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.

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