Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 17, 2009

THE KIND OF DEBATE THAT'S LONG OVERDUE.... Maybe this is an esoteric point, but it occurs to me that the quality of the policy debate between competing progressive contingents is infinitely better and more interesting than the policy debate between Democrats and Republicans we witnessed over the last eight or nine months. It's probably an inconsequential observation, but I think it nevertheless speaks to a larger truth.

The thought came to me after reading two op-eds this morning -- Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) attacking health care reform from the right in the Wall Street Journal, and former Gov. Howard Dean (D-Vt.) going after reform from the left in the Washington Post. Both called for the defeat of the Senate Democratic plan, and both were written by leading figures on their respective side of the ideological fence, but only one had something sensible to offer.

Coburn's piece was absurd, wildly misleading, and included arguments that seemed oddly detached from the substantive reality of the debate. Dean's piece, which I personally disagree with, was nevertheless policy focused, serious, and credible. Dean's piece conveys the concerns of someone who cares deeply about health care and improving the dysfunctional system, while Coburn's piece reads like someone auditioning to be Sean Hannity's fill-in guest host.

Of course, it's not just two op-eds on a Thursday that bolster the point. Much has been made this week of the often-intense dispute between activists and wonks -- progressive reform advocates who think the Democratic plan has merit and is worth passing, and progressive reform advocates who think the Democratic plan is a failure and should be defeated. It's an important dispute, with significant implications.

But notice the quality of the debate. Note that Howard Dean, Markos Moulitsas, much of the FireDogLake team and others are raising important questions and pointing to real flaws. At the same time, note that Ezra Klein, Jonathan Cohn, Nate Silver and others are offering meaningful defenses of the Democratic plan, based on substantive evaluations.

Progressive activists and progressive wonks are at each other's throats this week, but they want largely the same goals. Their differences are sincere and significant, but the intensity of their dispute is matched by the potency of their arguments.

And then turn your attention to the other side of the divide, and notice the quality of the arguments conservatives and Republicans have offered -- and continue to offer -- in this debate. Death panels. Socialism. Hitler. Government takeover. Socialized medicine. Incomprehensible charts. Incessant whining about the number of pages in a proposal.

The United States could have had a great debate this year about one of the most important domestic policies of them all. But Americans were denied that debate, because the right didn't have an A game to bring. Intellectual bankruptcy left conservatives with empty rhetorical quivers.

But as it turns out, it's not too late for the debate, we were just looking in the wrong place. We expected the fight of the generation to occur between the right and left, when the more relevant and interesting dispute was between left and left.

Time will tell who'll win, and no matter what happens, the argument will continue beyond this one piece of legislation. But regardless what side of the dispute you're on, it's worth appreciating the vibrancy, energy, and seriousness with which progressives are engaging in the debate, as compared to the incoherent, ridiculous, and dull qualities our friends on the right have brought to the table.

Steve Benen 12:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (85)

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Comments

A great comfort, I'm sure, when the Republicans ride their faithfully lock-step marching supporters roughshod over the voters who came out for Obama and Democrats in 2008; who, demoralized and angered, will stay home and sit 2010 out.

Posted by: J. on December 17, 2009 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks for looking on the bright side, Steve!

However, if the lefty opponents of the bill manage to help kill it, I'm not going to be marvelling at their brilliance. I'm going to remember the false equivalency once made between Bush and Gore, and the support for Nader that led us to the debacle of Bush.

Posted by: ceenik on December 17, 2009 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

The difference is that in America today, the terms "progressive", "left" and "liberal" refer to actual political ideologies and policy proposals.

Whereas the terms "conservative" and "right" refer to an entertainment demographic.

That's why polls of "conservatives" show that they think of people like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are their "leaders": because "conservatives" don't really want to hear about substantive political ideas and policies, they just want to be entertained by slapstick clowns.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on December 17, 2009 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

Excellent points, Steve.

Both parties are political, but the Republicans are all about winning (and whining and lying to get their way), while the Dems at least try to govern and solve problems. Tell me again how the Rs solved the health care crisis (or even addressed it) when they held the WH and had majorities in the Senate and House? Oh right, they bullied their way into a private family matter to "save" one brain-dead woman. Let the rest of us go to the emergency room!

Posted by: Hannah on December 17, 2009 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

right back at'cha ceenik, when the passing of a "any-damn-health-care-'reform'-bill-will-do" provides the same debacle...

Posted by: neill on December 17, 2009 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

Time will tell who wins? Look, the forces of reaction, as it were, have already won. The progressives are just fighting over the scraps from the table set for the insurance companies. I agree that we would all have been better off if the entire debate had taken place between the center and the left all along. Well, why didn't it? It was because Obama and Reid had to work with Lieberman and Snowe and refused to undercut them as bargaining partners by pointing out that they were lying, every step of the way.

If the Democrats as a whole had brought out talking heads from the progressive and technocratic wing of the party to counter the death panels and the abortion hysterics and the anti public option/anti medicare buy in people the entire discussion would have looked very differently. Lieberman, et al would have had to defend their votes on purely logical grounds and would have lost their taste for appearing on talk shows at all.

At this point all howard dean (god bless him) and the progressives can do is threaten to blow up the bill. They can't improve it. Lieberman is too determined to destroy the democrats through the bill. And reid and obama are determined to let him do it for the sake of gettign something passed. Its way to late for cheerful talk.

aimai

Posted by: aimai on December 17, 2009 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

Re: ceenik vs. neill. One of these people doesn't want to revisit 2001-2008. The other one evidently doesn't care.

Posted by: mandil on December 17, 2009 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

The debate is happening between the right and the left.Unfortunately it's confined to one party!

Posted by: par4 on December 17, 2009 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, but I don't consider fratricide to be either interesting or entertaining. This is beyond stupid.

Posted by: Sandlapper on December 17, 2009 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

The quality of the debate on the progressive side is a function of what they hope to achieve as an end result -- a plan that lowers costs and increases access.

To judge the quality of debate seen on the coservative side, ask what they hope to achieve as an end result. Sen. Coburn in his WSJ column uses the fact that he is a doctor to establish his credibility as a commentator on health insurance. But to me it only identifies his conflict of interest, as someone who has a financial stake in a system that perhaps pays doctors way more than they really deserve. And that is why he is concerned about a "government takeover" -- not that it would ration care for his patients but that it would pay him less for the patients he does see and so make him see more of them to get the same pay. And so what Coburn calls rationing the rest of us can call improving access.

Posted by: Ted Frier on December 17, 2009 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

Hmmm, so you're saying that Republicans are douchebags. And water is wet. I'm so glad we've settled these matters. Now let's move on to a crappy health care reform bill.

Posted by: Hypatia on December 17, 2009 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

ceenik,

"However, if the lefty opponents of the bill manage to help kill it, I'm not going to be marvelling at their brilliance. I'm going to remember the false equivalency once made between Bush and Gore, and the support for Nader that led us to the debacle of Bush."

Your premise is faulty.

Dean and others have proposed killing the Senate bill and returning to the House bill.

They have NOT proposed killing healthcare reform.

Posted by: Joe Friday on December 17, 2009 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

And then turn your attention to the other side of the divide, and notice the quality of the arguments conservatives and Republicans have offered -- and continue to offer -- in this debate. Death panels. Socialism. Hitler. Government takeover. Socialized medicine. Incomprehensible charts. Incessant whining about the number of pages in a proposal.

Now go poll the masses as ask them the open-ended question "After a week of intense debate between two groups of progressives, and attacks by conservatives, what is your impression of the health care reform bill?" and count the times phrases in their responses match those of Dean, Ezra/Nate, or Coburn.

Do I even have to say who will "win" that contest?

Yes I'm grumpy today.

Posted by: zeitgeist on December 17, 2009 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

Howard Dean wrote: "The bill was supposed to give Americans choices about what kind of system they wanted to enroll in. Instead, it fines Americans if they do not sign up with an insurance company, which may take up to 30 percent of your premium dollars and spend it on CEO salaries -- in the range of $20 million a year -- and on return on equity for the company's shareholders. Few Americans will see any benefit until 2014, by which time premiums are likely to have doubled."

What we have here is a dispute among the wonks (a category in which I consider Howard Dean to be a member). Ezra Klein reports that mandates in MA reduced premiums by 40 percent. Others report that the Senate bill contains language limiting profits to 10 percent of revenues (insurers are currently reporting profits in excess of 25 percent), which would drive down prices immediately (or limit the growth of premiums).

We need to get them in a room together so that the rest of us can figure this out.

Posted by: Chris on December 17, 2009 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, Steve B., I have to disagree somewhat with your premise that facts are being debated on both sides.

Unfortunately the pro-Senate 'bill' side seems to rely way to much on emotion (which is exactly what they've learned from the Reps on how to pass an unpopular bill). Obama's saying the government will go bankrupt if the bill isn't passed! The main argument is that we ought to be happy with just passing something/anything, and that usually is followed by (yet another) emotional argument--something about the number of uninsured dying and how compassionate people couldn't possibly be against the bill.

On the other hand, Huffington, Kos, Olbermann, Hamsher seem to be staying with the facts of the situation--that this bill mandates people buy insurance from insurance companies with no real competition and no cost caps. In short, it seems pretty factual that this bill is a boon to insurance companies at the expense of the general public.

I think I must've misunderstood the "Change" part of the last election. Seems like the only Change that most Dems want is to whom the lobbyists send their checks.

Posted by: PoorRichard on December 17, 2009 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

Great point. I wish you had a bigger megaphone, Steve, and could blast this point to everyone in the country.

Posted by: Lynn Dee on December 17, 2009 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

I'm a fan of Markos and his site, even though I side with the wonks here. But DogPoopLake is an abomination.

All they do is criticize people's motivations. It's cheap and immature. The constant snideness and condescension is sickening.

Posted by: Frank C. on December 17, 2009 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

Quote: "Unfortunately the pro-Senate 'bill' side seems to rely way to much on emotion (which is exactly what they've learned from the Reps on how to pass an unpopular bill). Obama's saying the government will go bankrupt if the bill isn't passed!"

He's not talking about the politicians. He's talking about people like Paul Krugman, Ezra Klein, Nate Silver, Kevin Drum, etc.

Posted by: Lynn Dee on December 17, 2009 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

Aimai, can you explain how to get 60 votes without going thru the bad Dems? Can you explain how to guarantee a good bill gets through reconciliation?

You can't asnwer these questions. Activists are just way wrong on process.

Posted by: Frank C. on December 17, 2009 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

@Chris on December 17, 2009 at 1:20 PM

Chris, go on over to dailykos and do some reading--the Mass. premiums were waaaay more expensive than the average premium before the program began. So a "40% drop" is massaging the facts to present a certain point of view. I could sell you a gallon of milk for 40% off, but if the 'regular price' was $100.00, would it be a good deal?!

Posted by: PoorRichard on December 17, 2009 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

but only one had something sensible to offer

The Greedy Obnoxious Party is about funneling privilege and money to a minority that grows richer as it grows smaller. In a democracy, such a program would be suicidal.

The Republicans are proving themselves daily to be morally, ethically, legislatively, and intellectually bankrupt. They cannot launch or defend a rational argument because the basis of their beliefs is an embarrassing level of greed. Unfortunately, they are not monetarily bankrupt, even after trashing the economy. Remove the money, and they would shrivel down to the tiny parasites that they really are.

Posted by: Boolaboola on December 17, 2009 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

First Steven, thanks so much for acknowledging the good faith and credibility of Howard Dean. It shows you aren't a jerk pseudoliberal who hates "hippies" on behalf of the Village/corporate/sell-out establishment. As for the substantive points, I think I figure what the Republicans are up to. It isn't a matter of, they opposed the bill and sought compromise in a good faith effort to make it less offensive to their sincere beliefs. Instead, I think they deliberately tried to make it as awful for the public as they could, by bargaining away things like the public option. Then if many people don't like it (which sadly, is likely) they can blame the Democrats for voting for it! See the trick: ruin a Democratic Bill, let it cause angst, blame Democrats. L,R,R.

The only electoral hope is to pound the message that the Republicans/blue-dog-dickocrats are the ones who ruined the Bill and made it less desirable. But low-information voters won't get that. It will be uphill. And fellow pissed off progressives, we had still better vote for Democrats and give money (selectively of course - like not to "I voted with GW Bush a lot" Landrieu) or else things will be really horrible and not just crappy.

Posted by: neil b on December 17, 2009 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

@Lynn Dee

"He's not talking about the politicians. He's talking about people like Paul Krugman, Ezra Klein, Nate Silver, Kevin Drum, etc."

Both politicians AND wonks are using the same kind of emotional arguments for the 'bill'. Read Nate's reply to Kos, I like Nate but he ducks Kos's arguments over and over again. Also brings up the (emotional) 'poor dying uninsured' point.

Posted by: PoorRichard on December 17, 2009 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

...it's worth appreciating the vibrancy, energy, and seriousness with which progressives are engaging in the debate

Yeah, but I think that's a little like Republicans congratulating each other for, say, the religiosity, fervor, and unanimity of their efforts. It's all very virtuous-sounding to those already convinced, but it's not particularly indicative of political success.

Posted by: bleh on December 17, 2009 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

Chris, based on what I've read and seen, I would be very surprised if there was still language limiting profits to 10% of revenues in the Senate bill at this point. I have yet to hear anyone in this debate convincingly explain how the Senate bill will keep down costs and premiums while awarding huge heaps of cash to insurance companies.

Given that the entire bill seems to pivot on this point, I think that if there were adequate compulsory cost controls, Dems would be singing it from the rooftops.

But they're not, are they?

Posted by: SteveR on December 17, 2009 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

PoorRichard, you've got that exactly backwards.

The pro-bill people have facts, e.g., Nate Silver posts with numbers to back up his arguments.

The Kill The Bill crowd, nothing. Nothing but fear mongering about "rewarding insurance companies". No hard facts.

This bill is similar to the Massachusetts plan that's been in place for several years now. Where's the unmitigated price gouging from the insurance industry there? You'd think the Kill The Bill crowd could point out countless examples from this real world implementation but to date there have been none.

You'd also think that the people of Massachusetts would be giving the plan (again, worse than the current Senate bill) they currently live under a big thumbs down, but in actuality it's got a 60% approval rating.

So no, you don't have the facts on your side. And you're projecting the emotionalism, just take a look at 99% of the Kill The Bill posts here. They're ranting hysterical screeds. Contrast that to Steve Benen's posts or Nate Silver or Kevin Drum and show me where there's anything approaching the same level of hysteria.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on December 17, 2009 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

In real time, I tend to put more stock in the sensible, level-headed wonks like JMM and Kevin Drum, whereas in retrospect, them and I have always proven to have been far too conservative and reasonable than warranted. I still laugh at the Naderites, but as for the crazy lefties who had a problem with Gore's VP choice... who's laughing now? I now find myself in the uncomfortable position of being right-of-center of public opinion on the Afghanistan war that crazy hippie Atrios was never too excited about.

Like the village, no matter how often the reformists are right, I can never give them the same respect I give to the more respectable, and more wrong, wonks (though more right than the village).

So, in the healthcare battle, I find myself a wonk siding with the activists. I'm not too inclined to pretend the current bill is monumental reform, nor can I justify all the compromises we are making to put us at odds with public opinion. HCR is going the opposite direction of the public because they still don't have the power in DC.

Killing HCR would be one way to get noticed, wouldn't it?

Posted by: Memekiller on December 17, 2009 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

What Joe Friday said . Send that shit sandwich back to the house and pass a meaningful bill by reconciliation. I don't usually go for Olberman's hyperbole , but he said it last night.They are already complaining and whining and won't agree to anything-anything put forward by Dems, so you want something to whine about , we'll give you something to9 whine about. Watch us spend OUR "political capital"

Posted by: john R on December 17, 2009 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

I am so sick of the ceeniks of this world who continue to falsly claim votes for Nader cost Gore the 2000 election. Gore won the popular vote, dude. He even won Florida. He chose not to fight when the Bushies declared victory and he chose to distance himself from Clinton while running, and he chose the worst possible VP candidate in Lieberman, yet he still WON the popular vote.

If we continue to listen to the ceeniks of the world who want us to constantly choose the lesser of two evils instead of fighting for what is right then we are doomed to continue the broken political process we enjoy today.

Posted by: Mike in SLO on December 17, 2009 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

But look at Kos's detailed rebuttals to Nate.
http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2009/12/16/815402/-20-answers
And suspicions about structural risks is perfectly rational. It isn't easy to calibrate that numerically, but it's a valid concern.

Posted by: neil b on December 17, 2009 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

Unfortunately the pro-Senate 'bill' side seems to rely way to much on emotion

This seems exactly backwards to me, and I think the false equivalency of your last paragraph proves it. The activists' lack of historical perspective is what bugs me. The gap between the HCR we wanted and what we might still get is frustrating, but it's nothing compared to the gap between what we might get and what we've gotten in the previous several decades of trying. And if the Obama administration's willingness to bargain with the blue dogs looks weak to you, you'd better not look at the kinds of deals with the devil Clinton, FDR, Lincoln--hell, any president who actually got any of their stuff passed--made with the reactionaries in their coalitions.

Posted by: policomic on December 17, 2009 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

Mike, votes for Nader did cost Gore the election given the rest of things. I would not be easy to overturn FL. You vote for other than an electable LOTE and you'll get your GOTE. That's a fact of life, and idealism can't change it. It can change who gets on the ballot and who they listen to, but once the ballot is in front of you your duty is clear.

Posted by: neil b. on December 17, 2009 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

The very objective analytical writing of Marshall is what has always appealed to me. But any sober assessment of history shows all his logic sensibleness simply does not have the prognosticating power of Atrios' wanker of the day.

Posted by: Memekiller on December 17, 2009 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

@Dr. Morpheus
Please, show us the cost controls. That's all I ask. If there's a mandate and substantial cost controls, WHY ISN'T THERE A SINGLE DEM WHO CAN EXPLAIN THE COST CONTROLS? It's not rocket science. Either there's a mandate which offers the insurance companies 30 million new customers, with the balance of strict controls on costs on the other side - or there isn't.

And at this point, absent PROOF that the insurance companies will be forced to keep down their costs and their premiums, I am believing what I've heard from Greenwald, Kos, FDL, Rachel Maddow, Olbermann and Wendell Potter (some of them the exact same people who were right all along about Bush, Iraq and WMD - not the ones who were wrong, like Kevin Drum). This Senate bill appears to be a giveaway as it stands, and if we pass it the way it is, we will live to regret it.

Posted by: SteveR on December 17, 2009 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

Not so long ago, all the "sensible liberals" were telling us that we had to go along with George W. Bush's plan to invade Iraq, and sneering with contempt at the "lefties" and "Naderites" who opposed doing so.

After all, if Bush screwed up in Iraq, we could fix it later.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on December 17, 2009 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

Funny thing. Joe Lieberman supports "socialized medicine" in Israel (all Israelis have healthcare guaranteed) and in Iraq (their constitution states healthcare is a RIGHT) but he doesn't support healthcare for American citizens.

He LOVES him some Israel, up and down, front to back, but to suggest that we do for Americans what Israelis do for themselves? NO WAY!

Lieberman...in the midst of his final senate term evah!

Posted by: Praedor on December 17, 2009 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

I still remember laughing at the feminists protesting Dick Cheney's pre-9/11 sucking up to the Taliban. Haliburton wanted a pipeline and took the Taliban to the Galleria and a tour of NASA while those crazie hippies complained about burkhas or something.

Good times.

Posted by: Memekiller on December 17, 2009 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

First, thanks ceenik: The Nader analogy is as dead-on as someone can get. It seems eight years of Bush-Cheney didn't teach some people anything about the cost of their precious political purity. Second, I wouldn't go putting up Dean's harangue as the epitome of reasoned debate. It's first "point" is reform doesn't outlaw preexisting conditions because old people's policies are more expensive than young people's. Aside the fact that's not the issue of preexisting conditions, one wonders how Dean purposes to flatten the rate for everyone. I've spent years arguing with winger friends over the flat tax, which they insist results in lower taxes for all. When I suggests that's hopelessly naive and ask who'll foot the bill, they duck, dodge, and stick with their magical religion. I suspect a talk with Dean would be similar. Given healthcare costs, the only way to flatten the rate of old and young is to significantly increase the payout demanded of the young. And since we're struggling to broaden the insurance pool by getting the young fully on board, is that wise? The second Dean "point" is a now familiar dodge: A mandate is bad because heathcare premiums go to evil insurance companies vs a happy-face smiley public option entity. Never mind the fact the public option would have had a very limited impact. Never mind the fact the CBO estimated there would be little or no difference in premium costs with the public option plan. Never mind the fact the vast majority of people would still be privately insured. In the one case the dollars go to wicked CEOs and that's that - no joke, Dean actually brought up CEO salaries as an "argument" against reform. Of course, that's as relevant as a wingnut bringing up the proverbial welfare queen/Cadillac when discussing poverty, but Dean is a honorable man, right? Aside from a final paean to the public option, there were no further points. Everything else was just political gas. Let me be clear: I supported a public option personally, but recognize it ain't going to happen now, and there's too much at stake. Dean? He claims at the end that reform will do "more harm than good to the future of America. Sorry, but that's as mind-numbingly dishonest or s**t-for-brains stupid as anything Coburn can come up with. Finally, Nate Silver is back with counter arguments to the Kill-Billers. They're worth a read http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2009/12/20-questions-20-responses.html

Posted by: grb on December 17, 2009 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

"Nate Silver"

How can you write that with a straight face after Nate's questions concluded with:

"How many of the arguments that you might be making against the bill are being made out of anger, frustration, or a desire to ring Joe Lieberman by his scruffy, no-good, backstabbing neck?"

Posted by: DR on December 17, 2009 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

"I have yet to hear anyone in this debate convincingly explain how the Senate bill will keep down costs and premiums while awarding huge heaps of cash to insurance companies."

Paul Krugman

Ezra Klein

Jonathan Cohn

John Podesta

Ezra Klein (again)

Posted by: Chris on December 17, 2009 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

It isn't a new observation that the meaningful debate is usually between the wings of the majority party. You are wise to point out that the law ought to have been written after the debate, not as the stimulus to have the debate.

The belief that you know the "facts" is wildly optimistic, if not delusional. Almost all of the details depend on decisions made by future Congresses and bureaucracies.

The Republicans did offer two modest improvements: malpractice reform and the ending of state-sanctioned insurance monopolies. Neither would "revolutionize 1/6 of the American economy", but they would be small steps in a good direction.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on December 17, 2009 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

I was just reading some of the comments how if the present bills can be killed then - shazam! - everything becomes perfect, the lion lies down with the lamb, all of the people, institutions, and Big Money interests now ruthlessly fighting this tooth&nail realize their error and take vows in the Holy Orders, all of the people, institutions, and Big Money interests now on-board - but dragged kicking and screaming - suddenly become eager enthusiasts! It's magic! Well, no. It's wacko lunacy. Geez, weren't any of you around when Clinton tried and failed? I was, going on nearly two decades ago. But, hey, what's another twenty years if you get to stick it to a prick like Lieberman, huh? Except, of course, he'll be the one laughing. Really: What planet do you people reside on?

Posted by: grb on December 17, 2009 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

Both politicians AND wonks are using the same kind of emotional arguments for the 'bill'.

Saving lives is an emotional debate? I guess so...

Anyway, I disagree that Nate Silver is ducking anything. I agree with Steve: There is a substantive debate going on. And slamming one side or the other with accusations of emotionalism is just crap. The debate itself is substantive. Your smear is not.

Posted by: Lynn Dee on December 17, 2009 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

Matthew. C'mon. You said:

ending of state-sanctioned insurance monopolies.

That's deeply dishonest. All that would do is allow insurance companies to incorporate in the State that imposed the least regulation, then market their unregulated crap throughout the nation.

Anyone with a functioning frontal lobe understands that. I imagine even you have one--a functioning frontal-lobe, that is--so surely you understand that allowing sale of health insurance across state lines is an invitation to fraud? Or, if not fraud, insurance that costs way too much and does not insure what it claims to insure.

Jeebus. C'mon.

Posted by: LL on December 17, 2009 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

the right didn't have an A game to bring. Intellectual bankruptcy left conservatives with empty rhetorical quivers.

But still the Left lost.

That's profound. The left refuses to actually exercise the power it has. If you don't actually threaten to use reconciliation, then folks won't budge.

re: Nader vs. Gore ...

Nader didn't lose it for Gore. not at all. Gore ran an incompetent campaign. He lost it all by himself. And now the Dems are losing again because they are incompetent.

When you see how well the GOP obstructs the Dems, you have to conclude that the Democrats aided Bush and the GOP agendum for the past 8 years.

The Dems past refusal to obstruct - and their current refusal to exercise power - means they aren't really in opposition to the GOP at all.

Posted by: Jackifus on December 17, 2009 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

The quality of the Democratic-Republican debate is poor because there hasn't really been any real debate. Why haven't the Democrats publicly challenged the GOP to debate the bill on the merits on national television?

We should be going after these guys and challenging them to put their positions side-by-side against ours. I'll put a Dean-Franken-Feingold-Weiner team against anyone the GOP has to offer.

If they refuse, mock them unmercilessly.

Posted by: bdop4 on December 17, 2009 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

GRB, I don't think killing the bill will make everyone want HCR. I think we already don't have HCR, and am not sure I want Dems to be able to tout something they didn't do.

I also think, with this being a best shot at getting anything, the compromises won't end until the hippies are against it. We should have been against the bill when it had a watered down public option so the village would defend it.

Republicans are going to fillibuster, and they know HCR will pass and are resigned to it. All they want is for us to pass the HCR bill they want passed, so they can say 'I told you so,' and as usual, the centrists are the useful idiots who will make that happen. I am confident this is the HCR bill Republicans want us to pass over their united objections, and I think I'd rather have people suffering under our failed system waiting for reform then getting forced to buy insurance from the people who raped our healthcare system to compromise with Republicans who are going to run against us for the bad bill we let them write for us.

If I'm a Republican, I WANT dems to make everyone buy expensive insurance from the enemy. Do you think they'll want more reform then?

Posted by: Memekiller on December 17, 2009 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

It is ridiculous to equate worries over profit margins with loose talk about welfare queens. OK, so you don't mind paying hundreds of dollars a month so someone can get a salary of 50M? Then you pay the damn bill.

BTW, Podesta is not credible at all given his and his sister's lobbying contacts.
http://washingtonindependent.com/26438/podesta-a-name-to-watch-on-the-new-k-street

Health care and health insurance companies are well-represented on Podesta and Partners roster of clients. This year, the firm is lobbying for insurance giant Cigna Corp, as well as HealthSouth and Genoa Healthcare Consulting — among others.

What is Obama doing hanging out with those types?

Posted by: neil b on December 17, 2009 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

Doesn't the Senate bill require everyone to get an insurance policy, or else pay a fine? Or did that change? If young people pay the fine instead of getting an insurance policy, then they subsidize everyone else, up until they need emergency care, in which case they get subsidized by everyone else.

One of the unknowns is how many will get the insurance instead of paying the fine.

Another unknown is how many companies will drop the insurance coverage of their employees, substituting instead a small pay raise for current employees only.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on December 17, 2009 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

@Lynn Dee on December 17, 2009 at 2:12 PM

I think you'll see something in your discussion if you look at your word choice: slamming, accusations, crap, smear.

These are 'emotional' words, written to get a rise and not to state a fact. Now I'm not sayin' I'm perfect but did my words reall "slam" or "smear" anyone? You seem to prove my point even better than I tried.

It's good to learn the lesson of how the Reps get their way--ad hominem, straw man, passive-aggressive--but it's not good to turn right around and use the same tools.

I'm no superman, but I find it kinda easy to decide who in the argument is fact-based and who isn't so much. Nate's a great guy, but several times in his 20 questions he talks about 'being against leiberman' & other things like that. Which isn't fact-based to the bill, right?

And when I see Dean and Landrieu on TV, with Dean telling the truth (Obama ran on this) and Landrieu not, well it makes it that much easier to decide who to support.

The people using facts get my support, not those trying to use my emotions to persuade me.

Posted by: PoorRichard on December 17, 2009 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

Memekiller, you honestly think the current healthcare bill is something the gop wants? You believe all their objections and obstructionism are some kind of misdirection trickery? Wow. If you can twist your body as adeptly as you seem able to twist up your mind, you'd have a certain career as a circus contortionist. The Right is terrified of healthcare reform because they see it like Social Security, another step out of the laissez-faire jungle towards the dreaded fate of becoming like Europe. Neil B: I can gnash my teeth over CEO salaries with the best of'em, but to think whether some exec is or isn't overpaid by 10 or 20 mil makes ANY difference whatsoever to reforming one-seventh the nation's economy is EXACTLY equivalent to the "argument" we shouldn't help the poor because -look!- there goes some welfare queen in her Cadillac. Which, wingers love to gnash their teeth over as much as you and your ceos, ya think?

Posted by: grb on December 17, 2009 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

In 50 or so years, conservatives have evolved, from standing "athwart history, yelling 'STOP!'" *
- to standing athwart history, throwing poop.


*http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=NDJhYTJjNWI0MWFiODBhMDc2MzQwY2JlM2RhZjk5ZjM=

Posted by: Radio on December 17, 2009 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

Why oh why do you & others keep calling those degenerates "our friends on the right"

Posted by: cwolf on December 17, 2009 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

Grb, rubbish. We pay more because of those CEOs. As for welfare, if anyone was on it and "shouldn't have been", that raised costs didn't it? The Swiss system sets the profit margins, we can do that too as a cost of mandating customers for them.

Posted by: neil b on December 17, 2009 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

BTW, the GOP would surely rather have the bill as messed up than a good one, even if they might rather have nothing. A messed up bill will serve their interests quite well in just the way I described. And note, there are alternatives to either having this stinker or "nothing" - there is return/reconciliation, chop up, etc.

Posted by: neil b. on December 17, 2009 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

@grb on December 17, 2009 at 2:38 PM

It's not that simple to say 'this bill is what the GOP wants', nor even that 'they've been fighting it all along'.

Up until last couple weeks your argument was true, but now not so much.

The GOP & insures were adamantly against the bill as long as it had competition. But now that competition has been stripped, the mandate provides insures more profit and so they've really toned down. If the insures DIDN'T want this bill, they would be all over it. As would the GOP (they want whatever the money giving insures want).

Now, for the GOP and insures it's turned into a win-win situation. If the bill passes, the insures make more money thru mandates. If the bill fails only the Dems are hurt (everything else remains status quo).


I also find it interesting that really, we're only discussing what happens to 1/6th of us, those that don't get insurance through their employer. For the 5/6ths of us who DO get insurance through employment, no meaningful changes at all.

Posted by: PoorRichard on December 17, 2009 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

right back at'cha ceenik

Stop blaming Nader for Gore's defeat.
If he had carried Tennessee, his home state, Bush would have been sent back to the ranch in 2000.

Posted by: cwolf on December 17, 2009 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

Okay, I'm reluctant to say what I'm thinking, but what the hell? We're anonymous. Right?

The result of Lieberman's actions feels like karma to me. The opt-out compromise seemed like blue state progressives giving the finger to red state progressives who contributed, worked, and voted to help deliver a Democratic president and Democratic majority. I was against the opt-out because if it passed, those in the opt-in states would have been taken care of and wouldn't have had a vested interest in improving reform for those in the opt-out states. On the other hand, if the Senate bill passes without a PO, then we're all in the same boat, all united for expansion of Medicare (if this bill passes, we should leave the complex and confusing PO behind forever).

I supported this bill with the Medicare expansion, and I support this bill now (mandates will put downward pressure on premiums, cost control measures abound, Medicaid is expanded, subsidies for the poor, community-rating making insurance affordable for those with pre-existing conditions, 31 million newly insured [according to Paul Krugman]).

That said, whether or not this bill passes (Nelson looks like he's not going to let it come to a vote), the next step is to fight for opening up Medicare to all. Such an expansion has the support of 63% of the public, it can get through the Senate via reconciliation, and the 5-year sunset is a political winner for Dems going forward (once in place, watch what happens to anybody who dares argue that the expansion shouldn't be renewed).

Posted by: Chris on December 17, 2009 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

quote: "These are 'emotional' words, written to get a rise and not to state a fact. Now I'm not sayin' I'm perfect but did my words reall "slam" or "smear" anyone? You seem to prove my point even better than I tried."

If you could point to where Nate Silver or Paul Krugman was using such words, I might actually agree with you. But see, they don't use such words. That you can only point to my words undermines what claim is your point.

But okay -- what are Nate Silver and Paul Krugman saying that you think is so emotional?

Posted by: Lynn Dee on December 17, 2009 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

Will mandates actually put downward pressure on premiums? If you were an insurance exec, wouldn't you maybe just try keeping premiums the same, and hope the others followed along? And no anti-trust: why not even call your buddies and ask them to do that?

Posted by: neil b. on December 17, 2009 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

I wrote: "But okay -- what are Nate Silver and Paul Krugman saying that you think is so emotional?"

And let's add Ezra Klein to the mix. He's been doing some good columns on this issue.

Posted by: Lynn Dee on December 17, 2009 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

PoorRichard, I'm sorry, but I think you're mistaken. No public option ever discussed was ever going to be anything but a small percentage of the healthcare market. The vast majority of people were going to continue to be privately insured. The premium rates were projected to be fairly similar, public and private. Please understand; I'm not saying the PO wouldn't have had some positive impact, but it would have been minor. Given that fact, the idea that pre-PO had evil insurance companies and right-wing lackeys all a'tremble, but post-PO they're smugly smoking those fat cigars, is more than a little delusional. That's what I find a little infuriating about this debate. We've reached the point were we're all raging over symbols vs practical on-the-ground reality...If you hated the bill(s) before, fine, but to hate it now over a part of the legislation which was always only going to have a minor impact seems a bit absurd - no matter how infuriating Lieberman is. If you recognized the PO was insignificant as written, but thought it was the seed from which a future single-payer could grow, fine, go after your dream in the future. But to claim some massive impact to consumers from the bill(s) pre-PO to post-Po is not based on fact.

Posted by: grb on December 17, 2009 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

PoorRichard, of course part of my point you note yourself - the very high percentage of people completely unaffected if there is or isn't a PO. But what's the inference of that?

Posted by: grb on December 17, 2009 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

Quote: "And when I see Dean and Landrieu on TV, with Dean telling the truth (Obama ran on this) and Landrieu not, well it makes it that much easier to decide who to support."

"Who to support"... did I advocate supporting anyone? Steve's point, which I agree with, is that there is a good policy debate going on -- and for the most part, not a debate involving politicians. So I don't see it as involving Mary Landrieu at all, and certainly not coming down to Mary Landrieu vs. Howard Dean (for crying out loud!).

I mostly like what Howard Dean is saying. He has certainly contributed a lot to the substantive part of the debate. (And Mary Landrieu, of course, has contributed nothing.) I also like the very fact of the debate. Maybe I'm just dreaming here, but I like to imagine it may wake some of the politicians up that people really care about health care reform, we really care about the substance, and we don't want to be distracted by BS.

Seems to me the main difference between you and me is that you're ready to decide one side of the substantive debate (not the BS that Mary Landrieu and the conservadems are involved in) is right and the other side's all emotional. I disagree with that.

Posted by: Lynn Dee on December 17, 2009 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

It isn't a new observation that the meaningful debate is usually between the wings of the majority party.

Only when the Democrats are the majority party, Marler, you deeply dishonest jackass. Your feeble pretense that the Republicans offered anything like good faith particiaption in this debate -- let alone that their suggestions were positive in any way -- is as feeble as your pretense of good faith debate here.

No one is fooled by your unconvincing Johnny-come-lately pose as an honest commentator, and everyone knows you're deeply uncivil due to your flagrant and constant dishonesty and bad faith. And in service of what, Marler -- the incompetent, mendacious Republicans and their sweet, sweet tax cuts.

Shame on you, Marler.

Posted by: Gregory on December 17, 2009 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

@Lynn Dee on December 17, 2009 at 3:51 PM, etc.

Lynn Dee, all I mean is that when I hear two sides/folks discussing (or arguing) something, and one of them seems to stick to the issues but the other one seems to (not always nor completely) be trying to make 'emotional arguments', it *tends* to sway me towards the side sticking to the facts.

I agreed with SteveB that it is refreshing to have a discussion *mostly* staying on the facts and not the normal 'name-calling' stuff we've seen too much in the past decade.

But as I'm surfing and watching the vids today, I see Lanny Davis, Mary Landrieu, Lieberman, Gibbs, impugning people like Hamsher, Dean, Greenwald, Huffington, etc. instead of just sticking to the facts and arguing their point *based on facts*. This is disappointing (I always hate it when Mom and Dad fight :-) since clearly the latter group isn't comprised of flaming weirdos.

And still the main argument I hear for the bill is that 'we should pass anything we can right now', instead of 'we should pass this really good set of ideas'. I'm not saying I haven't heard the latter, just saying that I hear sooooo much more of the former. And that's not so good.

Posted by: PoorRichard on December 17, 2009 at 7:38 PM | PERMALINK

Poor Richard, You should go see what Ezra Klein has to say. Some very solid stuff about what the present version of the Senate bill would do in terms of cutting costs and saving lives (relative to the status quo). Jon Cohn has similar things to say, as does Paul Krugman.

I'll tell you who I do tend to discount these days: folks who say, "This is what Obama wanted all along. Obama sold us out."

I think Obama has made some mistakes, including thinking he could play it low key, do behind the scenes stuff, not commit publicly, etc. That has created a vacuum in terms of people believing he was engaged and fighting for something, and that vacuum has been filled with much sound and fury. There may be some lessons here for him, and if there are, I hope he learns them. But that is separate from whether the bill should be killed, revived, or whatever. I can't evaluate the bill based on whether I think Obama or anyone else did the right thing or the wrong thing in trying to push this bill through, because they aren't related in any predictive kind of way.

Posted by: Lynn Dee on December 17, 2009 at 10:33 PM | PERMALINK

Anyone else find all the whining about the Senate bill a bit absurd, given it still has to be reconciled with the House version, then voted on in the Senate once more?

How's about before we either get behind a bad bill or throw the whole thing overboard we wait to see what the final bill will, you know, actually be?

As far as the debate goes, yes, there's been more substance on one side than the other. The problem, however, is that debate has been going on in an echo chamber.

The greater public hasn't heard the substance because Dems refuse to be aggressive enough with their media effort, and Obama has failed to use his bully pulpit enough.

That's why this thing is having so many issues. It's not that the GOP is lying it's collective ass off -- it always does. It's that the Dems refuse to bring their A game to the public, choosing instead to show off during intra-squad scrimmages.

It's stupid. But there it is ...

Posted by: Mark D on December 18, 2009 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

Ironically, this article is a good example of the intellectual bankruptcy of the left. Conservatives have been left out of the debate because liberals have had the political muscle to ignore them. There was never any serious consideration given to free market solutions. Our health care problems stem primarily from the fact that we don't have a free market in health care. Consumers have no idea what the price of anything is and don't care. This is government's fault (e.g. tax benefits for employer provided health insurance, medicare, medicaid, and state regulation of health insurance which led to growing mandates and no inter-state competition).

Consider the two areas where we have free markets in medicine: laser eye surgery; and cosmetic surgery. Costs have risen much more slowly than the rate of inflation in both areas over the last 15 years.

Liberals don't want a free market in health care because they don't want rich people getting better care than poor people (although they're willing to accept a free market in food, which is far more important than health care). If you want to take care of poor people, do so by giving them more money. Don't perpetuate and exacerbate a screwed up system to do it.

You want conservative ideas? Here they are:
1) phase out the tax deduction for employer provided health care;
2) allow people to buy health insurance across state lines;
3) create a special court system to handle medical tort claims (just like we have special tax courts and bankruptcy courts);
4) allow the re-importation of drugs from the rest of the world (this will end the free ride that the rest of the world has been getting at Americans' expense).
5) encourage rather than discourage the provision of catastrophic health insurance (in contrast to pre-paid health plans, which is not what young, healthy people need);
6) slowly raise the age at which people become eligible for Medicare benefits (perhaps 1-2 months every year for the next 30 years).

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