Post Politics: Palin, Taxing Health Care, More

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Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 15, 2009; 11:00 AM

Discuss the latest news about the White House and Congress with Washington Post national political reporter Perry Bacon Jr.

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

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Arlington, Va.: President Obama's repeated reference to "the rich" as single earners making $200k or families making $250k really gets me angry. Does he not know that many families have two working parents? Two GS-13s in Washington can easily exceed $250k.

Should I get divorced so that I am no longer "rich"? My salary pays for therapy for my autistic child (most of which is not covered by insurance)--and now my health benefits will be taxed because we are "rich."

What is the government trying to tell me?

Perry Bacon Jr.: The data suggests only two percent of American families make more than $250k each year, which is why Obama and John Kerry before him, targeted this group for tax increases. I will let you debate what constitutes rich, although it's of course the cost of living is higher in D.C. or NYC than Kentucky. There's a great story on the front page of the Post today about paying for health care that shows this debate. Obama wants to target this group making more than $250,000 for tax increases to help fund health reform, while some senators are talking about increasing the taxes on health insurance you get from employers, which might help some who make less than $250,000.

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Joe Biden: Hey, Perry. You know I'm not that tied up in my public perception but how'd I do this weekend? I didn't flame any pandemic worries or incite a war somewhere, right? Isn't that a win for me and the President?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I suspect this is not really the vice-president, who was on Meet the Press and didn't make any gaffes. The flu comment aside, I think some of Biden's gaffes this year have been more telling the truth, which in Washington often gets you in trouble. He was rather honest last week in acknowledging the stimulus hasn't been exactly as effective as it was pitched, which the Republicans pounced. He seemed to do a good job of capturing the White House's position on Iran this week.

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Chantilly, VA: I am still waiting for the economy to turn around. I must say that I was expecting more from Obama. I am lucky to have a job but I have friends who are finding themselves in more difficult positions. One friend is a painter who said that with house sales down, fewer people need to have their rooms painted. Another who does daycare said that she has fewer children as more parents are at home or going with unlicensed stay at home moms. Where are all of the promissed new jobs? With college and high school students also in the job market, things are tough for anyone needing a first or second job.

Perry Bacon Jr.: This remains a very difficult job market, and unemployment has kept increasing. I would say that despite whatever Bush, Obama, Clinton, etc. have said, presidents have a somewhat limited effect on economic growth. That said, Vice-President Biden even said on Sunday that "No one realized how bad the economy was." This will be a political problem for Obama if the economy is this bad around the time of next year's elections, but that's a long time away.

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Alexandria, Va.: Perry, I honestly cannot believe that Sarah Palin will be able to win the Republican nomination in 2012. I know no one can predict the future but I am willing to bet my student loans on this. Her colleagues do not take her seriously. I just think that the GOP is a misogynistic party and that she is being played by the RNC establishment. Hillary Clinton was demonized by the right and left during the election but no one questioned her intellect or knowledge. I don't think that public fights with David Lettermam is a good stepping stone for National Stage. Your Thoughts?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I assume Palin's thinking in feuding with Letterman was to draw some sympathy and rally her supporters around her. But if being president is her goal, I don't think it helped. For her to be seen as a serious candidate, she needs to be seen talking more about policy issues and less about these kind of he said-she said controversies. She annoyed people at high levels in the party last week by going back and forth about attending a major GOP dinner, finally showing up after threatening not to come because she couldn't speak. Mitt Romney has much less enthusiastic support than Palin, but seems to running the right kind of early 2012 campaign, speaking about major issues, attacking Obama on policy, fundraising for other Republicans, etc.

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Burke, Va.: Is the momentum still with passing health care reform or is actually crafting detailed legislating beginning to form an obstacle? Is this a slam dunk or not?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Good questions. It's very likely some kind of health reform will pass this year. But I think the details are going to make this really complicated and interesting. I think, despite the current focus on government-run option as part of health care, that is not the real debate, which is over financing. This plan could cost upwards of $1 trillion over the next decade and finding the right mix of tax increases and true savings is going to be difficult. Ultimately, the people who have to back this are the moderate, Blue Dog Democrats in the House and the moderate senators (Bayh, Ben Nelson, etc.) and they are very wary of these cost issues. I still think a plan passes, but the finance questions are very important.

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Silver Spring, MD: Congress is currently debating amendments to the "War Funding Bill." My question is: I thought "War Funding" was now "in the budget" per the President's directive. If so, why the need for special funding? Thanks.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Obama's budget for 2010 includes money for the wars, but the budget for 2009 was largely hashed out between the Bush administration and Congress, which used the approach of so-called supplemental spending. This bill has actually been fairly controversial, as many Democrats have expressed concern about Obama's plans to increase troops in Afghanistan.

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What about Mitt's 'do?: You are right that Mitt is running the right kind of pre-campaign but do you think he will ultimately just bang his head against the wall (and mess up his 'do) and never get the Republican nod? It seems a fool's errand for such a smart guy...

Perry Bacon Jr.: The GOP, at least in the last 30 years or so, has tended to rewarded people who have kind of paid their dues. Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Dole and McCain all lost in the primaries once before they captured the nomination. On the other hand, I think Romney's faith will remain an issue for some of the Christian conservatives in his party and he's not a particularly great speaker. Palin, for all of her faults, has some very strong supporters in the base of the GOP, which I'm not sure Romney has.

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Baltimore: Re taxing health benefits: I make six figures, but well under 200K. However, I would be more than willing to have my employer's share of my health insurance premiums treated as taxable income now if it would be mean that, should I become unemployed, I would be able to buy good insurance on the open market at an affordable price. As someone 61 years old and working in the private sector, I can tell you losing my health insurance and having to pay lord knows what a month is my biggest financial nightmare.

Perry Bacon Jr.: This is an interesting comment. On some level, in the same way that having your health insurance benefits cut is like a pay cut, having your insurance benefits taxed more is a tax increase, the kind of thing Obama repeately said he wouldn't do unless you made more than $250,000. This questioner seems to be for a revamp of the system that might cost him money. But the biggest case lesson people in the health care world took from 1993-94 experience was leave things the same for people who already have insurance, which is why I think this idea of taxing benefits might be complicated to pass.

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RE: Arlington, Va.: : Based on that comment, I want to offer some topics I think should be discussed I think more article should be done on the cost living in various parts of the country. (For the record, $250,000 are year is rich to me, my annual salary is one fifth that). I also think articles should be done on why virtually everyone in this country thinks they are "middle" class, but somewhat struggling financially. Also discuss why no one wants to be called rich.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I'm sure articles have been written on this subject, without having one I can immediately cite. I don't know why so few Americans call themselves rich, maybe these watch one of those "Real Housewives" shows and see they don't live like those families and therefore don't consider themselves rich. Who knows. From the political/policy standpoint, arriving at $250,000 as the marker for rich (and who can afford to pay more in taxes) makes for complicated policy. It means more of the tax burden falls on a small number of poeple and also that the government struggles to find ways to pay for certain programs. This is why the administration is so desperate to find so-called savings in their health care reform.

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Iran: What are the administration's options for responding to irregularities in the Iranian elections?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Lots of Iran questions today. Biden indicated yesterday they would take a wait and see approach; they are avoiding the kind of direct confrontation that some Republicans are calling for in which the administration would blast the Iranian government and say the elections were a fraud. My colleague Scott Wilson wrote an excellent piece on this today.

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A problem with Palin: Is that she seemingly makes so few attempts to reach the middle ground voters she'd need to be elected Prez. Does anyone feel she would be a less ideological president than was George W.? She did recently appear on CNN, interviewed by Wolf Blitzer, and it didn't seem a painful experience (Blitzer let her go with a rambling non-answer about why she's accepting stimulus money for her state she first said her state didn't need), but she seems to prefer the safe confines of friendly, conservative environs such as Fox News programs. What does she need to do to appeal more to those who aren't hard core conservatives?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Palin's bigger problem right now is not that she's polarizing, although that's a big one, but the perception among even Republicans that she purely does not know enough about policy and can't answer basic questions. Essentially, she has never gotten past that Katie Couric interview. In terms of winning people in the middle, I think the first key would be competence, then worry about making a broad appeal.

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Saint Reagan's economic plan: As Paul Krugman pointed out this morning, Reagan's economic stimulus of 1981 was followed by another 16 months of rising unemployment.That is why it is called a "lagging indicator."

To put this another way, those Republicans who are hating on Obama because his stimulus bill didn't solve years of pent-up economic problems in 4 months must have really hated on Reagan.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think the Republicans can fairly criticize Obama on his own metric, saving and creating 3.5 million jobs. By next fall, when voters get to take their measure of obama's performance on the economy, I expect the situation will be different.

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Blue Dog: I know what a "blue dog" Democrat is but how did that name come about?

Perry Bacon Jr.: From the Blue Dogs website

"The 51 conservative and moderate Democrats in the group hail from every region of the country, although the group acknowledges some southern ancestry which accounts for the group's nickname. Taken from the South's longtime description of a party loyalist as one who would vote for a yellow dog if it were on the ballot as a Democrat, the "Blue Dog" moniker was taken by members of The Coalition because their moderate-to-conservative-views had been "choked blue" by their party in the years leading up to the 1994 election."

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Pittsburgh: Listened to Nina Totenberg's report this morning on NPR re how the GOP Sen. Lindsay Graham is now trying to paint Sonia Sotomayor as a judge who's mean toward attorneys when she questions them -- this from folks who want us to believe that Justice Antonin Scalia isn't at least as harsh? Give me a break!

My questions: If it'sokay for a male judge but not a female one to do this, then aren't Republicans playing a blatant sexism card on this claim? Do you believe that anyone but hardcore political opponents of Sotomayor is going to buy this ploy?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I heard Senator Graham make this point when he met with her. I think he's trying to make a general point about her character 1. she's mean to lawyers 2. the whole "wise latina" comment.

I generally think this nomination, barring some kind of new disclosure about her, is going through with little controversy. All of these Republican claims about her seem like posturing. Yes, you are right, Scalia and others on the Supreme Court ask sharp questions of lawyers with some regularity.

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Houston: Is the Medicare-style public option dead? Biden seemed to be signaling that the White House will not fight for it yesterday and all the vibes coming from the Senate are that they won't include it. The only group that seems to be pushing it are the House Progressive Caucus. Do they have the votes to make or break the whole reform effort over this point?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think the more important comments on that were from Sen. Conrad yesterday, as he announced the votes aren't there for it. It's not dead, but it's in trouble. It seems like the House will pass a bill with such a public-option, but the Senate won't and the White House will back the Senate version. Conrad is pushing an alternative idea that would be less than a Medicare-option and create health care cooperatives. My colleagues Shailaigh Murray and Michael Fletcher wrote about these the other day. "The Conrad proposal is modeled after rural electricity, farming and telephone cooperatives that are owned and organized by members. The entities would negotiate rates with health-care providers and would have to meet the same licensing and regulatory requirements as private insurance companies."

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Thanks: Perry, thanks for standing up to the rich family in the first question who doesn't realize how good they have it.

Median family income in this country is $50,740! I am sick to death of people making $250K whining about how tough they have it. Imagine what it's like for an ordinary American who has a sick child and desperately needs help to make it through the week. And remember, America is a rich country. At $250K a year you are in the richest one-tenth of one-percent in the world!!

Perry Bacon Jr.: A comment on who is rich.

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Pittsburgh: On George Stephanopoulos's ABC program Sunday morning, George Will dismissed the concerns of many of the people without health coverage on grounds they're not "citizens" -- not just illegal aliens, but legal ones as well. Assuming this wasn't a slip of the tongue, does Will seriously believe that even legal aliens (likely working folks and their families living in the U.S.) should have no expectation of health care coverage? Is there polling indicating whether such prejudice is a popular attitude nowadays (not that it would justify such bigotry anyway, but I can't believe Will's view is mainstream)?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't know is there is polling on this or not, but my guess is offering health insurance to illegal aliens is not a very popular idea. One thing to note is that while 45 million people in the U.S. don't have health insurance, that doesn't mean there 45 million citizens who can't afford health insurance. There are really four different groups that make up the 45 million 1. low-income people who are eligible for programs like Medicaid who haven't signed up 2. illegal immigrants 3. people who are healthy and could afford health insurance but choose not to buy it 4. people who would like health insurance and are citizens but can't afford. Group #4, who get all of the attention, are actually less than half of the 45 million.

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st paul : Hi Perry -- Thanks for taking questions today. I'm fully expecting to see the Republicans try to hang the outcome of the election in Iran on President Obama, even though the previous administration didn't have much luck working with them, either. What do you think? How should the current administration respond (other than with "we inherited this policy" which, I'm afraid, may be starting to wear a little thin)?

Perry Bacon Jr.: The emerging Republican line of attack is less blaming Obama for the results, but saying he should be more direct in declaring the elections a "fraud" as Romney said yesterday on tv. The administration has been much more cautious so far in describing the situation, as they are trying to increase engagment with Iran. But I'm sure one of their spokesman will at some point use some version of the "inherited" language. One of former colleagues, Peter Baker, wrote a great piece last in the NYT about the use of this phrase by the admininstration and how they may be running out of time to use it.

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Palin's support: Can you shed some light on why Palin has strong supporters in the conservative wing of the GOP? She's charismatic and unapologetic, for sure, but not a particularly strong fiscal conservative, and her "family values" record would probably be attacked by those conservatives were she on the other side. Her strong stance on abortion is certainly part of it, but is there more, or is the conservative wing becoming a single-issue party?

Perry Bacon Jr.: There is a bit of a populist/non-populist divide in the GOP. It's not about just about soical issues, but that's part of it. Palin and to a less extent Huckabee connected with voters last year as middle-class conservatives who railed against coastal elites, talked about their religion and were very strong on abortion and social issues. Romney and to some extent McCain are on the other end of this, not quite moderate as much as more business/security conservatives who connect less on values and cultural issues. Whether it's Palin or Huckabee or someone else, there will be a 2012 candidate who runs in a more populist direction against the Romney kind of candidate. Pawlently is striking to appeal to both of these groups at once.

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Perry Bacon Jr.: We're out of time. Thanks for the chat folks.

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