Post Politics Hour

Shailagh Murray
Shailagh Murray
Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Congressional Reporter
Monday, February 23, 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.

Shailagh Murray, Washington Post congressional reporter, was online Monday, Feb. 23 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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Prescott, Ariz.: Good morning Shailagh, the cost of the stimulus is roughly the same as the cost of the Iraq war, to date. I've yet to hear a Republican answer why it's OK to spend the money to rebuild Iraq, but not to rebuild the U.S. Is this a fair comparison?

Shailagh Murray: Good morning everyone. It's the beginning of another huge week in Washington -- do you detect a pattern here?

I think the Iraq war is an interesting comparison insofar as it underscores how huge the stimulus grew to be, and how quickly it passed. But I don't know if you want to go much further than that. What will be interesting to see in the coming months is whether President Obama can make good on his promise to downsize the U.S. role in Iraq to a degree that it makes a dent in war costs. His two big cost-savers in the budget he is about to propose, tax increases and troop withdrawals, could be very tough to pull off politically.


North Manchester, Ind.: Hi Shailagh! Is the esteemed junior senator from Illinois doing anything other than running from himself? I would assume he is too radioactive for his colleagues to even be seen with him.

Shailagh Murray: This Illinois sideshow is so odd. It suggests that Frank Rich was right in his column yesterday -- some people are still in denial about the seriousness of our times.

_______________________ What We Don't Know Will Hurt Us (The New York Times, Feb. 21)


Washington, D.C.: I keep hearing from prominent Republicans like Bobby Jindal that the stimulus money is going to a high-speed rail line from L.A. to Vegas. Yet I've read other reports that this is not true, and the high-speed rail money is not earmarked for that project. Which is true? Help me sort it out, media!

Shailagh Murray: It's not true.

The high-speed rail money will be awarded through a competitive process run by the DOT. There are a number of proposed high-speed rail lines around the country; I imagine those in the most advanced planning stages will have an advantage, and I honestly don't know if Las Vegas-LA qualifies. It may -- and in fact it may be a worthy project. But reports that portray this money as earmarked for specific projects are inaccurate.


Baltimore, Md.: Speaking of junior senators, do you see Al Franken being seated anytime before 2010?

Shailagh Murray: Perhaps, but it seems more and more likely that the Minnesota race will wind up as a re-vote. At this point it seems like the quickest way to resolve the situation.


Annapolis, Md.: I'm all for increasing taxes on the rich, and withdrawing troops from Iraq.

Sounds like Mr. Obama is trying his best to follow through on his campaign promises. So far, so good. Why should these be hard to "sell" on Capitol Hill?

Shailagh Murray: Yes, very hard to sell. But depending on how the year unfolds, it could be delayed until after the 2010 election.

Remember how costly those three Senate stimulus votes proved to be? And that was about giving money away, which is supposed to be popular in these parts. Tax increases of any kind are going to be hard to sell in a recession.


Liars who got mortgages they couldn't afford: I am amazed that the anger is vented towards homebuyers. What the heck is the purpose of the mortgage loan officer? Give away loans to anyone who has an e-mail address or walks by the office?

How did loan applicants lie on their loan applications? Did they falsify their tax documents, falsify their pay stubs, falsify their bank statements and falsify every document that a LOAN OFFICER REVIEWED and APPROVED!

When an adult leaves a loaded gun in the house and a child is killed, do we plan the dead child?

When mortgage companies haphazardly approved risky loans to people who reasonably could not afford the mortgage payment, do you blame the homebuyer?

Shailagh Murray: To me this is a lot like the steroid scandal. As if the players were operating in some sort of rogue state. Ha! This was a massive institutional failure and we all own a piece of it. The current meltdown is an indictment on a whole bunch of things that got out of whack. The easy money flowing to greedy homeowners had to come from somewhere -- and government encouraged it, and we as journalists, by the way, failed to accurately read early warning signs like the predatory lending scandals that bubbled up in inner cities years ago, a precursor to the foreclosure crisis hit the suburbs.


Montgomery Village, Md.: Do you think "Temporary" Sen. Burris will wait until after the president's speech to Congress before he resigns? Was that why the White House asked him on Friday to take the weekend to seriously consider his situation? Wouldn't they want this mess over with ASAP? Or are they working with the new Illinois governor and legislature to find a new temporary senator and change the law in Illinois to call for a special election?

Shailagh Murray: Perhaps everyone should just ignore the guy. I get mixed signals from Illinois folks -- some people think he'll never resign, others think it's hours or days away. The one person who may have some degree of moral leverage -- Obama -- won't get near this, so there aren't a lot of options at this point.


Hard Sell?: Obama doesn't have to pass a bill to increase those taxes, all he has to do is let them expire as they are scheduled. Doesn't seem very hard sell to me with a $10 trillion debt.

Shailagh Murray: Well, that's the way the WH sees it. And in this environment, that may be an accurate read.

But Congress will have to act if they're going to raise business taxes. That's where the timing gets tricky.


re: Bobby Jindal: Do you know if there's any truth to his statement that taking some specific parts of the stimulus money would require raising state taxes?

Shailagh Murray: I'm not sure. States have different budget rules and many are restricted in the way they spend money -- which means he could be right in terms of states meeting the matching requirements, for instance with Medicaid. But I think if a governor wanted to find a way to spend this money, he or she certainly could.


New York: Hi Shailagh, My congressman John McHugh voted NO on the stimulus and made strong statements against it. Today he is too busy to attend the Financial Responsibility Summit at the White House. Is this the way all Republicans are responding to the president's overtures? Isn't it a serious sign of disrespect to stand up a president?

Shailagh Murray: The bet that Rep. McHugh and other Republicans are making is that GOP voters want a feisty opposition, not a minority partner. We'll see in 18 months if their instincts are correct.


Pittsburgh, Pa.: Do you think those Republican governors who claim they'll refuse federal stimulus bill funds for more unemployment insurance coverage in their states will reverse themselves eventually? If they don't, won't an awful lot of folks in their respective states turn against them if they ever run for elective office again?

Shailagh Murray: There's an awful lot of big talk about turning down this money. I want to see who follows through. I bet not many do.


Anonymous: Alan Keyes is all over YouTube, calling Obama a "radical Communist" (moderate Communist would be bad enough, but radical?), and that "if we don't stop him, he will destroy the country." Oh, yeah, he also says Obama was born in Kenya and, thus, ineligible to be president. Even among Obama's strongest conservative critics this is pretty strong talk and, if said by many people would invite a talk with the Secret Service. I wonder if Bill O'Reilly will criticize Keyes. And some are worried about Chris Matthews's praise of Obama?

Shailagh Murray: If Alan Keyes is a threat to democracy, maybe we do need to nationalize the banks, and while we're at it, the airwaves too.

Obama should be so lucky, if conspiracy theories like this are the best conservatives can throw at him.


Al Franken Revote Really?: Star Tribune just published an article on the front page which discusses Coleman's dwindling chances. The Politico last week published an article discussing Coleman's need for a miracle. Election experts from Minnesota are discussing the math which makes a Coleman comeback extremely difficult and the higher courts taking this case an unlikely prospect. How did you arrive at this recount theory? I think the only folks advocating this are a FEW Republicans who see this as Coleman's only realistic hope for overturning the results of November Rulings have diminished Coleman's recount chances (, Feb. 23)

Shailagh Murray: I don't have a revote "theory." I'm just wondering how long this is going to sit in the court system. If Coleman looks desperate, why not just hold another election and beat him handily?

But there's a process in place here, and we can only assume both parties will abide by it.


Arizona: Shailagh, In light of Gov. Jindal's statements, wouldn't it be relevant to point out that the we have already spent more than $15 billion in works projects on New Orlean's levees, there remains another $3.9 billion in federal Katrina aid still to be spent, and Charity Hospital in New Orleans stands empty three years after Katrina? Aside from being false, Gov. Jindal's first campaign talking points could be construed as somewhat disingenuous.

Shailagh Murray: I found that a specious argument, to say the least.

I don't think the "just say no" approach to the federal government is a growth strategy for the GOP. Responsible and efficient government, yes.


Conspiracy Theorists: Don't forget Richard Shelby was also on the fringist "Obama Birth Certificate" bandwagon over the weekend. Very embarrassing to Alabama and the Senate.

Shailagh Murray: More on the Kenya conspiracy.


Rochester, N.Y.: Shailagh, I doubt you'll take this one but if anyone here will, it's you!

Is there any concern that the lax standards of the editorial page (in particular, its refusal to retract false claims made in a recent George Will column) lessens the prestige of the news division at the Washington Post? Personally, the Post is my favorite paper, but this kind of thing makes it awfully hard to take anything in the paper seriously.


Shailagh Murray: I will post this without comment...but rest assured, all of us in the ailing newspaper business are highly receptive to ideas from readers about how we might improve.


You said "If Coleman looks desperate, why not just hold another election and beat him handily? ": That's all fine and good -- for 2014 when the certified winner (be it Franken or Coleman) can face off against the opponent once again.

Just because you lost by a small margin doesn't make it any less of a loss either by 1 vote or 1 million.

The idea of a revote is the ultimate in sore-loserdom.

Shailagh Murray: More from Minnesota.


Wilmington, N.C. : What's the big to do with so-called temporarily nationalizing the banks to make the economy more secure for everyone and the taxpayers would benefit once the recession is over?

I know it sounds bad to say well only the stock holders loose out but we're supposed to remember that the depositors will be insured.

Shailagh Murray: I can't believe we are even debating the prospect of the federal government taking a stake in a huge bank like Citi.

But I don't think anyone has much choice at this point.


Fairfax, Va.: Good Morning Ms. Murray,

There was a news article in the 2-19-2009 issue of the New York Times by Michael Cooper about high speed rail funding. You are correct -- U. S. Department of Transportation will approve funding of projects based on need criteria they will establish -- presumably based on feasibility, if they are "shovel-ready" and likely success.

Many corridors are being considered besides Las Vegas, including California where voters approved a referendum for high speed rail in November 2008. A corridor between Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Chicago can become operational within three years time, which is very fast for a mass transit project.

We are more likely to see higher speed trains in the 110 mph speed range rather than true high speed operate in the U. S. The ACELA train in the Northeast Corridor averages only 84 mph because of roadbed limitations and sharing the line with freight trains, but is designed to operate at 150 mph.

Recently, I road on the Japanese Shinkansen high speed train at 180 mph and it makes me shake my head. The U. S. is at least 40 years behind in high speed rail technology.

For more on high speed rail, read "Super Trains" by Joseph Vranich.

Shailagh Murray: Thanks for this!!


Leesburg, Va.: Shailagh, regarding governors refusing the stimulus money...

I thought I read somewhere that even if governors "refuse" the money, the state legislatures can override them, thus making statements like Jindal, Barbour, etc., more of a dog-and-pony show than anything.

How accurate is this? It strikes me as similar to the time when Gov. Palin claimed to say "thanks but no thanks to the bridge to nowhere" and then she just took all the money and spent it on something else.

Shailagh Murray: Yes, but it's not entirely clear at this point whether it applies to all the money. We're still trying to figure out the implications.

Keep in mind that Jindal and others are taking the vast majority of the money flowing their way. The disputed sum in La. is a tiny fraction of the total that will flow to the state from the bill, I'm told by my colleague Phil Rucker, who covered the NGA this weekend.


Louisville, Ky.: Ms. Murray, I always enjoy reading your stories and learn a lot from them. What initially got you interested in covering Congress?

Shailagh Murray: That's so kind of you, thanks.

I will put in a plug here for Congress -- it's the front line of government. And if you take the "representative" part seriously, by talking to all sort of members from all sorts of backgrounds, you can gain a remarkably keen sense of what's happening out there in the real world -- an elusive place for many of us inside the Beltway.


Rockville, Md.: I am okay on the mortgage but due to a previous lay off I have run up credit card bills and paying at a usury rate. Do you think if I get a loan on my mortgage to pay back credit cards then default I will be bailed out? Seems to me that the card card problem is as bad as mortgage problem.

Shailagh Murray: If you can get a loan on your mortgage, send me a note and tell me how you did it. The problem these days is that no one has access to credit of any kind -- even the good kind that could help you manage your debts.


Northampton, Mass.: I agree with "You said "If Coleman looks desperate, why not just hold another election and beat him handily? "" And with all due respect, I think the kind of attitude you expressed originally about this issue is why so many of us outside the Beltway here spend our time criticizing you guys on these chats. It is an attitude that values what people in D.C. are saying about things over what the actual desire of the voters is. Please consider this as you go about your job. Thanks!

Shailagh Murray: Thanks for the input.

Here's my perspective: the Senate is missing one member (really two, including Kennedy) during the mother of all crises. If I were a "voter" I would be pretty upset that my state has less than a full say in all the matters of extreme consequence that Congress is considering right now, and will weigh over the coming months.

So, yes, let the process play out. But the same Democratic voters who want Franken seated are paying the biggest price -- because the further Reid is from 60, the more he has to bargain away with Republicans.

To clarify on the previous question about state aid -- my colleague Phil says that governors have 40 days to spend the money, and if they don't, state legislatures have the option of overriding them. Apparently that applies across funding categories.

See you in a few weeks, and thanks for all the thoughtful questions. Take care, Shailagh


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