Carving Up Obamacare for Thanksgiving

Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. She was a White House correspondent for Time, a weekly panelist on CNN’s “Capital Gang” and an editor at the New Republic.
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Bloomberg View columnists Margaret Carlson and Ramesh Ponnuru met online to chat about the Iran nuclear deal, mobile phones on planes and what to discuss at Thanksgiving dinner. Here is a lightly edited transcript.

Margaret: The Iranian nuclear deal made me think of Woody Allen's fake speech to graduates about mankind being at a crossroads. One road leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let's hope we choose correctly.

In dealing with Iran, the U.S. could have increased sanctions or undertaken airstrikes (as Israel would love) to slow its nuclear progress -- with the possibility of retaliation. The chosen path: removing some sanctions to get Iran to negotiate, allow inspectors in and reduce its enrichment of uranium, would officially condone Iran's past nuclear transgressions. In a worst case scenario, Iran could escape the most crippling sanctions, all the while developing a nuclear weapon. Let's hope we chose correctly -- or hedge our bets. Hats off to Secretary of State John Kerry who keeps at it every day, putting his predecessor's record in perspective. If we're wrong, at least we aren't permanently wrong. Six months from now you have a Congress happy to reimpose sanctions (if they don't, stupidly, do it sooner). Dangle more goodies, like more economic activity, and raise the threat of military action, which won't take much because Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is rattling his saber daily. The deal has the additional benefit of taking Obamacare off the front page.

Ramesh: Oh, Obamacare will be back on the front page. Why would it be stupid for Congress to push new sanctions? Apparently the threat of new sanctions, plus the existing ones, got the Iranians to make what concessions they have. Doesn't President Barack Obama want to be able to tell the Iranians that if they don't take the interim agreement and the negotiations seriously, they will end up in a worse place? Phased agreements in general seem like a good reason for a party that has reasons to stall negotiations to do so. It's therefore pretty important to make sure there are incentives to keep things moving.

Margaret: The threat is good; doing it now is not so good. Another less serious threat as we prepare to fly off for Thanksgiving is the consideration by the Federal Communications Commission to allow mobile phone use above 10,000 feet. The Delta Shuttle is going to become like Amtrak where you have to secure a seat in the quiet car to escape loud, one-sided conversations about last night's dinner and tomorrow's meeting with the boss. It will make us long for the clunky Airfones in the back of the seats that cost about $5 a minute. Being unreachable will soon be as rare as frozen custard stands. Bid so long to mile-high hooky, reading a bad novel, napping.

Ramesh: I constantly read complaints about people's loud phone conversations in confined areas, but I basically never experience the problem. I usually don't sit in the quiet car on Amtrak, and I don't overhear much. Maybe I'm just good at tuning things out? I do, on the other hand, get my book and long-article reading done more on planes and trains than anywhere else. If cheap Wi-Fi becomes ubiquitous on flights, that's probably over.

Margaret: Airlines get to make their own rules. Will Alec Baldwin, now without a television show, choose the airline that let's him play all the Words with Friends he wants? I'm all for that. The gentle click when someone moves a 10-point Z into place is no problem. It is the thought of insipid conversation (all but mine are) adding to the misery of being in the middle seat. Airlines could compete on whether, when the seat belt light goes out, you can power up, reach out and touch someone on the earth below. When I see how many people are on their phones in their cars, I know the airline that allows talking will thrive over one that doesn't.

Ramesh: The talking I do in my car is usually directed at other drivers. You sound like you're bracing for holiday travel. Organizing for America has come up with a way to pass the time while you're en route: Plan a Thanksgiving conversation about Obamacare! I can pretty much guarantee the topic will come up at my house, given the doctors and retired doctors in my family, but I don't think OFA will like the way the conversation is likely to go. Maybe I'll see how this talking point goes over: "The marketplace gives you an easy way to find plans, compare them and sign up for the one that's right for you."

Margaret: That will get you an extra helping of Brussels sprouts and no pumpkin pie. Ever since our chat about the new guidelines on cholesterol, I've been hoping to meet your internist brother and score some Lipitor. There are no doctors in my family, only patients. When Obamacare comes up, I intend to change the subject to Pope Francis and Russian President Vladimir Putin or Iran and its nuclear weapons. The latter should have people begging for me to go do the dishes.

Ramesh: I am not the doctor in the family, but I am going to give you health advice anyway: Stay away from anyone with a carving knife.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the authors on this story:
Margaret Carlson at mcarlson3@bloomberg.net
Ramesh Ponnuru at rponnuru@bloomberg.net