Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

January 25, 2010

STRATEGY MEMO.... Long-time observers of the health care reform debate may recall that about 16 years ago, Bill Kristol crafted a strategy memo for congressional Republicans, advising them on how best to deal with then-President Clinton's health care reform initiative. His memo offered a simple and clear direction: the GOP had to kill the Clinton reform plan at all costs. Republicans took the advice, and reaped the political rewards of the plan's demise.

It occurred to me that Democratic policymakers might benefit from a similar strategy memo -- offering the opposite advice -- while the party weighs its options. So I wrote one. It's online here.

While Kristol published his strategy in his capacity as the chairman of "Project for the Republican Future," I'm publishing mine as part of something I've labeled the "Project for a Healthy American Future."*

The memo presents a way forward, and explains why such a course is necessary: the House should quickly approve the reform bill passed by the Senate; the Senate should extend assurances to the House about proposed changes; and the White House should provide the leadership that brings the contingents together.

The arguments will no doubt seem familiar to those who've been following the process closely, but it's my hope that it will be valuable to have the totality of the argument in one document.

I've already been in contact with some congressional offices about bringing the strategy memo to the attention of lawmakers and administration officials. If readers wanted to help distribute the document, you can refer interested parties to the online version; you can copy and paste the text into an email, or you can make use of a pdf version, which is available at the bottom of the piece.

Americans have been talking about getting this done for a century now, and we're painfully close to delivering on the promise of reform. It is not too late for champions of reform to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, take advantage of this once-in-a-generation opportunity, and bring meaningful, life-saving change to a dysfunctional system.

Democrats have already paid a steep political price for proposing and working towards a solution; now it's time for policymakers to reap the rewards that come with completing the task.

* Post Script: Just to be clear, there is no actual "Project for a Healthy American Future." I came up with the name as a way to tweak/mock the Kristol letter. I'm just a blogger sharing some ideas about health care reform, not launching an advocacy group.

Steve Benen 12:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

Bookmark and Share

Sign me up... where can we get involved in the 'Project for a Healthy American Future'?

Posted by: Shantyhag on January 25, 2010 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

Terrific stuff Steve. Keep fighting the good fight.

Here's my small contribution (sent last week by email to my Congressman and by snail mail to the rest of my state's Democrats in Washington):

"Despite, or in fact because Scott Brown's election, I encourage you and your colleagues to:

1) pass the Senate health care reform bill as is (even though I think the House bill is better) so that President Obama can sign it before his 1st State of the Union address;

2) use the reconciliation vehicle still available to pass--as quickly as possible---improvements to the Senate's health care bill;

3) pass a major jobs bill as quickly as possible so it can begin to move through the economy and put people back to work;

4) pick a fight with Senate Republicans on Wall Street/financial reform (e.g., a Consumer Financial Products Commission or bust---and it will be bust).

5) This fall run on what you've passed and tie Wall Street to the Republicans like a millstone around their collective necks, thereby minimizing midterm losses, (and possibly picking up a few seats if unemployment falls significantly).

6) Govern like you're the majority in 2011 and 2012 (preferably with new Senate rules that eliminate or reduce the filibuster and holds on presidential nominees).

7) With an improving economy and shrinking federal deficit, sweep to massive victories in 2012. (Republicans reduced to printing "Don't blame me; I'm from Utah" bumper stickers.)

Obviously, much of this depends on Democrats in "the other house" doing their part, but I can't encourage you strongly enough for your and your House colleagues to do your part."

Posted by: massappeal on January 25, 2010 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

Obviously, this is the right course, and has been for fifteen years. The question is how to make them choose to be Democrats rather than suffer GOP-envy.

What makes them learn now?

Posted by: Memekiller on January 25, 2010 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

One dozen pearls

...the White House should provide the leadership that brings the contingents together.
Posted by: koreyel on January 25, 2010 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

One big difference: Kristol was advising Republicans; you're advising Democrats. Republicans want to win at all costs; Democrats want to argue at all costs.

Posted by: E L on January 25, 2010 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

Why don't we just distribute Kristol's memo and/or have copies of it printed in major newspapers, or run ads with it, showing the American people the motives of the Republican party. The fact that the same memo from 1994 is clearly being followed by them still resonates even more.

Posted by: Alex on January 25, 2010 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

"Assurances" aren't going to be enough. The senate will have to pass the amendments before the house passes the bill. There's no reason the house would trust the senate's assurances by this point.

Posted by: Rick Taylor on January 25, 2010 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

So...here is a nice writeup on what is wrong with the senate "Health Insurance Profit Protection Act" that is being passed off as a "healthcare" bill.

Read it and weep...and learn what is REALLY needed to get a REAL healthcare bill.

Posted by: Praedor Atrebates on January 25, 2010 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Great job Steve. I, for one, will send it to my Democratic congressman's office, left-leaning friends, members of my local Democratic Party,... among others. Hopefully, it will do some good.

Posted by: Chris on January 25, 2010 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

No only will I send this on, but I'll help push it.

Posted by: fourlegsgood on January 25, 2010 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

Here's a quote from the print version of this month's "The Economist" regarding the first year of Obama's presidency, and responding to the self-posed question, "One year on, how well has he done?"

"Not too badly, by our reckoning. In his first 12 months in office Mr. Obama has overseen the stabilising of the economy, is on the point of bringing affordable health care to virtually every American citizen, has ended the era of torture, is robustly prosecuting the war in Afghanistan while gradually disengaging from Iraq; and perhaps more precious than any of these, he has cleared away much of the cloud of hatred and fear through which so much of the world saw the United States during George Bush's presidency".

Obviously, each of those achievements comes with caveats and is by no means the done deal portrayed here. However, it's a pretty impressive list by anyone's measure, and diverges sharply from the Republican narrative of failure and broken promises.

Additionally, The Economist is a business magazine and tends to favour whichever party appears to bbe moving the country in the direction of profit and affluence. I don't notice that it's particularly partisan in that context.

Not only that, but Sarah Palin will read the magazine's praise of Mr. Obama's doggedness thus far; she said herself that she regularly reads The Economist. Well, yes, and all the rest, that's true.

Posted by: Mark on January 25, 2010 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

Steve I think you are right. I would only add that it is a political plus for Democrats to pass this bill. Once it is passed, it can be discussed by everyone seeing it for themselves, without the misinformation -- and voters will end-up supporting it. Republicans do not want this bill to be passed!

Posted by: Lee A. Arnold on January 25, 2010 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

Ask yourself this:

If the vast majority of Americans want HCR and some sort of public option, as demonstrated in poll after poll, regardless of geo/demographics, then what in the hell was being debated over the course of the last year?

Simple: Our elected officials' jobs. Think about it; it's clear that if our representatives truly did represent their constituents, then HCR would be a done deal by now, with a strong public option. It's not, so just exactly what were they debating? How to maximize insurance industry profits of course. And why is that? Because if your are congressman X or Senator Y, you don't want to make an enemy of a corporation or industry that just might support your opponent based on your vote.

So the endgame here is that our leaders are watching out for their OWN ASS, NOT OURS. How do you change that? You make them know they better be scared of getting voted out BY THEIR BASE, forget about a company coming after you.


Posted by: citizen_pain on January 25, 2010 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

If you weren't pushing the Senate Bill, this would be quite a good memo. Alas, the memo assumes facts not in evidence: that the Senate Bill is a workable health care bill that isn't going to blow up spectacularly in people's faces once passed.

Unity is for naught if it's unity behind a disaster. This is the legislative equivalent of telling a bunch of engineers to stop squabbling about "safety" and "lifeboats" and just get the Titanic out so they can take credit for it and get promotions.

Posted by: squiggleslash on January 25, 2010 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

Steve. If one observes the results of the Democratic Party leaders' actions (including Obama), over the last year, one reaches the nearly inescapable conclusion that the Democartic Party leadership, and many of its politicians, do NOT want to pass HCR. They never did.

They just wanted to pass a little window-dressing, at most. Something easy that they could run on.

How else can you characterize their actions? Actions have results. The results so far say "we don't really want HCR, and we wish it would go away."

In any event, the Democratic Party leadership in both houses is either deeply cynical, or is far more stupid than is even remotely plausible. So, I go for cynical, and the seeming reality that they never wanted to pass anything. Or, at most, they wanted to pass something painless that could be spun to look like something more.

Otherwise, we're talking about people who are so incredibly stupid as to defy language's ability to characterize them.

Posted by: LL on January 25, 2010 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

Be careful what ideas you blog, Steve, someone might actually pick up the torch.

Posted by: johnnymags on January 25, 2010 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

LL: "In any event, the Democratic Party leadership in both houses is either deeply cynical, or is far more stupid than is even remotely plausible."

I'd go with a third possiblity, that our Democratic leadership intimidated and fearful. When you're up against people as ignorant, vocal and belligerent as the modern Republican party and Fox news, it is hard to hold fast to your ideals. I'd feel better if they were stupid.

The "Project for a Healthy American Future" may just be a way to tweak/mock the Kristol letter, but it would be a great name for an advocacy group. Take that, tea-partiers! PHAF!

Posted by: PTate in MN on January 25, 2010 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

PTate in MN wrote: "I'd go with a third possiblity, that our Democratic leadership intimidated and fearful. When you're up against people as ignorant, vocal and belligerent as the modern Republican party and Fox news, it is hard to hold fast to your ideals."

The Democratic leadership is indeed "intimidated and fearful".

But they are not fearful of the pathetic Republican Party and Fox News.

They are fearful of the giant corporations who give them millions of dollars in campaign contibutions.

Specifically, they are fearful that if they were to govern in the public interest rather than the corporate interest, those campaign contributions might go away.

That's why single-payer was taken off the table, and then the public option was taken off the table, and then Medicare expansion was taken off the table, until basically all that was left on the table was corporate welfare for the insurance corporations.

Max Baucus can explain this very clearly, if you have any questions.

Meanwhile, if you think health care "reform" is fun, wait until you see what the Senate comes up with to deal with global warming: the Democratic leadership is now "focusing" the climate/energy bill on offshore oil drilling, "clean coal" technology, and massive handouts to the failed nuclear power industry.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 25, 2010 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans want to win at all costs; Democrats want to argue at all costs.

Well, I'd respond to that by saying that 'argument' is inherent because of the Democrats' diversity in both opinion and in constituency.

Republicans are pretty easily and succinctly identified as the party of cheap labor. Everything that they do is premised on that overall goal. Corporatization, stagnant wages, prosperity for the privileged--all of it--is tied to a desire for neo-feudalism and a desire for authoritarianism.

Dems are like herding cats, Repubs are like herding lemmings.

Posted by: terraformer on January 25, 2010 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

Excellent work, Steve. However, there are some spots that need a stern proofreading, especially in the last half of the piece. In VII-paragraph 4 there's no antecedent for "its." In VIII-paragraph 2 you need to get rid of either "only" or "loudest." IX-paragraph 1 has a word missing after the adjective "Democratic." These things and maybe a few others need to be tidied up for the piece to go into the world-class ring that we need it to. And we absolutely do need it to, because it's a powerful, comprehensive, and compelling argument.

Posted by: Herb Mallette on January 25, 2010 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

ha, not that I'm not taking it seriously, but the acronym is PHAF, which would be pronounced FAF, as in fafblog? What have you done?!?


Posted by: RSR on January 25, 2010 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

check out passthedamnbill.com! A Balloon-Juice project.

Posted by: sue on January 25, 2010 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

The "Left" won't be there to support them come November if they don't get this stuff done. Do they really need a memo? How stupid are our elected officials?

Posted by: Pat on January 25, 2010 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

The memo's full of vague sounding suggestions and exhortations about now being the time... it's a little less clear on specifics... and unfortunately, I think that's the real Democratic disconnect between action and results. It would be great if passion and a sense of purpose were all it took... but the hard part is in terms of specific policy. Benen - and many of those who share his "pass the damn bill" spirit - tends to talk of a Senate Bill in vague generalities and cheerful sales slogans about all the Good It Will Do, rather than the complicated, competing specifics and identifiable flaws. And that, it seems to me, has been the problem with healthcare reform all along... and a key reason why the "narrative" of reforms was hijacked long ago. Rather than start with laying out a clear, comprehensive case to the public about our healthcare systems, why they're broken and what can be done to change them, we got no explanations, a lot of closed doors meetings, and then bills dropped out of the sky with all kinds of proposed changes. This we're told, because we "learned the lessons" of 1993... when no one really explained why healthcare reform was broken, bills were crafted behind closed doors and then dropped with all kinds of proposals.

As Democrats we've learned basically nothing about the reality that good legislation comes from good policy and good policy comes from clearly defined goals. We need more than strategy; we need a good case, made to the American people, that clearly lays out goals for programs meant to help people, defines good policy, and lays out a path to passing good legislation. What Benen's got is a thoughtful, exciting way to try and manhandle the process and public opinion and hope that something sticks. Hope, really, is not a plan. The way to get healthacre reform backon track is not to "start over" but to "start here" - figure out what can be done, what makes the most sense, and focus on doing it. I remain convinced the road to future Democratic success does not lie in manhandling existing processes to force a bill full of problems that does not achieve enough good policy goals. But I suspect many people need to learn that lesson the hard way... and using Benen's memo, I'm pretty sure they will.

PS, isn't the point, in retrospect, that Kristol was wrong?

Posted by: weboy on January 25, 2010 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK


Posted by: MaximusNYC on January 25, 2010 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

Also HealthyAmericanFuture.com, for those who are squeamish about domains that mildly swear.

Posted by: Cris on January 25, 2010 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

Good for you Steve.

And, predictable as sunrise, the firebaggers (I'm looking at you Praedor Atrebates) are out to hamstring, hamper, block, carp, and belly ache that their not getting their magical unicorns NOW!

Thank the FSM that none of them were around in the Fifties during the Civil Rights struggle. I think they'd shove Rosa Parks into the back of the bus because she wasn't holding out for full civil rights, equal pay, and a sparkly pony.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on January 25, 2010 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

The silly caricature — "death panels" and the threat of a "government takeover" — is obviously wrong to those who are fully engaged in the details, but has nevertheless gained a foothold among much of the public.

Thank you, "liberal media."

Seriously, though, the pervasiveness of the bogus FUD on health insurance reform should put to bed once and for all the myth of the so-called "liberal media."

It also indicates that the Democrats badly, badly need to work on their messaging -- after all, the Republicans have spread the "liberal media" lie for so many years that even some members of the media believe it.

Posted by: Gregory on January 25, 2010 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

" I'm just a blogger sharing some ideas about health care reform, not launching an advocacy group."

Well, maybe that's part of what needs to change.

Posted by: truth=freedom on January 25, 2010 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

the torch, it is being passed, and now Angie Coiro wants to interview you. She just tweeted you. What have you done, Steve!!!!!

Posted by: johnnymags on January 25, 2010 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

Dr Morpheus, I defy you to counter a single argument in:


C'mon, explain how great a deal the senate insurance company give away is when it actually doesn't do anything its supporters claim it does.

I defy you to name a single cost control measure in the senate bill. I defy you to find a single line in the disastrous bill that prevents adverse selection, premiums to the moon, deductibles to mars, and co-pays to jupiter. I defy you to find a single line in the giveaway to insurance companies and big pharma that prevents medical bankruptcy. Find a single line in the bill that doesn't set in full reactive armor, the permanent control of healthcare in this country by private insurance companies.

Posted by: Praedor Atrebates on January 25, 2010 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

Next, you pantywaists will be cheering Obama's total farce of financial regulation. Hell's bells, Geithner and others are already indicating that Obama's taking on the banks is meaningless drivel.

But you morons will fall for that too.

So long as someone has a D by their name on a ballot, they are dick suckable to you people regardless of the scabs and oozing sores.

Posted by: Praedor Atrebates on January 25, 2010 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

I think you should have called it "Project for a Healthy American Tomorrow" because then it would be PHAT.

Posted by: josef on January 25, 2010 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

THIS is what Steve Benen and fellow travelers applaud:

The Hill reports today that insurance companies — who have fought hard against health reforms like the creation of a new public health insurance plan — spent $38 million in 2009 to influence the direction of the health care debate.

Go Big Insurance!

Posted by: Praedor Atrebates on January 25, 2010 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

Great work, Steve.

This memo is not falling on deaf ears.

Posted by: CMB on January 25, 2010 at 6:00 PM | PERMALINK

Thank you, thank you, thank you Steve Benen for standing tall while so many are running for the exits. And who the heck is this "Praedor Atrebates" and why should anyone take him seriously?

Posted by: t case on January 25, 2010 at 8:38 PM | PERMALINK

I'm pretty sure no one takes Pradeor whatever very seriously, especially after he finally linked to his "source". It wasn't a FDL link, so I'm not sure he's with those crazies, but it wasn't much different.

Anyone who doesn't understand that congress is not starting over on health care isn't having the same discussion as everyone else. He keeps insisting that unicorns are real and are going to appear at any moment.

Posted by: David on January 26, 2010 at 1:13 AM | PERMALINK

This really doesn't go into the baggage involved in passing the shitty health care amalgam that the Senate passed. It's really an excuse for health care legistlation, without prevention of exclusion for pre-existing conditions, and nothing to stop them from driving your rates to where you can't afford them. But carry on, it's a "wonderful bill" (TM).

Posted by: brantl on January 27, 2010 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK
Post a comment

Remember personal info?



Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM

buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly