Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Wednesday Potpouri

Atrios: Keep Clapping Tom
Little Tommy Friedman has written another of his "it's up to them" columns. I've never quite found a way to express how inane this view of how the world works. It's as if Little Tommy Friedman - and many like him - think there's some pure costless process whereby what's deep in the soul of the Iraqi people is mapped onto some national policy outcome, instead of a somewhat corrupt set of imperfect impolitical institutions operating in a country in a degree of turmoil which very imperfectly reflects the desires of the people.

Tom thinks that if the people want a pony enough, the pony will come. Tom also thinks it matters if he keeps clapping.
I wish I could say that that was inevitable. It is not. But it is no longer unattainable, and I for one will keep rooting for it to happen.
Daily Kos: Markos on Rush: Let him get health care in that libertarian paradise of Somalia
In which the Great Orange Satan takes on Rush and Dennis Kuccinich.

Atrios: But, Mitt Romney hardly EVER disagrees with him
Rush Limbaugh, loved for more than just exploiting the 3rd world amongst Republicans.

He's the most respected voice in the party.
David Paterson will become the massa...who gets to appoint whoever gets to take Massa's place. So, for the first time in his life, Paterson's gonna be a massa. Interesting, interesting.
And he's not talking about Eric Massa.

Following and feting him is a sound long-term plan for the Republicans.
Aravosis: 'If he was a Republican, we would hear a never-ending drumbeat of news stories about markets voting in favor of the president'


One year after U.S stocks hit their post-financial-crisis low on March 9, 2009, the benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500 Index has risen more than 68 percent, and it’s up more than 41 percent since Obama took office. Credit spreads have narrowed. Commodity prices have surged. Housing prices have stabilized.

“We’ve had a phenomenal run in asset classes across the board,” said Dan Greenhaus, chief economic strategist for Miller Tabak & Co. in New York. “If he was a Republican, we would hear a never-ending drumbeat of news stories about markets voting in favor of the president.”
[M]onthly job losses have abated, from 779,000 during the month Obama took office to 36,000 last month. Corporate profits have grown; among 491 companies in the S&P 500 that reported fourth-quarter earnings, profits rose 180 percent from a year ago, according to Bloomberg data. Durable goods orders in January were up 9.3 percent from a year earlier. Inflation is tame, and long-term interest rates remain low.
The U.S. may add as many as 300,000 jobs in March, the most in four years, David Greenlaw, chief fixed-income economist at Morgan Stanley in New York, said in a Bloomberg Radio interview.

Zandi said the economic rebound is largely a result of the policies of the White House and Federal Reserve. He cited the bank bailout, the Fed’s low-interest-rate policy and support for credit markets, and the Obama administration’s stimulus plan, bank stress tests and backing of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

“When you take it all together, the response was massive and unprecedented and ultimately successful,” Zandi said.
This is rather compelling evidence that the administration brought us back from the brink. No, people won't entirely believe it until they see their own bottom line improving - but, if Democrats did a better job reminding people of how dire things were a year ago, how we were on the verge of another Great Depression, and how Republicans were claiming that there was no economic crisis at all, I think voters would be more appreciative of the gains we've made to date.
Drum: Paul Ryan's Plan to Tax You More

Rep. Paul Ryan's tax and spending "roadmap" is a fascinating critter: conservatives all praise it to the skies but none of them want to actually commit to supporting it. The reason for their hesitation is obvious: Ryan's plan would cut spending dramatically, and supporting it would mean having to explain what, exactly, they'd cut. That would be electoral suicide and they know it. They much prefer their usual game of loudly denouncing "spending" without ever having to say what spending they're actually opposed to.

However, their reason for supporting Ryan's plan is also obvious: it would cut taxes on the rich dramatically, and there's nothing conservatives like better than cutting the tax bills of America's wealthy. But how much would it cut taxes on the rich? Citizens for Tax Justice has run the numbers and the answer is: a lot. The very richest of the rich would see their tax bills go down by an average of over $200,000, a whopping 15% of the income. Ka-ching! To make up for that, everyone with an income under $100,000 would have their taxes increased by about $2,000 per year.

It's a sweet deal for the rich. But even with all the tax increases on the middle class, Ryan's plan still raises less revenue than today's tax code. "It’s difficult to design a tax plan that will lose $2 trillion over a decade even while requiring 90 percent of taxpayers to pay more," says CTJ acerbically. "But Congressman Ryan has met that daunting challenge." Details are in the table below, where you can find out how much more you'd have to pay under Ryan's plan. Enjoy.

Krugman: Ryan and the Zonkers

When I was in college, we sat around eating, among other things, Screaming Yellow Zonkers; they weren’t especially tasty, but the copy on the boxes was fun. Among the instruction was the Disappearing Zonkers Trick:

After putting on your magician’s outfit, look around the house for a handkerchief, two hard boiled eggs, and a small piece of radium. Then take seven Zonkers and place them neatly into the exact center of the handkerchief. Two eggs are arranged near each other and under your hands. Tie a half-hitch knot in the radium. Then make the seven Zonkers disappear. Your friends will be amazed.

It occurred to me that this is a pretty good description of the Ryan Roadmap plan for controlling health care costs — make a lot of proclamations about responsibility, dress up in a reformer’s costume, then make cost growth disappear.

Meanwhile, if you want actual, concrete steps to control costs, they’re actually in the Obama plan*. The CBO scores them low, basically because nobody knows how well any given proposal will work. But some of them will — and as David Cutler says, the odds are that the plan will save much more than the official projections.

*Curiously, the Cutler op-ed is very hard to find on the WSJ web site — not mentioned at all on the front page.

In a more healthy political environment, it's the kind of bill that would have passed easily. The Kerry-Murray amendment came to the Senate floor yesterday, and would have extended stimulus money to finance a summer jobs program for young people and subsidies for vulnerable families with children via the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

The proposal wasn't especially expensive in U.S. budgetary terms, and it would have created a lot of jobs. When the debate had run its course, the measure had 55 supporters and 45 opponents. Because our Senate is ridiculous, that means the bill died.

Just a week after Senate Republican Jim Bunning's infamous obstruction of an unemployment benefits extension, the GOP is taking another stand that pits deficit reduction against aid to the poor and jobless.

On Tuesday, Senate Republicans -- along with some Democrats -- defeated a measure to provide $1.3 billion for summer jobs for young people this year and a $1.3 billion extension of enhanced subsidies for poor families with children.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who introduced the amendment along with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), pleaded with her colleagues not to object.

"I have personally heard the stories of these young men and women whose summer jobs changed their lives across the country," she said. "This amendment will provide $1.3 billion to create up to 500,000 temporary jobs this coming summer. It will invest in critical employment and learning programs that will help not only these young people but the businesses who hire them."

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) became the ringleader of the opposition, insisting that deficit considerations were more important than job creation and stimulative aid to low-income families.

Murray reminded her colleagues that her amendment carried a one-year deficit, but was fully paid for over a 10-year period. It didn't matter -- all 41 Senate Republicans voted to kill the measure, and four Democrats joined them.

This should have been a no-brainer. A $2.6 billion package that would have directly created hundreds of thousands of jobs? And it failed because the Senate doesn't operate on majority rule?

One of the keys to national progress is policymakers mustering the political will to address public needs. The Senate seems intent on making this impossible.

BarbinMD (DK): Mitch McConnell, Concern Troll

Of course McConnell has the Democrats best interests at heart:

As Republicans work to prevent a health-care bill from reaching President Obama, they are scrambling to exploit divisions between Democrats in the House and the Senate.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned House Democrats that they would be taking a colossal risk if they approved the Senate's version of health-care legislation before the Senate had acted to remove some of the bill's most contentious provisions ...

"House Democrats will have to decide whether they want to trust the Senate to fix their political problems," McConnell said.

Note to House Democrats: working to prevent a health-care bill from reaching President Obama is the actual basis for McConnell's concern. FYI.

Maddow provides chapter and verse on HCR obstruction.

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

Sargent: Biz Groups Pour Millions Into Massive Ad Campaign Bashing Health Plan

With the final, frenzied push to round up votes for health reform under way, a coalition of business groups is pouring millions into a new TV ad campaign hammering the reform proposals — and the potential use of reconciliation to pass them — nationally and in the districts of vulnerable Dems:

The spot, which is being paid for by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a bunch of other groups, and includes some insurance industry funding, will cost up to $10 million. It will first run on national cable, and then in targeted districts of vulnerable Dems who are now deciding how to vote.

The spot paints the reform bill as a job killer and specifically targets the planned use of reconciliation to pass it.

“We thought Washington understood,” the spot intones. “But now Congress is trying to use special rules to ram through their same trillion-dollar health care bill. Billions in new taxes.”

Actually, reconciliation would only be used to pass the fix to the bill, which has already passed the Senate by a supermajority. But that aside, it looks as if the powerful forces arrayed against the bill are badly outworking proponents — with time running out.

Hill aides tell me they’re wondering where the heck the air cover is from the big lefty groups for vunlerable Dems preparing to take an extremely difficult vote. After all, aside from this one spot from Health Care for America Now, where are the ads from labor and from the power liberal groups? It’s not as if time is on the Dems’ side here.

Sargent:Lefty Groups Planning Massive TV Ad Push In Health Reform’s Final Stretch

Lefty groups to vulnerable House Dems: Hang tight, the air cover is coming!

Major liberal groups and labor unions allied with the White House are planning a massive TV ad push in coming days to get health reform across the finish line, and are vowing to match the huge amounts conservative groups are spending on the air attacking reform, multiple sources familiar with the plans tell me.

Foes of reform, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are already up on the air with multi-million-dollar ad campaigns warning hundreds of thousands of voters that Dems are preparing to jam the bill through Congress. This has prompted some to wonder where a similar push is coming from the left. It is.

Americans United for Change is set to announce a $500,000 ad campaign in the districts of multiple House Dems across the country, a source familiar with the plans says. The labor federation AFSCME is preparing a “significant push in the weeks ahead,” according to an AFSCME official, who adds that ads could air before and after the House votes on the Senate bill, providing cover for Dems who find themselves under assault after voting Yes.

Americans for Stable Quality Care, a pro-reform coalition which is working with the labor powerhouse SEIU, is finalizing plans for a major buy in multiple districts, an official familiar with the plans says.

And MoveOn is currently polling its members to ask whether the group should support the Senate bill. If the answer is Yes, as expected, the group will mount an “aggressive advocacy campaign, including ads,” one source involved in the planning says.

Details are still being worked out, and it’s always possible that plans could change. But officials involved in the discussions expect to match or come close to matching the push coming from conservative groups, which is expected to top $10 million or more.

“We expect to match the business groups,” one official says. “The air cover is coming.”

Aravosis: World War III flashback

Now with the Republicans threatening World War III, Armageddon, or something equally disastrous if the House passes the Senate health care reform bill, and threatening disaster if the Congress passes tweaks to HCR using reconciliation, I thought it might be fun to look back on another World War III threat from the GOP - they do it a lot. Here's this hissy fit from March 30, 2009:

Texas Sen. John Cornyn is threatening “World War III” if Democrats try to seat Al Franken in the Senate before Norm Coleman can pursue his case through the federal courts.

Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, acknowledges that a federal challenge to November’s elections could take “years” to resolve. But he’s adamant that Coleman deserves that chance — even if it means Minnesota is short a senator for the duration.
In fact, if the shoe were on the other foot, the GOP would have declared World War III had Democrats held up one of their new Senators for months. Remember how just this past January the Republicans demanded that Scott Brown be seated immediately, and that the Senate should suspend all business until Brown was seated? And now, as Joe just reported, GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell is threatening "colossal" consequences if the House simply passes the Senate HCR bill, which is their right. McConnell isn't just objecting to the bill on substance, he's arguing that it's somehow not permissible, not legal, for the House to pass legislation.

This is what the GOP does. They throw a hissy fit and hope the media covers it. And they do. Democrats need to learn to hit back hard, every time, and nip this in the bud.

Sargent: Conservative Group Rips Romney For Declaring Romneycare “Conservative”

As you may have heard, Mitt Romney went on Fox News this past Sunday and described the universal health care plan he passed in Massachusetts four years ago as “the ultimate conservative plan.”

Romney made the eyebrow-raising claim because he aspires to the GOP presidential nomination in 2012, and thus wants to put as much distance as possible between Romneycare and Obamacare, which is loathed by conservative GOP primary voters — even though the two plans are very similar in various ways.

But guess who disagrees with Romney’s assessment? The Club for Growth, a powerhouse conservative group with a lot of sway in GOP primaries. A top Club official tore into Romney, telling us that if Romney believes this, then he’s “in the wrong party.”

“We can say unequivocally that that is not a conservative plan,” Andy Roth, Club for Growth’s vice president for government affairs, told our reporter Ryan Derousseau when asked for comment on Romney’s claim about Romneycare.

On Sunday, Romney elicited skepticism even from Fox’s Chris Wallace when he said: “There a big difference between what we did and what President Obama is doing. What we did I think is the ultimate conservative plan.”

But Club for Growth’s Roth dismissed this as bunk, citing Romneycare’s individual mandate as proof. “The individual mandate is diametrically against what free-market conservatives believe in,” he said, adding that if Romney thinks his plan amounts to a conservative policy “than I think he is in the wrong party.”

Romney would strongly protest this, arguing that his plan was state-based, whereas Obama’s is Federal. But the mechanisms the two plans employ are very similiar, and the Club for Growth’s criticism could complicate his efforts to sell this line to GOP primary voters.

Either way, for Romney to call his effort the “ultimate conservative plan” risks feeding the narrative that hurt him last time: He’s ideologically opportunistic and malleable.


For months, congressional Democrats have said, with varying degrees of subtlety, that they want the White House to start taking charge of the process surrounding health care reform. While the West Wing has consistently asked Hill leaders to oversee the legislative and procedural details, lawmakers wanted to see the president take charge. They wanted to follow, and expected President Obama to lead.

So, the White House agreed to play the role. The president outlined a plan to bridge the House-Senate gap; Obama has hit the trail; wavering lawmakers are being called to the White House for a little arm-twisting; and the president's team is even starting to set deadlines. Congress wants the White House to tell lawmakers what to do? Fine, the White House said.

Except, now, Congress isn't sure it likes the new approach.

Congressional Democrats directly told White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel they don't appreciate being told when to finish their work on healthcare reform, according to a powerful committee chairman.

"He was certainly informed that we don't feel we want any deadlines assigned to us," House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said after a healthcare strategy meeting between House and Senate Democratic leaders and Emanuel.

I'm not unsympathetic to lawmakers' concerns, but they practically pleaded with the White House to start calling the shots in this process. Now that the West Wing is doing just that, it seems odd for leaders on the Hill to criticize unwelcome pressure.

At issue, apparently, are remarks from press secretary Robert Gibbs about the House passing the Senate bill by the 18th (a week from tomorrow). This has clearly rankled congressional Dems, who want to go at their own pace.

But it's not like Gibbs pulled the number out of the air. The date is important to the White House because the president is traveling to Asia, and would like the vote to happen before he departs so he can be available for 11th-hour appeals to lawmakers. The point was to pick a realistic date that would make it easier for Obama to help the House leadership get to 216.

Given the reaction, though, it now appears that congressional Dems just don't think it's possible to wrap up the debate over the next eight days. Waxman told Brian Beutler, "We want to pass the bill, we want to make sure it's the way it should be, and soon as possible, but we don't feel that we have to have any particular deadline."

In other words, this might take a while.

Sargent: Two More House Dems Move Away From Health Bill

Today in whipology: Two more House Dems are moving out of the Yes camp.

Dem Rep Steve Kagen of Wisconsin, who voted for the House health bill last time, tells his local WLUK-TV that he doesn’t trust the Senate to fix its bill via reconciliation and suggests he’s leaning against:

“I have made the case to the speaker and also to the White House that we should take small pieces, small bites,” Kagen said. “In the practice of medicine, I can’t give a child a big pill. What do we do? We cut it up into pieces. Let’s find things we can agree on.”

That sounds like he’s leaning strongly No. I’ve asked his office for clarification. Meanwhile, Rep John Spratt of South Carolina, who voted Yes last time, has also moved to the Undecided camp.

So where are we? Let’s take stock. According to David Dayen’s whip count, 193 House Dems who voted Yes last time have not publicly changed their position. The House Dem leadership needs 23 more House Dems to get to the magic number of 216. Where will they come from?

They’ll have to come from this pool of former No votes who haven’t declared definitively that they’re still a No (the ones in bold have publicly stated that they’re open to switching; the others have been silent):

Jason Altmire, Bart Gordon, Glenn Nye, Brian Baird, John Tanner, Rick Boucher, Allen Boyd, John Boccieri, Suzanne Kosmas, Betsy Markey, John Adler, Mike McMahon, Scott Murphy, Travis Childers, Harry Teague, Lincoln Davis, Heath Shuler, John Barrow, Jim Marshall, Tim Holden, Charlie Melancon, Jim Matheson, Ben Chandler.

It gets trickier. If any more former Yes votes switch to No, or if any of the so-called Stupak dozen make good on their threat to vote No, those will also have to be made up from the above pool.

The White House and Dem leaders are going to be doing a lot of persuading, and perhaps a bit of arm-twisting, in the days ahead.


Update: The votes can also be made up from this pool of former Yes votes who are now Undecided (this group has some overlap with the “Stupak dozen”:

Mike Arcuri, Zack Space, Chris Carney, Mike Doyle, Paul Kanjorski, Ann Kirkpatrick, Alan Mollohan, Nick Rahall, Dan Maffei, Bill Owens.

When considering Democratic lawmakers who oppose health care reform, we tend to think of a few contingents within the party. There's obviously conservative Blue Dogs, who represent the bulk of the Democratic opponents. There are also some vulnerable incumbents from competitive districts who are simply afraid of a backlash, regardless of how many people the legislation helps.

And then there's Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D) of Ohio, who has nothing in common with those other Democratic opponents. His district isn't conservative; he's not worried about polls; and his re-election isn't really in doubt. Kucinich simply opposes his party's reform efforts because, as he sees it, the proposals aren't liberal enough. Indeed, he voted with far-right Republicans against the reform package in November, even though it included a public option, because he concluded that the public option wasn't robust enough to earn his support.

This week, Kucinich made clear that he intends to vote with Republicans against health care once again. He thinks the legislation isn't strong enough, and if his opposition kills the legislation, so be it.

In general, Kucinich doesn't draw the same kind of progressive ire that, say, Blue Dogs do. The left realizes that Kucinich is sincere. His concerns are genuine. His heart is in the right place. He's certainly not being cowardly and/or putting electoral considerations above the public's needs.

But if Kucinich joins Republicans in killing health care reform -- as he has said he fully intends to do -- the millions of Americans who'd benefit from the Democratic proposals won't find much solace in Kucinich's deeply-held principles. They need a champion who'll make things better, not an idealist who'd rather wait until imaginary support materializes for a more perfect solution.

And with time running out, and the need for every single vote so great, Kucinich is starting to draw justified criticism.

Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas warned on Tuesday night that if Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) plays a role in killing health care reform, a Democratic primary challenger would almost certainly await him in the next election.

In an appearance on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Moulitsas conveyed pointed frustration with the Ohio Democrat's pledge to oppose reform on grounds that it doesn't go far enough. He said Kucinich was practicing a "very Ralph Nader-esque approach" to politics.

"The fact is this is a good first step and he is elected not to run for president, which he seems to do every four years," he said. "[Kucinich] is not elected to grandstand and to give us this ideal utopian society. He is elected to represent the people of his district and he is not representing the uninsured constituents in his district by pretending to take the high ground here." [...]

"What he is doing is undermining this reform," he added. "He is making common cause with Republicans. And I think that is a perfect excuse and a rational one for a primary challenge."

Markos said that Kucinich's willingness to deny help to those who need it is "completely reprehensible." Markos added, "I don't think he gets a pass; I don't care what his excuse is."

Watching Kucinich vow to vote with right-wing opponents of reform, it occurs to me that he almost certainly would have voted against FDR's Social Security plan, which was thin and weak when it was signed into law. He also would have rejected Medicare, because it wasn't ambitious at all when it passed.

Fortunately for all of us, lawmakers from those eras saw a value in establishing a strong foundation and then building on it in future years. In other words, fortunately for all of us, Social Security and Medicare weren't dependent on lawmakers like Dennis Kucinich.


The bipartisan pushback against Liz Cheney's "Keep America Safe" latest smear campaign isn't quite finished. Some unexpected conservatives continue to denounce the attacks against Justice Department attorneys.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the Senate Armed Services and Judiciary Committees, told The Cable Tuesday that the Cheney-Kristol ad was inappropriate and unfairly demonized DOJ lawyers for doing a noble public service by defending unpopular suspects.

"I've been a military lawyer for almost 30 years, I represented people as a defense attorney in the military that were charged with some pretty horrific acts, and I gave them my all," said Graham. "This system of justice that we're so proud of in America requires the unpopular to have an advocate and every time a defense lawyer fights to make the government do their job, that defense lawyer has made us all safer." [...]

"I'm with Kenneth Starr on this one," Graham added, referring to a letter signed by several GOP lawyers, many of whom defended Bush-era detainee policies, condemning the "al Qaeda 7" ad.

So, apparently, is former Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who blasted the Cheney smear campaign in a WSJ op-ed today.

This is all of a piece, and what it is a piece of is something both shoddy and dangerous. A lawyer who represents a party in a contested matter has an ethical obligation to make any and all tenable legal arguments that will help that party.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) called the Keep America Safe attack ad "over the top and unjustified." University of Chicago law professor Richard Epstein, one of Liz Cheney's former teachers, called the smear "appalling."

We seem to be approaching the point of a mainstream consensus that Cheney and Keep America Safe crossed a line of American decency that responsible figures simply aren't supposed to cross.

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