Post Politics: Gang of Six, Civics Lesson, Waxman, More

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Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 30, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post congressional reporter Paul Kane was online Thursday, July 30 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news about the White House and Congress.

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Paul Kane: Good morning washingtonpost.com readers! As is common knowledge among fans of my online chats (admit it, there are 3 or 4 of you), I often like to kick off these discussions with some Springsteen on my iPod. This morning, substituting for the Boss is Capitol Hill's version of the Boss -- Henry Waxman. My headphones are on, and I'm listening to Waxman's Energy and Commerce Committee legislative markup of the $1 trillion or so health-care reform legislation, a huge breakthrough for Democrats. I expect most of the questions to cover that, as well as all things Springsteen. (Oh, and U2, since I'm seeing them in mid-August, as well as thoughts on the Lee trade for the Phillies!). Ok, I'm joking about those other topics. On to the questions. -- pk

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Gang of Six: So apparently, I'm supposed to be OK with Sen Thune pushing legislation to allow people with concealed weapons permits to wander around the country at will (sounds like a violation of states rights) and I'm also supposed to be OK with six senators from states with NO substantial metro areas dictating health reform? So much for fair representation - for all the talk of "liberals" forcing their agenda on the rest of the country, I see a lot more of majority white, conservative, old and rural people pushing their agenda on the rest of us.

Paul Kane: This seems to be an extremely odd, downright bizarre theory of anger out there on the left. I've been getting some emails about it, and I think Krugman wrote about this recently. This whole theory that six "rural" senators are writing the health-care bill. Wooooo, holy cow, I'm scared to death!!!! Folks, let's talk civics. A long, long time ago, in my beloved hometown of Philadelphia, a bunch of elite farmers gathered in Independence Hall. They crafted a final agreement that gave each and every state two senators. It was the single biggest compromise of the constitutional convention.

No single state's senators were deemed to be better or more important than the others. It's that simple. So, sorry, you're stuck with the Finance Committee the way it is. Deal with it. Did you look and see who mostly wrote the Senate health committee bill? Coastal liberals!!!! Ahh, scary coastal liberals, like the staff of Ted Kennedy, along with Sens. Dodd (Conn.), Mikulski (Maryland), Murray (Wash.), Reed (R.I.).

See?

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what money saved?: Is it true that the concessions made to the Blue Dogs re: health care reform have resulted in a net LOSS of savings?

Paul Kane: Still waiting to get an official final dollar value from CBO on the net value of the $100 billion in reductions from 1 account, versus what are the likely added costs of their tweaks to the public plan and the securities they achieved for more small businesses.

It could well be a net zero effect. Ultimately, the Blue Dogs biggest concern has not been the overall dollar value of the plan, but the securities given to their rural interests. So even if yesterday's concessions net out to zero, the Dogs won't care, because they will have protected their rural hospitals and docs.

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Chicago, gathering over a beer: Greetings, Many years ago, I witnessed a potential confrontation between gay activists preparing to march on the American Medical Association headquarters.

A line of Chicago Police in blue stood by while a crowd gathered at one of the larger medians on Wacker Drive and State Street. The tension was palpable. The activists had their handheld cameras rolling to record the confrontation.

A white-shirted Chicago police officer -- the sargeant in charge of the response -- looked at the line of blue and said, "It's time for us to step up."

The blue-shirted police officers started chanting "Hell, no, we won't go" until everyone on both sides burst into laughter. The sargeant looked at the policemen with an eye of "grow up."

The sargeant then approached the leaders and worked out the safest and sagest way for everyone to get where they wanted to be safely.

The actions of the wise (insert anatomical part here) cops defused the situation. Everyone took a step back and worked out the safest and sagest path. No one had to back down, no one had to lose face.

At the gathering over a beer at the White House, I hope that safe and sage can be put together. I suggest that the antagonists question the President's choice of Bud Light, but that's just me.

Paul Kane: I don't profess to be any sort of expert on this Gates-cop thing. I've been way too deeply absorbed in the health-care story. But I'll just say this from afar, this whole thing, everyone involved, is a case of acting stupidly. (Yes, the play on Obama's words was intentional.) I think it says something about the state of our communities that Gates had to break into his own home when he didn't have the keys -- when I grew up, several of our neighbors had extra sets of keys for the Kane household, as we had several sets of keys for neighbors of ours on Bell Lane. We all trusted one another. Then there are the Gates' neighbors, who apparently didn't even recognize him at his own front door. Maybe it was dark, I don't know, but if they all knew each other pretty well, I'd think they might recognize it was Skip. Then the police and Gates, just seemed to take a bad situation and ramped it up, both of them, and then Obama took out a big stick of dynamite and blew it up in everyone's face.

Yes, everyone acted stupidly.

Particuarly the media, because we loved reporting this stupid story, because it was a lot easier than trying to explain Medicare reimbursement rates for rural hospitals versus urban hospitals.

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Jersey City: Do you think Springsteen supports a public option?

Paul Kane: My instinct says Bruce supports a public option, that it's probably part of his Promised Land. However, considering how wealthy Bruce is, and how close his home is to some of the best hospitals in the land, that the Springsteen family would have one of those gold-plated private insurance plans that would end up getting taxed by the Kerry amendment. And he'd be happy to pay his taxes for the super-duper plan.

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Concord, NH: I'm a libertarian and I didn't vote for Obama or McCain. My question is, when will the media call out the supposed fiscal conservatives in Congress (both Dems and Republicans) who voted for tax cuts, prescription drug benefits and for continued unnecessary defense spending? Why can't you guys do your jobs and actually challenge these hypocrites on their records?

Paul Kane: I know you're from the Live Free or Die State, but honestly, I think we've done our fair share of reporting about the federal budget deficit and its cause.

For those looking to read about our deficit coverage, I'd encourage you to look at all the great stories my colleague Lori Montgomery has written the past year or so.

http://projects.washingtonpost.com/staff/articles/lori+montgomery/

by the way, after reading Lori's stories, feel free to link through and email her, wishing her well on her 2-week vacation at the beach. Come on, Montgomery, please get back here on the Hill, Shailagh, Perry and I need your help!!! There's too much news here.

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Pittsburgh: Is Waxman a progressive or a Blue Dog or neither? Just curious...he seems to have a Herculean task in front of him in trying to appease "fiscal conservative" Blue Dogs while not watering down health reform legislation so as to make it completely ineffective.

Paul Kane: Henry Waxman (D-Hollywood) is a proud progressive. If progressives turn on Waxman because of the deals he has cut on health-care and climate change, then I've got some news for you, you'll probably never trust anyone in power. He was stuck for the last 10 days to 2 weeks. He has 36 Democrats on his committee, 23 Repubilcans. No Republican was going to vote for his legislation, and at least 7 Democrats were holding the legislation hostage.

He couldn't move the bill. He and Pelosi had 2 options, completely going around his committee and risking losing the vote on the House floor (because the Blue Dogs would have boycotted the legislation en masse). Or try to cut a deal with some of the Dogs, winning at the committee level and giving them a fighting chance of winning on the House floor.

It ain't pretty, the legislative sausage making process. But Waxman had his back up against a wall. He did what he thought he had to do to save Obama's No. 1 priority.

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Pittsburgh: Greetings from the current home state of the Lombardi Trophy, Lord Stanley's Cup and the World Series champs!

What are Arlen Specter's latest prospects for reelection in 2010? When I saw him on TV recently, I thought he sounded rather poorly, so wonder whether he'll even be physically up to running next year. If so, what do the polls say are Sestak's odds against Toomey? While Toomey seems a shoo-ini in the Republican primary, I can't see him carrying the Commonwealth in a general election.

Paul Kane: http://papolls.com/tag/toomey/

Looks like there is very little Toomey-Sestak polling, but for the one poll at the top there. It appears that Specter is polling 10 points ahead of Sestak against Toomey. Which is probably lower than you'd expect, given Specter's 29 years representing the entire state versus Sestak's 2 1/2 years representing Delaware County and a sliver of MontCo and ChesCo.

This is 1 of the best primaries to watch in the country. The Fix and myself believe it could go down to the wire, largely because of a general dislike of Specter more than any big lift for Sestak. Let's face it, though, who knows if Sestak can handle a statewide primary. His political experience comes down to basically 1 tough race, against incumbent Curt Weldon in '06, and that race was going down to the wire -- until the FBI raided the homes and businesses of Weldon's daughter and top campaign adviser. Sestak then cruised the final 2 weeks to an easy victory, and he's not been on the GOP's radar ever since.

(Ironic side note: the US attorney who approved that raid, and assured Sestak's political future, was Patrick Meehan, who was a onetime top aide to ... then-GOP Sen. Arlen Specter. Specter got him the US atty gig early in the Bush administration.)

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Washington, DC: To be fair, the founding fathers didn't exactly envision a world where the two parties would put their Congressmen with tough elections on finance committees to fatten them up with campaign contributions from the banking lobby to fund their multi-million dollar war chests.

There's a legitimate issue here. Kudos to the Post, by the way, for doing a good job chasing the connection of money and politics. That's the story that the wingnut complainers should be going after, not this rewrite the constitution stuff (which, just like filibuters, they all love it when it's someone on their side in the position to throw up road blocks).

Paul Kane: I'm just going to let this question/comment stand on its own, allowing those to rebut/agree with it post questions on it.

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Austin, Tex.: How about that Cliff Lee trade! Does that make the Phils the team to beat in both leagues?

Paul Kane: No matter how cool the PA Senate race is, no matter how big the trade was for Lee and the Phillies playoff chances, the big story in the entire state of Pennsylvania this week is ... NFL training camps open!

The Steelers begin their effort to repeat as super bowl champs, the Eags try to get to the Super Bowl again. Amazingly, the Philadelphia Inquirer treated the opening of training camp the other day as if it were a super bowl preview, blotting out its coverage of the 1st-place Phillies.

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Abingdon, Md.: As someone who covers Congress, I'm hoping you can answer this: If I write a letter (not an email) to my senators and representative, what is the likelihood that it will actually get read (even if by someone on the staff)? When they go on recess in August, does the staff stay behind? And, since I seem to be stuck on the staff thing, typically, how many people are on a senator's/representative's staff? Thanks.

Paul Kane: OK, let's take these great questions in order. Yes, if you write a letter, properly addressing it to your congressman, it will get read by a staffer. I think you're in Chris Van Hollen's district, and his staff is ordered to do good constituent service. (He wants to run statewide some day, the last thing he wants is his opponents standing there with a little old lady from his congressional district saying, "He wouldn't even answer my letters!")

As for the response, it should get to you within a few weeks. Just remember, since the anthrax mail attacks of 2001, all letters are sent off to a postal factory hundreds of miles away to be treated, then sent to Capitol Hill. A letter to Van Hollen, from you, would take a funny route, starting in suburban Maryland, then out to Ohio, through a treatment facility, then back to the Capitol. It can take a couple weeks for old snail mail to get there. So a response may not come for 2 months after you've written.

And yes, staff will be there throughout the entire 5-week recess. Many use the time to take vacations, but it's spread across the recess so there are always some staff on hand.

In a House office, the average memeber has 8-10 staff in his Capitol complex office, and the average senator has about 30-40. (Bigger states get more $$$ for senators, so California's Boxer and Feinstein will have larger staffs than Delaware's Tom Carper.) Back in the districts and states, members also have similar size staffs who handle constituent services.

Hope that clears things up.

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Boston MA: I see commentary about Obama's talking about the Cambridge police thing being a mistake because it puts him off-message. But it seems to me he's actually dragging it out on purpose to get the media to stop talking about healthcare - which is impossible to write about positively given the necessary pushing and shoving by the Dems writing the plan and the Republicans screaming about socialism in the back.

Paul Kane: Hmmm, sorry, but I disagree. I think this Cambrige cop thing has thrown him terribly off message. I don't think he prefers talking about something in which a large number of white working class people completely disagree with him on; remember, this was the Achillies Heel of his primary campaign against Hillary Clinton: white working class folks in small towns.

Obama calling a police officer "stupid" is right up there with him saying those folks in small town Pennsylvania "cling" to religion and guns. It reinforced an image of him as an elitist that he spent many, many months trying to bat down last year.

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Enough!: Can we please have a moritorium on the weekly "Jobless claims down!!!! Wait, no, now they are up!!! Hold on, they're down again! And up now!" stories?

What benefit is had by running these stories?

Paul Kane: Um, because it's about momentum in the workforce. I know it still sucks for those poor people who've filed for unemployment benefits, but if fewer people are filing for them this month versus last month, we just might be turning the corner on the employment front of the recovery.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gNiyJ905Ho0Ur96V2TQhsBX19lGwD99ORO1G0

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Atlanta: Hi, Paul,

I read Milbank's column this morning and he had a throwaway line in there about the Senate Ethics Committee investigating Dodd and Durgan. I'm shocked! I didn't know there -was- a Senate Ethics Committee, or a House Ethics Committee for that matter. I always thought the Ethics Committees were like Unicorns - something out of fantasy land. Did they just implement Ethics Committees? I don't recall any investigations into Ted Stevens, David Vitter, Pete Dominici, just to name a few. Or Tom Delay, Duke Cunningham, Bob Ney or even William Jefferson on the House side.

washingtonpost.com: Let He With $0.00 in His Freezer Cast the First Stone

Paul Kane: The Senate ethics committee does in fact exist.

http://ethics.senate.gov/

You can go there and read the admonishments they administered to Domenici and Craig. The committee decided it could not take up a case against Vitter because the prostitute allegations occurred before he was a senator, and it didn't intervene against Stevens, because the Justice Department always ask the committees to stand down when it is already plowing ahead with similar cases. That's what happened with the House ethics panel and Cunningham and Ney.

http://ethics.house.gov/News/News.aspx?ID=2

But you can read its history at that link, and you'll see that DeLay was admonished 3 different times, I think, for misbehavior.

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Boston: From the polls today, I see that Americans are, once again, ridiculously confused about the issues of the day. Doesn't this say something to the media? I'm fascinated by the oft-pundited idea that Obama needs to do a better job explaining his healthcare plan to the public. Now, obviously, Obama should be -selling- his ideas. But isn't it the media's job to -explain- the plans? (Of course, this doesn't even take into consideration the ridiculousness of polling on "Obama's healthcare plan" when no such thing exists). If the public is confused, it seems to me you guys should consider it your fault, not the government's.

Paul Kane: Um, read today's Wash Post. We did a long explainer-type story on the taxing of benefits.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/29/AR2009072902035.html?hpid=topnews

To be honest, we've written about a dozen of those stories the past 2-3 months. We write them all the time. You know what? You readers don't read them. Because they're very complicated stories, involving obscure tax and health-care laws. Instead, you gobble up stories about Sarah Palin and Skip Gates. You devour argumentative op-ed pieces. You devour news of the weird.

Sadly, it's just the way it is.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/most-viewed-articles.html

that's the link to the most popular things on washingtonpost.com right now. you'll notice that the piece explaining tax laws and health-care is not in the 10 most read stories.

so, who's fault is it?

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The "rural, non-big" dominating ...: Uh...that's why there's a House of Representatives which is population based.

It's a balance of powers thing. It's the details that are messy.

Paul, don't people remember their elementary civics?

Paul Kane: No, I don't think people do remember civics.

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Beverage choice: It being summer in DC wouldn't a gin and tonic be better? Maybe that wouldn't help Obama's regular guy image...

Paul Kane: Um, as I've grown older, I've found myself to be a fan of Hendrick's gin, which I know makes me a total liberal elitist, but I can't help it. It's so tasty. It sure beats the terrible gin that me and Terry Shea drank one night when my parents were away while I was in college. My next door neighbor as a kid, Terry ended up falling asleep on my parents' couch; he awoke to his mom tapping him on the shoulder, he didn't even realize his mom had walked across our yard and into our house to wake him up. "Mom, don't worry, I'll come upstairs and go to my bed."

"Terry, you're in the Kane's house. You gotta come home."

See, back then, not that long ago, 1989, I think, those were times when people in neighborhoods like mine didn't even lock the doors at night, and neighbors could just walk into each other's homes trying to fetch their overly served children without fear of other neighbors calling the cops and starting an international incident.

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Bizarre theory of anger: In 1790, the ratio of largest state population to smallest was about 12.6 to 1. Today, it's more than 37 to 1. And people are not flocking to Wyoming.

So, wouldn't you say it's more about a growing problem in our structure of government, where tiny populations have increasingly large impact?

Acknowledging, of course, that neither the Constitution nor the population are any of your doing.

Paul Kane: I'm curious. Do you want to start a revolution and have a new constitutional convention? I really don't understand this argument. When will you folks be happy? You've got the White House, 60% of the seats in the House, 60 of the Senate seats. Do you realize that roughly 40% of the nation, as a base line, disagrees with your policy prescriptions? Do you understand that basic concept? As a starting point, 40% of the nation disagrees with you, and they have been successful -- so far -- at increasing that percentage number higher, which is what is hurting your plan. That's the problem, not the Constitution.

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Arlington, Va..: When are they going to run a health care vote? Because you know this bill is "born to run."

Paul Kane: Ah, that's kinda cheap, but I'll still post it.

Question to ponder: If Bruce really is going to play an entire album all the way straight through in each of the fall tour shows, which album would you want him to play if you're there? Personally, when I'm at Giants Stadium, Oct. 3, I'd want "Greetings from ..."

It's such a Jersey album.

Then again, if get Spectrum tix in Philly, I'd probably want to hear "Darkness". A better angry, dark album befitting my hometown's phightin' spirit.

Here in DC? I can't decide.

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Anonymous: Wow, it's Nasty Town here today.

I'm going next door to look at paint chips.

Paul Kane: PK Town is not nasty, it's an aggressive back and forth with our readers. It's Philly attitude. Deal.

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Paul Kane: OK gang, time to run. The Waxman markup continues, it could go on most of the night and most of tomorrow, possibly over into Saturday. Good grief, I hate working weekends. Hope you're all well. I'll be on vacation for a couple weeks in August, so I'm not sure when I'll back for this chat, possibly not till late August. We'll see what happens in the next 10 days on health-care. Big days ahead. Take care -- pk

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