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The Pelosi House

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Rumors of her Demise…


Our work is far from finished. As a result of Tuesday’s election, the role of Democrats in the 112th Congress will change, but our commitment to serving the American people will not. We have no intention of allowing our great achievements to be rolled back. It is my hope that we can work in a bipartisan way to create jobs and strengthen the middle class.

In a rebuke to the few Blue Dog remnants that have been calling for her ousting, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announces her intention to run for Minority Leader in the 112th Congress. “[D]riven by the urgency of protecting health care reform, Wall Street reform, and Social Security and Medicare, I have decided to run.

This is excellent news. As I’ve said here before, Speaker Pelosi has gotten things done on the Hill, and the blame for what happened Tuesday does not fall on her shoulders. To the contrary, she was often the only Democratic leader putting up a fight. Also, there is historical precedent: Twice during his long Speakership, Sam Rayburn cooled his heels as Minority Leader, waiting out the GOP blips. As the linked article points out, if Pelosi emulating Rayburn somehow encourages Obama to consider becoming more Trumanesque, well, all the better.

Minority Report.


Imagine for a moment you are president of the United States.

You were just elected in the midst of a worsening economic crisis, one that demands bold action and decisive leadership to confront. Fortunately, you enter office with an historic wind at your back: You enjoy unprecedented enthusiasm and goodwill from millions of new voters, a clear mandate for change, and, most importantly, sizable majorities in both the House and Senate.

You also know that the political opposition — who hold a long and storied record of being ruthless, craven and despicable to get what they want — will try to prevent your agenda by any means necessary.

And, being a student of history, you know that, particularly in the face of a poor economy, this political opposition is very likely to pick up congressional seats in the next election (with a few notable exceptions, one of which I’ll get to in a moment.) In other words, a pendulum swing against you is highly probable, and so the majorities you have are probably as big as they are ever going to get.

Basically, you have two years, and likely two years only, to do pretty much anything you want in order to grapple with this economic crisis. Do you [a] take a page from FDR’s 100 Days, go big, and push hard for the progressive agenda you laid down in your election campaign, which has the added benefit of enthusing the “rising American electorate” that got you elected? Or do you [b] try to ingratiate yourself with people who will always hate you, water down your signature legislative initiatives from the outset, and seemingly go out of your way to depress the lefty base that got you elected?

I think you see where I’m going with this.

First things first, let’s be clear about why the Republicans took back the House so decisively two days ago.

1) It’s the Economy, Stupid. Though it may be mostly Dubya’s fault, the economy is obviously still in terrible shape. The official unemployment rate hovers just under the double-digits, and real unemployment and underemployment levels are much higher. Household incomes are down, consumer debt is up, millions of homeowners are stuck with underwater mortgages, and millions more feel in danger of slipping under. As everyone knows, when economic times are bad, the party in power suffers.

Compounding the situation, families are feeling under the gun at exactly the same time that those same wealthy few who precipitated the Great Recession are now rolling in dough. Having evaded pretty much any and all serious consequences for the meltdown they created, the Big Brains on Wall Street are instead giving themselves record bonuses, and trying to profit from even more rampant corruption on the foreclosure front. To no one does this ugly sight look like change we can believe in.

2) Republicans voted, Democrats didn’t. Again, not rocket science: Democrats lost because Republicans came out and Democrats stayed home. Look at the breakdown of exit polls: As per the norm in midterms, the 2010 electorate was older than the population at large. (23% of the vote versus 13% of the population.) And 57% of those seniors, worried that the threat of Creeping Socialism might somehow interfere with their federal retirement security and universal health care, pulled the lever for Republicans.

Conversely, 29 million Obama voters did not show up to vote. “Hispanics, African Americans, union members and young people were among the many core Democratic groups that turned out in large numbers in the 2008 elections…In 2010, turnout among these groups dropped off substantially, even below their previous midterm levels.” Take voters under 30, for example, who vote Democratic at about the same rate seniors vote Republican. They went from 18% of the electorate in 2008 to 11% this year. Obviously, that’s a problem.

So, working back from these factors — economic performance and voter turnout — it follows that the two best things the administration could have done to improve Democrats’ standing this year would have been to get the economy moving again and to get the Democratic base fired up and ready to go. So what happened? Let’s look at the tape.

The Economy: As Paul Krugman has already pointed out, much of the story of this election was written way back in February 2009, when the Obama administration chose to settle on a stimulus package that was watered-down to appease Republicans who would never, ever vote for it. In fact, thanks to Larry Summers, the stimulus was low-balled from the start — Summers made sure Christina Romer’s higher-end projections for the amount needed never even made it to the president’s desk.

So the crystal was in the steel at the point of fracture, and mainly because Obama, doing the President Goldilocks routine that would become a trademark, watered down the Recovery Act early-on to appease an opposition that was unappeasable.

By late 2009, the warning signs that ARRA was probably too small were all over the place — not the least in the growing state budget crises seen all across the country. But even as Republicans throttled congressional attempts to remedy the situation, the Obama administration remained mostly passive…or, in the case of food stamps, worse. Many in the White House took up the standard of the deficit witchhunt. (Yes, there was some rhetorical urging of the tsk-tsk variety eventually, but that, as on so many other fights, was after the chips were already down.)

Going along with this frustrating passivity was the increasing sense over time that this administration, elected to be change we could believe in, was more than a little cozy with the Wall Street yokels who caused the economic disaster in the first place. Yes, TARP was originally Dubya’s baby — not that very many voters seemed to remember that fact. (And it’s hard to blame them when folks like Geithner keep touting its merits.) Still, acceding to the $700 billion bailout for Wall Street — with little to no strings attached — was an extraordinarily inopportune way to kick off an administration theoretically premised on fundamental change.

I have to confess that, at the time, I thought TARP was unfortunate but probably necessary. Two years later, I’m thinking I probably just just got railroaded, and didn’t know what I was talking about. (Hey, it wasn’t the only thing I was wrong about in 2008.) But, even back then, I argued that TARP had to come with game-changing restrictions on Wall Street’s behavior. Those, clearly, were not forthcoming.

Yes, Congress did pass financial reform — But let’s remember, Team Obama worked openly to weaken the bill, and even now certain admin folks are clearly trying to derail Elizabeth Warren, the best chance the financial reforms, however tepid, have at working as intended for consumers. (Or, to quickly take another example, there’s the matter of the HAMP foreclosure program, which, as David Dayen has documented, seems more concerned with recouping money for lenders than helping families in trouble.)

As on the finreg bill, so too on other fronts — and this is where we get to the suppressing turnout issue.

On health reform, which thank god eventually passed, we now know that the administration cut deals early on to kill drug reimportation on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry (even after Sen. Dorgan reintroduced the idea) and, more egregiously, to kill the public option on behalf of AHIP and the hospitals. Looking back, the president signaled the public option’s expendability in his September 2009 health care address, another classic example of the wait-too-long-then-try-to-swoop-in-and-save-the-day legislative strategy usually preferred by the White House. And by the eve of the midterms, he was openly mocking public option supporters at fundraisers.

But, even those fundamental breaks with real reform aside, the entire health care process got badly screwed up when the administration, in a misguided attempt to curry bipartisan favor for reform, let Max Baucus dink around for weeks on the Senate Finance Committee. While Republican Senators Snowe and Grassley played Lucy to Baucus’ Charlie Brown and kept moving the football, the Tea Party August of 2009 took shape, and almost a year in legislative time was lost. And, by the time Baucus finally released the durned thing, the bill had once again been watered down to gain imaginary Republican votes that were never, ever going to be forthcoming.

The litany of Obama’s other sins by now are well known. As noted before, this administration has been absolutely egregious on civil liberties, all the while telling us to “look forward, not backward” on Dubya’s torture regime. (But different rules for everyone else, it seems.) Meanwhile, Gitmo is still open, and DADT is still enforced. Immigration reform did not happen. Nor did energy reform, despite House Democrats going out on a limb to pass a bill way back in June of 2009. (Yesterday, Obama the “shellacked” buried this bill for good.) And so on.

If all these compromises and capitulation — which were never political necessities so much as unforced errors — weren’t enough to depress the base, the administration’s press arm continued a steady diet of hippie-punching. “Left of the left“, pajama-wearing bloggers, the “professional left” — time and again, “senior advisors” and press flaks went out of their way to scorn the people who sweat blood and tears to get them elected. I already mentioned Obama ridiculing public option supporters — Well, where did folks ever get the notion that a wonky, badly-named fix like the public option was the ground to fight on anyway? Because the president told us it was important.

To be clear: I am not arguing that Obama hasn’t accomplished anything (although, in almost all cases — including health care reform, much more credit should really go to the very unfairly maligned Speaker Pelosi — she’s the one who made it all happen.) But, at every point down the line, for every piece of legislation that did pass, you have to factor in the opportunity costs that were lost. And consistently, this administration has pursued the politics of the lowest common denominator. To quote the prescient Drew Westen once again:

I don’t honestly know what this president believes. But I believe if he doesn’t figure it out soon, start enunciating it, and start fighting for it, he’s not only going to give American families hungry for security a series of half-loaves where they could have had full ones, but he’s going to set back the Democratic Party and the progressive movement by decades, because the average American is coming to believe that what they’re seeing right now is ‘liberalism,’ and they don’t like what they see. I don’t, either. What’s they’re seeing is weakness, waffling, and wandering through the wilderness without an ideological compass. That’s a recipe for going nowhere fast — but getting there by November.

And, hey, look what happened.

Remember how I mentioned a midterm outlier way up at the beginning of this post? That was 1934 — when, in an economy even worse than the one America faces now, Roosevelt managed to pick up seats in both the House and Senate. FDR gave us the 100 Days, a flurry of political activity we haven’t seen before or since. Now, granted, the Roosevelt team did not have to contend with either unfettered money corrupting the system or a pathetic Fourth Estate in a death spiral — both severe problems with our current political culture that must be addressed. Still, when elected in the midst of a similar economic crisis, with similar expectations, this administration did not bring about a 100 Days. It gave us Three Months of Max Baucus dicking around to appease intractable Republicans.

So why did the 2010 shellacking happen? Because of the economy, yes. And because of low turnout, yes. And also because of troubling trends like corrupting money everywhere and a national press in severe decline — The fact that the media followed Christine O’Donnell more than any other 2010 candidate tells you all you need to know about that broken-down disaster we call the Village these days.

But, nonetheless, all of these determining factors were exacerbated in the wrong direction by the administration’s fatal addiction to the Fetal Position fallacy. As I said of this year’s State of the Union address, “people were not looking to President Obama for this sort of deficit tsk-tsking and small-bore, fiddling around the margins. You’d think we Dems would have learned this by now. But curling up into a fetal position and mouthing moderate GOP-lite bromides will not stop the Republicans from kicking us, ever.

Some argue politics is the art of the possible. That’s true, but I believe much, much more was possible if this administration had actually deigned to fight for it.

Some say the president can only do as much as Congress lets him — he needs 60 votes, yadda yadda yadda. I’d say that he had 60 votes, and even then did not push to make things happen as much as he could. I would also argue that the presidency of the United States is actually a remarkably powerful position these days, that Obama has showed no inclination to act progressive on crucial matters like civil liberties that are totally in his bailiwick, and that, even now with a Republican House, the administration could move forward with a progressive agenda, if it so desired.

Some — such as pathetic, DLC-brand fortunate sons like Evan Bayh and Harold Ford — say progressivism was tried and found wanting. I would argue progressivism was not even tried.

Some say it is time to go for the Dems to embrace a more “centrist”, GOP-lite Third Way from now on. I think we’ve been experimenting with that sad sack of failure for decades now — it’s our First Way — and it’s been proven over and over again not to work. (Just ask the Blue Dogs, who got eviscerated on Tuesday. Why vote for Republican-lite when you can have the real thing?)

Basically, it comes to this. Without vision, the people perish…and vote GOP. And because this administration did not go big, because it did not produce the change people so desperately desired, and because it forsook the possibility of real progressivism early and often to indulge their fantastical belief in the magical unicorns of High Broderism, the Democrats have now lost the House — ironically the one branch of government that, under Speaker Pelosi, actually tried to get done what had been promised.

Now, matters are worse.

Illusion of Fulfillment.

The president told Democrats that making change happen is hard and ‘if people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren’t serious in the first place.’” As part of a continuing pattern of late, President Obama tells Rolling Stone that progressives need to stop whining about the way things are going and get happy, because, in what’s become a new talking point, “If you look at the checklist, we’ve already covered about 70 percent [of the 2008 campaign promises.]” (70%?! Uh, can I see this checklist?)

Anyway, this latest weird effusion against the base has already been well-critiqued and well-answered many times. See, for example, Glenn Greenwald and David Dayen: “I’ve never seen a politician run an election with the message ‘Don’t be stupid, quit your bitching and vote for me.’” I would only add two things:

1) As it turns out, the unhappy Dems among us are more likely to vote, so perhaps berating them for not clapping enough is not altogether productive. (Unless, of course, the WH is doing it as a Sistah Souljah bank shot to get independents, on the classic establishment premise that indies love hippie-punching.)

2) I’d love to live in a world where progressive bloggers have the power to move ginormous voting blocs, I really would. But it takes a certain type of top-down, Beltway-obsessive mentality to think that’s what’s going on here. The biggest reason voters are depressed is because the economy is, quite obviously, not doing so well at the moment, and people are feeling the pinch. And, that aside, most Obama voters don’t need blogs to tell them that this administration, on all too many fronts, hasn’t lived up to its promises.

If this White House wants to engage the base (and I really, really hope they do, for reasons personal, professional, and patriotic), then, for Pete’s sake, don’t browbeat and lecture the Left for being disappointed — Try to make them less disappointed! Give them some red meat, respond to their concerns, and, you know, do the things you were elected to do. Why this even has to be said is beyond me.

The Last Boy Scout.


I’m a free-market guy. Normally, I would leave this to the invisible hand of the market, but the invisible hand of the market has already moved over 84,000 acres of production and over 22,000 farm jobs to Mexico, and shut down over a million acres of U.S. farm land due to lack of available labor. Because apparently, even the invisible hand doesn’t want to pick beans.

As you no doubt know by now, and like his White House correspondent’s dinner speech in 2006, the inimitable Stephen Colbert came to the Hill on Friday to deliver his expert testimony on the plight of migrant workers, a topic the media would otherwise have completely ignored in favor of whatever crazy thing Sarah Palin tweeted today.

For those making the ridiculous argument that Congress was horribly besmirched by Colbert’s satirical testimony, I have two words: Twain and Elmo. For everyone else, it was very funny and, as per Colbert’s usual m.o., spoke truthiness to power. “[I]t just stands to reason, to me, that if your coworker can’t be exploited, then you’re less likely to be exploited yourself. And that, itself, might improve pay and working conditions on these farms, and eventually, Americans may consider taking these jobs again.

Obey Wan.

I don’t know what my biggest contribution has been. I think it has been simply showing up for work every day, trying to fight the good fight for average people…But I leave more discontented when I came here because of the terrible things that have been done to this economy by political leaders who allowed Wall Street to turn Wall Street banks into gambling casinos which damned near destroyed the economy.

On the eve of his retirement, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee David Obey has some choice words for the administration, and himself. “I think the more important thing was what was my biggest failure…our failure to stop the ripoff of the middle class by the economic elite of this country, and this is not just something that happened because of the forces of the market.

WH to Bloggers: Drop Dead (Again).

[T]o the extent that the ‘liberal left’ is upset at the President, it’s because they are seeing a great opportunity slip away in real time. The only one that told the base that they could change America from the bottom up and bring forth a transformative new era of leadership is Barack Obama. If he didn’t want one, he shouldn’t have said anything.

In response to the most recent disparaging of liberal and progressive blogs by “senior administrative official” to his or her media lap dog of choice, FDL’s Dave Dayen gets to the heart of progressive consternation with Team Obama: “Nobody had a bigger challenge coming into office than Barack Obama but nobody had a bigger opportunity. And liberals like myself are generally peeved that the opportunity has been squandered. Yes, squandered.” Yep, sounds about right.

In very related news, with the passage of financial reform in the Senate today, The Prospect‘s Kevin Drum gets off a zinger about Obama’s legislative accomplishments thus far. I think, overall, this president could have accomplished much more than Drum’s biting joke suggests — most obviously on executive power issues like torture and indefinite detention. (Or, put another way, I just get irritated with people who throw up their hands and say the problem with our politics is entirely structural when you have an ostensibly-lefty president saying patently dumb things like this. Choices matter, and this administration makes terrible ones.) All that being said, Drum’s comment was still worth a (rueful) laugh regardless.

Code Orange.

‘They’re snuffing out the America that I grew up in,’ Boehner said. ‘Right now, we’ve got more Americans engaged in their government than at any time in our history. There’s a political rebellion brewing, and I don’t think we’ve seen anything like it since 1776.” In case you missed GOP leader John Boehner’s inadvisable, Barton-like unveiling of his true thoughts this morning, the Minority Leader gave an interview to the Scaife-owned Pittsburgh Tribune, and it’s actually an open question what the dumbest thing he said was. Was it:

1) Arguing that the avarice and fraud-fueled Wall Street meltdown that destroyed 8 million jobs was merely an “ant” Dems were trying to kill with a nuclear weapon? (Say what you will about this financial reform legislation, I wouldn’t call it nuclear-powered.)

2) Suggesting we should fund the highly-suspect-at-this-point war in Afghanistan by forcing Americans to work five more years? or…

3) The pathetic dabbling in Tea Party self-aggrandizement posted above? From what I remember of the history books, 1861 was a pretty banner year for political rebellion. Also, here’s a tip, Mr. Boehner: Read Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland. The Tea Party is not only not a new phenomenon, it’s not even a particularly special one. The only difference now is the media covers these John Birch Society wannabes like they’re actually a real political force in America. For shame.

And I’ve even skipped over stuff like the usual “repeal health care reform” inanities. Once again, the Majority Leader proves that one of the best assets Democrats have going into the fall midterms are the Republicans themselves. They’re just not ready for prime-time anymore, if in fact they ever were.

Barton Fink.


According to a GOP leadership aide, Barton met with House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) Thursday afternoon, and was told, ‘Apologize, immediately. Or you will lose your [subcommittee] position, immediately. Now that he has apologized, we’ll see what happens going forward.

Republican Rep. Joe Barton, the Ranking Member of the Energy & Commerce committee, decides to use the out-loud voice and genuflects before BP’s Tony Hayward, causing all kinds of messaging trouble for Republicans today. (Then again, if they had a problem with Barton openly professing his fealty to his biggest donor, maybe they shouldn’t have put it in today’s talking points.) In any case, this one was right over the middle of the plate for the WH today. [Pic via Greg Greene.]

The Deficit Witchhunt: Self-Immolation Time.


The terms on which the U.S. government can borrow now are exceptionally advantageous. And because of high unemployment the benefits of boosting government purchases and cutting taxes right now are exceptionally large…[R]ight now, as best we can tell, an increase in federal spending or a cut in taxes will produce (in the short run) no increase in interest rates and hence no crowding-out of productivity — increasing private investment. Indeed, government spending that adds to firms’ current cash flow may well boost private investment and so leave us, dollar for dollar, richer after the effect of the stimulus ebbs.

As the recent wave of deficit hysteria hits the G20, prompting a frightening and idiotic retreat back into Hooverism (As Krugman put it: “Utter folly posing as wisdom“), economist Brad DeLong explains once more the the case for deficit spending during a recession. THIS IS NOT ROCKET SCIENCE, people (which is why 3/4ths of voters already get it.)

The Representatives from K-St.


Members of this Shadow Congress — not all of whom are registered lobbyists — hail from 41 of 50 states (Texas has the most, with 17) and they’re almost as likely to be Democrats as Republicans. Some, like Tom Daschle and Bob Dole, were powerful congressional leaders, whose presence on K Street has drawn scrutiny in the past. But far more are low-profile back-benchers we’d never heard of and we doubt you had either:

TPM’s Justin Elliot and Zachary Roth try to ascertain a head-count of the representatives from K-Street: “We’ve compiled a close-to-comprehensive list of former members of Congress currently working on behalf of private interests in Washington’s influence-peddling industry. We count 172 of them — almost one-third the number of current members of Congress.” (They deem them the “Shadow Congress,” but I think that name is, quite frankly, far too awesome to be used in reference to a bunch of bought-and-paid-for-lobbyists. See also: Shadow Broker, Shadow Proclamation, etc. etc.)

The picture above, by the way, is Joseph Keppler’s The Bosses of the Senate, from the January 1889 issue of Puck. Consider also David Graham Phillips’ “Treason of the Senate” from 1906, and the problem of corporate control over our republican institutions is sadly not-so-new. But back then, alas, they were just getting warmed up.

Krugman: Enough with the Deficit Panic.

What’s the greatest threat to our still-fragile economic recovery? Dangers abound, of course. But what I currently find most ominous is the spread of a destructive idea: the view that now, less than a year into a weak recovery from the worst slump since World War II, is the time for policy makers to stop helping the jobless and start inflicting pain.” The NYT’s Paul Krugman weighs in on the deficit hysteria afflicting Washington right now. Honestly, this is Keynes 101, people — you don’t dial back government spending at a moment of incipient recovery, or else you end up with things like the 1937 Roosevelt Recession.

FWIW, the deficit witchhunt may be rolling in DC, but the bond markets aren’t listening. “On Friday, they were willing to hand over their cash to the Treasury for 10 years for 3.3 percent interest, a level so low it implies they consider the United States among the safest investments in the world.

GOP, meet 4chan.

We need to train an army of Ninja Cats. Cats are natural born hunters and predators, and it is known that they indeed have 9 lives, many more than the typical human life (being one). They are also excellent at hiding themselves and would be ideal for sneaking into countries and assassinating communist leaders to lessen the ever growing threat of communism, finding key terrorist leaders and shattering the global terrorist network.

As a highly entertaining Reddit thread well put it, “House Republicans turn to the Internets for suggestions on new legislation. Internets reacts exactly how you’d expect.” The lack of their own ideas aside, the fact that nobody on the GOP saw this egregious messaging #fail coming from a mile away speaks volumes about their Internet savvy. Series of tubes! (FWIW, here’s the counter-argument — More than anything, it’s a list-builder.)

Spitting on a Gift Horse.

They’re not accustomed to being engaged in politics this way,” says a private-equity investor. ‘Their skin isn’t toughened. They actually take [the attacks by Obama] personally. This is a profession with a lot of smart people, but who aren’t necessarily terribly introspective. They think they actually deserve to make all this money. So any attack on their livelihood is, ahem, unpleasant.’

In the wake of the Senate’s 59-39 passage of financial reform last week (not to mention increasing evidence of rampant and pervasive fraud at Goldman, Morgan, and elsewhere), New York‘s John Heilemann surveys the bruised egos of Wall Street’s would-be robber barons. (In very related news, Paul Krugman and the WP note that Wall Street is now betting heavily on the GOP again.)

Keep in mind: Wall Street is angry with the administration despite the fact that “Geithner’s team spent much of its time during the debate over the Senate bill helping…kill off or modify amendments being offered by more-progressive Democrats.” [Change we can believe in!] Heilemann writes: “Whatever the effects of the bill, among them will be neither an end to the too-big-too-fail doctrine nor any curb on what the sharpest Wall Streeters see as the central threat to the system’s stability: excessive financial leverage. Geithner, Summers, and Obama had little interest in tackling those matters, not because they are indentured servants to Wall Street but because at heart they are all technocrats who believe the system doesn’t need to be rebooted or downsized, merely better supervised.

Still, on the bright side and despite the ambivalence (or open opposition) from folks in high places, this bill did get significantly stronger on the Senate floor, and in some ways is now stronger than the House version passed last year. Let’s hope this welcome progressive trend continues in conference.

FinReg: Where Things Stand.

Last week, Congress decided it would not confront Too Big To Fail, the single gravest threat to our collective financial security. But there are still several key Wall Street reforms worth fighting for–reforms that must be enacted before the next crisis hits, with or without a big bank break-up. And fortunately, key Senators have authored amendments dealing with each one.” In HuffPo, Zach Carter delineates the most worthwhile progressive amendments to financial reform still up for debate in the Senate. A good encapsulation of the state of play.

Heir to the La Follettes.

“There’s got to be more to life than explaining Senate procedures to angry constituents or begging Blue Dogs to do what they ought to do by rote.” After forty fighting years in the House, David Obeyformidable Wisconsin progressive, master of both legislative arcana and the harmonica, and powerful Chair of the Appropriations Committee — announces his retirement at the end of this term.

Obey’s exactly the type of guy you want in Congress — he’s got his priorities straight and was never afraid to fight for them — and he will be missed. “He pondered retirement before, but stayed on because he was angry at what he saw as the ‘arrogance’ of the second President Bush. ‘I was determined to outlast him,’ he said.

Update: Chairman Obey’s full official statement is definitely worth a read. “I am, frankly, weary of having to beg on a daily basis that both parties recognize that we do no favor for the country if we neglect to make the long-term investments in education, science, health, and energy that are necessary to modernize our economy…I do not want to be in a position as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee of producing and defending lowest common denominator legislation that is inadequate to that task and, given the mood of the country, that is what I would have to do if I stayed.

I am also increasingly weary of having to deal with a press which has become increasingly focused on trivia, driven at least in part by the financial collapse of the news industry and the need, with the 24-hour news cycle, to fill the air waves with hot air. I say that regretfully because I regard what is happening to the news profession as nothing short of a national catastrophe which I know pains many quality journalists as much as it pains me. Both our professions have been coarsened in recent years and the nation is the loser for it.

Madam Speaker.


Late one night in January, as congressional leaders and White House officials tried to narrow their differences on the cost of the health-care bill, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) gave Obama credit. ‘I don’t speak for the House, but this is a good offer,’…’Henry, I agree with you about two things,’ Pelosi interjected. ‘The president put out some numbers, and, number two, you don’t speak for the House.’

The WP‘s Paul Kane profiles the inimitable Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. “Some historians list her alongside Rayburn and his successor, John W. McCormack, as among the most influential speakers in the annals of Congress.” (What, no love for Joe Cannon? C’mon now, American history doesn’t start in 1945.)

In any case, from my ringside seat here in the belly of the beast, it’s pretty clear: Speaker Pelosi gets things done. “After Scott Brown’s special-election victory…some pushed for a scaled-down version of health-care legislation to draw Republican support. Pelosi balked. In a moment that has come to define her speakership, Pelosi mocked a scaled-down bill as ‘Eensy Weensy Spider’ health care.

HCR: Where’s My Stuff?

Since I was talking to old friends on Facebook yesterday and realized once again that few folks outside of DC have a good sense of what’s actually in the recently passed health care bill, here’s a handy interactive graphic that delivers the what-for for the first year. There’s also a handy embed code there for wider distribution (but sorry, the death panel protocols are still classified. You’ll learn them when they come for you.)

Blunt Rebuke.

‘Access for kids who have pre-existing conditions, who would be against that?’ Blunt asked a group of health care professionals in Springfield, MO. ‘But access for adults who’ve done nothing to take care of themselves, who actually will have as I just described every incentive not to get insurance until the day that you know that you’re going to have medical expenses–that’s a very different kind of story.‘”

Thanks, Roy! Republican congressman and ostensible chair of the “GOP Health Care Task Force” Roy Blunt actually comes out in favor of repealing the ban on denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, one of the few provisions in the recent health care law that usually garnered bipartisan support. For its part, leukemia declined to comment.

Here’s to our Health.

“As our colleague John Lewis has said, ‘We may not have chosen the time, but the time has chosen us.’ We have been given this opportunity, an opportunity right up there with Social Security and Medicare: health care for all Americans. I urge my colleagues in joining together in passing health insurance reform — making history, making progress, and restoring the American dream.”

So, as you may have heard, the House passed the health care bill 219-212 late last night. It was a long and busy weekend, and a long and busy week is ahead, formulating the death panels and whatnot. Still, we’ve been talking about this bill since I got here last July, so it feels quite good to finally get this done. Now, let’s make it better. (Pic via here.)

Update: Here’s what goes into effect right away, and here’s what it means for you.

On Jobs and the Jobless.

Via Speaker Pelosi’s official website, some much-needed perspective on the jobs situation under Dubya and Obama respectively (so far). Next time anyone of the (Keynesian-challenged) Republican persuasion starts to rant and rave about the stimulus, this might be a good graph to keep in your back pocket.

Of course, this is not to say we’re anywhere near the clear on the jobs front. Not only is there some frightening new data around about the length of unemployment in this downturn, The Atlantic‘s Don Peck makes a compelling case about how this new jobless era will transform America: “The unemployment rate hit 10 percent in October, and there are good reasons to believe that by 2011, 2012, even 2014, it will have declined only a little…The worst effects of pervasive joblessness–on family, politics, society–take time to incubate, and they show themselves only slowly. But ultimately, they leave deep marks that endure long after boom times have returned.

The Old School Dealmakers.

[L]ong before Hollywood discovered the Texan, he cut a wide swath through the House, always playing the roguish ladies’ man and macho militarist…[His] frequent, much more sober-styled partner was Democratic Rep. John Murtha, the Pennsylvania powerhouse who chaired the defense subcommittee so important to CIA funding for the Afghan cause. And the fact that both have died now within days of each other punctuates the end of a major chapter for the House left behind.

Charlie Wilson, 1933-2010, and John Murtha, 1932-2010.

The Wages of Citizens United: The $$$.

“The Chamber spent much of its money in 2009 on campaigns that worked — it scared the Senate away from considering a version of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade legislation, and an argument can be made that its cutting ads on health care (with money taken from some insurance companies) helped to undercut support for the legislation.” You think? In a shape-of-things-to-come moment even before Citizens United goes into effect, the Chamber of Commerce outspent both political parties in 2009.

“According to The Center for Responsive Politics, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its national subsidiaries spent $144.5 million in 2009, far more than the RNC and more than double the expenditures by the DNC.” But corporate spending isn’t a problem or anything.

SotU: The “Fetal Position” Fallacy.

I know that we haven’t agreed on every issue thus far, and there are surely times in the future when we will part ways. But I also know that every American who is sitting here tonight loves this country and wants it to succeed. That must be the starting point for every debate we have in the coming months, and where we return after those debates are done. That is the foundation on which the American people expect us to build common ground.

They do? I thought they expected change we can believe in. But worn-out nods to an elusive, ephemeral, and, given the current GOP, often undesirable bipartisanship does not constitute such. In any event, so concluded the President’s State of the Union address last Thursday. This is old news at this point, so I’ll keep it brief. Suffice to say, while it got better as it went along, I thought the speech was merely ok, and often troubling. Throughout the evening, the president’s remarks had that excessively-poll-tested, small-bore feel that conjured up grim odors of 1995 and 1996. Throw on a flannel and fire up the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, y’all: One year into the Obama era, are we already back to V-chips and school uniforms?

Part of the president’s problem is that the Senate is looking like the elephant’s graveyard of progressive-minded legislation right now. The president called for an energy reform bill. The House went out on a limb to pass one last June. The president called for a financial reform bill. The House passed one in December. The president called for a new jobs bill. The House also passed one in December. All of these bills, and many, many others, are languishing in the Senate right now, as Sen. Reid and others try to figure out how to somehow get something — anything! — passed with a larger majority than Dubya ever enjoyed.

The Senate issue aside, there were other problems in the President’s speech, including far too many nods and feints in the direction of ridiculous deficit peacocks like Judd Gregg and Evan Bayh. First off, at the risk of sounding like Dick Cheney, I tend to think that deficits are troubling, but, even in the best of times, they shouldn’t really be the foremost driving concern of our government policy. If we run a deficit to invest in education now, we’ll save money down the road and improve Americans’ quality-of-life to boot. (Put in somewhat ugly fashion, it’s invest in schools now or prisons later.)

And that being said, right now is emphatically not the best of times. We know exactly what happens when you cut spending too quickly after a virulent recession — It was called the 1937 Roosevelt recession, and it would be flagrantly idiotic to repeat it. Just because the GOP doesn’t seem to understand basic Keynesian economics doesn’t mean we should follow them down the rabbit hole of flat-earth thinking, just so we can look bipartisan.

No, the problem with deficits isn’t necessarily the running of a deficit. It’s the running-up of massive deficits for patently stupid reasons — like, say, prosecuting a war of choice in Iraq, or doling out excessive tax breaks to multi-millionaires. And that’s why some of the President’s nods in that direction were so irritating last Thursday. Calling for a spending freeze on discretionary spending, without touching the exorbitant “security-related” budget (cute euphemism, that), is kabuki theater at best. And at worst, you’re balancing the books at the expense of our most vulnerable citizens. (I tend to agree with Candidate Obama on this issue anyway.)

Similarly, this deficit commission which the president plans to foist on Congress by executive order after the Senate killed it, is, again, at best kabuki theater and at worst trouble. It’s clear to everyone involved that the entire point of this commission is CYA: i.e, to create political cover for raids on entitlement spending, while once again ignoring the grotesquely swollen defense budget. (Altho’, to be fair, Secretary Gates has at least tried to rein in growth in this sector.) In other words, this commission will basically just be a chance for deficit peacocks to pretend they’re Serious People and “make tough decisions,” while in fact the one really tough idea that actually needs to be tackled — reining in defense spending — will be completely avoided.

In any event, all this discussion of the deficit ignores the larger problem. Obviously, one of the president’s biggest charges coming into office was to restore economic sanity after eight years of Dubyaite excess. That being said, people were not looking to President Obama for this sort of deficit tsk-tsking and small-bore, fiddling around the margins. You’d think we Dems would have learned this by now. But curling up into a fetal position and mouthing moderate GOP-lite bromides will not stop the Republicans from kicking us, ever.

We have a Democratic president, an 18-seat majority in the Senate, and a 79-seat majority in the House. In short, we Dems need to keep thinking big or we will pay dearly at the polls this November. Perhaps the dysfunction of the Senate is the central problem Obama faces right now, but his speech nonetheless suggests that we’re getting dangerously close to Eisenhower Republican territory now, and not even in the good “the military-industrial complex is completely frakked” kinda way. Without vision, the people perish. So too will our party, if we keep up with this thin gruel, triangulation schtick. At the advice of the careerist DLC-types over the years, we have tried this path several times over — Put simply, it does not work.

When Suddenly a Debate Broke Out.

“The whole thing basically went like that: Republican asks obnoxious question rooted in Glenn Beck-ian talking points; Obama swats it away, makes the questioner look silly, and then smiles at the end. It got so bad, in fact, that Fox News cut away from the event before it was over.”

My issues with the SotU notwithstanding, the president’s sallying back-and-forth with House Republicans on Friday clearly indicate that, whatever our problems are within the party, the GOP are just not ready for prime-time right now. (I also get the sense that this will mark the definitive end of the Republican’s goofy “teleprompter” meme.) [Full transcript.]

To his credit, the president made his political opponents seem like the blatantly hypocritical ideologues they in fact are. Which begs the “common ground” question once again: Why should we try to meet the “Party of No” halfway, particularly when we know that they move the goalposts every single time you try to take them seriously?

Things I Learned from the Death Panels.

The ‘death panel’ episode shows how the news media, after aiding and abetting falsehood, were unable to perform their traditional role of reporting the facts. By lavishing uncritical attention on the most exaggerated claims and extreme behavior, they unleashed something that the truth could not dispel.” In the NYT, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) reviews the sad, sordid tale of Death Panel fear-mongering by the GOP this past summer.

In very related news, it seems the Republican National Committee’s health insurance plan, contra all their rhetoric on Stupak, has not only covered abortion services for the past eighteen years — it includes end-of-life counseling, a.k.a. the “Death Panels” of Sarah Palin’s nightmares. These folks really have no shame.

The Lobby Echoes.

In the official record of the historic House debate on overhauling health care, the speeches of many lawmakers echo with similarities. Often, that was no accident. Statements by more than a dozen lawmakers were ghostwritten, in whole or in part, by Washington lobbyists working for Genentech, one of the world’s largest biotechnology companies.

As a speechwriter in the House, I’m sort of a rare bird…but perhaps I shouldn’t be: An estimated 42 Members — 20 Dems and 22 GOP — get caught lifting industry talking points for the health care debate. Suggested TP’s make the rounds all the time, of course, but they’re usually meant to be guidelines, not taken word-for-word. Oops.

225-220.

[L]ives are what’s at stake in this debate, and moments like this are why they sent us here — to finally meet the challenges that Washington has put off for decades; to make their lives better and this nation stronger; to move America forward. That’s what the House did last night when it brought us closer than we have ever been to comprehensive health insurance reform in America.

After many months of work and a long Saturday of debate (not to mention quite a few flagrant and ridiculous GOP lies along the way), the Houses passes the Affordable Health Care for America Act 220-215. (Joining 219 Dems was one solitary Republican, Anh Joseph Cao of William Jefferson’s old seat, and he voted after the bill had already crossed the 218 threshold.) And, much thanks to the people who have fought for it all this time, H.R. 3962 passed the House with the public option bloodied but still intact.

Alas, the skeleton at the feast was a successful gambit by the heretofore unknown pro-lifer Rep. Bart Stupak to use the necessity of health care reform to fundamentally alter the status quo on abortion. (Best tweet of the day, btw: “‘Stupak’ sounds like a political action committee for morons.”)

Stupak forces like to say they’re just upholding existing law with this amendment, which already states that federal funds will not be used to pay for abortions. But, in fact, this amendment goes further — it prohibits not only the public option but private insurance companies who operate in the exchange from offering abortion services to people who receive subsidies. Or, in other words, low-income women are going to be S.O.L. for starters, with mission creep ultimately denying more and more women reproductive choice and/or necessary medical procedures. (Stupak to women — don’t miscarry.)

On one hand, the good news is that Stupak’s gambit is pretty much dead in the water in the Senate — even the GOP isn’t warming to it. (And, while maintaining the usual “above-the-fray approach”for now — big surprise, I know — Obama has telegraphed he’s not a supporter of the idea.)

On the other, the Stupak situation shows one of the problems we now have as the majority party. Here we have a scion of the “Family” on C-Street playing shenanigans with critical Democratic legislation at the eleventh hour…and he was joined by 63 other Dems in getting the amendment passed. In fact, many of these look to be CYA votes by ostensible pro-choicers to shore up their moderate bona fides.

Even more troubling, 21 of the final 39 Democratic votes against health care reform voted for Stupak — i.e., they voted to screw up a bill they had absolutely no intention of supporting in the end. (Conversely, twenty Dems in GOP-leaning districts did the right thing — they voted against Stupak and for passage. They are listed here.) Simply put, these 21 are why primary challenges were invented.

Until congressional Democrats learn that bucking their left is just as — if not more — dangerous than prostrating themselves before the right, they’re going to continue to play these reindeer games. (To be clear, in almost all cases, it’s not like these holdouts’ issues with the bill came from the left.) And until these often craven middle-of-the-roaders feel the wrath of the stick as well as the carrot, we are going to remain locked in this dismal feedback loop where important bills are in danger of being endlessly watered down into “moderate” mush. (See also: no Single Payer, no Medicare +5.) And that’s just not change we can believe in.

Aside from the Recovery Act, the House hasn’t held as important a vote all year. And, if certain Dems can’t find a way to support critical Democratic legislation — legislation tempered to meet their approval, in fact — when the time comes, then don’t expect the progressive base to have their back just because they have a D by their name. The time to suffer such fools has passed.

In any event, Round 1 completed. Round 2, the Senate…

Hacker: Still Alive.

In short, it’s no time to be despondent about the fate of the public insurance option. For sure, pegging rates to Medicare and obligating Medicare providers to accept these rates would be far preferable, and a public plan with negotiated rates may do less to keep the insurers honest and drive down costs. But it’s still immensely valuable to give Americans an out — another choice — to let the insurers feel the heat of not being the only game in town. The fierce and continuing opposition of the insurance industry suggests that they think that a public option will prove a serious counterweight in an increasingly consolidated private market.

In TNR, Jacob Hacker and Diane Archer make the case anew for a public option, specifically the one that made it into H.R. 3962. If all goes well, the House bill — recently endorsed by the AARP and the AMA — will get a vote tomorrow. (Yep, it’s a work day.) Update: Or later. Here’s the hold-up.

Where’s Waldo (the Lobbyist)?

When 22 senators started working over the first health care overhaul bill on June 17, the news cameras were pointed at them — except for NPR’s photographer, who turned his lens on the lobbyists. Whatever bill emerges from Congress will affect one-sixth of the economy, and stakeholders have mobilized. We’ve begun to identify some of the faces in the hearing room, and we want to keep the process going.” Clever, clever: Also on the health care front, an NPR photographer initiates a game of find-the-health-care-lobbyist. “Know someone in these photos? Let us know who that someone is.

Plastic Surgery.

‘This is landmark legislation that is going to make the credit card marketplace more transparent and more fair for millions of consumers,’ said Travis B. Plunkett, legislative director for the Consumer Federation of America. ‘In particular, it’s going to prevent credit card companies from suddenly and unjustly increasing interest rates which is pushing many consumers with credit card debt into bankruptcy.’” The Senate passes legislation aimed at reining in the more blatant and arbitrary instances of credit card usury by a vote of 90-5, with a bill expected on President Obama’s desk by Memorial Day.

This sounds like a clear step in the right direction…but funny how times change, isn’t it? It doesn’t seem like all that long ago that many of these same Senators passed the 2005 bankruptcy bill, which dug the financial hole deeper for millions of Americans in the name of an easy buck for the credit card industry. Better late than never, I suppose.

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