Tuesday, January 26, 2010


QOTD, Bernstein:
Increasingly, the only language to which people -- once again, especially Republicans -- are exposed is those (RW) talking points. For a Rush/Beck listener, there isn't another language available to discuss the health care bill.
Greg Sargent:
* Shocker of the day: Senator Judd Gregg vows that GOP will use procedural shenanigans to stymie any efforts to pass fixed Senate health bill via reconciliation.
Paul Begala:
If passing health care would ensure Republican takeover of Congress, wouldn't those Rovian Republicans cut loose one or two senators to help it pass?
For those who haven't seen his post yet, Mark Kleiman called his senator today with a "pass the damn bill" message, and had an interesting exchange.

Despite an initial tendency in Blue Blogistan to debate whether the recent reverses should be blamed on (1) progressives (2) centrists or (3) Barack Obama, a healthy consensus seems to be developing that we should (1) blame the Republicans and (2) do something about it, namely demand that our legislators Pass the Damned Bill. That would mean having the House pass the Senate bill under assurances that various points of dispute will be resolved satisfactorily to the House under the budget reconciliation process.

Today I called the Washington office of Sen. Diane Feinstein. (I'm reliably told that, for those without the time to make a personal visit either to Washington or to the local office of a legislator, faxes are best, calls second-best, and emails nowhere. Snailmail is effective -- more effective if handwritten -- but now very slow due to screening. There's a logic to this: the more effort a communication takes, the more impressive it is.)

The polite young man who answered the phone said that he could take a comment about a legislative matter, listened politely to about three polite sentences of Pass the Damned Bill and an expression of displeasure about DiFi's "slow down" comment, assured me that the Senator had voted for the bill and was eager to see it pass -- and then gave me the first ray of sunshine I've seen since the catastrophe in Massachusetts. He said that they'd been getting a lot of Pass the Damned Bill phone calls and wanted to know whether my call was part of an organized effort. [emphasis added]

I was curious to see whether, in the wake of last week's developments, reform advocates just threw up their arms in disgust and walked away. If Kleiman's experience is in any way similar to the norm, it suggests proponents are still willing to put some effort into making reform a reality.

I'm also curious to see whether there's a cumulative effect to all of this. Since, say, Wednesday or Thursday, Democratic policymakers have been urged to finish the deal by leading reform advocates, major union leaders, health care policy experts, and the nation's most influential progressive pundits, all of whom emphasized the exact same thing, giving Dems the exact same advice.

But at the end of the day, lawmakers are probably more likely to be influenced by their own constituents than anyone else. The more congressional Democrats hear PTDB, the more likely it is to happen.

Paul Begala:

I understand and share the frustrations of progressives. They compromised before the debate even began, giving up on Medicare for all and settling for its weak cousin, a public option. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party has been everything that the reactionary wing of the Republican Party has not: open-minded, pragmatic and respectful of the views of others. The Republicans' obstinacy has been rewarded by the voters, who sent Scott Brown to the Senate as the candidate of change who promised to defend the status quo on health care. So why do I urge further flexibility? Because failure is not an option and surrender is not a strategy.

I am convinced that Democrats lost the Congress in 1994 because we failed to pass health care. And yet today many Democrats are worried that they will lose the Congress if they pass health care. They are wrong.


I don't mean to be rude, but if health care is the kiss of death, you've already been kissed. Now, I don't think it is -- not in the slightest. If passing health care would ensure Republican takeover of Congress, wouldn't those Rovian Republicans cut loose one or two senators to help it pass?

Tim F.: Time To Whip Count The Senate

Most people agree that the greatest win scenario that we can reasonably hope for at this point is for the House to pass the Senate bill and for the Senate to pass a supplemental fix through reconciliation. Does anyone have any idea what chance even a relatively mild maneuver like that stands in the Senate? I don’t.

If you have a minute, call your Senators and ask whether they would commit to passing a supplementary fix in reconciliation if the House commits to passing the Senate’s existing bill. Leave your experience in the comments. Mcc will post the results in a second table online.

Long-time observers of the health care reform debate may recall that about 16 years ago, Bill Kristol crafted a strategy memo for congressional Republicans, advising them on how best to deal with then-President Clinton's health care reform initiative. His memo offered a simple and clear direction: the GOP had to kill the Clinton reform plan at all costs. Republicans took the advice, and reaped the political rewards of the plan's demise.

It occurred to me that Democratic policymakers might benefit from a similar strategy memo -- offering the opposite advice -- while the party weighs its options. So I wrote one. It's online here.

While Kristol published his strategy in his capacity as the chairman of "Project for the Republican Future," I'm publishing mine as part of something I've labeled the "Project for a Healthy American Future."*

The memo presents a way forward, and explains why such a course is necessary: the House should quickly approve the reform bill passed by the Senate; the Senate should extend assurances to the House about proposed changes; and the White House should provide the leadership that brings the contingents together.

The arguments will no doubt seem familiar to those who've been following the process closely, but it's my hope that it will be valuable to have the totality of the argument in one document.

I've already been in contact with some congressional offices about bringing the strategy memo to the attention of lawmakers and administration officials. If readers wanted to help distribute the document, you can refer interested parties to the online version; you can copy and paste the text into an email, or you can make use of a pdf version, which is available at the bottom of the piece.

Americans have been talking about getting this done for a century now, and we're painfully close to delivering on the promise of reform. It is not too late for champions of reform to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, take advantage of this once-in-a-generation opportunity, and bring meaningful, life-saving change to a dysfunctional system.

Democrats have already paid a steep political price for proposing and working towards a solution; now it's time for policymakers to reap the rewards that come with completing the task.

* Post Script: Just to be clear, there is no actual "Project for a Healthy American Future." I came up with the name as a way to tweak/mock the Kristol letter. I'm just a blogger sharing some ideas about health care reform, not launching an advocacy group.

Sully: How Politics Has Changed

Jonathan Bernstein reflects:

Politics, in one respect, has really changed over the last two decades. Both parties, but especially the Republicans, now have highly efficient ways to get their talking points out to the rank-and-file, without confusing things by also informing them of the larger context. That's really different than things were in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

Back then, politically attentive people would watch the network news and the local news and look at the occasional newspaper, and maybe Time or Newsweek, and on top of that they would also be exposed to party talking points. Now, to a great extent, people's only exposure to the news may consist of the party's talking points (again, especially on the Republican side). So the old job of finding out how well those talking points are resonating by hearing whether ordinary folks use them to talk about politics is no longer a useful task. Increasingly, the only language to which people -- once again, especially Republicans -- are exposed is those talking points. For a Rush/Beck listener, there isn't another language available to discuss the health care bill.

Sully: Who Is At Fault If Healthcare Fails?

Frum pins blame on the Democrats:

There’s always one reliable way to over-ride a filibuster: mobilize public opinion. In February 1917, when isolationist senators filibustered legislation to arm merchant ships, President Wilson crushed them by direct appeal to the public: “A little group of willful men, representing no opinion but their own, have rendered the great government of the United States helpless and contemptible,” he said in a March 4 address. A month later, the U.S. had gone beyond arming merchant ships – it was at war. But you can only appeal to the public if the public supports the underlying cause. Obamacare’s problem is ultimately not the Senate, but the country.

Well, we'll see if Obama fights for this Wednesday night and takes the real case to the country. If he doesn't, if he caves, then we will know he can be rolled. And so will the nihilist right.

Sargent: Dem Aides: House Members Can Still Be Persuaded To Pass Senate Bill With Fix

Hey all, here’s something that could lend a bit of comfort to those still hoping the House will pass the Senate bill.

Senior aides on both sides tell me that despite Nancy Pelosi’s claim that she doesn’t have the votes to pass the Senate health bill in the House, the Dem leadership still thinks it’s possible to win over enough House members to do it — if they’re convinced that fixing it through reconciliation is procedurally realistic.

This gets at an aspect of this whole discussion that’s been lost in the noise. Specifically, there’s good reason for many House Dems to say right now that they can’t vote for the Senate bill, even if it includes a “reconciliation fix”: The leadership has not persuasively made the case — yet — that such a fix can actually work.

Dem leaders on both sides are feverishly exploring a range of options, one of which includes drawing up a series of fixes to the Senate bill that would be passed through the Senate via reconciliation along with the Senate bill passing the House — the reconciliation “sidecar,” as it has been called.

Aides on both sides think that House Dems might be persuaded to support this route if the procedural ins-and-outs are laid out for them convincingly in, say, a document. After all, why declare support for this course of action before this case is made?

“Say you’re a House member who’s worried about his own political stuff,” one senior Senate aide says. “You need to be convinced that, whatever this is, it can work. They’re not gonna get to the point [where they might support it] until they see that piece of paper.”

A senior House aide adds that things could change with that piece of paper, pointing out that leadership wouldn’t be discussing this option if they didn’t remain persuaded that House Dems could still support it in big enough numbers for it to pass.

No question, there are plenty of other reasons some House Dems are refusing to pass the Senate bill, and this route still seems like a steep climb. But who knows: If they’re persuaded that the “sidecar” would work and would be airtight, maybe that might change.

Dems face health reform imperative Jan. 25: The Interview: Republican strategist Mark McKinnon addresses whether Republicans will ever be willing to work with Democrats when obstructionism seems to benefit them politically and shares his insights on President Obama's emerging political strategy for his second year.

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


In David Plouffe's op-ed piece, advising Democrats on how best to proceed in 2010, the former Obama campaign manager urges lawmakers to "pass a meaningful health insurance reform package without delay," adding, "It's a good plan that's become a demonized caricature."

It prompted Ezra to make a good point about the nature of confidence.

You'll notice that Plouffe doesn't spend a lot of time hedging that "this bill is not perfect, but it's better than nothing," or "this bill isn't Democrats' first choice, but it's still worth passing." Instead, he says it's a good plan that's been spun as a bad plan, and lists a lot of what it'll do to help families immediately. Democrats could take a lesson from that approach.

This isn't exactly a new observation, and Dems have burdened by this bad habit for a long time. They somehow manage to win a policy fight; Republicans trash the policy; and Dems get defensive and act sheepishly about their success.

In the face of Republican hysterics, Dems, more often than not, seem a little embarrassed by their victories.

Take the stimulus package, for example. Pressed on their vote, a few too many Dems will say something like, "Well, it was a necessary evil. No one likes spending that much, but it was probably necessary." The preferable message would be, "Of course the stimulus was a success. This recovery package -- which cut taxes, created jobs, and generated growth -- prevented a huge crisis. No one in their right mind could possibly think this was a mistake. For crying out loud, Republicans, who got us in this mess, wanted an insane five-year spending freeze that would have dug us into a deeper hole."

This was quite common in Massachusetts lately. Martha Coakley, when the pressure was on, became exceedingly timid -- on everything. Voters everywhere know the difference between candidates with the courage of their convictions and those who lack confidence.

The public is certainly less likely to back a health care reform bill when its leading proponents fail to give it a full-throated endorsement. The more Dems say, "You're damn right I fought for health care reform; why didn't you?" the more the stronger message resonates.

Tim F.: Morning Pick Up Your Phone Thread

Someone ought to should call their local paper about this irritating habit of describing Obama’s failures in the passive voice. I suppose that filibusters just sort of materialize out of thin air every time Democrats try to pass a bill, confirm a nominee or congratulate a supermarket in Philadelphia for staying open fifty years. How frustrating!

Describing policy initiatives as if nobody other than Obama has a hand in their success or failure is not just lazy. It’s lying. Call whatever newspaper you subscribe to and find out how seriously they plan to take the problem of filibuster abuse. Below the flip I posted a helpful graph of this cloture data sent in by reader DT. Keep in mind that the 111th Congress still has plenty of time to boost its numbers.

Also, if you don’t phone your Representative about PTDB he might think that you changed your mind. Also.


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