Post Politics Hour

Michael Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 17, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post staff writer Michael Shear was online Wednesday, Feb. 17 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news about the Obama administration, Congress and more.


Michael D. Shear: Good morning, everyone. And happy anniversary! (Of the stimulus bill, of course.) Lots to discuss -- Dems quitting, more Dems quitting. Afghanistan. Health care. And whatever else is on your mind.

Let's get at it.


Fairfax, Va.: Michael --

Why are we having all this angst (see Evan Bayh; the rumor re Barbara Mikulski, etc.) about the Dems losing control of the Senate. It seems obvious that the Democrats will not have a supermajority, so what do they possibly have to gain from a simple majority? They will not be able to pass any meaningful legislation for the next two years, while the Republicans continue to beat them up for not doing anything. If the Republicans control the Senate, it may be that no meaningful legislation will be passed either, but at least for a change the Democrats will have a target that they can blame for any inactivity. This should put the Dems in a much better position for 1012. Is this such an unreasonable thought?

Michael D. Shear: Ok, let's start with raw politics.

Your suggestion is certainly true -- in some ways, having a clearer picture to paint about Republican intransigence could be helpful in 2010 and 2012. But it's not true that having more than 50 doesn't matter. There are plenty of times where the party in power can't rally all of their members on an issue, and so they need a buffer, even to get past 50.

Also, keep in mind that if you lose the majority, you lose everything -- chairmanships, control of the calendar. The fancy offices. Even if they struggle in the Senate to get past 60, they still don't want to be in the minority again.


Pittsburgh: What a woefully inadequate speech by Joe Biden and Barack Obama this morning. Weak; ineffective; lacking in specifics and details; mixing past tense, present, and future in the same paragraph; speaking as if his audience was the Columbia debate squad instead of working and not-working American men and women.

With two unknown suits chuckling in the background as if they were privy to secret economic facts unknown to most Americans. Just awful.. while the president was trying to build credibility it was being backsassed by these goofs.

Doesn't anyone in Washington know how to speak in public? To Americans? To deliver a simple, urgent message to folks who need to hear these words?

If not, go watch the televised addresses of LBJ. He may not have nuanced with the private school elites and Davos swells, but he knew how to talk: to every one of us.

Thanks. (it's "every one", not "everyone" in this context - for your grammar handler)

Michael D. Shear: Interesting analysis of the remarks, Pittsburgh. I'm curious what others thought? Did you watch the comments the president just made? Do you agree they were weak?

I was struck by the very aggressive political tone -- pushing back hard against the GOP critics and even mocking them for going to ribbon cuttings in their own districts.

Maybe the speech was aimed more at an inside-the-beltway crowd, rather than the "working and not-working" Americans that Pittsburgh referred to.


Saving Jobs: Okay, so using the Administration's numbers, $787 billion in stimulus saved/created 2 million jobs. Is this really something to crow about? My quick back of the envelope calculation shows that comes out to $400,000 per job created. Yikes!

I support the President and think he's doing a good job overall, but these numbers sound like the punchline of a joke.

Michael D. Shear: Well, I'm not sure that's exactly a fair calculation (though my mother would chime in here and say that I was never a math guy in school.)

First, much of the money has yet to be spent...there's another year at least left for that money to go out. And also, I think the administration would note that at least a thirst of the money went out in tax cuts that may not have directly created a job, but helped to stimulate demand.


Boston: Michael, yesterday the President released that very effective jobs numbers V-chart. The problem as I see it is that he waited until now to politicize the numbers and release them as a political document. What took him so long?

Look I get the "No Drama Obama" and thought it was terrific during the campaign, but does he have a problem of tending to business with pretty good results (Look at almost all economic indicators and you can draw up similar charts) but allowing his opponents to create an undisputed alternate reality by maintaining that "No drama' response mechanism?

Michael D. Shear: I agree, Boston. The chart you're referring to is very, very striking. It shows job losses for 2008 (labeled "Bush Administration") getting worse and worse and worse. Then, it shows job losses in 2009 (labeled "Obama administration") getting better and better. It's the most effective chart I've seen from them -- mailed out to the big Democratic list last night.


Richmond, Va.: I did wonder, and was so gratified, to see the latest Post poll showing that a large majority of Americans do not favor the recent Supreme Court free-for-all money to campaigns. I am proud of my fellow citizens for their opinion on this, because, quite frankly, if it was not 100 percent corrupting before, it certainly is now. Having said that, can Congress limit the Court's decision?

Michael D. Shear: I think there are efforts underway in Congress to try and deal with some of what the court said. But its not clear that even Congress can return the situation to the pre-ruling status quo.


Another Pittsburgher: Why don't the Senate Democrats just call the Republicans' bluff re filibustering major legislation (e.g., health insurance), instead of rolling over and playing dead every time they don't have 60 votes to cut off debate? If GOP Senators tie up the Senate for several days with non-stop speechifying it'll receive tons of media coverage, which will presumably disgust much of the public with their antics, and gain support for the Democrats, right?

Michael D. Shear: I've asked that before. As it turns out, the fillibuster isn't really like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. There doesn't have to be long speeches on the floor. There just has to be one objection and it's done. So if the Dems did call the GOP bluff, it's not like they get hours of great television.

Having said that, I think there is some feeling at the White House to force the Republicans to try and stop of these very popular measures. I point you to a front page story from my colleague, Scott Wilson, who wrote exactly that the other day. Saturday's paper, I think.


A little reporting tip: Michael, I'd recommend you spend a little time reading some of the web sites for the trade publications in the construction industry. I do. They continually point out that, while the stimulus package was sloppy and inefficient, it was the main source of work for a wide swatch of the construction industry. This is something the mainstream media has not covered in sufficient detail.

Also, as for the questioner who scoffed at the cost per job in the stimulus bill, remember that a lot of the money went to tax cuts and more went to state governments to keep them operating.

The stimulus bill was not pretty but it worked.

Michael D. Shear: Here's one interesting take on the stimulus.


Clarksville, Ohio: To me, it is crazy to have something as big as health care all in one bill. It would seem like there are stages and we start at one stage, see how it works and move to the next stage. I know that it has been cited that we have enough experience from other countries that this is not needed, but those countries and not anywhere near as big as we are with the independence of the states. To me this is where a compromise would come in and the fact that Democrats won't do this is the biggest hole in their claim to bipartisanship. Instead it seems like it is a winner-take-all mentality. Why can't we take this effort in stages, improving efficiencies and costs before we add 31 million people.

Michael D. Shear: Very good question, Ohio.

I'm no health care expert, but this is what I've been told in response to this question -- the coverage of the 31 million people in intricately tied into the other changes. For example, you can't order insurance companies to stop denying pre-exising conditions unless you give them the increased client base of the extra 31 million people (many of whom are young and healthy).

It's complicated that way.


Washington, DC: I really have to agree with Senator Bayh - our federal government has ground to a halt with partisanship and is unable to tackle any of the serious problems facing us. Party loyalty and ideology, not citizenship and loyalty to the country, is now the highest "virtue" for those in all three branches of government (yes, I am including the Supreme Court).

So, is revolution the only way out of this or is there anyone willing to take a stand contrary to the money-back, entrenched party interests and put America first?

This is written by a life-long Democrat who supported (financially and with time) Obama. However, I really wonder if the system is now broken beyond any hope of repair.

Michael D. Shear: I'm not sure I am qualified to talk about revolution. I will say that your sentiment -- and that of people like you -- are one of the chief challenges for Obama going forward. During the campaign, he managed to convince a lot of people that he COULD change Washington. If lots of people have concluded that he was wrong, then he's gonna have trouble.


Henderson Ky: The atmosphere in Congress and over the airways is as toxic as this poster has seen in 67 years. Do you foresee others in Congress taking the same path Bayh has taken?

Michael D. Shear: Yes, I would imagine that he's not the last member of Congress to head for the door.


Poplar Bluff, MO: Michael, thanks for the chat. Is there any information about if the captured Taliban leader is talking? Do you believe the GOP will use this as a wedge issue against the President for not being able to use enhanced-interrogation techniques?

Michael D. Shear: My understanding is the administration has said very little about his capture or his interrogation. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs flatly refused to talk about him during the briefing yesterday.

The fact that he is in Pakistan raises interesting questions about who is in charge of the interrogation and under what rules it is proceeding. I feel quite certain that those questions are ones we will be pursuing in the days ahead.


Reston, VA: Could we PLEASE ban the "saved x jobs" nonsense? I'd ask to see the administration quantify that claim, but considering how inaccurate their supporting data for jobs actually created, it might not be worth the web page it is printed on.

Michael D. Shear: There are lots of folks who have questioned the "saved jobs" phrasing. What does it really mean? And how do you prove it?


Rochester, NY: On "Meet the Press" on Sunday your colleague David Broder was talking about a possible Unity 12 ticket that might pair Evan Bayh with, say, Scott Brown as principled, centrist third party team. Do you think that's likely?

Michael D. Shear: David is the best reporter I know in Washington, and so if he says it's possible, I'd tend to listen. Having said that, I don't know that much about Scott Brown and so I don't know what he might do.


Kensington, MD: Shockingly, 80% of the country for some reason objects to the Supreme Court putting our government up for sale to the highest bidder. How many of them do you suppose realize that their votes for George Bush helped this happen? And do you think there will be any movement to impeach John Roberts?

The Washington Post: Poll: Majority opposes campaign finance ruling

Michael D. Shear: I am going to go out on a limb here and say I do not believe that there will be any significant impeach Roberts movement.


Reporting tip #2: Heck, read just about any company's annual report for 2009...check out the MD&A and the balance sheets...the only good news comes from government efforts. The prominence the media is giving to Pete Peterson (one of the main guys behind the financial disaster) and his deficit peacockism is troubling. We are still years away from real recovery and job creation and yet here comes this wealth destroying maniac and he gets front page stories in today's New York Times on how we have to be more "Fiscally Responsible".

Michael D. Shear: You have easily touched on one of the biggest challenges for the Obama economic team -- how to balance the need for short term economic recovery against the need for long term attention to the deficit and the country's out-of-whack fiscal situation.

My sense from talking to the economic people at the White House is that -- for now -- they tend to tilt more toward the short term, recognizing that they can't address the long term budget problems if the economy doesn't recover.

But the deficit commission he will appoint soon is an indication that the president also realizes that he must have credibility on an intention to confront the longterm issues, too.


SW Nebraska: The President gave a speech? I'm a working stiff and missed it.

Michael D. Shear: Good point!


good riddance to Bayh: This guy is a perfect example of the problems with the Senate - he claimed to be a Democrat but voted like a Republican. Having a "super" majority is meaningless to the Democrats (and to passage of legislation) if so many of these "democrats" refuse to vote in a manner that reflects the values and goals of the Democratic party and the voters who put them into office. Bayh is not alone - hello Nebraska - and I say good riddance to him and others like him. We need more real Democrats - can't we get more like Sen McCaskill?

Michael D. Shear: This is a pretty common sentiment, I think, among liberals. This could be said of a fair number of Democratic senators, who have been anything but consistent in their support of a liberal agenda.


Michael D. Shear: Ok. I'm gonna sign off a few minutes early. Have a great rest of the week everyone. And stay tuned to our website for the latest in politics.



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