Post Politics Hour: Weekend Review and a Look Ahead

Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 28, 2009; 11:00 AM

Every Monday, The Post's Perry Bacon Jr. takes your questions about the latest political news, and previews the week ahead.


Perry Bacon Jr.: Welcome to the chat. More health care this week, as well as debate about Afghanistan.


Princeton, NJ : Everybody's mad at Baucus. But isn't there a chance he knew exactly what he was doing and produced a bill that made a million concessions to conservatives. The Republicans won't touch it. Now, hasn't he tried to be nonpartisan? Isn't the ground clear now for the Democrats to write and pass (by Reconciliation if necessary) a really decent health reform bill? Or am I overestimating Democratc skills and principles? I hope not.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't think everyone is mad at Baucus. I think there are some differences on policy, such as the public option, but I think the White House and many Democrats in the Senate are behind what he is doing. And I think polling shows the point you are making: the public largely believes the Republicans are determined to oppose any bill. I think the Baucus process definitely helps make the case to the public that the Democrats tried to be bi-partisan. That said, I"m not sure voters really care that much about the process. The Republicans I meet at town halls and other things oppose so many of the core ideas of the bill that the process doesn't matter.


Saint Paul, Minn.: Hi Perry -- Thanks for taking questions today. September unemployment figures will be out in the next couple of days and they're not expected to be good. How do you think the president will respond? My sense is that, if we're in an economic recovery, people aren't seeing it, and that's a big problem for him.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think the president and his team have been careful to avoid declaring that all is right with the economy and with good reason. I think unemployment remains a problem not just in terms of how Americans view the economy, but how they view Obama and his effectiveness, as the Republicans constantly make the case that the unemployment numbers show the stimulus didn't work. (I know the counter-argument is umemployment would be even higher without the stimulus) No matter what the number is, I think the president and his team will emphasize there is much work to do.


Boston: Can we get some wingnut Rep or Senator to bring up articles of impeachment on Justice Sotomayor? That Yankee uniform she wore this Saturday shows that she cannot be an impartial jurist and has made me believe all the out-of-context nonsense that was the national dialogue on her after her nomination.

Perry Bacon Jr.: i attached part of the story at the bottom of this message. the pitch was very good apparently. And with all of the prominent Red Sox fans (John Kerry, Ben Affleck, etc.), the Yankees deserve some famous boosters too.

From an AP story on this : Sonia Sotomayor was right down the middle with her ceremonial pitch at Yankee Stadium.

The newest Supreme Court Justice, a Yankees fan from the Bronx, threw out the pitch before New York beat the Boston Red Sox 3-0 on Saturday.

"She walked off, and I said, `We'll be calling you next week with a contract,'" Yankees manager Joe Girardi recalled. "And she said she'd stick to her day job."

Wearing a Yankees jersey, she was accompanied to the field by Yankees catcher Jorge Posada. Standing a bit in front of the mound, the right-hander took the stretch position, exhaled and threw on the fly to catcher Jose Molina.

Read more at:


Fairfax: What do you make of the fact that in the US right now, we have one of the most liberal presidents in history in office, but a good part of the developed world has conservatives in power (Canada, Germany, Italy, France) or in ascendancy (Great Britain)?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Without debating if Obama is one of our most liberal presidents ever, I suspect he is to the right of David Cameron (the conservative leader in Britain) on a number of issues. Hard to compare our leaders with other countries, particularly in Europe.


The Public...: Has never cared who voted for what bill. This is silly inside baseball for the media to cover. The public is just happy that Senators and Representatives had the gumption to vote for Social Security, Medicare, the Voting Rights Act, Clean Air. No one knows how many, if any Republicans ever voted for those. We are just thrilled that they are now part of the nation's fabric.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't agree. I think Joe Lieberman would still be a Democrat and Hillary Clinton might be president but for the Iraq war vote. So people do remember some votes, at least in the short term. Don't you think the strong backing of blacks for Democrats stems from the civil rights legislation of the 1960's?


Lexington, KY: I'm not a political strategist, but Obama has little to gain(he is already a favorite in Chicago) and much to lose by making a special trip to lobby the Olympic committee. The competition includes some really good cities, so there is no guarantee Chicago lands the bid, but with his personal appeal, a rejection of the Chicago bid has a chance to viewed as a rejection of Obama. Essentially, why would the administration look for new trouble when it already has its hands full?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I suppose he could claim credit for getting Chicago over the top if the appearance works. I don't know. I feel like if the committee doesn't tap Chicago, there would be a couple of stories saying he had no impact and then things would return to normal. I don't see a big upside or downside here.


Washington DC: One of the key ways that the Baucus bill is raising revenue is by limiting how much can be put into tax exempt Flexible Spending Accounts. I have not seen a word about this in The Post, though that will certainly affect many many people who pay taxes or go to the doctor. Why is the Post keeping this -- and any other meaningful summary of the bill secret?

Perry Bacon Jr.: We've done lots of coverage of all parts of this bill. I feel as if I've read a piece about this in our paper, but I can't dig up one right now, so here's one in the NYT on the subject.


Re: Fairfax: In just about every developed democracy on this planet, President Obama would be as far to the right of the political scene as a Senator Coburn or DeMint is here. Check out those "conservative" the left of our Democrats on just about every single issue.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Not sure about Coburn, but yes, Obama would be a conservative candidate in much of Europe, where many countries are actually socialist. If you recall, earlier in the year, the Times asked the president if he were a socialist, and he seemed annoyed by the question.


Chicago IL: Serious question -- why do Republicans criticize Obama on job creation/unemployment? I thought that private sector free enterprise was the cornerstone of GOP political ideology. So why do they want the President to be more effective at creating jobs? Thanks.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Their point is that he spent $700 billion on a stimulus that he said would create jobs, while the GOP touted a much cheaper stimulus, because of their belief that the private sector creates jobs. That seems consistent to me. Much of their stimulus proposal was for tax cuts in fact.


re:Who voted for a bill: "Don't you think the strong backing of blacks for Democrats stems from the civil rights legislation of the 1960's?" So why are so many older Americans conservative - dems brought them Medicare and social security?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Is it possible that civil rights legislation is more core to one's life and therefore political views than Social Security? (If you can't vote, you can't punish a politiican for opposing or backing Social Security, voting is more a core right, no?) Just a guess.


Boston: The Congress passes dozens of spending bills every session. Why is it that only health care reform needs to be budget neutral?

Perry Bacon Jr.: The Democrats have made the case that health care spending is already out of control and the deficit is growing too much, so therefore health care reform should help control health care spending and not increase the deficit. Yes, I agree the deficit is growing in many other ways, but Democrats have picked health care as the issue where they must control spending. One thing about their messaging I have always found odd: $100 billion (the per year cost of the health reform) is not actually that much money in a sense of the federal budget. I wonder if they shouldn't play down the cost of the reform effort, as opposed to touting they will cut the deficit while insuring 45 million more people, a claim that sounds unbelievable even though the numbers back it up.


Silver Spring: I am curious as to Eric Cantor's call for civility and open discussion of health care reform in his meeting last week. Although I am thrilled that a leader is helping to lead a rational debate, I wonder if he is realizing that a big fat NO from his party for political purposes will end up damaging them in the long run. I am too cynical?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Cantor seems to be trying to less partisan than other House GOP leaders. That said, part of his job is not only opposing the bill, but he is the party whip, he will rally Republicans to oppose it. I disagree with this notion that complete opposition is bad for the GOP. The Democrats in 2005 completely opposed Bush's Social Security plan, the Republicans earlier this year completely opposed the stimulus. The politics in both cases worked out fine.


Washington, DC: Perry,

Can I say I found Meg Whitman's challenge to reporters to go and find her voter registrations to be a little bizarre? What is going on with that candidacy? The Fix: Whitman's Brief History of Not Voting

Perry Bacon Jr.: I found that bizarre too. The Republicans I talk to were saying she had been running a good campaign until this point.


outside of Philly: The President took on a bear of a project with healthcare reform. Overall do you think he secretly wishes for a Mulligan ?

Perry Bacon Jr.: He had to do this. This is the biggest cause for many Democrats, more than any issue. He could have done this in 2010, but this was the most logical time.


Abingdon, Md.: Are the Republicans under any pressure from their constituents to do something about health care (in the way of change)? I saw clips from three "town hall" meetings held by prominent Republicans and some questions came about individuals facing serious health problems (with no/limited insurance)and, all kidding aside, the reponses ranged from "seek out charity from organizations who provide those things" to "ask your neighbors"...Is anyone in their party seriously seeking reform?

Perry Bacon Jr.: My sense is that the GOP activists, the people who give money, the people who attend events, really oppose this bill, in every version. That's what driving the Republicans (the Grassley types) to oppose this. Yes, the challenge of GOP position is they don't have an easy answer for health care problems people have; pre-existing conditions, etc.


The Democrats in 2005 completely opposed Bush's Social Security plan: This never came to a vote; a bill was never even introduced. The Republicans voted against the Recovery Act and will vote against health insurance reform. Quel difference!

Perry Bacon Jr.: Yes, there was no vote. But the Democrats would have loved to have a vote; the Republicans were terrified.


NOVA: Any message for the US President and Congress from the anti-tax party's victory in Germany?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I would think not; I think the gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia will tell us more.


Boston: With everything else going on and especially with the clock ticking on a troop/strategy decision in Afghanistan, it is crazy to send Obama to Copenhagen to lobby for 2016 Olympic bid for Chicago. Put me down for a wager that he heads to Afghanistan before or after the Holland stop.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Haven't heard this, an interesting theory.


Rockville, Md.: Do you share my hope that if we get any sort of health care bill from the House and the Senate the Conference Committee can "fix" it and produce a bill that both houses can pass?

I read that the Senate can pass the bill from Conference with 51 votes. Is that right?

I think the Conference Committee works best in obscurity and do not know how it can function in a spotlight.

Perry Bacon Jr.: the Dems will need 60 votes at some point. That said, lots of the rangling will happen in private before the bill is released.


Bronx,. NY : Got a great money-saving suggestion for the Washington Post. Just re-run all those war-mongering stories from 2002-2003 about how Iraq was gonna kill us all, and just change the "Q's" to "N's.' Raises all around!

Perry Bacon Jr.: Not much to add here, a big fan of our journalism I suppose.


Toronto: I was struck by the exchange between Senator Kyl and Senator Stabenow where Senator Kyl stated that since he didn't need maternity care he didn't think it should be covered. What does that say, if anything, about American society versus other countries?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Kyl's point was about mandating benefits. His argument was people should be able to buy health care that is as cheap and covers as little as they would like. The Democrats support health care that has certain defined minimum benefits.


Northern Virginia: Now that we have an administration I helped put into office (as a volunteer), I'm realizing some of the downsides of being president. As in many jobs, you don't get much credit when things go right, just a lot of blame when things go wrong.

Three examples that come to mind: the transition to digital TV (it was a smart call to postpone it by a few months; it seems that it then went through fine, thus a non-story), cash for clunkers (huge success from almost every angle, even the dealers are now getting paid, nothing to complain about, thus a non-story), and swine flu (if all goes well, government did whatever it could, the vaccine was ready earlier than feared, flu is so far somewhat less deadly than feared...thus, a non-story).

How does a politician ever get credit for anything if success is a non story? This is not a criticism of the media but of human nature! We pay more attention to what goes wrong.

Perry Bacon Jr.: This is actually a pretty good point. We in the media and in general focus on what is new and what has tension. Remember how many stories you read about poverty in Africa when Bono was working on that issue? There are fewer stories now, even though poverty remains a problem there.


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