Tuesday, February 2, 2010

"an updated version of Catch-22"

John Cole, who is currently undergoing extremely painful physical therapy following major surgery for a shattered shoulderblade: I’d Rather Be In Physical Pain

Feeling a litle better this morning, so I flipped through the morning shows, and I can not believe that they are honestly quoting Republicans voicing concern about the size of the budget and the deficits.

Seriously. It is like the last thirty years never happened with our media. All the Republicans need to do is claim they are concerned about deficits and the budget, and our bobbleheads will repeat it without pointing out who caused the problem.

Stein (HP): Frank Luntz Pens Memo To Kill Financial Regulatory Reform

Nine months after he penned a memo laying out the arguments for health care legislation's destruction, Republican message guru Frank Luntz has put together a playbook to help derail financial regulatory reform.

In a 17-page memo titled, "The Language of Financial Reform," Luntz urged opponents of reform to frame the final product as filled with bank bailouts, lobbyist loopholes, and additional layers of complicated government bureaucracy.

"If there is one thing we can all agree on, it's that the bad decisions and harmful policies by Washington bureaucrats that in many ways led to the economic crash must never be repeated," Luntz wrote. "This is your critical advantage. Washington's incompetence is the common ground on which you can build support."

Luntz continued: "Ordinarily, calling for a new government program 'to protect consumers' would be extraordinary popular. But these are not ordinary times. The American people are not just saying 'no.' They are saying 'hell no' to more government agencies, more bureaucrats, and more legislation crafted by special interests."


Luntz does seem to acknowledge that the climate makes defeating regulatory reform a bit trickier. At the top of his memo he urges opponents (primarily Republican lawmakers) to "acknowledge the need for reform that ensures this NEVER happens again," He insists that "the status quo is not an option" and that members of Congress, when addressing the crisis, "never forget its impact on your audience." Luntz even advise his audience to promote themselves the agents of change.

But for the sake of winning the debate, he adds, it is vital to insist that such change does not include additional Washington-based regulatory powers.

In 2005, then-President George W. Bush decided to launch an ambitious proposal: he wanted to use his election mandate and Republican congressional majorities to privatize Social Security. It didn't go especially well -- American hated the idea, GOP lawmakers balked, and Bush's poll numbers dropped and never recovered.

Three years later, a global economic crisis began, and Wall Street went into a tailspin. It was reasonable to think, "At least we won't have to listen to Republicans talk up Social Security privatization anymore."

But they still haven't given up on the idea. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.) appeared on MSNBC's "Hardball" yesterday and highlighted, in the context of the new budget debate, how his party would cut the deficit. Specifically, he recommended cutting Social Security benefits and privatizing the system the way Bush/Cheney proposed five years ago.

And lest anyone think Hensarling was just freelancing on this, or that his remarks were atypical of Republican lawmakers, note that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, unveiled a budget plan yesterday that also calls for the privatization of Social Security.

As a policy matter, privatization is as ridiculous now as it was in 2005. As a practical matter, I'm slightly amazed a major political party would have the gall to push this so soon after a stock market crash.

And as an electoral matter, the House Republican caucus seems to be doing the DCCC a pretty big favor. In the fall, Dems would love to let voters know that a Republican resurgence would mean a new crusade to privatize Social Security, and conservatives like Hensarling are making this easy.

Greg Sargent:
* Sam Stein scores Frank Luntz’s latest memo, which advises GOPers to derail regulatory reform by slamming “Washington’s incompetence.” Best Dem response: Demonstrate competence, so Dems can convincingly point to — and separate themselves from — the incompetence of the previous ruling party.

* Karen Tumulty, who’s done nice work shedding light on the murky legislative ins-and-outs of health care reform, explains why it’s entirely possible for Republicans to gum up any reconciliation push with an endless stream of amendments.

* Andrew Sullivan says the unsayable, suggests that Obama may be tougher on Al Qaeda than Bush.

* Of course, whether it’s true or not, that mere possibility is probably impossible for the D.C. political establishment to entertain, let alone render a judgment on.

* Wow: Joe Sudbay reports that your donations to the DNC may have funded ads praising Ben Nelson for watering down reform — perhaps not the goal you intended.

Update: DNC spokesman Hari Sevugan emails an explanation:

“We, the Democratic Party, were defending a Democratic senator from attacks from the health insurance industry and other special interests for his support of reform. Senator Nelson is not the first Democrat we have defended from these attacks and he will not be the last. We’ve spent money directly in support of House Democrats who have supported reform in the form of TV and radio ads and we’ve also worked with state parties to defend Democrats like Senators Nelson, Lincoln and Dorgan who have stood up to the insurance industry in support of reform.”

* Obama administration plays budget hardball on Guantanamo.

* Folks on the left are having fun with these poll numbers allegedly showing Republicans are crazy, but pissing on the GOP base isn’t going to solve the Dems’ political problems. Sorry.

* Duncan Black comments on Robert Gibbs’ claim that Dems can’t get anything done without the help of the GOP:

Dems think “you put us in power but we’re powerless” is a winning message.

Former McCain advisors go rogue Feb. 1: Rachel Maddow points out the latest GOP talking point, parroted by John McCain, attempting to blame the state of the economy entire on President Obama, and the two former McCain advisors who are not echoing the party line.

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

Fallows: Why bipartisanship can't work: the expert view
I got this note from someone with many decades' experience in national politics, about a discussion between two Congressmen over details of the stimulus bill:
"GOP member: 'I'd like this in the bill.'

"Dem member response: 'If we put it in, will you vote for the bill?'

"GOP member: 'You know I can't vote for the bill.'

"Dem member: 'Then why should we put it in the bill?'

"I witnessed this myself."
I wrote back saying, "Great story!" and got the response I quote below and after the jump. It is worth reading because its argument has the valuable quality of being obvious -- once it is pointed out. The emphasis is mine rather than in the original; it is to highlight a basic structural reality that has escaped most recent analysis of the "bipartisanship" challenge.
"BTW, that exchange I quoted is not really a great story. It is a basic story, fundamental to legislation -- a sort of 'duh!' moment -- and to the US Congressional system, and to the key difference between our system and a parliamentary system when it comes to bipartisanship. I'm astonished every pundit doesn't already get it, but many either don't or seem willfully to ignore it.

"In our system, if the minority party can create and enforce party discipline (which has never really been done before, but which the GOP has now accomplished), then OF COURSE there can be no 'bipartisanship' on major legislative matters, in the sense of (1) the minority adding provisions to legislation as the majority compromises with them, and (2) at least some minority party members then voting with the majority.
"In a parliamentary system, the minority party is not involved in helping write or voting for major legislation either. If you think about it, and as that exchange I quoted shows, that sort of 'bipartisanship' really can't happen in a parliamentary system on issues where the minority party has the power to tell its members to boycott the majority's major bills on final passage.

"Bipartisanship in the American sense means compromising on legislation so that a sufficient number of members of Congress from BOTH parties will support it, even if (as is typically the case) a few majority party members defect and most minority party members don't join. Bipartisanship consists of getting ENOUGH members of the minority party to join the (incomplete) majority in voting for major legislation. It can't happen if the minority party members vote as a block against major legislation. And that can happen only if the minority party has the ability to discipline its ranks so that none join the majority, which is the unprecedented situation we've got in Congress today.

"The way parliamentary parties maintain their discipline is straightforward. No candidate can run for office using the party label unless the party bestows that label upon him or her. And usually, the party itself and not the candidate raises and controls all the campaign funds. As every political scientist knows, the fact that in the U.S. any candidate can pick his or her own party label without needing anyone else's approval, and can also raise his or her own campaign funds, is why there cannot be and never really has been any sustained party discipline before -- even though it is a feature of parliamentary systems.

"The GOP now maintains party discipline by the equivalent of a parliamentary party's tools: The GOP can effectively deny a candidate the party label (by running a more conservative GOP candidate against him or her), and the GOP can also provide the needed funds to the candidate of the party's choice. And every GOP member of Congress knows it. (Snowe and Collins may be immune, but that's about it.)

"I've missed almost all the punditry this past week... but what I've seen seems almost like a lot of misleading fluff designed to fill the void that should follow an understanding of the foregoing, at least on the subject of 'why no bipartisanship?' There's really nothing more to be said about "why no bipartisanship," once one recognizes the GOP party discipline. On this issue, it's absolutely astounding to blame Obama or even the Congressional leadership (although Pelosi and Reid leave much to be desired otherwise). It's doubly astounding that the GOP did it once before, less perfectly, but with a very large reward for bad behavior in the form of the 1994 mid-term elections. Yet no one calls them on it effectively, and bad behavior seems about to be rewarded again...

"Ironically, the one thing that might lubricate some bipartisanship -- earmarks, or their functional equivalent in specific amendments of general policy -- is becoming unavailable just when needed, and when it might help. After the exchange I quoted (and observed), a Dem could run against that GOP incumbent by pointing out that the GOP opponent lost X or Y or Z project or policy benefit for his or her district or state by insisting on voting down the line with the GOP. 'Put his party above his constituents,' might be the charge, or 'Put Michael Steele above you and me.' But so far, the Dems don't seem to have cottoned onto this. They could go into the 2010 elections not just challenging the obstructionists in the GOP, but showing the electorate what the price of obstruction has been for real people back home."
As I have pointed out a time or two or a thousand, the structural failures of American government are the country's main problem right now. In this installment, we see that the US now has the drawbacks of a parliamentary system -- absolute party-line voting by the opposition, for instance -- without any of the advantages, from comparable solidarity among the governing party to the principle of "majority rules." If Democrats could find a way to talk about structural issues -- if everyone can find a way to talk about them -- that would be at least a step. And the Dems could talk about the simple impossibility of governing when the opposition is committed to "No" as a bloc.
This is absurd. The President is now an active impediment to passing HCR.
The fate of health care reform is still very much in doubt. But as far as the Obama administration is concerned, officials aren't just expecting legislation to eventually pass, they're literally counting on it.

President Obama says he has not given up on major health care legislation, and his new budget backs him up. The $3.8 trillion budget released by the White House on Monday includes $150 billion in deficit reduction over 10 years on the presumption that a health care bill will be adopted.

As a result, it seems that the budget reflects multiple layers of optimism. First, it presumes that despite the bleak outlook at the moment, Democrats will figure out a way to get the legislation approved over fierce Republican opposition. Then, it presumes that the bill will truly reduce future deficits.

In a statement Monday night, Representative Anthony Weiner, Democrat of New York, said: "Hidden clue in budget documents -- health care reform is alive."

That the administration actually assumes that reform will come together in the end is at least a little encouraging.

Slightly less heartening was something President Obama said yesterday afternoon, responding to questions submitted to the public via YouTube. The very first question was about health care reform, and the president said, "It is my greatest hope that we can get this done, not just a year from now but soon." After noting the benefits that would come with reform, Obama added:

"[T]he way the rules work in the United States Senate, you've got to have 60 votes for everything. After the special election in Massachusetts, we now only have 59. We are calling on our Republican colleagues to get behind a serious health reform bill, one that actually provides not only the insurance reforms for people who do have health insurance, but also the coverage for folks who don't. My hope is that they accept that invitation and that they work with us together over the next several weeks to get it done."

The problem with this is it's putting the burden in the wrong place. If the White House believes reform is dependent on garnering at least some Republican support in the Senate, then reform is going to die. There are different approaches to getting this done, but the one that counts on GOP votes is the most likely to fail.

There's a better way -- the House passes the already-approved Senate bill, the Senate agrees to improvements through reconciliation. Americans can "call on Republicans to get behind a serious health reform bill," but the call has been and will be ignored.

Republican obstruction blocks own ideas Feb. 1: Congressman Barney Frank talks with Rachel Maddow about Republican refusal to participate in the legislative process even on bills that represent their own ideas or that they've supported in the past.

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

John Cole: Thanks, Chris

The useless party is going to cut a deal with the evil party:

A proposal by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker to limit bank’s proprietary trading will be either be dropped or significantly modified in the Senate, lawmakers and staffers told dealReporter.

Senate Banking Committee ranking member Richard Shelby (R-AL) said he opposes the so-called Volcker rule and the Obama administration’s call to levy a USD 90bn tax on banks. His comments come as House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) predicted the proposals outlined by President Obama could be law within six months.

Speaking to this news service on Thursday, Shelby said if Democrats push forward with the proposals they risk unravelling much of the bipartisan support already reached regarding the passage of financial regulatory reform in the Senate. Shelby said that the Obama administration risks losing Republican support for the bill if they begin to “politicise” the issue.

However, Shelby said he expects to hold a meeting with Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) regarding the way forward on regulatory reform in two weeks time. A Democratic banking committee staffer confirmed that the meeting between Dodd and Shelby will be critical as Dodd needs to determine the level of bipartisan agreement and the timing of bringing the bill through committee and on the Senate floor.

Not only will watering down the bill in the name of bipartisanship not give us the needed regulatory restructuring that we need, but it is also politically stupid in another way. Let the Republicans come out opposed to regulating the market and the bankers and then beat them to death with it in the fall. Passing a shitty bill with their support blurs the distinctions between the parties.

But then again, given that some of the Democrats are almost as beholden to corporate interests as the Republicans, there really isn’t much to blur, is there? There really isn’t anything quite as worthless as the US Senate, is there?

Sully: Pawlenty's Pabulum

T-Paw is regarded by some as a moderate, even thoughtful Republican, with some policy heft. So check out his op-ed in Politico this morning. It's about fiscal responsibility. His answer to our fiscal crisis: tax cuts! Yes, the way to cut debt is to reduce revenue. Does he propose ways to cut entitlement spending and defense? Of course not. He's a borrow-and-spend Republican! Take it away, Bruce Bartlett:

Like all Republicans these days, Pawlenty wants to have it every possible way: complain about the deficit while ignoring everything his party did to create it (Medicare Part D, two unfunded wars, TARP, earmarks galore, tax cuts up the wazoo, irresponsible regulatory and monetary policies that created the recession that created the deficit, etc.), illogically insisting that tax cuts are a necessary part of deficit reduction, and never proposing any specific spending cuts.

The only specific thing Mr. Pawlenty is capable of proposing is a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. It’s hard to know where to begin in explaining why this is such an irresponsible idea, but I will try.

Read the whole thing.

Sargent: Senate Aides Identify Key Roadblock To Passing Reform Via Reconciliation

Senate leadership aides have identified what they see as a key roadblock to passing a fix to their bill via reconciliation — and parliamentarians in the Senate and House are hard at work trying to identify a solution, aides say.

These efforts should give reform proponents both comfort and pause. The identification of this obstacle explains why the Senate leadership has been loath to publicly endorse the reconciliation fix, and the fact that parliamentarians are studying it so closely suggests a solution is possible. However, they have yet to solve this problem, aides acknowledge.

The problem in question has been noted before, but it’s gotten lost in the noise: Senate aides say they are unsure how to pass a reconciliation fix to the Senate bill before it’s signed into law, as some House Democrats want.

“How do you fix a bill that hasn’t been passed yet?” one senior Senate aide asks me, stressing that reconciliation is different than the amendment process, which obviously does allow for bills to be fixed before passage. “That’s the fundamental problem.”

“This is a whole bill that would amend another bill that hasn’t become law,” the aide adds. “How do we do reconciliation before the House passes the Senate bill?”

Senate aides remain convinced that the House won’t be able to pass the Senate bill without the Senate fixing it first — so parliamentarians on both sides have been tasked with sorting out how this would be done.

I’m a bit out of my depth here on the procedural ins and outs of this, and am trying to learn more. But according to this senior Senate aide, this is a key reason for the current delay.

  • Steve Benen adds:

    Here's the glitch: the House wants the Senate to approve some changes to its health care bill before the House votes on the package. The Senate can't, however, approve changes to legislation that hasn't been signed yet (in order to fix a law, it has to be a law).

    Nevertheless, the relevant players are looking into their procedural/parliamentary options -- which in and of itself is evidence of progress. And by that I mean, people who are supposed to be talking to one another, working on finding a solution, are talking to one another, working on finding a solution. Optimism about reform proponents is more common than it was a week ago.

It's easy to lose sight of these developments, especially when we're caught up in the day-to-day fights over various political disputes, but the federal government has changed in some pretty dramatic ways over the last year. When we talk about the differences between Obama/Biden and Bush/Cheney, we tend to think about economic, national security, legal, and social policy.

But John Judis reminds us of regulatory policy, which on a day-to-day level, is just as important as the other policy areas.

[T]here is one extremely consequential area where Obama has done just about everything a liberal could ask for -- but done it so quietly that almost no one, including most liberals, has noticed. Obama's three Republican predecessors were all committed to weakening or even destroying the country's regulatory apparatus: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the other agencies that are supposed to protect workers and consumers by regulating business practices.

Now Obama is seeking to rebuild these battered institutions. In doing so, he isn't simply improving the effectiveness of various government offices or making scattered progress on a few issues; he is resuscitating an entire philosophy of government with roots in the Progressive era of the early twentieth century. Taken as a whole, Obama's revival of these agencies is arguably the most significant accomplishment of his first year in office. [...]

Republican presidents didn't just undermine scientific administration by making poor appointments; they also slashed or held down the regulatory agencies' budgets, forcing them to cut personnel. This was a particular problem in the all-important area of enforcement: If regulatory agencies can't conduct inspections and enforce rules, it doesn't matter how tough those rules are.... Now Obama is reversing these trends.

Judis added that Obama's regulatory appointments "could not be more different" from those we've seen in recent years, and "the flow of expertise into the federal bureaucracy over the past year has been reminiscent of what took place at the start of the New Deal."

These are the kind of changes that have an enormous impact on the public, but which few of us even consider when evaluating a presidency. We're dealing with obscure government officials in unseen government offices. When they do their jobs well, we have no reason to even notice. When they do their jobs poorly, it's probably because there's a Republican in the White House who's unconcerned about public safeguards.

It's the kind of detail few Americans consider before voting, but when a president takes office, he/she does more than just become the head of the White House and a political party; he/she also leads a large federal bureaucracy with vast regulatory power.

Over the last three decades, through Republican administrations, that regulatory power was deliberately stunted, favoring business interests over consumer interests. The bureaucracy has some discretion over which laws are enforced more vigorously, and the Bush administration, for example, chose a lax attitude when it came to consumer and worker protections,. Obama, in contrast, is using the executive branch in a very different, more progressive fashion, emphasizing strong federal oversight, and evidence-based analysis, with the public's interests in mind.

Progressive victories like these have occurred repeatedly over the last year, but they're largely under the radar, and don't generate headlines. But these regulatory changes nevertheless constitute change we can believe in.

We can only hope they last.

In 1993, Clinton, too, attempted to revive the regulatory agencies by appointing well-qualified personnel and increasing funding. But, after Republicans took control of Congress in 1994, they managed to cut Clinton's budget proposals and delay or block the implementation of regulations. If Democrats lose Congress this November, the same thing could happen again. In that case, what has been Obama's most significant achievement to date would come to naught -- and liberals would have yet another reason to despair.

Payback's a bank Feb. 1: Kenneth Feinberg, Special Master for Executive Compensation -and Pay Czar- talks with Rachel Maddow about progress being made by the Obama administration to recover the taxpayer money used to bail out major banks.

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

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