Saturday, November 10, 2012

Hold that football, Lucy!

The Twittersphere is abuzz with Harry Reid's announcement that he's going be a mensch over Social Security. I always love it when Harry Reid makes such announcements, because it's a signal of what we can't expect from him. The Hill says, "Reid assures Sanders he won't agree to cuts in Social Security. HuffPo says, "Harry Reid: 'We Are Not Going To Mess With Social Security'."

Well, that settles it then! Just like when Harry Reid kept assuring us he'd stand up for a public option!

Like, back in February of 2010 when Kate Pickert at Swampland posted:

Re: Re: Could the Public Option Get a Third Lease on Life?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has told Greg Sargent that "if a decision is made to use reconciliation to advance health care," he's open to bringing back the public option. That was fast.

I can't find Stuart's comment at Swampland anymore, so let's put it here:
The First Salad Days of The Public Option

Ahh, yes...the good old days way back when liberals could possibly dream about maybe enthusiastically supporting the Democrats' glorious struggle with the Republicans over health care reform [link to CNN story from October, 2009]:

Reid backs health care public option

October 26, 2009 8:21 p.m. EDT

Washington (CNN) -- The contentious debate over health care took a new twist Monday as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced his decision to craft legislation including a public insurance option allowing states to opt out.

Reid's decision is a major victory for the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party.

Reid, a Nevada Democrat, has been melding legislation from the more conservative Senate Finance Committee and the more liberal Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. The Health Committee included a form of the public option in its bill; the Finance Committee did not.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has insisted that the House of Representatives will pass a health care reform bill including a public option.

President Obama is "pleased that the Senate has decided to include a public option for health coverage," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a written statement.

"He supports the public option because it has the potential to play an essential role in holding insurance companies accountable through choice and competition," Gibbs said.

Several top Democrats have expressed concern that the traditionally conservative Senate would not pass a bill with a public option.


Remember all of that wonderful, hope-tastic stuff they were saying back when it seemed pretty clear that everybody was confused by the disaster they had just witnessed, and had been walking around already for two weeks muttering "That jackass Baucus did all of that to get this piece of crap out of Finance...?"

That was as far back as when the President's Press Secretary actually said the public option was to "play an essential role" in a reformed health care system.

I remember those days well.

That was before the "concerns" of "Several top Democrats" who weren't Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, nor Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, nor popular President of the United States Barack Obama, that the "the traditionally conservative Senate would not pass a bill with a public option" turned out to be quite remarkably prophetic.

Well, that episode sure kept liberal Democrats on the edge of our seats, as if we might still be invested in whatever would finally be constructed out of the bill that had seeped forth from Max Baucus' Finance Committee's "Gang of Six."

Remember that cross-section of American political genius? Exactly three Democrats and three Republicans out of a majority Democratic committee --as if the Democrats had never been elected to a majority-- provided the perfect atmosphere for getting good policy accomplished in a timely manner: [NYTimes: "Health Policy Is Carved Out at Table for 6" Published: July 27, 2009]:

Mr. Obama, in his news conference last week, praised the three Republicans in the Senate group - Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and Ms. Snowe. Mr. Grassley, the senior Republican on the Finance Committee, and Mr. Baucus share a history of deal-making, and group members said they share a sense of trust despite the partisan acrimony that pervades the Capitol.

Mr. Enzi, who sits on both the Finance Committee and the health committee, has a long record on health issues but found Democrats on the health panel unwilling to compromise.

After the group insisted it needed more time, the majority leader, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, conceded that a floor vote would have to wait until after the summer recess. "If this is the only bill with bipartisan support," Ms. Snowe said, "that will really resonate. It could be the linchpin for broad bipartisan agreement."

Strangely enough, it seems that neither the optimism-resonating Snowe, nor the patiently conceding Reid, nor the socialist Presid--sorry, I mean Republican-praising President could have predicted that Mr. Enzi's tolerance for such a lack of compromise would eventually run out four months later in the middle of October, when he finally voted against his own Gang of Six's bill.

A strange, new, disillusioned disappointment followed, when it became clear to everyone that the President was, in fact, playing eleven-dimensional political chess that no mere mortal could begin to grasp, the only problem being that he had been playing against a Jedi of an opponent whose formidable aggression, infinite wile and Napoleonic tactical skill had been legendary for decades: Iowa's Chuck Grassley. Liberal Democrats, especially those who had vocally rejected the "polarized politics of the past" during the Democratic primaries, were taken aback by this weird, not-hope, not-change sensation they were unaccustomed to experiencing from their President.

Two weeks of this miasma of liberal confusion crept by ("Did the President win? Did the Democrats get anything done? Is the bill as bad as everyone says it is? Isn't everything we begged for gone, and much we know is wrong put in?") before the next significant event happened: On October 26, 2009, our patiently conceding Majority Leader Harry Reid stepped up to declare his intention to support an opt-out, maybe just barely adequate public option available to less than 3% of the American people.

Fired up! Ready to go!

Oh the superb minutes that followed! Oh the hundreds of seconds of joy! We were so cheered, so ready to keep on fighting for Democrats, so back in the Change saddle, right up until we heard the bad news from President Snowe:

Reid said he hoped to eventually win over Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, the lone Republican to back the Finance Committee bill. Snowe has indicated her preference for a "trigger" provision that would mandate creation of a public health insurance option in the future if specific thresholds for expanded coverage and other changes were not met.

Snowe issued a statement Monday, saying she was "deeply disappointed" with Reid's decision on the public option. She argued that a decision in favor of a trigger "could have been the road toward achieving a broader bipartisan consensus in the Senate."

"It's unfortunate the Senate majority leader decided to take a different path, because he did say it was a pretty good doggone idea with respect to the trigger in September, so I don't what has happened to change his mind," she said later.

"It's regrettable, because I certainly have worked in good faith all of these months on a bipartisan basis and, as you know, have been standing alone at this point as a Republican to do so because I believe in good public policy," Snowe added.

Yes, that was indeed the turning point, as subsequent events have borne out. Olympia Snowe had just about taken a megaphone and shouted out to the nation what would need to happen for health care reform to pass, given such ruthless partisanship as Harry Reid showed by feebly pacifying shocked, betrayed liberals. The "Triggered" public option --a "Break Only in Case of Emergency " public option-- could be the only public option available for negotiating away later at some future "bipartisan summit."

And so we're here, back again at the place where Rahm and Baucus planted the non-majority flag of the Gang of Six, and made the outcomes of two national votes disappear for only a little while (six months) so that Mr. Enzi could be better pleased by his position, despite the chronic unwillingness of Democrats to compromise. We're back at another "bipartisan summit," in which the majority attempts to mollify the minority by pretending that it has already lost upcoming elections, as Democrats have been so comfortable doing in the past, when there was more bipartisanship.

And we are allowed by our leaders to possibly dream once again about maybe enthusiastically supporting the Democrats' glorious..."Trigger" option?

Good times, good times they were, and are still, apparently.

Thanks for reading this far, commenters, I really appreciate it.

Stuart Zechman

Glenn Greenwald has a list of six of the steps in the betrayal of liberalism that we can expect to see, but of course he left two out: Hostage-taking and co-optation to try to fight for the "more liberal" of two not-really-opposing bad policy proposals, which usually come in the same package. Like, say, maybe some sort of choice between a big "tweak" and a very slightly smaller "tweak" that only kills 9/10 as many people as the larger "tweak" will. Or maybe creating a fight over raising the age of retirement even further, so that you're fighting over 69 or 70. Are any of those proposals acceptable? No, of course not. But if they are suddenly on the table, we will see people allowing such a fight to become the fight, as if lowering the retirement age back down to where it used to be (or even lower) wasn't even conceivable. It is conceivable, dammit, and for every nasty proposal, there should be a counter-proposal that goes farther in the other direction than politicians have been willing to talk about. They want to raise the retirement age? We want it lowered to 55. They want to change the calculation for the costs of living? We want to change it so that the amount is higher rather than lower. They want cuts? We want the cap eliminated. Don't even argue about this crap - just go in the other direction.

Another thing to watch: Right now, everyone seems to agree on the need for something they call "immigration reform". And, certainly, no one doubts that we need to make changes. But watch out for what these people mean when they say "reform". Because, without improving things one bit, you may find yourself fighting over what kind of a guest-worker program we are going to have, rather than fighting on ground that recognizes that any kind of guest-worker program is an unacceptable evil.

Stop fighting on their ground. Stop letting them set the terms of debate so far to the right that people forget what things were like when they were better. When, for example, the top marginal rate was 91%. As CMike said in comments to the previous post: "Presenting for years at a time an argument on whether the top earned income tax rate should be at 39.6% instead of 35% means the corporate media is telling you that there is no substantial disagreement over what the tax rates should be."

Oh, yeah - and don't let them call it a "Grand Bargain" when it's a Great Betrayal. From Jcapan in comments below:

Howard Zinn, The Coming Revolt of the Guards: There is evidence of growing dissatisfaction among the guards. We have known for some time that the poor and ignored were the nonvoters, alienated from a political system they felt didn't care about them, and about which they could do little. Now alienation has spread upward into families above the poverty line. These are white workers, neither rich nor poor, but angry over economic insecurity, unhappy with their work, worried about their neighborhoods, hostile to government- combining elements of racism with elements of class consciousness, contempt for the lower classes along with distrust for the elite, and thus open to solutions from any direction, right or left.

In the twenties there was a similar estrangement in the middle classes, which could have gone in various directions-the Ku Klux Klan had millions of members at that time-but in the thirties the work of an organized left wing mobilized much of this feeling into trade unions, farmers' unions, socialist movements. We may, in the coming years, be in a race for the mobilization of middle- class discontent.

The fact of that discontent is clear. The surveys since the early seventies show 70 to 80 percent of Americans distrustful of government, business, the military. This means the distrust goes beyond blacks, the poor, the radicals. It has spread among skilled workers, white-collar workers, professionals; for the first time in the nation's history, perhaps, both the lower classes and the middle classes, the prisoners and the guards, were disillusioned with the system.

Get involved locally. Even in small ways. And maybe in bigger ones.

* * * * *

I actually meant to link "Obama Wins, the System is Broken" in the previous post, but I forgot.

In other news, Obama moves to make the War on Terror permanent.

"What CAN happen here [...] So one of the things that can happen here is your assassination by Uncle Sam - and coming soon perhaps, by your local cop-shop."


  1. Close to nobody seems to have noticed or retained the ability to remember what the "public option" was: a fundamentally vaporous "policy" whose main feature was thwarting single-payer advocacy (while filling a few coffers in the Professional Left). There was no football for Lucy to take away, Charlie Brown.

    1. No, the football in question is going to be *not* destroying Social Security. Or immigration policy that doesn't create an army of guest-workers. Or whatever other nightmare the Third Way has dreamed up for us.

  2. Is there already a term for the political philosophy of conducting governance as if elections don't actually take place and everything has to be decided by an evenly-divided bipartisan coalition of conservative Democrats and hard-line Republicans? It seems like there ought to be a word for that if only to spare people a good deal of typing. Maybe we could call it "Obamaism" or "the Obama Doctrine"? (Or are those taken?)

  3. Stuart forgets one little bit of history. Al Franken was not sworn in until early July. Until then, it was impossible for the Democrats to move anything against determined Republican opposition. Even when he arrived, there were a couple of Democrats who were so attached to the insurance industry, notably Ben Nelson, that anything radical was not possible.

    The real errors was in not changing the filibuster rule once it was clear the GOP was planning to keep Franken out.

    And the root problem: private financing of campaigns. Incumbents in safe districts do not want to take the risk of there being enough democracy for them to become vulnerable to a challenge. Until we end politics being viewed as a career, it will be difficult to change that. Term limits, bad a concept as they are, could have changed that calculus.

    I don't disagree with Stuart that it was a clusterf--k and that the reasons that we don't have a cost-effective system that covers everyone are venality on the part of certain Senators and stupidity on the part of the president. But there are more moving parts to the horrorshow in Washington than Stuart acknowledges.

    Meanwhile, in Vermont, a flower is about to come up through the pavement. And that little flower, the public option, will establish facts on the ground that will make it impossible for the corrupt old system of medical waste, fraud, and abuse to stay in business. All it takes for good to triumph is for people to hang in and hang together.

    1. But it was incredibly urgent to pass *something* right then and there, even though there weren't enough votes! Oh, no! It was impossible to wait! There was...there was some...some magical reason...why it had to be done before Franken was sworn in, and why we needed 61 votes, and .....

    2. Avedon, It was indeed urgent. If you recall the Clinton healthcare, it failed because they waited until summer before introducing it (and, in the meantime, p--sed off their union base by passing NAFTA). The Congress has its rhythms, and if you wait until fall, you generally end up waiting until spring... and then it's an election year.

      Obama's team thought they could peel off a few Republicans. Their proposal was, after all, just Heritage + public option. It wasn't unreasonable to suppose that a compromise could not be reached... unless one had understood that the GOP had learned from Clinton that making healthcare fail was a wonderful way to win the off-year election.

    3. So, it was urgent because Obama planned to piss off his base some more and needed to get HeritageCare passed first. I see.

    4. His base just re-elected him, Avedon, and if they're p--sed off, it's not because they can no longer be discriminated against for pre-existing conditions or many other things that this reform has produced.

      Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if a significant element in Obama's victory was that people learned just what benefits will phase in. Eliminating gender discrimination and eliminating annual limits on coverage, access to insurance by individuals whose employers don't provide insurance, and a tax credit to encourage businesses to provide insurance are not insignificant changes, at least not if you happen to be a cancer survivor or a contractor or a woman working for a Catholic institution who has to buy birth control at retail rates.

    5. So, why couldn't he have gotten a better health care proposal by waiting a little longer but having the provisions come in earlier? I mean, some of them don't even come in until 2020 right now.

      And I'm not so sure "his base re-elected him" as that they rejected the Republicans.

    6. I think Obama could have gotten the best health care system by simply saying: "Medicare workds. Let's extend it to the whole population. (Oh, and by the way, insurance industry... you're not excluded from Medicare, so if you can compete, go right ahead.)"

      I think the failure to do that was stupidity. Many Democrats have not figured out that a lot of being really smart is being simple.

      But once they had made the decision to go with a slightly more complicated approach, it was easy for the insurance industry to unravel it.

    7. Charles says:

      [Indent]>>>>>I think Obama could have gotten the best health care system by simply saying: "Medicare works. Let's extend it to the whole population....

      I think the failure to do that was stupidity.

      Yeah, it must have been a case of "stupidity" because it was either that, or Obama is smart enough to have learned the rules for how each piece moves in two-dimensional chess.

    8. Bruce A Dixon, President Obama Declares His DLC Allegiance: Says "I Am A New Democrat" March 2009

      And despite the fact that single payer health care would create 2.6 million new jobs and cover all the uninsured while costing no more than the present and profoundly broken health care system, New Democrats prefer a healthy private insurance sector to a healthy population. They know that families who do not fear losing their precious medical benefits will be less afraid to organize and strike and fight for better wages and conditions. New Democrats favor throwing trillions at banks to “revive” the economy, but are willing to cut or gut Social Security. All these policy positions, and the New Democrat label itself are the heritage of the Democratic Leadership Council, with which Obama was briefly affiliated early in his career, but forced to disavow. Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, a leading New Democrat in the Congress, has always been a stalwart of the Democratic Leadership Council. Emmanuel used corporate campaign cash to run pro-war Democrats against antiwar Democrats in 2006 and 2008.

      As potent as the DLC-New Democrat brand is, it is also poisonous. As a candidate for the Democratic nomination to the US Senate in 2003, Obama urgently needed to lock down the progressive, black and antiwar vote in his home state of Illinois, and was compelled to renounce the Democratic Leadership Council. That was then. This is now. Perhaps the president feels himself untouchable and unaccountable now that he is safely in the White Hose. Maybe he was just relaxed. Whatever the case, the truth of where his political allegiance lies is no longer a matter of conjecture.

      The Democratic Leadership Council has always been “Republicans-lite,” a pack of corporate funded Trojan Horses inside the Democratic Party responsible to their funders, and not to the Democratic Party's base. Now President Obama has assumed his place, as the leader of that pack.

    9. When the austerity train arrives in force, I'm sure it'll be yet another instance fo the president's stupidity, as opposed to ideology:

      "It will probably be messy. It won’t be pleasant. But I am absolutely confident that we can get what is the equivalent of the grand bargain that essentially I’ve been offering to the Republicans for a very long time, which is $2.50 worth of cuts for every dollar in spending, and work to reduce the costs of our health care programs.

      And we can easily meet -- 'easily' is the wrong word -- we can credibly meet the target that the Bowles-Simpson Commission established of $4 trillion in deficit reduction, and even more in the out-years, and we can stabilize our deficit-to-GDP ratio in a way that is really going to be a good foundation for long-term growth. Now, once we get that done, that takes a huge piece of business off the table."

    10. jcapan, it may well end up being a bad deal. But they could get $2.5 in spending cuts for every dollar in revenue just by squeezing out the waste in medical care.

      That would be a good thing for everyone.

      But I'd like to see the deal before I reach judgment on it.

  4. I'll meet arguments for raising the Social Security age with arguments for lowering it, even though I really believe in a guaranteed minimum income, just like that flaming liberal Milton Friedman! However, we need to be ready to fight AFTER Social Security cuts are made. If it happens, it will happen in the next year, as Congress wants it out of the way before the 2014 elections. We need to be ready to attack anyone in Congress who in any way facilitated the cut, including a failure to filibuster in the Senate. Rather than going all deflated after a defeat, which is the recent history of the left, we need to aggressively wage a campaign of "Rep./Sen. X looted Social Security for (tax cuts for the rich/foreign wars/whatever will resonate most)." And be willing to keep it up, with an avowed intention of bringing about the target's defeat in 2014, making it clear to the target that he/she can shut us up only by reinstating anything cut. Not trying to or promising to or anything else -- we'll stop when reinstatement becomes law and not before.

  5. Hold that football... Lucy? [Link] (Where's a punk track when you finally need one?) [Link]

  6. Over at Corrente, Alexa [Link] does a good job analyzing this one [Link], though I wouldn't be too concerned about it. After the election, if Obama wins, I'm sure the Romney plan will be off the table once and for all:

    [Indent]>>>>>[0:01] Joe Kernen: For more on the politics of a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff we are joined by former New Hampshire Governor, and Senator, Judd Gregg and former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. They are the co-chairmen of the Fix the Debt campaign. Hey Ed, are you as impressed with me that you can actually get 47% of the people to agree to raise taxes on somebody else?

    Ed Rendell: [laugh] Pretty easy task.

    Kernen: That's pretty good. Steve really likes that number but that is pretty amazing. So, 47% will agree to raise taxes on 2%. I think you could get higher than that couldn't you Judd? I mean that doesn't seem- I like to think you could get 47% to agree to more government entitlements, too. How do you do it, Ed?

    [00:37] Rendell: How do you do the deal?

    Kernen: No. What do you guys think will finally happen Gov. Rendell, do you think at this point-- are both sides-- I can tell you the House's feet are probably in concrete on letting the tax cuts expire for the 250 and above. Is the president going to be set in stone on that as well? Ed?

    Rendell: Well see, I think the president's got to-- people say let's do a short term thing to get past the fiscal cliff and then do the negotiations. I believe you've got to do the negotiations first, on a big deal, because it's the only way-- the president can't sell this twice to his base. He's got to be able to go to his base and say we needed x amount of new revenue, we got it. Don't you worry about where we got it from and, by tax reform, the rich are going to pay more...

    Kernen: But Ed, why, why...

    Rendell: don't worry

    [1:31] Kernen: Is there anything to the notion that it's not as important for him to sell something to his base at this point because he's not going to need them again?-- in four years.

    Rendell: But also his base in the Senate. There's a lot of senators who want, at least, a millionaire's tax. The base wants something, their pound of flesh and my message...

    Kernen: That's interesting, so the Senate...

    Rendell: message to them though Joe is let's do what's right for the country and if we do tax reform there's going to be additional revenue and that additional revenue is going to come from people who are well off.

    [2:03] Kernen: You're right.

    Rendell: So don't worry about raising the rates.


    1. continued...

      [Indent]>>>>>Kernen: Right. You know what, that's exactly, that's exactly right. And that's how I'm rising above it. I'm with you, I was with Ralph on that, too. Judd Gregg do you think the president and his base would agree to that? Higher effective tax rates but not getting back to that thirty-nine six which has been the Holy Grail. Once they did health care the Holy Grail was thirty- getting back to the Clinton tax rates for rich people.

      [2:30] Judd Gregg: Well first off, Ed's absolutely right. You've got to do a comprehensive deal that addresses the larger debt issue in order to get past the fiscal cliff. And part of that comprehensive deal has to be a tax reform package which actually reduces rates, keeps the code very progressive, keeps the distributional situation very progressive but actually gets your rates down by eliminating deductions and exemptions and in the process you generate more revenue through more economic activity plus you maintain the burden of the tax rate-- of the tax burden on the higher income individuals by eliminating deductions and exemptions. And that's the way you sell it to Republicans and, I think, it's the way you sell it to Democrats.

      But it also has to be coupled with major entitlement reform. It has to be structured off of the-- basically, the outline of the original Simpson-Bowles which had significant savings on the spending side, revenues driven by a tax reform agreement that basically reduced rates by eliminating deductions and exemptions and reduced the debt by $4 trillion. And, actually, we need more than $4 trillion now, but that has to be the goal and once you put that sort of an agreement in place or, at least, the pathway to that agreement, I think that's what you're looking at here, then you can move on to moving the fiscal cliff off the agenda. [3:41] <<<<<[/Indent]

  7. In the run-up to the grand bargain, isn't it wonderful that our media is wholly captivated with a general's penis?

  8. Why is the BBC's director general salary £450,000 (down from £671,000 for Mark Thompson, now with the NYT)? It's still a public institution financed by television license fees, right? The BBC's accountability website makes it hard to find a history of salaries, but google produced a mention that 20-odd years ago the D-G's salary was £80,000. They might get a better class of leader if they paid less and weeded out the wannabe rich guys, but I'm guessing the increases were the work of a self-dealing governing board.

  9. Brilliant! Great talk that was extremely insightful and very entertaining. It's given me loads to think about.

    -Prudential Life