Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday Potpourri: lifetime achievement award Edition

Krugman: A whiter shade of pale

Ronald Reagan warned that government-run health care would be a tool of oppression, that it would be used to punish political opponents. And it’s true, it’s true! Via Ezra Klein, the Senate bill would impose a 10 percent excise tax on indoor tanning services.

NYT: End to the Abstinence-Only Fantasy

Democratic leaders must see that an amendment to the health care reform bill that would revive a $50 million program for abstinence-only sex education is stricken.

DemfromCT (DK): Sen. Sanders (Mensch-VT) Obtains More Funding For Health Centers

While the headlines have been centered around Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, and what we have to trade to get health reform past the egos in the Senate, Bernie Sanders has been quietly representing the voters.

Over 55 million Americans, insured and uninsured, have trouble finding a primary care provider. That is why Senator Sanders has proposed a comprehensive set of proposals that will assure not just insurance coverage, but will increase the number of health professionals and community health centers to enable all Americans to receive affordable medical, dental, and behavioral health services. This is why the senator has put so much energy into expanding the Federally Qualified Community Health Center program and the National Health Service Corps.

We now get word that the energy expended has paid off. From a press release:

December 19 – A $10 billion investment in community health centers, expected to go to $14 billion when Congress completes work on health care reform legislation, was included in a final series of changes to the Senate bill unveiled today.

The provision, which would provide primary care for 25 million more Americans, was requested by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

And as far as cost effectiveness goes:

For the health centers, the $14 billion in the bill that the House of Representatives approved on Nov. 7 would increase the number of centers from 20 million to 45 million over the next five years.

The investment would more than pay for itself by saving Medicaid $23 billion over five years on reduced emergency room use and hospital costs, according to a study conducted by George Washington University.

There are Senators who still remember their job description, who hired them, and why they are in DC.

Thank you, Sen. Sanders. Can you by any chance move to Connecticut?

Krugman: The insincere center

Matthew Yglesias makes a good point: The health care bill

represents a return, after fifteen years, of the idea that congress should be trying to pass major legislation that tackles major national problems. And even beyond that, it restores an even longer-lost tradition of congress trying to pass major legislation on specifically progressive priorities.

More than that, it represents a rejection of the view that the solution for all problems is to cut some taxes and remove some regulations. In that sense, what’s happening now, for all the disappointment it represents for progressives, is a historic moment.

And let’s also not fail to take note of those who had a chance to join in this historic moment, and punted.

I’m not talking about the progressives who have rejected this bill because they don’t think it’s good enough; I disagree, but I respect their motives. I’m talking instead about the self-described centrists, pundits and politicians, who have spent years lecturing us on the need to make hard choices and actually come to grip with America’s problems; you know who I mean. So what did they do when faced with a chance to help confront those problems? They made excuses.

Health care costs are, as everyone serious acknowledges, at the core of many of our difficulties, very much including long-term budget deficits. What reformers have been saying for years is that the only way to tackle health care costs is in the context of a reform that also tackles the problem of uninsurance; and so it has proved. As Atul Gawande and others have pointed out, the Senate bill tries a wide variety of approaches to cost containment — in fact, just about everything that has been suggested. We don’t know which of these approaches will work or how well, but that’s more than anyone has managed to achieve ever before.

Oh, and the legislation is fiscally responsible from the start.

So did the deficit scolds, the people who preach the need to rein in entitlements and start paying our way, rally behind the cost-containment plans? Um, no. As I said, they made excuses, whining that the bill doesn’t do enough (as if there were any chance of passing a bill with everything they want), or insisting that even though the legislation does do the right thing, it doesn’t matter, because Congress won’t let the cost cuts go into effect — which turns out to be a claim at odds with the evidence of history.

And the lesson I take from that is that these people are insincere. They like posing as defenders of fiscal rectitude; they like declaring a pox on both houses; but when push comes to shove, their dislike of social insurance, their refusal to consider any government economy measures that don’t involve punishing people with lower incomes, trumps their supposed concern about acting responsibly.

Gentlemen — everyone I can think of here does happen to be male — this was your moment of truth, your test of character. You failed.

John Cole: Seriously, Kick Him Out of the Caucus

This is infuriating:

An aide to Rep. Bart Stupak (D. Mich.) coordinated opposition to a Senate compromise on the place of abortion in health care legislation this morning with the Republican Senate leadership, the Conference Catholic Bishops, and other anti-abortion groups, according to a chain of frantic emails obtained this morning by POLITICO.

The emails show that Stupak—who has so far remained silent on language accepted by Senator Ben Nelson (D. Neb.) and faces intense pressure from the White House to accept it—is already working behind the scenes to oppose the compromise.

They also demonstrate a previously unseen degree of coordination between Stupak and the office of Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

The thing I don’t understand is why his colleagues tolerate this. I can understand leadership needing to be cagey, but don’t the other members of the Democratic House have the right to go to a microphone and publicly savage this attention-seeking scumbag? Shun the guy. Refuse to work with him on anything. He wants to be a Republican, let him.

  • El Cid adds:

    Don’t forget Phil Gramm, who was removed from the House Budget Committee:

    In 1981, Gramm (a twice elected Democrat congressman) attended Democratic Caucus budget meetings and then secretly shared their strategy with Republicans to help pass newly inaugurated President Ronald Reagan’s budget In response, the House Democratic leadership stripped him of his seat on the committee.

    The Gramm-Latta Reagan budget was a disaster, but helped Gramm get in the position of getting his wife to help his buddies in Enron and in derivatives trading and then helping push through both the deregulation of our banking system and the complete un-regulation of derivatives. And to think, the McCain campaign relied on Gramm’s awesome economic insights until he called Americans “whiners” for giving a shit about their own economic circumstances over his buddies.

    (That quote used to appear in Wikipedia, but some of Gramm’s friends must have thought it was unfair.)

David Waldman (DK): Will Stupak block the Senate bill?
So Bart Stupak (D-MI-01) not only opposes the abortion "compromise" that's allowed the Senate to get to 60 votes for passing it's version of the health care bill, but he's been working with the Senate Republicans to undermine that "compromise."

That sets up an interesting question. How many of the 64 Democrats who voted with Stupak the first time around were just out looking a freebie "conservative" vote, thinking it'd be killed in conference, are going to stick with him if he looks to block the Nelson deal? If Stupak holds 45 or so of his 64, he'd have the numbers to start dictating terms, and Stupak becomes the new Nelson.

And what will Nelson's response be? Ordinarily, you could expect a Senator whose deal was blown up (especially one who's been demanding no changes be made to it) to dig in and hold the line. But might Nelson's fall-back position be that there simply must be some abortion-blocking language in the final product, and if it has to be Stupak's, well, so be it?

In hindsight -- especially in hindsight -- allowing that House vote on Stupak appears to be an enormous mistake. I say in hindsight, even though it certainly showed every indication of creating gigantic problems in the future, because it was very simply never 100% knowable whether the bill could have gotten out of the House without allowing it.

But either way, Democrats who simply went along for the ride on that amendment, looking to burnish their "conservative" credentials but all the while secretly thinking it'd disappear in conference, have instead ended up emboldening Stupak to the point where allegedly he felt safe working with the Senate GOP on engineering a deal that endangers this bill all over again.

How many of them were there? No one can say for sure, but we may find out soon enough, if the Nelson language stays intact in whatever package is presented to the House for approval. My guess is that Stupak could lose about half of his 64, and that'd be enough to get the bill through. But don't expect many of them to own up to flip-flopping on abortion. They'll have the luxury instead of perhaps saying they're happier now with the absence of the public option from the bill -- unless, of course, they're pro-public option and anti-abortion.

But even then, it's not likely you'll have seen the last of the Stupak amendment. Stupak, I would guess, is now the new Hyde amendment, and that means you're likely to see it offered as the motion to recommit on appropriations bills (and maybe some others, depending on subject matter) for the foreseeable future.

If so, the repercussions of the late evening decision to allow that vote to go forward in the name of expediency may be with us for a very, very long time.

Marshall (TPM): Snowe Clinches Deal To Turn Logic On Head
After months in which the Senate health care bill was held up over efforts to find some form in which she would agree to sign on to it, Sen. Snowe (R-ME) now says she will oppose it because it is being "rushed."
  • Stan Collender adds:
    Many things in American politics are silly but, assuming it's true, this has to be considered a lifetime achievement award.
  • Steve Benen adds:

    I just can't figure out what on earth Snowe is talking about. She voted with Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee reform plan, but now appears to be looking for an excuse to oppose the effort. But to sound even remotely credible, Snowe will have to do better than this.

    For one thing, it's a "take-it-or-leave-it package"? Democrats have been willing to give Snowe just about anything she asked for. That's the opposite of a "take-it-or-leave-it package."

    For another, nothing about this has been "rushed." Snowe has been complaining about the speed of the legislative process since July, but therein lies the point: how could this possible get slower?

    Congress and the White House have been debating health care reform since about March. It was debated last year during the presidential campaign. It was debated the year before during the presidential primaries. It was debated at length during the Clinton reform effort, which followed previous debates during previous presidents' efforts. America has been debating health care reform, off and on, since the days of Harry Truman.

    Support the bill or don't, but complaining about speed is silly.

    Just two months ago, when Snowe broke with her party and supported the Baucus health care bill, she said, "Is this bill all that I would want? Far from it. But when history calls, history calls."

    History is still calling, and Snowe has decided to let it ring. She can't, however, seem to explain why.
John Cole: No Idea What They Are Even Debating

It is just so depressing so many deeply stupid people are serving in Congress. Here is the latest:


Spending in health care is going to increase no matter what happens. It is going to increase at a completely unsustainable rate if we do nothing. Which is why we’ve been talking about reforming health care for the last couple of decades, and precisely why we’ve been talking about it intently for the last two. It is why we have been talking about “getting health care costs under control” for years. It is why Republicans, for all my lifetime, have been screaming that Medicaid and Medicare are going to bankrupt us- that is, until a couple of weeks ago when in an act of sheer political cynicism, the RNC and the Republicans decided to guarantee unlimited and unchecked Medicare benefits forever.

It is almost like these Republicans are so damned stupid they have no idea what the hell we are even debating. How are they supposed to have a coherent response or be constructive participants if they can’t even figure out the debate?

And that is Tom Price, the Chairman of the Republican Study Committee. The Republican “think tank” in Congress.

And it is “Democratic,” you silly ponce.

  • Steve Benen adds:
    Yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office released its score on the Senate health care proposal, and Republicans hoping for a negative report were left empty-handed. The Democratic plan, the CBO found, would cost $871 billion over the next 10 years and cover 31 million more Americans. It's also one of the biggest deficit-reduction proposals in recent history, reduce the deficit by $132 billion in the first decade, and about $1 trillion in the decade after that.

    Rep. Tom Price (R) of Georgia, an ardent right-wing opponent of reform, responded to the news by noting that the CBO score found that the "Senate Democrat [sic] bill will increase spending in health care."


DougJ: Were people this dumb before Nixon?

I apologize in advance for such wankery on Saturday night, but I just stumbled across this in a Gail Collins article:

Back in 1971, Congress passed a bill aimed at providing high-quality early childhood education and after-school programs for any American family that wanted them. It was bipartisan, which in those days meant more than a whole lot of Democrats and somebody from Maine. “Having been a working mother, I knew what day-care problems were like,” said Martha Phillips, who was at that time a staffer at the Republican Research Committee in the House.

Then Richard Nixon surprised almost everyone by vetoing it, with a scathing message written by Pat Buchanan, claiming the bill would “commit the vast moral authority of the National Government to the side of communal approaches to child rearing.”

The social right, which was just beginning to come into its own, was delighted! Opponents reinforced the message with a massive letter-writing campaign. They accused members of Congress of plotting to deprive parents of the right to take their offspring to church, give children the power to sue their parents for forcing them to do chores, and, in general, turn the country into a Maoist concentration camp.

Which made me think of this (from a Kathleen Parker piece):

A telling anecdote recounted by Pat Buchanan to New Yorker writer George Packer last year captures the dark spirit that still hovers around the GOP. In 1966 Buchanan and Richard Nixon were at the Wade Hampton Hotel in Columbia, S.C., where Nixon worked a crowd into a frenzy: “Buchanan recalls that the room was full of sweat, cigar smoke, and rage; the rhetoric, which was about patriotism and law and order, ‘burned the paint off the walls.’ As they left the hotel, Nixon said, ‘This is the future of this Party, right here in the South.’ ”

I’ve read much of Nixonland, but I still don’t understand how much Nixon changed American politics, since I know nothing of pre-Nixon (or even pre-Reagan, really) politics. How much did Nixon change things? I know there were all kinds of crazy rightists before Nixon, John Birchers and so on, but that seems a separate issue. It’s one thing to have crazy right-wingers, it’s another to mainstream their paranoia in a way that turns the entire nation’s politics into a crazed right-wing drama. Which, if we’re honest with ourselves, is what our politics has been for quite some time. Was Nixon the primary catalyst for this?

I think of this also because I’ve been following the silly Kaplan “Most Influential Person of the Decade” tournament, where the finalists are Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush. And I wonder: was Nixon the most influential American of the last 50 years?

I don’t mean for this to be an anti-Republican screed. What I’m referring to here is a general political atmosphere, one that some Republicans almost certainly don’t like.

Media Matters: Franken v. Lieberman: Too good a story to check out

When Sen. Al Franken denied Sen. Joe Lieberman's request for unanimous consent to speak beyond his allotted 10 minutes during floor debate yesterday, there was something in it for everyone.

Conservatives echoed Sen. John McCain's claim that the denial was unprecedented and outrageous. Many liberals frustrated by Lieberman's opposition to health care reform (among a lengthy list of other grievances) enjoyed what they saw as Franken "shutting down" their nemesis. And much of the media went along with the framing, themselves lusting for some political bloodsport.

Problem was, it wasn't true. In fact, it was clear from the exchange itself that it wasn't true. But everyone reacted to an abbreviated version of the exchange.

As the exchange makes clear, when McCain responded to Franken's objection by angrily denouncing the supposedly-unprecedented action, Sen. Carl Levin immediately pointed out that, in fact, an identical denial had occured earlier in the day, and that the purpose was simply to keep debate moving.

Indeed, pretty much everybody involved has made clear it was really no big deal. (Except for McCain, but we'll come back to him.)

Here's Franken:

"I agreed with every word he said for the entire 10 minutes, and I think he probably only had maybe 30 seconds left," he said. "He didn't take it personally at all."

Franken says Majority leader Harry Reid ordered all senators who presided today to keep speeches to their ten minute limits and not grant any extensions.

"Usually you're allowed to do this and, just, today we were told not to let it happen because there's been some attempt to string out the debate," Franken said. "So, I really just had no choice."

And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office agreed. Minneapolis Star Tribune correspondent Eric Roper reported on December 17:

A spokesman for Majority Leader Harry Reid said that Franken was merely adhering to a request from Reid to strictly enforce the rules because the Senate is already in session practically 'round the clock.' "

Politico reported on December 18 that Reid spokesman Jim Manley stated of Reid's request, "We did that to maintain order and that no senator had an unfair advantage over another in terms of speaking. ... It was a simple request of the leader and Sen. Franken was adhering to the request of his leadership."

And Lieberman:

Lieberman laughed off the incident as much ado about nothing when he returned to the chamber a couple of hours later. He said that Franken apparently was following procedures for sticking to time limits that had been handed down by Senate leaders. Franken had made a good-natured gesture with his hands, Lieberman said, "as if to say 'There's nothing I can do'."

And indeed, earlier in the day, when Sen. John Cornyn asked for more time for his speech, the presiding officer, Sen. Mark Bevich said virtually the same thing:

"In my capacity as a Senator from Alaska, I object."

But the facts didn't get in the way of the media's -- and the right-wing's -- efforts to paint Franken as a vindictive partisan.

The right-wing reaction was predictable. Blogger Ann Althouse called it a "dick move" and suggested a boycott of Minnesota. Michelle Malkin accused "nutroots hero Al Franken" of "a little snit fit against Lieberman." Red State's James Richardson accused Franken of "breaking from the Senate's long-held standards of collegiality."

But the overwhelming certainty of the Beltway crowd was stunning.

On Hardball Thursday, Chris Matthews was shocked (accessed from Nexis):

I've never seen that...Working on the Hill, following the Hill, I've never seen a senator cut short on a -- you know, a casual request for an extra minute to continue speaking in a Senate that's allowed to speak forever. Let's face it, we understand you can speak forever in the Senate. Does that show how hot things are getting or what?

Remember, the same thing had happened earlier in the day. And that previous occurrence was mentioned by Levin during the Franken/Lieberman/McCain exchange. And yet Matthews kept insisting it was unique, coming back to it again and again. Later in the show, Matthews hosted Joan Walsh and Melinda Henneberger -- and all agreed it was a "direct shot" at Lieberman.

Henneberger insisted (from Nexis):

Franken looked a little rude, and it was no coincidence that he was the first one to have the clock called on him, given that I'm sure Franken wanted to come across the desk and kill him, maybe not so much.

But Lieberman wasn't the "first one to have the clock called on him." As Carl Levin made clear. Where on earth did Henneberger get the idea that he was? She obviously hadn't checked, so why on earth would she feel comfortable making such an assertion?

Over on CNN's Situation Room, senior political analyst David Gergen had an entirely erroneous analysis (from Nexis):

Yes, John McCain is scolding him, scolding Al Franken. I think that Al Franken went beyond the traditions of the Senate. There is normally -- it is a club after all in the eyes of the traditionalists, and this is very personal.

Joe Lieberman said I don't take it personally, but in fact, it was intended to be personal, and I think it reflects the frustration, the anger, the boiling resentments, and a sense among many in the Senate that maybe this thing is going to slip away from them.

Friday morning, the media continued to pile on Franken.

On Morning Joe, Lawrence O'Donnell declared "I've never seen [this] before. I spent a lot of years on the Senate floor. I did not know that the presiding officer could do that. I thought only a member up in the body could object. But it turns out you can." David Gregory went yammering on about Franken trying to "make a mark" and being a "liberal Senator" who dislikes Lieberman and "working the levers of power."

And then this exchange:

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: If you ask the Franken folks, they say this wasn't a dis. They were trying to enforce the strict time rules because they are trying to jam so much in, trying to get the health care bill to the floor.

JOE SCARBOROUGH: Savannah, if that were the case, why would he say 'As my capacity of Senator from Minnesota'?

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL: I think he didn't want to do it as the presiding officer. ... It's shocking, it's never happened before.

Seriously, that wasn't even the first time it had happened yesterday. And the previous time, when Begich told Cornyn his time was up, he used the exact same wording. Because that's the wording they had been told to use.

Meanwhile, over at Fox & Friends, host Brian Kilmeade called Franken "an angry clown. He's a liberal who's mad at Joe Lieberman" and said Franken "needs to be chastised by Senator Reid. ... He needs somebody in his own party that has power over him to say, 'Al, you're embarrassing us.'" Keep in mind: Franken was acting on direction from Reid!

Kilmeade's co-host Steve Doocy weighed in by calling Franken "uncivil" and "not very polite" -- which, again, is news to Lieberman, who noted that Franken had been good-natured about it.

And Gretchen Carlson suggested Franken was part of a "trend" of "newbie politicians that don't know exactly the protocol," adding, "You have the senior senator John McCain saying I've never seen this happen before, and the freshman senator Al Franken maybe not knowing how the rules are played."

Remember: The "senior senator John McCain" was wrong; it had happened just a few hours earlier. And the "freshman senator Al Franken" was doing exactly what leadership had told all presiding officers to do.

Not only was McCain wrong about what happened yesterday, his comments were entirely hypocritical. As Think Progress' Faiz Shakir notes, McCain himself objected to Sen. Mark Dayton's request for an additional 30 seconds to finish remarks during the 2002 Iraq war debate.

And yet on Friday, McCain was still making the same false and hypocritical claim and the media were airing his comments without checking them out. (While Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity were still pushing the storyline on their afternoon radio shows.)

The "story" -- if there is one -- of yesterday's exchange should have been that McCain was wrong, and a hypocrite, in his angry denunciation of Franken's objection.

Lazy journalism is bad.

Lazy journalism practiced by D.C. political analysts who insist they know what they're talking about is even worse.

Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues Dec. 18: Rachel Maddow is joined by Thomas Frank, author of "The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule," to talk about the influence of the conservative conspiracist group, the John Birch Society.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

NYT: Taming the Fat Cats

President Obama seems genuinely, if belatedly, upset about the way America’s voracious bankers leveraged hundreds of billions in taxpayer bailouts to line their pockets with multibillion-dollar bonuses while American businesses starve for credit.

Before he gets over his anger, he might want to take a look at how the British found a way to realign the fat cats’ boundless greed with the public interest: slapping a hefty windfall tax on their bonuses. He still has time to push Congress to enact a similar levy here.

Bankers have rushed to repay their bailout loans to the Treasury so they can avoid the constraints on compensation that came with the assistance. Unshackled, they are putting together bonus pools for 2009 that would rival the record-breaking packages of 2007 — the year before their foolhardy bets tipped the world into its worst economic crisis since the 1930s.

The administration can make a very good case that the Treasury is entitled to much of this money. After all, what profits the banks have made over the last year were funded by oodles of cheap financing provided by the Federal Reserve. This is a windfall that they should not be allowed to keep.

We can think of a lot of good ways to use the revenue from a windfall tax, starting with a more robust program to create jobs for out-of-work Americans.

The British government expects to make nearly $1 billion from a 50 percent tax on bonuses above about $40,000. While this is not much, the financial sector in the United States is much larger. Moreover, a tax just might persuade banks to cut their bonuses and use the money to bolster their capital, which would make them more financially secure.

Bankers are likely to scream — threatening to leave the country and arguing that such narrow taxation is unconstitutional. The best in the accounting business will undoubtedly be tasked with coming up with strategies to avoid taxation, by pushing bonuses back in time or with other ruses. No one should be intimidated.

Threats to move overseas are empty. London is out of the picture. The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has said he would follow the British lead. Germany and other countries could be persuaded to impose taxes of their own. And it would make little sense for bankers to move halfway around the world to Singapore to avoid a one-off tax that would not affect future bonuses.

Congress also has time to pass a tax on 2009 bonuses because most are expected to be paid in 2010. And the constitutional ban of bills aimed to punish a specific group — so-called bills of attainder — is unlikely to apply because a tax would not be aimed to punish named people but an economic class.

A windfall tax on bankers’ bonuses would not be enough, but it would be a start. The government also needs to ensure that all banks reform their compensation practices to better align rewards with performance, good and bad. That is the best hope for curbing bankers’ unbridled appetite for risk.

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