Monday, November 9, 2009

Health Care Monday: panty-sniffers like Stupak Edition

Thrush: Barney hosts the "Are-You-Smarter-than-Michele Bachmann contest"

House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) -- who has a low opinion of the GOP's collective IQ in general -- was particularly unimpressed with intelligence on display at the Capitol Tea Party Thursday.

Frank, speaking at a DC policy conference on Friday, via the AP:

"Some of the people (at the rally) that wanted to engage me in conversation appeared to have been the losers in the 'Are you smarter than Michele Bachmann contest?'."


John Judis notes a conversation he had with a friend who's disappointed with the compromises that have been part of the health care reform debate. The friend, Judis said, has taken to comparing President Obama unfavorably to FDR.

In response, Judis reminded his friend about the original Social Security Act of 1935: "[I]t was a bare shell of what it became in the 1950s after amendment. Benefits were nugatory. And most important, coverage was denied to wide swaths of the workforce, including farm laborers." In particular, farm laborers were excluded from Social Security in order to get racist Southern Democrats to vote for the legislation.

Judis concluded, "[T]he bill that the House passed last Saturday is considerably more robust that the original Social Security bill. But don't tell my friend that."

Paul Begala raised a similar point in August.

No self-respecting liberal today would support Franklin Roosevelt's original Social Security Act. It excluded agricultural workers -- a huge part of the economy in 1935, and one in which Latinos have traditionally worked. It excluded domestic workers, which included countless African Americans and immigrants. It did not cover the self-employed, or state and local government employees, or railroad employees, or federal employees or employees of nonprofits. It didn't even cover the clergy. FDR's Social Security Act did not have benefits for dependents or survivors. It did not have a cost-of-living increase. If you became disabled and couldn't work, you got nothing from Social Security.

If that version of Social Security were introduced today, progressives like me would call it cramped, parsimonious, mean-spirited and even racist. Perhaps it was all those things. But it was also a start. And for 74 years we have built on that start. We added more people to the winner's circle: farmworkers and domestic workers and government workers. We extended benefits to the children of working men and women who died. We granted benefits to the disabled. We mandated annual cost-of-living adjustments. And today Social Security is the bedrock of our progressive vision of the common good.

Roosevelt, the towering political figure of the 20th century, with an electoral mandate, a Democratic Congress, and the stench of a failed Republican president fresh on the nation's mind, had to take what he could get on Social Security, which was far less than what he wanted.

This is not to say health care reform advocates should accept every abhorrent conservative demand, just to get something done. Democratic policymakers have a rare opportunity in front of them, and there's no reason in the world they can't pass a strong bill, with a public option, and without measures like the Stupak amendment.

Indeed, let's be clear. There may be some Dems who say, "Well, the reform bill could be better, so could the original Social Security bill have been, so let's not fight too hard for progressive goals." This attitude is entirely wrong and self-defeating.

That said, the Social Security example is illustrative -- even after historic policy milestones, the work will continue. Where reform advocates come up short this year -- if they come up short -- it's not the end of the fight.

Brian Beutler highlights the six members of the Senate Democratic caucus whose votes will be the most difficult to get on health care reform. Near the top of the list is the senior senator from the state of Arkansas.

As a rule, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) may not be as ideological as Nelson is. But she's got a problem on her hands right now that Nelson doesn't. She's an unpopular senator in a conservative state and she's up for re-election next year. Unlike Nelson ... securing Lincoln's procedural vote is a nuts-and-bolts political problem. How do you get her into a position where she (and the Democratic party) feels her seat isn't particularly imperiled by votes for health care reform. Last week, she met with both Reid and President Obama. Those conversations will surely continue.

Reform advocates will no doubt deliver the obvious message to Lincoln: just vote for cloture, and then do what you think is best. Well aware of this, the Republican National Committee is already making the obvious threat: if you vote for cloture and then vote against the bill, we'll turn you into John Kerry ("voted for it before voted against it").

So, what's Lincoln to do? The polls look discouraging for her, and Arkansas has moved sharply to the right in recent years. This is not a situation in which a senator can take a tough vote with assurances from the White House that the president and vice president will come campaign for her next year.

Matt Yglesias raises a good point: "A lot of members of congress spent 1993 and '94 spiking the Clinton legislative agenda and then went down to defeat in November 1994 anyway. Wouldn't it make more sense to turn the 111th Congress into a substantive success, hope you can persuade the voters that these are good ideas, and if you fail at least manage to have gone down fighting accomplishing something important?"

If I were a campaign strategist for Blanche Lincoln, I'd go a little further -- I'd encourage her to become the biggest champion of bold, progressive health care reform in the Senate. I'd urge Lincoln to show some major leadership, get out way in front, and position herself as a Kennedy-like guardian of those suffering under the status quo.

Look, Lincoln isn't going to out-conservative the Republican candidates in Arkansas. No matter how she votes on reform, the entire Attack Machine is going after her as some kind of radical leftist. It doesn't matter if it doesn't make sense, and it certainly doesn't matter if she votes with Republicans on the big issues of the day for the next year.

So why not go big? Why not announce that too many Arkansas families are being screwed right now by a dysfunctional health care system and Blanche Lincoln has decided to do something about it? Why not run ads saying, "I don't care what the insurance companies and their candidates say: I'm fighting for the families who can't afford their premiums, the workers who can't get coverage, the Arkansans with pre-existing conditions, the small businesses that can't afford insurance for the employees...."?

In other words, show some confidence. Voters can recognize fear, so stop being defensive. Arkansas has a high percentage of low-income families, struggling to get by, who are terrified of their health care situation. They're not going to vote Democratic on cultural and/or social issues, but they're open to the Democratic message on economic policy -- looking out for working families' interests. A candidate who positions herself as a populist people's champion has a better shot than an apologetic Democrat who hopes Republicans won't mind her party affiliation.

When Republicans accuse her of supporting an overhaul of a broken system, Lincoln might want to try saying, "You're damn right I do. Why don't you?"

DougJ: Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s

It’s hard for me to see why the IRS should treat the Catholic Church any differently than any other political action committee:

The role the bishops played in the pushing the Stupak amendment, which unfairly restricts access for low-income women to insurance coverage for abortions, was more than mere advocacy.

They seemed to dictate the finer points of the amendment, and managed to bully members of Congress to vote for added restrictions on a perfectly legal surgical procedure.

And this political effort was subsidized by taxpayers, since the Council enjoys tax-exempt status.

I don’t say this because I don’t agree with the Catholic Church on reproductive rights (because the truth is, I probably do agree with them on most other issues, aside from same sex marriage). I just don’t see how what happened with Stupak doesn’t make a mockery of election finance laws.

John Cole: The Stupak Amendment

If there is one issue I am sick to death of arguing about, it is abortion. Thus, listening to all the noise about the Stupak Amendment has me rather turned off on blogging and reading blogs today. Apparently, even though it is not listed on his official biography and he has no apparent medical training, Stupak thinks of himself as a doctor and feels comfortable inserting himself in between millions of women and their physicians. Not since Dr. Frist’s remote diagnosis of Terri Schiavo have we seen such arrogance.

And while I am sick and tired of the debate about abortion, I’m even sicker of the C-Street panty-sniffers like Stupak. Why is it always helmet-haired old white guys who are such busybodies when it comes to a piece of anatomy they don’t have?

mcjoan (DK): Obama: Hyde Is the Limit

The key passage in the Obama-Tapper interview, in which Obama said that Congress needs to change the Stupak Coathanger amendment, is this:

"I laid out a very simple principle, which is this is a health care bill, not an abortion bill," Obama said. "And we're not looking to change what is the principle that has been in place for a very long time, which is federal dollars are not used to subsidize abortions."

Saying the bill cannot change the status quo regarding the ban on federally funding abortions, the President said "there are strong feelings on both sides" about an amendment passed on Saturday and added to the legislation, "and what that tells me is that there needs to be some more work before we get to the point where we're not changing the status quo."

"I want to make sure that the provision that emerges meets that test -- that we are not in some way sneaking in funding for abortions, but, on the other hand, that we're not restricting women's insurance choices," he said.

I hope he follows up those remarks with phone calls to Ben Nelson and Bob Casey, because they're working on their own version of Stupak as we speak. Stupak goes well beyond Hyde, as President Obama iterates in this interview--this bill is not intended to change Hyde.

The House bill already had Hyde language established, this amendment was superfluous and little more than attempt to make political hay off of a critical issue, to either try to kill healthcare reform altogether, or to set up a vote where a handful can still brag about how conservative they are back home, but not to have to vote against a highly popular bill.

Both Senate reform bills contain Hyde language as well, with the SFC creating a firewall between the financing and the HELP committee leaving it up to the HHS Secretary to determine the policy within the confines of Hyde. It remains to be seen if Obama's warning will be enough to keep the Senate from following the House's lead, but if they're paying attention to their President, and if they're paying attention to their base, they'll leave well enough alone on this one.

As the debate on health care reform got underway on Saturday, the first set of speakers were members of the Democratic Women's Caucus, who took to the floor of the House of Representatives to highlight the health needs of American women, and the ways in which reform is necessary. Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) decided not to let them speak.

It was a painful and offensive display, but it was also a reminder of a larger truth -- congressional Republicans seem to be going out of their way to push women away.

While Republicans scored a pair of impressive electoral victories in New Jersey and Virginia with solid support among female voters, the events of the last week offer harbingers of serious trouble ahead with the largest swing voter bloc in the country -- women. [...]

Democrats have long maintained that the Republican Party is hostile to all but the most conservative women, and they cited last week's rough-and-tumble House health care debate as proof that things are getting worse.

Price's procedural antics on Saturday did not go unnoticed, but just as important, let's also not forget what happened during Friday night's House Rules Committee meeting. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) noted discriminatory insurance practices against women customers. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.), the head of the Republicans' campaign committee, suggested women should pay more.

"Well, we're all different," Sessions argued. "Why should a smoker pay more?"

And this comes on the heels of the NRCC arguing that Speaker Pelosi should be put "in her place."

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) told Politico, "This is a party that doesn't respect women, a party that doesn't believe women are equal to men.... I don't think they attract women to their party. I think they repulse women."

Well, at a minimum, they're moving in that direction.

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