Post Politics Hour

Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 29, 2009; 11:00 AM

Discuss the latest news about the White House and Congress with Post national politics writer Perry Bacon Jr.

Bacon was online Monday, June 29 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss Sanford, health care and other political news.

A transcript follows.


Perry Bacon Jr.: Good morning. Welcome to the chat. I'm Perry Bacon, one of the Post political reporters. Looking forward to talking about Sanford, health care and other subjects.


New York: This year, it's health care, but my question concerns coverage of our 'representatives' in general. When a Congressperson or Senator comes out publicly against "the public option" in health care, shouldn't it be a major ingredient in the news story whether that politician received major funds from an insurance company? I think almost all voters understand the influence of money on what gets done in Washington, so why is this not mentioned in these stories?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I'm not sure I agree with you. I think lots of politicians who have gotten money from the health care industry are for the so-called public option and some are opposed and the campaign donations don't tell us that much either way. The Post has done some stories about stock holdings of members in health care companies and I would argue there is no clear correlation between stock holdings and support for more liberal health care policies. The public option debate in general is very interesting. Our health care reporter Ceci Connolly wrote a great Sunday piece on how liberal groups are battling moderate Dems on this issue.


Minneapolis, Minn.: Hi Perry -- Thanks for taking questions today. As a gay American I have to admit that I feel somewhat ambivalent about the President's event today at the White House to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. It's great that he's doing it, but once again I feel like we're seeing more symbolism with this president than action. The White House has been pretty sure footed with everything else, but yet is struggling to articulate where it's going with the issues Obama campaigned on (getting rid of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, repealing the Defense of Marriage Act) concerning gay and lesbian Americans. What do you think is going on here? Are they really that afraid of the political fallout, despite polls showing a clear change in attitudes about same sex marriage and gays and lesbians in the military?

Perry Bacon Jr.: The New York Times had a great piece looking at this issue on Sunday. My sense is the White House is trying to avoid cultural issues in general and focus on their already big agenda on health care and energy and the economy. This meeting at the White House feels like one designed to reduce complaints from a group, similar to the meeting on immigration last week. There is not yet a consensus on gay marriage in the country I think, even though several states have now decided to allow gay marriage. Remember a gay marriage ban passed in California in November. These is also little push in Congress to take steps like repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, which I think would get little enthusiasm from the Blue Dogs and other more moderate Democrats who live in states in the South and Midwest that perhaps aren't as eager to expand gay rights. So short answer, yes, the White House may be a little political wary on these issues.

_______________________ Political Shifts on Gay Rights Lag Behind Culture (New York Times, June 27)


Boston: So is the test of "bipartisanship" whether a bill got a certain number of Republican votes or whether the bill had a mix of Republican ideas (whether any Republicans ended up voting for it)? Knowing moderate Republicans were going extinct, why did Obama make a promise on bipartisanship and give his opponents real control over whether the public viewed him as a success?

Perry Bacon Jr.: David Axelrod suggested yesterday the bill would be bipartisan because it includes GOP ideas, even if almost no Republicans vote it. What you're seeing is that since the stimulus, when the the vote took lots of steps to woo Republicans and got only three to back the bill, they are trying to stop the obsession with how many Republicans back bills. Obama promised bipartisanship in tone and style, I"m not really sure during the campaign he promised lots of bills passing Congress 86-14. The Republicans would say if lots of GOP ideas are genuinely adopted in a bill, they would vote for it, and that is the true measure of bipartisanship. Obama is also trying to get GOP governors, former members of Congress like Ray Lahood and ultimately

GOP voters in polls to support his agenda, allowing him to say Republicans in Congress are just opposing things to be partisan. The polls, which show many voters believe Republicans are opposing Obama policies just for partisan reasons, suggest Obama may be winning this argument. One important note: in 2012, people will be evaluating Obama more on the results of his policies than if how many Republicans in Congress supported them.


New York, N.Y.: The coverage of the latest wave of public-opinion polls has focused mostly on President Obama's ostensible political weaknesses. But isn't the more important story these polls show actually the increased marginalization of the Republican opposition? Public support for Obama remains very strong. In the 60s. By contrast, the Republican Party is viewed favorably by only 36 percent of the public, down from 51 percent three years ago. And in a real stunner: Based on the internals of the new Washington Post/ABC News poll Obama leads Republicans by over 20 points on terrorism! To me, that's stunning. So why is so much news coverage -- including in the Post -- focused on Obama's weaknesses in these polls? Makes no sense to me. What do you think?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I agree there was a lot of coverage of Obama's weaknesses on some issues, in part because that is new. His public support has been in the 60's for months now. I don't think the Republican Party being in trouble has been kept secret, our own Dan Balz has highlighted that in several stories. I happen to think Obama's ratings are much more important than how the GOP is viewed in general. Voters will eventually cast a ballot on Obama, they will never vote on the "Republican Party" or the "Democratic Party." What I mean is that someone like Charlie Crist in Florida can win a Senate race even if the overall ratings for the Republican Party are terrible.


Bethesda, Md.: I hate to ask, but what is the next step for the Minnesota Senate decision between Coleman and Franken?

Perry Bacon Jr.: The state Supreme Court is expected to rule in the next few days/weeks and Gov. Pawlenty has said he would support whatever they decide. Much of Norm Coleman's staff has taken other jobs, suggesting to me they believe it's over for him and Franken will soon be a senator.


Health care: Kinsley did a great job pointing out that nobody in DC has much credibility on health care because they have something to lose if stuff changes, whereas most of us uninsured have only our lives at stake. So far, I've heard a lot about cost and not much about anything else, i.e., the current rationing structure, etc. What questions do you think the media should be focusing on in the discussion?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think one of the important things being lost in the current health care discussion is the two different definitions of "cost." There is 1. the cost of your individual insurance, which Obama says will go down if his plan is passed, a claim I think is questionable and 2. the cost to the government/country in health care expenses, which can be used through some of the proposals that might end up paying hospitals/doctors/insurance companies less for their work. Obama is suggesting that personal health care costs will go down, even for people with insurance, but the focus on the Hill is on reducing costs for the entire system to keep the bill around $1 trillion. One thing to keep in mind is that the focus on costs is in part a political argument; the Democrats have decided talking about "uninsured" is not a politically popular thing to do, even though much of the money in these proposed bills is on reaching the uninsured.


Annandale, Va.: I think Obama is for gay rights and will get to it eventually. when he started campaigning the economy was bad but not in crisis. My impression is the economy, Iraq, Afghanistan, health care need to come first.

It is rare for so many things to be on a new president's plate? It seems that way to me.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think you're right Obama has a lot on his plate and has taken on a lot. But I"m not sure that it's just about how many things on his agenda that is stopping him on gay rights. I think he and his political team are carefully expanding where the country is on these gay rights issues and taking steps like offering benefits to the partners of federal employees is totally different than backing gay marriage.


Salinas, Calif.: Hi Perry. New York raises an interesting point. Unfortunately, disclosure of contributions received by the insurance industry would need to accompany every report of politicians from both sides of the aisle weighing in on health care issues. Big insurance spreads money everywhere to assure maintenance of the status quo: remaining the middleman between consumers and their health providers.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I guess I question the notion in general that public policy choices on issues this big are dictated by campaign contributions. I would argue you might want to consider how a lawmakers constituents are affected. Ben Nelson, for example, is opposing some changes that would effectively have the government directly provide student loans rather than having private companies operate as a middle-man. I don't that's because of campaign money, but because a bunch of jobs in his state are tied to the student loan industry.


Boston: Hello...trying to get this in early. I don't know anyone who thinks the current health care system works. It's very expensive (coming from someone recently on COBRA, and I don't really know what they cover other than the basics. What is the real problem with a government or co-op run option? Seems to me like its more politics, with Republicans not wanting to give the Democrats a win, and Democrats not really fighting back.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't think we know enough about the design of this public option to know if how it will. There is a gap between a Medicare like plan that would probably draw a lot of people from private plans and the kind of negotiating power that would drive down prices or it could be effectively a non-profit health care entity that doesn't make a big impact. The Republicans see it taking the first role and effectively federalizing health care in a way not seen before.


Charlie Crist: You really think he has a snowball's chance against Rubio?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think the real question is if Rubio has a chance against Crist. I think the answer is maybe. Crist is popular but primaries tend to draw out activists, who are more conservative. I have to assume Rubio can get 40% right now and now must try to grow that. But he's a young guy, so if he doesn't win this, he can run again later and will probably have increased his name ID and won support acclaim from conservatives in the state who don't like Crist.


Boston: What is the fate of Waxman/Markey in the Senate?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Unclear. Senate hasn't said when they will take it up and the Senate would require 60 votes to pass it and I would say they don't even 50 right now, as some Democrats there are wary of the bill.


Cape Cod, Mass.: How would the seating of Franken affect the health care vote?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't think we will know until we see the bill. If Franken comes to the Senate, it will officially give the Dems 60 votes, but Kennedy and Byrd have missed most of the votes the last few months because of their health issues. And it's not clear to me what there is health care legislation Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu would back that Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe wouldn't. (i.e. The moderate Dems and moderate Republicans are united in being dubious of the public option)


Re: Bipartisanship: So if the real test in 2012 is not bipartisanship but whether the various policies actually work, why dilute a policy solution you believe to work the best for a compromise solution that may jeopardize the outcome of the policy implementation? Wouldn't that give Republican's an "I told you so" on the back end to what is already a "politics as usual" on the front end (with few if any Republican votes no matter what)?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Lots of Democratic activists are making this very point. There is an essay on Huffington Post or a column in one of the big papers every couple of days making this point, which Paul Krugman made the other day. Should Obama compromise on his ideas to woo only a handful of GOP votes? Two things to note. Right now, without 60 Dems in the Senate, getting GOP votes isn't some academic notion about bipartisanship, you have to get Republican votes to pass bills. Franken isn't there yet and Kennedy and Byrd often aren't either. Even if you have 60 Democrats in the Senate, I think the moderate Democrats like Ben Nelson like the cover of being able to say Republicans also backed a controversial idea. So I don't think Obama is pursing bipartisanship only for bipartisanship's sake. The White House does still try to get Eric Cantor to vote for things, but there most time is spent on Grassley, Snowe, Collins, etc. people whose votes they actually need.


Arlington, Va.: I am a retired Navy Captain, and I served with gay service members and I was also their superior officer. It was never a problem for me as a junior officer in A Seal Team or as CO of a Seal Team. Any officer who says it causes problems with unit cohesiveness and morale needs to come talk to me about leadership. Trusting your team is the only way a SEAL accomplishes their mission.

Obama is caving to pressure to a bunch of officers who wouldn't know leadership if it bit them in behind. Just like FDR, Trumman and Ike caved to pressure about African American service membersback in the 40s and 50s.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Lots of gay rights questions today. I will just post this comment.


NYC: Is anybody going to call Mark Sanford on the unsaid subtext of his King David claim? Like, if he intentionally sends an innocent man to his death, are we supposed to forgive him? And is Sanford willing to allow the Lord to take one of his sons as punishment?

Truly an abhorrent thing for him to say. It sickened me. One other thing: King David never left Israel for a week, unattended, with nobody knowing his whereabouts.

I had a bit of empathy for Sanford at first, because he so obviously besotted in love, and you gotta respect that. But he should've resigned. The longer he sticks around, the bigger a jerk he becomes.

Perry Bacon Jr.: And lots of Sanford comments. I'm not sure the David reference was his smartest, but he hasn't done a lot of smart things in handling this scandal. I think he may end up keeping his job though, barring any more news of taxpayer-funded trips.


Fairfax, Va.: I asked this question last week, but I think I'd like to put it in a slightly different way now.

In your opinion, who -- Republican, Democrat, or other -- will be the next hypocrite du jour? You know, the one who has a chance to stop and think about what he or she is doing, but will do it anyway and get caught (like they always do) and we'll be reading all about it in the next few days or weeks?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Wow, I have no idea. Stanford was rather stunning to me, as was Spitzer.


Long Beach, Calif.: Do you believe that President Obama's support of the National Energy Tax HR2454 breaks his campaign promise that he wouldn't raise taxes on people making under $250,000?

Perry Bacon Jr.: The CBO estimated it would raise energy costs for the average American household by less than $200. And it's not a direct tax, so I would say no. On health care, Obama may be end backing a tax on health benefits that does hit people who live in households that make below $250,000.


Arlington, Va.: What happens now that the Supreme Court ruled for the firefighters? Do they get their promotions after all this time?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think it would be mean in the long run, if not today, the white firefighters will be promoted. Politically, I think Sotomayor will get even more questions in her hearings about race/affirmative action/"wise Lation" themes now.


Perry Bacon Jr.: Thanks for the questions folks. Perry


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