Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 17, 2010

A STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE.... Lately, the complaints from opponents of health care reform have been almost entirely about process. Republicans have decided they don't like reconciliation or the self-executing rule anymore -- they loved it when they were in the majority -- and the debate over how Dems are working on health reform passage has become nearly as important as whether Dems pass it or not.

But if Republicans wants to talk about process, we can talk about process.

Let's look back at 2003, when the Republican House and Republican Senate worked on Medicare Part D -- a bill Karl Rove saw as a way of creating a "permanent" GOP majority -- which was the biggest expansion of government into the health care industry in four decades.

The bill -- written behind closed doors with lobbyists -- came with a price tag of $1 trillion, despite leaving a "donut hole" that undercut the needs of millions of seniors. How did Republicans pay for it? They didn't. GOP lawmakers, with the Bush administration's blessing, financed the bill entirely -- literally, 100% -- through deficit spending, leaving future generations to pick up the tab.

But that's not the most interesting part. Consider what happened the night of the vote on the House floor.

A 15-minute vote was scheduled, and at the end of 15 minutes, the Democrats had won. The Republican leadership froze the clock for three hours while they desperately whipped defectors. This had never been done before. The closest was a 15-minute extension in 1987 that then-congressman Dick Cheney called "the most arrogant, heavy-handed abuse of power I've ever seen in the 10 years that I've been here."

Tom DeLay bribed Rep. Nick Smith to vote for the legislation, using the political future of Smith's son for leverage. DeLay was later reprimanded by the House Ethics Committee.

The leadership told Rep. Jim DeMint that they would cut off funding for his Senate race in South Carolina if he didn't vote for the bill.

The chief actuary of Medicare, Rick Foster, had scored the legislation as costing more than $500 billion. The Bush administration suppressed his report, in a move the Government Accounting Office later judged "illegal."

If you don't remember hearing about this much at the time, you're not alone -- the media decided this wasn't especially interesting. After all, even though Dems were beside themselves, reporters were certain "everyone knows" process stories aren't important.

And yet, words like "reconciliation" and "deem and pass" are now all the rage -- both among Republicans who made a mockery of the legislative process when they worked on health care, and among reporters who seem to find controversial whatever Republicans tell them to find controversial.

Now, it's not enough to say, "Republicans were worse." Democrats vowed to do better.

But therein lies the point -- Dems have done better. While Republicans worked on expanding the government's role in health care with almost comical corruption and abuses, the current health care reform process, while hardly perfect, has followed the rules and been largely above board.

A little something to keep in mind while the GOP and its media allies are hyperventilating.

Update: An alert reader, who prefers to remain anonymous, emails to remind me of another detail: the Republican leadership ordered that C-SPAN turn off the cameras while arms were twisted, so GOP leaders' corruption wouldn't be seen on television. Try to imagine what the reaction ould be if that happened with now with Pelosi.

Steve Benen 12:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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-Speaking of Medicare Part D, is there any hope that the Dems can undo that trillion dollar monstrosity? It seems like GOP talking points like "unfunded mandate" and "Government control" could be applied without fear of Republican opposition.

-anybody want some of what I been smokin'?

Posted by: DAY on March 17, 2010 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

"But if Republicans want to talk about process, we can talk about process..."

No, that's not what they want to talk about. Those are just the words they're using at the moment. They don't care about the 800 word essay you write about their hypocrisy on this issue. They're just impeding, that's it, and anything to accomplish that end is fine. They don't want to have a conversation with you about process! The proper response is not a well-thought-out answer, but extreme mockery and insults.

Posted by: onceler on March 17, 2010 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

At this point I wonder what would it take for conservatives to acknowledge that the mainstream press is not biased against them. I honestly think we would have to live in a right-wing dictatorship before conseratives ever considered the mainstream media "fair and balanced".

Posted by: Archon on March 17, 2010 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

It;s really breathtaking if not totally nauseating. I remember that vote quite well. I couldn't eat for a couple of days. How anyone, anyone, in their right mind, think that the the MSM isn't in the pockets of the GOP is either a liar or dumb as a brick.

Posted by: Stevio on March 17, 2010 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

For whatever reason, Republicans and many voters seem completely uninterested in what Republicans may have done in the past when they were in the majority. Bush may have run up huge deficits, but that was SO pre-2008. Now they're the party of deficit-cutting. Why bring up the moldy past?

Republicans may have used reconciliation, closed-door sessions, arm-twisting, deem-to-pass in the past, but what relevance is that now? Today's Republicans have been chastened by the Tea-Partiers, and wouldn't dare do anything so crass in the future.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on March 17, 2010 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

A trip on the not-so-Wayback Machine, courtesy of Rolling Stone in 2006:

"The 109th Congress is so bad that it makes you wonder if democracy is a failed experiment," says Jonathan Turley, a noted constitutional scholar and the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington Law School. "I think that if the Framers went to Capitol Hill today, it would shake their confidence in the system they created."...
...One of the most depressing examples of one-party rule is the Patriot Act. The measure was originally crafted in classic bipartisan fashion in the Judiciary Committee, where it passed by a vote of thirty-six to zero, with famed liberals like Barney Frank and Jerrold Nadler saying aye. But when the bill was sent to the Rules Committee, the Republicans simply chucked the approved bill and replaced it with a new, far more repressive version, apparently written at the direction of then-Attorney General John Ashcroft.
"They just rewrote the whole bill," says Rep. James McGovern, a minority member of the Rules Committee. "All that committee work was just for show."
...and reporters who seem to find controversial whatever Republicans tell them to find controversial.

Also, to find false equivalency where Repubs tell them to find false equivalency.

Posted by: grape_crush on March 17, 2010 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

No we don't want to undo Medicare Part D. In fact this bill extends Medicare Part D to every insured person in the country, the bill covers prescriptions and its cost-sharing rules prevent things like donut holes.

The problem with Medicare Part D was not that it gave coverage for prescriptions to seniors, that reform was long over-due, the problem was that it was a huge giveaway to Big Pharma by preventing Medicare from making the same kind of bargains over pricing that the private insurers get to do.

Who on earth thinks it is a good idea to return to the days when seniors were cutting their blood pressure pills in half to make them stretch out longer? Or simply skip them altogether on the basis of cost?

Look the 1996 Welfare Reform was the right thing to do, it is just that the Republicans demanded doing it in the most cruel way they could. Which they did. On the other hand the old system which gave you medical care for your kids as long as you DIDN'T have a job and cut it off the instant you DID was itself cruel and counter-productive. And it was that extension of medical coverage to the working poor that gave us the foundation for the latter SCHIPS and now the expansion of Medicaid to 133% of poverty and the addition of poor singles. Both Welfare Reform and Medicare Part D were vital, though admittedly flawed, steps towards Universal Single Coverage, why on Earth would any progressive suggest turning our backs on either?

Medicare Part D was the right thing done in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons. Which still leaves it in the position of the right thing.

Posted by: Bruce Webb on March 17, 2010 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

As Michael Moore told Crooks and Liars earlier today:

"The mainstream media is a huge distraction, and I have no doubt this is purposely done," he says. "It's a system of enforced ignorance to keep people dumb."

It's purposely done such that people--who are already working their tails off yet do not have the increased pay to show for it, who are trying to stay above the water for their homes, who are trying to just get by--are not reminded of what Republicans (and some Democrats, to be fair--but most certainly institutionalized via Republicans) have done in the past, and to obfuscate and confuse what Democrats are trying to do now and in the future.

This has been planned strategically, with tactical responses based on what's happening daily to maintain the preferred meme. Dare I say, it's a conspiracy, and a vast, right-wing one at that. Someone was chastised for saying that about 15 years ago, but she was and is right.

Posted by: terraformer on March 17, 2010 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

apples and oranges, of course, when it comes to dysfunctional governing qualities between the Dims and the Repugnants. And a comparison of the thuggery, corruption and contempt for the american people that went into the Medicare D as compared to our struggles these past months for HCR is revealing.

BTW, sign Grayson's petition...and call yer reps. (I say sign, Obama (OFA) just e-mailed the call...)

Posted by: neill on March 17, 2010 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

Is Nick Smith still in the House? If so, maybe Pelosi should offer to bribe him, to get the GOP folks to a more familiar place.

Posted by: bdbd on March 17, 2010 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

What this shows is that in the long run nobody cares about how a law was passed. Only what the law does.

Democrats are allowing themselves to be trapped in these procedural arguments rather than defending what the bill will do for Americans (which, granted is far less than it should or could have done).

They can either go into November defending a law that prevents insurance from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and dumping a person the second they actually need teh coverage or they can go into November with saying, at the least the process we used to kill health insurance reform was 'fair'. And to the 45,000 people who will die next year because they lack access to basic medical care, again we had a good process.

Posted by: thorin-1 on March 17, 2010 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

Monkey see, monkey do.

Posted by: Sean Scallon on March 17, 2010 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

"...leaving future generations to pick up the tab."

And more specifically, leaving future Democratic presidents to deal with the problem. Obama is now having to deal--to the detriment of his poll numbers--with this and all the other messes George W. (and other GOP presidents) left behind.

Posted by: Nancy Irving on March 18, 2010 at 4:35 AM | PERMALINK



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