislative fights were losing ones in '07 for Democrats, so those were really nice wins for Democrats. But, honestly, in a town built on expectations, we knew those were winners once Senate Dems picked up at least 6 seats based on last congresses votes. Regardless of who won the White House. So it didn't feel as big when they were signed into law.
Sorry, I know they're important, but the expectations were such that they don't represent big wins for Obama. This will be a huge win. For Obama.
Newark, Del.: Who should the Eagles take in the draft?
Paul Kane: Someone who can manage the clock and someone whose job it is to throw the red challenge flag. Take those two authorities away from Andy Reid, I'm happy headed into next season.
Bud owned by Brazil?: I thought it was Belgium.
Paul Kane: Yes, bad work by that questioner. It was a Belgian firm that bought Bud.
You know what else is huge in Belgium? Citizen Dick.
Name that movie.
Washington, D.C.: Yuengling might have been the greatest revelation of my college years -- cheap AND high quality -- but they don't sell it west of Pittsburgh, so it makes since that the poster from Washington automatically jumped to one of the truly sub-par nationally distributed brews.
Paul Kane: Try Bells. Great beer, from Kalamazoo. Michigan political types swear by it.
Central Mass.: Hi, pk! Sooo -- stimulus -- how much for roads and bridges? Or will most of the money going to the states be for education? Frankly, our roads in Massachusettes are atrocious; I'd love it if they sent us a boatload of dough to fix them... If they spend all that money for the stimulus and the roads are still awful, I for one will be very unhappy!
Paul Kane: Roads and bridges got $29 billion, a split between the Senate's $27 billion and the House's $30 billion.
Add in some of the other stuff, transit, etc., and old fashioned infrastructure got more than $46 billion.
In a sign of the times - the Democratic times -- renewable energy/alternative fuels, that got $70 billion in funding.
Wow, times have changed.
Nationalized health care: I AM certain that there would be transitional costs if we went to a national health care plan, because that is what the experts say. However, if a plan saves money and increases productivity over the long run it is a good deal, much like buying a new efficiency washer and dryer pays itself off.
Paul Kane: Yes, but depending on how high those transitional costs are, they might bankrupt you in the short run. They could drive deficits so high, the Chinese stop buying our debt, which would be a bigger problem than having 45 million people uninsured. Sadly, that's the truth.
Speaking of Stony Hoyer...: ...I saw in John Updike's obituaries a few weeks ago that his middle name was Hoyer, which got me to noticing a certain facial resemblance between him and the House Majority leader. Do you know whether they were any relation?
Paul Kane: Seriously?
I think Hoyer would be honored to have anyone think he resembled such a great American author.
But really, Steny's much more a man of the people. Little known fact about Hoyer: he goes to almost every single funeral of a policeman or fire fighter in his Prince Georges County-based district. I'm not talking about people who die in the line of duty.
I'm talking about everyone, right down to the retired 78-year-old former cop who served for 40 years. He tries to make them all.
Franconia, Va.: What's happening with stem cell research?
Paul Kane: Fantastic question, Franconia. There was talk that Obama would, through executive order, open up federal funding to embryonic stem cell research. Last I heard, Obama and Democrats had decided it was just better to do it legislatively. There's been so much focus on the economy that an issue like that has been temporarily shelved. I'd look for it in mid-to-late March, or early April, before we get into the big fight of the spring: war funding.
Rockville, Md.: Any money for a superconducting power grid?
And is the income limit on home buyers at that level for a couple? Or is it $150,000.
Paul Kane: Oh, sorry. Upper income limit for couples is $150,000, with it completely phasing out at $170,000.
Shoot, I'm sorry, not sure about the total funding for super power grid, but I know it's in there. Ben Nelson is a huge, huge supporter of it, so I'm sure he put it in there. (Nebraska, a plains state, is huge on wind farms.)
Silver Spring, Md.: Thanks for answering my housing credit question! I'd never call you a liar ha
Paul Kane: Plenty of people call me plenty of things. But thanks.
Arlington, Va.: As time passes and the Democrats and two or three Republicans do serious work to get this stimulus plan down and passed, doesn't it appear that the vast majority of Republicans and their leadership simply look like obstructionists and will pay dearly for this strategy?
Paul Kane: An obstructionist actually obstructs. The difference now is Republicans can't obstruct, not so long as Obama, Rahm and Harry Reid can placate Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe.
Lily Ledbetter Law: Does the Supreme Court have the authority to declare the Lily Ledbetter Law unconstitutional, even though it was passed to override a Supreme Court decision?
Paul Kane: Yikes, constitutional law -- I only got a C in Professor James Soles' pre-law class at Univ of Delaware. No, I don't think the Supremes can overturn this, or they have to find new grounds to do so, at least. But remember, I got a C, and it was precisely 20 years ago, the spring semester of 1989.
After I got that C, I realized I didn't want to be a lawyer. Next semester, I took E307, intro to journalism, only as a writing requirement to get my poli-sci degree. Next thing I knew, Dr. Jackson had me enthralled with reporting. Life changed forever. Get well, Dr. J, thoughts and prayers are with you.
Paul Kane: alright team, thanks so much for all the questions. I appreciate the time. Now I gotta go do some real reporting. I'll see you back here in two weeks. - pk
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