Friday, January 22, 2010

Political Malpractice

Yglesias: Lazy Senators

I’ve been focusing most of my short-term ire on House Democrats who are too chicken to pass health care, and keeping my Senate-related ire more on the long-term picture where their months of senseless delaying got us stuck in this pickle. But Ezra Klein notes that Senators are also doing short-term damage for the nominal reason that they’re too lazy “to spend three weeks on some other bill” of amendments to their legislation in order to bring some House members on board.

I was in the Russell Building* yesterday and kind of wanted to run around the halls grabbing Democratic staffers and yelling at them, like Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2, “you’re already dead! Everybody dies!”

* It’s staggering that we live in a country that honors a man whose main legacy was his “moderate” method of advocating white supremacy.

Ezra Klein: Don't forget to blame the Senate

A lot of the onus for health care's sudden derailing has been placed on the House, which is bafflingly opposed to passing the Senate bill. But the Senate isn't making life any easier, refusing to do the one thing that would make the House comfortable with the Senate bill. Politico reports:

Part of the negotiations center on whether Reid can provide an ironclad guarantee that the Senate will not leave the House in the lurch, aides said. If the House agrees to pass the Senate bill with a companion measure — or a “cleanup” bill — to make fixes, they want to know that the Senate will indeed pass it, too.

There was some talk among Senate leadership on Thursday of putting together a letter signed by 51 Democratic senators pledging to pass a cleanup bill if the House would pass the Senate bill. But that effort fizzled when support for it didn’t materialize, insiders said.

“The Senate moderates’ viewpoint is, ‘We passed our bill. We’re not going to spend three weeks on some other bill,’” said a Democratic lobbyist who represents clients pushing for reform.

"We're not going to spend three weeks on some other bill." Oy. And keep in mind that, like the Senate, the House has passed its bill as well. What was supposed to be happening right now is a package of compromise amendments that both the House and the Senate would pass.

John Cole: There Is Your Opening, President Obama

Right here:

A prominent Republican senator said Thursday that President Obama is seeking to spark “class warfare” with increasingly populist rhetoric and a series of regulatory measures aimed at Wall Street.

“I think they think if they can create enough animosity toward Wall Street and corporate America, they get into this traditional sort of Democrat rhetoric and tap into the populist anger out there,” Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican, told The Daily Caller. “For Democrats to be successful they’ve got to create a sense of class warfare and an us versus them mindset.”

They are so eager to defend Wall Street they are doing it pre-emptively. Unemployment is at 10%. People are angry. People are pissed about the bonuses and the bailout.

Even Bob Shrum could figure this out.

And, as a side note, this merely confirms what we already know- whenever the Republicans accuse someone of something, they are already doing it. Class warfare? Has he watched the GOP the last twenty years?

C&L: Fox News' opinion shows strangely mum on the Citizens United ruling

David and I scanned through Fox News last night and surprisingly, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren didn't mention the very controversial and pro-corporatist Citizens Untied ruling by the Supreme court. Not a word. It reminds me of how they pretty much ignored the Haiti earthquake.

Bret Baier's "All Star Panel" discussed it with Charles Krauthammer and Fred Barnes loving it, while Mara Liaisson admitted that the ruling would benefit Republicans in 2010 and 2012 because corporations have much more money than the labor unions.

Shepard Smith had a short report on it that just recapped the decision and added a few sound bites from Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell.

But it's really clear that while the big opinionators loved the ruling off air -- because now corporations are being viewed as individuals who have the freedom to pour tons of money into the political system, a fact that will heavily favor conservatives -- they must understand that Americans will not love this ruling, because it gives Big Corp an even more unfair advantage in our election process. Americans are fed up with the influence these money-changers and powermongers have on the process.

How can they defend this ruling when they have been promoting a phony right-wing populism? If the teabaggers are truly as opposed to corporate power as they claim, they logically would hate this ruling. Or will their producerism overwhelm them?

Booman: Dear Democrats

I have three quotes from Harry S. Truman for your consideration:

"Republicans approve of the American farmer, but they are willing to help him go broke. They stand four-square for the American home-- but not for housing. They are strong for labor-- but they are stronger for restricting labor's rights. They favor minimum wage--the smaller the minimum wage the better. They endorse educational opportunity for all--but they won't spend money for teachers or for schools. They think modern medical care and hospitals are fine-- for people who can afford them. They consider electrical power a great blessing--but only when the private power companies get their rake-off. They think American standard of living is a fine thing--so long as it doesn't spread to all the people. And they admire of Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it."

"The Republicans believe that the power of government should be used first of all to help the rich and the privileged in the country. With them, property, wealth, comes first. The Democrats believe that the power of government should be used to give the common man more protection and a chance to make a living. With us the people come first."

"I don't like bipartisans. Whenever a fellow tells me he's bipartisan, I know that he's going to vote against me."

You know what else Harry Truman can tell you? Don't start land wars in Asia. So, everything you really need to know about how to proceed can be learned from Truman. Here's a bonus quote:

"Carry the battle to them. Don't let them bring it to you. Put them on the defensive. And don't ever apologize for anything." -Advice to Hubert Humphrey, NY Times, Sep 20, 1964

You want another one?

"Men make history, and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better."

Take this for advice or inspiration, or whatever. But take it.

Clemons: Krugman's Blunt Take: Obama's Not the One
On the book jacket/inside flap of Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz's Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy, Nobel Laureate (too) and New York Times opinion leader Paul Krugman calls Stiglitz an "insanely brilliant economist".

On the other end of the praise spectrum, Krugman, in a stinging rebuke of President Obama's policies and leadership, states that Obama is not "the one" we have been waiting for.

At his New York Times blog, The Conscience of a Liberal, Krugman writes:

Health care reform -- which is crucial for millions of Americans -- hangs in the balance. Progressives are desperately in need of leadership; more specifically, House Democrats need to be told to pass the Senate bill, which isn't what they wanted but is vastly better than nothing. And what we get from the great progressive hope, the man [Barack Obama] who was offering hope and change, is this:
I would advise that we try to move quickly to coalesce around those elements of the package that people agree on. We know that we need insurance reform, that the health insurance companies are taking advantage of people. We know that we have to have some form of cost containment because if we don't, then our budgets are going to blow up and we know that small businesses are going to need help so that they can provide health insurance to their families. Those are the core, some of the core elements of, to this bill. Now I think there's some things in there that people don't like and legitimately don't like.

Krugman finishes on a powerful, foreboding note:

I'm pretty close to giving up on Mr. Obama, who seems determined to confirm every doubt I and others ever had about whether he was ready to fight for what his supporters believed in.

My sense is that most of the major pillars of progressive work in the US -- on the foreign policy and domestic fronts are really distressed by President Obama's policy and personnel choices.

I'm getting close to where Krugman is and think it may be nearing the time to "bust Obama's brand" as one liberal Hollywood actor friend of mind recently said.

If Obama sees his "brand" in real trouble, he may correct things just in time by dumping Rahm Emanuel, Lawrence Summers and some others, confessing his decisionmaking sins to those who supported him, and inspire some confidence in the actions of changing course.

Steven Pearlstein: Abandoning health care after the Brown election, and other Washington nonsense

People, let's get a grip!

Okay, so Massachusetts voters elected a hunky, unknown Republican to fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat. That's no reason to ignore the result of a national general election, throw out a year's worth of hard work on a range of important issues and rush to embrace a bunch of simple-minded solutions meant to mollify an angry electorate.

Honestly, in a city that thrives on nonsense, we've heard more of it in the past few days than you normally do in a year.

One of my favorite bits of Monday morning quarterbacking is that President Obama should have put health care and Afghanistan and climate change and everything else on the back burner for the past year and insisted that he and everyone else focus exclusively on jobs, jobs, jobs. What do you call a $787 billion stimulus package of tax cuts and increased spending, a $50 billion auto industry bailout, a $1 trillion prop to the housing sector and nearly another $1 trillion in old-fashioned monetary stimulus -- chopped liver? And how exactly do you square the idea that the president and Congress should be working 24-7 to "create" jobs with that other nugget of conventional wisdom, that Americans are demanding smaller government, less spending and lower budget deficits?

Then there is the big question of what to do about health care now that the voters have allegedly turned against the president's proposal.

One reasonable-sounding idea is that the president should reduce it down to just a few of its most popular provisions, such as the one requiring that insurance companies be barred from refusing to cover people with preexisting conditions or charging them sky-high premiums.

The problem with that, of course, is that if you don't require everyone to buy insurance, then there will be lots of people who will wait to buy their policies until they get sick and then demand coverage at the "community" rate. That's a great way to drive up premiums, which in turn will drive even more healthy people to drop coverage, which will raise premiums even further.

To prevent this kind of debilitating "insurance spiral," you could add one more feature -- a mandate requiring everyone to buy at least a basic insurance package. Unfortunately, there are lots of low-income households for which the newly mandated premiums could eat up as much as a half of after-tax income, which hardly seems fair. So you'd probably want to make sure that there's enough competition among insurers to keep premiums down, which is what those government-supervised exchanges are all about. And you'd want to have some subsidies to limit the financial hit to low-income families. To pay for the subsidies, you'd either have to raise taxes or cut spending in other areas.

And that, basically, is the outline of Obama's health plan, just as it was Clinton's health plan and the Nixon plan before that. In fact, if you want a health-care system that's universal and affordable and based on a competitive market of private insurers and health-care providers, that's pretty much where you have to start. There is no simple solution to this puzzle.

Of course, there are plenty of details that we can talk about -- how comprehensive the basic insurance plan should be, how the insurance exchanges should be structured, how big the subsidies should be and what combination of taxes and spending cuts should be used to pay for them. In fact, we've had a rather vigorous debate on those issues for more than a year now, which ought to put the lie to another piece of nonsense put forth by the Republicans -- namely that health reform has been "rushed" through Congress without any input from them or the public.

Instead of moving to take back the health-care issue, however, President Obama on Thursday seemed more interested in changing the subject, launching another broadside against the big Wall Street banks

In the populist imagination, the root of the recent financial crisis was the decision in the 1990s to allow commercial banks, which take deposits and make loans, to get into the riskier but more lucrative investment banking business, where firms underwrite and trade securities on behalf of their customers and themselves. For months, liberals have been pushing to reinstate the old rules to separate the two activities. And for months, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has pushed back, arguing that many of the banks that got in trouble did so the old-fashioned way, by making stupid loans, while many of the institutions that contributed most to the crisis -- Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and AIG -- weren't in commercial banking at all.

However, Obama suddenly reversed course and embraced the populist critique, demanding that commercial banks give up their risky investment activities. In truth, the new rules probably would not do much to reduce the chance of another crisis, or another bailout. The president's motives seemed less substantive than they were political, allowing him to shift from defense to offense and put Republicans in the uncomfortable position of having to defend the Wall Street status quo.

This is a leadership moment for the president. It is a chance to show he can respond to setbacks not by running for cover or resorting to political gamesmanship, but by calmly and confidently reasserting his control over his party and the public debate.

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