Saturday, October 31, 2009

Good versus Evil

Sullivan: Yglesias Award Nominee
"If I had been free to blog earlier, I would have added my voice to those, starting with Kathryn, who praised the president's dignified trip to Dover Air Force Base to comfort the families of our fallen, and honor the dead. It was well done, and the right thing to do, and I'm delighted. Moreover, he has continued his regular visits to the wounded vets at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval. I had worried, in the first days of his presidency, that he might use these occasions as photo ops and promos for his presidency, but he has not. Morale of our soldiers suffers when he dithers, and soars when they see he understands and honors them. Which he clearly does. Good on him," - Michael Ledeen
Liz Cheney takes the low road  Oct. 30: Richard Wolffe, MSNBC political analyst and senior strategist at Public Strategies, discusses Liz Cheney lying in an effort to smear President Obama's visit to the Dover Air Base to salute the returning war dead. Also discussed are the newly released FBI notes from Dick Cheney's interview on the Valerie Plame leak.

* Joe Biden, on Dick Cheney’s claim that Obama is “dithering” in Afghanistan, according to a transcript of an interview set to air on CNN:
BIDEN: I like Dick Cheney personally, but I really don’t care what Dick Cheney thinks and I’m not sure a lot of Americans do.

Saturday Potpourri

This video has been everywhere, now it is here.

DougJ: Kaplan v. Public Option, continued
David Broder inveighs against Harry Reid with a tone normally reserved for politicians who have had sexual relations with interns:
There is an air of desperate improvisation to Sen. Harry Reid’s scheme to pass a “public option” as part of health-care reform but at the same time provide an easy exemption for any state that objects to it. The warning flags ought to be flying for anyone who can count to three—let alone 60.
I’m not entirely convinced that the public option is as essential as liberals seem to think it is. But if they are right, I don’t see how they can justify abandoning it for an uncertain number of people who have the bad luck to live in states with conservative governors and legislatures.
If a compromise is needed to get the bill to the Senate floor, far better to try Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe’s suggestion of a trigger mechanism that would activate a public option if private insurance policies at affordable rates were not broadly available.
If I am ever so senile that I believe that insurance companies wouldn’t find a way to rig a trigger mechanism, I want my feeding tubes removed.
Update. Commenter dmsilev makes an excellent point about one of Broder’s claims.
And there’s also this bit of history FAIL:

That issue was settled in the realm of economic policy during FDR’s second term, after enough new Supreme Court justices were seated to uphold the New Deal measures an earlier conservative majority had struck down. In the area of civil rights, Lyndon Johnson and a Democratic Congress put an end to the doctrine of states’ rights. Are we now to reopen those issues to make it easier for this generation of Democrats to short-circuit the legislative process?
From the Wikipedia article on Medicaid:
Medicaid was created on July 30, 1965, through Title XIX of the Social Security Act. Each state administers its own Medicaid program while the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) monitors the state-run programs and establishes requirements for service delivery, quality, funding, and eligibility standards.
State participation in Medicaid is voluntary; however, all states have participated since 1982 when Arizona formed its Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) program. In some states Medicaid is subcontracted to private health insurance companies, while other states pay providers (i.e., doctors, clinics and hospitals) directly.
And there are a whole bunch of other programs (highway funding and education come to mind) which are run in a similar manner; states can opt out if they want, but then they don’t get the money.
Lieberman's loose loyalty  Oct. 30: Rachel Maddow is joined by MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman to talk about Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-CT, saying he will "probably support" some 2010 Republican candidates.

Now there's a senator I can agree with -- a young New England Democrat who realizes that the filibuster is an institutional menace. He not only calls the parliamentary maneuver "a dinosaur" that had become "a symbol of a lot that ails Washington today," he actually took steps to kill the filibuster once and for all.
The senator is Joe Lieberman ... in 1994.
At the time, Lieberman, part of a Democratic minority, believed Senate obstructionism had gone too far. Even though Republicans had the majority, he and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) decided to take the bold step of pushing for majority rule in the Senate -- even if it made it easier for the new GOP-led chamber to pass legislation. At a press conference 15 years ago next month, Lieberman argued:
"[People] are fed up -- frustrated and fed up and angry about the way in which our government does not work, about the way in which we come down here and get into a lot of political games and seem to -- partisan tugs of war and forget why we're here, which is to serve the American people. And I think the filibuster has become not only in reality an obstacle to accomplishment here, but it also a symbol of a lot that ails Washington today.
"But I do want to say that the Republicans were not the only perpetrators of filibuster gridlock, there were occasions when Democrats did it as well. And the long and the short of it is that the abuse of the filibuster was bipartisan and so its demise should be bipartisan as well.
"The whole process of individual senators being able to hold up legislation, which in a sense is an extension of the filibuster because the hold has been understood in one way to be a threat to filibuster -- it's just unfair.
"I'm very proud to be standing here with Tom as two Democrats saying that we're going to begin this fight, because we've just been stung by the filibuster for a period of years, and even though the tables have now turned, it doesn't make it right for us to use this instrument that we so vilified."
In 1994, when Lieberman thought filibusters had become an outrageous abuse worthy of elimination, there were 39 cloture motions filed. Last year, there were 139. This year, Senate Republicans will likely break their own record.
And Lieberman this week threatened to help them, by opposing a vote on a once-in-a-generation opportunity at health care reform if it includes a provision to let some consumer choose between competing public and private health plans.
One wonders what Lieberman '94 would think of Lieberman '09.
Think Progress: Kristol Says He Helped Congressional GOP Formulate ‘The Best Arguments Against’ Health Care Reform 
In Dec. 1993, Bill Kristol, a current Fox News contributor and the editor of the Weekly Standard, issued a now-infamous memo to Republican leaders, arguing that they should “defeat” President Clinton’s health care reform plan “outright” instead of negotiating a compromise. In later memos, Kristol counseled that Republicans should oppose reform “sight unseen” because “there is no health care crisis.” Kristol’s advice “animated” Republicans, who concluded “that all-out opposition to the Clinton plan” was “in their best political interest.”
Throughout this year’s debate over health care reform, Kristol has played a similar role, arguing in the media that Republicans should “kill” reform instead of trying to be “constructive.” In an interview on the Washington Times’ America’s Morning News radio show yesterday, Kristol revealed that he had met with some congressional Republicans on Wednesday night to devise strategy for defeating reform:
KRISTOL: Next week will really be a first crescendo in the big health care debate. And this dinner I was at last night was some Republican members, Senate and House, some staffers, some outside people, trying to think about how to, the best arguments against it and where the politics of this lies. She is really going for it. And I think the issue is Medicare. I mean this will be the largest package of Medicare cuts I think the Congress will ever have passed.
Later in the interview, Kristol distilled the conclusions from the strategy session with congressional Republicans, saying that citizens “need to go see their congressman and say ‘do not vote for this until either we have a chance to read it more carefully, but really more importantly just don’t vote for it because it’s going to cut my Medicare and raise my taxes.’” He echoes the same attack line in his Weekly Standard column today: “There will be no Republican votes for the Pelosi Plan of tax hikes and Medicare cuts. Will there be enough Democratic resistors so the bill is either withdrawn or defeated?.”
For the past month, Fox has been claiming that it is not actually a “communications arm” for the Republicans. What do they think about one of their regular contributors advising Republicans on strategy behind closed doors? Will they disclose Kristol’s advisory role when he appears on the air?
About a month ago, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) caused a stir when he described the conservative approach to health care: "Don't get sick. That's what the Republicans have in mind. And if you get sick America, the Republican health care plan is this: die quickly."
The GOP and its allies were outraged. Grayson made it sound as if Republican policies are literally life threatening. The remarks, conservatives said, crossed a line of decency. No one, the argument goes, should accuse their rivals of promoting lethal health care policies.
A month later, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ken.) told a conservative radio host that the public option favored by most congressional Democrats and most of the American public "may cost you your life."
Dennis Miller asked McConnell specifically about the state opt-out compromise. The Minority Leader said it didn't matter because a public plan that competes with private plans is inherently dangerous.
"I think if you have any kind of government insurance program, you're going to be stuck with it and it will lead us in the direction of the European style, you know, sort of British-style, single payer, government run system. And those systems are known for delays, denial of care and, you know, if your particular malady doesn't fit the government regulation, you don't get the medication.
"And it may cost you your life. I mean, we don't want to go down that path."
It's a reminder of just how pathetic the debate itself has been over health care reform. After six months of back and forth -- hearings, debates, town halls, reports, committee votes, interviews, analyses -- the highest ranking Republican in Congress still feels comfortable telling a national audience that competition between public and private health coverage "may cost you your life."
Indeed, one of the few constants throughout the process is conservative Republicans on the Hill, unwilling or unable to debate the policy on the merits, trying to convince people that Democratic policies may actually kill them.
What a sad joke.
Think Progress: Right Wing Falsely Asserts Right Wing Boogeymen Bill Ayers And Jeremiah Wright Visited The White House
Early this evening, the White House voluntarily released nearly 500 visitor records of “individuals visiting the executive mansion between Inauguration Day and the end of July.” The easily-searchable list includes some famous names like Michael Jordan, Michael Moore, William Ayers, and Jeremiah Wright. Of course, the mere suggestion of Ayers and Wright has sent the right wing into a tizzy.
The Weekly Standard’s Michael Goldfarb:

The Weekly Standard’s Mary Katharine Ham:

The Washington Times’ Amanda Carpenter:

Conservative blogger Ed Morrissey:

But as the original post by White House ethics counselor Norm Eisen makes clear, the “William Ayers” and “Jeremiah Wright” on the list are actually different individuals who merely share the same name:
Given this large amount of data, the records we are publishing today include a few “false positives” – names that make you think of a well-known person, but are actually someone else. In September, requests were submitted for the names of some famous or controversial figures (for example Michael Jordan, William Ayers, Michael Moore, Jeremiah Wright, Robert Kelly (”R. Kelly”), and Malik Shabazz). The well-known individuals with those names never actually came to the White House. Nevertheless, we were asked for those names and so we have included records for those individuals who were here and share the same names.
Mainstream news outlets have reported this fact accurately. But for the right wing, the story was simply too good to be fact-checked.

Friday, October 30, 2009


Ezra Klein: The Californiafication of America
Rich Yeselson is annoyed by Bill Galston's contention that Barack Obama should listen to the concerns of the electorate and begin rapidly slicing the deficit down. Count me with Yeselson on this one: Pollsters generally believe that deficit anxiety is an expression of economic anxiety. People become very concerned about the deficit not when deficits are high, per se, but when unemployment is high, and economic growth is anemic (non-coincidentally, this is also when deficits grow, as tax revenues droop but the government needs to conduct more counter-cyclical spending). What Obama should do, Yeselson suggests, is pass a raft of ambitious economic policies that will address the root anxiety. But he can't:

We are living through the Californiafication of America -- a country in which the combination of a determined minority and a procedural supermajority legislative requirement makes it impossible to rationally address public policy challenges. And thus the Democratic president and his allies in Congress are evaluated on the basis of extreme compromise measures -- supplicating to dispassionate Wise Men such as Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman, buying Olympia Snowe a vacation home, working bills through 76 committees and countless "procedural" votes -- rather than the substantive policy achievements of bills that would merely require a simple majority to pass.
It is sheer good fortune that the Democrats had 59/60 Senate seats this cycle and thus were able to pass any stimulus at all, albeit the inadequate one they did. Think about it: With a robust 56 Senate Democratic seats, the stimulus would have failed -- and otherwise, Galston/Brooks would be talking not about Obama’s "going too far," but rather about a "failed Obama presidency." And they would be wrong. What we would be witnessing -- and are still witnessing -- is a failed system of democratic governance. It’s something procedural liberals should be deeply concerned about and should remedy as quickly as possible.
When Obama's health-care reform strategy was floundering, pundits generally blamed it on tactical deficiencies: If only Obama had been firmer with Congress, or more persuasive before the nation. When the bill passes, as now looks likely, it will similarly be attributed to learning the strategic lessons of the past, and negotiating the details skillfully and navigating the politics adroitly.
But it is not any of those things, at least not primarily. Health-care reform almost failed because Democrats had 60 votes rather than 70 votes. And it will probably pass because Democrats have 60 votes rather than 55 votes. On some level, that is how it should be. The primary determinant of legislative action should be electoral majorities, not tightrope diplomacy with the legislature. But 60 votes for is an extreme rarity in American politics. The last time either party controlled that many seats was in the mid-70s. That was not such a problem then, but polarization has become much worse over the past 30 years, so what was once possible with 55 votes, or even 50 votes, is far more difficult today.
Recognizing that change, I think, is the most difficult element of building a case for structural reform. Most people are open to the idea that a political system should adapt in response to radical transformations within a nation's political environment. But change happens slowly, and memories are short. Political scientists recognize that the filibuster has only become central in the past few decades, that political polarization roared back to life after relative consensus in the post-World War II period, that the Senate works differently today because it does so much more. But American politics still looks much the same as it always did -- two parties, three branches, November elections -- and so most people think that these institutions are much as they always were.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) intends to move on its climate change bill on Tuesday. The legislation, championed by Boxer and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), has drawn some support from Republicans, and would clear the committee easily -- Dems enjoy a 12-7 majority on the panel.
So, to scuttle the legislation, committee Republicans have decided not to show up on Tuesday.
Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works committee will boycott the mark-up of the Kerry-Boxer climate bill if Chairwoman Barbara Boxer tries to take it up next week.
The seven Republican members on the committee met on the Senate floor last night and unanimously agreed to a boycott, according to Republican aides.
Boxer doesn't need their votes, but she does need at least two of the seven to actually be in the room and establish a quorum. The boycott will make that impossible, at least for now.
The Politico report added that the boycott is "being led by the two most moderate Republican members on the committee: Sens. George Voinovich of Ohio, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee." That seems a little hard to believe -- Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking Republican on the committee, began orchestrating the boycott a week ago.
It's worth noting that conservative Republicans aren't the only problem with reforming U.S. energy policy. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), the caucus' most conservative member, was asked this morning whether a cap-and-trade proposal can garner congressional approval before the end of next year. "No," he said. "I haven't been able to sell that argument to my farmers, and I don't think they're going to buy it from anybody else."
A few weeks ago, the prospects of meaningful Senate action on climate change looked pretty good. Today, they look far less encouraging.
Knisely: “Gaming” the First-time Homebuyer Credit program 
The $8,000 First-time Homebuyer Credit program has been riddled with fraud and abuse, in ways the IRS didn’t foresee or try to control. Here’s the story, and a handful of ways they could have sought out such “unintended consequences.” (
A recent Washington Post story ( outlines how hundreds of millions may have already been paid out to people who fraudulently or mistakenly took advantage of the first-time homebuyers’ $8,000 tax credit funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009:
• 19,300 people claimed $139m on their 2008 tax returns
• 74,000 people claimed nearly $500m for unqualifying purchases
• 580 people under 18 – including 4 year olds – claimed $4m
Of course this is small potatoes – perhaps 1.4m households have claimed almost $10B in tax credits. And the Congress is rushing to extend the tax credit provision, proving again that “fraud, waste, and abuse” are in the eye of the beholder.
But the IRS has identified 160 potential tax credit schemes and selected 107,000 claims for reexamination. So they’re looking at 7.6% of those claiming the credit! What a waste of resources, if these problems could have been headed off at the pass.
[NB: Our concern here is the mechanics of program design, not (a) whether the program was a good idea, or (b) whether it has jumpstarted the housing market.]
The Post story and the House hearing it reported on were based on a report by the Treasury Department’s Inspector General for Tax Administration. ( The Inspector General asked the usual questions: (a) What happened, and (b) What can be done about it?
The first page of the IG report notes that “the President’s mandate with regard to stimulus payments is to prevent fraud, and not simply minimize it or address it after it has occurred.” Prevention is a hallmark of Inspectors General; it even appears on their website, ( sponsored by the unfortunately named Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE calls up “ciggies” — where was The Acronym Control Team?}
It was only 100 years ago that philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We also need to understand the past. This leads to two more questions: (c) How did it happen, and (d) How can we prevent similar problems in the future?
The problem, simply stated, is that Treasury is offering substantial sums to countless potential takers without finding ways either (a) to prevent fraud or error, (b) to discourage it, or (c) to make it easily discoverable after the fact.
This has had the effect of increasing both fraud and abuse, and also increasing substantially the efforts that the IRS must undertake subsequent to the claims being filed. It is worth noting that Ashby’s Law clearly applies here: the taxpayers outnumber the IRS, so prevention will be much, much easier than remediation. (
The IRS did develop a special form (Form 5405) to catch claims in excess of that allowed and claims by those with adjusted gross incomes above the set limits, as well as claims without Form 5405 attached (Duh!). The IRS, however, did not use the Form 5405 to verify eligibility and no proof of a home purchase was required, such as the ubiquitous HUD-1. Both had been recommended by the Inspector General.
So that’s WHAT happened. But HOW did it happen? As it is, we have no idea whether anyone tried to think through the likely results of their program design, or cast about looking for unintended consequences. Appendix I of the report is silent on any inquiry into the thought processes of the IRS staff who designed the tax credit program, and unless the redacted portion of Page 5 hides some names, we have no idea who was involved in the decisions.
Of course, the Inspector General could assign pseudonyms to the actors in this horror story; perhaps “Mary Shelley” as an Assistant Commissioner, “Edgar Poe” as a career staffer, “Sarah Langan” as the staff director of the relevant congressional committee, and “Bram Stoker” as an Associate General Counsel. Then their deliberations could be revealed while safeguarding their identities.
But if anyone HAD BEEN looking for ways to search out unintended consequences, here are a few ways they could have done so, ranging from the obvious to the quite innovative:
1. Ask those directly involved to think of possible unintended consequences over the weekend and come to a meeting on Monday to address that subject only.
2. Assign a small staff group to collect and present possible problems in a meeting with program advocates, with the political appointee acting as “referee,” not as advocate for any one view. This is a variant of “redteaming,” as practiced at the Pentagon ( or at the Federal Aviation Administration. (
3. Ask staff at “the point of the lance” what could go wrong. Field staff have a different perspective on what can happen in “practice” versus in the “theory” as developed by headquarters.
4. Assemble the Senior Executives from across Treasury who have received Distinguished Rank Awards. (See note) This group has more years in the pay line than the immediate office has in the chow line, and can bring that experience to the problem at hand.
5. Email a description of the proposed program for comment to a handful of members of the relevant “policy communities” around Washington, whether the Brookings/Cato/AEI group or the Booz/IBM/Deloitte group, or both.
6. Post the description on an open internet site, asking for insights from the world at large. Let anyone comment, or even become Facebook “fans” of Tax-Breaks-For-First-Time-Homeowners.
In all likelihood, “None of the above” was the option chosen.
BTW, my preferred solution would have been (a) to have the buyers execute a form before a Notary Public swearing to the facts entitling them to the tax credit, and (b) to have that form registered along with the new deed and mortgage at the county land office.
I’d guess that far better solutions would have arisen from almost any of the methods outlined above.
PS: A friend suggests that the IRS check the claimant’s recent filings to see if mortgage deductions were taken during past years. That would certainly help!
Note: Distinguished Rank Awards. There are about two million career civil servants. About six thousand of these (0.3%) have been promoted, based on merit, to become members of the Senior Executive Service. About sixty members of the SES (thus only 0.003% of the two million) are given Distinguished Rank Awards each year, based on nominations by their departments and agencies. Few groups know more about the federal government, and few are less often asked for their opinions of how to improve it. Disclaimer: I received one of the awards in 1996.

The Public's Choice

Sargent: Tapper Says It: Majority Wants Public Option More Than Bipartisanship
With some people still talking about trying to win over Olympia Snowe by dropping the public option with the opt out and replacing it with a trigger, Jake Tapper steps up and offers a useful reminder:
More Americans Prefer Public Option to Bipartisan Bill
That’s a reference to the recent WaPo/ABC News poll, which found that a comfortable majority, 57%, prefer a Dem-only bill with a public option to a bipartisan bill without one. What this means, in a nutshell, is that when people are informed of the important fact that a bipartisan bill is different in policy terms from a Dem-only one, they no longer care about bipartisanship for its own sake.
This is newly relevant right now, as Tapper notes:
The question has some relevance, since Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, is the only Republican lawmaker to show willingness to vote for a health care reform bill pushed by Democrats, but she opposes the public option. Some in the White House have worked hard to bring Snowe on board, thinking she provides cover for moderate Democrats and wanting to be able to say they passed a bill with bipartisan support. Some in Congress have argued that Snowe’s support is not worth it, given her opposition to the public option.
As you regulars know, this has been a pet obsession of this blog, and it’s gratifying to see it gaining a tiny bit of traction.
There are about five members of the Senate Democratic caucus who are likely to be the biggest obstacles to health care reform. Near the top of the list is Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D), a center-right Democrat from a state that's moved sharply to the right in recent years.
She's up for re-election next year, and Republicans have painted a bull's eye on her back. Lincoln's vote on health care policy is likely to make a big difference -- and she knows it.
What she may not know, however, is that while Arkansas has become more painfully conservative lately, it's also a state where Democratic reform ideas remain popular. A new Research 2000 poll, commissioned by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, helps make this clear.
Yet another public opinion poll in a state with a conservative Democratic senator shows that the public option not only is widely popular among voters, but could become a potent issue in the upcoming congressional elections.
One day after releasing a Research 2000 survey of Indiana residents -- in a study designed to get the attention of Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh -- the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America is going public with the results from Arkansas, home state of Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln. The findings are equally persuasive.
Specifically, Arkansans support a public option, 56% to 37%. Among independents in the state, it's even better, 57% to 32%. Moreover, if Lincoln sided with Republicans on a filibuster, 35% of Arkansas independents would be less likely to vote for her, while only 10% would be more likely. Among state Democrats, 49% would be less likely to vote for her, only 7% more likely.
It's unclear if Lincoln will face a primary challenge, but if she backs the GOP's filibuster and has to earn the Democratic nomination, 48% of Democrats would be less likely to support her in a primary.
Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder Stephanie Taylor concluded, "This polling shows that voting against the public option -- or helping Republicans block a vote on health care altogether -- would be career suicide for Blanche Lincoln. It would alienate large numbers of Democrats and Independents when she's already facing an extremely tough re-election."
mcjoan (DK): Another Stumble from the Insurance Industry 
A few weeks ago, AHIP shot themselves in the foot when they released the PWC report that was basically nothing more than a blackmail threat, you do this reform, we'll raise premiums. That effort resulted in a real resurgence for the public option.
That stumble certainly isn't going to stop the insurance industry from fighting back at every level. Hopefully, more of them will backfire as as much as PWC report, and as badly as this one:
RALEIGH, N.C. —Even Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina acknowledges that its timing on two recent mailings was unfortunate.
The News&Observer of Raleigh reported that customers first learned their rates will rise by an average of 11 percent next year.
Then they got a flier urging them to send an enclosed preprinted, postage-paid note to Sen. Kay Hagan denouncing what the company says is unfair competition that would be imposed by a government-backed insurance plan. Congress is likely to consider that public option as it debates the health care overhaul....
Indignant Blue Cross customers, complaining that their premium dollars are funding the campaign, have called Hagan's office to voice support for a public option. They've marked through the Blue Cross message on their postcards and changed it to show they support the public option, then mailed the cards.
How emblematic of the whole crisis is this incident? The insurers will just keep on raising our premiums and using that money to further their own interests in making more profits. They sure as hell aren't putting those profits into providing more or better coverage. And their customers know exactly what they're doing. Which is precisely why the public option is so popular--everyone who got that premium increase notice knows that they are trapped in their policies. If they want insurance, they have to put up the increases in costs and decreases in coverage. What rational person wouldn't think some competition and some options are called for?
Unfortunately, all of the industries efforts to fight reform aren't going to be so ham-handed, and most of them probably aren't going to be relying on disgruntled customers to do their dirty work. Not when they've got got lots of allies in D.C. looking out for them. But as long as their obscene profits are threatened, the insurance companies are going to fight this, and they will have plenty of allies on the Hill and in Congress to keep doing that.
Madrak (C&L): Howard Dean on Health-Care Bill: 'This Is Real Reform'

Look, I want single-payer, too. But this bill has a lot of things in it that will quickly offer substantial relief, and I'm not joining the wholesale condemnation. Even Howard Dean called it "real reform" tonight and said he'd vote for it.

There's some good things and some bad things. Actually, a lot of good - and you won't have to wait more than a few months for relief.

The bill keeps kids on their parents' insurance until age 27, there's a temporary insurance pool until the public option is operable, extension of COBRA benefits (still looking for details), steps to close the Medicare doughnut hole, a ban on lifetime coverage limits, and the end of rescissions, except in case of fraud. It also expands Medicaid.

The bill also adds a voluntary long-term care program (and if your parents have seen their insurance carriers crash and burn this year, you know what a blessing this will be). It also funds a temporary reinsurance program that subsidizes employers offering health benefits for retirees aged 55-64.

As Jane pointed out this morning, there's no requirement for generic versions of high-priced breast cancer drugs. In fact, the bill sweetens the pot for Big Pharma by extending patents on those drugs every time they make a minor change. (Like making an extended release formula.) Essentially, it's a monopoly in perpetuity.

Breast cancer survivors, organize! No one likes to be perceived as beating up on cancer patients.

Potentially bad: No Medicare+5. At first look, this means fewer savings - and thus, higher premiums. However, these rates will still be negotiated at a national level, and it does not preclude Medicare +5.

In a bill this complex and controversial, there are, of course, things that will make us swallow hard. From what I'm hearing so far, the subsidies are inadequate. As soon as I have concrete numbers, I'll put them up.

I'd say the subsidies are the single most productive focus for the netroots. Call your congress critter, tell him or her (or it) that the subsidies must be adequate - or else.

And if they say they have to respect the ceiling President Obama asked for, ask them why it doesn't bother them when they have to pay for wars - only health care. Tell them you will not pay more money for less coverage, that this is a deal-breaker for Democratic voters.

Send them a strong message.
About a month ago, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) caused a stir when he described the conservative approach to health care: "Don't get sick. That's what the Republicans have in mind. And if you get sick America, the Republican health care plan is this: die quickly."
The GOP and its allies were outraged. Grayson made it sound as if Republican policies are literally life threatening. The remarks, conservatives said, crossed a line of decency. No one, the argument goes, should accuse their rivals of promoting lethal health care policies.
A month later, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ken.) told a conservative radio host that the public option favored by most congressional Democrats and most of the American public "may cost you your life."
Dennis Miller asked McConnell specifically about the state opt-out compromise. The Minority Leader said it didn't matter because a public plan that competes with private plans is inherently dangerous.
"I think if you have any kind of government insurance program, you're going to be stuck with it and it will lead us in the direction of the European style, you know, sort of British-style, single payer, government run system. And those systems are known for delays, denial of care and, you know, if your particular malady doesn't fit the government regulation, you don't get the medication.
"And it may cost you your life. I mean, we don't want to go down that path."
It's a reminder of just how pathetic the debate itself has been over health care reform. After six months of back and forth -- hearings, debates, town halls, reports, committee votes, interviews, analyses -- the highest ranking Republican in Congress still feels comfortable telling a national audience that competition between public and private health coverage "may cost you your life."
Indeed, one of the few constants throughout the process is conservative Republicans on the Hill, unwilling or unable to debate the policy on the merits, trying to convince people that Democratic policies may actually kill them.
What a sad joke.
Think Progress: Lieberman plans to campaign for Republicans in 2010. 
After joining with Republicans this week in a promise to filibuster health reform if a public option is included, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) tells ABC News that he plans on campaigning for some GOP candidates in the 2010 elections:
I probably will support some Republican candidates for Congress or Senate in the elections in 2010. I’m going to call them as I see them.
There’s a hard core of partisan, passionate, hardcore Republicans. There’s a hard core of partisan Democrats on the other side. And in between is the larger group, which is people who really want to see the right thing done, or want something good done for this country and them — and that means, sometimes, the better choice is somebody who’s not a Democrat.
Lieberman also said it remains an “open question” whether he will seek the Democratic nomination when he runs for re-election in 2012. Last month, Lieberman also joked that he may run as a Republican. In September 2008, Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter — who was then still a member of the GOP — ironically said that Lieberman was “practically” voting as a Republican already and should just switch parties.

Metaphors to Die For!

Joe, Put Your Bikini Top Back On!
Bayh won't block health bill  Oct. 29: Rachel Maddow is joined by founder and publisher Jane Hamsher, to talk about breaking news that Sen. Evan Bayh, D-IN, backing down from his threat to filibuster a health reform bill containing a public option and the remaining Democratic hold-outs.

Sully: Ailes Not Fooling Everyone
I've largely stopped watching non-Shep Fox because it makes me ill. When I watch it by accident, it somehow always manages to shock. I caught a Hannity interview with Malkin last night flipping through and simply couldn't believe that this level of pure propaganda, without even a pretense at balance or debate, was now a prime-time feature. (MSNBC., of course, is pretty awful too - with Olbermann and Shultz being obvious knock-offs of Fox. Maddow is better but oozes toxic levels of smug. It wasn't so bad when Bush was in power - opposition always makes anger less smug - but now it's suffocating.)
Anyway, according to Pew, the public isn't far off my own rough assessment. Drum roll:
Clearly the public understands that the network MSM is skewed to the left. But there's a difference of magnitude between that assessment and that of Fox. Quite simply, most Americans see Fox for what it is: an appendage of a political operation, not a journalistic one. Its absurd distortions, its relentless attacks on Obama from the very start, its hideously shrill hosts, and its tawdry, inflammatory chat all put it in a class by itself.
It makes the partisan British tabloids feel legit. Why? Because they are not inherently dishonest the way Fox is.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Slow Burn with a Fast Fuse

  1. Jason L. Says:
    I think it would be hilarious if someone challenged Lieberman for the Connecticut-for-Lieberman party nomination. They could argue that Lieberman has failed to uphold the historical values and positions of Joe Lieberman.
Paul Begala:
Sen. Lieberman is always there when we don't need him. Don't ask him to do more than that. It's just too much.
Matthew Yglesias:
The Senate Republican caucus is organized, like the House caucuses of both parties, like a partisan political organization whose objective is to advance the shared policy objectives of the party. The Senate Democratic caucus, by contrast, is organized like a fun country club trying to recruit members. Join Team Democrat and Vote However You Want Without Consequence! But it's no way to get things done.

Lieberman defends insurance industry interests   Oct. 28: Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-CT, is threatening to filibuster a health reform bill that includes that public option, even though he's been against this tactic in the past. Could this be because of his ties to the big insurance companies? Rachel Maddow is joined by's Glenn Greenwald.

Yglesias: Dodd is Against “The idea that people are going to be reprimanded” for Breaking Party Discipline
Systems of party discipline differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, from party to party, and even from legislative body to legislative body. I seem to remember that at one point while I was in college the Massachusetts state assembly Democratic caucus had very ironclad discipline while the Senate caucus was laxer. Discipline in the United States is generally much laxer than discipline in Canada. At the federal level, discipline is tighter in the House than in the Senate, and the GOP versions of both houses are tighter than the Democratic versions. These things, in part, reflect differences in the constitutional/legal order. But in part they also reflect choices and path dependency. The extremely lax discipline among Senate Democrats is generally quite favorable to the interests of individual incumbent Democratic Senators even if it makes it difficult to advance a legislative agenda. So when it comes to getting recalcitrant Senators to fall into line, what’s needed are not only the potential tools of discipline, but the will to use them.
And then there’s Chris Dodd:
But Lieberman’s fellow Connecticut senator, Democrat Chris Dodd, who faces a tough reelection fight in 2010, dismissed the idea that Lieberman would incur any retribution.
“No, no, no. People are going to be all over the place,” he said when asked if Lieberman should be punished. “The idea that people are going to be reprimanded because somehow they have a different point of view than someone else is ridiculous. That isn’t going to happen.”
Of course there’s nothing “ridiculous” about it. It’s quite standard in legislative bodies for members who defy the party position to face various kinds of reprimands. A political party, after all, isn’t supposed to be a mutual aid society for incumbent legislators. At their best, parties are vehicles for advancing a somewhat coherent vision of national policy. It is true, however, that it would be an unusual step for the Senate Democratic caucus to engage in discipline-enforcing behavior. That, however, is because Senate Democrats are outliers in their behavior, not because the idea of enforcing discipline is somehow nutty.
Now it should be said that in the particular case of Dodd it’s probably not in his interests to pick a fight with a home state colleague in the midst of a re-election campaign. Consequently, he probably shouldn’t be the go-to guy to ask about this issue.
Democrats and other supporters of health care reform have a very simple message for center-right Dems who oppose fixing the system: just let the Senate vote.
The issue, of course, is cloture. Reform proponents don't need 60 senators to pass a bill; they need 60 senators to simply let a vote happen. The message to Nelson, Lieberman, Lincoln, Landrieu, et al, is, "Agree to let the Senate vote on the bill, and then feel free to vote against it."
Obviously, Republicans are going to fight like hell to blur the difference between the procedural vote and the actual vote. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky said the procedural vote "will be treated as a vote on the merits of the bill." Why? Because he says so.
And Sen. Evan Bayh (D) of Indiana, one of the Senate's more needlessly conservative Dems, apparently wants to help advance McConnell's GOP message.
Bayh, who is undecided on the opt-out, is now asserting that he sees no difference between a vote to bring that measure to the floor (which requires 60) and a straight up or down vote on it -- a claim that's in perfect harmony with the GOP's songsheet. [...]
This one will really help maintain unity in the Dem caucus. It's one thing, after all, to threaten to block efforts by the majority party -- your own party -- to stage a straight up-or-down majority vote on the bill's substance. It's quite another to claim that the initial procedural vote, which requires 60, is not materially different from a straight up-or-down majority vote on the bill's substance.
Bayh specifically said he doesn't see "much difference between process and policy at this particular juncture." Republicans liked the quote so much they're spreading it around.
Got that? Evan Bayh is undermining this once-in-a-generation chance at health care reform and helping advance the Republican message at the same time.
I should note that this isn't entirely new -- in July, Bayh was saying the same thing. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told his colleagues at the time, "Don't let the Republicans filibuster us into failure." Members of the caucus "may vote against final passage on a bill," Durbin said, but like-minded colleagues should at least reject the idea of "allowing the filibuster to stop the whole Senate." Almost immediately, Bayh said he disagreed, and that the procedural vote and the policy were practically the same thing.
Remember, this is total nonsense. Senators voting to end debate on a bill, only to ultimately vote against the same bill, happens all the time. Joe Lieberman has done it repeatedly.
Of course there's a difference between procedural and policy votes. Bayh is helping Republicans for no reason.
It couldn't be simpler -- if legislation Bayh doesn't like comes to the floor, he can vote against it. Before that, he can offer amendments, give speeches, and encourage others to agree with him. Just let the Senate vote.
Begala: Traitor Joe - The ex-Democrat now says he’ll join the GOP in a health-care filibuster. Paul Begala on Lieberman’s latest and most shameless betrayal.
It's journalistic shorthand to note a politician's party identification and state after his or her name. For example: Jane Doe (D-NY). And so Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman is identified as (I-CT). But the “I” does not stand for "Independent." It stands for "Insurance Industry."
Lieberman says he will join a Republican filibuster against President Obama's health-insurance reforms. You could see this coming from a mile away—actually from 15 years away.
In 1993 and 94, Lieberman consistently opposed President Clinton's reform bill—which did not have a public option. In case you're keeping score at home, Lieberman will filibuster the Obama plan, which has a public option, and he opposed the Clinton reform plan, which did not. Anything that protects consumers, it seems, is a bridge too far for Sen. Lieberman.

Lieberman sided with insurance companies against sick people, and with insurance companies against citizens who want to sue to protect their rights in court. As The New York Times reported, "Many of Mr. Lieberman's friends said he had no alternative but to take this position because it was the one favored by the insurance industry. The industry is important to Connecticut's economy and has generously donated to Mr. Lieberman's campaigns over the years." But in fairness to Sen. Lieberman, that's just what his friends said back in 2000, not what he says today. What he says today is that President Obama is "trying to do too much at once."
Too much at once? Too much at once? Why didn't that occur to Sen. Lieberman when we were fighting a war in Afhganistan, and he was cheerleading for an invasion of Iraq? Too much at once? How about 4,351 dead American heroes who gave their lives in a war that Joe Lieberman didn't think was doing too much?
Or how about FEMA? Lieberman insisted in letting the Department of Homeland Security swallow it up. Hillary Clinton warned him, basically saying FEMA was going to be doing too much in the event of a natural disaster and shouldn't be burdened by extra bureaucracy. But Sen. Lieberman didn't think FEMA was doing too much. You might say he thought Brownie was doing a heckuva job—because Sen. Lieberman blindly rubber-stamped Michael Brown when President George W. Bush plucked him from the Arabian Horse Association to run FEMA. Maybe Lieberman was doing too much to ask why President Bush was putting an unqualified boob in a life-and-death job.
 Even before then, when George H.W. Bush was trying to pass a capital gains tax cut for the idle rich, Sen. Lieberman didn't think he was doing too much. No, Sen. Lieberman joined with Republicans and voted in favor of special breaks for the Paris Hilton class. He led the fight against Securities & Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Levitt's accounting reforms, which were designed to rein in corporate abuses. Apparently Clinton and Levitt were just doing too much.
Sen. Lieberman is always there when we don't need him. Don't ask him to do more than that. It's just too much.
When it comes to reform opponents pushing back against polls showing support for a public option, they have some credible options to choose from.
Conservatives could, for example, argue that there's still some confusion about the policy details, so the poll results should be taken with a grain of salt. That's not unreasonable. They could also argue that the public has simply embraced a bad idea, and that what it popular is not always right. That, too, is a plausible approach.
Simply pretending that the polls don't exist, however, is far more annoying.
Yesterday, for example, Glenn Beck said only "35% of the population" supports the idea of public-private competition. Noting that Harry Reid has said "the public wants this," Beck called the Majority Leader's remarks "a lie."
A Wall Street Journal editorial the other day was especially striking. It argued, "[T]he reality is that no one wants a public option except the political left." The editorial board said the media is cooking the books "by asking rigged questions."
Conservatives may find reality inconvenient, but that doesn't mean it should be ignored.
Let's have a look at these "rigged questions." Here is the wording of the Washington Post/ABC News poll, which tracked support for the public option from August through October at majorities of 52, 55, and 57 percent:
"Would you support or oppose having the government create a new health insurance plan to compete with private health insurance plans?"
Here is the wording of a September Kaiser Family Foundation poll, which tracked support for the public option from July through September at majorities of 59 percent, 59 percent, and 57 percent:
"Do you favor ... [c]reating a government-administered public health insurance option similar to Medicare to compete with private health insurance plans?"
Here is the wording of a September New York Times poll, which tracked support for the public option from July through September at majorities of 66 percent, 60 percent, and 65 percent:
"Would you favor or oppose the government offering everyone a government administered health insurance plan -- something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and older get -- that would compete with private health insurance plans?"
Here is the wording of a newly released CNN poll, which tracked support for the public option in August and October at majorities of 55 percent and 61 percent:
"Would you favor or oppose creating a public health insurance option administered by the federal government that would compete with plans offered by private health insurance companies?"
The public has consistently said it would like to see eligible consumers have a choice between competing public and private plans. Conservatives disagree? Fine. But let's not pretend the polling data simply doesn't exist.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Nothing Funny

Jon has a history of talking out of his ass on GW. He may be "just a comedian" but he should know better.
Think Progress: Jon Stewart Praises ‘SuperFreak’ Author: ‘I’m Sorry You’ve Taken So Much S**t’
On last night’s Daily Show, host Jon Stewart heaped praise on the contrarian approach to global warming taken by SuperFreakonomics author Steve Levitt, a University of Chicago economist. Stewart was dismissive of the widespread criticism of Levitt and co-author Stephen Dubner, asking, “Have you stepped on a secular religion?” Stewart, often a tough interviewer, coddled Levitt, saying, “I’m sorry you’ve taken so much s**t for it.” He blamed the uproar over SuperFreakonomics on people who “feel you are betraying environmentalism”:
I’ve been somewhat surprised at how angry people are. The global warming chapter, you don’t deny global warming. You don’t say that CO2 isn’t a factor, but they feel you are betraying environmentalism or our world. Why are people so mad?
Watch it:

SuperFreakonomics mischaracterizes the field in order to argue that “moralism and angst” has blinded scientists and policymakers from pursuing the “cheap and simple solution” of geoengineering. Although the book condemns scientists for fearmongering and promotes a radical alternative to existing policy, Levitt tells Stewart, “I don’t try to pretend I know the science.”
In reality, the critics of Levitt’s treatment of climate science and policy are not “dogmatic” believers of a “secular religion” — they are highly respected climate scientists, energy experts, and economists, including climate scientist Ken Caldeira, who has said Levitt and Dubner misrepresented his views. The widespread criticism isn’t based on the book’s personal attacks on Al Gore or its mocking of global warming as a “religion,” but on the multitude of factual errors, misrepresentations, and false conclusions that the authors use to promote their mindless contrarianism. As science journalist Eric Pooley writes, “The book claims the opposite of what Caldeira believes.”
Levitt recommends untested, planetary scale geo-engineering to block the sun as a “band-aid” that “buys us time” if “we might need to do something,” because carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for a long time. However, scientists concerned that global warming needs to be reduced rapidly have already found a well-proven approach that’s cheaper and safer than pumping unlimited amounts of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere: stopping black carbon emissions of soot from diesel and biomass burning.
Stewart rightly concluded, “I really don’t know what I’m talking about, do I?” However, he failed to understand his mistake when he added that he had “apparently frightened our audience by suggesting that conservation isn’t the only way out of any of our problems.”
Stewart has excoriated other media darlings for their laissez-faire approach to serious issues, from Tucker Carlson to Jim Cramer, and just last week skewered CNN for its failure to do even basic fact-checking of its guests. Unfortunately, in this instance, there was nothing funny about Stewart’s inaccuracy.
Dana Milbank noted this morning, "It must be very lonely being the last flat-earther." He was referring, of course, to the tragically confused senior senator from Oklahoma, James Inhofe (R).
The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a key hearing yesterday on global warming, and even conservative Republicans on the panel "made it clear that they no longer share, if they ever did, Inhofe's view that man-made global warming is the 'greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.'"
"Eleven academies in industrialized countries say that climate change is real; humans have caused most of the recent warming," admitted Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). "If fire chiefs of the same reputation told me my house was about to burn down, I'd buy some fire insurance."
An oil-state senator, David Vitter (R-La), said that he, too, wants to "get us beyond high-carbon fuels" and "focus on conservation, nuclear, natural gas and new technologies like electric cars." And an industrial-state senator, George Voinovich (R-Ohio), acknowledged that climate change "is a serious and complex issue that deserves our full attention."
Then there was poor Inhofe. "The science is more definitive than ever? You keep saying that because you want to believe it so much," he said bitterly. He offered to furnish a list of scientists who once believed in climate change but "who are solidly on the other side right now." The science, he said, "already has shifted" against global-warming theory. "Science is not settled! Everyone knows it's not settled!"
Inhofe called for more oil drilling. His aides tried to debunk the other senators' points by passing around papers titled "Rapid Response." Mid-hearing, Inhofe's former spokesman, now in the private sector, sent out an e-mail -- "Prominent Russian Scientist: 'We should fear a deep temperature drop -- not catastrophic global warming.' "
Inhofe later insisted that "we went out of that natural warming cycle about nine years ago" -- a claim that's patently ridiculous.
As for Inhofe's "list of scientists," let's not forget that many of them aren't scientists, and many more are convinced Inhofe's wrong. (Some of the actual scientists included on the senator's list demanded that their names be removed -- and he ignored their requests.)
Every time I see Inhofe ranting about this, I picture him on the Senate floor, after legislation has already passed, sounding like some tragic Don Ameche, shouting to no one in particular: "Now, you listen to me! I want the voting reopened right now. Get those members back in here! Turn those machines back on!"

...are they any better...

DougJ: Not a game
Sardine on health care reform:
Forget all the talk about the public option for a second and ignore your political consultants who are cautioning you about the imaginary negative repercussions of a “government takeover.” The reality is this debate really isn’t about politics, it’s about health care. It’s not left or right, it’s about all of us.
People need help. They can’t afford their health care bills. People are dying. The crazy health care expenses are hurting businesses. Please don’t turn your back on these people. If you join with the Republicans and block health care reform, you’re basically saying to the American people – go fuck yourselves.
The discussion of health care reform has been endless: we’ve heard about Blue Dogs worried about being tagged as liberal, we’ve heard about CBO scores, we’ve heard about how all of this will affect the career trajectories of various powerful, well-off people. We haven’t heard much about the millions of people who have been bankrupted by health care costs under our current system. We haven’t heard much about the millions of people who have little or no access to health care.
I agree that CBO scores are important and should be discussed. And I understand why politicians’ futures are always a subject of discussion in DC. But can there be any discussion of regular human beings’ lives here? I know that everyone who appears on tv or writes for a national paper has a good health care plan already. But don’t they ever wonder what it’s like for other people they pass on the street, for the people who serve them coffee or wait their tables?
I realize that if you’re poor in this country, then everything is your fault. If you take out a loan you shouldn’t have taken out, it’s proof that you’re too much of an idiot to handle money, whereas when rich people are fleeced by Bernie Madoff it’s proof that Madoff is a super-genius monster. If you’re hit by a stray bullet, you were probably in a gang. If you’re sick, it’s because you smoke and you’re overweight. And whatever trouble you have getting a job, it’s all because of your genetically determined low IQ. And if you weren’t poor, overweight, genetically deficient and so on you wouldn’t have trouble getting disqualified because of preconditions and you’d never get scammed by bogus insurance outfits.
But still, even in a society that accepts these myths….
And I guess I’d ask you this: the politicians and pundits who stand by and watch millions of lives destroyed by our health care system—are they any better than the people who watched that horrible crime in Richmond? I think you know the answer.
  •  John Cole on "that horrible crime in Richmond":  Seriously. What the hell is wrong with people that up to twenty people stood around or participated in the gang rape of a woman for TWO AND A HALF HOURS and they never once thought “Hey, this is wrong” or “Hey, this is a person” or “Hey, I should call the police.” I know it is unrealistic, but I wouldn’t mind putting everyone of these people in jail for life. They are sociopaths, and that poor girl’s life is ruined. I’m not sure how she will ever recover from something like this.

Perfect Bookends


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A Party of One

Lieberman sides against constituents  Oct. 27: Rachel Maddow is joined by Fire Dog Lake founder and publisher Jane Hamsher to discuss the revelation by Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-CT, that he will join a filibuster to block a health reform bill that includes a public option.

Beutler (TPM): Lieberman: Sure, I'd Filibuster A Health Care Reform Bill With A Public Option
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) told reporters today that he would in fact filibuster any health care bill he doesn't agree with--and right now, he doesn't agree with the public option proposal making its way through the Senate.
"I told Senator Reid that I'm strongly inclined--i haven't totally decided, but I'm strongly inclined--to vote to proceed to the health care debate, even though I don't support the bill that he's bringing together because it's important that we start the debate on health care reform because I want to vote for health care reform this year. But I also told him that if the bill remains what it is now, I will not be able to support a cloture motion before final passage. Therefore I will try to stop the passage of the bill."
There are two procedural issues at play here. Most people think of a filibuster as a minority blocking passage of a bill that's already been debated ad nauseum on the Senate floor. That's the most standard filibuster. But on major legislation, it's become more common for the minority--in this case the Republicans--to object to the majority getting a chance to debate legislation in the first place. If any one of them objects to the so-called motion to proceed, it will take 60 votes just to start the amendment and debate process. That's a less-discussed filibuster, but it's quite plausible that this health care bill will have to contend with it.
Lieberman is saying that he's pretty much OK with letting senators offer amendments--try to change the legislation, move it in any direction they deem necessary. But when that process is all over, and Harry Reid wants to hold an up or down vote on the final product, Lieberman's saying he'll join that filibuster, if he's not happy with the finished product. Point blank.
Even Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) doesn't go that far. "I'm not going to make up my mind until I actually see the bill," he told reporters.
One of Lieberman's main objections to the health care bill is that it includes a public option, which he describes as a burden on taxpayers.
"I think a lot of people may think that the public option is free. It's not. It's going to cost the taxpayers and people who have health insurance now, and if it doesn't it's going to add terribly to the national debt...there's so much in this health reform legislation that is so good, that I think they're just putting an unnecessary burden on top of it by creating another Washington-based entitlement program."
This is at great odds with the findings of most experts, who say that, by bringing efficiencies into the greater insurance market, and therefore lowering the government's subsidy burden, a public option will actually save money.
I asked him to square his rationale with the experts consensus, but he was undeterred. "Well all the history we have of health entitlement programs, including the two big ones that I dearly support, Medicare and Medicaid, is that they end up costing more than we're prepared to pay, and they add to the debt, and then they add to the burden on taxpayers."
As written, congressional health care legislation would require the public option--whether administered by a government, or by an outside body--would be financed by premiums, and unable to draw on federal funds.
Marc Ambinder notes this afternoon that Senate Democratic leaders and the White House still think that Joe Lieberman, when push comes to shove, will join Dems and support cloture on health care reform. "They think he's posturing for power but will cave," Ambinder said.
Ambinder added:
Now -- the final bill, post-conference, is going to look a bit different from the reconciled Senate bill. Lieberman is giving himself the power to influence the final bill. I doubt that the Senate leadership is going to press him too hard right now, preferring to see if he can be accommodated in the final debate.
To be sure, Lieberman seems to have left himself a little wiggle room. The senator said today that he's told Harry Reid that he'll support a Republican filibuster "if the bill remains what it is now." Since the amendment process will no doubt alter the bill, the argument goes, then Lieberman may yet come around.
But I wouldn't count on it.
I understand the argument. Lieberman loves attention and power. By threatening to join the Republican filibuster, he gets both -- Democrats have to scramble to make him happy, since there's no margin for error in putting together 60 votes. Lieberman gets to feel very important for the next several weeks by making this threat less than 24 hours after Harry Reid stated his intentions, but that doesn't necessarily mean he wants to be known forever as The Senator Who Killed Health Care Reform.
I find it very easy to believe, however, that Lieberman is capable of doing just that. He left himself some wiggle room, but not when it comes to the public option -- he's against it, no matter what, even with all of the compromises thrown in.
What's more, Lieberman didn't have to make the explicit threat to get the attention he craves -- he could have just as easily said he's keeping his options open, forcing Dems to cater to his demands. Instead, he went further, explicitly vowing to stop the Senate from even voting on the bill if some consumers in some states have a choice between public and private insurance plans.
What does Lieberman have to gain by following through on this threat? Well, if he plans to seek re-election in 2012, he'll need a lot of Republican support to have a chance. Running as the independent who single handedly prevented public-private competition would probably be a big selling point.
That said, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was asked this afternoon about Lieberman's willingness to filibuster reform. Reid told reporters, "Joe Lieberman is the least of Harry Reid's problems."
I'm not sure how that's possible -- he can't get to 60 without Lieberman, and Lieberman is now vowing not to be part of the 60 -- unless Reid thinks the Connecticut senator might be more flexible than he's letting on.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) was specifically asked this afternoon why he couldn't just vote for cloture -- letting health care reform come to the floor for a Senate vote -- and then oppose the bill itself. "Because that is not using the rights I have as a senator," he replied.
What's worth remembering, though, is that Lieberman uses his "rights" selectively, and has a record of ending filibusters on legislation he ultimately votes against.
In March 2005, the senator joined 55 Republicans and 13 Democrats in backing cloture on a bill that made several significant changes to the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, chief among them making it more difficult to file for bankruptcy under Chapter 7. The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act ended up passing the Senate by a vote of 74 to 25, with Lieberman in the opposition.
In September 2006, Lieberman did the same thing. The senator voted to invoke cloture on The Secure Fence Act, which would have used advanced technologies -- including unmanned aerial vehicles, ground-based sensors, satellites, radar coverage, and cameras -- to create "operational control of the borders." The bill would pass by a vote of 80 to 19, with Lieberman joining many of the Democratic Party's more progressive members in voting nay.
In April 2007, Lieberman again granted a parliamentary pass to a bill that he ultimately opposed. The U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health, and Iraq Accountability Act would have funded troops in Iraq provided that certain demands be made of the Iraqi government and that a timeline be implemented for the removal of U.S. forces. The bill ended up being passed by a vote of 51 to 46, with Lieberman voting against it, only to be vetoed by then President George W. Bush.
Lieberman, in other words, has "rights" that he only takes seriously when he wants to.

OK, so Joe Lieberman would rather see health care reform fail than allow some consumers to have a choice between public and private coverage. But one of the key clues to an unprincipled mind is an evolving explanation for opposition.
In June, Lieberman said, "I don't favor a public option because I think there's plenty of competition in the private insurance market." That didn't make sense, and it was quickly dropped from his talking points.
In July, Lieberman said he opposes a public option because "the public is going to end up paying for it." No one knew what that meant.
In August, he said we'd have to wait "until the economy's out of recession," which is incoherent, since a public option, even if passed this year, still wouldn't kick in for quite a while.
In September, Lieberman said he opposes a public option because "the public doesn't support it." A wide variety of credible polling proved otherwise.
Which brings us to October, and the latest in a series of weak explanations.
"We're trying to do too much at once," Lieberman said. "To put this government-created insurance company on top of everything else is just asking for trouble for the taxpayers, for the premium payers and for the national debt. I don't think we need it now." [...]
Lieberman said that he'd vote against a public option plan "even with an opt-out because it still creates a whole new government entitlement program for which taxpayers will be on the line."
Jon Chait explained that this "literally makes no sense whatsoever. A public plan does not provide a new entitlement. It just doesn't. It's a different form of providing an entitlement. Nor is it more expensive. In fact, the stronger versions of the public plan would cost less money. Lieberman is just babbling nonsense here."
Not that it matters -- it's almost November, which means Lieberman will have some equally unpersuasive argument very soon.