Sunday, February 14, 2010

What to do, what to do . . .

AP (from Sign on San Diego):

What could be worse than health care overhaul? No health care overhaul.

It's anybody's guess whether President Barack Obama's health remake will survive in Congress.

But there's no doubting the consequences if lawmakers fail to address the problems of costs, coverage and quality: surging insurance premiums, more working families without coverage, bigger out-of-pocket bills, a Medicare prescription gap that grows wider and deeper, and government programs that pay when people get sick but do little to keep them healthy.

Marshall: Messaging to Oblivion

Since we had a lot of discussion of it earlier today, I wanted to return to this issue of the Democrats and "up or down votes" -- my comments and also TPM Reader JO's.

It's certainly not that I think if Democrats started demanding "up or down votes" the Republicans would just suddenly capitulate. As TPM Reader JO notes, just as with Democrats before 2007, there's a big constituency of Republicans who desperately want as much vote-blocking and obstructionism as possible. And those are the folks -- core Republicans voters -- that the GOP listens to.

What I do think is that the Democrats -- whether you want to talk about the White House or the Senate -- have done virtually nothing to communicate to the electorate why nothing is getting passed. Yes, if you're watching closely you know. But mainly the people who are watching closely aren't up for grabs.

I think (and recent polling data seems to bear me out) that very few people have any idea what the filibuster or anything about all this arcana about 'cloture' is about. Most people see the Democrats talk about doing something. And then there's lots talk. And talk and talk and talk. And then nothing happens. As if the Dems in the House had a clear majority but were so feckless that they couldn't pass anything on a simple majority vote. At the most basic level, I don't think the Democrats in Washington get this.

So would things be different if the Dems took a different, more aggressive tack? At first at least, probably not -- if we mean Republicans buckling and allowing majority votes. And maybe not at second or third either. But the public would have a much clearer idea of what is happening. And that would put the Democrats in a very different position politically. I cannot but thinking that this is a self-inflicted wound of the gravest and most unnecessary magnitude.

Marshall: Elementary

TPM Reader CB adds some more thoughts ...

Why do you think Congressional Democrats have had such a hard time dealing with Republican obstructionism? It's been apparent for months that Republicans are unwilling to compromise on legislative initiatives, unless by compromise you mean that they will allow Democrats to agree with their proposals. In such an environment, it is pointless for Democratic lawmakers to ask themselves whether there is a way they can craft legislation so that some Republicans will be willing to vote for their proposal - there is simply no provision that Democrats can add or remove from a bill that will make Republicans want to vote for a Democratic proposal. And yet we keep seeing efforts - like the Baucus jobs bill - in which leading Democrats tinker with or even gut their own proposals in a fruitless effort to get Republicans to sign on to the legislation.
This is completely backwards - the question is not what will the Republicans want to vote for, but what will they have to vote for. With a handful of exceptions, when Republicans sought Democratic votes during the Bush years, they did not do so by crafting broad bipartisan compromises; rather, they created legislative environments in which certain Democratic Members felt that, from a political perspective, they had to vote for Republican proposals. Even with the shrunken Republican Congressional caucuses, there are still numerous Republicans sitting in swing seats who can be made to feel political heat if they vote straight party line.

Like your argument regarding "up or down votes," I don't believe that adopting this approach would necessarily translate to immediate legislative success - Republican party discipline is high at the moment and the political wind is at their back. But, as you note, in the present environment, the Democrats have the worst of both worlds - Republicans get to obstruct their political agenda and pay no political price for doing so. Switching to an approach that focuses on putting political pressure on Republicans to vote for Democratic initiatives at least has the potential to bear fruit (legislatively or electorally) down the road.

I was looking over the election returns from 2008 last night. I hadn't thought about it in a while, but I was reminded just how remarkably successful Democrats were in the cycle. It was a genuinely impressive electoral display -- Dems didn't just win, they dominated.

Obama won states a Democrat hadn't carried in a generation. Democratic candidates won Senate races in states where the party is supposed to be weak -- Alaska, North Carolina, Louisiana, Montana, and Arkansas. House Dems built up the largest congressional majority in three decades. Obama's 52.8% of the popular vote was the highest of any candidate in either party in 20 years, and the highest for a non-incumbent in 56 years.

Republicans were left as a small, demoralized, and discredited party. The GOP found itself leaderless and directionless, with a policy agenda that is as unpopular as it is ineffective. They had held the reins of power and failed in such a spectacular fashion, some wondered how long it would take for the party to recover. It was the beginning of a new day in American politics.

At least, that's what it seemed like at the time.

The word "unprecedented" is almost certainly thrown around too much -- I know I probably overuse it -- but in every similar American electoral situation ever, the result of an election like this has been exactly the same. When a party and its presidential ticket dominate on this scale, that party earned the opportunity to govern. "Moderates" from the minority party would tend to go along with the majority as often as was possible. That the new administration would be able to fill key government posts and judicial vacancies with Senate-approved nominees wasn't even open to question; it was a foregone conclusion.

Most of the congressional minority, in these situations, would continue to oppose the majority's agenda -- in other words, they'd vote against it -- but the notion of simply blocking the nation's lawmaking process, immediately in the wake of their own catastrophic failures, was simply ridiculous. Such an option was so genuinely absurd, it was literally out of the question.

It's part of what makes the Republican tactics of the last 13 months so extraordinary -- it's the first time in memory that a major political party decided, en masse, that elections simply shouldn't have consequences. We've never had a minority lose a national landslide and then decide that the huge governing majority must not even be able to vote on its own agenda.

As an institutional matter, it's almost tragic to see Republicans deliberately break the American political process, and then stand to reap rewards for their reckless intransigence. But as an electoral matter, I'm not at all sure Democratic policymakers appreciate the situation they find themselves in.

Looking over the latest NYT/CBS poll, Americans are still predisposed to reject Republicans and prefer Democrats, but Congress' approval rating is down to 15%, its lowest support in two years. Anti-incumbent attitudes are overwhelming -- just 8% of respondents said members of Congress have done a good enough job to deserve another term.

That's the worst result for incumbents since 1994 -- and as I recall, 1994 was a fairly consequential year for Congress.

There are competing explanations for this, and not everyone who's angry with policymakers is upset for the same reasons. But if Democrats are going to save themselves, they're going to have to decide, immediately, that they're not going to accept failure. Or put another way, they're going to have to stop accepting failure.

Now, the party's response to this is compelling: "Brilliant advice, jackass, but thanks to Massachusetts, we can't break Republican filibusters. Sheer force of will is meaningless, and so is telling lawmakers to 'get it done.' They can't."

It's precisely why the status quo can't continue. Democrats can't let Republican break Congress out of spite; the consequences are too severe for the institution and the country. Some possible strategies for the majority to consider:

* Start using the phrase "up-or-down vote" all the time. If Republicans had a dominant governing majority, and a failed Dem minority prevented Congress from functioning, the apoplexy would be overwhelming. Americans would hear about the obstructionism constantly. There would, in all likelihood, be organized marches on Washington. 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. Americans would be outraged if they had any idea what the GOP has been doing -- maybe someone should tell them.

* Take advantage of every opportunity. Using reconciliation as much as humanly possible should be a no-brainer. The "nuclear option" should be put on the table, too. Endorse Harkin/Shaheen. Scour the rules and procedural minutiae and figure out if Republicans who want to filibuster can't be forced to literally do so. Search for GOP statemen -- Lugar? -- and ask if they're really willing to destroy the workings of the United States Senate.

* Go on the offensive. Organize rallies in Maine and explain that Olympia Snowe, by endorsing her party's obstructionism, is single-handedly responsible for the fact that Congress can't function, and it's within her power to put things right and let key bills get up-or-down votes.

* Give voters who elected Democrats something to be excited about. Voters will be impressed with accomplishments, so maybe it'd be wise to give them some. Dems can start by passing the damn health care reform package.

It's not too late. Finish health care. Pass a jobs bill. Go after irresponsible banks. Bring some safeguards to Wall Street. Fix student loans. Pass an energy bill. Repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." This not a fanciful wish-list; it's all entirely feasible.

Democrats were elected to do exactly this. It's time to prove that elections have consequences -- whether those who lose the elections like it or not.

  • from the comments:

    well, the elections certainly don't have consequences if the winners choose not to lead.

    just winning isn't enough. actually governing helps a great deal, too.

    Posted by: skippy on February 14, 2010 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

    What skippy said. The Rs made clear their strategy from Nov. 5 2008 (actually, well before that). The Dems chose to bend over and let them win.

    Posted by: Dems lose huge in 2010 on February 14, 2010 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

    Difficult. Far too many establishment Dems who are friendlier with the Republicans who humiliate them every day then with the voters who elected them. Why they are unable to understand how spineless they look on TV every hour of the day is a mystery.

    Posted by: Midland on February 14, 2010 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

    Ditto to everything already said. The Democratic Party threatens to waffle into irrelevance. The Repubs are just doing what bullies always do - trying to intimidate, brazen their way forward, shout 'na na na na' and barrel ahead. And so far, it's a pretty successful tactic. Completely cynical, with a depraved indifference to the country's well-being, but they're not going to change.

    I hope that Obama's healthcare summit is just a strategical prelude to Dems passing their current bill and fixing it through reconciliation. If they do that, quickly, Obama will have salvaged this mess. If they don't pass healthcare, it's a catastrophe, and Dems will be discredited for years.

    Do they realize this inside the bubble?

    Posted by: brooklyn on February 14, 2010 at 1:17 PM
DougJ: Confirmation blues

A friend of mine mentioned to me a few weeks ago that there was no way Geithner, for example, could be fired, since there is no way his replacement could be confirmed. Ezra talks about the same thing today:

The Treasury Department is a good case in point. This may be the most turbulent economy since the 1930s, but the agency tasked with navigating it is still waiting for a number of key nominees to be confirmed, including the undersecretary for international affairs and the undersecretary for domestic finance. Meanwhile, the boss himself, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, is under tremendous criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike. Some even want him fired.

But he can’t be fired, and it’s not because he’s doing a bang-up job. It’s because Obama can’t be confident that he could be smoothly replaced. The only thing worse than an unpopular Treasury secretary is no Treasury secretary at all.

The problem gets worse as it goes deeper. It’s not just that Geithner can’t be fired. It’s that he, in turn, can’t fire anybody. Treasury is understaffed, and there’s little reason to believe that the Senate will consider its nominees anytime soon. If Geithner is displeased with the performance of an appointed subordinate, he can’t ponder whether America would be better off with another individual in that office. Instead, he must decide whether America would be better off if that office were empty.

But, hey, Bobo says Republicans are powerless.

DougJ: It’s official!

Dick Cheney is still vice-president. We have two now.

In the run-up to the Iraq war, Dick Cheney’s appearance on Sunday morning shows was coordinated with stenography in the New York Times. Now it’s coordinated with stenography in Politico. The more things change…

Booman: Dick Cheney is in the Wrong Court
I am actually somewhat sympathetic to Dick Cheney's view that a group of people in Yemen who train and finance terrorists who murder, or attempt to murder, U.S. citizens should not be treated as common criminals. The problem (and that it is a problem should be obvious by now) is that every attempt Cheney made to treat acts of terror or suspected terror as acts of war failed miserably during the Bush administration. Whether it was the reputational cost of Guantanamo and secret prisons, or the mistreatment of and denial of due process to prisoners, or the attempt to set up special courts, or the effort to abrogate the fourth amendment, the Supreme Court refused to endorse any of it.

So, while I agree that international non-state financed terrorism presents troublesome challenges, it ought to be clear that Dick Cheney is advocating lawlessness that has already been adjudicated. In other words, he's just politicizing our national security. And, considering that he's committed many crimes, we really should not have to tolerate this. Someone else can make these arguments in the court of opinion. Cheney should be making his case in a court of law. A self-respecting country would demand nothing less.

  • Sully adds:
    Allen and VanDehei imply that my view of the origin of Cheney's outrageous behavior is psychological. I don't believe that. I believe it is very rational, an attempt to wrest the narrative away from the truth that he authorized horrifying war crimes, that he is criminally liable for them and will be described in history as the vice-president who made the US a symbol for torture throughout the world.
Madrak (C&L): Biden: Cheney's Entitled To Opinions But Not His Own Facts

In the politest possible way, Joe Biden tells David Gregory on "Meet the Press" that Dick Cheney is a lying bag of dog doo in his attacks on how the Obama administration is handling terrorism. Cheney appeared this morning on "This Week", clearly laying the groundwork to blame the Obama administration in the case of another terrorist attack. Why do I get the feeling he's actually rooting for one?

DAVID GREGORY: Let me ask you about some of the criticism that's been leveled at this Administration by former Vice President Dick Cheney. He has argued that this Administration has failed to treat the fight against terrorists as war. He cites the decision related to Khalid Sheik Muhammad to offer him a civilian trail as one example. Giving the Christmas Day Bomber the privileges of the American criminal justice system is another example. The decision to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison. What do you say?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Let me choose my words carefully here. Dick Cheney's a fine fellow. He's entitled to his own opinion. He's not entitled to rewrite history. He's not entitled to his own facts. The Christmas Day Bomber was treated the exact way that he suggested that the Shoe Bomber was treated. Absolutely the same way. Under the Bush Administration there were three trials in military courts. Two of those people are now walking the streets. They are free.

There were 300 trials of so-called terrorists and those who engage in terror against the United States of America who are in federal prison and have not seen the light of day. Prosecuted under the last Administration. Dick Cheney's a fine fellow, but he is not entitled to rewrite history without it being challenged. I don't know where he has been. Where was he the last four years of the last Administration?

DAVID GREGORY: What about the general proposition that the President according to former Vice President Cheney doesn't consider America to be at war and is essentially soft on terrorism? What do you say about that?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I don't think the Vice-- the Former Vice President Dick Cheney listens. The President of the United States said in the State of the Union, "We're at war with Al Qaeda." He stated this-- and by the way, we're pursuing that war with a vigor like it's never been seen before. We've eliminated 12 of their top 20 people. We have taken out 100 of their associates. We are making, we've sent them underground. They are in fact not able to do anything remotely like they were in the past. They are on the run. I don't know where Dick Cheney has been. Look, it's one thing, again, to-- to criticize. It's another thing to sort of rewrite history. What is he talking about?

DAVID GREGORY: You have often said, when I've asked you and others, that you never impugn a man's motives. But why do you think Dick Cheney is speaking out and being so critical of the President and the Administration so publicly?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I don't know. I-- I-- I'm not gonna guess about his motive. All I know is he's factually, substantively wrong. On the major criticisms he is asserting. Why he's insisting on that. He either is misinformed or he is misinforming. But the facts are that his assertions are not accurate.

DAVID GREGORY: You would not be this outspoken or critical when you're out of office. Is that fair to say?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, I-- I-- I would hope I-- look, it's one thing to be outspoken. It's another thing to be outspoken in a way that misrepresents the facts. And I-- I guess-- again, I-- it's almost like Dick is trying to rewrite history. I can understand where the-- why that would be-- you know, an impulse. And maybe he isn't-- literally, I'm not being facetious. Maybe he's not fully informed of what's going on. I mean, the progress we have made. There has never been as much emphasis and resources brought against Al Qaeda. The success rate exceeds anything that occurred in the last Administration. And they did their best. I'm not-- I'm not impugning their effort. It's simply not true that the President of the United States is not prosecuting the war against Al Qaeda with a vigor that's never been seen before. It's real. It's deep. It's successful.

Heather (C&L): Rachel Maddow Calls Out Rep. Schock for Hypocrisy on Stimulus Bill

From Meet the Press Rachel Maddow calls out Rep. Aaron Shock for taking credit for what the stimulus bill has done for his district while at the same time touting his vote against the stimulus bill. Schock tries to shift the argument to whether any Republicans were included in drafting the bill or not. David Gregory follows up and asks Schock if that means he won't take any federal money for his district or not and Schock responds that he thinks it is a ridiculous argument and is Rachel Maddow going to give back her Bush tax cuts she rails about and says his district deserves their share of federal spending. As Rachel points out though, that's not the problem but rather the rank hypocrisy of voting against something and then touting it.

If MSNBC actually cared about their ratings on this show, they'd get rid of Gregory and let Maddow host it.

Think Progress: Maddow Corrects GOP Rep. Schock On Basic Facts Of Abdulmuttalab Case

Today on Meet the Press, Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) had an unfortunate run-in with the facts of the Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab case, courtesy of MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. After listening to Schock regurgitate the current GOP talking points about how the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab shows the Obama administration’s national security policies were making Americans unsafe, Maddow challenged Schock to explain the “basis of the assertion that reading someone their Miranda rights in unsafe.”

MADDOW: What’s the basis of the assertion that reading someone their Miranda rights in unsafe? We did that with every single person who’s been arrested on terrorism charges since 9/11. No one’s ever made an issue of it until the Obama administration and this case with Abdulmuttalab. Really, what’s the problem with being read your rights that wasn’t the problem before?

SCHOCK: Well, first of all, you suggested earlier that reading someone his Miranda rights does not — has never indicated that they talk less to our intelligence folks –

MADDOW: We’ve never heard that from the FBI.

SCHOCK: The fact of the matter is we do know that after the Christmas Day bomber was read his Miranda he did in fact stop cooperating with our intelligence –

MADDOW: That’s not true, actually, it’s not what we know from the people who’ve been involved in this. The “factual” basis of this is so thin!

Watch it:

It’s unsurprising that Rep. Schock is confused as to what the “facts of the matter” are, given the intense ongoing effort by conservative operatives to misstate the facts of the case, and to misrepresent the Obama administration’s counter-terrorism approach.

As Maddow noted, according to FBI director Robert Mueller, Abdulmuttalab was not Mirandized until after he had already made clear that he was not going to talk. The idea that informing someone of his rights — which is a requirement under U.S. law — is some sort of license not to cooperate is a ridiculous conservative invention. And, as Maddow noted, it’s not something they ever had a problem with until they saw an opportunity to use it to attack Democrats.

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