Post Politics: 60 Votes, Fantasy Politics, More

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Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 2, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post congressional reporter Paul Kane was online Thursday, July 2 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news about the White House and Congress.

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Paul Kane: Good morning, folks. It's almost July 4th, things are quiet here in the Capitol today as Congress is still on its weeklong recess, with most lawmakers thinking about how to walk in Independence Day parades without sweating too much in public. They're also digesting the latest info on health-care legislation that continues to evolve, and they're all thinking about their best Stuart Smalley imitations, now that Franken is slated to join the world's greatest deliberative body next week. Looks like there's still interest in the Minnesota story, so we'll be handling those and lots of other Qs today. Also, let's talk golf, with the Tiger Woods tourney here in DC this week! On to the questions. -- pk

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Woodbridge, Va.: Mark Sanford and Andre Bauer do not get along? How can this be? Aren't you supposed to get along with your second in command?

Paul Kane: In South Carolina, as in many states, the Lt. Gov. runs on his/her own ticket. It's not like president and vice president, you don't select each other as running mates. At least that's my understanding of things.

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Suburban Cincinnati: Hi, May I add a bit of levity to this discussion?

I point to the editorial cartoon that appears in this morning's Columbus Dispatch.

I'm no fan of Al Franken, and can't believe he will be a United States Senator, but he will be and the nation will survive. However, we all need a chuckle!

Paul Kane: I'm all about levity today, so there it goes.

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Washington, D.C.: I am surprised about the Dems downplaying the significance of 60 votes. Regardless of whether they can get 60 "yes" votes on legislation, are they seriously saying that some Democrats might filibuster their own party on the cloture vote?! That would seem to be a pretty outrageous bucking of the party. The Dems have plenty of room to allow moderates to vote "no" on legislation, they just need cloture.

Paul Kane: I think the short answer here is, yes, some Democrats will be willing to vote against cloture on some of these issues. On a government-financed public plan for health insurance, I don't think Ben Nelson will vote for cloture right now. Ditto Mary Landrieu. Also, I don't know how to say this without sounding alarms, but Ted Kennedy and Bob Byrd are not available to vote right now. That's my understanding of things. I mean, not available. They can't vote. Until their health conditions improve and they can be present to vote, Harry Reid needs a few Rs to get to 60 votes.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Paul,

I know if you take this question you'll give a spirited and honest response.

How can we trust any reporting from the Post regarding health care if this idea -- WashPost sells access, $25,000+ -- is implemented?

Paying lobbyists for access to Post employees and Obama Administration officials? This seems completely outrageous.

Paul Kane: Yes, the general reaction among folks in the newsroom was astonishment this morning. None of us were involved in this project, and none of us on the editorial side of things will be involved. Our editor, Marcus Brauchli, sent out a company-wide email 45 minutes ago, subject line'd "Newsroom Independence". Here's the key line from what Marcus wrote:

"We will not participate in events where promises are made that in exchange for money The Post will offer access to newsroom personnel or will refrain from confrontational questioning. Our independence from advertisers or sponsors is inviolable."

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Reston, Va.: California is prepared to issue $3.3 billion in IOUs?!

Do you think this development, and the state's legislature inability to reign in spending, will stoke any fires under the "state bailout" pot inside the beltway? Or will California be left to their own devices?

Paul Kane: The reaction on the Hill has been under no uncertain terms will the Congress support bailouts of state gov'ts. The stimulus bill already included something like $300 billion in money that went to states; if they start issuing bigger bailouts to states like California, then the other 49 states will quickly get in line.

That's the way things have gone so far, anyway.

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Chicago: What role did the national Republican party play in Norm Coleman's refusal to concede, since Al Franken gives the Dems in the Senate the 60th vote? Did they fund Coleman? Encourage him not to concede?

Paul Kane: Both parties played big roles in helping finance the legal operations of the recount process. Democrats, in particular, played a big role in helping Franken, dispatching their best election lawyer, Marc Elias, to Minnesota within a day or two of polls closing there. Marc was such a frequent presence there that most people probably thought he was an actual Minnesotan.

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Chicago: Fantasy politics question for you, Paul: If you had to start a political system from scratch, which U.S. politicians would you most want to have in it? Picture them all standing at the line in the gym, and you get to pick 5 or 10. Who do you take? (Put another way, is there anybody out there who provides value to this country?) Thanks.

Paul Kane: Hmmm, this is a good one. And yes, there are many, many lawmakers who provide value. I'm cynical, but not that cynical. OK, here are 5 members of Congress that I'd draft in the 1st few rounds of a fantasty draft:

* Kevin McCarthy, California Republican. He's young and conservative, but he knows how to be in the minority because he served in the state legislature -- where Rs are a serious minority. He's someone that, only in his 2nd House term, has already been tapped to be a member of leadership. As Hubie Brown would say on draft night, he's got a lot of "upside."

* Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican. The Senate's ultimate hard worker. Just a genuinely hard worker who wants compromise but can't always find one. Has brilliant staff. Not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but he's now also big into Twitter. His press folks are kinda frightened by this.

* Ted Kennedy. I know that some people hate him for lots of reasons. But this man has affected more change, more substantive legislative change, than his brothers John and Bobby combined. He is, without question, the most important Kennedy. From crime bills to civil rights to health care, he's been in the middle of every key fight for the past 5 decades. His time is short now, but if I needed one man to craft one compromise on a really important piece of legislation right now - and if Teddy was physically able to be there - he'd be the guy I'd choose to negotiate it.

* Henry Waxman, California Democrat. The guy just somehow got a climate change bill through the House, against all odds. This was after 2 years of putting fear in the Bush White House with the most effective oversight of anyone in the last generation of politics on Capitol Hill. He may be diminutive, but he's literally a giant up here.

* Mark Pryor, Arkansas Democrat. This is my "sleeper" pick. He's a second term senator who gets no big billing, but the guy's a really hard worker. He's a genuine moderate and, when push comes to shove, he can negotiate a deal, as he was one of the senators involved in the Gang of 14 compromise on judicial filibusters 4 years ago. Plus, he's beloved in Arkansas -- Republicans didn't even mount a challenge to him last time he was up -- so he's gonna be here for a long, long time. Unless he's secretly a Mark Sanford!

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Baltimore: On the 60 vote question - don't forget that there are only 58 Democrats. You can't go too far right or you'll lose Bernie Sanders, and Joe Lieberman can be relied on to do whatever will get him the most television time.

Paul Kane: Wow, still complaining about Lieberman. I know liberals are mad at what Lieberman did in '07 and '08, but he's been nothing but a stand-up Dem this year so far. The only time he's been anywhere near the righ on an issue has been his work with Lindsey Graham trying to stop the release of the detainee interrogation photos.

Which, all in all, puts him squarely in line with the Obama White House and probably about 80 senators. Lieberman has been as reliable as any Democrat so far this year.

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Burke, Va.: Point taken on Kennedy and Byrd not really available for cloture votes, but do you really think the Maine Republicans will support filibusters? Methinks not . . . I don't think there will be too many successful filibusters.

Paul Kane: So far this year there has not really been a succesful filibuster. My favorite line of life in the Senate is, it's easier to get 80 votes for something than it is to get 60 votes.

More often than not, something passes with 70, 80 or 90 votes, than it does with just 60 or 61.

That's what made the $787 billion stimulus bill such an anomaly, because it was right on that line of the number of votes needed to pass.

As for Snowe and Collins of Maine, we'll see. On some issues they clearly won't be filibustering, but health care and climate change are such major re-writes of the lawm that those two could end up splitting their votes.

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Alexandria, Va.: Can you please post Brauchli's entire e-mail?

washingtonpost.com: Here's Kurtz's story about it: Editor: Post Newsroom Won't Join Proposed 'Salons'

Paul Kane: There's the link to Howie's story on this.

And no, I'm not posting my boss's entire email. Heck, I'm not even sure I was supposed to cut and paste any of that into a publicized way. I'm sure some other web sites will post it in its entirety, but I'm not going to be your source for that.

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Evanston, Ill.: Hey Paul, has the White House ever called you before a press conference and asked you to ask a question on a particular topic? What would your response be?

Paul Kane: Um, no and no. My response would be to tell them to take a flying leap. What the folks at Huff Post did with that was too cute by half. Just use the Fox-and-Bush analogy, and we all know how everyone would react if it were Fox's Major Garrett asking a question of Bush in such a manner.

However, it's worth noting that there are times when staff for lawmakers ask around before a major press conference about what folks are working on, what issues you're covering. Here on the Hill, however, there's no pre-arranged, pre-selected way of calling on reporters, the way there is in the White House. So anyone can pretty much get their question in if the lawmaker is there long enough and takes enough Qs. So it's not like you've got someone intentionally calling on you because he knows what Q you're going to ask.

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New York : Franken has never had a day in his life when he was half as funny as Sen. Imhofe.

Paul Kane: Jim Inhoffe as a funny man? Hard to see that.

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Boston: Hi Paul,

Is it time for Ted Kennedy to just retire for health reasons? It isn't as if he needs the job.

Paul Kane: This is an interesting question that goes to the heart of the legislative branch. I'm just not sure what the answer is to this question. If he really has a chance of making a comeback, if there's a chance the chemo will work and in 3 months or so, he can come back and serve in the Senate -- sure, he should stay.

But I don't know what the obligation is if you're in such a situation that you're terminally ill and not capable of coming back. I don't know what the answer is, when it's the right time to say goodbye. People have debated this for years, most recently when Strom Thurmond served till he was 100. There's no good answer, frankly.

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Arlington, Va.: The Obama economy keeps getting worse and worse. How do you think this is going to impact the mid-term elections?

Paul Kane: Yes, I think the economy is going to be central to the midterms. As of now I still don't think people are blaming Obama for it. But if we're at 10% unemployment on Labor Day 2010, Democrats are going to be very worried, most definitely.

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Indianapolis: I'm happy that the MN polls have finally closed, but am I cynical for thinking that 60 votes don't mean very much for progressives like me, so long as we have blue dogs to contend with? Bayh? BAH!

On a more hopeful note, Phils v. Mutts this weekend. Time for us to end this skid. Hope beats eternal. . .

Paul Kane: We're all very cynical, you know. I think having Franken here in the Senate is an on-the-margins thing that's tough to quantify, but it will have an impact.

Take the stimulus debate. Dems needed 3 R votes back then: Collins, Snowe, Specter. Each of the 3 of them had different peculiar interests. Collins was intensely focused on slashing funding for school construction, because she believed schools are a local thing, not something Uncle Sam should be so deeply involved in; they lowered the dollar total and then put a provision in the legislation that said the money could only be used for school reconstruction projects, so no new schools would be built with that money.

Well, if Franken were here, that would have been 1 additional vote for Obama and they only would've needed 2 GOP senators. Maybe they woulda told Collins to take a flying leap and fully funded a school construction program. She might have voted no but it wouldn't have made a difference.

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CT girl: I know you love moderates, Paul, but one could argue that it is "radicals" (such as the brave legislators during the Civil Rights Era) who actually affect real change, good or bad. Do you think if the current moderates in the Senate were around during the 60s and 70s they would have advocated for the end of segregation? I think not...

Paul Kane: Hmmm, I'm not sure I "love" moderates. My fantasy dream team of 5 lawmakers included Ted Kennedy and Henry Waxman, along with Kevin McCarthy. Those are pretty far left/far right people.

But what I've always loved is the idea that, no matter how far left or far right you might find yourself on the ideological cycle, that you know how to cut the deal that can be cut. The perfect many times is the enemy of the good. Teddy Kennedy, for example, was a leader in the civil rights bills, every single one of the last 4 decades. He was a "brave legislator", as you suggest, but he's also the guy that cut some deals on minimum wage, SCHIP, welfare reform, No Child Left Behind -- things that were not exactly ideal.

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Wokingham UK: Will the Republicans be able to find a plausible way to exploit or a plausible way to remedy the unemployment problem, which seems to be growing dangerously?

Paul Kane: I think they'll look for ways to "exploit" the problem, but, honestly, they're deep in the minority so they won't be able to do anything "plausible" to help alleviate the problem. They just can't. Don't have the votes.

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Putting Power Back in the Legislative: After the past few decades (especially the last eight years) where the Exec seemed to dominate, why did the most popular Prez of that period decide to cede so much to the Legislative? I kinda agree with the decision, but not sure I want Blanche Lincoln for example to deciding the future of the country.

Paul Kane: This is one of these bizarre things that the Obama people have put into the press, and some reporters keep gobbling it up: The idea that they're doing something different by letting Congress write the actual legislation.

Um, that's the way it works. That's the way it's always worked. This isn't some novel concept that they're trying. Basically, it's exactly the way the Bush White House handled it, too; he would say, Hey, I want a tax cut, then Tom DeLay and Trent Lott would get their committee chairmen together and come up with the bill. Bush's initial '01 tax cut proposal was $800 billion. Instead, Republicans ended up giving him $1.3 trillion in tax cuts.

On foreign policy/war issues, yes, the Bush White House had a very heavy hand on precise legislative language. But on other issues, it was handled just as the Obama White House is handling things.

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Paul Kane: OK folks, I gotta run now. Thanks for the questions, as always. Can't believe we went the full hour without anything on Michael Jackson! Anyway, hope you have a fun, relaxing Fourth of July with friends and family. See you back here in a couple weeks. -pk

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