Post Politics Hour

Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Friday, March 6, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post national political reporterPerry Bacon Jr. was online Friday, March 6 at 11 a.m. ET to take questions about President Obama's health care summit, the Michael Steele/Rush Limbaugh/White House discord triangle and more.

A transcript follows.

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Perry Bacon Jr.: I'm Perry, one of the political reporters at the Post. Looking forward to your questions.


St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Perry -- Thanks for taking questions today. I'm an Obama supporter and certainly not a fan of Limbaugh by any means, but I wonder if at some point this whole "Admit it, Rush is Your Leader" tiff is going to backfire on the Democrats, who seem content at this point to push the story as far as it can go. When I read in your paper about unemployment topping 8 per cent (and impacting my family personally), I really don't care what Rush says, or what Begala/Carville say about Rush. I just want some action to get us out of this mess, which gets worse by the day.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I suspect the White House itself is done on this Limbaugh issue, although Democrat groups will continue to push it. Limbaugh seems to relish this debate, as so Democrats, so I expect both sides will stoke it.


New Haven, Conn.: I'm 22 years old and I'm sick of reading "wise" pundit commentaries that Obama is trying to do too much in fixing the health care system. Evidently these same pundits live in healthy, affordable insurance bubbles -- good for them. Do they not realize that unemployment also means losing health insurance for many? Many of us young people don't have insurance and do want health care reform. Based on what I've read about yesterday's health summit, it sounds like many former health care reform foes are on board this time around. This is encouraging, but what do you think the odds are that Obama's plan (presented as a candidate) will actually get adopted? There are plenty of people who can't be trusted in this debate -- health insurance lobbyists and most Republicans. Ex-Foes of Health-Care Reform Emerge as Supporters (Post, March)

Perry Bacon Jr.: Health care reform is difficult. The plan Obama proposed, essentially finding ways to provide health insurance to all, does not have a full funding source in this budget and it's not clear some of Obama's tax hikes to help pay for health care will get enough support in Congress. I think there is pretty broad agreement there are people who can't currently afford good health care; the question is how do you get a plan done that helps people who can't afford insurance now that doesn't affect those that already have it. I would wait till the detals of a plan come out before you assume people who attacked the Clinton 1993 proposal won't also attack this one.


Princeton, N.J.: This is the 12th time I have submitted this comment to a political chat.

There's a way we can have better universal health care at no more than we are now paying (see 5. below). Here are the facts (cf

1. We waste $100 - $200 Billion a year on the high overhead of insurance cos. 2. We waste 200 - $400 Billion a year on doctors filling out forms for insurance cos. 3. I don't know the compliance cost of patient's dealing with insurance cos, but it must also be in the 100's of Billions. 4. We pay the highest drug cost in the world to companies that spend twice as much on profit and three times as much on "marketing" as they spend on research. 5. Because of the above, we could give Super Medicare (few limitations, no co-pays, no deductibles and complete drug coverage) to everyone at no more per person than we are now paying.

Other countries with single payer systems get better health care as measured by all the basic public health statistics and they do it at less than half the cost per person. I believe that 70 - 80 percent of the public would support Medicare for all if the media did its job, and got these facts out. So....?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Here's one view on health care. Whatever the merits of this approach, it's not likely to be get passed in Congress. But here's something to watch for: liberal groups are pushing for the inclusion of a Medicare-like health care option for people under 65 as part of the insurance reform. The idea is in addition to buying insurance from Kaiser or something like that, individuals could choose a health plan that is essentially government run. Many Republicans think this is the first-step to government-run health care, but Obama put this idea in his campaign plan. I will be curious if he pushes for it now.


Dunn Loring, Va.: Are you aware of any examples where the Bush administration launched a coordinated public attack on private citizens the way Obama has attacked Limbaugh? Do you think this is what people voted for when Obama promised a change from the past?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think in the context of a public debate, Obama and his aides can and perhaps even should articulate their vision against someone as influential as Limbaugh if they want to win an argument. Is it the kind of tone Obama promised in the campaign? I'll let you evaluate that. The GOP pretty sharply attacked in 2007; I don't know if the White House did, but I know GOP members of Congress wrote up resolutions to condemn the group.


Media Waging "Class Warfare"?: I'm wondering, Perry, what sparked this sudden media/pundit concern about "class warfare"? Obama indicated that in order to fund things like health care, the very wealthiest Americans might have to pay slightly more in taxes, via the expiration of President Bush's tax cuts for those earners. Under this plan, the wealthiest Americans (those making more than $200,000) would be subject to the same income tax rate they paid in the 1990s -- when, it should be remembered, the rich got richer and the economy did quite well. Isn't it a bit odd to see all this media angst over the idea that Barack Obama's plans to do something he said he would do -- and something the American public supported and voted for en masse?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't know about this media angst. I don't see the term "class warfare" in most of the stories I read. Obama promised to increase taxes on the wealthy to pay for some of his campaign proposals and he is doing that. One of his ideas, effectively reducing the tax benefits from charitable donations for wealthy people, is not very popular on Capitol Hill. His idea of raising taxes back to levels in 1990's on the wealthy seems more popular among members of Congress.


Richmond, Va.: So let me get this straight. First, the media says that Obama's vetting has been lack when people like Daschle slip through the cracks and later have to withdraw. But then, when the Obama team decides to get tougher on vetting, the media says Obama should be going faster since it's a crisis. Can't you make up your minds? The better questions would be, why didn't President-elect Obama do more to think of people for the deputy positions at the Treasury and should we be filling the treasury with people who contributed to the financial crisis that we are currently in (my understanding is one of the nominees who withdrew was in charge of the SEC's regulation)?

Perry Bacon Jr.: These are interesting questions. Obama has faced criticism for picking people with tax problems and now the problem of not having enough appointees in their jobs.


Hell's Kitchen, NYC: Barack Obama has proposed a budget that, among other things, would reduce taxes on more than 9 out of 10 Americans and increase taxes on around 2 percent of the population. Flipping through the Sunday talk shows and cable nets, it's amazing to see how uniformly wealthy media celebrities think it makes sense to characterize this is a "tax increase" or "raising taxes" and to leap immediately to a discussion of what the impact of these "higher taxes" will be. I think that the 95 percent of people whose taxes are set to go down might be more interested in learning about the impact of lower taxes. Don't you, Perry?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't think Obama's tax cuts have been an uncovered subject myself. They already passed, while some of the tax increases in the budget are new proposals, so that explains their increased attention, along with Hill opposing some of them.


Dear Leader: In all this Lim-baugh brou-ha-haugh, I'm just happy to see from Robert Gibbs, Rahm, and other Democrats are finally using some of the Republican-perfected political techniques against the Republicans themselves. Especially fun, because there's no way out for them: If GOPers are put on the spot and agree with Rush, (woops!) they're taking an unpopular position about the direction of the country; and if they disagree, (woops!) they're immediately forced to grovel and look weak doing it. Only in this case the Dems are actually getting Rush to do their work for them, so their hands are clean. Have you ever in your whole life/reporting career seen the Dems have the confidence to make Republicans look weak like this?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Some Republicans have admitted this week the White House made a smart political move in linking the GOP to Limbaugh. They were helped by the chairman of the Republican National Committee getting a feud with Limbaugh and the talk show's host love for attention.


Los Angeles, Calif.: Why do you suppose Limbaugh did not request a meeting with President Obama at the White House -- the Peoples' House rather than his show? You think it was a show of disrespect or maybe he was afraid the president would grant it? After all, President Obama has met with plenty of folks including Republicans, conservatives and elected officials of all stripes.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Rush Limbaugh is a man running a radio program and trying to grow his audience. I'm sure he would love to go to the White House. The president already met with George Will, David Brooks, etc. I would love to see an Obama meeting with Sean Hannity, Rush, Laura Ingraham, etc. It would be amusing, although I'm guessing it would be both out of the White House and in private. Maybe Gibbs will go on Rush's show and debate him.


Cambridge, Mass.: Jon Stewart's take-down of CNBC two nights ago was awesome. Hope you watched it. CNBC, along with other financial guru conglomerates such as the Wall Street Journal, not only didn't see this crisis coming but kept saying it wasn't going to happen. How come the financial media hasn't taken more responsibility for their role in this recession? Jon Stewart Eviscerates CNBC and Rick Santelli - March 4, 2009 (YouTube)

Perry Bacon Jr.: Lots of love for my profession in this chat. But seriously, I do think the financial crisis will cause some rethinking of reporting in that arena, the same way I'm sure people have rethought reporting in national security matters following Iraq and the WMD.


White House "Attack" on Rush Limbaugh: I understand the politics behind this little back and forth, but can anyone say the White House attacked Rush? They called him the intellectual leader of the Republican party. Something that several congressional Republicans have also said. It might be insulting reasonable Republicans. But it's hardly insulting towards Rush.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I"m sure pretty it was an coordinated effort to criticize Republicans for associating with Limbaugh, we can debate "attack" I suppose. I don't think any congressional Republicans call Limbaugh their leader.


Boston, Mass.: Perry this morning on Bloomberg I read that "wanting Obama to fail" was not just empty rhetoric. Apparently GOP senators have placed holds on several sub cabinet and economic adviser nominees to give Harry Reid some payback for parliamentary maneuvers he preformed four or five years ago. What are they thinking? Do these senators care about the country and the trajectory we are on?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think members in both parties have raised some concerns about nominees. I haven't read the specific story you are citing. This whole Obama failing question is interesting. Rush won't back off that word, even though I think it's pretty clear and he and congressional Republicans have the same goal of opposing Obama policies they don't like. It's interesting and perhaps not surprising he keeps using that phrase, which some Republicans think is a political nightmare.


Toronto, Ontario: So-called "government-run health care" in Canada has very low overhead, I can go to any doctor I want, the doctors don't work for the government, it covers everyone and best of all it's CHEAP. I saw recently that the American car companies are now manufacturing more cars in Ontario than in Michigan because it costs $1,500-$2,000 less in Ontario per car due to lower worker/retiree health benefits. So why would Americans not want a whole new setup?

Perry Bacon Jr.: another view on health care. People in Washington who worked on the last health reform attempt say one of the lessons is not to do anything that might affect the insurance of people who already have. A single-payer system would cause some major changes, hence Obama will not push for it.


Albany, N.Y.: The blog pointed out a few days ago that all of the reporters who hassled Obama about tax increases on those over 250K are people who make over 250K themselves. Is that class warfare too?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't know that many reporters who make $250,000 or have total family incomes of that amount or above. I will say much of the national political media lives in New York and Washington where a family income of $250,000 is not as unusual as in Kentucky.


Maybe Gibbs will go on Rush's show and debate him: Like Newmann said to Redford on the set of Butch Cassidy, "it ain't gonna happen".

Perry Bacon Jr.: I suspect you are correct.


Poplar Bluff, Mo.: Perry, thanks for taking questions. Who linked the D.C. Voting Rights bill with gun control? I understand politics plays a part in D.C. not achieving statehood because that would probably add two Democrats to the U.S. Senate. I feel like I'm living in pre-Civil War period where their had to be balance in the Senate. Thanks.

Perry Bacon Jr.: The Senate Republicans did. For now, balance has already found. Utah gets a House seat that will go Republican, D.C. gets on that will be Democratic. The Senate discussion is a long way off.


Rush as the leader: Bobby Jindal did actually say that ""I think Rush (Limbaugh) is a great leader for conservatives" in a CNN interview a few days ago.

Perry Bacon Jr.: He did. The point I was making was Rush is not driving the GOP strategy on most issues, although he can affect the perception of that strategy.


"lives in New York and Washington where a family income of $250,000 is not as unusual as in Kentucky": What's the median income for a family of four in DC or New York City? $250,000 may not be as unusual, but plenty of people live on incomes well below that.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Of course. Of course. I don't have that data in front of me. I grew up in Kentucky and know almost no one whose combined family income is $250,000 a year there, versus living in D.C. where I know a few. Only two percent of American families much that money.


Last Limbaugh entry, promise: What makes the tactic so devastating is that people like me have been screaming for years that this Republican party is so radical and out of the mainstream (e.g. Terry Schiavo) that it can scarcely be compared with the party of Eisenhower any more. Making Rush its leader is a great shortcut for this, because the politicians are petrified of him and his followers.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Another rush remark.


Branson, Mo.: We already have government-run medical care in a number of areas. Consider the U.S Armed forces hospitals, the Veterans Administration hospitals and the Public Health Service hospitals all run by the U.S. Government. Add to that all the city, county and the university medical school hospitals managed by states and counties. All these are supported by the tax payers. What you think, positive or negative, of these medical care facilities will give an idea of what a nation wide medical care system would offer. I am a retired physician and have provided care in all these types of hospitals in my lifetime except for the PHS. I thought the care given was good in the hospitals with which I was associated.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Another view of health care and the government's role.


Re: more "class warfare": Since you're bravely taking a lot of tough questions today, how about this one: is it fair to conclude that most in the national media identify with elites -- political elites and business elites -- and not with the great unwashed masses in flyover territory? Is that why we're constantly told that the middle class needs to sacrifice more, that attempts to raise taxes on the wealthy are "class warfare", that people don't need government-sponsored health care and so on?

Do you think coverage would be different if national reporters made less money and lived in places like Detroit and Cleveland?


Perry Bacon Jr.: I have to confess having trouble with these "national media" questions. I really don't have time to track everything said on CNN and every other network, read every publication that does national news and still report news on my own, so I don't know if "class warfare" is being used every 10 seconds on TV. I suspect not, as it's a loaded term. Would coverage be different if more reporters lived in Cleveland and made less money? I don't know. I read the paper in Louisville fairly often and the stories they run about national politics aren't terribly different from the ones in the Post, they are just fewer articles about political strategy/tactics that some of our readers really like. Let me ask a few more questions in this vein though. Would Congress handle military policy differently if more members had kids in the services? Would the Obama administration handle economy policy differently if had more people who attended public colleges instead of private ones?


You got some 'slpain-in to do!: So the NRA says "boo" concerning the gun rights amendment attached to the D.C. voting bill, and Nancy Pelosi -- representative from liberal San Francisco California -- jumps? What influence does the NRA have over her or her district?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Pelosi is the leader of a party with many members in districts where the NRA has a big influence. Her carefulness on this issue is not shocking and may be smart politically.


Perry Bacon Jr.: Thanks for the chat folks. Have a great weekend. Take care.



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