Post Politics Hour

The Washington Post's Phil Rucker and Anne Kornblut interview White House Budget Director Peter Orszag for an intimate look into his long days, spending time with his children, choosing to become an economist, and his "propeller head" nickname. This interview took place on Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2009. Video by Anna Uhls/
Ed O'Keefe Federal Eye Blogger
Friday, February 27, 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.

Ed O'Keefe, Federal Eye Blogger, was online Friday, Feb. 27 at 11 a.m. ET to take questionsabout the latest executive branch and intergovernmental agency maneuvers.

A transcript follows.

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Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts


Ed O'Keefe: Hello and welcome to the Friday edition of the Post Politics Hour, I'm filling in today for Chris Cillizza who's the proud papa of new baby Charlie Cillizza.

I'm The Post's Federal Eye blogger and I've spent most of my week focused on President Obama's first proposed budget. Make sure to peruse a review of the budget's winners and losers I co-wrote with colleague Steve Vogel.


Germantown, Md.: Very interesting to sit back and watch the public vibe with Obama. Seems like a nice man. He obviously is very smooth with his presentation. Much better than W. But let's be honest, it's been about eighteen months of talk to this point. While I don't think any president would have seen this financial situation coming and I doubt the president or government will be able to do much about its resolution. Do you think most people are kidding themselves with the high expectations with Obama? To say that he is untested to this point would be an understatement.

Ed O'Keefe: "it's been about eighteen months of talk to this point"

Really? Even his opponents would argue a ton of work's been done in the past 40 days by the young administration: a children's health care bill, an economic stimulus package, and now, for better or worse, in the words of The Post's Dan Balz: "Obama has far exceeded what other politicians might have done" with his budget proposals.


Anonymous: I've heard of some GOP governors saying they'd possibly decline stimulus package money in areas due to provisions they feel would eventually increase state spending, and I've also heard some say certain spending for other states was wrong (e.g.,Gov. Jindal and funds for volcano monitoring in Washington, Hawaii, Alaska, etc.), but have not heard of any ready to turn down federal funds for their own states even if it was free (no strings attached) simply because they felt it was unfair to taxpayers on a national scale. Did I miss something? I understand that if Jindal had had more time for his response, he would have announced he was ready to turn down federal funds to rebuild a certain large city devastated by a hurricane because, after all, it was built below sea level and this would not be fair to the nationa's taxpayers (so his state would shoulder the costs).

Ed O'Keefe: As I was told earlier this week by Governors Tim Pawlenty (R-Minn.) and Jay Nixon (D-Mo.), JIndal, Mark Sanford and others are concerned with what amounts to about two to four percent of the total monies offered to the states. Most are going to accept all of the money, because they understand the economic need and political ramifications. But they've still voiced their opposition regardless.

As for Jindal's speech, plenty has been said about it, but as The Eye's editor Paul Volpe notes, Jindal "should be comforted to know that his performance likely will not affect his chance for a spot on the GOP ticket in 2012.


New York, N.Y.: There are a lot of obstacles impeding a serious investigation of Bush war crimes -- perhaps most importantly the virtually unanimous opposition of America's establishment factions in politics and the media. But do you think that with enough disclosures and enough pressure of this sort, a tipping point can be reached that can compel those investigations notwithstanding that consensus opposition among the political class?

Ed O'Keefe: New York -- as with any issue of any kind backed by members of either party, anything can rise to its tipping point and become a central concern of lawmakers and the general public. It's up to those who really want it to happen to take action.


Hooey on D.C.: Is anyone giving an on the record or off the record timeframe for when the economy will start to recover or is this just a lot of wishful thinking and wait and see?

Ed O'Keefe: Yes -- go find Ben Bernanke's Congressional testimony this week, and notice that several items in the president's proposed budget are tied to economic conditions improving in the coming years.


Re. Germantown, Md.: I don't think "Germantown" and others like him/her really understand who, and what, they're dealing with. Obama's political skills passed whatever tests they needed to pass well over a year ago. Today, he is wildly popular while his opponents are reduced to bleating that they want him to fail. Oh, and don't forget all the money "wasted" on frivolities like monitoring volcanoes that threaten the lives of thousands of Americans. Like Obama or hate him, the political skills being tested are not his but those in Congress, especially Republicans'.

Ed O'Keefe: One person's opinion... keep 'em coming...

_______________________ Bernanke Remarks Boost Markets (Post, Feb. 25)


Evanston, Ill.: When is Al Franken going to be an senator. Is Coleman appealing mainly to deny the democrats another vote in the Senate?

Ed O'Keefe: Ah yes, the obligatory daily question about the never-ending Minnesota Senate race.

Norm Coleman caught a break yesterday when the three judges in the recount case reversed their ruling from a day earlier that had excluded a poll worker's testimony.

Meanwhile, Harry Reid said this week that Franken will be seated by the Senate soon, likely in April. Stay tuned (and have fun coming up with a way to ask the question on Monday...)


Yay, Chris!: OK, I've done the information tour -- Morning Joe, scanning the columns and editorials from a few papers, etc.

I'm convinced there really is a disconnect between the northeast media conglomerate and the real world. Such gnashing of teeth and arm-flapping about socialism -- folks, Obama is doing what he said he would do! And people voted for him because . . . they wanted him to do what he said he would do! After eight years of spoon-feeding the rich and coddling dying industries, the balance is tipping back, as it well should.

My new hero is Amy Klobuchar. Between her op-ed in the Post this week, and her unflappable, commonsensical appearance on Morning Joe this morning, she really is the face of Americans Who Get It. Banks That Had a Brain (Post, Feb. 24)

Ed O'Keefe: Mr. or Mrs. "Yay" I agree with you on this point: "Obama is doing what he said he would do."

His budget proposal is chock-full of Democratic proposals, campaign promises and funding proposals friendly to liberals and Democrats. Several government agencies get much more funding than they got in the last eight years: EPA and Bureau of Prisons to name two.

So yes -- Those that voted for Obama are getting what they asked for.


Jindal "should be comforted to know that his performance likely will not affect his chance for a spot on the GOP ticket in 2012: Presumably folks in 2008 who couldn't bring themselves to vote for a candidate of color didn't vote for Obama. If the Democrats renominate Obama in 2012 and the Republicans place Bobby Jindal on their ticket, how likely do you think a third-party "populist" ticket is (a la George Wallace in '68)? Certainly in 2000 the rumor-mongering about McCain supposedly having a half-black illegitimate child cost him the Republican primary in South Carolina, so I worry that the U.S.'s closet racists would throw the presidential election into chaos. What do you and other pundits think?

Ed O'Keefe: I think it's too early to tell, but you raise a good point: Will people take issue with a Jindal-Obama race if they've got concerns about race and will that lead to a third party candidate? Stay tuned...


Live from New York...: What are the odds on a Jindal send-up opening Saturday Night Live this week?

Ed O'Keefe: Oh I'd put good money on it for sure.

Also expect some kind of mocking of Biden and Pelosi as they sat behind Obama. The two of them demonstrated the most chummyness between a Speaker and Vice President since... well, who knows.

And a sleeveless Michelle Obama reference might also make an appearance... who knows?!


Franken's pay: If/when Al Franken is seated as Minnesota's senator, will he receive retroactive pay to early January, or only from the time he's seated?

Ed O'Keefe: My goodness the good questions you people ask... let me get back to you on that one...


Hanover, Md.: If I set aside the one issue (abortion) that that I totally disagree with him on, then I think he is doing a fantastic job. I had a lot of doubts during the campaign, but after he took office, I was surprised by what I saw. I believe he is going to do a lot of good for the country (again, the abortion issue notwithstanding).

Ed O'Keefe: Thank you Hanover for your thoughts. Anyone else?


Prescott, Ariz.: Watching the White House press briefing yesterday, it was evident that the reporters were extremely agitated that millionaires and billionaires might pay more taxes than the 18 percent they currently pay (I get this estimate from OMB as the rate for the top 0.1 percent of taxpayers). This has absolutely no significance for 95 percent of us. Why do journalists all gang up on issues for the wealthy, while the health care provisions of the budget were largely unexplored? People by and large are really interested in health care.

Ed O'Keefe: Well Prescott, you raise a good point, but one of the reasons they're focused on the tax issues is because Republicans raised concerns about it.


Marietta, Ga: "funding proposals friendly to liberals and Democrats"

The difference is, when conservatives get their funding proposals passed, those at the top benefit, corporate executives benefit and average people don't.

If the EPA gets more funding and we have cleaner air, Rpublicans get to breathe that air too. If prisons are safer, that helps conservatives too. If the FDA cracks down and makes our food safer, everyone benefits.

Ed O'Keefe: Thanks Marietta...


Tuckerton, N.J.: In the past month, there have been numerous media retrospectives as to who deserves the most blame for the state of the economy. However, one of the institutions left out of practically any of the analysis is the culpability of the American mass media. How much blame do you think the media deserves specifically for it's lack of real-time critical analysis during the Greenspan era of the Fed?

Ed O'Keefe: Let me get around to analyzing this question after I answer questions about how much the media is to blame for the following:

1.) The plight of the Chicago Cubs.
2.) The rise of Tom Brady.
3.) The decline of the American family.
4.) The declining use of snap bracelets.
5.) The rapid rise and fall of Ruben Studdard.

It's difficult for anyone to take the opposing or critical side of something in "real time" when things are going well or when public opinion has been driven so far to one side. (Ask Walter Pincus about his critical reporting of the Iraq war buildup.)


Abingdon, Md.: For some time now, I have been thinking that we should do away with the notion of having a "response" to the State of the Union speech (or Address to Congress). Originally, the president sent a letter to Congress and this eventually evolved to what we have today. Even though I strongly disliked the previous administration, I still disliked the 'need' to have a so-called response to Bush's SoU speech. After, this guy is nationally elected and is supposed to speak for the country (yes I know, there is still a political tone/agenda) but the responses nearly all the time sound like a bunch of whining, can't compete with the big speech and rarely seem to be a response! Does anyone in political circles think these things really work? I doubt they'd give them up, because as we all know, elected officials are always so articulate and have so much to share and would not want to deprive us their wisdom, but I find it geeting old. On both sides.

Ed O'Keefe: Oh sure, let's get rid of the opposition party's response and then when we do you and others will write in complaining that the news media don't give fair treatment to the opposing side.

If the opposition response is going to end, the news media will not lead the clarion call to end it.


Since you're filling in for Chris...: ...seems like the least he can do in return is give Baby Fix the middle name of Ed. Can you check on this and get back to us?

Ed O'Keefe: Now THAT would be an honor! No official word on his middle name, but I highly recommend Edward, or my own middle name, Joseph.


Response to Marietta: I have to disagree with this poster. I'm just a humble federal worker, but I definitely benefit when the taxes on my capital gains (back in the good old days when I had any) were lower than in the budget proposal. And lots of federal workers are going to see a pay increase under the Obama budget, which, when coupled with a 2 percent cap on our salary increases, isn't make for a lot of happy campers. We're definitely not millionaires!

Ed O'Keefe: Thank you responder. Anyone else?


Albany, N.Y. : What's interesting with the usual GOP tax cut argument this time is that a whole mess of very wealthy people from the financial industry, as well as entertainment, helped bankroll the Democrats in 2008, in full awareness that it meant that their taxes would be raised, or at minimum, that the Bush tax cut would elapse. Not so cut and dried this time.

Ed O'Keefe: Good point Albany. (My hometown...)


Another Obligatory Senate Question: What's Burris's status? Last I heard, the senior senator from Illinois had endorsed his resignation.

Ed O'Keefe: No, Dick Durbin said that if he were in Burris' position, he would resign, and told his junior colleage as much. But he did not tell him directly to resign. Smart way of putting the thought out there, eh?

The Land of Lincoln's Junior Senator has said he has no plans to resign and has not made up his mind on seeking election in 2010.


Claverack, N.Y.: What will happen first -- Burris leaves the Seante, or Franken gets IN the Senate?

Ed O'Keefe: Franken getting in is my guess.


Ed O'Keefe: By the way, here's what Post Congressional reporter/guru Paul Kane says about the question of Al Franken's pay:

"He's not getting back pay. He gets to the Senate when he gets to the Senate, and at that point he starts getting paid, about $170k a year."

He'd be lucky to get about three fourths of that if he's seated in April!

But remember "Reid and Schumer were actually back-tracking a bit" on their vows to seat Franken.

From Paul: "Schumer specifically said the Dems would not move to seat Franken until BOTH the current three-judge trial and an appeal to the state Supreme court is completed. He thinks that will be April."


New York: Can we please have the Fact Checker back full-time? All this to and fro between Republicans and Democrats on the budget is giving me whiplash.

Ed O'Keefe: I'll put in a good word for him...


Alexandria, Va.: Ed,

What do you think the real chances of Obama's agenda being seen through are? It seems like already some rather important people on both sides of the fences are in arms over this or that part of Obama's agenda (Iraq, universal health care, etc.)

Obama's asking an awful lot of our Congress. What are the chances, do you think, that Congress will come through?

Ed O'Keefe: So far he's basically two for two: A children's health care bill and a stimulus package. Let's see how well he does otherwise.

The Post's Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane wrote earlier this week about how Obama is putting pressure on Congress to pass much more legislation than they have in recent years and they also observed that it will be interesting to see if Congress meets those requests.


CPAC: Have you been to CPAC? All I've seen on TV is sound bites of nutty, over-the-top expressions of fear and hatred.

Ed O'Keefe: Unfortunately I was unable to fit a CPAC stop into my week. It's always a great opportunity to hear what rank-and-file conservatives -- and their invited speakers -- are saying. I intend to cover it again next year.


Arlington, Va.: Would those who want to convict Bush of "war crimes" want to do the same of FDR for ordering the bombing of civilian cities in WWII or for Truman for ordering the atomic bombing that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians? If you want to convict Bush, then you have alot more U.S. presidents to go after.

Ed O'Keefe: One person's opinion...


but one of the reasons they're focused on the tax issues is because Republicans raised concerns about it.: And why is that? The Republicans got their ashcans handed to them in the 2006 and 2008 elections. Why should the media take upon themselves to be the mouthpieces for one party over the other?

Ed O'Keefe: We're not being mouthpieces, we're presenting the other side's argument, thanks. Of course if we didn't at least mention or occasionally ask about the other side's opinions, you'd also criticize us for that, right?


Fairfax County, Va.: It's not up to the media to end the opposition response, but it's a reasonable question to ask whether the Democrats or (at the moment) Republicans might decide to drop it when it always, always lays an egg. Why bite the head off someone who suggests that strategy might be in the opposition party's political self interest?

Ed O'Keefe: Just putting this out there...


SW Nebraska: After the House Republicans voted a resounding "NO" on the stimulus package, has Obama learned that he has to ask for everything in his wish list in the budget so he can extract more votes from the other side? In other words, have his negotiating skills vis a vis Capitol Hill improved?

Ed O'Keefe: We shall see. He presented a very Democratic budget and it'll be interesting to see the full details when they're released in April and then see what congress does with them, if anything. Stay tuned.

_______________________ Ambitious Blueprint Poses Test for Congress (Post, Feb. 26)


Hell's Kitchen, NYC: During the congressional debate over the economic recovery package, Republican lawmakers voiced their opposition to the bill by complaining that it did not focus on housing. But now Eric Cantor has already signaled his opposition to Obama's housing plan before even seeing the details of the legislation. Will his fellow conservatives follow in his footsteps and soon forget their concerns about the addressing the "root cause" of the economic crisis?

Ed O'Keefe: Time will tell...


Congress: Is it possible that Congress will come up with its own health plan this year that will meet many of Obama's goals -- i.e. Baucus), and that he'll be able to simply sign onto what they come up with without any heavy lifting?

Ed O'Keefe: No, nothing of that magnitude will get done without the involvement, support and input of the president.


He's not getting back pay. He gets to the Senate when he gets to the Senate: How about the Senate doesn't convene till April each year? They could save taxpayers a bundle.

Ed O'Keefe: and then you'd complain that the Senate never does any work and never meets...


Will people take issue with a Jindal-Obama race if they've got concerns about race and will that lead to a third party candidate?: The way things are going, the Republican candidate may BE the third party candidate. Republicans are working so hard to discredit themselves with the "middle" that whatever effective opposition to Obama arises in 2012 will almost have to come from some more centrist source. And with Obama effectively moving the perception of "center" much further to the left, it's difficult to see even this happening.

Ed O'Keefe: One person's opinion...


Boston, Mass.: I've heard people talking about whether this proposed change in the charitable giving will reduce people's willingness to give. But I have to say that I'm shocked that rich people got to deduct twice as much from their charitable giving than the rest of us! I mean, when I give a group $100, it's a sacrifice. When Paris Hilton gives $10,000 its nothing for her. What could possibly be the reasoning behind this? Obviously it will depend on how it gets framed, but I'm thinking Obama will get a lot of support from people like me on this.

Ed O'Keefe: One person's opinion... for more on the possible impact on charitable giving, make sure to read today's "In the Loop" column by Al Kamen...


Ed O'Keefe: Folks that's it for today and this week's Post Politics Hour chats. Thanks for joining me, and make sure to check out my blog, The Federal Eye. Send your news tips, questions, comments or events listings related to the federal govenrment to: "


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