Saturday, January 23, 2010

Pass. The. Damn. Bill.

Please call your Dem representative. Tell them to pass the Senate's Health Care Bill. Call your Dem Senators and tell them to commit to a reconciliation bill to fix the problems that are preventing the House from voting for their bill. Core message is: Pass. The. Damn. Bill.

Tim F.:
Where We Stand

First, the good news. People who work in DC tell me that teabaggers have been screaming into their phones since Obama took office. They yelled about the stimulus before HCR came up. When HCR passes or dies they will yell about something else. For those of you who worried about it (I didn’t) that means the real added impact of Jane and her firebaggers probably is not very much. Unless the FDL guys use some special identifier I doubt most staffers know that anything new is going on.

The bad news, of course, is that teabaggers are kicking our ass. Whatever their numbers (I would peg it as higher than you think and well below what Glenn Beck thinks) they have leaders who get activists to use the phone. Take that as a recrimination if you want. It simply is. Before January almost nobody called their Reps to support health care, least of all that stinker passed by the Senate. I honestly don’t know how much you can blame Representatives for acting skittish when, at least to the people who answer their phones, the world sounds a lot like a sub-par diary at RedState.

If you belong to any sort of civic group, spend the weekend getting organized. Put together a phone bank and give your Representatives some support. Everyone I have contacted tells me that your calls have an impact.

First-time callers should use the guide here.

  • Tim F.

    From an anonymous friend who works on Capitol Hill.

    We—and by we I mean all Democrats in Congress—need to hear from more supporters. It is clear that the teabaggers have been far more organized than liberals and progressives, but your efforts are reminding us that the American people are on our side and giving us the morale boost we need to get this bill passed. Please keep up the good work.

    You know what to do.

Over the last few days, it's become increasingly evident that congressional Democrats aren't sure how, when, or whether to move forward on health care reform. There is an obvious course that would deliver an extraordinary victory -- the House passes the Senate bill, then approves changes through reconciliation -- but fear is driving reluctance.

Politico reports that there will apparently be some talks this weekend that may save health care reform (and save the Democratic Party, and save the lives of uninsured Americans, and save countless families from bankruptcy).

Struggling to salvage health reform, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have begun considering a list of changes to the Senate bill in hopes of making it acceptable to liberal House members, according to sources familiar with the situation.

The changes could be included in separate legislation that, if passed, would pave the way for House approval of the Senate bill -- a move that would preserve President Barack Obama's vision of a sweeping health reform plan. [...]

The changes are being worked on this weekend with plans for Pelosi to present them to her caucus next week, according to sources familiar with the situation. But, sources stressed, neither Reid nor Pelosi know if this strategy can win the support of their members, but they are attempting it because it is the quickest path to passage.

As recently as last week, in the midst of lengthy discussions at the White House, a wide variety of changes were agreed upon by House and Senate negotiators. The idea, of course, was to craft a final bill to be approved by both chambers. Voters in Massachusetts have since made this approach impossible.

But if Reid and Pelosi can package those already-discussed improvements, and agree to approve them through reconciliation after the House passes the Senate bill, then there's still hope that a fiasco for the ages can be avoided.

The changes being considered track closely with the agreements House and Senate leaders made in White House meetings last week, according to a source. They include the deal with labor unions to ease the tax on high-end insurance plans, additional Medicare cuts and taxes, the elimination of a special Medicaid funding deal for Nebraska and a move to help cover the gap in seniors' prescription drug coverage. Pelosi is also working to change the Senate provision that sets up state insurance exchanges. The House prefers a single, national exchange.

Discussions, a Pelosi spokesperson said, "are ongoing ... but no final decisions have been made."

Once more with feeling: Pass. The. Damn. Bill.

Kurtz (TPM): One Reader's 'Sob-Story'

I don't go much for emotional appeals, but we received an email from TPM Reader MD this week that I haven't been able to shake:

Hey TPM, long time reader -- going back to the Trent Lott-Strom Thurmond days -- first-time writer.

Like everyone I have a sob-story to tell about health care. After telling it to countless liberals who oppose the Senate's health-care reform bill, I still haven't heard a good answer from them about why they can't support the Senate bill. They usually stop talking, or try to change the subject.

Maybe Raul Grijalva or Barney Frank or Anthony Weiner or Jerry Nadler have wrestled with this problem and I haven't seen it. Have you seen anything from them about this?

My story: My father is dying of Huntington's disease. Before he dies in 8 to 10 years, he will need anti-depressants, anti-psychotics and drugs that fight dementia and his tremors and convulsions. He'll need multiple brain scans and physical therapy sessions.

Current medical treatments can't save him, but they will give him a few more years before the slow death strips him of his memories, personality and control of his body.

There's a 50 percent chance the same slow motion death awaits me and each of my three siblings. If I ever lose my job I'll become uninsurable, permanently. My sister already lost her insurance.

That means whatever treatment is developed for Huntington's will be unavailable to us. There's simply no way we could afford it. Not only high tech gene therapies or other interventions, but the medications and treatments that exist now that would buy us enough time to see our kids' graduations or weddings, and would give them hope of not suffering their grandfather's fate.

There's a bill that would mean we'd never be rejected for health insurance or have it canceled. Health insurance that could ease our final years, or maybe even save us.

But liberals are refusing to support it. I know there are principles and politics at stake. I know people are tired of being told to shut up and take what's given to them. But in the end, there a thousands of people with Huntington's and millions of people with other serious or terminal illnesses who will never benefit from treatment because they are uninsured. Millions more who are otherwise healthy will die premature or unnecessary deaths because basic health care isn't affordable.

What do liberal leaders say to them? What do those liberals tell people like my dad, a die-hard activist Democrat, a UAW member who worked his way through college to become a teacher?

I'm used to Republicans and conservatives not giving a damn about people like us, or mocking us for asking questions like this. That's why my father spent so much of his life fighting to keep Democrats in power. But to be abandoned by people my father worked with and supported his entire life? What in the bill is so terrible to justify that?

This isn't about betrayal, or a slap in the face, or an insult. It isn't about strategies to keep seats, or grand theories of justice. Democrats in Congress have the chance to cast a single vote that will make the lives of tens of millions of Americans less wrenching, our demises less brutal. That's what this is about.

I'd like to hear Reps. Grijalva, Frank, Weiner or Nadler tell us why they can't cast that vote.

If you're still with me, thanks for reading and all the hard work you do, and keep fighting the good fight.

Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, is one of the more influential figures in progressive politics, and is one of the nation's leading champions of health care reform. In light of talk that some congressional Dems are considering a weaker, "scaled-down" health care reform bill -- even with a stronger, more effective bill one vote away from passage -- Stern is insisting that this isn't good enough.

SEIU chief Andy Stern took a hard shot at Dem leaders just now for considering a scaled-down health care bill, strongly hinting that labor might not work as hard for Dem candidates in 2010 if they failed to deliver real and comprehensive reform.

"It's gonna be incredibly difficult to stay focused on national politics if by the end of 2010 we have minimal health care and minimal changes on what's important to our members," he said in an interview, ridiculing the emerging Dem approach as "fear masquerading as a strategy."

Stern unloaded on Dem leaders in response to reports today that they're mulling either a scaled down bill to win GOPers or a broken up bill passed in pieces. His anger suggests Dems risk paying a big price with labor if they fail to figure out how to pass the Senate bill and fix it later, as labor wants.

Stern concluded, "For the 31 million people who don't have health care, for the 14,000 who lose it every day, for the 120 people who die every day, they elected this Congress to make change, not to set their sights lower when the going gets tough."

What I find interesting is the sizable group of progressive champions -- allies of the Democratic Party who have no interest in steering Dems in the wrong direction -- who are all urging the House to do the right thing, pass the Senate bill, and make improvements through reconciliation. Leading reform advocates, major union leaders, health care policy experts, and the nation's most influential progressive pundits are all saying the exact same thing, giving Dems the exact same advice.

On the other hand, Republicans and right-wing activist outlets are urging Dems to scrap all the progress they've made, give up, start over, and/or pursue a weaker, ineffective bill (which the GOP would end up opposing anyway).

Why on earth would Dems follow the advice of those who want to destroy them?

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Sully: The SCOTUS Decision

I know readers are befuddled by my relative silence on this. It strikes me as an extreme interpretation of the First Amendment, as extreme as this court's interpretation of the Second Amendment. And I think it will tilt the political balance toward a fusion of government and corporatism - even more than we have already. I'll leave the rest to Fallows here and here.

So we have a government fused with corporations, a legislature run by corporate lobbyists who have just been given a massive financial gift to control the process even more deeply; we have a theory of executive power advanced by one party that gives the president total extra-legal power over any human being he wants to call an "enemy combatant" and total prerogative in launching and waging wars (remember Cheney did not believe Bush needed any congressional support to invade Iraq); we have a Supreme Court that believes in extreme deference to presidential power; we have a Congress of total pussies on the left and maniacs on the right and little in the middle; we have a 24-hour propaganda channel, run by a multinational corporation and managed by a partisan Republican, demonizing the president for anything he does or does not do; we have the open embrace of torture as a routine aspect of US government; and we have one party urging an expansion of the war on Jihadism to encompass a full-scale war against Iran, an act that would embolden the Khamenei junta and ensure that a civilizational war between the nuttiest Christianists in America and the vilest Islamists metastasizes to Def Con 3.

There's a word that characterizes this kind of polity. It's on the tip of my tongue ...

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Political Malpractice

Yglesias: Lazy Senators

I’ve been focusing most of my short-term ire on House Democrats who are too chicken to pass health care, and keeping my Senate-related ire more on the long-term picture where their months of senseless delaying got us stuck in this pickle. But Ezra Klein notes that Senators are also doing short-term damage for the nominal reason that they’re too lazy “to spend three weeks on some other bill” of amendments to their legislation in order to bring some House members on board.

I was in the Russell Building* yesterday and kind of wanted to run around the halls grabbing Democratic staffers and yelling at them, like Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2, “you’re already dead! Everybody dies!”

* It’s staggering that we live in a country that honors a man whose main legacy was his “moderate” method of advocating white supremacy.

Ezra Klein: Don't forget to blame the Senate

A lot of the onus for health care's sudden derailing has been placed on the House, which is bafflingly opposed to passing the Senate bill. But the Senate isn't making life any easier, refusing to do the one thing that would make the House comfortable with the Senate bill. Politico reports:

Part of the negotiations center on whether Reid can provide an ironclad guarantee that the Senate will not leave the House in the lurch, aides said. If the House agrees to pass the Senate bill with a companion measure — or a “cleanup” bill — to make fixes, they want to know that the Senate will indeed pass it, too.

There was some talk among Senate leadership on Thursday of putting together a letter signed by 51 Democratic senators pledging to pass a cleanup bill if the House would pass the Senate bill. But that effort fizzled when support for it didn’t materialize, insiders said.

“The Senate moderates’ viewpoint is, ‘We passed our bill. We’re not going to spend three weeks on some other bill,’” said a Democratic lobbyist who represents clients pushing for reform.

"We're not going to spend three weeks on some other bill." Oy. And keep in mind that, like the Senate, the House has passed its bill as well. What was supposed to be happening right now is a package of compromise amendments that both the House and the Senate would pass.

John Cole: There Is Your Opening, President Obama

Right here:

A prominent Republican senator said Thursday that President Obama is seeking to spark “class warfare” with increasingly populist rhetoric and a series of regulatory measures aimed at Wall Street.

“I think they think if they can create enough animosity toward Wall Street and corporate America, they get into this traditional sort of Democrat rhetoric and tap into the populist anger out there,” Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican, told The Daily Caller. “For Democrats to be successful they’ve got to create a sense of class warfare and an us versus them mindset.”

They are so eager to defend Wall Street they are doing it pre-emptively. Unemployment is at 10%. People are angry. People are pissed about the bonuses and the bailout.

Even Bob Shrum could figure this out.

And, as a side note, this merely confirms what we already know- whenever the Republicans accuse someone of something, they are already doing it. Class warfare? Has he watched the GOP the last twenty years?

C&L: Fox News' opinion shows strangely mum on the Citizens United ruling

David and I scanned through Fox News last night and surprisingly, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren didn't mention the very controversial and pro-corporatist Citizens Untied ruling by the Supreme court. Not a word. It reminds me of how they pretty much ignored the Haiti earthquake.

Bret Baier's "All Star Panel" discussed it with Charles Krauthammer and Fred Barnes loving it, while Mara Liaisson admitted that the ruling would benefit Republicans in 2010 and 2012 because corporations have much more money than the labor unions.

Shepard Smith had a short report on it that just recapped the decision and added a few sound bites from Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell.

But it's really clear that while the big opinionators loved the ruling off air -- because now corporations are being viewed as individuals who have the freedom to pour tons of money into the political system, a fact that will heavily favor conservatives -- they must understand that Americans will not love this ruling, because it gives Big Corp an even more unfair advantage in our election process. Americans are fed up with the influence these money-changers and powermongers have on the process.

How can they defend this ruling when they have been promoting a phony right-wing populism? If the teabaggers are truly as opposed to corporate power as they claim, they logically would hate this ruling. Or will their producerism overwhelm them?

Booman: Dear Democrats

I have three quotes from Harry S. Truman for your consideration:

"Republicans approve of the American farmer, but they are willing to help him go broke. They stand four-square for the American home-- but not for housing. They are strong for labor-- but they are stronger for restricting labor's rights. They favor minimum wage--the smaller the minimum wage the better. They endorse educational opportunity for all--but they won't spend money for teachers or for schools. They think modern medical care and hospitals are fine-- for people who can afford them. They consider electrical power a great blessing--but only when the private power companies get their rake-off. They think American standard of living is a fine thing--so long as it doesn't spread to all the people. And they admire of Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it."

"The Republicans believe that the power of government should be used first of all to help the rich and the privileged in the country. With them, property, wealth, comes first. The Democrats believe that the power of government should be used to give the common man more protection and a chance to make a living. With us the people come first."

"I don't like bipartisans. Whenever a fellow tells me he's bipartisan, I know that he's going to vote against me."

You know what else Harry Truman can tell you? Don't start land wars in Asia. So, everything you really need to know about how to proceed can be learned from Truman. Here's a bonus quote:

"Carry the battle to them. Don't let them bring it to you. Put them on the defensive. And don't ever apologize for anything." -Advice to Hubert Humphrey, NY Times, Sep 20, 1964

You want another one?

"Men make history, and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better."

Take this for advice or inspiration, or whatever. But take it.

Clemons: Krugman's Blunt Take: Obama's Not the One
On the book jacket/inside flap of Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz's Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy, Nobel Laureate (too) and New York Times opinion leader Paul Krugman calls Stiglitz an "insanely brilliant economist".

On the other end of the praise spectrum, Krugman, in a stinging rebuke of President Obama's policies and leadership, states that Obama is not "the one" we have been waiting for.

At his New York Times blog, The Conscience of a Liberal, Krugman writes:

Health care reform -- which is crucial for millions of Americans -- hangs in the balance. Progressives are desperately in need of leadership; more specifically, House Democrats need to be told to pass the Senate bill, which isn't what they wanted but is vastly better than nothing. And what we get from the great progressive hope, the man [Barack Obama] who was offering hope and change, is this:
I would advise that we try to move quickly to coalesce around those elements of the package that people agree on. We know that we need insurance reform, that the health insurance companies are taking advantage of people. We know that we have to have some form of cost containment because if we don't, then our budgets are going to blow up and we know that small businesses are going to need help so that they can provide health insurance to their families. Those are the core, some of the core elements of, to this bill. Now I think there's some things in there that people don't like and legitimately don't like.

Krugman finishes on a powerful, foreboding note:

I'm pretty close to giving up on Mr. Obama, who seems determined to confirm every doubt I and others ever had about whether he was ready to fight for what his supporters believed in.

My sense is that most of the major pillars of progressive work in the US -- on the foreign policy and domestic fronts are really distressed by President Obama's policy and personnel choices.

I'm getting close to where Krugman is and think it may be nearing the time to "bust Obama's brand" as one liberal Hollywood actor friend of mind recently said.

If Obama sees his "brand" in real trouble, he may correct things just in time by dumping Rahm Emanuel, Lawrence Summers and some others, confessing his decisionmaking sins to those who supported him, and inspire some confidence in the actions of changing course.

Steven Pearlstein: Abandoning health care after the Brown election, and other Washington nonsense

People, let's get a grip!

Okay, so Massachusetts voters elected a hunky, unknown Republican to fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat. That's no reason to ignore the result of a national general election, throw out a year's worth of hard work on a range of important issues and rush to embrace a bunch of simple-minded solutions meant to mollify an angry electorate.

Honestly, in a city that thrives on nonsense, we've heard more of it in the past few days than you normally do in a year.

One of my favorite bits of Monday morning quarterbacking is that President Obama should have put health care and Afghanistan and climate change and everything else on the back burner for the past year and insisted that he and everyone else focus exclusively on jobs, jobs, jobs. What do you call a $787 billion stimulus package of tax cuts and increased spending, a $50 billion auto industry bailout, a $1 trillion prop to the housing sector and nearly another $1 trillion in old-fashioned monetary stimulus -- chopped liver? And how exactly do you square the idea that the president and Congress should be working 24-7 to "create" jobs with that other nugget of conventional wisdom, that Americans are demanding smaller government, less spending and lower budget deficits?

Then there is the big question of what to do about health care now that the voters have allegedly turned against the president's proposal.

One reasonable-sounding idea is that the president should reduce it down to just a few of its most popular provisions, such as the one requiring that insurance companies be barred from refusing to cover people with preexisting conditions or charging them sky-high premiums.

The problem with that, of course, is that if you don't require everyone to buy insurance, then there will be lots of people who will wait to buy their policies until they get sick and then demand coverage at the "community" rate. That's a great way to drive up premiums, which in turn will drive even more healthy people to drop coverage, which will raise premiums even further.

To prevent this kind of debilitating "insurance spiral," you could add one more feature -- a mandate requiring everyone to buy at least a basic insurance package. Unfortunately, there are lots of low-income households for which the newly mandated premiums could eat up as much as a half of after-tax income, which hardly seems fair. So you'd probably want to make sure that there's enough competition among insurers to keep premiums down, which is what those government-supervised exchanges are all about. And you'd want to have some subsidies to limit the financial hit to low-income families. To pay for the subsidies, you'd either have to raise taxes or cut spending in other areas.

And that, basically, is the outline of Obama's health plan, just as it was Clinton's health plan and the Nixon plan before that. In fact, if you want a health-care system that's universal and affordable and based on a competitive market of private insurers and health-care providers, that's pretty much where you have to start. There is no simple solution to this puzzle.

Of course, there are plenty of details that we can talk about -- how comprehensive the basic insurance plan should be, how the insurance exchanges should be structured, how big the subsidies should be and what combination of taxes and spending cuts should be used to pay for them. In fact, we've had a rather vigorous debate on those issues for more than a year now, which ought to put the lie to another piece of nonsense put forth by the Republicans -- namely that health reform has been "rushed" through Congress without any input from them or the public.

Instead of moving to take back the health-care issue, however, President Obama on Thursday seemed more interested in changing the subject, launching another broadside against the big Wall Street banks

In the populist imagination, the root of the recent financial crisis was the decision in the 1990s to allow commercial banks, which take deposits and make loans, to get into the riskier but more lucrative investment banking business, where firms underwrite and trade securities on behalf of their customers and themselves. For months, liberals have been pushing to reinstate the old rules to separate the two activities. And for months, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has pushed back, arguing that many of the banks that got in trouble did so the old-fashioned way, by making stupid loans, while many of the institutions that contributed most to the crisis -- Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and AIG -- weren't in commercial banking at all.

However, Obama suddenly reversed course and embraced the populist critique, demanding that commercial banks give up their risky investment activities. In truth, the new rules probably would not do much to reduce the chance of another crisis, or another bailout. The president's motives seemed less substantive than they were political, allowing him to shift from defense to offense and put Republicans in the uncomfortable position of having to defend the Wall Street status quo.

This is a leadership moment for the president. It is a chance to show he can respond to setbacks not by running for cover or resorting to political gamesmanship, but by calmly and confidently reasserting his control over his party and the public debate.

A passive-aggressive middle manager

It is time for Obama to show us if he is a leader or not. Right now, he is not leading on the signature issue of Democratic politics over the last century. Last night I received an email from Tim Kaine, asking for money for Democrats. He said:
There will be plenty of time to dissect this race and to apply the lessons learned from it in elections to come. But in the meantime, we will continue to work tirelessly on behalf of the American people, and we will redouble our efforts to lay out a clear choice for voters this November.
Utter bullshit. If they don't pass the health care plan that is in the House's power to pass, they don't deserve to be in power. That they are only feckless cowards, as opposed to insane autocrats, is not a winning position.

Balloon Juice Commenter Stroszek on Obama's passiveness:

The only explanation is that he’s trying to distance himself from this clusterfuck, believing that House Dems will take most of the heat for not passing the bill. But every second that passes, he’s looking less like a community organizer and more like a passive-aggressive middle manager.

I don’t think anyone in DC understands the magnitude of the backlash that’s brewing on the center-left.

Marshall: Hope Is Not a Plan
Martha Coakley and her campaign have been roundly, mercilessly and rightly ridiculed for getting caught off guard by Scott Brown's rapid ascent in the Massachusetts senate race. What's the excuse of the White House and congressional leadership for having no plan in place for what to do if Coakley lost -- a live possibility going back almost three weeks?
Marshall: Whatev?
I've been very hard on the House in this Health Care train wreck. But what we're learning now is that the White House does not seem to be lifting a finger to move things. From what we can tell, nothing. Robert Gibbs' statement at the briefing today seems to embody the White House's stance at a much deeper level than I'd imagined. They just don't seem to even want to hear about it.

Greg Sargent:

* Yes, it’s true that Obama hasn’t made it clear enough in the wake of Tuesday’s disaster that he still really wants an ambitious health reform bill. But the real question is this: How much longer will Congressional Dems blame the President’s lack of leadership for their own lack of leadership?

Things are looking pretty ugly this morning, with more signs that Dems are close to folding:

* Some Dems have actually begun to imagine that they’ll be able to present it as a victory if they concoct a new, dramatically scaled back health bill to win over some Republicans. They’re saying they’ll be able to take credit for having produced bipartisan cooperation!

* Yep, some Dems have actually begun to imagine that a pared-back bill will allow them to argue that their health care reform push wasn’t a catastrophic failure.

* But Henry Waxman keeps pushing for “reconciliation” process: “It’s a perfectly legitimate procedure under the rules. What’s amazing to me is that a majority in the Congress can’t work its will.”


* Joe Klein offers a hierarchy of blame for the current health care reform fiasco. And he says Republicans themselves are the “death panels.”

DougJ: Just do it


A message to House Democrats: This is your moment of truth. You can do the right thing and pass the Senate health care bill. Or you can look for an easy way out, make excuses and fail the test of history.
Krugman: Do the Right Thing

A message to House Democrats: This is your moment of truth. You can do the right thing and pass the Senate health care bill. Or you can look for an easy way out, make excuses and fail the test of history.

Tuesday’s Republican victory in the Massachusetts special election means that Democrats can’t send a modified health care bill back to the Senate. That’s a shame because the bill that would have emerged from House-Senate negotiations would have been better than the bill the Senate has already passed. But the Senate bill is much, much better than nothing. And all that has to happen to make it law is for the House to pass the same bill, and send it to President Obama’s desk.

Right now, Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, says that she doesn’t have the votes to pass the Senate bill. But there is no good alternative.

Some are urging Democrats to scale back their proposals in the hope of gaining Republican support. But anyone who thinks that would work must have spent the past year living on another planet.

The fact is that the Senate bill is a centrist document, which moderate Republicans should find entirely acceptable. In fact, it’s very similar to the plan Mitt Romney introduced in Massachusetts just a few years ago. Yet it has faced lock-step opposition from the G.O.P., which is determined to prevent Democrats from achieving any successes. Why would this change now that Republicans think they’re on a roll?

Alternatively, some call for breaking the health care plan into pieces so that the Senate can vote the popular pieces into law. But anyone who thinks that would work hasn’t paid attention to the actual policy issues.

Think of health care reform as being like a three-legged stool. You would, rightly, ridicule anyone who proposed saving money by leaving off one or two of the legs. Well, those who propose doing only the popular pieces of health care reform deserve the same kind of ridicule. Reform won’t work unless all the essential pieces are in place.

Suppose, for example, that Congress took the advice of those who want to ban insurance discrimination on the basis of medical history, and stopped there. What would happen next? The answer, as any health care economist will tell you, is that if Congress didn’t simultaneously require that healthy people buy insurance, there would be a “death spiral”: healthier Americans would choose not to buy insurance, leading to high premiums for those who remain, driving out more people, and so on.

And if Congress tried to avoid the death spiral by requiring that healthy Americans buy insurance, it would have to offer financial aid to lower-income families to make that insurance affordable — aid at least as generous as that in the Senate bill. There just isn’t any way to do reform on a smaller scale.

So reaching out to Republicans won’t work, and neither will trying to pass only the crowd-pleasing pieces of reform. What about the suggestion that Democrats use reconciliation — the Senate procedure for finalizing budget legislation, which bypasses the filibuster — to enact health reform?

That’s a real option, which may become necessary (and could be used to improve the Senate bill after the fact). But reconciliation, which is basically limited to matters of taxing and spending, probably can’t be used to enact many important aspects of reform. In fact, it’s not even clear if it could be used to ban discrimination based on medical history.

Finally, some Democrats want to just give up on the whole thing.

That would be an act of utter political folly. It wouldn’t protect Democrats from charges that they voted for “socialist” health care — remember, both houses of Congress have already passed reform. All it would do is solidify the public perception of Democrats as hapless and ineffectual.

And anyway, politics is supposed to be about achieving something more than your own re-election. America desperately needs health care reform; it would be a betrayal of trust if Democrats fold simply because they hope (wrongly) that this would slightly reduce their losses in the midterm elections.

Now, part of Democrats’ problem since Tuesday’s special election has been that they have been waiting in vain for leadership from the White House, where Mr. Obama has conspicuously failed to rise to the occasion.

But members of Congress, who were sent to Washington to serve the public, don’t have the right to hide behind the president’s passivity.

Bear in mind that the horrors of health insurance — outrageous premiums, coverage denied to those who need it most and dropped when you actually get sick — will get only worse if reform fails, and insurance companies know that they’re off the hook. And voters will blame politicians who, when they had a chance to do something, made excuses instead.

Ladies and gentlemen, the nation is waiting. Stop whining, and do what needs to be done.

Yglesias: Scott Brown, Health Reform Lover

This is a great piece by Alec MacGillis in the Post, the kind of thing newspapers normally don’t have the guts to run:

While many are describing the election to fill the late Edward M. Kennedy’s Senate seat as a referendum on national health-care reform, the Republican candidate rode to victory on a message more nuanced than flat-out resistance to universal health coverage: Massachusetts residents, he said, already had insurance and should not have to pay for it elsewhere.

Scott Brown, the Republican state senator who won a stunning upset in Tuesday’s election, voted for the state’s health-care legislation, which was signed by then-Gov. Mitt Romney (R) and has covered all but 3 percent of Massachusetts residents. That legislation became the basic model for national health-care legislation. Brown has not disavowed his support for the state’s law, which retains majority backing in Massachusetts.

Instead, he argued on the campaign trail that Massachusetts had taken care of its own uninsured, and it would not be in the state’s interest to contribute to an effort to cover the uninsured nationwide.

“We have insurance here in Massachusetts,” he said in a campaign debate. “I’m not going to be subsidizing for the next three, five years, pick a number, subsidizing what other states have failed to do.”

Look around the world. There’s noplace—not Canada, not England, not France, not Massachusetts, not Taiwan, not anywhere—where the implementation of a universal health care system leads to backlash and repeal. Instead it leads to the local conservative political party becoming a fan of universal health care.

Update This is very relevant to the issue Ed Kilgore is talking about here. The question of whether passing health reform will inflame an angry public is different from the issue of whether or not health reform legislation polls well right now. The evidence from around the world, and in particular from Massachusetts, suggests that people get very attached to universal health care plans very quickly.
Yglesias: The “Never Takes Responsibility for Anything” Wing

One of the most frustrating things about self-described “centrist” Democrats is their general unwillingness to face up to the fact that they’ve been the dominant faction in the Democratic Party for decades. Jimmy Carter was a different kind of Democrat, a southern moderate. And Bill Clinton was a southern moderate in the Jimmy Carter mold. So was Al Gore. John Kerry hailed from a different New England liberal political tradition, but in 2004 ran straight out of the moderate playbook—support for both beginning and continuing the war in Iraq, incrementalism on health care, no serious cap and trade agenda, etc.

I think Barack Obama’s campaign sort of broke with that mold, as does Speaker Pelosi in the House, but the reality is that the pivotal members of the House are moderate Blue Dogs and the pivotal members of the Senate are moderates like Mary Landrieu. Consequently, governance in the Obama era has been determined by what moderates like Mary Landrieu are willing to do. Which is fine as far as it goes, but it means that if voters don’t like the results Landrieu doesn’t get to complain that someone else screwed things up:

Other centrist Democrats said the results in Massachusetts could become a blessing in disguise by forcing Democrats to rein in their legislative agenda and focus on less expansive policies than the health care overhaul now teetering with the loss of the Democratic majority’s crucial 60th vote.

“The loss in Massachusetts should serve as a wake-up call to the wing of the Democratic Party that wants the federal government to overreach and overspend,” said Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana. “We need to get back to the basics.”

You can easily imagine an alternate universe in which the Senate Democratic Caucus took an oath of party loyalty, that all 60 Democrats would vote for cloture on all leadership-supported bills, allowing measures to pass with just 51 votes. Had that happened, we would have gotten a bigger, more liberal-friendly stimulus. And the Senate would have finished up with a more liberal version of health reform some time ago. And the Senate probably would have passed some other liberal stuff in the meantime. Had that happened, and had the voters been displeased with it, then it might make perfect sense for Landrieu to complain about some non-Landrieu “wing” of the Democratic Party.

But in the world that exists, the only “wing” that matters is the Mary Landrieu wing. They decide how much stimulus we get. They decide their can’t be a public option. They decide their needs to be a months-long quest to get Chuck Grassley to offer “Republican cover” for a health care vote. Either the strategy is working better than the alternatives, or else it’s the Landrieu wing that needs to change things up. But defeats can’t be the fault of the people who haven’t been in the driver’s seat since the seventies.

Sully: Unrepresentative Democracy

Fallows notes:

Counting the new Republican Senator Scott Brown from Massachusetts, the 41 Republicans in the Senate come from states representing just over 36.5 percent of the total US population. The 59 others (Democratic plus 2 Independent) represent just under 63.5 percent. (Taking 2009 state populations from here. If you count up the totals and split a state's population when it has a spit delegation, you end up with about 112.3 million Republican, 194.7 million Democratic + Indep. Before Brown's election, it was about 198 million Democratic + Ind, 109 million Republican.)

Let's round the figures to 63/37 and apply them to the health care debate. Senators representing 63 percent of the public vote for the bill; those representing 37 percent vote against it. The bill fails.

I believe this health reform bill is as good as it will get in confronting a real and pressing problem. But the system we have is designed to prevent change. And that's the underlying reality here: if the governing political party is not united, and the opposition party is determined not to improve legislation but to kill a presidency, and exploit populism for purely partisan purposes, then it's very, very hard to pass major legislation.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Brave Sir Robin Party

Village Voice Headline: Scott Brown Wins Mass. Race, Giving GOP 41-59 Majority in the Senate

Aravosis: Feinstein says forget climate change, and go really slow on health care reform, and maybe even shrink the size of the bill
How about puppies? Legislation about puppies shouldn't be too controversial. Then we can move on to kittens if the fall elections aren't too bad. What? Too bold? Okay, kittens are for the second term.
Within hours of the Brown win and as the Dems scattered like frightened sheep, I received an email fundraiser from Organizing for America:
Yesterday's disappointing election results show deep discontent with the pace of change. I know the OFA community and the President share that frustration.

We also saw what we knew to be true all along: Any change worth making is hard and will be fought at every turn. While it doesn't take away the sting of this loss, there is no road to real change without setbacks along the way.

We could have simply sought to do things that were easy, that wouldn't stir up controversy. But changes that aren't controversial rarely solve the problem.

Our country continues to face the same fundamental challenges it faced yesterday. Our health care system still needs reform. Wall Street still needs to be held accountable. We still need to create good jobs. And we still need to continue building a clean energy economy.

The President isn't walking away from these challenges. In fact, his determination and resolve are only stronger. We must match that commitment with our own.

But it won't be easy. Real change never is. For that reason, I am grateful you're part of this fight with us.

Thank you,

What utter bullshit. As every Dem within sight of a microphone signaled craven capitulation on our party's signature issue, they ask for money. I'm with Paul on this one:
Krugman: He Wasn’t The One We’ve Been Waiting For

Health care reform — which is crucial for millions of Americans — hangs in the balance. Progressives are desperately in need of leadership; more specifically, House Democrats need to be told to pass the Senate bill, which isn’t what they wanted but is vastly better than nothing. And what we get from the great progressive hope, the man who was offering hope and change, is this:

I would advise that we try to move quickly to coalesce around those elements of the package that people agree on. We know that we need insurance reform, that the health insurance companies are taking advantage of people. We know that we have to have some form of cost containment because if we don’t, then our budgets are going to blow up and we know that small businesses are going to need help so that they can provide health insurance to their families. Those are the core, some of the core elements of, to this bill. Now I think there’s some things in there that people don’t like and legitimately don’t like.

In short, “Run away, run away”!

Maybe House Democrats can pull this out, even with a gaping hole in White House leadership. Barney Frank seems to have thought better of his initial defeatism. But I have to say, I’m pretty close to giving up on Mr. Obama, who seems determined to confirm every doubt I and others ever had about whether he was ready to fight for what his supporters believed in.

And here's Hitler's take:

From the Balloon Juice comments:


Pelosi is the one Democrat we can count on to get shit done. The House passed their health care bill two freakin’ months ago.

Maddow on the party of meek . . .

Democrats poor political salesmen Jan. 20: Newsweek's Howard Fineman remarks on the apparent meekness of the Obama administration and Democratic lawmakers as exemplified by the lack of effort to defend Erroll Southers as their nominee for TSA head.

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Tim F.: Last Point About Calling Your Representative

Those of you who feel confident to let Democrats play n-dimensional chess on health care need to read Josh Marshall’s front page. No particular post, just scan the whole thing from bottom to top. The message from all over DC is that Dems have no idea what to do right now. They’re terrified and adrift. This idea that leaders are calmly pushing pieces around a sand table is insane.

Take Barney Frank. Last night he declared that the whole enchilada was cooked and we might as well give up. That’s like a startled alpha deer running into a tree and knocking itself out. Way to lead the herd. Frank defended himself repeatedly to baffled constituents and then he walked the story back almost a full day later. If Frank is one of our best, I hate to imagine how the rest of our caucus feels.

Don’t call a Congressperson because he or she will turn around and do what we say (if you’re new at this, they won’t). We should call because the caucus will meet tomorrow and probably a few more times after that, and then the Democratic majority will have a plan. Maybe the plan will involve fighting like hell to get HCR done before some other stupid thing happens, but it seems a little Charlie Brownish to feel confident about Dems doing anything that productive. If Reps show up buzzing about noisy supporters demanding HCR then we stand a slightly better chance than if they show up dwelling on their usual phobias turned up to eleven.

At least that’s my view. Small chance of having a meaningful impact, etc. etc.. At least it vents the frustration better than yelling at pseudonyms on an internetblog.

Sully: Obama's Non-Ideology In a Populist Age

George Packer reflects on Obama's first year:

[T]he whole drift of political currents—especially in the wake of last night’s Massachusetts result—is away from Obama’s agenda, and toward a kind of populism that, like a wild fire, can shift directions with any light wind that blows through and quickly burn up large tracts of land (it just immolated Martha Coakley). This is a politics that Obama has never been comfortable with. His preferred approach, as we’ve learned this past year, is to bring together his relatively non-ideological advisers, let each one argue a point of view, then make a decision on the rational basis of evidence and expertise, and explain it to the public in a detailed, almost anti-inspirational manner. Thus the bank plan, the Afghanistan policy, the “jobs summit,” etc. A Democratic politician recently told me that the best way to get Obama to do what you want is to tell him that it’s the unpopular, difficult, but responsible thing.

If Obama has any ideology, it’s this process. It is not an approach that’s easily adapted to leading and guiding the volatile hearts and minds of a beleaguered and cynical public. My guess is that it’s driven his political advisers around the bend many times.

The whole post is worth a read. It helps illuminate the divide between Obama's Reaganite campaign and George H W Bush-like administration. The trouble is: I think we need exactly this kind of good faith engagement with serious and complicated problems right now. And looking back, the first Bush administration looks substantively better and better. The question is whether this kind of small-c conservative good-governance can survive in a climate where the mood is populist, the economy is wrecked, the opposition is as angry as it is incoherent, and the Democratic base is in a mood for revolution.

Bush had no option. But Obama does. He can do the "vision thing". He needs to find a way to harness it to the pragmatic tasks in front of him. Never easy. But we will now see what he is made of.

Can Democrats utilize their majority? Jan. 20: Congresswoman Debbie Stabenow talks with Rachel Maddow about what the Democrats can hope to accomplish with a 59 member majority in the Senate and what their expectations are of cooperation from a post-Brown Republican Party.

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Sully: The Gulf

Here's why it's hard to see anything positive coming out of this debacle. Stephen Bainbridge, an intelligent man and one of the few conservatives who also found Bush and Cheney appalling, can write this:

Obama and the Congressional Democrats (especially in the House) governed for the last year as though the median voter is a Daily Kos fan.

This must come as some surprise to most Daily Kos fans. But if one had traveled to Mars and back this past year and read this statement, what would you assume had happened? I would assume that the banks had been nationalized, the stimulus was twice as large, that single-payer healthcare had been pushed through on narrow majority votes, that card-check had passed, that an immigration amnesty had been legislated, that prosecutions of Bush and Cheney for war crimes would be underway, that withdrawal from Afghanistan would be commencing, that no troops would be left in Iraq, that Larry Tribe was on the Supreme Court, that DADT and DOMA would be repealed, and so on.

But when even a sane and honest person like Bainbridge has lapsed into believing the FNC mantra, you realize that ideology has simply altered our understanding of reality. I note that Peter Berkowitz, another sane conservative, notes "extreme partisanship" on health insurance reform - but sees it as entirely a Democratic failure!

Bainbridge is admirably candid about GOP failures, which makes him far more credible than the FNC crowd. But here is his wish list of things not to do in the last few months of Democratic majorities:

Just say no to:

  • Financial regulation that restricts growth and investment (did the pro-regulation types learn nothing from The Sarbanes-Oxley Debacle?
  • Additional stimulus (a.k.a. pork) spending
  • Obamacare-lite
  • Corporate welfare (for once)
  • Bigger entitlement programs
  • New wars of choice

No financial regulation; no health insurance reform (or rather the tinkering that McCain prposed, which would do almost nothing to contain costs and nothing to insure more people); no more stimulus; maintenance of the entitlement crisis; and no more wars of choice (as if Obama were even proposing one). The premise must be that the US need not address its fundamental problems. It can just ignore them for a while longer, while Stephen dreams of a libertarian nirvana and asks the GOP to propose specific spending cuts.

Dream on.

John Cole: I Take It Back- He Gets It

Ok, glad I didn’t slit my wrists after that NYT piece. This interview with Obama was reassuring:

OBAMA: No—well—absolutely. No, keep in mind the point that I’m making here.

It was the right thing to do for us to salvage the financial system, and I make no apologies for that, at all. But we knew at the time how politically toxic that was.

What it gave people a sense of is, “We’re spending all this money, but I’m not getting any help.”

And, “Gosh—I wanted Obama to come in there to start making sure that I was getting help; not the big special-interest and the institutions.”

Now if I tell them, “Well, it turns out that we will actually have gotten TARP paid back and that we’re going to make sure that a fee’s imposed on the big banks, so that this thing will cost taxpayers not a dime,” that’s helpful. But it doesn’t eliminate the sense that their voices aren’t heard, and that institutions are betraying them.

And I think that’s been expressing itself all year. And they’ve gotten increasingly frustrated over the course of the year.

So I take complete responsibility for the fact that—A—we had to salvage a financial system that could have made things much worse. We had to take the steps that we did at the beginning of the year, in order to stabilize the economy.

And I am actually glad to see that the economy’s now growing again, and we have the prospect of a much better economy in 2010. But that doesn’t negate the anger and the frustration that people are feeling.

Read the whole thing.

Simon Johnson: Paul Volcker Prevails

Paul Volcker, legendary central banker turned radical reformer of our financial system, has won an important round. The WSJ is now reporting:

President Barack Obama on Thursday is expected to propose new limits on the size and risk taken by the country's biggest banks, marking the administration's latest assault on Wall Street in what could mark a return -- at least in spirit -- to some of the curbs on finance put in place during the Great Depression.

This is an important change of course that, while still far from complete, represents a major victory for Volcker - who has been pushing firmly for exactly this.

Thursday's announcement should be assessed on three issues.

  1. Does the president provide a clear statement of why we need these new limits on banks? The administration's narrative on what caused the crisis of 2008-09 has been lame and completely unconvincing so far. The president must take it to the banks directly - tracing the origins of our "too big to fail" vulnerabilities to the excessive deregulation of banks following the Reagan Revolution and emphasizing how much worse these problems became during the Bush years.
  2. Are the proposed limits on the total size (e.g., assets) of banks, or just on part of their operations - such as proprietary trading? The limits need to be on everything that banks do, if they are to be meaningful at all. This is not a moment for technocratic niceties; the banks must be reined in, simply and directly.
  3. Is there a clear strategy for (a) taking concrete workable proposals directly to Congress, and (b) win, lose, or draw in the Senate, running hard with this issue to the midterm elections?

Push every Republican to take a public stand on this question, and you will be amazed at what you hear (if they stick to what they have been saying behind closed doors on Capitol Hill.)

The spin from the White House is that the president and his advisers have been discussing this move for months. The less time spent on such nonsense tomorrow the better. The record speaks for itself, including public statements and private briefings as recently as last week - this is a major policy change and a good idea.

The major question now is - will the White House have the courage of its convictions and really fight the big banks on this issue? If the White House goes into this fight half-hearted or without really understanding (or explaining) the underlying problem of unfettered banks that are too big to fail, they will not win.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Where we're at

Drum: The Choice

After reading stuff like this and this, it's looking increasingly clear that jittery Dems aren't willing to do the obvious now that they've lost their 60-vote supermajority: Pass the Senate healthcare bill intact along with promises to make changes later this year via reconciliation (which requires only 51 votes in the Senate). Partly this is because the Senate bill delays implementation of its major structural changes for years, which means that anyone running for reelection this November will take plenty of potshots from Republicans but have nothing substantive to brag about in return.

That's the theory, anyway, but Jon Cohn provides a laundry list of immediate tangible changes that would make good campaign fodder:

Seniors will see the Medicare “donut hole” start to shrink.

Families will get to keep kids on their policies past high school, until the kids are 26.

Preventative services will have "first-dollar" coverage, meaning you'll pay nothing out-of-pocket — that's right, nada, zilch — when you get a regular checkup.

People who are uninsurable because of high medical risks will get access to catastrophic policies, as a stopgap until full coverage becomes available in a few years.

The government will set up a website with information about different insurance plans, letting people compare benefits in standardized, plain English terms.

It will also make investments in the health care workforce — spending money to train or hire new primary care doctors, nurses, and direct care workers.

Insurers will have to fess up about how much money they divert from patient care to overhead and profits — and to set up systems for appealing coverage denials.

People will have the right to go to the emergency room — and women the right to see an obstetrician/gynecologist — without prior approval.

The list goes on.

I'll add one other thing: the idea of going back to the drawing board and trying to pass a few little piecemeal reforms is suicidal. It's one of the worst ideas I've ever heard. One of the big problems with healthcare reform is that the public is sick of the process. The last thing they want is for Congress to spend several more months flailing around on it. What's more, does anyone seriously believe that Democrats would get any Republican votes for a smaller bill? That's just a fantasy. Oh, they'll happily negotiate and delay, since that not only makes Dems look hapless and craven, but prevents them from getting anything else done in the meantime. It's a twofer. But when it comes time to vote? Every single one of them will invent some reason that the smaller bill is still fatally flawed. The final vote will be 59-41 and months will have been lost for nothing.

Realistically, there are only two choices now: either pass the Senate bill or else wait another 15 years for any kind of serious healthcare reform. That's it. That's the choice.

Krugman: Fools On The Hill

So, will health care reform fail because a lazy candidate didn’t bother campaigning and didn’t know her Red Sox? (Yes, there were national factors at work, but Nate Silver makes it clear that a better candidate would have won easily). It’s up to the House, which can and should just pass the Senate bill.

Unfortunately, quite a few representatives seem to be in panic mode. And that’s just dumb.

First of all, the strategy of playing Republican-lite, and hoping that you’ll be left alone, has been tried — and failed disastrously. Remember 2002?

Second, David Axelrod is right: the campaign against HCR has been based on lies, and the only way to refute those lies (and stop them from being rolled out again and again) is to pass the thing, and let people see it in action. It’s too bad startup is delayed under the Senate bill — but even so, that’s what you have to do.

Finally, Democrats have to realize that politics isn’t just about where you stand on issues, it’s about perceptions of a party’s character. The rap on Dems has always been that they’re wimps — and giving in on such a central part of the party’s agenda, emerging from two years in power with nothing major to show for it, will play right into that perception.

Just do it — pass health care. Then move on to confronting the bankers.

Drum: Email Dump

Email from my old college roommate:

What is wrong with Democrats? I'm not talking about losing in MA. Sure, it's an unforced error, but it happens. I'm talking about the self-destructive spasms that follow.

And this from a friend:

I can't decide which is worse — watching what happened yesterday, or watching them react to what happened yesterday today. I can barely turn on my computer. It's so pathetic.

And another:

There is nothing in the Democratic conference that inspires confidence. They are simply not trustworthy. At all. Make no mistake: This failed for lack of leadership. And I guess the leaders have to reap the whirlwind or whatever.

And another:

Frankly, I don't know which is worse — the finger pointing, or the calls for slowing down, restarting, or scrapping HCR. You can find more professionalism in your local student council race. To call this amateur hour actually dignifies the whole thing.

And finally this from a Senate staffer over at Josh Marshall's site:

The worst is that I can't help but feel like the main emotion people in the caucus are feeling is relief at this turn of events. Now they have a ready excuse for not getting anything done. While I always thought we had the better ideas but the weaker messaging, it feels like somewhere along the line Members internalized a belief that we actually have weaker ideas. They're afraid to actually implement them and face the judgement of the voters. That's the scariest dynamic and what makes me think this will all come crashing down around us in November.

And remember: I and my readers are mostly the sober, pragmatic sorts. Willing to compromise. Sensitive to political realities. Etc. And even we're disgusted. I can't remember ever being as embarrassed to be a Democrat as I am today.

Beutler (TPM): U-Turn: Frank Says, With Assurances, He'll Vote For The Senate Health Care Bill

In an interview with TPMDC this evening, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) reversed course--apologizing for a harsh statement he released last night in the wake of the Massachusetts special election, and saying, explicitly, that if he's assured the bill will be fixed down the line, he'd vote for the Senate health care bill.

"I'm easy. I'm strongly inclined to vote for the thing, even though I don't like the health care tax thing," Frank told me. "But you know, I was ready to vote for the bill when I had people on the left yelling at me not to vote for it. So you know I'll vote for any of it... to try and move the process along."

Frank was quick to qualify his remarks, though, noting that a vote from him would require promises from leadership and the White House that at least one controversial element of the legislation would be fixed in subsequent legislation. "I take it back...I would want assurances that we were going to amend the health care tax piece," Frank said.

Last night, Frank cast significant doubt on whether Democrats could conceivably pass a health care bill at all. In a statement issued after Sen.-elect Scott Brown's (R-MA) victory last night, Frank said "I am hopeful that some Republican senators will be willing to discuss a revised version of health care reform. Because I do not think that the country would be well served by the health care status quo. But our respect for democratic procedures must rule out any effort to pass a health care bill as if the Massachusetts election had not happened."

That statement created a bit of confusion: Did Frank think the election was a referendum on health care and that Democrats should abandon the plan? Or did he simply think it would be inappropriate of Democrats to ram a compromise bill through the Senate in the window between Brown's victory and his swearing in. Tonight, Frank laid any doubt to rest.

"I should not have put out a statement late in the evening last night when I was upset because I didn't really--I think I overstated the pessimism," Frank told me. "I really was worried--I put out a new statement--I was worried about some Democrats doing crazy things, like 'don't seat him', 'let Kirk's vote go.' I was worried about that."

Frank laid out a specific, potential way forward for health care, which he acknowledged would be fraught with difficulty. But, he noted, if it fails, Democrats should return to the Senate and ask one moderate Republican if she really wants to be the person who says, "no way, no how," to health care reform.

"The one thing is--you might be able to get the Senate bill through the House if there were assurances and agreement on what subsequent amendments would be," Frank said. "That's going to be very tricky, but that's one possibility."

Frank is talking, roughly, about Plan B, which Democrats have been discussing since the electoral situation in Massachusetts began looking dire. How exactly would that work? Frank explained:

"You have to pass the Senate bill as is and the President signs it. Then people have to be assured that you can get the amendments through the House and the Senate," Frank said. "Because then the argument would be, 'Look, the bills already passed so now the question is whether you're willing to amend it or not.'"

One way to do that would be through the filibuster proof budget reconciliation process. "The alternative would be, people are talking about using reconciliation: 51 votes to get the agreed on amendments in the Senate."

The problem, Frank noted, is that reconciliation can only be used for some measures--revenue and spending measures, with implications for the federal budget--and not others. Some elements of the fix, then, could be passed through reconciliation, requiring only a simple majority in the Senate. The trick would be to get the other contentious measures--abortion, immigration--fixed through the regular order.

"Those would need 60 [in the Senate]--and the question is can you get the House votes without the assurance that you're going to get those."

So what if it fails? What if, despite these hypothetical assurances, the House can't muster the votes for the bill? Frank says, look to Maine.

"I just had somebody in Maine tell me this--I wonder whether Olympia Snowe wants to be the person who says nothing happens," Frank told me. "It's one thing for her to vote no when she thought it was going to pass."

I think people are underestimating the pressure people like Olympia Snowe are going to feel. She voted for a version of it. Is she going to want to say, "Never ever ever, and I'm in charge of their not having been any change, and pre-existing conditions, and lifetime caps, etc etc."

Frank says if Democrats can't seal the deal on health care reform, they may still be able to accomplish other agenda items like financial regulatory reform, and jobs legislation. But, he said, a success on health care reform, without abrogating the accepted norms in Congress, would be much better politically than outright failure.

"A bill being passed [is in Democrats' best interest]--as long as it's being done in a way that's invulnerable to charges that it was jammed through, or the rules were disregarded. That's what I was afraid of was a disregard for the procedural rules: Bending the Byrd rule out of shape, or doing something with Paul Kirk's vote while awaiting certification--those things would be fatal."

Democrats will huddle to discuss plausible ways forward tomorrow morning. Speaking as one of the members who left last night's health care caucus feeling pessimistic and aggrieved, he thinks fellow progressives and other Democrats will be calmer tomorrow, having had a chance to mull things and come to terms with the new reality.

"It's probably better."

The atmosphere will be better?


Beutler (TPM): Labor Coalesces: Pass Senate Health Care Bill, But Only If It's Fixed Quickly

The most influential labor organizations in the country have arrived at a common solution to the Democrats' health care conundrum: Move forward, pass the Senate bill through the House, but only if a separate, filibuster proof bill codifying a crucial changes is passed post haste.

"Step one: The House should pass the Senate's health insurance reform bill - with an agreement that it will be fixed, fixed right, and fixed right away through a parallel process," writes SEIU President Andy Stern at the Huffington Post.

Reform can work -- the Senate bill can serve as the foundation for reform and include at minimum the improvements the Administration, House, and Senate have negotiated. We cannot squander the opportunity to make real progress. The House and Senate must move forward together. And, there is no reason they cannot move forward together to make those changes through any means possible -- whether through reconciliation or other pieces of moving legislation.... There is no turning back. There is no running away. There is no reset button.

The AFL-CIO has a functionally similar, but tonally tougher take. "We don't want the House to pass the Senate bill as is," AFL-CIO spokesman Eddie Vale tells me. "It needs to be paired with a Senate [bill]--through reconciliation--that makes fixes."

Such a pairing, according to Vale, should be "simultaneous, or almost side by side."

Functionally, these are nearly identical positions. Vale says an outreach effort to disgruntled progressives and members supportive of organized labor is ongoing. "From the very beginning we have been discussing and communicating these decisions with members, progressives...and are of course continuing to do so now."

Unclear is how large a time lag between the two bills labor would accept. As to whether passing a reconciliation bill to amend the Senate bill is feasible, union officials see a ray of hope. "If the House passed the Senate bill, could reconciliation, that process, be used to fix things that might be improved upon? Yes," Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) told reporters today. "Would I support it? I can't know that without knowing what would be included in the package."

Drum: Facing Reality

Over at the Economist, some random unidentified blogger says that Democrats should modify their healthcare bill in order to attract some Republican votes:

Suppose you had just woken up from a year-long hibernation and somebody gave you the logistical picture described above. You would come to one of two conclusions: 1) the bill in question was deeply flawed, because otherwise surely at least one member of the opposition would support legislation that seeks to improve what is almost universally accepted to be an expensive and slipshod health-care system. Or 2) The country has been paralysed by party politics, such that not even one rogue or idiosyncratic or centrist or mischievous Republican would cross party lines to support the Democrats' bill. Option two strikes me as more unlikely, but we're all operating as if it were the case.

I see an opportunity, however miniscule, for the Democrats to take this time to re-work the bill in a way that would have broader appeal — not a way that has more giveaways to business, as they seem to have that under control all on their own — or, at the very least, to make a stronger case for the bill they do have. Optimistic, or dangerously naive?

Of all the fantastical notions that have been floating around today, this is the one that strikes me as the least grounded in reality. (Which, in fairness, the Economist's blogger seems to dimly grasp.) So as long as we're waking up from a year-long hibernation, let's recall a little bit of history.

For starters: Republicans have never had any interest in serious healthcare reform. George Bush was president for eight years and never proposed anything. Congressional Republicans never proposed anything either — and when Democrats took power, they opposed even incremental changes like SCHIP expansion. The Republican candidate for president in 2008, John McCain, was plainly uninterested in healthcare reform, and when he finally felt like he had to propose a plan of his own, it was so transparently weak and unworkable that no one took it seriously.

Now fast forward to 2009. Congressional Democrats start work on healthcare and Republicans have two choices: (a) work with Dems to try to produce a bill that's a little more to their liking or (b) try to kill it completely and run the risk that Dems pass a more liberal bill on a party line vote. Option B was a big gamble since healthcare reform seemed likely to pass, but they chose it anyway because killing reform completely was their preferred outcome.

The idea that there are even a handful of Republicans who are interested in improving "what is almost universally accepted to be an expensive and slipshod health-care system" just isn't supported by the evidence. That's because this is nowhere near universally accepted. Republicans think we have the best healthcare system in the world. Their unanimous preference is to leave it alone, and Democrats really don't have any bargaining chips big enough to get them to change their mind. As Jon Chait put it in response to a Mark Penn column that also suggested a bipartisan approach: "I'm trying to think of what it would take for them to accept a public plan. The total abolition of all taxes on income over $200,000? Even that probably wouldn't be enough."

This fantasy that there are Republican votes for a more moderate bill really needs to end. There are no Republican votes for healthcare reform, no matter how moderate or conservative it is. They're opposed to healthcare reform. They've always been opposed to healthcare reform. They're Republicans! There's nothing wrong with them being opposed to healthcare reform. And they are. Full stop.

Going down this path would be dangerously delusional. It would waste time, piss off voters even more, and accomplish nothing. It's time for House liberals, labor unions, lefty activists, Blue Dogs, Democratic pro-lifers, and fence-sitting centrists to all face reality: the only way to pass healthcare reform of any kind is for the House to pass the Senate bill as is and then work to improve it later during the budget reconciliation process. It's not perfect, but it will work. Nothing else will.

Booman: The Real Failure
Congressional Democrats and the White House are getting a lot of advice today. Almost all of it is self-serving. I might have some advice, but I mainly have a few observations.

As someone who spent 2005-2009 documenting the behavior of the Bush administration and the Republicans in Congress, I can tell you that we've never suffered from such a period of sustained unethical and even criminal behavior in our nation's history. That those characters were also almost comically inept and incompetent only made matters worse. They were so bad, in fact, that it didn't require any kind of ideological battle to defeat them. People just wanted change.

We've had bad administrations before. We've even had failed administrations before. But we've never had quite the toxic brew that we experienced in the second term of the Bush administration. They left the country heavily indebted, with a cratering financial sector, escalating unemployment, a housing crisis, and internationally discredited while bogged down in two unpopular wars in Asia. But you know all this.

The problem, as I see it, is that the Obama administration attempted to treat the Bush administration the same way all other incoming administrations have treated an outgoing administration of the other party. That is to say, they treated them as members of the permanent Establishment in good standing. Their punishment was being stripped of the offices and accouterments of power, nothing more. Where possible, members of the Bush administration were retained in the interest of comity and continuity. Republican members of Congress were invited into the cabinet. Crimes were not investigated, or were put off to another day.

There were many fine reasons, both practical and political, for taking this road, but they ignored they magnitude of the rot at the heart of our country after eight years of Bush and Cheney in power. They ignored the very nature of the Republican Party that Bush and Cheney bequeathed upon the nation.

Obama wanted to rise above petty partisan bickering and rule by consensus. But the other side was so corrupted that this proved impossible. And, I think, this phenomenon goes beyond mere partisan politics to extend to Wall Street, and to our culture more generally after eight years of terrorization and regulatory neglect by our government. Our media is thoroughly corrupted, as well.

Above all, the political cost that Obama has paid has come from his failure to articulate the nature of the beast he defeated. And, I think, this is partly due to his failure to understand the depth and breadth of the cancer that is feeding on our Republic. To be sure, it has metastasized into the Democratic Party, too. But that wouldn't be a problem if not for the complete rot in the other party.

A narrative needs to be told about the degree to which the Republicans screwed up this country, flouted the law, violated privacy and civil rights, and took the money and ran. Until the Obama administration is willing to tell the American people the truth about the biggest threat we face (which is not the threat of terrorism) and to behave like they are serious about defeating the Republicans and driving them into the ground, we are going to lose elections to lightweights like Scott Brown whenever our own candidates are less than satisfying.