Pulling Out The Stops For Health Care Bill

Guests

Ken Rudin, political editor, NPR
Andy Stern, president, Service Employees International Union (SEIU)

On Capitol Hill, the Democratic leadership is deploying every resource to gain approval for the president's health care plan. And with the 2010 elections approaching, undecided representatives are worried about how their votes will play back home.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

After a trip on Air Force One, Congressman Kucinich reluctantly boards the health care bandwagon.

Representative DENNIS KUCINICH (Democrat, Ohio): I've decided to cast a vote in favor of the legislation.

CONAN: The president lobbies freshmen and goes on Fox News to pitch his plan tonight, and a labor leader promises primary problems for Democrats who vote no. It's Wednesday and time for a cliffhanger edition of the Political Junkie.

President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad: Wheres the beef?

Senator BARRY GOLDWATER (Republican, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Lipstick.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But Im the decider.

(Soundbite of scream)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us to talk politics, and it's, as usual, been a busy week. Polls show Meg Whitman ahead in California. Gavin Newsom says he will run for lieutenant governor, and in a new TV ad for Carly Fiorina, a Barbara Boxer blimp eclipses the Golden State.

Colorado caucuses. Governor Paterson says Kirsten Gillibrand threw him under the bus. A former congressman will challenge for her New York Senate seat. And we'll talk with Andy Stern of the SEIU on the political consequences of Democratic no votes on health care.

Later in the program, with high water in the Northwest and the Plains, who's pitching in to help where you live? Flood volunteers can email us with their stories now, talk@npr.org.

But first, as usual, we begin here in Studio 3A with political junkie Ken Rudin and a trivia question. Happy St. Patrick's Day, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Thank you, Neal, good to be back. Okay, well, you mentioned that a former congressman is going to run for the Senate in New York, and that former congressman is Joe DioGuardi, also known as Kara DioGuardi's father, from "American Idol."

Joe DioGuardi is a former member of the House who was defeated for re-election, and he announced this week he's going to run for the Senate for Kirsten Gillibrand's seat. There is one current member of the Senate who was also defeated in a House re-election bid who later went on to be elected to the Senate. Name that senator.

RUDIN: So if you think you know the current member of the United States senator who earlier in his or her career was defeated for re-election in the House of Representatives, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. The winner, of course, gets a fabulous no-prize T-shirt designed brilliantly by one Casey Conan(ph). Anyway, Ken...

RUDIN: By the way, the T-shirt, I don't know if you saw this in GQ, but Rielle Hunter was wearing it in that photo spread.

CONAN: Goes beautifully with pearls.

RUDIN: Absolutely.

CONAN: Absolutely. Let's go to California first, and that news that Meg Whitman is ahead not just in the Republican primary but, at least in the polls right now, ahead in the general.

RUDIN: Right. She's running against a newcomer, Jerry Brown, the likely Democratic nominee. Of course, the primary isn't until June 8, but a Pew poll that came out today, two things: Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay, has a huge lead over Steve Poizner, who is a conservative, the state insurance commissioner, who is trying to rally Tea Party support to run for governor. But Meg Whitman has a huge lead over Poizner.

But she also has a three-point lead over Jerry Brown, 46 to 43. Now, it's not a major difference, but the fact that she's been spending freely on the airwaves everywhere, and of course Jerry Brown, the state attorney general, wants to come back. He's going to be 72 years old next month, wants to come back for a third time as California governor; Whitman, in a very decidedly Democratic state, is doing very well in the polls.

CONAN: There is also in that state, well, we've seen some unusual television advertisements for the United States Senate. There was the demon sheep and now there is Republican strategist Fred Davis is back with the Boxer blimp

(Soundbite of advertisement)

Unidentified Man #1: Without benefit of foresight, we sent Barbara Boxer to the Senate, where she took root for the next long 18 years, basking in the glow, becoming more and more bitterly partisan while she became shockingly less and less effective. Soon, her elitist self-image grew so that it overwhelmed the capital and drifted West, westward to tell us all how to live our lives.

CONAN: And the blimp pretty much blots out the sun.

RUDIN: You have to see this. If you go to my blog, you can see it too, but basically you see Barbara Boxer sitting in the Capitol, and then her head is getting gigantic, and she's being lifted through the roof of the Capitol as she becomes this hot-air blimp. Now, I mean, people have...

CONAN: There's nothing saying it was hot air.

FLATOW: Well, I think that was just like with Tom Campbell. He was the devil in the wolf in sheep's clothing, or the demon sheep in wolf's clothing. Now the same ad on behalf of Carly Fiorina has this Barbara Boxer hot-air balloon just floating around the country. It's surreal. It's you know, I it's an acid flashback for me, personally. You have to see it.

CONAN: Let's go on. Caucuses in the state of Colorado and not looking good for the well, those deemed the establishment candidates.

RUDIN: The anointed candidates, right. Well, especially troubling for the Democrats, or at least for President Obama's choice, who is Michael Bennett, who was appointed to the Senate when Ken Salazar left to become interior secretary. Andrew Romonoff, who's, I guess, challenging him from the left; both of them are liberals, but he's a former state House speaker who wanted the appointment, didn't get the appointment, decided to run anyway, and in the straw poll in the Colorado caucuses, he crushed Bennett by an enormous margin. Now, of course, the primary isn't until August 10. The caucuses may not a straw poll may not mean that much, but it shows that Michael Bennett may be in some trouble with his own party. Of course, he was appointed.

On the Republican side, Jay Norton, the former lieutenant governor, trailed a Tea Party candidate, but she's probably going to be the likely Republican nominee.

CONAN: And this is a purple state, swung Democratic last time, could be going the other way next time around. We'll have to see about that.

We're going to focus a lot on health care in the next segment of the program, but let's see, we've got some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, which is the current member of the United States Senate who once lost a re-election bid for the U.S. House of Representatives, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And let's go to Ian, and Ian's on the line from Kansas City.

IAN (Caller): Hi, is it Claire McCaskill?

RUDIN: Well, Claire McCaskill did run for governor and lose, but she never was elected to the House, and certainly she was never defeated for re-election to the House. So it's not Claire McCaskill.

CONAN: Nice try, Ian, thank you. Here's an email bid: Lindsey Graham from Geoffrey(ph) in South Carolina.

RUDIN: Lindsey Graham was a member of the House and continued to be a member of the House until he was elected to replace the late you know, succeed Strom Thurmond, but was never defeated for the House.

CONAN: Let's go next to Alan(ph), Alan with us from Centerville, Ohio.

ALAN (Caller): It's a wild guess without doing any research: Chris Dodd?

RUDIN: Well, first of all, that's exactly how we work at NPR. We don't do any research.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ALAN: Oh, yes you do.

RUDIN: No, Chris Dodd actually was did serve in Congress from 1974 until 1980, when he took Abe Ribicoff's seat in the Senate. So Chris Dodd never lost for the House.

ALAN: Okay, well, he's still undefeated.

RUDIN: And by the way, Chris Dodd...

CONAN: He might not have such a good time this time.

RUDIN: And Chris Dodd, when he was first elected to the House, defeated Michael Bennett's father, Doug Bennett, for the nomination in 1974. How do you like that?

CONAN: I did not know that. Yeah, there you go.

RUDIN: I make it without any research.

CONAN: Let's go next to this is Bob, Bob with us from Sacramento.

BOB (Caller): Yeah, I'll say Olympia Snowe of Maine?

RUDIN: Nope, Olympia Snowe also was a House member, stayed as a House member until she was elected to the Senate, never defeated.

BOB: Thank you.

CONAN: Thank you, Bob. Here's an email suggested from Joel(ph) in San Carlos, California. Was it John Thune?

RUDIN: No, he was part of that great Lovin' Spoonful song, "Darling Be Home Thune." But no, he was a member of the House. He was defeated in a bid for the Senate to Tim Johnson, but he was elected to the House and never lost a House bid.

CONAN: From which movie: "You're A Big Boy Now."

RUDIN: That's right, very good.

CONAN: Anyway, let's go to Bob, Bob with us from Rochester, Minnesota.

BOB (Caller): Yes, this is Bob Sixta(ph) from Rochester, Minnesota again. Hello, Neal.

CONAN: And you are one of our previous winners, no?

BOB: I am. I am a proud owner of the no-T-shirt.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: The no-T-shirt. The no-prize T-shirt.

BOB: The answer, I believe, is Mark Udall.

RUDIN: Mark Udall...

CONAN: Uh-oh. Oh boy, you can see the cogs turning in the political junkie brain.

BOB: Ooh, does that mean I get a half of a T-shirt for my son, Joe Sixta, in Portland, Oregon?

RUDIN: Mark Udall is not the answer I was thinking of. Mark Udall is a correct answer.

BOB: Oh, yes, the plot thickens.

RUDIN: No, no, no, wait, wait, wait, I'm sorry.

CONAN: He never got elected.

RUDIN: This happened to me last time. No. He never ran was defeated for re-election. He ran for the House and lost for the House but was never defeated for re-election to the House. Phew.

BOB: Oh, okay. Well, all right.

CONAN: All right, no repeat no-prize.

BOB: I thought that he should he would be the right answer from the initial question.

CONAN: No, no, the initial question: The member of the Senate who had lost a re-election bid for the House.

BOB: Oh, okay. All right, well, we will keep trying. I enjoy your show, and hello to my family out on the West Coast.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: It's the Bob show. All right, thanks very much, Bob.

RUDIN: I wish people saw the look on my face.

CONAN: Let's go next to Sam, and Sam's with us from Kalamazoo.

SAM (Caller): Is it Maria Cantwell from Washington?

RUDIN: That is the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: Maria Cantwell was elected to the House in '92, defeated after one term in 1994, was elected to the Senate in 2000.

CONAN: So congratulations, Sam. We're going to put you on hold, and we'll get your information and mail you off a fabulous no-prize T-shirt for in return for the promise to take a digital picture, which we can add to our wall of shame.

SAM: Will do, and I'll say hi to my family offline.

CONAN: Okay, thanks very much, Sam, appreciate that.

RUDIN: They're taking over the show.

CONAN: They really are. Let's go back to political news, which is, in additional to saying greetings to various family, what this show is about. Maryland, former Governor Bob Ehrlich, long thought to be musing a race to get his old job back against O'Malley, the current Democrat, but now mentions he may run for Senate instead.

RUDIN: Well, there's always been the feeling that Bob Ehrlich was better as a legislator. He also was a member of the House before he was elected governor in 1994, the first Republican since Spiro Agnew, by the way, to be elected governor of Maryland. But he's always been musing a chance to beat to run against the guy who beat him four years ago, Martin O'Malley, the Democrat. He probably wouldn't beat O'Malley, but he certainly wouldn't beat Barbara Mikulski, who is the senator up for re-election.

There's always rumors that Mikulski might retire. She denies it. She probably will run again. Ultimately, I think, Ehrlich would be much more better fitted for the Senate than governor, but I think he's going to run for governor again.

CONAN: In Wisconsin, Russ Feingold, well, rumors that Tommy Thompson may run against him.

RUDIN: Now, Tommy Thompson also loved being governor. He was four-term governor of Wisconsin before he came to Washington as part of the Bush Cabinet. There are rumors that he is going to challenge Russ Feingold for the Senate. Now, Tommy Thompson said he'll make a decision within a month. That would be a very tough race for Russ Feingold because Thompson remains a lot of popularity in Wisconsin.

CONAN: And we mentioned in the trivia question that Joe DioGuardi is running for the Republican nomination for Senate in the Senate race, but he may also have a rival in the Republican primary.

RUDIN: Right, Dan Senor, who was actually married to CNN's Campbell Brown, for the record, but he's a former Defense Department spokesman during the Iraqi invasion in the Bush White House, the Bush Defense Department. Dan Senor looks like he's going to be the Republican nominee, getting support from Rudy Giuliani's people.

CONAN: Ken Rudin, stay with us. He's NPR's political editor and our political junkie. When we come back, we're going to be talking with Andy Stern, president of the SEIU, the Service Employees International Union, about the possible political price for Democrats who vote no on health care. So stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Ken Rudin, our political junkie, is back from spring break. It may have been warm and sunny in Puerto Rico, but here in Washington, amidst the health care debate, we guarantee the air is hotter.

He's also back blogging at npr.org/junkie. You can there listen to his podcast, It's All Politics, with Ron Elving, and solve the ScuttleButton puzzle. Again, that's all at npr.org.

Yesterday, new ads hit the airwaves in places where a Democratic congressman is officially undecided about whether or not to vote for the president's health care plan. They're paid by the Service Employees International Union, that's the SEIU, and a group called Health Care for America Now. Here's one that ran in Pennsylvania's fourth congressional district, home to Congressman Jason Altmire.

(Soundbite of advertisement)

Unidentified Man #2: Right here in Pennsylvania, we've seen our rates go up by 10, 15, even 24 percent in just the past few weeks. Remember, if the insurance companies win, we lose. Tell Congressman Jason Altmire to listen to us, not the insurance companies. Pass health insurance reform now.

CONAN: We asked Congressman Altmire to join us on the program today. He did not have the time to do that. Ads like that also ran in Jim Costa, Brad Ellsworth and Earl Pomeroy's districts in California, Indiana and North Dakota. If you listen in any of those places excuse me, yeah, North Dakota we want to hear from you, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Joining us now by phone from his office here in Washington is Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union. Nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. ANDY STERN (President, Service Employees International Union): Hey, thank you.

CONAN: Fighting words. The congressman we just mentioned, is he in danger of losing your union's support?

Mr. STERN: I think what the congressman is in danger of is making sure that people in his district are going to continue to pay higher and higher premiums for their health care, and I think he's, you know, creating the danger that unfortunately people will get sick and will die unnecessarily. And so I think the real danger here is what happens if we dont pass health care, because we all know the longer we wait, the worse it gets.

CONAN: Well, I understand that, and nevertheless, there are a lot of congressmen elected from swing districts in the Obama surge two years ago who are worried about the prospects of re-election.

Mr. STERN: Well, I know there are people worried about re-election. There are also people worried about keeping their house. They're worried about people getting treatment. And I think in certain congressmen's cases, they made promises when they ran for office, and people took them seriously, particularly our members.

We have a million members who went to work as health care workers today. They want to take care of patients, and they want to elect people to Congress who want to take care of patients as well, and when they don't, you know, I think people have to be held accountable. And this is a key moment in American history.

It's a key moment for people like me who have a 23-year-old son and wonder where he's going to get health care for the rest of his life, and I think people who ran for office and made promises should keep those promises.

CONAN: And that is not merely a suggestion that your union might not support them in the next election but might actively fund someone who would oppose them in the Democratic primary?

Mr. STERN: Well, I think we've seen two things. One, we've seen many people, you know, members of ours and other people that work in Arkansas feel like they were not represented well by their senator, and they've now mounted a challenge, putting up for consideration someone who I think shares their values a lot more.

I think we've seen in the Working Families Party in New York a discussion and a decision made now that they won't support people on their party line, because in New York you can actually run on multiple party line, that the Working Family Party will not put anybody on their line who votes no on health care.

And if this bill goes down, there will be places where we have two candidates representing the insurance industry, and we're going to find a third candidate who represents people who want health care reform.

CONAN: And the person you were mentioning in Arkansas, of course, Senator Blanche Lincoln. But Ken?

RUDIN: Andy, several things. First of all, you mention correctly that for many of these states the deadline for filing for the primaries already passed, and you're talking more about an independent race again in November. So it's like a third party or an independent candidate. Is the threat against these people the same if the bill passes or goes down? In other words, if it goes down, you can certainly hold the people, the Democrats who vote now, accountable, but if it still passes, would the unions still be as angry or eager to sponsor a challenge?

Mr. STERN: Well, I think in both cases, our members are going to be incredibly disappointed. You know, I think as a union-wide, our members have said to us if this bill doesn't pass, and we're going to go back to our hospital or go back to our nursing home and see people suffer, that people who didn't support us have to - have choices in those congressional districts.

If the bill passes, which we certainly hope it will, I think our members are going to still ask a lot of questions, but you know, this is an opportunity to make historic change, to start America in the right direction, and I think, you know, if the bill passes, these will be decisions made more locally. If they dont, I think we're going to all certainly the members of our union want us to hold people accountable.

As they like to say, we're tired of politicians who are after our vote the day before the election and after our throat the day after the election, and they really want something done, particularly if this is going to have such great consequences to our country and to their families.

CONAN: Let's get a caller in on the conversation. This is Michael, Michael with us from Fresno, California.

MICHAEL (Caller): Yeah, hi. You know, I'm represented by Jim Costa here in Fresno. I sit on the Democratic Party here. I'm also a candidate for my state legislature, the lower House, and we actually got a primary challenger for Jim Costa, who is being taken seriously by the Democratic Party here.

CONAN: And is this on the issue of health care?

MICHAEL: You know, a lot of it actually is on the issue of health care and also the water issue that California is facing, but yeah, mostly it's health care, and we'd done all but ostracize Jim Costa and his representatives when they come to our meetings and mostly on the basis of the health care issue because he's been voting against it every single time.

CONAN: Did the congressman promise to vote for it when he was running?

MICHAEL: From what I understand, when he ran last time, he supported universal health care, and then he's been voting against it.

CONAN: And he's doing that to try to well, it's a swing district there.

MICHAEL: Absolutely. Fresno is pretty much 50 percent Democrat, 50 percent Republican.

CONAN: So you can understand his political concern, though you and apparently others, Michael, object to his position on this issue.

MICHAEL: Yeah, the candidate I can absolutely understand, you know, but I guess as a Democrat, I'm kind of disappointed to see him break a campaign promise.

CONAN: Okay, Michael, thanks very much for the call.

MICHAEL: Thank you.

CONAN: Andy Stern, is that one of the districts you're interesting in?

Mr. STERN: Yeah, no, I think Congressman Costa is a perfect example of someone who has to decide whether he's on the side of the insurance industry or whether he's on the side of all the people that work in the health care industry and their patients in his own district, and you know, for me, it's a fairly simple choice.

I mean, America has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to finish what no seven presidents have failed to do, which is to give an opportunity to save money, make people healthy, ensure that seniors get the prescriptions they need, and actually add two-and-a-half million new jobs in America that don't cost the taxpayers a dime.

So to me, you know, these are easy choices. The bill is not perfect, we all admit that, but doing nothing is a catastrophe for our country, for our businesses and for our kids' future.

CONAN: Let's go next to Evan, Evan with us from Oakland.

EVAN (Caller): Hi. I'm a voter who is with Howard Dean on this. I think that what this bill does is introduce a new principle that is contrary to the interests of the American people, and that new principle is that the private profits of private health corporations should be at the center of public health.

I think that is absolutely the wrong way to go, the wrong principle. We already have a principle of long standing, and that's called Medicare. It's been around for, what 60, 70 years now.

CONAN: Evan, just to cut to the chase here, you would vote against this bill because it does not go far enough, there's no public option, there's no single payer?

EVAN: Absolutely, and it introduces this principle, which I think is anathema to the interests of the American people, and once it passes, the interests of those greatly enriched corporations and the influence is just going to increase.

They're going to get $70 billion a year at least in subsidies. Think about that.

CONAN: Evan, thanks very much for the phone call, appreciate it. And Andy Stern, we saw Congressman Kucinich, who like Evan and Howard Dean, opposed this bill earlier, come around today to say he would reluctantly vote for it as a step towards universal coverage.

But if there were Democrats who voted against it on the same principle, that it did not go far enough, would they attract your ire as well?

Mr. STERN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think this is not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. You know, just look at who's on which side of this bill. Dennis Kucinich, you know, who is a hero and clearly understands the limitations which the caller is absolutely right about, you know, in this bill, understands is a pathway forward. And doing nothing is a disaster.

The insurance industry opposes this bill. Who do you think is funding all these ads all over America? This isn't, you know, individuals taking money out of their pockets. This is a chamber of commerce fueled with insurance industry money.

So I appreciate what the caller had to say, but hey, the insurance industry does not want this bill because they know in the end it will put limits on them, that it is going to put controls, that the exchanges provide for competition.

And I agree, it is not where we need to end up, but boy, is it a huge step forward.

CONAN: And finally, we know weve got to let you go. But at this point, what do you think? You think it's going to pass?

Mr. STERN: I think what we're seeing is the more people really think about the consequences of inaction here, and they realize, like I do, that people they've met along the way in this discussion, the president talked about someone he knew, yesterday, I walked across the Golden Gate Bridge with 20,000 citizens, in 2004, with a woman whose 18-year-old daughter died simply because they couldnt afford to pay some back bills and get an X-ray. So I just want to say, when people understand the consequences here and understand you're either on the side of the insurance companies, or whether you're Dennis Kucinich or whether you're a conservative Democratic congressman, that this is the beginning of the change we need in America, and if we dont do this, people will suffer and die. And that's not what we want in this country.

CONAN: Andy Stern, thanks very much for your time.

Mr. STERN: Thank you.

CONAN: Andy Stern is president of the Service Employees International Union, joined us by phone from his office here in Washington, D.C. And Ken Rudin, it's important to note we are talking about Democrats here. There will not be one Republican vote for this. And if the Democrats are going to pass it, they're going to pass it with Democratic votes alone.

RUDIN: Right, and they still don't have it. They have - there are 253 Democrats currently in the House. They need 216 to pass. They still don't have it. Kucinich is the first one of the 39 Democrats who voted no last November...

CONAN: The Progressive Coalition.

RUDIN: ...of any Democrat who voted no, has now said he would vote yes. But -and we're talking about two things here. One is "Profiles in Courage," as the caller mentioned, as Andy Stern talked about, whether to stand up for the important stuff. But politically...

CONAN: Even if it might cause you your seat.

RUDIN: Well, that's exactly it because 30 of the remaining Democrats who voted no were elected in districts that went over, pretty much solidly for John McCain. It puts their reelection at peril. And the question is whether you become a profile in courage or you worry about your own reelection, because if they all go down to defeat, you could have John Boehner as speaker. And then if that happens, you can forget about any kind of changes to health care reform, at least the way the Democrats envision it.

CONAN: There are also Democrats who say, wait a minute, the price of getting nothing done, of fighting for all those other Democrats for two years - to get this bill passed and, in effect, getting nothing done, that price could be higher than even passing the bill and losing some marginal Democrats.

RUDIN: That's exactly the other argument, and it's a very legitimate argument.

CONAN: That's what happened, a lot of people think, in the Clinton administration.

RUDIN: As Marjorie Margolies Mezvinsky will tell you.

CONAN: We're talking with our Political Junkie, Ken Rudin. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION coming to you from NPR News.

And Ken, the president, as we mentioned earlier, has been on the campaign trail on this issue. He flew Congressman Kucinich out to Cleveland and then was at a rally in Strongsville, Ohio, to stump for his health care plan.

(Soundbite of presidential speech)

President BARACK OBAMA: There's a lot of hand-wringing going on. We hear a lot of people in Washington talking about politics, talking about what this means in November, talking about the poll numbers for Democrats and Republicans.

Unidentified Female: We need courage.

Pres. OBAMA: We need courage.�

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. OBAMA: Did you hear what somebody just said?�Thats what we need.�Thats why I came here today.�We need courage.�

CONAN: Nice tape cut, but interesting that at these rallies for health care, not a lot of Tea Party members invited to them.

RUDIN: Well, you know, the same complaint was made against the Bush administration. President Bush would handpick, cherry-pick his audience. Clearly, there's a lot of selecting going on at the Obama rallies. It's very rare that you see any kind of outburst or like - certainly, like what we saw last summer with the congressional town hall meetings. And I saw - I guess, if the complaint could be levered against the Bush administration, perhaps it could be levered against the Obama administration as well.

But look, his audience was really not the people in Strongsville, Ohio. His audience was the Dennis Kuciniches, and the John Boccieris and the Steve Driehauses and all the Ohio undecided congressmen, and the other undecided congressmen who they need to pass the bill.

CONAN: Now, we have to do - go through a little political glossary here just for a moment - and this is going to be coming up in the next few days. Now the Senate, if it hopes to pass it - remember, the Democrats don't have 50 votes in the Senate - they don't have 60 votes anymore, but 59 at most, that's counting the two independents. And if they hope to pass the health care bill, they need to use a process called reconciliation, where they can pass it not with the filibuster-proof majority of 60, but merely with a simple majority.

RUDIN: Right. But before they do that, the House is going to have to vote and the House is very nervous. The House Democrats do not like the Senate bill. So initially, the House Democrats were going to vote on the Senate bill and, of course, that's what Nancy Pelosi is having trouble, getting those 216 votes. Now, there's something called deem and pass. We talked about deem and cheap.

CONAN: Right.

RUDIN: This is deem and pass where basically the House Democrats can take what they want changed in the Senate bill and vote for that. Republicans says that's a disgrace. It's unconstitutional...

CONAN: And reconciliation in the Senate is the nuclear option. If you do this, well, there goes the partisanship, bipartisanship.

RUDIN: And, well, first of all, there is no bipartisanship. Second of all...

CONAN: Well, the jobs bill got through today.

RUDIN: That's true. But second of all, the Republicans have done the same thing for years. They've pushed deem and pass, they pushed reconciliation. But it's also interesting that when the Republicans were pushing deem and pass, Louise Slaughter, who's now the chairman of the House Rules Committee, and Nancy Pelosi sued the Republicans saying it was unconstitutional. The hypocrisy on both sides is just overwhelming and that's basically why so many people have such low regard for Washington.

CONAN: Let's get Dennis(ph) on the line, Dennis calling us from Bend, Oregon.

DENNIS (Caller): Hi. Can you hear me?

CONAN: Yeah. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.

DENNIS: These new procedures - or new to use reconciliation, and deem and pass, why didn't they just do that last fall?

CONAN: Why didnt they use these procedures last fall and get this done, well, long before anybody won or lost in Massachusetts, Ken?

RUDIN: Well, true but - I mean, first of all, they kept giving - the original timetable was that they're going to pass the bill when the Democrats have 60 votes last August. But, you know, Joe Lieberman had his little wish list, and Ben Nelson had his and Blanche Lincoln. So the Democrats basically self-destructed in the Senate. And then, of course, the House people were fighting over abortion, the Bart Stupak Amendment, so the House people didn't even like their vote.

It was only until recently that Louise Slaughter suggested let's do this deem and pass because, look, if the Republicans are going to be at unanimously against this bill. The only way we can pass it is by using the rules - and they're not breaking the rules - using the rules to our advantage.

CONAN: Dennis, thanks very much for the phone call. Appreciate it. And we can't let you go, Ken, without noting that the former governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, set to go to trial, I think, June 3rd. He had hoped for a delay until November the 3rd. And an appeals courts said today...

RUDIN: No. And that and it's interesting. They wanted to have it on November 3rd, which just coincidentally was the day after Election Day.

CONAN: Oh, funny that.

RUDIN: The last thing the Democrats first of all, the Republicans finally do have a nominee for governor. The last thing the Democrats wanted with Rod Blagojevich trial going throughout the whole campaign.

CONAN: Well, Ken Rudin, will be back with us next week here on TALK OF THE NATION. Go to his Political Junkie blog and well, you get to the podcast and the ScuttleButton Puzzle at npr.org/junkie. Ken, as always, thanks very much for your time.

RUDIN: Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: Coming up, rains drench Boston and much of the Northeast while the sandbags pile up in Fargo. If you're in a flood fight, give us a call: 800-989-8255.

Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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