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Posts Tagged ‘public option’

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.

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.

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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