Eugene Robinson Live

Oct 15, 2013

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

Hi, everyone. In honor of the government shutdown and the impending (hope not) default, no preliminaries today. Let's get started.

With all the bleating about extremists, anarchists, Tea Party radicals, etc., how do you explain the Senate's failure even to address the proposal advanced by Sen. Collins to raise the debt ceiling and open the government in return for a two-year delay (not repeal, mind you) of the medical-device tax opposed by (possibly) majorities of both parties and a return to the law (passed by the Congress, signed by Obama and upheld by the SCOTUS) requiring people seeking coverage under Obamacare to prove income eligibility. Sen. Collind has never been identified with the right wing of the Republican Party. It seems to any informed observer that the Democrats resist her sane approach because it involved funding the reopened government in accordance with the Budget Control Act (passed by Congress and signed by Obama, as you would put it) that would reduce funding -- the so-called sequester. Remember, the sequester was Obama;s idea (per Woodward) despite Obama's denial of that at his debate with Romney. Thus, it seems that even a modest proposal from a liberal Republican can overcome the utter rapaciousness of the Democrats.

It's that little phrase buried in your post -- "in return for..." I don't think the government and the debt ceiling ought to be held hostage. I certainly don't think they should be held hostage to policy matters unrelated to budget and spending. It appears the president and the Senate agree.

A couple goes into an expensive restaurant. The meal was scrumptious. The service was superior. But in the course of their meal, the couple gets into a heated argument and refuses to pay their bill. The restaurant shuts down and other nearby restaurants, motels, and other businesses shut down. All the businesses in the neighborhood refuse to pay their bills--all because of that one couple's argument. Since Republicans are so fond of saying that government should be run like a business, do you think this analogy would help to see how silly and dangerous on how they are acting?

It should. Apparently, it doesn't. Nothing seems to get through.

In your latest column, you voiced your approval of Harry Reid "moving the goal posts". I'm not surprised. Last summer, you even approved of Reid telling that bald-faced lie on the Senate floor about Mitt Romney's tax returns. How can you keep giving kudos to a man who has been exhibiting no honor or integrity for as long as anyone can remember?

I never approved of what Harry Reid said about Romney's tax returns, although I might have pointed out similar lies and distortions coming from the GOP side. What he is doing now is the same thing every good negotiator does, and I would put Mitch McConnell in that category. He mounts his goalposts on wheels, and everyone understands. The point, though, is to find a way to open the government and pay our debts.

After the children (Tea Party) come out of their time out corner and we end this shutdown/debt nonsense I think the issue that Americans ought/should get up in arms about is this CONSTANT budget crisis because NOTHING else gets done. Immigration? Climate change? Energy? Infrastructure? Bueller? Bueller?

Bueller seems to have left the building. If he was ever here. You identify the problem. I was critical of the Senate for not passing a budget all those years. Now, after the Senate did pass a budget, the GOP won't go to conference because it can't get its act together. This is no way to run a country.

Hi Eugene -- Thanks for taking questions today. What do you think the chances are that 1) a deal gets done before the debt ceiling deadline and 2) Ted Cruz re-emerges to throw a wrench into it and we're back where we started?

I've given up predicting. History suggests that the Senate will reach a deal, but I have no idea what Boehner will do in the House. If he simply puts it up for a vote, I think it would pass. As for Cruz, maybe he wants to go down in history as the man who singlehandedly caused a market crash and a recession. Maybe not.

Do you think that Ted Cruz (who does not want to be president but emperor) will run as a third party candidate if he is not nominated by the Rs?

I hope. A lot of R's hope so, too. Many would be happy to give him a one-way ticket out of Dodge.

One of the things I try to pay close attention to is the use of dog whistles in politics, be it in speeches, commentary or everyday conversation. They're tremendously revealing, though it's easy to read too much into things. Do they have a role in serious commentary, though? Yes, it's convenient to be able to signal intent, but does the unwillingness to come right out and say things undermine the columnist's claim to speaking the truth?

A columnist has no use for a dog whistle, in my opinion. The idea is to tell people how you think they should think about this or that. What would be the point of making one's message so subtle that most readers missed it?

First of all, the Wall Street Journal reported that the website didn't crash because of site traffic, but because the software they're using sucks. Secondly, in your column you argue that even if the GOP takes back Congress and the White House and replaces Obamacare with something else, that is still a victory for Obamacare. What kind of twisted logic is that? No, the GOP did not lose the war; they simply need to step back and let this monstrosity of a law destroy your party like flesh-eating bacteria. Now that would be a beautiful thing.

The column of mine you reference was written before the Wall Street Journal's good story about the website problems. This has been an unfortunate launch, but you and I both know they'll get the websites working, and probably quite soon. My point -- and I thought I was pretty clear -- was that this is the crucial step toward universal health coverage and there will be no turning back. If Republicans ever capture the Senate and the White House, they will surely pass some new reform, if only to get rid of the name Obamacare. But it will be a lot like the Affordable Care Act, and they will not try to take away the insurance that people have obtained under Obamacare. I'll betcha.

This medical device tax is not extremely popular to begin with. The support for it is lukewarm at best. If we default on our debt because the Dems want to stick it to the GOP instead of coming to an agreement, they will have matched (or at least come close) to the stupidity that is the GOP. Let the extremists in the GOP have a little something to pretend they got. This is like an argument in a marriage, you can either be right, or you can be happy but you can't always be both. If our government causes an international monetary collapse over spite and gamesmanship, it will be the last straw for ALL of the congress not just the GOP.

Except that it's the GOP that's holding the economy and the monetary system hostage. Every poll shows that voters understand this perfectly well. The president has reportedly said he is willing to talk about the medical device tax but not with a metaphorical gun pointed at the economy.

I dislike most of the Presidents agenda, and think the media is biased towards liberal causes, but the Republicans have no one to blame but themselves, everyone could see who was going to get blamed before it occurred.

Even the liberal media could see that!

Why is the White House negotiating at all, given that we seem to be setup for more Republican games in January and February?

The White House would say, I think, that it's not "negotiating," but maybe that's semantics. I think they're betting, or at least hoping, that after this experience, Republicans -- except the hard-core Tea Party types -- will have lost their enthusiasm for brinkmanship.

Hi Gene: Please comment on Panetta's thoughts that Clinton was much more engaged in the "game". Quite frankly, Obama can't just be above it all, even though he is right!

Different "game" these days. I remember how radical Newt Gingrich seemed at the time, but now he's a RINO compared to the Vandals and Huns who are trying to sack Washington.

I'm asking you to go inside President Obama's head, so to speak. What do you think were the reason(s) why Obama took a stand against the GOP re the shutdown? This isn't usually his M.O. - so why now? Is it as politically simple that he felt that he needed/had to do it?

I think he believed he didn't have a choice. He has said consistently that he would not negotiate over the debt ceiling, period. The House made it easy for him by choosing the Affordable Care Act as its big issue, by shutting down the government, and by stampeding itself into a box canyon.

If you think about how a CEO acts during adversity, shareholders don't want any excuses, just do your job. I think Obama has to be more engaged.

Bad analogy. CEO's can make decisions unilaterally. They can also fire people. They say jump and everyone asks "How high?" The presidency is not like that. Ask any former (or current) president.

In the Last two weeks, Conservatives have been called, terrorists, rapists, hostage takers, etc. for standing on the principals of small governments, managing the debt. and other constitutional issues. Do you think this liberal name calling is constructive?

I can just speak for myself and my own language. I've not called them terrorists or rapists -- unless you count today's reference, in an earlier response, to Huns and Vandals. I have consistently called them hostage-takers because that's what they are. It's one thing to stand for principle and another to threaten to wreck the economy unless you get your way.

There's a bank teller at the my local bank, who considering he has to deal with people all day, is not very friendly & clearly is not a good match for the position. Obama, who won elections, but doesn't love all aspects of the job like Clinton, maybe isn't suited for actually governing.

Voters disagreed with your assessment. Twice.

Gerrymanding has insulated these TeaClowns from the will of people beyond their rigged, predominately white districts. Is there nothing that can be done to remove these people from office? Surely their oaths of office have been violated numerous times, is this not criminal?

If you look at the poll numbers, you'll see that even Republicans question this madness. Some districts may be safe for the GOP but not for the Tea Party.

With Bob Costas weighing in on the Redskins name, I wondered how offended you found the name? In my opinion, I can see the other sides view on the name, but to me it feels like liberals think they won the gay marriage debate, so they need another cause, and the Redskins name is hat they found.

Costas is right. They should change the name. It doesn't matter that George Preston Marshall (by the way, a confirmed racist) didn't mean to insult anyone. There are lots of names that may not have been considered offensive 80 years ago but clearly are offensive today. The Washington football team's name is in this category. Get rid of it.

I would like to see a diagram on the front page of the Washington Post every day exposing/starting with the most egregious examples of gerrymandering from both political parties to make clear how some of the representatives in The House are not really/fairly representing his/her districts. Why hasn't this become more known to the public?

Don't blame us. (Speaking for the media here.) We've written and talked about gerrymandering until we are collectively blue in the face. We can't force the public to read those stories -- or to react.

I've been hearing that Boehner's tenure as House Speaker would be effectively over if/when the House passes a bill to advert the government shutdown with a majority of Democrat votes. I don't see anyone else in the wings whom the party truly could get behind though a chunk of the House GOP aren't thrilled with Boehner. So what do you think will happen to Boehner short or long-term post-government shutdown?

In a recent column I wrote that I thought Boehner was stronger among conservatives in his caucus than he has been in months, perhaps a year. I don't see anyone capable of doing the job who wants to take it on right now.

This is more of a comment but in all the articles I've read, news reports I've heard, and countless politicians spouting the same talking points, I haven't heard anyone bring up the point that another problem with the current "I approve a budget if you give me what I want" nonsense is that if it is successful, it sets a dangerous precedent for future budget discussions down the road. What will stop future legislative bodies from trying the same tactics, whether they be Democrats or Republicans doing the demanding? For this reason alone, I hope the Senate and Obama do not cave. This whole situation is infuriating and depressing and, unfortunately, I don't have a representative in Congress to voice that to in order to hopefully get them to not back down (well technically I do, Eleanor Holmes-Norton, but let's face it, without a vote, I'm really have no representation).

You're right. And it's still outrageous that citizens of the District of Columbia have no voting representation in Congress. You'd think the Tea Party would be outraged about taxation without representation, no?

Its fascinating to think how Romney, with his executive experience inside & outside of government would handle this mess. I think he would be able to negotiate a settlement much more effectively. Your thoughts?

But there would be no issue because he would have repealed Romneycare, right? I mean, Obamacare.

How much of the blame do you place on Boehner? I tend to agree with your colleague The Fix that the Messiah himself could not lead the GOP at this moment in time, but I've been hearing more and more people say that the blame lays entirely on his shoulders for not bringing the Senate bill to the floor and other sins. What's your take?

I don't think Boehner has been a particularly strong or skillful speaker, but it's possible that no one could lead this caucus.

The one issue that annoys me is that The President, while in the Senate, voted against raising he debt ceiling, along with every other Democrat. This has been dismissed by liberal pundits as not a real vote. Why is it real when R's do it but not Dems?

Conservative pundits who have been around for more than five minutes dismiss it, too. This is different because all that prior grandstanding was understood to be just that -- a big show. Senators and representatives voted against the debt ceiling when they knew the votes were already there to raise it. This used to be theater. Now it's real.

Gene, what do you see as the "tipping point" that will cause a resolution if we do go into default? My bet is if Social Security checks don't go out on time. That will affect an enormous number of recipients--not just us geezers, but also all the families that will have to lend money to Grampa and Gramma to see them through the month.

A global market crash would do it. But why should ordinary folks pay with their retirement savings and their kids' college funds for Congress's obstinate stupidity?

Eugene, Why has President Obama said very little overall of the plight of Young African Americans in the inner city like Chicago. I cannot believe the hush hush about the unemployment rate that sector of endures. I would thnk that President Obama would want to help that segmet of the population first. I voted for President Obama the 1st time but not the second. Quite possible the worst negotiator to ever hold the office of Presdent of the United States. Jimmy Carter #2.

I guess you've never heard of the Camp David accords. 

I trust that you (in the media) are aware that gerrymandering has been done for years by both sides. Thank God Republicans are better at local politics, and currently have the advantage in more states.

I don't endorse the sentiment, but you're right on the facts. Democrats should have paid more attention to the statehouses. The country is paying the price.

I don't understand the support for this measure. 5 years ago I was a Congressional staffer making less than 30 grand a year. I don't understand why ANY Republican member would seek to screw their staffs this way.

It's ridiculous, and the only purpose is to be able to claim they "got something" out of the deal and forced the president to accept a change, however small and spiteful, in Obamacare.

I must admit that I saw red when I saw those pics of the Confederate Flag outside the White House. I despised Bush II but if I had met him I would have shown my respect for him since he was President of the United States. Why can't these Tea Partiers and/or other GOP supporters disagree with Obama without coming off as bigots if not downright racists?

Sometimes things are as they appear.

Is there anything that House Democrats can do to push the House to a vote that will end this mess?

They have drawn up a discharge petition to force a vote on the original Senate bill, but they'll need maybe 20 GOP signatures. Good luck with that.


That's all for today, folks. See you 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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