Week In Politics Reviewed

Los Angeles-area political thinkers — radio talk show host and writer Dennis Prager and Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post — discuss the week in politics. Topics include the health care overhaul and new GDP numbers showing a possible rebound in the economy.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand.

Every Friday we take a look at the week in politics. And today we're mixing it up. We gave our regulars David Brooks and E.J. Dionne the day off. And because I'm in California, we're joined now by two Los Angeles political thinkers. From the right, nationally syndicated radio talk show host and writer Dennis Prager. He's with me now in our Culver City studios. Welcome.

Mr. DENNIS PRAGER (Radio Talk Show Host): Hi, Madeleine. Great to be here.

BRAND: And on the left, Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post joins us from her home office in Brentwood. Welcome to you, Arianna.

Ms. ARIANNA HUFFINGTON (The Huffington Post): Thank you so much.

BRAND: Let's begin with health care. The House leaves on recess today, the Senate next week. It'll be, oh, a month or so before the health care bill debate is picked up again in Washington. And some progress was made this week in reaching a compromise. But I'm wondering will Congress, when it reconvenes, will it be able recapture the momentum when it returns? And let's start with you, Dennis.

Mr. PRAGER: Well, remember, that the president had - until a week ago and Nancy Pelosi until a week ago - had assured us that it would be on the House floor, that there would be a vote on it. There would be a bill presented before the recess. So, this is a huge disappointment to the president and to the Democrats.

And now they have to face a public that by the week is less supportive. This is a classic example of the more one knows about something, the less wonderful it appears. So I don't envy, oddly enough, the dominant party, which is the Democrats at this time.

BRAND: And Arianna, poll numbers are slipping for the president on this issue. Do you think he'll be able to regain the momentum at all and control this debate as Congress goes out on recess?

Ms. HUFFINGTON: I think he'll have to change the way he has been dealing with this debate, if he's going to regain the momentum. Because he has chosen to leave the initiative to Congress, in a way, (unintelligible) interpreting the reasons why Clinton health care failed.

And as a result, when he speaks - and of course that's one of his great strengths, his ability to communicate - he's not as clear about what are the major parts of this legislation that he believes will make the huge difference that he's talking about in health care reform. It's not enough anymore to say, we need to change the system. We need to be very clear about how to change it.

And so I would like to see a lot more emphasis as he talks about it going forward on the need to have a public option, because without a public option there would not be real competition of a level for the private insurance companies. They need to emphasize more prevention, because without real prevention there will never be enough money to deal with the chronic diseases, which are preventable.

And also to say that we'll negotiate with the drug industry and not do what happened during the Bush years when we spent all that money on expanding Medicare. But the government did not engage the drug industry in negotiating lower prices.

BRAND: And Dennis, it seems that a small minority of moderate Democrats, the Blue Dogs, actually a more conservative wing of the Democratic Party, are controlling this. Where are the Republican on this and do they need to speak out more?

Mr. PRAGER: The Republicans do need to speak up in two ways. One, they have to say as clearly as possible - I agree with Arianna about the importance of clarity - I think clarity is on the Republican side. I think that the more one speaks as Nancy Pelosi does of the drug companies and the health insurance industry as villains and immoral. The more generalized it is, the better it is for them. The more clear it is, the better it is for those of us who worry ourselves silly over the government taking over about 16 percent of the gross domestic product.

It's a radical change in the history of the way America functions. I mean, this is really the epic moment of crossing the river. If we believe that the government should take over - this notion of an option is a beautiful term, but it's not honest. You can't compete with the government in any large scale thing because the government doesn't have to make a profit, private industry does. So the more clarity for either side, the better it will be, I think, for the Republicans. The Blue Dogs come from districts that are not necessarily fully liberal Democrat.

Gerrymandering is the only reason that we have this bill to begin with because so many Democrats and so many Republicans come from districts that are not debatable. And so this is another more fundamental problem, but that's the only reason. Where you have districts that either side could win, you have conservative Democrats.

BRAND: And I wonder, though, both of you, just one final thought on this, where the American people are on this because polling is very confusing. It's all over the map on whether they do want a public option or whether they don't want a public option and what are members of Congress going to hear from the American people when they go out on recess?

Ms. HUFFINGTON: Well, first of all, I must say - I must disagree with Dennis about the fact that there is clarity on the Republican side, because there's absolutely no clarity. There's no clear statements by anyone about what they want to see instead. And on top of it, there's a lot fear mongering. I mean, there's absolutely nothing in the legislation that implies a government takeover of health care. I mean, again and again, actually, the president stresses that if you're happy with your current health care policy, you can keep it.

And I think it also underestimates the level of pain that is being inflicted on a daily basis and around the country, both among those who have no health care insurance, except 47 million of them. And among those who have - but I have to deal with private insurance companies that do not put their health ahead of their profit.

Mr. PRAGER: Well, I wish we had the time, but there is - it's inconceivable that private health care insurance will survive this bill as it is written. It is inconceivable.

BRAND: Okay, a lot more to talk about this. Obviously, sadly, we have run out of time. I want to thank both of you for coming in today and speaking with us. Dennis Prager, nationally syndicated radio talk show host and author. And Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor of The Huffington Post. Thank you both of you.

Mr. HUFFINGTON: Thank you.

Mr. PRAGER: Thank you.

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