Health-care summit, bipartisanship, more -- Post Politics Hour

Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 25, 2010; 12:30 PM

Washington Post congressional reporter Paul Kane takes your questions about the health care summit and all the latest political news.

Read Paul's latest story: Washington rancor angers bipartisan town


Paul Kane: Good afternoon, folks, we've moved this chat around a little bit in order to allow folks to keep a close eye on the "summit" at Blair House. I'm not exactly going to be the health-care expert here, so I'll take some Qs about public option vs inter-state insurance plans, etc, but I'm much more focused on the politics of the situation right now.

That's the link to a story that appeared in today's paper, based on my reporting from the ultimate swing district earlier this week, Pennsylvania's 8th District. Enjoy.

Ok, I'm a little late, so on to the questions.



Colorado: Mr. Kane,

Regarding bipartisanism (bipartisanship?), can you give a rough idea of how many senators and representatives are willing to support ideas that work based on a reasonable amount of evidence, verses those that view the world in ideological blinders, and see the world in terms of partisan talking points? I get the feeling we are electing more and more people that are intellectually unable to think for themselves or accept evidence that they may ever be wrong.

Paul Kane: I think that the single most important 'reform' that anyone could pursue in the next 30 years is redistricting reform. We have so many folks running around in circles trying to reform campaign finances, saying that creating a 'level playing field' will make democracy better. And people arguing for public financing of elections. And people arguing that, what we really need is once-a-month lunches of both parties. (Yes, that was Evan Bayh's ridiculous idea.)

But, if you're one of those people that are similar to the folks I talked to in Bucks County, PA, people that believe that the surest way to getting things done is electing more pragmatic people, well, then, you need redistricting reform. Because there are 435 House districts, and really only about 50 of them are in play any given cycle. The last couple elections more seats have been in play because the Bush White House was so despised, and now, it looks like 60-75 might be in play this cycle, because the Obama White House is not all that popular.

But if more moderates of both parties were elected to the House -- if there was a strong center, made up of dozens and dozens and dozens of members of both parties -- then you'd see more cooperation.

For now, that ain't happening.


Queen, WA: Is this summit really substanative, or just Kabuki Theater? Would our time be better spent pulling out the piano from the corner of the room and Joe Biden leading everyone in singing "Bohemian Rhapsody"?

Paul Kane:

I'm really kinda freaked out by the concept of Joe Biden as Freddie Mercury. Just imagine that mustache on the VPOTUS!


Seattle, WA: If you were to make a drinking Game of this summit, what words would you use as a cue to drink?


-Public Option?

-Tort Reform?

Paul Kane: "Bending the cost curve"!!!!

That's the phrase that should prompt shots of tequilla. I mean, it's such a weird phrase, it almost sounds pornographic. (Note to college administrators out there: In no way was my joke meant to encourage students to drink shots of tequilla at lunchtime.)


Rocklin, CA: When does a jounalist decide that a talking point has infiltrated the reporting on an issue? I have heard the term kubuki theater echoed throughout the traditional media regarding the health care reform meeting for days. Where did it start and why does the echo chamber insist on promoting it?

Paul Kane: It's a dumb phrase. I don't like it. Also, is it oddly offensive? I'm not sure.

There's a story about Wisconsin college students actually doing kabuki theater.

Anyway, I don't know its origins, that's a William Safire-type question, RIP.


Inside the Beltway-Outside the Village: Hi Paul,

Thanks for taking questions. So how much leverage does Pellosi have over her members to get Healthcare reform passed? Given how important this vote is, shouldn't members' committee assignements, unrealated pork, and campaign funds all be in jeopardy if they vote no?

Paul Kane: You've jumped several steps ahead of the process here, I think. We don't know yet when/if there will be a vote. And the key issue is not Pelosi and the House. It's the Senate and Reid.

The key domino in getting the current version of health-care legislation passed is the Senate agreeing to use reconciliation to pass a fix-it bill to their first version of the legislation.

Right now, there's not a clear majority to do that. I think a lot of Senate Democrats are sitting back trying to figure out if it's worse to pass nothing at all -- and move on to the more politically important task of reviving the economy -- or passing the health-care bill on a straight Dem-only vote.

The people I talked to this week, the so-called 'disaffected middle', those people are really hesitant to buy into any legislation that only has the backing of one party or the other. If Dems pass a Dem-only health-care bill, the voters in the middle might not buy it and either not vote in the fall, or vote Republican.

That's the thing Dems are trying to game out right now. Which is the worse path.


Springfield, VA: What are the limits of what can be included in a bill under the reconciliation process? Can individual mandates, abortion language, health care exchanges, and the ability to purchase plans across state lines be addressed in the bill under the reconciliation rules? What will the Parlamentarian allow?

Paul Kane: All of those things are likely thrown out of the bill. Reconciliation, as authored by Robert C. Byrd in the early 1970s, is meant to deal solely with federal revenue streams. If something is not impacting those revenue streams -- such as the prohibition against denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions -- then it won't fly under reconciliation.

That's why you folks who are advocating for a public option need to accept the reality that it's not going to happen, at least not this time around. The only way that the key insurance reforms -- like preexisting conditions -- can get signed into law, is if the House just passes the Senate bill unamended. That goes straight to Obama's desk, he signs, presto. Law.

Then they have to deal with fixes to other things, such as spreading the Nebraska deal to all states -- not just Ben Nelson's -- and tweaking the so-called excise tax on health-care plans.

To try to totally do the process over, bringing the public option back into play, would invite complete mayhem. The entire bill could end up as junk.


K street: "Joe Biden as Freddie Mercury. Just imagine that mustache on the VPOTUS!" Yeah picture Cheney. I just spit out my lunch.

Paul Kane: Fyi -- I actually watched a little of that video. It was pre-mustache for Freddie. My apologies.


Arlington, VA: Are any House or Senate Democrats who oppose the President's plan, such as Rep. Stupak who opposes the abortion language, participating in this summit? Was Rep. Cao, the only Republican who voted for the House bill, invited to participate in the summit? On the guest list

Paul Kane: No, neither party allowed the possible cross-over votes to attend the summit. Cao was not invited by Boehner, and in Boehner's defense, Cao has not been highly involved in the health-care negotiations. Not sure what he'd have to offer.

And no, McConnell did not allow Olympia Snowe to attend, as she's the only Senate R who came really close to supporting the legislation.

The flip side is, there's not a single House Dem who opposed the legislation there at the square-shaped table. (Should we call this the Square Summit? Meant as kind of a wonky jab at these guys as squares?)


Chicago, IL: More than anything, independents outside the beltway just don't like hypocrisy in our political parties. Meaning, if Democrats threatened filibusters over Bush's judicial nominees, they don't get to complain when the Republicans do it now. Democrats used to love the filibuster when it suited them. Now they hate it.

(And this comes from a independent who really supports the health care proposal.)

Paul Kane: Interesting take from Obama's hometown.

Meantime, this broadcast is coming to you live from Firehook bakery, 200 block of Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast. I recommend the "presidential sweet" cookie. All sorts of goodness. I forgot my iPod, so I'm allowing for the bakery's soundtrack. But for those that want a recommendation:

That's the band that is now starring in the new Nike commercial running in the Olympic broadcast, The Hours. I saw them 8 months ago as the opening act for the opening act of U2 at Wembley Stadium. These guys rock.


Philadelphia. Pa.: Senator Lamar Alexander states there will be no compromise. How does this poll? What percent of Americans in most surveys what health care killed? What percent believe Congress should do something? What does it appear that the public wants, if there has been time for anyone to poll on this.

Paul Kane: I'm a sucker for any question from Philly. (Any word on how Lidge's throwing went?)

there's the link to our latest poll, conducted along with ABC News. Here's the paradigm that I did not understand until I went due north of Philly this week. Only 46% of voters in our survey supported the health-care plan along the lines of what the House/Senate passed. (Our poll, fyi, has consistently scored a couple points higher for the legislation -- and for Obama's own approval rating -- than other respected polls, such as Gallup; this isn't a huge deal, because our poll and their poll has been consistent, so that's the most important thing.)

Now, only 46% support the current bill, but 63% support a continued push for a comprehensive health-care bill. Huh. So what do those 17% want? Well, I thought they were just confused people, until I went to Bucks County.

These 17% of the voters are the key battleground of the political future, these are the folks who simply don't trust anything that's a one-party solution. They are people like Leonard Wilson,a 58-yr-old jeweler on Mill Street in Bristol. He's a lifelong Republican who's a backer of presidents Obama, Clinton and a backer of GOP congressmen. To him, the legislative solution has to be bipartisan in order for him to believe that it's not just some partisan game of tit for tat.

He's that 17%; he doesn't really like or trust the current bill, in large part because it's a Democrat-only bill, but he wants Congress to keep working toward a comprehensive solution. Meaning, he wants it to be bipartisan.

Unless it's bipartisan, he won't support it.


Redistricting: Paul- Your colleague David Broder made the same argument in a column a few months ago and I couldn't agree more. When you worry about where your next meal is coming from you work hard, stay focused and play by the rules. When elections are a rubber stamp, why bother with all that heavy lifting?

Paul Kane: Yeah, that's the thing. It's an odd inverse proportionality thing. The lawmakers who are the safest -- and therefore those that have the least to lose by making bipartisan deals -- are also those with the most warped views of what 'the people want'. So they won't ever make a deal.

Those who have the toughest districts -- with the most to lose because they're always fighting to hold on -- are the most willing to make a deal, because they know that they have constituents who, above all else, just want good, small-step results.


Re: Chicago On Filibusters...:

On the flip side of Chicago's statement, when Republicans said that everything deserves an up and down vote and now they have made a record number of filibusters, are they also being hypocrites? FTR, Democrats only filibustered ONCE when Republicans were in control. But the Republicans have made a record number of filibusters with the help of the Blue Dogs (or DINOs)...

Paul Kane: Everyone's a hypocrite on this issue. Everyone.

And I've no clue where you got your numbers, but Harry Reid led more than 100 filibusters in his 2-year tenure as minority leader. Before that, Daschle was a master at the filibuster.


Summit Drinking game: We were playing, but one of the words was "American People". Someone passed out in the first 45 minutes of the summit, so we had to quit. (kidding, btw)

Paul Kane: Thanks for including the "kidding" part.

yes, it's too early in the day for drinking games. A week from now, when I'm with my friends out on a ski weeekend, well, maybe then.


Seminole, FL: Could you please explain to me what the big deal about the table is? President Bush held summits with a U-Shaped table. President Obama is leader of the free world and as such, he deserves a seat at the head of the table. The fact that relented to Republicans' demands for a rectangular table disappointed me. I am sorry; but a person in Congress, Democratic or Republican, does not have the same status as the President of the United States. Thank you for allowing me to rant... Seating Debate

Paul Kane: The fight over the seating arrangements and the optics is all a fall-out of Obama's trip to Baltimore to attend the House GOP retreat. Republicans came away thinking that the event went really well for both them and Obama, as did every reporter -- yours truly included -- who was in the room there.

Until we saw the video clips on TV. Obama was up on a stage, behind a podium with the presidential seal on it. The Republicans were down below, looking up at him. The event was hastily thrown together, so there weren't enough cameras, and some Republicans were asking questions not even on camera, practically. They were like Charlie Brown's teacher in Peanuts, Whah-wha-wha-wha-wha-wha.

So Republicans wanted to literally be at a level playing field this time around.


For Chicago, IL: Yes, the democrats threatened to filibuster some Bush judicial nominees. The current situation we have is the the republicans are literally filibustering everything. It's quite a different situation don't you think, Mr. Kane?

Paul Kane: Nope, you're wrong. There's not much difference at all. The Republicans took it to its utmost length on health care, and they're doing it with a few nominees.

But really, their actions now are just the logical extension of life in the minority as practiced by Daschle-Reid, who were operating from the script drafted by Dole, who learned from Mitchell.


New York: Hey, Paul:

Unrelated to the health care summit, but do you know what the deal is with Obama's judicial appointments? Only 16 confirmed after more than a year in office? Are the Republicans putting holds on everyone?

Paul Kane: 2 things. Yes, the Republicans have been gumming up the works on some nominees.

but the far bigger problem, according to liberal judicial scholars, is the Obama White House itself has been pathetically slow in sending the nominees to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

That's a letter sent to the White House excoriating Obama for his slow pace of making nominations, just 43 so far with more than 100 vacancies.

I don't know what the problem is, but my speculation rests on 2 fronts: a) an intense vetting system after all the tax debacles with Geithner-Daschle-others; b)a White House counsel's office in disarray. Usually, the WH counsel is a key point man in judicial nominations. Well in the first year that was Greg Craig, who also had Gitmo/torture/etc in his portfolio, and he had a lot of infighting on that issue. So I think the judicial nomination portfolio just fell through the cracks.


Salinas, CA: "The lawmakers who are the safest -- and therefore those that have the least to lose by making bipartisan deals -- are also those with the most warped views of what 'the people want'. So they won't ever make a deal."

Which all the more demonstrates how the passing of Ted Kennedy marked the end of an era of giants in Congressional governance, on both sides of the aisle.

Paul Kane: Teddy Ballgame, man, he was a genius. Lots of you probably hated him, but the man knew the ebb and flow of this place. Monday would have been his 78th birthday, fyi.

It was nice being in Philly listening to WMMR and having Pierre Robert giving Kennedy a tribute.

(You ever go back to your hometown and get amazed at how some people never leave their TV/radio gigs? Pierre is one of those guys. Been at 'MMR since at least the early '80s when I first started listening to rock music. Then there's Jim Gardner, the ageless wonder at Action News. That guy is still doing broadcasts 30 or so years after I first remember seeing him on TV!)


Reston, VA: Any indication how Democrats - the party that is truly holding up HCR - will react to the president's proposed changes? Can Reid and Pelosi rally the troops in the same way that the GOP has successfully rallied their own?

Paul Kane: Ok, let's take an alternate path here. Just for the heck of it. Pure, raw politics. Would Democrats be better off bullying health care through via reconciliation, on a pure party-line vote, not even with Cao? This process would probably take until late April or early May.

Or would they be better off cutting bait on health care and spending the next 4 months or so, straight through the summer doing nothing but jobs-jobs-jobs-jobs legislation?

Because health care has become a quagmire for them. I'm not sure what the answer here is, but going the distance on health care clearly means time NOT spent on reviving the economy.

This is a zero-sum game.


Burke, Virginia: Rep. Stupak says the abortion funding language in both the President's outline and Senate bill are unacceptable and he will not vote for them, and apparently there are 15-20 or more pro-life Democrats in the House who feel the smae way. What's Pelosi going to do to overcome this? Any chance the Senate can "fix" their language to satisfy Stupak through the reconciliation process?

Paul Kane: Nope, abortion language has no bearing on federal revenues, therefore, it will be stricken by the Senate parliamentarian. You'd need 60 votes to overcome that hurdle. Good luck.


Paul Kane: Alright folks, it's been a blast. Thanks for sending in the questions. Back to the summit now!

I'll be back in my regular 11 am slot in a few weeks.

See you then. --pk


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