Week In Politics Examined

President Obama's bipartisan health care summit Thursday and New York Gov. David Paterson's announcement Friday that he was withdrawing from the race for governor dominated the week in politics. E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times offer their insight.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Now thoughts on the future of the health care and yesterdays summit from our regular Friday political commentators: E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times. Hi, guys.

Mr. E.J. DIONNE (Columnist, The Washington Post): Good to be with you.

Mr. DAVID BROOKS (Columnist, New York Times): Hello.

BLOCK: When you were watching the health care summit yesterday - what do you think, David, must-see TV? Were you invigorated? Were you bored, surprised? What struck you?

Mr. BROOKS: Gripping, shaking with joy and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BROOKS: ... and not since C-SPAN3 first came on the air have I been so excited.

BLOCK: Oh come on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BROOKS: No, I actually found it quite a good show, quite interesting, good exchanges. For example, there was one exchange where Lamar Alexander says to Barack Obama, your plan would raise premiums by 13 percent. Obama comes back and says but thats not fair because the coverage is a lot better. And then Jon Kyl comes in and says but youre mandating the coverage. Shouldnt people get a choice in what coverage? And that leads to a discussion of whether people have choices or not, and thats the kind of discussion that actually we should be having and we havent really had. So I thought all in all both sides did quite well and it was a pretty decent discussion.

BLOCK: A different kind of discourse than were used to seeing in Washington, even though there were talking points. There was a fallback position.

BROOK: Right, there were talking points and to be fair, the whole thing was a lie. Now nobody was going to be influenced by it. It was just a show for one day and now we're back to normal. But for that one day, that one fantasy day, we got outside the power structure. So the leadership in the House and Senate were quite poor I thought. But you had rank-and-file members who actually know what they're talking about, and they had more of a spotlight.

BLOCK: E.J., you said going into that summit that the president was essentially calling the Republicans' bluffing - show me what you got, put it on the table. Do you think he succeeded in doing that?

Mr. DIONNE: I think he did because I think that what you saw is the Republicans really truly dont want to pass comprehensive health care reform. They kept trying to bring the discussion to process. Oh, no you cant use reconciliation. And President Obama said I dont think voters are terribly interested in the processes of the Senate, and I think hes right about that. I think he did a very important thing yesterday. He gave some heart to Democrats. He told them were going to go ahead whether we have Republicans or not. And while it is difficult to get to the majority they need in the House, I, number one, never bet against Nancy Pelosi. And I think what happened yesterday really helped.

At one point in the exchange with Senator Barrasso, I think he just put it right on the line. He was saying that people can debate about a lot of things, but he said if we can debate about whether or not we can afford to help them, he said about the uninsured, but we shouldnt pretend somehow that they dont need help. Either you want to help the uninsured or you dont, and he laid that right out.

BLOCK: David, though, you seem to feel there is room for the Republicans here to be happy about the presentation and what came out of it.

Mr. BROOKS: Yeah, they're thrilled. I mean, the presentation they did very well, much better than in Baltimore. So they're fine with the presentation, but they're really happy that the presentation was a one-day event, which everybody is going to ignore from now on because the Democrats are going to go in with reconciliation. And for the Republicans, this is the best of all possible worlds because in their view, the Democrats are going to spend the next two, three months talking about health care, not jobs. They're going to be doing it in a very ugly process and the odds are still 60 to 70 percent they get nothing big out of it at the end of the day. So, to Republicans - see this as a chance to take back the House. And on current models the Republicans will take back the House and the Republicans see this is really continuing the momentum of the last several months.

Mr. DIONNE: Just two quick things: one, if better than Baltimore is the Republicans new standard...

BLOCK: Hmm.

Mr. DIONNE: ...they will always exceed it, and I put the odds at better than David does that theyre going to get a bill out of this.

BLOCK: Well, lets go back to that question that Andrea Seabrook posed at the end of her piece, do members take a stand, run the risk of getting nothing done or do they accomplish something but nothing thats perfect, nothing to write home about, E.J.?

Mr. DIONNE: I think its really the big thing or not much at all, the Democrats passing a health care bill. I think there's been talk of a scale back bill. The problem with that is that you'd have to start the process all over again. And its not clear to me that the Republicans would be any more eager to cover, say, 15 million more people than they are today to cover 30 or 31 more -million more people. The White House considered the smaller bill and I think they just decided the only way to do this is to go for broke.

BLOCK: David?

Mr. BROOKS: Yeah, I mean, the plan B was 15 million at a quarter of the price, half the people at a quarter of the price, somehow sort of a reasonable deal. The thing that's happening here is all the substance is now being totally destroyed by the politics. And so what we had this week, to me the most important thing that happened is we gutted the excise tax, the tax on the so-called Cadillac plans. That was the number one cost-saving measure. And it was the number one long-term revenue source and it was completely gutted over the past few weeks.

Mr. DIONNE: It wasnt gutted. It comes in much later...

Mr. BROOKS: Well, it's coming in 2018.

Mr. DIONNE: ...to get the votes.

BLOCK: A way to pay for what, the plan here?

Mr. BROOKS: Well, if you think - first of all, it comes in, in 2018 after we're all long gone, or at least Barack Obama is long gone. And if you think Congress is going to accept, in 2018, a trillion dollar tax hike that this Congress doesnt have the guts to put in, then forget about. That's just not going to happen. And so to me whats happening is theyve got to - gutting out the cuts of these thing for politics.

BLOCK: You know, there was discussion...

Mr. DIONNE: I just disagree with that but we could go on. I think the guts of this thing are, are you going to ensure a lot more people, do you have a lot of measures in here to contain cost? Yes, you do.

BLOCK: Just want to move on to one last point here. There was talk yesterday and I think, David, you raised this in your column today about the popularity or the lack of popularity for the measure before Congress. Do you agree, E.J., or how far would you go in saying that this measure before Congress is in fact popular with American public?

Mr. DIONNE: If you take it as a whole and just ask people about this thing, its unpopular. If you take individual components of it, it is popular. I think the whole process of the last year made it very unpopular and thats why the discussion yesterday was so important to Obama and the Democrats. It put it in a different optic, people looking at that could at least say, well at least I understand, this isnt such a terrible process. Obama knows what he's talking about. So, I think that improved in a little bit.

BLOCK: And David, how much do you think public perception is shaped by how the question is framed, of what they think theyre voicing their opinion on?

Mr. BROOKS: Yeah, I sort of agree with E.J. but I think its the overall expansion of what people see as an expansion of government, not a specific piece of legislation. I should say views overall on the health care have not moved in four months. The public has basically dug in.

BLOCK: Thanks to you both. Have a great weekend.

Mr. DIONNE: Thank you.

Mr. BROOKS: Thank you.

BLOCK: David Brooks of the New York Times, E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and Brookings Institution.

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