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Archive for the ‘Healthcare’ Category

McCain the Maverick as a Character Issue

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

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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.

The Washington Post’s Greatest Monster

Monday, March 29th, 2010

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It’s a tough competition at a paper that includes Charles Krauthammer, Anne Applebaum, and Marc Thiessen in its stable, but Robert Samuelson, an original member of the Pain Caucus, can always be counted on to make a strong case for the title of Greatest Monster at The Washington Post. Here’s a section of his column today, arguing that expanding health insurance to those without access is a “self-indulgence:”

To criticisms, Obama supporters make two arguments. First, the CBO says the plan reduces the deficit by $143 billion over a decade. Second, the legislation contains measures (an expert panel to curb Medicare spending, emphasis on “comparative effectiveness research”) to control health spending. These rejoinders are self-serving and unconvincing.

Suppose the CBO estimate is correct. So? The $143 billion saving is about 1 percent of the projected $12.7 trillion deficit from 2009 to 2020. If the administration has $1 trillion or so of spending cuts and tax increases over a decade, all these monies should first cover existing deficits — not finance new spending. Obama’s behavior resembles a highly indebted family’s taking an expensive round-the-world trip because it claims to have found ways to pay for it. It’s self-indulgent and reckless.

As  brief aside, there was a point not that long ago when Samuelson couched his morally outrageous positions in much more clever arguments. But whether time is catching up with him or his position has gotten so cozy he can’t avoid the temptation to phone it in, these days Samuelson’s columns don’t even stand up to an initial skimming. In the next paragraph, for example, Samuelson argues that the CBO’s report is “misleading,” and bases this claim on a New York Times Op-Ed by Douglas Holtz-Eakin that Krugman absolutely shredded on the Times’ own website, and by invoking the “doc fix” that was going to pass regardless of the fate of healthcare reform. It’s the work of a complete hack, and not even original hack work at that.

But even leaving that aside, Samuelson’s argument, such as it is, falls apart under the weight of Samuelson’s own analogy. Samuelson would have you believe that expanding access to health insurance is akin to a family that finds some extra money in its budget opts to take a lavish vacation rather than pay down existing debt. I have a better idea, how about we compare it to a family who, rather than pay off some of their credit card debt, takes the newfound funds and…buys health insurance! Of course, that wouldn’t work for Samuelson’s point, because while people can generally agree that vacations should be sacrificed in the name of controlling your personal debt, they’d look at you like you had 3 eyes if you even remotely suggested that paying more than the minimum credit card payment should take precedence over getting your family health insurance.

It’s entirely possible that it didn’t occur to Samuelson that it would be better to compare expanding health insurance coverage to buying insurance rather than taking an extravagant vacation, but I doubt it. The omission is so egregious, and the example Samuelson chose so over the top (I mean really, how many people go on a globe-trotting vacation anyway?), that I can’t really imagine that Samuelson wasn’t deliberately trying to obscure how basic a necessity health insurance is in the modern world. Because, while a hostility to the social saftey net and social welfare spending is the animating factor of Samuelson’s existence, he’s aware enough of the larger political debate to know that most people would be appalled by his beliefs. And so, he’s left coming up with wild analogies to make giving people access to a basic necessity seem like a frivolous expenditure. Thankfully, he’s just not smart enough, nor his writing strong enough, to carry that sort of argument these days.

Romney Will Be Fine

Friday, March 26th, 2010

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by Brien Jackson

There’s a growing meme lately that the passage of the healthcare bill spells doom for Mitt Romney’s chance to win the Republican Presidential nomination. Basically the idea is that the Republican base has been whipped into a froth of opposition to “Obamacare,” and since Romney signed a program that’s essentally the same as the Affordable Care Act in Masachusetts, he’s not going to be able to win support in the Republican primary. The latest articulation I’ve seen came fron Ben Smith this morning, who compares the healthcae issues potential cost to Romney to the impact support for the Iraq War had on Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

For my part, I’m pretty skeptical of this. For one thing, 2012 is pretty far away. And yes, the early parts of the cycle are only a year away, but that aspect of the campaign is dominated by fundraising, which I doubt Romney will have trouble with. The Chamber of Commerce isn’t interested in fighting ove repeal of the bill, PhRMA and providers endorsed it, and non-healthcre businesses don’t really have much of a reason to care about it now that it’s passed. So I very much doubt that the economic interests who fund Republcan campaigns are going to find it much reason to cut off Romney. As far as the Republican electorate goes, I think the idea that they’re going to reject Romney 3 years ago because of his healthcare plan imputes a little too much intellectual sophistication onto the masses. For one thing, it could have been an issue in 2008 as well, when Hillary Clinton was proposing to basically take the Massachusetts system nationwide, but it never really came up, even though it’s not like Democratic plans for universal healthcare were only noticed on the right last year. Indeed, from 1993 to 2008, conservatives used “Hillarycare” as a short-hand for “Socialized medicine.” So the fact that it didn’t hurt Romney in 2008 bodes well for him in 2012. There’s also the fact that Romney can issue some mealy-mouth hedging about “states” and so forth that should buy him enough room to pivot to something else.

If anything, I think the Hillary/Iraq comparison is pretty good, but probably not for the same reason Smith does. Was her initial support for the Iraq War a drag on Clinton’s campaign? Sure. Did it cost her the nomination? Probably not. Compared to investing as much capital in Iowa as they did, even though she was at a distinct disadvantage in the state, and having absolutely no plan for a contest going past Super Tuesday or any kind of campaign presence in the contests between February 5 and March 4, I’d say it’s pretty low on the list of factors that could plausibly be said to have cost Clinton the campaign. What it did do was give her opponents particularly Obama, an early and consistent opening from which to attack her. And that’s probably about all this will do to Romney. Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty and John Thune or whomever is running will be able to respond to Romney’s attacks on the ACA by pointing out that he signed something similar in Massachusetts, but whether or not that proves devastating remains to be seen. For now, I don’t see any evidence that Romney is facing a backlash from the leadership of the conservative movement, which leads me to think it probably won’t hurt him much with the rubes either.

No Surprise Teabaggers Resorting to Violence

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

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There’s been a rash of relatively small-scale poilical violence, brick throwing, verbal threats, that sort of thing, directed at supporters of healthcare reform, but now it seems someone has tried to kill Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA).

Some people have pointed out that this is the natural extention of an essentially authoritarian movement, and that’s fair enough. It’s certainly true that an element of the American conservative movement has adopted rhetoic and tactics that are boilerplate for fascist movements, and the only thing left is widespread violence against political opponents, but I think the particularly American strain of wingnutism has a more complex sense of identity that leads to this point. Essentially, as both Digby and Amanda Marcotte often write about, the conservative movement is built around the belief that everyone else’s opinion is illegitimate, and basically as been since Richard Nixon’s “silent majority” campaign. This attitude is put most starkly on display when conservatives disparage East coasters, even though a huge amount of the population is concentrated on the Eastern seaboard, or when Sarah Palin praises small-towns as the home of “Real Americans.” Implicit in the framing is the idea that non-conservatives are interlopers, that their ideas, and even their existence, is illegitimate. This is why I take claims that conservative anger is based around Obama’s blackness; they do this pretty much every time they’re out of power, even when the Democratic President is a white Southern male.  If you believe you are by definition representative of the majority at all times, and all viewpoints other than yours are fundamentally illegitimate, you can’t really process electoral or legislative defeats any way other than by assuming them to be the result of some nefarious skull-duggery, which is why Republican attacks on procedure had such resonance with the right-wing. Aside from the generic ability to oppose the other side, it gave them the rationalization they needed for loss; Democrats cheated.

Of course, central to the survival of this worldview is the assumption that they do, in fact, represent a majority of the people in the country. It’s why conservatives talk about what “the American people” want so often, and why “coast vs. heartland” culture warring is framed from the presumption that land mass is of more importance than population. If the perception that the right-wing movement is supported by a majority and that only they’re ideas are legitimate/Constitutional/whatever is punctured, their entire political argument goes up in smoke.  But in the meantime, it’s a toxic mix of self-righteousness, hate, and paranoia, the logical extension of which is to perpetuate violence against people who don’t agree with you. After all, if Democrats just ignored the will of the overwhelming majority of the population and cheated the legislative process to implement a plan to literally destroy the country, why wouldn’t you resort to violence in response?

The only questions left to ask are how many people will die before we get serious about addressing it this time, and whether or not it will take another catastrophe like this.

Yes, The Bill is a Progressive Triumph

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

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There’s been a small but vocal critique from some elements of the left that the healthcare bill is terribly inadequate, and a slap in the face to progressives. It’s been such that even people who enthusiastically support the bill have adopted the rhetorical posture that it’s deeply sub-optimal. Something progressives have to force themselves to swallow, rather than celebrate. I don’t necessarily want to re-open this debate, but Yglesias, by reminding us of John Edwards’ healthcare plan from the 2008 election, does a good job of illustrating how ridiculous this notion is:

Key conceptual groundwork was laid by policy thinkers. And below the surface the main issue is that the SEIU was indicating that it wanted candidates with any shot at its endorsement to unveil plans for comprehensive coverage. Repeatedly throughout his campaign, Edwards served as a useful progressive foil. He was never really up there with Clinton and Obama, but he was always close enough that they couldn’t simply ignore the possibility that his efforts to appeal to the base would work. So when Edwards unveiled is four point plan for achieving universal coverage—a plan based on exactly the pillars of ObamaCare—it made a huge difference and swiftly became the benchmark by which Clinton and Obama were judged.


The see-saw of the political expectations game is such that by the Spring of 2010 many people had convinced themselves that this approach to health care was a disappointing sellout. But back in the Spring of 2007, it was considered radical—a left-wing idea by the standards of a Democratic presidential primary.

Now obviously winning a huge electoral landslide that leaves you in control of all three branches of the legislative process, including holding 59 seats (plus Arlen Specter’s switch) in the Senate is going to affect what people see as being within the realm of political possibility. But it’s still worth pointing out just how progressive this bill s relative to what the various major candidates’ healthcare plans were in 2008 and, especially, 2004. Basically, as Yglesias notes, it represents the far-left edge of what was being proposed at the time, and there’s no reason to imagine anything to the left of it could have been enacted, given that basically no major candidates have pushed anything to its left in the past 20 years or so. Progressive activists became enamored of the idea of creating a new public insurance plans in early 2009, but the bottom line is that there was no real movement base to make that a huge issue, in part because even the activists who made it central to their efforts on reform over the past year hadn’t even really been talking about it prior to 2009. And then at some point “The Public Option” morphed into less a serious policy proposal than a tribalistic identifer, especially after Blue Dogs killed the “strong” public option last summer. After that, the policy merits of the shell of the public option simply worth expending a lot of effort over, even though some of the activists had worked themselves into a lather over the idea. So when the public option was excised altogether, some of these people convinced themselves that the underlying bill was an un-progressive sellout, even though 2 years ago the same basic idea was being viewed as a solidly progressive idea. Indeed, if a candidate had proposed it in 2004, or 2000, whomever proposed t would have been looked at as though they were a slightly more serious Dennis Kucinich.

Megan McArdle Has A Breakdown

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

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I make it a point to ignore Megan McArdle, or at least not concern myself with her enough to bother writing about her. McArdle is so regularly so detached not simply from sound logical reasoning, but basic facts in evidence, that arguing with her simply isn’t worth the effort, even if she somehow manages to hold a job as editor of a magazine like The Atlantic. But her reaction to the passage of healthcare reform is such a classic, I can’t not take note of it. Her basic complaint is this:Roblox HackBigo Live Beans HackYUGIOH DUEL LINKS HACKPokemon Duel HackRoblox HackPixel Gun 3d HackGrowtopia HackClash Royale Hackmy cafe recipes stories hackMobile Legends HackMobile Strike Hack

One cannot help but admire Nancy Pelosi’s skill as a legislator.  But it’s also pretty worrying.  Are we now in a world where there is absolutely no recourse to the tyranny of the majority?  Republicans and other opponents of the bill did their job on this; they persuaded the country that they didn’t want this bill.  And that mattered basically not at all.  If you don’t find that terrifying, let me suggest that you are a Democrat who has not yet contemplated what Republicans might do under similar circumstances.  Farewell, Social Security!  Au revoir, Medicare!  The reason entitlements are hard to repeal is that the Republicans care about getting re-elected.  If they didn’t–if they were willing to undertake this sort of suicide mission–then the legislative lock-in you’re counting on wouldn’t exist.  
Other people have pointed out that McArdle doesn’t really seem to understand what “tyranny of the majority” refers to. Basically it’s mostly been applied to things like racial majority groups denying civil rights to minorities. It’s never really been applied to disparage the idea that duly elected legislative majorities shouldn’t have the authority to enact their agenda. Moreover, the idea that there’s “no recourse” is transparently silly, even containing ourselves to McArdle’s reality. If Megan is right that Republicans have turned the public against healthcare reform, then the recourse is pretty easy; they lose Congress, and Republicans repeal the effort. As to McArdle’s contentions about Republicans repealing Medicare an Social Securty, again, she disproves her own premise; such a move would cost Republicans control of government and Democrats would set about re-creating the programs. You can call this a lot of things, but “tyranny” is hardly one of them.
But the more strking thing about this to me is the way that, per usual, McArdle s just completely ignorant of basic reality surrounding her topic. To point out what should be obvious, yes, the House of Representatives has always been a majoritarian institution. And where the Senate is concerned, the bill in question cleared all of its normal counter-majoritarian hurdles, which is to say it overcame the filibuster. 60% of the Senate voted for it, which is more than voted for any number of major bills that have come out of the Senate since 1980. McArdle is simply angry that she lost, especially, I imagine, after she was supremely confident that the reform effort was dead, and she simply isn’t letting any sort of attachment to objective reality get in the way of venting about it. Which is fine, I just continue to wonder why The Atlantic continues to want to pay her for work of this quality.

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Healthcare Reform Passes

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

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Our long national nightmare is over, as the United States Congress has finally voted to join the advanced world. There’s plenty to say about this vote, but there’s two people I want to thank in particular. First and foremost, Nancy Pelosi, who arguably saved the entire effort at multiple points over the past year. It really isn’t a coincidence that the first female Speaker of the House will almost certainly go down as its greatest progressive leader, but it is worth repeating over and over. Secondly, but certainly not least, let us raise a toast tonight to George W. Bush. Say what you will about the guy, but it’s hard to imagine Democrats winning the sort of majorities/momentum this sort of vote required without his unique awfulness. Heckuva job Dubya.

Breaking: Conservative Has Empathy!

Monday, March 15th, 2010

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It’s sort of sad that I was totally surprised by this piece that appeared at David Frum’s site but, well, there you have it: it’s surprising to see conservatives displaying empathy. Actually, I guess it’s technically not empathy, since the writer is describing something that’s actually happening to him, as opposed to something happening to someone else he can imagine happening to him, but hey, I might as well cut him some slack for the effort.

I do have to say though that I still find the complete absence of any empathy from the right in the healthcare debate totally bizarre. I’ve long since reconciled myself to the fact that almost no one on the right understands the issues involved in the healthcare question whatsoever, so maybe it’s simply a function of that, but still, it’s really odd that apparently no writers at any major conservative publications can imagine themselves or someone they know becoming a casualty of our dysfunctional insurance regime. Especially because they’re writers! After all, almost no conservative publications actually turn an operating profit (nor do many liberal publications, to be fair), and they all largely depend on a mix of donations from readers and rich benefactors to make up the difference. But considering the shape the economy is in, can no conservative writers really imagine that donations will drop this year, and the publication paying their check might have to downsize? Can none of them really not imagine themselves falling victim to a recession and then developing a serious medical condition while they’re between jobs? Do none of them realize that should this happen to them, or someone they know, they’ll be completely shut out of the insurance market? It’s just very odd, and makes me wonder whether American conservatives really are compltely devoid of empathy, or are just that ignorant of health insurance issues.

The Washington Post’s Problem With Reality

Monday, March 1st, 2010

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The Washington Post ran two columns this morning coming down somewhere between disdainful and skeptical about costs associated with healthcare reform. Chait already did a good job dealing with Fred Hiatt’s column, but I’d prefer to engage the much worse column from (surprise!) Robert Samuelson. This seems to be the key graf from the column:

On the left, President Obama and Democrats have spent the past year arguing that, despite the government’s massive deficits and overspending, they can responsibly propose even more spending. Future deficits are to be ignored (present deficits, to be sure, partially reflect the economic slump). The proposal is “responsible” because it’s “paid for” through new taxes and spending cuts. Even if these financing sources were completely believable (they aren’t), the logic is that the government can undertake new spending before dealing with the consequences of old spending. Of course, most households and businesses can’t do this.

Politicians can, because it’s all make-believe. They pretend to deal with budget deficits when they aren’t.

First of all, it seems to me that if Samuelson is going to claim that the financing mechanisms for reform aren’t “believeable,” he really ought to go to greater lengths to say why that’s the case. The CBO has scored both bills as deficit reducing, and if Samuelson has some sort of reason to believe those reports aren’t accurate, then it seems to me that his station at a major newspaper obligates him to let us know about it. If nothing else, you’d think the vaunted editors that make newspaper so wicked awesome we keep hearing about might ask their main economics columnist to explain this to their readers. It’s not like it’s trivial, after all. Secondly, there’s the rather obvious point that that last sentence rather blatantly ignores the fact that the CBO says the healthcare reform bill would lower the long-term budget deficit. Passing legislation that reduces the long-term deficit definitely strikes me as “dealing with budget deficits,” and I’d be interested to hear why Samuelson thinks it isn’t. Of course, Samuelson is a big proponent of cutting Medicare and Social Security benefits, as is the Washington Post editorial board, so I suspect it’s mostly a matter of cutting the deficit in general not being as important to Samuelson as cutting social safety net benefits in particular, but that really doesn’t give him a license to lie about the effect reform would have on the deficit. Being a Washington Post columnist, on the other hand…

Our Deeply Unserious Corporate Media

Friday, February 26th, 2010

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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.

Who Killed the Public Option?

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

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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.

POLITICO Journalism

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

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This blurb from Carrie Burdoff Brown is striking for a number of reasons.

If President Barack Obama at Thursday’s summit, like caps on malpractice awards or allowing insurers to sell across state lines. really wanted to show he’s serious about winning over Republicans on health care reform, he could offer up some key concessions

And if Republicans wanted to reciprocate, they could at least acknowledge the congressional scorekeepers are right – the Democratic plans cut the deficit in the long term and rein in health care costs.

Yglesias does a pretty thorough job pointing out the substantive ridiculousness of this; noting that Republicans agreeing not to lie, or lie less anyway, about Democratic bills isn’t a sufficient trade off for actual, substantive, concessions on policy. If Democrats are going to include Republican priorities everyone can agree to more or less in the bill, then Republicans are going to have to vote for the bill. If Republicans aren’t willing to do that, then there’s no reason Democrats should offer them anything.

For my part, I’d just like to note what this says about POLITICO. For one thing, the second paragraph just makes no sense. For one thing, Republicans aren’t claiming that “Congressional scorekeepers” are “wrong;” Lamar Alexander is not saying, “the CBO estimates that this proposal will lower premium costs, but my Republican colleagues and I don’t believe that, and have evidence to the contrary,” he’s just claiming the the CBO said premiums would go up. In other words, he’s lying. And Brown either won’t say as much, or she really just isn’t listening to what various officials are actually saying. Either way, it’s illustrative of a major problem with American political journalism that’s going to have to be fixed before we stand any real chance of ever addressing a major social problem.

Rockefeller Doubles Down on Public Option Opposition

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

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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.

Leadership from the White House Is Still Not the Problem

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

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I don’t usually disagree with Ezra too much on healthcare reform matters, and he seems to have a pretty good handle on the political machinations involved, so seeing this from him surprises me a bit:

One other point on the public option: This has been a complete and utter failure of White House leadership. They need to give this effort their support, or they need to kill it by publicly stating their opposition. But they can’t simply wait for someone else to make the decision for them, which has been their strategy until now.Review Android Smartphone

On the one hand, I think Atrios is basically right to point out that, in releasing their own plan, the White House has staked out their position on reform, although I think the more relevant question is what the Senate will do here. Basically, I very much doubt that the White House is going to try to stomp out an effort to pass a public option in the Senate if 50 votes are actually there for it. But that’s the tricky part, because it isn’t really clear how many votes are there. It seems safe to assume that Lieberman, Nelson, Lincoln, Pryor, Bayh, Landrieu Carper, and Conrad are definite votes against it. Add in Jay Rockefeller, and assume Lautenberg won’t be able to mke the vote, and all you have left are 49 Democrats, assuming that all of them would vote for the public option, something that’s far from guaranteed. But maybe they could! It’s the uncertainty that makes it difficult to take a firm public stance. There’s also the question of whether the House could find the votes to pass a public option without the Stupak language. What I think the White House has managed to do is to find the easiest path through the minefield. If the votes for a public option via reconcilliation do materialize in the Senate, and the House can pass the same package, it will be much easier for the White House to sign off on it than it would be to backpedal away from public support for the public option, again, in the event that the votes for it can’t be found in Congress.

On the other hand, I really don’t see what good the White House can do either way here. Obama might be able to bring a few Senators on board by lobbying them to support the effort but most of that work would need to be done behind the scenes. Public support from the White House at this juncture would only raise the stakes and amplify the cost of failing to get the votes. Conversely, if liberal activists and lawmakers have their hopes up about a public option revival and don’t view this as a quixotic effort, then explicitly stamping out the effort isn’t going to make them feel any better about its failure so much as it guarantees they’ll be pissed off at the White House, probably for the remainder of Obama’s tenure in office. And if they haven’t gotten their hopes up, there’s no reason not to see if the movement can’t pick up more momentum. 50 votes in the Senate and 218 votes in the House is a higher hurdle than most people realize at this point, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. The White House has been reluctant to gamble on too many moves to this point, and I’ve largely supported that, but in this case, I really do think they ought to put the money down to see another card. They won’t lose that much more than they’re already in for if they don’t see the card they need.

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Are Democrats Conspiring to Betray Public Option?

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

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That’s Greenwald’s theory:

In other words, [Sen. Jay] Rockefeller was willing to be a righteous champion for the public option as long as it had no chance of passing (sadly, we just can’t do it, because although it has 50 votes in favor, it doesn’t have 60).  But now that Democrats are strongly considering the reconciliation process — which will allow passage with only 50 rather than 60 votes and thus enable them to enact a public option — Rockefeller is suddenly “inclined to oppose it” because he doesn’t “think the timing of it is very good” and it’s “too partisan.”  What strange excuses for someone to make with regard to a provision that he claimed, a mere five months ago (when he knew it couldn’t pass), was such a moral and policy imperative that he “would not relent” in ensuring its enactment.  […]

This is why, although I basically agree with filibuster reform advocates, I am extremely skeptical that it would change much, because Democrats would then just concoct ways to lack 50 votes rather than 60 votes — just like they did here.  Ezra Klein, who is generally quite supportive of the White House perspective, reported last week on something rather amazing:  Democratic Senators found themselves in a bind, because they pretended all year to vigorously support the public option but had the 60-vote excuse for not enacting it.  But now that Democrats will likely use the 50-vote reconciliation process, how could they (and the White House) possibly justify not including the public option?  So what did they do?  They pretended in public to “demand” that the public option be included via reconciliation with a letter that many of them signed (and thus placate their base: see, we really are for it!), while conspiring in private with the White House (which expressed “sharp resistance” to the public option) to make sure it wouldn’t really happen. 

There’s a few obvious mistakes Greenwald is making in this post. First of all, he’s overstating what Rockefeller said. As I’ve argued before, when you’re trying to make a point around a politician’s statement, you have to be careful to stick to what they actually said, because politicians carefully select their language. Rockefeller did not say he was completely opposed to using reconcilliation to pass a public option, he said he was “disinclined” to do so. What does that mean? I don’t really know, and neither does Greenwald. It’s certainly a pessimistic non-committal, at best, but it doesn’t give you any indication how committed Rockefeller is to this. Would he actually oppose the public option if there were 49 or 50 votes for it in the Senate? I don’t really think so, given the work his office did in writing the strong public option amendment in the Senate, but it’s possible. 

Secondly, Greenwald is constructing a bit of a strawman when he expresses his skepticism that you could get 50 votes for the public option. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve certainly been skeptical of the notion that there were 50 votes for it in the Senate, as have, among others, Ezra Klein and John Cole. Really, the only people I’ve seen who were certain there were enough votes for it were the progressive activists who spent the fall demanding Democrats use reconcilliation to get the bill done.

Lastly, Greenwald takes one person’s comment and spins a conspiracy involving the entire Democratic caucus. We’re to believe that, because Sen. Rockefeller doesn’t think using reconcilliation to pass the public option is a good idea, the entire recent campaign among a minority of the Democratic caucus is all a big sham. Aside from the obviously faulty reasoning here, I’m wondering to what extent Greenwald actually believes this. Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown have both signed the letter urging a reconcilliation vote on the public option, does Greenwald think these two Senators are just pulling a fast one on progressives? Does he think Bernie Sanders isn’t actually interested in passing the public option? And if he does (or even if he doesn’t), I’d like to see some actual evidence for his premise, not just more conspiracy theories. One political movement that’s consumed with paranoia and conspiracy theory is quite enough for me.

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