Wednesday, March 17, 2010

End Games: Not Done Yet!

Kurtz (TPM): CBO Score Coming

Multiple sources in the House and Senate are telling us to expect the Congressional Budget Office's score of the health care reform package to come out late today. Nothing official yet, but if the House is going to vote on the Senate bill Saturday, the CBO score basically needs to come today.

Great Idea of the Day:
"Someone should do a mockup of major newspaper front pages with both "Healthcare Passes" and "Healthcare Fails" headlines. Then show them both to the wavering Dems and ask them which they would like to see next week." --Chris Andersen commenting at Political Animal.

QOTD, Paul Krugman:

Right now, we have a system that creates huge incentives for bad, one might say demonic, behavior: Assurant made $150 million by revoking coverage, almost always without cause. We can end all of that — not in some indefinite future, but with a single vote right now.

Just do it.

rmp says:
As a DFH is it wrong for me to want to tell the FDL crowd to shut the $#$% up?
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN):
the Senate Republicans are not going to bail the House Democrats out by fixing a bill we all voted against.
Sully: Quote For The Day
"Is there no shame anymore?" - Norm Ornstein on the post-modern GOP leadership, just lying and lying and lying about parliamentary procedure. I feel the same way about their feigned outrage over spending.
Tim F.: Baby Steps
Jim Matheson, of Utah’s 2nd, has moved from a no to maybe. If Matheson is weighing his options and Kucinich indeed comes through then every district is in play. Phone phone phone.
  • from the comments:

    Tim F.

    You would be amazed how many readers report that over the space of weeks their Congressperson told them no, no, no, no, no, no, maybe. Keep at it.

mistermix: There’s a New Heather in Town

Today’s Dana Milbank emission makes fun of Code Red, portrays Pelosi as tough and effective, and poo-poohs the notion that real Americans will care about the procedural deals of HCR passage.

Rather than believing that this blind pig suddenly found an ear of corn, my guess is that the Dick Whisperer put his finger to the wind and sensed that HCR is going to pass. Since he always wants to sit at the cool kids’ table in the cafeteria, he’s started to lay the foundation for the inevitable “I saw it coming” piece that will allow him to play reindeer games with the Democrats.

Of course, anybody who relies on Dana Milbank’s view of what’s going to happen in DC is a fool, so keep those calls and letters coming.

Tim F.: Not Over Yet

As much fun as it might be to watch people you don’t like losing their shit, Democrats still have to pass this bill. If you do nothing else this week get on the bloody phone. These are Democrats we are talking about, people. Gloat later.
Sully: Pass. The. Damn. Bill..

From the NYT health care blog:

The number of uninsured adults and children in California swelled by 25 percent between 2007 and 2009, according to a new report by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles. One quarter of the state’s population is now uninsured, according to the analysis, and less than half of those with insurance receive it through employers.

Al Giordano: Health Care Home Stretch: The Base that Roared

When we last weighed in on the Congressional machinations in Washington over health care reform around the new year, there was more heat than light coming not only from the right but from some loud and shrill corners that called themselves “the left,” many even claiming to represent “the base” of President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.

Two and a half months later, the situation has evolved to a very unique occurrence in progressive American politics: the authentic base rejected those grandstanders who wanted to let the perfect be the enemy of the good (the “bill killers” have pretty much wilted from their 15 minutes of overexposure), and has rallied around the cause of health care.

The US left (if such a thing has even existed in recent decades) for once in a lifetime did not fall for the orgy of petty bickering that led to so many previous epic fails, and what we see now is a convergence of forces, from the grassroots up, that can be defined as A. Pragmatic, in its multiple expressions in favor of advancing the ball down the field, and in rejecting the calls for “all or nothing” that had so defined many squandered US progressive political efforts over the past 30 or 40 years, and, B. Disciplined, including in the miraculous appearance of organizing to insist on discipline in the ranks of anyone who traffics in the term “progressive” to promote themselves.

I don’t know how it came to be, for so many years, that pragmatism and discipline were considered dirty words in many US activist circles. But the truth is, political battles have never been won without pragmatism and discipline.

Perhaps another time we can offer some historical thoughts on how it is that so many activists in the US came to see pragmatism as being “not pure” or not radical enough, and discipline as representing a loss of individuality and autonomy instead of an individual and autonomous choice to work together with others in strategic action.

I’d rather marvel, for now, at what has recently happened North of the Border to bring pragmatism and discipline back in vogue.

First, the evidence:

The national progressive group MoveOn (one that not too long ago would sometimes have the activist vice of allowing the perfect to be enemy of the good) recently polled its members with this question: “Should MoveOn support or oppose the final health care bill if it looks like the plan recently proposed by President Obama?” The result was that 83 percent support the bill to just 17 percent against it.

Among the authentic base, the tide has also turned against the longstanding tendency of holier-than-thou “purity troll” advocacy, as was recently evident in the cases of two Democratic US Representatives that had voted against health care on the first round because, they said, it did not go far enough. US Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY) imploded and had to resign (yes, there were other more, ahem, prurient reasons for it, but he himself, at one point, claimed that the root of his meltdown was his vote against health care).

And now it is US Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) in the hot seat.

You know the earth has shifted under Kucinich – long a proponent of a single payer health care system, for which the votes simply do not exist in Congress at present to achieve – when former supporters like Lisa Baskin of Massachusetts are posting this message on their Facebook pages:

“I have voted for, sent money to and agreed with Dennis Kucinich in the past. Now I want him to vote YES for the healthcare bill, imperfect as it is. Join me, Call Congressman Kucinich. Ask him to vote Yes.
Phone (202) 225-5871”

In this video from last week, Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos offered a long pending smackdown of Kucinich’s position (it appears at two-and-a-half minutes into the video, after an entertaining segment about Rush Limbaugh). When asked if Kucinich should be challenged in a Democratic primary if he votes against health care reform this time, Kos said “yes”:

And five hours ago, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile posted a Twitter tweet saying the same thing:

“If a handful of Democrats decide to defeat this bill, they deserve to get a primary challenge to defend the status quo & insurance industry.”

It used to be that any attempt to invoke discipline on behalf of progressive political ventures in the United States would be met by screeching condemnations and accusations of heavy handedness and crushing of dissent. Gawd, that was a boring (and ineffective) era! The truth is that in the big leagues of any contest, no victory is ever achieved without pragmatic discipline.

The base – and by that I mean the authentic base (those that do the leg work and heavy lifting of political organizing, not just mere activism) – has lost its patience with the kooks and the constant complainers.

How and when did that happen? I would posit that it began to happen around last Christmas, when the self-proclaimed “progressive” bill killers overplayed their poutrage hand by calling for health care reform to be defeated. Folks at the grassroots level needed only to compare and contrast the behaviors of the different players on the left side of the dial in the US. Those that kept their eyes and hands on the ball and worked to get the best possible bill (which as with any legislation on any subject involves compromise) to move that ball down the field (especially including the White House) simply earned more respect than those who whined and pouted and offered increasingly shrill demands.

For now, I’ll just say how encouraged I am to see the authentic base asserting itself and adopting the necessary pragmatism and discipline to go out there and win this long political war over health care.

It has been 62 years since President Harry Truman first proposed national health care reform. And if, as momentum seems to be turning, perhaps as soon as this coming weekend the health care bill pushes through to historic triumph, it will be because pragmatism and discipline are no longer considered dirty words on the US left. That would be a miracle, and also harbinger of better days, and more victories, yet to come.

Tracking health reform in Congress March 16: Congressman Anthony Weiner talks with Rachel Maddow about what are believed to be the final few days before the health reform vote, the process by which health reform is likely to be passed, and the future direction of health reform once the current bill is passed.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Think Progress: Health care reform protestors mock man who carried sign saying he has Parkinson’s disease.

Activists staged “competing rallies” outside of Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy’s (D-OH) district office yesterday, in a noisy, often confrontational attempt to influence the undecided congresswoman’s vote. At one point, a man with a sign saying he has Parkinson’s disease and needs help sat down in front of the reform opponents. Several protesters mocked the man, calling him a “communist” and derisively “throwing money at him.” “If you’re looking for a handout you’re in the wrong end of town,” one man said. Watch it (at approximately 0:51):

After the protests, Kilroy released a statement thanking “both sides for making their views known” and promising to rely on “the voices of my constituents” when making her final decision. (HT: Raw Story and DailyKos)

  • David Kurtz (TPM) adds:

    One of the ironies about Democrats, especially in Congress, being so tentative about health care reform is that the anger the reform efforts seem to have unleashed isn't really about health care reform at all.

    That's not to say the anger isn't real. Take a look at this video shot by the Columbus Dispatch, of competing health care rallies yesterday outside the office of Democratic congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy (thanks to TPM Reader JL for the link). Pay particular attention at the :50 second mark, where anti-reform protesters yell and throw a few bucks at a man holding a sign claiming he has Parkinson's.

    Those guys screaming about "handouts" would be perfectly at home at a rally in the 1990s, or the 80s, or the 70s and so on. This isn't new, and it's not original. The social and cultural currents running through this debate exist independent of the debate, and the anger can't be tempered or avoided by procedural figleafs that few people inside Washington understand or by better messaging. At the end of the day, even abandoning reform won't calm that kind of anger.

Krugman: Demons And Demonization

The usual suspects have been attacking Obama for “demonizing” insurance companies; but saying that people do terrible things isn’t demonization if they do, in fact, do terrible things.

And health insurers do, because they have huge financial incentives to act in an inhumane way — most obviously, by revoking coverage when people get sick, using whatever rationale they can devise.

Read this report by Murray Waas on Assurant Health (previously called Fortis), which used a computer algorithm to identify every client with HIV, then systematically revoked coverage on the flimsiest of grounds — and appears to have systematically hidden any paper trail showing how it made its decisions:

The South Carolina Supreme Court, in upholding the jury’s verdict in the case in a unanimous 5-0 opinion, said that it agreed with the lower court’s finding that Fortis destroyed records to hide the corporation’s misconduct. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal wrote: “The lack of written rescission policies, the lack of information available regarding appealing rights or procedures, the separate policies for rescission documents” as well as the “omission” of other records regarding the decision to revoke Mitchell’s insurance, constituted “evidence that Fortis tried to conceal the actions it took in rescinding his policy.”

And what basis did the company use for revoking coverage?

Fortis canceled Mitchell’s health insurance based on a single erroneous note from a nurse in his medical records that indicated that he might have been diagnosed prior to his obtaining his insurance policy. When the company’s investigators discovered the note, they ceased further review of Mitchell’s records for evidence to the contrary, including the records containing the doctor’s diagnosis.

Still, this must have been an outlier, a scuzzy company that wasn’t at all typical, right? But in that case, why was the CEO one of the people who testified on behalf of the insurance industry?

On June 16, 2009, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, held a hearing on the practice of rescission by health insurance companies, and among the industry executives who testified was Don Hamm, the CEO and President of Assurant Health.

Hamm insisted before the committee that rescission was a necessary tool for Assurant and other health insurance companies to hold the cost of premiums down for other policyholders. Hamm asserted that rescission was “one of many protections supporting the affordability and viability of individual health insurance in the United States under our present system.”

And as the story points out, the evidence is that the overwhelming majority of rescissions, not just at Assurant but across the board, are, in fact, without justification.

The crucial thing to understand is that depending on how a few Democrats vote sometime soon, stories like this will either cease happening — or continue, and get much worse. The proposed health care reform would end discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, and therefore end the threat of rescission as well.

And to repeat what I and other have repeatedly explained, you need the whole package to make this work. You can’t end discrimination based on medical history unless you require that health as well as sick people have insurance, to broaden the risk pool. And you can’t mandate coverage unless you provide aid to those who otherwise couldn’t afford it.

Right now, we have a system that creates huge incentives for bad, one might say demonic, behavior: Assurant made $150 million by revoking coverage, almost always without cause. We can end all of that — not in some indefinite future, but with a single vote right now.

Just do it.

Marshall: Taketh the Cake

Okay, this is rich. Rep. Eric Cantor is insisting that Speaker Pelosi hold an up or down vote on the original senate bill alone rather than a single vote on the original bill and the amending bill.


Have we forgotten why we're here? The entire reason we're in this situation is that Cantor's fellow party members in the Senate won't allow any votes on health care at all. They wouldn't allow it last year and they're still blocking a simple up or down vote on any health care bill in the senate. That's the whole ball of wax.

So why doesn't Speaker Pelosi propose a trade. Cantor gets his pals in the Senate to allow a simple majority vote on health care and then everything can be done through a plain old-fashioned conference report. And voila, everything's taken care of.

Seriously, Republicans are standing tall on majority rules and procedure when everything happening here stems from the Republicans refusing to let the majority vote on anything?

Norman Ornstein: Hypocrisy: A Parliamentary Procedure
Any veteran observer of Congress is used to the rampant hypocrisy over the use of parliamentary procedures that shifts totally from one side to the other as a majority moves to minority status, and vice versa. But I can’t recall a level of feigned indignation nearly as great as what we are seeing now from congressional Republicans and their acolytes at the Wall Street Journal, and on blogs, talk radio, and cable news. It reached a ridiculous level of misinformation and disinformation over the use of reconciliation, and now threatens to top that level over the projected use of a self-executing rule by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In the last Congress that Republicans controlled, from 2005 to 2006, Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier used the self-executing rule more than 35 times, and was no stranger to the concept of “deem and pass.” That strategy, then decried by the House Democrats who are now using it, and now being called unconstitutional by WSJ editorialists, was defended by House Republicans in court (and upheld). Dreier used it for a $40 billion deficit reduction package so that his fellow GOPers could avoid an embarrassing vote on immigration. I don’t like self-executing rules by either party—I prefer the “regular order”—so I am not going to say this is a great idea by the Democrats. But even so—is there no shame anymore?
  • Steve Benen adds:

    I'll assume that's a rhetorical question. Of course there's no shame anymore. Republicans who are scandalously abusing legislative procedures have found that the media will play along if they accuse Democrats of abusing legislative procedures. The GOP relied on reconciliation when they were in the majority, but raise hell about reconciliation now. The GOP relied on self-executing rules when they were in the majority, but are apoplectic about the same procedure now.

    And news outlets just keep deeming routine steps as "controversial" because Republicans say so.

    To be sure, Democrats complained about "deem and pass" when Republicans used it, so the hypocrisy isn't exactly scarce on the Hill right now. For that matter, there's a reasonable case to be made that Dems moving forward on health reform using this procedure complicates the political implications in unhelpful ways.

    But the larger freak-out reminds us of how silly our discourse can be sometimes.

    Indeed, hearing Republicans whine incessantly yesterday about the need for an "up-or-down vote" on the Senate bill was especially amusing yesterday. If GOP lawmakers would allow both chambers to vote up or down on important legislation, procedural alternatives wouldn't be necessary in the first place.

  • Atrios on Contemporary Journalism
    It seems like we're just in this world where every day Republicans make some shit up. The first round of reports just report the "controversy" without bothering to explain who is right or wrong. Then the second round of reports maybe gets around to pointing out that oh, well, actually the Republicans are full of shit.

    Then the next day we move on to some other invented horseshit and the cycle continues.
Yglesias: Self-Executing Rules Are Common

Two charts from Sarah Binder. First, so-called “restrictive rules” are common in the House:


Second, self-executing rules are a common sub-set of restrictive rules:


The fact that we’re having this controversy is, once again, a testament to the power of the right-wing noise machine. Self-executing rules have been used—frequent—each and every Congress for over a decade. And most of the country, including politically active people, never heard of them until the GOP decided to make a big deal about it. But once they decided to make a big deal about it, it became a huge deal.

Sully: Malkin Award Nominee
"I look back 20 years ago in the square in Prague... when tens of thousands showed up there and they shook their keys peacefully and they took over their country and they achieved their freedom back again," he said. "If you can keep coming to this city, fill up the congressional offices across the country but jam this city. If you can get on your cell phones, and get on your Blackberries and your email, and ask people to keep coming to this town. Storm this city, fill up Washington D.C., jam this capital so they can't move. And if tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of you show up, we will win. We will defeat this bill and you will have your liberty back," - Congressman Steve King (R-IA), to a crowd of tea-partiers.
Paul Krugman makes a point that congressional Democrats may want to keep in mind over the next several days.

By this time next week we'll have seen huge headlines about health care. These headlines will either read "Democrats do it!", followed by various Republicans and their apologists complaining that what the Dems did wasn't nice, or "Democrats -- losers again", followed by Republicans going bwahahaha.

And it's up to a handful of Democrats to decide which headlines we get. They're out of their minds if they don't choose door #1.

It's tempting to think this would be obvious to lawmakers, but I don't think it is.

It doesn't take much of an imagination to visualize what the media narrative will be after the debate over health reform ends. If Dems fail, they can expect the rest of the year to be dominated by stories about how a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate both passed a monumental reform bill, but the hapless party managed to screw it up anyway.

If Dems succeed, they can expect news reports about what the new law does and does not do -- "How the new health care law affects you" -- which would further help improve the policy's public standing, while at the same time seeing "comeback kid" coverage, with Dems snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, rather than the other way around.

Just today, the Washington Post, speculating about the possible success of the reform push, ran an article about whether "this be the week congressional Democrats reverse their fortunes." Perry Bacon Jr. asked, "Will this week be the start of a political comeback" for Dems?

If the party wants the answer to be "yes," it's going to have to succeed on health reform. It's really not that complicated.

Americans now consider programs like Medicare bedrocks of our society, but it was not always thus.

Dem leadership staff is highlighting a series of numbers from 1962 on President John F. Kennedy's proposal. In July of that year, a Gallup poll found 28% in favor, 24% viewing it unfavorably, and a sizable 33% with no opinion on it -- showing an evenly divided public.

A month later, after JFK's proposal went down, an Opinion Research Corporation poll found 44 percent said it should have been passed, while 37% supported its defeat -- also showing an evenly divided public.

Also in that poll, a majority, 54%, said it was a serious problem that "government medical insurance for the aged would be a big step toward socialized medicine."

The point, as Greg Sargent emphasized, is that "passing dramatic, history-making reform in the face of intense organized opposition has never been politically easy."

Risk-averse lawmakers never want to hear this, but it takes some courage.

If it's any consolation to wavering Dems, progressive policymakers are always vindicated by history.

In 1935, Republican opponents of Social Security insisted that Roosevelt's "socialistic" plan would, among other things, force all Americans to wear dog tags. Not quite a half-century ago, conservative critics of Medicare seriously argued, in public, that the law would empower bureaucrats to dictate where physicians could practice medicine, and open the door to government control over where all Americans were allowed to live. Around the same time, many opponents of the Civil Rights Act believed the fabric of America was being torn apart by the legislation.

Right-wing arguments of today are absurd, but they are branches on a large and ridiculous tree.

The question now is whether Democrats will do as their predecessors did -- overcome the lies and scare tactics, stick to their principles, and pass their agenda anyway.

Major change is always scary and controversial initially, until it becomes law and Americans realize the fears were unfounded. There's every reason to believe the same will be true with the current reform proposal.

Just 216 House lawmakers simply have to pass ... the ... damn ... bill.

The new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll offers a few interesting insights on health care. In particular, the results suggest Democrats would be committing political suicide if they let this opportunity fail.

First, let's note a few top-line results. President Obama's approval rating stands at 48% in this poll. On the generic ballot questions, Dems lead Republicans by three points, one point better than in January, and Democrats still enjoy a modest lead over the GOP on overall favorability. Congress' overall approval rating is down to a humiliating 17%, its lowest point since late 2008.

Specifically on the issue of the day, however, the divisions on health care are pretty stark. A 46% plurality believe it would be better to see the Democratic proposal pass, while 45% would rather see it fail and keep the status quo (this is better than December, when the numbers leaned in the other direction). Just 36% believe the reform plan is a good idea, though that total is up five points since January.

This was symptomatic of the overall divisions -- 34% of poll respondents said they'll be less likely to vote for their representative if they vote to kill reform, and 36% said they'll be less likely to vote for their representative if they vote to pass reform.

So, what's an on-the-fence Democratic lawmaker to think? These are the numbers they should probably pay the closest attention to:

Democratic respondents are overwhelmingly supportive of Obama's health care plan -- they think it's a good idea by a 64-16 percent margin, according to the poll. [Pollster Peter Hart] argues that such strong support from the base will ultimately make a "yes" vote an easier sell for Democrats who are on the fence.

The key concern for these lawmakers isn't losing some voters in the middle, he says. "It is alienating the base."

"From my point of view, it might look like a difficult vote," Hart says. "But they don't have a choice. The repercussions they will suffer will be huge."

Dems also must be cognizant of the enthusiasm gap -- 67% of Republicans said they're "very interested" in the midterm elections, compared with 46% of Democrats.

"If the Democrats are going to close that gap, they've got to get their people excited," Hart added. "And I don't see how you get those people if you vote no" on health care reform.

Some readers have emailed me lately, asking whether I think the reform bill will pass when push comes to shove. My answer is always the same: if common sense prevails, Dems have no choice but to succeed. If Democrats work for a year, pass reform in both chambers, and then let it die anyway, it would be electoral suicide.

But that's not a firm answer, because Democrats' capacity for self-destruction can be extraordinary.

Think Progress: Alexander Admits Senate GOP Will Obstruct Fixes To Improve Health Care Bill Simply For Partisan Gain
Yesterday, while discussing the Democrats procedural options for finishing health care reform, the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein discussed how the political dynamics would change if the House passes the Senate bill and then a reconciliation bill with some substantive fixes is considered:

If the Senate bill is passed and Democrats are just getting rid of the Nebraska deal and easing the bite of the excise tax, Republicans will have a lot of trouble standing in the way and becoming defenders of the Nebraska deal and the excise tax. At that point, they’re not opposing health-care reform and instead opposing small, popular changes that make the bill better. They’re literally obstructing good government that fits with their recent rhetoric. After all, having spent the last few months hammering the Nelson deal, it doesn’t look very bipartisan to keep Democrats from taking your advice and reneging on it.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is one of those Republicans who has spent months “hammering the Nelson deal,” which he refers to as the “Cornhusker Kickback.” On Bill Bennett’s radio show today, Alexander — who admitted that health care reform would already be law if and when the Senate takes up reconciliation legislation — was pressed to explain why he would obstruct changes that would be positive in his view:

BENNETT: So what is the point of the obstruction — positive obstruction — of you all doing this if we’ve already lost the game?

ALEXANDER: Well, the point of our doing it is to not allow them to abuse the process further. I mean, they, we cannot allow the House or the president or any group of people to completely undermine the role of the Senate in American constitutional government, which is really to say that on big issues, we’re going to require consensus instead of majority and we need 60 votes.

BENNETT: I see. But the House bill that he would sign might be worse than the one with the amendments they’re trying to offer that you will debate.

ALEXANDER: Well, that’s a good point and but but but and we’ll…

BENNETT: It’ll have kickbacks, the Kickback and all that stuff.

ALEXANDER: We’ll have to, we’ll have to consider that as we go through the bill line by line, but basically, the Senate Republicans are not going to bail the House Democrats out by fixing a bill we all voted against.

Later in the interview, Alexander said that the GOP’s call to repeal health care reform “will define every congressional race in November.” Bennett then realized that Alexander was saying that blocking the fixes that Republicans approve of would benefit the party electorally. “Alright, that would be a rationale then for doing exactly what you’re doing in the Senate and letting that stinkbomb of a bill with all the kickbacks and all that stuff sit out there in the sun and fester,” said Bennett. Listen here:

After Alexander hung up the phone, Bennett praised him for his cynical plan to block fixes that he supports so that he can have a stronger argument going into the November elections. Bennett added that Alexander was “the definition of what a senator’s supposed to be” and “a living example of what the founders intended.”

Bennett then characterized Alexander’s argument — which he said could be used to scare House Democrats against voting for the Senate bill — as essentially saying, “they’re not going to fix it. The Republicans aren’t going to let you fix it. They want the most stinking mess there is sitting out there, rotting in the sun. So they can then repeal it. Why do they want to make your bill better?”

Matt Yglesias thinks Republicans may just be posturing about blocking reconciliation at all costs in order to psych out Democrats. “But once health reform does pass that House, that will be irrelevant,” writes Yglesias. “So are they going to vote no? If so, why? I doubt Senate Republicans want to end up on the receiving end of ads about special giveaways to Nebraska.”

Sudbay: The NY Times discovers that GOP leader McConnell is an obstructionist

Today, the NY Times profiles Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and makes a startling discovery: McConnell is all about politics and obstructionism. Apparently, McConnell's strategy wasn't clear to the Times before today. But, now, there seems to be a better understanding of what McConnell is really all about:

Before the health care fight, before the economic stimulus package, before President Obama even took office, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, had a strategy for his party: use his extensive knowledge of Senate procedure to slow things down, take advantage of the difficulties Democrats would have in governing and deny Democrats any Republican support on big legislation.

Republicans embraced it. Democrats denounced it as rank obstructionism. Either way, it has led the two parties, as much as any other factor, to where they are right now. Republicans are monolithically against the health care legislation, leaving the president and his party executing parliamentary back flips to get it passed, conservatives revived, liberals wondering what happened.

In the process, Mr. McConnell, 68, a Kentuckian more at home plotting tactics in the cloakroom than writing legislation in a committee room or exhorting crowds on the campaign trail, has come to embody a kind of oppositional politics that critics say has left voters cynical about Washington, the Senate all but dysfunctional and the Republican Party without a positive agenda or message.

But in the short run at least, his approach has worked.
Worked for whom? Certainly not the American people or the political process. It's worked for McConnell's political agenda, nothing else.

So, for all the demands of bipartisanship from the GOP, it was never going to happen. That's not a surprise to most of us. The NY Times finally figured it out. It is amazing to watch tv reporters and read print accounts of what's going on up on Capitol Hill. Many of them do act as if the Republicans have a reasoned, rational basis for what they're doing. The traditional media types and pundits are always talking about bipartisanship as if it's some kind of holy grail, but ignore the fact that the GOPers have no interest in compromise.

These are dangerous and trying times. You'd like to think that our elected officials would rise to the occasion, especially those on the GOP side who led us to the brink. Instead, we get Mitch McConnell's strategy of obstructionism at any cost. For Republicans, this is "team ball."

This article should be must reading for people in Maine who think their Senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, are moderates. They're not. They on Mitch's team.
  • Steve Benen adds:

    McConnell was surprisingly candid with the NYT: "It was absolutely critical that everybody be together because if the proponents of the bill were able to say it was bipartisan, it tended to convey to the public that this is O.K., they must have figured it out." Total GOP opposition, regardless of substance, was absolutely necessary, because "it's either bipartisan or it isn't." If Americans saw even a hint of broad support, they'd be more likely to approve of the legislation. And since all Democratic legislation necessarily must be killed, all Republicans necessarily had to stand together against it.

    There are, however, two angles to keep in mind here. The first is that there's nothing especially wrong with an opposition leader opposing the majority party's agenda. Opposition parties are supposed to reject what the majority wants; it's why they're there. The problem arises when there's an expectation that nothing can/should happen in Congress unless President Obama and congressional Democrats find a way to make far-right Republicans happy. I don't care that McConnell ensures unanimous GOP opposition to everything Democrats want; I care that their opposition is characterized as some kind of Democratic failure.

    The second is that there's a structural problem in the Senate. Americans can elect a large Democratic majority, and endorse an ambitious Democratic agenda, but then nevertheless see the entire American policymaking process brought to a standstill because Mitch McConnell and his cohorts feel like it. The flaw is systemic -- we expect the governing majority to deliver, and at the same time we give the failed minority the tools to prevent the majority from governing at all.

    It creates a ridiculous cycle. The electorate gives Democrats power to get things done ... so McConnell uses his power to stop things from getting done ... which causes voters to grow frustrated by the gridlock ... which leads to rewards for McConnell and his party ... which leads to more gridlock.

    It's quite a racket.

    Post Script: Long-time readers may recall that the Monthly described exactly how McConnell operates in a 2006 profile. Looking back, we got it just right.

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