Post Politics Hour

Scott Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 13, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post White House reporter Scott Wilson discussed the latest news about the Obama administration and the world of politics.

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Scott Wilson: Good morning, everyone, and very sorry I'm late. Busy morning. My mind is on Haiti, a place where I worked quite a bit a few years ago and was transfixed by, as many are. Worried about all my friends there, and everyone else. I'll get right to your questions.

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Sterling, Va.: I have been puzzling over this for the past few days: what is the Dem's rationale behind taxing "Cadillac" health care plans? It seems counter-intuitive to their goal to make health care accessible to more people: isn't it kind of punishing companies that are providing health care? Why do Dem's think this plan of action will bring down health care costs? Thanks.

Scott Wilson: Good question. At the heart of the idea is Obama's sense that "Cadillac plans" encourage wasteful spending on health care through overuse of the system. If your insurance allows you to spend $23,000 or more a year on health care, why not do so? The Dems believe that discouraging these plans through a tax will protect against wasteful spending that, in their mind, drives up overall costs. That's the argument anyway or at least part of it. Anyone else out there have thoughts on this?

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Boston: Anne Applebaum makes an interesting argument in her column yesterday (quote below). My question is, how can we expect Muslim intellectual/educated elites (some of whom have become radicalized and even attacked us) to listen and engage in our American "counter-argument" when we show no ability to do so ourselves with our partisan domestic discourse? Is that a sad commentary on our current political and societal woes or just human nature?

"The case of Bayrak (wife of the CIA suicide attacker) and her ilk also suggests the need for another kind of anti-terrorism strategy. Too often, we still consider public diplomacy to be a sort of public relations activity, the "promotion" of American values. Instead, we should think about it as an argument. The Bayraks and Balawis of this world are engaged in constant debates -- in Internet chat rooms, in the halls of publishing houses, in mosques. Are they hearing enough counterarguments? Are we helping the people who make the counterarguments? I suspect that they don't and I'm certain that we aren't -- nearly a decade after Sept. 11 -- and that has to change. Intellectuals may wear glasses and read books, but neither prevents them from throwing bombs -- or from strapping them inside their underwear."

washingtonpost.com: We need a smarter way to fight the jihadi elite

Scott Wilson: This is a great point and essential column. I recommend it to all. Obama has argued that our moral case to the Muslim world is strengthend by ending torture, closing Guantanamo, etc. Could changing the tone of our political debate strengthen it even more? Does out domestic partisanship weaken the image we project overseas? How do you change it?

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St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Scott -- Thanks for taking questions today. I saw something on MSBNC last night comparing President Obama's first year in office and his accomplishments quite favorably to past presidents (Roosevelt, Reagan, others). Admittedly, MSNBC is pro-Obama, but are we going to see the White House trumpet their accomplishments as we near the one-year anniversary of him taking office? Also, from an objective measure, how has Obama done compared to past presidents -- perhaps those that we are much more likely to remember?

Scott Wilson: I don't think we'll see a concerted effort by the administration to trumpet their first-year accomplishments, at least beyond the routine trumpeting they do every day. We'll take on some kind of an assessment along the lines of what you describe, in a series of stories. Also, I spoke with Obama at the end of last year about what he believed to be his his legislative achievements, bringing in some perspective from presidential scholars comparing them to other presidents (mixed reviews generally). So stay tuned. What do others think?

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Arlington, Va.: I listen to the right-wing talk shows now again. They generally parrot each other with catch-phrases and quips, and the new one I'm hearing is that Barack Obama has now become Jimmy Carter. They are certain the Republicans will win back both houses of Congress by either 2010 or 2012 and will have the White House in 2012. Are these fair comparisons to the two presidencies? Are the Democrats looking at 12 more years of Republican domination in the White House, as they were in 1980?

Scott Wilson: One of the things I least like about our current media culture is the importance placed on guessing what will happen. There is a range of opinions out there about how the Dems will do this year - from small losses to big ones. Some are based on historical trends (looking at approval ratings, etc at this point in time.) Others seem based on little more than wishful thinking. Truthfully, I just don't know. Obama's approval ratings are declining, but the Republican Party's popularity is hardly skyrocketing (in contrast to say trends in 1994.) I would only say that the fate of the economy will likely determine Democratic success or failure and that measuring that closer to November will be more useful.

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Duxbury, Mass.: Martha Coakley - yes or no? The Democrats are complacent and local talk radio has the right-wing in a frenzy. Does Brown have a chance?

Scott Wilson: Short answer, yes, he has a chance. But the Democrats are all in there, have a big edge in registration, and the party will likely rally big in the closing days. Please see the story in today's Post by Dan Blaz and Chris Cillizza for insight.

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Taxing "Cadillac" plans: There's a fairness issue with these plans: why should you, a worker whose employer provides a generous health insurance plan, get that plan, which may equal thousands of dollars, as tax-free compensation, while a worker who does the same work as an independent contractor (and let's not kid ourselves, these two hypothetical people may even be in the same workplace) must buy their insurance with taxed dollars?

The fundamental problem with the insurance system status quo is that we have an employer-based system in which only about half of the employers participate. Somehow, the playing field has to be leveled, or we need a different system.

Scott Wilson: Interesting thought on Cadillac Plan...

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Re Cadillacs: My thoughts on this are that insurance companies have devolved in such a way that they court lower risk higher paying clients to the exclusion of "normal" or riskier clients. Multiple reports, and lawsuits, have shown that they no longer act in the original ideation as protection against the cost of unexpected health care services.

Rather they are large part of the reason why we in the US pay more per capita for health care and recieve less than any other industrialized nation in the world. The so called Cadillac plans encourage overuse of services in situations where those services are not warranted (MRIs are commonly overused) that artificially inflates their value and cost to the average patient who has less ability to pay the copay or disallowed amounts for the service when it is actually necessary.

Scott Wilson: And another...

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Springfield, Ill..: McCain also favored taxing Cadillac health care in his plan. The difference being he told us before the election. I have to ask, with President Obama's credibility record (IE: buying health care vote in Nebraska, not telling us he would tax people who already have health care), how can we trust that his health care plan is good for U.S. citizens?

Scott Wilson: And this one, which gets at the political vulnerability on this for Obama, who tried earlier this week to talk down labor leaders on the issue. Unsuccessfully, it seems.

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Boston: Dionne is correct that the national attention and storyline of a closer race is a good thing for the Dems as it raises the interest level of Dems in a state where you don't get very many opportunities to make a meaningful vote (given how Democratic the state leans and how many entrenched pols we have). This race has got my attention (even as a moderate Dem) and I will make sure to get to the pols next Tuesday. I say the over/under is a 10 point win but Ciz/Fix guy would not take the bet (for a cup of coffee).

washingtonpost.com: In Massachusetts, Scott Brown was better off on his own

Scott Wilson: Here's a Coakley/Brown prediction...

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Havre De Grace, Md.: Has anyone in Congress addressed how we will support a 25 million addition to the health-support network (doctors, hospitals, waiting rooms etc)?

Scott Wilson: Yes, but maybe not adequately. You have things like Obama's proposal to encourage medical students to become primary care doctors through tuition breaks, etc. But many like yourself see trouble looming...

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One of the things I least like about our current media culture is the importance placed on guessing what will happen.: Yes, yes! Thank you. I HATE politics reporting as prognostication. Not that there isn't a place for it, it's just that it shouldn't replace journalism.

Scott Wilson: Full disclosure, I also tend to be really bad at it.

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Domestic partisanship: OF course it weakens us. Extremists in our country make it easy to portray us as on a crusade against Islam or anything else that we don't fully understand. Unlike most countries we exist in a relative vacuum, an echo chamber that until the advent of the Internet allowed us to hear only our own views of the world.

According to a recent report only 10% of the US population travels outside the US. That means we are less exposed to other perspectives than most other countries. Canada, due to its close ties to the UK has a more international view. We are a great country but we are weakened by our myopic attitudes towards others that allow us to pat ourselves on the back for doing what we believe is right, while the rest of the world looks at us with dismay.

Don't forget that rhetoric over the past 8 years of the US as a shining beacon of democracy and freedom. Our European friends tried very hard to make us understand that we were that because of our fundamental beliefs established in our constitution and bill of rights that established, whatever peril may come, individual liberties that were prohibited elsewhere. As we have cut back on those civil liberties we have allowed ourselves to be portrayed as cynical hypocrites who are more interested in dominating others than abiding by those principles that founded this nation.

Scott Wilson: An interesting argument here....I'm sorry to have to cut this a little shorter than usual. Just a lot on my plate today. I look forward to being back with you soon.

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