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Politico’s Mike Allen on health care prospects

Tuesday, August 18, 2009
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HH: On the day that Bob Novak leaves us, we talk with one of the men in Washington, D.C. who are largely regarded as heir to his tradition of digging wherever there’s something to be found, Mike Allen of Politico. Hi, Mike, welcome to the program.

MA: Well Hugh Hewitt, excited to be with you. And we respect Bob so much. I was talking to his friend, Kate O’Beirne, Washington editor of National Review. She said that Mr. Novak never thought of himself as a performer, that he was always working, that you thought you were having a casual conversation with him, but you’d mention something and he’d say what, because he thought it was a column item.

HH: Yeah, he was a remarkable interview. I did an interview with him on this program when his memoir came out. And he had an astonishing career, one of true journalistic significance, because he did indeed dig wherever there was something to be found.

MA: Yeah, now there’s a lot more punditry than there is digging.

HH: Let’s talk about some digging. I saw a story on Saturday that has now surfaced a little bit, that has the smell of a big story to me. I want to ask how you’re going to go about it if at all, and that is the fact that David Axelrod is due to receive $2 million dollars in severance payments from his former firm, AKPD, but the advisor to the president, the assistant to the president, has also been involved in the big Phrma negotiations, it appears, that has big Phrma paying that firm, it looks like, millions of dollars. What do you think of this story, Mike Allen?

MA: No, Ken Vogel of Politico has been right on this, and we have some revelations beyond what you just said that we’ll be posting soon if…I don’t know the complexities of the arrangement. It would be cleaner for him to have left the firm than to be on leave, so he like actually sold out as opposed to taking a leave. If he’d done anything less than that, he might be criticized as well.

HH: Well, it goes to this. When I was in the White House Counsel’s Office, you always looked for, people had to sever ties completely. They had to even sell stock. They couldn’t have a financial interest in anything that they had any association with, because obviously if someone owes you $2 million dollars, you want that person to get a lot of money in order to be able to pay you back. And so…

MA: Well, I’m not worried about that firm being able to pay their bills, you know what I mean?

HH: Well no, actually, this is pretty clear law, Mike. If you have a financial interest, and obviously Axelrod does, he can’t have had anything to do with that big Phrma deal that they negotiated, which led to the millions of dollars flowing to the firm which owed him money. I mean, this is huge. This could, I don’t know, did anyone mention special prosecutor today?

MA: What no one could have anticipated is what incredible, almost political campaign health care’s turned out to be with all the money that comes with that. You get media buyers, you get spot creators, and here in August, you have all these commercials. Hugh, I’m not sure that anybody is watching them, but these groups are airing the commercials to show their muscle. The insurers are out with a commercial that’s been running forever. I defy you to tell me whether they’re for reform or whether they’re against reform. It’s just to show that they’re a player, and that they can turn on the heat one way or the other if they’re provoked.

HH: But I do believe that when we look back, the Ken Vogel pieces in Politico, and the Bloomberg piece over Saturday, will be the first of what will become an epic problem for David Axelrod, because he has a financial interest in his old firm, which is receiving big Phrma money after doing a deal with the White House. Do you think there’s going to be a lot more stories here, Mike Allen?

MA: I just don’t know, because I don’t know that that is what would be considered a financial interest, like you know more about this field than I do. So Ken Vogel’s popping up a story very soon, and I’m going to check that out.

HH: I’m going to go look for that. And so that will be at Politico today? Or is it going to come out tomorrow?

MA: It’ll be in the next series of hours.

HH: Hey, give him my phone number, would you? Tell him to call me if it’s before the end of the program. Let’s go now to the larger issue, because this is going to be big, Mike Allen. If Robert Novak were alive, he’s whispering in Kenneth Vogel’s ear right now from Heaven. Mike Allen, in terms of the disarray around the White House today, and I played the Ed Henry exchange, I played a couple of their exchanges with the press secretary, boy, do they have a story straight yet over there as to whether or not the public option is a centerpiece of the program or not?

MA: Well (drops phone)

HH: Uh-oh.

MA: No, I’m with you. I’m sorry, I put you on speaker for a second, sorry.

HH: It’s okay.

MA: No, and the problem is that even the people who are usually their allies are all turning on them, and that the comments in the paper today are incredible. When you have Bob Herbert saying the drug companies and the insurers are all smiling, when you have Rachel Maddow on MSNBC talking about a collapse of political ambition, when you have Ed Schultz saying that the White House is dazed and confused, in the Washington Post, when you have Eugene Robinson saying where’s Mr. Transformer, we didn’t elect President Obama to be just another politician, you’ve got a big problem.

HH: Let’s listen to what Howard Dean said today. This is a truly remarkable bit of rhetoric and assessment. Cut number 7:

SM: You really do believe we’re going to have a public option.

HD: At the end of the day, I think we will. First of all, the President is a very smart guy. He knows very well this can’t work without a public option. Secondly, you know, he’s run into a rough patch in the Senate, mostly because the Democrats, honestly. The Republicans are of no, they have no interest in this bill. They’re using the 1994 playbook. Let’s kill the bill and kill the president, or kill the president’s term, although there’s some sort of angry people out there. I get very nervous about this stuff, and I don’t like it at all. I’m an optimist. I think the President’s going to get a bill on his desk, I think it’s going to have a public option in it, and he’s going to sign it in December. His numbers are going to turn around, and we’re not going to lose a lot of seats. In fact, I think we’ll pick up seats in the Senate, and maybe lose just a couple of seats in the House.

HH: Mike Allen, what do you make of that?

MA: Well, on one of the most insightful blogs around, Hughhewitt.com, it does warn, in a posting by Duane Patterson, let’s not pop the champagne quite yet. And it warns of exactly this scenario, that as the fall goes along, that the President has the opportunity to get on his white horse, come in, people have said he’s not been involved enough, not been cracking heads enough. He can come in, he and Rahm can crack heads, say exactly what they want. He’ll get a bill that is called health care reform. And as our friend Duane points out here, that it is entirely conceivable the Democrats will try to sneak the final version through in the middle of the night on the day after it leaves committee.

HH: After we listened to Anthony Weiner on Ed Schultz’ today, I have to agree with you. Cut number three:

AW: What we need to make very clear, those of us who believe in national health care, believe in lowering our tax burden, is that President Obama, if he’s not going to support a public plan, he’s not probably going to get a bill.

HH: Now you know what’s amazing to me, Mike Allen, is that when you hear Weiner, when you hear Howard Dean, they are basically telling the senior citizens of America who are showing up at places like Bob Corker, I’ll play that audio after his town hall, that they’re out of their minds, that they’re stupid, that they don’t understand what’s going on, and that the Republicans are out to kill the President, and kill the President’s term, to use Howard Dean’s inelegant phrases. Are they at risk of just driving seniors away from the Democratic Party in droves?

MA: No, I don’t think that that’s very likely. And Hugh, you know, that a lot of this is mud wrestling. For instance, it’s clear that the House version of this bill, which now is going to be voted on in late September, we’re told, they want to have a little cooling off period after the town meetings, they want to have a better bead on what the Senate is going to do, and yet they want to do it this year, they don’t want it to hang out there forever. So the end of September is the sweet spot. That is going to have a public option in it. The version that comes off the House floor will. The version that comes off the Senate floor, as some state it does, is very unlikely to, probably won’t. So Democrats, liberals, progressives will, the liberal and progressive members of the Democratic caucus will get their talking point, they will get the chance to vote for a public option. I think that if it comes, I’m told by House Democrats…

HH: Hang on, Mike Allen, I’ve got to find the end of this, but we’ve got to go to break.

– – – –

HH: I asked Mike to stand over, because I think it’s very important that people understand how the public option is not dead, and how it might come back to the floor. Spin it out for us, Mike Allen.

MA: Yeah, the House Democratic leadership tells us that it will not pass the House without the public option, that there are at least a hundred votes, more than a hundred votes that you call liberal or progressive, the expression that was given to me was they just will not stand for it. So when this bill comes off the House floor probably at the end of September, is the target, there’ll be a few weeks after they come back from Labor Day, it will certainly include a public option. And so a lot of this to and fro’ing you hear in the press is fake, because they are going to get that. Now it’s going to come out of the Senate sometime later, mid-October at the earliest, without one. And then they’ll go to the conference committee where they’ll put them together, and they will say to the liberals and progressives, this is the best we can do, something that will, they’ll call is a robust public option, but will not be recognizable as such. And I think that in the end, Democrats will vote strongly for it. This will be sold as a down payment on health care reform, essential to the President’s political health, and Democrats will vote for it, and he’ll be in the Rose Garden signing something called health care reform, and he will get credit for it as he should.

HH: And will that thing that he signs have anything remotely approaching a public option?

MA: The Democrats that I talk to doubt that.

HH: All right, that’s what I was looking for, Mike Allen, because you know, these are Chicago players. They can do big head fakes. They know their basketball. I just don’t want to get head faked into this. Thank you, my friend, Mike Allen from Politico.com. Every morning, you’ve got to get Mike Allen’s newsletter. Sign up for it over there.

End of interview.

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