Week In Politics: Health Care Bill Passes
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
In politics, what a week. With passage of the health care bill, hands were dealt for November, and each party claimed its hand was a winner. Republicans say they'll run against the Democrats' health bill.
Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): We're going to try to repeal this.
Senator JON KYL (Republican, Arizona): This fight is not over.
Representative MIKE PENCE (Republican, Indiana): We should repeal and replace the bill with the solutions that we think actually work.
Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): The tax hikes, the Medicare cuts, the job-killing mandates, the accounting gimmicks, the backroom deals, we're going to fight to repeal them at every single turn.
SIEGEL: And faced with the prospect of a fall referendum on health care, President Obama said this.
President BARACK OBAMA: My attitude is: go for it.
(Soundbite of cheering)
SIEGEL: Well, joining us now are our regular political observers, columnists David Brooks of the New York Times and E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and the Brookings Institution. Hi, welcome back.
Mr. E.J. DIONNE (Columnist, The Washington Post): Good to be with you.
Mr. DAVID BROOKS: (Columnist, The New York Times): Good to be here.
SIEGEL: And David, first, we heard snippets of Senators McCain and Kyl and Representatives Pence and Boehner. The consensus Republican position is talking about repeal and rollback as a winner for the GOP. Is that right?
Mr. BROOKS: Yeah. Both parties think this is a pure winner and they believe that privately as well as publicly and that's a sign that nobody really knows. So you get to pick your own reality. You might as well pick the one that makes you feel good. I happen to think, and maybe this is a sign of my own bias, I happen to think the Republicans are probably right that it's a winner for them simply because they merely have to win back a bunch of Republican seats.
There are a whole bunch of seats where Democratic congressmen and women sit there, even though McCain carried those seats. So they merely need to win back 20 or 30 of those. And if you look at, I think, the best polling, 86 percent of Republicans think they should repeal. About two-thirds of independents are against the bill. And so they can generate some intensity. And it's probably a winner in the long term.
SIEGEL: E.J., what do you think? Democrats keep saying that if you unpack the health care bill, people like many of its elements. But when we look at polls on the whole package, people seem to not like it. Are the Democrats - do they have x-ray vision through those polls or are they hallucinating?
Mr. DIONNE: Well, I've been singing happy days are here again all week and so I won't sing that here. I think the Republicans are actually looking at a busted flush and they're bluffing. Because I think the difficultly they're going to have is they're going to say, we'll repeal it. And then Democrats are going to come back saying, okay, which part do you want to repeal: The part that fixes the donut hole and helps senior citizens who get help from Medicare for drugs? You're going to repeal the part that says no rescissions? The drug company -the insurance companies can't stop your insurance if you get sick, or no discrimination against kids with preexisting conditions? I think it's going to be very hard for them to make this case.
I agree with David to some degree. I think some of those Republican seats, this may work as an issue. But if you look at what's happened since this bill passed, if you look across a lot of polls, there's a general shift of around five percent to the Democrats. Perhaps even more importantly, Democrats have not been this energized, I think, since election day of 2008.
The progressives, even those who didn't think this bill had enough in it, rallied to the bill. And they're very excited the Democrats can get things done. So I think in the long run the Republicans are going to have a harder time of this argument, except in a few Republican-leaning districts.
SIEGEL: And, David, for the first time in quite a while, the Democratic Party appears to be a party that has a majority of pro-choice position, but a significant pro-life position, which flexed its muscles in the House.
Mr. BROOKS: Yeah, to great consternation. But I think party loyalty won out and all credit due to Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama. I mean, I obviously think the bill was a fiscal catastrophe. But just as a matter of politics, you know, they were offered many times within the White House, within the Democratic caucus, the argument that, you know, if we scale this back, we'll get, you know, all the political credit at half the cost. And why don't we do that?
And I think there was a lot of in the Democratic Party and in the White House who thought they should do that after Scott Brown won. Obama continually rejected that. I'm going for the homerun. Pelosi stuck to her guns. And politically it worked out for them, at least in the short term.
SIEGEL: It was actually the touchdown more often than the homerun. They talked about being on the two-yard line and pushing it over.
The election is eight months away, and that can be an eternity in politics. I'm just curious, do you think this is such a huge issue that we're still going to be talking about it in October, November or will it feel like ancient history, E.J., by the time that we get there?
Mr. DIONNE: I think that the - and part of it depends on what follows this. I think that one of the important things that may be happening, and this we won't know for a few weeks, is you're seeing signs that some Republican moderates and moderate conservatives are saying, you know, this strategy really didn't work. Maybe we should vote with the Democrats and try to alter, say, the financial reform legislation or the education reform legislation.
I think it may become harder for Republicans to hold this kind of solidarity. I think in the end, like every election, this is going to be a lot about general condition of the country. But part of that will be, can Democrats get things done suddenly after ages of saying they couldn't, suddenly they can. So I think on the general optics they look better this week than they did a couple weeks ago.
Mr. BROOKS: I hope E.J. gives me those numbers of those moderate Republicans. I haven't met those people, but I'd like to socialize with them.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. DIONNE: Lisa Murkowski, a moderate conservative, said exactly what I said, that maybe we should start doing this differently.
Mr. BROOKS: If I could just go to the argument whether it'll be germane in November. I really actually think not. It's a historic piece of legislation, but as a narrow political issue, I think it's going to be swamped, A, by jobs and, B, by deficits. To me one of the more troubling things that happened this week is that we had three very bad bond auctions where government debt is now actually valued as a more risky asset than corporate debt.
And the CBO came out with a number that the budget deficit is going to go up to 90 percent of GDP in - over the next 10 years. These are catastrophic numbers and I think those two issues will swamp health care.
SIEGEL: One other thing, I mean, we've often heard from you guys about the tone of partisanship in Washington and whether it's normal or whether it's especially toxic. This past week after the health care vote, there was some bricks thrown through windows of congressional offices. There were, you know, what could be read just as hyperbole, targeting certain congressmen suddenly seemed - are they saying you should go find their addresses and go attack them? What did you make of this, David, was it troubling to you? What happened?
Mr. BROOKS: Yeah, I thought it was atrocious. You know, one of the things that, you know, those of us who've been covering politics, it is a bipartisan problem generally, but the mood is now worse now than ever before in my lifetime of covering politics. But in the narrow term, what happened this week was mostly a Republic problem. And it was overheated rhetoric, out of control comparisons, which led to actual, physical violence.
Now, they were condemned by leaders of the Tea Party movement and the Republican Party. Nonetheless, the Republicans were punished at the polls by these acts. And it's a lesson that people, as much as they're concerned about all the other problems, they are tremendously concerned about the abnormal, hideous incivility in Washington. And any party who violates that gets punished.
Mr. DIONNE: You know, I'm old enough to remember the late '60s and early '70s and when the far left broke windows and rioted, that hurt liberals who had nothing to do with that. I think in this case, the Republicans are going to get hurt by this far right. And their own rhetoric has been so overheated on this, using words like totalitarian, that I think it feeds that image of extremism and it's going to hurt them.
SIEGEL: E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post. David Brooks of the New York Times. Thanks to both of you.
Mr. DIONNE: Thank you.
Mr. BROOKS: Thank you.
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