Friday, January 29, 2010

In a nutshell

Exactly right . . . and very funny.

Ezra Klein:

But if it's hard to shine a light on minority obstructionism, it's entirely possible to launch an attack on the tools of obstructionism. Axelrod repeatedly identified the filibuster as the central problem without going quite so far as to say the administration was interested in changing it. "That's a worthy discussion to have," he said. "There were more filibusters in 2009 than in the 1950s and 1960s combined." But, Axelrod continued, "I am more interested in what we get done this year."

The problem, however, is that the filibuster makes it unlikely that the administration will get much done this year. And the White House's disinterest in making an issue out of the filibuster ensures that the public won't really know why they're not getting much done. A Pew poll released today found that only 26% of Americans could correctly identify 60 votes as the numbers needed to break a filibuster. Another 25% thought 51 votes was sufficient, and 37% had no idea.

Similarly, 39% of Americans have no idea how many Republicans voted for health-care reform. Only 32% know that zero Republicans voted for health-care reform, at least in the Senate. For that matter, only 39% of Americans know who Harry Reid is.

It's a depressing poll, and for the White House, it should be a troubling one. Their argument essentially relies on a fairly deep level of procedural knowledge and interest. Enough, at least, to understand that the amount of governing the majority can do is dependent on how much governing the minority lets them do. It's not an easy argument to make, and it's even harder if the White House does not plan to make an issue out of its premises.

At the very least, that poll suggests that there will be little political sympathy for an unsuccessful Democratic majority. Republicans may be responsible if health-care reform fails, but Democrats will bear the blame. "It would be a great political mistake to walk away from this," he said. "It will allow the negative characterization from the opposition and the insurance industry to stand. We will be held responsible for a caricature."

Passing health-care reform through a Senate where the Republicans hold 41 votes and see enormous opportunity in killing the bill once and for all will be challenging, to say the least. The Democrats' only real hope is using the 51-vote reconciliation process to pass a package of amendments in the Senate that will convince the House to pass the Senate's bill.

Asked about reconciliation, Axelrod chose his words carefully. "Reconciliation is a tool that is there to be used," he said.

It's worthwhile to recognize a frustrating political dynamic. It's even more worthwhile to try to do something about it.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) on Thursday admitted the "general feeling on the Democratic side" was that Republicans have so far been able to cast controversial protest votes and stall important legislation "with impunity."

He consequently seemed to suggest Republicans' behavior in Congress over the past year as hypocritical, as Democrats could never vote against important legislation and emerge unscathed.

"Some of the votes [Republicans] cast -- we would be on trial for treason if we had voted against defense appropriations in the midst of a war," he told reporters on his way to the Senate chamber. Durbin was referring to GOP members who tried to block the defense bill out of concern that a hate crimes bill was attached to it.

"They did it with impunity," Durbin lamented.

Durbin's right; they did. Every reckless, irresponsible, hypocritical, dangerous, and incoherent step Republicans take, they do so "with impunity."

They do so because they're pretty confident that Democrats won't effectively raise a fuss, the media won't care, and the public won't know. And they're right.

Let's look at this in a different light by imagining a hypothetical. Let's say Democrats ran the government for several years, and ran the country into a ditch. Disgusted, voters elected a Republican president with a huge mandate, gave Republicans the biggest House majority either party has had in 20 years, and the biggest Senate majority either party has had in 30 years.

Then imagine that, despite the overwhelming edge, Democrats decided -- during times of foreign and domestic crises -- that they simply would not allow the GOP majority to govern. Dems ignored the election results and reflexively opposed literally every bill, initiative, and nominee of any consequence, blocking anything and everything.

In this hypothetical, despite two wars, Democrats rejected funding for the troops. Despite a terrorist plot, Democrats rejected the qualified nominee to head the TSA. Despite an economic crisis, Democrats rejected economic recovery efforts, a jobs bill, and nominees to fill key Treasury Department posts.

Now, in this hypothetical, what do you suppose the political climate would look like? Would the huge Republican majority simply wring its hands? Would GOP officials decide it's time to try "bipartisan" governing? Would Republicans shrink from pursing their policy agenda?

Or would every single day be another opportunity for Republicans to be apoplectic about Democratic obstructionism? How many marches on Washington would Fox News organize, demanding that Democrats allow the governing majority to function?

Put simply, I'd like Democratic leaders to think about what Republicans would do if the situations were completely reversed. Then they should do that.

  • Atrios adds:
    Maybe If We're Nicer To Chuck Grassley

    Dems have no one to blame but themselves. I certainly get that they have media and the noise machine largely working against them on this stuff, but they haven't even tried to make obstructionism an issue for Republicans.

Sudbay (AmBlog): WH Communications Director: 'With 59 Senators, it is mathematically impossible for Democrats to do everything on their own.'

Found this little gem via Greg Sargent:

And [White House Communications Director] Dan Pfeiffer tells Politico that the White House will step up efforts to spotlight GOP obstructionism, but this quote may irk folks a bit:
“With 59 Senators, it is mathematically impossible for Democrats to do everything on their own."
Some will respond that it’s only mathematically impossible if Dems accept the filibuster as an inevitable fact of life, rather than something that might be campaigned against and changed. But the White House doesn’t appear to have an appetite for doing that.
It irks me. Apparently, the White House accepts the fact that Senate Republicans will filibuster every single legislative item. Or, they accept the fact that the Senate Republicans have no fear of repercussions for obstructing the Democrats' agenda because the President doesn't make them pay a price. Mitch McConnell is putting his political interests above the well-being of the nation. We're in two wars and slowly climbing out of the Great Recession (maybe.) But, there's no price to pay for blocking everything and anything in the Senate. Obama should be picking the GOPers off one-by-one. And, he should spend some time in Maine to let everyone up there know the games that the two alleged Republican moderates are playing with our nation's future.

Thern there are the Democratic obstructionists who not only don't get called out, they get rewarded for their bad behavior. Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu and Joe Lieberman come to mind.

Remember how George Bush whined about the mathematical impossibility of doing anything when he only had 49 GOP Senators for most of the first two years of his first term? I don't either. As John noted earlier this month, during Bush's presidency, the most Republican Senators he had to work with was 55.

On the good news front, Chris Bowers reports that David Axelrod seemed somewhat amenable to efforts to supporting a change in the filibuster rules for the next Congress.

Benen: PAYGO

In case we needed additional evidence that bipartisanship is pretty much impossible, we got some yesterday.

The Senate took a vote on extending the federal debt ceiling -- without which the United States would go into default. All 40 Republicans voted no.

The Senate took a vote on requiring Congress not to pass legislation that it can't pay for. All 40 Republicans voted no.

The Senate took a final vote on passing the overall plan. Thirty-nine Republicans voted no. The 40th, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), skipped the vote.

The paygo vote was especially ridiculous. The idea is to "impose a requirement that key parts of the budget must be paid for with spending cuts or tax increases to prevent the federal deficit from increasing." It's known as the pay-as-you-go approach, or "paygo" -- if policymakers are going to increase spending or cut taxes, they have to figure out a way to pay for it at the time.

A similar rule was in place during the Clinton era, when the deficit was eliminated altogether. Republicans -- you know, the ones who claim to have the high ground on fiscal responsibility -- scrapped paygo in 2002. Soon after, GOP policymakers stopped trying to pay for their policies, and Republicans quickly added $5 trillion to the national debt, and left a $1.4 trillion deficit for Democrats to clean up.

As part of the effort to address the GOP's mess, Democrats have embraced paygo as a matter of common sense. President Obama, in his State of the Union address, urged Congress this week to "restore the pay-as-you-go law that was a big reason for why we had record surpluses in the 1990s."

Just a few years ago, a handful of Senate Republicans -- Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, George Voinovich, and John McCain -- argued that paygo should be brought back. They were unsuccessful in persuading their Republican colleagues at the time, and yesterday, they voted with their Republican colleagues to reject the idea that they'd already embraced.

And that, in a nutshell, is why the notion of bipartisanship with a failed and discredited minority is so hard to take seriously. GOP lawmakers are so reflexive in saying "no" to everything, they end up opposing ideas they support, and at that point, reason has no meaning.


From Fall 2008 through Summer 2009, the nation's gross domestic product retreated. The four consecutive negative quarters was the longest since the government began keeping track six decades ago.

In the fourth quarter of 2009 -- from October to December -- the U.S. economy saw its best performance in a long while. There are, however, some caveats to the good news.

The United States economy grew at its fastest pace in over six years at the end of 2009, but a sluggish job market is still souring economists on the sustainability of the recovery.

Gross domestic product expanded at an annual rate of 5.7 percent in the fourth quarter, well above analysts' expectations. It had grown at an annualized rate of 2.2 percent in the previous quarter.

After struggling for so long, a 5.7% rate looks like an economy that's finally roaring back to life. The AP added that the growth is "the strongest evidence to date that the worst recession since the 1930s ended last year."

That's the good news. The bad news is that the 5.7% number, while obviously heartening, may be a little misleading. Expect to hear a lot about something called an "inventory bounce."

Many economists ... warn against reading too much into a jump in GDP figures for the last three months of 2009. Ed Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research, said that even if there were no change in final sales of goods, the GDP figures would show a 4 percent increase simply because businesses that were emptying their warehouses a year ago are now buying enough goods to keep stockpiles steady.

Still, the 5.7% quarter exceeded several estimates. And with that, here's another home-made chart, showing GDP numbers by quarter since the recession began in late 2007.


* Update: Christina Romer, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, added, that the "inventory bounce, though likely to be transitory, is a normal part of healthy recoveries. As firms' confidence in the future increases, their desire to run down inventories wanes. This change in behavior is often a powerful force for growth early in a recovery."

Booman: Casual Observation

It's probably silly, but this Sally Quinn piece by Jamison Foser is my favorite kind of blogging. Sally so deserves the mockery. I think it should be put in the party platform that members shalt not party with Sally Quinn. I'm not even really joking. Okay, I am.

Mcjoan (DK): A Reminder about that Republican HCR Plan

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama gave this challenge:

As temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we’ve proposed. There’s a reason why many doctors, nurses, and health care experts who know our system best consider this approach a vast improvement over the status quo. But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know.

Up steps House minority leader John Boehner to declare:

"The President said when he was talking about health care and I'll quote, 'but if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know.' That's when I put my hand up, because that's exactly what the Republican health care proposal does, much more so than the proposal that he and Democrat leaders are trying to shove down the throats of the American people."

Um, except that it really doesn't do any of those things. Not a one, as a Media Matters fact check details. But don't just trust the "liberal" online media. Here's what the CBO said about the Republican bill back in November when they released it, courtesy the Speaker's blog.


The House Republican bill covers just 3 million more Americans. Today, 83% of nonelderly Americans are insured – under the GOP plan, only 83% of nonelderly Americans would be insured in 2019. No change.


The House Republican bill does not reduce the number of people who must buy insurance on the individual market – because they’re self-employed, don’t have coverage from their employer, are lose their jobs. This segment of the market now pays the highest premiums and consumer abuses by the insurance companies. No change.


The House Republican bill fails to require insurance companies to end the practice of discriminating against Americans with pre-existing medical conditions. No change. The House Republican bill does not repeal anti-trust exemption for health insurance companies. No change. The House Republican bill does not include provisions to stop price gouging by insurance companies. No change.

For the visual learners among us, here it is in graphic form:

The Republican plan, will bring down the deficit, some. Just not nearly as much as the House Dem's plan. Looks like it's back to the drawing board for Boehner and pals. Except of course that they don't want comprehensive healthcare or insurance reform.

Sargent: The Campaign To Salvage…Public Option?

The idea seems extraordinarily far-fetched: Could the public option make a comeback?

With health care reform in serious trouble, you’d think the last thing Dems should be doing is wasting their time trying to revive the idea of including a public plan as part of reform. But a growing number of House Dems are pushing an interesting strategy along these lines that’s worth a look.

To wit: Now that the idea of passing a fix to the Senate bill via a majority vote is being considered, why not revive the public option as part of that fix? A simple majority of Senators favors one, so such a fix could presumably pass via reconciliation.

But more to the point, such a move would make it easier for the Senate bill to pass the House, because it could win over enough liberals — many of whom don’t want to pass the Senate bill — to make it easier to secure the 218 needed for passage.

There’s been an interesting development along these lines, too: The number of House Dems who have signed on to it has now jumped to 64.

The House Dems pushing this strategy are circulating a letter urging Senate leaders to consider this approach. The letter picked up its 64th signatory this morning, and in an interesting twist, the latest signatory, Rep Scott Murphy, was originally a No vote on the House bill — suggesting that this approach could in fact make it easier for the Senate bill to pass the House.

To reiterate: To put it mildly, it seems extremely unlikely, given everything that’s happening, that Harry Reid would acquiesce to this. But it’s an interesting maneuver that’s picking up some support, and it bears watching.


Update: Also worth mentioning: The effort is being led by two freshman Dems — Jared Polis and Chellie Pingree — which is interesting, because last week’s Research 2000 poll of freshman Dem districts showed strong support for the public option — and opposition to the current Senate bill.

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