WAMU: We last spoke on Monday morning, after news broke on Osama bin Laden's death. In those first few hours, we were seeing signs of bipartisanship from Congress, with the president calling for national unity. What’s the tone on the Hill now a few days later?
DH: Well the Hill is dark today... both the House and the Senate have gone home for the week. But I would say that era of good feeling that we thought might emerge lasted maybe two days. The president actually had all the Congressional leadership at the White House for dinner Tuesday night, and made an appeal for them to sort of try and take a bounce from this, and use this era of good feeling to get something done. And it was wildly ignored by Wednesday. They thought about judicial nominations, they thought about minor small business bill, they thought about abortion policy, energy policy – all of the usual fights.
WAMU: One of the big issues looming before Congress – the need for budget negotiations. How’s that shaping up now that members have returned from spring break?
DH: If anything, that might have been one of the areas that where the two sides moved a tiny bit closer to one another this week, and that is because the Republican leadership in the House, just a few weeks after passing this very controversial budget that included a call for a privatization of Medicare have essentially pushed that to the side. They won't say so publicly. They'll still say publicly they’re committed to their budget. But at the same time they're saying that the Chairman to the budget committee who wrote the budget and the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, who would have to write the budget, are saying they're not really going to move any more legislation that would actually carry out this Medicare move. It's an acknowledgment. The Republicans hate the idea that they were not able to frame it to their benefit. The Democrats appear to have won the messaging war, which is to say they've persuaded the public, and especially the elderly, that this Medicare change would affect them, which it wouldn't have. And now the Republicans say they're just going to concentrate on more spending cuts. And that's where the president wants to concentrate his efforts. They have a few months before the next big budget crisis when the authority for federal borrowing runs out – at about the end of July or early August. And there is a small chance they'll get something done by then.
WAMU: Yesterday the House passed legislation that would facilitate drilling off Virginia's coast. What are the prospects for that legislation and that plan moving forward?
DH: Slim, but possible. Yes, the House did pass this bill. Its part of a three-part package of Republican bills to promote oil and gas drilling. The president said he opposed the idea. But he didn't quite issue a veto threat, suggesting that maybe it could become part of a deal later on. There were 22 Democrats who voted for this bill. There is some bipartisan interest in doing something to suggest to the public that they want to address rising gas prices, although of course, if this bill were enacted today, it would still be several months before these leases would be awarded, let alone any oil to be pulled out of the Atlantic off of Virginia's coast. The Democrats want to pair this additional permission for drilling with more oil rig safety, so there’s a chance for a deal later this summer.