Thursday, December 24, 2009
So what's this terrible news that the New York Times put on page 15 on Christmas Eve?
Remember the faux scandal the Republicans tried to tarnish ACORN with, claiming voter fraud when some low-level employees, who were paid a fee for each voter they registered at shopping malls, tried to boost their pay checks by "registering" fake names, like Mickey Mouse?
Well, today on page 15 we learn: "Report Uncovers No Voting Fraud by Acorn." Yes, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service studied the problem and "found no evidence of fraudulent voting or of violations of federal financing rules by the group in the past five years."
Sure, there were a few instances of fraudulent registration, but that was due to personal greed, not political chicanery. And no serious person thought some unqualified voter named Mickey Mouse was actually going to show up at the polls and try to cast a vote.
Nevertheless, the politics of the situation were such that, rather than wait for such an investigation, Congress stripped ACORN of all its existing government contracts (all of which go to benefit poor people) when a a sting, staged by conservative activists, caught on video some low-level workers giving bad advice to actor-imposters. The same Congress, who ignored the scandalous illegalities (like murder and rape) carried out by Blackwater employees, was horrified, horrified at ACORN's perfidy -- and moved with unheard-of swiftness to nullify ACORN's contracts.
Now a federal judge has issued an order ruling that cutting the group's financing was an "illegal bill of attainder" (i.e. "punishments ordered by Congress against specific individuals or entities.") The CRS report also suggests that the sting secret-video-taping was probably illegal in the two states where it was carried out.
So -- it seems that all this essentially exonerates ACORN. Given the massive, gloating media play the supposed crimes were given, shouldn't the exoneration get more than page 15 on Christmas eve?
Or perhaps the question is: For whom is it bad news?
Of course, it isn't done until a reconciliation bill is passed, and we'll see how that turns out.
I take no joy in this, but I also don't agree with those who think the senate health care reform bill should have been killed.
In this dysfunctional congress, I challenge anyone to name just one senator who voted against this bill but would have voted for a more progressive bill. Because you would need a bunch of those to make up for those who voted for it that you would lose on a more progressive bill.
I can't think of a single one -- because they're all Republicans who have vowed to kill anything the Democrats come up with. So it's either this one or no bill at all in this congress. And if that happens, any hope of a more liberal congress after the 2010 elections is dead. In fact, it would be quite the opposite; and health care reform will be dead for another decade.
That's what I think.
The end game on this is not about what's best for the people; it's about politics, power, and money. It's ugly, but it's the reality we have to deal with. And Obama knows that.
Monday, December 21, 2009
They are convinced that a better health care reform bill could have been passed if he had really pushed for it. I would like to have a better health care reform bill. But I think it is debatable whether Obama could have made it happen in the current dysfunction that is the senate. And it's past the time for that now, other than perhaps some tweaking in the reconciliation process. Don't expect major changes. Everyone's too locked in to their positions.
Here's my modest proposal. Instead of turning against Obama, go after the real culprit in this situation: the dysfunctional senate rule that gives a single narcissist with a hissy fit the power to kill major legislation -- in spite of an electoral mandate to pass it.
It's time to change the filibuster rule. It's not in the constitution. Defeatists say: how can you change it when it would take 60 votes to do so? It wouldn't. According to Paul Krugman, the senate adopts its rules on the first day of a new session by simple majority vote. Democrats could change the rule with 51 votes.
Let's concentrate our outrage where it belongs and push them to do that.
. . . the fact that it was such a close thing shows that the Senate — and, therefore, the U.S. government as a whole — has become ominously dysfunctional.In the mid-1990's Senators Tom Harkin and -- guess who? -- Joe Lieberman introduced a plan to change the filibuster to a less obstructive plan. At the beginning of a debate it would still require 60 votes to end debate and vote on the bill. After five days, another vote could be taken and it would take 57 votes; then progressively down until it would only require a simple majority.
After all, Democrats won big last year, running on a platform that put health reform front and center. In any other advanced democracy this would have given them the mandate and the ability to make major changes. But the need for 60 votes to cut off Senate debate and end a filibuster — a requirement that appears nowhere in the Constitution, but is simply a self-imposed rule — turned what should have been a straightforward piece of legislating into a nail-biter. And it gave a handful of wavering senators extraordinary power to shape the bill. . . .
But it wasn’t always like this. Yes, there were filibusters in the past — most notably by segregationists trying to block civil rights legislation. But the modern system, in which the minority party uses the threat of a filibuster to block every bill it doesn’t like, is a recent creation.
The political scientist Barbara Sinclair has done the math. In the 1960s, she finds, “extended-debate-related problems” — threatened or actual filibusters — affected only 8 percent of major legislation. By the 1980s, that had risen to 27 percent. But after Democrats retook control of Congress in 2006 and Republicans found themselves in the minority, it soared to 70 percent.
Seems like a very good plan to me, and Harkin is talking about reintroducing it. But don't count on HolyJoe to sponsor it this time. He's still taking his victory lap, grinning like an ugly kewpie doll.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Is the effort worth still worth it? Yes, but just. Private insurers will have to take anyone, regardless of preconditions. And some 30 million people who don't now have health insurance will get it. But because Big Insurance, Big Pharma, and the AMA will come out way ahead, the legislation will cost taxpayers and premium-payers far more than it would otherwise. Cost controls are inadequate; in fact, they barely exist. . . .
We are slouching toward health-care reform that's better than nothing but far worse than we had imagined it would be. Even those of us who have seen legislative sausage-making up close, even those of us who never make the perfect the enemy of the better, are concerned. That two or three senators are able to extort as much as they have is appalling. Why hasn't Reid forced much of the bill into reconciliation, requiring only 51 votes? Why has the President been so cowed? In all likelihood, the White House and the Dems eventually will get a bill they can call "reform," but they will not be able to say with straight faces that the reform is a significant improvement over the terrible system we already have.
Still, he says, it's worth it . . . but just barely.
Many progressives fault Obama for not fighting harder for the better bill. Perhaps he could have gotten more; I doubt it, given the state of senate politics and the influence of money. When it takes only one -- ONE -- senator who favors reform but decides he can hold it hostage to his individual desires, it's a minor miracle that Harry Reid was able to cobble this together. Whether it's better than no bill is debatable; whether Reid could have gotten more through reconciliation is debatable. But getting 60 votes is quite remarkable in this senate.
I forget who wrote this recently, but I agree. There are some moderate senators who have held out on principle; but HolyJoe Lieberman seems motivated by "pure spite" -- and I would add: "simply because he can command attention and obesience." Why else would he threaten to kill it over a measure (Medicare buy-in) he publicly support 3 months ago and never gave any coherent reason for turning against it?
I think Obama is a lot smarter than we're giving him credit for on this. One of his goals was to avoid the fate of the Clinton health care bill and the devastating effect of its failure. By his calculations, this determined that he should not get too far out in front of what could be passed.
No, he's not going to go down in history as the great progressive activist president; but he may go down as a president who accomplished more in the long run by his willingness to compromise and get the best he can in the circumstances. Look at all those who are regretting that Dems did not compromise with Nixon's health care initiative or that moderate Repubs did not compromise with Clinton's plan.