Eugene Robinson Live

Apr 15, 2014

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

Hello, everyone, and welcome. Glad to be back after a few weeks away from our ostensibly regular chat. Great day here at The Post yesterday -- we won two Pulitzer Prizes. The paper won in Explanatory Journalism for stories about food stamps and hunger by the talented young writer Eli Saslow, who will have a wall full of these things by the time he's done. And the paper won the Public Service medal for its coverage of Edward Snowden's NSA leaks, led by the great Bart Gellman. (The Public Service award also went to the Guardian for its NSA coverage.) My column today is about Obamacare -- don't look now, Republicans, but it's working. That's what the CBO says, at least. Let's get started. 

We were beginning to wonder if you were done with these discussions - welcome back! Are the Democrats still backing away from talking about the ACA? Are they still talking defensively about it? That would seem to be a poor strategy going into the fall elections. On a related note, is Marsha Blackburn the new Michelle Bachmann? Now that the CBO has released it's new report about the ACA, she's still claiming the numbers are fabricated and that the only reason the White House nominated Sylvia Mathews Burwell to replace Sebelius is that she was good at cooking numbers at OMB and she'll continue to lie whle heading HHS. In Blackburn's view, it seems the only time the OMB is accurate is when they have bad news to report about a program supported by Democrats.

I love these discussions! I just had a conflict one week, then was on vacation for a week, then had another conflict last week... But here I am. I think Democrats are beginning to get the message that a defensive crouch is not the stance to take on Obamacare, especially with all the poll numbers inching in the right direction. As for Blackburn, did I hear right that she's thinking about a run for president in 2016? Oh please oh please oh please.

Hi Eugene -- thanks for your thoughtful column today and for taking questions. Despite the evidence that the ACA is working, it's frustrating to see Democrats (or most of them, at least) running the other way. Just like Obama himself, the people who hate the law are going to continue to hate it no matter what. Why don't the Dems run on it, embrace it, spread the good news? They really have nothing to lose.

Exactly. GOP candidates are going to bash the law and blame it for anything that goes wrong with any individual's health insurance, including all the normal stuff that goes wrong all the time. I have never seen the wisdom of echoing the GOP line. Why do the Republicans' work for them?

As Paul Krugman noted recently, Obamacare is the conservative solution to health care reform. It's ironic that it was the Dems/progressives who enacted it. What is more interesting to me is that conservatives want their own approach to health care reform to fail. If this were to happen, wouldn’t it suggest that the most likely solution to reform is government run single payer? (unless they want to go back to the way things were, which at this point doesn't seem realistic) If I was a conservative, I would be fighting tooth and nail to make sure Obamacare works, because the options if it doesn't, at least from their point of view, couldn't be worse.

There you go again, using logic. Actually, I think most Republicans realize that if they were actually forced to put an alternative in place, it would look a lot like Obamacare. But this isn't about policy, it's about politics. The GOP thinks it has politics on its side. They want to win the election and worry about policy later.

At one time Hillary was thought to be unbeatable. Then along came Chris Christie, and he was beating her in the polls. However, because of the scandal he slid. So I ask, is it possible another Chris Christie could come along between now and primary time to surpass her in the polls. I'm thinking of Rand Paul or Jeb Bush.. By the way what is your feel about public opionion regarding Jeb Bush?

I'm aware of polls that showed Christie giving Clinton a tough race, back when Christie looked like a viable candidate, but not showing him a clear winner. I think she would be favored over any GOP challenger being mentioned  now, but of course it's early days. Rand Paul has the hostile GOP establishment to worry about, to say nothing of moderates who would find his libertarianism extreme. But he's one of the most interesting politicians in Washington right now, no question. I think Jeb Bush has the whole dynasty thing to deal with -- so does Clinton, but for him it's worse, I think. But the partty establishment loves him, at least for the moment, so we'll see.

Um, isn't that what happened to countless Americans when they got sick and their insurance companies didn't want to cover them anymore? Worse, they couldn't buy new insurance because no other company would take them on? Dems have a great narrative here. Wish they would use it.

Me too. Republicans talk as if we all loved the health insurance process before Obamacare. I seem to recall that we didn't.

GIven that every sob story about the ACA has been debunked, why aren't Democrats countering with ads? It seems like it would be simple. Just show an image of someone in one of those ads, but don't repeat the false story. Stamp it with a big red "FALSE" across it. Repeat with as many cases will fit into 30 seconds. End with the tag line "If Obamacare were so terrible, why would they have to keep lying about it?" I'm sure a professional could come up with something even better. Is it just money, or are they afraid to take it on?

Does the DNC have your number? They could use it.

I read that when Rand Paul spoke at Cal-Berkeley recently, he conveniently omitted all reference to his non-libertarian views on gay rights and women's reproductive rights. How many young voters do you seriously think would be able to overlook those issues enough to vote for Paul? Not many, I'm guessing. The solution is to educate this benighted youngsters as to Paul's complete platform.

Absolutely right. Those issues are no-brainers to most young voters and pretty much non-negotiable. But Paul can't move very far on them and still have any hope of winning a GOP primary. It will be interesting to see how he handles this.

I am so glad to see Gellman and Saslow following the great tradition of investigative journalism. It took a Post story to get the Social Security Administration to stop seizing money from dead recipients' children! Keep up the good work, all of you. When I miss the great columnists like William Raspberry, I think "at least we've still got Gene and E.J."

Thanks, but there was only one Bill Raspberry. It's exciting to be at The Post these days. We're pretty much unanimous in feeling that our best days lie ahead. (By the way, when I mentioned the Pulitzers in my intro, I should have noted that I am a member of the Pulitzer Prize board. In keeping with the board's longstanding policy, I took no part in discussion or voting in categories in which The Post was a finalist, and in fact had to leave the room and cool my heels in the hallway. But I can now say that I believe the other members of the board made great choices.)

in the face of the enthusiasm generated by Elizabeth Warren, who seems to be one of the few in Congress who remembers what Democrats are supposed to stand for.

Personally, I agree. I should note, however, that someone like Mary Landrieu would point out that Massachusetts voters are not the same as Louisiana voters. Still, I think the basic point is right -- in politics you want to go forward, not backward, and preferably at 90 miles an hour.

Why do you ignore the fact that ACA has resulted in employers dropping their employees from Health Insurance (a glorified pay cut) or that so many of the people that even signed up for ACA were ones that had (bad plans) to begin with? How many people that were previously uninsured signed up for it? I'll wait for your response

You won't have to wait long: According to the new CBO report, released yesterday, this year 12 million people who were previously uninsured will get insurance. The number of uninsured in the country will drop from 54 million to 42 million. By the time Obama leaves office, it will have dropped an additional 14 million. The number of people being dropped from health insurance by employers is minuscule, and when you take into account the employers who, in an average year before Obamacare, would stop offering health insurance, any adverse impact of the ACA shrinks even further. Then, of course, you should compare the cost and features of that employer-provided insurance versus what those people can get on the exchanges. Some, at least, are getting a much better deal. 

Is E.J.'s first name Eugene, by any chance?

It is indeed.

Do you think the states headed by GOP governors that refused to expand medicaid will eventually be forced to do so, either by their voters or by their hospital adminstrators?

Interesting question. We have a fascinating battle going on in Virginia, where the new Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, has made Medicaid expansion a top priority. He has the Virginia business community on his side, hardly a bunch of leftist radicals. But GOP legislators are resisting, not so much for policy reasons but as a matter of party unity. It will be interesting to see how long they hold out.

Do you think it is significant for your home state, and the rest of the "old south" that Tim Scott is going to stroll to re-election?

I do, actually. That South Carolina reelects a conservative Republican senator is of course not big news. But that South Carolina reelects an African American senator? Whatever his political views? That could never have happened when I was growing up.

Gene, While I wish the best for the ACA, the celebration seems about as well thought out as Bush's mission accomplished banner. The majority of the places where the ACA could create real pain have been pushed off intentionally until after the election. That's not the sign of someone confident in their program. The invincible signups are not high, the number of people who are not merely transferring to a new plan appears to be lower than those who have had their plans cancelled. Finally costs could skyrocket for users without subsidies next year along with the cancellation of millions of plans when this system is pushed out to a wider group. I feel you are ignoring all these issues.

And we could get his by an asteroid tomorrow. Lots of bad things could happen, maybe, possibly... But the fact is that after a rough start for the website, and despite the best efforts of GOP officials to sabotage the whole thing, the ACA is going quite well. If the insurance companies thought calamity was on the horizon, you'd be hearing about it. 

Well, my time is up, folks. Thanks, as always, for a lively and provocative hour, and I'll see you again next week!

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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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