Sunday, March 14, 2010


Tim F.: Awww

Normally I don’t encourage you to call out of your district, and when it comes to swaying opinion I still don’t. Think of this as a charity case.

Sitting in an airport, on his way home to Michigan, Rep. Bart Stupak, a pro-life Democrat, is chagrined. “They’re ignoring me,” he says, in a phone interview with National Review Online.

We’re not ignoring you, Bart! If you have free time, and you feel like paying for a long distance call, feel free to phone Stupak’s office on Monday. Tell them that you think about him every time you donate to Connie Saltonstall.

Goal  Thermometer

Rachel tears Bart a new one ...

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mcjoan (DKos): Stupak Spurned: The Hissy Fits Escalate

The behavior of Bart Stupak over the last several months, but particularly the last few weeks, in the hcr debate has been deplorable. He refuses to acknowledge the reality that his crusade is built on a lie--the lie that there is federal funding for abortion coverage in the Senate bill. Now that he's not the center of leadership attention anymore, he's escalating his lies and his crusade.

First he attacked Henry Waxman saying Waxman's argument against his effort was to tell Stupak "But we want to pay for abortions." Then, in an interview with NRO, levelled this bizarre accusation against his colleagues:

Stupak notes that his negotiations with House Democratic leaders in recent days have been revealing. “I really believe that the Democratic leadership is simply unwilling to change its stance,” he says. “Their position says that women, especially those without means available, should have their abortions covered.” The arguments they have made to him in recent deliberations, he adds, “are a pretty sad commentary on the state of the Democratic party.”

What are Democratic leaders saying? “If you pass the Stupak amendment, more children will be born, and therefore it will cost us millions more. That’s one of the arguments I’ve been hearing,” Stupak says. “Money is their hang-up. Is this how we now value life in America? If money is the issue — come on, we can find room in the budget. This is life we’re talking about.”

Many Democrats in the House do believe that a person should not be denied a legal, medical procedure because of her gender and her economic circumstances. There is broad opposition in the party to the Hyde amendment that has enshrined that cruel discrimination. Stupak's saying that this is actually the Dems being anti-baby because they cost too much is a lie worthy of Glenn Beck. But he sure as hell knows how to play to his audience.

But here's what Stupak's real problem is: “They’re ignoring me." Since his bluff was called, he's not the center of attention from leadership and the White House any more. The limelight is fading, and the only attention he's likely to get now is over the issue whether the years he received subsized rent at the living in The Family's C Street house violated House rules.

And the politics of the issue are pretty rough. “This has really reached an unhealthy stage,” Stupak says. “People are threatening ethics complaints on me. On the left, they’re really stepping it up. Every day, from Rachel Maddow to the Daily Kos, it keeps coming. Does it bother me? Sure. Does it change my position? No.”

Poor, poor Bart Stupak. My heart bleeds.

There's still a serious risk that abortion can derail House efforts to pass health care reform. But if pro-life Democrats are looking for cover, they shouldn't have to look too hard.

The issue, of course, is over indirect, circuitous subsidies for abortions. The Senate version includes pretty strict language, written and endorsed by pro-life Democrats like Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). For Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and his bloc, the Senate provision isn't strong enough, though Stupak's argument appears to be factually wrong. While it's unclear exactly how big Stupak's bloc really is, even a few votes could mean the difference between success and failure.

If some of Stupak's allies want to vote for the reform bill, and don't want to look as though they're abandoning their commitment on abortion rights, perhaps efforts like these will help.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, a Washington-based advocacy group, sent a letter to members of Congress on Friday urging support for the Senate-passed health care bill and expressing its view that the bill contains sufficient provisions to prevent the use of federal money to pay for insurance coverage of abortions.

Indeed, there's a lot of this going around.

Twenty-five evangelical and Catholic leaders wrote members of Congress March 11 urging them not to let a dispute over abortion derail passage of health-care reform.

Some pro-life Democrats have said they will vote against President Obama's proposed overhaul of health care unless language restricting the use of federal dollars for abortion is strengthened.

The religious readers, however, said they believe the legislation not only maintains long-standing restrictions on federal funding of abortion, but also provides new support for vulnerable pregnant women that could actually reduce the number of abortions.

"As Christians committed to a consistent ethic of life and deeply concerned with the health and well-being of all people, we want to see health-care reform enacted," the leaders said.

For his part, it seems as if the House Democratic leadership has given up hope on Stupak being reasonable. The Michigan lawmaker told National Review that leaders are now "ignoring" him. Given his reluctance to engage in a constructive discussion, I can't say I blame the leadership for giving up on Stupak.


Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) has received a fair amount of pressure lately, following his stated intention to join right-wing Republicans in killing health care reform, because, as he sees it, the Democratic plan is too conservative.

The liberal Ohioan talked to Benjy Sarlin yesterday about his position, and repeatedly cited the work of Jacob Hacker, the Yale professor who was largely responsible for crafting the idea of a public option. That's an odd rhetorical choice -- Hacker has repeatedly said he wants Congress to pass the Democratic proposal. Kucinich is citing a scholar, while ignoring the scholar's judgment. Perhaps he doesn't know about Hacker's conclusion?

But this observation, related to the public option, was even more striking.

Kucinich says he doesn't buy Obama's latest argument to progressives that there will be other opportunities to improve upon the legislation once they help him pass this bill.

"Fix it later, are you kidding?" he said. "If you don't get it in the bill up front, it's not going to happen."

Now, the president really has told progressive lawmakers that Congress can return to the public option later, and incorporate the idea into this reform framework. The notion that improvements like the public option are gone forever if they don't pass immediately is foolish.

But just as importantly, it's a belief that's belied by history. Kucinich's entire approach has repeatedly been proven false.

On all of the major progressive breakthroughs from recent generations, it's not even a close call.

When Medicaid passed, for example, it did very little for low-income adults, which is now seen as the point of the program. There were no doubt progressive advocates who, at the time of its passage, feared that it wasn't ambitious enough, and that if they didn't get improvements in the bill up front, they wouldn't happen. With the benefit of hindsight, we know those fears were incorrect.

When Medicare passed, it all but ignored people with disabilities, didn't cover prescription drugs, and made no allowances for home health services. It was, at best, a limited program at its inception. There may have been liberal Dems who thought that if they didn't get improvements in the bill up front, they wouldn't happen. With the benefit of hindsight, we know those fears were incorrect.

When Social Security passed, the benefits were negligible, and the program excluded agricultural workers, domestic workers, the self-employed, railroad employees, government employees, clergy, and those who worked for non-profits. The original Social Security bill offered no benefits for dependents or survivors, and included no cost-of-living increases. There were plenty of liberals at the time who thought Dems had watered down the plan to the point where its value had all but disappeared, and that if they didn't get improvements in the bill up front, they wouldn't happen. With the benefit of hindsight, we know those fears were incorrect.

Even the Civil Rights Act, in order to secure passage, needed to drop its voting rights provision. It wasn't there up front, but it happened soon after.

Notice a pattern here? FDR and LBJ had huge electoral mandates and gigantic Democratic majorities in Congress (bigger than the congressional majorities Obama currently enjoys), but they still couldn't get everything they wanted.

There were likely liberal champions of the day who perceived the New Deal, the Great Society, FDR, LBJ, and their congressional Democratic majorities as disappointing and incompetent sell-outs who failed to take advantage of the opportunities before them, producing legislation worthy of rejection. Had Kucinich been there, he likely would have sided with conservatives then, too.

But the programs passed, and once they were in place, they improved, expanded, and became integral to the American experience. It took years and perseverance, but progress happened after the initial programs became law. We now consider their policy achievements bedrocks of American society.

"If you don't get it in the bill up front, it's not going to happen." It's hard to overstate how terribly misguided this is.

Slajda (TPM): Shrinking Margins: The Congressmen Who May Switch To No On Health Care

As the House prepares to vote next week on the Senate health care bill, accompanied by a package of fixes to pass via reconciliation, several congressmen who voted for the House health care bill last fall are signaling that they may switch their votes to no on the Senate bill. Here they are, as compiled by TPMDC:

Rep. Michael Arcuri (D-NY) says he'll vote no without "drastic changes" in the Senate bill. His concerns are the comprehensiveness of the bill; the use of reconciliation to make changes; and that it calls for taxing health benefits.

Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA) sent a letter to supporters yesterday detailing his problems with the Senate bill. One of his concerns is using the "complicated and dangerous process" of reconciliation to fix the bill. (Late update: Capuano sent an email to supporters today saying he wants to vote yes, but he still has "some questions about the Senate bill.")

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) said in a statement today that he plans to vote no "at this time." He's demanding changes to the bill's immigration language, arguing that the current bill would bar some immigrants from buying private insurance with their own money.

Other congressmen have said they won't vote for the Senate bill as is, including Reps. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) and Dan Lipinski (D-IL). Another, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) wrote a letter to President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi detailing her concerns about the Senate bill, namely the expansion of Medicaid.

And then there's Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) and the 12 congressmen he claims will vote against health care if there's no language explicitly prohibiting the use of federal funds for abortion. Although it's unclear exactly who those 12 are, and how committed they are to the threat, we have some idea on who might vote no.

Stupak, for one, said today he is a "definite no."

Rep. Joseph Cao (R-LA), the only Republican to vote for the House bill the first time around, says he'll vote against any bill without abortion language. Rep. Marion Berry (D-AR) says the same, and Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-OH) has a statement to the same effect on his web site.

But House leadership has signaled that they're done negotiating on abortion language. The House will have to pass the Senate bill, with its less restrictive language. Abortion likely won't be in a fix package either, because it doesn't affect the deficit and therefore can't be passed using the budget reconciliation process.

Digby: Kabuki Play
Michael Isikoff and Michael Hirsh are on to something here, when they call Liz Cheney "Palin with a pedigree." I hadn't thought about it that way, but Cheney is also a somewhat youthful mother of five who sells herself as a living example of traditional family values from a position of powerful and famous political celebrity. It's a trick only the right wing could possibly get away with, but their history is filled with such hypocritical women.

But this I find even more interesting:
It's telling that no one at the Palazzo seemed very concerned that Liz, daughter of Dick, had just four days earlier appalled many in her own party's establishment. Her conservative advocacy group, Keep America Safe, had launched a nasty assault on seven Justice Department lawyers who had defended Guantánamo detainees. The ad branded the Justice lawyers "the Al Qaeda Seven" and asked, in ominous tones, "Whose values do they share?" To many critics within and outside the GOP, the attack smacked of McCarthyism for seeming to impugn the loyalty of lawyers who—like all members of their profession—sometimes represent unpopular (and guilty) clients. Nineteen conservative lawyers later issued a statement denouncing the ad. Among them were Ken Starr and top officials who had served in the George W. Bush administration. "I was horrified," says John Bellinger, Condoleezza Rice's former chief counsel.

Like father, like daughter, it seems. Much as Dick Cheney staked out the far right wing of the Bush administration, winning the respect and gratitude of GOP hawks despite his low popularity nationwide, Liz seems eager to make her reputation by unnerving her party's moderates. In another era—one less driven by ideological extremes—the vicious attack ad might have sunk her political career. But now it may have only turbocharged it. Cheney's aides could barely contain their glee last week at the ruckus they had stirred up. "For $1,000, we've driven the debate for over a week," said one political adviser, who asked not to be identified because the group, co-led by conservative commentator Bill Kristol, wanted to speak only through official statements. Or as one of Liz Cheney's biggest fans, Rush Limbaugh, put it on his radio show: "It sure as hell got everybody's attention, didn't it?" (Cheney herself did not respond to a request for comment.)

It was not a mistake. They knew exactly what they were doing.

Bill Kristol was, you'll recall, the man who wrote the memo back in 1994 urging total obstruction of Clinton's health care bill. He is a master at moving the debate to the right. Similarly, the Cheneys have been on the attack since the day Obama was elected and have been extremely successful at forcing them off their position and re-normalizing the neocon position in the mainstream media.

Everyone on the left feels very smug about having all those right wing lawyers brush Cheney and Kristol back. But they shouldn't. Cheney's charge about the Obama Justice Department lawyers is "out there" and according to Cokie's law that means it's no longer beyond the pale. And from the sound of this article, the conservative establishment understands that very well.
digby: They Never, Ever Quit
Say what you will about the right, but you have to admit that they are tenacious and use every opportunity, win or lose, to organize and advance their agenda:

Several Religious Right activists and California state legislators have unveiled a new effort to take control of the court system "across San Diego County and eventually America" via elections through a new organization called "Better Courts Now", arguing that Proposition 8 would not have even been necessary if the state had the proper judges:

Assemblyman Joel Anderson, R-La Mesa, and one of his predecessors from the 77th Assembly District are among those appearing in videos for a new Chula Vista-based group that is urging conservatives to elect local judges who value "life and traditional family."

The website,, also includes testimonials from at least one person affiliated with the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), a group that has been in the center of political battles over gay marriage in California and around the country.

"It’s important that we unify our votes so we ensure that solid men and women of high morals, who will not legislate from the bench, are elected to office," Anderson says in a 97-second video. Later he adds, "We are in full agreement that we need to get behind"

They understand something the left doesn't ---- this is a fight that never ends. It's easier for them because they are temperamentally suited to permanent battle. But it doesn't change the fact that there is never going to be a permanent armistice in the march for human progress. After all, we just went through the bloodiest century in history, fighting all this out on the world stage and yet the war, by other means, continues. It's the nature of our species. Liberals had better recognize that it's going to take vigilance, creativity and persistence just to protect the progress that's been made, not to mention any further advances. The reactionaries, authoritarians and sadists never rest.
A story came up the other day that got a little lost in the shuffle, but which may have some important consequences for Senate Democrats.

When there's talk of "reforming" the way the Senate operates, we tend to think of problems like scandalous filibusters and holds. But one problem is party specific -- Democrats lack structural incentives to encourage party discipline.

When a Senate Republican disappoints his/her caucus, he/she knows in advance that enticements like committee positions are very much on the line. Among Dems, that incentive doesn't exist -- when Democrats break party ranks on key bills, there are no consequences. It's one reason party unity and discipline is far more of a problem for Democrats than the GOP.

But some Dems seem to realize that their current system needs an update.

Senate Democrats intend to elect the chairs of committees when the next Congress convenes, which could upend a tradition that prioritizes seniority over party loyalty, legislative effectiveness or any other merit-based criteria.

During a question-and-answer session with progressive media, video blogger Mike Stark asked lawmakers why the Democratic caucus hasn't yanked Sen. Blanche Lincoln's chairmanship of the Agriculture Committee, considering her opposition to Democratic legislative efforts. In Arkansas, her gavel is a top selling point as she battles a progressive primary challenge.

"We're going to elect committee chairs next year," said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). "The current chairs that are sitting there now understand that we'll be electing chairs next year," he added, saying the idea had been cleared with Senate leadership.

It's apparently not a done deal, but Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who chairs the Steering and Outreach Committee, which oversees the organization of the caucus, called this a "serious proposal" that the leadership is considering.

When seniority rules, members have few incentives to care what their party thinks. As such, Dems end up with far-less progressive members in key posts -- Blanche Lincoln at Agriculture, Kent Conrad at Budget, Max Baucus at Finance, Tim Johnson at Banking -- whether the caucus' rank and file like it or not. They can vote against party priorities, and even side with Republicans on filibusters, and face no real consequences. Shifting away from seniority would help the party function more like ... a political party.

Brown added, "I'm not predicting who or [that] anyone will be defeated, but they're certainly going to get a message. And one or two might [be defeated]. There's going to simply be a yes or no. Should Tom Harkin stay as chairman of health? Yes or no? And it will be yes for him, of course. But for some others, it may not be."

It would mean some of these senators would finally feel a need to impress their fellow Democrats, and show some fealty to the party's agenda. In other words, it would represent a fairly significant departure from the status quo.

Of course, if Senate Dems lose their majority, it would quickly become a moot point.

  • from the comments:

    So the right wing Dems lose their power and jump parties. Enough of them do it and the Dems lose the majority, certainly their super-majority. I would love to see such a housecleaning, but don't think the Dems want to chance it.

    Posted by: martin on March 14, 2010 at 10:20 AM

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