Tuesday, March 16, 2010

HCR Tuesday

Marshall: Really?
With "Beware the Ides of March" now the new GOP talking point, we are all clear that that was a warning that a bunch of knife-wielding senators would slaughter Caesar while visiting the Senate, right? Is this a reference to GOP reconciliation dead-enders? What are we talking about here?
DougJ: Make it stop

Shame on me for adding for FireDogLake to my RSS feed yesterday:

I don’t know what Lynn Woolsey is really thinking, but the leadership of the House progressive caucus should not be helping the entire party walk the bloody plank towards a fascist form of health insurance without a care in the world.

Luckily, I can still read Tbogg on a separate feed.

I'll admit it -- it's tempting to think the final push towards health care reform all going well. President Obama told ABC's Jake Tapper yesterday, "I believe we are going to get the votes, we're going to make this happen." House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-Conn.) told reporters after a caucus meeting last night, "There's tremendous anticipation, and certainly a lot of anxiety, but I believe we have the votes and that we will get this bill done this week."

At the same time, Republicans sound increasingly discouraged. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) seems to think Democrats are going to succeed, and as desperation sinks in, GOP rhetoric is getting a little more excessive.

But let's pause for a moment to remember that failure remains a distinct possibility, and by most estimates, the leadership still doesn't have 216 votes. Indeed, with the clock winding down, we don't see a new round of undecided Dems announcing their support for health reform; we actually see some key Dems making very discouraging announcements in the opposite direction.

On-the-fence members are hearing plenty this week from those who don't want to fix the dysfunctional status quo.

Several on-the-fence Democrats said they were scrambling to sort out their constituents' views as the outside noise grows deafening.

"There is definitely more passion from people opposed to the bill," said Representative Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania, whose offices have been inundated with protests and calls. "I have to decide between passing this bill or doing nothing at all. I need to do what's best for my district." [emphasis added]

The White House is twisting arms, and that's likely to help. Labor leaders and MoveOn are playing hardball, and that's critically important, too. But are rank-and-file Democratic and left-leaning voters picking up the phone? About half the country wants this bill to pass -- but how many of them have communicated that directly to their House rep?

Jonathan Cohn explained, "[W]ith the vote count so close, reform may not pass without ... a push from the outside. It's not clear if that push will come. Recent polls show a clear change in public opinion: People are demonstrating more approval both of the Democrats and their reform bill. But, as far as I can tell, an enthusiasm gap remains. Conservatives hate the bill. Liberals, well, they're still learning to like it."

It's not at all complicated. A once-in-a-generation opportunity is on the line, and if supporters fail to fight, reform may fail to pass.

Sargent: New MoveOn Ad Asks Dems: “Which Side Of History Will YOU Be On?”

The air cover from the left is now gearing up in earnest, and MoveOn is set to unleash a national ad pressing House Dems to support health reform by suggesting that in historical terms it would rank up there with the Civil Rights movement and the freeing of the slaves.

The ad, the group’s first national spot in the final stretch, was sent my way by a MoveOn official, and it features shots of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King and Lyndon Johnson:

“Throughout history, America has been blessed with heroic leaders — individuals who helped us to navigate between right and wrong,” the spot says. “We need our leaders to fight for what’s right. Call Congress today and ask them: Which side of history will YOU be on?”

The spot, a six-figure buy on national cable, comes after MoveOn’s membership voted overwhelmingly last week to support the Senate bill with a reconciliation fix, suggesting there’s now a high degree of consensus on the left that this is the best way forward.

Also: While the ad makes a rather grandiose appeal to lawmakers’ historical consciences, it also sends a straightforward political message to them: If they take a tough vote and pass reform, they’ll have major air cover from big-spending groups as they head into the bruising fall campaign. If not, well…

Greg Sargent:

* GOP expands its air-war offensive: The NRCC is expanding its health care ad campaign, a GOP official says, targeting two new House Dems to pressure them to vote No on the Senate bill: Chris Carney of Pennsylvania and Steve Driehaus of Ohio.

Here’s a script of the version hitting Carney:

Is Chris Carney’s political career on life support? At first, Carney said he would be bipartisan. Now, he’s voting 91 percent with Nancy Pelosi. Carney’s backed President Obama’s healthcare takeover.

And now the President wants her vote again. Even though only 37 percent of Pennsylvanians support the Obama plan. Send a text. Help us tell Carney to stop voting with Obama.

The NRCC targeted Rep Gabrielle Giffords with the same spot last week, but this time, there’s a twist: The two Dems being targeted have both signaled opposition already. This is an effort to lock them down as No votes, the GOP official says.

* Left ramps up ads, too: In an effort to pressure wavering House Dems, Health Care for America Now is going up with a big $1.4 million buy in 11 districts, calling on Dems to “listen to US, not the insurance companies”:

* And: Dems are highlighting a very interesting admission made by a GOP House candidate yesterday. Businessman Jim Renacci said on a conference call that his message challenging Dem Rep John Boccieri of Ohio will remain the same no matter how Boccieri votes on the health bill.

Dem leaders will circulate this quote today among skittish House Dems, arguing that this proves that they’ll be attacked by the GOP even if they vote No.

* Also: Americans United for Change and AFSCME are going up with this spot ripping the insurance industry, though it’s running on DC cable so lawmakers’ constituents won’t see it.

* New York Times finally gets around to reporting that the SEIU is threatening to yank support from House Dems who don’t vote for health reform, four days after it appeared on this blog.

* Unintentionally revealing headline of the day, from the Daily Caller, on the Tea Party rally set for the Capitol today: “The Last Hurrah.”

* Obama expresses optimism about health reform: “I believe we are going to get the votes. We’re going to make this happen.”

* And the question of the day, from Perry Bacon:

Will this week be the start of a political comeback for congressional Democrats?

mcjoan (Dkos): The Mother of All Self-Executing Rules

Via TWI, House Republicans say they can't block the House procedurally in their plan to pass the reconciliation bill with a self-executing provision considering the Senate bill "deemed" as passed.

House Republicans say they cannot block a Democratic maneuver that would allow Members to avoid a separate vote on the Senate health care bill.

“There is nothing that can prevent it,” said Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), the ranking member of the Rules Committee. “It’s something they can clearly do if they have the votes."

Of course, that's not preventing Dreier from attacking it.

Dreier ripped the plan as “trying to avoid the accountability of an up-or-down vote” and said it violated Pelosi’s pledge of an open and transparent Congress. “It pains me to see,” he said.

You know what's coming next, right?

When Republicans were in the minority, they railed against self-executing rules as being anti-deliberative because they undermined and perverted the work of committees and also prevented the House from having a separate debate and vote on the majority's preferred changes....

When Republicans took power in 1995, they soon lost their aversion to self-executing rules and proceeded to set new records under Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). There were 38 and 52 self-executing rules in the 104th and 105th Congresses (1995-1998), making up 25 percent and 35 percent of all rules, respectively. Under Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) there were 40, 42 and 30 self-executing rules in the 106th, 107th and 108th Congresses (22 percent, 37 percent and 22 percent, respectively). Thus far in the 109th Congress, self-executing rules make up about 16 percent of all rules.

On April 26, [2006] the Rules Committee served up the mother of all self-executing rules for the lobby/ethics reform bill. The committee hit the trifecta with not one, not two, but three self-executing provisions in the same special rule. The first trigger was a double whammy: “In lieu of the amendments recommended by the Committees on the Judiciary, Rules, and Government Reform now printed in the bill, the amendment in the nature of a substitute consisting of the text of the Rules Committee Print dated April 21, 2006, modified by the amendment printed in part A of the report of the Committee on Rules accompanying this resolution, shall be considered as adopted in the House and the Committee of the Whole.”

And which Republican was chairing the Rules Committee in April, 2006? Why, David Dreier, of course.

  • Steve Benen adds:
    As expected, the responding tantrum is nearing full force. The WSJ editorial page is outraged; Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is suggesting laws approved through the self-executing rule aren't laws that Americans have to follow; and assorted GOP voices, on and off the Hill, are characterizing the deem-and-pass approach as unconstitutional.
DougJ: The world’s smallest violin playing just for the Senators

This is awfully close to self-parody:

Once partisan reconciliation is used for this bill, it will be used for everything, now and forever. The Senate will be the House. The remnants of person-to-person relationships, with their sympathy and sentiment, will be snuffed out. We will live amid the relationships of group versus group, party versus party, inhumanity versus inhumanity.

We have a political culture in which the word “reconciliation” has come to mean “bitter division.” With increasing effectiveness, the system bleaches out normal behavior and the normal instincts of human sympathy.

David Brooks has never said a word about a torture or expressed any sympathy for the tens of thousands of Iraqis who died in a war he spent years pimping.

But when someone hurts Linsday Graham’s fee-fees, it’s time for waterworks.

Update. “Significant bipartisan support“. Heh.

And we need to start some kind of award for pundits getting emo about powerful people’s fee-fees. Maybe the Noonan-Lay award?

  • BarbinMD adds:
    First, there was not always "significant bipartisan support" when reconciliation was used in the past ... but why let 30 seconds on Google get in the way of an agenda? Second, what planet has Brooks been living on for the past 14 months? And finally, we don't send senators to Washington to make friends, we send them to do their job. Senate Republicans do not want to do their job. Or make friends, for that matter.
I read David Brooks's column on Congress' reconciliation rule a couple of times, assuming I was missing something on the first go-around. But it seems the NYT columnist really did write an 800-word piece insisting that Democrats should allow Republicans to deny votes on practically everything -- because reconciliation isn't very nice.

In the United States, leaders in the House of Representatives have done an effective job in getting their members to think in group, not person-to-person, terms. Members usually vote as party blocs. Individuals have very little power. That's why representatives are often subtle and smart as individuals, but crude and partisan as a collective. The social psychology of the House is a clan psychology, not an interpersonal psychology.

The Senate, on the other hand, has historically been home to more person-to-person thinking. This is because the Senate is smaller and because of Senate rules. Until recently, the Senate leaders couldn't just ram things through on party-line votes. Because a simple majority did not rule, and because one senator had the ability to bring the whole body to a halt, senators had an incentive, every day, to develop alliances and relationships with people in the other party.

It's worth noting that the Senate passing legislation on party-line votes has long been common in periods of intense partisanship. Remember the Radical Republicans' era of the 19th century? Indeed, for the better part of two centuries, the majority approving bills over the concerns of the opposition party wasn't known as "ramming things through"; it was generally called "the American legislative process." It'd be more common now if moderate Republicans existed, were willing to work with Democrats; and didn't engage in scandalous obstructionism.

The Senate is now in the process of using reconciliation -- rule by simple majority -- to try to pass health care.

Actually, no. The Senate already passed its health care reform bill, and it was approved (after defeating a Republican filibuster) with a 60-vote supermajority. Reconciliation would be used for a budget fix, which, as Brooks may have heard, is why reconciliation exists, GOP hurt feelings notwithstanding.

Reconciliation has been used with increasing frequency. That was bad enough. But at least for the Bush tax cuts or the prescription drug bill, there was significant bipartisan support. Now we have pure reconciliation mixed with pure partisanship.

Actually, that's not true, either. Reconciliation has routinely been used on bills with stark partisan divisions. Bush's 2003 tax cuts were approved after Dick Cheney broke a 50-50 tie. If Brooks considers that "significant bipartisan support," he's using a definition of the phrase that I'm not familiar with.

Once partisan reconciliation is used for this bill, it will be used for everything, now and forever. The Senate will be the House. The remnants of person-to-person relationships, with their sympathy and sentiment, will be snuffed out. We will live amid the relationships of group versus group, party versus party, inhumanity versus inhumanity.

And that's based on ... what exactly? Dems aren't rewriting the rules ; they're just using them. Besides, using majority-rule for all legislation in both chambers is hardly a dystopian nightmare -- Congress used to operate this way, and important legislation used to be able to pass. The "inhumanity" of a dysfunctional Senate that isn't allowed to vote on legislation anymore seems far more serious.

With increasing effectiveness, the system bleaches out normal behavior and the normal instincts of human sympathy.

Got that, Dems? If you used reconciliation the way it was intended to be used, you're all big meanies. 'Tis better to be polite and allow Republicans to prevent an elected majority from voting on its own agenda, allowing national crises to continue to deteriorate.

  • from the comments:

    After reading Brooks column this morning, I can't help wondering if he's trying to make up for his previous column calling Pres. Obama the most rational and reasonable person in Washington. He has to keep up his image as a conservative, probably got hate mail from the troops after semi positive pronouncements on the president.

    Posted by: Kathryn on March 16, 2010 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

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