Post Politics: Discuss the public option, abortion amendment, more

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After days of secret talks, Senate Democrats tentatively agreed Tuesday night to drop a full-blown government-run insurance option from sweeping health care legislation.

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Scott Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 9, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post White House reporter Scott Wilson discusses the latest news about the Obama administration, Congress and more.

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Scott Wilson: Good morning, everyone and thanks very much for joining. Busy day - jobs and health care and parsing of Obama's Afpak war strategy - so I'll get right to your questions.

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Poplar Bluff, Mo.: Scott, thanks for the chat. When historians look back on the failure of the U.S. government to provide health-care for all Americans for another generation, in your opinion, what will be the legacy of President Obama and especially the Senate for their failure to adopt a public option?

Scott Wilson: Well, I'll leave that to the historians. I'd say, of course, Obama and this Senate wouldn't be the first not to extend health insurance to all Americans. I think we'll have to wait and see what passes. But let's be instant historians: Thoughts out there on this good question?

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63 and uninsured: Is the dropping of the public option and extending medicare down to age 55 just a way for insurance companies to sluff off us not-quite-that-old, unhealthy people or a real solution? I'm really torn about whether or not it's a good start at extending a one-payer system to all the population or just another scam for the private insurers.

Scott Wilson: Good question, and I've heard it argued both ways. The "buy in" will of course cost the "not quite that old" money, so different than Medicare in that regard. And reimbursement rates to doctors/hospitals will be at Medicare rates - ie, lower than what most private insurers pay. So resistance there. Any smart analysts out there who can help on this one?

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Reno, Nev.: Sarah Palin has apparently delved into the scientific, and not just the political, aspects of climate change and pronounced it basically a hoax, motivated by political not scientific views. Assuming everyone on both sides of the question is motivated by science, not politics, why is it that so many conservatives do not believe climate change is real (and necessitating concrete actions) and so many liberals believe it is a real threat?

Is it as simple as conservatives basically being opposed to anything restricting business and liberals being quite ready to do so? Was the same true of views on, say, smog, when its health effects were still being debated, along with actions to curb it?

Scott Wilson: This is a great question, and because I'm not a columnist, I'm not going to wade into it. But am very eager to hear what others think. Why the partisan divide on an issue like this? And have there been others similar to it?

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Houston: Is the cooperative provision still included in the legislation now being debated by the full Senate? Thanks.

Scott Wilson: Not sure, since the public-option agreement is being kept secret until it is scored. But our terrific Hill reporters say the deal involves subbing public option for several national plans designed by federal panel that handles insurance plans for federal employees. Obviously much different than cooperatives, but not sure if that provision is in this version.

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Pittsburgh: Re the 54-45 vote on the abortion amendment: Do amendments not require 60 votes for cloture?

Scott Wilson: Here's what our Hill ace reporter Paul Kane says:

This wasn't a vote on the amendment itself. Opponents of the bill offered a motion to table it. Since they knew they had 50-or-more votes, that was the device they used to kill it.

If supporters of the bill thought they had in the mid-50s, then we would have gone to a cloture vote (the one requiring 60-vote threshold).

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Alexandria, Va.: I am retired from the federal government and have the best insurance policy around--BC/BS at the government rate. Now, I am turning 65 and HAVE to sign up for medicare and pay a premium every month or risk a 10% penalty every year that I don't sign up for Part B (Part A--hospitalization is free). With Medicare running short of money, why not let those of us with good insurance continue to use it and not even use Medicare at all? It would save Medicare a lot of money, it seems to me. Is the Congress even considering this?

Scott Wilson: I don't believe Congress is, but a very good idea...Thoughts? Why not allow this and take pressure off fiscally teetering Medicare system?

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Climate Change Denial: So just in time for Copenhagen, we have right-wingers trying to steal scientists' emails in order to pretend they disprove the truth of global warming. But Scott (honestly) can you explain to me why these people hate climate science so much? I mean, I get that they don't like gays. I understand that they hate taxes that pay for things that help people they don't like. But global warming? Why? I just don't get where the passion comes from on this one. Don't they have lungs (and grandchildren), too? Any thoughts?

Scott Wilson: Anti-regulation sentiments? Really, I wouldn't hazard a guess. I don't think they "hate" climate change science, but are unpersuaded by it. It's not all "right wingers," either. I find the green movement emerging in traditionally conservative evangelical churches very interesting.

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Boston: In one of the tick tock articles about the Afghan strategy review process, they mentioned that Obama had expressed frustration that one element of his March directive had not been carried out to date. Do you have any idea what specifically this related to and whether it was a military responsibility to carry out or a civilian agency responsibility? If military, would it underscore tensions/misunderstandings between a new administration and the DoD?

Scott Wilson: Not quite sure what you are referring to, but what we reported is that Gen. McChrystal interpreted the mission defined in the March strategy as "defeating" the Taliban. The NSC document executing the strategy used those words. Obama's civilian advisers, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, argued to scale that back, changing "defeat" to "degrade." The change was a major turning point in the review, narrowing the mission, as McChrystal said yesterday on the Hill.

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Philadelphia: I don't understand the first question. My understanding is that there's enough of a Senate deal and one that's acceptable to moderates as well as a progressive like Howard Dean. No, not every single person will be covered, but maybe the question should be, will anyone who wants insurance be able to get affordable insurance? If the answer is no, by the way, this current legislation seems to provide a platform to make corrections and improve as we go, which is something we haven't had regulations to do previously.

Scott Wilson: This is interesting...

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To Reno: You ask a great question, Reno. I'm no expert--just flying by the seat of my pants here, but I'd say apart from issues you've already mentioned a huge one is resistance to change: if climate change is a hoax, then we don't have to do anything. The comfortable status quo can just roll on. If climate cahnge is a reality, then practically everyone on earth needs to make lifestyle adjustments. That's immensely difficult.

Scott Wilson: Interesting thought....Any conservatives out there who want to explain why they don't find climate change science persuasive? It'd be nice to hear all sides of this.

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Washington, D.C.: Conservative here RE global warming.

The earlier poster got it wrong. Most conservatives, myself included, believe global warming is a fact. It is. But what we disagree on is man's impact on global warming.

Most people who try to knock Republicans on this issue just say...how can you not believe in global warming? We do, we just don't feel that man's impact on it is as great as we are being told. See the previous ice ages and global warming/cooling before the first factory in the country was built.

I think the whole global warming movement, like the "we must fight terrorism" movement, have taken basic facts...such as global warming and world terrorism...and exploited them for financial gain. Look at Al Gore...perfect example. He owns/had major controlling interests in the companies that make the products they say we need. Some with defense contractors and terrorism.

Climategate just made it all the more clear...we are being exploited.

Scott Wilson: Here's a very clear statement of the conservative position. Thanks for this.

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Rockville, Md.: "But am very eager to hear what others think."

Really?

Okay, I will give you my educated opinion. I am a retired science librarian and have undergraduate minors in physics, mathematics and engineering. I worked with scientific literature and ideas since the 60's.

When they first started to talk about warming, I said "That is all nice if it gets warmer. I do believe it is getting warmer." Then I thought - what about the remote chance that there is an ice age on the way. How will they deal with it. (The idea is that ice ages are on a different track from global warming and have reasons based in astronomy - not the atmosphere. So climate scientist may not predict them.)

So I mention that idea by asking "What will you do in an ice age?"

So far over the last ten years I have been ignored.

But it is a valid idea and is not "warmer" or "denier." It just is.

We may hate greenhouse gases now, but they could save us if an ice age comes down the pike.

Warmer may be inconvenient. Ice will kill most of all the live on Earth.

Now you know.

We are not all "warmers" or "deniers."

Some actually think about it all and have reasons to not go along.

Scott Wilson: Another interesting skeptic...

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climate change skeptics: they're crying about it because they don't want their precious oil and coal companies to have to lose any money to adapting emission standards, and so people like Palin and the right-wingers take up the cause. It's short-sighted, selfish and so very un-Christian.

Scott Wilson: And, for balance, another from the left...

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What about the rest of us?: I feel like my country has failed me, truly. Yes, it was only a handful of senators corrupted by health insurance money. But I'm 42, not 55, and feel abandoned.

If this is the result we end up with, why didn't we start with this? This is the best we can come up with? America works.. for someone else, not regular people.

Scott Wilson: I'm curious here: Do you have health insurance? If not, do none of the proposals set out in House/Senate bills make it affordable for you to get insurance? Just want to pin down that feeling of "abandonment."

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Wokingham UK: From time to time Israel threatens, often through sympathetic journalists and academics, to change the game in the wider ME by a massive attack on Iran - which would have implications for both Iraq and Afghanistan. But they have been repeated so often that they must be beginning to sound empty. This seems to create a really dangerous and unpredictable situation, don't you think?

Scott Wilson: I spent three years working in Israel, and I don't think these threats are hollow. Israel does believe an Iranian nuclear arsenal would pose an "existential threat" to the Jewish state. And you are very right - huge implications for Iraq, Afghanistan, the price of oil, etc etc. Obama has said he will evaluate his approach to Iran at the end of the year; Israel likely eager to hear those results, which could determine the tack it takes in the year ahead. I agree completely with your characterization of the situation - really dangerous and unpredictable.

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North Manchester, Ind.: I am not sure I would qualify as a conservative but I find the climate change arguments unpersuasive for a number of reasons, but mostly because I find many of this side to be vested in climate change. And I wouldn't trust a politician like Al Gore on anything. Indeed, I put politicians several rungs below used car salespeople, TV evangelists and tax assessors.

Scott Wilson: Here's another different explanation for the conservative view...to be followed by another from the left.

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Boston: I, too, have a problem understanding why global warming has become a political issue; a long time ago, before the wing nuts took over, conservative Republicans were conservationists. What do Republicans think would motivate scientists to invent global warming? Not being a scientist, I have to accept the scientific consensus.

Scott Wilson: As promised in previous, the better-safe-than-sorry argument...

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Federalsburg, Md.: To Alexandria: Individuals over 65 with private insurance (Federal retirees) can keep their BC/BS alongside their Medicare. Their BC/BS pays first and Medicare picks up the remainder (co-pays). My Aunt and Uncle have been in this situation since my Uncle retired from Civil service. He is now 82 and she is 79. They have very little out-of-pocket expense. This actually saves the government money, because the Medicare premium generally is more than the payout (majority is covered under the BC/BS side). It also puts you in a better position, because most doctors accept BC/BS, even when they are not taking Medicare patients.

Scott Wilson: Thanks much for this...Alexandria - some help for you.

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RE: "I feel like my country has failed me, truly.": Nothing defines the political left more than this, and I'm not being insulting.

Fundamentally, they think the country owes them whatever they need, and fundamentally, we conservatives believe that we're only owed the opportunity to go get what we need.

-other peoples' money, of course

Scott Wilson: Here's a provocative analysis with a wry look at both sides...

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Re: Climate Change Skeptics: Perhaps conservatives feel the way Mark Twain did (from Life on the Mississippi): "There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact."

Scott Wilson: Can't miss the opportunity to bring Mark Twain into a chat of mine. This is my way of doing what I always find amusing in many politicians' speeches: They say, as Abraham Lincoln said, and then draw extensively on the 1st inaugural or Gettysburg address. The passage is always the best thing in the speech.

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Scott Wilson: I've got to run now, but thanks very much to all of you for a lively discussion. We'll chat again soon. Looking forward to it.

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