Post politics hour: Senate health-care bill, Democratic accomplishments, the myth of 'fiscal conservatism'

Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 19, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post congressional reporter Paul Kane was online Thursday, Nov. 19 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the Senate health-care bill and the latest political news.

The transcript follows


Paul Kane: OK, a technical glitch there at the start, sorry. I'm a few mins behind so I'll get to the Qs right off the bat. Two notes of personal privilege: I'm not the health-care expert. I've not been covering the intricacies of the bill. I'll take plenty of Qs about the politics of it all, the potential filibuster, etc. But I'm not the man to argue the pros and cons of certain approaches.

Point of personal privilege #2: Bruce, live, tomorrow night, in Baltimore. 2nd to last show of the tour, and, some fear, last shows ever. This is huge. Cannot wait.

On to the questions. -pk


St. Paul: Hi Paul --

Thanks for taking questions today. What are the odds that a health care bill passes by the end of the year? And who among Democrats now stands in the way of that happening?

Paul Kane: Slim to none. There's almost no chance of a bill being signed into law by Christmas. No one is wiling to say that now publicly, but the clock's running against Obama and the Dems on this one.

If all goes as planned the next few days -- never a given -- Reid will get over the cloture motion (filibuster vote) on the motion to proceed to the bill. Then they'll actually have to vote on the motion to proceed to the bill.

Best-case scenario: Real debate on the bill and the likely hundreds of amendments to be offered won't begin until the week after Thanksgiving. This is going to take 3-4 weeks, probably, just for the Senate to deal with, so the best Dems can really hope for is to have it clear the Senate by Christmas. Then the House-Senate conference takes a few weeks.

The optimistic goal now: MLK Day

Realistic goal: Valentine's Day


Mike, Cleveland: Paul, as Thanksgiving approaches, do you realize how lucky you are to root for winning football and baseball teams as opposed to, say, people who live in Cleveland?

Paul Kane: Nice to hear from you, Tobin. The Brady Quinn experiment hasn't gone so well, sorry about that. Enjoy this last year with LeBron.

Politics of LeBron question: If I'm Rob Portman, do I throw myself into the King James negotiations in some sorta way hoping that he says in Cleveland, so Portman can claim credit and win votes upstate that, as a Cincy guy, he normally wouldn't win?

I'm mostly kidding. Ok, Mike, now get back to overseeing the coverage of the dying Rust Belt.


Richmond, Va.: I was a huge supporter of Mr. Obama, and worked very hard for his election -- but Dana Milbank's column this morning was so right on that, along with many other "no changes we can believe in" (in -my- opinion) is starting to erode my support for this president. I hope someone in the WH is taking notice of progressives like me, who, while I will not vote for a Republican, will stay home (and that counts). In China, Obama leaves more questions than he takes (Post, Nov. 19)

Paul Kane: I've had a couple versions of this discussion with progressives the last few weeks. And it's similar to what you're saying. But I had a different question with another reporter about this yesterday, and, man, we started adding up all the things that the Dems have accomplished in 10 months, and it's really kinda stunning. Yet they get no credit for any of them because they're the small-ball things.

Children's health insurance, a $35 billion expansion; women's rights, passing the Lily equal pay law; Hispanic issues, getting the 1st ever Latina on the Supreme Court; consumer protection, a far ranging bill dealing with credit card companies. There's other stuff, too, and it all adds up to something pretty big, considering none of it could get done while Bush was in the Oval Office. But none of it is the really big stuff that they vowed to pass, except for the $787 billion stimulus. That's big, obviously.

It's a weird place Dems find themselves in these days.


Dunn Loring, Va.: Like the obese person waiting until tomorrow to start his diet, Obama recently announced that he plans to reduce federal deficits in the future. What is the likelihood that Pelosi and Reid, who aren't exactly deficit hawks, will agree to any spending curbs? Is His talk rely just laying the groundwork for more tax increases?

Paul Kane: I wouldn't expect tax increases other than those that are in the health-care plan. As much as you may not like Pelosi and Reid, they're keenly aware of the political effect of raising taxes in a midterm election year.

As far as spending goes, however, yes, they are far more profligate at it than anyone can imagine. Look, the people who run Congress all are former/current members of the House/Senate appropriations committees.

Pelosi, Hoyer, both came up through the ranks as appropriators. Same with Reid and Durbin in the Senate. Among Senate Rs, McConnell is a former appropriator, and Alexander is now on approps. The House Rs have found religion, yes, but remember, The Man for them all these years was Tom DeLay. Appropriator.


Collins for Lieberman trade: What health reform policy lever can Senate Dems use to get Collins on their side so they don't have to worry about the petulant Lieberman, Senator-Insurance?

Paul Kane: Almost no chance whatsoever of Collins voting for healthcare, period. She's feeling very, very comfortable politically. She just won with 60% of the vote in a moderately blue state in the worst of election environments ever for Republicans.

Her bona fides are fine on all sides. She's feeling no pressure, and every vibe she sends out is negative toward this bill. So, no, you, as a progressive, will have to deal with Lieberman, Nelson, Landrieu, Lincoln.

Deal with it.


Herndon, Va.: Will the Boss know where he is? Been on the road too long.

Paul Kane: "Heellllloooo Ohio."

Yeah, that wasn't a pretty thing, forgetting where he was. But have you ever been in Oakland County, Mich? I was there at the tail end of the '08 congressional campaign, watching soon-to-be Rep. Gary Peters campaign. There's some bad, ugly parts of that place. And man, it's depressing now, because everyone's losing their jobs. Easy to wish you were somewhere else, I guess.

PS -- This online chat is being sponsored by Bruce Live in Dublin, May 2008, courtesy of a bootleg provided by longtime Wash Post chat fan, Flynn.


Manhattan, Kan.: Hi Paul--any chance the Democrats will call the bluff of those who would filibuster health care and judicial nominations by making them actually read the phone book? The last time Republicans shut down the government, and a real filibuster would if it prevented a CR from passing to keep the government open, it didn't turn out so well for them.

Paul Kane: Ah, Manhattan is a newcomer to my chats.

I have a big beef with lots of progressives on this -- and I had a big beef with the conservatives on this four-plus years ago.

But here's the deal. There's no such thing as a "real filibuster" anymore. They don't exist. The rules were changed in the early '70s in a way that basically made it easy for any minority with 41 or more votes to block legislation.

They simply don't need to filibuster the way Mr Smith did. That rule is done.

If the majority has 60-plus votes, then the minority is torched. Their only option is the old-fashioned, Mr Smith-style filibuster. But they almost never do that -- witness how Jeff Sessions is not doing a "real filibuster" on this judicial nomination on the floor this week.


Belfast, Maine: How do you see the Senate getting past cloture? Straight party line or with one or more GOP?

Paul Kane: I think it will be 60 votes, period. I bet Snowe doesn't vote for cloture on the motion to proceed, to protest the inclusion of the public option by Reid.

Personally, and I'm an outlier here, but I can't figure out what these moderate/centrists are thinking.

Good grief, if they want leverage, vote yes on the motion to proceed. Then just go sit on the floor and refuse to vote for the next cloture motion to cut off debate on the overall legislation.

Then they'll have leverage. Once this bill is on the floor, good lord, Obama, Rahm and Reid will be desperate to get it passed. They can't have the bill get on the floor and go into a couple-week debate, then fail. They simply can't afford that.

So, if you're Landrieu or Lincoln, vote yes now -- then go into some hard-core negotiations.


Re: Dems and their accomplishments: It's the number one reason why the Dems are not getting their just praise for their accomplishments due to the Media's lack of extensive coverage? Let's face it the media likes to hype the negative and not the positive because it sells. And of course the public eats it up. Anyways thank you for showing the progressive chatter that he/she is not as progressive as he/she thinks if he couldn't see beyond the constant news feed on the negative to see how much the administration has accomplished in less than a year.

Paul Kane: Sorry, dude/ma'am. But the progressive/libs are the ones who are really upset. This ain't some media conspiracy. You folks are really angry, and we're just reflecting that.


Grew up with "Born to Run": I was at the Verizon show and I'll be in B'more tomorrow night. But why all the speculation about this possibly being the "last" Bruce tour? The man obviously has energy to spare.

(And please ... I know that the Who has had endless farewells, too.)

Paul Kane: The speculation rests, I think, with Clarence and some of the other guys. They're not spring chickens.

God willing, Bruce will keep touring. I'm just not sure that this incarnation of the E Street Band will be backing him up.


Snowe for Lieberman: I think the previous questioner might have confused their moderate female GOP senators from Maine. Olympia Snowe is the one that has made some positive noises about the idea of health care reform- though she is clearly very leery about the public option. Can Reid make 2010 a truly Olympia-ic year?

Paul Kane: I think Snowe has long recognized that her cache as a politician rests in being a moderate Republican. Once you switch parties, then you're just another Democrat.

She's up for re-elect in 2012. She's at the top of my retirement watch list for that class. I'm just not sure she enjoys this incarnation of the Senate anymore. The people she looked up to and respected when she first arrived in the Senate in January 1995 -- Kassebaum, Kennedy, Dole, Bradley, Warner, Domenici, Breaux -- they're all gone now.

She doesn't really fit into this Senate.


Extending unemployment benefits: How in the world did something as crucial as this get so screwed up? Was Teddy Kennedy the last man in Congress who actually knew how to write legislation?

Paul Kane: It's not about writing legislation. Anyone can do that. What Kennedy understood was the art of navigating legislation across all the land mines, whose egos needed to be stroked, whose political circumstances back home required a tweak here in this piece of the bill or that piece of the bill, whose circumstances made it impossible for them to even consider voting yes.

Check out The Fix's post yesterday asking who the best member of Congress ever was.

I'm not going with Kennedy, fyi. I'm not sure. Guys like Clay and Webster were true heroes. Now, let me say this, and I told this to Fix yesterday, LBJ is the most overrated senator ever in history. I'm tired of hearing about how great he was. Just because historians who sell millions of books decided to write about him doesn't make him so great as a senator.

His leadership of the Senate came in the '50s, when the best things he had to show for his stewardship were the national highway system and some funding for new weapons systems. Mike Mansfield -- the longest serving party leader in the history of the Senate, 1960-1976 -- oversaw the most meaningful legislative agenda of any majority leader in the last 100 years, for my money.


Marietta, Ga.: "But I had a different question with another reporter about this yesterday, and, man, we started adding up all the things that the Dems have accomplished in 10 months, and it's really kinda stunning. Yet they get no credit for any of them because they're the small-ball things. "

Isn't it the job of political reporters to report these things rather than spending most of their time reporting what their opponents are saying?

Do you see any danger at all for Republicans saying no to everything and criticizing every move the president makes? Even my husband (who is apolitical) was disgusted with the criticism of "the bow". It used to be expected that politics stopped at the water's edge and the president was expected to treat other world leaders with respect.

Paul Kane: Sometimes we have to actually think out loud about different things that are happening to help get our ideas set. Talking out loud to others does help the creative process, come on!

As for being 'The Party of No', I think that depends on how popular/unpopular the Democrats are 11 months from now. If the Dems are really unpopular, the Rs don't need all that much to pick up seats.

If they ever want to win back the full majority, however, they probably need a more positive message for their future.


Bruce, live, tomorrow night, in Baltimore.: Just as long as he doesn't say, "Hello, Delaware!"

Paul Kane: Nothing wrong with Delaware!

Speaking of, the University of Delaware today is launching a new Center for Political Communication. Involved in setting it up are proud Fightin' Blue Hens David Plouffe and Steve Schmidt, who you may recognize as the strategic master minds of the Obama and McCain campaigns.

Yes, they're Fightin' Blue Hens, just like yours truly.

However, Plouffe and Schmidt both got the political bug while still in school, leaving UD early. Never graduating. So, I think they could actually figure out a way to become the 1st graduates of a new program that they helped found!


Omaha, Neb.: I have heard that if any kind of Health Care Bill passes, it will be seen and recorded as a victory for Obama. Since Obama made a point of letting the Senate do most/all of the work (as opposed to the Clinton attempt in the 90's) why would he get any credit or blame at all?

Paul Kane: Presidents get all credit and blame.

It stinks, but it's the truth. The best a member of Congress can hope for is to get their name attached to the legislation (Sarbanes-Oxley, the Roth IRA, Pell Grants). Years later, no one knows who or what Pell is and why he/she/it is giving out grants, but you get a legacy. (That's for Clairborne Pell, senator from Rhode Island in the '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s.)


Keystone Stater: If only your Phillies had beaten the Yankees, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania could've laid claim to the Super Bowl, Lord Stanley's Cup AND the World Series (sigh).

Paul Kane: Sigh. Sigh. Sigh.

Of course, if the Eagles could have held on to that lead against the Cardinals, won the NFC title game, then they would have stomped on Big Ben and the Steelers in the Super Bowl, leaving only Lord Stanley for those Pittsburgh types.


Washington, DC: Next to football, my favorite sport these days is watching my liberal friends' heads spin when I sneak up behind them and yell "Palin for President in 2012!" in their ears. (I'll feel a little guilty if one of them has a stroke when I do that.) More seriously, I would like to know whether you think the Republican party's officials (Steele, et al.) will make a concerted effort to bring Palin into the party's bosom (and if so, how?) to avoid her being their Ralph Nader by leaching off the social conservatives who feel more comfortable with her small town roots than with the professional politicos like Schmidt and Wallace. Thanks.

Paul Kane: I think Dan Balz wrote of this the other day. Palin is now basically the Ross Perot of this era. Haley Barbour is content on forging a big tent that will allow folks who are the angry conservatives into their arena, harnessing that energy and using it for the GOP. The trick is figuring out how to bring them into the party while keeping the folks like Snowe-Collins-Domenici-Warner around as well.

I think what the Christie-McDonnell wins showed was that there still is room for a George W. Bush message that can win. But don't scream yet -- I'm talking about the W of 2000, the guy who ran as a compassionate conservative. The guy who spoke to the religious conservatives, who knew he was one of them, but someone who didn't dwell on it so much as to scare secular suburbanites.

That's what McDonnell and Christie did.


The Myth of "Fiscal Conservatism": Paul, who was the last truly "fiscal conservative" GOP President? Was it Eisenhower?

I know Republicans like to hold up St. Regan as some sort of Paragon of Fiscal Conservatism, but by my recollection he was pretty much the father of rabid deficit spending.

Paul Kane: Eisenhower created tons of federal departments, including Education, Transportation, etc. He built the national highway system. Anti-government conservatives hated him.

So, truth, I'm not sure who the last real hero to anti-spending conservatives was in the WH.



Forget the Blue Hens, it's the Bantams: of Trinity College in Connecticut that is: George Will, Tucker Carlson and the Post's own Pulitzer winner, Steven Pearlstein.

Paul Kane: Love the Nutmeg State. Love it. Never realized Will and Tucker went to the same school. Tucker's got a new thing coming out, Daily Caller, which he hopes to be a conservative Huff Post. Interesting possibility there.


Falls Church, Va.: Bruce has been playing his way through an entire album as part of the set list at his concerts, and apparently it's been different albums. He played all of "Born To Run" when he was at Verizon. Wouldn't it stink if he chose something like "Lucky Town" for the Baltimore show?

Paul Kane: No 'Lucky Town'. He's announced he's doing BTR again there. He closes the tour Sunday night in Buffalo, with "Greetings ..", the original album. Amazing. I hope for those fans sake, he does "For You" in the London/'75-style, just like he did for us in Richmond in August '08, which is what I'm listening to right now. Damn.

He's a genius.


Tampa, Fla.: How's this for dealing with Landrieu, Lincoln, and Ben Nelson: structure the opt-out to include opting out of every federal public-option insurance program. This includes public option crop insurance and public option flood insurance.

Pelosi would have been in a much stronger position had she held up the farm bill and told the Senate that the House wouldn't send over the farm bill until the health bill is finished.

Does she have the guts to do this? And would it be effective?

Paul Kane: This is too deep of strategery for even me. But I will say this, a wise man once said to me: Farmers always hold the final cards to any negotiation. It happened with climate change. We'll see it play out in health-care, no doubt.


Clifton, Va.: Brucee getting confused about what state he was in was not a one time thing. The diagnosis for Bruce is not pretty with early onset senile dementia.

One less communist Obama supporter is a good thing!

Brucee's last dent album was Greetings From Ashbury Park. His highwater mark. Its been down hill ever since!

Paul Kane: Hi everyone, this is Clifton, Va. Clearly someone who just doesn't like to have fun. Smell your Cheerios tomorrow morning before you take a bite, Clifton.


Snowe is right, whoops: My bad, I did confuse Snowe and Collins. It's like Kane and Cizilla, tough to keep them separate. Which one is the depressed Eagles fan with Westbrook out?

Paul Kane: It's Ok, you're allowed to confuse Snowe, Collins, Kane, Cillizza. We all look alike.

Yes, Westbrook. Man, love that guy. Hope he's ok. The concussion stuff is getting scarier and scarier these days. Once Congress takes up an issue like that, you know things are bad.


Madison, Wis.: Hello Mr. Kane, Oakland County, Mich. might have its seedy areas, but most of it is quite nice. Did you happen to make it to Birmingham or Bloomfield Hills? I am guessing not.

Paul Kane: Sorry -- didn't mean to disparage all of Oakland Cty. I was down in the grittier parts closer to 8-mile. Further out it does appear to be more of the leafy suburbs, and I did spend an afternoon with Rep. Peters in Madonna's alma mater, where I learned that they keep her Class of '76 picture hanging in the back of the library.


Herndon, Va.: Paul, Ike did not create DOT or Education. DoT came about in the 60s and Education in the 70s. In JFK's 1st Cabinet it was still Dept of HEW. Secretary was Anthony J Celebrese.

Paul Kane: I stand corrected. Sorry for the misinfo.

For all things Ike, check out that site.


Princeton, N.J.: What's going on with the Eagles? Are there two separate teams that wear those uniforms and they switch at the 20?

Paul Kane: If you can't run the football, you can't sustain drives inside the red zone and score TDs.

It's like politics. Yes, you need an air game -- you have to have good advertisements that scare the hell out of the middle-road voters so they don't want to vote for the other guy.

But to win the race, you have to have a ground game, a get-out-the-vote operation that goes out and ID's people, talks to them in advance, lets them know when election day, tells them where their voting station is, etc.

Incidentally, going back to Oakland Cty, one of the most technologically proficient operations I ever saw was Gary Peters, which was run out of an old converted flower shop in suburban Detroit. Very top notch. His opponent, a longtime GOP incumbent, had no GOTV effort, aside from his wife knocking on doors on weekends.


Senate procedure?: Hi, in these last minutes, could you explain how the Senate will accept amendments during the health reform debate? How will an amendment be deemed in order? Thanks!

Paul Kane: There will be hundreds of amendments submitted. There will be weeks of negotiations over which ones should be deemed in order. It will be a long, arduous task. I can't say for certain which ones will be certain to get a vote, but just know, this will take weeks to complete.


Bruce in BMore: Enjoy. If I wasn't already seeing Robin Williams I would try to go. I bet it's going to be an epic show, and the Baltimore Arena is an amazing place to see a show. The sound will be incredible, you lucky dog.

Paul Kane: Thanks for the input. I've never been to this arena. Looking forward to it, and my group has decided "Santa Claus" is the song we really want to hear. I mean, it is the holiday season now.


Paul Kane: Ok gang, time to run. Thanks for all the questions. Really appreciate it. I'll see you back here in December, when the Senate will probably really be debating the health-care bill. I think.

And let's just hope for a great, epic show tomorrow night in Baltimore. Bruce, if you're reading, please play "Candy's" or "Sherry", my friends Jack and Doug are really starting to bug the rest of us with their demands for those songs.



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