Obama unveils budget, - Post Politics Hour

Peter Orszag, White House Director of the Office of Management and Budget, spoke to Harry Smith about President Obama's budget for fiscal year 2011 and deficit reduction versus stimulus.
Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 1, 2010; 11:00 AM

The Post's Perry Bacon Jr. was online Feb. 1 at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions about the latest political news and to preview the week ahead.

Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts


Perry Bacon Jr.: Folks. Good morning. Looking forward to your questions. I was at the Obama speech to the House GOP, which was one of the more interesting political events of the last year. Would love you to hear your thoughts on that. Also, big news on the budget and Don't Ask Don't Tell this week.


Obama at the GOP retreat: What are each side saying behind the scenes? Does either feel that they have gotten the advantage as a result of the visit? More importantly, so either feel that they have a better understanding of the other side and hope to take a fresh approach to working more closely together (or is that too naive)?

Perry Bacon Jr.: My colleague Paul Kane, one of the best Capitol Hill reporters around, and I were just talking about this. Some Republicans privately feel that it may not have been the best decision politically to have the question and answer session on tv; Obama came off as smart and presidential and commanded the room and perhaps rallied his base. The Republicans do feel they rebutted the "Party of No" charge. I think it also gave both sides some time to see other in person and take measure. The White House people seemed very happy with the appearance, even sending it out to their supporters over the weekend. I think they would like to have more of these sessions.


Exeter, NH: Scott Brown seems like a moderate Republican, the type that had been disappearing in the Northeast over the past 10+ years. It seems unlikely that he would pass the conservative "loyalty" test that was voted down in Hawaii. How significant a role did Tea Party group play in his election?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think this "purity" test issue is a bit misunderstood. As far as I can tell, the goal of the test is to be forward-looking, i.e. candidates are asked to commit to these goals in the future, not necessarily have followed them in the past. Here are the 10 principles

(1) Smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama's "stimulus" bill

(2) Market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare;

(3) Market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation;

(4) Workers' right to secret ballot by opposing card check

(5) Legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants;

(6) Victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges;

(7) Containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat

(8) Retention of the Defense of Marriage Act;

(9) Protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion; and

(10) The right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership

I would argue most members of the Blue Dogs in the House could pass this test, in terms of not violating more than two of these precepts. (You can be pro-choice for instance, but just not back government funding for abortion)

I think Republicans generally understand candidates must be different to win in Texas than Rhode Island. The Tea Party movement, for example, is all about fiscal issues, they do nothing on abortion, gay marriage. The Tea Party group did not directly play a huge role in his win, but some of the key activists in that group touted him all over their blogs and sites, helping him raise money online in huge sums, more than $1 million some days. There are a bunch of moderate Republicans running this year in the Northeast, and I think some of them might fare well in an anti-incumbent year.


Madison, Wis.: I heard comments on the news that Mr. Obama's meeting with House Republicans made him look good and the Republicans not-so-good. Has the public also gotten this impression, or is it - as usual - oblivious?

Perry Bacon Jr.: The event was on a Friday afternoon in January; we should not assume this will have a huge impact on the elections in November. I don't think most people say it live, but I think it was covered extensively enough that people will see it. Honestly, I think liberals loved Obama taking it to the GOP, so it helps with his base, conservatives probably didn't like his tone with their members. The all-important middle? I don't know if I have seen any reaction from them, but I suspect unemployment is a more important issue for them.


Obama at the GOP retreat: Seth Myers on Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update declared President Obama the winner, for whatever that's worth.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Another take.


The Republicans do feel they rebutted the "Party of No" charge. : Why in the world would they think this since the President completely demolished each of their proposals. Tort Reform - saves very little. Deficit due to Obama - no, to Bush, etc.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Republicans, perhaps correctly or incorrectly, don't think the electorate is that focused on the actual details of the GOP proposals. But they think the "Party of No" label suggests they are purely blocking things, which they think is a dangerous place to be in politically. In their view, Obama has now boxed himself into a place where can no longer say the GOP isn't being constructive. They can them make the election about Obama's actions and those of the congressional Dems.


RE: Obama at the GOP Retreat: Republicans want it both ways. They criticize Obama for not televising all healthcare legislation negotiations but express doubt about televising their own session with the President. How would Republicans respond if Obama offers to clear a few future dates for more such sessions? We'll get back to you on that Mr. President after we figure out how to set more traps for you and the Democrats?

Perry Bacon Jr.: If Obama publicly announced he wanted more sessions, I think the GOP would have to participate in them, as he could easily criticize them for not wanting to work with him otherwise. (My own view is that such sessions might turn into dull viewing, this event was so interesting in part because neither side had days to plan for it and have their aides write up long, formal remarks)


re: Scott Brown as moderate: I admit, as a liberal, I am intrigued by Scott Brown. But do you HONESTLY think that he can vote against the rest of the GOP in significant votes? I doubt it. He's already revealed that, like all politicians, he's a hypocrite (the plan in the Senate bill IS practically the same as the Mass health bill). He's also suggested that Sarah Palin is qualified to be president. Is it possible that he's overthinking the mandate that Mass voters gave to him? He should remember that he's up for re-election in just 3 years...

Perry Bacon Jr.: Can Scott Brown be the 60th vote on the health care bill and still be a popular figure in the GOP? No. Can he vote for some kind of jobs bill that 10 other Republicans vote for. Of course. I think he's in a complicated spot and has to emphasize he's independent from the party. I suspect he will pick some issue this year to vote with the Dems on and show he's not always McConnell's 41st vote.


Boston MA: I enjoyed Obama's Q&A Friday, but that's because I'm familiar with the issues and knew what he was talking about. I'm not sure that would be the case with everyone. Why can't Dems ever be concise? For example, every time a Republican talks about just "stopping pre-existing conditions" the answer should immediately be some variation of "Then why didn't the Republican alternative include prohibitions against discrimination for pre-existing conditions? I'll tell you why. You can't do pre-existing conditions without a mandate, can't do a mandate without subsidies, can't do subsidies without paying for them - and that is what the current bill does."

And don't get me started on the deficit. Every Democrat should have the numbers memorized on how much of the huge deficit is due to Bush policies and the economy versus Obama policies. That was my favorite part Friday.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I did think Obama was very good at times at beating back GOP arguments, although I had trouble keeping up with the some of the numbers hurled back and forth, so I"m sure people who don't cover Congress did as well.


Bethesda, MD: The GOP Reps keep arguing that Obama has not focused on the economy enough. They say that the President and Congress has spent too much time in health care reform and energy. Please tell me are these industries, health care and energy, big and important parts of the economy? For example, if we reform health care to make it more affordable for small business, wouldn't that be helping the economy? If the senate passed the energy bill would there be opportunity to create new jobs? Please tell me what I am missing?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Two things. First, between the stimulus, the auto bailout, the unemployment benefits extensions, the Cobra extensions, the cash for clunkers program, etc. Obama has actually done a lot on the economy. He spent time on health care in part because there isn't much more more money to spend from the government on the economy. The Republicans are linking two things that are in voters' minds 1. the economy is still bad 2. the Congress has been obsessed with health care

They have made it into an argument that the economy is bad in part because Democrats have spent too much time on health care. That's not exactly how I see it, but that's the case they're making.


Takling Point Questions: President Obama's performance before House Republicans in Baltimore Friday demonstrated he is one of the smartest persons in America today. He spoke eloquently, to the point and in complete sentences answering politically complex question for over an hour -- without a teleprompter. I don't recall Bush or McCain ever doing something similar. Apparently the politician in the Republicans wouldn't let them ask questions without first speaking several talking points. It was as if they weren't sure they'd ever get another opportunity to question the President so they opted to make mini-speeches first. This tactic reduced the available time for others to ask questions and made it more difficult for viewers (especially Independents) to evaluate the exchanges.

Speaking of long prefaces before asking specific questions, White House reporters would be well advised to shorten the time it takes to ask their questions during Press Conferences. Often Reporters ramble before asking a question which gives smart responder choices of what say rather than having to respond to specific points or issues. Is the ability to ask questions without talking points learned or is it an art form few possess?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think the Republicans wanted to give the long speeches to get their points. But yes, it did limit the number of questions and give Obama the chance to select what he wanted to respond to. Politicians in some ways need to give speeches, I agree with you journalists might want to avoid that.


Austin, TX: I'm still reading the transcript from Obama's visit to the House GOP, so maybe I haven't gotten to parts that would answer my questions, but it seems that Obama was pretty clear in discussing things that should be actionable in a non-partisan way. Do you see this being successful, or will it be back to business-as-usual posturing for November's election by sticking with simple finger-pointing?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I suspect on some issue (maybe education) the parties will come together so they are showing they can work together. But on economy and health care, the GOP thinks they have succeeded by opposing, so I think they will continue to do that. And I think some congressional Democrats aren't going to be that excited about what compromise legislation with the GOP looks like. So some finger-pointing will still occur.


Boston, MA: Mr. Bacon

Thank you for taking our questions. After watching some of the Sunday shows, I have one question: The Republicans seem to HATE Barack Obama. I saw it yesterday from the political leadreship like McConnell and Boehner, and you certainly hear it from their base. My question is why? Has it become so partisan that even if Obama adopts Republican ideas, they still reject it?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think Boehner and McConnell are politicians who view Obama as a political enemy but would play golf with him. I think some of the base really hates Obama.

Can we say one thing about this whole GOP ideas thing? Republicans rejecting the fiscal commission was hypocritical. But Republicans have opposing expanding Medicaid for years, I"'m not sure rejecting a health care bill that puts millions on Medicaid is shocking.


Party of No: I hate to break it to you, but Republican leader John Boehner was on TV this Sunday morning saying they still plan on being the 'Party of No': "There aren't that many places where we can come together." I actually agree with Boehner, in that I see very few places where I think going halfway towards Republican policies, be they torture, zero taxes forever, or criminalizing abortion e.g. would help America. They have said their positions are non-negotiable, and I respect that. I just think my side needs to make their party small enough that their ideas don't matter.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I actually think we often minimize the two parties disagree on issues strongly. There is little middle ground on closing Gitmo or banning abortion.


Helena MT: Senator Judd Gregg is touting the line that the Republicans were locked out of negotiations on the health care bill. No reporter I have seen or heard talking to him ever raises the negotiations that Senator Baucus had with three Democrats and three Republicans. Weren't these negotiations - which kept the Finance Committee from reporting a health care bill until September - trying to get Republican input? Why aren't they ever mentioned by reporters when people like Senator Gregg are interviewed?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I haven't forgotten about the Gang of Six, and I think that's mentioned in stories all the time actually.


Fairfax County, Virginia: I grew up admiring the space program and am very sorry to see the cutback in this budget (no more return to the moon). Still, it seems like the Bush administration came up with the return to the moon idea and never properly funded it, then really cut back the money in their last budget, so it was a gap between dream and budget reality all along. What do you think will happen in this area, and should the White House have done more for preparing us for these changes to a program that's at the heart of our national self-image? You'll notice I'm not necessarily against their new plan and cutbacks, just sad and wishing more explaining was occurring re our space program's future.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think Orzag and others will spend lots of time explaining these cuts, saying we have to make sacrifices at this time, etc.


Bethesda, MD: I hope this question isn't too naive, but why does Obama have to work with Congress to allow gays to openly serve in the military? Can't he just issue an executive order like Truman did on 1948 desegragating the armed forces? Have things changed since then?

Perry Bacon Jr.: My understanding is the Department of Defense could stop enforcing the policy now, but a formal change in law would require congressional action.


Party of No: Selective memory reigns again! I seem to recall the Democratic Party was the party of "no" during the Bush administration. Anyone remember Nancy Pelosi's refusal to discuss any social security reform that would include private accounts - even if they were optional?

That's one of the main problems in politics these days: X is okay if your party is doing it. But if the other party tries it, they should be tarred and feathered.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I actually agree with this point. Pelosi actively refused to work with President Bush. I think opposing a president whose policies you don't agree with is natural.


Anonymous: Maybe I'm just ignorant, but I would love to see the Dems go ahead with healthcare and dare the GOP to filibuster it. If that causes healthcare to fail, the Dems can at least say they went down fighting and the GOP will look even worse. But right now they just look weak and ineffective.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Interesting point. It would make it much clearer to voters that the GOP is blocking the health care bill if they actually required a real filibuster. To me, this suggests Democrats aren't that eager to keep engaging this issue.


Silver Spring, MD: What would the deficit be (if any) with full employment (increased revenue and no expenditures for help and recovery) AND if the Bush tax cuts, the two wars and the Medicare drug benefit had been "paid for" on an ongoing basis?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Without giving you an exact number, all of these things contribute to the deficit, a point Obama made forcefully on Friday.


Health care: Americans as a whole are compassionate - look at the response to Haiti. Sadly reality gets in the way - look at Florida stopping medical airlifts.

We would like to make things better. But Americans can't even deal with health care for themselves. Has anyone made a thoughtful commentary on the dilemma of trying to medically treat earthquake victims (at our cost) while we struggle to cover ourselves?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Can we really not do both?


Obama at the GOP: Am I the only one that wishes Obama would have done some show of hands stuff: "Raise your hand if you've went to a ribbon cutting ceremony to try and take credit for a stimulus project...hey Mike Castle, get your hand up, you were doing this like last week!" or "Raise your hand if you think tax cuts don't raise the deficit." I think the discussion would have been even more illuminating.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Yes, that would have been interesting. I think the second comment would have gotten lots of hands raised.


Vienna VA: As a conservative I enjoyed the give and take between President Obama and the Repub House Members. At least he was challanged on the health debate lack of being on CSPAN and the Democrat lie that the Republicans have nothing to offer. These are questions the press should of asked but hadn't, at least so far as I'm aware.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I wrote a story myself that lead with the C-Span pledge. Can we have a moratorium on saying "the press hasn't covered this" or "the press hasn't asked this" if the New York Times and Washington Post have written about the subject?


Silver Run, MD: We're all adults; we know life isn't fair. But I find it offensive that when the economy was rolling merrily along, we feds never had an across-the-board increase of even 5.0%. My best year was 4.94%--which is very nice, but hardly the sort of money that leads to wild excess. (Well, not for me anyway.) So to see a 1.4% proposal, on top of discussions of taxing our FSA options, is very sad. We don't exist in a vacuum; we have family and friends that are hurting and we're trying to keep them from going under too.

Times are tough all over, but why kick those people who weren't earning big fat bonuses and/or kickbacks when times were flush? 1.4% is spitting in eyes of military personnel, and the rest of us too.

Perry Bacon Jr.: And interesting point I haven't heard made.


Re: "purity" test : It should be noted that it is impossible to implement "Smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama's "stimulus" bill" while at the same time calling for market-based insurance reforms, "victory" in Afghanistan and Iraq and to monitor North Korea (i.e. military buildups near its border).

Thus this myth perpetrated by most Republicans, Blue Dogs and Evan Bayh Democrats that they are really fiscal conservatives and deficit hawks is silly to anyone who has done even the most remedial studies on how the federal budget works.

Perry Bacon Jr.: People who really want to talk reducing the budget have to talk about spending on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and defense. I think Peter Orzag and Paul Ryan and Judd Gregg and Kent Conrad actually talk about these things and have real ideas, while I agree lots of other polls just make general comments that don't lay out real solutions to the deficit problem.


Richmond, Va.: E. J. Dionne had a terrific column this morning about how Justice Alito's remark at the SOTU brought the horrors (to me) of the Supreme Court's decision overturning the rule of financing to the forefront.

So, Okay, Mr. Obama brought the subject out. What does he plan to do about his opposition -- in other words, is he going to get Congress to overturn it somehow, or is was this just another of his seeming to take a good stance than then forgetting about it. That he has done this so many times is why this Democrat who worked for him, has now turned against him.

washingtonpost.com: Thanks, Justice Alito

Perry Bacon Jr.: Congress is discussing as a first step banning corporate contributions from companies based abroad. It's a little complicated to work around a Supreme Court decision, and I do wonder if this was part of the president's renewed populism or if there will a real push on this issue. E.J.'s column is worth reading.


Perry Bacon Jr.: Thanks for the great questions folks.


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