Friday, March 26, 2010

Beating up the schoolyard bully

After a painfully long, arduous process, Congress completed its work on health care reform last night. I know, I find it hard to believe , too.

Several hours after the Senate voted 56 to 43 to approve a reconciliation package, the House voted 220 to 207 to pass an identical measure. The combined total of Republican votes in support of reform in both chambers: zero.

The bill now goes to President Obama, who will likely sign it into law today -- though probably with far less fanfare than Tuesday's historic bill-signing ceremony.

By any reasonable measure, this package of amendments -- often called the "sidecar" -- makes a good bill better. The reconciliation fix improves subsidy rates for the middle class, delays implementation (and alters eligibility) of the excise tax, closes the Medicare "donut hole," and requires insurers to allow young adults to remain on their parents' insurance policies until they're 26.

And with that, the most ambitious and most important domestic policy initiative in nearly a half-century -- after a few too many obituaries -- is complete. Back in December, Jon Chait described the Affordable Care Act as "the greatest social achievement of our time" and "the most significant American legislative triumph in at least four decades." I agree wholeheartedly.

And now we have one last phrase to use to describe health care reform: law of the land.

Ezra Klein: Beneath the Obama agenda, the Obama agenda

Last night, the House of Representatives passed the reconciliation fixes. "And oh, by the way," writes Jon Cohn, "they managed to completely revamp the student loan program along the way. At any other time in recent memory, that would have been a huge accomplishment all its own. Today, it's just part of the mix."

There's been a lot of that this year. The health-care bill, for instance, features not the health-care expansion and associated insurer and delivery-side reforms, but also calorie labeling on all menus in chain restaurants. That would've been a big fight and an unlikely win in another year. The stimulus bill was chock full of this sort of thing, too: Alongside the tax cuts and the state and local aid came $226 billion for investments in infrastructure, in health IT, in green energy. On its own, that would've been the biggest infrastructure and investment bill passed in recent memory, and in the long-run, it'll be seen that way. But because it was part of the stimulus conversation, it's not gotten its moment in the sun.

The Democrats have been pretty good at merging their big-ticket items with their medium-size priorities, and though that's not great for selling the accomplishments, it's been great for getting them done.

Sudbay: Winning has given Dems. momentum and the GOPers are starting to doubt themselves

It's like the Democrats finally beat up the schoolyard bully. And, it turns out the bully is all talk and really a wimp. Winning seems to have inspired Obama and the Hill Democrats. Losing has caused angst in the GOP. That's the assessment from one of the papers that covers Congress, The Hill:

Political momentum has shifted so fast over the last week that it has given Republicans whiplash.

Democrats are heading into the two-week Easter recess in high spirits after passing the most sweeping domestic policy reform since Medicare was enacted four decades ago.

President Barack Obama on Thursday dared Republicans to make healthcare reform a campaign issue.

“They’re actually going to run on a platform of repeal in November,” Obama said. “Well, I say go for it.”

But even as some Republicans talk of using healthcare as a cudgel, others are questioning the hard-line opposition strategy that limited their input on the substance of healthcare reform and may deny them any chance of shaping financial regulatory reform later this year.

Cracks emerged in the unified front Republicans held throughout most of the healthcare debate.
Congress is taking a two week vacation district work period. Let's hope the Democrats come back even more fired up. The GOPers are regrouping and plotting their next moves of obstruction. But, we need to exploit the "cracks" in the "unified front."

And, let's keep that momentum going til November. Passing more progressive legislation -- and being bold about it -- will help.

Markos tracks the "intensity gap" in the "Daily Kos Weekly State of the Nation Poll." This week, that gap, which has favored the GOP, narrowed. The tracking poll is here. The analysis arrived via email:
While both sides saw big spikes in their numbers, Democrats were particularly energized, with that intensity gap narrowing from 11 points to a far more manageable seven. First the first time in over a year, Democrats have a reason to get excited about their party, and are newly engaging in the political process.

This intensity gap will bear tracking the rest of this cycle. Democrats can continue to close the gap by ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell, passing tough financial regulatory reform, make progress on comprehensive immigration reform, and continue to talk tough against the obstructionist GOP.
The base has awakened. Democrats keep to it inspired.
Booman: On the Path Back
The Research 2000/Daily Kos Weekly Trending Poll is out with some post-health care numbers. Unsurprisingly, the president, the Democratic Party, Congressional Dems, and Nancy Pelosi are all enjoying a nice bump in public approval. Pelosi saw a three point jump, while Obama went up five points. Poor Harry Reid dropped a point. No doubt, he's done a poor job of selling himself and his remarkable achievement in getting 60 votes on Christmas Eve. I guess these numbers are evidence that people blame him for the lack of a public option in the final bill but are giving a Pelosi a pass on the issue.

Who suffered the most? Republicans in Congress (-7) and John "Hell No" Boehner (-5) both saw their numbers tank. Only 17% approve of Boehner's job performance, while 71% of disapprove of the job congressional Republicans are doing. Even in their homebase in the South, the congressional GOP only has 30%-56% approval.

Perhaps more importantly, the enthusiasm gap has closed (as we predicted it would) post-health care passage. Markos explains:

Three weeks ago, 40 percent of Democrats were likely or definitely going to vote, compared to 51 percent of Republicans -- an 11 point "intensity gap". Two weeks ago, as the battle for health care reform heated up, and GOP obstructionism came in full view, the numbers were 45 percent for Democrats, 56 percent for Republicans -- both sides equally riled up.

This week, the numbers are 55 percent for Democrats, 62 percent for Republicans. While both sides saw big spikes in their numbers, Democrats were particularly energized, with that intensity gap narrowing from 11 points to a far more manageable seven. First [sic] the first time in over a year, Democrats have a reason to get excited about their party, and are newly engaging in the political process.

Isn't it amazing how people actually like politicians who deliver on their promises and get hard stuff done? I think it's particularly telling that Boehner took such a massive hit in his numbers. The Democrats are more popular than the Republicans in pretty much every category, and they have a slight money advantage, too. If the Dems continue to deliver accomplishments, that enthusiasm gap may disappear all together or even flip in the Democrats' favor. The American people don't want to vote for Republicans, but until this week they didn't see much reason to vote for their incumbents either.

TPM Video: Scott Brown: The President's 'Go For It' Rhetoric Was 'Inappropriate'

Drum: All This and College Loans Too
The House passed the final component of Affordacare1 tonight. Yawn. So what has Congress done for me lately, anyway?

Oh yeah, this:

Ending one of the fiercest lobbying fights in Washington, Congress voted Thursday to force commercial banks out of the federal student loan market, cutting off billions of dollars in profits in a sweeping restructuring of financial-aid programs and redirecting most of the money to new education initiatives.

....Since the bank-based loan program began in 1965, commercial banks like Sallie Mae and Nelnet have received guaranteed federal subsidies to lend money to students, with the government assuming nearly all the risk. Democrats have long denounced the program, saying it fattened the bottom line for banks at the expense of students and taxpayers.

This is, to coin a phrase, sort of a big effin deal. The student loan program has been a disgrace for a long time, essentially insuring a fat stream of profits to banks by allowing them to make risk-free loans thanks to guarantees from Uncle Sam. It was a pretty nice racket while it lasted. Republicans, of course, denounced the end of this gravy train, demonstrating once again, as Bruce Bartlett said a few years ago, that they are "incapable of telling the difference between being pro-business and being for the free market."

Bottom line: if the taxpayer are taking the risk, then the taxpayers ought to get the profit too. Now they do, and it's going to be used to expand access to college for low and middle income students. It's a reform that's long overdue.

1aka the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 aka the Affordable Care Act aka ACA

  • Steve Benen added:

    Republicans, of course, were outraged about passage of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA), largely because bank lobbyists told them to be. The same GOP lawmakers who demand cost savings, improved efficiency, and streamlined government programs, nevertheless fought like hell to kill a common-sense idea that achieves those very goals.

    They lost. The result is a new law that provides "a huge infusion of money to the Pell grant program and ... new help to lower-income graduates in getting out from under crushing student debt." The savings to taxpayers is expected to total about $61 billion over 10 years.

    An alert reader reminds me that CNN recently polled on student-loan reform, and found that 64% expressed support for the Democratic proposal. Even a slight majority of Republicans favored the idea.
Aravosis: 1 in 4 Republicans think Obama may be the anti-Christ, 38% think he's doing many things that Hitler did

This isn't funny. We have a serious problem in this country, and any sane Republicans who are left had better get a hold of their party. Hard to read these results and not think "Timothy McVeigh."

Per the latest Harris poll, the number of Republicans who think Obama...

- Is a socialist (67%)
- Wants to take away Americans' right to own guns (61%)
- Is a Muslim (57%)
- Wants to turn over the sovereignty of the United States to a one world government (51%); and
- Has done many things that are unconstitutional (55%).
- Resents America's heritage (47%)
- Was not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president (45%)
- Is the "domestic enemy that the U.S. Constitution speaks of" (45%)
- Is a racist (42%)
- Want to use an economic collapse or terrorist attack as an excuse to take dictatorial powers (41%)
- Is doing many of the things that Hitler did (38%).
- Even more remarkable perhaps, fully 24% of Republicans believe that "he may be the Anti-Christ" and 22% believe "he wants the terrorists to win."
The results are from the first week of March. (Hat tip: Mediaite.)
  • mistermix adds:

    Commenter Basilisc pointed out this Bloomberg story about one of their polls. Teabaggers think the government is more socialist than capitalist (at 90% margins), but 70% of them want the government to foster job creation.

    “The ideas that find nearly universal agreement among Tea Party supporters are rather vague,” says J. Ann Selzer, the pollster who created the survey. “You would think any idea that involves more government action would be anathema, and that is just not the case.”

    That’s from a Harris poll that didn’t segment out the teabaggers, but they did publish crosstabs on education levels.

    These replies are also strongly correlated with education. The less education people have had the more likely they are to believe all of these statements.
Think Progress: Poll: Tea partiers afraid of ‘big government’ want the government to create jobs and rein in Wall Street.
While the right-wing tea party movement touts its rhetorical “aversion to big government,” a new Bloomberg national survey finds that many tea partiers are clamoring for more aggressive government action. The poll finds that large numbers of them want the federal government to act to create jobs and rein in Wall Street by restricting excessive executive bonuses:

At the same time, 70 percent of those who sympathize with the Tea Party, which organized protests this week against President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul, want a federal government that fosters job creation.

They also look to the government to rein in Wall Street, with almost half saying the government should do something about executive bonuses. Supporters are also conflicted over whether private-enterprise elements should be introduced into government programs like Social Security and Medicare.

“The ideas that find nearly universal agreement among Tea Party supporters are rather vague,” says J. Ann Selzer, the pollster who created the survey. “You would think any idea that involves more government action would be anathema, and that is just not the case.”

The poll also finds widespread disagreement about what comprises a “socialist” program run by the government. Only 10 percent of tea party backers agreed that the Veterans Administration, the country’s “only true island of socialized medicine” where the government directly runs hospitals and services for veterans, is socialist. Meanwhile, 47 percent of responders thought that Social Security and Medicare, both of which are government programs, should stay public programs and not be privatized.

The Washington Times has no shame:

Senate Democrats voted almost unanimously Wednesday night to ensure the right of rapists and child molesters to have guaranteed access to government-subsidized Viagra under the president's health care plan. Only Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana broke ranks with his Democratic colleagues.

Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, put the Senate's majority party on the spot by offering an amendment denying convicted sex offenders coverage for erectile-dysfunction medications.

Laurie: Catapulting the Propaganda — Again

The great and much-missed blogger known as Billmon has a post over at Daily Kos that really deserves to be read, re-read, and printed out and mailed to the local newspapers for their edification:

For some years now, I’ve been morbidly fascinated by the political dark arts—especially the very dark art of disinformation: the systematic creation and dissemination of false narratives designed to discredit your opponents and/or drive undecided audiences away from their cause.

The difference between disinformation and just plain lying is in the scope of the enterprise: A lie is intended to conceal a specific truth (e.g. “I did not have sex with that woman”). Disinformation, on the other hand, is aimed at constructing an entire alternative reality—one in which the truth can find no foothold because it conflicts just not with a specific falsehood, but with the entire fabric of the false reality that has been created. It puts the “big” in big lie, in other words.

These basic disinformation techniques were first pioneered by the totalitarian movements of the 1930s, such as the [GODWIN REDACTION] and the Soviet KGB, but they’ve been brought to their full fruition by the modern advertising, public relations and political consulting industries. Proving once again that what communism can do, capitalism can do better.

Karl Rove’s White House was, in many ways, the Olympian ideal of a disinformation operation—a propaganda achievement that will probably never be topped, at least in American politics (God willing). But it looks as if the House Republicans are giving it the old college try.

Thus the rather amazing press conference Minority Whip Eric Cantor held earlier today, in which the Virginia Republican in effect accused the Democrats of inciting violence against all those innocent teabaggers out there who are simply expressing their sacred constitutional right to spit on black people and fax pictures of hangman’s nooses to their elected representatives.

The basic objective of all this, as I wrote way back when, is very simple:

The goal is to confront the public with two sides hurling identical charges at each other—the better to convince them that it’s just another partisan mudfight and who the hell knows . . . anyway.

In that sense, the “mirror image” technique is a like a bomber scattering chaff behind it to try to fool enemy radar or deflect a heat-seeking missile from the real target. As I said, it’s one of the tricks Rove would use when Team Bush lost the news cycle, which suggests the past few days of coverage of the Great Teabagger Freakout have done some real damage –- or at least, that the Rovian high command thinks it has done some damage.

Will the ploy work this time? I don’t think so, or if so, only to a limited degree. The material may have been brilliant, but the performance sucked –- even Cantor couldn’t make himself sound like he actually believed it. Sure, Fox News is ready (as always) to take the baton and run with it, but I think the mainstream corporate media deadheads, brain dead as they may be, have finally picked up on the scam…—Spock with a Beard: The Sequel
  • billmon adds an update:

    Update 3/26/10, 1:45 am ET:

    Me, above:

    The goal is to confront the public with two sides hurling identical charges at each other -- the better to convince them that it's just another partisan mudfight and who the hell knows...anyway.

    The New York Times, tonight:

    Accusations Fly Between Parties Over Threats and Vandalism

    Eric Cantor, in my imagination:

    "Mission accomplished, baby. Mission accomplished."

mistermix: It’s So Easy

John can’t post at the moment, but he sent over this AC360 transcript. After Dana Bash discusses the stray bullet hitting Eric Cantor’s office, David Gergen hits her slow pitch out of the park:

GERGEN: I do. I think there’s a chance of an incident, isolated, to be sure, but I think there’s going to be some wing nut out there on one side or the other of the political aisle, or somewhere, who is just out in Never Never Land, and a lot of guns out there. (emphasis mine)

It takes almost no work to push any political conversation into the “both sides do this” story outline. Eric Cantor at least had a slightly credible story line, but it wasn’t really necessary. If John Boehner had stood up and claimed that someone threatened to take away his tube of bronzer, he’d have gotten the same result.

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