Monday, December 21, 2009

Making the Difference.

Senate invokes cloture on Reid's manager's amendment by a 60-40 vote. I will remind you that we needed every single victory from 2006 and 2008 to achieve this. We needed Tester and Webb and McCaskill and Whitehouse and Klobuchar and Franken and Begich and Merkley and Sanders and the two Udalls and Brown and Cardin and Hagan and Casey and Hagan and Shaheen and Warner. We needed to seat Bennet and Burris and Gillibrand. We needed to replace Kennedy with Kirk. With had to flip Arlen Specter to the Democratic Party. If we lost any single one of those battles, health care reform would be dead. Instead, it lives. And you have yourselves to thank for that. Your activism made the difference.
tchamp77 (from the TPM comments):
Since no Republicans are on board, the conference committee should strip out all Republican amendments to the bill!!
Political Wire: Political Lie of the Year
PolitiFact notes that of all the falsehoods and distortions in the political discourse this year, one stood out from the rest: "Death panels."

"The claim set political debate afire when it was made in August, raising issues from the role of government in health care to the bounds of acceptable political discussion. In a nod to the way technology has transformed politics, the statement wasn't made in an interview or a television ad. Sarah Palin posted it on her Facebook page."
Feingold and Webb are both trashing the President for not delivering a bill for Congress to debate, rather than trashing the legislative process in their own institution. I don't remember either of these gentlemen introducing a bill to eliminate the filibuster, or cosponsoring Harkins bill? I don't remember seeing them trash Lieberman and Nelson and Landreau and Lincoln for obstructing their party. In fact, I remember Webb saying he wasn't committed to supporting the bill, or at least to not join the Repugs in a filibuster. Short of that, with the conservaDem caucus in full sway, how exactly were we ever going to get a better bill than the one the senate is about to pass. And how were we going to prevent "confusion among our public" with a 24/7 misinformation campaign by the RW?
Marshall (TPM): "Confusion Among Our Public"

Sen. Webb's office put out a statement this evening declaring his intention (which will already knew) to be one of the 60 votes to move the health care bill on to passage. I reprint it in full below the fold. But in the process of going through his rather pained journey to supporting the bill he says this ...

"Over the past year, the process of debating this issue often overwhelmed the substance of fixing the problem. The Obama Administration declared health care reform to be a major domestic objective, but they did not offer the Congress a bill. Nor did they propose a specific set of objectives from which legislation could be derived. Consequently, legislation was developed independently through five different Congressional committees, three in the House and two in the Senate. This resulted in a large amount of contradictory information and a great deal of confusion among our public."

He's far from the only one to make this criticism. But it's a pretty public rebuke in this context.

Booman: I Support the Bill
As Al points out, Teddy Kennedy would have voted for this health care bill. I just watched Bernie Sanders and Ben Cardin explain how they secured money to forgive medical school tuition for doctors who go into primary care, which they believe will give primary care access to 20 million Americans who don't have that access now. They're voting for the bill. I'd vote for it, too. Hopefully, the bill will improve in Conference. But, considering that we had to win over all 60 members of the Democratic Caucus (including Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman) the bill we have is close to as good as could have gotten. I believe, in retrospect, Reid should have cut a deal with Snowe for her support of the base bill. With her vote secured, he wouldn't have had to make so many concessions to Nelson and Lieberman, and we'd have a triggered public option going into Conference. I am confident that we could have had that and we lost it the moment the triggerless public option was put in the base bill. Others may think Lieberman would have thrown a tantrum anyway, but I disagree. He only acted because he realized Reid had to have his vote. Nevertheless, this bill is only slightly worse than the best that could have been expected.

I know people are pissed off about that, but this was the situation from the beginning. Really, after months of lobbying and activism, nothing much really changed from the beginning to the end.

Paul Krugman:
I haven’t seen anyone point this out; but it occurs to me that we all owe thanks to the Club for Growth. If they hadn’t targeted Arlen Specter, he wouldn’t have switched parties, the Democrats wouldn’t have 60 seats, and the world might look very different.
Booman: Pick Your Poison
Megan McArdle is typical of a Republican argument that is making the rounds. The GOP is arguing that the Democrats are committing an act of political suicide (political self-injury is how I put it) by passing a major overhaul of the health care insurance and delivery system. I think McArdle is smoking the rock when she predicts that the Democrats will lose the House of Representatives, but we're going to lose seats. And she's right that any loss of seats in the Senate will make it almost impossible for Obama to do anything worthwhile. A lot of the progressive critique of the Reid bill is less ideological than practical and political. As Atrios repeats like a mantra, people have to actually like the reforms.

The bill itself is not bad. It only looks bad when compared to what we should have done, which is either abolish the private health insurance industry or regulate it like a power or water utility. On the merits, this bill should be passed. The politics are more complicated. Would a failure to pass anything be more damaging than a bill that too many people don't like? One of the dangers of the current bill is that a lot of people won't see their benefit until 2014. Another danger is that the subsidies won't make mandated insurance affordable.

Progressives who are fighting to improve the bill in Conference to make sure that it is stronger and kicks in quicker are doing the right thing. But the president and the Democrats have to succeed in passing a health care bill. Betting that we can restore the enthusiasm of the base by failing to pass health care reform and avoid electoral losses? That's a fool's bet. Fight to improve this bill, but then fight to pass it.

Sargent: The Morning Plum
Health care is officially an issue in the 2010 elections, drawing the battle lines over a reform effort that every single Republican voted against last night. The NRSC is already pummeling Blanche Lincoln, who faces a stiff re-election fight, for providing the “critical 60th vote” for “higher taxes, massive cuts to Medicare, taxpayer-funded abortions, and higher health care premiums for Arkansans.”

* Which means the next step for Dems is selling the compromise.

* By the way, Olympia Snowe, who voted No last night because she said the vote was being “rushed,” did not rule out supporting the final bill. So there’s still time to cut a deal with her around the “trigger,” get her support on the bill that emerges from conference, and marginalize Joe Lieberman.


* Ben Nelson to House liberals: Don’t even think about keeping your tax on the wealthy in the final bill, because if you do, I’ll kill the hostage.

* Godfather of the public option backs the Senate bill.

Booman: Quotes of the Day
Al Franken:

In 1917, progressives in America began a quest to create a system to provide health insurance to all Americans. Today, almost a century later, we are poised to take a giant step toward realizing that goal. Viewed through the lens of history, this is truly an amazing accomplishment.

To earn my vote, health insurance reform must improve access to affordable health care for Minnesota families – and this bill clears that bar with room to spare. This bill does not fix all the problems with our health care system, and I will not stop working to improve the quality and lower the costs of health care for all Americans. But progressives can be proud of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and take a large measure of credit for important provisions it will codify as the law of the land.

Joe Biden:

"If the bill passes the Senate this week, there will be more chances to make changes to it before it becomes law. But if the bill dies this week, there is no second chance to vote yes. What those who care about health insurance reform need to realize is that unless we get 60 votes now, there will be no health care reform at all. Not this year, not in this Congress -- and maybe not for another generation."
Beutler (TPM): Democrats Elated, Relieved After Pushing Health Care Reform Forward

"The die is cast. It's done," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), moments after 60 Democrats signaled, with a single procedural vote, that they will stick together to pass health care reform.

As the clerk read the final tally aloud in the Senate chamber, Democrats, seated at their desks, muffled all of their emotions--enthusiasm, anxiety, relief. Sitting at his desk Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) clutched Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL) and Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-DE)--his colleague on either side--by the arms. Members smiled and softly pumped their fists, but in accordance with the rules, the floor was mostly silent.

In the reception room just outside the chamber, Sen. Ted Kennedy's widow Vicki embraced Sens. Chris Dodd (D-CT) and John Kerry (D-MA). Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, standing alone in the corner of the room, shouted a hearty congratulations to Dodd.

"Harry's going to almost have a drink," Schumer joked about the Mormon majority leader.

Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Ben Nelson (D-NE)--two of the final hold outs--reminded reporters that they'd oppose the bill that emerges from negotiations with the House if the language changes dramatically, entrenching the conventional wisdom that the House will have to accept a final bill that's significantly less progressive than the bill they passed this fall.

"I'm afraid that a splitting of the differences here will not work," Lieberman said. "It took a lot of work to bring this 60 together, and this 60 is delicately balanced."

But, crucially, even Nelson speaks of the bill before the Senate now as if it's already been passed.

"The next step, of course, will be to see what happens with the conference," Nelson said.

A disappointed Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) had harsh words for Democrats, who, nearly a year after the legislative process kicked off, she says are rushing this bill to passage. But, interestingly, she did not rule out contributing to, and ultimately voting for, the conference package.
  • Steve Benen adds:

    Even as the debate continued last night, the quality of the GOP criticism has not improved.

    "It's obvious why the majority has cooked up this amendment in secret, has introduced it in the middle of a snowstorm, has scheduled the Senate to come in session at midnight, has scheduled a vote for 1 a.m., is insisting that it be passed before Christmas -- because they don't want the American people to know what's in it," said Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee.

    Alexander has been around long enough to know that what he's saying is patently ridiculous. Regardless of whether one approves or disapproves of the reform bill, the odd voting times are the result of Republican obstructionism, not Democratic embarrassment.

    In fact, I'm confident that if the GOP caucus would scrap its delaying tactics, the majority would agree to hold the debate in prime time before heading home for the holidays.

    But that, of course, isn't going to happen. As Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters, Republicans feel the need to fight until the last possible minute on Christmas Eve. "There is nothing inevitable about this," Cornyn said.

    Reality suggests otherwise. As Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) put, "If the Republicans want to exercise every single right they have under the rules, they can keep us here until Christmas Eve, no doubt about it. But to what end, I ask? To what end? We're going to have the vote at 1 a.m. that requires 60 votes, and then why stay here until Christmas Eve to do what they know we're going to do?"

    The debate itself was largely predictable, but Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-Okla.) remarks stood out, as they often do: "What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can't make the vote tonight. That's what they ought to pray."

    The veiled comment made it seem as if Coburn may have had nefarious intentions towards someone in the Democratic caucus. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) responding to Coburn by lamenting "the malignant and vindictive passions that have descended on the Senate." Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) added that he was "troubled" by Coburn's remarks, and encouraged the right-wing senator to "come back to the floor and explain exactly what he meant."

    Coburn did not.

    Nevertheless, the process continues. We talked over the weekend about the schedule, but as a reminder, the next vote is expected tomorrow morning, around 7:30 a.m. (ET), when senators will vote, up or down, on the Manager's Amendment. Unless Republicans drop their delaying efforts, the chamber is still on track for an up-or-down vote on health care reform between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

Digby: Bipartisan Tragedy
I quoted David Gergen earlier saying that public opinion may cause the final bill to ultimately fail, which I agree may be remotely possible. But that's the last rational thing he said all night. At the moment of the passage of the cloture vote in the Senate, he blurted this out:
In my judgment it's a tragedy for the country to have a bill this important, a historic piece of legislation, pass with only one party voting for it.
After droning on irrelevantly about how Earl Warren got all the justices on board for Brown vs Board of Education and saying that this is the first major piece of legislation in 50 years that didn't have bipartisan support, he added that both parties are equally at fault. (Oh, and everything is toxic and poisonous and tragic, tragic, tragic.)

I think it's a tragedy that cable gasbags are so predictably fatuous. The last I heard, the president personally had Snowe on the phone for an hour last week and couldn't get her on board for no discernible reason now that the public option has been jettisoned. Meanwhile the Republicans had been hammering her for weeks to not vote for cloture. How this partisan supermajority vote is the fault of both parties, much less illegitimate, I don't know.

I heard an Republican say something pretty smart the other day that I've been meaning to post and I think it is a good time to throw it out there . It was Craig Shirley a former Reagan advisor who said this:

SHIRLEY: Let me be a voice in the wilderness for polarization.

I think it is intellectually dishonest to go out there and present to the American people a party that has liberal Republicans, moderate Republicans and conservative Republicans, a Democratic Party that has conservative Republicans, moderate Republicans, and liberal Republicans—or Democrats—is, that when you have two parties with diametrically opposing views, one organized around the concept of freedom, the other organized around the concept of justice, and they give the American voter an honest choice, I think that that is much more intellectually honest for the American voter, so that they have a clear choice of who and what set of principles they want to lead this country.

Would that really be so bad? I don't think so. Atrios makes that point often.

The Republicans obstruct this reform for political reasons, to be sure, but its political appeal lies in the philosophy that the government shouldn't be involved in making it easier for people to get health care. They just don't think that social insurance programs are a legitimate function of government. They never have. And regardless of whether or not you think this bill is well constructed, there can be no doubt that the Democrats do not agree with that. I see no reason why the parties shouldn't break down along those philosophical/ideological lines and let the voters decide from election to election whether they approve.

This faith that there can be ideological "consensus" on these big issues is clearly outdated. The country has realigned the parties along some very old ideological and cultural fault lines and the partisan divide is much cleaner. People just disagree and in every battle some not insignificant minority will be unhappy with the outcome. A handful of Senators crossing the aisle doesn't confer legitimacy. The constitution does.

Gergen and others who are bemoaning the lack of bipartisanship are sounding more and more out of touch. (I can guarantee that nobody in the country gives a damn if Senators are fraying their precious personal friendships to get this bill passed. Boo hoo.) Right now, the biggest problem for the parties is that far too many people see them both as being unresponsive to their constituents' needs and desires and far too responsive to the needs and desires of the moneyed interests. From their point of view, bipartisanship has never been stronger.

Anyway, the Senate Dems got their cloture vote and barring some shocking development they'll pass the bill and send it on to conference. And then we'll see what happens next.
During the overnight debate, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) emphasized the partisan nature of the health care proceedings. He reminded his colleagues that Social Security and Medicare passed with considerable GOP support, which, from McConnell's narrow perspective, necessarily means Democrats are doing something wrong now.

We've been through this a few times -- it was a standard conservative talking point over the summer -- but since it's about to come up a whole lot more often, it's worth reviewing how misguided the criticism is.

McConnell may have forgotten, but FDR and LBJ led during a time when moderate and liberal Republicans were still fairly common. Neither Democratic president had trouble finding sensible GOP lawmakers who were anxious to work towards progressive policy goals. President Obama, however, is stuck trying to find common ground with a right-wing reactionary party, and not surprisingly, the GOP minority prefers to slap away the outstretched hand.

Harold Meyerson had a good piece on this in July:

[B]ipartisanship ain't what it used to be, and for one fundamental reason: Republicans ain't what they used to be. It's true that there was considerable Republican congressional support, back in the day, for Social Security and Medicare. But in the '30s, there were progressive Republicans who stood to the left of the Democrats.... Today, no such Republicans exist.

Nicholas Beaudrot put it this way: "[I]t's simply not meaningful to compare the present circumstances to those faced by Lyndon Johnson or Franklin Roosevelt when it comes to bipartisanship.... Barack Obama faces partisan polarization not seen since Woodrow Wilson was President."

What's more, McConnell's choice of examples is striking. Is there any doubt that McConnell and his caucus would strongly reject Social Security and Medicare if they were proposed today?

Social Security and Medicare, of course, were government-run programs paid for by straight tax increases. They were far more offensive to conservatives than the current legislation, which funds a mostly-private sector health-care expansion by trimming the budget of Medicare, America's largest single-payer health-care system. [...]

Medicare could not be passed today because there would be no Republican votes, and too few Democratic votes. Social Security would be similarly hapless.... Tonight's vote was a moment of enormous progress for social justice, but evidence of enormous regression in our political system.

McConnell's argument made it sound as if Democrats are to blame for Republicans becoming too conservative. It's hardly a compelling pitch.

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