Post Politics

Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Wednesday, March 11, 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.

Washington Post national political reporter Perry Bacon Jr., was online Wednesday, March 11, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news about the financial crisis, President Obama's plans for education reform, the stimulus and recovery plan and more from the nation's capital.

A transcript follows.

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Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts


Perry Bacon Jr.: Welcome to the chat folks. I'm Perry one of the political reporters here. Looking forward to your questions.


Bethesda, Md.: Any one who cares about this country should read Steven's Pearlstein column on today's Washington Post. It'll Take More Than Money to Fix This Crisis (Post, March 11)

I am a republican, and I totally agree with Pearlstein. What we are facing is a war and we all need to get behind out Commander in Chief and support him. Americans, who disagree with him or his policies, should make constructive comments or propose constructive alternatives. My fellow Republicans need to stop the destructive behavior that creating more panic and is helping no one.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Interesting column and comment. I think you can support the president and your country and disagree with his policies. I'll leave it to others to determine if the GOP is being constructive in their opposition.


Chicago, Ill.: Thanks for taking my question. With respect to earmarks in the $410 billion spending bill, did all of the GOP senators who put in the most earmarks (I think I read that of the top ten earmark grabbers in the Senate four were Republicans) vote for the bill? Why would the Dems let GOP senators or House members add on billions of earmarks for their states and districts if they are just going to vote against the bill in the end? Seems like if you are going to stick a bunch of earmarks in a bill you ought to have to vote for it in order to get them? Why would the people who are going to vote for an earmark-laden bill want to take the heat for earmarks that are going to people voting against the bill?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think most of the Republicans voted against the bill, including those who had earmarks in it. To be fair, some of them said their opposition to the bill was based on the increases in spending on other programs, not earmarks. (Mitch McConnell, who ran his entire reelection campaign last year based on his earmarks in Ky., for instance complained of the overall spending in the bill). This kind of reminds me of the stimulus. Most of the GOP governors said they opposed the bill, but still took the money. The Republican governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty, said "when you‘re paying to buy the pizza, it‘s okay to have a slice." There's a reasonable point that unless your district/state gets some kind of tax exemption where they don't have to help fund the stimulus or the omnibus, they shouldn't be excluded from the benefits.


Powhatan, Va.: Hello, and thanks for taking our questions!

The 92 percent of folks who are paying their mortgages seem to be more vocal about having to bail out those who cannot, many of whom took out mortgage products, or purchased houses, they could not afford. Is this getting an traction? Or just low-level noise in the midst of this stimulus?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think it is getting traction. You had the White House spokesman using his podium to attack a CNBC host who made this point.


Laurel, Md.: Has any president who was elected during a recession not been re-elected by a landslide?

Bush II, Clinton, Reagan, Nixon, F. Roosevelt... (I don't know my recession history farther back than that.)

As a referendum, it seems always to have worked to their credit.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Interesting point. Usually, a downward cycle of the economy doesn't last that long, if a president enters in the midst of a recession, the economy has improved in four years. That said, we're not in a normal downturn, according to the experts, but potentially something much worse.


Herndon, Va.: John Boehner stated in his Washington Post column last week that the Republican alternative to Democratic stimulus bill would have cost have as much and created twice as many jobs. Is there anything to support his view?

Perry Bacon Jr.: The GOP said their bill would create 6 million jobs, the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, said 1.3. I don't think the Congressional Budget Office did an official estimate. I'm not going to try to describe the precise math in each of these estimates.


Bowie, Md.: With all the big companies getting a big bailout program, what about the people who are still unemployed and the benefits are running out? There are still no jobs out there and companies are still laying off. What is the president going to do for the unemployed? What is the president going to do for the people who can't put food on their tables because everything is going up. Please let us know.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Congress is talking a second stimulus plan, so there is definitely worry about helping people who are out of jobs. And the stimulus extends unemployment benefits to people. I think all of this economic activity, including helping big companies, is to get the economy going, create more jobs, prevent layoffs, etc. the question is whether it will work.


Fort Worth, Tex.: Quick question - how was unemployment measured in the 30s? Currently we exclude all sorts of folks like inmates, those out of work for too long, those that have "given up" the search, etc. I'm just curious if that dreaded 25 percent unemployment we hear so much about during the 30s is actually closer than we think due to the ways we compute our statistics.

Perry Bacon Jr.: We do exclude people who have stopped looking for jobs and others from unemployment. But I don't know the answer to this question.


Minneapolis, Minn.: Hi Perry -- Thanks for taking questions today. This is more in the nature of a comment than a question, but it seems to that the president is in a box no matter what actions he takes (he's doing too much, he's not doing enough, he's driving this country to socialism, etc., etc.). Have we ever had a president that has been this closely scrutinized, or do I just have a short memory? For my money (literally and figuratively), I'd rather have a president who is aggressive is trying a number of different approaches, even if they don't all work. How else will we know?

Perry Bacon Jr.: President Bush. President Clinton. There is more political news than ever on TV, so maybe it seems like he's getting more attention, but I think Bush got this much attention minus all the flattering pieces about his wife, family etc. On your other point about you would rather have a president be active, I think lots of people would disagree with you. There's this notion that "gridlock" and "partisanship" are always bad. I don't agree. Sometimes the best thing Congress can do is stop something (I think many Dems would say this about the Iraq war) and "partisanship" is presenting an alternative argument. And sometimes the president is trying ideas that are counter-productive. I don't think we know what the results of Obama's proposals are yet, so we can't judge. That said, the country is in the midst of an economic crisis and billions of dollars are being spent, I think lots of attention should be given and paid.


Minneapolis, Minn.: While I normally hate earmarks and pork in spending plans maybe these have some relevance in this economy. I mean to say that every little bit of spending gives someone a job and those are the most important things right now. Not banks, not exec pay, but jobs. If you keep people employed you also keep them positive about the future and spending money, even though most people have curtailed excessive spending, you still gotta buy bread and milk. Which keeps the economy moving. Your thoughts?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Two things. First, I think how fast and useful the spending and job creation is from an earmark depends on the earmark. Second, the question with earmarks is not whether you support spending, but should Congress or federal agencies be making the decisions? These federal agencies have many experts who could suggest funding, but the earmark process puts designating which projects are most useful in the hands of members of Congress.


Eastchester, N.Y.: How much are Republicans in Congress driven by the fear of a primary challenge from the right? Are they quietly grateful the spending bills are passing despite their opposition?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think this is an important factor in every decision a GOP lawmaker makes. Right now, if you're a Republican, particularly in the House, your district is full of Republicans. (Dems control most of swing districts) So the biggest challenge is from the right, not the left. Of course many of these Republicans would oppose the spending on principle too. But watch Arlen Specter this year. The rumor is he is facing a primary challenge in Penn., and he already seems to be hinting this will force him to be more conservative in his votes.


Columbia, Md.: I agree with Bethesda, though I come from the more liberal side of the spectrum. The current financial crisis is like a global neutron bomb that hit Wall St. But the reaction of the GOP seems to have been politics as usual, sound bites and negativity. What do you think McCain would have done had he been elected? Would he have allowed AIG and GM to fail? Freddie and Fannie?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I'm not really going to guess at what McCain would have done, although his comments during the campaign suggested he would have bailed out some big companies and pushed some kind of stimulus as president. The GM question is a very interesting one and we'll never have an answer.


Seattle, Wash.: With the stock market up, can the markets PLEASE stop crying so Pres. Obama can get back to making more jobs?

It's Wall Street that got us in to this mess, but it will be the Middle Class that gets us out of it.

Perry Bacon Jr.: A perspective on the economy from a reader.


Conservative Against This Particular Kind of Stimulus: In response to the earlier comment: I don't favor this president or his policies, and I remember the last eight years. So rather than spend the next four years doing what the left did for the last eight, I'm keeping my mouth shut and taking care of my business.

As my mother and yours said: "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."

Perry Bacon Jr.: A Republican voice on their opposition.


Florissant Valley, Mo.: Well, my recession memories go back a century. Grover Cleveland dealt with a major recession in his "second term" (1893) and never recovered. He was even denied the Democratic nomination in 1896. Historical note.

Perry Bacon Jr.: And the recession issue from earlier.


Bethesda, Md.: Great column by Pearlstein, but please... can we stop calling important endeavors "Wars?" I understand the attempt is to highlight the seriousness and dire need of a solution, but with the "War On Poverty," the "War On Drugs," and the "War On Terror" (I'm sure there are others) the term is being overused and, at worst, trivializes the subject.

Perry Bacon Jr.: More on the Pearlstein column, which was very good today.


Baltimore, Md.: The culture fusion of basketball and hip-hop born in 1984 is celebrating its 25th Anniversary (1984-2009). To honor the 25th anniversary there is a proposed National Basketball and Hip-Hop Culture Month (June). June is the month that's been selected. What do you think of a month each year dedicated to culture fusion of basketball and hip-hop and its cultural history in America?

Perry Bacon Jr.: An idea I've never heard. Not sure how it relates to this chat or what my view is on it, but here it is.


New York, N.Y.: I keep hearing/reading reporters totally misstate the Employee Free Choice Act. Corporate groups falsely assert that the bill does away with secret ballot elections, which is absolutely not true. Really the only thing that the Employee Free Choice Act eliminates is management's ability to - 'insist' on a secret ballot election, which employees don't want. Isn't that right, Perry?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I haven't read every story about the act, but seems to be secret ballot elections will be a thing of the past if this passes. This is interesting political debate and one that has great importance in others as way, as unions seem to think it will increase their membership and I would assume so does management. A real test of whether Obama will push a proposal that the right doesn't like and is pretty undefined to people in the middle.


Indianapolis Ind.: I know he hasn't said he would, but do you think that Spector would consider switching parties? And would the Dems support him?

Perry Bacon Jr.: No and I have no idea.


Hell's Kitchen, NYC: Congressman Alan Grayson has been virtually alone among lawmakers out there discussing the appalling lack of transparency with the various bank bailouts. He's one of the few who have been pressing on this issue. Why do you think so few others are doing so - and why is the media, by and large, not pressing this important issue (and their government sources) harder to find out?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I"ve read lots of articles about this subject actually. I think the bailouts are one of the most unpopular things politicians have done in a long time.


Port Angeles, Wash.: It seems logical to me that an auto-industry bailout (or whatever one wants to call it) should be funded by the oil companies, who have the most to gain by a healthy GM, Chrysler or Ford. Would Congress be able to impose such a requirement on the oil companies? Has this ever been considered by the White House or Congress?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I would think the people of Detroit would have the most to gain if those companies stay alive. I don't think is an idea Congress is considering, regarding the oil companies.


Arlington, Va.: Will the House allow the appropriate committee to investigate Pelosi's supposed abuse of government private jets for personal use? Considering that private jets use a massive amount of fossil fuels and contribute a ton of pollution on a per person basis, has anyone asked Pelosi if her use of private jets conflicts with the green policies she is normally pushing?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I haven't personally reported on this jet controversy involving Pelosi, but here is a story on it.

Judicial Watch Uncovers Documents Detailing Pelosi's Repeated Requests for Military Travel (MSNBC, March 10)

I don't know what the rules are regarding what Pelosi can/should fly on (she has extra security requirements because of her post) but some of these messages don't look good for her.


Annandale, Va.: This is certainly not a perfect bill (but there haven't been any other perfect ones either).

I've heard over many people over the years say that WWII ended the depression, not FDR and government spending programs.

But going further, it was government spending that ended the depression. The government was spending to fight the war and this created jobs. Seems like this bill is similar but it is step by step. If this bill doesn't turn the tide there will be more stimulus bills.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Congress is already discussing a second stimulus.


Spector does a Lieberman?: If Specter is defeated from the right, I would think it would be more likely that he would run as an independent, and then still caucus with the Republicans (if they would have him).

The mirror image of what Lieberman did. thoughts?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Specter, like Lieberman, has high opinion of himself and his role in the Senate. But Lieberman essentially got all of the GOP votes in his 2006 race after he lost the primary. Barring a really bad Democratic candidate, Specter running as an independent would likely split the GOP vote and make the Democratic the winner. Penn. is blue state generally. I don't think Toomey beats Specter though.

_______________________ Judicial Watch Uncovers Documents Detailing Pelosi's Repeated Requests for Military Travel (MSNBC, March 10)


Perry Bacon Jr.: Thanks for the chat folks. Have a great week. Perry


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