Monday, March 29, 2010


Booman: A New Paradigm With Israel?
I don't like to get my hopes up when it comes to the Middle East, but reading the Israeli press, it's hard not to be encouraged for the first time since 2000. Consider this bit:

U.S. President Barack Obama's demands during his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last Tuesday point to an intention to impose a permanent settlement on Israel and the Palestinians in less than two years, political sources in Jerusalem say.

Israeli officials view the demands that Obama made at the White House as the tip of the iceberg under which lies a dramatic change in U.S. policy toward Israel.

Of 10 demands posed by Obama, four deal with Jerusalem: opening a Palestinian commercial interests office in East Jerusalem, an end to the razing of structures in Palestinian neighborhoods in the capital, stopping construction in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, and not building the neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo.

In effect, the president is utterly repudiating the aggressive rhetoric that Netanyahu displayed at the AIPAC conference. Bibi said that (East) Jerusalem is not a settlement. Obama says that it is.

By demanding that Israel cease building in East Jerusalem and stop razing Palestinians' property, Obama is asking Netanyahu to order something he is incapable of ordering. Or, at least, he's incapable of ordering it within his current coalition, which relies upon the Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas parties. At a minimum, the Obama administration is insisting that Netanyahu cut a deal with Kadima in order to gain the power he needs to stop construction in East Jerusalem. More likely, Obama just wants to force Bibi out of power. After all, he's insolent and indistinguishable from the neo-conservative lunatics that hijacked our own government and ran it into a ditch.

I actually kind of agree with the Mustache of Understanding this week when he argued that playtime is over.

If you think this latest Israeli-American flap was just the same-old-same-old tiff over settlements, then you’re clearly not paying attention — which is how I’d describe a lot of Israelis, Arabs and American Jews today.

This tiff actually reflects a tectonic shift that has taken place beneath the surface of Israel-U.S. relations. I’d summarize it like this: In the last decade, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — for Israel — has gone from being a necessity to a hobby. And in the last decade, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — for America — has gone from being a hobby to a necessity. Therein lies the problem.

What he means is that Israel has done such a good job of stopping terrorism that they feel like they can live with the status quo, which includes a non-stop theft of Palestinian land with no end in sight. Meanwhile, the Americans have finally decided that Israel is a national security burden and that we cannot allow them to go on stealing land while pretending to be interested in peace.

Where Friedman is particularly correct is in his assessment that Israel is feeling emboldened after eight years of Bush. Look at their prime minister. He comes to our capital, knowing that he's already in the doghouse, and tells us that he owns all of Jerusalem and that we can shove it? They are so used to us backing down that they don't seem to understand what is going on right now. But, hey, I feel the same way.

Maybe this is all William Ayers's fault.

Sully: Rasmussen On The Settlements

If one deems Rasmussen tilted to older, whiter, likelier voters, this result is all the more striking:

Forty-nine percent (49%) of U.S. voters think Israel should be required to stop those settlements as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 22% of voters disagree and believe Israel should not be required to stop building those settlements. Another 29% are not sure.

Men skew toward the US president not being pushed around by a foreign prime minister:

Fifty-six percent (56%) of male voters say Israel should be required to stop new settlements in the disputed territory as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians, but just 42% of female voters agree. Sixty-two percent (62%) of Democrats and a plurality (48%) of voters not affiliated with either party favor an end to the Israeli settlements as part of a deal. Republicans are almost evenly divided on the question. Sixty-nine percent (69%) of GOP voters and 61% of unaffiliateds view Israel as a U.S. ally, a view shared by just 46% of Democrats. Forty-three percent (43%) of Democratic voters see Israel as somewhere between an ally and an enemy.

The partisan shift is startling.

Booman: Retrospective: Harry Reid and the Public Option
Surprisingly, the Las Vegas Sun has a bit of a fluff-piece on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's role in passing health care reform. Amazingly, it never once mentions the 'evil' Rahm Emanuel. Yet, it does provide some interesting insights into the behind the scenes negotiating that Reid carried out at different points in the process. I think the take-away is that Ben Nelson exerted an effective veto over the public option and Joe Lieberman did the same for the expanded Medicare buy-in. There was a narrow window to try to push the public option through reconciliation (which is what I advocated from the beginning) but, in the end, the toxicity of the political climate left the entire process in too much doubt for Reid and the administration to risk everything on it.

After Lieberman upended the process yet again [by scuttling the Medicare buy-in], Obama asked the majority leader, “Is health care dead?

“No,” Reid said, according to those aware of the conversation. “I’ve got, in the state of Nevada, people who can’t afford health care. I’ll fix it.” ...

...Reid pivoted again, setting out to convince his progressive wing there was no other choice but to pull the Medicare expansion, ending its hopes for a government-run alternative to private insurers.

Better to have something than nothing, Reid argued. This was important for the presidency, for their party. Democrats, he said, needed to stick together.

Reid brought senators on board, sealed the agreement with Nelson and called the votes.

And then in reconciliation:

Some senators were reluctant to use the reconciliation process, which is reserved for the most crucial situations, fearing a backlash from Republicans shut out of the process.

Others wanted changes to the bill. A coalition of liberal senators led by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont wanted an amendment returning the public option.

Reid convinced them, Sanders said, that it might “destabilize a very sensitive situation.” The majority leader promised a vote on the public option after health care reform became law.

The "very sensitive situation" was the extremely narrow margin with which the reforms had passed the House. There simply were no more progressive votes to pick up in the House by including the public option in reconciliation, but there were conservative votes to lose.

In the end, the Republicans lost the battle over health care, but they succeeded in rallying their base and raising general anxiety about the bill to a point that the was no safety in the middle. Given Ben Nelson's opposition to the public option and Olympia Snowe's refusal to cross the aisle, the only way to pass a public option through the Senate was in reconciliation. For a variety of reasons, the Democrats strongly preferred to avoid using reconciliation, and by the time they realized that they had no alternative the debate had become so toxic that the will no longer remained in the House to pass a public option.

It was a close call. Had the Democrats not suffered a couple of pro-public option retirements in the interim between the two votes, they might have been able to pull it off after all. But the main thing was to assure passage of the bill. The exchanges don't come into existence until 2014, and there is plenty of time to add a public option before then. Whether that is done or not depends a lot on how the midterms go.

Yglesias: Recess Appointments

Craig Becker is getting all the attention out of yesterday’s batch of recess appointments, but a fuller look at the list is really required to understand how absurd the level of GOP obstructionism has become. For example:

— Jeffrey Goldstein will be Undersecretary of Treasury for Domestic Finance.

— Michael Mundaca will be Assistant Secretary of Treasury for Tax Policy.

— Eric Hirschorn will be Undersecretary of Commerce for Export Administration.

— Michael Punke will be Deputy US Trade Representative and head up the office in Geneva.

— Islam A. Siddiqui will be Chief Agricultural Negotiator, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

There are also others. But I’ve picked these out. I know for a fact that the failure of the Senate to confirm Siddiqui and especially Punke has been a very real impediment to the World Trade Organization’s ability to function and move forward, and thus a small-but-real drag on America’s economy. And does anyone think this is a good time to leave the Domestic Finance job unfilled?

Fallows: Neustadt Principle in Action: Recess Appointments (updated)

Just now, the White House press office has announced a list of 15 recess appointments, who will serve until the end of the Senate's next term (or longer, if formally confirmed in the meantime). The announcement made clear that too many appointments had been held up by Bunning-style abuse of the Senatorial "hold" and filibuster rules:

"The United States Senate has the responsibility to approve or disapprove of my nominees. But if, in the interest of scoring political points, Republicans in the Senate refuse to exercise that responsibility, I must act in the interest of the American people and exercise my authority to fill these positions on an interim basis," said President Barack Obama. "Most of the men and women whose appointments I am announcing today were approved by Senate committees months ago, yet still await a vote of the Senate. At a time of economic emergency, two top appointees to the Department of Treasury have been held up for nearly six months. I simply cannot allow partisan politics to stand in the way of the basic functioning of government."...
  • President Obama currently has a total of 217 nominees pending before the Senate. These nominees have been pending for an average of 101 days, including 34 nominees pending for more than 6 months.
  • The 15 nominees President Obama intends to recess appoint have been pending for an average of 214 days or 7 months for a total of 3204 days or almost 9 years.
  • President Bush had made 15 recess appointments by this point in his presidency, but he was not facing the same level of obstruction. At this time in 2002, President Bush had only 5 nominees pending on the floor. By contrast, President Obama has 77 nominees currently pending on the floor, 58 of whom have been waiting for over two weeks and 44 of those have been waiting more than a month.
On the merits, this is a welcome move IMHO, both because it is insane (whichever party is in power) to keep major positions in Treasury, Customs-Border Patrol, etc vacant; and because many of these nominees are really excellent choices. It is also significant as a process matter. I mentioned recently the principle of presidential power laid down by the late professor Richard Neustadt: success today greatly increases the chance of success tomorrow. I don't know whether the White House would have issued these appointments if a handful of votes had gone the other way in the health-care showdown last weekend. But it's in stronger position to take this step with a big victory behind it than after what would have been a big defeat.

More, please. There are a lot more nominees still held up in Senate limbo.
UPDATE: Marc Ambinder mentioned several people on this recess-appointment list. Let me give another illustration from the list, showing the kind of appointment that was being held up for procedural tit-for-tat rules in the Senate:

Six months ago, the Administration nominated Alan Bersin to head the Customs and Border Patrol operation (now part of DHS). Is he in any way qualified? Hmmm, let's see.

Bersin was an all-Ivy star football player at Harvard. Then he went to Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. Then he went to Yale Law School. Then he was a U.S. Attorney in California. Then he was head of a Justice Department unit overseeing US-Mexico border affairs. Then the head of the San Diego school system. Then the Secretary of Education for California, under Arnold Schwarzenegger. Recently he has been an Assistant Secretary at DHS. Last month the past three commissioners of CBP, including two from the GW Bush administration, wrote to Republican Senators asking them, please, to get Bersin into the job rather than leaving this very important agency leaderless.

Instead the Republicans placed various holds on Bersin and the others and would not bring him to a vote. Thus, good for Obama in saying, Enough.

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