Post Politics Hour: Jobs bill advances to floor vote, Obama's health-care reform proposal, more

Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 23, 2010; 11:00 AM

Discuss the latest news about the Obama administration and the world of politics with Ben Pershing, who writes for The Post's 44 blog. Pershing was online Feb. 23 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the jobs bill and Obama's new health-care reform proposal.


Ben Pershing: Good morning, all. We've got lots of issues brewing this week -- the health-care summit scheduled for Thursday, the jobs bill advancing yesterday, Toyota hearings today, plus lots of other news at home and abroad. Why not ask me about some of it? Let's begin.


Chicago: After seeing Rep. Steve King's (R-IA)outrageous defense of Joseph Stack and a desire to destroy the IRS altogether, is there a move in Congress for censuring him? Why not? Recall the blathering over the juvenile-but-not-violence-baiting General "Betrayus" flap a few years ago? Steve King To Conservatives: 'Implode' IRS Offices (Talking Points Memo, Feb. 22)

Ben Pershing: I don't think Congress could or would censure King for something he said at a political rally, but I agree with you that his comments and others like them probably deserve more attention from the media. They are striking remarks.


Washington DC: I'm liberal who is drawn towards Ron Paul. The reasons are complex... Yet, CPAC - as a political organization - isn't my cup of tea.

At this stage (esp with healthcare reform frustrations) could Ron Paul gather enough support to create a third party? ... I have my doubts about the Mass pilot progam which Democrats and Republicans both characterize as a success story.

Has he indicated any desire to create a third party?

Ben Pershing: So far Ron Paul has given no indication that he wants to form a third party. If he did, it would have a pretty obvious name -- the Libertarian Party. Unlike the Tea Party groups, which combine elements from a variety of different ideologies (and also have plenty of disagreements amongst themselves), Paul has a long-developed and clear Libertarian philosophy. But he hasn't done anything to suggest he wants to form a third party rather than just try to move the GOP in his direction. Note that's what his son, Rand Paul, is doing in the Kentucky Senate primary.


Harrisburg, PA: There already is a Libertarian Party.

Ben Pershing: That's my point. If Paul were to run as a third-party candidate, he wouldn't need to create a new party to do so.


New Haven CT : So what's the process going forward with the jobs bill? The house bill is much, much larger and the Senate has decided to pass its plan in parts. Will they simply bounce what they pass to the House, forcing them to accept the stimulette? Or will there be a conference, where the various components are married and then passed?

Ben Pershing: Nothing has been decided but there will likely have to be a conference. The odds that the House will simply pass what the Senate did are slim, given how different the bills are. Plus there are programs expiring Feb. 28 that have to be dealt with -- unemployment insurance, COBRA health benefits, the Patriot Act and a few more. I would expect those to be part of the deal too, since they need to be acted on quickly.


Silver Spring, MD: to Washington D.C. liberal: In addition to your excellent response Mr. Pershing, it should be pointed out that Democrats and Republicans have made it extremely difficult for third parties to form and prosper.

One example would be Ballot Access requirements, which are different in each state. They might not seem like much, but since their introduction at the turn of the last century, "third party" representation in Congress has dropped from 5-10% to zero.

Ben Pershing: That's true, there are high structural hurdles for any third-party effort. That said, if Paul started early enough he could almost certainly get on every ballot in the country for president. He would have no shortage of grassroots supporters willing to gather signatures, and his fundraising abilities are impressive.


Arlington, VA: Why, in the Post's otherwise excellent reporting and analysis of the political challenges faced by the President's Health Care proposal, dose your paper fail even to mention the abortion funding hurdle? The President's plan echoes the Senate's abortion funding language which has been rejected by Rep. Stupak and 40 or so pro-life Democrats in the House. I had to find this out by reading the NYT - the Post failed to address the topic.

Until something gives and the President can figure out how to square the abortion funding circle, no plan has a chance of being passed. If Stupak and his fellow pro-life Democrats in the House have agreed to accept the Senate's abortion funding language, I missed that report in the Post. How the Post could ignore such an obvious and significant political challenge in your reporting and analysis is beyond this reader's comprehension.

Ben Pershing: Well, the lead story in the paper today by Alec MacGillis and Amy Goldstein did reference the fact that Nancy Pelosi would need to seek votes to "replace those who are opposed to the abortion language in the Senate bill." And the story that was online all day yesterday, by Mike Shear and Dan Balz, said: "The president's plan does leave intact language relating to abortion already in the Senate bill that is less restrictive than the House measure. That would leave open the possibility that conservative Democrats in the House who oppose the use of federal money for abortion would oppose the measure."

So I wouldn't agree that we "failed to mention" the issue altogether. You can expect us to focus on it much more as this compromise bill progresses, though.


Waving Red Flag: Hi Ben - John Boehner said that the Administration's health care reform plan would "cripple" the summit on Thursday. Can we expect former Governor Palin to call for his resignation? Or was that satire too?

Ben Pershing: I'm impressed with your ability to link together Boehner, the health summit and Sarah Palin. But there is no taboo against using the word "cripple" in that context the way there is for using the word "retarded" the way Rahm Emanuel did.


Leesburg, VA: Why aren't all of the Republicans voting for the Jobs bill? It's literally nothing but Tax Cuts for businesses to promote employment.

During the entirety of the Stimulus debate, the GOP told me that spending wasn't going to stimulate the Economy - Rather Tax cuts (and only tax cuts, considering the fact that the Stimulus has $300b worth of them) were the answer.

Now, they are given exactly what they asked for and still refuse to vote for it. I have to be honest, the GOP isn't doing a great job of proving to me that they aren't simply "The Party of No."

Ben Pershing: A lot of Senate Republicans voted against proceeding on the jobs bill Monday because they were upset about the process that produced it. Remember, Max Baucus and Chuck Grassley negotiated a genuinely bipartisan $85B bill that could easily have gotten 80 votes in the Senate. Then Harry Reid decided he didn't like it and went with the smaller bill instead.

Now, there's an argument to make -- and some Democrats have made it -- that the Baucus-Grassley bill was flawed and bloated. But Republicans still feel like they've been cut out of the process and poorly served by Reid here.

All that said, I would expect a lot more Republicans to vote for the jobs bill on final passage, probably tomorrow.


Richmond, Va.: Re: Toyota. WaPo had a wonderful expose about how Toyota used its vast amounts of money to cover up so many of its problems, including lawmakers, etc. Is an ordinary person to conclude then, that these money-funded lawmakers had a hand in the deaths and injuries of those who had cars that had problems? How does it work, please? Toyota heads to Capitol Hill with team of lobbyists, history of political giving (Post, Feb. 22)

Ben Pershing: I don't know how easy it is to argue that members of Congress are actually complicit in the deaths of people who drove faulty Toyotas. But it is worthwhile to remember that large companies are often able to sow goodwill and escape tougher regulation by giving campaign contributions and, more importantly, creating jobs in the states and districts of members of Congress. That's how the game is played, for better or worse.


Alexandria, VA: If Rep King doesn't like the tax laws, he can change them! IRS doesn't make tax laws, Congress does.

Ben Pershing: That's a good point. Passing a bill to change the tax code might be a wiser course than "imploding" IRS offices.


Bristow, Va.: A Congress of old, and or sick people such as Byrd and Mccain, and a Supreme Court likewise. As with the President having term limits, why not term limits for them also? leaving it to voters to impose term limits has not worked. The majority of people do not vote!

Ben Pershing: Well, you say "leaving it to voters to impose term limits has not worked." Maybe because a majority of voters don't really want them? Or rather, they don't want term limits badly enough to actually vote based on that issue. In the '90s there was a lot of political momentum behind that movement but it really seems to have fizzled.


Silver Spring, MD: I wonder if you could help me understand a narrative I've been hearing for months from the media. That is, that if the Democrats fail in their attempts to reform health care, the voters will punish them by voting in the party that has been trying all along to MAKE the Democrats fail in reforming health care.

If you'll pardon the loaded analogy, isn't this sort of like saying, if our troops don't start having more success in Afghanistan, the public will start rooting for the Taliban?

Ben Pershing: I see your point, but one question raised by Democrats' pursuit of health reform is whether they are competent to govern. If they have large majorities and spend an entire year on this topic and can't get it done, what does it say about their ability to get anything else done? If health care collapses you can expect to hear that argument made quite a lot.


Baltimore MD: Re CPAC: I was surprised (no, make that stunned) to learn that the John Birch Society was a sponsor of CPAC. Nearly 50 years ago, William F. Buckley read them out of the modern conservative movement for their crazed assertion that Dwight Eisenhower was an active agent of the communist conspiracy. Now they are sponsoring a gathering accorded respectability by the media. What has happened to conservatism is the obvious question.

Ben Pershing: There was quite a bit of controversy surrounding the John Birch Society's participation of CPAC and at least a few prominent conservatives (Mark Levin comes to mind) who refused to attend as a result.


New York: Hi Ben -- I've heard that Harry Reid is well liked by Senate Democrats. Has that changed with his handling of the jobs bill? Thanks.

Ben Pershing: Generally, no. He is still popular within his own caucus. There was lot of grumbling about how he had handled jobs, particularly when he nixed the aforementioned Baucus-Grassley deal, but then I guess you could say he redeemed himself with Monday's vote.

Of course, popularity within his own caucus won't do much for him in Nevada. The way the polls out there are going, there is at least a decent chance Senate Democrats will have a new leader come January -- either Dick Durbin or Chuck Schumer.


Dallas, Tx: Can Obama get a break? tax cuts (I just filled mine out and there was a work hard credit, part of the stimulus), Credit card protection, Opening the floor for GOP wrt Health Care, reigning in Banks (although he needed more teeth with that one). The Prez is hardly getting credit for some really good accomplishments.

Ben Pershing: You could say the same about Democrats in Congress -- they have passed tons of bills that they may not get credit for because of all the attention on health care. On the other hand, Obama himself laid out some very lofty priorities for the start of his administration -- health care, climate change and financial reform -- and so you have to expect he will be judged on whether he can get those things done.


Skinner's Butte, Ore: All of the sudden the so-called "Public Option" is seeing a resurgence in the Senate. Is this for real or a way of pacifying the noisy Left?

Ben Pershing: I don't think it's real. Reid briefly raised the possibility of a return to the public option but the White House isn't interested. It's not happening.


Term Limits: I never really liked the idea of them either, but if you need to meet a minimum standard of competence to drive a car, there should be some minimum requirement to make and/or interpret laws. Was Strom Thurmond doing anything more than respirating his last term (or two)?

Ben Pershing: I'm not disputing that there are now and have been some lawmakers who probably shouldn't be in office any more. But that's really the fault of the voters in those states. If the people of South Carolina wanted to keep sending Strom to the Senate, that was their right. That's democracy.


Boonsboro, MD: Do you ever count how many times your commenters manage to get "The Party of No" into your chats? Do they get together beforehand and take turns?

Ben Pershing: "No"


St. Paul, MN: So, apparently John Boehner is complaining that the White House's health care proposal is too short. This is after complaining that the Senate and House bills are too long. At some point will, Boehner, tell us at which length health care bills are "just right"?

Ben Pershing: I think Boehner's point is that we don't actually have the legislative text of Obama's proposed compromise, only an 11-page summary that doesn't include the nitty-gritty details.


Term Limits: California has term limits on its State legislators. How has that worked out?

Ben Pershing: As a California native, I can say with confidence that the state is a complete disaster. The governing system there makes Washington look like a well-oiled machine. Term limits haven't made much of a difference in Sacramento. What would is 1) redistricting reform; and 2) an end to the ballot initiative system. I don't see either of those things happening anytime soon.


Washington, DC: What is your take on the Texas governors primary next you see any candidate getting 50% of the vote?

Ben Pershing: I'm guessing Perry wins but doesn't get 50 percent, forcing a runoff between him and Hutchison. Should be fun to watch.


Ben Pershing: Thanks for the fine questions, as always. See you next time.


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