Episode 31: Fear and loathing in gay Washington

He was an influential figure in one of the biggest social changes the country has seen in decades -- the growing acceptance of gay Americans. But, you've probably never heard of him. So we've gone back to the DecodeDC archives to bring you this encore podcast from June of 2013, featuring Rich Tafel. Tafel opened the first office in Washington for the Log Cabin Republicans, the nation's largest organization representing gay conservatives.

Tafel provides stunning behind-the-scenes insight of an early 1990s Washington. He describes a vibrant, underground network of gays working in politics that cut across party lines. But Tafel tells the story of how that camaraderie was undermined by pure politics as the Republican Party became more socially conservative. It's a story of closed door meetings, outing campaigns, and a vast shift in how politics are done today.

Quick reminder: We are getting ready to relaunch DecodeDC. In addition to the podcasts, which will be weekly, we are building a daily, multimedia DecodeDC blog for all Scripps properties -- and for a national audience. So over the coming weeks, we'll be reposting some of our favorite and smartest podcasts while we build the team and our new online space.

Episode 30: Follow the money to understand Washington

 

Just a few years ago, it was a big deal when the president unveiled his spending proposal, but “budget day” this week was kind of a snore.

That may be because President Barack Obama’s $3.9 trillion proposal for fiscal year 2015, which begins Oct. 1, isn’t likely to have much impact. Why? Lawmakers last December passed a two-year spending plan. 

Still, the annual ritual does highlight the president’s vision for the coming year – and for the coming election. It's already providing fodder for Democrats and Republicans gearing up for the campaign trail. 

There’s been a lot of insightful writing about Obama’s proposal, and here’s a selection:

But to understand just about any argument or issue in Washington, you really need to understand the basics of the federal budget.

Problem is, most of us don’t. So, we’ve gone back to the DecodeDC archives to bring you this encore podcast from April 2013 that breaks down the numbers and tries to show what exactly we are spending our money on. The episode features an interview with Jess Bachman, the guy behind an unbelievably detailed chart showing exactly how your tax money is divided among government agencies.   

And this podcast note. We are getting ready to relaunch DecodeDC. In addition to the podcasts, which will be weekly, we are building a daily, multimedia DecodeDC blog for all Scripps properties – and for a national audience. So over the coming weeks, we’ll be reposting some of our favorite and smartest podcasts while we build the team and our new online space.

Episode 29: Actress Kathleen Turner says not all politicians are stars

Some politicians have it, and some don't.

That's what award-winning actress Kathleen Turner says it comes down to: There are politicians with an effective stage presence, and there are those without one. Coaching might help some of them, she says. Others, well, the camera just doesn't love them.

Last week, DecodeDC asked you to participate in the Academy of Political Performances and pick the best of eight video clips. And the winner is: Sen. Ted Cruz reading "Green Eggs and Ham" on the Senate floor.

This week DecodeDC asked Turner, who has two Golden Globes and starred in "Body Heat," "Romancing the Stone," and "Prizzi's Honor," to talk about what makes a good political performance. She enthusiastically agreed -- and got specific.

Former President Ronald Reagan, he had it: "I'll tell you, Reagan was good --he was good. He did not overreach himself, you know."

President Barack Obama has it: "I actually think Obama is terrific. He has an extraordinary blend of intelligence and openness, I mean...accessibility is the word I want."

But not everybody won her praise. There was a review of how former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton comes off in front of the camera -- or doesn't come off, and some tough talk about House Speaker John Boehner's delivery -- or lack thereof. And there was more, much more.

Episode 28: And the winner is...

Politicians have been performing since history has been recorded – and some performances have stood the test of time for their eloquence, their intelligence and their ability to comfort a nation.

And others, well, not so much.

We have nominated eight video clips, and we are inviting you, members of the American Citizens Academy, to watch and vote for the one you think is best.

You don’t get to vote for the winner of our Lifetime Achievement Award, Vice President Joe Biden. But you do get to watch a medley of his greatest hits – free and uninterrupted.

So, go visit us on Twitter @DecodeDC, start watching, submit your vote and click back here on Thursday, Feb. 27, to see which political star is taking home the DecodeDC People's Choice Award.

 

Episode 27: The Untold Story of the Stimulus

Five years ago. It was the early days of the Obama presidency. And it was a panicky moment in what came to be called the Great Recession.

Congress already had bailed out Wall Street’s most troubled companies with a program called TARP – the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Now Congress was desperately trying to find a way to pump some blood into a very sick economy. The markets, the experts, the country wanted action.

In the House of Representatives, the man in the middle of coming up with stimulus plan fast was David Obey, a longtime Democratic congressman from Wisconsin who chaired the Appropriations Committee. 

Obey was known for his mastery of the appropriations process and his blunt talk. He retired in 2011, and now he is really blunt about what went on in the smoke-filled rooms five years ago and about today’s bitter budget battles.

With the economy in free fall, Obey met with his Republican counterpart Jerry Lewis of California to start writing a bill.

“And Jerry just grinned and said ‘Dave, I’m sorry, but we’ve got orders from headquarters, we can’t play, we can’t play,’” Obey recalls. “He said it twice.”

Whatever Republicans thought privately – some of them told Obey they agreed that Congress needed to pass a stimulus bill – they weren’t going to publicly help the new president help the economy.

But that wasn’t the scariest thing, Obey says. He realized many fellow House members – Democrats and Republicans – simply lacked a sophisticated understanding of the economy and government spending policy.

“One of the problems that you have today, is that a lot of members of Congress just don’t know a hell of a lot anymore,” Obey says.

Eventually, the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was born. But “it was about half the size it should have been,” Obey says. “So we were from day one … we were trying to row the rowboat with only one oar.” In other words, according to Obey, the size was a result of stubborn politics and many lawmakers who struggled to comprehend what was going on.

If bipartisanship in Congress needed a stimulus then, it needs a bailout now, Obey says.

The biggest culprit: Gerrymandering that creates one-party districts and safe seats for members.

“I mean you wouldn’t have such idiotic statements coming out of members of Congress if they had to be taken seriously by a majority of people across the political spectrum,” Obey says.  “All you have to do is appeal to the most extreme 25 per cent. How in the hell do you bring this country together?”

Exactly.