Monday, March 15, 2010

P.T.D.B. - The Final Countdown

This is the week when we learn if Democrats will Pass The Damn Bill ....

JedL (DKos): Health care reform & the coming Democratic surge

Watch as Robert Gibbs goes into the belly of the beast to deliver the news that health care reform is going to become the law of the land — and it will become law of the land within the next week:

The subtext of Gibbs' statement couldn't be more clear. Not only did he basically declare victory on the question of whether health care reform would pass, but he did so on Fox News, the biggest media cheerleader against reform.

In political terms, Gibbs wasn't just saying "we won" -- he was also saying "you lost." Despite months of biased coverage, partisan political attacks, and a steady stream of outlier polls from Rasmussen, despite the best efforts of Sarah Palin, John Boehner, and Mitch McConnell, Republicans lost, demonstrating their political impotence beyond any shadow of doubt.

Thus far, the conventional wisdom has been that Republicans are enthusiastic and Democrats are demoralized. Thus far, that conventional wisdom has also basically been accurate. But the thing you have to remember is that thus far the Democrats have failed to pass health care reform. Republicans were actually winning, against all odds.

But in this coming week, all that changes. Health care reform will pass. Democrats will have demonstrated their ability to tackle big issues. Republicans will have demonstrated their irrelevance. After reform passes, there might be an initial surge of excitement among Republicans, but that will quickly fizzle in the wake of the GOP's failure to stop reform.

If you want to preview the reaction of the GOP base, check out the comment thread on Fox's coverage of Gibbs' appearance. Instead of reflecting enthusiastic GOP tea partying, that thread is filled with comment after comment from Republicans angry at Fox and the GOP for failing.

That sort of reaction is not surprising; nothing encourages finger pointing more than losing. Moreover, it's a blow to the confidence of the Republican base in their party's ability to get anything done, or, as the case may be, in their party's ability to block Democrats from getting anything done.

Meanwhile, Democratic voters will finally be assured that their party can tackle the big issues, and get something done. It's not that anybody believes this bill is perfect. It's not. But it's progress. And it's a sign that on the next issue, instead of just talk, we'll be able to make progress as well. The confidence that instills in Democratic voters will serve the party well in 2010.

Greg Sargent:

* This is it — the final week that determines whether the year-long push by Dems to overhaul the health care system produces a historic victory, or collapses in failure. Okay, it may be the week that determines this. The health care narrative has taken more twists and turns than a Slinky. The only certainty right now is that nothing is certain.

But here’s something we do know. With the final, frenzied push to round up votes in the House for the Senate bill kicking off today — the reconciliation fix will be released this week, followed by a vote set for Friday or Saturday — the sobering reality is this: Every single House Dem’s decision has the potential to be decisive.

* Obama is set to take his health care road show to Dennis Kucinich’s Ohio district today, but the Congressman is still saying he doesn’t “think” he can vote for the Senate bill.

* And: Virginia Rep Rick Boucher, a former Yes, is now strongly leaning No.

* But: National Republicans are convinced two key House Dems who were undecided — Scott Murphy and Bill Owens — have moved into the Yes camp. The NRCC has concluded this because both Dems have enjoyed strong backing from the SEIU, which has been privately sounding out House Dems and pledging to yank support from No votes.

* Jonathan Cohn offers a useful procedural roadmap.

* Nate Silver runs the numbers on House Dems and emerges cautiously optimistic.

* David Dayen’s whip counts have been very useful, and here’s the latest.

Regarding procedure ...
Ezra Klein:
Mr. Smith lies

Tim Noah was on CBS on Sunday and gave a great history lesson on the filibuster. As he says, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington might have been a good movie, but it was bad information. Back then, the filibuster wasn't used by lonely everymen protesting corruption. It was used by powerful white southerners to stop laws that would crack down on lynching. More recently, it's been used in an effort to stop laws that would give low-income people health-care coverage, extend unemployment benefits, and offer a tax break to businesses that hire new workers during the deepest recession in 70 years.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

For more hating on Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, see this classic piece by Rick Hertzberg.

Sargent: SEIU Warns Dems: If You Don’t Back Reform, We Won’t Back You

Hardball time.

In what seems intended as a shot across the bow of House Dems wavering on health reform, top officials with the labor powerhouse SEIU have bluntly told a Democratic member that they will pull their support for him — and will likely field a challenger against him — if he votes No on the Senate bill.

Dem Rep Mike McMahon of New York met yesterday with a top SEIU official and told him he’s likely to vote No, the official tells me. The official: Mike Fishman, president of SEIU 32bj, the largest property workers union in the country, with 120,000 members in eight states.

Fishman told McMahon that the union would not support him if he voted No — and suggested the hunt for a primary or third-party challenger would follow.

“He let us know he’s not supportive of the health care plan,” Fishman says. “We’ve let him know that we can’t support somebody who doesn’t support it.”

“We are going to begin talking to other unions about finding someone else for that seat,” Fishman continued.

McMahon enjoyed heavy labor backing when he was elected to his conservative Staten Island district in 2008. He voted No on the bill last time but was said to be undecided on the Senate bill, and labor had hoped to win his support for the crucial final vote.

Fishman said SEIU officials were intent on sending a message to other House Dems that they risk losing the union’s support if they don’t vote for the bill — and said the union’s rank and file membership strongly wanted reform to pass.

“We put an enormous amount of effort into electing Democrats,” Fishman said. “This is the most important issue on everyone’s plate. We’re sending a message to Democrats: If you can’t support this, we can’t support you.”

Obviously what labor does along these lines will vary from district district, but this seems like a message that’s going to be delivered more than a few more times in coming days.

Steve Benen:

It's a reminder that when it comes to getting reform done, progressives are relying on both carrots and sticks. Take MoveOn's latest push, for example.

In a warning shot to wavering Democrats, the progressive action group is making a major push to raise money on behalf of primary challengers to those House lawmakers who vote against health care reform.

The group is set to blast out an email to its five million member list Monday asking recipients to pledge anywhere from $25 to $200 (or more) for the purposes of defeating conservative Democrats who help defeat the legislation.

"Health care reform is in serious danger in the House of Representatives: with a handful of conservative Democrats wavering, we don't yet have the votes to pass the final bill," reads the email, which was sent in advance to the Huffington Post. "So we're asking every MoveOn member: will you pledge to support progressive primary challengers to House Democrats who side with Republicans to kill health care reform?

"With the big vote happening as early as this Friday, conservative Democrats need to know the stakes if they choose to side with Big Insurance over the voters on health care reform," the email goes on. "Our pledge will send that message loud and clear. We'll publicize the amount pledged, and make sure the media and every wavering representative know about it."

The initiative comes just days after 83% of MoveOn members expressed their support for the Democratic health reform proposal.

For some House Dems, the threat may seem hollow -- filing deadlines have already passed, so it's too late for a primary challenger to take them on. But there are still plenty of Dems who may yet draw a primary opponent, and for the rest, there's always 2012. That may seem like a long ways off, but for Dems who kill this once-in-a-generation opportunity, the betrayal will not soon be forgotten.

Update: In related news, New York's Working Families Party, "a major state player whose ballot line is a prized asset to Democratic candidates, will deny its endorsement to any member of Congress who votes 'no' on health care legislation, party officials said." For a few wavering Dems in the Empire State, this might matter.

When it comes to health care reform, Democrats are understandably nervous about getting the job done. They're concerned about securing 216 votes in the House; they're concerned about completing the reconciliation budget fix; and they're concerned about the calendar.

The one thing Dems don't seem concerned about is what Republicans are going to do with the issue in the midterm elections, if/when the health bill passes. Consider this line from David Axelrod on "Meet the Press" yesterday:

"[I]f the Republican Party wants to go out and say to that child who now has insurance or say to that small business that will get tax credits this year, if he signs the bill, to help their employees get, get health care, if they want to say to them, 'You know what? We're actually going to take that away from you. We don't think that's such a good idea,' I say let's have that fight. Make my day.

"I'm ready to have that, and every member of Congress ought to be willing to have that debate as well."

Part of this quote is the emphasis on what happens "this year." This has been a key talking point from the White House of late, and it's focused not on the public at large, but at Democratic lawmakers in particular. It's a subtle reminder: if congressional Dems get this done, they'll have popular reform measures to point to during their re-election campaigns.

The other point is less subtle. The White House thinks it's playing a winning hand, and is practically praying Republicans run on a "repeal" platform.

As we've been talking about, the goal is to put Republican candidates in a box. Democrats are going to ask, "Are you really going to fight to repeal protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions? Are you really going to take coverage away from 30 million middle-class Americans? Are you really going to take away breaks for small businesses?" If Republicans say "no," they alienate the GOP activists who will settle for nothing but a full repeal. If Republicans say "yes," they alienate the mainstream electorate.

It's precisely why even GOP leaders hesitate when pressed on whether repeal would be a top Republican priority.

Axelrod & Co. perceive this hesitation as a GOP weakness, and for Dems hoping to go on the offensive for a change, this looks like an opportunity.

Of course, none of this matters if Democrats don't pass the bill. Should be an interesting week.

C&L: David Axelrod: When You Go Into The Details, People Support The Healthcare Bill

Jake Tapper on This Week interviews David Axelrod on the healthcare bill, pushing the right-wing narrative that people don't want this bill. Axelrod responds that when you push on into the details, the public supports the things this bill does:

TAPPER: David, pluralities, if not majorities of the American people do oppose this bill. Doesn't he have a point?

AXELROD: Well, first, let me note that Senator Brown comes from a state that has a health care plan that is similar to one that we are trying to enact here, and that people in his state are overwhelmingly in support of it. He voted for it and said he wouldn't repeal it. So we're just trying to give the rest of America the same opportunities that the people of Massachusetts have to get health insurance at a price they can afford.

This bill is important to the American people, Jake, and when you get underneath the numbers and you ask people, do you support giving people more leverage against insurance companies so that they -- if they have preexisting conditions, they can get coverage, so if they get sick, they don't get thrown off, so they don't have these huge premium increases of the sort we've just seen announced in states around the country, they say yes. When you say, do you want to give small businesses and people who don't have insurance through the job the chance to get insurance in a competitive marketplace where they can get it at a price they can afford and give them tax credits to help them do that, they say yes. And when you say, should we reduce the overall costs of the health care system over time, they say yes.

But that's the program. That's the plan. And it is important to the American people that we have the fortitude to go ahead against it, to leave the politics aside, to leave the partisanship aside, to resist the special interests and get the job done.

TAPPER: But according to polls, the American people do not agree with what you think--

AXELROD: The polls are split, Jake. I mean, one of the interesting things that has happened in the last four or five weeks is that if you look at -- if you average together the public polls, what you find is that the American people are split on the top line, do you support the plan? But again, when you go underneath, they support the elements of the plan. When you ask them, does the health care system need reform, three quarters of them say yes. When you ask them, do you want Congress to move forward and deal with this issue, three quarters of them say yes. So we're not going to walk away from this issue.

Aravosis: Poll: Good number of those who 'oppose' health care reform want a stronger, more liberal plan

From Obama's lead pollster, writing in the Washington Post this weekend:

Let's take the CNN poll from early January -- the most negative independent poll on health care and one that predated President Obama's proposal. Only 40 percent supported the bills passed by Congress, while 57 percent opposed them. But in a crucial follow-up question, a net of 10 percent of all Americans opposed the bill because it was "not liberal enough." If one makes the reasonable assumption that these people are far more likely to side with supporters of the president's plan than with Republicans who are obstructing it, the results would show that 50 percent favor the plan or want a broader one, while only 45 percent oppose the plan.

Similarly, a more recent poll by Ipsos showed that among the 47 percent who initially said they "opposed health care," more than a third of opponents said they "favor" reform overall but think the current plan doesn't go "far enough." Shifting these people to the group in "favor of reform" would reduce opposition to current reforms to under 40 percent.
Marshall: Her Own Private Idaho
At a rally over the weekend Rep. Michele Bachmann told the crowd that if Health Care Reform passes they don't have to pay taxes or follow the new law. See the video.
Amato (C&L): The sick mind of Dan Riehl
Ever since Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, the conservative movement has been having seismic convulsions over it. The bile, rage and disgusting behavior have exponentially increased and is still ongoing as the media captures it for the nation to see.

Dan Riehl's latest post about Harry's Reid's family tragedy is yet another example of that lunacy, but just another version of the same song. This one is particularly nauseating.

As you may know, Senator Harry Reid's 69 year old wife and 48 year old daughter were involved in a bad car accident Friday. Normal, decent Americans would ignore what political party they were in and hope that their suffering is as short lived as possible. To Dan Riehl, that expression takes on a sick new meaning:

Isn't It Time To Euthanize Reid's Wife?

I'm not sure I quite understand this, given that cost is so important as a burden to taxpayers when it comes to health care. If Democrats want so badly to abort babies because of it, why are we bothering with someone who has a broken neck and back at 69? It sounds to me like she's pretty well used up and has probably been living off the taxpayers for plenty of years to begin with. Aren't we at least going to get a vote on it?

Sen. Reid's daughter Lana Reid Barringer, 48, who was driving the mini-van, and his wife, Landra G. Reid, 69, a passenger, were both injured. Landra suffered a broken back and a broken neck in the crash; Barringer suffered minor injuries, Sen. Reid's office said Thursday.

I realize her crook of a husband and his pals in Congress have excluded themselves from the mess they're going to compel everyone else to join, but we're still paying the bills, are we not? I don't see that she's worth it at this point, frankly. I can't recall her ever doing anything for me. Come on, Harry - do your civic duty. The nation's broke and counting on you guy. Pull the plug and get back to work. And don't bill us for a full day today, either. This is no time to be sloughing off. Air freight her home, you can bury her during recess on your own time and dime. Or are you going to bill us for that, too?

Reid has stayed at his wife’s bedside throughout the day Friday and returned to the Capitol in the late afternoon.

I guess it doesn't matter to Riehl that Reid is a Mormon and is strictly pro-life. But let's forget about Harry's religious beliefs. Riehl demonstrates the insanity that epitomizes the conservative movement.

And these are the people that the media demands the White House should try and reach out to and work with in a more bipartisan fashion. I guess Dan Riehl supports some form of those Palin death panels after all.

How can you work with crazy people?

Krugman: Bizarro Health Reform Arguments

As health reform moves to its final, make or break vote — I think it’s going to go through, but I’ll be hanging on by my fingernails all week — Republicans are still denouncing it as a vast, evil government takeover. But they have a problem: Obamacare is very much like the Massachusetts health reform, which was not only implemented by a Republican governor, but by a governor who is a serious contender for the 2012 presidential nomination.

So they insist that the two plans have nothing in common — but the only real difference they can point to is that Massachusetts didn’t fund its plan in part out of Medicare savings.

Of course, it couldn’t. But think about this a bit more: Republicans are saying that what makes Obamacare a socialist takeover, whereas Romneycare wasn’t, is the fact that unlike Romney’s plan, Obama’s plan cuts government spending.

Oh, Kay.

Ezra Klein: The danger of the status quo

I'm continually annoyed by the punditocracy's tendency to judge the health-care bill in comparison to some ideal health-care bill (that doesn't have any votes in Congress) as opposed to the status quo. If health-care reform fails, the status quo is a certainty, while the perfect bill is but a dream. Ron Brownstein does a nice job arguing this case in his column today:

If Obama's plan fails, as President Clinton's did, it's likely that no president will attempt to seriously expand coverage for many years. The independent Medicare actuary has projected that under current trends, the number of uninsured will increase by 10 million, to about 57 million, by 2019. Providing uncompensated care to so many uninsured people would further strain physicians and hospitals -- and inflate premiums as those providers shift costs to their insured patients.

Some fiscal conservatives want to attack rising costs without expanding coverage. But that approach looks impractical, politically and economically. While Republicans controlled Congress after the 1994 election, they never built enough of a consensus to pass the cost-control ideas they are now pressing on Obama, such as medical malpractice reform. Meanwhile, Nichols warns that imposing meaningful cost control on hospitals without reducing the number of uninsured patients they must treat "would bankrupt many and strain most to the breaking point."

Weighing such factors, Nichols concludes that the "risk of doing nothing" exceeds the risk of passing the bill. In interviews, Emory University's Kenneth Thorpe and Stanford University's Alan Garber, two other leading health economists, guardedly echoed his conclusion. Both men believe that the current proposal could move faster to control costs. But both also agree that it contains valuable first steps and establishes what Garber calls "a good platform" for further reform. By contrast, Thorpe says, "under the do-nothing scenario, everything gets worse." For Democratic fiscal hawks uncertain that approving Obama's plan will cure what ails U.S. health care, the real question may be whether defeating it guarantees that the system's chronic afflictions will metastasize further.

I'd also take note of the political incentives here: If health-care reform goes down in a giant ball of flaming wreckage and Democrats lose seventy bazillion seats in the next election, not only will presidents leave this alone for awhile, they'll be very careful to avoid the unpopular parts the next time. And what were the unpopular parts? Reforms to Medicare. The excise tax. The cost controls, in other words. Conversely, pass the bill, and it's a lesson that you can pass these sorts of bills.
Ezra Klein: Democrats should stop being clever and pass the bill.
Every time I write something like "health care has entered its end game," it turns out that there's another overtime just around the corner. So I'm going to stop writing that. But the expectation is that the House will pass the Senate bill within the next week or so. "Whoever sits here at this time next week, I think will not be talking about health care as a proposal, but as the law of the land," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said on Sunday.

But there are a number of ways health care could become the law of the land, some of them more absurd than others. The House has to pass the Senate bill, and then both chambers want to pass a package of tweaks and fixes through reconciliation. The House, as we've heard at length, is worried that the Senate won't manage to pass the reconciliation addendum. So they're getting a bit creative. Jon Cohn lays out the options:

The House has leeway for how it debates and votes on those two bills. And according to the sources--which include a senior House leadership aide--three options are on the table:

1) The House would vote on the two bills separately. Upon passage, the Senate bill would be ready for the president's signature. The amendments, meanwhile, would go to the Senate for approval there. Call this the "Schoolhouse Rock" option.

2) The House would vote once. The vote would be on the amendments. But with that vote, the House would "deem" the Senate bill passed. (Yes, it can do that.) At that point, the main bill would be ready to go to the president for his signature, while the amendments would go to the Senate for consideration there.

3) The House would vote once, just like in option (2). But in this case, the House would deem the Senate bill passed only after the Senate had approved the amendments. Once the Senate approved the amendments, then--and only then--could the main bill go to the president for signature.

Oy. Options two and three are bad, bad, very bad ideas. Indeed, the fact that they're under consideration suggests the House has let its anger at the Senate drive it temporarily insane.

Option two is bad politics. No one cares whether the House passed the bill or "deemed" the bill passed. People don't pay attention to whether you voted using the passive voice or not. But by falling back on this bizarre locution, the House signals to voters that it thinks it's passing a bad bill. Some members of the House may indeed think that. I disagree with them. But for their own sake, if they're going to let this bill become law, they'd better pretend they agree to me.

Imagine the ads. "My opponent thought the health bill such a bad piece of legislation that he wouldn't even vote for it. But nor was he brave enough to stand up to Nancy Pelosi and say no! Vote for the guy who's not a wimp." And what's our hypothetical House members response? "No, you don't understand. I only refused to vote yes or no because I was hoping to pass a small package of amendments and was worried that the Senate wouldn't act on them fast enough?" You have to be kidding me.

Option three combines the bad politics of option two with bad legislative strategy. It signals to Republicans that this isn't over until the reconciliation amendments pass, which means that anything they can do to obstruct those amendments makes perfect sense because they are obstructing the whole of reform, not a small package of popular amendments.

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.

But if reform isn't passed until the amendments pass, then Republicans are battling the whole of reform rather than just the amendments, and the stakes are high and their procedural obstructionism seems more legitimate. The result is a gruesome Senate fight with Joe Biden potentially having to rule Republicans dilatory and all the rest of it. Delaying victory hasn't served the Democrats well thus far, and it's not likely to be a good idea now. It's time to stop being clever and pass this bill.

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