Post Politics Hour

Paul Kane
Paul Kane
Paul Kane
Washington Post Congressional Reporter
Thursday, February 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 buzz in Washington and The Post's coverage of political news.

Washington Post congressional reporter Paul Kane, was online Thursday, Feb. 26 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the president's economic address to Congress and the stimulus package, the release of the proposed budget Thursday, which includes a $634 billion health-care fund, and reaction on Capitol Hill.

A transcript follows.

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Paul Kane: Good morning fine citizens of The District of Columbia is on the verge of winning a seat in the House of Representatives and the annual budget outline submitted by the president is upon us here on Capitol Hill. It's really one of the silliest traditions in Washington, since Congress then sets the real spending items. But it's here. Big events in Minnesota as Republicans seem to be mounting a campaign that's based as much on the public perception of legitimacy as they are on legal rational for Norm Coleman. And spring training is in full bloom in Florida and Arizona, with MLB still trying to figure out how much of a steroid mess is on its hands. Off to the questions. -pk


Chicago, Ill.: I have heard there are 9000 earmarks in the new Obama budget. Do you know where I can find a list of these (without having to comb through the budget document)? Thanks!

Paul Kane: Ah, you accidentally hit upon what is an inherent question in this debate: what is an earmark?

Under the definition by John McCain, any earmark that is requested by the White House is inherently not an earmark. The contention being that the White House's individual line items of spending requests had gone through administrative review by the various agencies, and that's how those requests ended up in the budget -- and ultimately in the congressional spending bills at the end of each year.

Some think this is a ridiculous standard and that the lobbyists who work Congress also ply their trade in the agencies as well, resulting in them winning administration requests that amount to earmarks.

It's a little known fact: the single biggest earmarker of this decade is ... George W. Bush.


SW Nebraska: Which members of Congress were twittering?

Paul Kane:

That's the site that allows you to follow those members that are into tweeting. You'll learn things such as Orrin Hatch just set up his Facebook page. Amazing.

As for those that were doing this during Obama's speech, Shailagh Murray and myself were helping Dana Milbank monitor all this, me on my laptop in the press office here in the Capitol and Shailagh in the House chamber spotting out members who were fiddling with their CrackBerry during the speech. Without question Claire McCaskill and Mel Martinez were the most twittering senators, while John Culberson (R-Texas) took top honors among House members.


Re. Coleman Mishegoss: In a chat a few days ago, your colleague Shailagh Murray stated that the "Minnesota race will wind up as a re-vote." She said it seemed "like the quickest way to resolve the situation" and went on to suggest that if "Coleman looks desperate, why not just hold another election and beat him handily?" But isn't it true that election experts from Minnesota are saying in unison that a Coleman comeback at this point is extremely unlikely -- and the higher courts taking this case is also an unlikely prospect. Plus, from what I've read a revote is not a legally available option to the court under Minnesota law, even in the case of a tie. Is it?

Paul Kane: COIN TOSS!!!!!

That's how you settle a tie. I personally love that option. Anyone here see "Friday Night Lights" the movie? I loved how Odessa-Permian got into the state playoffs by winning a 3-way coin toss.

Maybe they do the same in Minnesota? I'm mostly kidding. Franken holds a clear edge now, both in votes and in legal standing with the 3-judge panel he's appearing before now. But Coleman's team has laid some groundwork for an appeal to the state supremes. I don't know enough about the law in Minnesota to know if the supremes there will listen to every inch of Coleman's case, but surely they will hear oral arguments on it. As for a do-over election, there is precedent for it. 1974, New Hampshire Senate race. The US Senate ultimately decided it could not seat anyone, it was unable to determine the winner, therefore a do-over election in the fall of '75 was held.

For those that want more FNL highlights, here's a real clip of Odessa-Permian from '88.

_______________________ 1988 Odessa Permian vs Midland Lee Friday Night Lights (YouTube)


SW Nebraska: What kind of legislator was "Bobby" Jindal when he was in the House of Representatives? Was he innovative or did he just go along with the rest of the Republicans?

Paul Kane: He was only here a couple years before he won the governor's race, so it's hard to say what he was or wasn't like. He lost the '03 governor's race, then won the House seat for southeastern Louisiana in November '04. Seated in January '05, by early '07 he was campaigning almost full time for governor.

I'll say this much, for the liberals out there who are mocking his performance, you are deluding yourselves into thinking this guy is a lightweight who you can mock. This is a very smart man, I watched him on the stump in Baton Rouge last May campaigning for the GOP candidate for the House special election there.

He is charismatic, he connects with his audience. Maybe he gave a horrific response to Obama -- don't forget how awful Bill Clinton's first appearance on national TV was at the '88 convention -- but he's only 37. He's going to be around a long, long time. This guy's got chops.


Hampton Cove, Ala.: I decide to read the stimulus bill. It is obviously full of earmarks, with by name allocations -- $10 million for the Susan Harwood Foundation, for example. Why are reporters allowing Obama to claim it is not loaded with earmarks? Do they believe it themselves, or are they scared to be the lone voice of honesty?

Paul Kane: Again, using the John McCain definition of earmarks -- the best, most consistent definition, if not necessarily the most accurate at times -- there weren't any earmarks in this bill. There just weren't, not the kind of stuff that was given to a specific member of Congress put into the bill solely at their discretion.


Rumson, N.J.: I know it is budget day, but the House Judiciary Committee is doing a hearing right now examining the proposed merger of Ticketmaster and LiveNation, which I believe would be terrible for fans of music and sports across America. What role can Congress play in stopping an anti-competitive merger of this nature?

Paul Kane: Is that you, Mr. Springsteen?

(I type away while listening right now to my bootlegged version of Bruce in Dublin last Memorial Day weekend -- thanks, Flynn!)

As for the merger, Congress can play a big role now that the majority has a Democratic administration in place. I'm not 100% of antitrust laws (I got a C+ in Professor Soles' intro to law class 20 years ago) but I think Congress would have to take specific action to block a merger. But more importantly Congress can exert political pressure on the Justice Department's anti-trust division, which must sign off on mergers such as this one. Here's a link to a site that deals with this.


Gilbert's Corner, Va.: Am I correct in assuming that groups already have lawsuits ready to be filed the moment the D.C. voting rights bill is signed into law?

Paul Kane: According to our top-notch reporter Mary Beth Sheridan, no, there aren't lawsuits already to go. But everyone knows they will come when/if the law is passed.

How about that Coburn amendment yesterday? He took the idea of taxation without representation to its extreme end: rather than give DC a representative, he offered it a chance to be exempted from all federal taxes.

Man, how many of us DC residents -- if put to a referendum -- would gladly forsake our vote in Congress if it meant we didn't have to pay federal taxes?

Alas, just 7 senators voted for it.

_______________________ American Antitrust Institute


Earmarks: Look, the main objection to earmarks was that they were not vetted by the appropriate agency and thus did not have to compete with other projects. All the projects in the stimulus bill either have been vetted or will be. Face it. There are no earmarks in the Recovery Bill.

Paul Kane: That's the essential definition put forward by the McCain doctrine on earmarks. Either the money must be requested by the administration in a competitive process, or the specific spending request must be done in a regular legislative order, offered as an amendment to the larger bill, voted up or down. One or the other.


Bucks, Pa.: I found the president's live Q and A session with lawmakers this week to be an extraordinary development, and hope that it becomes standard operating procedure. I was curious how journalists viewed it.

Paul Kane: you want question time to the president, like the British parliament?

Hah, I don't mind the idea but don't hold your breath. Plus, I've sat through a lot of congressional hearings, you'd have to have a limit to who could ask questions. Some of those questions are just terrible.


Richmond, Va.: Okay. So the Senate is a nice polite club, where all members are treated with respect by each other. But now you have Burris who has been asked to resign by almost everyone who counts, and he won't. In fact, as I understand it, he is "staffing up" and looks like he isn't going anywhere. Question: Do his colleagues just ignore all the fuss about him and do their "clubby" thing as if nothing has happened, or does he pay a price for his refusal to resign -- uh, like no one speaks to him? I guess what I want to know is does any senator pay any price within these hallowed halls for their misdeeds until the next election, when the voters make their voice heard?

Paul Kane: Look, did you know that Larry Craig is gonna be a lobbyist? Yep, he is. Burris is taking the Craig approach, burrowing in, waiting it out for a couple years and hoping to plead his case to whoever matters. Then he'll leave the chamber at the end of his term.

Oddly enough, like Craig, by sticking around and fighting, he's insured himself of hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal debt through the Senate ethics committee investigation and fighting a local legal battle.


Arlington, Va.: Susan Harwood Foundation...

Just so Alabama can be informed...

Susan was a tireless advocate for worker safety and health who died way too young from liver cancer. The Foundation was created in her honor to award training grants. It was gutted by the Bush Administration. This is not an earmark.

Paul Kane: Just so both sides of the issue can be presented, here's the defense of that specific funding.


Sarasota, Fla.: Paul, to be fair, George Bush didn't say he would end all earmarks. Obama did.

Paul Kane: Obama said he would have no earmarks in this particular bill, the $787 billion stimulus bill.

To be clear, his campaign literature promised to bring earmarks down to their pre-Republican rule levels. Obama-Biden promised to slash the total # of earmarks to what they were in 1994, before the Newt-led GOP revolution.

That was basically about 7,500 earmarks. Now, when you take the appropriation bill the House passed yesterday and the one passed last September, there are about 15,000 earmarks in the federal spending bills approved by Congress. (That total does not include those earmarks that are solely the request of the White House, fyi.)

So, Obama's goal is to halve the total number of earmarks. That's a tall order, given what Pelosi-Reid-McConnell believe about earmarks, which is that it's better for a member of Congress who faces the voters every 2 to 6 years to direct spending in his/her district than some "faceless bureaucrat". (That was Reid's phrase yesterday.)


Raleigh, N.C.: Good morning. Which Republicans in Congress are taking a fresh POLICY approach to the issues we're facing? For example, what is the newest and smartest conservative approach to rising income inequality/the weakening of the middle class? For the failures of the financial markets? Or whatever other big issues you want to bring up?

Paul Kane: I can't say which are the best ideas and the best approaches, not yet, because it's just too early into their winter exile from power to know who has the best ideas on these issues among Republicans.

I'll say this, Eric Cantor of Virginia and Dave Camp of Michigan are two guys fairly new to power who are trying to focus their intuitive knowledge on just these topics, the middle class especially. They come to it from a very Republican approach, so some of their ideas will be familiar conservative terrain: lower taxes, less government. But they're trying to find new approaches to those old ideas. We'll see what happens.


Toronto, Ontario: Good morning: My question is about the election in Minnesota. Is there a time limit, or can this drag out forever? Will the Democrats make a move to seat Franken, or will they wait Until an appeal is heard by the Minnesota Supreme Court?

Paul Kane: hmmm, that's a good question about the appeal to the state Supremes. I don't know if Harry Reid has answered that question. I'll put it to him at a 12:15 pm presser he and his leadership team are doing, right after this chat ends.

We know that Reid has definitely said he'll let this current trial play out before they would try to seat Franken. Not sure what Dems will do if Coleman were to take this to Alan Page's Purple People Eater Supreme Court.

However, all 41 Republicans are united behind Coleman on this. So there would almost certainly be a filibuster to Franken's seating, so it's a moot point to some degree.


Frost/Nixon on earmarks: "If the President does it, it's not an earmark!"

Paul Kane: That's funny.

I haven't even seen the movie yet, but I've seen that clip. Kills me every time. Can't you just see Cheney telling Bush the same thing?


Princeton, N.J.: If you take the year earmarks were the worst, they were less than 1% of the deficit. This is a real red herring. Keep your eye on the ball, folks.

Paul Kane: That's a good point, Princeton.

But let's face facts. Whatever their overall % of the budget or GDP or whatever, earmarks now account for more than $15 billion a year, according to the independent Taxpayers for Common Sense.

That's enough to run many state governments. That's a serious amount of money.


Baltimore, Md.: What do you read from Obama's failure to mention the Card Check bill? Is the White House getting cold feet about pushing this bill?

Paul Kane: This is the issue that would rupture the fledgling coalition Obama has built to pro-business groups like the Chamber of Commerce. He needs these groups a while longer, for other financial recovery issues. I don't think card check comes up until much later this year. At least that's the read we're getting from Dems here on the Hill.


N.H. Senate Race 1974: That race was much closer than the Franken/Coleman race -- at some points in the process less than ten votes. There were a couple of recounts, and the leader changed back and forth in each recount. So finally a new election was held. The Minnesota gap is much wider and Coleman hasn't come close to getting back in the lead since he lost it. No basis for following the NH example.

Paul Kane: I remember emailing a bunch of coworkers at almost 4 am election night, er, morning. With a subject line of: Franken is trailing by 75 -- YES, SEVENTY-FIVE -- votes out of nearly 3 million cast.

Sorry, but this race has been incredibly close, and the lead has switched. The New Hampshire example does apply, get over it.

Here's the link to the Senate historian's office accounting of that race in '74.


D.C.: Is Reid soliciting the three Republican senators to be come Dems given Michael Steele's threat to cut off support for "pro stimulus senators"?

Paul Kane: Eh, no.

I mean, with regards to Susan Collins, she's incredibly powerful solely because she's a Republican. If she and/or Snowe switched parties, they'd just be any other moderate Democrat. They'd have no juice, no power.

As for Specter, they're trying to nuke him politically and beat him '10, not get him to switch parties.


Alexandria, Va.: You have to admire Obama trying to "flood the zone." There are so many new proposals on big issues being proposed that the Republicans don't know where to target their fire. I don't remember ever seeing anything like it. After the Jindal debacle, are the GOP leaders simply shell shocked, cowering and just waiting for this all to blow over?

Paul Kane: Just to play the role of contrarian here, Obama's flood the zone approach also risks a problem for his side: over-extension, expanding beyond your supply lines.

Or, to keep using bad metaphors, he's not just fighting a two-front war, he's fight a 5-front war, maybe more.

That's risky. If it works, he'll be right there next to FDR and Reagan as one of the most transformative presidents of the last 150 years.

But the flood-the-zone approach also runs the risk of simply flooding the agenda, drowning in the quagmire.

Can someone count how many metaphors I used there?


Bad Apples Burrowed in Justice?: Maybe I'm crazy for thinking this, but don't the Bush-era firings of the U.S. Attorneys (for refusing to prosecute for political purposes) actually put all of those who remained in the department who weren't fired under suspicion? It's not to say they were all guilty, but how likely is it that the only U.S. Attorneys appointed by Bush who were pressured to participate are the ones who refused and were fired for it? And how many of the others -- those who might have actually participated in politicizing Justice -- are still working at DOJ?

Paul Kane: to be sure, the entire senior level officers of DOJ were all out of the RFK building by September 2007. Gonzales resigned, as did the deputy AG, as did both of their chiefs of staff, as did Fredo's counselor Monica Goodling, as did the official in charge of overseeing US attorneys, as did about a half dozen others.

Those were the folks implementing these politicized actions. I'm not sure who else you're worried about. If you're fear is that there are midlevel people who caved to these Bushies and did their dirty work, and that they're still there at Justice, I don't think liberals have anything to fear. Those seem like the type of people who are your typical office brown nosers who will simply go along with whatever the boss says. And now that the bosses are Dems, they'll be doing what the Dems say.


D.C. Voting rights bill: Why is an additional Utah representative vote piggy backing on D.C. voting rights bill? Aren't the number of representatives based on census/population?

Paul Kane: This bill actually changes the number of reps in the House to 437. It's a really big deal.

Utah was thisclose to getting an additional seat after the 2000 census/reapportionment. So, Tom Davis, when he was still in the House, came up with this compromise: give DC the vote, but also give Utah another seat.

The reason being, Utah is soooo Republican, it would amount to a wash in terms of votes on the House floor.


Denver, Colo.: Hi Paul.

I watched an HBO documentary last night (can't recall the name) but it gave an unflinching review of people's attitudes toward then candidate Obama, blacks and liberals in the battleground states (The South, Penn, Ohio, Wisconsin).

I was shocked at the anger.

However, in my local paper (Denver Post and/or Rocky Mountain News), any article about Obama, economy, Stimulus Bill, etc., has also been filled with what seems like an amped-up level hate, rage, vitriol.

Is it your sense that because of the economy and/or the significance of the sea change represented in the presidential election that we are in a temporary time where people have just let out their rage and anger? Or are we (as a country) moving along a path of increasing intolerance?

It just seems like at no other time that I can remember (born 1960) we are at a heightened level of divisiveness in the country.

Paul Kane: This is the documentary by Alexandra Pelosi, the speaker's daughter.

Frankly, I already knew there was a lot of anger out there. I think there always has been, we just now get to see it because of 24/7 cable, because of satellites, because of Facebook, Twitter, because we're now all able to communicate more often -- and more quickly -- than ever before. So anger gets more exposure than it used to.


Paul Kane: OK gang, I gotta run. The Reid-Durbin-Schumer-Murray presser starts in 10 minutes. I'll try to find out what they think about seating Franken.

Otherwise, I'll see you in two weeks. By then we'll know if DC really will be getting the vote, we'll know if Tiger Woods' comeback is on track, and I'll have a decent idea how my own golf game has taken form.

See you soon. -pk


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