Eugene Robinson Live

Mar 12, 2013

Live chat with Eugene Robinson about politics and his latest column.

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Helllo, everyone, and welcome to the Budget Edition of our weekly chat -- Paul Ryan's new version is out, Patty Murray is busy working on hers, President Obama is spritzing charm around Capitol Hill... and there's renewed talk of a Grand Bargain. Or maybe we should call this the Papal Edition of our discussion, as the cardinals have retired to the confines of the Sistine Chapel to choose the next pope. Let's get started.

Do you have a prediction about how the media will cover Paul Ryan's budget? Will the mania for budget balancing take over the headlines? How can the truth about the charade reach more than people who read you and Paul Krugman?

Early indications are that the Ryan budget is getting the dismissive, caveat-filled coverage it deserves. Ryan assumes that Obamacare is repealed, which won't happen. But despite his total and complete opposition to the Affordable Care Act, he pockets the $700 billion in Medicare savings. Those would be the same savings he ran against last fall. And he also pockets the $600 billion in revenue from the fiscal cliff deal, even though Republicans claimed that raising taxes by even one penny for rich folks would cause the economy to collapse. Then there's the voucherization of Medicare, the block-granting (meaning: termination) of Medicaid, and all the other cuts to education, research, social programs -- but not defense. It's a political exercise, not a serious budget.

It looks like the world did not end due to the sequestration - basically no effect on anything. That would seem to indicate that we should implement several more rounds of significant cuts and eliminate many off the departments within the federal government (Labor, Energy, Education, FAA, FDA, etc.). For most taxpayers like me, these departments provide no useful services to the public and are simply a waste of money.

You're smart enough to know that responsible managers are going to delay the impact as long as they can. But it will come. You want to get rid of the FDA? You don't eat food or take medicine? And the FAA? You don't fly in airplanes? I'm certain that "most taxpayers" are not like you.

Conservatives like to compare the tepid recovery from the Great Recession and financial crisis to the economic recovery in 1981 under Ronald Reagan. What they fail to understand is that the Reagan recovery included explosive growth in government jobs, and not cuts in government jobs, which is currently a huge drag on the economy. I recently read that if not for the cuts in the government payrolls over the last 4 years, we would have an unemployment rate of 7.1% -- and that is assuming steady payrolls, not increasing payrolls like in 1981. What will it take for the likes of Paul Ryan realize that there is a public sector to the economy and that it needs to grow with the demand for services?

Paul Ryan knows all too well that there's a public sector. He just doesn't believe there should be one, or much of one. As I wrote in today's column, evidently he doesn't really care about balancing the budget. He wants to shrink government at every level, and the way he hopes to do that is by starving government of revenue. A little unemployment, from his viewpoint, apparently looks like a small price to pay if it helps him reach this overriding goal.

When will the adults in the room tell the others that the Republican Party is not the party of fiscal prudence? Whatever you can say about conservatives, sound economic management is not one othe their strong suits-- not if history is any guide. I just don't understand why people like Ryan are not laughed out of court. I can understand the party faithful drinking the Koolaid, but what's with the news media? Why are the Pauls, fils et pere, seen as kooks, but not people like Ryan?

I would urge my colleagues in the media at least to look at historical graphs and charts of federal employment and spending. The idea that Republicans -- or at least Republican presidents -- are thrifty or prudent is simply not true.

How can the Republicans claim to be working with POTUS on the budget when their budgets all involve the same failed ideas (Medicare Voucher, eliminate the Affordable Care Act, etc). It's like they know only one line of a song and they sing it as loud as t hey can whenever they can. Or is this their strategy- offer a "solution" that they know President Obama can't accept and then accuse him of turning them down?

The only explanation I can come up with is that the House Republican caucus is even angrier than I thought about the fiscal cliff deal. Some members are warning Speaker Boehner that he must never again abandon the Hastert Rule and allow legislation to be passed by Democrats and a few moderate Republicans. If Boehner obeys, then what's the point of this whole exercise? I can't imagine any Grand Bargain that could pass the Senate and also win the support of a majority of the Houses GOP caucus.

I enjoy a good Pope joke as much as the next person, but in all the coverage of the retirement of Benedict XVI, you'd never get the impression that this is suppose to be happening because he's too near death to do this job. Not to rain on the fun.

I guess I haven't been paying attention, because most of the coverage I've read about the stunning events at the Vatican has been pretty serious. To say the least, the new pope will face huge challenges.

Please tell me why Paul Ryan wants to shrink government down to almost nothing. Who benefits, certainly not the country or the citizens. Austerity has not worked in Europe, yet the political elite keeps pushing it on the masses.

My belief is that Ryan's aversion to government is ideological, not practical. And no, Europe is not a very good advertisement for austerity.

What do you think of Hugo C's demise? I read that he suffered unnecessarily while being treated in Cuba because his malady was misdiagnosed. Maybe he would have survived or lived longer had he been treated in, say, Brazil, Europe, or the US. Of course, we'll never know exactly what he had because his condition was treated as a state secret.

Perhaps we'll learn what kind of cancer Hugo Chavez had someday. I'd be surprised if he were misdiagnosed in Cuba, where the medical attention given such a VIP would be pretty sophisticated. But it's not a place where he could receive the latest experimental treatments.

Paul Ryan just said that they are not going to give up on destroying the health care system.

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, the truth comes out.

Your colleague the Fact Checker called out those lies, and yet here you are making stuff up again. Planes aren't going to fall from the sky, and the control towers that are going to be affected are either unstaffed at night anyway, or just pork barrel money pits that can't seem to be shut down normally (even though, you know, they actually don't handle aircraft). You're entitled to your own opinions, but not your own set of facts, Eugene.

Do you actually read articles or posts before commenting on them? I didn't say planes would fall from the sky. And your characterization of what Glenn Kessler, the Fact Checker, said about the FAA is simply wrong. By his calculation, fewer controllers will be on duty on a given day, leading to congestion and delays.  You're welcome to share my facts anytime.

I keep seeing hints in the newspapers that President Obama is ready to make cuts to Social Security and Medicare to get some grand fiscal deal done with the Republicans even before he sits down at the table with them. Hasn't this habit gotten him nowhere in the past. The party of no won't budge an inch.

The president certainly appears to have abandoned the concessions-first method of negotiation. I hope so.

Can you do anything to get Congress to abolish Dayligh Saving Time?

I've been grumpy since Sunday morning.

How does Ryan reconcile his plan with the fact that several Republican governors have now decided to take the extra federal money for expansion of Medicaid through the ACA? Does he care?

I don't think he cares, because the stuff about getting rid of Obamacare is just cynical pandering. But this does put him at odds with those GOP governors, who can't be happy that their party's official budget guru is so unwilling to deal with reality.

I visited one of those departments yesterday referenced in the earlier comment (Energy). Gutting one of the most important drivers of fundamental and applied research doesn't exactly sound like a good idea. And the notion that nobody benefits is risible. Among other things, the current energy boom based on natural gas is based upon research funded by the federal government.

Deep cuts in the Energy Department budget would only help ensure that the next technboligical breakthroughs in the field end up benefiting companies in China and Canada and Australia and the UK and...

Gene, a couple of commenters have highlighted the disconnect here on the far right. The problem with the sequester is twofold: it requires across-the-board cuts, rather than targeted ones. And more importantly, it leaves entirely untouched the real driver of our long-term fiscal problems: (unreformed) Medicare. The tea party lives in a parallel universe where the FAA and FDA are the driving source of our (alleged) impending bankruptcy.

That is correct. Medical costs are the chief driver of the long-term debt. And since we're dealing with reality today, I should mention that at the moment, medical costs are rising much more slowly -- that's right, more slowly -- than had been feared. Since no one seems to be sure why this is happening, it probably doesn't make sense to count on the slower rate of increase to continue indefinitely. But it also probably makes sense to be incremental rather than radical in the way we trim costs.

That's all for today, folks. My time is up. Thanks, as always, for a lively and provocative hour, and I'll see you again next week!

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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