Post Politics Hour

Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 11, 2010; 10:00 AM

Washington Post congressional correspondent Paul Kane was online Thursday, March 11 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest political news.


Paul Kane: Alright, we had some technical difficulties there for a few mins. I felt a little like Obama down in Mizzou last night, "Was that Mitch McConnell" turning out the lights?

Probably my fault, but we've got it fixed and we'll try to go a few extra mins on the back end for bonus-round questions.

OK, lots of stuff to cover today. All sorts of questions about filibuster reform, earmark reform. Lotsa Eric Massa; speaking of the Erics, the NY Times duo of Erics did another number on John Ensign. Wow,so much ethics and politics to cover, you wouldn't even know that right now Nancy Pelosi is walking through key elements of the health-care bill with her caucus.

Ok, on to the questions.

- pk


Reston, VA: Do you know when the administration is going to "fill in the details" on their proposed changes to the HCR bill so that the CBO can score it?

Paul Kane: We'll know a lot more later today, tomorrow, certainly by early next week. As I wrote above, the House Dems are caucusing today to go over details of the plan. Don't expect many surprises. The core of the bill remains largely the same from what we've all known all along.


Egg on face: Do you think Massa deliberately sandbagged Beck? Not that he intentionally got himself into trouble, but that he accepted the invitation with the intention of making a fool out of Beck. Massa flirts with the right, but Beck isn't tickled

Paul Kane: I find it very hard to believe that anyone could have watched Massa's performance and thought he had any grand plan. The man is, quite simply, not balanced right now.


Hartford Conn: I just rented "Charlie Wilson's War" and was taken aback by the opening with him sharing a hot tub with naked women, if only because it seemed so indiscreet post-Wilbur Mills. A week ago I would have asked you about contemporary indiscretions, but I think Eric Massa answered that.

Paul Kane: Hahaha. One of the oddest bits about the Massa thing is his living with 5 other 20-something staffers in a group house. There are plenty of lawmakers who live in group house settings. Most famously the "C Street House", where Ensign, Coburn and a bunch of House members live. Followed by the frat house of Schumer, Durbin, George Miller, Delahunt.

But that's a much different setting, a bunch of older men. The idea that any 50-yr-old would live in a setting like that, is just way too weird. Even by Capitol Hill standards.


New York, NY: Are we starting to see that the timing of the healthcare vote may actually be moved beyond the March 17th deadline and closer to Easter?

Paul Kane: Steny Hoyer did a good/funny smackdown on Robert Gibbs earlier this week. "None of us have mentioned the 18th other than Mr. Gibbs," Hoyer told us.

The 18th is a rather arbitrary date that has only one element of significance: Obama leaves then for a trip to Southeast Asia.

It would be nice if the House passed the Senate version of the health-care bill by then, which would then leave another 8-9 days to get the fix-it bill done, possibly through both chambers. But it's entirely possible the House won't be able to act until the following Wednesday or Thursday, March 25 or so.


"Reconciliation": Paul a quick Nexus-Lexus search show that the last time Congress passed a bill (Bush's $2 trillion tax cut) using reconciliation the word was only used in one article, and only for a technical definition. Now it is "reconciliation" 24/7 for the past month. Do you guys only dance to the tunes the GOP Noise Machine play you?

Paul Kane: Nah, you're just biased. The key difference here isn't the use of reconciliation. It's the partisan flavor of things. The Bush tax cuts in '01 -- which tallied $1.3 trillion, not $2 trillion -- had at least 12 Democratic votes in support.

This is the central issue here, partisanship. Democrats are using reconciliation to pass a Democratic-only bill. That's a highly risky move, politically speaking, in an environment when centrist voters are crying out for bipartisan solutions.


Elmira, N.Y.: As a constituent of Eric Massa, I'd rather Rahm Emanuel twisting my U.S. Represtative's arm rather then then one of the zillion and one corporate lobbyists running around Capital Hill.

Just my thought. Also curious if our own special election will be as much of a media circus as the special election in New York's 23rd congressional district. Maybe Doug Hoffman will run here. He doesn't live in our congressional district, but he didn't live in or know much about N.Y.'s 23rd and that didn't stop him.

Paul Kane: Hello, Elmira. I've only been there once before, for a wedding in the fall. Pretty beautiful up there.

I'd suggest you check back with the Friday Fix chat and ask him about the possible candidates for NY-29. I really haven't had a chance to figure out who's gonna be in/out of that race. The governor is in charge of setting the date, and I don't know if Democrats know when they want to have the election: sooner, when the political environment might be tough against them, or later, in September when there is already a primary scheduled? Tough to know.


Boston MA: Two questions that recent reporting has confused me on.

1) Has Massa officially resigned? I thought that he had on Monday evening, but reports keep talking as if he hasn't.

2) The 18th as a deadline for HCR...wasn't the plan to have the Senate vote on the Reconciliation bill right before Easter break - so the R's would be less likely to want to stay in town delaying things? When does the Easter break start?

Paul Kane: Massa officially resigned on Monday, at 5 pm, for the purposes of his own office. I called his office Tuesday morning, before the House had officially opened for the week, and the people answering the phones were already greeting callers with, "Office of New York's 29th Congressional District."

That's the standard greeting for an office when someone resigns or dies in office. The House sergeant-at-arms effectively takes over the office, making sure there's a staff to still handle constituent requests, etc.

The recess begins March 26. That's the Friday before Palm Sunday. No major legislation of the last 10 years has passed in the middle of a legislative run; instead, it always passes backed up against a congressional recess. It's just the way things go, using the jet fumes home or to CoDels as a motivating factor.

So, that's the date to keep your eyes on.


Washington, DC: What is the role of Frank Luntz with the Republicans these days? When I hear Republicans repeatedly referring to reconciliation as "the nuclear option" and the President trying to "ram this bill down America's throat," I assume they have turned to him, as they did in 1994, to help them regain control of Congress.

Paul Kane: Luntz has an awkward relationship with House Republicans these days. He takes a lot of credit for crafting the Contract with America, regularly appearing on TV with the label "author of the contract" under his image.

John Boehner, with his once and future chief of staff Barry Jackson, were the real authors of that, back in 1994 when Boehner was a junior member of leadership. Luntz helped with polling and focus groups, but didn't really write the Contract.

Still, some Republicans value his advice, so yes, Luntz was there in Baltimore at the House GOP retreat, but so were other pollsters as well.

Now, House Rs are drafting something similar, and maybe Luntz is helping, but the real author is Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the 2nd-term Republican who fancies himself an Irish Catholic, California version of Rahm.


Boston MA: Was wondering if Congress had ever considered suppying some not-fancy, reasonably-priced housing to their Representatives (and Senators, if one remembers Obama's first apartment in DC) if they choose to take advantage of it. Not only because it would help members financially, but also because it might promote more contact between members of different parties, something that has been suggested to help make Congress work a little better.

Paul Kane: That's such a ... reasonable idea. It'll never work, because it's so ... reasonable!

Honestly, what you've laid out is an interesting idea, but the problem is logistics. Here on Capitol Hill, it's mostly a leafy, rowhouse neighborhood. There just aren't many areas where you would have the dorm-like, apartment building setting you suggested. They'd have to buy up a condo building downtown, and, well, that would cost millions and milllions of dollars, which would raise the ire of taxpayers.


Annapolis, MD: What are your thoughts on why Rep. Patrick Kennedy went ballistic on the House floor at this time?

Paul Kane: You know, if you just read Patrick's words, if you just read the transcript of what he said, then you'd have an entirely different view.

But if you watch that YouTube, you'll think he went ballistic. I think I kind of agree that our values are misplaced. Just not sure that his rant was really the right way of making the point.


Oooh, a new Contract?: Awesome. Are they going to be as committed to this one as they were the last one? I suspect there won't be any silly things like "Term Limits" in there this time, eh Now-House-Majority Boehner?

Paul Kane: We'll see.

Update on the House Republicans: They've been meeting now for 2 hours to determine whether to go the Full Monty on earmark reform -- meaning, to completely swear off any and all earmarks, to go one further than Pelosi did yesterday, when Dems said there will be no earmarks to private entities.

Still no sign of 'white smoke' yet of any decision. Will update once I hear a verdict.


McLean VA: Paul,

Are you alleging that the GOP when in the majority never used Reconciliation to pass a bill on purely partisan lines? Also, if the Tax Cuts has the support of 12 Dems, why did they need to pass the bill through reconciliation?

Paul Kane: The '03 tax cuts were the purest form of a partisan reconciliation in the past decade.

It was a 50-50 vote, with Cheney casting the tie-breaking vote in favor. Of course, Ben Nelson and Zell Miller sided with Republicans, so there was a small veneer (very, very tiny, I realize)of bipartisanship.

Look, my point is not whether it's right or wrong to use reconciliation on health care. Clearly, it's a legit tool that both sides have used plenty before. And, let's be very, very clear on this, both sides are insanely hypocritical on this. Harry Reid vehemently opposed reconciliation during Bush's presidency. Now he's using it. That's hypocrisy. Same goes for McConnell, except in reverse.

The bigger political calculation here is, what Dems are doing is riskier. They're not going to have a single Republican vote, in either the House or the Senate. This is a risky move in these times. Especially on something as big and as important as health-care legislation.

I accept the fact that most people who tune in to these chats are sharp partisans, on the left or the right. But you folks don't decide elections. The voters in the middle, they decide elections. And right now, those voters want the Obama as purifier of the system. That's the candidate they liked, and that's not what reconciliation signals.


the frat house of Schumer, Durbin, George Miller, Delahunt: Wild parties, drunkenness, babes? Or just 4 straight guys living economically? 'Splain, Paul!

Paul Kane: 4 straight guys living economically. No wild parties there at all. Schumer sleeps in the living room. For his basic furniture -- night tables, etc -- he has Dick Durbin's daughters' leftover stuff.

I don't think they even see each other that much, just at the very end of the night or the dawn.


reasonably-priced housing to their Representatives : Why should legislators get a deal when they get reasonable pay and many are wealthy when staffers earning $30K to $40K have to pay a fortune?

Full disclosure: my 25-year-old daughter lives in a tiny Hill studio.

Paul Kane: This is why this idea would never float politically. Both of you have articulated very reasonable thoughts on the matter.


Re: Filibuster: Okay Paul, you're our congressional expert. So in light of the New York Times Op/Ed calling for an end to the two-track system in the Senate, I was wondering what would happen theoretically if Democrats had a quorum on the floor, but not enough votes to invoke cloture. Would the Republicans be forced to engage in an old-fashioned Mr. Smith Goes to Washington type filibuster or would there be other dilatory tactics they could use?

Paul Kane: I answer this question every single chat I do, like clock work. I encourage you all to tune in two weeks from now, and I will answer it again: The filibuster is DEAD. It doesn't happen anymore, rule changes in 1917 and 1975 have killed the "Mr. Smith"-style filibuster. Get it through your heads, spread the word on the Internet to your friends. It's dead, dead, dead, it doesn't happen anymore. Ever.

Liberals/progressives, you all think Dick Cheney was the personification of evil -- the "devil's spawn", if you will, in a nod to Rahm -- so, if Cheney was so evil, don't you think he would have figured a way to make Harry Reid and Tom Daschle do the old-school filibuster and stand on the floor for 10-15 hours when they tied the Lott-Frist Senate into knots? Don't you? Admit it, yes, he would have done so. Yet he didn't.

Because he couldn't.

The minority does not ever have to take to the floor for extended debate so long as the majority has less than 60 votes. Not to mention, even the barest minority of all -- 1 vote, like Jim Bunning recently -- that lone senator rarely engages in the old-fashioned filibuster. Bunning just stood on the floor and objected to unanimous consent requests that Durbin and others asked for. Remember, it was the Democrats, over and over, who did most of the talking during the Bunning blockade.

Folks, the filibuster of yesteryear is dead, dead, dead, I tell you. Trust me. Please. It's dead, long live the filibuster.


Partisan?: It seems to me that the only way anything will get passed in this congress is by a partisan vote. The Republicans have decided that their only way back into power is to block every single bill that comes up and make the Democrats look ineffective. There are plenty of Republican ideas in the Health Care bill.The Republicans are even voting against things they cosponsored, in order to make sure nothing gets done. (See the bipartisan budget panel)

What other choice does the majority have if the minority refuses to vote for anything? Someone still has to run the country.

Paul Kane: Actually, a more accurate analysis would show that Republicans have decided to simply not cooperate at all only on health care and Obama's nominations. They're cooperating on a lot of other stuff right now, as the recent jobs bill votes have shown. Something like 8 Senate Republicans voted for a jobs bill yesterday. A dozen or so voted for the previous jobs bill 2 weeks ago.

It's essentially an ignored fact on the left, but the Republicans are far, far, far off their filibustering pace of the 110th Congress in '07-'08, when they set the record for forcing Democrats to hold 112 cloture votes to try to end filibusters. And back then, the Rs were really successful at maintaining the filibusters.

Through February, there were just 40 cloture votes held in the 111th Congress in '09-'10, well off the pace, and most of those cloture votes successfully ended the GOP filibusters.

But no one likes to hear that, not on the left, because it disrupts their narrative of the moment, and not on the right, because they then think their guys in the Senate aren't tough enough on Obama.


Schumer sleeps in the living room: So he'll be closest to the front door every time TV cameras show up?

Paul Kane: True story. Back in '01, after the anthrax attacks, the Senate office buildings were shuttered for a few days, so Schumer worked from home. He brought in the NY Times to do a feature about how he worked from his home. Got a big splashy feature in the paper.

Flash forward 2 years, and there was another scare, ricin, I think it was, so the offices closed again. Then, all of a sudden I'm watching CNN, and they're they are, sitting in the Chuckwagon's bedroom/living room showing him hard at work.

It was sheer brilliance from a PR strategy. The one thing in common: His flack was the great Phil Singer.


Falls Church, Va: re: Patrick Kennedy -- Just not sure that his rant was really the right way of making the point.

But wasn't his emotional rant the only reason his comments about the war got covered? 44 - Patrick Kennedy calls press 'despicable' for Massa coverage

Paul Kane: Yes, the screaming got attention, and without the screaming, there would be no attention paid to his comments.

But I don't think it's the sort of attention he was really looking for.


Franconia, VA: Patrick Kennedy's screaming, breaking voice delivery was very worrisome, and I'm a Democrat. I am just so glad this guy is retiring. I feel as though this political life is destroying him and it makes me feel really bad. When you let it get to you this way, you can't keep going.

Paul Kane: Keep a close watch on the Post in the next few days. My colleague Phil Rucker has a very touching, long profile of PJK coming. Might be in tomorrow's paper, if not, over the weekend. He spent a lot of time talking to Patrick, exploring a lot of these issues and these demons.


Not Buying "Earmark Reform": At all.

Call me a cynic, but this "Earmark Reform" stuff from both parties is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. They're still going to find a way to funnel taxpayer dollars to political allies. Didn't McCain campaign on something like "Never Had and Earmark" when the reality was that he was funneling millions of dollars to special interests in his state through spending projects, but by some technicality they weren't "earmarks?"

Paul Kane: White smoke at last.

Breaking news, the House GOP has adopted its own unilateral ban on earmarks. All of 'em.


South Bend, Ind.: Monica Conyers, the wife of House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.), has been sentenced to a three-year prison sentence as part of a plea deal. Do you any fall-out on Capital Hill for Chairman Conyers because of it.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but John Conyers was the first member of Congressional Black Caucus to endorse Barack Obama for U.S. President? Considering he made Hillary Rodham Clinton his Secretary of State, loyalty and support doesn't seem that important to Barack Obama.

Paul Kane: It's kind of depressing that this story hasn't received more attention. It's just really awkward, if you ask me, to have the wife of the judiciary chairman, whose job is overseeing federal prosecutors, going to federal prison on corruption charges.


the frat house of Schumer, Durbin, George Miller, Delahunt: Who are the leading candidates to replace Delahunt at Chez Miller once he leaves the House?

Paul Kane: Well, I think the really big question is, if Reid loses in November, what happens if Schumer and Durbin run against each other for Dem leader? Can they really keep living together after 1 or the other vanquishes his roommate?

Could be multiple openings there. And by the way, it's George Miller's townhouse, he owns the house and sublets to the other guys.


City on the Hill: Paul Kane - the last objective journalist!

Did you ever know that you're my hero....

Paul Kane: Man, I've got 1 fan! You like me, you really like me.


Cloture vote pace.: I'm not sure I agree with your math. If 112 votes is the record, and they've already forced 40 in 2 months, doesn't that mean that they are on pace for 240 cloture votes, more than double the previous record?

Paul Kane: To be clear, they've had 40 cloture votes in 14 months, not 2 months.

It's 112 in the 2-year 110th Congress. We're now into the 11th Congress, covering 2009 and 2010. Considering it's an election year and there will be far fewer votes, the pace for cloture votes will likely drop off dramatically once this health-care situation is finished. I'd be stunned if we hit 75 cloture votes for the entire 111th Congress.


Mountains and Moleholes: Aren't earmarks a tiny part of the fedral budget? This is a media topic.

Paul Kane: Tiny part of the federal budget, but a huge, huge part of congressional corruption.

Earmark reform is not about cutting the deficit. It won't help a bit there, not when earmarks account for just $15-16 billion of a discretionary federal budget that tops $1 trillion.

But every single federal criminal investigation of a member of Congress in the last 6 years has involved earmarks. Particularly those to private companies.


Paul Kane: Alright folks, thanks for the questions. Time to get going, gotta go see how happy/angry those Republicans are now that they've given up earmarks for Lent.

I'll see you back here in 2 weeks. Take care.



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