Today, Joe Manchin, the leader of the United States Senate failed to get a single republican vote to support voting rights for all Americans.
That’s the institution in all its glory. Now what?
Over ten years ago we participated in a conversation with then Senator Claire McCaskill (D) at her Kansas City office.
Not much has changed in the United States Senate.
January 19, 2011:
Sean, Fired Up!: [….] …Where do you see things going next?
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Well, there have been a lot of, um, proposals and discussion and maybe some compromises as it relates to how we deal with the deficit and the debt. I think that clearly, um, was on a lot of folk’s mind in, in this election. And I think that the Republican majority in the Senate [sic] is gonna dictate that a significant amount of our time is spent on that. And that, and the Republicans in the Senate, I mean, we’ve got pretty evenly divided Senate now. I think that what we’ll have, um, uh, I’m hopeful that the lame duck is an indication that some of the moderate Republicans are willing to participate again. What we saw during the lame duck was moderate Republicans, you know, I watched Dick Lugar on the START Treaty. I watched, um, him, you know, work the START Treaty and I watched some of the moderates coming to him immediately and saying, yes, we’re for it, and how that kind of began to get critical mass. It’d been a long time since we’d seen that. Um, it, and the more evenly divided Senate means that they can’t just point fingers, especially now, with, with the House. So, one of two things is gonna happen. Either the House will overreach and nothing will happen, or, uh, the public will begin to react if the House does overreach and that will put more pressure on the Senate to try to come up with some reasonable compromises then, that then will go back to the House to see if they’ll accept or reject them. And I just don’t know how, how [many] rigid ideologues have been elected. I assume they’re pretty rigid ideologues in the House, but I don’t know that for a fact, I mean. I was surprised when Vicky Hartzler told me that she would take earmarks, she would seek earmarks, so.
Sean, Fired Up!: Yeah, they change their opinions pretty quickly on the deficit and everything else, with…
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Yeah, well, the hundred billion dollars they said they were gonna cut, let’s see if they do it. [crosstalk] And if they do, we’ll look forward, we’ll see if they are willing to make specific cuts, um.
Blue Girl, Show Me Progress and They gave us a republic…: Shake the couch cushions at the Pentagon.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Well, that was what I, that’s what I liked about the Sessions/McCaskill proposal, was that it, um, was a spending cap not on discretionary domestic alone, but defense.
Blue Girl: Yeah.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): And we got every single Republican to vote for a cap on spending. Defense spending. And that’s what was so frustrating to me, that I couldn’t convince my caucus that this was an, an incredible opportunity for us to take the mantle of being responsible about spending because it wasn’t a cut, it was a cap. It was similar to what we had during the nineties and, you know, how [crosstalk]…
Blue Girl: What did you not like about the nineties, the peace or the prosperity?
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Yeah, right. Right, so, it, um, it, I think that we’ll get, I’m gonna continue to work on the Sessions/McCaskill spending and I’ll think we’ll get it passed. The question is, will that be enough for this Congress? Or will they want more, uh, will they want a more aggressive cap? And, um, we’ll see. Okay.
Blue Girl: One in nine federal judgeships, first question here, uh, they, you know, Congress, the hundred eleventh adjourned before the Senate could even consider hundreds of bills, uh, nothing’s been getting done, uh, this did not happen because it takes sixty votes to break a filibuster but because the minority can force the entire Senate to waste up to thirty hours ever, ever, every time the Senate holds a vote. What reforms do you support to stop this obstruction of even the most uncontroversial business?
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Um, well the good news is that we did get twenty-two of them through, um, judges through, uh, by, by unanimous consent right before we adjourned. So, that’s good. Um, I do think the secret hold thing is really important because if you own it then you gotta explain it. And what happens is these guys hold these things secretly and then they, of course, vote for the nominees when they’re for, forced to.
Blue Girl: right.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): So, you having the ability just to gum things up without anybody ever taking ownership is a huge problem. I am optimistic that we are gonna get the rule change on secret holds. Um, I think that is really hard for the other side to justify as they’re preaching transparency and accountability. I don’t know how they don’t accept a change in the rules to do away with the secret hold. And I think you do away with the secret hold it has an amazing ability to clean some of this stuff up. Now, do we make the changes in the filibuster? I would love to see the people who are filibustering have to be the ones to produce the forty. I’d love to see the people who are doing the filibustering have to hold the floor. I’d love for the people to see an actual filibuster.
Blue Girl: Yeah.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Instead of the procedural way they’ve done it, which is they quietly object and then they kind of skulk off and the majority is left there to hold the floor and, and for the thirty hours and the staff [crosstalk] is there and so [crosstalk]…
Blue Girl: They should read about the Polish Sejm.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Uh, yeah. So, so, um, but the question is, are we willing to break what has been traditional precedent in the Senate and change the rules by a simple majority vote? And once we do that then we need to realize that it can always be done. And that means that the Republicans could do the same thing if they took the majority in two years. And we have to realize the rules they may want to change may not be as reasonable and modest as the rule changes we want. [crosstalk]
Michael Bersin, Show Me Progress: But does, but does anybody expect that, you know, given their past behavior that they wouldn’t do that anyway?
Blue Girl: Yeah.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): I think it’s really hard for them to do that anyway. I think it’s very hard. I think, um, it’s, it’s, uh, it’s kind of what happened with the nuclear option. As you remember, there was a group of Republicans that wanted to do this when Democrats, uh, were blocking Bush’s judicial nominees. And it was in fact a group of moderate Republicans that said, no, we’re not gonna do this. And it didn’t happen. If it had happened I don’t know, you know, we probably would have had some significant rule changes along the lines that a lot of people are talking about now. You know, the Republicans make the point, and it is a valid point, how often we fill the tree. Um, we have filled the tree a lot. We have not given the Republicans an opportunity to offer amendments and so it’s almost like an escalating warfare here. Um, and the reason that we fill the tree is because they’re, I think the leadership thought it was a good idea to keep us from having to waste time on voting on amendments that were not germane. What I affectionately call the gotcha amendments. And [crosstalk]…
Blue Girl: Poison pills.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): The, yeah, poison pills. Um, at the end of the day. It’s probably what you signed up for when you go to the United States Senate, that you’ve got to cast difficult votes. And I’m one of the senators that is encouraging leadership to not always fill the tree, to allow open amendment process. Um, so, we’ll see what happens on the rules. But I, I’m gonna be surpri, we’ve all signed a letter saying we want these rule changes. And I am supporting these rule changes. And I’m hopeful these rule changes happen. Um, but if they don’t I think we’ve got to, you know, decide, um, how far are we willing to go and what are the consequences of that long term for the Senate and for the minority, not just in the current scenario.
Blue Girl: Are you gonna sit across the aisle at the State of the Union?
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): You know, I, it’s funny because it’s now there’s this pressure to get a date.
Blue Girl: [laughter]
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): A Republican date. So I’m busy casting about for my republican date. I feel like I’m back in high school .
Blue Girl: Yeah.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Um, you know, I , I, uh, I’ve, I’ve asked Susan Collins but, you know, I sent her an e-mail. I said, Susan, are you already taken?
Blue Girl: [laughter]
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): You know, uh, would you be willing to be my date for the State of the Union? So, we’ll see. I think what you’re gonna see is a lot of people now kind of, you know, sitting with Republicans and it being much more mixed. I hope so. I think it would be a good thing.
Blue Girl: I want to see Barney Franks sit by Joe Wilson.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Well, I don’t know that that will happen, but…
Blue Girl: Oh, I would pay cash money.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): [laughter] I don’t know that that will happen. But, you know, let’s hope this isn’t just a, like a hula hoop, you know, let’s hope this is just not a fad, that we can keep some of this going. Because the vitriol is pretty bad.
Blue Girl: Yeah, yeah. Crazy doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Right.
Blue Girl: Uh, how ‘bout, uh, Republicans have shown a willingness to cooperate with Democrats hen it’s in their interest to do so. Do you see any pressure at all on Republicans from their base or elsewhere to work cooperatively with Democrats on solving problems, or are the incentives all the other way, tempting Republicans to make the next two years a repeat of the last two by jockeying for position in twelve and stopping Democrats in their tracks?
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Well, I think, um, people need to remember that some of the Republicans that were elected were not elected from red states. Um, you have Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania, you have Mark Kirk from Illinois. I mean, imagine how Mark Kirk feels. If he goes out to Washington and has a very aggressive I follow the Republican party no matter what, you know, I’m, I’m all for the right wing agenda, he has real problems in Illinois. So, um, what, what really gets compromise is an evenly divided Senate with a healthy number of moderates in both parties. Uh, the moderate Republicans increased somewhat. Now, we lost some moderate Republicans in primaries. But Lisa [Murkowski] survived. You, you know, you’ve got Olympia [Snowe], You’ve got Susan [Collins]. Now you have, you know, Scott Brown who’s got to face election in Massachusetts. You’ve got Mark Kirk who has to face an election in, uh, Illinois. You’ve got Toomey who has to face an election in Pennsylvania. So, as you look at those states, um, I have to believe that those people are going to be willing to cooperate and compromise, try to see if we can find some common ground. I think, I’m more optimistic today than I was a year ago. [10:31]
Michael Bersin (Show Me Progress): When it comes to, uh, the rhetoric of, uh, Social Security and dealing with, um, the budget, you know, part of the frustration of, of communicating what’s happening with Social Security is, uh, sort of the, the rhetoric of what really is causing the budget, budget deficit. In your, uh, in your town hall in Concordia you used the, the Center for Budget, uh, Priorities and Policy, that graph that really shows the, you know, what really contributed to the deficit and, and yet the, the, the Congress in the lame duck session sort of continued that, that trend. You know, so, you know, how do you communicate with people what, what really is causing the deficit and what is it?
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Well, um, a lot of what is happening with the deficit is in fact the economic downturn and the costs associated with the economic downturn, both the social net, the social safety net costs, unemployment benefit costs, but also, the fact that revenue is down. Um, revenue is down to the government because there’s been less income. So, it is, that’s been a huge part of it. The Bush tax cuts obviously were a huge part of it. Um, I would have liked very much to see us raise the top rate, uh, personal income tax rate on the, on the top bracket. I think that there is a chance we will still do that before the next election. Um, you know it’s, it, they were extended for two years and it will be up to the members of Congress do decide whether to debate that and make changes as it relates to that, um, even before twenty twelve. And I think that there’s a number of us that are willing to have that debate before the election and support raising the marginal rate on, especially on your second million dollars. Um, you know, let everybody have the same tax rate on their first million, but on your second million could you do three percent more, the same rate that you had in the nineties when everyone was doing very well?
Michael Bersin: And, and part of the frustration of that is that in some, some cases , you know, people are, are using, uh, people’s unfamiliarity with what marginal tax rates actually are and the history, you know, the past history of marginal tax rates and it’s harder to explain. So, you know, is, is this sort of a, a, an option to, to basically to try to teach people about this?
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Well, I think that’s part of it. I think, um, the other part about the, the deficit is looking at all the goodies in the tax code. I think some of the best work that was done by the, the fiscal commission, the debt commission was the work they did in crystallizing the issues about the special goodies in the tax code. And if you think about it this way, um, around seventy-five percent of Americans don’t itemize. So that means that entire tax code has been written for twenty-five percent of the country. And it is full of all kinds of government corporate welfare for all kinds of special little interests. If we can clean that out we could lower the tax rate for everybody, we could make the tax rate more broad, and we could lower the corporate tax rate. Uh, which would be a great way, uh, to look at, and still reduce the deficit, if we would just look at some of those goodies. Now, the interesting thing is some of the people that are screaming the loudest for us to do something about the deficit have been the people who put the goodies in there. They’ve been the people who have made sure that we pay people to raise tobacco while we pay people to educate people not to smoke tobacco. Same government. Paying on both sides of the equation. That we’re paying the oil companies, um, to, to drill oil even though they’re, been the most profitable corporation on the face of the planet. So, it is one of these things that hopefully that fis, and we got, the Republicans and the Democrats, when you had Tom Coburn and Dick Durbin both sign the report from the fiscal debt commission. [crosstalk]
Michael Bersin: Right.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): That’s remarkable. [crosstalk]
Michael Bersin: But, but one of the things in the, in, in, sort of, like I said, in, in our blog universe, one of the slang terms for the commission, they call it the catfood commission. Uh, and part of it was, you know, the, the idea of, of lumping Social Security into that mix, in some of the discussion. And, and while the, there’s some good and bad in, in what they did and that’s the thing that, you know, people have, you know, from our perspective have, have trouble weighing. That some [crosstalk] of the things…
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Well I don’t think that there’s gonna be any political support for making any, uh, any kind of cutback in the Social Security benefits. I do think, uh, raising the cap, uh, makes some sense. Um, you know, I think that is reasonable and I think that’s something that you, I think you’ll see serious discussions on that. But if we can get a bipartisan effort to do some of these things we’re talking about that would be terrific, um [crosstalk]…
Michael Bersin: Well, what do you think the odds are for that? It, are you having dialog with people who, who [crosstalk]…
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Yes.
Michael Bersin: …in weak moments say, well, you know, that might be a good idea.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Yes, I am. I am having dialog. I’ve had lots of discussions with Bob Corker. Um, I’ve had discussions with, uh, uh, with, with Tom Coburn. I’ve had lots of discussions with Judd Gregg and Kent Conrad. Um, and, you know, it, it’s revenue, it’s spending and it’s entitlements. Um, and, you know, we can do better on higher education if we don’t give so much federal money away to online for profits that don’t care about educating kids. [inaudible][crosstalk]
Michael Bersin: So, so, in that kind of thing is there any kind of, um, uh, movement for people thinking if, especially for the, uh, online, you know, non-profits, uh [crosstalk], sort of like…
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): On line for profits.
Michael Bersin: …yeah, online for profits, excuse me, uh, for accountability.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Yeah, I mean the idea is that you don’t get the money, um, that is associated with the student that is federal aid, um, unless the student graduates. That changes the recruitment, it changes the method of marketing, um, it makes it much more about their education than it does get a hold of the federal money that comes with ‘em. And, um, obviously there’s some screeching going on [crosstalk] about that.
Michael Bersin: Yeah, I was gonna, I was gonna ask you, what kind of resistance are you seeing?
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Well, obviously, you’ve got some very profitable companies that have just mushroomed almost overnight. Um, but I think that, that the Secretary of Education feels very strongly about this and this is a good example of where we could do better by, by students and still save the federal tax dollars. Um, crop insurance is the same thing. We could do better by farmers and still save the federal tax dollars by taking some of the fat out of the crop insurance program. It’s been wildly profitable to these crop insurance companies. Um, they’ve gotten rich off federal tax dollars. And when I try to do something about it they had their little sponsors on the other side of the aisle, one from not too far from here, who began defending, um, the crop insurance companies. They bought a stadium and put their name on it, all with companies that are completely funded with federal tax dollars. It’s outrageous. So, there’s lots of things like that out there. And some of it’s low hanging fruit. And if we begin to demonstrate to the American people that we’re willing to do some of this stuff I think it would really help our reputation.
Michael Bersin: Part of it is how you get, um, sort of, that accountability, at least in, from the Senate of, of all parties in the Senate to basically say, hold this up and say, this really is low hanging fruit, this really is the right thing to do. How do you get people to do that when they have interests that are pressuring them to not do the right thing?
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Well, you, you have to have enough pressure. Um, right now, in some ways is a good thing, because I think there is significant pressure at looking at where we are right now with the deficit and the debt. I think it’s, it makes our country weaker. I think it has huge implications for the programs I care about, um, the discretionary domestic programs that need to be a priority of our country. We are not gonna be able to afford those programs if we don’t go after some of this low hanging fruit where there are gonna be people who are unhappy. But does anybody think we can do this without making somebody unhappy? I’m trying to figure out how that works. You can’t solve a problem without making somebody unhappy. And, now, you can get reelected maybe, but you can’t solve a problem. If you keep trying to make everybody happy we’re gonna keep having exactly what we have now, problems that don’t get solved. And health care’s a good example. I mean we tried to solve a problem and clearly it was controversial ‘cause it’s hard. Uh, and everyone wasn’t happy and everyone still isn’t happy. We gotta keep working on it. I think we can keep making it better. But, our choice was to do nothing? I don’t think so.
Michael Bersin: What’s interesting is in the rhetoric that we’re hearing is, you know, one we, we want to reduce the deficit and yet we want to basic, there are voices that are saying in Congress, repeal the entire thing and yet the, the Congressional , Congressional Budget Office says if you do that you just increased the deficit. So, there’s this disconnect in, in the rhetoric. And, do they actually believe this stuff, or?
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): I think that they, uh, I think that the Republicans know that most Americans just don’t believe that the health care bill reduced the deficit. It’s like believing that Republicans would hold the oil companies accountable. You know, I mean, there’s certain things that, that, I just think that Americans assume if it’s a big new bill about health care that the federal government passed it’s gonna cost money. I don’t think everyone got into the weeds enough to understand that we pulled that money back from the pharmaceutical companies, that we pulled back that excess profits in Medicare Advantage, which by the way, the Republicans had been advocating until it was in the Democratic health care bill. Um, that we, that we did those kind of things I don’t, all they hear is you’ve cut Medicare.
Michael Bersin: But, but there’s a history of that, too, when it comes to this, uh, the, the, individual mandate was the kind of thing that you had Republican senators [crosstalk]…
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Bob Dole.
Michael Bersin: ..some of who [crosstalk]…
Sean: Kit Bond.
Michael Bersin: …and others…
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Kit Bond.
Michael Bersin: …and others who voted against it , but, you know, nineteen ninety-three advocated this whole thing. And yet they do this so brazenly and does anybody hold them accountable?
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Well, hopefully the voters will at some point in time, um, if we do a better job of communicating. I do think that we’ve got a challenge there. I think we were very busy working and we weren’t very disciplined about what was going on around us because we were all busy trying to figure out a way to get a health care bill passed and how to, you know, get a stimulus passed so that Missouri didn’t have to cut four billion dollars out of its budget. Um, you know, we were working on those things and I think in the negative climate that was out there with the economy the message of negativity was really successful. [21:35]
Michael Bersin: And, but in your experience, you did a lot of town halls about health care. And, uh, some of your colleagues did, in, in the Senate, did anybody, were you aware of anybody else doing the kinds of things that you did? And…
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Well, I mean, a few did. But, the, the, the prevailing wisdom in the, in Washington was don’t go do town halls.
Michael Bersin: But, and I, I heard you do several of those and you used it, and sometimes the, the crowd was boisterous, we’ll say, but you always used it as an opportunity to educate people. And, and that seemed like it was a, a, a missed kind of, uh, opportunity for some of your, your colleagues in the Senate to, to actually go out and teach [crosstalk] people. I was going…
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): I wish we would have had a nationally televised town hall on the health care bill. I would have loved us to have some prime, you know. Let’s do a, a prime time debate on the health care bill between, you know, uh, Barack Obama and John McCain. You know, um, seriously, I just think if we would have done, if we would have used what the media wanted to cover which was the fight, if we’d have used that opportunity, I mean people wanted to cover the town halls ‘cause they sensed there was a conflict. And, you know, I welcome that because I thought it was important for me to get out there and not to shirk away from that. But that’s the, just one example, and it’s a little example, there’s lots of things we could have done. That we could have embraced the conflict and used it to illuminate the differences between what they were saying and what the reality really was. But, we, we can’t get around one thing. The mandate is very, very, very unpopular. Nobody, I shouldn’t say nobody, most Missourians do not like the government using the word shall. They just don’t like it.
Michael Bersin: But, is, is there any other way, you know, you, and I heard you describe this. You say, well, you can’t have, you know, pre-existing condition as something that, that, you know, you take care of and then somebody says, well, I’m not gonna have insurance until my pre-existing condition comes up [crosstalk] [inaudible]…
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Right. And I’m not gonna get insurance until I get sick. Be like telling people you can go get car insurance after you’ve had a wreck. I mean, who’d buy car insurance, right? Now, it’s go, if we did that it’d make health insurance in a private market, which is what we passed, very, very expensive. So the issue is how do we get health people in the pool without saying the word shall? And I’m exploring it right now.
Michael Bersin: But.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): I think there is a way. If we would use Medicare Part D as a model, not how much we made the pharmaceutical companies rich or the insurance companies rich, but as a model in terms of an enrollment period. Seniors know they’ve got to sign up for Medicare D, they’ve got like a month at the end of every year, they’ve gotta sign up. And if they don’t, it’s cost ‘em more. We could do that with this. We could say, you’ve got an enrollment period. Now, if you don’t enroll, when you get insurance it’s gonna be thirty percent more ex, expensive. Um, and actually do it that way so that you’re, so you don’t have the shall, you shall buy something. Rather, if you don’t buy something it’s gonna be a lot more expensive. And I think most Americans want affordable health care insurance. So if you have it I think most Americans are going to buy it as long as they know if I don’t I’m not gonna be, be able to get it later except for a lot more money.
Michael Bersin: Yeah, and, but part of it is, you know, people use the, kind of, the rhetoric to say, well, if, if I’m healthy I don’t need it. But, you know, part of it is educating people, say, well, sometimes you might think you’re healthy or something comes up that’s unexpected then, then what? And, and there was not a lot of it, you know, [inaudible] education about that. We just heard the government [crosstalk]…
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Right.
Michael Bersin: … is going to make you do this.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): But, the example we should have used more often is, um, a thirty-two year old single guy who really wants a new Harley. Really wants a new Harley. And, right now, he can pay almost the cost of a payment of the new Harley for health insurance or he can get a new Harley. So he gets the new Harley and says, I don’t need health insurance. And then, six months later, he’s driving the new Harley and he gets broadsided. And he has traumatic brain injuries and he goes to the hospital. Well, who pays for that? You know, obviously, we all pay for that. And, is that really taking responsibility? Is that the personal responsibility that Sarah Palin likes to talk about? Is that people being accountable for their own lives? Or is that using the welfare state to take care of you as opposed to taking personal responsibility? Truth be known, he probably couldn’t afford the Harley until he could afford health insurance.
Michael Bersin: Right.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Especially under the plan we passed, because you get help buying the health insurance so that you never have to spend too much of your income on health insurance. So I, I think that, you know, if we can do a better job of talking about that element of personal responsibility plus making it a financial disincentive to not buy it I think we could possibly avoid the legal fight over the mandate and get rid of that word shall that really rubs, um, Missourians the wrong way, I mean, ‘cause it’s in our DNA in Missouri not to trust the government.
Sean: Do you see other places where the health care bill’s gonna be modified or changed? Or, what is gonna be substantive discussion, [crosstalk] not just [inaudible]?
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): I think we’ll do something about the ten ninety-nine problem. Um, I think that that was, uh, there wasn’t enough thought given to the burden that would place on most businesses, not the great big guys, but most businesses having to keep track of ten ninety-nines for all these vendors over a certain amount, um, that, that is too much. And so there’ve been several proposals, in fact, we had several proposals to already fix it. And the Republicans [crosstalk] blocked it.
Michael Bersin: Because they didn’t want to [crosstalk]…
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Fix it.
Michael Bersin: …lose, lose a club. [crosstalk][inaudible]
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Yeah, well, they voted against the small business bill right before the election. They didn’t want to be seen as agreeing that we could ever do anything to help small business. They were on a kind of a roll that we were all against business and that we were all about socialism and we were all taking, you know, the government was gonna take over everything. In truth we did a net, outside of the Bush tax cuts, we did a net four hundred billion dollars in tax cuts to working families, middle class, and small businesses. Um, all very targeted. But, they, you know, they were counting on the fact that everyone was believing the narrative that we were overreaching, that government was taking over everything, that we didn’t care about the free market and, so that’s why I think that, that happened. But I think we’ll fix the ten ninety-nine. Um, you know, I, those are the two things right now that I think are bubbling up the most.
Sean: And you mentioned crop insurance. As the next farm bill’s put together you think they’re gonna be, do you see substantive changes actually happening? Or is it just the can getting kicked down the road again?
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Well, I, you know, I think, again, we’ll have discussions about, um, how much income should someone have and still get a check from the government. Um, you know, we’re subsidizing Ag sector now. Um, but we subsidize every sector. So, I, you know, I think we’ve got to, we’ve got to hold back how much the government is doing but we gotta be fair. We can’t continue to subsidize the oil sector and not subsidize the sugar, you know. And so I think, but we need to look at all of ‘em and see how we can shrink the programs so that they’re more affordable. And, it’s, it’s always a slightly awkward moment when someone stands up at a rural town hall and goes on and on about the government doing too much and has reached too far. And then I ask the question, how many people in the room got a check from the government last year? And, obviously, in rural Missouri there’s a lot of farmers that get significant help from the federal government. And there’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself. But, you can’t be saying, I want the federal government to do nothing except when it’s a program that helps me.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): That’s the mentality that’s gotten us in this mess in the first place. You go cut somebody else’s program, don’t touch mine. I think we’ve got to cut everybody’s program [crosstalk].
Blue Girl: Don’t help those people [crosstalk].
Sean: I’m from [inaudible], I understand that, [crosstalk] that dynamic.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Right. [crosstalk] Right, it’s really interesting because in rural Missouri they want to think all of the federal government money is going to the urban areas. And in the urban areas, they want to think all of the federal money is going to the farm program. Truth is, that there is a lot of federal money going everywhere. [laughter] [crosstalk] You probably need to shrink all of it.
Michael Bersin: But, but one of the interesting things that’s, that’s, uh, that you always see is when you start to see that the states which are net, uh, contributors to the federal budget and states that are net takers. And people are sort of stunned by that. That, you know, states that you would think that, that have the rhetoric of we don’t want the government to do anything or [crosstalk][inaudible]…
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Actually getting more from the government than they’re paying in.
Michael Bersin: …than they’re paying in.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): They’re, they’re, they’re, they’re payer, they’re, they’re the plus states rather [crosstalk] than the donor states.
Michael Bersin: [inaudible] Yes, than the donors, yeah. [30:53]
Michael Bersin: When it comes to, um, energy policy do you see any move for, um, increasing things, uh, at the federal level, support, try to expand, uh, renewable energy?
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): I think you’re gonna continue to see support for what we’ve got in place. We’ve got some pretty good incentives in place now. We were able to extend them, um, for this new sector of our economy that does have great potential for job growth. That’s a place where we really can realize some, some, some net new jobs. And, you know, mean, Missouri’s a good example. We’ve, we’ve got things going on in Missouri that are netting jobs that are in the alternative fuel sector. Um, lots of different kinds. We’ve got electric cars, we’ve got wind farms, we’ve got ethanol, we’ve got biomass, and I think all of it is part of the equation. It’s just how much of it can we do and afford in terms of expanding it. Uh, I think the current programs, what I don’t like the idea of doing, if someone has put together a financing plan and, for a, a company based on incentives that have been given they deserve a little certainty because they can’t the financing unless they’ve got the certainty. So, we’ve gotta give enough certainty to make these incentives work. Which means we can’t be playing around with them every six months going, ah, should we or shouldn’t we? So I’d like to see us have some certainty about extending the level of incentives we have now, maintaining them, and allowing the market to get to move in and take care of itself as you have more demand and you have more profit.
Michael Bersin: But, but in, in , in the big picture is the more we invest in now it, it takes a lot of pressure off on, on, in another area. Uh, you know, if we can increase production of energy from the green sector it lessens the demand in other areas that can cause problems or, uh, alleviate shortages, or at least mitigate some of the shortages. How do you educate people about that?
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Well, I think, um, a lot of it, I mean, Dr. Chu [Secretary Steven Chu, Department of Energy] is pretty articulate about this. There is, speaking of low hanging fruit, there’s a lot of low hanging fruit in, in retrofitting buildings, in, uh, energy efficiencies, uh, weatherization of homes. People don’t realize the massive amount of energy that could be conserved and saved by some of the things that don’t require a massive capital investment. Um, that’s why I think a lot of weatherization programs have been, um, something that was very helpful during the stimulus because, not only did they put some people to work, but the end result is we’re gonna conserve some energy, we’re gonna make people’s homes more affordable for them to live in and healthier in the long run. So, um, you know, they’re, they’re now doing a lot of this on retrofitting buildings. I think this, you know, we’ve got architects here in Kansas City that have been leaders in the green building, uh, LEED qualified buildings, going in and retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient. I think if we continue to focus on those things, it is just, I mean, I know that I disappoint some people in my party about my position on cap and trade. But, um, it is not realistic to think that right now we can get there from here without coal. We can’t. Eventually can we? I hope so. But we don’t have the technology or the ability to charge enough money to Missourians to get the technology in place to completely divorce ourselves from coal. And Missouri is one of those states that Missourians would pay a very, very high price. Working class, poor, fixed incomes, Missourians would pay a very high price. And that’s what I’m concerned about. It’s not that I have a love affair with coal. It’s that I have a love affair with people in Missouri that are trying to live on a fixed income.
Michael Bersin: But, then the steps need to be taken , taken in some way to, to sort of shift us to, to move us away [crosstalk] from that…
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Well, we have a renew, we have a renewable standard in Missouri that was voted on by the people of Missouri. That’s good. Uh, you’ve seen meaningful steps taken by all of our utilities to move towards different, uh, uh, utility generation. I’m somebody who believes we’ve gotta do nuclear. I believe we have to do nuclear. I think it’s clean. I think it is safe. And I think it needs to be part of the equation. So I’m one of these we’ve gotta do it all. We’ve gotta clean up coal, we’ve gotta do nuclear, and we’ve gotta develop alternatives. All of it.
Staff: Guys, we’ve been going about an hour. Um, you want to, one more question each, kind of thing? I want to let you guys get out of here before it [snow] gets too [crosstalk] terrible.
Sean: Campaigns look a little different in two thousand eleven and two thousand twelve than they did in oh-five, oh-six. [Inaudible] there. But can you just reflect a little on that and what’s exciting or scary about how things have changed?
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Well, I wouldn’t carry something like this [iPad] around [crosstalk]…
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): …in two thousand five, two thousand six. I’m excited about how it’s different. I see great opportunities, uh, through the social media, through, uh, the online opportunities, through, um, doing different things that, I mean, my big thing about campaign finance has always been the way you clean up campaign finance, no matter what we pass there’ll be loopholes. The way you get big money out of politics is by getting a lot of little money in. The Internet gives us the opportunity to have thousands and thousands of people give ten bucks. That is much different than me sitting on the phone calling people that are perfect strangers saying, can you write me a check with a comma in it. I mean, that is a really weird system that I detest. So, I want to really work hard at, at utilizing all the technology that’s out there, um, you know, this, the, I don’t know why my party hasn’t been more aggressive about adopting some of the tools that are out there. If you look at the people that are tweeting in Congress, most of the ones that are, I think using it a lot effectively, are Republicans. I don’t know what that is. Um, I don’t know why that is. I think it’s great. I think, um, uh, paying attention to things like having different kinds of media available on your Facebook page and figuring out ways to interact with people, the interactivity that you can embrace, uh, with some of the technology, I think it’s exciting. And I am busy thinking of creative ways to do things that haven’t ever been done before. Um, joining together some of the traditional campaigning with some of the new campaigning, like, you know, figuring out something to do online to figure out who wants to ride on the RV this week. You know, all different kinds of things that we could do that would, um, bring the campaign closer to folks, uh, with the technology that’s available. I think it’s gonna be fun. I’m looking forward to doing much more online that, than we even thought about doing, uh, four years ago. It’ll be a big part of the campaign.
Blue Girl: I think I read somewhere that the average contributor to Barrack Obama’s campaign gave eighty-six dollars in, in five to twenty-five dollar increments throughout the, throughout the course of the campaign.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Yep, I used to tease him and say, you know, you don’t, you don’t have to pick up a phone, you just walk in, unlock this door, open the cash register and it’s full. [laughter] You know, the Internet was just on fire with people giving money in small amounts to, to Barrack Obama. [crosstalk]
Blue Girl: My, my college age [crosstalk]…
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): It was very exciting. [crosstalk]
Blue Girl: …kids were hitting the [crosstalk], were hitting that button.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Mine, too! With my money!
Blue Girl: Yeah!
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Because I’d, you know, they get allowance, right?
Blue Girl: Uh, huh.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): And I’d look and I’d go, what is this? And, well, and they, in fact, this last cycle I noticed my daughter gave contributions. I, I said, who are these candidates? She said, they’re people I believe in. And I said, well, what about people in Missouri? She goes, mom, I don’t live in Missouri [inaudible]. [laughter]
Blue Girl: Uh, okay. Do you think we’re ever gonna see anybody go to jail or any of the money come back from the, from the fraudulent contracts like, uh, uh, the, when, when projects in Afghanistan are falling apart before they’re complete that’s not poor stewardship on the part of the Afghans, that’s shoddy construction. I’ll, I tell you what I want to see. I want to see one sentence of legislation passed so Afghan companies can be paid directly by the military instead of mandating a third party, usually a U.S. company, that may or may not pay for the labor at the end, at the end of the con. You know, they may or may not fulfill the contract. They may or may not live up to their financial obligations to the Afghan company. Who slipped that line in for their buddies?
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Well, there, there, as you well know, um, there are, uh, books that have been written and will continue to be written about contract abuses in a contingency. It has obviously been a theme of my time in the Senate. It’s not the stuff that most people are interested in. I am vitally interested in it. And I think we’ve gotten the military’s attention. Um, I can tell you the difference in my trip on contracting oversight to Iraq in two thousand and seven and to Afghanistan in two thousand and ten were dramatically different. Um, my questions could at least be answered. There was someone who had the answer. There, they, they had an idea of how many contractors were in the country. They had an idea of how much money was being spent. I mean, when I went to Iraq it was jaw dropping how little they knew and how little oversight was really going on. So, not that we need to be satisfied with the progress that has been made, but there has been some progress made. Having said that, we are saddled with a very big challenge. And that is, spending way, way more money in a country that it has in gross domestic product.
Blue Girl: Yeah.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): I mean, their GDP is very small and we are flooding their country with money and it is inherently corrupt [crosstalk].
Blue Girl: Corrupting.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): So, when you have a coun, country that is already riddled with corruption and you bring a lot of money in it is really, really hard to figure out how you do what you need to do to stabilize the country without losing a lot through fraud and a lot through just downright just walking away with the cash. But, um, there are a number of criminal investigations ongoing and that’s why I felt so strongly about removing the Special Inspector General [crosstalk]…
Blue Girl: Yeah.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): He was not up for the job. I think we now are in a position to get a really strong inspector general that has a law enforcement background. Um, somewhat like the [crosstalk]…
Blue Girl: Are they gonna consult with you on that? [crosstalk]
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): …inspector general like we got over TARP who has experience in criminal prosecutions and will not only be looking to see what is going on with the contracts but where is there somebody that needs to go to jail.
Blue Girl: Yeah.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): And you’re exactly right. I mean, it, it, you know, we’ve gotta quit giving performance bonuses to bad contractors. And instead, we need to be putting corrupt contractors in prison.
Blue Girl: Yeah.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): That’s what we need to be doing.
Blue Girl: I agree.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): That’s the example [crosstalk] we need to set.
Blue Girl: I agree…
The 2011 posts:
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): a conversation with bloggers in Kansas City (January 20, 2011)