Tuesday, December 22, 2009


This was really unhelpful and unnecessary, but the Villagers will love that he is kicking hippies. TPM
In an interview today with Urban Radio Networks, President Obama said the public option "is not the most important aspect of this bill -- the House bill or the Senate bill" and added that only a "few million people" would have benefited from it. The idea, he said, "has just become symbolic of a lot of ideological fights."
Here's another DFH kicker. He must be serious . . .
Think Progress:
CNBC’s John Harwood tells liberals to ‘lay off the hallucinogenic drugs.’

Late last night, the Senate voted for cloture on health care legislation, paving the way for the bill to be passed by the Senate and then proceeding to a conference committee with the House. When the bills go into conference, many progressives — like former Governor Howard Dean — hope that improvements will be made to the legislation in areas like expanding coverage and instilling greater insurance company accountability. This morning, CNBC’s John Harwood dismissed this constructive criticism as “idiotic” and suggested that those who want to improve the health care legislation should “lay off the hallucinogenic drugs”:

HARWOOD: So much of the commentary that I’ve heard has been really idiotic. Liberals who want universal health care ought to be thanking Harry Reid for getting this done rather than talking about what’s inadequate in the bill. I’m not saying the bill is a good bill. But if you’re a liberal and you want universal coverage in this country, and think that you can do better, that Harry Reid can do better than he’s done that the White House can do better, they ought to lay off the hallucinogenic drugs because we’ve had a vivid demonstration of the limits of political possibilities on this issue.

Watch it:

Krugman: Down memory lane

Many progressives are deeply dismayed about the shortcomings of the Senate bill. And they should hold onto that feeling! History suggests that this reform will get much better over time — but only if people keep demanding improvements.

But I think my reaction to the bill’s apparently imminent passage is being shaped, in part, by memories of how it was, not long ago. Five years ago, after the 2004 election, I was devoting most of my efforts to an attempt to stop Social Security privatization. And it seemed likely to be yet another losing battle: all the wise heads, all the makers of conventional wisdom, were sure that Bush was going to get what he wanted, and that people like me were just boorish obstructionists unwilling to embrace change.

But Social Security survived. And here we are now with a reform that, for all its faults, is the biggest expansion of the social safety net since Medicare. That, in my book, counts as a big victory.

John Cole: Three Things, Not Unrelated

1.) Ezra Klein-

Thanks to the magic of Google, it’s easy enough to revisit the plan (pdf) Obama campaigned on in light of the plan that seems likely to pass. And there are, to be sure, some differences. The public option did not survive the Senate. The individual mandate, which Obama campaigned against, was added after key members of Congress and the administration realized that the plan wouldn’t function in its absence. Drug reimportation was defeated, and a vague effort to have government pick up some catastrophic costs was never really mentioned.

But whether you love the Senate bill or loathe it, whether you’re impressed by Obama’s effort or disappointed, it is very hard to argue that the bill Congress looks likely to pass is fundamentally different from the approach Obama initially advocated. “The Obama-Biden plan both builds on and improves our current insurance system,” the campaign promised, and on that, for better or for worse, they’ve delivered. You can debate whether Obama should have lashed himself to such an incremental and status-quo oriented approach, but you cannot argue that he kept it a secret.

Paul Krugman:

There’s a lot of dismay/rage on the left over Obama, a number of cries that he isn’t the man progressives thought they were voting for.

But that says more about the complainers than it does about Obama himself. If you actually paid attention to the substance of what he was saying during the primary, you realized that

(a) There wasn’t a lot of difference among the major Democratic contenders

(b) To the extent that there was a difference, Obama was the least progressive

Now it’s true that many progressives were ardent Obama supporters, with their ardency mixed in with a fair bit of demonization of Hillary Clinton. And maybe they were right — but not on policy grounds. (I still remember people angrily telling me that if Hillary got in, she’d fill her economics team with Rubinites).

So what you’re getting is what you should have seen.



There have definitely been compromises, and there have been letdowns. There have been mistakes, and there have been broken promises. I’m not thrilled with the slow pace of Gitmo, I’m not thrilled about any number of things, but I see slow progress. But there have also been unrealistic expectations- Obama was always a risk averse, cautious, careful person- I remember the many discussions we had here regarding Obama as poker player versus John McCain and his reckless love of roulette, and we used to agree that a cautious poker player who studies the opposition and thinks long ball and treats us like adults was desirable.

I’ve said repeatedly that the only people who really believed that Obama was a left-wing radical were the people on the left who wanted him to be but refused to pay attention and those on the right who wanted to destroy him. I think I’m still pretty right, and it is why I’m not disillusioned. I think my take on the guy was pretty accurate, and still is.

  • from the comments:
mr. whipple

But there have also been unrealistic expectations- Obama was always a risk averse, cautious, careful person

I would use a more positive term: prudent. I liked that about him, and still do.

I remember watching one of the debates while I was online, and a lot of people wanted Obama to just kick the shit out of McCain and were dismayed when he didn’t. Then the after polls came in, all saying Obama had ‘won’, and they were dumbfounded.

I think on issue after issue people want some old wounds avenged. Don’t just get policy passed, destroy republicans. Don’t just get healthcare, destroy insurance companies. Don’t just get our financial institutions in order, destroy capitalism.


Looking at that Politifact scoreboard (and I can’t go in-depth on my Blackberry), I can only imagine what it would have looked like with President McCain.
Then I go and do my happy dance again. It’s only been 11 months, people. 7 years and 1 month to go!

Drum: Healthcare Ping Pong?

Should ping pong become the new liberal sport? That is, should the House just skip the conference committee on healthcare reform entirely and simply vote on the bill produced by the Senate? This is, for some reason, known as ping-ponging, even though it doesn't really involve any kind of back and forth. In fact, the whole point is to eliminate the back and forth. But whatever. Is this a good idea?

I suppose institutional pride will prevent the House from agreeing to do this, but at this point I wonder just what they're likely to gain from a conference report? On abortion, the Senate bill is already better less atrocious than the House bill, its mandate penalty is smaller, and its defined benefit packages are more flexible.

The House bill has several advantages of its own, but among the big ticket items the public option is DOA and the others (somewhat wider coverage and more generous Medicaid expansion) would increase the price of the bill and are pretty clearly unacceptable to the centrist bloc in the Senate. That leaves the funding mechanisms: an excise tax on high-cost healthcare plans and a higher payroll tax on the wealthy in the Senate bill vs. higher income taxes on the wealthy in the House bill.

The excise tax has a sound policy justification, but a big chunk of the liberal constituency dislikes it anyway and I could certainly see a compromise here: raise the limit on the excise tax so it hits only the very richest plans and then combine it with a smaller income tax hike. Maybe that's worth going to conference for. But it's hard to see any other substantial improvements that are likely to come out of it.

So: go to conference and risk another month of squabbling and possible defections? Or take the imperfect Senate bill and get it passed for certain within a few days of returning from recess? Seems like a close call to me, but ping ponging doesn't look like a bad option at this point.

UPDATE: More here on some of the procedural issues. Turns out that ping pong might be more likely than we think thanks to yet more Republican obstruction.

Will the GOP play dirty to the end? Dec. 21: John Stanton, reporter for Roll Call, talks with Rachel Maddow about whether Congressional Republicans intend to continue their obstruction and stall tactics despite the apparent inevitability of the passage of a health reform bill.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

As if to answer Rachel's question . . .

Faughnan: Confirmed: McConnell Will Object to Appointment of Conferees

There's been speculation today that at least one Senate Republican will attempt to derail a health care conference by objecting to the appointment of conferees. Such a move could prevent Democrats from convening a conference committee to reconcile the House and Senate health care bills, and force them to adopt the 'ping pong' strategy. I have confirmed with a Senate Republican leadership source that GOP Leader Mitch McConnell will in fact, object to the appointment of conferees if Democrats attempt it.

According to this source, it is believed that Harry Reid now expects an objection to the move to appoint conferees, and may not even attempt it. If he does, it will be to have one more opportunity to allege Republicans of 'obstruction.' The objection will not eliminate the possibility of a conference; Democrats can resort to a fallback. They can propose a motion to appoint conferees, which is subject to filibuster. It would likely require 3 separate cloture votes to pass the motion to appoint conferees.

Thus, if Democrats are willing to spend roughly a week waiting to appoint conferees, they can do so. Otherwise, they will forego a conference and instead resort to ping pong: the House will be forced either to ratify the Senate bill as is, or amend it and send it to the Senate to be approved with changes.

Preventing a conference committee likely makes it harder for Democrats to address the bones of contention between the two bills: abortion, the public option, taxation of union health care plans, and the degree of subsidy available for purchase of health care. If the Senate bill is unacceptable to the House, leaders will be forced to open the bill to amendment - but not in a way that threatens 'settled' portions of the package.

This adds an unwelcome level of complexity as Democrats hope to preserve skin-of-the-teeth majorities in both House and Senate.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Monday Evening Potpourri

digby: Which Reality?
Senator Whitehouse made a stirring speech on the floor yesterday:
When it turns out there are no death panels, when there is no bureaucrat between you and your doctor, when the ways your health care changes seem like a good deal to you, and a pretty smart idea, when the American public sees the discrepancy between what really is, and what they were told by the Republicans, there will be a reckoning. There will come a day of judgment about who was telling the truth.
So, as much as I admire Whitehouse's passion, I'm not entirely sure he's right about this. I would have once believed that reason would always prevail, but recent years have shown me that it's not necessarily the way things work. We live in a strange PoMo world of swirling competing narratives and propaganda, some of which become a mythic truth regardless of their factual basis. (Al Gore wrote a whole book about this problem.)

I hope that in the long run all this will be seen as the historic progressive advance the Democrats are touting it to be. In the meantime, I suspect this fight will be ongoing for the foreseeable future and I have no doubt that the right will win at least some of the battles. I hope the Democrats are not relying on the notion that "everyone will see" how great the benefits are and hold Republican obstruction against them as they go about defending this program to the people. That's just not enough.
Booman: If Only...
If only this were more true.

“We are now functioning under a parliamentary form of government,” says Sen. Judd Gregg (R., N.H.) in a conversation with NRO. “An ideological supermajority in Congress, along with a government run by community organizers, has taken over.”

Imagine what the Senate would have passed if they only needed 50 votes (plus Biden). That bill is what a parliament would have passed. Whatever the merits of the Senate's bill, it is about the farthest thing from an ideological bill that can be imagined. It's a cobbled together compromise that conflicts with the ideology of at least 80% of the left in this country. Finally, a community organizer may be in the White House, but it is the centrists in the Senate who have distorted the rules to take over our government.

Yglesias: Health Reform Will Save Families Money

Left-critics of the health reform bill have done a good job of pointing out that even with reform, decent health insurance may not meet everyone’s standard of “affordable” for many middle class families. That said, the relevant question here is “compared to what?” Jon Cohn and Jonathan Gruber pulled together a big table showing how families of four would fare with and without reform. My value-added is to turn it into a bar graph:


Yglesias: Right-Wing Hoping Robert Byrd Dies in Time to Block Health Reform

Given that the GOP has basically been checkmated on health reform, I found myself wondering yesterday why they’re persisting with obstruction tactics. Surely letting the Democrats just pass the bill and then everyone gets to go home for Christmas is better for all considered than dragging this out to Christmas Eve. Then it occurred to me that basically they’re hoping that they can stall long enough for Robert Byrd to die.

But that accusation seemed a bit over-the-top. And yet here’s Senator Coburn yesterday saying “people ought to pray” that someone “can’t make the vote tonight.”:

That said, it seems that some people like their subtext right out in the open, so here’s Confederate Yankee: “It isn’t too much to ask for Byrd to step off for that great klavern in the sky before the Senate vote that may force this nation to accept government-rationed health care. Even a nice coma would do.”

  • Joe Klein adds:

    As Karen notes below, Senator Tom Coburn from Oklahoma--who, with James Inhofe, constitute the most extreme Senate delegation from any state--prayed for the incapacitation or death of a Democratic Senator so that health care would be blocked. But that wasn't all. He also offered this:

    "The crisis of confidence in this country is now at an apex that has not seen in over 150 years, and that lack of confidence undermines the ability of legitimate governance," he said. "There's a lot of people out there today who...will say, 'I give up on my government,' and rightly so."

    This is borderline sedition. Coburn--who had a friendly relationship with Senator Barack Obama--is saying that giving up on the U.S. government is justified. This helps stoke the hatred of those extremists who see Barack Obama's presidency as illegitimate. It also comes dangerously close to incitement to violence. It certainly deletes Coburn from the list of those who can be considered loyal to the most important American ideals. He should clarify what he means by these statements--and apologize for his hate speech, immediately.

Think Progress: World Net Daily poll on what to get Obama for Christmas: an ‘arrest warrant’ and a ‘ticket back to Kenya.’

The right-wing website World Net Daily (WND) has been the source of a variety of smears, particularly a campaign to question the legitimacy of President Obama’s citizenship. While WND exists at the fringes of the conservative movement, top Republican legislators frequent the WND radio program and the Republican National Committee, among other GOP organizations, fund WND through e-mail list rentals. The website, which files regular articles about the role of Christianity during the holiday season, has a new Christmas-themed poll which asks, “What would you like to give Obama for Christmas?” Readers have responded by voting for: “a court ruling booting his ineligible self from office, “a one-way ticket back to Kenya,” and “an arrest warrant”:

WND Obama Poll
Sargent: Health Care Bill To Be First Major Reform Created Entirely By One Party?

Question: What makes the health care bill, presuming it will pass over unanimous GOP opposition, different from previous major reforms like the Civil Rights Act, Medicare, Social Security, and the Clean Air Act?

Answer: All those accomplishments passed the Senate with bipartisan support of some kind, while the health care bill, presuming it becomes law, will be the work of one political party. In fact, the heath care reform bill may be the first major reform with this distinction in the history of the Senate.

As I noted earlier today, Republicans are beginning to argue that this is the first major reform to lack bipartisan Senate support. GOPers, obviously, mean this as a criticism. But another way to say this is to point out that this may prove the first major reform to face unanimous partisan opposition from one party in the Senate.

Is this historical claim accurate? Here are the final Senate votes on some previous major reforms:

* The Social Security Act passed 77-6, with 12 not voting. Sixty Dems, 16 Republicans and one minor-party Senator voted for it.

* The Civil Rights Act passed 73-27, with 46 Democrats and 27 Republicans supporting it.

* Medicare passed 70-24, with six not voting. Fifty seven Democrats and 13 Republicans voted for it.

* The Clean Air Act of 1970 passed 73-0, so clearly it had bipartisan support (still looking for more detail on that vote).

This is obviously only a partial list. Our reporter Amanda Erickson is researching other landmark votes, and we’ll keep you posted on what we find.

For now, though, if the Senate bill passes along party lines, as expected, it may well be the first landmark reform entirely authored by one party, and entirely opposed by the other one. Dems can either run from this history, or, as I noted below, they can embrace it.

Sully: GOP Regrets

Douthat does a health care reform pre-mortem:

In the end, when the history of the health care debate is written, I don’t think any of the choices that G.O.P. lawmakers made this year will loom particularly large. The choices that they made, or didn’t make, across the last fifteen years are what made all the difference. Between the defeat of Clintoncare and the election of Barack Obama, the Republicans had plenty of chances to take ownership of the health care issue and pass a significant reform along more free-market, cost-effective lines. They didn’t. The system deteriorated on their watch instead. And now they’re reaping the consequences.

That seems a pretty fair assessment to me although it doesn't absolve the GOP of abdicating all responsibility this year to place country before party. By that, I mean constructively engaging the process to improve the result rather than total oppositionism and partisanship. But that is also a function of the past many years as the GOP put Rovianism before any coherent governing philosophy and culture war before any real attempt to innovate policy or better understand government.

Sargent: McCain: Ted Kennedy Would Have Been Disappointed Because Health Care Bill Isn’t Bipartisan

Now that Senate Dems have voted for cloture on the health care bill, passing the major hurdle on the road to making reform a reality, Republicans have already rolled out their response: The bill is a failure because no Republicans voted for it.

John McCain, for one, went on ABC this morning to insist that Ted Kennedy would have been disappointed because the bill was passed by Dems only. Here’s his exchange with George Stephanopoulos:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Vicki Kennedy is now saying this is exactly the kind of compromise that Ted Kennedy would support, the kind of compromise that you worked with him on the past?

McCAIN: I think Senator Kennedy would appreciate the outcome. I don’t think he would appreciate it on a party line vote. I worked with him on many issues across party lines. There has never been a major reform accomplished in the history of this country that wasn’t bipartisan.

McCain’s observation that this is the first major reform that isn’t bipartisan is interesting, but perhaps not for the reasons he thinks it is. It actually contains the seeds of a Democratic response.

Dems, it seems to me, have an opening to make precisely the case that McCain made here: If this does indeed end up the first major reform that was passed by only one party, perhaps that’s because it’s the first major reform that was entirely rejected by the opposition party.

Dems could even claim Kennedy’s mantle to make this case, just as McCain is trying to do. They could argue: “Kennedy would have been appalled by what we are seeing here. He would have been stunned by the sight of the opposition party unanimously rejecting such crucial and far-reaching reform.”

To be sure, Republicans say the health care reform package is so unpopular that Dems will pay a price for having passed it on a party-line vote. They claim voters will reward them for having stood against it across the board. Right now, though, Dems have cast their lot. They’re all in on this.

Might as well take full ownership of it, emphasize that this is the first time one party has been entirely responsible for a major reform, and let the chips fall where they may. No need to run from it.

Think Progress: Steele: Democrats Were Trying To ‘Flip The Bird To The American People’ By Voting On Health Reform Last Night

This morning on a press call with reporters, RNC Chairman Michael Steele suggested that the Democrats’ effort to pass the health care bill in the Senate was the equivalent to flipping the bird to the American people:

STEELE: I mean, it just annoys and irritates me on something so fundamentally important. That this Congress, this leadership, is so tone deaf and so hell bent on propping up a policy that the American people doesn’t want, that they’re willing to basically flip the bird to the American people on this issue and slip it in in the dead of night.


Of course, the only reason why Congress held the cloture vote at 1am this morning, was because Republicans filibustered the bill. Last night, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) offered a unanimous consent agreement to move the 1 a.m. vote to 9 a.m. this morning if Republicans agreed to forgo the optional 30 hours of debate between each cloture vote and still pass the final legislation before Christmas. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), who had also sternly criticized the early morning vote, objected to the measure.

While the public is weary of health care reform, public disapproval of health care reform intensified as progressives were forced to sacrifice liberal provisions to find common ground with more moderate lawmakers. As the bill became more conservative, public option began to wane. A recent CBS News/New York Times Poll found that while 50% of Americans disapprove of the way “Barack Obama is handling health care,” 59% favored “offering some people who are uninsured the choice of a government-administered health insurance plan.”

Cross-posted on the Wonk Room.

Update At a press conference, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) responded to Steele's comment. "I'm disappointed that someone with the title that Mr. Steele has would be so crass and set such a terrible example for the youth of this country," he said.
There is arguably no greater obstacle to effective policymaking than Republican abuse of Senate filibuster rules. But most of the country, which understandably has limited interest in legislative procedure, has no idea that the problem exists. Worse, the media has accepted filibuster abuse as routine -- as if the Senate has always operated with mandatory supermajorities.

It's created a truly absurd legislative system. In order for necessary changes to happen, members will need to feel pressure to restore majority rule to the Senate. In order for them to feel pressure, the public will have to reject the dysfunctional and borderline-dangerous status quo. In order for the public to feel outraged, the mainstream political discourse will have to shine a light on the problem.

I'm delighted that this is starting to begin in earnest. Just over the last couple of days, the issue has garnered attention from a variety of prominent voices. James Fallows described the explosion in the number of filibusters as a "basic and dangerous threat to the ability of any elected American government to address the big issues of its time."

For most of the first 190 years of the country's operation, U.S. Senators would, in unusual circumstances, try to delay a vote on measures they opposed by "filibustering" -- talking without limit or using other stalling techniques.... The significant thing about filibusters through most of U.S. history is that they hardly ever happened. But since roughly the early Clinton years, the threat of filibuster has gone from exception to routine, for legislation and appointments alike, with the result that doing practically anything takes not 51 but 60 votes.

In his print column today, Paul Krugman pointed to the problem to highlight the fact that this one Senate tactic has made the entire United States government "ominously dysfunctional."

We need fundamental financial reform. We need to deal with climate change. We need to deal with our long-run budget deficit. What are the chances that we can do all that -- or, I'm tempted to say, any of it -- if doing anything requires 60 votes in a deeply polarized Senate?

Some people will say that it has always been this way, and that we've managed so far. But it wasn't always like this. Yes, there were filibusters in the past -- most notably by segregationists trying to block civil rights legislation. But the modern system, in which the minority party uses the threat of a filibuster to block every bill it doesn't like, is a recent creation. [...]

Nobody should meddle lightly with long-established parliamentary procedure. But our current situation is unprecedented: America is caught between severe problems that must be addressed and a minority party determined to block action on every front. Doing nothing is not an option -- not unless you want the nation to sit motionless, with an effectively paralyzed government, waiting for financial, environmental and fiscal crises to strike.

E.J. Dionne Jr. wants the political world to wake up.

In a normal democracy, such majorities would work their will, a law would pass, and champagne corks would pop. But everyone must get it through their heads that thanks to the bizarre habits of the Senate, we are no longer a normal democracy.

Because of a front of Republican obstruction and the ludicrous idea that all legislation requires a supermajority of 60 votes, power has passed from the majority to tiny minorities, sometimes minorities of one.

Late last week, Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, while talking about health care generally, was asked where progressives should be "putting their energies." Stern immediately turned his attention to the filibuster: "The Senate is distorting democracy. They've set up a system that does not represent what the American people want--and not just on health care. It sets the stage for America to be unable to meet the challenges on everything from jobs to energy to trade to foreign policy.... I think that is morally wrong. It hurts America, diminishes its ability to solve problems."

The point isn't that these prominent voices are breaking new ground. On the contrary, all of these sentiments are no doubt familiar to even casual readers of prominent progressive blogs.

Rather, the point is the systemic problem is starting to become more widely recognized. That's encouraging.

Think Progress: Obama signs Franken’s anti-rape amendment into law.

The White House Press Office sent out a statement today announcing that President Obama signed the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2010 into law on Saturday:

H.R. 3326, the “Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2010,” which provides FY 2010 appropriations for Department of Defense (DOD) military programs including funding for Overseas Contingency Operations, and extends various expiring authorities and other non-defense FY 2010 appropriations.

Within the Appropriations Act is Sen. Al Franken’s (D-MN) amendment prohibiting defense contractors from restricting their employees’ abilities to take workplace discrimination, battery, and sexual assault cases to court. The measure was inspired by Jamie Leigh Jones, who was gang-raped by her co-workers while working for Halliburton/KBR in Baghdad. Many Republicans opposed the legislation — saying it was an unnecessary attack on their allies in the defense contracting business — and faced intense political blowback over their positions.

Sully: Neoconservatism In A Word: "Fight"

Bill Kristol, whose view of politics is pretty much as Trotskyite as the far left used to be, does not see healthcare reform as a means of addressing a serious political, economic and moral challenge. It is, of course, just one more battle in the eternal ideological and partisan warfare he believes in. His current advice to the GOP is the same as the advice he has given for a couple of decades now:

Keep fighting on health care. Fight for the next few days in the Senate. Fight the conference report in January in the Senate and the House. Start trying to repeal the worst parts of the bill the moment it passes, if it does... The criticism of the Obama administration needs to be broad-based, because you never know just what issue is going to take off, and because the opposition needs to knit together all those who object to the Europeanization of America... So: Fight on with respect to health care. Fight on other fronts. And recruit new fighters. In a word: Fight.

Note that the issues as such are largely opportunistic - "you never know just what issue is going to take off".

Just keep punching out the outrages, constantly wage scorched earth resistance to any reform of any major problem, find any issue, any appointee, any opening to wage a campaign of brutal oppositionism ... and for what? To win against liberals. That's the goal. Yes, that's all they have. And that will make them happy enough. It's a game after all, isn't it?

Healthcare reform? The GOP has no way to insure the uninsured and is now pledging to keep Medicare untouched to foil any cost controls. Climate change? Again, there's no valid alternative, no brave championing of a carbon tax as a better alternative to cap and trade, just an incessant attempt to throw mud and scandal at any of those concerned with global warming. The deficit? If it grows, attack Obama. If it shrinks a little and joblessness rises, attack Obama. There's no real coherence here, just bellicosity, limitless partisanship, profound cynicism and fanaticism.

Going to Press with the Media We Have

I find it fascinating that the Post has two of the sharpest policy (Ezra Klein) and political (Greg Sargent) analysts around writing highly regarded blogs, and yet have a stable of mostly unaccountable fools and tools writing Op-Eds on their premium location.
DougJ: The arrogance meme

Kaplan “economics columnist” Robert Samuelson has a bizarre, content-free, anti-Obama screed today. I’m not going to link, but here’s a sample:

Barack Obama’s quest for historic health-care legislation has turned into a parody of leadership. We usually associate presidential leadership with the pursuit of goals that, though initially unpopular, serve America’s long-term interests. Obama has reversed this. He’s championing increasingly unpopular legislation that threatens the country’s long-term interests. “This isn’t about me,” he likes to say, “I have great health insurance.” But of course, it is about him: about the legacy he covets as the president who achieved “universal” health insurance. He’ll be disappointed.


What it’s become is an exercise in political symbolism: Obama’s self-indulgent crusade to seize the liberal holy grail of “universal coverage.” What it’s not is leadership.

There is very little substantive criticism of the plan and a lot of citations of poll numbers.

I’ve had a hard time figuring out where the media’s arrogance meme comes from. I don’t think Obama strikes many voters as arrogant, whatever their problems with him might be. I tend to think it comes from the obvious contempt he has for media elites.

There’s something rich about such a self-absorbed group accusing of Obama (or anyone else) of thinking it’s all about him.

from the comments:


Thanks for not linking.

It is just amazing how bad the daily Kaplan’s columnist are.

I’ve had a hard time figuring out where the media’s arrogance meme comes from.

They get it from the Republicans who use it as code for “uppity”. It really is that simple.

Krugman: What has health care reform ever done for us?

Reading Tim Fernholz’s takedown of Robert Samuelson’s latest, it struck me that this is pretty much what we’ve been hearing over the last few days from all the people who have made careers by righteously demanding entitlement reform, but are running away now that the real thing has made an appearance. Health care reform does nothing, they cry — except for covering 30 million people, ending overpayment on Medicare advantage, making the first real attempt to use medical evidence to guide health care spending, starting up a wide range of pilot projects on cost control while empowering an expert panel to put the results of those projects into effect, providing financial incentives to limit excess coverage, and so on.

But aside from that, you see, it doesn’t do anything.

And my thoughts turn, as they so often do, to Monty Python:

All right… all right… but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order… what have the Romans done for us?

Fernholz: "To Be Sure" About Health-Care Reform, Don't Read Robert Samuelson.

Robert Samuelson is the archetypal Washington columnist, who's managed to write about federal politics for years without learning a thing about it. He's also got the cliches down, one of which is the "to be sure" paragraph, where editors ask writers to stick the strongest counter to their own argument; it usually comes at the end of a piece. The Post's editors had Samuelson stick his "to be sure" in the fourth paragraph, and it's a doozy. Here's what we're talking about:

Barack Obama's quest for historic health-care legislation has turned into a parody of leadership. .... of course, it is about him.

... To be sure, [health care reform] would provide insurance to 30 million or more Americans by 2019. People would enjoy more security. But even these gains must be qualified. Some of the newly insured will get healthier, but how many and by how much is unclear.

So, according to Samuel, this whole year-long legislative effort is entirely about Obama's ego ... except for the 30 million people who will get health insurance because of the effort. It's a "to be sure" so big that it blows Samuelson's whole argument out of the water.

Except that there is no argument there. Samuelson argues that the bill will fail to cover more people and cost much more than expected based on his own back-of-the-envelope calculations about immigration, a report from the Lewin Group, which is funded entirely by the private insurance industry, and a 2007 CBO report that discusses total federal spending, not health care. He totally ignores all of the current studies by the CBO and other independent analysts that say the bill will cut the deficit -- a notoriously stingy CBO's latest estimate says the bill will save $132 billion over the first decade, and a corrected estimates of the long-term costs say the bill will cut the deficit by "between one-quarter percent and one-half percent of GDP" over the second decade while cutting the growth rates of Medicare and Medicaid costs in half. These facts don't make it into Samuelson's column.

The biggest joke is that Samuelson once again fails to understand the political dynamics that led to this bill's creation; in fact, it is the same mistake he made in the summer with the stimulus. (Remember what I said about not learning?) He totally elides Congress from his analysis -- this is "Obama's plan" despite the fact that he didn't write it, Congress did, and that various members of Congress (none mentioned in this column) put in things that Obama didn't like, and took out things he did. Obama will have to own these reforms, and he played a role in their creation, but to assign him total responsibility here is just willful blindness to the basic facts of how the U.S. government works.

Here's a bet. No one will be able to shred this post by Post blogger Ezra Klein as effortlessly as any sentient being instantly shredded Samuelson's piece.
Ezra Klein: Jane Hamsher's 10 reasons to kill the bill

I've gotten a lot of requests to respond to Jane Hamsher's list of 10 reasons to kill the Senate bill. At this point, I'm not sure there's much in the way of productive dialogue to be had here. Some of the list is purposefully misleading and is clearly aimed more at helping activists kill the bill than actually informing anyone about what is in the bill. Some of it points out things that really should be changed in the bill but aren't central to the legislation itself, and are simply being leveraged to help activists kill the bill. But maybe there's some utility to putting the document in context.

1) Forces you to pay up to 8% of your income to private insurance corporations -- whether you want to or not.

"You," huh? For the 85 percent of the country already covered by health-care insurance, it doesn't force "you" to do anything at all. People on Medicare are not going to be paying money to private insurance. People with employer-based care will not see their situation change.

For the nearly 50 million Americans caught in the ranks of the uninsured, here's the deal: The bill expands Medicaid, a public program, to cover about 20 million of, uh, "you." Private insurance gets nothing. If you make more than 133 percent of the poverty line, but less than 400 percent, there's a huge system of new subsidies to help you afford private coverage. There are also new regulations on insurers forcing them to spend between 80 percent and 85 percent of every premium dollar on medical care, barring them from rejecting you or charging you higher premiums due to preexisting conditions, ensuring they can't place any annual caps on insurance benefits, and more.

But here's the catch: So long as insurance won't cost more than 8 percent of your monthly income, you have to buy into the system. You can't wait until you get sick or get hurt and and then buy insurance, shifting the costs onto everyone else. The cost of having a universal, or near-universal, system is that people have to participate. The promise is that, for the first time, participation will be possible.

2) If you refuse to buy the insurance, you'll have to pay penalties of up to 2% of your annual income to the IRS.

Again, who's "you?" If you don't have employer-based coverage, Medicare, Medicaid, or anything else, and premiums won't cost more than 8 percent of your monthly income, and you refuse to purchase insurance, at that point, you will be assessed a penalty of up to 2 percent of your annual income. In return for that, you get guaranteed treatment at hospitals and an insurance system that allows you to purchase full coverage the moment you decide you actually need it. In the current system, if you don't buy insurance, and then find you need it, you'll likely never be able to buy insurance again. There's a very good case to be made, in fact, that paying the 2 percent penalty is the best deal in the bill.

3) Many will be forced to buy poor-quality insurance they can't afford to use, with $11,900 in annual out-of-pocket expenses over and above their annual premiums.

How many is "many?" For a look at how various families will fare with reform and without reform, see this table, and this article. But if you don't want to click the links, this graph, which shows the financial risk that medical costs pose to families with different incomes with and without reform, tells the story:

Rec Reform - Dollars.jpg

The vast, overwhelming majority of families will be better off under this bill. The families in the greatest danger get the most help. They will have insurance that they can use, and if they need it, subsidies to help them afford it. Compared with the status quo, in which about 50 million people have no insurance and tens of millions more have insurance they can't afford to use, this is a massive improvement. As Jonathan Cohn writes, "This is a hugely progressive program to bolster economic security, the likes of which we haven't enacted in this country for a long, long time."

4) Massive restriction on a woman's right to choose, designed to trigger a challenge to Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court.

The Senate bill is better than the House bill on this score, but it's still a problem. That said, the restriction here is not on the right to choose, but on whether primary insurance covers abortion. In the House bill, the exchanges can't offer primary insurance that covers abortion. In the Senate bill, individual states can choose to bar abortion from their exchanges, but it is not the default.

5) Paid for by taxes on the middle class insurance plan you have right now through your employer, causing them to cut back benefits and increase co-pays.

"You" probably don't have these plans, which are tilted towards the rich, not the middle class. Your plan probably doesn't cost more than $23,000 a year. And if it does, the only part that gets taxed is the part in excess of $23,000 a year. The average family health-care plan costs about $13,500 -- almost a full $10,000 less than the plans this policy taxes. If we don't manage to slow the growth in health-care costs, this policy will, over time, hit plans that are less generous. But economists consider the excise tax, which functions as a tax on insurers who let premiums grow too quickly, one of the most effective cost-control mechanisms in the bill.

There's an equity aspect here, too: The problem with the excise tax is that it doesn't go far enough. All plans would be fully taxable. This policy begins to chip at the edges of one of the most regressive elements of our system: Health benefits, which are mostly given to better-off workers, are protected from taxes, while income isn't. A worker at Wal-Mart with no health benefits sees his entire paycheck taxed. A worker at Goldman Sachs with a $40,000 health-care plan is getting $40,000 of his paycheck tax-free. It's wildly regressive.

6) Many of the taxes to pay for the bill start now, but most Americans won't see any benefits -- like an end to discrimination against those with preexisting conditions -- until 2014 when the program begins.

It's not even clear what Hamsher is referring to here (the accompanying link is broken). The main tax in the bill is the excise tax, which starts in 2013, not "now." And the bill isn't funded primarily by taxes. It's funded primarily by changes to Medicare. It would be useful if Hamsher explained what tax changes people are going to notice in, say, 2011. My understanding is that the answer to that is, essentially, "none at all." The word "many" is obscuring a lot more than it's illuminating here, making it seem as if the majority of the bill's funding mechanisms trigger immediately. They do not.

7) Allows insurance companies to charge people who are older 300% more than others.

The status quo is that insurers can charge people as much as they want, and they can refuse some people altogether. Hamsher doesn't present it this way, but the bill is a huge improvement on this front.

8) Grants monopolies to drug companies that will keep generic versions of expensive biotech drugs from ever coming to market.

This is correct. The bill gives pharmaceutical companies a 12-year exclusivity period, and then changes get 12 years atop that. It's one of the worst elements of the bill, and should be changed.

9) No re-importation of prescription drugs, which would save consumers $100 billion over 10 years.

This isn't really part of the bill, so much as it's a failure to pass a change that people have been trying to pass for a decade now. People should keep trying. But saying you'll torpedo trillions in subsidies and protections for the poor if you don't also get drug re-importation is a bit like saying you'll refuse to pay the sale price for this TV if Best Buy doesn't also let you use a coupon.

10) The cost of medical care will continue to rise, and insurance premiums for a family of four will rise an average of $1,000 a year -- meaning in 10 years, your family's insurance premium will be $10,000 more annually than it is right now.

It's not even clear what this is supposed to mean. According to the Congressional Budget Office, this bill reduces the average cost of premiums by a little bit for most people, and a ton for the people the bill directly affects. According to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the bill cuts spending in the long term. According to everybody, it decreases the deficit. The bill has at least five major cost controls that won't exist in its absence. Hamsher, earlier in this list, came out in opposition to two of them. And the bill does all this while covering more than 30 million people, ending the ability of insurers to discriminate based on preexisting conditions, creating a new and more competitive insurance market, taking the first steps away from fee-for-service medicine, and much more.

And that's the problem with Hamsher's list more broadly. The points about the bill's provisions are, in most cases, misleading. But much more problematic is that Hamsher's list implies that the bill is failing relative to a world in which we don't kill the bill. But in that world, there's still no drug re-importation. Still 50 million uninsured. Still rampant cost growth. In the world where we pass the bill, most everything gets somewhat better, if not good enough. More people have insurance. The insurance industry ditches its worst practices. Fewer families go medically bankrupt. More people catch diseases early, when they can be cured, rather than late, when they become fatal. People who would otherwise have died live. The medical system begins the process of updating itself for the 21st Century, and responding to the cost pressures it's placing on the rest of the country.

Compare that to the world in which we kill the bill, a world in which everything just continues to get worse, and politicians are scared away from the issue for decades.

Yin & Yang: A Jihadist Reckoning Edition

QOTD, Matthew Yglesias on Repugs repealing the HCR bill:
But the larger reason I don’t think this will get repealed is that a staggering quantity of opposition to this bill is fake. It’s fake in two ways. In part, people have been pretending to believe things they don’t believe. For example, lately Chuck Grassley has been pretending to oppose an individual mandate to buy health insurance. In the past, however, he’s supported such a mandate. And insurance companies will want the mandate to be made stronger, not weaker. Then there are people opposing the legislation over provisions that they’re pretending exist. Grassley, for example, is very worried about death panels but since there are no death panels he can’t actually repeal them.
Think Progress: Matalin slurs health reform advocates as ‘health care jihadists.’

Yesterday on CNN, Republican strategist and CNN contributor Mary Matalin railed against Democrats for pushing forward with health reform efforts. “They’ve been on this jihad for 70 years, and they’re going to throw over all their competitive seats to do it,” she said, adding:

And I don’t know what kind of party that is. That leaves left in the Democratic Party the urban centers, this is tyranny of the minority. Two-thirds of the country don’t want this. And one-third of these jihadists, these health care jihadists do. I guess that’s how democracy in the Obama era works.

Moments later, she smeared the prior efforts to establish Social Security and Medicare as “entitlement jihads” as well. Watch it:

Matalin has employed the concept of “holy war” in her political debates before. On Meet the Press in 2006, she attacked David Gregory for going “on a jihad” in covering the Vice President’s accidental shooting of his friend Harry Whittington. Gregory responded, “That’s an unfortunate use of that word, by the way. This is not what that was.”

Rayfield (TPM): Sen. Whitehouse: There Will Be A 'Reckoning' For GOP's 'Desperate, No-Holds-Barred Mission Of Propaganda'

On the Senate floor yesterday, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) slammed Republicans for their "desperate, no-holds-barred mission of propaganda, falsehood, obstruction and fear," which he said will result in a "day of judgment" by the American people.

Whitehouse began his monologue by quoting 1950s intellectual Richard Hofstadter, warning that a right-wing minority could create "a political environment in which the rational pursuit of our well-being and safety would become impossible."

"The malignant and vindictive passions that have descended on the Senate are busily creating just such a political climate," said Whitehouse.

Whitehouse attributed these "desperate acts" to the Democrats' "momentum," which is
working toward passing health care reform legislation, and "when we do, the lying time is over. The American public will see what actually comes to pass when we pass this bill as our new law. The American public will see firsthand the difference between what is, and what they were told."

When it turns out there are no death panels, when there is no bureaucrat between you and your doctor, when the ways your health care changes seem like a good deal to you, and a pretty smart idea, when the American public sees the discrepancy between what really is, and what they were told by the Republicans, there will be a reckoning. There will come a day of judgment about who was telling the truth.

He concluded: "There will come a day of judgment, and our Republican friends know that. That Mr. President, is why they are terrified."

Here's the full clip:

Ezra Klein:The cruel Senate
The Senate is very proud of its reputation as a collegial and decorous institution. At this point in the chamber's history, though, that reputation largely obscures a vicious and cruel operational reality.

Take Ted Kennedy, for instance. He spent a lifetime serving in the Senate. His warm relationships with his Republican colleagues were proof that the Senate's unique culture could foster a cooperative environment between liberals and conservatives. His many bipartisan bills served as proof that, at one point, it actually had. But when his death threatened to imperil the passage of the bill he considered the work of his life? Not a single Republican stepped forward to assure him that his absence wouldn't be the decisive factor. There was no offer to act, at least from the standpoint of procedural votes, as if the wishes of Kennedy, or of the voters who elected him, mattered.

Another example came last night, when the ailing Robert Byrd was wheeled in at 1 a.m. to break a filibuster on the manager's amendment. Byrd's presence was not required, especially considering that he'd clearly telegraphed his intention to vote to break the filibuster. But Republicans forced him to travel to the chamber. Indeed, shortly before he arrived, Sen. Tom Coburn headed to the floor to propose a prayer. "What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can't make the vote tonight," he said. "That's what they ought to pray."

The Senate hasn't just lost a bit of its collegiality. It's become heartlessly ferocious -- a place where the death of an honored friend presents an opportunity to kill his legislation, and in which the infirmity of an ailing colleague is seen as a potential path to procedural victory.

It is, of course, a tough world out there. There are greater injustices than senators being mean to one another. But the Senate's rules are predicted on courtesy and cooperation. The body cannot function without unanimous consent, and procedures like the filibuster were included because the expectation was that the body could routinely discover consensus. At this point in its history, however, consensus is a laughable goal. Basic decency doesn't even seem achievable. And if the behavior of the Senate has changed, then so too must its rules.

On a related note, read Paul Krugman on the filibuster.

Yglesias: You Wouldn’t Like Evan Bayh When He’s Angry

Playing against type:

Faced with Republican resistance that many Democrats saw as driven more by politics than policy disagreements, Senate Democrats in recent days gained new determination to bridge differences among themselves and prevail over the opposition.

Lawmakers who attended a private meeting between Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats at the White House on Tuesday pointed to remarks there by Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana, as providing some new inspiration.

Mr. Bayh said that the health care measure was the kind of public policy he had come to Washington to work on, according to officials who attended the session, and that he did not want to see the satisfied looks on the faces of Republican leaders if they succeeded in blocking the measure.

Not really sure why he thinks a bipartisan deficit commission is going to work, given his (correct) analysis of the health care landscape.

Ezra Klein: The most important table you'll read today


You probably can't read the table atop this post. Click on it, it'll get bigger. It's the work of Jon Cohn and MIT's Jon Gruber, and it shows what health-care reform will mean for families at different levels of income.

The story isn't perfection but improvement. An insured family making $60,000 is likely to be paying almost $13,000 for coverage in 2016 and facing more than $12,000 in out-of-pocket costs if they're hit with a real medical emergency. Under reform, that same family will be paying $5,800 in premiums, and their out of pocket maximum will be $6,300. Their total risk, as Cohn puts it, has fallen from $25,000 to $12,000. That's still an embarrassment when judged against other industrialized nations where people aren't bankrupted because someone fell sick, but it's an enormous improvement compared with our nation.

And Cohn's table, if anything, understates the gains. For instance: That family making $60,000 could be turned away because the mother once had breast cancer. And if they can't get insurance, they are, of course, on the hook for everything they own. Under reform, that family can't be turned away from insurance.

Anyway, read Jon Cohn for much more.

Krugman: Coverage and costs

The usual suspects are out in force on the op-ed pages, declaring that the health reform bill doesn’t control costs, it’s a huge cost, etc.. And I had a new thought: part of what’s going on here, aside from the fact that these people just hate the idea of expanding social insurance, is that they haven’t looked at all at the actual numbers involved.

The theory of the reform is as illustrated above. Expanding coverage will, other things equal, increase health care spending. But the expansion of coverage is linked to a serious effort to control cost growth that will, one hopes, “bend the curve”, so that costs eventually fall below what they would have been otherwise.

What the bah-humbug crowd insists is that this is highly implausible; implicit or explicit in this claim is the idea that covering the uninsured is extremely costly. But it isn’t.

The key thing to understand in the coverage debate has always been that it costs surprisingly little to cover the uninsured. For the most part, the uninsured are relatively young, and hence have relatively low medical costs. Also, they receive a fair amount of uncompensated care, as well as spending funds out of pocket. So even if you ignore the possible monetary gains from preventive care, avoiding emergency room visits, and so on, we’re not talking about a vast rise in health care spending.

Take the CBO estimate of the cost of subsidies and Medicaid expansion in the Senate bill — that is, ignoring all possible cost savings. It’s $179 billion in 2018. Take the CMS projection of total health care spending in 2018: it’s more than $4.5 trillion. So the direct cost of expanding coverage — the initial bump in the blue curve above — is less than 4 percent of total health care spending. That’s the amount by which, on the current trajectory, health spending rises every 7 months.

Against that you have to set the fact that this reform makes the first serious effort, ever, to rein in costs. It’s not at all hard to believe that after a few years this will lead to lower, not higher, spending.

And it’s not an accident that cost control is finally on the agenda as part of a package that also expands coverage. Cost control as a stand-alone — hey, seniors, we’re going to cut your Medicare so we don’t have to raise taxes! — was a political non-starter; cost control as part of an overall deal — look, we have to spend our health dollars wisely to ensure that all Americans get the health care they need — is, it turns out, doable, even in the face of death-panel demagoguery.

I know that the pain caucus hates, just hates, the idea that social justice and responsible policy can ever go hand in hand. But that’s exactly what’s happening now.

Yglesias: Party-Line Health Care

There’s no real precedent for such a major piece of social policy legislation as this health care bill being enacted into law on a party-line vote. That naturally raises the issue of the sustainability of this legislation. What happens when the Republicans run things?

One thing to note is that it’s hard to imagine the GOP getting to 60 Senators any time soon. The more-disciplined Republican Party has more trouble putting together supermajorities. Indeed, there have never been sixty Republican Senators at any time in American history. The last time the GOP controlled over 60 percent of the Senate (59 out of 96, specifically) was the 67th Congress of 1921-22.

But the larger reason I don’t think this will get repealed is that a staggering quantity of opposition to this bill is fake. It’s fake in two ways. In part, people have been pretending to believe things they don’t believe. For example, lately Chuck Grassley has been pretending to oppose an individual mandate to buy health insurance. In the past, however, he’s supported such a mandate. And insurance companies will want the mandate to be made stronger, not weaker. Then there are people opposing the legislation over provisions that they’re pretending exist. Grassley, for example, is very worried about death panels but since there are no death panels he can’t actually repeal them.

Related to the opposition based on fake things, there’s a lot of opposition based on hypotheticals and vague slippery slope claims. People think this will lead to price controls or to mandate creep or that IMAC spending guidelines won’t be enacted. Once the bill is signed, however, none of that points in the direction of repeal—it points in the direction of opposing price controls, of opposing mandate expansions, and of favoring stringent cost-controls.

Last, for the past fifteen years Republican domestic policy has, in practice, consisted pretty overwhelmingly of seeking lower taxes on rich people without any offsetting spending cuts. I see no sign of that changing. I think the safe prediction is that when Republicans have more political power in the future, they’ll try to make taxes on rich people lower. Linking that agenda to lower subsidies for people to buy insurance would be politically disastrous, so they won’t do it.

Making the Difference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

* Godfather of the public option backs the Senate bill.

Booman: Quotes of the Day
Al Franken:

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

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

Joe Biden:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Coburn did not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harold Meyerson had a good piece on this in July:

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

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

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

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

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

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