Over the past 40 years, the field of behavioral economics has emerged to explain why humans make irrational decisions. We talk with one of the pioneers of the field to find out what’s behind the choices we make, and how we can use this knowledge for good.
Poll numbers plummet for D.C.’s embattled mayor. Democratic members of Virginia’s congressional delegation stand up the commonwealth’s governor. And Maryland lawmakers call for the resignation of the public official in charge of regulating the state’s power companies like Pepco. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- Gerald Connolly Member, U.S. House of Representatives (D-VA, 11th District);
- David Catania D.C. Councilmember (I-At Large); Chairman of the Committee on Health
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour." It's starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. And, Tom, it seems to be polls, polls, polls. Whether or not residents of the District of Columbia want Mayor Gray to resign, that seems to be in the majority. And the speculation over who is likely to be the next mayor of the District of Columbia, more polls there. Where do you want to start with, the resign polls?
MR. TOM SHERWOODI think you should just say start with the resign polls because the numbers are dismal for the mayor.
SHERWOODThey're dismal across the board. In the poll where 54 percent of respondents in The Post poll, and I'll hasten to add The Post does a pretty good polling operation. You know, they sample based on demographics of the city and all of that. So it's not just they call people, ask them casually, what do you think? Fifty-four percent think the mayor should resign and what's -- a part of that, 48 percent of the African-American who were polled thought mayor should resign, and that was the base. That is his base. So that was a troubling number for him.
NNAMDIEven east of the river, a large number of people thought that the mayor should resign, and, as you pointed out, that is a part of his base also. The mayor seems to say, look -- and his attorney says, look, the mayor has not been charged with anything. He's not been indicted with anything. It is premature to call on him to resign. But does this kind of poll, does the indication that a majority of the city's residents want him to resign, do you think that would have an influence on the mayor?
SHERWOODWell, Mr. Bob Bennett, Robert Bennett, his lawyer, and the mayor know that there are two courts here. There's the court of law in which the mayor is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and he's -- that's correct. He has not been charged in any way. Even the documents that came out last week, there's no direct link to the mayor having done anything personally.
SHERWOODBut the documents last week did show -- prove the existence of a shadow campaign. So in the court of the law, the mayor is not yet approached, not even accused. But in the court of public opinion, the mayor is suffering terribly, and the poll reflects that.
NNAMDIAnd the poll also indicates that there is a lack of confidence in the mayor's ability to continue to lead, and that's obviously got to affect how he can move forward with the programs that he would like to push. But then the next poll talked about who is likely to be our next mayor, and it mentioned three members of the Council who are considering it -- Jack Evans of Ward 2, Tommy Wells of Ward 6, who have said on the record that they are, and Muriel Bowser of Ward 4 who's known to be considering it.
NNAMDIAnd the name Ron Machen, the U.S. attorney, I said in the billboard that I implied that I thought that was a little ridiculous because his name was included on what, I think, is the questionable rationale that his name has been mentioned. Well, heck, my name has been mentioned, and I was included in the poll.
SHERWOODSo we're now getting to the root cause of your -- your concern is that you weren't mentioned. Oh, well, let's call up The Post...
NNAMDIYou know, if...
SHERWOOD...and demand a re-poll.
NNAMDIIf you just include in the poll everybody whose name has been mentioned, it occurs to me that there's some comparison with Anthony Williams, who had no political history in the city before, but he had spent several years as the chief financial officer, and we knew that he could manage finances and balance a budget. The only thing that we really know about Ron Machen is that he's prosecuted some people.
SHERWOODWell, no. I think you -- when -- the people generally don't know Ronald Machen who is the U.S. attorney.
NNAMDIMost people really don't.
SHERWOODBut the -- his name is even more prominent now, so it's not unusual. I'm sure if Ronald Machen had been asked whether he wanted his name included or not, he would have said no. And whether Vinnie Cohen, who's his principal deputy, wanted his name included, I'm sure he would -- they would say no because they're focused on their job as federal prosecutors. But the poll The Post did was to do names and see what people think about them.
SHERWOODAnd it generally shows, according to The Post findings, is that there are a number of political people in this city who are poised to make a strong campaign for mayor if they want to, and that's the three you mentioned among others.
NNAMDII know a lot of people in this city who say that David Catania has the best chance of any member of the current City Council of being elected mayor. Why was his name not in the poll?
SHERWOODIt is in the poll.
NNAMDIOh. It is? David Catania is our guest this hour.
MR. DAVID CATANIAWell, I didn't ask for it to be in the poll.
NNAMDIHe is a member of the Council.
CATANIALet me make that clear. The Post picked who they wanted.
SHERWOODDid they call you up and say...
SHERWOOD...Mr. Catania, we...
SHERWOOD...would like to include your name.
SHERWOODWould you please give us the...
SHERWOOD...ability to do that. Of course, not. They would not even call you about it. Did they call you to tell you what the results were?
NNAMDIDavid Catania is a member of the D.C. Council. He holds an at-large seat. He is chairman of the Council's Committee on Health. He is our first guest. I included him before we even scheduled to talk about him, but I had to. Councilmember Catania, thank you so much for joining us.
CATANIAThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIContinuing with our conversation and feel -- please feel free to jump in at any point, Tom. There was an interesting column...
NNAMDIThere was an interesting column by Harold Meyerson in today's edition of The Washington Post in which he talked about how Jeff Thompson, the individual who has been assumed to be -- concluded to be the individual who provided $653,000 for a shadow campaign in the Vincent Gray campaign that it was a very old-school way of giving money to a campaign, that there were ways in which he could have done it legally.
NNAMDIHe talked with Fred Wertheimer, who is the well-known campaign finance reformer. Wertheimer says that Thompson could have someone set up a corporation on his behalf, headed by advertising in his own name. Corporations don't have to discuss who gives them money. He said he could have set up or given his money to a 501 (c)(4) organization, presumably a social welfare organization that is nonetheless permitted to wage political campaigns and does not have to disclose the identity to its donors. I bring this up...
CATANIACan I tell you I think that is exactly right? I mean, that's what's so perplexing about this whole situation. If I could weigh in on the poll for a second...
CATANIA...these are favorable unfavorables, right?
CATANIAThese are not who you vote for.
CATANIARight. But let me say one thing. It's a very different thing to have a favorable, unfavorable versus will you vote for that person. And we've had public officials in the city who've had extremely high favorables and then gone on to lose elections because there's a difference between what do I think about you and do I trust you to lead us. Second, I think, you know, increasingly, this poll -- and I don't doubt its accuracy.
CATANIABut increasingly, you know, about a quarter of our residents don't have landlines. Increasingly, the young...
SHERWOODOh, they included cellphones.
CATANIAWell, that's not my understanding. I thought it was simply land...
SHERWOODNo, included cellphones.
CATANIAIt was simply landlines.
SHERWOODI believe it said cellphones.
NNAMDIWe'll check on that in a minute.
CATANIAWe'll check on it. But the point is that that polling will be changing as we go forward as more and more people opt out of landlines. But we respect to this whole, you know, campaign finance issue, Jeff Thompson -- the things that are alleged could have been done legally, which is makes it perplexing as to why it was not.
NNAMDIWell, I claimed in an op-ed piece in The Washington Post over the weekend that political inexperience as a result of us not having voting rights and therefore not having any experience. Political machines is at least a part of the reason that we're having some of the problems that we had. And as I was telling Tom earlier, a lot of my rationale was drawn from what I read in his book "Dream City."
SHERWOODWell, there is a lack of sophistication to some of the political schemes. That's why it makes it easy for the prosecutors to catch these.
CATANIAMore than lack of -- I'm sorry.
SHERWOODBut it's not just that.
CATANIAIt's more than lack of sophistication. I mean, Thompson could have had, you know, an independent expenditure campaign, but there are reporting requirements for certain independent expenditures. So at some point, you would have had, you know, a certain amount of money associated with an independent expenditure. And, you know, then you would...
SHERWOODHe would have been known.
CATANIAHe would have been known.
SHERWOODAnd he did not want to be known.
CATANIAHe didn't want to be known.
SHERWOODSo that's why he couldn't do that. And there are people who believe -- and we all want -- the bottom-line question is, did the mayor know, did he have any knowledge of it at the beginning or come in the middle of the movie as I wrote in my own -- since we're promoting the things we've written -- did the mayor come in the middle of the movie, discovered this scheme and then not do anything about it, or what, or is the mayor totally innocent? We don't know the answer to that yet.
CATANIACan I give my impression?
NNAMDIThat could be read in Tom's column in The Current Newspaper. Go ahead. My impression, I've ran five citywide campaigns, and the week to 10 days before the election, any candidate worth her or his salt knows how much money they have on hand, and they have a budget before them. These are the activities that we have to do to win, OK? And so in this case, it was a September primary of 2010.
CATANIAFor -- it is implausible for me to believe that any candidate or any campaign managers looking at the money they have on hand, the things that they need to accomplish and how they're going to pay for it and see huge holes within the legitimate campaign. In other words, if I'm looking at the reports that twice as much money was spent from the shadow campaign as a legitimate campaign in the week leading up to the election, if I'm the candidate or the campaign chairman, I'm looking at this, and I see no get-out-the-vote.
CATANIAI know -- I see none of the paraphernalia that is required to run a street campaign, and I ask myself, why don't we have vans, why don't we have poll workers, why don't won't we have this, where is this coming from. And so it's implausible for me to believe that a chairman or a candidate doesn't know that that don't have enough to complete their efforts and therefore don't ask questions about, well, how did this happen?
CATANIABecause if you were the candidate and you are looking at your budget and you see no GOTV effort, no get-out-the-vote effort, as you're preparing your budget and then on Election Day you have one, it inspires the question, where did this come from?
NNAMDIDavid Catania, he's a member of the D.C. Council. He holds an at-large seat. He's the chairman of the Council's Committee on Health. You can join this conversation by calling 800-433-8850 or by sending email to email@example.com, a tweet, @kojoshow, or go to our website, kojoshow.org, join the conversation there. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. The Washington Post reported that the poll reached 1,002 D.C. adults via landline and mobile telephones. So there were...
CATANIAJust to show it, I stand corrected.
SHERWOODYou know, it's tiresome being right so often.
CATANIAI apologize. It is a burden, but you wear it well.
NNAMDIPlease don your headphones because Melville in Northeast, Washington, has a comment about the poll. And, Melville, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MELVILLEGood afternoon. And first of all, I like to say that The Washington Post poll and The Post has never supported the mayor, and I think it's a continuing effort by The Post to force the mayor out but, again, for different reasons. Again, they were pro-Fenty all along, and they've been continuing with these stories, drumming up support against the mayor. And it just shows the biasness against the mayor.
MELVILLEBut the one thing I'd like to say is getting an edge, one, you've got David Catania in the studio, and I can't figure why if he uses Uber taxi service, why does -- why would he vote, and he voted against where he voted four tax regulations for taxicabs and not for Uber. And, to me, that was a conflict of interest, and you should have really, really put it out (unintelligible).
NNAMDIAre you suggesting that anybody who uses Uber cabs should not be allowed to vote in that situation...
MELVILLEWell, let me...
NNAMDI...or people who use taxis, not be allowed to vote?
MELVILLEWell, taxi -- folks who did use it did not vote, and it just goes to show you how the City Council, again, continues to favor special interest, and that was a clear-cut example right there.
NNAMDIAllow me to have David Catania respond.
CATANIAWell, thank you for that comment. I am not a customer. I have used Uber, but I don't have an account. I've been in a car with friends of mine who have used it, and I find it to be an efficient attractive service. It isn't true that we don't regulate Uber. We -- actually, we regulate the sedans that Uber uses, so it's not an entirely unregulated industry. And as far as special interest goes, I think, you know, the special interest was illustrated by the 5,000 citizens who commented and didn't want us to over-regulate or kill or disqualify or make Uber illegal. And so, you know...
SHERWOODI think that was an example of social medium.
SHERWOODThere are a lot of emails.
CATANIAThat's right. But, you know, here's the thing, I mean, for the taxi industry in particular, what I would hope, and I think we have a very good industry. We have very -- many very good drivers. But rather than, you know, attack Uber and the use of mobility technology, I would hope that the taxi industry would embrace it and would become competitive with Uber to provide a good product at a good price, provide the customer what they want, and you will succeed.
CATANIABut to hang on to a relic of the way things used to be and think that through regulation or manipulation of the political process, you can kill off the competition. It's ultimately bad for what the customer wants and for your industry.
SHERWOODCan I -- and can we just briefly go back to what he said about The Post poll that has an agenda to defeat Mayor Gray?
SHERWOODI just think -- and, of course, I worked at The Post last 23 years ago. But I do know that The Post polls are done professionally, and they make available all the underlying material that shows how it's done. The Post editorial has been very hard on the mayor. I don't think you can say The Post reported the story about Sulaimon Brown first or Nikita Stewart. Those stories happened.
NNAMDINikita Stewart who also reported most of the stories on Adrian Fenty's problems when he was mayor.
SHERWOODYes, I was going to say. So I think there is a -- people who like the mayor, feel sorry for the mayor or want to support the mayor want to think there's some kind of cabal at The Post is trying to tear him down. I think the editorial page is quite clear, but I think the news judgment there, I think you can't draw that straight line.
NNAMDIMelville, thank you very much for your call. Councilmember Catania, you along with Council members Mary Cheh and Muriel Bowser have been outspoken in your opinion that Mayor Gray should resign. You've even gone so far as to call him a joke. Why do you think that Gray should step down?
CATANIAI said he's been reduced to one.
NNAMDIReduced to a joke is the old phrase, yes.
CATANIAAnd, you know, and here we have, you know, what is an otherwise a very fine person. I served with Vince Gray when he was a Ward 7 member and as chairman. And I know he has to wake up every day wondering what happened. But I do think that, you know, I waited and reserved judgment. In early June, after two of his campaign officials pled guilty to felonies -- campaign felonies, I asked them that he speak up, tell us what he knows, and if the issues are so difficult, that he should consider returning to private life and resolve these issues there.
CATANIAHe then said that I said -- I say ridiculous things. I mean, he kind of took a salvo at me. And I didn't think it was ridiculous to ask for an explanation for why your closest aides are going to jail. Nonetheless, then we have in Tuesday of last week another campaign associate essentially plead guilty to the largest criminal conspiracy in the history of home rule with respect to campaign finance issues.
CATANIAOur democracy was essentially purchased through illegal fashion. I thought the mayor owed the population an explanation or an apology. I was expecting one. The next day, following the revelations of all this shadow campaign or shadow gate -- following the revelations of shadow gate, what does the mayor say? Nothing. He expresses sympathy for the person who just, you know, admitted to a felony and doesn't apologize to the population for the fact that our democracy, the most critical element of our democracy is the integrity of the process.
CATANIAIt had just been assaulted, and he had not one word to say. And so I thought -- if I could finish, Tom -- I thought at that point, you know, he -- I think he knew. I think he knows he knows. I think many people know. It's reflected in the polls. I think he's lost his legitimacy to govern in light of a compromised election. I think the citizens deserve a fair election.
CATANIAAnd even if whether he knew or not, he is now so compromised in his ability to focus and keep a forward agenda going on, going forward that I believe he should step down. This is not about one person. It's about what's in the best interest of the city.
SHERWOODJohnny Barnes, former ACLU executive director, said on the steps of the Wilson Building this week, shame on you, David Catania, that you are a lawyer and a member of a prestigious law firm.
CATANIAI'm not a member of a law firm.
SHERWOODOK. Well, he said something -- he said it was all positive that you're a lawyer. He said, you should know better that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty and that you have decided that the mayor is guilty.
SHERWOODAnd how do you...
CATANIAI'm not going to (unintelligible), but that's correct.
SHERWOODHow do you separate the right to a fair trial, and is that what you're doing -- the mayor's due process may occur in court, but you think he's already guilty in the court of public opinion?
CATANIAWell, I think there's -- I think...
SHERWOODWhat's the distinction?
CATANIAI think and believe very much in due process, but that is an issue as it relates to criminal justice system that you should not have your liberty taken away from you without or in the absence of due process. But what we're not -- we should have a higher standard for the top elected official in the city rather than have you been indicted and convicted. There is now -- there has been so much drama associated with, you know, with our government generally in the last 18 months.
CATANIASome of it exclusive to the mayor, but others, we've had our campaign -- I'm sorry, our finance chair -- council chairman stepped down, a Ward 5 member stepped down. There's simply been more drama than the population can consume. And, you know, in light of what we see going forward, we know there will be more indictments. We know there will be more convictions. We know it as far as the eye can see.
CATANIAAnd so for the mayor, I know he likes, you know, to mention this. I know he does love the city. But if that were true, it is time to stop the drama. It is time to step down. It's time to have a special election, give the citizens a fair election and move forward.
SHERWOODWon't there be -- if I may just follow through this, say, the mayor did stepped down, but then we have Phil Mendelson, who's the chairman of the council now, acting as chairman, will become the mayor, then we'll have another temporary chairman who would be one of the council members. And then we would have another -- it's too late to have a special election for mayor in November, which means we'd have a special election for mayor in the early 2013.
CATANIAWell, we'll already be having one. Presuming that Councilmember Mendelson becomes chairman, we'll have a special election to fill his seat.
SHERWOODSo it won't be chaotic? It won't be unnecessarily chaotic?
CATANIAI don't believe it will be unnecessarily chaotic.
SHERWOODWell, Bob Bennett says that the mayor is doing well in his job. The people aren't saying things aren't getting done, so why not just let the process play out while the mayor serves -- does the things he does as mayor, that's he's doing his job.
CATANIAAgain, I think there's, for me, enough evidence and evidently from the poll, majority of the residents agree, there are enough reasons to believe that that's not happening, that the mayor has been compromised, that the citizens of the city are owed an honest an election.
CATANIAHaving three members associated with his campaign now plead guilty to felonies and knowing that more are coming, you know, it just seems that -- Tom, if I can finish -- the drama that will unfold, why put the citizens through more drama at this point? Anyone who believes that the mayor is completely focused on running this city is wrong. Let me tell you how else it prepares us...
SHERWOODWell, can I -- well (unintelligible) talk about, so...
CATANIAYeah, but one other thing. As we're trying to attract talent to the city, to work in the government, who's going to give up their career to come work for an administration that's hobble? When you're looking to build and expand businesses in the city, this just creates an environment and a narrative that we need to finish. The city is an amazing city. It is a great book. This is a bad chapter in a great book. It is time to go on to the next chapter.
SHERWOODWell, the next chapter, are you -- would you be a candidate for mayor in a special election?
SHERWOODNo. Would you...
NNAMDIWell, we got this...
SHERWOODWould you be candidate for mayor in 2014?
NNAMDIWe had this -- we got this tweet from Jodie Lee, "I would love to have David Catania run and would be first in line with a yard sign and a contribution, so, please, do. But white, gay, former Republican, is it possible?"
CATANIAYou know, there was a time, to be very honest, I was seriously contemplating and would love to have been mayor. And I think you have to have a certain fire in the belly. You have to want to do it, and you have to be consumed by it. I think I would be a good mayor. I think what I've been able to do with the Department of Health and Department of Mental Health and Health Care Finance would be illustrative of what we can do if I were mayor. But I don't want it as much as the others, which is the truth.
NNAMDIOne more call on this controversy. Carol in Washington, D.C., you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CAROLHi. I'm a Ward 7 resident. I think The Washington Post should do a poll for Ward 7 residents to see whether or not we would have elected Mayor Gray because we were -- the Ward 7 members that I know of, we were very disappointed in his representation of us. And I think The Post is not against the mayor, but only reacting to what they see. I agree with David Catania. I think it's time to move past this. I had a hope for Fenty we were going to move past it and see a new day in the city, where we would have real leadership and an honest leadership.
NNAMDIWell, the mayor did win Ward 7 in the election, you know?
CAROLSay that again?
NNAMDIMayor Gray did win his ward, Ward 7, in the election.
CAROLI know, and that's really hard for me. I really think it had something to do with the competition rather than I think we were really disappointed in Fenty. I think it was more a anti-Fenty vote than a pro-Gray vote. That's the one thing...
NNAMDIThat's an argument that a lot of people have indeed made, Carol. Thank you so much for your call.
SHERWOODWe have enough arguments going forward. I got a text here saying that Uber -- most of the cars from Uber are not registered in the city.
CATANIAWell, I think that they are nonetheless...
SHERWOODThat would be an issue?
CATANIAThey are nonetheless -- the sedans are required to be registered.
SHERWOODOK. Well, OK.
NNAMDICarol, thank you very much for your call. That's something you know that Tom Sherwood will be looking into at some point. You've just given him another assignment. Almost two years ago exactly, David Catania, you were on this show to talk about United Medical Center. I made a note in my phone because you told us that two years from then, the D.C. government would be able to extract itself from the hospital's affairs. Well, it's been two years, and the city still owns the hospital with no signs that it will be sold anytime soon. How do you see it? Where do we go from here?
CATANIAWell, unfortunately, we had a board of director's action just two days ago to remove Frank DeLisi as the CEO of the company. So the next order of business is to find a new CEO. But I think, you know, this is a tale of some good news, some good bad news. The good news is last year, the hospital ended in a profit. For the first time in 10 years, we've doubled the number of employees to nearly 1,000.
CATANIAWe have a world-class pediatric ER. They're run by Children's National Medical Center. We've expanded a skilled nursing facility, diabetes services. So there are a lot of very positive things going on, but there are also some very significant challenges. This year, the administration recalibrated the way they distribute what are called DSH dollars, Disproportionate Share Hospital dollars, which are dollars that Medicaid gives to hospitals for charity care.
CATANIAUnited Medical Center is going to see a reduction in those numbers, which has put its finances once again on the front burner. The board recently went through some cost cutting and some revenue-enhancement efforts. Again, this is a work in progress. But anyone who has mentioned or been to the facility recently will tell you they can see the improvements in quality and services. But this is hard stuff, and anyone who needs evidence otherwise can go cross the line at Prince George's County and see how they're doing with that hospital in dimensions.
CATANIAYou know, we continue to add millions of dollars on new equipment. We continue to add physicians and talent and services. That's really my job. My job is to make sure that the residents who live in the community served by United Medical Center have a world-class hospital. Is it going to -- do I wish it were kind of off the city's books at this point? I hope we can get there sooner. But at the end of the day, Kojo, I do believe, you know, we run certain things not as profit centers, as government.
CATANIAI don't look at parks and recs as a profit center. I don't look at the police department as a profit center. And I don't look at the fact that we provide great services to the residents of 7 and 8 that that hospital is necessarily a profit center. I cannot help the fact that its payer mix lacks certain private pay that cross-subsidizes the public pay. That hasn't changed. But rebuilding confidence in a public hospital or a hospital owned by the public takes time. This has been a work in progress.
CATANIAI'm very proud of the workers there and the doctors that have stayed with us and the population that is returning. And I'm also very proud, again, you know, I know, Tom, you've been out there. You've seen, you know, the pediatric ER I will look at when I retire from public service as one of the great legacy items to make sure, you know, I -- we know that children's lives have been saved and they asked my services provided their children would not have made it across town.
CATANIAWe know that 30,000 children a year are using that facility. The regular adult ER has seen massive expansions because we have -- we've decreased the wait time and improved the quality. You know, at the end of the day, you know, I don't see that hospital as a profit center. It needs -- we need to be respectful of taxpayer dollars, but, you know, it's still a work in progress. So...
NNAMDIWe take your comments and questions at 800-433-8850. That's 800-433-8850. Tom?
SHERWOODThere's a discussion that the city at some point should sell the hospital. I believe Mr. Nat Gandhi, the CFO, has that view and maybe the mayor does, too. But do you see it being sold and still doing the kinds of service you want, or do you think the city just needs to acknowledge it's going to have a public health hospital?
CATANIANo, I -- listen, I think there are profit centers in that hospital. It can make money. But the money comes from the economy of scales. Independent, free-standing hospitals, especially in hard-to-serve communities or difficult-to-serve communities, are expensive to run. The best situation would be to have our mayor go to, for instance, MedStar or Johns Hopkins, one of the larger groups where you have aggregation, and ask to bring that into the fold because you could then split and have areas of expertise.
CATANIAFor instance, if we were a part of the United -- United Medical Center were part of MedStar, which also owns Georgetown and Washington Hospital Center. You could have specialization. You could have shared physicians. Simply in aggregate purchasing of durable medical equipment and those kinds of things, you could save a million here, a million there and produce high-quality services with good systems, good policies, good procedures and that hospital could make money.
SHERWOODAnd develop a land around it to support it.
CATANIAAnd develop -- right now, for instance, you have Georgetown University Hospital, which is dying for more space. It is in direct competition with the university for that very small footprint. All right, there's conversations right about how do we expand, do we build a new Georgetown University Hospital? Why not build a larger hospital on United Medical Center campus that can share some of these responsibilities?
CATANIAFor instance, OB could be done almost entirely on that campus while you leave cancer treatment and other, you know, other types of treatments on the Georgetown campus. You could share not only the services but the physicians. And, simply, it is very expensive that the compliance issues, the policies and procedures, from everything from infection control to, you name it, it's hard for a free-standing hospital to have all that infrastructure, so you share the larger outfit, and you...
NNAMDITom mentions CFO Natwar Gandhi wanting to get the hospital off of the city's books as soon as possible.
NNAMDIYou've made it pretty clear that you're not happy with his reappointment as CFO. How do you plan to work with him from here on out?
CATANIAJust as we've always. I mean, there -- we have not had -- it's not been a love American style, me and Nat Gandhi, for, you know, for the last 10 years. But at the end of the day, we're charged with delivering for the people that we represent. He has his functions. I have mine. You know, had he had his druthers, we would've closed that hospital. That wasn't going to happen.
NNAMDIYou're the chair of the committee that recently appointed Saul Levin as the interim director of the D.C. Department of Health. Levin is the first publicly out gay person to serve as the head of a city department. He also has a strong track record working in HIV/AIDS response. Is this a sign that the city is going to be ramping up its fight against HIV/AIDS?
CATANIAWell, the mayor appointed him when Dr. Akhter decided to take a position within the Health Exchange. You know, I welcome Mr. Levin -- I welcome Dr. Levin. I think we've got some very good news to talk about with respect to HIV. I became chairman of the committee in '05. We went about the business of building an epidemiology infrastructure, which means data and research.
CATANIAI want to know where the epidemic was spreading, the modes of transmission. We did a lot with grants management, with building infrastructure to serve the community, et cetera, et cetera. And I think we have now -- we now have the data to prove we've made huge progress and if I could just mention a couple of example. Through making sure that we have universal access to ADAP drugs. You know, we have...
SHERWOODTo what kind of drugs?
CATANIAADAP, AIDS Drugs Assistance Program.
SHERWOODYeah, (word?) program.
CATANIA...I'm sorry -- making sure that people have health care. We now have the second lowest rate of uninsured in the country. So our people who are HIV positive, we increased testing by a factor of 3 percent since I became chairman of the committee. We had 122,000 publicly funded tests last year, more than the city of New York, more than the state of Florida. We multiply it by 10 times, condom distribution including female condom distribution.
CATANIAWe have improved our navigator program, the early testing and connecting people to treatment is yielding results and if I could share a couple. In 2010, there were 66 HIV/AIDS-related deaths in the city as opposed to 238 in 2006, a 70 percent reduction, which is directly attributable to our work. We've had a 70 percent reduction in HIV transmission with respect to intravenous needles because we've been very aggressive.
CATANIAAnd the statistic that I'm most proud of: when I became chairman of this committee in 2005, we represented 10 percent of all the mother-to-child HIV transmissions in this nation, in this city, 10 percent. We had no policies and procedures for making sure that women were tested, that we had the right requisite procedures in place to minimize transmission at birth, et cetera, and so we went from having 10 percent of the children born in this country with HIV to having in the last two years not one child.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments about D.C. and HIV/AIDS or United Medical Center, give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow.
CATANIABut may we dwell on that for a minute? I mean two years in a row, not one mother to child transmission.
SHERWOODNot one child. Let me -- with the World AIDS Conference coming to town next week and that's a significant -- and the city having had such bad publicity in the past and improvements you just cited, there's an issue that was mentioned in New York with Mayor Bloomberg and the police up there that public health workers are going out into the city and trying to get sex workers or prostitutes to use condoms so that they do not spread HIV/AIDS or other social diseases -- social sexually disease.
SHERWOODHowever, the police department in New York is -- and they give out free condoms for this. But the police department in New York were told, as happened here in The New York Times story, that police look at you -- if you have six condoms on you and you're on the street, that's evidence of arrest.
NNAMDIThat's reason for arrest.
CATANIARight. Well that's not true here.
SHERWOODThe mayor -- I'm not sure here. Well, the mayor didn't seem to know it at the press conference yesterday, but the health person said, no, that's not true. We tell the police that's not...
CATANIAAnd Assistant Chief Peter Newsham will tell you that that's like an urban myth, the three condom rule that you are somehow harassed if you have...
CATANIAWell, in the District, it was three. But there's -- but, you know, our conversation at D.C. courts, there's not been a single documented case of condoms being used as evidence of prostitution in recent years. Not one. And that would...
SHERWOODGood. We'll end the subject then. Good.
CATANIABut may I also mention another innovation that, you know, this epidemic really did hit the District hard, but we've made national contributions to the fight on HIV/AIDS. For instance, nationally, we set the policy five years ago when we went to automatic testing of HIV in our jail system. That's now at the federal system. It's been adopted at other places. And it was just common sense. People would come in. They wouldn't know their status. You know, they're -- people have sex in jail. They would leave without knowing their status, and we would see the implications there.
CATANIASo once we went to an opt-out, we actually were quite startled by the level of infection of people walking into jail, 6 percent for men, 8 percent of our women. We were able to get them into treatment upon release, 30 days worth of drugs, immediately connected to health care providers, outside appointments made. And these harm-reduction efforts have yielded these kinds of results. I mentioned, you know, the reductions in deaths, but we've also had an incredible reduction in HIV positive tests.
SHERWOODWell, can I add one more question, and I'll be done?
NNAMDIOh, no, I have one, too, but go ahead.
SHERWOODOK. Well, I'll ask mine first then. An AIDS -- I was asking some people who were helping to plan for the conference next week, and they said one of the themes, one of the -- in the forum I'm going to moderate on Tuesday, one of the themes is that we may now, despite the horrific toll of AIDS and particularly in African-American communities, that we may now see the beginning of the end of this epidemic. Do we?
CATANIAWell, short of a cure, you know, we will have individuals are currently infected for the foreseeable future, right? You and I were talking about that earlier. We have a 2.7 percent rate of infection in the city, and it gulls me when people compare us to third-world countries. We could have a smaller percentage tomorrow if we embrace some of the medical health strategies of other states in this country that deprive people of HIV drugs, deprive them of primary care, deprive them of any type of care.
CATANIAYou can reduce the 2.7 percent infection rate through attrition if you simply let your residents die. And so that has not been our strategy here. But short of a cure, we're going to have individuals with HIV-positive with this for some time.
NNAMDIWell, DC Appleseed just released its report card on HIV/AIDS in D.C., its seventh report card. The District largely maintained the same grades it received last year, most ranging from B to A minus. Is this enough to inspire at least a little confidence in the city's responses to the epidemic?
CATANIASo I would encourage people to go to Appleseed's website and look at where we were when we -- the first report...
SHERWOODSeven years ago.
CATANIAIt was full of incompletes, Fs and Ds. And, again, I don't want to sound Pollyannaish. We have not solved the problem. We still have unacceptable rates of new infections. Absolutely. But our efforts, again, at HIV -- at condom distribution, early testing, getting people connected to health care earlier in their disease rather than later, the social marketing campaigns of Ask for the Vote -- I mean, Ask for the Test when you go to your physician or -- we offer the test when you see your physician.
CATANIAThat, coupled with some aggressive stuff we're doing in our high schools with respect to testing, you know, I think we're making progress. And I'm pleased that the International AIDS Society is here. We do have a good story to tell, but it is an incomplete story.
NNAMDIDavid Catania. He's a member of the D.C. Council. He holds an at-large seat. He is chairman of the council's Committee on Health. Thank you so much for joining us.
SHERWOODAnd he's not going to run for mayor. That's the big news tonight, apart from the serious discussion we just had.
NNAMDIThat and a whole lot of other stuff he said.
CATANIAUnless the nice lady who texted you catches me on the street in a good mood.
NNAMDIShe might be waiting outside the station even as we speak.
CATANIAThank you, guys.
NNAMDIDavid Catania, thank you so much for joining us.
CATANIAAppreciate it very much. Thank you.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Tom, have we seen this movie before? A bill to ban abortions in the District 20 weeks -- after 20 weeks of pregnancy took a key step forward Wednesday as a House committee approved the controversial measure along party lines. The measure was sponsored by Congressman Trent Franks, Republican of Arizona, supported by fellow Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee.
NNAMDIIt would ban all abortions in the city after 20 weeks except to save the life of the mother. All of the Democrats on the panel oppose the bill, calling it an assault on abortion rights and on the District's ability to make its own laws.
SHERWOODWell, in this case, the District is the punching bag. This is not -- you know, this is a national piece of legislation. I'm not sure why it's not -- if you want -- if you think abortion is bad and you just want to ban abortion in the District at 20 weeks, why not make a national law and ban abortion after 20 weeks? Well, you don't do that 'cause it will never pass in the Congress, even in probably the Republican House.
SHERWOODBut this is another -- the National Right to Life Committee considers this one of its important bills to make an example of the District of Columbia. And whether you are for or against abortion, people should know that the people of the city don't get a vote in that, and that seems un-democratic and un-American to me. And that's democratic with a little D.
NNAMDIAnd speaking of what happened in the Congress last week, joining us now by telephone is Gerald Connolly. He's a member of the United States House of Representatives. He's a Democrat from Virginia. Congressman Connolly, thank you for joining us.
REP. GERALD CONNOLLYGreat to be with you, Kojo and Tom.
NNAMDIVirginia was the backdrop for a lot of hardcore politics this past week. The presidential candidates barnstormed the place. The National Governors Association had a meeting in Williamsburg. But one of the bigger local moments came when you and your Democratic colleagues from the commonwealth's congressional delegation boycotted a meeting with Gov. Bob McDonnell.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that what you objected to was a press conference that he planned to hold later in the day with Majority Leader Eric Cantor and that you refused to come even when that event was scratched from the government schedule. What was this all about, and what statement were you trying to make?
CONNOLLYYeah. That was not the nature of the objection, Kojo. The nature of the objection was that, for the first time, the governor and the majority leader, Eric Cantor, decided they were going to use a all-delegation meeting with the governor essentially to make a partisan political point. And we refuse to be props in that enterprise.
NNAMDISo there was first going to be a meeting with all of the delegation, both Democrats and Republicans. And then afterwards, the governor and the majority leader scheduled a press conference at which only Republican members would be participating?
CONNOLLYThat's correct. And they made it very clear the purpose of that -- immediately following the delegation meeting -- the sequence is important here -- they were going to go out and try to bash Obama and try to blame him for their own creature, namely sequestration and the impact of sequestration on the Virginia economy. And, again, why would Democrats want to be party to that?
CONNOLLYAnd, I might point out, the opposition to this was led by somebody who's got strong bipartisan credentials and was a governor himself, Sen. Mark Warner, who took deep offense, understandably, to using a nonpartisan, collegial meeting, where we tried to talk Virginia business across party lines -- to the best we can on behalf of the commonwealth -- for partisan purposes. And we just don't do that. That's not the Virginia tradition.
SHERWOODMr. Connolly, tell me about this meeting without this political sideshow that occurred. Do you -- is this an important meeting? Is this something -- you guys get together once a year to talk about Virginia as one unit, not in a partisan way. But what comes of those meetings on -- in previous years? What good are they?
CONNOLLYWell, we have a long agenda on lots of issues that could affect Virginia, and we share views about what we think needs to happen. The governor lays out what help he is requesting of the delegation. And it's been a very successful format in the past.
SHERWOODWhat can -- and I realize this is not exactly on topic, but I'm going to make it so. Well, one issue that you might have discussed yesterday had this meeting occurred would be the -- Rep. Darrell Issa's suggestion that there be a commuter tax at the -- Maryland and Virginia to stop -- keeping the District from taxing income at its source. Would that have been something you might have discussed with the delegation? 'Cause that would be a loss to you guys in Virginia if the city were treated fairly.
CONNOLLYYeah. Undoubtedly, yes, although it's funny you should mention that because we also have monthly luncheons of the delegation, and we had one yesterday. And there were eight members of the 13-member delegation, four Republicans and four Democrats who participated.
SHERWOODWell, can I -- may I ask your view? You're a strong Democrat, and, you know, and you've been in support of the District on many number -- any number of things. But what is your view of that commuter tax Mr. Issa talks about?
NNAMDICongressman Issa told Eleanor Holmes Norton, the D.C. delegate, that it's time to start thinking about how we're going to deal with the only place that does not have the ability to tax people who earn their income in that place.
CONNOLLYWell, I'm very glad to learn of this epiphany on the part of Darrell Issa. I just wish he could be consistent. If he really cares that much, how about a clean vote providing the District of Columbia with voting representation in the Congress and leaving off policy riders like abortion and gun control that are best left to, you know, self-government in the District of Columbia?
NNAMDIYou say he's sending mixed messages. Our guest is Gerald Connolly.
SHERWOODOh, I'm shocked.
NNAMDIHe's a member of the United States House of Representatives. He's a Democrat from Virginia. Congressman, the governor did say to journalists on Wednesday that potential automatic defense cuts are pointing a loaded gun at Virginia that more than 100,000 jobs could be on the line. How do you see it, and what do you think the options are to avoid sequestration?
CONNOLLYWell, two points. One is let's remember how we got here. We got here because the Republicans, those same Republicans who are now worried about sequestration, refused to provide a clean vote on debt ceiling increase for the first time since we started voting on debt ceiling increases in 1917. So they're the ones who created this mess and brought us to the brink a little over a year ago.
CONNOLLYAnd out of that, to save the day, they helped create a mechanism called the super committee that was supposed to reduce the debt by an additional $1.2 trillion Democrats hoped would do that in a balanced way with a mix of revenue and spending cuts. The Republicans refused to do that and created this mechanism of sequestration. And, lo and behold, when they walked away from the super committee, now we're faced with the looming prospect of automatic cuts, half from defense and half from the civilian sector.
CONNOLLYWe can still avoid that problem if the Republicans will simply be reasonable about putting revenue on the table. If they persist on saying, we're not going to discuss revenue at all, all of this has to be spending cuts. And, oh, by the way, all of that $1.2 trillion needs to be only on the domestic civilian side. I think that's a non-starter and no wonder they are now worried, but it's they who put us all in this position, not President Obama.
SHERWOODThe economic uncertainty is maybe hurting the economy, but it seemed to me, if I were a Republican, I wouldn't be anxious to reach an agreement on this until after the Nov. 6 elections. Well, there'll be plenty of time between Nov. 6 and Jan. 2.
CONNOLLYThat's a really good point, Tom. I think there's a lot of crocodile tears in the Republican side of the aisle here because they want to make it a political issue, but they actually don't want to resolve the issue.
SHERWOODWell -- but Democrats are making it a political issue, too. It's not like they're just one-sided on this, isn't it?
CONNOLLYNo. Tom, that's the kind of media narrative I reject. And I might point out two scholars have also attacked that kind of, well, you're both equally to blame. That's not...
SHERWOODWell, no, I'm sorry. I don't mean to say equally to blame, but Democrats are -- benefit some from attacking the Republicans for having done what they're doing.
CONNOLLYDemocrats would agree to a deal, I think, today if the Republicans reasonably sat down and said, OK, we got to have some revenue. Let's talk about how much and where it comes from.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, that has a great deal to do with that lack of conversation with the pledge that just about all the Republicans have taken to - the pledge advocated by Grover Norquist that they will never, ever vote to raise taxes.
CONNOLLYThat's right. They've given away their sacred vote. The only people we take a pledge to are to the people of the United States and the people who elected us. And all but seven or eight Republicans in the House of Representatives, unfortunately, have taken an additional pledge, and that's to Grover Norquist. And it's actually compounded. The problem is compounded by the fact they also allow him, like the pope in Rome, to decide what constitutes, you know, a sin. And so he gets to decide when a tax increase is a tax increase.
NNAMDIGo ahead, please, Tom.
SHERWOODI was just going to say, all of this tough partisanship is not unusual in a presidential year. But particularly this year, it's interesting because Virginia is in such play as a -- we like to call it a battleground state. How do you assess it so far?
CONNOLLYIf the election were held today, President Obama would carry Commonwealth of Virginia again. And I have to tell you, Tom, you've covered Virginia as long as I've been involved. I'm pinching myself saying that because, of course, we went for such a long dry spell, 44 years, where we never said that and -- but if you look at polling data over the last six, seven months, it's been fairly consistent. Obama continues to maintain the lead.
CONNOLLYAnd I, you know, I believe it's going to be close. It's going to be competitive because that's now the nature of Virginia. But Virginia is certainly no longer a reliable red state. It is a purple state legitimately.
SHERWOODAnd that's because of the demographic change of Northern Virginia principally and other changes or why?
CONNOLLYI think they're a whole bunch of changes, you know, the power of education, the demographic changes going on in the state, economic advancements in the state, the introduction of, you know, new and very successful industries, especially in the high tech industry, the presence of a huge federal workforce that, I think, is increasingly alienated from Republican action and rhetoric with respect to public service and a lack of respect for public employees.
NNAMDISince we're talking about the presidential campaign, it's a good time to remind people that first lady Michelle Obama has canceled her campaign events in Virginia today, and that's because of the tragedy that has occurred in Colorado, the horrible shooting that take place there. How has that affected your schedule, Mr. Congressman?
CONNOLLYWell, we, of course, are trying to get more information on the nature of the shooting. You know, in my district, we buried eight young people after the Virginia Teach tragedy, including the shooter, and we have a lot of grieving families to this day. So our hearts go out to the victims and the families in Aurora, Colo. But I think it just underscores, though, the fact that, at some point, we've got to have a more rational discussion about gun violence and reasonable measures to try to contain it. And, unfortunately, in our politics today, that's not possible.
SHERWOODWell, I'm not -- I don't, you know, I don't want to start the gun debate 'cause, as much as I would like not to have guns around, I understand the aspect of people who don't want to just ban all guns and all of that.
CONNOLLYNo one's talking about that.
SHERWOODBut a larger issue for me is the billions of dollars that we spend on what we call security spending, homeland security spending. It does -- we still don't protect ourselves, and maybe we never will, from the lone wolf. Every person I know who's in that industry says -- in the security industry -- that it's almost impossible to protect yourself from a lone wolf like this.
NNAMDIAnd so far, that's what seems to be happening here. But getting back to the broader issue of defense, Congressman Connolly, several defense contractors testified before a House committee this week. They said they've held back on hiring. They've held back on investing because of this debate about sequestration. What conversations have you been having with businesses in your district?
CONNOLLYI think there are a lot of folks who are very nervous about the current situation, and they're worried about sort of what doesn't happen. You know, they're worried about federal clients holding back on contract renewal or holding back on the award of new contracts until this situation is resolved. So it's the impact they're worried about in the future more than the impact currently, but it's a very legitimate concern and one I certainly share.
NNAMDIWhat concerns do you have about whether the country is moving toward a fiscal cliff later this year when tax cuts are set to expire?
CONNOLLYYou know, we're facing, I think, a lame duck Armageddon after the election because so much expires in Dec. 31. We've got to adjust the debt ceiling by Dec. 31. The Bush tax cuts expire Dec. 31. The SGR doc fix for Medicare expires Dec. 31.
SHERWOODI'm sorry. SGR?
CONNOLLYThat's the special reimbursement rate for doctors who serve Medicare patients. Forgive the acronym.
SHERWOODOK. Thank you.
CONNOLLYThe payroll tax cut expires Dec. 31. Unemployment insurance extension expires Dec. 31. The so-called alternative minimum tax for middle-class Americans expires -- that deal expires Dec. 31. And, of course, that doesn't even address the fact that we have not yet funded the government which starts Oct. 1, the new fiscal year. We don't have a farm bill, and we don't have a postal reform solution to a hemorrhaging postal service. So there's -- all kinds of things come together. Some of this estimated that the cumulative macroeconomic impact potentially of all of this is $7 trillion.
NNAMDIGov. Bob McDonnell, who has not been on this show since he came into office -- did I mention that to you before, Tom?
SHERWOODWas that a complaint?
NNAMDIOh, yes. Gov. Bob McDonnell has thus far declined to call a special session for the general assembly to set up an insurance exchange as part of the new federal health care law. He's had pretty harsh words for the expansion of Medicaid mandated by the law. Where do you see the landscape headed for health care in Virginia, given the steps that he's either taken or not taken so far?
CONNOLLYKojo, I wrote the governor and released the letter a little over a week ago, strongly urging him to take advantage of the extraordinarily generous and very useful provisions for Medicaid in the Affordable Care Act. For the next three years, the act pays 100 percent of the additional Medicaid expansion, which will cover well over a quarter of a million Virginians who currently do not have access to health care other than the emergency room. And then the four years after that, it's 90 percent.
CONNOLLYAnd so, you know, right now, Medicaid -- normal Medicaid for states, at best, is 50-50, 50 percent federal spending, 50 percent state match. This would be 100 percent and 90 percent respectively over the next seven years. It's a good deal for Virginia. It takes pressure off both non-profit and for-profit hospitals and health clinics who have to receive these uninsured people at their own expense.
NNAMDICongressman Connolly, I'm afraid we're just about out of time. Gerald Connolly is a member of the United States House of Representatives. He's a Democrat from Virginia. Thank you so much for joining us.
CONNOLLYMy great pleasure. Thanks.
SHERWOODI'll be watching on that commuter tax, what you do.
CONNOLLYWell -- by the way, you did know -- I didn't really answer that. Can I just answer that?
CONNOLLYThere are two problems with it. One is it's -- the predicate here is there's a burden by having federal workers work in D.C. That's not a very good argument because suburbs are only too happy to take this burden off...
SHERWOODWe will just be treated like everyone else.
NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have. And, Tom Sherwood, you worked with William Raspberry, the longtime columnist for The Washington Post who passed this week. He was a pioneer who will be very missed.
SHERWOODAn honorable life, well-lived.
NNAMDIIndeed. William Raspberry started out writing a column in 1966 for The Washington Post. He died this past week. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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