Post Politics Hour

Michael Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 10, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post White House reporter Michael Fletcher was online Wednesday, Feb. 10 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news about the Obama administration, Congress and more.


Michael A. Fletcher: Good morning from snowy D.C. I was raised in New York City and went to college in Boston, but I don't think I have ever seen snow like this in my life.But at least my Internet connection is working, so let's get started.


st paul : Hi Michael -- Thanks for taking questions today. The poll in your paper today finds those surveyed equally divided between Republicans and Democrats when asked who they would vote for in November. Stunning, if you ask me, given that the Republicans have offered nothing other than trying to obstruct and delegitimize this president at every turn. At the same time, the Democrats, with their dithering and complete lack of leadership, aren't much better. We seem to be at an impasse any way that you look at it. Now what? What can the president do to try to get things going again?

Michael A. Fletcher: Good question. I think the White House is trying to feel its way through that right now. The polling out there is so confusing and contradictory. People want to cut deficits, but they want more done to create jobs. The hate bailouts--even the auto bailouts, where the biggest benefits went to working people. They don't seem to like the health care reform package, but they like what's in it. Ditto for stimulus. I think the president is working now to have the Republicans lay their policy cards on the table next to his so the public can decide who has better answers. Thus these bipartisan meetings, including the health care session scheduled for later this month. But it remains to see if that can happen without the usual distortions and side issues hijacking the whole process.


Los Angeles, CA: Yesterday Reuters reported that Senior Chinese military officers have proposed selling US bonds to punish Washington for its latest round of arms sales to Taiwan. What's the thinking in Washington of the likelihood China follows through with this threat and does this threat show US Security vulnerability Bush's Administration created by financing US deficits during his term with heavy borrowing from China?

How does creating this vulnerability square with notions of Republicans' superiority on issues affecting US National Security? Other than relying on China to act rationally by not dumping US securities for a financial loss, what alternative protections if any are available to the US?

Michael A. Fletcher: I'm not expert here, but the notion I hear expressed most is that the Chinese are in this together with the U.S. They hold so much debt and depend on us to sell so many of thei goods that they produce that they lose if we are weakened econically--or if that weakening happens too suddenly.That seems to make sense. Plus for all the predictions of the coming economic superiority of the Chinese, the U.S. remains the dominant economy--at least for now.If I remember correctly, our GDP is 3 times larger than that of China's, so it is probably safe to assume they will act rationally.


Reston, DC: Is there any chance of the nation's capital returning to colonial Williamsburg where there is plenty of land; and they seem to deal with snow better?

Michael A. Fletcher: I hear you, Reston. But don't lose faith. D.C. is getting plenty of practice right now.


Reston, VA: To this ardent Obama supporter, yesterday's turn at the lectern seemed ill-advised, with an inappropriate attempt at humor that seemed to diminish the seriousness of his overall message. Humor works in the appropriate context, but sarcastic remarks (like the snow angel comment) never do. And Gibbs needs to cut the schtick, too. Didn't he get dressed down about that type of thing recently?

While I am generally happy with the President's performance, it seems like he and his team have been taking for granted the seriousness of political and economic conditions in this country with jokey, too- comfortable asides to the press corps.

Michael A. Fletcher: I don't know about that. The president's team is filled with serious, type-A people who jump on us when we make mistakes or frame stories in ways they find objectionable. So a few jokes probably helps to lighten the mood. It probably easy to read too much into those moments. Plus I thought the snow angels crack spoke to the situation on the Hill that the president is trying to break through. I get the sense they take seriously the nation's economic challenges, even if there is a certain detachment implied in their analysis which is basically that it will take time for things to improve.


Springfield, Virginia: How much time does President Obama have to get China and Russia to agree to meaningful sanctions and restrictions on Iran before Israel takes action? What leverage does the US have to get Russia and China to cooperate? How much time is the President devoting to avoiding war with Iran compared to his spat with Republicans?

Michael A. Fletcher: Good questions, all. Hard to know how long the clock will keep ticking there. In recent years, I have seen all kinds of estimates as to how long it will be before Iran can build a bomb. As for leverage, I think the biggest U.S. hope is that China and Russia are ultimately as threatened by a nuclear Iran as is much of the world, if only becuase of their geographical proximity. The most immediate result of a nuclear Iran would most likely not be nuclear war with Israel, but an unrestrained Middle East arms race that would make China and Russia less secure. But at the same time, China and Russia have close economic ties with Iran, which is a huge energy source with its oil reserves. Thus their reluctance to punish Iran. This is a big issue for the administration, and its partners who are trying to bring Iran around to their way of thinking.


San Francisco, Ca.: Just a comment to your response to St. Paul: My 91 grandmother hates Obama and the Democrats and big government but is quite defensive about securing her Social Security payments and Medicare coverage. When I ask if she thinks she might have taken out more from the system than she ever put in, she bristles. There is no way you are ever going to be able to convince some people that their entitlements are part of the government that Republicans say they want to cut. It's not an issue that has any sort of logical endpoint. It's entirely emotional for most of these people.

Michael A. Fletcher: I think you are right. The reality is that we all are probably going to have to sacrifice something (take fewer benefits, or pay higher taxes) for these problems to be resolved. But show me the politician willing to campaign on the need to, say, raise taxes? President Obama campaigned as truth teller but he would not go that far. In fact, he cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans, as part of his pledge to help middle class Americans who wages have stagnated over the past decade. The irony is that it seems that most Americans do not feel like they are paying less in income taxes.


Fairfax, Virginia: Meghan McCain said Tancredo's statements represented "innate racism." This was in reference to comments by former U. S. Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-Colorado) about reestablishing literacy tests at the recent national Tea Party convention. Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post referred to the comments as "naked Jim Crow racism" on the Keith Olbermann Countdown show last evening. The practice of literacy tests for voting, used to disenfranchise African Americans, was outlawed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. When can we expect the Republican Party led by Michael Steele, or for that matter the Washington Post editorial board, to condemn these comments? Their silence is absolutely deafening.

Michael A. Fletcher: Those comments were odious. I can't speak for what the editorial page will do, but knowing the people who work there I have no doubt that they found some of what the former congressman said to be outrageous and insulting.


Atlanta: Mr. Fletcher: since most people pay NO income taxes at all (at least 40%) 'lowering' their taxes (please show me how and where this was done) - really does nothing.

Actually - those 40+% should be contributing...something. Even 1% of their income (or less) would be nice.

Michael A. Fletcher: You might be on to something. The president has focused much of his attention on the 5 percent of American families who make more than $250,000 a year. That's for good reason: if you go back, that is the stratum that has gotten the biggest pay increases, experienced the biggest wealth gains, and, yes, received the most in tax breaks over the past decade. But they are still a small slice of the American populace, and many analysts are saying as you are, that more people are going to have to contribute more if we are to find our way out of our fiscal mess.


RE: Your Response to San Francisco: It it true the Republican's shadow budget bill by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). includes cutting Medicare & Social Security?

Michael A. Fletcher: As I understand it, yes. He would essentially privatize both programs, from what I read, giving people vouchers for medical benefits. But the vouchers would not increase at the rate of health care inflation, which, of courses, is much higher than overall inflation.


Madison, WI: Myth Alert: "Most people don't pay income taxes." Let's not fall for this canard. Consider that this "most" figure includes children, disabled people, and retirees who make less than poverty rates. Do we want to bring back child labor so we can tax their payroll?

Michael A. Fletcher: I don't know the figure, but many low-income Americans pay very little and even can get supplements to their income through the Earned Income Tax Credit. All of which, of course, makes sense if you are to have a graduated income tax.


Helena MT: Regarding Tancredo - why aren't the Democrats putting forth a resolution condemning the idea of a literacy test for voting and bringing up the literacy tests outlawed by the Civil Rights Act and force the Republicans to vote on it? This is how the Republicans react to such incendiary talk.

Michael A. Fletcher: There is probably a line there where they don't want to give undue attention to such ideas.But then again, it's been snowing here and condemnations could be on the way...

_______________________ Michael ran into some computer problems and had to sign off. Thanks for your questions and come back for tomorrow's Post Politics chat.


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