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Paul Krugman in Hell: Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?

Paul Krugman writes:

Revisionist Histor: On the This Week panel today I didn’t get a chance to weigh in on the biggest whopper from Sen. Lamar Alexander, who told Elizabeth Vargas that reconciliation — I don’t have the exact transcript — had in the past been used for small things and “to reduce the deficit”. In fact, reconciliation was used to pass the two major Bush tax cuts, which increased the deficit — by $1.8 trillion. And there’s no penalty for this kind of deception.

Read through the 'This Week' Transcript. It's truly terrifying. You try to figure out why anybody thinks it's a good idea for these people to have the jobs that they do--and you can't:

KRUGMAN: I think the [health care] summit actually served its purpose, from [Obama's] point of view, which was to demonstrate that the Republicans are not going to give on anything... they're going to make every possible claim, they're going to say things that aren't true, like premiums are going to go up under this bill, which isn't going to happen.... George [Will] and I actually have the same view [on this], but I think the better metaphor is [that health care reform is] a three-legged stool. You have to have guaranteed issue... [so that] pre-existing conditions are covered. To make that work, you... have to have a mandate. And to have that work, you have to have large subsidies. So the bill has to be more or less what it is. It has to be a comprehensive reform. And the Democrats... have to do this. They... can't go into November elections...

VARGAS: And that's the big question, Cokie.

ROBERTS: That's the big question. That is the big question. There's no certainty at this point that there are 217 votes in the House and 51 in the Senate, no matter what procedure they use. So that is still where they are hung up, which is where they've been hung up all along. Now, the White House did a couple of smart things in terms of what people were upset about. You heard Senator Alexander talk about, in the dead of night, 2,700 pages, Christmas Eve. Those are the talking points. And -- and so the White House puts it up on the Web, has a, you know, seven-hour meeting, and takes out the special provisions, particularly for Nebraska. And so that -- they're trying to fix the things that they see are -- that the public has had problems with. And it is true that you can -- you can sing it round or flat, George, about whether the public's for this bill or not. In a recent poll that we came out with, 58 percent -- a Kaiser poll -- 58 percent said they would be angry or disappointed if a bill didn't pass. So I think that that is what the Democrats are going with.

VARGAS: They want something. They're just...

ROBERTS: They want something, and the Democrats just have to, you know, say their prayers, and vote for a bill, and hope it works for them.

DONALDSON: But, Cokie, it's true. I think in the short run they're going to lose seats, because they dropped the ball... (CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: They're going to lose seats anyway.

DONALDSON: They dropped the ball last summer. The Republicans brilliantly picked it up. It probably won't be reversed by November. But this is the only chance in how many years to do this?


DONALDSON: And I think history will show that they were right if they get it done.

VARGAS: George?

WILL: Two things. First of all, Sam, you want the president to be Ulysses Grant, who won the war by his wonderful indifference to his own casualties, and I think some members in the Senate and in the House would not approve of that.

DONALDSON: Did I not just say that they may lose some seats? Were you listening?

WILL: By the millions. Now -- second, now, Paul says that, in fact, the Republicans have no ideas. They do, cross-selling across state lines, tort reforms, all those. Just a second, Paul. Then you say they're telling whoppers. That was your view about Lamar Alexander when he said, for millions of Americans, premiums will go up. You said in the next sentence in your column, I guess you could say he wasn't technically lying, because the Congressional Budget Office says that's true.

KRUGMAN: No, it's not what it says.... Can I explain? This is...

WILL: Wait. Let me -- let me set the predicate here, because you then go on and say the Senate does say the average premiums would go up, but people would be getting better premiums.

KRUGMAN: Look, let me explain what happens, because you actually have to read the CBO report.... [T]he CBO report tells you... that... what the bill will do is bring a lot of people who are uninsured, who are currently young and therefore relatively low cost, into the risk pool, which will actually bring premiums down a little bit. It will also... lead a lot of people to get better insurance... people who are currently underinsured, who have insurance policies that are paper thin and don't actually protect you in a crisis, will... get... full coverage. That makes the average payments go up, but it does not mean that people who currently have good coverage under their policies will pay more.... [T]hey'll end up paying a little bit less.

WILL: One question. If the government came to you and said, "Professor Krugman, you have a car. We're going to compel you to buy a more expensive car," but it's not really more expensive, because it's a better car, wouldn't you tell them to get off your land?

KRUGMAN: Catherine Rampell did a very good piece in the Times blogs recently which said that the main obstacle to the people who are uninsured is not that they are choosing not to be insured. It is income.... [Y]oung people who are not buying insurance because they're not... able to afford it will be brought in through the subsidies. And that will end up being better even for the people who are currently insured.

ROBERTS: One of the things that the -- the Congress has failed to do until now is convince people who have insurance, which is most of us, that this bill will work for them, and that's why this argument is important. But the -- the one thing that has been added on, apparently, since we haven't actually seen the bill in the last week, is the decision to have the federal government regulate rates, and that could be extremely popular with people...

DONALDSON: ... old guys, they say to us, "We're going to cut your Medicare." They're not going to cut Medicare benefits, not touch them. What they want to cut in the bill, as I understand it, is Medicare Advantage, which was put in with a government subsidy of 15 cents for every dollar, take the 15 cents away. The private insurers now can compete on their own and use that money elsewhere, and you could argue where it should be used, but it's not correct that they're trying to cut Medicare.

VARGAS: I do want to get to one other issue related to this health care bill, which is the language on abortion, because it almost died in the House, the health care bill, because of abortion. There was the Stupak amendment, which attached highly restrictive language to when abortions could be covered, and there -- Bart Stupak says this is unacceptable, this current bill, as Obama has proposed it, and he says 20 other members of the House will have problems with it, too. Will abortion kill this thing in the end?

WILL: Well, Alan Frumin's 15 minutes of fame have arrived. He is the hitherto obscure, but soon to be quite famous parliamentarian of the Senate, and it will be his job to rule on what can and cannot be passed under reconciliation. That is, is it a budgetary-related thing? You can argue about a great many things in the health care bill. Can you say that's budget-related? No one thinks you can change the abortion language under reconciliation.

KRUGMAN: Let me just point out...

VARGAS: And, Cokie...

KRUGMAN: ...that in 2001 the Senate parliamentarian was in doubt about... things Republicans were doing through reconciliation, and they dealt with that by firing him and replacing him.

VARGAS: And, Cokie, can Speaker Pelosi, given this issue, if they can't get through on reconciliation some sort of changing of the abortion language... can she find the votes?

ROBERTS: It's going to be very, very tough. That's what I said at the beginning. I mean, this -- this bill is not at the moment passable by Democratic votes.

DONALDSON: She'll get the votes.

ROBERTS: I think in the end she will, too.

DONALDSON: In the end, the Democrats understand the old phrase, "We hang together or we hang separately."

ROBERTS: At the moment...

VARGAS: Well, and they're on record already taking an unpopular vote.

ROBERTS: ... the calculation...

VARGAS: It's going to kill them in November.

ROBERTS: The calculation that they've made all along -- and I personally think it's a correct calculation -- is that it's worse to do nothing than to do something and that, in the long run, people will like this bill.

WILL: Can I say something that Paul and I might actually agree on?


WILL: Twenty years from now, the country is going to be spending a larger portion of its GDP on health care than it is now for three reasons. We're getting older, and as we age, we get more chronic diseases that interact with one another. Second, we're getting richer; we can afford to buy more medicine. And, third, medicine is becoming more competent. Therefore, we're going to spend more on health care.

KRUGMAN: But there's a...

(What Paul wanted to say here was: "There is a big difference between, twenty years from now, spending 20% of GDP on health care with universal coverage and spending 25% of GDP on health care with one-quarter of the non-elderly population uninsured and getting substandard coverage.)

ROBERTS: The other thing is, you know, the health care industry is the biggest employer in most of our cities now. So when -- when the speaker talks about a job creation bill...

VARGAS: A jobs bill, exactly.

ROBERTS: ... it's true.

VARGAS: Let's shift a little bit to Charlie Rangel, because we heard Speaker Pelosi talk about the fact that what he did didn't endanger national security, but it doesn't look good. We've got a handful of Democrats who have now started to join Republicans and calling for him to step down as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, a powerful post in the House of Representatives. Can he hold this post, Cokie?

ROBERTS: Yes, he can hold it, as long as people -- you know, his colleagues say he can hold it. But whether it becomes too hot for him to hold is something that, you know, sort of evolves. And you see what happens in the papers in New York and all of that and whether he can withstand it....


VARGAS: And now let's go to the New York governor, because the state of New York has quite a brouhaha playing out this weekend, the end of last weekend, this weekend. Governor David Paterson stepping down amid allegations that he and his state police contingent improperly tried to influence a woman involved in a domestic violence dispute with one of his closest aides...


VARGAS: And then, of course, this weekend, we have a brand-new White House social secretary appointed to replace Desiree Rogers, a close friend of the Obamas who is exiting after a bumpy tenure, I would say. Cokie, you spoke with her. She -- she was highly criticized after the Obamas' first state dinner in which she arrived, looking absolutely gorgeous, but in what some people later said was far too fancy a dress, but most importantly, that was the state dinner that was crashed by the Salahis, who walked in without an invitation when the social secretary's office didn't have people manning the security sites.

ROBERTS: Well, I talked to -- I did talk to her, Desiree, yesterday at length. She is from my home city of New Orleans and fellow Sacred Heart girl.

DONALDSON: What's the name of the city?

ROBERTS: New Orleans.

DONALDSON: I love to hear her say it.

ROBERTS: But -- and she has lots of good explanations about that dinner. And basically, the bottom line is, it's the Secret Service. But she -- but her -- her major point is -- and I -- and I completely take this -- is that she -- she put on 330 events at the White House last year and did open the building to all kinds of people who had not been there before. And they had wonderful music days of all kinds of music, where you had during the day, the musicians would work with kids in Washington and teach them things before coming on at night.

DONALDSON: Cokie, that's irrelevant.

ROBERTS: Well, I don't think it's irrelevant.

DONALDSON: I mean, it's irrelevant. People who work for the president understand or should understand their place, which is to be spear-carriers. There are two stars in anyone's White House, the president and the president's spouse. After that, this passion for anonymity that once was a hallmark of people who worked for a president, has been lost. She wanted to be a star herself...

ROBERTS: And it's been lost. Look at all the people who work for presidents and then go out and write books about them.

DONALDSON: I think you're right.

VARGAS: Do you think she was -- did she quit, or was she asked to leave?

DONALDSON: She was asked to.

ROBERTS: She says she quit.

DONALDSON: Oh, well...

ROBERTS: And she certainly has lots...

DONALDSON: And to spend more time with your family.

ROBERTS: No, no, to go into the corporate sector and make some money, where she'll make a lot of -- she'll do fine.

DONALDSON: Good luck to her. I don't wish her ill.

DONALDSON: It's just that she didn't understand...

ROBERTS: She'll do very well.

DONALDSON: ... she was not a star in the sense that she should make herself prominent.

VARGAS: George?

WILL: It is axiomatic that when there's no penalty for failure, failure proliferates. She failed conspicuously in her one great challenge, which was the first state dinner, and she's gone. If she's gone because she failed, that's a healthy sign.

VARGAS: The big question, of course, because she was one of that close contingent of Chicago friends is whether or not she's just the first to leave or if we'll see other...

ROBERTS: But you'll see people leave.

ROBERTS: I mean, that's what happens. It's a perfectly normal thing that happens in administration, is that people come, and they come in at the beginning, and then it's time to -- to go back to life.

KRUGMAN: Can I say that 20 million Americans unemployed, the fact that we're worrying about the status of the White House social secretary...

VARGAS: It's our light way to end, Paul.

DONALDSON: Paul, welcome to Washington.

VARGAS: Thank you.

DONALDSON: Nice to see you.

VARGAS: All right. You can get the political updates all week long by signing up for our newsletter on abcnews.com. Thank you, everybody.

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?