Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category

On Labor, Primaries, and Pressure

Friday, June 11th, 2010

I wasn’t really planning on writing on this silly spat between the White House and organized labor over the Democratic primary in Arkansas, but there’s a few different angles I want to address. For starters, while I’ll agree that this never should have been said publicly, and if the White House finds out who the source is they probably ought to relieve them of their duties, let’s get one thing straight; the White House official is right.Labor has every right to do what it wants with its money, but it definitely wasted its resources in this race. For one thing, Halter was hardly a progressive lion, and likely wouldn’t vote much differently than Lincoln in the Senate. For another thing, Arkansas just isn’t a state where labor has a lot of clout, making their backing somewhat less valuable than it might have been elsewhere. Indeed, much of Lincoln’s campaign was premised around attacking Halter for being pushed by national labor unions.

On the other hand, there’s the argument that the message was sent anyway; that incumbents better not cross labor less they make your life miserable. Perhaps, but I think the people pushing this line the hardest are looking at the situation through rose-colored glasses. The bottom line is that incumbent re-election rates are very high in the U.S., and they’re downright astronomical for sitting Senators in primaries. And, of course, Blanche Lincoln is now a mark in favor of re-election. So even if we assume that labor or other factions of the party can give an incumbent a headache in the primary, the simple fact remains that the incumbent is overwhelmingly likely to win the primary, and much more likely to get beaten in a general election (especially if they’re in a conservative state) than in a primary. For someone who’s only concerned about getting re-elected, this isn’t really a tough call to make at all.

On the other hand, there’s the notion of the White House’s ability to pressure Senators, which Greenwald raises again in typically dense fashion. Yglesias and Bernstein dispose of the nonsense in good fashion, but I’d simply add that, again, there’s a very simple balance of power here; while troubled incumbents may want White House backing in elections, it’s at least technically possible for them to win without it. On the other hand, the White House can’t get its agenda through Congress without sufficient votes from members. With 40 Repuplicans lined up to oppose his agenda no matter what, Obama had to keep every Democrat on board for healthcare reform. If Blanche Lincoln refused to support the bill, that was it. There was no clever way out of things; it was get Blanche Lincoln to support the effort or give up on comprehensive reform. Period. The leverage between individual Senators at the tipping point of votes and the White House is always going to tilt in favor of the Senators (at least in domestic policy) because they have votes in the Senate, and you have to get votes in the Senate to pass bills. The question is how do you get those votes. Greenwald wants to imagine a world where you get them by beating marginal Senators with sticks until they’re cowed like powerless children into doing what you want them to, but that world quite simply doesn’t exist. Senators just aren’t powerless, and thanks to the filibuster, they’re holding the trump card more often than not. The national party or various factions of the party might be able to make life difficult for them, hell they may even be able to slay the dragon, but that vote in the Senate means that the Senator is going to be able to return the favor and then some as long as they have it.

And losing primary challenges does nothing to alter that balance.

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Maybe Lindsey is Right

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Yesterday, in the context of criticizing a dumb Thomas Friedman column, I more or less took for granted that Lindsey Graham’s threat to abandon working with Democrats on climate change if they took up immigration reform next was evidence of bad faith, especially since Graham has been supportive of the immigration reform effort. Jon Chait doesn’t see it that way:

Hypocrisy? Well, sure. But it seems unfair to accuse him of having “negotiated in bad faith.” Graham has been painstakingly attempting to assemble a political and business coalition for legislation to mitigate climate change. He has also been working on immigration reform, but the Democrats’ weak signals of interest before last week have helped contribute to an atmosphere where nobody expected a bill to advance this year, and thus little headway has been made. There has been no House immigration bill, whereas the House has passed a climate bill already. Graham was set to unveil his bill on Monday when Harry Reid pulled the carpet out from under him by announcing that immigration would come first and climate — which gets harder to do as the elections gets closer — probably never.

Yglesias, Ezra, and Drum all  more or less agree.

For my part, for the sake of not getting stuck on a somewhat minor point, I’ll assume Graham is, indeed, working with Democrats in good faith here, and really does want to see some sort of action on climate this year, and he’s angry because he feels Reid has decided not to go that route, essentially hanging him out to dry. It’s understandable, in a way, but at the same time, that just makes Graham’s tantrum more bizarre. After all, if Graham really wants to achieve something on climate but thinks Democratic leadership has decided against it, the last thing it would make sense for Graham to do is bail on the effort. That doesn’t make action on climate more likely, and gives Democrats an angle to blame Republicans for the lack of action on climate. In every way, it makes it less likely that climate legislation will be taken up this year, if you assume that Graham means it at least.

The key point here is the last paragraph in Ezra’s post. We sort of take it for granted that Congress can only handle one issue at a time, but there’s no reason that has to be true. Graham is ostensibly supportive of both climate legislation and immigration reform, and if he remains committed to getting something done on either or both fronts this year, he can let Harry Reid know that he’d like for work to be done on both. Reid is backing off somewhat today in the face of the amount of work that’s already been done on climate, as well as Graham’s threat, I’d imagine, but if there’s a Republican or two committed to working with the Democrats on one, or both, issues, there’s no reason something can’t be done on climate and immigration this year.

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How Do You Cut Defense Spending

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Responding to Ezra’s musing about the political feasibility of cutting defense spending, Yglesias writes:

The most relevant issue, when thinking about cuts, is thinking about the political fight that ensues. If a President proposed cutting the defense budget and then you had a ton of stories in the press where senior military officers fret off the record that the cuts will endanger America, and every television network trotted out a former general with undisclosed ties to defense contractors as an “independent analyst” to condemn the cuts, and if active duty soldiers sent emails to their civilian family and friends complaining about the cuts, and if think tank experts who depend on cooperation with the military to do their research either complained about the cuts or else stayed silent, then I think you’d have a giant political fiasco on your hands.The relevant issue here, in other words, is that the military is the most trusted institution in America and then on top of that the defense sector of the economy has a lot of money and economic reach. Consequently, it’s very political difficult for a president to do anything that provokes the ire of the defense establishment whether or not it polls well in the abstract. This seems to me to be a huge problem in American political life, but it’s not obvious to me what steps will resolve it.

I’d say Matt is right in his estimation of the political conflict trying to substantially cut defense spending would ensue, but I think the answer to the question of what steps would make it more feasible are much more obvious.

First of all, you’d need a President who was committed to reigning in military spending as a first priority. This seems pretty self-explanatory. Secondly, for better or worse, you need a Republican President. The counter-intuitiveness of a Republican who thought we spent too much money on the Pentagon would make it slightly harder to demonize the effort as some pacifistic military hatefest out of hand, and provide some political cover. Plus, Congressional Republicans are much more apt to fall in line with what they’re told, so a Republican President could probably bring a handful of Congressional votes a Democratic President simply couldn’t get. Finally, you’d need a President with military experience, and experience that reaches into senior command. Think Dwight Eisenhower. It’s rather hard to accuse former generals of hating the military or not being sufficiently knowledgeable about the needs of the military at large.  Conservative hawks intent on demonizing the President would immediately look like lunatics, and hawkswho wanted more credibility would have to reflexively acknowledge the President’s credibility. In other words, you’d need President Petraeus to agree that we spend way too much money on the military, and that this is a big problem that desperately needs to be fixed. Would that be enough to shift the narrative and win the necessary votes in Congress? It’s hard to say, but it’s the only realistic path to that end I see in the near term.

The Benefits of Wacking Blanche

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Yesterday, Jon Chait couldn’t figure out what the benefits of running a primary challenge to Blanch Lincoln, given that she voted for the Affordable Care Act and she actually is representing a fairly conservative state. Today I think he’s much closer to figuring out the logic:

I could see an argument for deploying challengers wherever you can find them just to throw the fear of God into Democrats in Congress. Perhaps the fact that Lincoln is almost certain to lose makes her an especially good target. There was a scene in “The Untouchables” where a federal agent, played by Sean Connery, is trying unsuccessfully to get one of Al Capone’s hireling to talk. So he goes outside the room, picks up the corpse of one of the bad guys, starts interrogating him as if he’s still alive, and then shoots him. The bad guy inside the room, unaware that the colleague that Connery shot was already dead, immediately becomes terrified and starts blabbing.[…]

If you’re not following my analogy, the progressives are Sean Connery and the corpse is Blanche Lincoln. If you’re going to make an example out of somebody, why not pick somebody who’s already (politically) dead? Or so the logic might go.

That’s pretty much the way I’d look at it. Lincoln is almost certainly going to lose anyway, so even if Halter is too liberal for the state, you’re not actually losing anything; the Republican candidate comes out on top either way. And it’s not as though Lincoln is a model Democrat. Yes she voted for the ACA, but she watered it down quite a bit as part of a bloc of conservative Senate Democrats, she flip-flopped on EFCA as soon as Democrats got 60 seats in the Senate, and as the Senator from Wal-Mart and Tyson, she’s not exactly hostile to corporate interests. And for what? Pretty much anyone could have told you she was going to lose her seat no matter what, so if she wanted to, she could have been a solid vote for the Democratic agenda.

There’s a bit of an incentives issue here too. If progressive groups look at Senators seeking re-election from states like Arkansas and give them the freedom to do whatever they have to do to get re-elected, there’s nothing stopping them from running as far right as they can. On the other hand, if they think they have to worry about primary campaigns as well as general election campaigns, that goes a long way towards keeping them on the reservation. And if they’re going to lose their seat anyway, then from a national standpoint you want to get something out of them on their way out, namely their vote on the party’s agenda while they’re still holding the seat.

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Say It Again; Conservatives Don’t Care About the Deficits

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Fretting about the deficit, and the difficultly in addressing the deficit, is a constant source of posturing from pundits, but sometimes they remind you that they really have very weird views on the nature of the problem, and the possible ways of addressing it. Consider David Brooks:

Now some people think their elected officials are so rotten that only an unelected commission can save us. Snobs. The history of commissions is the history of failure. Stuart M. Butler of the Heritage Foundation and Henry J. Aaron of the Brookings Institution argue compellingly that it is simply impossible in a democracy to rewrite the social contract without popular consent. Commissions are fine, but they have to be embedded in a broader democratic process.The way to do that is to break free from the polarized committee structure. Invite a dozen handpicked senators and House members and stick them in a room three times a week for six months.

After they’ve come up with a debt-reduction plan, have them send it up in secret to the presidential deficit commission, which President Obama was smart enough to create.

This is a fine idea, so far as it goes, and it’s not something I’d have a problem endorsing. But what’s odd is that Brooks, like basically every other pundit that trades in deficit hawkery, completely ignores the main problem facing people who want to tackle the long-term deficit; Republican elected officials will not under any circumstances accept tax increases. Really, they won’t. Republicans in the federal government haven’t voted for a single tax increase since George H.W. Bush was President, and the conservative base revolted in response to that attempt to address the deficit. What’s even more maddening is the inevitable need to paint the deficit as a problem made by both parties, which both parties are equally reluctant to tackle.

Consider the last 30 years of fiscal policy. When Reagan was in office, he advocated drastic tax cuts, particularly for the wealthy, and large increases in defense spending. The result, naturally, was historically large budget deficits. George H.W. Bush attempted to take steps towards deficit reduction, and was villified by most of the Republican Party for it. Then came Clinton, whose 1993 budget not only reduced the size of the deficit, but turned it into a large surplus by the time Clinton left office. And not a single Republican voted for that budget. Every single Republican member of Congress opposed the most significant deficit reduction measure of the last 30 years. Let that sink in. Then of course, Dubya came along with a large surplus on the budget, and through a series of massive tax cuts, a completely unfinanced entitlement expansion, and two unfinanced wars created more historically large budget deficits. The current Democratic government, by contrast, constructed their major legislative accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act, in a way that was not just paid for, but actually reduces the deficit in the long term according to the CBO. Yes, there was the stimulus, but that was both a one-time, short term expeniture in the face of a massive economic downturn, and a textbook example of how government is supposed to react in situations where monetary policy is of limited effect in stimulating the economy according to modern economic theory.

The pattern here is pretty simple, moderate and liberal governments budget responsibly, and take deficit reduction seriously, even when it makes legislating more difficult, while conservative administrations mix large tax cuts with new spending on pet projects, specifically wars and military equipment, leading to exploded deficits. And at present, the obvious impediment to serious bi-partisan attempts at deficit reduction is Republican refusal to accept tax increases to generate new revenue. As is usually the case, the fact that pundits who are ostensibly concerned about this issue never make note of the problem suggests that they either don’t take the issue as seriously as they purport to, or simply don’t pay enough attention to know what the actual impediments to their goal are.

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McCain the Maverick as a Character Issue

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Responding to Jill Lawrence’s observation that, despite John McCain’s claims in the 2008 Presidential campaing, it’s Barack Obama who is making decisions that are angering his party’s base, while a primary challenge from the right has McCain abandoning his previous “Mavericky” positions and toeing the GOP line, Chait writes:

Lawrence ticks off numerous examples. Now, to be sure, the difference is mostly in the positions the two men find themselves in: Obama needs to deal with a Senate where conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans hold swing votes, and McCain is fending off a right-wing primary challenge. Still, acknowledging that fact itself undermines McCain’s contention that his breaks with his party, most of them occurring from 2000-2003, were a mark of character. If they were a mark of character, then his current behavior suggests that McCain lacks character. But I think the evidence suggests that reading characterological traits into “maverick” votes is, at best, a wildly overstated exercise.

That’s true enough, if you assume the mavericky votes were honest expressions of McCain’s idiosyncracy. If, instead, you view them as votes primarily cast in opposition to George W. Bush in a fit of pique by the man Bush beat in a nasty GOP primary, then they make a lot of sense as a manifestation of characterological traits; they paint the picture of a man who is unusually petty and prone to pique, a view that makes even more sense when you consider that McCain was already abandoning his independent persona before J.D. Hayworth announced his challenge when it presented a chance to oppose the administration. And considering that McCain was a pretty down-the-line conservative Senator prior to 2001, I maintain this is the best way to understand John McCain’s professional evolution.

In other news, McCain is also claiming that even if Republicans can’t repeal the ACA because they can’t get past a Presiential veto, that’s okay, they’ll just refuse to fund it. The problem is that most of the spending is mandatory spending, not discretionary spending, which means the funding is automatically ppropriated year to year, and changing that would require passing a new law. Which serves as a nice reminder that on top of being a uniquely petty, crotchety old man, McCain also knows nothing about governanve, budgeting, or Congressional procedure, despite having spent nearly 3 decades in Congress.

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Weird Attitudes on Process Questions

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

This finding is truly bizarre:

Of course, it’s not really possible to know why 58% of independents, and 19% of Democrats, think passage of healthcare was an “abuse of power,” but there you go. To be clear, healthcare reform went through the normal committee process in both chambers of Congress, taking months to get through the whole process. Max Baucus, the chairman of the most powerful committee in all of Congress, spent at least a month trying to reach out to Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee. The Senate passed its bill through normal order, as did the House, and then a longstanding procedure was used to make minor changes to the law after it was signed. There’s nothing remotely untoward about any aspect of the process of passing healthcare reform.

What you’re seeing here is the wages of Republican attacks on the legislative process. At basically every point of the process, Republicans alledged that Democrats were abusing this or that parliamentary rule. Reconcilliation, a decades old law that both parties have used for major pieces of legislation, became “the nuclear option.” Parochial deals cut to win support from on-the-fence Senators, a central aspect of the US system of representative government since 1787, became the hallmark of corrupt governing. Private negotiations, a basic cornerstone of decision making in pretty much any venture, became a no-no. And to compound it, the poltical media, especially cable news, gladly played along, happy to pretend this was a legitimate scandal so they could milk some ratings out of it. And as a result, more than half of respondents to this Gallup poll think that routine use of Congressional rules is an abuse of power. This is bad news for Democrats, obviouly, but it’s bad news for the country too. The clear lesson from this “debate” is that constant demonization of not just your opponent, but of the basic workings of the American government itself, is a huge political winner because the American public doesn’t know enough about the way Congress works to know that the minority is full of crap.

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Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010
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John McCain Promises Next 9 Months Will Look Just Like Last 15

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

This isn’t exactly Earth shattering news:

Democrats shouldn’t expect much cooperation from Republicans the rest of this year, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) warned Monday.

McCain and another Republican senator decried the effect health reform legislation has had on the Senate, a day after the House passed the upper chamber’s bill.

GOP senators emerged Monday to caution that the health debate had taken a toll on the institution, warning of little work between parties the rest of this year.

“There will be no cooperation for the rest of the year,” McCain said during an interview Monday on an Arizona radio affiliate. “They have poisoned the well in what they’ve done and how they’ve done it.”

Of course, Republicans haven’t cooperated on anything yet this Congress, and their cooperation moving forward was unlikely anyway, to say the least. Still, the logic is funny, as Chait outlines nicely:

Second, if we believe McCain and Graham, they’re saying that there are areas in public policy where Republicans would help make legislative changes that they believe would make the country a better place, but they are refusing to do so out of pique that Democrats employed a commonly-used legislative procedure. In other words, their own claim is that they are deliberately choosing to create suffering — not merely preventing legislation the Democrats want, but preventing legislation they agree would help people and would otherwise support — in order to punish the Democrats. This sounds like something the Democrats would accuse them of doing, not something they’d boast about.

I think Chait is almost certainly right about Republicans here, I don’t see any reason to believe they don’t honestly think they have the best ideas for the country. But I don’t for a second believe the logic Chait describes doesn’t describe John McCain to the letter. After all, most of the Republican Party, and certainly the conservative movement, has always been skeptical of/hostile to immigration reform, so doing everything they can to kill a Democratic plan on the issue wouldn’t be any different then where they’ve been for 20 years. But John McCain made immigration reform a significant cornerstone of his legislative career, and more specifically made cooperating with Democrats on the issue central to his public persona for years. And now he’s threatening to take him ball and go home, because he lost a Presidential election Democrats passed a healthcare bill with 60 votes in the Senate.

The sad thing is that important media figures will still try to pretend John McCain is something other than a cruel, angry, petty man.

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New Terms Needed For Unprecedented Circumstances

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

To be succinct, I agree with everything Scott Lemieux says about the Op-Ed in The New York Times by Barry Friedman and Andrew Martin. I would add though that what seems to be the biggest problem with the column is that the writers really don’t seem to have any idea how a filibuster works. And the same can be said for anyone whose idea for breaking filibusters is to actually make the minority talk endlessly.

The confusion, I think, stems from the use of the word filibuster itself. Basically people think of the filibuster as one person talking endlessly to try to run out the clock on a motion. But that’s not what Senate minorities are doing now by voting against cloture motions and denying unanimous consent. Basically, the issue is that the Senate has only two ways to end debate and proceed with business; unanimous consent and cloture. If they fail to get either one, they can’t close debate on a question to proceed to a vote. What Republicans are doing is denying consent to move on with business, and since you need a supermajority to do that, the motion fails. It makes no difference whether anyone is talking or not. This is a distinction a lot of people miss, and even have a hard time grasping after you explain it to them, and I think it’s because they can’t get past the term “filibuster” itself. But what’s going on isn’t a filibuster, it’s an unprecedented willingness by the minority to prevent the Senate from conducting business. I think a new term to denote this new practice would help create better public understanding of what’s going on.

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It’s Not Democrats Fault Republicans Are Tremendous Hacks

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Jamison Foser does some digging, and finds that not only did the media not think budget reconcilliation was some great evil when Republicans used them to pass Bush’s 2003 tax cuts on a 50-50 vote, they basically didn’t even realize the process existed, even though they’re pretty much obsessed with it now, and largely convinced that if Democrats use it, it will damage the legitimacy of their legislative agenda. Kevin Drum says this is a failing on the part of Democrats:

In fairness, though, part of the problem here is the Democrats didn’t complain about reconciliation back in 2003. There’s no reason for the media to make a fuss if the opposition party hasn’t bothered to bring it up, after all.This doesn’t excuse the fact that they keep getting basic facts wrong this time around, like the fact that Dems aren’t planning to pass the entire healthcare package through reconciliation, only a small package of amendments. And it doesn’t change the fact that the conservative noise machine is way more effective than anything liberals have. Even if congressional Democrats had tried to make an issue out of reconciliation in 2003, they probably wouldn’t have gotten much traction.

Still, you have to try. Republicans figure they can get some attention for this kind of nonsense if they yell loud enough, and they’re right. Democrats don’t even think of it.

I wouldn’t really say I think Kevin is wrong in this analysis, I just think he’s got it backwards. The reconcilliation process is part of the law governing the process of passing budget related legislation in the Congress, and it’s a perfectly legitimate tool for Congressional majorities to use when it’s allowable. There simply wasn’t any reason for Democrats to complain about Republicans using reconcilliation, because there was nothing wrong with that. One thing I think we really have learned beyond any shadow of a doubt from the past two weeks is that, as a whole, the Republican Party really is nothing but a collection of pure hacks at the moment. Republican Senators are well aware of how reconcilliation has been used in the past, what reconcilliation bills they’ve voted for, and that this is a rather mundane procedural move given the landscape. And yet they’re pretty much united in painting the process as controversial and illegitimate. It’s just shameless. Another problem, the one that Foser nails down, is that our elite media institutions and major “journalists” are just completely clueless. Not only do they not have the nerve to resist whatever meme it is the right-wing noise machine is peddling on any given day, they don’t even seem to have the inclination to try to do even a little legwork to learn about Congress, its rules, or even recent legislative history. I haven’t heard any Republicans who are complaining about reconcilliation be asked about the tactics House GOP leaders used to get Medicare Part D passed.

Will Charlie Crist Leave GOP?

Friday, February 26th, 2010

I know Chait has been talking this up for awhile, and while I’ve seen some people giving this article a bit of attention today, I’m not sure how seriously any should take it. I know nothing about Jack Funari, but the tone and rhetoric of the article certainly makes him sound like a Rubio supporter. The closing in particular summarizes what I think is the obvious problem with taking the article seriously:

Here, in a minimalist nutshell, is why Crist will lose to Rubio in a Republican primary:
If someone told you that Sid Dinerstein, chairman of the Republican Party of Palm Beach County, was going to leave the Republican Party to become an independent, would you believe them? Would you believe it about Marco Rubio? No. If you knew anything at all about politics, or anything about Rubio and Dinerstein, you would dismiss out of hand such a ridiculous report as not being credible and just another silly political rumor.

So tell me, do you believe it is possible that Crist will leave the Republican Party to run as an independent?

You do, don’t you?

And that is why Crist will lose to Rubio.

So what we basically have is someone who supports Rubio, or at least clearly doesn’t like Crist, and who also thinks that the GOP primary electorate’s ability to imagine Crist leaving the party will be a huge liability for Crist, spreading anonymously sourced tips that Crist is getting ready to leave the GOP. The self-serving nature of the claim is transparent, and leaves me skeptical, unless Fumari wants to disclose his sources and they confirm.

This isn’t to say that Crist won’t run as an independent, and certainly not that he shouldn’t. I basically agree that it’s impossible to see Crist beating Rubio in a Republican primary at this point, so if Crist really wants to be a Senator, his only chance to do so is by running as an independent and crafting an electoral coalition of Democrats, independents, and moderate Republicans. I’m just saying that this particular “report” is a little too transparently biased and self-serving for my tastes, and I’m not sure I can believe it.

 

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Our Deeply Unserious Corporate Media

Friday, February 26th, 2010

I think this really should have been the focal point of Krugman’s column today, and so the fact that it’s buried at the bottom is a bit disappointing, but I do think that this is the key takeaway from yesterday’s summit:

So what did we learn from the summit? What I took away was the arrogance that the success of things like the death-panel smear has obviously engendered in Republican politicians. At this point they obviously believe that they can blandly make utterly misleading assertions, saying things that can be easily refuted, and pay no price. And they may well be right.

This is basically the fundamental obstacle to getting the public to understand what’s going on with any number of issues at the moment; the Congressional minority is spinning a bunch of outright lies about the proposals, and the media isn’t interested in pointing that out. Consider this Glenn Thrush report, explaining that the summit was “a tie,” and that that means Republicans won because they spoke in complete sentences and didn’t cite Sarah Palin’s Facebook page or something. Thrush was apparently particularly impressed with the Republican decision to let Sen. Alexander take the lead:

The GOP’s smartest move, Democrats say, was picking Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, a folksy, even-keeled conservative with a moderate disposition, to lead off.

Alexander eschewed the usual GOP talking points, instead offering a barbed olive branch, disavowing South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint’s prediction that health care would be Obama’s “Waterloo” — while pressing the moral argument for passing the bill through reconciliation.

 “We want you to succeed,” said Alexander, who urged Obama to heed the lessons the senator learned back in 1979 when he was elected as a 39-year-old governor of the Volunteer State.

 “Some of the media went up to the Democratic leaders of the Legislature and asked, ‘What are you going to do with the new Republican governor?’ They said, ‘I’m going to help him because if he succeeds, our state succeeds,’” said Alexander. “But often they had to persuade me to change my direction to get our state to where it needed to go. I’d like to say the same thing to you: We want you to succeed, because if you succeed, our country succeeds. But we would like, respectfully, to change [your] direction.”

How touching. Thrush thinks (or his sources think, anyway) that it was a smart move to let Alexander lead, and that Alexander took a rhetorically wise track in his remarks. What Thrush never says, not even once, is that Alexander’s “barbed olive branch” included an awful lot of lying of the bill and the process. To the former, Alexander claimed matter of factly that the CBO report on the bill says it will cause premiums to rise. As Krugman notes in his column though, and as many people pointed out in real-time yesterday, this simply isn’t true. The CBO estimates that the bill will lower premiums, and that the lower cost and availability of subsidies will lead to some people buying more coverage. But the same unit of coverage would cost less if the bill was passed. (This, incidentally, is in line with my criticism of another POLITICO article yesterday). Relating to the latter, Alexander claimed that reconcilliation has never been used for something like this, which is an even more egregious falsehood. Reconcilliation has been used to pass TEFRA in 1982, the Balanced Budget Act of 1995 (and 1997), among other Republica priorities. As Krugman notes, both Bush tax cuts were passed using reconcilliation, at a price tag twice that of the current healthcare bill. In the realm of healthcare specifically, COBRA was passed using reconcilliation in 1985. There simply is no way to make Alexander’s statements anything other than egregious falsehoods, but not only do political journalists not point out when polticians are telling egregious lies, they actively praise them based on theater criticism.

It might sound like nit-picking or whining about the refs, but this is a serious problem. If American political journalists are going to make a habit of ignoring when politicians lie about issues, then there’s nothing keeping everyone from wildly making shit up about public debates, which means there’s basically no hope of maintaining an objectively informed populace. And if that happens, democracy itself is threatened.

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Who Killed the Public Option?

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

Yglesias and Greenwald both write on the idea the public option died a curious death, killed off by some unseen Congressional entity, but the more I think about the politics of passing a public option now, the more I think the obvious answer for why there’s little enthusiasm for bringing the public option back is that the House probably can’t pass a bill that includes it. As plenty of people have pointed out, while Pelosi got 220 votes for the bill in the House, 4 of those votes (Murtha, Abercrombie, Cao, and Wexler) are gone. Additionally, they’ll probably lose 5 votes, give or take, over the differences in abortion language in the Senate bill. That means that Pelosi and House leadership are going to have to do some serious lifting getting Blue Dogs who voted against the House bill to vote for the Senate/reconcilliation bill, and that’s probably much easier to do without a public option, leaving the Congresspersons room to say they can support the more moderate Senate bill, even if they couldn’t support the House bill. It’d be a line of bullshit, to be sure, but that seems the only truly plausible answer as to why Democrats are running away from a chance to pass it in the Senate.

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Rockefeller Doubles Down on Public Option Opposition

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Sen. Jay Rockerfeller (D-WV) is reiterating that he’s opposed to passing the public option through reconcilliation at this time. This remains odd, because to this point Rockefeller has been arguably the biggest champion of the public option in the Senate. This reinforces, I think, the idea that the major players just don’t think they have the votes for the public option, and while much of the attention on that question has been focused on the Senate, the more I think about it, the more I think the House may be the real impediment. Basically, you need to get 217 votes at the moment to pass anything, and while the healthcare bill passed with 220 votes the first time, Robert Wexler has retired, Jack Murtha died, and Jospeh Cao has joined the rest of the GOP in opposition. That leaves you with 217 before you account for Bart Stupak or anyone else who isn’t happy with the Senate’s abortion related language. So basically, any bill that passes the House right now is going to have to get a vote from a handful of Democrats who voted “no” the first time, and they might not be willing to support a public option. That seems like the most likely roadblock at the moment to me.

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