Thursday, December 31, 2009

Pushing Back Against Fearmongering

Rachel has rarely been better than this...
Shameless Cheney ignores own record to cast stones Dec. 30: Rachel Maddow holds Dick Cheney and Republican opportunists to account for their shameless hypocrisy, distortions and outright lies in criticizing President Obama's response to the attempted bombing of Flight 253 in the face of their abject, egregious failures to deal with terrorist threats to the United States when they were in power.

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  • This is the Republican response to this terrorist attack at the end of 2009.

    Again, my friends and colleagues in the media have two choices in covering this. You can just copy down what the Republicans and Vice President Cheney are saying, and click "send," call it journalism, or you can actually fact-check those comments and put them into context. Your choice. It’s your country.

It's understandable that the White House, any White House, wants to stay "above the fray." A president and his/her team have broader responsibilities that preclude tit-for-tat squabbles with petty partisans.

That said, some criticisms deserve responses. Dick Cheney, for example, isn't some two-bit radio shock-jock in a third-tier market -- he only acts like it -- but is rather the former vice president of the United States. His loathsome and spectacularly dishonest attack on the president yesterday was hard to ignore.

And with that in mind, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer published an important item yesterday, offering a surprisingly forceful response to Cheney's latest vile nonsense. Pfeiffer noted at the outset that it's "telling" that Cheney and his right-wing cohorts "seem to be more focused on criticizing the Administration than condemning the attackers."

Just as important, Pfeiffer offered a "substantive context" for those who seem desperate to assign blame for a failed terrorist attack.

[F]or seven years after 9/11, while our national security was overwhelmingly focused on Iraq -- a country that had no al Qaeda presence before our invasion -- Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda's leadership was able to set up camp in the border region of Pakistan and Afghanistan, where they continued to plot attacks against the United States. Meanwhile, al Qaeda also regenerated in places like Yemen and Somalia, establishing new safe-havens that have grown over a period of years. It was President Obama who finally implemented a strategy of winding down the war in Iraq, and actually focusing our resources on the war against al Qaeda -- more than doubling our troops in Afghanistan, and building partnerships to target al Qaeda's safe-havens in Yemen and Somalia. And in less than one year, we have already seen many al Qaeda leaders taken out, our alliances strengthened, and the pressure on al Qaeda increased worldwide.

To put it simply: this President is not interested in bellicose rhetoric, he is focused on action. Seven years of bellicose rhetoric failed to reduce the threat from al Qaeda and succeeded in dividing this country. And it seems strangely off-key now, at a time when our country is under attack, for the architect of those policies to be attacking the President.

That's a rather diplomatic way of saying, "Dick, you had your shot and you failed. Now shut up while we clean up your mess. You can thank us later."

Cheney's disgusting missive also insisted that the president, by his estimation, doesn't realize we're "at war." Pfeiffer reminds us of several instances in which Obama has made it clear that, as far as this administration is concerned, we are very much at war.

There are numerous other such public statements that explicitly state we are at war. The difference is this: President Obama doesn't need to beat his chest to prove it, and -- unlike the last Administration -- we are not at war with a tactic ("terrorism"), we at war with something that is tangible: al Qaeda and its violent extremist allies. And we will prosecute that war as long as the American people are endangered.

Well said.

C&L: Rep. Eric Massa Smacks Down Dick Cheney--Challenges Him to a Debate

This was a thing of beauty. Ed Schultz takes a few swings at Dick Cheney himself and brings in Rep. Eric Massa who smacks down Cheney for politicizing the attempted terror attack and says he'll debate him any time, anywhere, even on Fox News if Cheney won't appear anywhere else. Just make sure you're in studio Congressman. They'll cut your mike if you're off the set.

And on the topic of Dick Cheney and his good little stenographer over at The Politico, Andrew Sullivan got this one right--Mike Allen, Cheney's Chief Spokesman:

There he goes again, the mouthpiece for Rove and Cheney, believing his "access" as a stenographer makes him a journalist. It doesn't. It makes him a stenographer.

I would be more than happy if everyone just started ignoring Dick Cheney and his stenographer Mike Allen. Cheney is a spineless hack who hides behind the shield of Fox News, and The Politico, or AEI or any of these other right wing neo-con think tanks that allow him to give speeches and take pot shots at Democrats. I agree with Rep. Massa and Ed Schultz. Let Dick Cheney come testify before Congress along with Janet Napolitano and let's see how he fairs defending their horrid record on terrorism.

Sully: Dissent Of The Day

A reader writes:

Your cultural hangover seems to extend to embracing unfortunate aspects of British nonsense as well:

`Let the jury consider their verdict,' the King said, for about the twentieth time that day. `No, no!' said the Queen. `Sentence first – verdict afterwards.'

Obama has already proved he’s not Bush, otherwise he would be clubbing down the press and political opponents by suggesting that any critique of government would embolden “the enemy”. Rather, Obama has conceded to a breakdown in the system and vowed to correct it. Can you conceive of Bush ever admitting to a mistake on his watch?

Demanding the immediate sacking of Napolitano as a symbolic gesture of accountability is akin to requiring idiotic new airline screening procedures – it provides the illusion of decisive action and does nothing except create a false sense of “something is being done”. If an investigation shows that she utterly failed at her job, then by all means she needs to go. However, to fire Napolitano without evidence of incompetence would be opportunistic, craven, and foolish (also trademarks of the Bush administration).

About a millisecond after Northwest Airlines Flight 253 was on the ground on Friday, federal officials took Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab into custody. He was soon after charged with attempted terrorism. Conservatives aren't happy about this for a variety of reasons, but one concern in particular is especially wrong.

Tom Ridge, for example, told Americans this week that Abdulmutallab will only provide information "if he volunteers it." Similarly, the Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb complained that "we can't interrogate" the suspected terrorist.

Obviously, no one should expect much from Goldfarb, but Ridge doesn't have any excuses -- he has a law degree and, not incidentally, he led the Department of Homeland Security, where presumably this issue came up more than once.

In reality, Abdulmutallab -- even after having been read his rights, and securing counsel -- can be, probably has been, and will be interrogated. As Spencer Ackerman explained yesterday, "Just because the guy lawyers up doesn't mean we can't interrogate him."

U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials I've talked to in the last several hours have been flabbergasted to hear this line of argument, because at its heart, it betrays a fundamental ignorance of the process. One who has experience in these matters called it "flat-out ignorance" to claim that the "criminal justice system or law enforcement methods impede the collection of actionable intelligence. There is no basis in fact."

Why? Let me turn this over to a U.S. official deeply familiar with intelligence matters who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the Abdulmutallab case. "I cannot speak from first-hand knowledge of the present matter, but if a terror suspect like Abdulmutallab invokes [his] right to silence, it does not mean law enforcement officials must cease the interview," the official said. "It simply means inculpatory information probably will not be used in court."

Got that? Mirandization is about admissibility in court. This ought to explain why law enforcement and intelligence officials aren't complaining about Abdulmutallab. It's just Obama's political enemies, who have no problem inventing a concern based on absolutely nothing and then promoting their ignorance about security matters to a pliant media.

If I had a nickel for every time Republican talking points reflected a "flat-out ignorance," I could retire a wealthy man.

It's possible, of course, that Republican activists like Ridge, Goldfarb, and others aren't hopelessly confused. Rather, maybe they understand the process very well, and are simply lying shamelessly this week in the hopes of scoring cheap points by exploiting public fear and confusion.

That, however, would be worse.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Fear 24/7

Nothing ever changes. Really. This is all just so predictable and sad.

In which Rachel highlights republican torture fantasies as embodied by Pat Buchanan.
GOP sees opportunity in terrorism Dec. 29: The Washington Independent's Spencer Ackerman talks with Rachel Maddow about the GOP's effort to politicize terrorism, undaunted by hypocrisy and contradictions in their own past, to promote torture for its own sake.

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When it comes to the debate over national security and counter-terrorism, this White House prefers the high road. President Obama didn't mention Republicans or their recent attacks yesterday, instead declaring, "As Americans, we will never give into fear and division."

Bill Burton, the White House's deputy press secretary said the administration is committed to keeping national security issues out of the partisan realm. "The president doesn't think we should play politics with issues like these. He hasn't. His response has been fact-based and appropriate and will continue to be as such," Burton told reporters.

It's a reminder that when it comes to the nation's partisan divide, the two sides are playing different games.

Republicans have wasted no time in attacking Democrats on intelligence and screening failures leading up to the failed Christmas Day bombing of Flight 253 -- a significant departure from the calibrated, less partisan responses that have followed other recent terrorist activity.

Not too long ago, blaming America's leaders for attempted terrorist attacks was considered borderline treasonous. There was an expectation that when enemies of the United States tried to commit mass murder of Americans, all of us should close ranks, join together, and put patriotism over party. That, it turns out, only applies to Republican presidents.

It stands to reason that the White House doesn't want the president getting into a petty pissing match with right-wing members of Congress like Pete Hoekstra and Jim DeMint, but congressional Democrats aren't stepping up to respond at all. As Avi Zenilman put it, "Why are Jay Rockefeller, John Kerry, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, and other Democratic national security voices keeping quiet? What are they scared of?"

I could vaguely understand if Dems were remaining silent because they felt like this is a policy fight they can't win, but that's backwards -- the talking points Democrats aren't repeating are obvious and rather devastating for Republicans.

It's not even an especially long list:

* The GOP's obstructionism is dangerous -- The Transportation Safety Administration doesn't have a permanent head right now, because one right-wing GOP senator won't let the Senate vote on the president's clearly-qualified nominee. What's more, some of the far-right Republican lawmakers blasting the president are the same Republican lawmakers who opposed funding for the TSA, including money for screening operations and explosives detection systems.

* The GOP record is a failure -- To hear the Hoestra/King/DeMint camp tell it, the Obama administration should have stuck with the Bush/Cheney strategy. It's worth noting, then, that the Bush/Cheney strategy was a spectacular failure. Perhaps Republicans need to be reminded of the catastrophic events of 9/11, the anthrax attacks against Americans, the attempted shoe-bombing, terrorist attacks against U.S. allies around the world, terrorist attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush's inability to capture those responsible for 9/11, and Bush's failures that inspired more terrorists and made al Qaeda recruitment easier.

* The knocks on Obama's record are insane -- The Hoestra/King/DeMint crowd would have us believe President Obama doesn't take the terrorist threat seriously enough. Notice, however, that these same callous partisans had precious little to say when U.S. forces, acting on the president's orders, successfully took out Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, the ringleader of a Qaeda cell in Kenya and one of the most wanted Islamic militants in Africa; Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistan's enemy No.1 and the leader of its Taliban movement; and launched strikes against suspected al Qaeda sites in Yemen. For that matter, the Obama administration took suspected terrorists Najibullah Zazi, Talib Islam, and Hosam Maher Husein Smadi into custody before they could launch their planned attacks. All in just 11 months.

It's like watching a debate in some kind of political bizarro world in which reality has no meaning. National security and counter-terrorism is one of the Republicans' weakest points. It's an area in which President Obama has had his biggest successes. Republicans are attacking from a position of weakness, and Democrats are letting them -- in part because the White House doesn't want to politicize national security issues, and in part because congressional Democrats are on the sidelines, pretending it's 2003.

The public will continue to think the GOP is "stronger" on counter-terrorism -- all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding -- unless Democrats tell Americans otherwise.

John Cole: Otherwise Occupied

Avi Zenilman has a great observation here:

We finally found one Democrat willing to defend Obama’s national security approach from Republican attacks.

Rep. Jane Harman’s office sent us over her statement responding to the attempted bombing of Flight 253, where she raised concern about Al Qaeda in Yemen but also warned about the costs of overreaction:


Harman also defended America’s current efforts to go after terrorist suspects in Yemen and Pakistan, which Obama also did in his speech yesterday. “I think the case can be made for surgical counterterrorism actions around the globe to prevent al-Qaida from expanding its training and equipping of people who want to attack us,” she said.

See, that isn’t so hard. What happened to the rest of the Democrats?

If elected Democrats are anything like left-wing bloggers, the reason they are not defending Obama is because they are too busy flaming him for not turning America into Utopian Commie Franceistan in the first eleven months. Or they are busy screaming at the people who try to defend him.

Also, they probably hate Rahm Emanuel, too.

DougJ: Bad news for Obama

I think we’ve done a pretty good job here at highlighting how much good news there is for conservatives these days. But we probably don’t spend enough time discussing how much bad news there is for Democrats. Here, Marc Ambinder explains why Bush-era policies are Obama’s fault:

(1) If, as ABC News reports, the plotters of the Christmas Day attack were released from Guantanamo Bay to Saudi Arabia in 2007, is the Second Term Bush Consensus about repatriation…the current administration’s faith in the Saudi Arabian rehabilitation system…the fragility of the Yemeni government…the entire Obama counterterrorism strategy?

Ambinder goes on to list ten questions for Obama about terrorism, none of them involving DeMint’s block of the confirmation of the new TSA chief.

(h/t commenter Comrade Jake)


Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) doesn't want Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to face criminal charge in a federal court. Former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge doesn't want Abdulmutallab to have legal rights.

I had the same thought Josh Marshall had about the search for elusive consistency.

Remember, the AbdulMutallab case is virtually identical to the Richard Reid "Shoe Bomber" case from December 2001 -- to an uncanny degree. Same explosive, (PETN), same MO (blowing up an airliner bound for the US), same failed attempt.

It's really about as close to identical cases and you get. And, of course, Reid was tried in civilian courts and is now serving a life sentence. Seemed to work fine in his case. And unless I'm misremembering, I don't remember anybody criticizing this approach at the time.

Most of the criticisms we're hearing are pretty silly. But that's where the buck stops. It happened. Obama's president. It's natural that the political opposition will try to pin it on him. But can we at least get some demagoguing that isn't so transparently ridiculous and easily refuted by pointing out the policy the accuser followed when they were in charge?

Right. The Reid and Abdulmutallab cases offer nearly identical circumstances -- same chemical, same target, same intended consequence, same month of the year, same twisted ideology. Reid was charged, convicted, sentenced, and locked up for life. Neither conservatives nor liberals whined about it. But if the Obama administration subjects Abdulmutallab to an identical process, Republicans are outraged? Either they're idiots or they think we are.

But let's take this one step further. In December 2001, Reid tried to blow up an airplane en route to the United States, intending to murder the Americans on board. In December 2009, Abdulmutallab tried to blow up an airplane en route to the United States, intending to murder the Americans on board. To hear several prominent far-right Republicans tell it, Abdulmutallab's attempt must be President Obama's fault -- as they see it, the suspected terrorist wouldn't have tried to commit mass murder were it not for the administration's policies. Failed attempt or not, the effort itself, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) said, is evidence of the White House's "approach" being wrong.

For any grown-up, that's obviously insane. But taken at face value, doesn't that necessarily mean that Bush/Cheney policies were equally responsible for Reid's nearly identical terrorist plot? If Abdulmutallab's attempt is evidence of Obama's national security strategy being misguided, wouldn't Reid's attempt also be evidence of the Bush/Cheney strategy being equally misguided?

What's more, is there any evidence -- any at all -- that congressional Democrats attacked Bush/Cheney for Reid's failed attempt? I suspect there isn't, which is why it seems like the two parties simply aren't playing the same game.

DougJ: The world’s greatest deliberative body

This isn’t surprising:

An alleged attempt to blow up a transatlantic flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas would be all-consuming for the administrator of the Transportation Security Administration—if there were one.

Instead, the post remains vacant because Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) has held up President Obama’s nominee in an effort to prevent TSA workers from joining a labor union.


DeMint’s objection creates a procedural hurdle that will probably take at least three days of debate and test votes to overcome.

It would be nice if a few Villagers here and there could take a break from bashing Harry Reid for not being Mike Mansfield and focus on crap like this.

Update. Ben Smith had a very good piece on this yesterday too (when he’s not quoting Bill Cosby and trolling for Drudge links, his blog is really pretty decent).


Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R), the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee and a Republican gubernatorial candidate in Michigan, sent out a fundraising appeal this week, hoping to exploit the Abdulmutallab terrorist plot for financial gain. Even by the standards of House Republicans, it was an ugly, craven move.

Dems are starting to pounce. Hari Sevugan, the DNC's national press secretary, issued this statement this afternoon.

"It was shameful that Republicans like Mr. Hoekstra would attempt to play politics with our national security at all, but raising money off it is beyond the pale. Republicans are playing politics with issues of national security and terrorism, and that they would use this incident as an opportunity to fan partisan flames and raise money for political campaigns tells you all you need to know about how far the Republican party has fallen and how out of step with the American people they have become.

"The American people simply will not tolerate the likes of Mr. Hoekstra and the Republican Party playing politics with the serious issues of national security and terrorism -- especially after the mess they left this country in both domestically and on national security after eight years of failed leadership."

Around the same time, Ryan Rudominer, the DCCC's national press secretary, also took a swing.

"Time and again, Congressional Republicans refuse to back up their tough talk about national security with a vote to actually keep Americans safe. Instead of shamelessly trying to raise campaign cash off the plot to blow up a plane and kill innocent Americans on Christmas, Ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee Pete Hoekstra should look in the mirror and ask why he and 107 of his House Republican colleagues recently voted against strengthening airport security."

Also this afternoon, a spokesperson for Michigan Republican Rick Snyder, a Hoekstra rival for the state's gubernatorial nomination, said, "It is extremely disappointing that [Hoekstra] would us a potentially tragic incident to raise money for his political campaign. In these troubling times, words can't describe how sad it is to see an attempt to politically capitalize on a failed terrorist attack just three days after it happened."

In general, lines of decency and mainstream norms don't really apply to House Republicans, so if Hoekstra actually pays a price for his genuinely pathetic display, I'll be very impressed. There are certain things politicians just shouldn't do. Trying to raise money off the attempted murder of hundreds of innocent Americans should be one of them.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


This was really unhelpful and unnecessary, but the Villagers will love that he is kicking hippies. TPM
In an interview today with Urban Radio Networks, President Obama said the public option "is not the most important aspect of this bill -- the House bill or the Senate bill" and added that only a "few million people" would have benefited from it. The idea, he said, "has just become symbolic of a lot of ideological fights."
Here's another DFH kicker. He must be serious . . .
Think Progress:
CNBC’s John Harwood tells liberals to ‘lay off the hallucinogenic drugs.’

Late last night, the Senate voted for cloture on health care legislation, paving the way for the bill to be passed by the Senate and then proceeding to a conference committee with the House. When the bills go into conference, many progressives — like former Governor Howard Dean — hope that improvements will be made to the legislation in areas like expanding coverage and instilling greater insurance company accountability. This morning, CNBC’s John Harwood dismissed this constructive criticism as “idiotic” and suggested that those who want to improve the health care legislation should “lay off the hallucinogenic drugs”:

HARWOOD: So much of the commentary that I’ve heard has been really idiotic. Liberals who want universal health care ought to be thanking Harry Reid for getting this done rather than talking about what’s inadequate in the bill. I’m not saying the bill is a good bill. But if you’re a liberal and you want universal coverage in this country, and think that you can do better, that Harry Reid can do better than he’s done that the White House can do better, they ought to lay off the hallucinogenic drugs because we’ve had a vivid demonstration of the limits of political possibilities on this issue.

Watch it:

Krugman: Down memory lane

Many progressives are deeply dismayed about the shortcomings of the Senate bill. And they should hold onto that feeling! History suggests that this reform will get much better over time — but only if people keep demanding improvements.

But I think my reaction to the bill’s apparently imminent passage is being shaped, in part, by memories of how it was, not long ago. Five years ago, after the 2004 election, I was devoting most of my efforts to an attempt to stop Social Security privatization. And it seemed likely to be yet another losing battle: all the wise heads, all the makers of conventional wisdom, were sure that Bush was going to get what he wanted, and that people like me were just boorish obstructionists unwilling to embrace change.

But Social Security survived. And here we are now with a reform that, for all its faults, is the biggest expansion of the social safety net since Medicare. That, in my book, counts as a big victory.

John Cole: Three Things, Not Unrelated

1.) Ezra Klein-

Thanks to the magic of Google, it’s easy enough to revisit the plan (pdf) Obama campaigned on in light of the plan that seems likely to pass. And there are, to be sure, some differences. The public option did not survive the Senate. The individual mandate, which Obama campaigned against, was added after key members of Congress and the administration realized that the plan wouldn’t function in its absence. Drug reimportation was defeated, and a vague effort to have government pick up some catastrophic costs was never really mentioned.

But whether you love the Senate bill or loathe it, whether you’re impressed by Obama’s effort or disappointed, it is very hard to argue that the bill Congress looks likely to pass is fundamentally different from the approach Obama initially advocated. “The Obama-Biden plan both builds on and improves our current insurance system,” the campaign promised, and on that, for better or for worse, they’ve delivered. You can debate whether Obama should have lashed himself to such an incremental and status-quo oriented approach, but you cannot argue that he kept it a secret.

Paul Krugman:

There’s a lot of dismay/rage on the left over Obama, a number of cries that he isn’t the man progressives thought they were voting for.

But that says more about the complainers than it does about Obama himself. If you actually paid attention to the substance of what he was saying during the primary, you realized that

(a) There wasn’t a lot of difference among the major Democratic contenders

(b) To the extent that there was a difference, Obama was the least progressive

Now it’s true that many progressives were ardent Obama supporters, with their ardency mixed in with a fair bit of demonization of Hillary Clinton. And maybe they were right — but not on policy grounds. (I still remember people angrily telling me that if Hillary got in, she’d fill her economics team with Rubinites).

So what you’re getting is what you should have seen.



There have definitely been compromises, and there have been letdowns. There have been mistakes, and there have been broken promises. I’m not thrilled with the slow pace of Gitmo, I’m not thrilled about any number of things, but I see slow progress. But there have also been unrealistic expectations- Obama was always a risk averse, cautious, careful person- I remember the many discussions we had here regarding Obama as poker player versus John McCain and his reckless love of roulette, and we used to agree that a cautious poker player who studies the opposition and thinks long ball and treats us like adults was desirable.

I’ve said repeatedly that the only people who really believed that Obama was a left-wing radical were the people on the left who wanted him to be but refused to pay attention and those on the right who wanted to destroy him. I think I’m still pretty right, and it is why I’m not disillusioned. I think my take on the guy was pretty accurate, and still is.

  • from the comments:
mr. whipple

But there have also been unrealistic expectations- Obama was always a risk averse, cautious, careful person

I would use a more positive term: prudent. I liked that about him, and still do.

I remember watching one of the debates while I was online, and a lot of people wanted Obama to just kick the shit out of McCain and were dismayed when he didn’t. Then the after polls came in, all saying Obama had ‘won’, and they were dumbfounded.

I think on issue after issue people want some old wounds avenged. Don’t just get policy passed, destroy republicans. Don’t just get healthcare, destroy insurance companies. Don’t just get our financial institutions in order, destroy capitalism.


Looking at that Politifact scoreboard (and I can’t go in-depth on my Blackberry), I can only imagine what it would have looked like with President McCain.
Then I go and do my happy dance again. It’s only been 11 months, people. 7 years and 1 month to go!

Drum: Healthcare Ping Pong?

Should ping pong become the new liberal sport? That is, should the House just skip the conference committee on healthcare reform entirely and simply vote on the bill produced by the Senate? This is, for some reason, known as ping-ponging, even though it doesn't really involve any kind of back and forth. In fact, the whole point is to eliminate the back and forth. But whatever. Is this a good idea?

I suppose institutional pride will prevent the House from agreeing to do this, but at this point I wonder just what they're likely to gain from a conference report? On abortion, the Senate bill is already better less atrocious than the House bill, its mandate penalty is smaller, and its defined benefit packages are more flexible.

The House bill has several advantages of its own, but among the big ticket items the public option is DOA and the others (somewhat wider coverage and more generous Medicaid expansion) would increase the price of the bill and are pretty clearly unacceptable to the centrist bloc in the Senate. That leaves the funding mechanisms: an excise tax on high-cost healthcare plans and a higher payroll tax on the wealthy in the Senate bill vs. higher income taxes on the wealthy in the House bill.

The excise tax has a sound policy justification, but a big chunk of the liberal constituency dislikes it anyway and I could certainly see a compromise here: raise the limit on the excise tax so it hits only the very richest plans and then combine it with a smaller income tax hike. Maybe that's worth going to conference for. But it's hard to see any other substantial improvements that are likely to come out of it.

So: go to conference and risk another month of squabbling and possible defections? Or take the imperfect Senate bill and get it passed for certain within a few days of returning from recess? Seems like a close call to me, but ping ponging doesn't look like a bad option at this point.

UPDATE: More here on some of the procedural issues. Turns out that ping pong might be more likely than we think thanks to yet more Republican obstruction.

Will the GOP play dirty to the end? Dec. 21: John Stanton, reporter for Roll Call, talks with Rachel Maddow about whether Congressional Republicans intend to continue their obstruction and stall tactics despite the apparent inevitability of the passage of a health reform bill.

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As if to answer Rachel's question . . .

Faughnan: Confirmed: McConnell Will Object to Appointment of Conferees

There's been speculation today that at least one Senate Republican will attempt to derail a health care conference by objecting to the appointment of conferees. Such a move could prevent Democrats from convening a conference committee to reconcile the House and Senate health care bills, and force them to adopt the 'ping pong' strategy. I have confirmed with a Senate Republican leadership source that GOP Leader Mitch McConnell will in fact, object to the appointment of conferees if Democrats attempt it.

According to this source, it is believed that Harry Reid now expects an objection to the move to appoint conferees, and may not even attempt it. If he does, it will be to have one more opportunity to allege Republicans of 'obstruction.' The objection will not eliminate the possibility of a conference; Democrats can resort to a fallback. They can propose a motion to appoint conferees, which is subject to filibuster. It would likely require 3 separate cloture votes to pass the motion to appoint conferees.

Thus, if Democrats are willing to spend roughly a week waiting to appoint conferees, they can do so. Otherwise, they will forego a conference and instead resort to ping pong: the House will be forced either to ratify the Senate bill as is, or amend it and send it to the Senate to be approved with changes.

Preventing a conference committee likely makes it harder for Democrats to address the bones of contention between the two bills: abortion, the public option, taxation of union health care plans, and the degree of subsidy available for purchase of health care. If the Senate bill is unacceptable to the House, leaders will be forced to open the bill to amendment - but not in a way that threatens 'settled' portions of the package.

This adds an unwelcome level of complexity as Democrats hope to preserve skin-of-the-teeth majorities in both House and Senate.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Monday Evening Potpourri

digby: Which Reality?
Senator Whitehouse made a stirring speech on the floor yesterday:
When it turns out there are no death panels, when there is no bureaucrat between you and your doctor, when the ways your health care changes seem like a good deal to you, and a pretty smart idea, when the American public sees the discrepancy between what really is, and what they were told by the Republicans, there will be a reckoning. There will come a day of judgment about who was telling the truth.
So, as much as I admire Whitehouse's passion, I'm not entirely sure he's right about this. I would have once believed that reason would always prevail, but recent years have shown me that it's not necessarily the way things work. We live in a strange PoMo world of swirling competing narratives and propaganda, some of which become a mythic truth regardless of their factual basis. (Al Gore wrote a whole book about this problem.)

I hope that in the long run all this will be seen as the historic progressive advance the Democrats are touting it to be. In the meantime, I suspect this fight will be ongoing for the foreseeable future and I have no doubt that the right will win at least some of the battles. I hope the Democrats are not relying on the notion that "everyone will see" how great the benefits are and hold Republican obstruction against them as they go about defending this program to the people. That's just not enough.
Booman: If Only...
If only this were more true.

“We are now functioning under a parliamentary form of government,” says Sen. Judd Gregg (R., N.H.) in a conversation with NRO. “An ideological supermajority in Congress, along with a government run by community organizers, has taken over.”

Imagine what the Senate would have passed if they only needed 50 votes (plus Biden). That bill is what a parliament would have passed. Whatever the merits of the Senate's bill, it is about the farthest thing from an ideological bill that can be imagined. It's a cobbled together compromise that conflicts with the ideology of at least 80% of the left in this country. Finally, a community organizer may be in the White House, but it is the centrists in the Senate who have distorted the rules to take over our government.

Yglesias: Health Reform Will Save Families Money

Left-critics of the health reform bill have done a good job of pointing out that even with reform, decent health insurance may not meet everyone’s standard of “affordable” for many middle class families. That said, the relevant question here is “compared to what?” Jon Cohn and Jonathan Gruber pulled together a big table showing how families of four would fare with and without reform. My value-added is to turn it into a bar graph:


Yglesias: Right-Wing Hoping Robert Byrd Dies in Time to Block Health Reform

Given that the GOP has basically been checkmated on health reform, I found myself wondering yesterday why they’re persisting with obstruction tactics. Surely letting the Democrats just pass the bill and then everyone gets to go home for Christmas is better for all considered than dragging this out to Christmas Eve. Then it occurred to me that basically they’re hoping that they can stall long enough for Robert Byrd to die.

But that accusation seemed a bit over-the-top. And yet here’s Senator Coburn yesterday saying “people ought to pray” that someone “can’t make the vote tonight.”:

That said, it seems that some people like their subtext right out in the open, so here’s Confederate Yankee: “It isn’t too much to ask for Byrd to step off for that great klavern in the sky before the Senate vote that may force this nation to accept government-rationed health care. Even a nice coma would do.”

  • Joe Klein adds:

    As Karen notes below, Senator Tom Coburn from Oklahoma--who, with James Inhofe, constitute the most extreme Senate delegation from any state--prayed for the incapacitation or death of a Democratic Senator so that health care would be blocked. But that wasn't all. He also offered this:

    "The crisis of confidence in this country is now at an apex that has not seen in over 150 years, and that lack of confidence undermines the ability of legitimate governance," he said. "There's a lot of people out there today who...will say, 'I give up on my government,' and rightly so."

    This is borderline sedition. Coburn--who had a friendly relationship with Senator Barack Obama--is saying that giving up on the U.S. government is justified. This helps stoke the hatred of those extremists who see Barack Obama's presidency as illegitimate. It also comes dangerously close to incitement to violence. It certainly deletes Coburn from the list of those who can be considered loyal to the most important American ideals. He should clarify what he means by these statements--and apologize for his hate speech, immediately.

Think Progress: World Net Daily poll on what to get Obama for Christmas: an ‘arrest warrant’ and a ‘ticket back to Kenya.’

The right-wing website World Net Daily (WND) has been the source of a variety of smears, particularly a campaign to question the legitimacy of President Obama’s citizenship. While WND exists at the fringes of the conservative movement, top Republican legislators frequent the WND radio program and the Republican National Committee, among other GOP organizations, fund WND through e-mail list rentals. The website, which files regular articles about the role of Christianity during the holiday season, has a new Christmas-themed poll which asks, “What would you like to give Obama for Christmas?” Readers have responded by voting for: “a court ruling booting his ineligible self from office, “a one-way ticket back to Kenya,” and “an arrest warrant”:

WND Obama Poll
Sargent: Health Care Bill To Be First Major Reform Created Entirely By One Party?

Question: What makes the health care bill, presuming it will pass over unanimous GOP opposition, different from previous major reforms like the Civil Rights Act, Medicare, Social Security, and the Clean Air Act?

Answer: All those accomplishments passed the Senate with bipartisan support of some kind, while the health care bill, presuming it becomes law, will be the work of one political party. In fact, the heath care reform bill may be the first major reform with this distinction in the history of the Senate.

As I noted earlier today, Republicans are beginning to argue that this is the first major reform to lack bipartisan Senate support. GOPers, obviously, mean this as a criticism. But another way to say this is to point out that this may prove the first major reform to face unanimous partisan opposition from one party in the Senate.

Is this historical claim accurate? Here are the final Senate votes on some previous major reforms:

* The Social Security Act passed 77-6, with 12 not voting. Sixty Dems, 16 Republicans and one minor-party Senator voted for it.

* The Civil Rights Act passed 73-27, with 46 Democrats and 27 Republicans supporting it.

* Medicare passed 70-24, with six not voting. Fifty seven Democrats and 13 Republicans voted for it.

* The Clean Air Act of 1970 passed 73-0, so clearly it had bipartisan support (still looking for more detail on that vote).

This is obviously only a partial list. Our reporter Amanda Erickson is researching other landmark votes, and we’ll keep you posted on what we find.

For now, though, if the Senate bill passes along party lines, as expected, it may well be the first landmark reform entirely authored by one party, and entirely opposed by the other one. Dems can either run from this history, or, as I noted below, they can embrace it.

Sully: GOP Regrets

Douthat does a health care reform pre-mortem:

In the end, when the history of the health care debate is written, I don’t think any of the choices that G.O.P. lawmakers made this year will loom particularly large. The choices that they made, or didn’t make, across the last fifteen years are what made all the difference. Between the defeat of Clintoncare and the election of Barack Obama, the Republicans had plenty of chances to take ownership of the health care issue and pass a significant reform along more free-market, cost-effective lines. They didn’t. The system deteriorated on their watch instead. And now they’re reaping the consequences.

That seems a pretty fair assessment to me although it doesn't absolve the GOP of abdicating all responsibility this year to place country before party. By that, I mean constructively engaging the process to improve the result rather than total oppositionism and partisanship. But that is also a function of the past many years as the GOP put Rovianism before any coherent governing philosophy and culture war before any real attempt to innovate policy or better understand government.

Sargent: McCain: Ted Kennedy Would Have Been Disappointed Because Health Care Bill Isn’t Bipartisan

Now that Senate Dems have voted for cloture on the health care bill, passing the major hurdle on the road to making reform a reality, Republicans have already rolled out their response: The bill is a failure because no Republicans voted for it.

John McCain, for one, went on ABC this morning to insist that Ted Kennedy would have been disappointed because the bill was passed by Dems only. Here’s his exchange with George Stephanopoulos:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Vicki Kennedy is now saying this is exactly the kind of compromise that Ted Kennedy would support, the kind of compromise that you worked with him on the past?

McCAIN: I think Senator Kennedy would appreciate the outcome. I don’t think he would appreciate it on a party line vote. I worked with him on many issues across party lines. There has never been a major reform accomplished in the history of this country that wasn’t bipartisan.

McCain’s observation that this is the first major reform that isn’t bipartisan is interesting, but perhaps not for the reasons he thinks it is. It actually contains the seeds of a Democratic response.

Dems, it seems to me, have an opening to make precisely the case that McCain made here: If this does indeed end up the first major reform that was passed by only one party, perhaps that’s because it’s the first major reform that was entirely rejected by the opposition party.

Dems could even claim Kennedy’s mantle to make this case, just as McCain is trying to do. They could argue: “Kennedy would have been appalled by what we are seeing here. He would have been stunned by the sight of the opposition party unanimously rejecting such crucial and far-reaching reform.”

To be sure, Republicans say the health care reform package is so unpopular that Dems will pay a price for having passed it on a party-line vote. They claim voters will reward them for having stood against it across the board. Right now, though, Dems have cast their lot. They’re all in on this.

Might as well take full ownership of it, emphasize that this is the first time one party has been entirely responsible for a major reform, and let the chips fall where they may. No need to run from it.

Think Progress: Steele: Democrats Were Trying To ‘Flip The Bird To The American People’ By Voting On Health Reform Last Night

This morning on a press call with reporters, RNC Chairman Michael Steele suggested that the Democrats’ effort to pass the health care bill in the Senate was the equivalent to flipping the bird to the American people:

STEELE: I mean, it just annoys and irritates me on something so fundamentally important. That this Congress, this leadership, is so tone deaf and so hell bent on propping up a policy that the American people doesn’t want, that they’re willing to basically flip the bird to the American people on this issue and slip it in in the dead of night.


Of course, the only reason why Congress held the cloture vote at 1am this morning, was because Republicans filibustered the bill. Last night, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) offered a unanimous consent agreement to move the 1 a.m. vote to 9 a.m. this morning if Republicans agreed to forgo the optional 30 hours of debate between each cloture vote and still pass the final legislation before Christmas. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), who had also sternly criticized the early morning vote, objected to the measure.

While the public is weary of health care reform, public disapproval of health care reform intensified as progressives were forced to sacrifice liberal provisions to find common ground with more moderate lawmakers. As the bill became more conservative, public option began to wane. A recent CBS News/New York Times Poll found that while 50% of Americans disapprove of the way “Barack Obama is handling health care,” 59% favored “offering some people who are uninsured the choice of a government-administered health insurance plan.”

Cross-posted on the Wonk Room.

Update At a press conference, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) responded to Steele's comment. "I'm disappointed that someone with the title that Mr. Steele has would be so crass and set such a terrible example for the youth of this country," he said.
There is arguably no greater obstacle to effective policymaking than Republican abuse of Senate filibuster rules. But most of the country, which understandably has limited interest in legislative procedure, has no idea that the problem exists. Worse, the media has accepted filibuster abuse as routine -- as if the Senate has always operated with mandatory supermajorities.

It's created a truly absurd legislative system. In order for necessary changes to happen, members will need to feel pressure to restore majority rule to the Senate. In order for them to feel pressure, the public will have to reject the dysfunctional and borderline-dangerous status quo. In order for the public to feel outraged, the mainstream political discourse will have to shine a light on the problem.

I'm delighted that this is starting to begin in earnest. Just over the last couple of days, the issue has garnered attention from a variety of prominent voices. James Fallows described the explosion in the number of filibusters as a "basic and dangerous threat to the ability of any elected American government to address the big issues of its time."

For most of the first 190 years of the country's operation, U.S. Senators would, in unusual circumstances, try to delay a vote on measures they opposed by "filibustering" -- talking without limit or using other stalling techniques.... The significant thing about filibusters through most of U.S. history is that they hardly ever happened. But since roughly the early Clinton years, the threat of filibuster has gone from exception to routine, for legislation and appointments alike, with the result that doing practically anything takes not 51 but 60 votes.

In his print column today, Paul Krugman pointed to the problem to highlight the fact that this one Senate tactic has made the entire United States government "ominously dysfunctional."

We need fundamental financial reform. We need to deal with climate change. We need to deal with our long-run budget deficit. What are the chances that we can do all that -- or, I'm tempted to say, any of it -- if doing anything requires 60 votes in a deeply polarized Senate?

Some people will say that it has always been this way, and that we've managed so far. But it wasn't always like this. Yes, there were filibusters in the past -- most notably by segregationists trying to block civil rights legislation. But the modern system, in which the minority party uses the threat of a filibuster to block every bill it doesn't like, is a recent creation. [...]

Nobody should meddle lightly with long-established parliamentary procedure. But our current situation is unprecedented: America is caught between severe problems that must be addressed and a minority party determined to block action on every front. Doing nothing is not an option -- not unless you want the nation to sit motionless, with an effectively paralyzed government, waiting for financial, environmental and fiscal crises to strike.

E.J. Dionne Jr. wants the political world to wake up.

In a normal democracy, such majorities would work their will, a law would pass, and champagne corks would pop. But everyone must get it through their heads that thanks to the bizarre habits of the Senate, we are no longer a normal democracy.

Because of a front of Republican obstruction and the ludicrous idea that all legislation requires a supermajority of 60 votes, power has passed from the majority to tiny minorities, sometimes minorities of one.

Late last week, Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, while talking about health care generally, was asked where progressives should be "putting their energies." Stern immediately turned his attention to the filibuster: "The Senate is distorting democracy. They've set up a system that does not represent what the American people want--and not just on health care. It sets the stage for America to be unable to meet the challenges on everything from jobs to energy to trade to foreign policy.... I think that is morally wrong. It hurts America, diminishes its ability to solve problems."

The point isn't that these prominent voices are breaking new ground. On the contrary, all of these sentiments are no doubt familiar to even casual readers of prominent progressive blogs.

Rather, the point is the systemic problem is starting to become more widely recognized. That's encouraging.

Think Progress: Obama signs Franken’s anti-rape amendment into law.

The White House Press Office sent out a statement today announcing that President Obama signed the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2010 into law on Saturday:

H.R. 3326, the “Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2010,” which provides FY 2010 appropriations for Department of Defense (DOD) military programs including funding for Overseas Contingency Operations, and extends various expiring authorities and other non-defense FY 2010 appropriations.

Within the Appropriations Act is Sen. Al Franken’s (D-MN) amendment prohibiting defense contractors from restricting their employees’ abilities to take workplace discrimination, battery, and sexual assault cases to court. The measure was inspired by Jamie Leigh Jones, who was gang-raped by her co-workers while working for Halliburton/KBR in Baghdad. Many Republicans opposed the legislation — saying it was an unnecessary attack on their allies in the defense contracting business — and faced intense political blowback over their positions.

Sully: Neoconservatism In A Word: "Fight"

Bill Kristol, whose view of politics is pretty much as Trotskyite as the far left used to be, does not see healthcare reform as a means of addressing a serious political, economic and moral challenge. It is, of course, just one more battle in the eternal ideological and partisan warfare he believes in. His current advice to the GOP is the same as the advice he has given for a couple of decades now:

Keep fighting on health care. Fight for the next few days in the Senate. Fight the conference report in January in the Senate and the House. Start trying to repeal the worst parts of the bill the moment it passes, if it does... The criticism of the Obama administration needs to be broad-based, because you never know just what issue is going to take off, and because the opposition needs to knit together all those who object to the Europeanization of America... So: Fight on with respect to health care. Fight on other fronts. And recruit new fighters. In a word: Fight.

Note that the issues as such are largely opportunistic - "you never know just what issue is going to take off".

Just keep punching out the outrages, constantly wage scorched earth resistance to any reform of any major problem, find any issue, any appointee, any opening to wage a campaign of brutal oppositionism ... and for what? To win against liberals. That's the goal. Yes, that's all they have. And that will make them happy enough. It's a game after all, isn't it?

Healthcare reform? The GOP has no way to insure the uninsured and is now pledging to keep Medicare untouched to foil any cost controls. Climate change? Again, there's no valid alternative, no brave championing of a carbon tax as a better alternative to cap and trade, just an incessant attempt to throw mud and scandal at any of those concerned with global warming. The deficit? If it grows, attack Obama. If it shrinks a little and joblessness rises, attack Obama. There's no real coherence here, just bellicosity, limitless partisanship, profound cynicism and fanaticism.

Going to Press with the Media We Have

I find it fascinating that the Post has two of the sharpest policy (Ezra Klein) and political (Greg Sargent) analysts around writing highly regarded blogs, and yet have a stable of mostly unaccountable fools and tools writing Op-Eds on their premium location.
DougJ: The arrogance meme

Kaplan “economics columnist” Robert Samuelson has a bizarre, content-free, anti-Obama screed today. I’m not going to link, but here’s a sample:

Barack Obama’s quest for historic health-care legislation has turned into a parody of leadership. We usually associate presidential leadership with the pursuit of goals that, though initially unpopular, serve America’s long-term interests. Obama has reversed this. He’s championing increasingly unpopular legislation that threatens the country’s long-term interests. “This isn’t about me,” he likes to say, “I have great health insurance.” But of course, it is about him: about the legacy he covets as the president who achieved “universal” health insurance. He’ll be disappointed.


What it’s become is an exercise in political symbolism: Obama’s self-indulgent crusade to seize the liberal holy grail of “universal coverage.” What it’s not is leadership.

There is very little substantive criticism of the plan and a lot of citations of poll numbers.

I’ve had a hard time figuring out where the media’s arrogance meme comes from. I don’t think Obama strikes many voters as arrogant, whatever their problems with him might be. I tend to think it comes from the obvious contempt he has for media elites.

There’s something rich about such a self-absorbed group accusing of Obama (or anyone else) of thinking it’s all about him.

from the comments:


Thanks for not linking.

It is just amazing how bad the daily Kaplan’s columnist are.

I’ve had a hard time figuring out where the media’s arrogance meme comes from.

They get it from the Republicans who use it as code for “uppity”. It really is that simple.

Krugman: What has health care reform ever done for us?

Reading Tim Fernholz’s takedown of Robert Samuelson’s latest, it struck me that this is pretty much what we’ve been hearing over the last few days from all the people who have made careers by righteously demanding entitlement reform, but are running away now that the real thing has made an appearance. Health care reform does nothing, they cry — except for covering 30 million people, ending overpayment on Medicare advantage, making the first real attempt to use medical evidence to guide health care spending, starting up a wide range of pilot projects on cost control while empowering an expert panel to put the results of those projects into effect, providing financial incentives to limit excess coverage, and so on.

But aside from that, you see, it doesn’t do anything.

And my thoughts turn, as they so often do, to Monty Python:

All right… all right… but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order… what have the Romans done for us?

Fernholz: "To Be Sure" About Health-Care Reform, Don't Read Robert Samuelson.

Robert Samuelson is the archetypal Washington columnist, who's managed to write about federal politics for years without learning a thing about it. He's also got the cliches down, one of which is the "to be sure" paragraph, where editors ask writers to stick the strongest counter to their own argument; it usually comes at the end of a piece. The Post's editors had Samuelson stick his "to be sure" in the fourth paragraph, and it's a doozy. Here's what we're talking about:

Barack Obama's quest for historic health-care legislation has turned into a parody of leadership. .... of course, it is about him.

... To be sure, [health care reform] would provide insurance to 30 million or more Americans by 2019. People would enjoy more security. But even these gains must be qualified. Some of the newly insured will get healthier, but how many and by how much is unclear.

So, according to Samuel, this whole year-long legislative effort is entirely about Obama's ego ... except for the 30 million people who will get health insurance because of the effort. It's a "to be sure" so big that it blows Samuelson's whole argument out of the water.

Except that there is no argument there. Samuelson argues that the bill will fail to cover more people and cost much more than expected based on his own back-of-the-envelope calculations about immigration, a report from the Lewin Group, which is funded entirely by the private insurance industry, and a 2007 CBO report that discusses total federal spending, not health care. He totally ignores all of the current studies by the CBO and other independent analysts that say the bill will cut the deficit -- a notoriously stingy CBO's latest estimate says the bill will save $132 billion over the first decade, and a corrected estimates of the long-term costs say the bill will cut the deficit by "between one-quarter percent and one-half percent of GDP" over the second decade while cutting the growth rates of Medicare and Medicaid costs in half. These facts don't make it into Samuelson's column.

The biggest joke is that Samuelson once again fails to understand the political dynamics that led to this bill's creation; in fact, it is the same mistake he made in the summer with the stimulus. (Remember what I said about not learning?) He totally elides Congress from his analysis -- this is "Obama's plan" despite the fact that he didn't write it, Congress did, and that various members of Congress (none mentioned in this column) put in things that Obama didn't like, and took out things he did. Obama will have to own these reforms, and he played a role in their creation, but to assign him total responsibility here is just willful blindness to the basic facts of how the U.S. government works.

Here's a bet. No one will be able to shred this post by Post blogger Ezra Klein as effortlessly as any sentient being instantly shredded Samuelson's piece.
Ezra Klein: Jane Hamsher's 10 reasons to kill the bill

I've gotten a lot of requests to respond to Jane Hamsher's list of 10 reasons to kill the Senate bill. At this point, I'm not sure there's much in the way of productive dialogue to be had here. Some of the list is purposefully misleading and is clearly aimed more at helping activists kill the bill than actually informing anyone about what is in the bill. Some of it points out things that really should be changed in the bill but aren't central to the legislation itself, and are simply being leveraged to help activists kill the bill. But maybe there's some utility to putting the document in context.

1) Forces you to pay up to 8% of your income to private insurance corporations -- whether you want to or not.

"You," huh? For the 85 percent of the country already covered by health-care insurance, it doesn't force "you" to do anything at all. People on Medicare are not going to be paying money to private insurance. People with employer-based care will not see their situation change.

For the nearly 50 million Americans caught in the ranks of the uninsured, here's the deal: The bill expands Medicaid, a public program, to cover about 20 million of, uh, "you." Private insurance gets nothing. If you make more than 133 percent of the poverty line, but less than 400 percent, there's a huge system of new subsidies to help you afford private coverage. There are also new regulations on insurers forcing them to spend between 80 percent and 85 percent of every premium dollar on medical care, barring them from rejecting you or charging you higher premiums due to preexisting conditions, ensuring they can't place any annual caps on insurance benefits, and more.

But here's the catch: So long as insurance won't cost more than 8 percent of your monthly income, you have to buy into the system. You can't wait until you get sick or get hurt and and then buy insurance, shifting the costs onto everyone else. The cost of having a universal, or near-universal, system is that people have to participate. The promise is that, for the first time, participation will be possible.

2) If you refuse to buy the insurance, you'll have to pay penalties of up to 2% of your annual income to the IRS.

Again, who's "you?" If you don't have employer-based coverage, Medicare, Medicaid, or anything else, and premiums won't cost more than 8 percent of your monthly income, and you refuse to purchase insurance, at that point, you will be assessed a penalty of up to 2 percent of your annual income. In return for that, you get guaranteed treatment at hospitals and an insurance system that allows you to purchase full coverage the moment you decide you actually need it. In the current system, if you don't buy insurance, and then find you need it, you'll likely never be able to buy insurance again. There's a very good case to be made, in fact, that paying the 2 percent penalty is the best deal in the bill.

3) Many will be forced to buy poor-quality insurance they can't afford to use, with $11,900 in annual out-of-pocket expenses over and above their annual premiums.

How many is "many?" For a look at how various families will fare with reform and without reform, see this table, and this article. But if you don't want to click the links, this graph, which shows the financial risk that medical costs pose to families with different incomes with and without reform, tells the story:

Rec Reform - Dollars.jpg

The vast, overwhelming majority of families will be better off under this bill. The families in the greatest danger get the most help. They will have insurance that they can use, and if they need it, subsidies to help them afford it. Compared with the status quo, in which about 50 million people have no insurance and tens of millions more have insurance they can't afford to use, this is a massive improvement. As Jonathan Cohn writes, "This is a hugely progressive program to bolster economic security, the likes of which we haven't enacted in this country for a long, long time."

4) Massive restriction on a woman's right to choose, designed to trigger a challenge to Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court.

The Senate bill is better than the House bill on this score, but it's still a problem. That said, the restriction here is not on the right to choose, but on whether primary insurance covers abortion. In the House bill, the exchanges can't offer primary insurance that covers abortion. In the Senate bill, individual states can choose to bar abortion from their exchanges, but it is not the default.

5) Paid for by taxes on the middle class insurance plan you have right now through your employer, causing them to cut back benefits and increase co-pays.

"You" probably don't have these plans, which are tilted towards the rich, not the middle class. Your plan probably doesn't cost more than $23,000 a year. And if it does, the only part that gets taxed is the part in excess of $23,000 a year. The average family health-care plan costs about $13,500 -- almost a full $10,000 less than the plans this policy taxes. If we don't manage to slow the growth in health-care costs, this policy will, over time, hit plans that are less generous. But economists consider the excise tax, which functions as a tax on insurers who let premiums grow too quickly, one of the most effective cost-control mechanisms in the bill.

There's an equity aspect here, too: The problem with the excise tax is that it doesn't go far enough. All plans would be fully taxable. This policy begins to chip at the edges of one of the most regressive elements of our system: Health benefits, which are mostly given to better-off workers, are protected from taxes, while income isn't. A worker at Wal-Mart with no health benefits sees his entire paycheck taxed. A worker at Goldman Sachs with a $40,000 health-care plan is getting $40,000 of his paycheck tax-free. It's wildly regressive.

6) Many of the taxes to pay for the bill start now, but most Americans won't see any benefits -- like an end to discrimination against those with preexisting conditions -- until 2014 when the program begins.

It's not even clear what Hamsher is referring to here (the accompanying link is broken). The main tax in the bill is the excise tax, which starts in 2013, not "now." And the bill isn't funded primarily by taxes. It's funded primarily by changes to Medicare. It would be useful if Hamsher explained what tax changes people are going to notice in, say, 2011. My understanding is that the answer to that is, essentially, "none at all." The word "many" is obscuring a lot more than it's illuminating here, making it seem as if the majority of the bill's funding mechanisms trigger immediately. They do not.

7) Allows insurance companies to charge people who are older 300% more than others.

The status quo is that insurers can charge people as much as they want, and they can refuse some people altogether. Hamsher doesn't present it this way, but the bill is a huge improvement on this front.

8) Grants monopolies to drug companies that will keep generic versions of expensive biotech drugs from ever coming to market.

This is correct. The bill gives pharmaceutical companies a 12-year exclusivity period, and then changes get 12 years atop that. It's one of the worst elements of the bill, and should be changed.

9) No re-importation of prescription drugs, which would save consumers $100 billion over 10 years.

This isn't really part of the bill, so much as it's a failure to pass a change that people have been trying to pass for a decade now. People should keep trying. But saying you'll torpedo trillions in subsidies and protections for the poor if you don't also get drug re-importation is a bit like saying you'll refuse to pay the sale price for this TV if Best Buy doesn't also let you use a coupon.

10) The cost of medical care will continue to rise, and insurance premiums for a family of four will rise an average of $1,000 a year -- meaning in 10 years, your family's insurance premium will be $10,000 more annually than it is right now.

It's not even clear what this is supposed to mean. According to the Congressional Budget Office, this bill reduces the average cost of premiums by a little bit for most people, and a ton for the people the bill directly affects. According to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the bill cuts spending in the long term. According to everybody, it decreases the deficit. The bill has at least five major cost controls that won't exist in its absence. Hamsher, earlier in this list, came out in opposition to two of them. And the bill does all this while covering more than 30 million people, ending the ability of insurers to discriminate based on preexisting conditions, creating a new and more competitive insurance market, taking the first steps away from fee-for-service medicine, and much more.

And that's the problem with Hamsher's list more broadly. The points about the bill's provisions are, in most cases, misleading. But much more problematic is that Hamsher's list implies that the bill is failing relative to a world in which we don't kill the bill. But in that world, there's still no drug re-importation. Still 50 million uninsured. Still rampant cost growth. In the world where we pass the bill, most everything gets somewhat better, if not good enough. More people have insurance. The insurance industry ditches its worst practices. Fewer families go medically bankrupt. More people catch diseases early, when they can be cured, rather than late, when they become fatal. People who would otherwise have died live. The medical system begins the process of updating itself for the 21st Century, and responding to the cost pressures it's placing on the rest of the country.

Compare that to the world in which we kill the bill, a world in which everything just continues to get worse, and politicians are scared away from the issue for decades.