Saturday, December 19, 2009

What Benen and Booman said . . .

Several Hill sources have told me this week, "When you see the Manager's Amendment, it means Reid has his 60."

Well, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) did, in fact, unveil his Manager's Amendment -- encompassing a wide variety of changes intended to satisfy a wide variety of demands -- this morning. It's online here (pdf).

And what about the caucus' lone holdout? It took a long time, excruciating back-and-forth talks, and Harry Reid having the patience of Job, but Ben Nelson appears to be on board.

Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.), the final Democratic holdout on health care, was prepared to announce to his caucus Saturday morning that he would support the Senate reform bill, clearing the way for final passage by Christmas.

"We're there," said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), as he headed into a special meeting to announce the deal.

Asked this morning whether he was finally prepared to support the reform bill, Nelson told reporters, "Yeah."

As of about 25 minutes ago, Reid was briefing the entire caucus -- sans Lieberman, who is celebrating Hanukkah in Connecticut today -- on the contents of the Manager's Amendment. What's more, the entire text of the measure, which is nearly 400 pages, is being read on the Senate floor in its entirety right now.

We'll have a better sense of the Manager's Amendment's specific provisions in the coming hours, but a senior Democratic aide emailed me some talking points/bullets, which I've included below the fold.

From the background document:

The manager's amendment builds upon the strong bill we already have.

Protects our good coverage, cost, and affordability number

* Reduces Deficits -- estimated to save over $130 billion first ten and roughly $650 billion second ten

* Expands Coverage -- over 94 percent of Americans under 65 years of age, including over 31 million uninsured

* Reduces Costs -- most Americans will see their health care costs reduced relative to projected levels

Makes health care more affordable for Americans by expanding small business tax credits

* $12 billion increase

* Begins in 2010

* Expands wage thresholds for tax credits

Demands greater accountability from insurance companies/ creates more choice and competition

* Medical Loss Ratio 85/80 percent -- Insurance companies will be forced to spend more money on care and less money padding their bottom line.

* Starting immediately children cannot be denied health coverage due to pre-existing conditions

* Insurance companies who jack up their rates will be barred from competing in the exchange.

* Give patients the right to appeal to an independent board if an insurance company denies a coverage claim

* Health insurers will offer national plans to Americans under the supervision of the Office of Personnel Management, the same entity that oversees health plans for Members of Congress.

* Provides significant resources for Community Health Centers

  • Joe Sudbay adds:
    UPDATE @ 10:00: It's official. At his presser, Nelson said he will vote for cloture and for the reform bill. On abortion, "I have fought hard to prevent tax dollars from being used to subsidize abortions...I believe we have accomplished that goal." Nelson also said there will be a "limited conference" between the House and Senate. If there are ""material changes" to the Senate bill in conference, he will vote against cloture. So, Ben Nelson now runs the House, too.

The rest is a Booman HCR thread

Serious Question
Do you get the feeling that if all else fails to kill the health care reform bill the Republicans will start pulling the fire alarms and phoning in bomb threats? Maybe Sam Brownback will throw a stink-bomb.
Late Night Republican Obstruction
It's almost 1:30 in the morning and the Senate is still in session. They just voted to invoke cloture on the Defense Appropriations Bill that funds the troops in the field. The prior appropriations bill expires later today, so the fact that they had to invoke cloture (versus just voting on the damn thing) means that there will be at least the better part of a day (later today and Saturday morning) when the troops are operating without any money. If you're interested in the details, read David Waldman's explanation. Basically, there are always at least 30 hours of post-cloture debate. So, because Jon Kyl denied his consent to fund the troops tonight, we have to wait until seven in the morning on Saturday to do that.

The goal is simply to chew up legislative hours and try to kill the health care reform bill. The vote was 63-33, and the Democrats had to wheel Robert Byrd in to make sure they reached the 60 votes needed for cloture. I know that at least three Republicans bucked their party on this one, but the only one I know by name is Kay Bailey Hutchison. I guess she didn't need a vote against funding the troops on her resume when she goes up against Governor Rick Perry in the Texas gubernatorial primary next year.

Prior to the vote, Dick Durbin asked for unanimous consent to wave the cloture vote and move straight to a vote on the bill. Jon Kyl denied his consent and he and Mitch McConnell proceeded to deny that they were filibustering because they weren't debating the bill to death like Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Of course, denying unanimous consent to waive a cloture vote is basically what a filibuster is. We normally think of filibusters that are successful. In other words, we normally only call it a filibuster if it succeeds in preventing a bill from being voted on. But filibusters can fail, too. And that is what just happened with the Defense Appropriations Bill. They tried to filibuster it but failed. But that failure was by design. They had no intention of preventing a vote on funding the troops. They just want it to take place on Saturday instead of today.

And with that, good night.

Big State, Little State
By my count, 34 of the 53 members of the House of Representatives from California are Democrats, while none of the three representatives from Nebraska are Democrats. Yet, in the Senate, the ratio is 2:1. Put another way, California Democrats make up 8% of the House, but only 2% of the Senate, while Nebraska Democrats make up 0% of the House and 1% of the Senate. If the Senate had the same weight of representation as the House, Ben Nelson wouldn't exist and there would be four Barbara Boxers and four Diane Feinsteins.

The situation is even starker for states like Massachusetts (10 Democrats, 0 Republicans) and New York (27 Democrats, 2 Republicans). That Kent Conrad has the same voting power as Chuck Schumer helps explain why the Senate Dems are not representative of the Democratic Party. This is always true, but it is particularly true in our current situation where the electorate gave the Democrats huge majorities and a president to get big things done. But they can't be done. At least, they can't be done the way we want them done. Add the 60 vote threshold for passing legislation, and the Senate is so far right of the party and the country that it's a bad joke.

But the Founding Fathers didn't trust the passions of the people. And they had to strike a deal to get the states to join the union. So, we have this undemocratic Senate that is opposed to change. You'd hope small state senators like Ben Nelson would have a little humility about holding up the president's number one priority item. But it would be a false hope.

A Leopard's Spots

Thu Dec 17th, 2009 at 11:57:50 AM EST

What we are seeing right now is a semi-coordinated, semi-spontaneous revolt on the left to the latest compromises in the Senate health care reform bill. We can talk about the wisdom and possible efficacy of this revolt, but the administration has to deal with the left they have, not the left that they might wish to have (to use some Rumsfeldian logic). What the administration is facing is a consequence of the left having to eat too much shit on a whole host of issues from military commissions, a failure to root out and punish the crimes and practices of the Bush administration, the escalation of the war in Afghanistan, a too-friendly bailout of Wall Street, and now a health care bill that bears little resemblance to what Obama promised us in the campaign.

Obama can't pass anything that doesn't have unanimous support in the Democratic caucus because of the ruthless obstruction and opposition of the Republican Party. This forces him to govern to the center and make all his compromises with centrist Democrats and/or the two still-existing centrist Republicans in the Senate. The Republican obstruction empowers people like Joe Lieberman. It actually gives veto power to every single senator, but the only way to make up for a defecting Democrat is to win over Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins. So, if Bernie Sanders or Roland Burris revolt, he has to move the bill further to the right in response.

The left is immensely frustrated with this situation and inclined to blame the administration, but this is a simple logic tree. Obama cannot push the progressive position on pretty much anything if the centrists refuse to go along. Compounding the problem, progressives don't really know how to influence centrists. They tend to insult them, call them whores, attack their families, and generally question their morals. Over time, this sets up the situation we saw with Lieberman where he switched positions on a Medicare buy-in proposal simply because the measure was pleasing to people who have been demonizing him for over three years. Rather than persuade the Ben Nelsons and Blanche Lincolns of the Senate, progressive tactics make them even more inclined to reject anything they perceive to be coming from the left.

It's quite possible that the health care bill we're looking at right now is worse than it would have been if ads and insults weren't hurled at the people who have control over what will be in the bill. It reminds me of the campaign against General David Petraeus. Rather than educating the public about what was anticipated to be misleading testimony before Congress, would up being censored by Congress, and the anti-war movement never recovered. That didn't mean that MoveOn was wrong on the merits, only that they had a tin-ear and pursued self-defeating strategies.

But, if I have learned anything in my years of political activism, it's that the left will act like the left, the right will act like the right, and that this is something it is foolish to ignore. You can't plead, beg, or reason with people who are just wired to act the way they do. You have to know that if you make the left eat shit that they will react in predictable ways. They'll get demoralized. They'll blame you and your motives and your morals, even if your actions are basically dictated by the makeup and behavior of Congress.

The Obama administration can't satisfy the left legislatively, but they need to recognize the need to satisfy us whenever and wherever they can. That means that the administration needs to throw bones to the left in appointments, and executive decisions that don't require congressional approval. It means that they need to show more respect for what people are trying to do to assist them. It means that they need to show more fight.

Otherwise, they are going to run into a wall of opposition on the left and the right. Look at this:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that it's up to President Barack Obama to persuade reluctant Democrats to fund his Afghanistan troop buildup — his most important foreign policy initiative — because she has no plans to do so herself.

Pelosi's reluctance to lobby for an Afghan surge appropriation reflects the deep divisions within the Democratic Party over Obama's decision to send more troops to Afghanistan.

This isn't much different from the position the left is now taking on health care. The SEIU, Howard Dean, Keith Olbermann, Bernie Sanders and many bloggers are arguing that the health care bill should be defeated. Imagine that. Some of Obama's best allies are now fighting on the side of Tom Coburn to kill the president's number one priority.

That's just what people on the left do. We splinter. The Republicans stick together no matter how disastrous their course. We fly apart and attack each other. You can't change a leopard's spots, but you can take account of its teeth. If the Obama administration wants to avoid a disastrous meltdown in the big-tent Democratic Party, they need to do a much better job figuring out how to give the left some victories. We've eaten too much shit, and now you have a big problem.

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