Brooks and Marcus on the Week in Politics

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - September 18, 2009

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.

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.

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