Michael D. Shear
Washington Post White House Reporter
Wednesday, March 4, 2009 11:00 AM
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Washington Post White House reporter Michael D. Shear, was online Wednesday, March 4, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest White House news, including President Obama suggesting during a photo op with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Tuesday that now is a good time to buy stocks, the president's concern about security along the Afghan border, a missile defense program against Iran and more.
The transcript follows.
Michael D. Shear: Good morning, everyone.
As usual, plenty to talk about today. There's the Rush discussion. There's the stock market tanking and who's responsible. There's the housing crisis, and new rules that are out today for refinancing. There's the president's new contracting rules, also being announced today.
And there's the improving weather! The ice is melting.
So let's have at it.
Germantown, Md.: I know it is early, but has anyone noticed just how far down the markets have gone since Obama was elected? I think I looked at a statistic that said it had gone down almost 30 percent just since he was sworn in. Is that correct? I was hoping things would have at least calmed down with his election.
Michael D. Shear: Why don't we start here. Lots of questions about the stock market tumble and Obama's responsibility for it.
The White House would clearly answer that the markets are reacting not to his policies, but rather to the economy's struggles, which clearly predated his administration.
But it's certainly true that at some point, Obama will take ownership of the economy and its consequences, including the market. That's already beginning to happen, if the questions are any indication.
Arlington: NOW is a good time to buy stocks? Gee, thanks, Mr. President. You've destroyed a decade's worth of growth in my portfolio. I have to rethink everything -- not just spending, but retirement too. So here's my question: WHERE AM I SUPPOSED TO GET MONEY TO BUY STOCKS? Is that in the stimulus too?
Michael D. Shear: Here's a good example of the anger and frustration out there, and the fact that any president -- including Obama -- gets blamed for everything that happens on his watch, even things that started before he got there.
Arlington's contention that "you've destroyed a decade's worth of growth" may be a bit overstated, even for some conservatives. But the president and his advisers are surely worried about this sentiment growing.
Fairfax County, Va.: This may be more a "governance" issue than a "politics" question, but it's important. President Obama announced today that we'll have better, tougher contracting rules by the end of September. What is to prevent a land rush by contractors before then to get their money before the new rules apply? We have seen that pattern many times -- in war, casualties and land grabs always escalate in the hours before a truce or armistice; closer to home, Gov. Blagojevich redoubled his allegedly corrupt efforts because a new ethics law was coming into force a few months later. I am scared we'll lose a lot before the new rules come in, and we can't afford it.
Michael D. Shear: This is an interesting question. Will contractors sneak in before the new rules are in place? I'm no contracting expert, but I suspect that one thing that might guard against that is the length of time that these contracting decisions often take. Perhaps the government will delay a final decision, knowing that the new rules are coming.
But skepticism is in order. I will pass this question along to our reporters who are writing about this today.
SW Nebraska: The DOW is up at the moment 133.81
Michael D. Shear: Get the blame, get the credit. Is Obama responsible for the stock market increase today?
Tampa, Fla.: Wonky, geeky question: When someone like Gordon Brown addresses Congress, does the President go? Or does he stay in the Oval Office and watch it on TV?
Michael D. Shear: Wonky, geeky answer: I do not believe the president plans on attending that speech. As to his watching on TV, I somehow doubt it. My guess is that he lets others do the watching and brief him later.
But that's just a guess.
Re: Rush Limbaugh: I don't get it. There is an article in today's Washington Post that said the GOP is afraid to alienate Limbaugh's audience, but as large as this group is, it is not enough to elect a Republican candidate over a Democrat. So what is behind the GOP's fears?
Michael D. Shear: How about some Rush questions...
It was a very good article today. True, Limbaugh's audience is not large enough to elect a Republican president, but that doesn't mean it's not large enough to have influence within the Republican party.
Individual Republican candidates need their own party's support to win primaries and many candidates have failed in general elections because their own base is not fired up about them. Rush can help or hurt.
One example is Sen. John McCain. I remember well the troubles he found himself in during the GOP primary as many conservatives in the party recoiled at his ideas on immigration. That was driven in large part by talk radio, including Rush. He overcame it eventually, but I don't think any Republican should scoff at Rush's influence.
Bethesda, Md.: So which is it: Is Rush an entertainer or educator?
Michael D. Shear: Here's another.
I suppose the distinction is in the eye of the beholder. There's no question he is entertaining -- millions of people tune in every day, many for the fun of listening to his show.
But like I said in the last answer, I don't think anyone should underestimate his influence, or his ability to serve as an educator for a large chunk of the population.
washingtonpost.com: GOP Seeks Balance With Conservative Icon Limbaugh (Post, March 4)
Dallas, Tex.: Mr. Shear, I've often wondered if Karl Rove and Rush Limbaugh were separated at birth, any thoughts?
Michael D. Shear: Hmmmm.
Are you getting enough sleep down there in Dallas?
St. Paul, Minn. : Hi Michael -- Thank you for taking questions today. As far as the Republicans are concerned, Rush Limbaugh is clearly sucking up all the oxygen in the room. Believe me, I am by no means a supporter of Limbaugh, but one has to wonder if this is such a good thing for them. Other than Steele, who (I think) shot himself in the foot by knuckling under, where are McCain? McConnell? Boehner? Their silence is deafening, if you ask me.
Michael D. Shear: Politics hates a vacuum. When Republicans lost the White House and both sides of the Capitol, it created an instant leadership void that people are rushing to fill.
Steele is trying to do that, and has clearly stumbled a bit. Limbaugh's massive radio audience gives him an advantage in trying to fill that void. McCain is trying too -- see, for example, his fiery speech the other day railing against earmarks. Minority Leader John Boehner is trying to lead the conservative opposition in the House, and has so far been pretty successful at keeping that group unifed.
I would give it some time. The GOP is still in the regrouping phase.
Great Neck, N.Y.: Obama's strategy all along has been one of patience and good long term planning. His statements yesterday concerning the stock market were exactly along those lines as well. Who cares where the market goes day to day? Only fools and day traders. For too long, the focus of this country has been on the immediate. Rebuild the economy for the long term (and that will take years), and the stock market will grow long term. That's what matters. Here is my question - based on your experience in politics, do you believe the American people have the patience for this approach? It certainly is quite a change over the politics of the past 16 years...
Michael D. Shear: This is a very good question. Patience is not the hallmark of the American people.
Having said that, Obama's numbers are still very high, suggesting that the public is willing to give him some time despite the raft of bad news.
We'll have to see in a few years whether the public has been willing to wait.
Richmond, Va.: Obama's budget spends 25 percent of our GDP on government. I think the only time we were higher was when we were fighting WWII -- even in the Great Depression it only jumped to 15 percent. How can this pass unnoticed in the media? Government bloat produces NOTHING -- except more government bloat. And it's extraordinarily difficult to get rid of. Obama promised to go through the budget line-by-line to find fat to trim. When does that start? I think we're headed into dangerous territory. And unlike WWII, there isn't much hope it will ever end.
Michael D. Shear: This is a very important question that is raising hackles among many deficit hawks in Washington. How much spending is too much?
I believe our reporters who cover the budget and spending are already working hard to dig into these kinds of questions. Stay tuned to the Post as we examine this further.
Boston, Mass.: Glad it is you, because my question is on all the federal vacancies. From your story I learn that Obama's pace for filling his sub Cabinet appointments is slightly faster than Bush or Clinton. Still it feels so much slower and so unresolved. Is it because of the knowledge of the intractable problems we face? Or is it that as you get older time just seems to pass by more quickly?
washingtonpost.com: Picks for Key Government Posts Play Long Waiting Game (Post, March 4)
Michael D. Shear: Thanks for reading the story.
It's a good question. By the numbers, Obama's pace is a bit faster, but there's no question that it seems like a bigger problem this time. I even quote both Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary, and Paul Volcker, one of Obama's top economic advisers, complaining about how slow it is.
I think you touch on the answer yourself. There is no recent parallel for the size, scope and immediacy of the Obama agenda. It's only been 6 weeks and a lot has already happened. As a result, it seems even more critical to get people into those jobs -- especially at Treasury.
Jon Stewart fan: Stewart is an entertainer as well but you have to have a bit of information to get his jokes. Loved his apology to Limbaugh last night. Don't miss it!
Michael D. Shear: True enough.
I'm a fan, too.
Washington, D.C.: The next GOPer who has the guts to stand up to Rush should just say "If he loves this country and he knows how to fix it. Then he should run for office and make a difference. If he's interested in his show and his income more than this country. Then he can stay where he's at."
A generation of younger Republicans need to stand up and say that he doesn't speak for them. If they don't. They're done.
Michael D. Shear: I'm not sure this is entirely fair to Rush.
Just because someone decides that doing a radio show is a better fit than running for office doesn't mean they don't love their country. In fact, you can probably make a pretty good argument that Limbaugh can have more influence on the GOP (as I mentioned earlier) right where he is.
However, I do understand the sentiment. One drawback for anyone in the media is they often get accused of talking but not doing. Limbaugh's bombastic, know-it-all style adds to that problem for him.
Princeton, N.J.: Re AIG -- A Credit Default Swap is like you taking out a fire insurance policy on my home. You are betting on two things. One, my house will burn down and the policy holder will be able to pay. In AIG's case these people lost the second bet. Why should we bail them out? How will this ruin the financial industry? Why wasn't these CDS's seen as gambling, as risk multipler?
Michael D. Shear: I don't claim to understand any of these complicated financial arrangements. What I'm told is that if AIG failed, there are tens of thousands of companies, big and small, which would immediately be at risk of failure because their finances depend, somehow, on AIG's backing. How that works, and why it developed that way, is beyond me. But that's the understanding I have.
Rockville, Md.: In the name of saving money, Obama is cutting the D.C. Lottery program for Charter schools? Why cut a program that actually works?
Michael D. Shear: I don't know.
Sounds like a question for our Metro staff. I will pass it on to them.
Washington, D.C.: Obviously the global financial infrastructure is being re-engineered. Obama is not working in isolation.
Why does the GOP continue to paint Obama in a light that isn't real? Doesn't this type of discourse only confuse issues that are already complex?
Michael D. Shear: This is actually true. America's economic policies are largely being mirrored in countries around the world, and not only ones that are liberal. China has passed a huge stimulus plan, as have other countries around the globe.
In that context, the president's push for his agenda does not seem quite as remarkable.
I'm sorry too:: Evidently the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has put up a spoof Web page where anyone can write their own apology to Rush Limbaugh:
I'm Sorry, Rush (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee)
Michael D. Shear: This is very funny. I love it when politics gives people a chance to have fun with what otherwise can be serious subjects.
Dunn Loring, Va.: If the market is at 1997 levels, why isn't it fair to comment on the loss of "a decade's worth of growth"
Michael D. Shear: Oh, I think it's totally fair to comment on the loss of a decade's worth of growth.
I was only suggesting that some people will say that blaming Obama for the entire decade's worth of loss is unfair. Few people think that the problem started with Obama.
Michael D. Shear: Gotta leave a couple of minutes early.
Have a great day everyone.
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