Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 1, 2010

LAMAR AND 'THE END OF THE UNITED STATES SENATE'.... Sen. Lamar Alexander's (R-Tenn.) appearance on ABC's "This Week" yesterday was quite a dishonest display. One argument, in particular, was hard to overlook. (TP has video.)

"The reconciliation procedure is a little-used legislative procedure -- 19 times it's been used. It's for the purpose of taxing and spending and reducing deficits.

"But the difference here is that there's never been anything of this size and magnitude and complexity run through the Senate in this way. There are a lot of technical problems with it, which we could discuss. It would turn the Senate -- it would really be the end of the United States Senate as a protector of minority rights, as a place where you have to get consensus, instead of just a partisan majority, and it would be a political kamikaze mission for the Democratic Party if they jam this through...."

The very next thing host Elizabeth Vargas asked was, "Why political kamikaze, though?"

In other words, there was no effort at all to push back against the dishonest claims or set the record straight for viewers. What was interesting, apparently, was Lamar Alexander reflecting on the electoral consequences of the legislation, rather than the substantive. The senator's policy lies were overlooked, while the senator's campaign predictions drew scrutiny.

With that in mind, let's do what the show didn't. First, for Alexander to dismiss reconciliation as a "little-used legislative procedure" is pretty disingenuous. Reconciliation has been used, legitimately, to pass everything from welfare reform to COBRA, Bush's tax-cut packages to student-aid reform, nursing home standards to the earned income tax credit. Not too long ago, Senate Republicans even considered using reconciliation to approve drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It's a little too late to characterize the same procedural measure as some kind of outrage, after Republicans relied on it extensively.

Second, to insist that reconciliation's purpose is to "reduce deficits" is simply wrong. As Paul Krugman noted, "[R]econciliation was used to pass the two major Bush tax cuts, which increased the deficit -- by $1.8 trillion."

Third, even if we concede that health care reform is bigger in "size and magnitude" than the other bills approved through reconciliation, the plan isn't to pass health care reform through reconciliation.

Fourth, to suggest passing a budget fix by majority rule "would really be the end of the United States Senate as a protector of minority rights" is comically ridiculous.

It was a rather depressing display all around. But here's the kicker: there will be no consequences. Lamar Alexander, who may actually know better, made a variety of demonstrably false claims on national television. Not only was he not called on it, Alexander will almost certainly be invited back, rewarded for his dishonesty with more opportunities to mislead the public.

The estimable Jay Rosen recently explained that "the Sunday morning talk shows are broken." His modest proposal for more fact-checking looks better and better all the time.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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Literally as I read this, CNN echoed Alexander entirely -- "kamikaze," "ram it through," "radical procedure," and claimed they'd be passing the vote with a simple majority.

Jesus Christ, are they all idiots?

Posted by: TR on March 1, 2010 at 8:11 AM | PERMALINK

the United States Senate ended awhile back...Lamar, not surprisingly, is talking about a Clown Car filled with jokers, thugs, and puppets that took its place...

Posted by: neill on March 1, 2010 at 8:12 AM | PERMALINK

Alright, the lead-in was worse than the segment. They showed Clinton and Bush using it, talked about COBRA, and even quoted Judd Gregg defending using it for ANWR.

They also pointed out Republicans have used it 16 times in the majority, and the Democrats only 6.

More of a case of a very misleading headline on a decent article.

Posted by: TR on March 1, 2010 at 8:13 AM | PERMALINK

I swear that a Republican could go on one of the Sunday talk shows and declare that the reason there is hunger in the world is that environmental extremists, working with ACORN, are preventing private enterprise from harvesting the green cheese that makes up the moon. And the statement would be faithfully reported without comment.

If the Democrats tried to push back, we might see a "fair and balanced" discussion about whether there is enough green cheese on the moon to make such an effort economically viable.

But more likely, the "fair and balanced" discussion would be whether this represents a new direction for ACORN and whether Democrats will distance themselves from the ACORN-radical environmentalist alliance.

Posted by: SteveT on March 1, 2010 at 8:15 AM | PERMALINK

The behavior of ALL elected officials-Cantor, Rangel, Pelosi, Alexander, yada yada- brings to mind the disconnect of 18th C French royalty: "Let them eat cake."

Homeless Americans are sleeping on Washington sidewalks, with the Capitol dome in the background.

As another Frenchie said, " Apres moi, le deluge."

Posted by: DAY on March 1, 2010 at 8:16 AM | PERMALINK

Checking the facts and posting them online a few days later will serve no purpose. There are many websites that do this, so the only difference in the outcome would be that the facts will be posted on the network where the lies were disseminated. That's a negligible improvement.

Posted by: gregor on March 1, 2010 at 8:19 AM | PERMALINK

@TR Jesus Christ, are they all idiots?

Yes. In fact it has become a prerequisite

Posted by: john R on March 1, 2010 at 8:21 AM | PERMALINK

This is why the US is in steep decline. A giant of a President but a midget of a media/opposition party.

Posted by: homerhk on March 1, 2010 at 8:24 AM | PERMALINK

Yes. In fact it has become a prerequisite

Yeah, that was pretty much a rhetorical question.

Posted by: TR on March 1, 2010 at 8:32 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, let's be honest. Both parties are going into new territory, the GOP with unprecedented systematic use of the filibuster, Dems with a larger scope for reconciliation.

And all of this is a natural consequence of the fact that ideology and partisanship have become so much more closely linked. Filibusters used to be about either personal idiosyncrasy ('Mr. Smith Goes to Washington') or Southern Dems protecting Jim Crow.

If the polarity were reversed, most of us (with some goo-goo exceptions) would all for Dems using the filibuster, and Republicans would be touting the virtues of reconciliation.

So I'll save my emotions for the actual substance, not procedural arguments. Don't heavy breathe about reconciliation, just use it.

Posted by: al-Fubar on March 1, 2010 at 8:33 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, the Sunday talk shows are broken; time to have Jon Stewart on as a guest. Right, Tucker?

Posted by: John D'oh on March 1, 2010 at 8:33 AM | PERMALINK

John Birch society is given more respect than just about any other segment of our American population . The management of simple tasks is finally a political statement , from presentation to conclusion . The operation of government with a large majority is smothered by the minorities assumed political momentum . Voters enraged by the pitiful excuse of bush cheney have demonstrated a healthy will to live . The same momentum has been and is ostracized both in the minds of the majority of Americans , in every party , and our leaders for as long as the KKK and John Birch have existed . The patient constant has been the anticipation of a vacuum where the insertion of a fully functioning political entity that requires no economy , restraint , reason or logic . When money and power are provided and exercised without meaningful regulation in the open like we see it being done now , just what possible chance do the powerless , hand to mouth hundreds of millions professional , artisan , laboring people have aside from revulsion and acceptance ? We are witnessing the collapse of a healthy urge to keep oneself free of the product diseased minds either through the folly of arguing with an idiot , or the fatigue and shame generated by the cost of saying no to an idiot .

Posted by: FRP on March 1, 2010 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK

what strikes me is that hoping the on-air host will "call out" Lamar Alexander (or anyone else lying like crazy) assumes the on-air host understands the issue, can recognize the lie, and can respond fast enough to get the discussion pivoted to highlight the lie and expose it as such.

That's a bit too much skill required for an on-air "personality" to have in addition to looking good on camera and being able to remember the pre-approved narrative.

Posted by: r_m on March 1, 2010 at 9:11 AM | PERMALINK

Lamar, and his gang, are a bunch of Chicken Littles on steroids! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on March 1, 2010 at 9:17 AM | PERMALINK

I haven't watch the Sunday talk shows in many years because they are such a farce. After reading this post and the Krugman/"This Week" post it is easy to see why George Stephanopolus left. He's a smart guy and can recognize a sinking ship when he sees one.

Posted by: Tom P on March 1, 2010 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

Wait, if reconciliation has been used 19 times before (I'll give Sen. Alexander the benefit of the doubt, just because I'm a nice person), and using it would "end the United States' Senate as a protector of minority rights", then doesn't that mean that Senate minority rights have been 'ended' 19 times before? And yet, here we are, worrying about their 'end'.


Posted by: Gangis Khan on March 1, 2010 at 9:25 AM | PERMALINK

The reason these obfuscating bloviators aren't called out is because the haircuts and hair-dos don't KNOW anything. I'm sometimes ashamed at having practiced the profession.

Posted by: buddy66 on March 1, 2010 at 9:39 AM | PERMALINK

The Sunday talk shows are irrelevant. The only people watching are the Washington villagers and us wonks. They are not policy forums; they are simply entertainment--who can be more shocking, etc. That's why outrageous statements are welcomed. I'm convinced that John McCain keeps getting invited back because the shows are vying for who gets to watch him finally crack up on the air.

Posted by: RBKent on March 1, 2010 at 9:48 AM | PERMALINK

I believe the "minority" to which the senator alludes are the three or four percent of the population that controls something close to fifty percent of the national wealth, and while I hate to agree with Lamar on anything, it's difficult to dispute that through most of its history the World's Greatest Deliberative Body and the GOP in particular have been tireless defenders of that embattled minority's interests.

Posted by: Rand Careaga on March 1, 2010 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

gregor I agree that posting the facts on the web would be pointless. However, I think the fact check could be effective.

The fact check would be next Sunday the talking head appears, says he interviewed Alexander a few days ago. Runs the tape of Alexander's claim and then says that Alexander's claim was false.

Then again the Sunday after that. Oh and in the special show on this month's biggest whoppers, and the year end review of the biggest lies of the year.

I mean facts can be transmitted to television sets. They don't have to be posted on the web.

Obviously they won't do this, but they could and should and should not be forgiven if they refuse.

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on March 1, 2010 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

Elizabeth Vargas is such a total moron that she makes Hollywood idiots like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian look like geniuses in comparison.

Vapid. Airhead. Bimbo. Yep, she meets the three requirements to be an on-air female bobblehead in today's Villager Media.

She was totally pathetic on This Week yesterday with her vapid airheaded stupidity.

Posted by: TCinLA on March 1, 2010 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

In reality less than 1/2 of a percent of your citizens control 95 percent of your total wealth. And that's because of the evil of your Corporate Capitalism. And this evil almost brought down your whole 'economy', but the world economy as well. And those Corporations own your media. They hire the souless goons that will do their bidding. And so you end up with Corporate Pimps who get paid millions to mouth the propaganda that the Corporations need them too in order to manipulate 'public perception'. So white become black. This then creates a population, in general, who then 'believe' in delusions and illusions instead of actual reality. So your government then becomes 'bad', and the Corporations of course are 'good'. As a result of this you then create a population who then votes against their own economic self interests. This then gurantees the security of the Corporations themselves in their unending quest to enrich themselves to the detriment of the population as a whole. Your health insurnace industry is a microcosom that symbolizes this entire reality of your evil Corporate Capitialism. It's not just that you 'sunday talk shows' are broken, your ENTIRE COUNTRY IS BROKEN because of your worship of the very capitalism that has broken it.

Posted by: blue on March 1, 2010 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK
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