Nancy Pelosi, health care without a vote, Justice Stevens, more -- Post Politics

Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 16, 2010; 11:00 AM

Federal Eye blogger Ed O'Keefe takes your questions about who is up and who is down in the world of politics and the latest news out of Washington.


Des Peres, MO: Hey, Ed. Several-part question. If Justice Stevens does in fact retire, what would be the calendar for a replacement? New name suggested in late summer? Would Congress be in the mood to take up the nomination during an election run-up? And will there be any acrimony generated by the health reform battle that might cause Republicans to go slow? I assume Obama would want to name someone as liberal as Stevens has proved to be? Thanks. Your advice always welcome!

Ed O'Keefe: My sense is that it would follow a timeline similar to that of David Souter -- an announcement this spring, followed by a quick announcement of a nominee (Trust me, the White House has a working list.) Then hearings probably by June. It'll hurt both parties to have a hearing over the summer, since it will likely keep at least a few senators up for reelection away from their states. But yes -- Republicans will make it difficult for President Obama and Democrats and liberal groups will want someone equally if not more liberal than Stevens. Will that happen? Stay tuned.

And apologies for the late start -- You can blame the lack of outlets at the nearby Caribou Coffee and my Dell laptop's inability to hold a charge.


Richmond, Va.: Do I have the right to be a little worried about the hostility between the judiciary and the executive branch? The fact is, I am NOT enjoying the back and forth between the WH and the Supreme Count (I do not think either should be commenting on the other) --and now, with Justice Thomas' wife weighing in on the Tea Party, I feel that there is an escalation (and a kind of precedent) that does not bode well for the dignified (not to mention the constitutional-setting) balance of power.

Ed O'Keefe: The justice's wife is free to do whatever she wants with her free time. She's not the first spouse of a political figure to go chart her own political or activist path.

But the escalation of tensions -- both on a procedural, ideological and personal level -- does seem stunning. And with reports by my colleague Scott Wilson that they're likely to continue in the coming months, it seems the tension won't subside anytime soon.

Here's a question: Which is more detrimental right now: The tension between the U.S. and the Israelis or the tension between the White House and Supreme Court?/


Fairfax VA: Is the health care bill so bad that House members don't want their vote recorded?

Ed O'Keefe: That would probably be a preferable option for at least a handful of Dems and Republicans, yes. Will that happen? Unlikely.


Mrs. Thomas: What can you tell use about politians' take on the SCOTUS wife registering as a Tea Party lobbyist? Justice's wife is pro-'Tea Party'

Ed O'Keefe: I've yet to see any reaction -- have you?


Wappingers Falls, New York: Is deem-and-pass legal? Can it go right to the Supreme Court? It seems as though Pelosi and Obama are breaking laws, how can we the people be protected?

Ed O'Keefe: The process is legal -- at least that's the general consensus among nonpartisan observers.

As my colleagues Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane report today, the "self-executing rule" or "deem and pass" has been commonly used, but never on something as momentous as health-care reform.

Pelosi said on Monday that she's considering the tactic, and prefers it because it would politically protect lawmakers who are reluctant to publicly support the measure.


Abingdon, Md.: I have to tell you, I always did well in my government and civics classes, but we were never told that there were so many options to passing a bill to be come law that have been revealed lately. I really thought this stuff was pretty simpe (in theory)...Where have these alternative ways of "passing" bills come from--and to find out that we've been doing this for quite some time--whew! I think either someone needs to rewrite our government books, or our representatives need to read the ones we have. Do these guys make this stuff up as they go along? And the argument that it's only a problem now to the GOP because the bill is so big whereas when they used it they only addressed 'smaller' issues doesn't cut it -- why does a procedure like this even exist? Don't these guys get paid to vote for (or against) things?

Ed O'Keefe: As my previous answer notes, these legislative maneuvers have been used in the past, but usually on less visible/important items. You know, things that get aired on C-SPAN in the dead of the afternoon or late at night.


Saint Paul, Minn.: Hi Ed -- Thanks for taking questions today. It seems to me that for the president to take on the Supreme Court is a mistake, and as it is for the Court to take on the president. That being said, in your opinion, who wins and who loses?

Ed O'Keefe: Well, the White House thinks it can win since polling shows wide bipartisan opposition to the court's recent decision on campaign finance. In the end, I think this probably hurts the Court more, because they have more to lose. They rarely, if ever, engage in political discourse, so to start doing so now probably poisons their otherwise squeaky clean image in the eyes of Americans used to it being the quietest, least partisan federal branch.


Northern Virginia: Okay, after reading the first few questions, I'll be honest -- I sense the need for another beer summit. I wonder what brew Justice Roberts favors? You may laugh, but I'm never seen a potentially bitter controversy (the Gates arrest) dissolve so magically into silliness and irrelevance before. Maybe a beer summit or -- genius idea! -- an ACTUAL tea party is the answer here. First they could have a beer on the White House lawn, then a reciprocal tea party at the Supreme Court to even out the social honors. Couldn't hurt, right?

Ed O'Keefe: Frankly, the branches avoid that type of interaction for fear of being seen as meddling in each other's affairs, but I think it's a brilliant idea!


Alexandria, VA: You wrote regarding the Supreme Court, "But the escalation of tensions -- both on a procedural, ideological and personal level -- does seem stunning."

I think you need to read up more on American history. Compared to Andrew Jackson's and Franklin Roosevelt's situations with hostile courts, this is just moderately warm, not hot at all.

Actually, I think it is just normal for Americans to argue about court decisions. After all, this is a free country. I can remember driving through southern states in the 1960s and seeing billboards calling for Earl Warren's impeachment. The sponsors of those billboards had every right to put them up, differ with their viewpoint as we may. The proper response would have been to put up billboards supporting Warren, not demand his opponents take theirs down.

Ed O'Keefe: Yes, good point, this has happened before. I'm just curious how it will play out in today's political and media environment. These things have a way of spinning out of control these days...


Kettering, Ohio: Your column today highlights a remarkable statistic, with so many complaints about fraud in the stimulus spending. Do you suppose Washington still wonders why no one trusts it much further than they can throw it? Stimulus complaints investigated

Ed O'Keefe: Actually the statistic is on par for the percentage of complaints versus actual investigations referred to inspectors general at federal agencies.

So far federal prosecutors are investigating 43 of the 1,771 allegations, a small percentage of the complaints.

Ask watchdogs and they'll tell you that some of complaints they receive aren't really serious complaints at all -- it might be someone who misunderstands how the money is getting spent and it might also be someone trying to make life difficult for someone who received funding (perhaps a rival company who didn't get the contract).

It will take months, if not years for these cases and prosecutions to surface publicly, since major cases take a long time to investigate. Stay tuned.


Washington, DC: What day do you expect a vote to take place on the health care issue?

Ed O'Keefe: It's looking like this weekend at the earliest.

Also -- I should point out this nugget from today's Kane/Montgomery report:

"...conservatives warned that Pelosi's use of deem-and-pass in this way would run afoul of the Constitution. They pointed to a 1998 Supreme Court ruling that said each house of Congress must approve the exact same text of a bill before it can become law. A self-executing rule sidesteps that requirement, former federal appellate judge Michael McConnell argued in a Wall Street Journal op-ed."


Is the health care bill so bad : It's not that the bill is so bad, but that so many lies have been told about it--government takeover, death panels, wrecking Medicare, increasing deficit, blah, blah, blah!!

Ed O'Keefe: Nobody's done a good enough job explaining why they're for or against it and what everyone will vote on and what process they will use to vote on it, yes, agreed.


Roseland, NJ: Ed, I'm trying hard not to get perjorative here... but I'm reading the WP headline "Pelosi may try to pass health bill without vote" and I want to scream. NO! There IS a vote; a "deem and pass" that in effect it's a package that simultaneously says OK to the Senate bill and passes the changes they want made in reconciliation.

The text of the article makes this crystal clear; the reporters clearly understand it. Yet the headline says Pelosi is trying to pass it "without a vote"! That does nothing but feed into the paranoid fantasies of the Becks and the Teabaggers who think government under Democrats is transforming into socialist/Nazi/Commu-fascism that kills fluffy kittens.

Ed O'Keefe: I'll refer your thoughts to the copy desk, which handles headline writing...


Sterling VA: Israel seems to have given the Obama administration the proverbial finger. Do you think this administration will finally have enough spine to tell Israel where to "put it"

Ed O'Keefe: Let's see how this plays out in the few weeks as Netanyahu comes to town to speak to AIPAC and Sec. of State Hillary Clinton also makes an appearance. Reading through news reports today, it's evident President Obama is quite steamed and the Israelis seem nervous.

Let's see if this crosses the threshold into the wide public consciousness however -- right now I don't think the Mideast Peace process is really on the minds of most Americans, more concerned with health-care reform, the economy and job creation.


Pittsburgh: I'm no fan of Justice Thomas or his wife, but... I was wondering how his being a judge + her politics is terribly different from PA's. Governor and his wife, Appeals Court Judge Marjorie Rendell. Surely Ed's taken lots of campaign contributions during the course of his long political career and long marriage.

Ed O'Keefe: Exactly. The husband of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is also a federal judge -- there are plenty of examples of spouses' careers creating potential conflicts of interest for each other.


San Diego CA: So if the House passes the Senate bill via deem and pass, the bill that goes to the President would be the Senate bill, not the fixer bill used as the vehicle for deem and pass? Pelosi's tactics seem to get more and more unseemly by the day...

Ed O'Keefe: From The Post's Congressional correspondent/expert Paul Kane:

The only option for health-care reform since the arrival of Scott Brown, has been passing the Senate bill.

That gets signed into law.

Then, a week or so later, the Senate sends him the fixer bill. Which then gets signed into law also.


For Kettering, Ohio: If you think fraud in government is bad, don't look at private companies. Ever heard of Enron, Bear Stearns, etc.?

Ed O'Keefe: Very good point, Kettering. There are bad apples in the public AND private sectors.


Citizens United decision: Process question: Can Congress pass, and the President sign, a bill overturning the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision? If so, can the Supreme Court then overturn such a law as unconstitutional?

Ed O'Keefe: Conceivably, yes and yes.

Practically, unlikely and unlikelier.


Helena MT: Well, if the Roberts majority on SCOTUS wants to engage in politics - and it seems to want to engage in politics, as Alito at the State of the Union showed - then they should take their lumps same as everyone else who engages in politics. The Supreme Court has not been neutral for a long time - witness Bush v Gore to see how they were partisan in 2000.

Ed O'Keefe: One person's opinion...


hypocrisy: why is it that people are so quick to donate money to a Tea Party organization, for example, but when it comes to an extra $12 per year that they may have to pay in taxes to support a war that they (generally) wanted and put us in such a hole in the first place, they become shrill, screaming "revolutionaries"?

Ed O'Keefe: An interesting comment from a reader...


A point to Alexandria: Yes, absolutely, one can criticize a SC decision (billboard and whatever), but we are talking about the "separation of powers" here. That the Pres. and the Chief Justice are at it, is NOT dignified or a good way to discuss laws that affect the entire country, for, well, almost forever.

Ed O'Keefe: Another good point. The general tit for tat nature of this generally muddies the respectful rapport that's supposed to exist in this town. Emphasis on the "supposed"...


Franconia, VA: Yup, Bush v Gore is definitely a still sore scab that Justice Roberts seems determined to pick at. It's the first thing that has come to mind this morning and I think that's when the Court delegitimatized itself, with no need of a State of the Union address to do it. What a shameful moment. I wish we could forget it and not be reminded by these current tensions.

Ed O'Keefe: Another person's opinion...


re: Tea Party Thomas: My only quibble about Thomas's wife is that I can't believe they didn't realize what a stir it would cause. People pay far more attention to the Supreme Court than they do the Court of Appeals, so of course this was going to get greater scrutiny than the situation with, say, Judge Rendell of the Third Circuit. Although I think the concerns over Virginia Thomas's activities are only a matter of perception, perception means something when it comes to the Supreme Court.

Substantively, I think people just have to wait and see if this causes any conflicts of interest. If her group takes on the crazier aspects of the Tea Party, that might be another problem.

Ed O'Keefe: Another interesting comment.

And as today's Post reported: Mrs. Thomas, "...met with ethics officials for the federal courts and was told her work 'was in no way a conflict of interest.'"


Ed O'Keefe: Folks, that's it for today. Thanks for your participation. Please check out my blog, The Federal Eye, for the latest government news. Here's hoping we get some resolution to the health-care reform debate in the near future. For better or worse, it seems Washington is ready to move on!


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