Conrad on DC Gridlock: `Obama is Too Disengaged’

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Oct. 30 (Bloomberg) –- Fmr. Rep. Tom Davis, a Republican from Virginia, Fmr. Sen. Kent Conrad, a Democrat from North Dakota, and Bloomberg’s Al Hunt discuss the Obamacare blame game and the partisan political culture in Washington. They speak with Stephanie Ruhle on Bloomberg Television's "Market Makers." (Source: Bloomberg)

And he told me when he first came to d.c. in the 1980s, people were part of this community whether they were democrats or republicans.

A brought their families to this town.

Ronald reagan and tip o'neill may have fought during the day but they had dinner at night and their children new one another.

Today, people come to d.c. for three days to meet and get out of tile and area is very congenial aspect missing that when we watch these hearings they are so accusatory nobody even wants to make amends or wants a resolution?

Many of these numbers are from very safe seats, so all they have to do is satisfy their party base.

The party base is right now really don't like each other.

And the party bases are cheering for this at home?

It is frustrating, but what you're finding out is 80% of the members of the house are from absolutely safe republican districts.

All they worry about is their primary role actions and primary voters hate obamacare.

I was talking to my former republican colleague of the budget committee, judd gregg out in your lobby.

We are friends and are going to have dinner friday night.

That doesn't happen much anymore, unfortunately, and it needs to.

When you are working with somebody and you actually know them, you know their families, you know their life stories, it's a lot harder to demonize them and treat them as though they have nothing to contribute.

The truth is neither side has a mortgage on the best ideas.

So you really need people to work together and hopefully we will get back to that.

As somebody you've -- as somebody who supported the affordable care act, when you watch how this is playing out, do you regret supporting it?

I regret the way it has been rolled out.

A lot of strengths about the affordable care act.

I think it is broadly misunderstood because it's complicated and hard to understand.

Certainly hard to communicate.

But this rollout has been very unfortunate.

What matters at the end of the day is do they get it fixed by the end of this month, and a better.

What if they don't? in the old days, you would have a technical corrections bill.

The thing has been so demonized -- it has some drafting false.

It was basically not going to be a law but republicans would not even let you get to conference.

Ordinarily you sit and work these things out and nothing can be worked out in this atmosphere.

What's our hope?

It's up to voters.

As long as voters keep electing the same people, you will get the same results.

We took earmarks away and that brought the leadership.

Leadership has no tools in which to control the members.

Voters are clearly frustrated.

They are standing up saying this health care website doesn't work for me.

Why are the voters happy?

They want their political official to go to washington -- being centrist paid off for us, but most of these members, their race is their primary election.

Voters go out and pounded their chests i voted in november.

80% of these races are decided in the primaries.

The story can't told about working with judd gregg and working with henry waxman -- these are relationships that don't exist much anymore.

I wish i was as optimistic as cans that we're going to get back to that but as long as we have nothing but safe districts, the senate is only marginally better.

One thing we have left out here is the public.

And public opinion.

These numbers reflect the people and the american public is deeply divided and angry.

They have had their life savings threatened and their job prospects are not good so they are upset and angry.

Their representatives in washington reflect that.

One of the biggest things that need to be done is to help educate the american people about what needs to be done to get the country back on track.

Some of the things that need to be done like reform to the entitlement programs, some additional revenue, these are not popular things.

So we have to educate them about what the real choices are.

Do you feel like the president has lied to them in the fact that he said you won't lose your insurance and now people are losing your insurance?

The place i would fault the president, when we start using lying -- i don't think that gets us anywhere.

Where the president, i think, needs to step up his game is to be more directly engaged.

He is too disengaged.

If you want to get something done in this town and you are present, you've got to be in it hook, line, and sinker.

You have got to be in their, working it and develop relationships with members on both sides.

The president, in fairness to him, that is not his strength.

He really needs to think very carefully about his legacy and the ability to make a difference in this town.

You have got to have relationships and you've really got to work at it.

You are both guys known for working both sides.

You talk about the white house being insular.

Has the president picked up the phone and said give me some advice here?

No, he has not.

His chief of staff has, but that's not the point.

Calling me is not the thing.

I will tell you he needs to be calling -- senators and house members and he needs to be a knowing more than calling.

He needs to have them to the white house, to camp david, have them for lunch, for breakfast, for dinner.

That is how you get something done.

If you read the new book about lyndon johnson, he calls the government printing office at 6:00 one night to tell him to stay open because he needs a bill drafted because he knows he won't have the votes in the morning.

That is hands-on.

That is engaged, and that's what we need.

Though clinton was the same way.

You could shut that thing down and he comes and talks to you the next day.

That's what they have to be able to do.

I agree.

I think it's different than lyndon johnson times and even little different from the clinton times.

It's not redistricting, that's part of it, but it's population.

You have so many districts where people don't have to worry about the other side on both sides.

The money in politics has moved from the parties to the super packs.

And we are the 24/seven media and you are rewarded for the instant hit, not the topple analysis.

If they don't have to worry about the other side, should republicans be rooting for obama care to fail?

They are rooting for obama care to fail, but in fairness, democrats rooted for a lot of bush policies to fail.

If you think is the wrong policy for the country, you wanted to go down.

The administration has given them an opening they don't and -- they did not need to give them and they're using it.

I don't think you should expect anything less.

A big part of the problem in this town is that it's all short-term.

The politics of the moment, how does it affect the next reelection?

There is very little attention on both sides to substance and getting the country back on track.

What is going to be the catalyst to change this?

I had the same cover station with leon panetta and he said all anyone is focused on ending it -- all anyone is focused on is getting elected.

A crisis moves people from their safe seats and out of their comfort zones to come together.

But even with tarp, it took us two votes to get it together.

It takes a crisis to get us together.

Do you believe we are in a crisis?

We are getting there.

We're in a long-term crisis in the sense that america has to make some significant changes to get back on a more sustainable course.

And we could do it.

It's not all that hard.

But it means both sides giving up on some of there must have.

Both sides have to give a little ground.

We could do it.

I believe at some point, we will.

Unfortunately, it will probably take a crisis to get us there.

You are a man known for his charts.

People love to say just do the math.

When you put up your charts and show people on both sides of the aisle, how do they continue to argue when they look at the math and say sorry, that's is not how i feel?

Lex i did not get much of that.

When i had a chance to make a presentation about where we are and where we are headed to both sides, most people would say it's true, it is ready undeniable that we are going to have to change some entitlements because both social security and medicare are headed for insolvency.

For those on my side who say don't worry about it, the longer we wait, the more draconian the solutions are going to have to be.

On the republican side, those who say we don't need any more revenue, we are at 18% of gdp on revenue, the last i've times we balanced, we were at 20%. for those who said we were from goals simpson, we were at 20% revenue per gdp.

It's not these big, big changes, it's relatively modest changes that make a big difference over time.

And we can do it but it takes people of good faith and some political courage to stand up and say let's do it.

To you think anyone is going to stand up and say let's do it?

I think so.

These are solvable problems.

Do we have the political will to do it?

It is a crisis now, but it's not an apparent crisis.

These are solvable troubles that are not currently getting solved.

Thank you all so much.

A great conversation.

This text has been automatically generated. It may not be 100% accurate.


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