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Will reforms survive the new Senate?

Robert Reich

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Steve Chiotakis: A week ago, Massachusetts voters elected Republican Scott Brown to fill Ted Kennedy's longtime Democratic seat. And now it's become a lot harder for Democrats to get an agenda through Congress. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich is with us this morning to look ahead. Good morning, Bob.

Robert Reich: Good morning, Steve.

Chiotakis: So now after the last tumultuous week, is health care reform dead?

Reich: Well something will be enacted that the president can call the first installment of health care reform. Probably including regulations of the health insurance market, such as stopping insurers from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions. Democrats remember what happened in 1994, when they were in power but failed to pass any health care reform bill. Now the problem is, Republicans remember it too, which means Senate Republicans won't give that 60th vote without a huge fight. Senator Olympia Snow could still be the deal maker.

Chiotakis: And what about other items on the congressional agenda, such as cap and trade?

Reich: I'm afraid no way. The drop in public support for the health care bill, combined with a growing anti-incumbent mood, is making Congress even more gun shy than usual.

Chiotakis: And does the "not to do list" include immigration reform, Bob?

Reich: It's going to be hard to pull off with so many Americans unemployed. But Hispanics represent an important voting block, and most are in favor. So Democrats may want to push a vote on this just to corner Republicans.

Chiotakis: And what about financial regulatory reform?

Reich: Oh that's looking much more likely, Steve. The lesson Democrats took away from Scott Brown's victory last week is the surge of populist anger among voters. But it's hard to act populist without a target for your indignation. Now tea-partiers and Republicans are targeting big government. So the easiest targets for the Democrats are the "fat cats" on Wall Street, as the president called them. Problem is, there's no agreement in Congress on what should be done, and the president's proposals, you know, for limiting the size and riskiness of banks and what they can do if they have secure deposits, are still on the drawing board.

Chiotakis: Now speaking of the president, what's he going to say in tomorrow's State of the Union address?

Reich: Well, I don't expect him to be contrite or defensive about where things are right now, Steve. My betting is we'll hear some initiatives to jump-start jobs and a commission to devise ways to reduce the budget deficit. The president will also re-afirm his commitment to health care reform and reforming Wall Street. The most important thing he has to do tomorrow will be to connect the dots and give Americans an overall vision of where he wants to take the country at this point. And so far, he hasn't done that, and that has hurt him.

Chiotakis: Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich and professor of public policy at the University of California Berkeley. Bob, thanks.

Reich: Thanks, Steve.

About the author

Steve Chiotakis was the host of Marketplace Morning Report until January 2012.

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