Post Politics Hour
Thursday, March 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, March 26 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss House Democratic leaders slashing the president's budget by $100 billion, a GOP split on whether to formulate a budget proposal of its own, possible reelection trouble for Arlen Specter according to two recent polls and more.
Powhatan, Va.: How on earth do Obama and the Dems plan on cutting the deficit "in half" and then justify $9 trillion plus over the next year in increased debt? We'll just borrow it right? There is certainly real concern, based on the auction problems and London and US T-bills this week, that there won't be trillions to borrow! Plus, the Chinese are hardly getting excited about lending/investing more money in the U.S. Is any of this concern getting any "political legs?"
Paul Kane: Yes, all this concern has had legs. Watch C-SPAN II and listen to Kent Conrad and Judd Gregg. It has plenty of legs. It's just not clear what people are going to do about it. Even if you were to curb a bunch of Obama's most ambitious programs, you're still looking at trillions and trillions of dollars in debt.
The real fiscal answer is entitlement reform -- that's code word, everyone, for slashing Medicare benefits and raising the retirement age/payout time for Social Security recipients. Those steps would save trillions of dollars over the years, but both parties are scared to death of infuriating seniors.
Arlington, Va.: Did anyone else find the AIG letter sent to the Times to be a negative? I took a look at the complaint that all someone had to be rewarded for their hard work to be a bonus worth $700K and thought that it sounded like whining.
washingtonpost.com: Dear A.I.G., I Quit! (The New York Times, March 25)
Paul Kane: Totally agree. That letter got a lot of hype from people who sent it around saying, This is the other side of the story.
OK, fine, I understand this guy Jack DeSantis made a deal with AIG to get his bonus. But that's the argument for giving him the money, that it was contractually promised to him. I don't for one minute feel sorry for him. His $742,000 was after-tax bonus, which means the whole thing was probably worth $1.2 million or so.
I'd like Jack to write another letter to the NYT, in which he releases all of his tax returns so we can see how much money he had in 11 years at AIG. That'd be interesting.
Maybe the economic times will get so bad for him that he'll end up as a plumber or an electrician, the professions to which he compares himself at the conclusion of the letter.
Tuckerton, N.J.: Why is this reconciliation so "controversial"? Way back in 2007, I can remember the Senate passing budget legislation with only 51 votes.
Paul Kane: OK, budget primer. The budget resolution and reconciliation are two different things, or, more to the point, different approaches inside the same process.
Your basic budget resolution, passed every spring by Congress, is a non-binding document that serves as a fiscal outline for spending programs that year. It tells the appropriations committees how much money they can spend on the federal agencies.
It just requires 50 votes, plus the vice president's tie-breaker if necessary, for passage. It is just a resolution, so it is not something that goes to the president, there is no signature required.
Now, sometimes Congress includes "reconciliation" language in the budget. This happens when the budget committees give instructions to other committees that they must do certain things; most often, this is done for budget reduction, so committees get instructions saying they need to slash $XXX.X billion from the authority of gov't. Sometimes the instructions dictate legislation -- providing $XX.X billion/trillion to draft the legislation, then fill in all the details.
With reconciliation protection, it only requires 50-plus-one votes to pass things.
This is a rarely used maneuver when it comes to drafting legislation, it's usually only done for tax plans. The Clinton White House did not attempt to use reconciliation in '94 for health-care reform.
Portland, Oregon: I'm a liberal Dem, and think I may be missing something. It seems to me that during the W years, we had massive increases in spending, and in the deficit, but that the message was diluted b/c of the way the war spending was handled (separate from the rest of the budget). The Republican hand-wringing over the Obama budget therefore strikes me as insincere. Isn't this really about spending money on infrastructure vs. spending on the military, not on spending vs. not spending?
Paul Kane: No, sorry, Portland. You're wrong. I'm not putting blame on anyone, but everything's different now. Earlier this decade, the budget deficits were $300b-$400b, at its worst. Now, we're talking $1.8 trillion.
Everything's different, everything.
Reston, Va.: Regarding the AIG letter: I thought the letter stated he agreed to a salary of $1?
Paul Kane: Yes, $1 in salary. But he agreed to $1 in salary because he also agreed to a seven-figure guaranteed bonus.
What's the difference?
St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Paul -- Thanks for taking questions today. As a keen observer of Washington and politics, I'm wondering what your take is on the idea that President Obama is on the verge of becoming "overexposed." In my view, I don't get that argument...unlike the last eight years, I think people want to see the president and hear him, even if he's not always 100 percent clear and doesn't always have the answers. What do you think?
Paul Kane: Is he overexposed? I don't know, that's hard to answer. But look, he's on TV all the time. He's done two prime-time press conferences. That's a lot just two months into the job. Is this the pace he's going to keep the whole time? If so, that's overexposure. Sometimes people just want to watch Dancing With the Stars/American Idol/LOST.
Btw, that was some LOST episode last night.
Majority Rules?: This "cloture" thing has got to stop. If they want to filibuster, fine. Let them get up and talk it to death. But making sure every bill needs a 60-vote supermajority is undemocratic in the extreme!
Paul Kane: Hahahahahahahaha.
You guys make me laugh. Because you're making the same arguments that the right made four years ago.
And you're both wrrrrooooooonnng.
I cannot stress this more. You all have to stop reading and believing anyone on any blog that tells you that there is some maneuver through which Harry Reid can force Republicans into talking and talking and talking, like a real filibuster.
Those don't exist anymore, folks. They changed the rules in the 1970s, with the intention of trying to make it easier to kill off filibusters, but it had the unintended consequence of making it actually easier.
Please, please, please, do yourselves a favor and stop drinking the blog Kool-Aid on this issue.
Let's put it this way, lefties. You all think right-wingers are diabolically even when it comes to politics.
If it really was this simple, why wouldn't Bill Frist have done this to the Democrats a few years ago?
Because he couldn't.
Re DeSantis: As commenters pointed out on the Times Web site, if the electrician and the plumber work for the same firm and one of them has a bad year, that bad year is transferred to the firm itself. DeSantis may be the last honorable man standing, but his company took a bad knock and that knock is spread to the whole company not just those responsible. I prefer the pro sports analogy, you may have had an MVP year, but if your teammates screw up and you don't get into the playoffs, you don't get playoff money or endorsements.
Paul Kane: Well put, I think.
Resignation letter: You are all focusing on the wrong parts of that letter. Yes, it's obnoxious that he's acting like he's suffered anywhere near as much as the average taxpayer, but he's got a point about the wrong people shouldering the blame for this, and the real culprits escaping public anger.
Paul Kane: Fine, fine, fine. Yes, let's get the real culprits. But don't forget something about AIG: we own the company. It's ours. We, through our elected representatives, are allowed to make some decisions every now and then. Let's try to be rational while making them. But it's our company.
Deficits: Your memory is a bit selective. $300-400b deficits were not the Bush starting point. Surpluses were. His end point, that which Obama inherited, was more like $1.2 trillion. Your response makes it look like Obama created most of this deficit.
Paul Kane: No, I didn't put blame on anyone. I'm merely saying, no matter what your take is on who's to blame, we're now dealing with a fiscal situation that is so, so, so much more different than what we were dealing with a few years ago.
Everything matters more now. Just because Bush's financial policies helped put us in this situation, doesn't mean Obama's automatically will help us get out.
Think about this people. Both Bush AND Obama can fail.
Mt. Lebanon Pa.: Since you're a spreadsheeter guy (EXCEL on delegates/supers last year I recall).. have you put one together listing Obama's campaign promises and his results with comments?
Something on the order of Achieved; Not Achieved; Abandoned; Actively Working On; Hopeless; Pick your own.
I'm a liberal, registered engineer in private practice, and a Vietnam era draftee. I'm still awaiting the guy who performs and tells me what he's done, not what he's going to do. I guess that makes me all alone out here.
Paul Kane: Not me, but we've got a research team that's working on something along those lines. So, please keep checking back at this site later this spring. I hope that feature will be up by then, but I'm not entirely sure when.
Wow: You write like you had an overdose of snark this morning. What gives?
Paul Kane: I got a venti instead of grande. Sorry.
P.S. This AIG thing just really bugs me. And people who think they know filibuster rules better than I do, that also bugs me.
C'mon, Paul: I'm not saying do away with the filibuster, I'm saying MAKE them ACTUALLY filibuster. That's all. This supermajority thing is only recent. Time for it to change for BOTH "lefties" and "right wingers."
Paul Kane: If you're advocating an internal rules change for the Senate, fine. But most lefties now --- like the righties 4 years ago -- don't understand that the current rules don't really require the minority to do anything. All they have to do is have 1 senator on the floor to object to unanimous consent requests to pass legislation.
But a rules change in the Senate requires 2/3 of the senators to approve it. Good luck finding the GOP senators to support such a rules change.
Atlanta, Ga.: Isn't the president doing a great job of talking directly to the people? During his town hall appearance in Florida, I heard one of the participants telling him that this has never happened for the past eight years.
Also the fact that he takes time to read some letters that are mailed to the WH directly.
What's your take on this?
Paul Kane: The letter-reading thing is kinda over-hyped. I know we wrote that story, my colleague Eli Saslow wrote the story about a day in the life of Obama. It was a nice story. But the fact that the president reads letters from citizens to me kinda sounded akin to athletes reading fan mail. I doubt that Obama's staff allows him to read mail from people telling him his policies stink.
But Obama is trying to speak more directly to the people than Bush did. That's what those 60 Minutes sit-downs feel like.
Warning: I may answer a LOST question about last night's episode, so if you've got it on TiVo/DVR, don't read that question/answer.
LOST!: YAY LOST! What do you think will happen now that Little Ben is dead?
Way more fun that politics :)
Paul Kane: Sooo much more fun than politics.
My buddy Jordan emailed me last night to ask the question: If young Ben is dead what happens to old Ben? Does he fade away like Marty in "Back to the Future" when his mom and dad were about to not hook up at the "enchanted" dance?
One odd thought here about the show. So Sawyer's stranded on the island for 3-plus years. Jack, Kate, Hurley, Sayid all show up again.
Anyone else find it odd that Sawyer never asks them about what the hell's going on in the real world? Who's the president? Hey, what ever happened to that Iraq war thing? Did the Red Sox ever win another world series?
The Deficit: One of the great tragedies of the $1.8 trillion deficit is that there is nothing to show for it. (Except Iraq, but no one wants to look at that). On the other hand what Obama seems to want do is invest. There is great value in borrowing for investment purposes. Check my (and imagine your) college educations. Obama is saying we are going to increase the deficit, but afterwards we will have a functional health-care system; a grid that can handle 21st century energy needs, an educational system that will help our kids compete on a level playing ground with the Chinese and Indians. Those types of things pay a return on investment!
Paul Kane: The thing about liberals these days that is very striking about their fiscal thinking, is how similar it sounds to Reagan. Liberals believe in supply-side economics like Reagan did. Or something akin to it.
Reagan argued that cutting taxes, thereby reducing revenue, would lead to -- presto -- more revenue, because things would get good again financially, leading to more people making more money and then -- presto -- more taxes flowing in.
Liberals are currently arguing that increasing spending would lead to -- presto -- more revenue because the things they want to invest in would make things sound financially, leading to people making more money and then -- presto -- more tax revenue flowing in to pay for all these programs.
OK, the Obama online town hall has started:
New York, N.Y.: Re: Snark. It is your snark that makes you lovable. In your opinion, will the president be able to get health care reform started this year? Or next? Thanks for the chat.
Paul Kane: It sounds like health care's stock is rising. And that means the energy/cap-n-trade is sliding a bit.
Hard to tell. Pelosi really, really wants to do the energy/cap-n-trade stuff; she sees it as her personal hallmark. Seems like the Senate favors healthcare first.
On spreadsheeting: What many of us would like to see is exactly what a commenter noted up thread: A list of promises kept. However, I think in fairness across the board, it would be nice to see the same thing for the past half dozen administrations. I am a shameless numbers person: if Obama keeps only half his promises, that'd be a victory if Bush/Clinton/Bush/Reagan/Carter kept only a third of theirs.
And thanks for rolling up your sleeves and not being afraid to throw punches today. I may not agree with what you say, but it shows that you aren't just another meek journalist who tries to be pleasantly objective. Look at the evidence, make a statement, and be prepared to defend it.
Paul Kane: Man, that's a lot of work that I don't think we have the resources to do -- walking back to look at all the promises of the last 4/5 presidents and seeing how they did. I wish we could do that, but I don't think it's doable.
I wonder which one of the last 5 (Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Carter) was best at keeping promises. I tend to think Reagan, but have no real data point to support that. Again, not placing judgment on his promises and their value, I'll leave it up to the Doris Kearns/McCullough/historian crowd to evaluate whether it was a good or bad thing that Reagan kept his promises. But he's my guess for best promise keeper.
Anonymous: My take on the AIG debacle is that the Congress has no one to blame but themselves (or maybe the previous Congress) for making money available to AIG without meaningful limitations as to what the money could be used for. AIG has used the money as it sees fit. If Congress wanted to dictate to AIG the manner in which the bailout money could be used, they had their chance when making the appropriation. To complain now means at least they were not paying enough attention back then and at worst that they were paying attention and looked away. For Congress to be outraged now is to abrogate their responsibility. When will we begin to elect grown ups to these positions?
Paul Kane: Remember, a huge chunk of that money came from the Fed. Without any congressional oversight. Congress didn't OK the money. It was a Paulson-Bernanke operation. With some help from Geithner, when he was running the Fed operations in New York.
Dallas, Tex.: "I doubt that Obama's staff allows him to read mail from people telling him his policies stink."
Save doubt for YOUR blog, buddy. Stick to what you know, not what you guess.
Paul Kane: Touche. Very good point. I don't know for certain what the mail is, what kinds he reads. My bad.
Chicago, Ill.: You can make your point about Senate filibuster rules without derisively calling people who disagree with you "lefties." Your professional integrity takes a hit when you start lobbing around partisan labels like that. Just fyi.
Paul Kane: Understood. But I don't think lefty or righty is necessarily a bad term. Liberal or conservative is fine as well, I guess.
But the point is, it's remarkable how similar in attitude both wings of the political spectrum, how those on the left end of the spectrum are beginning to act similarly to those on the right from a few years ago. Just four years ago, at this time, Senate Rs were pushing the "nuclear option" to do away with filibusters on judicial nominations -- and liberals were there fighting the good fight, demanding the preservation of minority rights.
Now, four years later, amnesia seems to be creeping in for some folks. On both the right and left.
Abingdon, Md.: "But a rules change in the Senate requires 2/3 of the senators to approve it. Good luck finding the GOP senators to support such a rules change."
Well, how did they change it then in the 70's. The point (all snarkiness aside) is that the majority party of either side is pretty much hamstrung to do the will of the people who elected them and WE find this frustrating. (I'm sure both parties would agree with this...)
Paul Kane: It took an 8-year, maybe 10-year effort to change the rules in the early '70s. It also helped that the Democrats had 60-some senators at the time.
Also, because that rules change was in reaction to Dixiecrat filibusters of civil rights laws, many Republicans supported the rules change. They didn't see it so much as a partisan rules change, as they did a geographic rules change. Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.), the minority leader, worked with Mike Mansfield and Mondale and Humphrey on the changes.
I thought this was the Post Politics chat: Did it get shanghai'd by a tee-vee writer? What's "Lost"?
Paul Kane: There's a LOST chat today at 3 pm.
check in then. It's a whole different world. Literally.
Wokingham, U.K.: It seems clear that we face a two-step -- first pump up the economy with public spending then raise taxes and cut entitlements in order to repay huge public debts. Some of these debts will be to fat-cat individuals, creating social envy and tension, and some to foreign governments, creating international tension. Not good, is it? Shall we start praying?
Paul Kane: The Brit chimes in with a pretty good idea.
Better start praying.
Dunn Loring, Va.: Is there any chance the Post will re-institute a fact check feature of the president's speeches/press conferences?
Paul Kane: This is a good idea. The fact checker was mostly a feature for the presidential campaign. Truth squadding what McCain, Romney, Obama, Clinton, Edwards said. But we've never had a Fact Checker for the president.
I'll mention it to my editors.
Helena, Mont.: So they chose you to go up against the president (who will be online at 11:30 a.m. EDT)? Or did you get the short straw?
washingtonpost.com: The White House
Paul Kane: Yes, me versus Barack, mano a mano.
I think I know who won.
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