Eugene Robinson Live

Oct 01, 2013

Chat with Post columnist Eugene Robinson about his latest columns and political news.

Hello? Anybody there? Surely some of you must be on the job, having been declared "essential." This is the first day of the Great Unnecessary Shutdown. At least we got a full day's worth of madcap entertainment as Speaker John Boehner and the House Republicans tried umpteen ways to muscle Democrats -- and President Obama -- to undo something their party has been trying to accomplish for 60 years. The crazy thing is that a majority of Republicans, even in the House, recognized that this was a stupid, hopeless, lemming-like march to nowhere, but felt they had to fall in line anyway. Heaven help us. Let's get started.

I know this is an ugly situation and the debt ceiling fight will be a nightmare but maybe we just need to have this fight. Shut down the government and see who notices what is missing. In any large organization there are make work jobs. Maybe we should take this moment to look at make work agencies. Jus the scale of our Fed. Govt. would suggest there are a couple we could delete and not miss. Thoughts?

In any large organization you can find inefficiencies and redundancies. But what agencies would you eliminate? One thing to keep in mind is that there has already been a lot of pruning. In some agencies, many government employees spend a lot of time managing the private-sector contractors who are doing the work that employees would otherwise do.

I am SO tired of the games our leaders play. And that's what this is - playing games with the single goal of appeasing campaign donors, and no thought about what is good for our country. Anyway, with that said, what really jumps out at me with all of the talk of shutdown is how many people work for the federal government - employees, contractors and military. Essential or not, the size of government is mind-blowing. Am I off-base? Do we really need millions of people to run government? Sure, I'd hate for anyone to lose their job, but it seems that our country will never prosper with so many people governing and so few producing...

There are 330 million people in this country, and the size of the federal government is modest, per capita, compared to other countries. The sector that is out of scale is the military -- larger than in other industrialized nations.

Dear Gene, I've just got to vent: John Boehner is a gutless coward. He is not fit to shine Tip O'Neill's shoes. I miss Speaker Newt -- at least the parties were talking to each other. And if some wet behind the ears 8 month old Senator tried to stir up trouble in the House, Bob Dole would use his guts for garters.

I think John Boehner is not particularly skillful as speaker, but we should take note of what he's up against. Tip never faced this situation -- a rogue group of whippersnappers, and no effective way to discipline them. As for your observation about the Senate -- and Ted Cruz -- there's an accident of timing. Mitch McConnell is fully capable of going Old Testament all over him, but McConnell is in a tough reelection primary against a Tea Party opponent. So he can't afford to do what I suspect he would love to do -- and probably will, once he wins his primary.

I support the ACA and have written my senators and congressmen to tell them so (I live in a red state) Is there ANYTHING else you can think of I can do? This insanity is horrible!

Just keep letting your representatives know what you think. That is more effective than you may believe.

They ran on this. Romney ran on repealing the ACA - and was soundly defeated.

You would think so. Republicans will never stop trying to relitigate this, but meanwhile the ACA is being implemented. The dogs bark but the caravan moves on.

If you're elected in an echo chamber, no reason to compromise.

True. But if Democrats want to change this, they are going to have to win some statehouses.

How can we continue as a nation - as a democracy - with this kind of stalemate in Congress? We haven't passed a budget in what four years? We have one party that believes in there's no government that we can't obstruct. People are being hurt. What are your suggestions to Congress?

I suggest all sorts of things in my column but for some reason Congress pays no attention. Voters are going to have to fix this. They get a chance next year.

Just how much worse would a default (if the debt limit isn't raised) be for most people, including non-government employees, than the shutdown? How many Republicans are willing to go that far if the shutdown doesn't postpone (well, hoping for an elimination down the road) kill the healthcare act that Congress has already passed? Could this all happen again next year? And each year down the road (with different laws a minority doesn't like)?

A default would almost surely be much worse for everybody because of the potential damage to the economy and the world financial system. There are two schools of thought -- that failing in this fight will either make Republicans more reluctant to hold the debt ceiling hostage, or it will make them more eager to do so. I really don't know how often we'll see this kind of madness, but we probably haven't seen the last of it.

I believe climate change is man-made. I believe it can cause immense harm. But... on the day the Gov shuts down, you pick THIS topic? I'm all for distractions, but climate change? Today?!?

Yesterday I faced the tyranny of deadline. I have to file the column around midday so it can be sent out to clients of our syndicate, the Washington Post Writers Group. There was no way I could write about the madness on Capitol Hill at that hour and have any confidence that the column would make sense today, when it reached most readers. I didn't know whether there would be a shutdown. I thought so, but I had no idea there would be that series of flailing proposals from Boehner and the ping-pong game with Reid swatting them back. So I decided to choose a different topic and write about the shutdown today for our PostPartisan blog. The post is up on the website now.

The climate change aka global warming doomsday scenario isn't working because of the apocalyptic language used every time with little to back it up. The Arctic hasn't melted, there are less hurricanes (at least this year), we haven't been warming for 15 years (outlier or no outlier), there's constant arguing within the scientific community about the reliability of the climate models, and rich eco-apocalyptic messengers (eg Al Gore) live in carbon spewing mega mansions and travel around the world in chartered jets.

Much of what you say is untrue and the rest is irrelevant. The Arctic has melted -- there never before was an ice-free passage but now in summer there regularly is. Shipping companies are planning to use these new routes. The prediction isn't that there will be more hurricanes, it's that they will be more violent and less predictable. To say there has been no warming for 15 years "outlier or no outlier" is meaningless; 1998 was an extreme outlier, and if you treat it as such, there has been warming. There is no "constant arguing within the scientific community" about the reliability of the models, except in the sense that there is always a quest to improve them. I won't defend Al Gore's carbon footprint; he'll have to speak for himself.

Hi Gene, So far President Obama has held firm on not negotiating the Continuing Resolution. Do you think he will be able or willing to hold tight on not negotiating a possible government default as he says now? Thanks,

President Obama has consistently said that he will not negotiate over the debt ceiling. I think he will hold the line because if all else fails, he can plausibly claim that the Constitution does not allow him to permit a default, no matter what Congress does. He doesn't want to make that claim because it has never been tested, but it's there as a last resort.

Eugene, when you have someone cornered, the best negotiation tactic is to provide the cornered with an escape route so progress can be made. The Republicans have gotten themselves into the "box canyon" they were warned about. The ACA is the law of the land and will go forward. What, if any, escape route can be provided the Republicans so they can maintain a modicum of dignity (not that they deserve it)?

If the Republicans insist on some concession on the ACA, it's too late for dignity. I suppose the Senate could tack on some spending demands and then give them up in a deal. But at this point, both Democrats and establishment Republicans would like to see the Tea Partiers taught a lesson.

Who is going to tell our patients that they can't receive care, or pay for all of our clinical trials missing regulatory deadlines or having no results because of messed up data points because of no staff or ability to have our subjects finish the protocols per schedule?

Maybe Ted Cruz and John Boehner will come over and help break the news.

Midnight came and the world did not end. Cable news keeps crying wolf.

Really? You're finding some reason to blame cable news? I think it's just inherently a big deal when the federal government shuts down, and I think most people agree.

Why do so many reporters on television continue to to make claims that the crisis facing us now with the government shutdown is due to an equal intransigence on the left and the right? I have yet to see rhetoric from the extreme right, that they are willing to negotiate on anything. I finally couldn't stand it any longer and turned off the TV. One of the channels I may longer listen to is CNN, which is especially sad. John Boehner also seems like a nice person, but he has failed to man-up IMHO.

False equivalence drives me nuts, too. This was an attempt to hold the government hostage and kill Obamacare. 

Eugene, I'm frustrated by the fact that many republicans don't realize that the Senate passed a budget last March and that Senate republicans are blocking the formation of a budget conference. Why do you think this hasn't been a bigger story?

It got lost amid all the noise, but it's a bigger story now. 

I'm sorry, but apparently I'm 10 steps behind. Why is the ACA even needed - don't Medicaid/Medicare cover those who don't have insurance through employers? And it is projected that 30 million people will still be without coverage - why?

Medicaid covers the truly destitute and Medicare covers the elderly. That leaves, basically, the non-elderly working poor. The ACA, as originally envisioned, would cover some of these people through Medicaid expansion and some through the new health-insurance exchanges. The reason so many may remain uninsured -- at least initially, though this will likely change over time -- is that so many GOP governors have refused to participate in Medicaid expansion. I predict that some will change their minds eventually.

Aren't we going to go through this again with the debt ceiling? And, if the CR passes, in six weeks? Then what, another CR for another six weeks?

That's what is so crazy. Government-by-crisis has become standard operating procedure, and it's a ridiculous way to run any country, much less one as big and complicated as the United States of America. President Obama sounded this theme in his Rose Garden remarks a little while ago, and I hope he keeps hammering it home. But to answer your question, yes, we could have another fight over the debt ceiling and the next funding bill. I hope not.

Are there any substantive differences between the ACA and the system in place in Massachusetts? That should give us a real world actual example of the system and how it will work. All of this grandstanding about how it will kill business and sink the economy could be easily refuted. Hasn't the Administration done a horrible job explaining the ACA since it was enacted? I think they bear a large part of the responsibility for the public's confusion. They allowed the crazy people to spout their misinformation about this for a couple of years without a counterpoint so they won the propaganda war. My favorite stat is how many people HATE Obamacare but like the Affordable Care Act. We are a nation of imbeciles.

Sometimes we, as a nation, get a little confused, that's all. I don't think you can say that the administration has done a great job thus far in explaining the ACA, but I recognize that it's not an easy task. Health insurance is inherently complicated and in some respects baffling. That's in the best of circumstances. And it's hard to illustrate how the ACA works without concrete examples. Now that the exchanges are up and running, and people can compare actual plans and rates, it will be easier.

He has the right to raise it himself, right? I don't remember why but remember it discussed last year. What are the odds you think he'd do it this time?

I don't know, but they're better than last time. It seems to me that the president would fail in his duty to protect the nation if he allowed the Treasury to default.


That's it for today, folks. My time is up. All you non-essentials, enjoy the beautiful day. And as for you essentials: Back to work!

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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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