Saturday, January 30, 2010

"a Bolshevik plot"

QOTD, Yglesias:
I debated policy with Mike Pence once and the guy is a stone-cold idiot. That was a years ago and I’ve been surprised since then to learn that conservatives consider him an unusually sharp policy mind and I take leading rightwingers at their word about that. But it’s the kind of thing that I think most Americans aren’t aware of. Obama knows what he’s talking about. A lot of the members of Congress you see on TV all the time talking smack don’t.
An hour and a half of deeply substantive debate, with the president schooling the congressional repugs with fact, clarity, and wit, and the Times right now has this headline: Off Script, Obama and the G.O.P. Vent Politely. After a throwaway lede, here are the third and fourth paragraphs:
For an hour and 22 minutes, with the cameras rolling, they thrust and parried, confronting each other's policies and politics while challenging each other to meet in the middle. Intense and vigorous, sometimes even pointed, the discussion nonetheless proved remarkably civil and substantive for a relentlessly bitter era, an airing of issues that both sides often say they need more of.

But if it was at times a wonky clash of ideas, it also seemed to be a virtual marriage-therapy session -- with the most pointed exchanges shown again on the evening news -- as each side vented grievances pent up after a year of partisan gridlock.
If that's the media narrative, he-said-she said substance-less reporting, then nothing was gained.
And I just saw former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop on the teevee, scaring the elderly about health care reform. I never thought I would see him stoop so low. How depressing. But it was a great 1.5 hours while it lasted.

Michael Kazin:

This was President Obama at his best: informed, subtlely erudite, witty, relaxed, eager to have a rational debate about the big issues instead of to descend into demonization. The White House should plan one of these sessions with the Senate Republicans too -- and do it in prime-time. But I doubt the GOP would go along with the idea: they know Obama would make them sound like dogmatic whiners.

Go to this link to see President Obama Q&A session with House GOP - Full Video & Transcript

As promised, President Obama appeared this afternoon at the House Republican caucus' retreat in Baltimore, delivering a short speech, followed by some fascinating Q&A. If you missed it -- the appearance was aired live on C-SPAN -- you'll really want to watch it when the video is posted online. It was simply fascinating.

During his speech, Obama went over themes from his State of the Union address this past Wednesday. At once, he simultaneously said that Democrats and Republicans can find common ground on issues such as a spending freeze and tax credits for small business, but he also went after the GOP for voting against the stimulus bill while attending ribbon-cuttings for projects in their districts, challenged them to work together on important issues, and called upon them to support his proposed fees on the bailed-out financial sector.

Then came the really interesting part. Obama began taking questions from Republican members of Congress, a sight that isn't normally seen on television in American politics.

There were some similarities to the British Parliamentary tradition of Prime Minister's Question Time -- minus the cheering and booing -- with a sense of political jousting between an incumbent president and the opposition, who for their part pitched one tough question after another.

I'm reasonably certain I've never seen anything like it. GOP House members were fairly respectful of the president, but pressed him on a variety of policy matters. The president didn't just respond effectively, he delivered a rather powerful, masterful performance.

It was like watching a town-hall forum where all of the questions were confrontational, but Obama nevertheless just ran circles around these guys. I can only assume caucus members, by the end of the Q&A, asked themselves, "Whose bright idea was it to invite the president and let him embarrass us on national television?"

Note, however, that this wasn't just about political theater -- it was an important back-and-forth between the president and his most forceful political detractors. They were bringing up routine far-right talking points that, most of the time, simply get repeated in the media unanswered. But in Baltimore, the president didn't just respond to the nonsense, he effectively debunked it.

Republicans thought they were throwing their toughest pitches, and Obama -- with no notes, no teleprompter, and no foreknowledge -- just kept knocking 'em out of the park.

It's easy to forget sometimes just how knowledgeable and thoughtful Obama can be on matters of substance. I don't imagine the House Republican caucus will forget anytime soon -- if the president is going to use their invitation to score big victories, he probably won't be invited back next year.

Nevertheless, the White House should schedule more of these. A lot more of these.

Update: Marc Ambinder noted, "Accepting the invitation to speak at the House GOP retreat may turn out to be the smartest decision the White House has made in months....I have not seen a better and perhaps more productive political discussion in this country in...a long time."

Perhaps the most noteworthy portion of today's event in Baltimore, during the Q&A between President Obama and House Republicans, came during an exchange on health care reform.

The president explained that the "component parts" of the Democratic reform plan are "pretty similar to what Howard Baker, Bob Dole and Tom Daschle proposed at the beginning of this debate last year." Obama reminded GOP lawmakers that they may or may not agree with those three, but by any measure, "that's not a radical bunch."

He added, "But if you were to listen to the debate, and, frankly, how some of you went after this bill, you'd think that this thing was some Bolshevik plot. That's how you guys presented it.... I know you guys disagree, but if you look at the facts of this bill, most independent observers would say this it's similar to what many Republicans proposed to Bill Clinton when he was doing his debate on health care.

"So all I'm saying is we've got to close the gap a little bit between the rhetoric and the reality."

Hear, hear. The biggest irony of the entire health care debate is that Republicans had a complete meltdown -- and may have very well killed the best chance America has ever had to reform a dysfunctional system -- over an entirely moderate bill. Whether they actually believe their own nonsense is unclear, but Republicans managed to convince most of the country that the reform plan is a wildly-liberal, freedom-killing government takeover of one-sixth of the economy. It's tempting to think no one could possibly so dumb as to believe this, but it is, right now, the majority viewpoint in the United States.

But that's precisely why the president's comments were so important -- Americans probably should learn the truth about this at some point. The Democratic plan is exactly the kind of proposal that should have generated bipartisan support -- it cuts costs, lowers the deficit, and adds wildly popular consumer protections, while bringing coverage to tens of millions who need it. It includes provisions long-favored by Republicans and policy wonks of both parties.

Indeed, as I noted the other day, if you were to have assembled a bipartisan group of wonks a couple of years ago, and asked them to put together a comprehensive plan that incorporates ideas and long-sought goals from both parties, they would have crafted a plan that looks an awful lot like the current Democratic plan. That's just reality.

That the GOP considers this centrist proposal "a Bolshevik plot" only helps reinforce how fundamentally unserious they are about public policy.

Sully: Obama In The Lion's Den

I've just watched the president address the Republican retreat in Baltimore. Address is not quite the right word, because it was a genuine - and remarkable - conversation between Obama and his political opponents - transparently on CSPAN. I don't remember similar public events of this length and this informality and candor in the past, but I may be forgetting some. But the theme was very straightforward: the president does not expect total GOP support on everything he is trying to do; but he does believe that the tactical oppositionism and electioneering that infects our current politics is making it impossible for the republic to grapple with the real and pressing problems we face.

He was especially good on entitlements, the need to reform them - and the impossibility of doing so if every time someone tries to they are hazed for "raising taxes/killing jobs" or "cutting medicine/killing seniors". This applies to both parties, of course. But it has been pretty brutal from the GOP this past year.

But here's the key thing: Obama is best at this. He is best at defusing conflict; he is superb at engaging civilly with his opponents. It's part of his legacy - I remember how many conservatives respected him at the Harvard Law Review. But he needs to do more of this, even though he may get nothing in return. Why? Because unless the tone changes, unless the pure obstructionism and left-right ding-dong cycle stops, we are on a fast track to catastrophe.

That was the core message of Obama in the election. It was one of my core reasons for backing him over Clinton - because he has the capacity to reach out this way. I remain depressed at the prospects for a breakthrough, but this was good politics and good policy. More, please. Do this every month. Maybe over the long haul, the poison of the past has to be worked through with Obama as therapist in chief.

Yglesias: Obama at the House GOP Retreat

I only caught the tail end of it, but just now Barack Obama made an appearance at the House GOP retreat. I assume he opened with some remarks (didn’t see ‘em) and then stood at a podium for a Q&A with House Republicans. It was sort of like Prime Minister’s Questions and it revealed, simply put, that Barack Obama is a lot smarter and better-informed than his antagonists. A lot. He very calmly and coolly dismantled them.

To me, personally, it’s not a surprise. I debated policy with Mike Pence once and the guy is a stone-cold idiot. That was a years ago and I’ve been surprised since then to learn that conservatives consider him an unusually sharp policy mind and I take leading rightwingers at their word about that. But it’s the kind of thing that I think most Americans aren’t aware of. Obama knows what he’s talking about. A lot of the members of Congress you see on TV all the time talking smack don’t. That’s not always clear to people since the TV anchors interviewing them usually also don’t know what they’re talking about. Judd Gregg’s whining freakout on MSNBC yesterday punctured the illusion of calm confidence and so did Obama’s back-and-forth.

House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) appeared on "Hardball" yesterday, and Chris Matthews asked a reasonable question in response to Pence's stated willingness to "compromise" with the White House. "What compromise would you say 'yes' to on health care? What compromise? Tell me the package; give me the main details."

The exact wording of Pence's initial reply was, "Well, look, you know, I was, uh, yeah, yeah, look, uh." He went on to say (twice) that he was pleased to see the president express support for allowing consumers to buy insurance across state lines.

In other words, Pence's idea of compromising with Democrats is highlighting a provision that's already been in the Democratic health care plan for months.

Indeed, if Pence, one of Congress' dimmest bulbs, was paying attention to the substantive details, the president actually explained pretty well how the Democratic proposal incorporates the GOP idea in a way that actually works.

It's the difference between ideas that sound good and ideas that work well. Republicans focus on the former; Democrats actually think about the latter.

For Pence, the idea sounds simple: just let consumers pick policies from across state lines. But there's no real analysis behind the bumper-sticker approach to problem-solving.

Chris Matthews didn't know enough about the issue to engage Pence, but Matt Yglesias explained why this is more difficult than it sounds: "Right now, health insurance is regulated at the state level. That means that if you want to sell insurance in California, you need to develop an insurance policy that's compliant with California's insurance regulations. It might be a better idea to instead regulate health insurance at the federal level, and say that if you want to sell insurance in the United States of America you need to develop an insurance policy that's complaint with America's insurance regulations.

"Pence's proposal, however, is that one revenue-hungry state should cut a deal with insurers -- move your headquarters' to Sioux Falls (or just bribe enough state legislators) and we'll let your lobbyists write whatever lax regulations you like. Then next thing you know everyone is 'allowed' to buy this unregulated South Dakota health insurance and no other kind of insurance policies are available. This is what's been done with the credit card industry and it's the model that Pence wants to extent to health insurance."

It's why President Obama and congressional Democrats have approved the concept of buying across state lines, but have mandated minimum standards to prevent the so-called "race to the bottom" problem Mike Pence doesn't acknowledge.

Think Progress: Former McCain adviser Mark Zandi: The ‘stimulus was key’ to the strong 4th quarter growth of U.S. economy.

Today, the Commerce Department reported that the U.S. economy grew at 5.7 percent from October through December, a “better-than-expected gain.” The expansion was the fastest in six years. White House economic adviser Christina Romer said the report is “the most positive news to date” on the economy. Speaking on Bloomberg television today, Mark Zandi — who was an adviser to John McCain’s presidential campaign — heralded the positive numbers as a result of the stimulus passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by President Obama last February:

I think stimulus was key to the 4th quarter. It was really critical to business fixed investment because there was a tax bonus depreciation in the stimulus that expired in December and juiced up fixed investment. And also, it was very critical to housing and residential investment because of the housing tax credit. And the decline in government spending would have been measurably greater without the money from the stimulus. So the stimulus was very, very important in the 4th quarter.

Watch it:

Update Jerome A. Paris notes that the stimulus helped spur growth in the U.S. wind industry. White House energy adviser Heather Zichal reports that the American Wind Energy Association credited the stimulus for the growth.

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