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Brooks and Marcus on Health Bill, Obama Media Push

September 18, 2009 at 1:33 PM EST
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Columnists David Brooks and Ruth Marcus sort through the week's top stories, including the state of the health reform push, President Obama's media strategy and U.S. plans to revamp missile defense in Europe.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Brooks and Marcus, New York Times David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus. Mark Shields is away.

So, David, this week we saw the most serious attempt yet to come up with an approach to health care reform that was supposed to appeal to both Democrats and Republicans, Max Baucus, chairman of the Finance Committee. What did you make of it?

DAVID BROOKS, columnist, New York Times: Well, first of all, on the appealing to both Republicans and Democrats, dream on. But, nonetheless, I think it’s a good bill, a major step forward.

And I say that because most of the bills were going to cover a lot more people, but one of the concerns I think a lot of us had was the costs. Would they control the rapid increase of health care costs? And the Baucus bill takes some significant steps toward controlling the cost, doesn’t do as much as some of us would like, but it takes steps so the Congressional Budget Office scored it as something that would slightly reduce the deficit over 10 years and may even not increase it over the longer term, because it does raise some revenue. And so, on the fiscal side, I think it’s a step forward.

Now, on whether it will pass, I think most experts would think it would pass, or something like it, or something based on it would pass, but it still has some major hurdles. There are going to be some people who are going to be paying a lot more for health insurance out of their own pocket than in the current bill, and there are going to be some people seeing some tax increases.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So gets the costs down, Ruth, still major hurdles?

RUTH MARCUS, Washington Post: Gets the cost down, still major hurdles. I agree with David that it’s a big step forward. It’s very unfortunate that this step didn’t happen two months ago.

I very much like the fiscal aspects of the bill. It not only is paid for, but it actually could, according to the CBO, actually save 0.5 percent of GDP in the second 10 years. That sounds like a sliver. That would actually, if it were true, add up to $1.3 trillion, which even today is real money.

The biggest problem and the biggest criticism I would have of it is, as David said, the subsidies that it provides to people at or under 300 percent of the poverty level to buy insurance are way smaller than in the House counterparts and in the other Senate bill counterpart.

And if you thought we were hearing a lot of uproar about death panels, wait until people start calculating what this could mean to them and how much potentially of their income they could be required or asked to pay.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Which is why, David, the Democrats are not on board with this yet.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. Well, there are a lot — there’s a lot of resistance…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Many of them. There are some who are, but some who are not.

DAVID BROOKS: There’s, first of all, the people who still want the public option. I think they’ve unconsciously capitulated; they don’t realize it yet. But then there are other people…

RUTH MARCUS: They’re through the stages.

DAVID BROOKS: They’re going through the stages. But then there are other people who will say it’s really important we subsidize people at the lower or even mid level so they can afford health insurance, those who don’t have it. And as Ruth says, those subsidies really aren’t there to the same extent here.

Next step for health care reform

Ruth Marcus
The Washington Post
The architecture of what is going to get to the Senate floor and come out of conference, if we get that far -- and I think we will -- is going to resemble the Baucus bill more than it's going to resemble any other bill.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Ruth, if you -- but for Senator Baucus, who's trying to get this through, the White House wants to get something. Where does it go from here?

RUTH MARCUS: I think the architecture of what is going to get to the Senate floor and come out of conference, if we get that far -- and I think we will -- is going to resemble the Baucus bill more than it's going to resemble any other bill.

But there are lots of potential changes to be made along the way, not just on the subsidies, but also on who might be eligible for the exchanges, and also maybe some additions that could be put in there that might, just might, hope springs eternal, be able to attract a few Republican votes or at least keep some the moderate Democrats a little calmer, things like a more serious tort reform proposal, because there's a sense of the Senate in there now that they think we should think about tort reform or something.

And, also, what I would very much like to see is a trigger that would address the question of, so what if these CBO estimates, which are the best CBO estimates...

JUDY WOODRUFF: Again, Congressional Budget Office, right, right.

RUTH MARCUS: ... that I've ever seen of a health bill -- I'm so sorry -- what if these estimates do not pan out as anticipated? What if it costs more? What if the savings don't materialize? So what could we do to build a mechanism into the bill to say, "Whoa, wait, let's take another look"?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Are those the kinds of things, David, that might make it appealing to 60 senators?

DAVID BROOKS: You would get close. I'm a little less a fan of triggers maybe than Ruth is. I think nobody ever pulls those triggers. But that would get you close.

But there are political problems on all sides. Some of the moderate Democrats are very concerned, some of the more liberal Democrats, Jay Rockefeller, is very concerned. Ron Wyden, who Ruth wrote about this week, had, I thought, some very compelling criticisms.

So there is -- you can't really simplify it left-right anymore. There's concerns on all sides. And so I still think something will pass, but it's going to be very tricky.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quickly, the president is going out trying to sell health care reform yet again, Ruth. He's going to be on not one, not two, three, four, but five Sunday talk shows. Good idea?

RUTH MARCUS: We used -- I'm sorry -- we used to call this the full Ginsburg, after Monica Lewinsky's lawyer, who was the first person to pull off this feat of appearing on all the Sunday shows.

I don't think it's necessarily a good idea. He's the president of the United States. When he appears on one Sunday show, everybody will listen. He just gave an address to a joint session of Congress. He's made his speeches. It seems to me he's just maximizing the opportunity to say something off message by going all these places.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you have more confidence in his speaking skills, David?

DAVID BROOKS: It's inexplicable to me. I don't know why he's doing it. As Ruth says, you do one, you control the message, and people will listen. Now he does five, and it just cheapens the presidential appearance.

If he does five, you know, he starts appearing on, you know, the Home Shopping Network and everything, people will just stop paying attention as much when the president does one of these shows. I really would like to know what they are thinking with this. I think it's a big mistake.

The role of race and Obama

David Brooks
The New York Times
If Barack Obama were white or black, if he ran this sort of government in which he's taking government power and affixing it toward Wall Street...you would get this kind of populist upsurge.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, I have to ask you about Jimmy Carter, the former president, this week, the comments, David, about race, saying that that's the principal motivating factor for many of the president's critics. Then you had Speaker Pelosi saying just the other day that she sees parallels in the rhetoric today with violence from the early '70s. When all the dust is settled here, what are we left with?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, first of all, I think a lot of it is an attempt to de-legitimize the criticism of the president, which is not to say there's not extremism, but let's diagnose it correctly.

If you talk to the people who are listening to Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, if you want to start with that extreme group, it's not primarily race, though there is some race-baiting in there. It's primarily opposition to East Coast elites and big government. And so it's one of the sorts of populist revolts we've had in this country going back to Father Coughlin or even Andrew Jackson, in a more high-toned way, or William Jennings Bryan.

And this is done as a populist revolt against big government. And if Barack Obama were white or black, if he ran this sort of government in which he's taking government power and affixing it toward Wall Street to some extent, toward the health care industry, the energy industry, the auto industry, you would get this kind of populist upsurge. So it's not primarily race, I don't believe.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see this, Ruth?

RUTH MARCUS: Race is a part for some people. I also think otherness, the otherness of President Obama is a part. He is...

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you mean?

RUTH MARCUS: Well, he's African-American, but he's also half-white. He's from Indonesia and Hawaii. He feels different to people.

And I think one could argue that that may have sort of loosened the tongues of some people, like Congressman Wilson, to sort of make them feel a little bit more empowered to go after him. But as a general matter, I pretty much agree with David; I think that's the smaller part of it.

And having lived through Clinton hatred and Bush hatred, it seems to me you don't have to be a black president to have a lot of people hating you in America and hating you in completely crazy ways.

Missile defense strategy shift

Ruth Marcus
The Washington Post
As with the health care debate, you don't want to give things away until you're getting something in return. And not to draw the parallel too much, but if there is a deal with the Russians, it's not evident to me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Very big change of conversation topic here, David, and that is next week we're going to be looking at U.N. meetings. The president is going to be speaking in New York.

But the story that came out this week that's getting so much attention is the administration's decision to change the Bush administration plan to put a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. Smart move on the part of the administration, what?

DAVID BROOKS: I think it's too soon to tell. Basically, what we did, the missile defense was not really a military thing. It was a political thing to tell the Eastern and Central Europeans that we were there for them, and basically we've sold them out to give something to Russia.

And so the crucial question is, what are we getting back from Russia? And I hope they've made a deal. I hope they just didn't hand this away without getting some quid pro quo. And we'll see what that is.

To me, the more troubling thing is this is all based on Iran, on trying to get Russia to support some of our sanctions toward Iran. The idea that this Iranian regime, especially after what's been said over the past few days, is going to negotiate on the nuclear weapons or the nuclear program, to me is delusional.

This regime is quite radical. We're not going to be able to deal with them; we're not going to be able to talk with them. And if we're adjusting policy around the world in the hopes that somehow we can get sanctions and get them to change their Iranian policy, to me that's foolish.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Naive, Ruth?

RUTH MARCUS: I think that's a strong word, but I do worry about that. On the merits, I think there were serious questions about the feasibility of the missile defense approach that the Bush administration was taking, so I don't have a quibble with changing it to a different style and venue.

But I do wonder, as David does, what did they get for it? And as with the health care debate, you don't want to give things away until you're getting something in return. And not to draw the parallel too much, but if there is a deal with the Russians, it's not evident to me.

And hoping that if you just play nicely with others you're going to get sort of good behavior in return has not worked very well on Capitol Hill and is definitely not going to work very well dealing with these kinds of adversaries/allies.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is this a matter of how they're selling this, how they're explaining this, though, David? Or is it deeper than that?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I do think, you know, securing Central Europe was actually one of the achievements of the Bush administration and basically confronting Putin, Putin regime.

I think understanding, which the Bush administration had to go through after a long struggle, that this regime in Russia was not a friendly regime, that was an inherently hostile regime, and that we had to defend our allies against it, or at least symbolically do so, I thought that was an achievement. And handing them away and angering those allies, it hurts us, unless we get something big in return.

RUTH MARCUS: Agreed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. On that note of agreement, we'll thank you both.

RUTH MARCUS: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ruth Marcus, David Brooks, thank you.

DAVID BROOKS: Thank you.