Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Politics: "I wouldn't know" Edition

John Amato (C&L):

I love Google, don't you? It's so handy. Why, if I were a Republican presidential nominee and I didn't know who to select as my running mate, I too might use teh Google to determine my pick.

John McCain did that very thing when he selected Sarah Palin. On the Today Show, when Matt Lauer questioned him on his pick, he said that he "wouldn't know." Jesus. McCain tried to bring up the war to divert Lauer from pushing him, and to Lauer's credit he didn't back down.

John McCain refused to comment on it. That is insane.

Lauer asked, that the vetting of Sarah Palin was so woefully inadequate that no one from the campaign traveled to Alaska to interview her husband or any of her political opponents?

"I wouldn't know," McCain said. "The fact is that I'm proud of Sarah Palin, I'm proud of the campaign we waged, she energized our party, she will be a major factor in American politics in the future, and I'm proud of our campaign."

Somewhat taken aback, Lauer told McCain that he found it "somewhat surprising" that he didn't know anything about the vetting process, adding "You were the presidential candidate."

McCain testily shot back by saying that he had no intention of "looking back over what happened over a year ago," adding, "I'm sorry, you'll have to get others to comment on it."

Watch the video below:

Really? That's all Mr. Straight talk had in him? And it's embarrassing that they were so desperate for a female candidate that they actually had to Google Chick-Repubs to see who was available.

Among their revelations is how McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, spotted Sarah Palin while searching the Internet for possible female vice presidential candidates.

"Rick Davis saw one interview she did with Charlie Rose where she was very much the Sarah Palin that people find appealing. She was lively, she was engaging, she popped off the screen. And he said, 'Wow, she jumps out,'" Halperin said.

"McCain boxed himself in. He needed a game-changing pick for vice president. And that left them with a last-minute pick of someone who was, to McCain, a virtual stranger, and was, to his senior staffers, an absolute stranger," he added.

Josh Marshall: Are the Dems Going to Blow This?

Charlie Rangel says House/Senate negotiations are at an impasse. "We've got a problem on both sides of the Capitol. A serious problem," Charlie Rangel tells Roll Call. Another senior Dem says no progress has been made at all. And they probably won't have a bill for the president until February. This article in the AP confuses me even more, suggesting the negotiators may drop the mandate for large employers to provide coverage and some other points about the exchange system that don't even square with my understanding of the two underlying bills.

All the details aside, are we really serious about this? Are they going to fumble this ball at the five yard line? February? March? Why not May?

  • Steve Benen adds:

    It's worth noting that it's generally a mistake to overreact to every discouraging quote from individuals involved in health care talks. Sometimes people get frustrated; sometimes they're talking to the media as part of a negotiating strategy; and sometimes folks just blow off steam.

    But at this point, it seems the final talks on the final bill really aren't going very well. This process has obviously been messy since, well, the moment it began. Nevertheless, a quick resolution of the House-Senate differences is unlikely, with major hurdles on financing options, anti-trust provisions, and the scope of the exchange.

    Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who made the Senate reform bill worse by making unpopular changes, said yesterday he may yet betray his party and his country by rejecting the compromise he helped shape. There's some talk of a compromise on the excise tax -- exempting collectively bargained health care benefits for union members -- but Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Texas), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said it's not enough. Those involved in the talks seem to think the tense negotiations may last several weeks, and make passage in January impossible.

    President Obama hopes to improve the status of the talks today at a White House meeting with congressional leaders, specifically on the status of the reform bill. Stay tuned.

Private health insurance companies said repeatedly throughout 2009 that they were sincerely interested in playing a constructive role in the health care reform debate.

Way back in March, Karen Ignagni, head of America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), vowed, "You have our commitment to play, to contribute, and to help pass health care reform this year," As recently as October, "Ignagni declared that the insurance industry is still on board with the Democratic health care reform effort, pushing back against the presumption that the two sides have declared war."

But while AHIP was stressing its commitment to the reform initiative, and assuring policymakers of its good-faith intentions, insurers were secretly financing blatantly dishonest attack ads, hoping to kill the entire effort, quietly funneling money to outside groups. National Journal has the story:

Just as dealings with the Obama administration and congressional Democrats soured last summer, six of the nation's biggest health insurers began quietly pumping big money into third-party television ads aimed at killing or significantly modifying the major health reform bills moving through Congress.

That money, between $10 million and $20 million, came from Aetna, Cigna, Humana, Kaiser Foundation Health Plans, UnitedHealth Group and Wellpoint, according to two health care lobbyists familiar with the transactions. The companies are all members of the powerful trade group America's Health Insurance Plans.

The funds were solicited by AHIP and funneled to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to help underwrite tens of millions of dollars of television ads by two business coalitions set up and subsidized by the chamber. Each insurer kicked in at least $1 million and some gave multi-million dollar donations.

At the exact same time as AHIP was telling the Washington Post that insurers "continue to strongly support reform," AHIP was already quietly using its ad budget to mislead the country and weaken support for the plan.

I realize these revelations may have a dog-bites-man quality. "Imagine that -- health insurance companies were being sleazy and dishonest while trying to screw over the country," some of you are no doubt thinking. "Will wonders never cease."

But this story should remove all doubt. There are still plenty of conservative lawmakers, for example, who are prepared to take marching orders from AHIP. Worse, there are still plenty of Americans who've seen AHIP's subsidized attack ads, and don't realize that they're being lied to. Officially, AHIP still wants to maintain the facade that it's a friend of health care reform.

Policymakers struggling to resolve differences on the final reform bill may want to keep a simple adage in mind: don't let AHIP's duplicitous campaign win.

DougJ: A cool million

In all the mockery of Harold Ford, it’s easy to lose sight of this question: what the hell is Bank of America paying Harold Ford a million dollars for? He can’t even be working full time, not with his regular “Morning Joe” gig. He doesn’t seem all that smart or capable.

It’s true that lots of people make a million dollars a year at big banks. And I don’t know exactly what most of them do. I have one friend who makes about that much at a bank, but he’s been there for ten years, headed up two hugely successful large-scale projects, worked 90-hour weeks for a few years, had 200 people working under him, and so on (not that any of this justifies the salary in a sane world). I don’t know how typical that is—maybe most of the people making seven figures at banks don’t really do anything and have never done much of anything.

I’m left with the impression that Harold Ford is being paid for future services rendered, that he is being bribed to do the bank’s bidding should he ever become Senator or head of the DNC (remember, Carville was pushing him for that long ago) or something of that nature. I can’t see any other explanation.

With the House poised to return from its recess, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has another Poltico op-ed today, describing his hopes/expectations for the year. It's not an especially compelling look.

The thrust of the piece is to complain about, well, pretty much everything. President Obama, Cantor said, had "a unique opportunity to unite the country" last year, but that didn't work because the White House refused to govern with far-right priorities in mind. (The nerve of the president to follow his campaign platform.) The big bad president and those mean Democratic leaders expressed no interest in right-wing ideas, and as a result, Obama's desire to be "the great unifier" came up far short.

From Obama's first day in office, [congressional Republicans] stood ready to work with him on common-sense, mainstream solutions to return the economy to prosperity and get Americans working again.... Despite efforts like these to work together, the Obama administration, in tandem with Democrats on Capitol Hill, has forged ahead with a rigidly ideological agenda. [...]

It didn't have to be this way. From the stimulus to the budget to health care, Republicans have offered substantive solutions on every piece of major legislation in a good-faith effort to get things done for Americans facing tremendous challenges. During the rare occasions when we have held discussions at the White House, the president has paid our proposals mere lip service when the cameras are on, only to rebuff our ideas in their entirety once the meeting ends.

The column gets dumber -- for example, he urges the administration to "cast aside political correctness to keep the American people secure" -- which is to be expected. Cantor is, after all, the quintessential post turtle.

But these claims about the GOP agenda from last year warrant a little fact-checking.

Republicans offered a "substantive solution" during the stimulus debate? Actually, no. Republicans offered a five-year spending freeze and a new round of tax cuts. Even prominent conservatives described the GOP recovery plan as "insane."

Republicans offered a "substantive solution" during the budget debate? I wish they had. Republicans actually offered two genuinely ridiculous alternative budgets, one of which didn't include any numbers, and one of which sought to privatize Medicare out of existence.

Republicans offered a "substantive solution" during the health care debate? Not in this reality it didn't. The GOP plan was nothing short of laughable -- it did nothing for the uninsured, nothing for those with pre-existing conditions, and nothing for those worried about losing coverage when it's needed most. It was an entirely partisan plan, written in secret. The Republican proposal sought to create a system that "works better for people who don't need health care services, and much worse for people who actually are sick or who become sick in the future. It's basically a health un-insurance policy." And as we learned in November, the plan included provisions that "mirror the suggestions put forth by the lobbying entity of the private insurance industry way back in December 2008."

When Obama reached out to Republicans on the climate bill, the GOP said it would refuse to accept the idea that global warming is real. When Obama reached out to Republicans on a plan to cut spending, Cantor & Co. came up with only $23 billion in cuts over five years -- less than Obama's plan. When Obama met with GOP leaders in the White House, and started talking about the kind of concessions he was prepared to make as part of a bipartisan compromise on health care, he asked what Republicans might be willing to do in return. They offered literally nothing.

Obama, we're told, chose "to rebuff [Republican] ideas in their entirety." Maybe that's because the Republican ideas were a pathetic joke, unworthy of consideration, and unbecoming of a national political party that strives to be taken seriously?

  • From the comments:

Five minutes later, Cantor posed for cameras and took credit for the parts of Obama's rigidly ideological agenda that benefitted Cantor's district.

Posted by: scrappled on January 12, 2010 at 2:55 PM
I don't imagine there's much point in a president being gracious towards those who will do anything to destroy him, but Obama has a stubborn side.

President Barack Obama has accepted an invitation to appear at the House GOP issues conference later this month, and Republican leaders made it clear Tuesday that they will use the opportunity to push their solutions to the country's economic woes.

"House Republicans are grateful that the President of the United States has accepted our invitation to meet with the Republican Conference later this month," House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) said in a statement. "House Republicans look forward to presenting the president with our proposals to protect our nation, create jobs, control federal spending, lower the cost of health care, achieve energy independence and strengthen families."

I'd love to be a fly on the wall for that one. The two sides want to take the country in entirely different directions, and one has spent a year trashing the other as an illegitimate, foreign socialist intent on destroying capitalism and the American system of government. Now that it's an election year, they're really prepared to get nasty.

Last February, after the president was urged to continue his bipartisan outreach, Obama said, "Well, I will certainly do that ... because I'm just a glutton for punishment. I'm going to keep on talking to Eric Cantor. Someday, sooner or later, he's going to say, 'Boy, Obama had a good idea.'"

It's a nice idea that's never going to happen, but the president at least gets points for persistence.

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