Political Theater Starred This Week

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Host Scott Simon talks to David Weigel, a reporter for The Washington Independent, about the politics of health care and the announcement by New York Governor David Paterson that he is ending his election bid.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Now, to politics and policy. The White House, says President Obama, will make an announcement next week about how he wants to proceed with health care overhaul legislation. It comes after a daylong meeting on Thursday with both Republican and Democratic congressional leaders. David Weigel joins us here in the studio. He's a reporter for The Washington Independent, political news Web site. Mr. Weigel, thanks for being with us.

Mr. DAVID WEIGEL (The Washington Independent): Oh, thank you for having me.

SIMON: Did that highly publicized summit conference change minds, votes or the politics of this debate?

Mr. WEIGEL: It didn't seem to change anything. It was a pseudo-event and it was a way for the White House to answer a sort of non-ideological question and an argument by Republicans that you need some sort of public debate on health care. We need to rip these discussions from out of the back rooms and into the view of C-SPAN cameras.

But both parties, in the run-up to it, it was clear, they were talking more about how they were going to stage it and how they were going to argue, and not at all about what they were going to propose. The things they were proposing and the legislative strategy on both sides are basically unchanged. The White House still has reconciliation on the table for a 51-vote, you know, majority to pass health care. The Republicans still want to block everything. And none of that really was finessed at all by this.

SIMON: Now, explain the logic of this to me: according to polls, the American people want something to happen with health care but they don't want reconciliation.

Mr. WEIGEL: I think the sausage-making aspect of this is just confusing to people. I've never gotten the impression in covering this that there's anything happening but Americans getting more and more frustrated with a bill that seems to get worse the more it rolls downhill. So, when they hear reconciliation, they hear this is an extra, you know, extraordinary measure to pass something huge, they don't like it. But this is something that Republicans used several times to pass enormous, you know, enormous tax cuts.

And the Medicare legislation passed in the Bush administration without this 60-vote threshold. It's just...

SIMON: Yeah, (unintelligible) down to what Republicans say but that's not as far reaching as this legislation. And I wonder, what are the implications of what could be having far-reaching legislation passed where you don't have a bipartisan commitment to making it work? Because if some of the premiums kick in in 2018, who knows who will occupy the White House or run Congress in those days.

Mr. WEIGEL: Well, that was always the worry about reconciliation is that because of the way it's done it'll be easier to roll some of the stuff back. And you see Republicans have the same...well, I guess from a Democrat's perspective, they look at what Republicans have gotten up to with tax cuts. The Bush tax cuts are expiring in 2010, but it's politically difficult to undo them. And the thinking among Democrats is that if these new entitlements work then people are not ever going to want to get rid of them, even if a different party takes power.

SIMON: Let me switch to New York politics with some national implications. As an Illinoisan, I am chagrined that New York seems to be edging ahead in the corruption battle at this point. Governor Paterson announced that he's not going to be running for reelection, which has been an interesting story for months.

Charles Rangel has been admonished by the House Ethics Committee - very powerful member of Congress - for taking corporate-sponsored trips to the Caribbean. What are the national implications of Charles Rangel being undercut at this point?

Mr. WEIGEL: Well, those are far larger implications for David Paterson. David Paterson was seen as a dead man walking for a while now. Rangel has been seen as trouble but he has the full support of Nancy Pelosi because, among other reasons, if he goes, Democrats have to work with Pete Stark, the congressman from California as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and he's just never shown in his career the abilities to cut deals and get along that Rangel has.

This has dogged Rangel for a long time but it's just out of necessity they want to work with him. I mean, the Paterson situation is the opposite. No one really likes working with the guy and the urge to throw him under the bus has been evident everywhere.

SIMON: And he was kind enough to crawl under it himself yesterday. Mr. Weigel, thanks so much.

Mr. WEIGEL: Thank you.

SIMON: David Weigel, reporter for The Washington Independent.

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