Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 31, 2009

CALIFORNIAFICATION.... I'm on the other coast, but from afar, California seems to have a basic problem when it comes to governing. Part of it is a public expectation of strong governmental services and benefits, coupled with revulsion to paying for them, but the structural issues are arguably more important.

On the one hand, Republicans in the state have moved to almost comically conservative levels, and can't win legislative victories outside their stronghold areas. On the other, Democratic struggle to actually govern, because of mandatory super-majorities needed to advance an agenda.

If you're starting to think this sounds familiar, there's a good reason.

Nationwide, the electorate has high expectations on public services, but are generally resistant to tax increases. The GOP contingent in Congress has shrunk badly as the party has moved sharply to the right, but Democrats aren't able to govern as they'd like, due in large part to a procedural, structural straightjacket.

Rich Yeselson proposed a thought experiment yesterday. Imagine if President Obama, as chief executives of yore used to do, was able to pursue his policy agenda by having a majority of the House and a majority of the Senate approve legislation he proposes. (This is old-school thinking, I know.) The stimulus would have been stronger; the health care bill would be more ambitious; the climate change bill could be further reaching, etc.

Except, that doesn't seem to be on the table.

We are living through the Californiafication of America -- a country in which the combination of a determined minority and a procedural supermajority legislative requirement makes it impossible to rationally address public policy challenges. And thus the Democratic president and his allies in Congress are evaluated on the basis of extreme compromise measures -- supplicating to dispassionate Wise Men like Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman, buying Olympia Snowe a vacation home, working bills through 76 committees and countless "procedural" votes -- rather than the substantive, policy achievements of bills that would merely require a simple majority to pass.

It is sheer good fortune that the Democrats had 59/60 Senate seats this cycle and thus were able to pass any stimulus at all, albeit the inadequate one they did. Think about it: With a robust 56 Senate Democratic seats, the stimulus would have failed -- and otherwise, Galston/Brooks would be talking not about Obama's "going too far," but, rather, about a "failed Obama presidency." And they would be wrong. What we would be witnessing -- and are still witnessing -- is a failed system of democratic governance. It's something procedural liberals should be deeply concerned about and should remedy as quickly as possible.

In the abstract, the landscape probably seems a little ridiculous. After extraordinary failures, Republicans were pushed into a tiny, humiliated minority. Democrats received a mandate unlike any we've seen in a generation -- a major presidential win (365 electoral votes), a huge House majority (256 seats, or 59%), and the largest Senate majority in decades. The GOP quickly became a small, discredited minority, and Democrats were positioned to do largely as they pleased.

And yet, the Californiafication issues persist.

Kevin Drum added, "In Washington DC, federal deficits have become enormous, Republican tax cuts have made them even worse, healthcare costs are skyrocketing, unemployment is about to break double digits, and it's nearly impossible to seriously address these problems because the Republican Party has adopted a policy of making the filibuster a routine tool of state. If you can't get 60 votes in the Senate, you can't pass anything of consequence these days."

With 58 Democrats and two independents who caucus with Democrats, it means necessary legislation to address pressing crises stalls every time Joe Lieberman starts to feel unloved or Ben Nelson has a bad day.

There's a lot of talk in the political world about "reform" - - health care reform, energy reform, education reform, etc. When Americans elect a political party to deliver on an agenda, and it can't because the system undermines democratic governance, it's time for "structural reform" to be part of the conversation.

Steve Benen 4:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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WHEN HALLOWEEN BECOMES APRIL FOOL'S.... It's one thing to set low expectations for House Minority Leader John Boehner's (R-Ohio) weekly address. It's another to actually hear the darn thing.

For example, just a few days after conceding there is no GOP alternative reform proposal, the House Minority Leader now believes there is a rival health care plan after all.

"We first released our health care plan in June, and over the last six months, we have introduced at least eight bills that, taken together, would implement this blueprint."

I see. Take a brief printout with some talking points, combine it with eight unrelated pieces of weak legislation -- not one of which has been endorsed by the party's leadership -- throw it in a blender without a coherent policy structure, and viola! House Republicans have both a "plan" and a "blueprint."

And to think I questioned the seriousness with which the House GOP took policy matters. Don't I feel embarrassed.

Boehner went on to point to a handful of ideas Republicans like, some of which are already in the House reform bill.

He added that the majority's reform package will "put unelected boards, bureaus, and commissions in charge of who gets access to what drug and what potentially life-saving treatment," which is obviously untrue. Boehner also said reform "will cut seniors' Medicare benefits," which is obviously untrue.

Boehner then complained about the debt -- which he helped add $5 trillion to by supporting Bush/Cheney policies -- and economic growth -- which he wanted to stunt with a five-year spending freeze at the height of the economic crisis.

DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse responded, "Apparently, John Boehner has his holidays confused because his remarks are far better suited for an April Fool's address."

Steve Benen 3:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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UNDERSTANDING REDD.... Following up on yesterday's post, tropical deforestation accounts for 20 percent of all carbon emissions into the atmosphere, more than the combined emissions of every car, truck, ship, plane and train on the planet. A new market mechanism, REDD -- Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation -- is being developed so that residents of tropical forest properties can earn more money from the standing forest than from its removal.


The REDD concept is part of the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill, which would allow U.S. companies to offset the carbon they emit by paying tropical countries and their citizens not to cut down their rainforests. A market-based system that includes REDD will also be on the agenda at the UN-sponsored talks in Copenhagen this December, where representatives hope to hash out a new climate change treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

The Washington Monthly published a special section in the July/August issue, "A Clear Cut Crisis." Yesterday, the New America Foundation co-hosted an event with the Monthly on this idea.

The report and the video from Friday's event are online here.

Steve Benen 3:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (2)

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WAIT, WASN'T THIS A GOOD WEEK?.... Yesterday, Joe Scarborough, reflecting on the state of the debate over health care reform, said, "This week has been a mess for the Democrats." NBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd agreed, saying the party "decided to take two steps back after they took one step forward."

I suppose I can understand what Scarborough and Todd are thinking. A handful of Senate "centrists" don't want there to be public-private competition, and may oppose cloture. In the House, Speaker Pelosi couldn't get exactly the bill she intended, and had to compromise with some of the less progressive contingents in her caucus.

But to describe the week as "a mess for Democrats" seems to focus far too heavily on the trees, missing the forest altogether. Morgan Weiland explained:

Speaker Pelosi reported out a full House bill, the American Affordable Health Choices Act (H.R. 3962), that achieves a number of key fiscal goals that only this summer many in the media were insisting were out of reach. The Congressional Budget Office found that the bill reduces the deficit by $104 billion over the next decade, and continues to chip away at it in the subsequent decade. Plus it comes in under the magic $900 billion number for the net cost of coverage expansion over 10 years -- a cost that is, in CBO's words, "more than offset." [...]

If anything, all of this adds up to a big step forward -- arguably a bigger one than has ever taken to achieve comprehensive health care reform in this country.

Agreed. For the first time ever, major health care reform bills are on the move in the House and Senate. There's broad agreement within the majority in both chambers, and there's a growing sense that a major breakthrough on this issue -- after more than a half-century of attempts -- is all but inevitable.

This week wasn't a "mess"; it was a milestone.

Paul Krugman called this "the defining moment for health care reform."

Past efforts to give Americans what citizens of every other advanced nation already have -- guaranteed access to essential care -- have ended not with a bang, but with a whimper, usually dying in committee without ever making it to a vote.

But this time, broadly similar health-care bills have made it through multiple committees in both houses of Congress. And on Thursday, Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, unveiled the legislation that she will send to the House floor, where it will almost surely pass. It's not a perfect bill, by a long shot, but it's a much stronger bill than almost anyone expected to emerge even a few weeks ago. And it would lead to near-universal coverage.

As a result, everyone in the political class -- by which I mean politicians, people in the news media, and so on, basically whoever is in a position to influence the final stage of this legislative marathon -- now has to make a choice. The seemingly impossible dream of fundamental health reform is just a few steps away from becoming reality, and each player has to decide whether he or she is going to help it across the finish line or stand in its way.... History is about to be made -- and everyone has to decide which side they're on.

The column wasn't about the punditocracy, but I suspect, as the process unfolds over the next couple of months, they'll be reflecting quite a bit on why everything is good news for Republicans.

Steve Benen 12:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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SCOZZAFAVA SUSPENDS CAMPAIGN FOUR DAYS BEFORE ELECTION.... In a bit of a surprise, Republican congressional candidate Dede Scozzafava, just four days before the special election in New York's 23rd, announced this morning that she's giving up.

In a statement posted to the candidate's website, Scozzafava, a state assemblywoman, explains that she's come to believe she will lose on Tuesday, and has chosen to suspend her campaign.

In recent days, polls have indicated that my chances of winning this election are not as strong as we would like them to be. The reality that I've come to accept is that in today's political arena, you must be able to back up your message with money -- and as I've been outspent on both sides, I've been unable to effectively address many of the charges that have been made about my record. [...] It is increasingly clear that pressure is mounting on many of my supporters to shift their support. Consequently, I hereby release those individuals who have endorsed and supported my campaign to transfer their support as they see fit to do so. I am and have always been a proud Republican. It is my hope that with my actions today, my Party will emerge stronger and our District and our nation can take an important step towards restoring the enduring strength and economic prosperity that has defined us for generations. On Election Day my name will appear on the ballot, but victory is unlikely.

As an assessment, Scozzafava is almost certainly correct. Despite being the Republican candidate in a Republican district, her support has deteriorated in recent weeks, especially as far-right activists have rallied behind Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman.

To this extent, the right-wing base has a feather in its cap this morning -- it forced a moderate Republican to flee from the campaign she seemed likely to win as recently as a month ago.

For the Republican Party, however, it's much tougher sell. Scozzafava had the support of the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee -- and she was still running third in a district the Republican Party has held since the Civil War.

The next question, of course, is what happens next. Recent polls show Hoffman and Democrat Bill Owens effectively tied, and where Scozzafava's supporters go will dictate the outcome. Given the history of the district, Hoffman would appear poised to get a big boost. On the other hand, some locals are turned off by Hoffman's right-wing positions, his unfamiliarity with local issues, and the fact that he doesn't actually own a home in the congressional district he's running in.

Indeed, there may well be some moderate Republicans who'll hesitate before rewarding the far-right candidate who wants to drive moderates from the party.

Time will tell.

Steve Benen 11:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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THIS WEEK IN GOD.... First up from the God Machine this week is Halloween-related news from TV preacher Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network. In a truly bizarre piece, CBN published fears from Kimberly Daniels about Halloween, which, I assure you, was not a parody.

During Halloween, time-released curses are always loosed. A time-released curse is a period that has been set aside to release demonic activity and to ensnare souls in great measure ... During this period demons are assigned against those who participate in the rituals and festivities. These demons are automatically drawn to the fetishes that open doors for them to come into the lives of human beings. For example, most of the candy sold during this season has been dedicated and prayed over by witches.

I do not buy candy during the Halloween season. Curses are sent through the tricks and treats of the innocent whether they get it by going door to door or by purchasing it from the local grocery store. The demons cannot tell the difference.

The CBN piece, which was eventually removed from the site out of embarrassment, went on to say, "While the lukewarm and ignorant think of these customs as 'just harmless fun,' the vortexes of hell are releasing new assignments against souls. Witches take pride in laughing at the ignorance of natural men (those who ignore the spirit realm).... The danger of Halloween is not in the scary things we see but in the secret, wicked, cruel activities that go on behind the scenes." These "scary things" include, according to the article, "orgies between animals and humans," "animal and human sacrifices," and "sacrificing babies to shed innocent blood."

My friend the Rev. Barry W. Lynn noted, "I've heard of the devil being in the details, but to think he's lurking inside a Snickers bar is a little too much. Pat Robertson has always peddled some scary stuff, but this is over the top."

Also from the God Machine this week:

* Christopher Beam ponders the question of how governments decide what constitutes a legitimate religious tradition: "A French court fined the Church of Scientology $888,000 on Tuesday after a couple claimed they'd been manipulated into buying between $30,000 and $73,000 worth of church products. The verdict is 'a historical turning point for the fight against cult abuses,' said the leader of France's 'government cult-fighting unit.' How does this special cult-busting unit distinguish between cults and bona fide religions? Vaguely."

* The Catholic League's Bill Donohue finds something new to get excited about: "On Sunday's 'Curb Your Enthusiasm,' Larry David was taking a 'new pill' that caused him to urinate with excessive force. This caused a lot of splash back, some of which ended up on a Jesus painting hanging on the bathroom wall of his pious assistant, who later sees Jesus 'crying' and assumes a miracle has taken place." Donohue is not pleased.

* And in North Carolina, a Baptist church has organized a book burning for this evening, focused largely on torching Bibles that are not the King James version. "We are burning books that we believe to be Satanic," Pastor Marc Grizzard said. If you happen to live near the Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Canton, N.C., you probably shouldn't make plans to stop by tonight's event -- it's by invitation only.

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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THE BIGGEST ZOMBIE LIE OF 'EM ALL.... Looking back over the last six months of debate over health care reform, the right-wing allegations of "death panels" have practically become notorious. No other lie was as insulting or as ridiculous, and those who repeated it deserved to be labeled disreputable hacks.

To their credit, House leaders decided to embrace the common-sense idea that has long generated bipartisan support. The NYT reported yesterday, "Undaunted by the August uproar over 'death panels,' House Democrats would authorize Medicare to pay doctors for providing advice to patients on end-of-life care. The new bill says such consultations are 'completely optional.'"

You know what comes next. Sean Hannnity told viewers last night, "The death panels are back."

Apparently so. On one of Fox News' straight news segments yesterday afternoon, analyst Peter Johnson Jr. interviewed Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and asked, "So with regard to the death panel, nothing much has changed." Cornyn responded that it's "certainly something we'll be focusing on."

I don't doubt that. Yesterday was a banner day for Republicans anxious to re-embrace their summertime favorite. Hannity talked it up, of course, as did GOP sites like FoxNews.com and BigGovernment.

The claim has been debunked repeatedly, even by news outlets reluctant to draw policy conclusions based on objective facts. That, of course, only matters to those approaching the debate in good faith.

The House bill intends to reimburse seniors for voluntary counseling, which means the right's favorite nonsensical talking point is back in play. Lucky us.

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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GROWTH VS. DEFICIT.... An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll (pdf) was released the other day, and it included an important question that's gone largely overlooked.

Respondents were asked, "Which of the following two statements comes closer to your point of view? a) The president and the Congress should worry more about boosting the economy even though it may mean larger budget deficits now and in the future; or b) The president and the Congress should worry more about keeping the budget deficit down, even though it may mean it will take longer for the economy to recover."

Given the precarious state of the economy and widespread concerns about unemployment, common sense suggests the former would have overwhelming support. It didn't -- 62% want policymakers to focus on deficit reduction, even at the sake of economic growth, while 31% prefer an emphasis on boosting the economy. That's a two-to-one margin.

Once in a while, public opinion is wildly wrong, and this is one of those times. Matt Yglesias explained yesterday:

A lot of politicians and political operatives in DC are very impressed by polling that shows people concerned about the budget deficit. I think it would be really politically insane for people to take that too literally. If Congress makes the deficit even bigger in a way that helps spur recovery, then come election day people will notice the recovery and be happy. If, by contrast, the labor market is still a disaster then people will be pissed off. It's true that they might say they're pissed off at the deficit, but the underlying source of anger is the objective bad conditions.

Once in a while, policymakers have to be responsible enough to ignore polls and do the right thing. If these results are accurate, people care more about the deficit than the economy. But that's crazy. Imagine politicians telling a person who's lost her job and benefits, and who's struggling to stay afloat, "Yeah, but at least I've helped lower the deficit by a fraction of a percent in relation to the GDP!"

Shifting the emphasis from economic growth to deficit reduction -- the Hoover approach to growth in a crisis -- is a recipe for disaster. If the poll is right, the majority is wrong. As Noam Scheiber noted, "[T]he source of the anger isn't the deficit; it's the labor market. The deficit only adds insult to injury, and it does you no good to deal with the insult without treating the injury. Conversely, if you're able to fix the labor market, then I suspect people with think the deficit is basically worth it."

Steve Benen 9:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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MORE THAN ZERO.... Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the House Republican caucus' point man health care reform, sent out an interesting press release yesterday afternoon.

The header read, "Health Care Solutions Group -- Roy Blunt, Chairman." The release read:

In Case You Missed It...

Blunt on Fox News: the Democrats' 1,990-page government takeover of health care "could very well die under its own weight."

The release included a big screen-grab of Blunt's soundbite, and a link to the YouTube clip. It is, in other words, a quip that Roy Blunt and the "Health Care Solutions Group" is especially proud of. It's probably something Blunt and his allies will be repeating quite a bit.

There are, however, a couple of problems here. First, going after legislation based on its length, rather than its merit, is pretty silly. Second, calling the reform plan a "government takeover" is a lie, no matter how many times conservatives repeat it.

But most important is Blunt's invitation to comparison. The Missouri Republican wants to bring attention to the Dems' 1,990-page bill, based on the assumption that 1,990 pages is too many. But the next question is obvious: "OK, Rep. Blunt. How many pages is the Republican health care reform plan?" For now, the correct answer is, "Zero."

It was, after all, none other than Roy Blunt who boasted, "I guarantee you we will provide you with a [health care] bill." That was 136 days ago.

Given the severity of the problem, Blunt is effectively asking Americans to choose: address the health care crisis with a 1,990-page bill or ignore the crisis with nothing. Seems like an easy choice to me.

Steve Benen 9:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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'A PERPETUAL REVULSION MACHINE'.... I've been trying to write a lot less about the so-called "feud" between the White House and Fox News -- is there a 12-step program? -- but CNN's Campbell Brown raised an important-but-wrong point this week that underscores the confusion that exists among many mainstream journalists.

Brown explained that it's "obvious," at least to her, that Fox News and MSNBC are bookends on the ideological spectrum: "Just as Fox News leans to the right with their opinionated hosts in prime time, MSNBC leans left. I don't think anyone at Fox or MSNBC would disagree."

It's hard to overstate how wrong this is. It's a fundamentally lazy way of looking at the larger media dynamic, and those who make the argument -- which is to say, a whole lot of D.C. political media establishment -- almost certainly haven't watched much in the way of cable news.

Jon Stewart's segment on Fox News this week is worth watching. He notes at the outset that a variety of right-wing personalities have accused the White House of "censorship" because some officials have dared to offer mild-but-accurate criticism of the Republican network. Cal Thomas went so far as to compare the White House criticizing a partisan news outlet to Stalin's Russia. (Oddly enough, just a year ago, when the Bush White House went after MSNBC, Cal Thomas was delighted, and wondered why the Bush team hadn't done more of this.)

But the point of "The Daily Show's" segment was to note that the alleged wall that separates Fox News' high-profile opinion shows and Fox News' objective hard-news reporting doesn't actually exist.

And that continues to be the point that Campbell Brown and others keep missing. On MSNBC, a viewer can find three hours a day of left-leaning opinion journalism. Viewers can also find three hours a day of a show hosted by a conservative, former Republican congressman. Throughout the afternoon, however, MSNBC offers straight news, without an ideological bent.

Fox News' straight reporting isn't straight reporting. The wall between news side and the opinion side doesn't exist. This isn't a network that does legitimate journalism during the day, and then let's GOP clowns run wild at night -- this is a network that acts as the arm of a political party and a cog in a larger partisan machine all day. As Jamison Foser explained the other day, "Fox's daytime, ostensibly 'straight news' programs are filled with right-wing misinformation. And remember: It wasn't Sean Hannity or any other prime-time host who suggested during last year's presidential campaign that Barack and Michelle Obama had performed a 'terrorist fist-jab.' It was a daytime news anchor."

It was also a daytime anchor, Jon Scott, who has read Republican Party talking points -- typos and all -- on the air, presenting them as Fox News research. This during the "straight news" portion of the day.

Josh Marshall, who keeps the cable networks running throughout the day at the TPM offices, noted recently, "[A]s a product [Fox News'] straight news is almost more the stuff of parody than the talk shows which are at least more or less straightforward about what they are.... MSNBC has now made a big push to refashion itself as a liberal or perhaps just non-hard-right-wing alternative to Fox. But the distinction between the two operations becomes clear whenever you watch 'news' on MSNBC as opposed to Maddow, Olbermann or Ed."

In the bigger picture, the FNC-MSNBC comparison is itself foolish. For one thing, figures like Maddow and Olbermann bring intellectual seriousness to their work, while Beck and Hannity peddle bizarre and unhinged conspiracy theories. What's more, Maddow and Olbermann are not partisans -- regular viewers realize that they criticize the Obama White House and congressional Democrats all the time. Fox News doesn't offer anything similar because that would be crazy -- an appendage of the Republican Party wouldn't dare criticize the Republican Party.

Why is this so difficult for the mainstream to understand?

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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FALSE POSITIVES.... I can only imagine how excited conservatives were yesterday afternoon after the White House released its visitors logs, detailing the thousands of people who've came to the White House since January. As the New York Daily News noted, "For one brief, shining moment, it looked like conspiracy theorists had found the mother lode."

The reason for the short-lived exhilaration was that the logs included names such as William Ayers, Jeremiah Wright, and Michael Moore. True to form, several prominent conservatives pounced. The Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb proclaimed, "I tried to warn you, America. Rev. Wright and Bill Ayers!"

As is too often the case, the right failed to think this one through. As Norm Eisen, special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform, explained:

There's an important lesson here as well. This unprecedented level of transparency can sometimes be confusing rather than providing clear information.

A lot of people visit the White House, up to 100,000 each month, with many of those folks coming to tour the buildings. Given this large amount of data, the records we are publishing today include a few "false positives" - names that make you think of a well-known person, but are actually someone else. In September, requests were submitted for the names of some famous or controversial figures (for example Michael Jordan, William Ayers, Michael Moore, Jeremiah Wright, Robert Kelly ("R. Kelly"), and Malik Shabazz). The well-known individuals with those names never actually came to the White House.

Yes, someone named William Ayers visited the White House this year, but not that William Ayers. Someone named Jeremiah Wright stopped by, but not that Jeremiah Wright.

Conservatives got excited for nothing. Goldfarb's national "warnings" notwithstanding, there is no controversy here.

It's also worth noting that the Obama White House deserves some credit for embracing this level of openness and transparency. The Bush team, as you may recall, fought like hell to keep visitor logs shielded from public view. Obama's team is not only making the information available, it's putting all the information online. It's the most transparent White House ever.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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October 30, 2009

FRIDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Iran seemed amenable to the proposed nuclear deal. Then, it didn't.

* Not an easy day for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Pakistan.

* Weak consumer confidence has consequences.

* Good move: "President Obama has strengthened the authority and independence of an espionage oversight board made up of private citizens with top-level security clearances and a mandate to uncover illegal spying. In an executive order released Thursday by the White House, Mr. Obama rolled back several changes made by the Bush administration that had weakened the Intelligence Oversight Board, a panel that helps presidents make sure spy agencies are obeying federal laws and presidential directives."

* Hmm: "House ethics investigators have been scrutinizing the activities of more than 30 lawmakers and several aides in inquiries about issues including defense lobbying and corporate influence peddling, according to a confidential House ethics committee report prepared in July." But is there less here than meets the eye?

* Chris Hayes asks a terrific question: Anyone notice that the president signed a $680 billion defense appropriations bill in the midst of our heated debates about $90 billion a year for heath care?

* Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) thinks the health care debate is more important than the 9/11 attacks. If a Democrat had said this, would the right be all right with it?

* What was the CBO score on the House reform bill? That's a little complicated.

* Will the public plan have higher premiums than private insurance? Ezra Klein takes a closer look.

* More evidence that a lack of health care coverage can lead to American deaths.

* It pains me to admit it, but Rick Santorum's criticism of the Bush administration's Afghanistan policy happens to be correct.

* I'm afraid Stephen Spruiell is badly confused about education policy.

* Sounds like financier and philanthropist George Soros has an interesting new project.

* I'm not at all pleased about publius' "semi-permanent vacation." He's long been one of my very favorites.

* White House goes open source, embraces Drupal.

* It's odd that Jeb Bush, after all of his exposure to government and politics, still doesn't understand what "capitalism" means. There's just something wrong with those Bush boys.

* Fox News' interest in the "War on Christmas" seems to come earlier every year.

* Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) has a habit of saying remarkably dumb things.

* CNN's Lou Dobbs thinks his critics are shooting at his home. There's reason for skepticism.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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SLAYING THE 'DINOSAUR'.... Now there's a senator I can agree with -- a young New England Democrat who realizes that the filibuster is an institutional menace. He not only calls the parliamentary maneuver "a dinosaur" that had become "a symbol of a lot that ails Washington today," he actually took steps to kill the filibuster once and for all.

The senator is Joe Lieberman ... in 1994.

At the time, Lieberman, part of a Democratic minority, believed Senate obstructionism had gone too far. Even though Republicans had the majority, he and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) decided to take the bold step of pushing for majority rule in the Senate -- even if it made it easier for the new GOP-led chamber to pass legislation. At a press conference 15 years ago next month, Lieberman argued:

"[People] are fed up -- frustrated and fed up and angry about the way in which our government does not work, about the way in which we come down here and get into a lot of political games and seem to -- partisan tugs of war and forget why we're here, which is to serve the American people. And I think the filibuster has become not only in reality an obstacle to accomplishment here, but it also a symbol of a lot that ails Washington today.

"But I do want to say that the Republicans were not the only perpetrators of filibuster gridlock, there were occasions when Democrats did it as well. And the long and the short of it is that the abuse of the filibuster was bipartisan and so its demise should be bipartisan as well.

"The whole process of individual senators being able to hold up legislation, which in a sense is an extension of the filibuster because the hold has been understood in one way to be a threat to filibuster -- it's just unfair.

"I'm very proud to be standing here with Tom as two Democrats saying that we're going to begin this fight, because we've just been stung by the filibuster for a period of years, and even though the tables have now turned, it doesn't make it right for us to use this instrument that we so vilified."

In 1994, when Lieberman thought filibusters had become an outrageous abuse worthy of elimination, there were 39 cloture motions filed. Last year, there were 139. This year, Senate Republicans will likely break their own record.

And Lieberman this week threatened to help them, by opposing a vote on a once-in-a-generation opportunity at health care reform if it includes a provision to let some consumer choose between competing public and private health plans.

One wonders what Lieberman '94 would think of Lieberman '09.

Steve Benen 4:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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STIMULATING.... On MSNBC this morning, Joe Scarborough (conservative Republican) and Pat Buchanan (conservative Republican) were discussing the recent reports on economic growth. Scarborough conceded it may have been the result of "the federal money that's gotten in there." Buchanan was more dismissive, calling recent growth "steroids," adding, "[The president] pushed all of this money into the economy and pumped it up."

In context, this seemed like criticism, though I haven't the foggiest idea why. Wasn't that the point -- to inject capital into the system before it collapsed? To fill the hole in the economy with government spending? Shouldn't Republicans want to see the economy "pumped up," too?

If I didn't know better, I might think Scarborough and Buchanan were saying, "We're all Keynesians now."

Scarborough added, "It's all about jobs." It looks like the White House agrees.

The federal stimulus program has saved or created 650,000 jobs through aid to states, infrastructure projects and federal contracts, the Obama administration claimed Friday morning, adding that officials believe they are on track to meet their goal of 3.5 million jobs over two years.

The new figures are based on reports being released today from 131,000 recipients of the stimulus money and are intended to give the clearest sense to date of how many jobs are being created or saved directly by the stimulus. Until this month, most jobs figures have been based on the estimates of economists -- not actual reports.

The figures do not include jobs indirectly created by the money pumped into the economy through tax cuts, unemployment benefits and aid to states for Medicaid. If those were included, the administration estimates, the tally would rise to more than 1 million jobs saved or created.

Jared Bernstein put together a good piece on the data, explaining, "Thanks to unprecedented real-time data collection by the independent Recovery, Accountability, and Transparency Board (RATB), you will soon (as in this afternoon) be able to visit Recovery.gov and learn about the approximately 650,000 jobs directly created by part -- and I emphasize that these 650,000 or so jobs are a subset of the more than one million -- of the Recovery Act dollars at work in our economy."

The EPI's Josh Bivens noted, just on the basis of the GDP numbers, "This third quarter data will almost surely re-ignite debate as to whether or not the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) aided a recovery from the recession that began at the beginning of 2008. A serious look at the evidence argues that this debate should be closed: ARRA has played a starring role in pushing the economy into positive growth." (Bivens posted some great charts, too.)

Of course, all of the concerns that have existed since January -- most notably, that the stimulus package should have been bigger, and shouldn't have been negotiated down by "centrists" -- are still entirely valid. The recovery legislation has done so far what it was expected to do, and given the economic abyss we were facing, that's obviously good news. The congressional Republicans calling for a five-year spending freeze as a response to the crisis look even more insane now than they did at the time.

But the boost should have been, and could have been, far stronger. As Paul Krugman explained earlier, "[W]e've gotten the big boost, and it's clearly far short of what we really need."

Steve Benen 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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PEACEFUL RESOLUTION IN HONDURAS.... Matt Yglesias noted earlier that foreign policy achievements "have a way of not getting noticed if they don't involve killing anyone with high explosives. This is too bad, since finding ways to resolve conflicts that don't involve killing anyone with high explosives is generally preferable to approaches based on death and destruction."

That's a good point. And it's a reminder that the Obama administration's success in Honduras is laudable.

A lingering political crisis in Honduras seemed to be nearing an end on Friday after the de facto government agreed to a deal, pending legislative approval, that would allow Manuel Zelaya, the deposed president, to return to office.

The government of Roberto Micheletti, which had refused to let Mr. Zelaya return, signed an agreement with Mr. Zelaya's negotiators late Thursday that would pave the way for the Honduran Congress to restore the ousted president and allow him to serve out the remaining three months of his term. If Congress agrees, control of the army would shift to the electoral court, and the presidential election set for Nov. 29 would be recognized by both sides. Neither Mr. Zelaya nor Mr. Micheletti will be candidates.

On Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the deal "an historic agreement."

"I cannot think of another example of a country in Latin America that, having suffered a rupture of its democratic and constitutional order, overcame such a crisis through negotiation and dialogue," Mrs. Clinton said in Islamabad, where she has been meeting with Pakistani officials.

The Micheletti government wanted to wait until after a Nov. 29 election, but the U.S., the U.N., and the Organization of American States said the way to secure international recognition of those elections was to strike an agreement on the restoration of the constitutional order now. The Obama administration sent two diplomats to the country on Wednesday, who helped strike the deal.

Zelaya, under the agreement, will return to office in a power-sharing agreement until the end of his term in January. Tim Fernholz added, "While the White House's domestic opposition will no doubt call this deal a sham or attack the president for helping restore a controversial leader to power, this outcome will likely improve inter-American relations, and that is a win for a relatively green foreign-policy team."

Steve Benen 2:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (7)

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EPW BOYCOTT TO DELAY ENERGY REFORM BILL.... Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) intends to move on its climate change bill on Tuesday. The legislation, championed by Boxer and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), has drawn some support from Republicans, and would clear the committee easily -- Dems enjoy a 12-7 majority on the panel.

So, to scuttle the legislation, committee Republicans have decided not to show up on Tuesday.

Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works committee will boycott the mark-up of the Kerry-Boxer climate bill if Chairwoman Barbara Boxer tries to take it up next week.

The seven Republican members on the committee met on the Senate floor last night and unanimously agreed to a boycott, according to Republican aides.

Boxer doesn't need their votes, but she does need at least two of the seven to actually be in the room and establish a quorum. The boycott will make that impossible, at least for now.

The Politico report added that the boycott is "being led by the two most moderate Republican members on the committee: Sens. George Voinovich of Ohio, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee." That seems a little hard to believe -- Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking Republican on the committee, began orchestrating the boycott a week ago.

It's worth noting that conservative Republicans aren't the only problem with reforming U.S. energy policy. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), the caucus' most conservative member, was asked this morning whether a cap-and-trade proposal can garner congressional approval before the end of next year. "No," he said. "I haven't been able to sell that argument to my farmers, and I don't think they're going to buy it from anybody else."

A few weeks ago, the prospects of meaningful Senate action on climate change looked pretty good. Today, they look far less encouraging.

Steve Benen 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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REVERSING A SENSELESS BAN.... The Reagan administration and then-Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) imposed a travel and immigration ban more than two decades ago on those with HIV.

Today, President Obama announced the end of the ban.

President Obama called the 22-year ban on travel and immigration by HIV-positive individuals a decision "rooted in fear rather than fact" and announced the end of the rule-making process overturning the ban.

The president signed the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act of 2009 at the White House Friday and also spoke of the new rules, which have been under development [for] more than a year. "We are finishing the job," the president said. [...]

The lifting of the ban removes one of the last vestiges of early U.S. AIDS policy. "We're thrilled that the ban has been lifted based on science, reason, and human rights. Our hope is that this decision reflects a commitment to adopting more evidence-based policies when confronting the AIDS epidemic and developing a comprehensive national AIDS strategy," said Kevin Robert Frost, CEO of amFAR, an AIDS research foundation.

The president added, "It's a step that will encourage people to get tested and get treatment, it's a step that will keep families together, and it's a step that will save lives."

The announcement came as Obama signed the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act of 2009.

It's only fair that I note, as the president did this morning, that progress first began on the travel/immigration measure a year ago. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and then-Sen. Gordon H. Smith (R-Ore.) pushed for the change in the 2008 PEPFAR legislation, and the Bush administration approved the bill. It's a win for common sense, human decency, and bipartisanship.

The last major effort to drop the ban came in 1991, but it fell apart in the face of intense right-wing criticism. Fortunately, the country has come a long way since then.

Steve Benen 1:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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A POLL LIKE NO OTHER.... As regular readers know, most national polls from major news outlets are interesting for their results. Fox News polls are interesting for their questions. Most reputable news outlets try to maintain a degree of seriousness with their poll questions. Fox News prefers to add a little panache to their surveys.

The network's latest (pdf) doesn't disappoint. It asks, for example, "Who do you think is more determined to win the war in Afghanistan -- President Obama or the leaders of the Taliban and al Qaeda?" As Dave Weigel noted, "I tried to cross-reference this with the way Fox News asked the question during the Bush administration's seven years of muddling through in Afghanistan. Surprisingly, it never got asked."

Fox News also asked a number of questions about the White House saying mean things about Fox News. And wouldn't you know it, Fox News' poll found that a majority of respondents believe Fox News is "right in this debate." Imagine that. Greg Sargent added, "This is not the first time Fox has polled on its own confrontation with the White House, either. Legit news outlet Fox News is happy to continue making itself the story. Would you ever see MSNBC indulge in this sort of thing?"

But there was one legitimate question in the poll that offered a result the network surely didn't care for.

"Who do you think is more responsible for the current state of the economy -- President Barack Obama or former President George W. Bush?"

A clear 58% majority consider Bush more responsible for the country's economic difficulties, while only 18% blame Obama. Among self-identified independents, it was an even larger margin -- 59% blame Bush, while 11% believe Obama is more responsible.

Even 29% of Republicans consider Bush more responsible.

I don't imagine that'll get a lot of airtime on the network.

Steve Benen 1:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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PRESIDENT HONORS TROOPS, CHENEY ATTACKS PRESIDENT.... President Obama paid his respects to fallen U.S. soldiers yesterday at Dover Air Force, as flag-draped coffins returned home from Afghanistan. Even some of the president's conservative detractors were willing to show some decency -- National Review's Peter Hegseth, for example, called it "a classy move." A blog called Right Wing Nut House added, "[T]he emotion that animated [Obama's] face during this solemn, heart rending ceremony showed that he understands his responsibilities."

Some right-wing voices were far less gracious.

Liz Cheney called out President Obama for his early-morning trip to honor fallen soldiers arriving at Dover Air Force Base yesterday, suggesting President Bush honored America's heroes with a bit more class than his successor.

Cheney, on Fox News Radio's John Gibson Show yesterday: "I think that what President Bush used to do is do it without the cameras. And I don't understand sort of showing up with the White House Press Pool with photographers and asking family members if you can take pictures. That's really hard for me to get my head around.... It was a surprising way for the president to choose to do this."

Actually, what's surprising is how pathetic Liz Cheney's sense of decency has become.

President Bush didn't used to "do it without the cameras"; President Bush didn't used to do it at all. After seven years of the war in Afghanistan, Bush didn't greet returning caskets once. He didn't even want journalists to take photographs of the events, fearing that the images may turn public opinion against the war.

What's more, President Obama didn't "show up with the White House Press Pool." The trip was not announced in advance -- the White House wasn't seeking publicity -- and only a "small contingent" of journalists were allowed to attend. In fact, "most of the event was closed to media."

Most of the right simply ignored the president's appearance at Dover. Limbaugh didn't mention it, and while "Fox & Friends" managed to mention ACORN 23 times during yesterday's program, the inane hosts somehow neglected to mention the Dover event altogether.

Of course, given a choice between right-wing silence and Liz Cheney's contemptible sleaze, I'll take the former.

Steve Benen 12:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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UNDERSTANDING REDD.... Tropical deforestation accounts for 20 percent of all carbon emissions into the atmosphere, more than the combined emissions of every car, truck, ship, plane and train on the planet. A new market mechanism, REDD -- Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation -- is being developed so that residents of tropical forest properties can earn more money from the standing forest than from its removal.

The REDD concept is part of the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill, which would allow U.S. companies to offset the carbon they emit by paying tropical countries and their citizens not to cut down their rainforests. A market-based system that includes REDD will also be on the agenda at the UN-sponsored talks in Copenhagen this December, where representatives hope to hash out a new climate change treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

The Washington Monthly published a special section in the July/August issue, "A Clear Cut Crisis." This afternoon, at 12:15 eastern, the New America Foundation will co-host an event with the Monthly on this idea.

Panelists include Daniel Nepstad, Senior Scientist, Woods Hole Research Center; Tia Nelson, Co Chair, Task Force on Global Warming for Governor Doyle of Wisconsin; Nigel Purvis, President, Climate Advisers; and Steve Schwartzman, Anthropologist and Director of Tropical Forest Policy at Environmental Defense Fund.

If you're not in D.C., a live webcast of the event is available here.

Steve Benen 12:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (6)

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FRIDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* With just a few days left in New Jersey's gubernatorial race, the polls are all over the place. A Research 2000 poll shows Chris Christie (R) leading Gov. Jon Corzine (D) by one point; a Democracy Corps poll shows Corzine up by five points; a Fairleigh Dickinson poll shows Corzine up by one point; and a SurveyUSA poll has them tied.

* For his part, Christie's new message yesterday dared the governor to "man up and say I'm fat."

* In Virginia's gubernatorial race, the last Research 2000 poll for Daily Kos before the election shows Bob McDonnell (R) leading Creigh Deeds (D) by 10 points, 54% to 44%. It's one of many polls this week showing McDonnell with a double-digit lead.

* In the special election in New York's 23rd, all three candidates were supposed to debate on Wednesday night, but Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman refused to attend because the event was hosted by a public radio station. Last night, all three candidates attended a debate at the local ABC affiliate in Syracuse. The ill will between Hoffman and Republican Dede Scozzafava was apparently obvious.

* In the PCCC poll we talked about earlier, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) leads state Sen. Gilbert Baker (R) in a hypothetical match-up by two, 41% to 39%.

* New Mexico Democrats were pleased to learn that former Rep. Heather Wilson (R) has decided not to run for governor next year. She was considered the Republicans' strongest candidate. Lt. Gov. Diane Denish (D) is now considered the frontrunner to succeed Gov. Bill Richardson (D).

* A special election in California's 10th next week has been largely overlooked, but a new SurveyUSA poll shows Lt. Gov. John Garamendi (D) as the leading candidate to fill the vacancy left by Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), who joined the Obama administration earlier this year.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (6)

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REID HOPES TO RALLY PUBLIC ON REFORM..... If the Senate Majority Leader is simply going through the motions on the public option, he has a funny way of showing it.

"Anyone that cares about [the public option], make sure you contact your representatives back here in Washington and push hard," Harry Reid said yesterday in a web video. "We want a health care bill that has a public option that keeps the insurance industries honest and creates a level playing field."

I found this interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it suggests Reid really is going for it. There's been some talk that Reid's commitment was for show -- he'd put the public option in the bill, but isn't prepared to see it through. In this respect, yesterday's video was doubling down.

Second, Reid's message has the added benefit of being true -- if reform advocates want the public option to survive, it's going to take some grassroots activism to help make it happen.

I was part of a small group that talked to Arlen Specter a couple of weeks ago, and someone asked him what interested Americans could do to help the reform effort. He encouraged the public to write some letters and pick up the phone.

It's good advice.

Steve Benen 11:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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HARKIN'S HINTS ABOUT LIEBERMAN.... Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) doesn't have a whole lot to gain from siding with Republicans against health care reform. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), however, offered some subtle speculation this week about something Lieberman still has to lose.

"[Lieberman] still wants to be a part of the Democratic Party although he is a registered independent," Harkin said. "He wants to caucus with us and, of course, he enjoys his chairmanship of the [Homeland Security] committee because of the indulgence of the Democratic Caucus. So, I'm sure all of those things will cross his mind before the final vote."

To be sure, this is hardly an explicit threat. But it is an instance in which a powerful Democratic senator raised the specter of connecting Lieberman's vote on reform and his role as a committee chairman and caucus member.

A little something for Lieberman to have "cross his mind."

In related news, Lieberman also told ABC News yesterday that he's likely to campaign for Republican candidates next year. "I probably will support some Republican candidates for Congress or Senate in the elections in 2010," he said.

Lieberman, of course, actively campaigned for several GOP candidates in 2008, and Democrats chose not to punish his betrayals. The Connecticut independent therefore has no qualms about doing the same thing again.

So, taken together, Lieberman is threatening to help Republican block a vote on health care reform, prepared to help Republican candidates in the midterms, and using his committee gavel to lend credence to Republican attacks against the White House, all after promoting the Republican presidential candidate last year.

Democrats are prepared to let him stay on as the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee? To use Harkin's word, that's quite an "indulgence."

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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IF LINCOLN IS SWAYED BY PUBLIC OPINION.... There are about five members of the Senate Democratic caucus who are likely to be the biggest obstacles to health care reform. Near the top of the list is Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D), a center-right Democrat from a state that's moved sharply to the right in recent years.

She's up for re-election next year, and Republicans have painted a bull's eye on her back. Lincoln's vote on health care policy is likely to make a big difference -- and she knows it.

What she may not know, however, is that while Arkansas has become more painfully conservative lately, it's also a state where Democratic reform ideas remain popular. A new Research 2000 poll, commissioned by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America, helps make this clear.

Yet another public opinion poll in a state with a conservative Democratic senator shows that the public option not only is widely popular among voters, but could become a potent issue in the upcoming congressional elections.

One day after releasing a Research 2000 survey of Indiana residents -- in a study designed to get the attention of Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh -- the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America is going public with the results from Arkansas, home state of Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln. The findings are equally persuasive.

Specifically, Arkansans support a public option, 56% to 37%. Among independents in the state, it's even better, 57% to 32%. Moreover, if Lincoln sided with Republicans on a filibuster, 35% of Arkansas independents would be less likely to vote for her, while only 10% would be more likely. Among state Democrats, 49% would be less likely to vote for her, only 7% more likely.

It's unclear if Lincoln will face a primary challenge, but if she backs the GOP's filibuster and has to earn the Democratic nomination, 48% of Democrats would be less likely to support her in a primary.

Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder Stephanie Taylor concluded, "This polling shows that voting against the public option -- or helping Republicans block a vote on health care altogether -- would be career suicide for Blanche Lincoln. It would alienate large numbers of Democrats and Independents when she's already facing an extremely tough re-election."

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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SURGEON GENERAL APPROVED WITHOUT OPPOSITION.... About three weeks ago, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved Dr. Regina Benjamin's nomination to be the next surgeon general. The vote was unanimous, and there was little doubt she'd be confirmed by the Senate.

Until, that is, some Senate Republicans decided to put a hold on the nomination. They were angry, apparently, because HHS told Humana to stop using taxpayer money to mislead the public about health care reform. As "punishment," the GOP decided to block all administration health-related nominees from receiving up-or-down votes.

This week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said enough was enough. Senate Republicans, perhaps concerned about the public's reaction to blocking a vote on a surgeon general nominee during a public health emergency, quickly backed down.

After much agitation earlier in the day, the Senate voted to confirm Dr. Regina Benjamin as the nation's surgeon general on Thursday night amid a national emergency over the swine flu outbreak.

The Senate approved her on a voice vote. On Thursday morning, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, had taken to the floor to complain that her nomination, along with others, had been held up.

Given the larger context, it seems Reid's forceful public criticism sparked the change and led to the confirmation.

It's a reminder of the role of public shame in the Senate process. The GOP caucus, for example, obstructs the majority on an unprecedented scale. It's not that the rules changed, necessarily, to make it easier for this Senate minority to be obstructionist. Other Senate minorities could have behaved this way but didn't -- they feared looking ridiculous and sparking a public backlash.

Perhaps the key, then, is shining a brighter light on Senate Republican tactics?

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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BACK TO THE MACABRE NONSENSE... About a month ago, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) caused a stir when he described the conservative approach to health care: "Don't get sick. That's what the Republicans have in mind. And if you get sick America, the Republican health care plan is this: die quickly."

The GOP and its allies were outraged. Grayson made it sound as if Republican policies are literally life threatening. The remarks, conservatives said, crossed a line of decency. No one, the argument goes, should accuse their rivals of promoting lethal health care policies.

A month later, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ken.) told a conservative radio host that the public option favored by most congressional Democrats and most of the American public "may cost you your life."

Dennis Miller asked McConnell specifically about the state opt-out compromise. The Minority Leader said it didn't matter because a public plan that competes with private plans is inherently dangerous.

"I think if you have any kind of government insurance program, you're going to be stuck with it and it will lead us in the direction of the European style, you know, sort of British-style, single payer, government run system. And those systems are known for delays, denial of care and, you know, if your particular malady doesn't fit the government regulation, you don't get the medication.

"And it may cost you your life. I mean, we don't want to go down that path."

It's a reminder of just how pathetic the debate itself has been over health care reform. After six months of back and forth -- hearings, debates, town halls, reports, committee votes, interviews, analyses -- the highest ranking Republican in Congress still feels comfortable telling a national audience that competition between public and private health coverage "may cost you your life."

Indeed, one of the few constants throughout the process is conservative Republicans on the Hill, unwilling or unable to debate the policy on the merits, trying to convince people that Democratic policies may actually kill them.

What a sad joke.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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DISCOVERING THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PROCEDURE AND POLICY.... Yesterday afternoon, Sen. Evan Bayh's (D-Ind.) office released a statement about where the senator stands on the status of the health care reform bill. It read:

Senator Bayh will support moving forward to a health care debate on the Senate floor, where he will work hard to address his concerns and craft affordable legislation that reduces the deficit and lowers health care costs for Indiana families and small businesses.

That is, to be sure, good news. There are several key procedural votes, and the measure Bayh's office is referring to here -- the motion to proceed -- is the first one. By voting with the majority on this, Bayh is allowing the reform bill to go to the floor, where it can be debated, subjected to amendments, etc.

But there are some concerns to be considered. First, I'm reluctant to give Bayh too much credit here. Voting for the motion to proceed is the bare minimum expected of a Senate Democrat at this stage. Republicans opposing against this motion are effectively arguing, "We oppose reform so strongly, we don't even want the Senate to talk about it." Bayh announced he's not willing to go that far. I'm glad, but I don't want to reward the Hoosier with the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Second, and more important, by supporting the motion to proceed despite misgivings about the overall legislation, Bayh is making an important distinction between procedural votes and policy votes -- which is exactly what he said a few days ago he would not do.

Reform advocates have pleaded with center-right Democrats, asking them to reject a Republican filibuster when the legislation is ready for a vote. Senators like Bayh can obviously oppose the bill, but the key is the procedural vote -- support cloture and let the Senate vote up or down on the bill.

On Wednesday, Bayh said he could make no such commitment because he doesn't see "much difference between process and policy." As the argument goes, if he disapproves of the policy, he disapproves of the procedural motion that would possibly let the policy pass.

Except, Bayh's votes aren't matching up with Bayh's rhetoric. He's voted for cloture several times on bills he opposed. Indeed, just yesterday he voted with Dems to waive a point of order on a resolution included in a conference report, only to vote soon after with Republicans against the conference report.

The same is true with motion to proceed on reform -- he has reservations about the policy, but he's backing the procedure to let the bill move forward.

If Bayh and other center-right Dems can take this same approach when health care reform is ready for a vote, we'll all be just fine.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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By: Paul Glastris

MEDIA ADVISOR... Steven Waldman, the co-founder of Beliefnet.com and a contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, was named yesterday to an extremely interesting new post in the Obama administration. He'll be a senior advisor to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and in charge of "an agency-wide initiative to assess the state of media in these challenging economic times and make recommendations designed to ensure a vibrant media landscape." Waldman's job, in other words, will be to figure out what the government can and/or should do to save journalism. We wish him luck.

Paul Glastris 7:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

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October 29, 2009

THURSDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* CBO gives the House Democrats' health care reform bill an $894 billion price tag over the next 10 years. Just as important, the bill, if passed, would reduce the deficit by $104 billion over the next decade.

* Iran wants to change the nature of the nuclear deal. What a surprise.

* Sounds like HRC isn't satisfied with what she's seeing from Pakistan: "U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's said on Thursday it was 'hard to believe' that no one in Pakistan's government knew where al Qaeda leaders were hiding, striking a new tone on a trip where Washington's credibility has come under attack."

* Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) is on board with the motion to proceed, which will at least send health care reform to the floor for debate and amendments. Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) said the same thing this afternoon. Baby steps.

* President Obama talks up small businesses.

* More evidence of the stimulus helping: "A historic nosedive in state tax collections extended into the third quarter of the year, and only an infusion of federal stimulus money has averted widespread program cuts and worker layoffs."

* Jon Cohn takes a closer look at the merits of the new House health care reform bill. (He likes it.)

* If you've seen the AP story on the stimulus and job creation, you should know that it's pretty misleading.

* A graphic display of inequality.

* Steve Miller, the director of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), testified under oath this morning about Bonner and Associates sending fake constituent letters to members of Congress. It really didn't go well.

* Same-day voter registration. Sounds good to me.

* I wonder why Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is afraid of Rachel Maddow? I can say from personal experience that she's a delightful interviewer.

*MSNBC is only too pleased to air an anti-Dobbs advertisement.

* Best wishes to Fred Clarkson on a speedy recovery.

* Crowley and Gates meet for beers, again.

* "Tea Party" activists tried to organize a "flash mob" to protest at the Capitol this morning, when House Democrats unveiled their health care reform bill. By most estimates, about 10 right-wing activists showed up. One Northern Virginia Teabagger said, "If this is organized, we suck."

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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THEIR LYING EYES, REDUX.... Either they're lying, or these guys haven't been paying attention to the health care reform debate at all.

House Republicans slammed the new Democratic health care reform bill this morning, but didn't say when or if they'll be offering a reform package of their own.

GOP leader John Boehner led a press conference to voice his concerns about the bill an hour or so after Pelosi was done presenting it outside. He walked carrying the nearly 2,000 page house bill, which he dropped with a thud onto the podium.

"Through August and September, the American people made it clear they want no part of a government-run system for providing health care," he said. "[But] this bill amounts to a government takeover of our health care system."

It's quite tiresome to hear someone talk about a "government takeover" when the legislation does anything but offer a government takeover.

As a policy matter, Boehner and his cohorts are, of course, whining about provisions in the Democratic plan that would allow eligible consumers to have a choice -- getting coverage from either a public or a private plan. As House Republicans see it, private insurers offer such a horrible product at an unreasonable price, the public plan would win and consumers would save money and get better care. And that would be bad. Or something.

But I'm struck again by this notion that, as far as the GOP caucus is concerned, the "American people" have "made it clear" they're against a public insurance plan. Boehner is the latest conservative to see all kinds of polling data showing a strong public demand for public-private competition, and pretend that it simply doesn't exist.

How many more polls would it take to convince congressional Republicans that the American people have made it clear they want a public option?

As for the alleged perils of a "government-run system for providing health care," I'll look forward to Boehner's press release calling for the elimination of Medicare, Medicaid, the V.A. system, and S-CHIP.

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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THE H1N1 'POLITICAL TEST'?.... The New York Times reported today that the shortage of an H1N1 vaccine poses a "political test" for President Obama. I'm not sure if that's a fair characterization.

Indeed, given the reporting in the article, it seems as if the president has already passed the political test.

The moment a novel strain of swine flu emerged in Mexico last spring, President Obama instructed his top advisers that his administration would not be caught flat-footed in the event of a deadly pandemic. [...]

Aware that the president would be judged on how well he handled his first major domestic emergency, the Obama administration left little to chance. It built a new Web site, Flu.gov -- a sort of one-stop shopping for information about H1N1, the swine flu virus. It staged role-playing exercises for public health officials and members of the news media.

It commissioned public service announcements, featuring the fuzzy Sesame Street characters Elmo and Rosita singing in English and Spanish about "the right way to sneeze." The president added a swine flu update to his regular intelligence briefing -- he also receives an in-depth biweekly memorandum on the prevalence of the disease worldwide and in the United States -- and appeared in the Rose Garden to urge Americans to wash their hands.

Early on, Mr. Obama told his aides he wanted them to "learn from past mistakes," said John O. Brennan, Mr. Obama's domestic security adviser, who has been coordinating the flu-preparedness effort.

In June, the president even invited veterans of the 1976 effort to a private meeting in the White House, hoping to draw upon their experiences dealing with the last major flu epidemic, including the proper public role for a president in this situation.

Taken together, it seems the president immediately recognized the seriousness of a public health issue, mobilized officials, launched a public information campaign, and ordered the creation and distribution of a vaccine. The White House sought out all the right advice, from all the right people, and acted quickly. This isn't my area of expertise, but it sounds like the White House has been responding to the H1N1 problem exactly the way it should.

So, what's the problem? Apparently, HHS relied on estimates from manufacturers about the speed and supply of a vaccine, and the manufacturers were overly optimistic about what they could produce. The private companies reported in July they would have 120 million doses available by this week. They were off by about 97 million.

Counting on manufacturers' assurances, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, may have been "naive." Perhaps. But it was obviously outside the control of the administration.

The NYT report added that vaccine shortages are "threatening to undermine public confidence in government." Quality, accurate reporting should let the public know that wouldn't make any sense.

When we think about government failures on public emergencies -- the response to Hurricane Katrina, for example -- we see certain characteristics, such as negligence, incompetence, tardiness, and ignorance. None of these concerns seems to apply to the administration's handling of the H1N1 emergency.

Steve Benen 4:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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FAILING TO MEET THEIR OWN STANDARDS.... The House Republican leadership "guaranteed" that they would offer an alternative health care reform bill. If my count is right, that was 134 days ago.

Asked about when Americans can expect to see the GOP plan, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said it's "pretty difficult" for Republicans to come up with a "solid plan," because the minority caucus is "not quite sure how the majority intends to proceed."

I'm not sure what that's even supposed to mean. Republicans started putting together their health care reform proposal in June. They've had plenty of time to meet behind closed doors and craft the superior plan that will prove the seriousness with which the GOP takes this issue. What's the holdup?

Boehner wants to know first how Democrats intend to proceed? Well, here's a tip for the Minority Leader: Democrats will probably hold a vote on the reform bill they've spent the last year putting together. The question is, how does he intend to proceed?

Of course, when House Republicans live up to their word and present an alternative bill, the one thing we can count on is having plenty of time to read it before it reaches the floor for a vote. After all, if there's one thing GOP lawmakers have been harping on for months, it's the need for health care reform plans to be publicly available, for all the world to see, before lawmakers cast a vote. If there's one thing Republicans would want to avoid hypocrisy on, this is the issue, right?

Republicans have been insisting for months that Democrats are shoving a secret bill down the throats of the American public. The health reform legislation "should be posted online for 72 hours so members and the American people get a chance to see what's in these bills," House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) told Fox News. "But it seems to me that Democrat [sic] leaders want to rush these bills through Congress before anybody has a chance to read them."

In fact, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) "has repeatedly pledged to Republicans that the health bill and any manager's amendment would be posted online for at least 72 hours before the House votes," and he promised again this week.

At a press conference this morning, a reporter turned the tables on Boehner and asked whether he'd post the GOP plan for 72 hours. Boehner declined to make such a pledge.

Boehner responded to the question by saying, "Uh, we'll uh, we'll have our ideas ready."

Polls show widespread dissatisfaction with Republicans' handling of the health care debate. Imagine that.

Steve Benen 3:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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REID BLASTS UNPRECEDENTED OBSTRUCTIONISM.... Maybe this will help bring some much-needed attention to the story.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) excoriated Republicans on Thursday for stalling more than 200 executive and judicial nominees that in some cases have been lingering on the executive calendar for months.

"Senate Republicans are simply so opposed to everything, absolutely everything, that they even oppose putting people in some of the most important positions in our government," Reid said in a floor statement.

In the midst of the H1N1 flu outbreak, Republicans put a hold on President Obama's surgeon general nominee. The federal courts are backlogged, but Republicans are blocking votes on President Obama's judicial nominees. The White House has sent qualified people to the Hill to lead the Office of Legal Counsel, head the General Services Administration, and a variety of diplomatic posts, but Republicans have put holds on all of them, too.

This just isn't normal. Indeed, the Senate isn't supposed to function this way -- and it never has functioned this way. It's obstructionism on a scale without precedent.

Keep in mind, we're not talking about regular ol' opposition to White House nominees. If GOP senators wanted to reflexively oppose, en masse, every nominee the administration to the Hill, that would be fine. In fact, it'd be a huge improvement over the status quo.

Instead, Republican senators simply don't want these nominees to get a vote at all. The officials wait in limbo for months -- some have had their lives put on hold since March, waiting for a simple up-or-down vote -- and government posts that need to be filled remain empty while the 40-seat minority dithers.

It's an embarrassment to the institution.

Steve Benen 2:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING.... Back in August, Jon Stewart did a segment on South Carolina, kicked off by a report about a South Carolinian who loved his horse just a little too much (twice). Stewart said, "We here at the show can't help but notice that South Carolina has taken its rightful place amongst the states that make our lives here at the show easy." From there, he pointed to provocative scandals surrounding Mark Sanford and a state GOP official who compared a gorilla to First Lady Michelle Obama.

That was before Joe Wilson became a national embarrassment/right-wing hero and two South Carolina County Republican Party chairmen praised Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) in a newspaper editorial as being like a Jew who is "taking care of the pennies."

This week, a deputy assistant South Carolina attorney general, who also happens to be a right-wing Republican, was caught on his lunch break with a stripper, sex toys, and Viagra in his sport utility vehicle.

Roland Corning, 66, a former state legislator, was in a secluded part of a downtown cemetery when an officer spotted him Monday, according to a police report obtained by The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act.

As the officer approached, Corning sped off, then pulled over a few blocks away. He and the 18-year-old woman with him, an employee of the Platinum Plus Gentleman's Club, gave conflicting stories about what they were doing in the cemetery, Officer Michael Wines wrote in his report, though he did not elaborate.

Corning gave Wines a badge showing he worked for the state Attorney General's Office. Wines, whose wife also works there, called her to make sure Corning was telling the truth.

When asked about the Viagra pill and sex toys, Corning told the officer they were always in his S.U.V. "just in case."

He was promptly fired. State Attorney General Henry McMaster said such a trip to the cemetery "would not be appropriate, at any time, for an assistant attorney general."

Josh Marshall added, "In happier days, Corning was an ardent pro-life politician best known for introducing a law in the South Carolina legislature that would have made the subdermal contraceptive device Norplant mandatory for women on welfare. Even then though he was no stranger to controversy. In 1994, during a floor debate with pro-choice state Rep. June Shissias, Corning asked Shissias whether she herself had ever had an abortion. Later he admitted the remark was 'probably insensitive' but said he was 'sick and tired of the women representatives in this body acting like, just because we're men and male, we don't know anything about women.'"

I still think South Carolina hasn't quite caught up with Florida -- where I was born and raised -- in the Most Ridiculous State contest, but it's getting there.

Steve Benen 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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AN IMPRESSIVE WIN ON DEFENSE SPENDING.... President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, funding the military for the next year. At a White House event for the bill signing, the president took some time to note the significance of this particular spending bill.

"[W]hen Secretary Gates and I first proposed going after some of these wasteful projects, there were a lot of people in this town who didn't think it was possible, who were certain we were going to lose, who were certain that we would get steamrolled, who argued that the special interests were too entrenched, and that Washington was simply too set in its ways," Obama said. "And so I think it's important to note today we have proven them wrong."

The president was right to tout the accomplishment. This really is something of a breakthrough.

[A]s the president signed a $680 billion military policy bill on Wednesday, it was clear that he had succeeded in paring back nearly all of the programs and setting a tone of greater restraint than the Pentagon had seen in many years. [...]

White House officials say Mr. Obama took advantage of a rare political moment to break through one of Washington's most powerful lobbies and trim more weapons systems than any president had in decades.

Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, said Wednesday that the plan was to threaten a veto over a prominent program -- in this case, the F-22 fighter jet -- "to show we were willing to expend political capital and could win on something that people thought we could not."

Once the Senate voted in July to stop buying F-22s, Mr. Emanuel said in an interview, that success "reverberated down" to help sustain billions of dollars of cuts in Army modernization, missile defense and other programs.

"They probably get an 'A' from the standpoint of their success on their major initiatives," said Fred Downey, a former Senate aide who is now vice president for national security at the Aerospace Industries Association. "They probably got all of them but one or maybe two, and that's an extraordinarily high score."

Now, it's worth emphasizing that the administration didn't actually cut defense spending. Obama increased the military budget and doesn't intend to make reductions so long as we're in two wars. Rather, the president is spending more money smarter, directing funds away from wasteful projects that few had the political courage to take on.

Defense contractors and lobbyists don't lose often, especially not in recent years. The White House and the Pentagon took the leap anyway, and scored a big win. Good for them -- and for us.

Steve Benen 1:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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THE DISJOINTED DEBATE OVER 'FUNDING' ABORTION.... Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) is part of a House Democratic contingent balking at health care reform, not because of the public option, and not because of cost curves or reimbursement rates. Stupak's concern, which he's said can derail the entire health care reform effort, is about public funding of abortion.

Now, conservatives have argued for quite a while that reform would finance abortion, and reform advocates have consistently pushed back, rejecting the claim. Stupak, a Democrat who opposes abortion rights, is siding with the right on the issue.

Time's Amy Sullivan had an item yesterday, unrelated to Stupak's specific argument, which addressed the larger issue nicely.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the fungibility argument that many pro-life groups and politicians have employed to oppose health reform. The problem, they say, is that if any insurance plan that covers abortion is allowed to participate in a public exchange, then premiums paid to that plan in the form of taxpayer-funded subsidies help support that abortion coverage even if individual abortion procedures are paid for out of a separate pool of privately-paid premium dollars. You can debate about whether it makes sense to use this strict standard, but that's the argument.

But are those pro-life organizations holding themselves to the same strict standard? As it happens, Focus on the Family provides its employees health insurance through Principal, an insurance company that covers "abortion services." A Focus spokeswoman confirmed the fact that the organization pays premiums to Principal, but declined to comment on whether that amounts to an indirect funding of abortion.

Even if the specific plan Focus uses for its employees doesn't include abortion coverage -- and I'm assuming it doesn't -- the organization and its employees still pay premiums to a company that funds abortions. If health reform proposals have a fungibility problem, then Focus does as well. And if they don't think they do have a fungibility problem, then it would be interesting to hear why they think the set-up proposed in health reform legislation is so untenable.

The same applies to Stupak, who seems to agree with Focus on the Family's argument.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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THURSDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* A new Rasmussen poll shows Bob McDonnell (R) building on his earlier leads in Virginia's gubernatorial race, and now enjoys a 13-point edge over Creigh Deeds (D), 54% to 41%.

* For his part, Deeds is going with a closing message that uses some of his awkwardness as a selling point. "If you want 'slick' go with the other guy," the narrator tells viewers in the Democrat's latest ad.

* Over the summer, when Gov. Jon Corzine's (D) campaign was struggling badly in New Jersey, the White House took a more active interest in the race. After meetings with David Axelrod and political director Patrick Gaspard in the Garden State, Corzine made some changes, including replacing his pollster.

* In the special election in New York's 23rd, a new Research 2000 poll for Daily Kos shows Democrat Bill Owens with the narrowest of leads. The results, which won't be formally available until later, show Owens leading with 33%, with Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman extremely close behimd with 32%. Republican Dede Scozzafava, who was in second, is slipping badly, with 21% support.

* MoveOn.org moved yesterday to help support the Owens campaign.

* A right-wing group calling itself Common Sense in America is pulling a dirty trick this week, "praising" Dede Scozzafava for some center-left positions. The ad, engineered by Hoffman supporters, called Scozzafava "the best choice for progressives." The intention, obviously, is to convince Republican voters that Scozzafava isn't nearly conservative enough, while hoping to fool Democratic voters.

* In Texas, where Gov. Rick Perry is facing Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in a closely-watched Republican gubernatorial primary, Dick Cheney has weighed in, throwing his support to Hutchison.

* The latest Ohio Newspaper Poll (pdf) shows Gov. Ted Strickland (D) leading Republican challenger John Kasich (R) by just one point, 48% to 47%.

* And in New York, Chris Collins' (R) gubernatorial campaign is off to a bad start, after the county executive compared Jewish state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to Hitler and suggested he might be the anti-Christ.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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SETTLING FOR GOOD ENOUGH.... You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you can pass in a House caucus with 51 Blue Dogs.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi will unveil a bill Thursday that falls short of the liberal vision of a public option -- and the liberals, so far and somewhat surprisingly, are going along with that.

After months of public hand-wringing and strident proclamations in support of the strongest possible government-run health coverage, liberal Democrats are bowing to the reality that party leaders don't have the votes.

So Pelosi will unveil a bill that creates a public option but one that would allow doctors and hospitals to negotiate rates with the government. Liberals wanted a bill tethered to Medicare rates.

House progressives put up a good fight. Indeed, it was their diligence on this specific provision that helped keep the public option alive when much of the establishment thought it was dead. But it became apparent this week that the votes weren't there for a robust public option, so House liberals are doing the right thing -- fight like hell, for as long as possible, and then go with the best bill you can pass.

This is not to say there's unanimity on the point. Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, one of the leaders of the Progressive Caucus, will continue to pursue a Medicare+5 amendment, but in general, most of those who worked for the robust public option are prepared to go with the bill as presented this morning by Speaker Pelosi. As Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) put it, "I would have preferred the other way, but we're looking at this bill holistically."

Part of this is fueled by the recognition that the Speaker's office did everything it could. "They did everything possible," said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.). "There's no sense pushing back for something that can't be done."

Also keep in mind, though, that the compromise to a public option with negotiated rates was reportedly made easier by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's decision to include a public option in the Senate reform bill. It signaled to House progressives that a final bill with public-private competition is more likely.

And what happens if the Senate has to scuttle the provision in light of Republican obstructionism and opposition from center-right members of the Democratic caucus? Time will tell.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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THE AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE FOR AMERICA ACT.... As promised, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) unveiled the House health care reform bill this morning at an event on Capitol Hill. The legislation, a combination of similar bills passed over the summer by three House committees, is now called The Affordable Health Care for America Act.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) unveiled a health-care reform bill Thursday that includes a government insurance option and a historic expansion of Medicaid, although sticking points in the legislation involving abortion and immigration remain unresolved. [...]

"Today we are about to deliver on the promise of making affordable, quality health care available for all Americans," Pelosi said, describing a bill that she said would insure 36 million more Americans. "...We are putting forth a bill that reflects our best values and addresses our greatest challenges."

The House legislation aims to provide health insurance of one form or another to 96 percent of all Americans at an expected cost just below $900 billion over 10 years, without increasing the federal budget deficit for at least 20 years, House Democrats said. "It opens the doors to quality medical care for those who were shut out of the system for far too long," Pelosi said.

One of the big questions surrounding the bill as it was being crafted was, of course, about the public option. The leadership's goal was to have "Medicare +5" legislation, which would reimburse medical providers at government rates. Over the last week or so, it became apparent that there simply weren't enough votes for this approach to garner a House majority. Instead, the Democratic plan will have a public option with negotiated rates (the "level playing field" compromise pushed in the Senate by Chuck Schumer).

The larger bill has several other elements of note, including expanding Medicaid eligibility to 150% of the poverty line, and strong employer and individual mandates.

In terms of financing, House Dems would paid for the bill with a surtax on high-income people, applied to couples with incomes exceeding $1 million a year and individuals over $500,000 (the top 0.3% of the country).

According to materials distributed by the Speaker's office, the overall price tag of the House bill is $894 billion over 10 years -- below the $900 ceiling recommended by the White House -- none of which would be added the deficit. Indeed, preliminary results from the Congressional Budget Office suggest the House reform bill would cut the deficit by about $30 billion in the first decade. What's more, coverage would extend to 96% of the population.

Moving forward, House leaders hope to have the bill on the House floor next week, with a vote, if all goes well, before Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

For more policy details, I found these materials put together by the House Committee on Education and Labor helpful.

Update: The entire legislation is now online (pdf).

Steve Benen 11:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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ECONOMY COMING BACK TO LIFE.... From Fall 2008 through Summer 2009, the nation's gross domestic product retreated. The four consecutive negative quarters was the longest since the government began keeping track six decades ago.

It comes as something of a relief, then, to see the U.S. economy come back to life in the third quarter of 2009 -- spanning July, August, and September -- with GDP growth at 3.5%. It was the strongest quarterly economic performance in two years, and it came "without a major surge in inflation." The three-quarter swing of 9.9% was the largest in three decades.

Despite conservative opposition to economic recovery efforts, the growth in the U.S. economy was "fueled largely by government recovery programs," including the now-expired cash-for-clunkers program and the tax credit for first-time home buyers. The AP report added, "Brisk spending by the federal government played into the third-quarter turnaround."

The piece went on to say, "The Commerce Department's report Thursday delivered the strongest signal yet that the economy entered a new, though fragile, phase of recovery and that the worst recession since the 1930s has ended." CEA Chair Christina Romer, however, added, "[T]his welcome milestone is just another step, and we still have a long road to travel until the economy is fully recovered. The turnaround in crucial labor market indicators, such as employment and the unemployment rate, typically occurs after the turnaround in GDP. And it will take sustained, robust GDP growth to bring the unemployment rate down substantially."

And with that, here's another home-made chart, showing GDP numbers by quarter over the last two years:


Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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PRESIDENT AT DOVER.... For all the talk in recent years about whether American media should be allowed to cover -- and whether the American public should be allowed to see -- flag-draped caskets as fallen U.S. soldiers return home, it was good to see President Obama pay his respects this morning at Dover Air Force Base.

It was apparently the president's first trip to the air base. The trip was not announced in advance and Obama arrived shortly after midnight. Obama stood at attention to salute Army Sgt. Dale Griffin of Indiana, whose family gave permission for this morning's coverage.

The NYT reported, "The bodies returning to Dover Air Force Base shortly after midnight included seven Army soldiers and three agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency who were killed when their helicopter crashed on Monday in rural Afghanistan. The bodies of eight soldiers killed in an attack on Monday also arrived on an Air Force C-17."

Obama also met with family members in the chapel of the Air Force base. The AP added, "Most of the event was closed to media and journalists were only allowed to see the transfer of the last casket."

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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IF BAYH IS SWAYED BY PUBLIC OPINION.... It became apparent yesterday that Sen. Evan Bayh (D) of Indiana, one of the Senate Democratic caucus' more conservative members, is one of a handful of Dems whose support for health care reform is in doubt.

If the senator is at all interested in public opinion -- and with Bayh's re-election bid coming next year, he should be -- he may want to at least consider a new poll from Research 2000, as commissioned by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

Bayh, to be sure, remains quite popular with Hoosiers*. But residents also prefer a fairly progressive approach to health care. Using the same wording as a recent NYT/CBS poll, a 52% majority in Indiana support the public option, and 53% believe the plan would help people in the state.

Looking ahead, 27% of residents said they'd be less likely to vote for Bayh if he opposed the public option, and 29% said the same if Bayh joined with Republicans on a filibuster. Among Democrats exclusively, a 54% majority said they'd be less likely to vote for Bayh in a Democratic primary if he joins with the GOP in blocking consideration of the bill.

What's more, the insurance industry -- which has rewarded Bayh with about $1.5 million in contributions -- is not at all popular with Hoosiers. A 77% majority -- more than three out of four -- believe insurers care more about "making a profit" than helping patients.

Something for Bayh to keep in mind.

On a related note, Bayh endorsed Republican rhetoric yesterday, saying he doesn't see "much difference between process and policy at this particular juncture." In other words, if he's not satisfied with the bill, then Bayh has no problem voting with Republicans on the procedural vote to stop the bill from coming to the floor for a vote.

Tim Tagaris found that Bayh has not always felt that way.

Example 1: In 2008, Evan Bayh voted in favor of a cloture motion on the bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, though he opposed the bill itself. "Bayh voted with most Democrats to stop the filibuster because, he said, it was preventing amendments that could have improved the bill."[Gannett, 6/12/2008; Vote 145, 6/6/2008]

Example 2: In 2005, Senator Bayh voted for cloture on Judge Owen's nomination, but against final confirmation. Vote 127, 5/24/05: Senate.gov ; Vote 128, 5/25/05: Senate.gov. Judge Owen, you might recall, was the first nominee to reach the floor after the "Gang of 14" agreements.

Example 3: In 2004, Senator Bayh voted for cloture on the conference report to H.R. 1047, a $388 billion spending bill, then voted against final passage the next day. Vote 214, 11/19/04 ; Vote 215, 11/20/04

So, in short, when Senators take to the floor and vote for "cloture," they are saying that it is time to move beyond obstructing a health care bill and on to an "up or down vote" on the substance of the legislation.

Something else for Bayh to keep in mind.

* fixed

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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STILL THE KING.... Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on head injuries suffered by professional football players. It's a subject of increasing interest in light of reports pointing to the frequency with which former players are diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or similar memory-related diseases -- 19 times the normal rate for men ages 30 through 49.

And while this may seem unrelated to congressional responsibilities, Congress does extend antitrust protections given to the NFL, and has a role in addressing public health issues. The formal name for the hearing was "Legal Issues Related to Football Head Injuries."

As is always the case, every member of the committee was given time to question the panel of witnesses. Rep. Steve King (R) of Iowa decided to press Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the National Football League, aggressively -- about Rush Limbaugh.

Apparently, the right-wing congressman is angry because his favorite talk-show host was dropped by a team of investors interested in buying the St. Louis Rams. So, during a hearing about health issues, King badgered the league commissioner for having previously said that "divisive comments are not what the NFL are all about," and that he "would not want to see those comments coming from people who are in a responsible position in the NFL."

The Iowa Republican insisted to Goodell, "I don't think anything Rush Limbaugh said was offensive." Given King's record of truly insane rhetoric, that's not exactly surprising, but the far-right radio host's record speaks for itself.

King added that "Fergie and J-Lo" own a share of the Miami Dolphins, and they have "performed lyrics in songs that are far more offensive" than anything Limbaugh has said.

In the bigger picture, of course, this is all terribly foolish. Goodell didn't stop Limbaugh from buying a team; Limbaugh's fellow investors decided they didn't want to be associated with him anymore. But more importantly, why is a member of Congress wasting time berating the NFL commissioner for having a negative impression of a notorious radio shock-jock?

For a few too many members of Congress, Limbaugh rules their world.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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October 28, 2009

THE SUBPRIME STUDENT LOAN RACKET....Every year, at least two million students enroll in private, for-profit colleges belonging to huge publicly traded corporations. The majority leave with nothing to show for their efforts except piles of debt they can't pay off -- debt that often carries predatory terms, like 20 percent interest.

Learn more about how these corporate giants, aided by the federal government, are getting rich by preying on working-class people trying to better their lives in "The Subprime Student Loan Racket" by Stephen Burd, in the new issue of the Washington Monthly.

Steve Benen 9:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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WEDNESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Pakistan: "The arrival of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Pakistan was overshadowed Wednesday by a devastating car bomb that tore through a market in the northwest city of Peshawar, an attack aimed at civilians and marking a clear escalation in the Taliban campaign to undermine the government." At last count, the bomb killed as many as 101 people, most of them women, and wounded about 160.

* Kabul: "Taliban militants wearing suicide vests stormed a guest house used by U.N. staff in the heart of the Afghan capital early Wednesday, killing 12 people -- including six U.N. staff -- in the biggest in a series of attacks intended to undermine next month's presidential runoff election. One of the six U.N. dead was an American, the U.S. Embassy said."

* Ahmed Wali Karzai, on the CIA's payroll?

* President Obama signed the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act this afternoon in the East Room. In the process, an expanded hate-crimes measure also became law.

* Words fail.

* Expect the House health care reform bill tomorrow.

* Nevada Republicans may think it's funny, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid really was targeted by a car bomb in 1981.

* Did Dick Cheney try to banish New York Times journalists from Air Force One? Dana Perino acknowledged today "it's possible." (Follow-up question for Perino and the media establishment: anyone prepared to condemn this as a Nixonian abuse reminiscent of Hugo Chavez?)

* In related news, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs reportedly met today with Fox News senior vice president Michael Clemente. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall....

* South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanfrod (R) might still get impeached, but probably not anytime soon.

* Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) recently called a Federal Reserve official a "K Street whore." Yesterday, he apologized.

* The investigation into Census Bureau worker Bill Sparkman's murder has been ongoing, albeit quietly. A local law enforcement official said the probe is progressing, and should be complete in a matter of weeks.

* Isn't the U.S. Chamber of Commerce supposed to be against frivolous lawsuits?

* Can online learning help low-income students get degrees?

* Paul Begala labels Joe Lieberman "Traitor Joe."

* Wealthy Democratic donors occasionally visit the White House. I'm not sure why anyone would find that shocking.

* Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia says a lot of outrageous things. Opposing the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education isn't one of them.

* If you missed it, my latest appearance on MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show" was last night. Keep in mind, the lighting was off, and my makeup was weird, so I look much paler in the video than I do in real life. (And I'm really not responsible for the fake-book backdrop.)

* And finally California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger got creative in a letter to state lawmakers this week, with a seven-line note. The first letter of every line collectively spells "f**k you." The governor's spokesperson called it a mere "coincidence." There's a one in 10 billion chance he's telling the truth.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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A BIPARTISAN TEAM.... To hear his conservative detractors tell it, President Obama is a cutthroat partisan, out to destroy those on the other side. He's a "Chicago-style," modern-day Nixon, complete with "enemies lists." He's "politics as usual," unwilling to move towards a "post-partisan" approach.

In Grown-Up Land, of course, President Obama not only reaches out to Republicans, he keeps hiring them. Indeed, no modern president has added so many officials from the rival party to an administration the way this president has.

President Barack Obama has appointed former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.) to serve as a co-chairman of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board.

During his time in the Senate, Hagel was highly critical of the Bush administration's approach to the Iraq war. The Nebraskan refused to endorse Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in last year's presidential election and rumors emerged that he might back Obama. He never did endorse a candidate.

Hagel served on the Foreign Relations Committee and Intelligence Committee before retiring from the Senate at the end of his term earlier this year.

If memory serves, Hagel is the seventh Republican to take on a fairly significant role in the Obama administration. He follows John McHugh (Secretary of the Army), Ray LaHood (Secretary of Transportation), Robert Gates (Secretary of Defense), Jim Leach (National Endowment for the Humanities), Jon Huntsman (U.S. Ambassador to China), and Anne Northup (Consumer Product Safety Commission). It would have been eight were it not for the unpleasantness with Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.).

The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed Obama's numbers slipping on his "willingness to work with people whose viewpoints are different from his own."

I'm not sure what more the White House can do on this front. Obama has not only repeatedly sought out GOP lawmakers for support on legislation, but he also keeps giving Republicans jobs in his administration, arguably at a level without modern precedent.

Also note that the president's efforts haven't generated any goodwill with the opposition party. Obama has added more than a half-dozen Republicans to his team, and GOP leaders continue to whine about the president being some kind of strident partisan.

If White House officials hope putting together a bipartisan team might lower the partisan temperature a bit and discourage Republican attacks, they're likely to be disappointed.

Steve Benen 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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POINTING NORTH.... I can appreciate the notion that congressional Republicans would bring in some outside advisors to offer policy advice to lawmakers. This, however, seems like a very bad idea.

House Republicans have a new foreign policy adviser with a controversial pedigree: Oliver North.

North, an aide on Ronald Reagan's National Security Council who is best known for his role in the Iran-Contra scheme to sell arms to Iran and divert the funds to Nicaraguan revolutionaries in the 1980s, was the special guest at a House Republican Conference meeting on Tuesday. North was convicted on three counts related to the Iran-Contra scandal and his efforts to cover it up, but the convictions were later overturned.

By all accounts, North told GOP lawmakers exactly what they wanted to hear -- send tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan, or the war will be "lost."

Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) explained, "Col. North is someone who enjoys the very broad respect of the House Republican Conference."

I don't doubt that's true, but that hardly makes it better.

North was at the heart of the most serious political scandal since Watergate, misled Congress, and destroyed documents as part of a systemic cover-up.

House Republicans couldn't find someone else to talk to about U.S. policy in Afghanistan?

Steve Benen 3:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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LIEBERMAN, ONE DAY LATER, FIVE YEARS LATER.... Well, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is certainly getting plenty of attention today, which suggests his threats yesterday have given him exactly what he wanted.

Today, Lieberman added that a public option would have to be "off the table" entirely before he'd consider supporting the bill.

"We can come back in three or four years if the reforms -- the other reforms we adopt are not working," Lieberman explained. "But I think they will."

Just so we're clear, this puts Lieberman to Olympia Snowe's right. Snowe's argument is that there should be a trigger -- if reforms come up short of expectations, a public option would kick into existence, and insurers would know that possibility exists, so they'd have a built-in incentive. Lieberman's argument is that even a trigger is too much -- if reforms come up short of expectations, then maybe lawmakers will think about debating something in "three or four years."

Funny, Lieberman had a much different position* when he was running for president five years ago.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) seems to have seriously changed his position on a public health insurance program -- from supporting it years ago, to staunchly opposing it now.

Back when Lieberman was a full-fledged Democrat and sought the party's nomination for President.... Lieberman was presenting the public option as a sensible, centrist plan for the country. But now he's promising to filibuster a Democratic proposal to establish one. So what changed?

Michael Goldfarb asked yesterday whether Joe Lieberman is "the greatest senator ever." I think we know the answer.

* Update: TPM is walking this report back, explaining that Lieberman proposed expanding government-run health care programs for the young, extending it up to age 25, and the creation of an exchange modeled after the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. He stopped short of offering a public option at the time.

Steve Benen 3:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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NO WAY TO RUN A POLITICAL PARTY.... Party discipline among Democratic lawmakers has long been something of a joke. Part of this is the result of party norms and traditions -- insert obligatory Will Rogers reference here -- and part of this is the result of a structure that helps dictate party decision making.

Matt Yglesias flags an interesting quote from Sen. Chris Dodd (D) of Connecticut, who was asked whether Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) would face retribution for his willingness to side with Republicans in blocking a vote on health care reform.

"No, no, no. People are going to be all over the place," [Dodd] said when asked if Lieberman should be punished. "The idea that people are going to be reprimanded because somehow they have a different point of view than someone else is ridiculous. That isn't going to happen."

I think that's backwards. Political parties that expect loyalty from caucus members tend to be more effective and have more success advancing their agenda. And as a rule, party loyalty isn't the result of polite pleas and gracious appeals -- politicians tend to be more loyal to their party when they know their party has the means and the will to punish them. If those who are disloyal face no consequences -- indeed, if they're rewarded despite their recalcitrance -- it encourages less fidelity.

In the Lieberman example, we have a politician who routinely ignored the party's priorities when he was, in fact, a Democrat. He did so, not because he represented a conservative "red" state that forced him to the right, but because he was actually pretty conservative. In 2006, he was defeated in a primary, and proceeded to run against the Democratic Party's candidate. In 2008, Lieberman spent the better part of the year trashing the Democratic Party's presidential nominee and working to keep the White House in Republican hands. In 2009, his two most notable accomplishments have been holding a nonsensical hearing about "czars" and announcing his intention to support a Republican filibuster of the top domestic policy priority of the Democratic Party of the last 70 years.

Is it really so "ridiculous" to think Lieberman might face some consequences from his party in response to his conduct?

Matt had a good piece a couple of weeks ago about the nature of political parties. "The Senate Republican caucus is organized, like the House caucuses of both parties, like a partisan political organization whose objective is to advance the shared policy objectives of the party. The Senate Democratic caucus, by contrast, is organized like a fun country club trying to recruit members. Join Team Democrat and Vote However You Want Without Consequence! But it's no way to get things done."

Steve Benen 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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BAYH ENDORSES MCCONNELL LINE ON CLOTURE.... Democrats and other supporters of health care reform have a very simple message for center-right Dems who oppose fixing the system: just let the Senate vote.

The issue, of course, is cloture. Reform proponents don't need 60 senators to pass a bill; they need 60 senators to simply let a vote happen. The message to Nelson, Lieberman, Lincoln, Landrieu, et al, is, "Agree to let the Senate vote on the bill, and then feel free to vote against it."

Obviously, Republicans are going to fight like hell to blur the difference between the procedural vote and the actual vote. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky said the procedural vote "will be treated as a vote on the merits of the bill." Why? Because he says so.

And Sen. Evan Bayh (D) of Indiana, one of the Senate's more needlessly conservative Dems, apparently wants to help advance McConnell's GOP message.

Bayh, who is undecided on the opt-out, is now asserting that he sees no difference between a vote to bring that measure to the floor (which requires 60) and a straight up or down vote on it -- a claim that's in perfect harmony with the GOP's songsheet. [...]

This one will really help maintain unity in the Dem caucus. It's one thing, after all, to threaten to block efforts by the majority party -- your own party -- to stage a straight up-or-down majority vote on the bill's substance. It's quite another to claim that the initial procedural vote, which requires 60, is not materially different from a straight up-or-down majority vote on the bill's substance.

Bayh specifically said he doesn't see "much difference between process and policy at this particular juncture." Republicans liked the quote so much they're spreading it around.

Got that? Evan Bayh is undermining this once-in-a-generation chance at health care reform and helping advance the Republican message at the same time.

I should note that this isn't entirely new -- in July, Bayh was saying the same thing. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told his colleagues at the time, "Don't let the Republicans filibuster us into failure." Members of the caucus "may vote against final passage on a bill," Durbin said, but like-minded colleagues should at least reject the idea of "allowing the filibuster to stop the whole Senate." Almost immediately, Bayh said he disagreed, and that the procedural vote and the policy were practically the same thing.

Remember, this is total nonsense. Senators voting to end debate on a bill, only to ultimately vote against the same bill, happens all the time. Joe Lieberman has done it repeatedly.

Of course there's a difference between procedural and policy votes. Bayh is helping Republicans for no reason.

It couldn't be simpler -- if legislation Bayh doesn't like comes to the floor, he can vote against it. Before that, he can offer amendments, give speeches, and encourage others to agree with him. Just let the Senate vote.

Steve Benen 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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THEIR LYING EYES.... When it comes to reform opponents pushing back against polls showing support for a public option, they have some credible options to choose from.

Conservatives could, for example, argue that there's still some confusion about the policy details, so the poll results should be taken with a grain of salt. That's not unreasonable. They could also argue that the public has simply embraced a bad idea, and that what it popular is not always right. That, too, is a plausible approach.

Simply pretending that the polls don't exist, however, is far more annoying.

Yesterday, for example, Glenn Beck said only "35% of the population" supports the idea of public-private competition. Noting that Harry Reid has said "the public wants this," Beck called the Majority Leader's remarks "a lie."

A Wall Street Journal editorial the other day was especially striking. It argued, "[T]he reality is that no one wants a public option except the political left." The editorial board said the media is cooking the books "by asking rigged questions."

Conservatives may find reality inconvenient, but that doesn't mean it should be ignored.

Let's have a look at these "rigged questions." Here is the wording of the Washington Post/ABC News poll, which tracked support for the public option from August through October at majorities of 52, 55, and 57 percent:

"Would you support or oppose having the government create a new health insurance plan to compete with private health insurance plans?"

Here is the wording of a September Kaiser Family Foundation poll, which tracked support for the public option from July through September at majorities of 59 percent, 59 percent, and 57 percent:

"Do you favor ... [c]reating a government-administered public health insurance option similar to Medicare to compete with private health insurance plans?"

Here is the wording of a September New York Times poll, which tracked support for the public option from July through September at majorities of 66 percent, 60 percent, and 65 percent:

"Would you favor or oppose the government offering everyone a government administered health insurance plan -- something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and older get -- that would compete with private health insurance plans?"

Here is the wording of a newly released CNN poll, which tracked support for the public option in August and October at majorities of 55 percent and 61 percent:

"Would you favor or oppose creating a public health insurance option administered by the federal government that would compete with plans offered by private health insurance companies?"

The public has consistently said it would like to see eligible consumers have a choice between competing public and private plans. Conservatives disagree? Fine. But let's not pretend the polling data simply doesn't exist.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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WEDNESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* The polls in New Jersey's gubernatorial race continue to be all over the place. A new Quinnipiac poll released this morning shows Gov. Jon Corzine (D) leading Chris Christie (R) by five, 43% to 38%. It's the first time Corzine has led in a Quinnipiac poll all year. Two weeks ago, Quinnipiac had Christie up by one.

* In Virginia's gubernatorial race, Bob McDonnell (R) appears to be pulling away from Creigh Deeds (D). SurveyUSA now has McDonnell up by 17, while Public Policy Polling shows him leading by 15.

* There's increasing grumbling among Virginia Democrats that Deeds isn't just going to lose, but may also be a drag on Democratic candidates down-ballot.

* Despite Deeds' troubles, President Obama campaigned alongside the gubernatorial hopeful yesterday in Norfolk. "A lot of people are saying, 'Oh, you know, the polls don't look the way we want them to,' and 'I'm not sure it's going to happen,'" the president said. "Listen, let me tell you something. I don't believe in can't. I don't believe in giving up."

* Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman in New York's 23rd continues to pick up endorsements from leading right-wing figures. Yesterday, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) bucked his party and threw his support to Hoffman. Reps. Tom Cole of Oklahoma and Dana Rohrabacher of California did the same thing.

* And Sen. Arlen Specter's standing in Pennsylvania continues to fall in advance of his re-election bid next year. A new Franklin and Marshall poll shows him leading Rep. Joe Sestak in a Democratic primary by 12, down from a 26-point lead in August. The poll put Specter's overall approval rating at just 29%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (6)

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WHAT OPT-OUT STATES WOULD 'PAY FOR'.... Greta Van Susteren claimed last night that states that chose not to give their residents the choice of a public option would "still have to pay for it." She didn't specify what "it" referred to.

This seems to be catching on, though, as a key conservative talking point. Rich Lowry asked this week, "Does a state get to opt-out of the taxes too?" Karl Rove asked rhetorically, "What state is going to say -- what governor and legislature of Republican or Democrat majority is gonna say to its citizens of its state, 'You can pay for this sucker for decades and decades to come, but you're not gonna -- we made a decision -- we're not going to get any of our money back?'" Newt Gingrich added, "What if a big state like Texas opts out? Does that mean they don't have to pay taxes on it?"

Before this spreads too far, let's take a moment to note how little sense this makes.

[W]hile Reid has yet to release details of the compromise Senate legislation, every other proposed bill with a public option so far has required the costs of the public plan to be covered by the premiums of those who enroll in it, and the taxes proposed in each of the bills are used to cover the expansion of coverage through Medicaid and subsidies to help certain families purchase insurance, both of which are provided to residents of every state regardless of any public option.

Right. Financing for a public option would come from those paying the premiums -- those premiums would pay for benefits and administrative costs. That's how it's been structured in both chambers, by every public option supporter on the Hill. The idea is for it to be self-funding -- a not-for-profit insurance program financed by those it covers.

It's likely that this argument will continue to work its way through conservative circles, but that doesn't mean it makes sense.

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (74)

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THE POLITICS OF THE OPT-OUT COMPROMISE.... There are credible and compelling arguments against the state opt-out compromise for the public option. I tend to think the approach would work fairly well, however, substantive concerns that have been raised are not without merit.

But in the short term, the politics of the proposal are worth considering. Josh Marshall noted the other day, "A big argument from Republicans was that the public option would force people into 'government health care' or in various other ways destroy the universe. The opt-out just says: 'fine, then don't allow it in your state. Next ...' That takes a lot of the wind out of the sails of that argument."

Now, we know that these responses only go so far. Republicans routinely repeat talking points long after they've been debunked, and cling to arguments long after they've been exposed as nonsensical. (Occasionally, you'll still hear random nuts talking about "death panels.")

But Josh's point is nevertheless compelling. It should be a fairly persuasive pitch to reasonable people: we'll give eligible consumers a choice between competing public and private plans. If people don't like the idea of a government plan, they can reject it. And if individual states don't like the idea of giving consumers that choice, they can decide to remove it. Multiple levels of choice and competition -- what's so awful about that?

Andrew Sullivan took this one step further yesterday, gaming out the politics if this plan becomes law. He called a "brutal" strategy being launched by Dems.

[T]here has to be a debate in every state in which Republicans, where they hold a majority or the governorship, will presumably decide to deny their own voters the option to get a cheaper health insurance plan. When others in other states can get such a plan, will there not be pressure on the GOP to help their own base? Won't Bill O'Reilly's gaffe - when he said what he believed rather than what Roger Ailes wants him to say - be salient? Won't many people - many Republican voters - actually ask: why can't I have what they're having?

This is why this is lethal.... Imagine Republicans in state legislatures having to argue and posture against an affordable health insurance plan for the folks, as O'Reilly calls them, while evil liberals provide it elsewhere. Now, of course, if the public option is a disaster in some states, this argument could work in the long run. But in the short run? It's [a] political nightmare for the right as it is currently constituted. In fact, I can see a public option becoming the equivalent of Medicare in the public psyche if it works as it should. Try running against Medicare.

The genius of the opt-out is that it co-opts the states' rights argument (just as ending the prohibition on marijuana does); it has the potential to make "liberalism' popular again; it has easily demonized opponents - the health insurance industry; and it forces Republicans not to rail against socialism in the abstract but to oppose actual benefits for the working poor in reality.

Sounds right to me. Kevin Drum added, "If it passes, then for the next four years Republican state legislators all over the country will be teaming up with the universally loathed insurance industry to try and deny their citizens access to a program that, to most of them, sounds like a pretty good deal. I don't know if Harry Reid was deviously thinking exactly that thought when he decided on this, but I'll bet someone was. It's hard to think of something that could force the GOP to make itself even more unpopular than it already is, but this might be it."

Of course, it's a moot point if Lieberman, Nelson, Lincoln, and Landrieu won't even let the Senate vote on the bill.

Steve Benen 10:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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JAMES INHOFE, HEATING UP.... Dana Milbank noted this morning, "It must be very lonely being the last flat-earther." He was referring, of course, to the tragically confused senior senator from Oklahoma, James Inhofe (R).

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a key hearing yesterday on global warming, and even conservative Republicans on the panel "made it clear that they no longer share, if they ever did, Inhofe's view that man-made global warming is the 'greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.'"

"Eleven academies in industrialized countries say that climate change is real; humans have caused most of the recent warming," admitted Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). "If fire chiefs of the same reputation told me my house was about to burn down, I'd buy some fire insurance."

An oil-state senator, David Vitter (R-La), said that he, too, wants to "get us beyond high-carbon fuels" and "focus on conservation, nuclear, natural gas and new technologies like electric cars." And an industrial-state senator, George Voinovich (R-Ohio), acknowledged that climate change "is a serious and complex issue that deserves our full attention."

Then there was poor Inhofe. "The science is more definitive than ever? You keep saying that because you want to believe it so much," he said bitterly. He offered to furnish a list of scientists who once believed in climate change but "who are solidly on the other side right now." The science, he said, "already has shifted" against global-warming theory. "Science is not settled! Everyone knows it's not settled!"

Inhofe called for more oil drilling. His aides tried to debunk the other senators' points by passing around papers titled "Rapid Response." Mid-hearing, Inhofe's former spokesman, now in the private sector, sent out an e-mail -- "Prominent Russian Scientist: 'We should fear a deep temperature drop -- not catastrophic global warming.' "

Inhofe later insisted that "we went out of that natural warming cycle about nine years ago" -- a claim that's patently ridiculous.

As for Inhofe's "list of scientists," let's not forget that many of them aren't scientists, and many more are convinced Inhofe's wrong. (Some of the actual scientists included on the senator's list demanded that their names be removed -- and he ignored their requests.)

Every time I see Inhofe ranting about this, I picture him on the Senate floor, after legislation has already passed, sounding like some tragic Don Ameche, shouting to no one in particular: "Now, you listen to me! I want the voting reopened right now. Get those members back in here! Turn those machines back on!"

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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PUBLIC OPTION, STILL POPULAR.... Some interesting results in the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, most notably on health care. While the public remains skeptical about the larger initiative, the most contentious point on the Hill seems to be doing pretty well with the public.

[A] key flash point in the health-care debate is showing steadily increasing support.

A government-run insurance plan that competes with private insurance plans -- the so-called public option -- is now backed by 48%, compared with 42% who oppose it. In September, 48% opposed it while 46% supported it. In the rough month of August, when noisy town-hall meetings were tarnishing the president's health-care push, 47% opposed the public option and only 43% favored it.

Asked specifically if it is "important" to give American consumers "a choice" between "a public plan administered by the federal government and a private plan for their health insurance," a combined 72% said it was either "extremely" important (45%) or "quite" important (27%).

On other points, some of the poll results were unexpected, but there was precious little in the way of good news for Republicans.

* The public remains in a sour mood, and 52% believe the country is on the wrong track -- the highest number since January.

* Obama's approval rating remains at 51% in the poll, exactly where's it's been for the last few months.

* 43% approve of the president's handling of health care. For Republicans, it's 23%.

* 42% have a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party. For the Republican Party, it's 25%. (Update: The GOP's rating is even worse now than it was during Bush's two terms.)

* On the generic ballot test, respondents favored a Democratic candidate over a GOP candidate, 46% to 38%. A month ago, the margin was only three points in Dems' favor.

* 63% believe the economic problems the White House is dealing with were inherited from the Bush era. That's down from 72% in June, but it's still quite high.

* In a bit of a surprise, support for sending additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan has gone up, and Dick Cheney's whining notwithstanding, a clear majority support President Obama's delays until after the Afghan election.

* Support for gay marriage is up considerably from a few years ago, but it's still a 41% minority.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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PAY NO ATTENTION TO LUCY WITH THE FOOTBALL.... When it comes to the various compromises as part of health care reform, there are a variety of possibilities, each on different points of the quality spectrum. Different analysts may rank them in competing ways, but to my mind, from worst to best, we have no public-private competition at all, followed by a co-op plan, followed by the "trigger," then the state opt-in plan, then the state opt-out plan, and finally a robust, national public option.

It may have come as something of a surprise, then, to hear the far-right Senate Minority Whip signal some interest in one of the less-offensive choices.

Senate GOP Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) on Tuesday said he supports the idea of allowing states to decide whether to opt in to a publicly run health plan. [...]

The GOP whip said he prefers letting states decide whether to join instead of their being put in automatically. He said he didn't know if he would offer the idea as an amendment during the floor debate that is expected to start within days.

Specifically, Kyl said, "I agree that states should have the option to opt in." Soon after, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a very right-wing lawmaker, "indicated possible support for Kyl's idea."

The Hill added that Kyl's statement "could offer the seeds of a compromise."

That's extremely hard to believe, and Democrats would be foolish to start taking this notion seriously.

The truth is, if Senate Dems were to scale back their plan and go with an opt-in instead of an opt-out, Kyl would -- and this is key -- oppose the bill anyway. How do we know? Kyl has already said so, arguing repeatedly that Senate Republicans will reject the reform proposal no matter how many concessions Democrats make.

The state opt-in plan is not, on its face, a total disaster. There are far better ways to go in shaping a more effective policy, but as I said, on the spectrum of possible alternatives, it's somewhere in the middle.

But that doesn't change the underlying dynamic -- Kyl is Lucy; Democrats are Charlie Brown; and a bipartisan compromise is the ball.

Please, Charlie, don't go running and fall on your backside at the last moment.

Update: This afternoon, Kyl's office said The Hill's report was wrong. When the senator said, "I agree that states should have the option to opt in," it was, the argument goes, taken out of context.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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WHERE THINGS STAND.... Monday was obviously a big day for health care reform, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announcing that he's moving forward with a bill that includes a public option with a state opt-out compromise. Tuesday was nearly as big a day -- senators got a chance to respond to what they heard on Monday.

The White House, you'll recall, expressed some skepticism about proceeding with Reid's plan, not because the president and his team disagreed with it on the merits, but because they did not see a scenario in which it could get 60 votes for cloture. There are 58 Democrats, 40 Republicans, and two independents in the Senate. Getting to 60 means no room for error -- with no GOP votes, Democratic leaders can't spare a single member of the caucus.

And yesterday, center-right Senate Dems did exactly what the White House feared they might do.

Senate Democrats voiced deep disagreements on Tuesday over the idea of a government-run health insurance plan, suggesting that the decision by the majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, to include a public plan in major health care legislation had failed, at least initially, to unite his caucus.

Simply to get the Senate to take up the legislation, Mr. Reid has said he needs 60 votes -- effectively all 58 Democrats and the two independents who caucus with them. Senator Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine, who had been open to supporting the bill, said Tuesday that she would oppose Mr. Reid's version because of the public plan.

But while some who oppose a public plan said they were willing to let Mr. Reid bring the legislation to the floor, the continuing apprehension of others indicated substantial uncertainty.

Joe Lieberman, as you may have noticed, is not only opposed to a bill with a public option, but announced yesterday he's prepared to join with Republicans in blocking a vote on reform. He was not, however, the only trouble-maker: Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), and Arkansas' Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor all said, at a minimum, they were not prepared to endorse the legislation.

For her part, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) not only said she opposes Reid's proposal, but would even vote to block the Senate from considering the bill at all (i.e., the motion to proceed). At this point, though, even the center-right Dems are unlikely to join the GOP on this, and will vote to send the bill to the floor to begin the debate and amendment process.

For what it's worth, yesterday was annoying, but not altogether unexpected. Roll Call reported that Reid's office was largely unfazed by yesterday's developments: "The Majority Leader is taking the long view, and he appears unconcerned by the early opposition from Democratic moderates, although he is not dismissing it. According to a senior Democratic Senate aide, Reid understands that some centrists might be playing to a home-state crowd, while others are looking for bargaining power as the final bill takes shape."

Indeed, one of the more striking observations of the day was that most of the Hill still seems convinced that health care reform will pass -- in one form or another -- in the near future. The NYT added, "With or without a public plan, Democrats expressed growing confidence that a version of the health care bill would be adopted."

As for the House, the search for 218 remains challenging, but the leadership is reportedly making progress, and still expects to begin debate on a bill as early as next week.

Steve Benen 8:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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October 27, 2009

TUESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Afghanistan: "Eight Americans died in combat in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday, bringing October's total to 53 and making it the deadliest month for Americans in the eight-year war. September and October were both deadlier months overall for NATO troops."

* The significance of Matthew Hoh's resignation in Afghanistan: "[I]n a move that has sent ripples all the way to the White House, Hoh, 36, became the first U.S. official known to resign in protest over the Afghan war, which he had come to believe simply fueled the insurgency. 'I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States' presence in Afghanistan,' he wrote Sept. 10 in a four-page letter to the department's head of personnel."

* Iran responds to nuke offer: "Iran accepted the general framework of a U.N.-draft nuclear deal Tuesday, but said it would seek 'important changes' that could test the willingness of world powers to make concessions in exchange for a pact to rein in Tehran's ability to make atomic warheads."

* Good move: "The Obama administration is giving a jolt to the futuristic 'smart' electric grid, hoping to more quickly bring America's power transmission system into the digital age. President Barack Obama, during a visit to a solar energy facility in Arcadia, Fla., is announcing Tuesday that he is making available $3.4 billion in government support for 100 projects aimed at modernizing the power grid."

* Global cooling doesn't exist. Quick, someone let Inhofe know.

* In May, a new credit card law stopped banks from arbitrarily raising interest rates. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) is taking the next step, proposing "freezing interest rates and fees on existing credit card balances until a new law took effect."

* The votes still aren't there for a robust public option in the House.

* Snowe's prepared to support the GOP filibuster.

* This Politico piece is easily the most annoying thing you'll read all week.

* At the mercy of big-time college athletics.

* Ordering Hispanic workers at a New Mexico hotel to Anglicize their names is crazy.

* And right-wing activist Randall Terry "has launched a contest to encourage people to make videos burning House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in effigy." Seriously.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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AN EVER-EVOLVING RATIONALE.... OK, so Joe Lieberman would rather see health care reform fail than allow some consumers to have a choice between public and private coverage. But one of the key clues to an unprincipled mind is an evolving explanation for opposition.

In June, Lieberman said, "I don't favor a public option because I think there's plenty of competition in the private insurance market." That didn't make sense, and it was quickly dropped from his talking points.

In July, Lieberman said he opposes a public option because "the public is going to end up paying for it." No one knew what that meant.

In August, he said we'd have to wait "until the economy's out of recession," which is incoherent, since a public option, even if passed this year, still wouldn't kick in for quite a while.

In September, Lieberman said he opposes a public option because "the public doesn't support it." A wide variety of credible polling proved otherwise.

Which brings us to October, and the latest in a series of weak explanations.

"We're trying to do too much at once," Lieberman said. "To put this government-created insurance company on top of everything else is just asking for trouble for the taxpayers, for the premium payers and for the national debt. I don't think we need it now." [...]

Lieberman said that he'd vote against a public option plan "even with an opt-out because it still creates a whole new government entitlement program for which taxpayers will be on the line."

Jon Chait explained that this "literally makes no sense whatsoever. A public plan does not provide a new entitlement. It just doesn't. It's a different form of providing an entitlement. Nor is it more expensive. In fact, the stronger versions of the public plan would cost less money. Lieberman is just babbling nonsense here."

Not that it matters -- it's almost November, which means Lieberman will have some equally unpersuasive argument very soon.

Steve Benen 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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SELECTIVE USE OF SENATORIAL 'RIGHTS'.... Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) was specifically asked this afternoon why he couldn't just vote for cloture -- letting health care reform come to the floor for a Senate vote -- and then oppose the bill itself. "Because that is not using the rights I have as a senator," he replied.

What's worth remembering, though, is that Lieberman uses his "rights" selectively, and has a record of ending filibusters on legislation he ultimately votes against.

In March 2005, the senator joined 55 Republicans and 13 Democrats in backing cloture on a bill that made several significant changes to the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, chief among them making it more difficult to file for bankruptcy under Chapter 7. The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act ended up passing the Senate by a vote of 74 to 25, with Lieberman in the opposition.

In September 2006, Lieberman did the same thing. The senator voted to invoke cloture on The Secure Fence Act, which would have used advanced technologies -- including unmanned aerial vehicles, ground-based sensors, satellites, radar coverage, and cameras -- to create "operational control of the borders." The bill would pass by a vote of 80 to 19, with Lieberman joining many of the Democratic Party's more progressive members in voting nay.

In April 2007, Lieberman again granted a parliamentary pass to a bill that he ultimately opposed. The U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health, and Iraq Accountability Act would have funded troops in Iraq provided that certain demands be made of the Iraqi government and that a timeline be implemented for the removal of U.S. forces. The bill ended up being passed by a vote of 51 to 46, with Lieberman voting against it, only to be vetoed by then President George W. Bush.

Lieberman, in other words, has "rights" that he only takes seriously when he wants to.

Steve Benen 4:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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HOW LIKELY IS THE BLUFF?.... Marc Ambinder notes this afternoon that Senate Democratic leaders and the White House still think that Joe Lieberman, when push comes to shove, will join Dems and support cloture on health care reform. "They think he's posturing for power but will cave," Ambinder said.

Ambinder added:

Now -- the final bill, post-conference, is going to look a bit different from the reconciled Senate bill. Lieberman is giving himself the power to influence the final bill. I doubt that the Senate leadership is going to press him too hard right now, preferring to see if he can be accommodated in the final debate.

To be sure, Lieberman seems to have left himself a little wiggle room. The senator said today that he's told Harry Reid that he'll support a Republican filibuster "if the bill remains what it is now." Since the amendment process will no doubt alter the bill, the argument goes, then Lieberman may yet come around.

But I wouldn't count on it.

I understand the argument. Lieberman loves attention and power. By threatening to join the Republican filibuster, he gets both -- Democrats have to scramble to make him happy, since there's no margin for error in putting together 60 votes. Lieberman gets to feel very important for the next several weeks by making this threat less than 24 hours after Harry Reid stated his intentions, but that doesn't necessarily mean he wants to be known forever as The Senator Who Killed Health Care Reform.

I find it very easy to believe, however, that Lieberman is capable of doing just that. He left himself some wiggle room, but not when it comes to the public option -- he's against it, no matter what, even with all of the compromises thrown in.

What's more, Lieberman didn't have to make the explicit threat to get the attention he craves -- he could have just as easily said he's keeping his options open, forcing Dems to cater to his demands. Instead, he went further, explicitly vowing to stop the Senate from even voting on the bill if some consumers in some states have a choice between public and private insurance plans.

What does Lieberman have to gain by following through on this threat? Well, if he plans to seek re-election in 2012, he'll need a lot of Republican support to have a chance. Running as the independent who single handedly prevented public-private competition would probably be a big selling point.

That said, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was asked this afternoon about Lieberman's willingness to filibuster reform. Reid told reporters, "Joe Lieberman is the least of Harry Reid's problems."

I'm not sure how that's possible -- he can't get to 60 without Lieberman, and Lieberman is now vowing not to be part of the 60 -- unless Reid thinks the Connecticut senator might be more flexible than he's letting on.

Steve Benen 3:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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LIEBERMAN VOWS TO FILIBUSTER BILL WITH PUBLIC OPTION.... He's with Democrats on everything except foreign policy? I don't think so.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) told reporters today that he would in fact filibuster any health care bill he doesn't agree with -- and right now, he doesn't agree with the proposal making its way through the Senate.

"I told Senator Reid that I'm strongly inclined -- I haven't totally decided, but I'm strongly inclined -- to vote to proceed to the health care debate, even though I don't support the bill that he's bringing together because it's important that we start the debate on health care reform because I want to vote for health care reform this year. But I also told him that if the bill remains what it is now, I will not be able to support a cloture motion before final passage. Therefore I will try to stop the passage of the bill."

Let's break this down a bit. Lieberman is prepared to vote with Democrats to support a motion to proceed -- that is, he'll allow health care reform to move on to the Senate where it will be debated, be subjected to amendments, etc.

But after that stage, the reform bill will eventually be ready for a vote. At that point, a Republican filibuster will mandate 60 votes in order to let the Senate approve or reject the legislation. And Lieberman vowed today to join with Republicans -- if the bill gives eligible consumers a choice of public and private health coverage, Lieberman will work with the GOP to kill health care reform.

There are several angles to keep in mind. First, Lieberman says his main objection to public-private competition and giving consumers a choice is cost -- he believes the public option is more expensive than the alternative. Lieberman apparently hasn't been paying attention, and doesn't realize this is backwards. He's basing his entire opposition on one provision that he doesn't seem to understand.

Second, Politico reported late last week, "An aide to Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) said that, while the senator does not favor a public option with a state exemption, he would not vote to filibuster the bill." I guess he's changed his mind.

Third, it's worth appreciating how extreme Lieberman's position really is. For some reform advocates, the starting point was single-payer. Then there was a compromise to a robust public option. Then there was another compromise to a negotiated public option. Then there was yet another compromise to a negotiated public option with a state opt-out. Lieberman is saying these compromises aren't enough -- his opposition to competition and giving consumers a choice is so intense, he'd rather kill health care reform then let senators even vote on the bill.

It will be a vote decades in the making, giving policymakers a once-in-a-generation opportunity. And as of today, Lieberman would rather let reform die than give some Americans in some states a choice between a public and a private insurance plan.

And fourth, pressuring Lieberman remains complicated. He's not up for re-election until 2012, and he can't face a primary since he's not a Democrat. Lieberman will face heat from progressive activists, but that's never seemed to bother him before. Will the caucus consider serious consequences for Lieberman's betrayal (i.e., loss of committee chairmanship)? Time will tell.

Steve Benen 2:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

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BEWARE OF BLIND PARAPHRASES..... It seemed as if the relevant players were finally on the same page. After widespread discussion of tactical differences between the White House and the Democratic Senate leadership, as of yesterday, everyone was marching to the same beat.

That is, until this morning, when NBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd stirred things up again.

According to Todd, the White House is telling Reid, "You're the vote counter, but don't come crying to us when you need that last vote. That said, I've also been told, OK right now it's this 'opt-out,' the compromise could end up being the 'opt-in' and maybe this is what Reid was doing here -- going with the 'opt-out' so the 'opt-in' was the compromise rather than the trigger being the compromise." [...]

[T]his is in direct contradiction to a). the White House's official statement of support for what Reid's doing, and b). Reid's insistence that he's doing what he thinks is right, and what can pass in the Senate.

New, unwelcome drama? Probably not. A couple of hours later, Todd told Greg Sargent that the White House hasn't actually said this to Reid, and that his on-air remarks have been "twisted." Todd said, "It was 'as if' they were sending that message.... Everything gets too literal."

It's a sensitive time in policy negotiations, and observers are on high alert. Reports like Todd's can have meaningful implications. Instead of expecting viewers to know the difference between messages the White House "literally" delivered to Senate leadership and messages they kinda sorta obliquely delivered to Senate leadership, perhaps journalists should be more careful in characterizing what's happening behind the scenes.

What's more, it's a reminder that blind paraphrases on television should be taken with a grain of salt. A couple of weeks ago, John Harwood reported that an "advisor" to the White House trashed "the Internet left fringe." Top White House officials went on the record to reject the report, and Harwood later qualified his remarks a bit.

We can apparently take much of the on-air commentary and blind paraphrases seriously, or we can realize the reporting isn't "too literal."

Steve Benen 1:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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MEANINGLESS RESOLUTIONS FOR ME, NOT FOR THEE.... Congress routinely takes up symbolic resolutions that aren't especially significant. It's generally not worth raising a fuss over.

But this morning, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) decided to not only complain about today's resolutions, but to argue that they're evidence of Democratic negligence.

"These are your hard-earned tax dollars at work: with millions of Americans looking for jobs and the nation's unemployment rate nearing 10 percent, the U.S. House of Representatives today will take up a grand total of four non-controversial 'suspension' bills. Four," Boehner's statement read. He added, "It's unacceptable for Congress to take it easy at a time when out-of-work families struggling to make ends meet are asking 'where are the jobs?'"

You tell 'em, John. And while you're telling 'em, you may want to let your caucus know about your concerns.

Republican Study Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) today introduced -- along with 75 other Republicans -- a resolution to officially commemorate the 9/12 taxpayer march on Washington. Other sponsors of H.R. 870 include Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa.), and Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the party's whip.

The odds of passage -- which would demand that Democrats endorse bill language about "skyrocketing deficits, taxpayer-funded bailouts, pork-barrel projects, burdensome taxes, unaccountable policy czars, command-and-control energy policy, and a government takeover of health care" -- seem slim.

The right's resolution is intended to express "gratitude and appreciation to the individuals and families who participated in the Taxpayer March on Washington on September 12, 2009." It includes a head count "as high as 1,700,000 marchers," which by most measures is a ridiculous exaggeration.

So, these are your hard-earned tax dollars at work. With the economy struggling, more than six dozen House Republicans want to spend time on a resolution honoring 70,000 right-wing activists who showed up for some lobbyist-sponsored, Fox News-organized protest.

I can only assume that Boehner considers this "unacceptable."

Steve Benen 1:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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MILBANK'S SPIN ON REID'S ANNOUNCEMENT.... When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced yesterday that the chamber is moving forward on a health care reform package that includes a public option, reform advocates were impressed. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank wasn't.

In his column today, Milbank makes the case that Reid did little more than cave to the demands of "formidable ... liberal interest groups."

Reid, facing a difficult reelection contest next year at home in Nevada, will need such groups to bring Democrats to the polls if he is to survive. [...]

Of course, everybody knew that Reid didn't have the votes. That's why he was standing there alone, a Gang of One. As Democratic aides described it, the moment had less to do with health-care policy than with Nevada politics -- and one vulnerable senator's justifiable fear of liberal anger. Now, if the public option unexpectedly survives in the Senate, Reid keeps his hero status on the left. If it fails, he at least gets credit for trying. By the Nobel committee's revised standards, his aspirations might even earn him the prizes in medicine and economics.

It just wouldn't have been the same if Milbank couldn't take a gratuitous shot at the president's Nobel Peace Prize.

Obviously, Milbank is entitled to his opinion. If he thinks Reid agreed to a public option compromise -- a public plan with a state opt-out -- primarily to make MoveOn.org happy, Milbank is welcome to the make the case.

But it's not exactly a persuasive pitch, and Milbank doesn't bolster his assertions with much of anything.

Reid had to reconcile two committee bills -- one with a public option, one without. To merge the two, the Majority Leader went with a compromise that enjoys the backing of most of his caucus and most of the country.

Milbank sees Reid as caving to liberal groups who don't care that, as he sees it, the measure doesn't have 60 votes. I see a Majority Leader going with a proposal that Reid, the White House, most congressional Democrats, and most Americans have already embraced. And incidentally, it happens to be "good public policy."

In fairness, I believe progressive activists definitely played a role in getting the Senate's reform bill to where it is. Indeed, I don't think there's anything especially wrong with Democratic leaders shaping a public policy plan in a way that meets the expectations of the voters who elected them.

But Milbank makes it sound as if the Majority Leader yelled "How high?" because "liberal interest groups" told him to jump. And that's just not what's happened.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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TUESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Polling in New Jersey's gubernatorial campaign remains volatile. While a poll released yesterday showed Gov. Jon Corzine (D) up by nine, new surveys from Rasmussen and Public Policy Polling show Chris Christie (R) with narrow leads.

* Corzine conceded yesterday that if he had it to do over again, he would have re-worded his "threw his weight around" ad.

* In related news, with Republicans turning their guns on independent candidate Chris Daggett in New Jersey, Daggett's negative ratings have gone up sharply lately.

* In New York's 23rd, actor/politician Fred Thompson (R) has thrown his support to Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman. So has Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R).

* President Obama was in Miami last night, where he raised $1.5 million for Democratic House and Senate candidates.

* In Wisconsin, Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton (D) announced yesterday that she is not running in next year's open gubernatorial race. The decision makes it more likely that Milwaukee Mayor Thomas Barrett will be the Democratic frontrunner, though he has not yet announced his plans.

* In Massachusetts, a Rasmussen poll shows Gov. Deval Patrick (D) with weak re-election numbers, but he nevertheless leads in a three-way contest. The poll has the incumbent ahead with 34% support, followed by Christy Mihos (R) and Tim Cahill (I) with 23% each.

* And in New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's campaign is taking voter targeting efforts to new heights (or depths, depending on one's perspective).

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (4)

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PART OF A MOVEMENT, NOT A DISTRICT.... Next week's special election in New York's 23rd continues to be a fascinating three-way fight between moderate Democrat Bill Owens, a moderate Republican Dede Scozzafava, and far-right Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman. The most notable development, of course, is the deep schism that's developed among Republican establishment types (Gingrich, Boehner) who support the GOP nominee, and right-wing leaders (Palin, Beck, Santorum) who don't,

But while this fight continues to play out among activists, leaders, lawmakers, and media personalities, Hoffman has neglected one minor point: learning what's going on in the district he intends to represent.

The Conservative Party candidate stopped by the Watertown Daily Times the other day for a meeting with the paper's editorial board. Not surprisingly, the editors wanted to talk about local transportation projects and the district's economy. Hoffman, who was chaperoned for some reason by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R) of Texas, was woefully unprepared for easy questions.

A flustered and ill-at-ease Mr. Hoffman objected to the heated questioning, saying he should have been provided a list of questions he might be asked. He was, if he had taken the time to read the Thursday morning Times editorial raising the very same questions.

Coming to Mr. Hoffman's defense, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, who accompanied the candidate on a campaign swing, dismissed regional concerns as "parochial" issues that would not determine the outcome of the election. On the contrary, it is just such parochial issues that we expect our representative to understand and be knowledgeable about, if he wants to be our voice in Washington.

Hoffman could have simply picked up that day's newspaper, and read about the interests of the editorial board before chatting with them. But he couldn't be bothered -- his campaign isn't about New York's 23rd; it's about the soul of the national Republican Party and the future of conservative politics.

He can't be bothered with "parochial" concerns such as what's actually important to district residents' daily lives; Hoffman has a movement to worry about.

I'm guessing Hoffman hasn't heard the expressions, "All politics is local"? When a candiate in up-state New York needs a Texan to tell a local newspaper not to care so much about issues important to up-state New York, there's a problem.

Steve Benen 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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THE OBAMA REFERENDUM WILL HAVE TO WAIT.... Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) argued the other day that of all the various races this year, the Virginia gubernatorial contest will be a "referendum" on the Obama presidency.

Actual Virginians don't seem to agree.

Republican Robert F. McDonnell carries a double-digit lead over Democrat R. Creigh Deeds in the final week of the campaign for Virginia governor, according to a new Washington Post poll. [...]

Seven in 10 Virginia voters say their views of President Obama, who is scheduled to campaign Tuesday with Deeds in Norfolk, will not be a factor in their choice for governor. The rest are about evenly divided between those who say their vote will be motivated by their desire to express support for the president and those who want to voice opposition to him, suggesting that Obama might not be a decisive figure in the contest and that the race is not the early referendum on the Obama presidency many have suggested it would be.

Overall, the president's approval rating in Virginia -- a state he won last year with 52% of the vote -- is 54%. Among just registered voters, it's 57%.

And yet, Virginians in the poll prefer McDonnell to Deeds, 55% to 44%.

Assuming McDonnell hangs on to win -- a scenario that now seems likely -- Republicans will no doubt try to characterize the victory as a repudiation of the White House. But given Obama's approval rating in the state, the argument isn't exactly compelling.

Steve Benen 10:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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THE LONG-SOUGHT, STILL-ELUSIVE GOP ALTERNATIVE.... When pressed on why Democrats are moving forward with a health care reform plan, while Republicans haven't offered a proposal of their own, GOP leaders will routinely say there are a handful of Republican-backed bills. It's a fairly shallow cop-out -- none of the various GOP plans have been embraced by the caucus and/or its leadership.

Nevertheless, Republicans did promise, not too terribly long ago, that the caucus would offer an alternative reform plan. It would prove that the GOP is not only steering clear of the "Party of No" label, but also that the minority was serious about governing. Voters would have an opportunity to see two clear approaches to the issue -- one from each party -- and could evaluate which side offered the better solutions.

That commitment came 132 days ago. Republicans are still debating the point.

Some House Republicans are growing frustrated that their leaders have not yet introduced a healthcare reform alternative.

For months, the message from House GOP leaders on a healthcare bill has been similar to ads for yet-to-be-released movies: Coming soon.

According to several GOP lawmakers, the leadership is split over how to proceed in terms of unveiling an alternative to the final Democratic bill that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) intends to unveil as soon as this week.

I suspect part of the problem is that Republicans have noticed that health care reform is ... what's the word ... tricky. Can GOP lawmakers come up with a proposal that covers the insured, offers consumer protections insurers don't like, doesn't raise taxes, lowers the deficit, and ensures exactly zero government intervention in the free market? It seems unlikely.

And yet, way back on June 17, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO), the point man on the alternative GOP plan, publicly proclaimed, "I guarantee you we will provide you with a bill."

It's a "guarantee" Republicans are struggling to follow through on.

To be sure, I don't necessarily blame Republicans for refusing to unveil an alternative health care plan. Producing a GOP reform proposal would not only give Democrats a target, it would offer people a chance to compare the two approaches. In a side-by-side match-up, it's hardly a stretch to think the Dems' plan would be better. Much better.

So, the conundrum continues. Do Republicans keep their word, unveil a bad bill, and give Dems a giant bull's eye, or do they break their word and embrace the "Party of No" label?

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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KRISTOL CLEAR.... The Washington Post's Bill Kristol has some advice for his Republican allies. As he sees it, the key to electoral success in the near future is ... you'll never guess ... being more conservative.

The GOP is going to be pretty unapologetically conservative. There aren't going to be a lot of moderate Republican victories in intra-party skirmishes. And -- with the caveat that the political world can, of course, change quickly -- there will be a conservative Republican presidential nominee in 2012. [...]

The center of gravity, I suspect, will instead lie with individuals such as Palin and Huckabee and Gingrich, media personalities like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, and activists at town halls and tea parties. Some will lament this -- but over the past year, as those voices have dominated, conservatism has done pretty well in the body politic, and Republicans have narrowed the gap with Democrats in test ballots.

And to think, Time magazine and the New York Times let a brilliant political visionary like Kristol go. It's hard to imagine.

To support his argument, Kristol relies on a Gallup poll released yesterday showing a 40% plurality of Americans consider themselves "conservative." That, the columnist insists, is proof that Republicans need to move even further to the right going forward.

But there's more than one way to look at the data. As Mori Dinauer explained, "This is as good a time as any to remind ourselves that when you let poll respondents self-select labels, those labels immediately lose precision as a way of defining political beliefs. It's also worth noting that the data presented, going back to 1992, hasn't actually changed all that much in those 17 years."

It seems more interesting to note that, as Republicans have moved further and further to the right this year, their national support has deteriorated. Last week's Washington Post/ABC News poll found that only 19% of the public has confidence that congressional Republicans can make the right decisions for the country's future, and only 20% self-identify as Republican voters -- the lowest single number in Post-ABC polls since 1983.

Also last week, a CNN poll found the Republican Party's favorable rating at lowest level in 11 years.

Kristol seems to think the key to turning this around is for the GOP to go from the far-right to the even-further-right. Given his track record for prognostications -- Kristol was confident McCain (173 electoral votes) would defeat Obama (365 electoral votes) last year -- I suspect Democrats hope Republicans take his advice.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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SNOWE'S DISAPPOINTMENT.... When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that he was moving forward on health care reform with a bill featuring a public option, Sen. Olympia Snowe's (R-Maine) role as the most important person in the known universe was quickly diminished. One approach insisted Reid push a "triggered" public option in order to keep Snowe on board. That's not the approach the Majority Leader chose.

Not surprisingly, Maine's senior senator was not pleased. Snowe's statement yesterday afternoon read:

"I am deeply disappointed with the Majority Leader's decision to include a public option as the focus of the legislation. I still believe that a fallback, safety net plan, to be triggered and available immediately in states where insurance companies fail to offer plans that meet the standards of affordability, could have been the road toward achieving a broader bipartisan consensus in the Senate."

Brian Beutler sees glimmers of hope in this: "How explicit a statement is that, though? I could be over-parsing here, but it sounds to me as if she's leaving a door pretty wide open to supporting this bill down the line. Note, she doesn't say she's withdrawing her support."

Perhaps, but I suspect Snowe's "deep disappointment" is her way of distancing herself from the bill. Indeed, just four days before Reid's announcement, Snowe said, "I'm against a public option." Asked if she'd join a GOP filibuster on this, Snowe said, "Yes, it would be difficult" to support letting the bill come to the floor for a vote.

In other words, I suspect the key question is no longer, "How do we keep Olympia Snowe happy?" Rather, it's, "How do we convince Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, and Mary Landrieu to let the Senate vote on health care reform?"

As for Snowe's argument that the trigger "could have been the road toward achieving a broader bipartisan consensus," I think there's ample evidence to the contrary. For one thing, several leading Democrats -- Pelosi, Rockefeller, et al -- really hate the idea. For another, leading Republicans hate the idea, too. Snowe may have missed it, but just a few weeks ago, Susan Collins, Snowe's moderate Maine colleague, was asked whether she could support a trigger as a compromise. "No," Collins said. "The problem with triggers is that is just delays the public option," and she rejects public-private competition.

Around the same time, the official Republican weekly address told the public, "These so-called healthcare reform bills have different names: a public option, a co-op, a trigger. Make no mistake, these are all gateways to government-run healthcare."

The trigger measure was never the course to "broader bipartisan consensus" -- it was a way to possibly get one GOP vote.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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WHEN PROGRESSIVES MAKE PROGRESS.... It's probably safe to say that, at countless times over the last several months, Democratic leaders on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue desperately wanted progressive activists to pipe down. The fight over health care reform has been extremely tricky, and the majority continues to run into overwhelming opposition from conservatives. All the while, the Democratic base kept making demands, mobilizing support, coordinating with like-minded lawmakers, and fighting for every inch of reform real estate.

There's still a sizable chasm between where we are now and the finish line, but it's worth taking a moment to acknowledge that the relative strength of the Senate reform plan is, at least in part, due to the tireless work of progressive activists and their allies on the Hill.

Democratic leaders were forced to include a national public health insurance option as part of health care reform by progressive Democratic senators who refused to support anything less, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said on Monday. [...]

For many years, it's been centrist and conservative-leaning senators who have been scoring legislative victories by digging in their heels, so this represented a quite dramatic turnabout. It is difficult to remember the last time that progressives won a legislative victory by laying down firm demands and sticking to them. In the House, the Congressional Progressive Caucus has found its feet, too, and is locked in a final battle with conservative Democrats over the shape of a public option.

When I was in high school, I knew a coach who used to talk all the time about which team "wanted it more." A game features all kinds of intangibles, and factors outside players' control, but in certain, close contests, it can come down to who wants it more.

And over the last several weeks, as the reform debate took a series of twists and turns, progressives made it clear exactly who wanted it more.

That said, it's hardly a done deal. As hard as reformers have worked of late, now it gets interesting. Indeed, one of the reasons the left was able to show it wanted it more was because the other team had started to assume the public option was dead and not worth worrying about. As the Senate bill heads to the floor, all of that changes.

But for now, progressives deserve some credit for getting us to where we are now.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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October 26, 2009

MONDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* The twin car bombs in Baghdad yesterday were simply devastating. "Unlike the carnage unleashed by attacks in crowded mosques, restaurants and markets, aimed at igniting sectarian strife, these blasts appeared to rely on a distinctly political logic."

* As of this afternoon, the bomb blasts had killed as many 155 people, with more than 500 wounded and an unknown number still missing.

* Two helicopter crashes in Afghanistan today killed at least 14 Americans.

* President Obama spoke to a military audience in Jacksonville, Fla., today, defending his Afghanistan timetable. He said he would not "rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm's way.... I won't risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary. And if it is necessary, we will back you up to the hilt."

* Saturday, President Obama declared H1N1 flu a national emergency, which in turn "clears the way for his health chief to give hospitals wider leeway in how they handle a possible surge of new patients."

* There are too many institutions that are too big to fail. Policymakers are poised to consider solutions to the problem.

* Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), a strong supporter of a public option, is satisfied with the opt-out compromise.

* On a related note, A.L. has an interesting item about the larger political implications of the opt-out approach.

* The newspaper industry is in very, very deep trouble.

* CNN should not be slipping into fourth place in primetime among the cable news networks.

* Forcing women to pay higher health care premiums than men, based on nothing but gender, is crazy.

* First they came for the multibillion-dollar media companies...

* Why, oh why, can't Dawn Johnsen's nomination to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel come up for a vote?

* If government-run health care is such a tragic mistake, these 55 Republicans should stop taking advantage of Medicare immediately.

* Before the controversy over Treasury "snubbing" Fox News goes away completely, Fox News is contesting the administration's version of events, and the White House is pushing back against the pushback.

* Fred Hiatt doesn't like the public option. Peter Orszag isn't impressed with Hiatt's argument. Neither is publius.

* Malkin takes cheap shots at the Axelrod family. Classy.

* Roland Burris should probably brush up on some governmental details before the next Senate hearing.

* Jane Hall, associate professor in the School of Communication at American University, felt compelled to leave Fox News after 11 years as a contributor in part because of Glenn Beck's insanity.

* Guess how much the Republican National Committee's silly new website cost. A whopping $1.4 million -- five times more the DNC's redesigned site. I'm afraid the RNC didn't get its money's worth.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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SENATE REFORM BILL EARNS PLAUDITS.... Now that a Senate health care bill is on the move, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's announcement is causing quite the predictable stir. Since his press conference ended about an hour ago, there have been some noteworthy reactions.

The White House, for example, was reportedly cool to the Reid approach. Soon after Reid's announcement, however, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs issued this statement:

"The President congratulates Senator Reid and Chairmen Baucus and Dodd for their hard work on health insurance reform. Thanks to their efforts, we're closer than we've ever been to solving this decades-old problem. And while much work remains, the President is pleased that at the progress that Congress has made. He's also pleased that the Senate has decided to include a public option for health coverage, in this case with an allowance for states to opt out. As he said to Congress and the nation in September, he supports the public option because it has the potential to play an essential role in holding insurance companies accountable through choice and competition."

Two of the five sentences in that paragraph express support for a public option. I think the White House is trying to tell us something.

Perhaps more interesting was the reaction from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who has been a public option detractor.

"It is time to make our system work better for patients and providers, for small business owners and for our economy. It is time for health care reform. For more than a year, we've been working to meet the goals of reducing the growth of health care costs, improving quality and efficiency and expanding coverage. There are a tremendous number of complicated issues that go into reform and the public option is certainly one of them. I included a public option in the health reform blueprint I released nearly one year ago, and continue to support any provision, including a public option, that will ensure choice and competition and get the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate. Success should be our threshold and I am going to fight hard for the 60 votes we need to meet that goal this year."

What's fascinating about this is that Baucus was reportedly fighting tooth and nail to keep the public option out of the merged bill. This statement suggests he's on board with Reid's bill, and almost seems to be trying to take some credit for it.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who's done as much heavy-lifting on the public option as anyone in the Senate, was one of the first to issue a statement, and he seems delighted.

"Leader Reid has always been a strong supporter of a public option that could help keep the insurers honest, and today he showed just how deep his commitment is. The public option has new life because as Americans have learned more about it, they have come to see it is the best way to reduce costs and increase competition in the health insurance industry. This form of public option is not exactly what either liberals or moderates would want. But a public plan based on a level playing field, with an opt-out for states, is the best compromise that has the potential of getting 60 votes in the Senate."

Richard Kirsch, the national campaign manager for Health Care for America Now, also sees today's announcement as encouraging.

"We applaud Majority Leader Reid's leadership in making sure the Senate bill includes a public health insurance option to lower costs and inject much-needed competition into the health insurance marketplace. We appreciate his recognizing a public health insurance option is key to achieving meaningful reform, protecting consumers, and keeping insurers honest.

"As we move forward, it is essential that Senate legislation addresses all of our key concerns including making sure health care is truly affordable, ensuring employer responsibility, generating revenue through fair financing rather than taxing higher-cost plans, and implementing a strong public health insurance option.

"We now call on all Senators to stand with leadership and vote to begin debate on the floor. We are closer now than ever before to achieving a true guarantee of good, affordable health care for all. With 47 million people uninsured, tens of millions underinsured, and businesses and families throughout the country struggling with rising costs, there can be no excuse for blocking a full and fair Senate debate on health care reform."

As for reform opponents, the National Republican Senatorial Committee issued an odd statement calling Reid a "partisan bully." I'm not altogether sure what that means, or why Reid would be called that, but the NRSC is mysterious. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell added that the "American public clearly does not like, and doesn't support" the Democratic effort.

Steve Benen 4:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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REID MOVES FORWARD ON PUBLIC OPTION.... As expected, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) hosted a brief press conference this afternoon and announced that there will, in fact, be a public option in the Senate health care bill, though it will give states the opportunity to opt-out of the plan. His prepared statement read:

"The last two weeks have been a great opportunity to work with the White House, Senators Baucus and Dodd, and members of our Caucus on this critical issue of reforming our health insurance system.

"We have had productive, meaningful discussions about how to craft the strongest bill that can gain the 60 votes necessary to move forward in the Senate.

"I feel good about progress we have made within our caucus and with the White House, and we are all optimistic about reform because of the unprecedented momentum that exists.

"I am well aware that the issue of the public option has been a source of great discussion in recent weeks. I have always been a strong supporter of the public option.

"While the public option is not a silver bullet, I believe it is an important way to ensure competition and to level the playing field for patients.

"As we've gone through this process, I've concluded, with the support of the White House and Senators Baucus and Dodd, that the best way forward is to include a public option with an opt-out provision for states.

"Under this concept, states will be able to determine whether the public option works well for them and will have the ability to opt-out.

"I believe that a public option can achieve the goal of bringing meaningful reform to our broken system. It will protect consumers, keep insurers honest and ensure competition and that's why we intend to include it on the bill that will be submitted to the Senate for consideration.

"We have spent countless hours over the last few days in consultation with Senators who have shown a genuine desire to see reform succeed, and I believe there is strong consensus to move forward in this direction.

"Today's developments bring us another step closer to achieving our goal of passing a bill this year that lowers costs, preserves choice, creates competition and improves quality of care."

Reid noted that Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) may not support a bill with a public option, but he hopes she'll "come back" to the fold on the final bill.

He went on to say that it is this bill that will be sent to the Congressional Budget Office for scoring, and while there's been ample speculation about a bill with a p.o. trigger, Reid won't get a CBO score on that approach.

At this point, leadership staffers are now expected to "huddle with Democratic Senate aides to explain" exactly what the merged bill will offer. "The question-and-answer session will allow staffers to get a clear sense of what is in the bill, and particularly detail the way the public option opt-out will work. Our source said this will help on-the-fence senators start making up their mind."

Steve Benen 3:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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MEDICARE'S 'CHAMPIONS'?.... About a month ago, the Washington Post reported, "After years of trying to cut Medicare spending, Republican lawmakers have emerged as champions of the program, accusing Democrats of trying to steal from the elderly to cover the cost of health reform."

Of course, the idea that congressional Republicans could be Medicare's "champions" has always been a little silly, but the notion gets a little more ridiculous all the time.

On Wednesday, Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) introduced his own health care reform plan. Broun, one of the most vocal and persistent critics of comprehensive health care reform, calls his legislation the "only true free-market reform alternative." And free-market it is. While most of his legislation mirrors other Republican proposals, Broun's plan for Medicare seems rather revolutionary. He wants to completely get rid of Medicare and replace it with vouchers....

Presumably, seniors would then use their vouchers in the private insurance market. Unfortunately, since nothing in Broun's OPTION Act deals with the issue of preexisting conditions, insurance companies would deny seniors, who are more likely to have a chronic health problem, left and right.

And as Zaid Jilani explained, "While Medicare is facing future budgetary problems, privatization isn't the solution. Medicare Advantage, the Medicare plan under which the administration of the program is farmed out to private insurance companies, has more than five times the administrative costs of the traditional public Medicare plan."

It's worth noting that while the RNC and congressional Republican leaders have feigned outrage about Democratic efforts to find cost savings in Medicare, no GOP officials in Washington have denounced or distanced themselves from Paul Broun's privatization plan.

(Note to Hill reporters: ask John Boehner at his next presser, "A leading House Republican last week called for privatizing Medicare. Will you and other party leaders support his effort?")

Most Republican lawmakers opposed the creation of Medicare; GOP lawmakers pushed for Medicare cuts in the '80s and '90s; and last year, the McCain/Palin platform called for significant cuts to the popular program. This year, many prominent GOP lawmakers have argued that Medicare is unconstitutional, and three-fourths of the House Republican caucus voted in April to privatize Medicare out of existence.

It's probably safe to drop this "emerged as champions of the program" talk.

Steve Benen 3:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

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LINCOLN HEDGES ON REFORM'S FUTURE.... It seems likely that the two most problematic votes in the Senate Democratic caucus on health care reform will be Sen. Ben Nelson (D) of Nebraska and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) of Arkansas. Nelson weighed in yesterday, telling CNN he's not "excited about" the public option with the state opt-out compromise, adding that he's made "no promise" to the leadership on cloture.

Today, Lincoln is also hedging.

The key is to ask moderate Dems whether they're willing to vote Yes on the initial, procedural vote, which requires 60 to bring the legislation to the floor. I asked Lincoln spokesperson Katie Laning Niebaum if Lincoln had indicated to Reid whether she'd vote Yes on cloture.

"Senator Lincoln has not committed her vote to anyone," Niebaum emailed, adding that "she will have to see the legislative language and cost first and will evaluate it based on its impact on Arkansans."

Now's probably a good time to note that center-right Democrats -- in particular, Nelson, Lincoln, and Mary Landrieu -- will be under considerable pressure. To be sure, much of it will come from the right and insurance companies, both of which would likely consider these conservative Dems allies.

But there's another element here that these three will no doubt be aware of. Americans have been talking about health care reform for nearly a century. It's the holy grail of Democratic politics. In a couple of months, the House will have approved a bill for the first time ever, and the political world will be waiting with bated breath for the Senate. The legislation will have more than enough votes to pass, but it will be up to a handful of center-right Democrats to decide whether the bill can come up for a vote or not.

That's a heavy historical weight, which Nelson, Lincoln, and Landrieu may not fully appreciate just yet. Harry Reid will offer them a bill that's a compromise of a compromise. It will have passed the House, and the president will be waiting for it with open arms. It will be a vote decades in the making, giving policymakers a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

All Nelson, Lincoln, and Landrieu will have to do is let the Senate vote. That's all -- just give the bill a chance to pass or fail. They can vote against it, of course, but they just have to open the door.

Will they really kill the entire effort? We'll see.

Steve Benen 2:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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WAITING ON UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS.... About five weeks ago, the House passed an extension of unemployment insurance. It wasn't especially close -- the chamber passed the bill 331 to 83, giving the measure a strong bipartisan majority.

Given the difficult economic conditions, the House vote, White House support, and the public's expectations, it stood to reason that the Senate would act quickly. Indeed, Senate Dems ensured that the benefits extension would be paid for, so conservatives couldn't complain that the bill would increase the deficit.

But Senate Republicans have other ideas. Mike Lillis reports:

Not only do GOP leaders want to alter the way the bill is funded, but they're insisting that a handful of politically charged amendments also get consideration, including provisions to de-fund ACORN and keep illegal immigrants out of the workplace. Since the start of the deadlock, more than 125,000 Americans have lost their unemployment insurance benefits.

The stalemate has frustrated Democratic leaders, who twice this month have attempted to pass the extension, only to be rebuffed by Republicans on the Senate floor. It's also left a growing number of jobless Americans and their advocates indignant that lawmakers would make political hay out of their misfortunes in the middle of the worst employment crisis in a generation.

"Unemployed workers across the country are devastated and dismayed by the failure of the U.S. Senate to extend their lifeline," Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, said in a statement. "It's shameful and callous."

Those adjectives seem to come up quite a bit when it comes to Senate Republicans, don't they?

Of particular interest, some of the GOP amendments would increase the deficit. Democrats approve of some of the ideas -- such as extending the tax credit for first-time homebuyers -- but are trying not to add to the deficit. Republicans, again, don't care, and are pushing popular amendments in the hopes Dems will vote against them.

Senate Democrats are expected to try again tomorrow, hoping to break the impasse. Here's hoping they're successful -- as Lillis noted, "The delay has consequences. Each day the Senate idles, another 7,000 Americans lose their unemployment insurance benefits, according to figures released by the National Employment Law Project this month. By year's end, the group estimates, roughly 1.3 million people will have exhausted their benefits unless Congress steps in."

Steve Benen 1:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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'TEN FOR '10'.... One of the more common criticisms of congressional Republicans is that they have no real policy agenda and offer nothing in the way of constructive ideas. The criticism reinforces the notion that the GOP is the "party of no," and it has the added benefit of being true.

CQ's Alan Ota reports today that the House Republican caucus, hoping to nationalize next year's midterm elections, is putting together a platform of sorts, which has been "informally dubbed 'Ten for '10 '." It's intended to mirror the style of the Democrats' "Six for '06" platform.

While GOP leaders would not discuss the specifics of the emerging agenda, they said it will make the case that Republicans are better suited to revive the nation's economy. [...]

Tom Price of Georgia, chairman of the House Republican Study Committee, said members of the conference are coming up with recommended policy planks that would provide voters "a commitment to accomplish certain ends."

Among proposals floated so far by members: a ban on spending unused funds from this year's economic stimulus law (PL 111-5), tougher earmark disclosure requirements and an "all of the above" climate change plan that would expand offshore oil drilling.

It's hard to be too critical of the ideas thus far; they're only proposals that have been "floated," and there will apparently be 10 measures, not three.

But at this point, I think "Ten for '10" may not be such a great idea. Two of three ideas that are apparently on the table are just holdovers from the McCain campaign. The third, scrapping the economic recovery package, may have some political juice -- most of the public probably doesn't realize the stimulus' role in prevent a wholesale economic collapse -- but it only offers Democrats another opportunity to remind voters that the recovery package was only necessary because Republican policies help bring the global economy to its knees.

And beyond these three, I'm not sure where else Republicans intend to go? They want to privatize Social Security and Medicare, but those aren't exactly electoral winners. They hate gays and abortion, but these are hardly issues that will help "rebrand" the GOP.

I tend to hope the House caucus does pursue a "Ten for '10" initiative, if for no other reason, because I honestly have no idea what congressional Republicans want to do with the levers of power except undermine the Obama presidency.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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MONDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* It seems very hard to believe, but a new Suffolk University poll shows Gov. Jon Corzine (D) leading the New Jersey gubernatorial race by nine points over Republican Chris Christie, 42% to 33%. No other poll shows Corzine with anything like that kind of lead.

* On a related note, with just eight days left before voters head to the polls, Corzine is blanketing the airwaves with four new television ads, one of which prominently features President Obama.

* If newspaper endorsements were a deciding factor, Creigh Deeds' (D) gubernatorial campaign in Virginia would be in great shape. After having already earned an endorsement from the Washington Post, Deeds also got the nod over the weekend from the editorial boards of the Virginian Pilot and the Roanoke Times, two of the state's largest papers.

* Despite far-right activists flocking to Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman in New York's 23rd, the National Republican Congressional Committee says it remains committed to GOP nominee Dede Scozzafava.

* The primary isn't until December, but in the Senate special election in Massachusetts, the Boston Globe reports that state Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) has positioned herself as a strong frontrunner.

* In Iowa, Christie Vilsack has decided not to take on Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) next year, disappointing some leading Democrats who thought she'd make a very credible candidate. However, Roxanne Conlin, an attorney who ran an unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign in Iowa in 1982, says she is "more likely than not" to take on Grassley in 2010.

* She's been running for months, but former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte (R) formally launched her Senate campaign over the weekend.

* And disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) is once again toying with the idea of running for president. He made similar noises in advance of the 1996, 2000, and 2008 presidential campaigns, which is why this probably isn't worth taking seriously.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (7)

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TROUBLE RECOGNIZING SATIRE.... Conservative activist Hugh Hewitt published an item over the weekend from Lee Habeeb, which I'm fairly certain was intended to be a joke. The piece ran on Saturday, Oct. 24, and pointed to an event that "occurred" on Wednesday, Oct. 28. (via Karen Tumulty)

More bad news for Fox News ..... sort of.

Oct. 28, 2009 12:43 PM. This just in from Speaker of the House Pelosi. In an interview with MSNBC's Keith Olberman [sic] last night, Nancy Pelosi announced that she would move to bring a vote to the floor of The House of Representatives as early as next week to ban Fox from covering Congress. "That Fox regularly grants access to Republican Congressman to spread their lies and propaganda on their airwaves is a violation of the public trust, and their continued desire to challenge such well documented facts as Global Warming, and the efficacy of single payer health insurance, proves that they are simply doing the work of the special interests. They should thus be stripped of their journalistic access in the halls of Congress," argued Pelosi.

As Tumulty noted, the first clue that an item might be satire is "when it mentions dates that are in the future."

And yet, you might be surprised at the number of blogs that ran with this as a legitimate story. Then again, if you're familiar with far-right blogs, maybe you wouldn't be surprised.

All of this, of course, comes on the heels of Michael Ledeen and Rush Limbaugh falling for a satirical blog post claiming to show portions of a college thesis Barack Obama didn't write. Both eventually backpedalled when they realized they'd fallen for a joke.

Add "difficulty recognizing satire" to the list of conservative troubles.

Update: Jamison Foser reports that Glenn Beck fell for it, too.

Steve Benen 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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UNPRECEDENTED OBSTRUCTIONISM.... In the Clinton era, Senate Republicans blocked a lot of the White House's judicial nominations. In the Bush era, Senate Democrats blocked votes on some would-be judges, too. But as Doug Kendall explains today, we've never seen anything quite like the new levels of Republican obstructionism.

It seems clear that Senate Republicans are prepared to take the partisan war over the courts into uncharted territory -- delaying up-or-down votes on the Senate floor for even the most qualified and uncontroversial of the president's judicial nominees.... Over the past several decades, senators in both parties have used an escalating set of procedural tactics to block confirmations, particularly near the end of an out-going president's term in office. To date, however, the tit-for-tat game has played out within a fairly narrow category of nominees who are deemed controversial. While there has never been an agreed-upon definition of what that means -- it's an eye-of-the-beholder type of thing -- there has consistently been a large category of nominees that are not considered controversial.

Despite all this, Senate Republicans still won't give Obama's judges a vote. The three Obama judges confirmed to the lower courts -- Gerald Lynch from New York and Jeffrey Viken from South Dakota in addition to Lange -- each spent weeks pending on the Senate floor and endured a confirmation process that lasted more than three months. Two additional nominees, Andre Davis of Maryland and David Hamilton of Indiana, cleared the Senate judiciary committee way back on June 4 -- 144 days ago. Yet their floor votes are still pending.

Davis and Hamilton have spent longer in this particular form of limbo than any Bush nominee confirmed from 2007-08.

Kendall describes this as "unprecedented and dangerous." It not only leaves vacancies on the bench, clogging the federal courts, but it also discourages qualified, uncontroversial jurists from even accepting nominations in the first place, knowing that the Republican minority won't give them a fair shake. Prospective judges realize that they can have a skeleton-free closet and plenty of support to be confirmed, but can wait indefinitely for a vote, simply because the GOP feels like it.

And it's not just judicial nominees. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, pointing to the difficulties of responding to the global flu pandemic, recently noted that the Senate isn't allowed to vote on a surgeon general, because Republicans refuse to let Regina Benjamin's nomination come to the floor. "We are facing a major pandemic, we have a well-qualified candidate for surgeon general, she's been through the committee process. We just need a vote in the Senate," Sebeilus said late last week. "Please give us a surgeon general."

Benjamin was unanimously approved by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Oct. 7, but the Senate minority has decided to block all HHS nominees, flu pandemic or no flu pandemic.

People for the American Way reported last week that between 1949 and 2009 -- spanning 11 presidents -- there were 24 nominees on which cloture was forced. In the first nine months of Obama's first year in office, there have been five, meaning Senate Republicans on track to force more cloture votes on more Obama nominees than practically every modern president combined.

And that doesn't include the secret and not-so-secret holds.

The Senate isn't supposed to be this dysfunctional.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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A CAREFULLY SELECTED 'REFERENDUM'.... On "Meet the Press" yesterday, host David Gregory asked Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) a rather loaded question: "As you look at these races, governor's races in New Jersey and Virginia, where the Democrats are in considerable trouble, what will it say about the Obama presidency, these results from these elections?" Cornyn replied:

"Well, I think the Virginia governor's race particularly is going to be referendum on the policies that the American people have seen coming out of Washington these days."

This isn't altogether surprising rhetoric, but it is rather amusing. With a wide variety of elections in 2009, Cornyn has picked the one race Republicans are likely to win and decided that's the one that counts as a "referendum."

It wasn't too terribly long ago when GOP leaders said the special election New York's 20th congressional district would be a "referendum" on the Obama administration and congressional Democrats. When Scott Murphy won in March, Republicans decided it wasn't really a "referendum" after all.

There was a special election in Illinois's 5th congressional district in April, but a Democrat won so it couldn't be a "referendum." There was a special election in California's 32nd congressional district in July, Dems won that one, too, so it doesn't count as "referendum" either.

Next week, there will be a gubernatorial race in New Jersey, a gubernatorial race in Virginia, a mayoral race in NYC, and congressional special elections in California's 10th and New York's 23rd. In just about every instance, the races will be decided largely by state and local concerns.

But for John Cornyn, only one of all of these contests -- the one where his favored candidate looks like a strong bet -- will signal public dissatisfaction with what Americans "have seen coming out of Washington these days." The other races won't offer any significant insights into anything.

Good to know.

Steve Benen 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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THE HOLDOUT(S).... CNN reported late yesterday what has been widely suspected for nearly a week: "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is poised to proceed with plans to introduce a Senate health care bill with a public health insurance option that would allow states to opt out." A final decision is expected today.

And watching the Sunday morning shows, it was hard to miss the sense among leading Democrats that this might just come together. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) of Missouri described herself as "pretty optimistic" and said Reid's intended plan will likely get done "this year." Sen. Russ Feingold (D) of Wisconsin said he is "frankly getting excited that we may have some momentum for something very positive." Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) of New York said on "Meet the Press" that the leadership is "close" to 60 votes -- though, it should be noted, that would be 60 votes for cloture, not the legislation itself.

How close is "close"? Probably about a vote or two shy of the threshold. At this point, Sen. Ben Nelson (D) of Nebraska, the caucus' most conservative member, may be the most serious impediment to reform. CNN's John King asked Nelson whether he's committed to the Democratic leadership that he'll let health care reform come up for an up-or-down vote. Nelson replied:

"I've made no promise. I can't decide about the procedural vote until I see the underlying bill. It would be, I think, reckless to say I'll support the procedure without knowing what the underlying bill consists of. And it's not put together yet. It's a draft -- it will be a draft bill sometime next week, submitted the Congressional Budget Office for the review of the cost."

In other words, Nelson is certainly considering the possibility of siding with Republicans and denying the Senate a chance to vote on the bill.

Asked about possible compromises, Nelson added, "Well, I certainly am not excited about a public option where states would opt out of a robust, as they call it, robust government-run insurance plan. I'll take a look at the one where states could opt in if they make the decision themselves."

Not exactly a vote of confidence for the likely Democratic plan.

I don't doubt that the reports about Dems being close to 60 are true, but no one should doubt the fact that getting from, say, 58 to 60 will be exceedingly difficult given the conservative Democratic holdouts. Based on what I'm hearing, the two biggest hurdles on cloture are likely to be Nelson and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) of Arkansas. Stay tuned.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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QUOTE OF THE DAY.... ABC News' "This Week" invited Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham onto the show yesterday, probably with the expectation that she'd say silly, right-wing things. To that extent, she didn't disappoint.

Ingraham argued that "a lot of people are saying" that the Obama administration is more "impassioned about" Fox News than "other threats to the United States, whether economic threats or real threats, Islamic jihadists."

Ingraham didn't say who these "people" are who are "saying" this, but apparently, there are "a lot" of them. (When right-wing media personalities appear on mainstream outlets, they do this quite a bit -- they don't want to say crazy things on their own behalf, so they attribute nonsensical ideas to vague and undefined groups of "a lot of people," who do not appear to exist in reality.)

Even Stephanopoulos seemed incredulous about the observation, saying, "You don't believe that they've been softer on Islamic jihadists than they have on Fox News. Come on." Ingraham, dropping the pretense of passing along the thoughts of "a lot of people," insisted she hasn't seen White House officials "talk about other real threats in the same coordinated and sophisticated way as they're going after" Fox News.

John Podesta responded that Ingraham might be right "when the drones start flying over Fox News."

The entire "debate," such that it is, has become annoyingly silly. A few White House officials have said that Fox News is partisan outlet that shouldn't be considered a legitimate source of independent journalism. The assessment happens to demonstrably true. On the other hand, the administration has killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan and Baitullah Mehsud, while taking suspected terrorists Najibullah Zazi, Talib Islam, and Hosam Maher Husein Smadi into custody before they could launched potential attacks.

To compare the White House's interest in Fox News vs. national security threats is insane. There's no equivalence between a few instances of mild-but-accurate criticism of a propaganda outlet and massive counter-terrorism operations around the world.

Of course, as is often the case, the problem is not just that Laura Ingraham believes strange things and makes ridiculous observations; the problem is that ABC News thought she deserved a national outlet to share these strange beliefs with ABC's television audience.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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WHITE HOUSE 'COMPLETELY SUPPORTS' REID'S EFFORTS.... The main story on health care reform over the last few days is that the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid aren't quite on the same page. Reid, by all accounts, is prepared to move forward with a reform bill that includes a public option and a state opt-out compromise. President Obama, according to several reports, is skeptical that this bill will generate the necessary support, and sees a "trigger" approach as the path of least resistance.

Last night, Deputy White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer posted an item intended to knock down talk about differences between the leaders. It reads in its entirety:

A rumor is making the rounds that the White House and Senator Reid are pursuing different strategies on the public option. Those rumors are absolutely false.

In his September 9th address to Congress, President Obama made clear that he supports the public option because it has the potential to play an essential role in holding insurance companies accountable through choice and competition. That continues to be the President's position.

Senator Reid and his leadership team are now working to get the most effective bill possible approved by the Senate. President Obama completely supports their efforts and has full confidence they will succeed and continue the unprecedented progress that is being made in both the House and Senate.

It's a noteworthy statement for a couple of reasons. Pfeiffer notes, for example, that the president not only continues to support a public option -- with no mention of triggers -- but "completely supports" Reid's efforts. Given the talk that the White House had shown minimal enthusiasm for Reid's purported plan, this on-the-record endorsement is helpful.

I also found it interesting that the statement became necessary at all. Since late Friday, there was a growing sense among reform advocates on the Hill and off that the White House needed to signal a) its ongoing support for a public option; and b) its backing for Reid's strategy. The Pfeiffer statement suggests strongly that the White House is well aware of the consternation and willing to make its intentions clear.

What's more, a senior administration official told Jonathan Cohn yesterday, "We will be 100 percent behind whichever direction Reid decides to go.... Reid hasn't asked for help. He is polling his caucus to make a decision on the opt out or the trigger. Whichever way he chooses, president Obama will help make the sale publicly and privately."


A reader emailed me yesterday asking, "Am I missing something here? I really do not understand what is driving the White House to be so reluctant about the public option." I don't think it's a substantive reluctance -- this doesn't seem to be a case in which the president actually prefers a trigger to the public option with the opt-out. It's entirely about pragmatism and vote-counting -- the White House isn't at all convinced the votes will be there for the better bill when push comes to shove.

That said, as of yesterday, the president's team seems to be offering unequivocal support for Reid's preferred approach, which will no doubt be welcome news on the Hill.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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October 25, 2009

WHY PULLING THE 'TRIGGER' IS A BAD IDEA.... Bloomberg's Al Hunt told George Stephanopoulos that the trigger measure in health care reform may be "the compromise everyone has to rally around."

Maybe, maybe not. We've talked before about the problems with this idea, but since the measure is lingering around, and may even generate more votes than any other approach, it's probably worth re-stating the policy issues here. Jacob Hacker, who helped craft the idea of the public option in the first place, explained the other day why the trigger is the wrong way to go.

A workable trigger would, at a minimum, need to achieve three goals: (1) establish a reasonable and measurable standard for private plan performance that sets out clear affordability and cost-containment goals for a specifically defined package of benefits, (2) assess this standard in a timely fashion with information available to policymakers after reform legislation passes, and (3) if this standard were met, quickly create a public health insurance plan that would effectively remedy the situation.

The modifier "quickly" in the third goal is crucial: Runaway health costs are a grave and growing threat to federal and state budgets and to the health security of workers, their families, and their employers. Waiting longer than absolutely necessary for affordable coverage is certain to cause great harm. Indeed, it might actually compound the current crisis. Without an imminent threat of public plan competition, private insurers are likely to raise premiums in anticipation of the implementation of reform -- as suggested by AHIP's recent prediction of big premium increases if reform passes. Delaying a public plan may also jeopardize the cause of reform itself, because requiring Americans to buy unaffordable coverage has the potential to provoke a political backlash. (Polls show that Americans are more supportive of a mandate when they know they will have the choice of a public plan.)

In short, we cannot wait for a public plan -- and one of the biggest problems with a trigger is that it virtually guarantees we will have to.

The whole idea of a trigger hasn't gained any real traction in recent months, in part because it has so few fans. Republicans hate it -- they oppose any competition for private insurers, even if it's put off for some future standard -- and Democrats are at least skeptical about it, for all the reasons Hacker explained.

What's more, Ezra explained the other day, "One of the reasons I assumed Olympia Snowe's trigger proposal was dead was, well, it looked dead. It was just lying there, unmoving. There were no meetings between Snowe and Schumer, or Snowe and Rockefeller, to try and craft a stronger trigger that would be acceptable to more liberal members. There were no modified proposals coming out of Snowe's office, or statements from her spokespeople indicating a willingness to entertain changes. The White House kicked around some ideas internally, but none of them, so far as I or my sources know (or at least will confirm), ever saw the light of day, or even a dark room on the Hill."

And yet, the idea still lingers, because Snowe still likes it.

Now, the talk over the last couple of days is that President Obama may actually prefer the trigger to the public option with the opt-out compromise. That may be true, but there's reason for some skepticism. As we talked about yesterday, the issue here may be an entirely pragmatic one for the White House: Obama thinks a) center-right Dems won't vote for reform without Snowe; b) Snowe won't vote for reform without a trigger; so c) a trigger, while not ideal, will at least get a bill to his desk. The president is reportedly skeptical about whether a 60-vote Snowe-less majority is possible for the opt-out P.O. -- not on policy grounds, but as a matter of legislative strategy -- despite Harry Reid's confidence that it will come together.

But as long as the competing strategies continue to play out, the inconvenient truth is, the trigger is almost certainly the wrong answer to the right question.

Steve Benen 11:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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DELAYS FOR DELAYS' SAKE.... In July, after considerable debate and discussion, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) said health care reform advocates were going far too fast. The process, she said, had to be slowed down considerably.

She said the same thing in August. And September. As we approach November, and reform seems to be gathering some momentum, Snowe keeps going for the brakes.

Centrist Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) suggested that Congress may not vote on healthcare legislation before lawmakers leave Washington for Christmas.

Democratic leaders are pushing to complete healthcare reform legislation before year's end but key issues in the legislation have yet to be hashed out, such as the inclusion of a controversial public health insurance option.

Democrats have courted Snowe for her support on the bill. She could become a crucial vote should Senate Democrats fail to attract the 60 votes necessary on their side to invoke cloture.

"Well, Christmas might be too soon," Snowe told Bloomberg's Al Hunt in an interview that will air throughout the weekend.

Now, Snowe hasn't quite gotten around to explaining why the end of the calendar year may be "too soon." Instead, she's urged policymakers to give reform the "thought it needs and requires." Snowe added, "[T]hat's why I've tried to slow the process down."

That's pretty vague, to the point that it doesn't seem to actually mean anything. Indeed, Snowe has no idea what's going to happen between now and the end of the December -- none of us do -- but she's still convinced, no matter how much progress has been made and how strong the support, that "Christmas might be too soon." Why? She just does.

Delays for delays' sake aren't exactly a recipe for serious policymaking. Congress and the White House have been debating health care reform for the better part of the year. It was debated last year during the presidential campaign. It was debated the year before during the presidential primaries. It was debated at length during the Clinton reform effort, which followed previous debates during previous presidents' efforts.

America has been debating health care reform, off and on, since the days of Harry Truman. Olympia Snowe can demand more delays, and for all I know, given her influence right now, she'll get them. But health care reform, by most reasonable measures, has already received the "thought it needs and requires." It's time for responsible policymakers to start making decisions, not putting them off until some arbitrary point in the new year.

Dragging this out for the sake of dragging this out seems wildly unnecessary, and more than a little counter-productive.

Steve Benen 11:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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FEELING DOBBS-RELATED EMBARRASSMENT.... It's a fine line CNN is trying to walk. On the one hand, it pays Lou Dobbs handsomely to host a nightly news program, which Dobbs uses as a platform to denounce Hispanic communities. On the other, CNN wants to present itself as concerned about those same communities.

Instead of being simply a draw for Hispanic viewers, CNN's four-hour documentary, "Latino in America," turned into a political rallying cry for activist groups who are calling on the cable news channel to fire Lou Dobbs, a veteran anchor with well-known views on immigration.

An array of minorities held small protests in New York and other cities on Wednesday, the first night of CNN's presentation. They are trying to highlight what they say are years of lies about immigration by Mr. Dobbs, who anchors the 7 p.m. hour on CNN.

CNN, a unit of Time Warner, has not commented on the protests or covered them on its news programs. One of the activists featured in the documentary said she tried to raise what she called Mr. Dobbs's "hatred" on one of the channel's news programs Wednesday, but her remarks were cut from the interview.

Now, if you've ever done a pre-recorded television interview, you know it can be a little frustrating -- you'll answer all kinds of questions, and the discussion will last quite a while, but when it airs, you're lucky to get 10 seconds of airtime. Naturally, those interviewed for "Latino in America" found that very little of what they actually said ended up on CNN.

But in this case, there's a little more to it.

Isabel Garcia, a civil rights lawyer who was featured in "Latino in America" and organized an anti-Dobbs protest in Tucson on Wednesday, said that CNN edited her comments about the anchor out of an interview.

She had expected a 15-minute conversation about immigration opposite Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., and a staunch supporter in immigration enforcement, on the prime-time program "Anderson Cooper 360." During the taped interview Wednesday, she said she made several unprompted comments about Mr. Dobbs.

She said she called Mr. Arpaio and Mr. Dobbs "the two most dangerous men to our communities," and said that "because of them, our communities are being terrorized in a real way." She also asserted that CNN was "promoting lies and hate about our community" by broadcasting Mr. Dobbs's program. The comments were not included when the interview was shown Wednesday night.

"They heavily deleted what I did get to say," she said.

The crux of what Garcia had to say specifically dealt with a CNN host, so CNN decided those comments had to be left on the cutting room floor. The network that's had to cover for Dobbs' tendencies before continues to feel at least some embarrassment.

Matt Yglesias' suggestion is a good one: "[I]f CNN wants to stand by Dobbs then, fine, they should stand by Dobbs. But if they want to stand by Dobbs then they should stand by Dobbs and feature him prominently in their four-hour 'Latino in America' documentary. After all, from what you can see watching the network day-to-day the executives at CNN think Dobbs has a credible and important perspective on this issue. Instead, they just kind of want to sweep the crazy uncle under the rug for the purposes of a big special, and then trot him back out again when everything's back to normal."

It's an unsustainable relationship.

Steve Benen 10:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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WILL PUTS ON LEATHER JACKET, DONS SKIS, EYES SHARK.... When my friend Mustang Bobby emailed yesterday to tell me George Will had written an entire column praising Rep. Michele Bachmann, I thought he was kidding. Will may be conservative, but he considers himself something of an intellectual and serious thinker. Bachmann is a right-wing clown, practically a parody of herself, who doesn't even pretend to take policy matters seriously.

George Will may be getting increasingly lazy and cantankerous, but even he wouldn't put his reputation on the line with a laudatory Bachmann column.

I stand corrected.

Will notes early on that, last October, Bachmann told a national television audience that she wants a neo-McCarthyist witch hunt, calling for an investigation into the un-American views of members of Congress. Soon after, she lied about it. In his column, Will blamed Chris Matthews for the outburst.

Will seemed especially impressed with one of Bachmann's stunts in June.

Some of her supposed excesses are, however, not merely defensible, they are admirable. For example, her June 9 statement on the House floor in which she spoke of "gangster government" has been viewed on the Internet about 2 million times. She noted that, during the federal takeover of General Motors, a Democratic senator and one of her Democratic House colleagues each successfully intervened with GM to save a constituent's dealership from forced closure.

If editors took a closer look at Will's columns before they were published, they might have noticed that Bachmann's "gangster government" accusations were proven baseless within two days of her remarks. Will sees this as an example of Bachmann's "admirable" work, in which her allegations were proven "accurate." In Grown-Up Land, this was actually an example of Bachmann coming up with a strange conspiracy theory involving the Obama administration, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D), and a Republican GM dealer -- who'd contributed thousands of dollars to Michele Bachmann.

And as for the fact that her remarks have been watched 2 million times online, M.B. reminds Will, "Hint: just because a video gets viewed 2 million times doesn't make it proof of intelligent discourse, and it's not always because they agree with her."

But in the bigger picture, that George Will feels compelled to devote a column in praise of Bachmann suggests Will is a truly hopeless case. She's the type of unhinged right-wing lawmaker Will should be condemning, not encouraging. We are, after all, talking about a lawmaker who thinks FDR passed "Hoot-Smalley" and caused the Depression. She thinks a bipartisan national service bill will lead to "re-education camps." She doesn't know what a global reserve currency is, so she keeps rating about "one-world currency." She thinks the U.S. Census may lead to "internment camps." She recently labeled school medical clinics as "sex clinics" (twice). She also recently urged her supporters to slit their wrists.

Michele Bachmann, in other words, is mad as a hatter. If George Will hasn't noticed this, he should probably get out of the political commentary business.

Steve Benen 8:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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SMALL BUSINESS WITH A BIG PROBLEM.... It's almost as if insurers are trying to make the case for a public option more compelling.

As Congress nears votes on legislation that would overhaul the health care system, many small businesses say they are facing the steepest rise in insurance premiums they have seen in recent years.

Insurance brokers and benefits consultants say their small business clients are seeing premiums go up an average of about 15 percent for the coming year -- double the rate of last year's increases. That would mean an annual premium that was $4,500 per employee in 2008 and $4,800 this year would rise to $5,500 in 2010.

The higher premiums at least partly reflect the inexorable rise of medical costs, which is forcing Medicare to raise premiums, too. Health insurance bills are also rising for big employers, but because they have more negotiating clout, their increases are generally not as steep.

Higher medical costs aside, some experts say they think the insurance industry, under pressure from Wall Street, is raising premiums to get ahead of any legislative changes that might reduce their profits.

And while insurers are making things worse for small businesses, health care reform advocates are offering an alternative. As President Obama explained in his weekly address yesterday, "[O]ur health reform plan will allow small businesses to buy insurance for their employees through an insurance exchange, which may offer better coverage at lower costs -- and we'll provide tax credits for those that choose to do so."

One of the standard GOP talking points against reform insists that changing the system would punish small businesses. We already know that's wrong, but it's worth re-emphasizing the fact that it's the broken status quo that's crushing small businesses and entrepreneurship.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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October 24, 2009

INTERNATIONAL DAY OF CLIMATE ACTION.... Matt Cooper raises a good point.

There are protests all over the world today in support of reversing climate change. Sponsored by the organization 350, named after the parts per million of carbon dioxide. Scientists believe that's the limit for heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We're past that now and some scientists, as the New York Times notes today, think that's probably too ambitious a goal. The whole idea began with Bill McKibben, the environmental writer. Will these protests get teabagger-style coverage? Probably not. A good fight over crowd estimates always helps and so does having a television network devoted to revving up your cause.

Quite right. The International Day of Climate Action, unlike "Tea Parties," have a specific goal, coupled with a coherent, important message. The result is the most widespread day of environmental action -- featuring 5,200 events in 181 countries -- ever.

Given the severity of the climate crisis, and the scope of today's global events, here's hoping policymakers take note of the activists with worthwhile goals in need of attention and action.

Steve Benen 5:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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EYEING CLOTURE.... Given the stakes and the margins, every little signal seems to matter.

[Harry] Reid's efforts got a boost Friday when two key Senate moderates signaled that that they were not inclined to block him.

"I conveyed to Leader Reid that a number of moderates still were extremely concerned about a government-run, taxpayer-funded, national public plan," Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said in a statement after meeting with Reid. "However, I am encouraged that the conversations taking place over the past week among Senators who back different versions of a public option could potentially lead to a compromise. I believe this compromise should happen sooner, rather than later, so we can get to work on other critical aspects of heath care reform."

An aide to Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) said that, while the senator does not favor a public option with a state exemption, he would not vote to filibuster the bill. This would put Reid closer to the 60-vote threshold.

Landrieu's ongoing confusion over what a public option is notwithstanding, these signals are encouraging. Up until fairly recently -- as in, a few days ago -- Landrieu and Lieberman were two of the senators who were most likely to side with Republicans on blocking consideration of the bill. Now, Landrieu is feeling "encouraged" about a compromise, and Lieberman is unlikely to side with GOP obstructionism.

This follows Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) recent observation: "I don't think you'll see me or any other Democrats" support a Republican filibuster.

I'm actually starting to feel optimistic. Of course, I'd feel better still if Ben Nelson, Evan Bayh, Blanche Lincoln, and Kent Conrad would express similar sentiments.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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PELOSI SATISFIED WITH OPT-OUT COMPROMISE.... There's some momentum in the Senate for a health care reform bill with a public option and opt-out compromise. In the House, leaders are still eyeing a robust public option. Any chance we're headed for a showdown between the chambers on the kind of public option to make it to the final bill?

Probably not.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said Friday that states might be able to "opt out" of any nationwide government insurance plan, a compromise that she suggested could unify congressional Democrats and enable President Obama to sign a healthcare overhaul bill later this year.

Pelosi remains a leading champion of the "public option," which would establish a federal health insurance program that would give consumers who don't get coverage through their employer an alternative to plans offered by commercial insurers. But she told reporters at the Capitol that she did not "think there's much problem" with the opt-out alternative, which had sparked interest among moderate Democrats in the Senate.

Specifically, asked about the opt-out measure, the House Speaker told reporters, "I don't think there's much problem with that." House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) added, "All they're debating is whether or not to allow states to opt out of it, but you'll still have the same public option."

Both prefer the robust public option, of course, but like some other progressive reform leaders -- Jay Rockefeller, Howard Dean, even Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) -- they've come to see the opt-out compromise as tolerable.

Part of this is important because it signals some key common ground between the chambers, which may eventually matter a great deal. But I'm especially interested in how it might affect negotiations regarding Olympia Snowe's "trigger" idea.

By most accounts, Harry Reid is close to lining up the necessary support for the opt-out measure, but let's not forget, Reid is also counting votes for a trigger, and probably has even more votes for that approach. It's why the White House is hedging -- it wants a bill and it has more confidence in the one that has more votes. The Senate leadership, as of last night, was still "considering" the various alternatives, and it seems many, if not all, of the Democratic senators willing to vote for the opt-out could just as easily vote for the trigger if it's the bill that comes to the floor.

It's why I wonder if the House approach may end up tipping the scales a bit. Pelosi doesn't have 218 votes for a robust public option, at least not yet, but she can almost certainly line up more than enough support for the opt-out, and her remarks yesterday suggest she'd be satisfied with this outcome. But if the Senate moves from the opt-out to the trigger, there's a problem -- it's a bridge too far for more than a few House progressives.

In effect, the Speaker's office has a compelling message to Reid and Obama: "I can pass the opt-out, but not the trigger, so let's go with the former*, lock down 60 votes in the Senate, and get this thing done."

* fixed

Steve Benen 11:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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THIS WEEK IN GOD.... First up from the God Machine this week is a column from Catholic League President Bill Donohue, published by the WashingtonPost.com's "On Faith" website, an influential and widely-read faith-based site. (via TS)

While Donohue has a well-deserved reputation for publishing angry, unhinged screeds against those who disagree with him, this particular tirade stood out -- in secular and spiritual communities -- in large part because it's the kind of wild-eyed rant major news publications tend to avoid. It's hard to know what to excerpt from the 800-word tirade, but to summarize, Donohue believes gays and atheists are desperate to destroy western civilization and modern Christianity.

Sexual libertines, from the Marquis de Sade to radical gay activists, have sought to pervert society by acting out on their own perversions. What motivates them most of all is a pathological hatred of Christianity. They know, deep down, that what they are doing is wrong, and they shudder at the dreaded words, "Thou Shalt Not." But they continue with their death-style anyway....

Catholics were once the mainstay of the Democratic Party; now the gay activists are in charge. Indeed, practicing Catholics are no longer welcome in leadership roles in the Party....

The culture war is up for grabs. The good news is that religious conservatives continue to breed like rabbits, while secular saboteurs have shut down: they're too busy walking their dogs, going to bathhouses and aborting their kids. Time, it seems, is on the side of the angels.

It's vile and it's ridiculous. Donohue's accusations don't even make any sense -- if "practicing Catholics are no longer welcome in leadership roles in the Party," how did Nancy Pelosi become Speaker and Ted Kennedy become the heart of the party?

But putting aside reason and reality, the question many asked this week is what on earth the Post was thinking publishing Donohue's enraged invective. Alex Koppelman noted, "The idea of printing a controversial piece, even one that insults as many people as this did, is a fine one. But there's simply no way anyone can say that what Donohue wrote here added to the discourse. There were no facts, no arguments, nothing new -- just a long string of insults."

In many faith communities, there are concerns that major traditional news outlets fail to appreciate news related to religion, and only care about matters of faith when some high-profile lunatic/personality, known for his/her religiosity, says something insane. It's why so many shook their heads in disgust when "On Faith" found Donohue's madness worthy of publication.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* The New York branch of the Center for Inquiry is poised to launch an ad campaign in New York City subway stations, raising awareness about atheism. Last night, Fox News Sean Hannity started attacking the ads.

* The Roman Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, Del., has been hit with so many lawsuits related to sexual abuse by members of the clergy that it had to file for bankruptcy.

* Not sure what to make of this: "In a move expected to cause confusion within Anglican and Catholic parishes alike, the Vatican on Tuesday announced it would make it easier for Anglicans uncomfortable with the Church of England's acceptance of women priests and openly gay bishops to join the Catholic Church. A new canonical entity will allow Anglicans 'to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony,' Cardinal William Levada, the prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said at a news conference here on Tuesday."

* Scholars will be poring through this data for a while: "On Friday, the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago released what it described as 'the most comprehensive analysis to date of global religious trends.' Anyone studying its 9,000-word analysis and perusing 330 additional pages of references and tables will be quickly disabused of the idea that the currents of religious belief and practice are flowing in one or two or even a half-dozen clear directions." For what it's worth, the United States remains among the most religious for industrial nations, though U.S. religiosity has slipped in recent years.

Steve Benen 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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LAND TRIPLES DOWN.... Following up on a story I've been following, Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, doesn't seem to recognize the wisdom of quitting when behind.

Land initially raised a few eyebrows when he condemned health care reform in unusually offensive terms. "What they are attempting to do in healthcare, particularly in treating the elderly, is not something like what the Nazis did. It is precisely what the Nazis did," Land said. In the same remarks, Land compared Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel to Josef Mengele.

Asked to defend his comments, he refused to walk them back. Specifically on likening Emanuel to Nazis, Land insisted "the analogy is apt and I stand by it."

After the Anti-Defamation League expressed some concerns, Land didn't apologize for the substance of his remarks, but he at least showed some regret: "It was never my intention to equate the Obama administration's healthcare reform proposals with anything related to the Holocaust.... Given the pain and suffering of so many Jewish and other victims of the Nazi regime, I will certainly seek to exercise far more care in my use of language in future discussions of the issues at stake in the healthcare debate."

So, problem solved, right? Wrong. Reader J.C. flagged this story in which Land completed the 360-degree turn.

One week after apologizing for comparing Democratic leaders to the Nazis, [Land] has reneged on his promise to stop using such comparisons.... Land "still believes there are connections to be made between some underlying philosophies held by the Germans and others in the first half of the 20th century, and certain elements under discussion in the health care reform debate today." Land argued that the philosophies of some of those pushing health-care reform "bear a lethal similarity in their attitudes toward the elderly and the terminally ill and could ultimately lead to the kinds of things the Nazis did." Land also attacked those who were attempting "to remove the Third Reich as a subject of discussion when it comes to the healthcare debate."

Three things to keep in mind. First, Land's promise about avoiding Nazi references seems to have lasted one whole week. Second, to argue that health care reform bears a "lethal similarity" to Nazi tactics is obviously crazy.

And third, Land is concerned that people might want to "remove the Third Reich as a subject of discussion when it comes to the healthcare debate"? Well, sure. They want to remove the subject as part of the debate because it's completely insane.

Land's rhetoric is despicable enough, but to express regret to the ADL, and then triple down on a disgusting comparison a week later is just humiliating.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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THANK YOU, AHIP.... The front page of the Washington Post tells readers, "Prognosis improves for public insurance; Momentum shift is dramatic." It seems like "dramatic" is the right word, given that the public option seemed like quite a long-shot up until quite recently.

And what's behind the "momentum shift"? It seems, this week, a key turning point was Wednesday's meeting between Reid, Baucus, Dodd, and White House officials, when the leadership reportedly decided to go ahead and pursue a public option.

But let's not overlook the role of America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP). The insurance lobby published a deceptive report on health care premiums two weeks ago, and the WaPo report today suggests it quickly changed the policy landscape.

Reid's original inclination was to leave the public option out of a final bill he is writing from measures passed by the finance and health committees. But his liberal colleagues began urging him two weeks ago to reconsider, after insurance industry forecasts that premiums would rise sharply under the Finance Committee bill, which lacked a public option. The report had the effect of prodding Democrats to look for better ways to control costs, and the public option -- strongly opposed by the insurance industry -- reemerged as a possible solution.

Because a government-run plan would be dedicated to holding down costs and would lack a profit motive, congressional budget analysts predict that it could reduce the cost of expanding coverage to people who don't have it by as much as $100 billion over the next decade.

Thank you, AHIP, for rescuing the public option.

Steve Benen 10:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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THE WHITE HOUSE SHOULD TAKE 'YES' FOR AN ANSWER.... Nearly everyone watching the debate over health care reform was taken aback late yesterday, puzzled by the purported White House strategy on the public option.

By all indications, Harry Reid has done some impressive heavy-lifting this week, and is this close to locking up 60 votes for a public option with a state opt-out compromise. When Reid relayed the good news to the White House, the president, according a TPM report, not only wasn't thrilled, he began pushing back in the other direction, expressing skepticism about the compromise measure that's generating momentum and touting Olympia Snowe's "trigger" idea, which isn't nearly as good as the opt-out.

So, what's going on? Ezra Klein had a very helpful item yesterday afternoon.

On Thursday night, Reid went over to the White House for a talk with the president. The conversation centered on Reid's desire to put Schumer's national opt-out plan into the base bill. White House officials were not necessarily pleased, and they made that known. Everyone agrees that they didn't embrace Reid's new strategy. Everyone agrees that the White House wants Snowe on the bill, feels the trigger offers a safer endgame, and isn't convinced by Reid's math.

But whether officials expressed a clear preference for the trigger, or were just worried about the potential for 60 votes, is less clear. One staffer briefed on the conversation says "the White House basically told us, 'We hope you guys know what you're doing.'"

Now, it's worth noting the White House has tried to knock down the TPM report. Dan Pfeiffer, a top White House aide on health care policy, told Marc Ambinder, "The report is false."

We'll know more as this unfolds further; right now, there are enough players with enough competing strategies that it's hard to know exactly who wants what and why, and with what timeframe in mind.

That said, I think Jonathan Cohn gets this just right: "The White House wants a public option but it wants a bill even more. It remains convinced that keeping Snowe on board is the surest way to get that. And Snowe wants a trigger. The administration understands that the politics of the public option have shifted, so they are listening to discussion of alternatives. But they're asking a lot of tough questions of those proposing these alternatives. And they're not rushing to change their gameplan."

And as much as I hope the White House seizes the best available opportunity, I understand why the president and his team are hesitant here. The goal line is in sight, and they just want to cross it. Indeed, I'm not entirely unsympathetic to the White House's fears about getting a bill done. If the choice were between a) a good health care bill with a triggered public option; and b) watching the entire reform initiative die, it would be entirely reasonable for the president and his team to cling to what some have begun calling the "Snowe trigger."

But therein lies the point: that's not the choice here. By all accounts, Reid is on the verge of delivering the right bill with the right number of votes. Obama may not be sure that Reid can get and keep 60 votes -- it's what "We hope you guys know what you're doing" is all about -- and the skepticism is fair. But with a little help from the White House, the goal is well within reach.

Mr. President, take "yes" for an answer.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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RIGHT FALLS FOR 'THESIS' HOAX.... Right-wing pundit Michael Ledeen published an item this week on Barack Obama's "college thesis," which Obama allegedly wrote as a student at Columbia 25 years ago. Leeden cited some website, which ran a piece in August.

The paper was called "Aristocracy Reborn," and in the first ten pages (which were all that reporter Joe Klein -- who wrote about it for Time -- was permitted to see), the young Obama wrote:

"... the Constitution allows for many things, but what it does not allow is the most revealing. The so-called Founders did not allow for economic freedom. While political freedom is supposedly a cornerstone of the document, the distribution of wealth is not even mentioned. While many believed that the new Constitution gave them liberty, it instead fitted them with the shackles of hypocrisy."

That's quite an indictment, even for an Ivy League undergraduate.... Maybe instead of fuming about words that Rush Limbaugh never uttered, the paladins of the free press might ask the president about words that he did write.

Yesterday, Rush Limbaugh picked up on Leeden's report, blasting Obama for the alleged paper.

The first sign of trouble was when Joe Klein noted that he's never seen or written about Obama's college thesis, and has "no idea where this report comes from."

The second sign of trouble was when one stopped to notice that Obama didn't write a senior thesis (though he did write a thesis-length paper on Soviet nuclear disarmament).

The third sign of trouble was when one clicked on the link that Leeden provided as support and found the word "satire."

Yes, Leeden and Limbaugh got all worked up, trashing the president for a paper he didn't write in college 25 years ago, relying on a satirical blog post. And for real entertainment value, notice what Leeden and Limbaugh did when they realized they'd fallen for a dumb joke -- they blamed Obama anyway.

Leeden conceded he was wrong and apologized, but added, "It worked because it's plausible." Limbaugh said the text he touted was fake, but it didn't matter because, "I know Obama thinks it." Yep, even when they're wrong, it's only because the president makes it easy for them to be confused.

Remember, the Washington Post and New York Times are committed to paying much closer attention to what's generating buzz among far-right talk-show hosts and bloggers. Here's hoping the dailies noticed the Leeden/Limbaugh journalistic breakthrough.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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THE MEDIA SCANDAL THAT WASN'T.... There was something about this story that just didn't seem right. To hear Fox News tell it, Kenneth Feinberg, the Treasury Department's special pay master, was set to do a round of interviews on Tuesday. Obama administration officials excluded Fox News from the press pool, the story goes, prompting the major networks to revolt and rally behind Fox News.

The network cranked up the indignation machine yesterday, and worked overtime to characterize Fox News as a poor victim of heavy-handed White House abuse. And at first blush, it might seem like the Republican network has a point -- trying to exclude Fox News from a press pool at Treasury does seem excessive.

There's one key problem with the story: it didn't happen the way Fox News said it happened.

Feinberg did a pen and pad with reporters to brief them on cutting executive compensation. TV correspondents, as they do with everything, asked to get the comments on camera. Treasury officials agreed and made a list of the networks who asked (Fox was not among them).

But logistically, all of the cameras could not get set up in time or with ease for the Feinberg interview, so they opted for a round robin where the networks use one pool camera. Treasury called the White House pool crew and gave them the list of the networks who'd asked for the interview.

The network pool crew noticed Fox wasn't on the list, was told that they hadn't asked and the crew said they needed to be included. Treasury called the White House and asked top Obama adviser Anita Dunn. Dunn said yes and Fox's Major Garrett was among the correspondents to interview Feinberg last night.

Simple as that, we're told, and the networks don't want to be seen as heroes for Fox.

"There was no plot to exclude Fox News, and they had the same interview that their competitors did," a Treasury spokesperson added. "Much ado about absolutely nothing."

CBS News White House correspondent Chip Reid, who was recently seen lobbying from the press briefing room for Ronald Reagan to get a Nobel Peace Prize, told his national television audience that the White House "crossed the line" by trying to exclude Fox.

Except, that didn't happen. "This White House has demonstrated our willingness to exclude Fox News from newsmaking interviews, but yesterday we did not," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. He added, "The president and other high ranking officials and people like Ken Feinberg have done interviews with Fox in the past and will do them in the future."

Fox News surely knows that this "controversy" is not what it appears to be, but the network pushed it anyway, hoping to score some cheap points and desperate to position itself as a victim. I can only assume that the relevant details will soon be ignored, and going forward, this "deliberate snub" will be used as an example of a White House gone too far.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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October 23, 2009

FRIDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Oh my: "A suicide bomber attacked a suspected nuclear-weapons site Friday in Pakistan, raising fears about the security of the nuclear arsenal, while two other terrorist blasts made it another bloody day in the country's struggle against extremism."

* A sign of things to come? "NATO defense ministers gave their broad endorsement Friday to the counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan laid out by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, increasing pressure on the Obama administration and on their own governments to commit more military and civilian resources to the mission."

* Iran delays a decision on the nuke deal until Monday.

* Plans for a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency move forward in the House.

* Harry Reid is reportedly close to getting 60 votes for a public option with the opt-out.

* Reid & Co. are also counting votes on a public option with a trigger, which may have even more support.

* To say that Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) has some concerns about the trigger idea would be an understatement.

* House Speaker Pelosi still doesn't have quite as many votes for her robust reform plan as she'd like. But when it comes to negotiations with the Senate and White House Pelosi does, however, have a strategy in mind.

* John McCain, by his own admission, doesn't understand much about the Internet or computers. But apparently he knows enough to try and block net neutrality.

* I'd love to see Arlen Specter reverse course on Dawn Johnsen's nomination.

* The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing in November on the efficacy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." First step towards repeal.

* Eyeing "revolutionary changes" to America's schools.

* That's an awfully nice family portrait.

* Jeb Bush doesn't want to see the Republican Party become the "old white guy party." He'd also like to see the GOP shed its image as the "party of no." Good luck with that.

* Those right-wing House members who are panicky about imaginary Muslim spies on congressional committees finally filed a request with the House Sergeant at Arms to launch an investigation.

* The Culture of Corruption meme isn't quite over yet: "An Alaska businessman admitted to giving gifts to Republican Rep. Don Young, the state's long-serving sole congressman, in a confession made public this week as part of an ongoing federal investigation into political corruption in the state."

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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HELPING PROVE THE CASE.... I'm sure he'll be doing lots of hard-hitting journalism during the event.

This doesn't seem like great timing, given Fox News' efforts to convince the world that it's a legit news outlet.

John Stossel, who is described by Fox News as a journalist, is appearing at a series of rallies against the health care reform proposals with Americans for Prosperity, one of the most determined and well-funded foes of reform. [...]

Yes, Stossel is an on-air personality. But at a time when Fox is embroiled in a high-profile battle with the White House over its legitimacy as a news outlet, it seems less than helpful for one of its proudly touted journalists to participate in an event decrying Obama's health care reform proposals as "government-forced health care."

Just to clarify, Stossel isn't going to cover the events; he's going to participate in the events.

So, last month, we had a Fox News employee rallying a right-wing crowd from behind a camera, and this month we'll have a Fox News employee rallying a right-wing crowd from in front of a camera.

Just another independent news outlet with high professional, journalistic standards. Why would anyone think otherwise?

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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HAGEL DECRIES 'IRRESPONSIBLE' GOP.... It seems odd to think about now, but just a few years ago, former Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska was a pretty conservative Republican lawmaker. He clearly grew estranged from his party in the last Congress -- Hagel even refused to endorse John McCain, despite having served as a national co-chair of McCain's 2000 campaign -- and even expressed some interest in joining the Obama ticket. (The senator's wife endorsed the Obama campaign.)

A year later, Hagel still apparently doesn't care for what he's seeing from his party.

Republican senators trying to kill healthcare reform have acted irresponsibly, one of their former colleagues asserted.

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) chided some of his former colleagues who have suggested that halting healthcare reform would be politically beneficial to the GOP.

"If your attitude is wrong, if your intention is to use healthcare to destroy the other party, or to destroy the presidency of Barack Obama, then it's very unlikely you're going to find much consensus from people who want to use healthcare," Hagel said earlier this month in a speech at the University of Michigan, video of which was only made available recently.

"As some Republican senators have said publicly -- that if we kill Obama on this, and we destroy this, and we defeat his, that will drive a stake through his political heart on this administration," the former senator, who retired at the end of his term in January, added. "I just find that about as irresponsible of a thing as I can think of."

Hagel added that he continues to speak with some regularity with Obama administration officials, including the president.

It almost certainly wouldn't happen, but if Hagel were to run against Ben Nelson in a Democratic primary, who'd win? One thing's for sure: Hagel is far more critical of the GOP than Nebraska's Democratic senator is.

Steve Benen 4:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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WHITE HOUSE STILL ON BOARD WITH PUBLIC OPTION.... It's hard to know with certainty what White House officials are saying during closed-door negotiations or private chats in the Oval Office. But there's been quite a bit of speculation about whether, and to what extent, the president and his team are pushing for a public option as part of health care reform.

A Politico report said President Obama "indicated" yesterday to the Senate Democratic leadership that "he supports a public option with a trigger." What about the state opt-out compromise? The president is leaving that to leaders on the Hill as "a question of legislative strategy."

So, is the White House faltering on the issue? I rather doubt it.

As questions swirl about the number of votes in the House for several versions of the public option, varying in strength, Deputy White House Secretary Bill Burton said that President Barack Obama is working on votes in the Senate.

"I will say that the president continues to think that the public option is the best way to achieve choice and competition, and that's what he's working toward," Burton said during a press gaggle on Air Force One this morning.

Later, in the same briefing, a reporter asked about vote counts, prompting Burton to repeat, "... I will say that the president continues to think that the public option is the best way to achieve choice and competition, and that's what he's working towards."

Granted, this isn't exactly a bold pronouncement, but at this point, it's definitely a good thing to have the White House continue to re-emphasize its support for a public option.

What's more, while many reformers found Valerie Jarrett's remarks on "Meet the Press" the other day discouraging, she told MSNBC this morning that the president is "committed to the public option" and that the White House "would keep pushing until the very last moment."

Update: On the other hand, Brian Beutler, citing "multiple sources," reports that Harry Reid is "very close" to having 60 votes for a public option with an opt-out, but the Majority Leader is facing some pushback from the White House, which is touting Olympia Snowe's trigger compromise measure instead.

If so, the White House is making a dreadful mistake. If the Senate can deliver a public option with an opt-out, that's a deal Obama should embrace in a hearbeat. The trigger option is considerably worse, and to promote it as preferable, simply to secure Snowe's vote, is crazy.

Steve Benen 3:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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WORST GOP RATING IN A DECADE.... CNN, releasing the results of its new poll this afternoon, reports, "The Republican Party's favorable rating among Americans is at lowest level in at least a decade, according to a new national poll."


If this doesn't make the GOP nervous, it should. According to the poll, just 36% have a favorable opinion of the Republican Party, while 54% have a negative opinion. When was the last time a CNN poll showed Republicans with a worse rating? According to the internals (pdf), it was December 1998 -- 11 years ago -- the same week House Republicans impeached then-President Bill Clinton and the GOP's favorability rating dropped to 31%.

On the other hand, a 53% majority have a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party. Here's another homemade chart showing the difference between the two.

Now, Republicans can obviously still turn things around. As we talked about the other day, it's certainly possible that by this time next year, an anti-incumbent attitude will be strong enough to deliver significant gains for the GOP in the midterms.

But results like these have to be disheartening. President Obama's poll numbers have fallen in recent months, and so has the Democrats' support in general. But Republicans have not only failed to capitalize, they're actually getting less popular and finding fewer Americans willing to even consider themselves members of the party. The GOP is simply moving backwards.

It occurs to me that the most frightening electoral scenario imaginable for Democrats right now would be a Republican Party that cleaned up its act, started taking public policy seriously, moved towards the American mainstream, and stopped taking orders from talk radio and teabaggers -- the kind of steps that might improve a 36% favorable rating.

Fortunately for Dems, there's no reason to think this might happen.

Steve Benen 2:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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WHAT'S THE ALTERNATIVE?.... Time's Joe Klein is the latest of many high-profile media figures to criticize the White House for daring to consider Fox News a partisan news outlet. Like many of his colleagues, Klein doesn't question the accuracy of the White House's assessment -- no reasonable observer could defend Fox News' ridiculous brand of "journalism" -- but he nevertheless thinks it's a mistake for the president's team to criticize the cable network.

Maybe now would be a good time to look at this debate from a different angle. What would Klein or Ruth Marcus or Ken Rudin encourage the White House to do about its Fox News problem?

To be sure, it is a problem. Fox News, as of Jan. 20, effectively launched a war against President Obama, his administration, and his party. There hasn't even been a pretense of seeking the truth and reporting the news -- it's a full-on, network-wide offensive intended to help the network's Republican allies and undermine the president and his party. It's a campaign that has included supporting right-wing rallies, presenting Republican Party talking points as network research, and 24-7 propaganda.

Nonsense that starts on Fox News invariably spreads to the rest of the discourse, so the White House frequently finds itself on the defensive, for no real reason, because a cable network functions as a communications arm of a political party. With that in mind, simply ignoring Fox News' work isn't really an option.

So, in all seriousness, what's a White House to do? The pushback from journalists at legitimate outlets this week suggests the White House is just supposed to take it. No matter how many nonsensical controversies Fox News creates, no matter how often it lies, no matter how much the network poisons the body politic, the argument goes, the White House is supposed to maintain the pretense that Fox News is a legitimate, non-partisan news network -- even though grown-ups everywhere know this is plainly false.

In other words, Fox News can throw punches, but if the White House punches back, it's an outrageous, Nixon-like abuse.

All week, there's been talk that the White House has launched a "war" against the Republican network. The claim itself misstates the case -- Fox News launched a crusade against Obama and Democrats, and the White House has felt compelled to respond. How? By acknowledging reality and encouraging others to do the same.

There's no boycott, no punishment, no vendetta -- this is just a situation in which the White House is calling Fox News what it obviously is. That's all. That's the whole controversy.

Joe Klein and others think that's a mistake. Fine. But what's the alternative?

Steve Benen 1:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

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PUBLIC CONCERN OVER GLOBAL WARMING FADES.... American attitudes about the climate crisis are changing, and not for the better.

The survey, by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, found a sharp decline over the past year in the portion of Americans who see solid evidence that global temperatures are rising. According to the survey, conducted between Sept. 30 and Oct. 4 among 1,500 adults reached on cell phones and landlines, fewer respondents also see global warming as a very serious problem; 35% say that today, down from 44% in April 2008.

The survey also points to a decline in the proportion of Americans who say global temperatures are rising as a result of human activity. Just 36% say that currently, down from 47% last year.

A majority of Americans still support establishing emissions standards to address global warming, though the majority of the country haven't even heard the phrase "cap and trade."

But it's the decline in those who believe the evidence that's most distressing. What's driving the shift?

Mara Gay has a good summary of competing explanations, but I think there are two main angles to keep an eye on.

The first has to do with partisanship. Matt Yglesias noted, "The header Pew put on the graphic notes that the decline is "across party lines." But you should look at the magnitudes -- the Republican line has fallen way further, and from a lower base, than the Democratic line. This is probably a rationalizing voter example where increased salience of the issue is bringing more Republicans into line with the beliefs espoused by their party's leaders."

Agreed. As recently as 2007. 62% of self-identified Republicans saw evidence of global warming. Two years later, that number has dropped to 35%. The more GOP leaders characterize climate change as an ideological/partisan issue -- it's only something liberal eggheads with their annoying "data" and "evidence" care about -- the more the rank and file will agree. And with a certain cable news network toeing the Republican Party line, telling GOP partisans not to believe the science, it's not too hard to understand the trend.

I'd just add, though, that some of the drop off may be the result of the issue fading from public attention. This year, much of the discourse has been focused on the economy, health care, and the wars. There's been a debate on energy policy, but it's struggled for attention.

Time will tell, of course, but if there's a renewed push from policymakers to take this seriously, and the debate in the Senate on cap and trade intensifies, the poll numbers should improve as understand grows. Indeed, even with the shift in the wrong direction, the same data pointed to a public desire for action on the issue.

Americans, in other words, still want policymakers to act, even if there's unnecessary skepticism about the climate trends.

Steve Benen 12:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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FRIDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* More competing poll results in New Jersey's gubernatorial race. A Democracy Corps poll shows Gov. Jon Corzine (D) leading Chris Christie (R), 42% to 39%, with independent Chris Daggett at 13%. A SurveyUSA poll, however, shows Christie leading Corzine, 41% to 39%, with Daggett at 19%.

* Christie is going with an endorsement from former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean (R) in one of the campaign's last ads.

* Democratic Party leaders not only expect Creigh Deeds (D) to lose Virginia's gubernatorial race, they're starting to talk about his poor campaign strategy. "Obama, Kaine and others had drawn a road map to victory in Virginia," one official said. "Deeds chose another path."

* Deeds' new ad in Southwest Virginia touts his opposition to "that cap and trade bill."

* A new Research 2000 poll for Daily Kos in the closely watched special election in New York's 23rd shows Democrat Bill Owens out in front with 35%. Republican Dede Scozzafava is second in the three-way contest with 30%, and Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman is third with 23%.

* On a related note, Hoffman continues to pick up support for prominent right-wing leaders. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) threw her support to Hoffman on her Facebook page, joining Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Dick Armey, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh among far-right activists supporting the Conservative Party candidate over the Republican nominee.

* President Obama will be in Connecticut tonight, appearing at a fundraiser for Sen. Chris Dodd (D).

* And in New York City, with less than two weeks to go, a Marist College poll shows New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) leading Comptroller William Thompson (D), 52% to 36%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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SUNDAY SHOW BOOKERS REFUSE TO READ POLITICAL ANIMAL.... Maybe I should start taking this personally.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has been booked for yet another Sunday talk show appearance this weekend -- this time on CBS' Face The Nation. Despite a "wildly unsuccessful presidential campaign" last year and his comparative irrelevancy in the U.S. Senate, this will mark the 15th time McCain has appeared on a Sunday talk show since January.

For crying out loud. As of this weekend, there will have been 40 Sundays since President Obama's inauguration in January. With his 15th Sunday show appearance, McCain will have been a guest on one of the programs every 2.6 weeks. No other official in the country comes close.

Since the president took office, McCain has been on "Meet the Press" twice (July 12 and March 29), "This Week" three times (September 27, August 23, and May 10), "Fox News Sunday" three times (July 2, March 8, and January 25), and CNN's "State of the Union" three times (October 11, August 2, and February 15). His appearance on "Face the Nation" this weekend will be his fourth appearance since February (October 25, August 30, April 26, and February 8).

And who, exactly, is John McCain? He's the one who lost last year's presidential race badly, and is now just another conservative senator in the minority. He's not in the party leadership; he has no role in any important negotiations on any issue; and he's offered no significant pieces of legislation. By all appearances, McCain isn't even especially influential among his own GOP colleagues.

Now, I suspect producers for "Face the Nation" will point out that U.S. policy in Afghanistan is a very important topic right now, and argue that McCain represents the conservative Republican perspective on the issue. Perhaps.

But let's not forget a) McCain has already discussed his position on Afghanistan on other programs very recently; b) his understanding of U.S. foreign policy is tenuous at best; c) we already know what he's going to say, making the interview dull before it even happens; and d) there are plenty of other Republicans who agree with McCain who aren't on every 2.6 weeks.

In other words, there's just no reason for the media's obsession with McCain. It's as if the bookers are addicted, and as a first step, I'd encourage them to admit they have a problem.

Steve Benen 11:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

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ONE EYE ON POLICY, ONE EYE ON CLOTURE.... Every time a center-right member of the Senate Democratic caucus says something discouraging about health care reform, there's always a key caveat: their votes on cloture matter more than their votes on the bill. Just so long as these "Conservadems" oppose a Republican filibuster that would block consideration of the bill, they can vote however they please on the legislation itself.

With that in mind, there's pretty intense interest in how these members plan to proceed on cloture. For example, it flew under the radar this week, but Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.) told Ryan Grim the other day, "I'm not right now inclined to support any filibuster." Noting the GOP's obstructionists tactics, Landrieu added, "For the Republican Party to kind of step out of the game is very unfortunate. I'm not going to be joining people that don't want progress."

What's more, last week, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) said, "I don't think you'll see me or any other Democrats" support a filibuster. (via Aaron Wiener)

Yesterday, Arlen Specter offered a surprisingly encouraging assessment.

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) on Thursday said that Democrats have 60 votes for cloture on a healthcare bill with a national public health insurance option. [...]

"We have 60 votes without Sen. [Olympia] Snowe [R-Maine] to invoke cloture," Specter told MSNBC [last night]. "I hope we have her but we may be able to do it without her."

Specter said the senators on the fence about the public option may vote for cloture to bring the bill to a floor vote, then vote against the legislation.

"Very frequently a senator will vote for cloture but against the bill," he said.

If that's true, it's obviously a major breakthrough. If there are already 60 votes for cloture, the likelihood of a strong bill becoming law is very strong. The problem, though, is that Specter seems to be the only person who's convinced that those votes are definitely there. I hope he's right, but I'll temper my enthusiasm until I hear others -- say, someone in the leadership, for example -- make the same assessment.

All things being equal, though, this is the right push -- just get the center-right Dems to commit to an up-or-down vote. That's all. They don't have to like the bill; they don't even have to vote for the bill; they can even vote for an amendment to remove the public option from the bill; they just have to let the bill come to the floor for a vote.

Get 60 senators to agree, and everything will work out fine.

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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AHIP PLAYS MAKE-BELIEVE.... America's Health Insurance Plans, or AHIP, hasn't exactly been a constructive player on health care reform lately. After fighting all summer against the public option, last week, the insurance lobby published a deceptive report on health care premiums. Soon after, insurers launched a new round of attack ads. This week, a top AHIP lobbyist described pro-reform Democrats as "the enemy" and insisted that congressional Republicans vote in lock-step against the final bill.

And so it was a little comical yesterday when AHIP president Karen Ignagni characterized the insurers' group as a friend of health care reform.

Speaking beneath the twinkling crystal chandeliers of the Capitol Hilton ballroom [Thursday] morning, America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) president Karen Ignagni declared that the insurance industry is still on board with the Democratic health care reform effort, pushing back against the presumption that the two sides have declared war. "Our community was one of the first to position ourselves very actively to a massive overhaul of the insurance market," Ignagni told the audience members, who were attending the organization's conference on state insurance issues. She added that AHIP is still pushing for "a massive restructuring of how markets work and a massive change in the way the administrative process works" within insurance companies.

Altogether, Ignagni was trying to present the insurance industry as one of the major visionaries behind health care reform -- not one of its obstructionists.

Isn't it a little late in the game for AHIP to pretend it's ready to work in good faith with Democrats on a comprehensive reform bill? Who's going to buy this?

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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LOOKING FOR VOTES IN THE HOUSE.... On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that she intended to move forward on a health care reform bill with a robust public option. She asked House Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) to start canvassing the caucus, getting firm answers from every member on whether they're prepared to vote for the bill.

Yesterday, the leadership got a better sense of where the caucus stands. The news wasn't necessarily encouraging.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) drive for a public option in healthcare reform ran into turbulence Thursday when a survey of her caucus showed she needs more votes to pass such a bill.

The survey ordered by Pelosi turned up 46 Democrats who said they would vote against the so-called "robust" public option, according to a Democratic lawmaker who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Given the arithmetic, 46 is too many. There are 256 House Democrats, and it takes 218 to pass a bill. That gives Pelosi some room to maneuver, but if 39 Dems break ranks and oppose the bill, reform dies.

With that in mind, the two chambers are looking at similar points from different directions. In the Senate, leaders seem to be moving from no public option towards the opt-out compromise. In the House, leaders may be moving from a robust public option towards some kind of compromise.

One possibility is changing the nature of reimbursement rates, towards the "negotiated rates" option, but the problem with that is it costs more and would push the overall price tag over $900 billion.

There's likely to be some movement today. The House caucus meets this morning, and the leadership may make a decision today on how to proceed. Pelosi doesn't intend to waste too much time going forward -- the Speaker wants to unveil a bill next week, and hold a floor vote in early November. The goal, according to several sources, is to pass a bill before Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

I don't want to characterize this as trouble in the House, because that's not necessarily the case. In fact, some of the 46 Dems who aren't on board with the plan have objections that have nothing to do with the public option, and leaders still expect to iron out the wrinkles and put together a majority.

At this point, it's just a matter of threading a needle.

Update: According to the Speaker's office, reports on the death of a robust public option in the House are premature, and talks continue.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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THE INVITATION IS THE PROBLEM.... Right-wing pundit Frank Gaffney was on MSNBC's "Hardball" yesterday, debating U.S. policy in Afghanistan with Ron Reagan. It didn't go well, but the heated exchange was really only part of the problem. (thanks to reader W.B. for the tip)

After Reagan rejected the neocon approach to the conflict, Gaffney made things personal. "Your father would be ashamed of you," Gaffney told Reagan. The former president's son replied, "You better watch your mouth about that, Frank."

Now, Gaffney probably knows he crossed a line of decency; in fact that probably why he said what he said. Gaffney's a right-wing nutjob whose job it is to say ridiculous things.

And that's really what matters here. Gaffney's insane rhetoric isn't the problem; the fact that he was invited onto national television (again) to share his insane rhetoric is the problem.

Gaffney probably isn't a household name, but inside the media establishment, he's a pretty well known figure, as evidenced by his joint appearance with Dick Cheney on Wednesday night. And when offered a major media platform, Gaffney takes full advantage.

In April, for example, Gaffney appeared on MSNBC to argue that whenever President Obama uses the word "respect" in foreign policy, the word is "code for those who adhere to Sharia that we will submit to Sharia." He wasn't kidding.

In June, Gaffney wrote a column insisting that President Obama might really be a Muslim. In March, Gaffney argued that "evidence" exists connecting Saddam Hussein to 9/11, the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, and the Oklahoma City bombing. Last September, Gaffney argued that Sarah Palin has learned foreign policy through "osmosis," by living in Alaska. He's argued that U.S. forces really did find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but the media covered it up. He's used made-up quotes and recommended "hanging" Democratic officials critical of the Bush administration's Iraq policy. He even believes there's "evidence" to support the "Birthers," and once recommended a military strike on Al Jazeera headquarters.

So why is it, exactly, that MSNBC's "Hardball" invited Gaffney on to talk about foreign policy? What is it the viewing public can learn from listening to his unhinged perspective?

To be sure, Gaffney is certainly entitled to believe obvious lunacy, but that doesn't mean he deserves a microphone or the opportunity to convince a national television audience that his lunacy is legitimate.

Honestly, is there nothing conservatives can say that would force them from polite company? Just how nutty must far-right activists be before they're no longer invited to share their ridiculous ideas?

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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WHERE WE STAND.... Jonathan Cohn noted early this morning, "Thursday was as crazy a day as I've seen in Washington." Things did get pretty nutty yesterday, with a sudden and unexpected flurry of activity on health care reform and the public option. Cohn added, "[O]ver the course of the day, one thing became increasingly clear. At least for the moment, the debate isn't over whether to include a public option. It's over what kind."

Some of the reports yesterday proved more reliable than others, so let's take stock and review where we stand this morning. At this point, it seems Harry Reid is inclined to gamble on a reform bill that includes a public option, with the state opt-out compromise.

In pushing to include a government-run health insurance plan in the health care bill, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, is taking a calculated gamble that the 60 members of his caucus could support the plan if it included a way for states to opt out.

Mr. Reid met with President Obama at the White House Thursday to inform him of his inclination to add the public option to the bill, but did not specifically ask the president to endorse that approach, a Democratic aide said. Mr. Obama asked questions, but did not express a preference at the meeting, a White House official said.

Mr. Reid's outlook was shaped, in part, by opinion polls showing public support for a government insurance plan, which would compete with private insurers.

Now, ABC News reported mid-day that Reid believes he has the votes in place to pass the reform bill with the public option. While the Majority Leader's office was content to let some scuttlebutt go without comment, this wasn't one of them -- multiple reports indicated that Reid has not lined up the votes, at least not yet.

And therein lies the gamble: Reid apparently intends to move forward with the bill he wants, and expects to line up the necessary support on the floor.

By all indications, Max Baucus isn't happy with this turn of events, and Olympia Snowe keeps telling anyone who'll listen how much she dislikes the public option (read: she's not voting for it). That said, Reid is sending up one giant trial balloon, waiting/watching to see just how apoplectic possible opponents become, and the reaction from the center-right has been fairly muted. Fears of an automatic, open revolt against the effort hasn't materialized. In other words, so far so good for reformers.

And where, pray tell, has this momentum for the public option come from? Brian Beutler reported, "According to a source close to negotiations, it came from [Wednesday] night's closed door meeting between Senate and White House officials, with the push coming from Democratic leadership."

"It came out at last night's meeting," the source indicated. "It was indicated that based on some surveying that had been done of the moderates, that it doesn't so far seem like they would jump out of their skin as long as they have an opportunity to vote to strip it."

That's an interesting point to keep in mind. If the bill comes to the floor with the public option, and that seems to be where we're headed, Democratic opponents of the measure will get the chance to vote on an amendment to take it out. Reid and other leaders know that vote will fail -- there's no way to find 60 votes against a public option -- but Landrieu and other Democratic opponents will be able to tell their constituents and insurance-company allies, "Look, I voted specifically against the idea."

There will be more discussions today. Stay tuned.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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October 22, 2009

THURSDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Good to see: "Washington launched its biggest offensive yet against runaway Wall Street pay practices Thursday, taking aim at everyone from senior executives to high-flying traders of complex securities. Leading the charge was the White House, which outline a series of drastic pay cuts for top executives at the nation's biggest bailed-out companies, including AIG, Citigroup and Bank of America."

* In related news: "A day after the Obama administration clamped down on executive pay at companies that received federal bailouts, the Federal Reserve acted more broadly Thursday to curb pay packages that encouraged bankers and other executives to take the kinds of reckless risks that contributed to the housing bubble."

* With a unanimous vote at the FCC, net neutrality takes another encouraging step.

* I hope the insurance industry wasn't too attached to that anti-trust exemption.

* The public supports taking it away, too.

* So true: "The battle to pass financial regulatory reform is going to be like trench warfare: a grinding, bloody struggle that's won a single subparagraph at a time against a relentless barrage of money, lawyers, and lunches at Tosca. And that's the optimistic view."

* Hmm: "Three dozen moderate Democrats are warning Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) that they must show that their health care bill will cut long-term costs or they will vote it down."

* The politics surrounding the failure of the "doc fix" aren't what they appear at first blush.

* There's a very good reason the pharmaceutical industry has been smiling for months.

* White House economist Christina Romer thinks unemployment will be a problem for a very long time.

* I caught some flack on my post the other day about President Obama's support for the public option, but Speaker Pelosi's office seems to think I'm right.

* The Senate can be infuriating: "Nine former U.S. assistant secretaries of state have written to Senate leaders warning that U.S. relations with the Western hemisphere 'are being damaged' because of a dispute that has blocked the confirmation of two key diplomatic appointees to the region."

* Fox News = professional wrestling.

* NPR's Ken Rudin apologizes for Obama-Nixon comparison. Good for him.

* Ruth Marcus responded to related criticism, but didn't walk back her odd comments.

* You'll always remember your first furlough fest.

* Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) disagrees with Dick Cheney's "dithering" criticism.

* The NYT's Ross Douthat opposes gay marriage, but he's having trouble explaining why.

* Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) thinks Bob Dole's position on health care will "increase a non-pro-freedom agenda." First, that's dumb. Second, isn't the phrase she's looking for there "anti-freedom"?

* The NYT's Andrew Revkin thinks Rush Limbaugh owes him an apology. I think he's right.

* It's awful to get fired. It's really awful to learn you've been fired through a Google Alert issued by Fox News.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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A MID-ATLANTIC MIRACLE.... At a time when public university tuition rates everywhere are skyrocketing, one state has managed to buck this trend: Maryland. Jon Marcus, U.S. correspondent for the Times (U.K.) Higher Education magazine, decided to figure out why. The answer, it turned out, had more to do with common sense and reasonable debate than anything else.

"It's not a terribly shocking tale," Marcus writes in a web exclusive article on the Washington Monthly's new College Guide website, "unless you work in academia, in which case you talk about the Maryland example the way soldiers discuss the Battle of Thermopylae. Indeed, what's astonishing about this story is not so much what happened as the fact that in other states, such things almost never do."

Take a look.

Steve Benen 5:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

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IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION.... The principal negotiators merging the competing Senate health care bills -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the Senate HELP Committee's Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), and a small team of White House officials -- are being pretty tight lipped about their discussions.

But what everyone else is saying sounds pretty good this afternoon.

As we talked about earlier, Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) believe the bill that will go to the floor will have a public option. Sen. Tom Carper (D) of Delaware, who's played an active role in exploring compromise alternatives, is hearing the same thing.

After a meeting with Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) discussed the status of the public plan in the Senate health care bill with reporters. Here's what he said:

"I think at the end of the day there will be a national plan probably put together not by the federal government but by a non-profit board with some seed money from the federal government that states would initially participate in because of lack of affordability. The question is should there be an opportunity for states to opt out later on and if so, within a year, within two years, within three years?"

Again, this is both important and encouraging. If the bill heads to the floor with a public option, it'll take 60 votes to get it out before there's a final vote. We now have three relevant senators, who've been briefed on the discussions, publicly acknowledging that this now seems likely.

As for Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who opposes the public option for bizarre reasons, and doesn't seem to understand precisely what the public option even is, she told NPR this afternoon that the polls showing strong national support for the idea don't matter, because Americans are wrong.

"I think if you asked, 'Do you want a public option but it would force the government to go bankrupt,' people would say 'No,'" Landrieu said.

Now, I'll gladly concede that popularity does not always denote merit. In other words, sometimes polls will show public attitudes pointing in one direction, but that doesn't make the direction necessarily correct.

But Landrieu's arguments are getting increasingly incoherent. Yes, if you asked people if they want the government to go bankrupt, chances are pretty good the poll results would be one-sided. But why on earth does Landrieu think a public option would bankrupt the government? Does she realize that the public option is a way to save money?

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'LEANING TOWARD' A PUBLIC OPTION.... Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) briefed Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and other Democratic "centrists" this morning on the status of the discussions merging the two Senate health care reform bills.

Nelson wasn't thrilled with what he heard, but it sounds awfully encouraging to me.

"I keep hearing there is a lot of leaning toward some sort of national public option, unfortunately, from my standpoint," said Nelson, a key swing senator. "I still believe a state-based approach is the way in which to go. So I'm not being shy about making that point."

Nelson's comments underscore what has appeared to be a significant movement in recent weeks towards the public option. If Reid and the White House included a public option in the Senate bill, it would signal remarkable shift from where Democrats and Republicans thought the debate was headed after the tumultuous August recess.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) added, "What I'm hearing is this is the direction of the conversation."

Now, you'll no doubt notice the caveats here. Nelson talked about what he "keeps hearing," and Conrad used similar language. In other words, this is still in the realm of scuttlebutt. It's informed scuttlebutt -- Nelson and Conrad have been briefed on how the discussions are going -- but it's not in the take-it-to-the-bank category.

That said, if what Nelson and Conrad are hearing is accurate, it's very encouraging news for reform advocates. If the merger talks produce a bill that includes a public option -- and that's reportedly where there's "a lot of leaning" -- it'll take 60 votes to get it out on the Senate floor. It's why these negotiations are so important -- it'll be far easier to protect the public option that's already in the bill than muster the votes to get the public option into the bill.

It's why Nelson's and Conrad's comments have such blockbuster potential. We've all been wondering if, and to what extent, Reid, Baucus, Dodd, and White House officials would pursue a public option. These comments suggest that's where we're headed.

Steve Benen 3:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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GIBBS SETS THE RECORD STRAIGHT.... Following up on an earlier item, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked this afternoon about Dick Cheney's criticism of President Obama on U.S. policy in Afghanistan.

"What Vice President Cheney calls 'dithering, President Obama calls his solemn responsibility to the men and women in uniform and the American public,'" Gibbs said. "I think we've all seen what happens when somebody doesn't take that responsibility seriously."

That's a pretty good response, actually.

Now, if you watch the whole clip, you'll notice that Gibbs repeatedly references a request for additional troops and resources for the conflict in Afghanistan from Gen. David McKiernan in early 2008 -- a request that Gibbs argues Bush/Cheney put off for the next administration to deal with.

Is that what happened? Pretty much, yes. Jason Zengerle pointed to this Rajiv Chandrasekaran piece from a few weeks ago, which noted McKiernan's request: "A military official familiar with McKiernan's thinking said his request for 30,000 troops last fall was tempered by a belief that the Bush White House would reject it outright if he asked for more. As it was, Bush tabled the request, leaving it to Obama."

Here's hoping the press doesn't respond to Gibbs' pushback against Cheney by comparing the White House to Nixon again.

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SNOWE FALLS ON OPT-OUT COMPROMISE.... The opt-out compromise on the public option seems to be gaining some momentum. Brian Beutler asked Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) this afternoon if it's a proposal she might be able to support.

"I don't support that," Snowe said.

Asked further whether she would participate in a filibuster on a bill with a public option, she went almost all the way.

"I've said, I'm against a public option...yes...it would be difficult" to support allowing the bill to proceed to a vote.

For all the talk about Snowe's moderation and commitment to reform, she's still a Republican opposed to the idea of insurance companies facing competition and giving Americans a choice.

Indeed, it's worth appreciating how extreme Snowe's position really is. Most Americans like the idea of giving eligible consumers a choice between a private and a public insurance plan. Snowe doesn't want consumers to have the choice. As a compromise, Democrats have said states would have the option of not participating in the public insurance plan. Snowe doesn't want states to have the choice to give its residents a choice.

And Snowe's opposition is so intense, she's inclined to stop the Senate from even considering the bill at all, even if a majority of the country and a majority of the Congress thinks it's a worthwhile idea.

But if Dems agreed to put off the public option until some vague and undefined "trigger" standards kick in, then Snowe might agree to let the Senate vote on health care reform.

This just isn't rational. Snowe has demonstrated a genuine interest in health care reform, and that's admirable. But she's willing to defeat a bill she would otherwise consider based on a single provision that most Americans wouldn't be eligible for anyway? Is the popular policy idea really so offensive that it's worth killing the entire initiative, decades in the making, and letting this once-in-a-generation opportunity pass?

As Matt Yglesias asked last week, "Are moderate members really so fanatically devoted to the interests of private health insurance companies that they would take a package they otherwise support and kill it purely in order to do the industry's bidding on one point?"

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DICK CAN'T STOP TALKING.... It's very tempting to just blow off Dick Cheney's latest harangue. He's just a failed former vice president whose ideas have already been discredited, and whose catastrophic record on national security issues is pretty obvious.

But his comments last night were just a little too offensive to let pass by unnoticed.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney on Wednesday night accused the White House of dithering over the strategy for the war in Afghanistan and urged President Barack Obama to "do what it takes to win."

"Make no mistake. Signals of indecision out of Washington hurt our allies and embolden our adversaries," Cheney said while accepting an award from a conservative national security group, the Center for Security Policy. [...]

"The White House must stop dithering while America's armed forces are in danger," the former vice president said. "It's time for President Obama to do what it takes to win a war he has repeatedly and rightly called a war of necessity."

It's hard to know where to start, but I suppose it's worth noting from the outset that Cheney and the most recent administration left the mess in Afghanistan for President Obama to clean up. Hearing the guy who screwed up tell the Commander in Chief, "Hurry up and mop faster" is more than a little disturbing.

For that matter, Cheney wants to see Obama "do what it takes to win"? That's a fine idea -- too bad Cheney didn't follow that advice when he was helping run the previous administration. Conditions in Afghanistan were stable and improving when Bush/Cheney decided it was time to launch an unnecessary and costly war in Iraq, making it easier for the Taliban to regroup and go on the offensive.

The White House isn't sending "signals of indecision"; the White House is doing what Cheney failed to do: come up with a strategic plan for the future of U.S. policy in Afghanistan. In Grown-Up Land, it's the former vice president who "dithered" his way through eight years in Afghanistan. Taking a few weeks to come up with a coherent plan doesn't put U.S. troops "in danger"; listening to Dick Cheney puts U.S. troops "in danger."

Cheney said last night that the Bush White House left Obama with a great plan. That's an interesting claim.It'd be more compelling if we had any reason to believe it.

Let's taks a quick look back at recent history.

The Bush White House delivered a major review of Afghanistan [in December 2008] that echoed that judgment, acknowledged that a modern Afghan democracy -- stable and free of extremists -- may be both unattainable and unaffordable, and said that the United States may have to accept trade-offs among priorities.

"We have no strategic plan. We never had one," a senior U.S. military commander said of the Bush years.

Retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton explained today:

The record is clear: Dick Cheney and the Bush administration were incompetent war fighters. They ignored Afghanistan for 7 years with a crude approach to counter-insurgency warfare best illustrated by: 1. Deny it. 2. Ignore it. 3. Bomb it. While our intelligence agencies called the region the greatest threat to America, the Bush White House under-resourced our military efforts, shifted attention to Iraq, and failed to bring to justice the masterminds of September 11.

The only time Cheney and his cabal of foreign policy 'experts' have anything to say is when they feel compelled to protect this failed legacy. While President Obama is tasked with cleaning up the considerable mess they left behind, they continue to defend torture or rewrite a legacy of indifference on Afghanistan. Simply put, Mr. Cheney sees history throughout extremely myopic and partisan eyes.

When speaking about national security policy, Dick Cheney a) owes us an apology; and b) should be politely asking for Americans' forgiveness. That Cheney feels comfortable making demands of the administration dealing with his failures shows a certain pathological quality.

Post Script: Just as an aside, I think it's fair to say that if Al Gore had delivered a speech like this one during a crisis moment in Afghanistan, as the Bush White House formulated a policy, Gore would have quickly seen his patriotism questioned, and words like "treason" would be thrown around casually by Cheney's allies, if not Cheney himself.

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AHIP URGES GOP NOT TO GIVE 'COMFORT TO THE ENEMY'.... Well, I guess it's safe to say private health insurers have no intention of rebuilding burnt bridges. Suzy Khimm noted the other day, "Activists on the left have long insisted that insurance companies aren't to be trusted. But up until now, it's been hard to make the charge stick, since the insurance lobby -- a.k.a., America's Health Insurance Plans -- has been cooperating with the White House and its allies."

That cooperation is officially over.

It started last week with a deceptive report on health care premiums. Soon after, insurers launched a new round of attack ads. Now, Sam Stein reports on the industry's message to Republicans.

A top lobbyist for the major private insurance industry trade group, America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), urged Congressional Republicans to not even consider helping Democrats pass health care reform lest they aid an "enemy who is down."

Steve Champlin, a lobbyist for the Duberstein Group who represents AHIP, declared that the road to a bipartisan health care reform bill was, essentially, dead. And he urged GOP members to keep it that way.

"There is absolutely no interest, no reason Republicans should ever vote for this thing. They have gone from a party that got killed 11 months ago to a party that is rising today. And they are rising up on the turmoil of health care," said Champlin. "So when they vote for a health care reform bill, whatever it is, they are giving comfort to the enemy who is down."

Chaplain made the remarks at an annual AHIP conference. He added that he expected reform with some kind of public option to pass, though he emphasized the importance of Republicans standing firm in opposition.

Now, it's worth noting that this isn't especially surprising. Private health insurers don't support health care reform? They consider Democratic policymakers "the enemy"? Well, sure.

Reading this, though, I'm reminded of the Republican Meme of the Week. If the White House criticizes AHIP, and tries to leverage the industry's antics to rally support for reform, the administration, we're told, must be creating an "enemies list." If Obama criticizes insurers, he resembles, we're told, be a modern-day Nixon.

In other words, AHIP can try to derail reform, pressure Republicans to vote in lock-step against improving the broken system, and characterize the majority as "the enemy," but if the White House pushes back, it's the president and his team who are being outrageous.

Our discourse can be awfully frustrating sometimes.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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THURSDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* A new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll in New Jersey's gubernatorial race shows Gov. Jon Corzine (D) with a three-point lead over Chris Christie (R), 39% to 36%. Support for independent Chris Daggett's campaign has surged to 20% in the poll.

* President Obama campaigned with Corzine in New Jersey last night, speaking at a rally with 3,000 people at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

* Hoping to turn things around in the special election in New York's 23rd, Dede Scozzafava (R) campaigned yesterday outside of one of Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman's offices. That probably wasn't a good idea.

* In Florida, a new Rasmussen poll shows Gov. Charlie Crist's lead over Marco Rubio down to 15 points, 49% to 35%, in a Republican Senate primary. The results are nearly identical to the poll released by Quinnipiac yesterday.

* Speaking of Florida, Rasmussen also found state Attorney General Bill McCollum (R) leading state CFO Alex Sink (D) in next year's open gubernatorial campaign, 46% to 35%.

* A Research 2000 poll for the PCCC found Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) trailing in his re-election bid next year, but by smaller margins than some other recent polls. This survey found Reid trailing Sue Lowden and Danny Tarkanian by five points each.

* To the disappointment of Kansas Democrats, Party Chairman Larry Gates announced this week that he will not run for governor next year.

* Would Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D) challenge Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) in a primary next year? Rumor has it, Halter's thinking about it.

* And in 2012 news, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) apparently isn't planning a presidential campaign, but she'd like to see fellow crazy person, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), run for the Republican nomination.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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THOSE CANADIAN HIP REPLACEMENTS.... Long-time regulars may know I have quite a few "conversation enders." These are comments that lead you to know, the moment you hear them, that the writer/speaker is either clueless or intellectually dishonest, and there's really no reason to engage the person in a serious dialog.

We all have them. When I hear, "Tax cuts are fiscally responsible because they pay for themselves," it's a conversation ender. When I hear, "Evolution is just a theory," it's a conversation ender. When someone says, "Global warming can't be real because it's cold outside," it's a conversation ender. More recently, references to "death panels," Democrats' similarities to Nazis, or questions about the president's birthplace are automatic conversation enders.

But one of the all-time classic conversation enders is the belief that seniors can't get hip-replacement surgeries in Canada. Here's Rep. Todd Akin (R) of Missouri on the House floor yesterday:

"I just hit 62, and I was just reading that in Canada [if] I got a bad hip I wouldn't be able to get that hip replacement that [Rep. Dan Lungren] got, because I'm too old! I'm an old geezer now and it's not worth a government bureaucrat to pay me to get my hip fixed."

This is comically wrong, and it's been debunked over and over again. For one thing, the comparison itself is nonsensical, since Democrats aren't proposing a Canadian-style system.

But more important is the fact that seniors in Canada get hip-replacement surgeries all the time: "'At least 63 percent of hip replacements performed in Canada last year...were on patients age 65 or older.' In 2006-2007, an additional 1,577 hip replacement surgeries were performed in Canada on patients over 85."

As it turns out, just a few months ago, Rep. Roy Blunt, Akin's fellow Missouri Republican, made the identical claim. When it was proven false, Blunt walked it back and vowed not to repeat the bogus claim again.

If only Todd Akin paid closer attention.

Update: Paul Krugman takes this a couple of steps further, adding some socialized-medicinal details that I'd overlooked.

Steve Benen 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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LANDRIEU'S LINE IN THE SAND.... The AP reports this morning on the Senate Democrats "who are more concerned about their next election or feel they have little to lose by opposing their party's hierarchy," and who may stand in the way of health care reform.

Many of the usual suspects were mentioned, but one stood out.

Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, where Obama lost by a similar margin, said she might be willing to let some states try "fallback or trigger" mechanisms that would create a public option if residents don't have enough insurance choices.

But she told reporters, "I'm not for a government-run, national, taxpayer-subsidized plan, and never will be."

That is, except for Medicare, which is a taxpayer-subsidized national plan that Landrieu supports.

And Medicaid, which is also a taxpayer-subsidized national plan that Landrieu supports.

And the V.A. system, which is also a taxpayer-subsidized national plan that Landrieu supports.

And S-CHIP, which is also a taxpayer-subsidized national plan that Landrieu supports.

And the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan, which is also a taxpayer-subsidized national plan that Landrieu supports -- and takes personal advantage of.

Yes, except for all the "government-run, national, taxpayer-subsidized plans" Landrieu already favors, she's not for them and she never will be.

Good to know.

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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JOHN KERRY DELIVERS IN AFGHANISTAN.... It's nice to John Kerry get some well-deserved credit.

Sen. John Kerry's successful mission to Kabul -- in which he convinced Afghan President Hamid Karzai to hold a second-round runoff to August's fraud-soaked election -- suggests that the Obama administration is putting the squeeze on Karzai to clean up his act as a precondition to getting more U.S. troops to help fight his war.

The squeeze was subtler -- or, at least quieter -- than the yelling sessions that AfPak envoy Richard Holbrooke and Vice President Joe Biden -- both famously voluble characters -- have held with Karzai in recent months.

Yet a chronology of Kerry's "shuttle diplomacy" pieced together by ABC News shows the Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate foreign-relations committee meeting with Karzai six times, some sessions for hours at a stretch, during a five-day trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan Oct. 16-20 -- each visit at the behest of, and in consultation with, Holbrooke and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

U.S. officials agreed that a runoff was necessary to maintain at least some confidence among the Afghan population in the legitimacy of its government. Karzai didn't much care, and was poised to ignore the report of international investigators who documented election irregularities.

Given recent incidents in which Holbrooke and Biden expressed their disdain for Karzai's conduct, it fell to Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to convince the Afghan president. It wasn't easy, but the senator's efforts paid off, and the Obama administration got the results it wanted.

Marc Ambinder asked, "Has Sen. John Kerry ever had as good a press cycle?"

Indeed, most of the stories devoted to Kerry have the exact same analysis: Kerry was reluctantly thrust into the role of negotiator. Kerry developed Karzai's trust. Kerry had the diplomatic skills that current ambassador Karl Eikenberry lacked. Kerry's importuning proved to be the turning point. Oh, and it compares favorably to Kerry's brokering of a dialog between the U.S. and Syria earlier in the year.

The Boston Globe called it a "triumph" for Kerry -- his biggest accomplishment since the presidential race. The Wall Street Journal, along with many other publications, noted that Kerry used his own experience in 2004 to establish a better bond with Karzai.

And in case there are any doubts, these developments do not point to tensions between Kerry and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Just the opposite -- David Rogers reported that the two worked together on this: "Clinton, as secretary of state, helped clear the way with a long call to Karzai but also gave Kerry the room to run. And the result -- Karzai's agreement to hold a runoff election next month -- was a joint triumph for the onetime rivals."

Have I mentioned lately how nice it is to have grown-ups in positions of governmental authority again?

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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SUPPORTING THE TROOPS.... The timing of the new GOP attacks could be better.

Republicans are already signaling they will paint any Dem opposition to General Stanley McChrystal's demand for an expanded counterinsurgency as letting down the troops. House GOP leader John Boehner said today that Obama's failure to fill the General's demand right now amounted to "foot-dragging" that "puts our troops there at much greater danger than they would be otherwise."

Three thoughts come to mind. First, this notion that deliberate decision-making undermines the military is absurd. President Obama explained yesterday that the U.S. shouldn't "put resources ahead of strategy," says "we're going to take the time to get this right." Boehner may prefer to escalate first and think later, but we tried it that way for eight years. It didn't work.

Second, George W. Bush took months to ponder the "surge" policy in Iraq. I don't recall leading Republicans whining at the time about presidential "foot-dragging" that "puts our troops there at much greater danger than they would be otherwise."

And third, if John Boehner wants to talk about putting U.S. servicemen and women in danger, shouldn't he explain why he voted against troop funding just a couple of weeks ago?

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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EVEN NPR.... Ken Rudin is the political editor for NPR. To see him swallow the latest Republican attack meme whole is more than a little painful. Here's his commentary on "Talk of the Nation" yesterday, complaining about the White House's criticism of Fox News.

"Well, it's not only aggressive, it's almost Nixonesque. I mean, you think of what Nixon and Agnew did with their enemies list and their attacks on the media and certainly Vice President Agnew's constant denunciation of the media. Of course, then it was a conservative president denouncing a liberal media, and of course, a lot of good liberals said, 'Oh, that's ridiculous. That's an infringement on the freedom of press.' And now you see a lot of liberals almost kind of applauding what the White House is doing to Fox News, which I think is distressing."

I'd like to think Ken Rudin knows better. I expected too much.

Now would be an excellent time for a reality break. Has the Obama White House ordered the Justice Department to spy on Fox News employees? Has the administration ordered the IRS to start digging through Fox News' books, hunting for irregularities and auditing on-air personalities? Has the president directed thugs to break into Glenn Beck's psychiatrist's office?

Of course not, that would be insane. And so is this comparison.

Nixon used the power of the presidency to harass, intimidate, and investigate those who questioned him. It was as scandalous an abuse as the nation has ever seen -- the White House used the levers of government to attack independent news outlets.

And what as the Obama team done? They've dared to point out a simple reality: an obviously-partisan propaganda outlet in not a legitimate news organization. That's it. That's the totality of the White House's efforts -- criticizing a network that operates as an arm of a political party. There's no boycott, no punishment, no vendetta. All we have here are some White House aides who've criticized a network.

And Ken Rudin, Ruth Marcus, and others are comfortable comparing this to Nixon's illegal abuses and "enemies lists."

As manufactured outrages go, this is truly ridiculous, even for a shallow Washington media establishment.

For years, Republicans have been on the attack -- against the media in general, and a handful of outlets in specific. GOP leaders and officials have boycotted news outlets they don't like; they've attacked networks they believed to biased; and they've routinely snubbed those whose coverage they disapproved of. The last White House went after NBC News, even from the briefing room's podium. Republican disgust for the media has been a staple of American politics for what seems like forever. Ken Rudin, Ruth Marcus, and others never once compared this to Nixon-era abuses.

And yet, when the White House dares to offer mild and accurate criticism, the political establishment not only throws a fit to defend a sorry excuse for a journalistic enterprise, it embraces a nonsensical comparison to a former president/criminal.

It's incomprehensible. Ken Rudin ought to be embarrassed.

Update: Rudin apologized this afternoon. Good for him.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (113)

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ROCKEFELLER SIGNALS WILLINGNESS TO COMPROMISE.... No senator has been more enthusiastic in his support for the public option that Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.). And so it came as something of a surprise yesterday when he acknowledged that he's open to a compromise proposal that's been making the rounds.

"I think there's one way that could work very well and could pick up some of the moderates," Rockefeller told reporters. "I'm looking very much now at this opt-out public option." Under the alternative proposal, the public option would be available nationwide but individual states could decline to participate.

Democratic Sens. Tom Carper (Del.) and Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) -- himself a big cheerleader for the public option -- have been working on that proposal for the last few weeks and the idea has received tentatively positive reviews from some liberal and centrist Democrats.

Rockefeller's purported interest in this compromise is notable given his staunch support for the liberal gold standard for the public option: a nationwide program that would pay medical providers based on Medicare rates, a proposal Rockefeller said would save the government more than $50 billion over 10 years. "An opt-out would still save money," Rockefeller said.

Rockefeller specified that he's talking about the opt-out measure, not the opt-in. "So you start out with a public option, and if you don't like it you can opt out," he said, adding, "That has a sense of freedom."

This is a definite shift for Rockefeller, who said just last week that the opt-out compromise sounds "sort of like [a] trigger," adding, "I don't think it really is" a good idea.

Now, Rockefeller has not gone into any detail about what prompted the shift. It's possible that someone like Schumer spent some time with him, and persuaded him of the idea's merit. It's equally possible that Rockefeller has surveyed the landscape and has determined that this is the strongest public option he can get out of the Senate.

Either way, the practical result is largely the same: strong supporters of the public option -- Rockefeller, Howard Dean, even Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) -- believe the opt-out compromise is tolerable, and strong skeptics of the public option -- Ben Nelson, Max Baucus -- seem to feel the same way.

At this point, talk of the opt out is still fairly new, and the framework of how the idea would be structured would need to be fleshed out much further before it became viable. But when liberal Dems and conservative Dems start talking up the same compromise measure, it's something to keep an eye on.

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October 21, 2009

WEDNESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Big story out of Vienna: "Iranian negotiators have agreed to a draft of a deal to ship about three-quarters of the country's stockpile of nuclear fuel to Russia for enrichment, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said Wednesday. But he cautioned that the arrangement would still have to be approved by Friday in Tehran and Washington."

* Congressional Dems, as promised, are going after health insurers' antitrust exemption.

* Good move: "Responding to the growing furor over the paychecks of executives at companies that received billions of dollars in federal bailouts, the Obama administration will order the companies that received the most aid to deeply slash the compensation to their highest paid executives, an official involved in the decision said on Wednesday."

* Good to see the AIDS funding bill sail through the House on a 408 to 9 vote.

* I haven't seen a detailed vote count, but according to Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the robust public option is up to 210 votes in the House. It'll need eight more to pass.

* The doc fix fails.

* The gap between Wall Street and Main Street was, up until a couple of decades ago, quite modest. Brian Griffiths, a Goldman Sachs International adviser and former adviser to Margaret Thatcher, said yesterday, "We have to tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity and opportunity for all."

* Where's the bill, Roy? Good question.

* For all the far-right fussing, Poland seems pretty satisfied with U.S. missile defense plans.

* Here's a good example of the Republican Party and its cable news network acting in concert.

* Nice summary from Jon Chait: "[T]hat's the sum total of this dark White House strategy: point out that wildly biased right-wing a network is not a legitimate news organization, and negotiate with executives rather than an implacably hostile lobby. If that's Chicago style politics, then Chicago must not be such a bad place."

* Organizing for America organized over 300,000 calls to the Hill yesterday on health care reform. That's pretty impressive.

* When it comes to higher ed, there's expensive, and then there's expensive.

* The Senior Citizens League is trying to scare the hell out of seniors on Democratic health care reform plans.

* Will lower health-care costs mean higher wages? Almost certainly, yes.

* Kevin Jennings looks like he'll survive the right-wing kerfuffle. Chris Good explores how and why he weathered the storm.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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MAYBE SPAM IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER.... Sometimes, stupid stories boomerang in interesting ways.

Republican critics pilloried the White House for making it too easy to request e-mail updates about health reform, but it turns out the GOP could have spam problems of its own.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) sent a tweet this morning from her @michelebachmann account saying: "If you're interested in receiving mobile updates from me, text MN6 to 467468 or visit Bachmann.house.gov and subscribe. Thanks so much!"

The homepage of her congressional site allows users to sign up for the "Bachmann Bulletin" by entering only a first name, last name and e-mail address. Then you get a confirmation message that says, "Thank you for registering."

That system rang a bell for some Democrats, who recalled that opponents of health reform claimed that groups could enter names of other people -- and even lists -- to receive White House updates without the addressees' permission.

A Democratic official said: "Bachmann is using official government resources in a way that allows groups to simply add individual e-mails ... into her government-run database. Fox spent a lot of time on this story when it involved the White House. I wonder if they or anyone else will pay the same attention now that it is a Republican Member of Congress."

Salon's Mike Madden had a fun report on this today, noting that he visited Bachmann's site, and found "there's no requirement that you confirm the subscription before receiving messages." He signed up some of his colleagues, without their permission, who'll now receive Bachmann emails without having asked for them.

"When the White House was doing the same thing, of course, that was a big deal for Fox, which reported on 'hundreds' of people who complained to the network that they were getting unsolicited messages from David Axelrod about healthcare reform," Madden noted.

In August, this "controversy" was so important that Fox News' White House correspondent pressed Robert Gibbs on it during a White House briefing. Soon after, in the hopes of making Republicans and their network move on, the White House changed its email policy.

A Democratic official told Madden, "Given how obsessed they were to make a federal case out of this when it came to the White House, you would think that Fox 'News' would be asking all sorts of questions of Republicans about the same practice. But apparently not. Maybe there's a breaking story about how ACORN is planning a swine flu vaccine that will indoctrinate children so they will support a world currency that will undermine the dollar that they are covering. But more likely, the disparate treatment here is just further evidence that Fox 'News' is an arm of the Republican Party."

If I didn't know better, I might think Democrats are enjoying going after FNC.

Steve Benen 4:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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VITTER'S OFFICE WEIGHS IN ON BARDWELL.... Louisiana's Keith Bardwell refuses to perform marriage ceremonies for inter-racial couples. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) and Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) have called on him to resign. Sen. David Vitter (R) has remained conspicuously silent on the matter.

The good news is, the far-right senator's office has finally commented. The bad news is, the comment didn't improve matters. In fact, it's arguably worse now.

Yesterday, blogger-activist Mike Stark asked Vitter directly for his thoughts on the matter. Stark asked, "Have you commented? What did you have to say about it?" Vitter smiled before disappearing into an elevator.

Greg Sargent spoke to Vitter spokesperson Joel DiGrado, who said:

"First, Sen. Vitter thinks that all judges should follow the law as written and not make it up as they go along. Second, it would be amazing for anyone to do a story based on this fringe, left-wing political hack's blog -- he's been handcuffed and detained in the past over his guerrilla tactics."

First, Mike Stark isn't the problem here. He asked a fair, legitimate question, which Vitter inexplicably ducked.

Second, given David Vitter's notorious background, his office should probably avoid casual references to handcuffs.

And third, a justice of the peace is flagrantly violating civil rights laws and using blatant racism to justify his decisions. Vitter "thinks that all judges should follow the law as written and not make it up as they go along"? That's nice, though the second part of that sentence is irrelevant, and the first part of that sentence neglected to express any disagreement with what Bardwell has done. Does Vitter think Bardwell is right or wrong?

This actually has the potential to become a real problem for the senator, and it's the easiest controversy in the world to avoid. Bobby Jindal, a conservative Republican, made it easy for Vitter and gave him plenty of political cover. And yet, Vitter doesn't want to criticize Bardwell, doesn't want to call for his resignation, and apparently doesn't even want to comment on stopping inter-racial marriages.

Vitter has nothing to lose here -- the Republican base already knows how far-right he is, and it's not like anyone's going to call him a "moderate" for condemning transparent racism.

We'll see if major news outlets pick up on this, but if they do, it's a story with potential. It has the benefit of not being complicated: a right-wing senator refuses to denounce a racist justice of the peace in his home state.

Update: MSNBC did a segment on the Vitter story this afternoon. David Schuster noted that MSNBC has contacted Vitter's office three times for comment, but the senator hasn't responded.

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'CENTRISTS' CAN STILL SCREW EVERYTHING UP.... Three months ago, when there seemed to be some momentum towards passing health care reform before the August recess, a group of Senate "centrists" -- two Republicans, three Democrats, and Joe Lieberman -- said it was time to slam on the brakes. They didn't have an especially strong case, but any hopes of an expedited process immediately came to an end.

Three months later, there's quite a bit more momentum on reform. "Centrists" have decided to start chatting again. That's not a good sign.

Sen. Susan Collins, the Maine Republican ... was among a half dozen or so senators from both parties -- including Olympia Snowe (R., Maine), Evan Bayh (D., Ind.), and Mary Landrieu (D., La.) -- who met privately late Tuesday to begin discussing the next steps in the health care debate. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the Connecticut independent, also sat in on the session. He said centrists are "very concerned" about the bill's "impact on real people." He also worries small businesses may be weighed down with added costs, and forced to shed jobs. "This bill, I'm afraid, will be a job reducer," he said.

Another meeting participant, Sen. Ron Wyden, voted for the Finance Committee bill. But the Oregon Democrat said he continues to have concerns that the measure doesn't promote enough choice for consumers and competition for private insurers. He said greater attention also needs to be paid to holding down insurance premiums. "That is what is going to drive the discussion," he said after the session. "I'm working with everybody...this process is so fluid."

Now, it's hard to be critical of what the centrists are proposing, because at this point, they're not proposing anything. For that matter, I can't blast their strategy, because it's not at all clear that they have a strategy.

But to pass a meaningful, ambitious, progressive health care reform bill, the majority will probably need 60 votes to overcome Republican obstructionism. Some of those 60 oppose a public option, and are now chatting with Republicans about how "concerned" they are.

No good can come of this.

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THE 'BRIDGES' HAVE BEEN GONE FOR A WHILE NOW.... It's quite a turnaround. As recently as Sunday, the political pundits were debating whether President Obama is "tough" enough. Now, the discussion has turned to whether Obama is an overly aggressive street fighter bent on destroying his political opponents.

As part of the latter case, Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen report today on White House efforts to marginalize its political critics. Common sense suggests this is a) a good idea; and b) what every White House tries to do.

President Obama is working systematically to marginalize the most powerful forces behind the Republican Party, setting loose top White House officials to undermine conservatives in the media, business and lobbying worlds.

With a series of private meetings and public taunts, the White House has targeted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the biggest-spending pro-business lobbying group in the country; Rush Limbaugh, the country's most-listened-to conservative commentator; and now, with a new volley of combative rhetoric in recent days, the insurance industry, Wall Street executives and Fox News.

Obama aides are using their powerful White House platform, combined with techniques honed in the 2008 campaign, to cast some of the most powerful adversaries as out of the mainstream and their criticism as unworthy of serious discussion.

These sounds like the kind of communications strategies effective White House teams have utilized for quite some time. The White House is a political entity in a political system run by political players seeking political ends.

So, what's the downside? Aside, of course, from reporters and Republicans making silly claims about Nixon?

Dana Perino, former Bush press secretary, argued, "The more they fight, the more defensive they look. It's only been 10 months, and they're burning bridges in a lot of different places."

And which "bridges" would those be, exactly?

As Greg Sargent explained, "[W]hether it's powerful interests running multi-million-dollar ad campaigns attacking Obama's agenda, or leading conservative media figures attacking Obama as a "racist" who wants to brainwash the nation's schoolchildren, Obama's foes never seemed all that interested in maintaining cordial relations with the White House to begin with.... Seems like whatever bridges that existed were blown to bits and sank to the bottom of the river long ago."

I do wish the establishment would pick a theme and go with it. President Obama can be a weak, risk-averse, overly-conciliatory neophyte, or he can be a ruthless, cut-throat, political-machine boss out to destroy anyone who gets in his way. But he can't be both.

Steve Benen 2:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

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DEFINING NIXON DOWN.... Republicans and a few too many political reporters seem to have decided on a new attack meme for the week: President Obama reminds them of Nixon.

ABC News' "The Note" is pushing the line today. Fox News pushed it yesterday. The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus is on board, too.

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) gave a speech on the floor questioning whether Obama is "Nixon-fying" the White House, and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who actually worked for Nixon, delivered his own speech on this earlier today.

"Based upon that experience and my 40 years since then in and out of public life, I want to make what I hope will be taken as a friendly suggestion to President Obama and his White House: Don't create an enemies list," Alexander said.

Describing the actions of Vice President Spiro Agnew and Nixon operative Chuck Colson, Alexander said he sees "symptoms of this same kind of animus developing in the Obama administration."

Alexander read off a list of examples he says support his contention, including: a reported effort by the White House to marginalize the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a supposed effort by the Health and Human Services Department to put a "gag order" on the insurer Humana, the White House move to take on Fox News, Obama's repeated criticisms of banks and investment houses, his alleged "taking names" of "bondholders who resisted the GM and Chrysler bailouts," and the president's move to make insurers the bogeyman of the health care debate.

While I don't doubt this will make for weeks of breathless speculation on Fox News, and give a wide variety of pundits endless entertainment, that doesn't make it any less ridiculous.

The most obvious problem here is that Republicans are defining Nixonian tactics down. In effect, Alexander argued this morning that the White House's opponents and detractors will go after the president and his team, but if they respond in any way, they're necessarily acting in ways similar to the disgraced 37th president.

Look at Alexander's list. Is the White House pushing back against the Chamber of Commerce's efforts to derail the administration's agenda? Sure, what's wrong with that? Did the White House impose a "gag order" on Humana? Of course not, that's absurd. Is the White House pointing out that Fox News is an arm of the Republican Party? Yep, as well it should. Has the president criticized financial institutions that brought the global economy to the brink of a depression? Yes, but I'm not sure what's wrong with that. Has the White House criticized an insurance industry that screwed over its customers and continues to fight against sensible reform efforts? You bet, but again, that's a good thing.

Alexander, Gregg, and assorted political reporters make it seem as if the White House should be a non-partisan, non-political, take-punches-but-don't-respond entity. In other words, Obama and his team are expected to just lose every fight, and take every criticism. To do anything else leads to Nixon comparisons.

It's possible the political world has a very short memory, but it's worth remembering, as Eric Boehlert does, that Nixon's White House "declared war on his enemies (including news outlets), and used the full power of the federal government to exact his bouts of revenge."

When Nixon didn't like a news outlet, he directed federal prosecutors to investigate journalists, including going through their taxes. Nixon assembled actual enemies lists, and used the power of his office to target and try to destroy his adversaries.

That any serious person would compare these tactics to routine political efforts at the White House is insane.

Steve Benen 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (56)

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WHAT'S VITTER WAITING FOR?.... The controversy surrounding Louisiana's Keith Bardwell generated national attention, and with good reason. A justice of the peace, Bardwell refuses to perform marriage ceremonies for inter-racial couples. "I'm not a racist," he argued as a defense. "I just don't believe in mixing the races that way."

As soon as the story went national, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) condemned Bardwell's practices and called on him to resign. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) did the same thing. It was a no-brainer.

But then there's that other statewide Louisianan, whose silence has been conspicuous. As of Monday, Sen. David Vitter, a far-right Republican, had issued no public statements about the Bardwell matter, and taken no steps to criticize his racism.

Yesterday, Vitter passed up another chance to at least say something about the issue.

Although both Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) have publicly condemned Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell for refusing to issue marriage licenses to interracial couples, Sen. David Vitter (R) has stayed noticeably silent. (ThinkProgress contacted his office, but we did not receive a response.)

Blogger-activist Mike Stark caught up with Vitter and asked him about his position. "Have you commented? What did you have to say about it?" asked Stark. Vitter simply smiled, stepped into the elevator, and allowed the doors to close.

These aren't trick questions. Vitter might have been able to say, initially, that he hadn't heard about the Bardwell matter, but that's no longer an option. The senator is no doubt aware of the story, and probably has an opinion about it. If not, he should.

There's a justice of the peace in David Vitter's home state that won't marry inter-racial couples. His colleagues think he should resign. What impression should we get from Vitter's refusal to say anything at all?

Steve Benen 12:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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WEDNESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* In New Jersey's gubernatorial race, a new Rasmussen poll shows Gov. Jon Corzine (D) leading Chris Christie (R) by one, 37% to 36%. However, when independent Chris Daggett's supporters were pushed further, Christie led Corzine, 41% to 39%.

* Two new polls show Bob McDonnell (R) pulling away in Virginia's gubernatorial race. A SurveyUSA poll shows McDonnell leading Creigh Deeds (D) by a whopping 19 points, 59% to 40%, while a Public Policy Polling survey shows McDonnell up by 12, 52% to 40%.

* Though Deeds has kept his distance from President Obama, the Democratic gubernatorial hopeful's new ad relies entirely on a recent endorsement speech from the president.

* Florida's Senate race is getting more interesting all the time. A new Quinnipiac poll shows Gov. Charlie Crist's lead over Marco Rubio dropping quickly in the Republican primary. Crist still leads by 15, 50% to 35%, but Crist led by 29 in the last Quinnipiac poll. For what it's worth, the same poll showed Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) leading Rubio in a hypothetical match-up, 36% to 33%, while Crist led Meek by 20.

* Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner's (D) Senate campaign has been struggling of late, but reports of financial difficulties may doom her bid. Brunner is facing Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher in a Democratic primary, and the party establishment has largely rallied behind Fisher.

* Despite his scandals, Sen. David Vitter (R) still maintains strong re-election numbers in Louisiana. The latest poll from the Times-Picayune shows the far-right Republican leading Rep. Charlie Melancon (D) by 12, 48% to 36%.

* In Michigan, a Detroit News poll shows Rep. Pete Hoekstra and state Attorney General Mike Cox as the leading contenders for the Republican nomination in next year's gubernatorial race. Lt. Gov. John Cherry is the leading Democratic candidate, though most Michigan Dems remain undecided. In hypothetical match-ups, Cherry maintains small leads over both Hoekstra and Cox.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (5)

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THE FISCALLY CONSERVATIVE CASE AGAINST CAPITAL PUNISHMENT.... For proponents of the death penalty, the usual arguments tend not to be effective. Fears about inadvertently executing the innocent, philosophical objections to the government killing American citizens, evidence that capital punishment doesn't actually deter crime ... the typical points don't seem to connect.

Perhaps it's time to try a new direction: the death penalty is just too expensive. (via John Cole)

At 678, California has the nation's largest death row population, yet the state has not executed anyone in four years.

But it spends more than $130 million a year on its capital punishment system -- housing and prosecuting inmates and coping with an appellate system that has kept some convicted killers waiting for an execution date since the late 1970s.

This is according to a new report that concludes that states are wasting millions on an inefficient death penalty system, diverting scarce funds from other anti-crime and law enforcement programs.

"Thirty-five states still retain the death penalty, but fewer and fewer executions are taking place every year," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. "But the overall death row population has remained relatively steady. At a time of budget shortfalls nationwide, the death penalty is turning into an expensive form of life without parole."

The right cares about fiscal responsibility, right?

The same report asked 500 police chiefs from across the country about their priorities for reducing violent crime. The death penalty ranked last.

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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THE PRESIDENT'S 'ETERNAL FOIL'?.... In his new column yesterday, National Review's Rich Lowry slams President Obama for investing too much time in condemning his predecessor. There are a few problems with the argument.

Republicans needn't trouble themselves to nominate a presidential candidate in 2012. No matter what, Pres. Barack Obama will be running against George W. Bush.

Bush will be Obama's eternal foil. At this rate, when Obama writes his post-presidential memoir, it will be titled: An Audacious Presidency, or How I Saved America from That Bastard Bush. His presidential library will have a special fright-house wing devoted to Bush's misrule. He will mutter in his senescence about 43, like the Ancient Mariner about his albatross.

Obama clearly wants Bush to be the Hoover to his FDR. Since his predecessor left office with 34 percent job approval, Obama understandably feels moved to scorn and berate him. But Obama's perpetual campaign against Bush is graceless, whiny, and tin-eared. Must the leader of the free world -- if Obama still accepts that quaint formulation -- always reach for the convenient excuse?

To bolster his case about Obama's constant, graceless whining about Bush, Lowry pointed to exactly zero examples. The column didn't include a single instance of the president blaming his predecessor for anything -- not even one quote showing Obama "scorning" or "berating" George W. Bush. Lowry added that President Obama "impugns his immediate predecessor with classless regularity," and backed that up with absolutely nothing.

If these cheap and ugly attacks were so common, shouldn't Lowry point to one or two to make his case? Something?

The reason, I suspect, that Lowry levies the charge with evidence is that there is none. Lowry has it backwards -- Obama has shown considerable restraint about blaming the previous administration for the crises and fiascos it left for the nation to overcome.

Last night, for example, the president delivered a couple of partisan, campaign-style speeches at DNC receptions in New York. The combined total of references to "Bush," "my predecessor," the "previous administration," etc. was zero. Obama talked about the challenges we're all dealing with, but even in partisan speeches to partisan audiences, he didn't mention the failed recent president at all. Obama made an oblique reference to "what was waiting for us when we began this presidency," but if Lowry thinks that constitutes graceless, classless scorn, his rhetorical standards need reevaluation.

Lowry referenced the president's get-a-mop speech in San Francisco last week, when Obama mentioned efforts to clean up "somebody else's mess," but again, this is indirect, circuitous rhetoric. To hear Lowry tell it, the president can barely go a day without using George W. Bush as some kind of pinata. This has no basis in reality.

I'm of the opinion that President Obama doesn't blame Bush nearly enough. Bush really is a Hoover for modern times. Nearly every single problem this administration has faced, and continues to face, stems from Bush's failures, incompetence, and mismanagement. The moment President Obama was sworn in, he had to deal with an economy in free fall, soaring unemployment, a collapsing U.S. auto industry, a health care system in crisis, a housing crisis, a looming global warming catastrophe, two costly wars, an enormous budget deficit, a $10 trillion debt, a pessimistic electorate, a Guantanamo fiasco, and a global landscape in which the United States had lost much of its global prestige.

And even under these circumstances, Obama bites his lip, refrains from blaming Bush, and rolls up his sleeves to clean up the mess(es) he inherited. Lowry has it backwards.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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MEDICARE PART E.... The first time I ran across someone calling the public option "Medicare Part E" was a month ago, when Mark Kleiman recommended it. Apparently, Thom Hartmann started using the same phrase in early September.

And while we're a little late in the game to start rebranding, this alternate framing seems to be gaining some traction.

Say hello to "Medicare Part E" -- as in, "Medicare for Everyone."

House Democrats are looking at re-branding the public health insurance option as Medicare, an established government healthcare program that is better known than the public option.

The strategy could benefit Democrats struggling to bridge the gap between liberals in their party, who want the public option, and centrists, who are worried it would drive private insurers out of business.

While much of the public is foggy on what a public option actually is, people understand Medicare. It also would place the new public option within the rubric of a familiar system rather than something new and unknown.

At a recent Democratic House caucus meeting, Reps. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.), House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) all voiced support for the idea. A spokesman for Oberstar explained, "One of his concerns is that people don't know what a public option is. Medicare is a public option."

Folks are just now figuring that out?

As it turns out, reform advocates may not even bother with the rebranding effort, since the public option already enjoys broad national support, which seems to keep going up (though one wonders if the polls would be even better had "Part E" been the rhetorical norm from the beginning). So, don't necessarily count on a big p.r. push on this, though we may start hearing the phrase far more often.

For their part, Republicans continue to doubt their lying eyes. A spokesperson for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) added, "No matter how the Democrats 're-brand' their government takeover of healthcare, the American people oppose it."

This might make more sense if there weren't so much overwhelming evidence pointing in the opposite direction.

As for the bigger picture, publius raised a good point.

What is unfortunate, though, is that the label change is even necessary in the first place. As virtually everyone agrees, Medicare is a very good program -- it has improved lives and reduced fear in an infinite number of concrete ways. But it is a public program. It should, therefore, be a testament to government's ability to help people.

The fact that the term "public option" is tainted in many people's eyes shows that progressives still need to show people that government has been, and can be, a force for good. We should advertise it more. It's unfortunate that socialized, single-payer Medicare could be so popular with people who are so ideologically opposed to something called the "public option."

Fortunately, of course, those who are so ideologically opposed are in the minority. The majority already supports a public option -- weak framing and all -- and if "Medicare Part E" can help sell the measure to some of the remaining critics a bit as the discussion enters the home stretch, so be it.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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ONE IN FIVE.... Perhaps the most striking result in the Washington Post/ABC News poll released yesterday had to do with the relative size of the parties: "Only 20 percent of adults identify themselves as Republicans, little changed in recent months, but still the lowest single number in Post-ABC polls since 1983."

Newt Gingrich was asked about the number, and blasted the poll. ABC News polling director Gary Langer had a compelling response.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had some pretty harsh criticism of our latest poll today, charging in a radio interview that it was "deliberately rigged." He's entitled, of course, to his opinion. But not to a distortion of the facts.

What's his gripe? Gingrich made the comment on our Salt Lake City affiliate, KSL-AM, when asked about our finding that only 20 percent of Americans now identify themselves as Republicans, the fewest since September 1983 in ABC News/Washington Post polls. His reply:

"Well, it tells me first of all that the poll's almost certainly wrong. It's fundamentally different from Rasmussen. It's fundamentally different from Zogby. It's fundamentally different from Gallup. It's a typical Washington Post effort to slant the world in favor of liberal Democrats."

We've heard it before, from both sides: Democrats jump on data they don't like, Republicans do the same. The reality is that this poll, as all our work, was produced independently and with great care, including the highest possible methodological standards. And contrary to Gingrich, it happens to be in accord with most other recent good-quality surveys measuring political partisanship.

And that's really the key here. The latest CBS News poll found 22% identify themselves as Republicans. The latest AP poll found 21%. Ipsos/McClatchy put the number at 19%. Gallup had the highest total for the GOP, at 27%, but the Pew Forum study had it at 23%, while NBC/WSJ found 18%.

Average those together, and we find about 21% of the public are self-identified Republicans. What did the Post/ABC find? 20%.

Are there poll outliers that deserve skepticism? Absolutely, but this doesn't appear to be one of them.

Gingrich may not like the results, but that doesn't make them wrong, and it certainly doesn't make the poll "slanted" or "deliberately rigged." There's no conspiracy necessary: the Republican brand is suffering badly, and it has yet to recover from the Bush/Cheney era.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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LAY OF THE LAND, PART II.... OK, so we talked about how things are going for health care reform in the Senate. Now, let's tackle the House, where there's more movement afoot.

Late yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office delivered some tentatively good news to reformers: the House Democratic plan, which includes a "robust" public option (reimbursing physicians at Medicare rates plus 5%), would cost $871 billion over the next decade -- well below the $900 billion ceiling proposed by the White House. Just as important, the CBO report, which is preliminary and subject to change, also found that the House Democrats' plan reduces the budget deficit.

And with those encouraging preliminary numbers in her pocket, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reportedly decided last night to move forward on the caucus' ambitious reform plan, whether the Blue Dogs and/or the Senate like it or not.

As Jonathan Cohn explained this morning, it's a strategy with some risks.

Yes, a strong public plan remains a tough sell, particularly with centrists in the Senate. But precisely because the Senate will pull the bill to the right, it's critical that Pelosi pull it to the left while she can. The public option is gaining momentum right now, thanks to strong polling numbers and a realization, among members, that requiring people to get insurance is a bad idea if the available insurance options aren't very good.

It helps, too, that CBO has apparently determined the strong public option -- which would pay at rates pegged to five percent above Medicare -- could save somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 billion. Given what happened during the stimulus debate, when centrists in the Senate successfully pushed to scale back the bill, it'd be foolish of Pelosi not to anticipate that move.

What's more, this way Pelosi can force the Blue Dogs, many of whom oppose the public option, to confront the trade-offs as they exist. If they don't want the public option, she can say, how else will they find the money the public option might save

The fear comes from people who think this move will backfire -- by alienating the Blue Dogs, centrists in the Senate, or both. These people note that we're still not all that far removed from August, a time when reform's very survival seemed very much in doubt.

Things look good now, the argument goes, because of united Democratic consensus around the basic principles of reform. But the consensus is fragile. Senators Kent Conrad and Ben Nelson have offered hints they're open to some sort of compromise, but Pelosi's proposal surely goes too far. And precisely because centrists in the Senate will never go for such a bold public option, the House's Blue Dogs will scream.

During a House Democratic caucus meeting last night, the Speaker conceded that she has not yet lined up the 218 votes she'll need to get the bill passed, though, according to a senior Democratic staffer, Pelosi said, "We are very close and I count tough."

As part of this tough count, the Speaker instructed House Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) to start canvassing the caucus, getting firm answers from every member on whether they're prepared to vote for the bill. Going into this week, there are dozens of House Dems who've noncommittal. Today, the leadership expects every Dem in the chamber to get off the fence and pick a side.

The caucus is scheduled to meet again today to see where the party stands.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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LAY OF THE LAND, PART I.... There's been plenty of activity on the Hill since late yesterday on health care reform, so let's take stock of where we are now. We'll tackle the Senate first, and the House in the next post.

The Reid/Baucus/Dodd negotiations continue, with updates for the rest of the Senate Democratic caucus, though everyone involved is being tight lipped about developments. By most indications, the discussions are focusing on the easier elements first -- providing a foundation of measures that everyone seems to agree on -- and working their way up to the more contentious provisions.

During a press briefing in the afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) kinda sorta made some news.

Asked Tuesday whether the talks were leaning "toward or against" a public option, Reid picked option 3. "We're leaning toward talking about a public option," he said. "We have -- no decision has been made. We had a -- not a long discussion last night on public option. I've had a number of meetings in my office dealing with Democrats and Republicans on the public option aspect of it. And when the decision's made to send this on to the [Congressional Budget Office], I will have made a decision as to what we're going to do with the public option. It's not done yet."

The notion that Senate leaders are "leaning toward talking about" the idea generated some chuckles, but it may be more encouraging than it appears. As Ezra explained, "The negotiators can do one of two things with the public option. Figure out a compromise to put in the bill during the negotiations phase, or ignore the issue completely and let it get decided on the floor. In other words, they can talk about it or they can decide against talking about it. This quote suggests that they're leaning towards figuring out the issue in negotiations rather than leaving it to the floor. That's a big win for public option advocates. If they get something in during negotiations, opponents will need to muster 60 votes to remove it on the floor. If the public option has the 52 supporters that Sen. Tom Harkin estimates, then that's impossible."

There remains plenty of optimism in some corners. Harkin told MSNBC last night, "I'm telling you, we're going to have a public option in this bill." Salon's Mike Madden added that "momentum ... seems to be shifting toward the public option, even if it's shifting slowly."

Elsewhere in the Senate, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, the chamber's most conservative Democrat, who has been strongly opposed to a public option, signaled a willingness to support the measure if it were watered down a bit, with either an opt-out or a trigger.

Colorado Sens. Mark Udall (D) and Michael Bennet (D), meanwhile, also spoke up yesterday, urging senators to commit to letting the Senate vote, up or down, on a reform bill with a public option. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont, who caucuses with the majority, also continues to push this message: "I would hope that [President Obama] would remind every member of the Democratic caucus that the function of the Republican Party -- which the American people are very clearly seeing -- is obstructionism and is saying no in the midst of a terrible, terrible health care crisis. So what the president -- and all of us -- should be asking is every member of the Democratic caucus to vote yes to stop Republican filibusters."

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (6)

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October 20, 2009

TUESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Hamid Karzai, under intense pressure from the Obama administration, agreed today to compete in a runoff election on Nov. 7 in Afghanistan.

* Uigurs' plea will be heard in court after all.

* George W. Bush wanted Bernie Kerik to be the Secretary of Homeland Security. Now Kerik is off to jail.

* Is Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) the subject of an FBI investigation?

* The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was the #1 biggest spender on D.C. lobbying in the last quarter. Their total -- $34.7 million -- was more than the next 18 highest filers combined.

* There are a variety of ways to pay for health care. The Excise Tax proposal is a sound and reasonable approach.

* Someone probably ought to remind Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) that he's not the Commander in Chief. (Maybe someone should "put him in his place"?)

* California's attorney general, Jerry Brown, files suit against State Street, the large Boston-based bank.

* Rush Limbaugh today told New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin over the air, "Mr. Revkin, why don't you just go kill yourself and help the planet by dying?" Paul Krugman added, "[R]emember, Rush is a mainstream conservative who focuses mainly on policy. Always good to remember what we're dealing with."

* In related news, it seems that far too many Republicans have "a violence problem."

* The NYT's Elizabeth Bumiller reported that there's "frustration" building among military leaders over the White House's deliberations on U.S. policy in Afghanistan. But is the report true?

* A weak economy means less borrowing for higher ed.

* The two county Republican Party chairmen in South Carolina apologized for their anti-Semitism.

* Nice to see Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) feeling better.

* Please don't let Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) screw up the Census. It's too important for his nonsense.

* I've never been able to figure out why anyone would listen to Larry Kudlow.

* Rachel Maddow would love to have Liz Cheney on as a guest. Cheney prefers to chat with Sean Hannity. To borrow some phrases, what is Cheney afraid of? Why doesn't she want to debate the issues?

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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THE FINE ART OF POLITICAL HOAXES.... The activists known as The Yes Men pulled off quite a hoax yesterday. It didn't generate quite as much interest as that balloon kid last week, but yesterday's hoax nevertheless fooled some major media outlets -- CNBC and Reuters, for example -- to run reports that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had changed its mind on climate-change legislation.

Joshua Green, a senior editor at the Atlantic and a contributing editor for the Washington Monthly, explained that as good as yesterday's stunt was, the best political hoax in recent memory was Martin Eisenstadt, a fake John McCain aide who fooled all kinds of major news outlets. As Green noted today, "'Martin Eisenstadt' turned out to be the creation of two filmmakers, Dan Mirvish and Eitan Gorlin, who must be pleased by the timing of the Yes Men stunt, since it should help call attention to the fact that Martin Eisenstadt has now written a book about his exploits that'll be published next Tuesday."

Green reviewed the book, "I Am Martin Eisenstadt: One Man's (Wildly Inappropriate) Adventures with the Last Republicans," in the latest issue of the Monthly.

The 2008 presidential election will be remembered for a lot of things, but moments of levity aren't one of them. The highlight may have come in the days just after Obama's victory, when bitter McCain staffers launched a torrent of anonymous criticism at Sarah Palin that painted her as selfish, venal, arrogant, and, above all, criminally stupid. For many of us, what erased the last shred of doubt about Palin -- what seared in our cerebral cortex the unshakable conviction that Tina Fey was channeling the real person -- was a Fox News report in which anonymous McCain staffers revealed that Palin had thought Africa was a country.

Not long afterward, a McCain staffer named Martin Eisenstadt came forward to take responsibility for leaking the Africa stuff. At first blush, Eisenstadt seemed exactly the sort you'd expect to cruelly betray his candidate: a vaguely familiar, middle-tier neocon hack affiliated with an outfit called the Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy -- a guy whose natural place in the universe is on the third block of Hardball, his command of the latest GOP talking points and lapel-pin flag both obnoxiously on display. That was enough for MSNBC, the Los Angeles Times, and a host of other media outlets to run with the story that the culprit had been found.

The only trouble was that Martin Eisenstadt was not a McCain adviser or even a real person.... The Harding Institute didn't exist, nor did the Eisenstadt Group political consulting firm, though phony evidence of both can be found online. It was all an elaborate ruse that worked to perfection. The media made the obligatory hiccup of remorse and hurried on. But the hoax was worth savoring because it was funny on so many levels.

Entertaining stuff.

Steve Benen 5:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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COBURN REACHES OUT TO THOSE HE LOATHES.... How desperate is Tom Coburn to derail health care reform? He's willing to reach out to the LGBT community.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) penned an op-ed for the online version of the LGBT magazine The Advocate, which was posted Monday and co-authored by Christopher Barron, the chairman of GOProud, an organization for gay conservatives. [...] Coburn, who is a physician, and Barron referenced the example of rationing of certain critical AIDS treatments funded by the government as an example of why the public (or "government-run") option currently contained in House and Senate health proposals would be detrimental.

"These bureaucratic inefficiencies and mismanagement have literally cost lives," they wrote.

Now, Suzy Khimm notes the substantive flaws behind Coburn's argument: "Coburn doesn't explain, of course, how the private market or his own reforms will succeed in making expensive AIDS drugs more affordable than the current Ryan White programs, other than repeating the line that insurers shouldn't be able to discriminate against those with pre-existing conditions."

But I'm having a hard time getting over the fact that Coburn feels comfortable presenting an argument in The Advocate in the first place. Coburn isn't just right-wing on social issues; he's arguably the single most anti-LGBT lawmaker in Congress.

During his Senate campaign, for example, Coburn told voters, "The gay community has infiltrated the very centers of power in every area across this country, and they wield extreme power.... That agenda is the greatest threat to our freedom that we face today. Why do you think we see the rationalization for abortion and multiple sexual partners? That's a gay agenda."

Around the same time, Coburn said "rampant lesbianism" forced schools to change their bathroom policies in southeast Oklahoma. As he explained it, school officials will "only let one girl go to the bathroom" at a time. Coburn urged voters, "Think about that issue. How is it that that's happened to us?"

And, of course, it was Coburn's chief of staff who recently declared that all pornography to "homosexual pornography."

Khimm also noted that Coburn has voted against marriage equality and gay adoption, and even authored legislation "that proposed to end anonymous testing for HIV/AIDS, requiring the names of those who tested positive to be reported to public authorities."

And now Tom Coburn wants the LGBT community to take his warnings about health care reform seriously, and take his word on what policies will "cost lives."

I don't understand it, either.

Steve Benen 4:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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DELAYED FANS OF THE STIMULUS.... It seems to be a nearly daily occurrence. Republican officials -- some in Congress, some governors -- who blasted the stimulus package in February suddenly love the public investment in their state and/or district now.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) has probably been the most shameless about it, but he's hardly alone. It looks like we can add Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) to the list.

Burr was on hand on Friday to present the Bethlehem, N.C., fire department with a grant for $2 million to build a new fire station. Burr called the grant a "great thing" for the area.

"We're not accustomed to federal dollars in that magnitude finding their way to North Carolina," Burr said, according to a local newspaper.

The grant, according to the local fire chief, came through the Department of Homeland Security by way of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That money was allocated through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the $787 billion stimulus measure passed with just three Republican votes in the Senate in February.

Burr was not one of those three votes.

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that Burr neglected to mention that the fire-department grant wouldn't exist if it were up to him.

It's a familiar pattern. Republicans aggressively opposed the stimulus proposal earlier this year, insisting that it was a wasteful effort that couldn't possibly improve the economy (as opposed to, say, a five-year spending freeze, which would have worked wonders). Ever since, the same conservative lawmakers who trashed the recovery bill now believe their area could really use some of those recovery funds, and they love to smile for the cameras when the checks are being distributed.

This started within a couple of weeks of the stimulus package passing, and it's only become more common since. (In Burr's case, it's especially embarrassing -- he delivered a weekly Republican Party address in February, denouncing the recovery efforts.)

The DCCC even came up with a "Hypocrisy Hall of Fame" for recovery critics who are "celebrating the benefits of President Obama's economic recovery bill in their districts." Last I heard, there 67 GOP lawmakers in the "Hall."

The DSCC should probably follow suit -- and save plenty of room for inductees.

Steve Benen 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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PAT BUCHANAN'S IDEA OF A VICTIM.... When it comes to Pat Buchanan and racial, ethnic, and diversity issues, it's not exactly a secret that the conservative pundit has some, shall we say, issues. With this his history in mind, it wasn't exactly a shock to see him characterize "white working-class voters" as victims in his latest column.

As Buchanan sees it, "white working-class voters" just can't catch a break anymore. For example, have you heard that public schools no longer endorse and promote Christianity? I know; it's shocking. Did you realize that white working-class voters' Christian faith is "mocked in movies and on TV"? I don't know what channel Buchanan is watching, but the Baseless Victimization Channel isn't part of my cable package. Did you know that "illegal aliens" are routinely "rewarded with free educations and health care"? Sounds like a pretty sweet deal.

Wrapping up, Buchanan suggests white working-class voters no longer recognize the country around them.

America was once their country. They sense they are losing it. And they are right.

Just last week, MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski said Buchanan was her favorite guest "because he says what we are all thinking."

As Adam Serwer noted today, "Someone should really ask her about that." Adam added:

Black Americans have shed blood in every American war since the Revolution. This country, even the very Capitol building in which today's legislators now demand to see the birth certificate of the first black president, was built on the sweat and sinew of slaves. Before we were people in the eyes of the law, before we had the right to vote, before we had a black president, we were here, helping make this country as it is today. We are as American as it gets. And frankly, the time of people who think otherwise is passing. If that's the country Buchanan wants to hold onto, well, he's right, he is losing it.

Good riddance.

Steve Benen 3:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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LOOKING FOR WHITE HOUSE INSTRUCTIONS.... Sam Stein reports this afternoon that many insiders on Capitol Hill believe the public option will fail unless the White House weighs in more forcefully. It's consistent with everything I've been hearing lately, but I remain skeptical.

Democratic aides said that a "handful" of senators who are skeptical of a public plan likely could be persuaded if not to support it then at least to oppose a Republican filibuster, if the administration were to apply a bit more pressure -- or even guidance.

"There is a clear sense that it would be helpful," said one senior Democratic aide. "Throughout this entire debate the White House line has been 'We will weigh in when it is necessary'.... Well now we need 60 votes. So if it's not necessary now, then when will it be?"

"I think folks in general in Congress were looking to the president to clearly define his feeling on the issue," another aide said. "And I don't think he has done that on the public option from the get-go... With a lot of senators nervous because of elections or other political dynamics, it would be helpful for the president to send a strong signal that this is what he wants in the final bill."

The frequency with which this comes up suggests it's a widespread sentiment among pro-reform Democrats, both on the Hill and off. That said, I'm not at all sure it's right.

At this point, there really shouldn't be any lingering doubts surrounding President Obama's support for a public option -- he's endorsed, promoted, and defended the idea repeatedly for months. The president talked up the idea, for example, in his joint-session speech. He's also expressed his support for the idea in weekly addresses, media interviews, town-hall events, and speeches. Behind the scenes, away from the cameras, there's additional evidence that Obama has personally reached out to skeptical lawmakers to urge them to support the public option.

The president has not issued a veto threat -- in other words, he hasn't said, "No public option, no signature" -- but he hasn't left much doubt about what he wants, either. My sense is the White House has laid out its priorities, and now expects legislators to legislate.

Indeed, wavering lawmakers are now well aware of some key truths: 1) the White House wants a public option; 2) the majority of Americans want a public option; and 3) the vast majority of congressional Democrats want a public option. It's now up to Obama to "weigh in" and tell these dithering members, who are unmoved by these obvious and important details, exactly what to do?

I wish it were that easy, but let's not forget, the president doesn't exactly have a lot of leverage over center-right Democrats from solidly "red" states. It's not like Obama can promise to campaign for Sen. Mary Landrieu in Louisiana next year -- the president is extremely unpopular there.

It'd be great if Obama, through sheer force of will, could pick up the phone and tell Nelson, Landrieu, Lieberman, Lincoln, and Conrad "how it's going to be." I'd be thrilled if Congress would pass a reform bill with a public option, simply because the president asked for one. But there seems to be quite a bit more to it than that.

Steve Benen 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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THE NON-EXISTENT LINE BETWEEN DAYTIME AND PRIMETIME.... For various media figures derisive of the White House's criticism of Fox News, there seems to be some confusion over the nature of the problem.

For much of the media establishment, Fox News and MSNBC are somehow bookends, one on the right; one on the left. The prior has Beck, O'Reilly, and Hannity; the latter has Schultz, Olbermann, and Maddow. Both are cable news networks with primetime commentators who bring a certain perspective to their political analysis. So, the establishment asks, what's the big deal?

It's probably obvious to anyone who's actually watched these networks, but given the lingering confusion, let's pause briefly to explain why the conventional wisdom is absurd.

There are plenty of angles to this, far more than can be explored in a single blog post. It's tempting to note, for example, that if MSNBC had a relationship with the Democratic Party the way Fox News does with the Republican Party, MSNBC wouldn't give Joe Scarborough three hours a day and have Pat Buchanan on daily as a paid on-air analyst.

For that matter, it's also tempting to note that comparing the primetime lineups as relative equals is almost comical -- Rachel Maddow brings more depth of thought and intellectual seriousness to her work than everyone on Fox News combined. To look at the lineups and say, "Well, Hannity's on the right and Maddow's on the left," draws an equivalency where none exists.

But let's put all of that aside and focus on a point too many observers don't appreciate: the line between Fox News' personality-driven primetime hosts and Fox News' "reporting" doesn't exist. This isn't a network that does legitimate journalism during the day, and then let's GOP clowns run wild at night -- this is a network that acts as the arm of a political party and a cog in a larger partisan machine all day.

According to the network, Fox News' reporting is "objective" during its "news hours" -- 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. on weekdays (eastern). Senior vice president for news Michael Clemente recently said, "The average consumer certainly knows the difference between the A section of the newspaper and the editorial page."

And that would be persuasive, if such a difference existed on the Republican network. But as this video helps demonstrate, Clemente is drawing a distinction where none exists. To describe Fox News' "news hours" as "objective" is demonstrably ridiculous.

Josh Marshall, who keeps the cable networks running throughout the day at the TPM offices, noted last night, "[A]s a product [Fox News'] straight news is almost more the stuff of parody than the talk shows which are at least more or less straightforward about what they are.... MSNBC has now made a big push to refashion itself as a liberal or perhaps just non-hard-right-wing alternative to Fox. But the distinction between the two operations becomes clear whenever you watch 'news' on MSNBC as opposed to Maddow, Olbermann or Ed."

Josh added, "If you actually watch Fox News with any regularity it's hard to see any point to discussing the fact that the station operates more or less openly as a wing of the GOP." And yet, now that the White House has shown the audacity to note this plain fact, the pushback from other media figures is pretty intense.

For Ruth Marcus and others, the problem isn't that Fox News is making a mockery of modern journalism; the problem is that the White House has acknowledged reality. The establishment, I'm afraid, is complaining about the wrong party here.

Steve Benen 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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CHRISTIE'S NEW HEADACHE.... Over the summer, struggling badly, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine's (D) campaign settled on a specific line of attack against Republican Chris Christie: he applies one set of rules to the public, and applies a different set of rules to himself.

Thanks to a barrage of negative ads, and some unfortunate revelations, the criticism started to stick and the polls improved for the incumbent. Now, with just two weeks left before Election Day in the Garden State, a story like this one may prove devastating.

When news broke in August that the former United States attorney, Christopher J. Christie, had lent $46,000 to a top aide in the federal prosecutor's office, he said he was merely helping a friend in need. He also said the aide, Michele Brown, had done nothing to help his gubernatorial campaign.

But interviews with federal law enforcement officials suggest that Ms. Brown used her position in two significant and possibly improper ways to try to aid Mr. Christie in his run for governor.

In March, when Gov. Jon S. Corzine's campaign requested public records about Mr. Christie's tenure as prosecutor, Ms. Brown interceded to oversee the responses to the inquiries, taking over for the staff member who normally oversaw Freedom of Information Act requests, according to federal law enforcement officials in Newark and Washington. The requested information included records about Mr. Christie's travel and expenses, along with Ms. Brown's travel records.

In mid-June, when F.B.I. agents and prosecutors gathered to set a date for the arrests of more than 40 targets of a corruption and money-laundering probe, Ms. Brown alone argued for the arrests to be made before July 1. She later told colleagues that she wanted to ensure that the arrests occurred before Mr. Christie's permanent successor took office, according to three federal law enforcement officials briefed on the conversation, presumably so that Mr. Christie would be given credit for the roundup.

Gabriel Winant noted that the story is so embarrassing for Christie, "you'd think the governor wrote it himself."

It's not especially complicated. Christie extended a $46,000 loan to his friend Brown, and neglected to report it on his tax returns and ethics filings. That's bad. When the story broke, Christie said Brown hadn't helped his campaign, which was false. That's worse. And Brown not only played a role in supporting the campaign, but seems to have played fast and loose with her authority. That's much worse.

With two weeks remaining, this isn't what Christie needed to help get back on track.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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TUESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* In New Jersey, a new Monmouth/Gannett poll (pdf) shows Gov. Jon Corzine (D) and Chris Christie (R) tied at 39% each. Two weeks left until Election Day.

* In Virginia, a Clarus Research poll shows Bob McDonnell extending on his earlier lead, and is now up by eight over Creigh Deeds (D), 49% to 41%.

* Speaking of Deeds, the Democratic gubernatorial hopeful's campaign is running a new ad in Northern Virginia, touting its endorsement from the Washington Post.

* In the latest sign of a right-wing lawmaker bucking the requests of the party establishment, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) has thrown his support to former Florida state House Speaker Marco Rubio (R) in next year's Senate race, despite NRSC backing for Charlie Crist (R).

* A new Rasmussen poll in Illinois shows Rep. Mark Kirk (R) and Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D) tied in a hypothetical match-up, 41% each. Kirk leads the other Democratic candidates.

* Florida Republicans have found a credible challenger for Rep. Alan Grayson (D), but it will require a significant change of address. Ken Miller had already announced that he was taking on Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-Fla.), but has now decided to move so that he can run against Grayson.

* In Pennsylvania, Connecticut's Ned Lamont endorsed Rep. Joe Sestak's (D) Senate campaign yesterday.

* And in South Carolina, attorney Chad McGowan (D) announced that he wants to take on Sen. Jim DeMint (R) next year. McGowan, who has not sought public office before, will face Mike Ruckes and Gary M. Stephens in a Democratic primary. DeMint is heavily favored to win re-election.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (7)

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CHARLIE CRIST'S SHORT MEMORY.... In February, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) in a rare display of bipartisanship, endorsed the White House's recovery efforts and stood alongside President Obama at an event intended to generate support for the depression-preventing stimulus. It was the kind of gesture that positioned Crist, at the time, as a different kind of Republican, focused more on problem solving than partisan nonsense and rooting for failure.

And now Crist would really appreciate it if we all forgot about it.

The Florida governor suddenly finds himself in a competitive Senate primary against former state House Speaker Marco Rubio, who's far more right-wing, and appeals much more to the party's far-right base. Because Republican activists have convinced themselves that the stimulus fell short, Crist is pretending he didn't support the Obama initiative, even though reality shows otherwise. Evan McMorris-Santoro reports:

Facing a primary challenge from the right, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is suddenly attacking President Obama for stimulus spending just six months after backing the stimulus package.

Crist defended his new radio ads slamming President Obama over his economic policy this afternoon, claiming that he joined the president at a pro-stimulus rally in February because, "I think it's the right thing to do to honor the office of President of the United States."

Yes, as far as the governor is concerned, he appeared alongside Obama as some kind of courtesy. The president came to Florida, so the governor felt compelled to be there.

That's a nice try, but Crist didn't just honor the office of the president, he specifically endorsed the recovery plan -- in a speech and in writing. And better yet, Crist was right -- the recovery plan was the right thing to do.

But Republican primary voters don't want to hear that, so Crist is scrambling, hoping voters forget what happened in February, when Crist did the right thing.

It's a shame what GOP primaries do to some people.

Steve Benen 11:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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MARCUS MUST HAVE MISSED IT.... Now that the White House is describing the Republican cable news network as a Republican cable news network, the media establishment is starting to register its disapproval. The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus seemed especially disgusted that the obviously-partisan Fox News was being called out for making a mockery of American journalism, calling the White House's recent remarks "dumb," "childish," "petty," "Nixonian," and "self defeating."

But this was the part of Marcus' criticism that stood out:

Where the White House has gone way overboard is in its decision to treat Fox as an outright enemy and to go public with the assault. Imagine the outcry if the Bush administration had pulled a similar hissy fit with MSNBC.

It's funny she should put it that way. Marcus may have missed it, but the Bush administration did go after NBC News quite a bit.

Marcus must have forgotten, for example, when a top White House advisor to President Bush targeted NBC in May 2008, accusing the network of deceptive editing and blurring the lines between "news" and "opinion." Officials from the Bush team, around that time, began treating NBC and MSNBC as political opponents.

The president's press secretary at the time proceeded to complain about NBC from behind the White House podium, saying that staffers had grown "fed up" with the network's coverage, and that frustration among the president's aides "reached a boiling point" and "boiled over." Dana Perino's remarks, ironically enough, came in response to a pointed question from a Fox News correspondent.

Two things to remember here. One, the complaints about NBC News were baseless, especially as compared to Fox News literally reading Republican Party talking points on the air and passing them off as legitimate political journalism.

And two, when the Bush gang did go after NBC News, there were precious few observers blasting the Bush White House as "dumb," "childish," "petty," "Nixonian," and "self defeating."

"Imagine the outcry if the Bush administration had pulled a similar hissy fit with MSNBC." Yes, imagine it.

Update: Media Matters also responds to Marcus. After noting two dozen examples -- from just this month -- of Fox News breaking from the standards of professional journalism, the piece concludes, "Can any serious journalist look at that record and claim that it's the White House that ought to change its behavior?"

Steve Benen 10:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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LAY OF THE LAND.... As discussions continue today on the Hill over health care reform, it's probably worth taking a moment to talk about where we are right now. Last night, the Reid/Baucus/Dodd talks continued, quietly and without any meaningful leaks.

Top Senate Democrats are huddling behind closed doors this evening with key White House advisors in hopes of crafting a health care bill that hits one big magic number: 60.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is the referee between Sen. Max Baucus' more conservative bill and Sen. Chris Dodd's more liberal one, and the White House deployed chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and presidential health care adviser Nancy-Ann DeParle.

The talks are covering every relevant detail, but given the larger political dynamic, the popular public option is the focus of considerable interest. Baucus told reporters yesterday that the measure is very much "alive," though he added some important caveats: "I just don't know if there is 60 votes for the most pure kinds of the public option. There may be 60 votes for the less pure kinds."

Given Baucus' usual dismissal of public-option talk, it's tempting to consider this encouraging.

He added that the "less pure kinds" include a variety of possible compromises, including the opt-out measure that was all the rage two weeks ago. Baucus called it "new" and "interesting," though he added that lawmakers are still studying it.

As for the House, Speaker Pelosi, who knows a thing or two about how to get a bill passed, is moving forward with an interesting strategy. She intends to get different CBO scores for different versions of reform, and then, if all goes according to plan, highlight the fact that the bill with the public option is cheaper. At that point, Blue Dogs and other conservatives (in both chambers) would be put to the test -- they say they want a cheaper, more fiscally responsible reform plan that emphasizes choice and competition. Do they mean it?

Reid, Baucus, and Dodd are expected to get together again today. Stay tuned.

Steve Benen 9:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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ROHRABACHER LETS LOOSE.... When a liberal Democrat accuses congressional Republicans of being more interested in playing "political games" than governing, it's not especially surprising. When a conservative Republican House member does it, the remarks tend to stand out.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) took shots at his own party's leaders in the House currently, and blasted fellow Republicans for having failed to have reform healthcare during the first six years of the Bush administration, when Republicans held Congress and the White House.

"Unfortunately, I see a lot of Republicans simply involved in political games," Rohrabacher said in an interview with conservative bloggers at this past weekend's Western Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), in videos posted by the conservative blog Hot Air.

"The Republican leadership in the House right now is constantly trying to play a political game every day to try and get a headline, and I don't think that's going to take us anywhere," he added.

Rohrabacher added that his GOP colleagues are focused solely on the "next couple days of headlines." He went on to say that some Republican lawmakers, and even some Republican leaders on the Hill, are "totally out of touch" with "what's going on" with "regular" Americans.

Keep in mind, Rohrabacher is not exactly some reform-minded moderate. He's a very conservative lawmaker -- he once said global warming was caused by dinosaur flatulence and dismissed torture as "hazing pranks from some fraternity" -- who was even caught up in the Abramoff scandal.

And even he's disdainful of congressional Republicans right now.

Steve Benen 9:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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GOP'S PUBLIC STANDING DETERIORATES.... We talked earlier about the new Washington Post/ABC News poll and the support for the public option as part of health care reform. The news wasn't good for Republicans: Americans not only support a public plan, but they consider it significantly more important than bipartisanship.

But for the GOP, that's just the beginning. Karl Rove boasted the other day that Republicans are "winning the health-care debate." It's hard to overstate how wrong this is. The Post/ABC poll points to a party moving quickly in the wrong direction.

Overall, 57 percent approve of the way Obama is handling his job as president and 40 percent disapprove.... Despite those mixed reviews on domestic priorities, Obama continues to hold a big political advantage over Republicans.

Poll respondents are evenly divided when asked whether they have confidence in Obama to make the right decisions for the country's future, but just 19 percent express confidence in the Republicans in Congress to do so. Even among Republicans, only 40 percent express confidence in the GOP congressional leadership to make good choices.

Only 20 percent of adults identify themselves as Republicans, little changed in recent months, but still the lowest single number in Post-ABC polls since 1983.

Looking through the internals, confidence in congressional Republicans to make the right decisions has fallen over the course of the year, and it's now down to just 19%. To be sure, confidence in congressional Democrats is far from stellar, but it's nearly double the GOP's numbers.

But the fact that only 20% of adults self-identify as Republicans is the most striking result. To put the number in perspective, remember that in 1992, Ross Perot and whatever it was his party was called got about 19% of the vote nationwide. Republicans are only slightly stronger now.

It's far too early to predict with any confidence the electoral consequences of numbers like these. It's certainly possible that by this time next year, an anti-incumbent attitude will be strong enough to deliver significant gains for the GOP in the midterms.

But at this point, the public isn't buying what Republicans are selling. President Obama's support isn't as strong as it was -- though a 57% approval rating is pretty impressive at this point -- but the GOP has failed to capitalize. To the contrary, the minority, instead of positioning itself as a serious, credible alternative, is moving backwards.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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SUPPORT FOR PUBLIC OPTION KEEPS GROWING.... As lawmakers on the Hill renew discussions today on shaping health care reform legislation, it's helpful to have a front-page, above-the-fold headline in the Washington Post that reads, "Public option gains support; Clear majority now backs plan."

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that support for a government-run health-care plan to compete with private insurers has rebounded from its summertime lows and wins clear majority support from the public.

Americans remain sharply divided about the overall packages moving closer to votes in Congress and President Obama's leadership on the issue, reflecting the partisan battle that has raged for months over the administration's top legislative priority. But sizable majorities back two key and controversial provisions: both the so-called public option and a new mandate that would require all Americans to carry health insurance.

For an idea that's supposed to be contentious and divisive, the public option sure does seem popular.

Specifically, respondents were asked, "Would you support or oppose having the government create a new health insurance plan to compete with private health insurance plans?" A 57% majority support the measure -- a number that has steadily increased since August.

Two weeks ago, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) declared that the public option "has been resoundingly rejected by the American people." Care to revise that, congressman?

But just as important was the question that most pollsters have failed to ask. There have been plenty of surveys showing strong public support for a health care reform plan that enjoys backing from both parties. But that's only half of the picture. The Post/ABC poll took the next step:

Faced with a basic choice that soon may confront the administration and Democratic congressional leaders, a slim majority of Americans, 51 percent, would prefer a plan that included some form of government insurance for people who cannot get affordable private coverage even if it had no GOP support in Congress. Thirty-seven percent would rather have a bipartisan plan that did not feature a public option. Republicans and Democrats are on opposite sides of this question, while independents prefer a bill that includes a public option but does not have Republican support, by 52 percent to 35 percent.

Greg Sargent, who's been pushing the relevance of this angle for several weeks, explained nicely why this is important: "Other public polls have offered respondents a straight choice -- do they want a partisan bill or a bipartisan one -- without explaining that winning over GOP support has actual policy consequences for the final bill that they might not like. When this is explained clearly -- and the WaPo framing is a far more accurate depiction of the choice the public and lawmakers face -- a majority wants the partisan, Dem-only bill with the public option. Indeed, a majority wants the public option more than they want bipartisanship for its own sake."

In other words, bipartisanship is popular, but the public option is more popular. The next time a lawmaker proclaims, "The American people want us to work together on a bipartisan solution," remember, the American people really want them to work together on passing a public option.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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October 19, 2009

MONDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* New offensive launched by the Pakistani military Saturday in the insurgent haven of South Waziristan.

* President Hamid Karzai is headed for a runoff now that a panel of United Nations-appointed experts has stripped him of nearly a million votes.

* Multi-party talks with Iran get underway. Time has an interesting behind-the-scenes report on the pre-talk positioning.

* The administration has a new policy towards Sudan, which was fleshed out today.

* That's quite a hoax on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

* The stimulus saved/created a whole lot of jobs in education.

* The White House isn't happy about big bonuses on Wall Street.

* On a related note, it was nice to see Wall Street suffer a setback on the Hill. That doesn't happen often.

* House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) just loves the derivatives industry. What a joke.

* Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is eyeing reconciliation for student-loan reform.

* White House launches the GreenGov Challenge.

* Remember all of those Republican lawmakers who hated the recovery bill but love to deliver big checks back to their district? Add Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) to the list.

* There are a few problems with Superfreakonomics and it's analysis of global warming.

* The Washington Post's "salon" problem continues.

* Voters in Maine and Washington will vote on legal recognition for same-sex relationships, and the White House has issued a statement taking the correct position on both.

* A loophole in the consumer financial protection agency?

* That's a lot of planets.

* Louisiana Gov. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) thinks Keith Bardwell should resign. Good call. But what about Sen. David Vitter (R)?

* Republican outreach to Jewish voters takes another step backwards.

* I'm beginning to think Stephen Hayes' reporting isn't especially reliable.

* Ziegler vs. Keene on Palin.

* New, bipartisan efforts on the Hill for a college-football playoff.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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THOUGHT EXPERIMENT OF THE DAY.... David Frum, a conservative pundit and former Bush speechwriter, isn't especially popular on the right these days. His efforts to bring conservatives back from the brink -- Frum recently suggested that Glenn Beck's rhetoric may be, quite literally, dangerous -- have left him with few allies.

Today, Frum noted that some of the high-profile right-wing voices are every bit as conservative in real life as they are during their on-air performances. But he takes the next step and ponders an interesting thought experiment. (via Chris Orr)

Suppose an agent arrived in the offices of Limbaugh/Beck/Hannity/O'Reilly etc. with an offer. "I can guarantee you a deal that will pay you twice as much -- bring you twice as much fame -- and extend your career twice as long -- if you'd say the exact opposite of what you are saying now." Which of them would sign?

My nominations: O'Reilly accepts for sure. Beck likewise almost certainly says yes. Limbaugh would want to think it over, but would ultimately say no. Mark Levin: certainly not. Sean Hannity would need the offer explained a few times. Ann Coulter -- that one puzzles me -- but probably no. Roger Ailes? Do you even need to ask?

I like this game -- and I laughed out loud at the Hannity analysis -- though I'm not sure about the conclusions. I agree that O'Reilly would gladly accept the offer. I'm less sure that Beck would take it; he seems more motivated by the voices in his head than financial rewards. I think Levin and Hannity would reject the offer, but I think the smart money is on Coulter accepting it. (Sometimes I think Coulter is actually a secret liberal doing some kind of performance art now, so the leap would be a short one.) Ailes, of course, wouldn't hesitate.

What say you?

Steve Benen 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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LEARNING ONE LESSON, FORGETTING ANOTHER.... In March, RNC Chairman Michael Steele, appearing on CNN, inadvertently criticized Rush Limbaugh. It did not, as you may recall, go over well, and Steele had to grovel for forgiveness. He learned a valuable lesson -- Steele may be the chairman of the Republican National Committee, but the real power in the party lies elsewhere.

With that in mind, Steele spoke to Univision's Jorge Ramos today, and had this exchange:

RAMOS: For instance, when you hear commentators like Glenn Beck saying that for him President Barack Obama is a racist, with a deep seated hatred for white people, how do you react?

STEELE: That's one man's opinion.

RAMOS: Yes, but...

STEELE: That's one man's opinion.

RAMOS: But should you defend Barack Obama against these types of comments? I don't know, it's just a question.

STEELE: No, no, look, the reality of it is when I ran for the United States Senate and I was called an Uncle Tom by leading Democrats in the country, when I was called a slave by Steny Hoyer who is now the majority leader in the House, no one came running to my defense, and no one seemed to think that that was racist at the time.

Steele probably realizes that Beck's attack was insane, but he can't bring himself to say so. He touched that hot stove in March, and hasn't forgotten the burn.

Instead, he tries to turn it around. The president is facing race-based attacks now, Steele argues, but that's tolerable since he faced race-based attacks as a Senate candidate in 2006.

Except, that's not what happened. The grand total of "leading Democrats" who called Michael Steele an "Uncle Tom" during his campaign was zero. More important, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer never called Steele "a slave." In reality, Hoyer characterized Steele's record as "a career of slavishly supporting the Republican Party." Steele feigned outrage, and Hoyer walked it back, saying, "If Mr. Steele did in fact take offense let me assure him that none was intended."

Three years later, Steele is downplaying actual racially-motivated attacks against the president by powerful right-wing activists, and equating them with anecdotes from his own campaign that never occurred.

It's often hard to believe this guy is the chairman of a major American political party.

Steve Benen 4:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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GRAB A MOP.... It was an unusually good metaphor. President Obama delivered a speech in San Francisco last week, appearing at a DNC fundraising reception. He covered a lot of ground, but there was one section that stood out. This afternoon, it apparently became the basis for a nice little press stunt.

In his remarks, the president explained his support for a two-party system, where "ideas are tested and assumptions are challenged." He added, "But what I reject is when some folks decide to sit on the sidelines and root for failure on health care or on energy or on our economy. What I reject is when some folks say we should go back to the past policies when it was those very same policies that got us into this mess in the first place.

"Another way of putting it is when, you know, I'm busy and Nancy's busy with our mop cleaning up somebody else's mess, we don't want somebody sitting back saying, 'You're not holding the mop the right way.' Why don't you grab a mop, why don't you help clean up? 'You're not mopping fast enough.' 'That's a socialist mop.' Grab a mop -- let's get to work."

Andrew Sullivan noted, "It's an inspired three-word challenge to the GOP. Devastating, actually -- because it both reminds people of the damage the GOP did while not seeming to dwell on the past or to score partisan points (while actually doing both)."

With that in mind, the DNC sent out a press release this afternoon, explaining that a group of concerned volunteers will "deliver mops to the Republican National Committee headquarters and ask Republicans to pitch in and help clean up the mess they've made over the last eight years."

The release added, "Last week, the President suggested that rather than simply saying 'no' to efforts to help put the country back on the right track, the GOP should 'grab a mop' and help clean up the mess we're in to move the country forward. Today, supporters will ask Chairman Steele and the Republican Party to take the President's advice: either grab a mop and help clean up the mess, or get out of the way."

As press stunts go, this sounds like a pretty good idea. In fact, I'm a little surprised Democrats in general haven't picked up on this metaphor, incorporating it into party talking points. Maybe I've missed it, but Dems could use this in a variety of applications. The party's never been especially good at message discipline, but the "mop vs. mess" frame seems pretty compelling to me.

Steve Benen 3:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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DELAYS WILL ONLY EMBOLDEN THE IMAGINARY SPIES.... Last week, Reps. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.), John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), Paul Broun (R-Ga.) and Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) made quite a splash. Relying on a strange book published by a fringe website, the four right-wing lawmakers called on the House Sergeant at Arms to start looking for Muslim "spies" on congressional committees.

The lawmakers apparently believe the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), an entirely legitimate, mainstream advocacy group, has tried to place interns on key panels, including the House Homeland Security Committee, Intelligence Committee, and Judiciary Committee. What would the interns do that warrants investigation? The collective genius of Myrick, Shadegg, Broun, and Franks was a little vague on this point, but they're confident the "spies" are up to no good.

Do the four know of any intern/spies CAIR has sent to Capitol Hill? Well, not really, but they heard about it in some conspiracy book and want the Sergeant at Arms to look into it anyway.

As Franks put it at a press conference, "We live in a post-9/11 world where the coincidence of nuclear proliferation and Islamic terrorism pose a very dangerous combination and real threat to America's national security.... I take the charges levied against CAIR and laid out in this book very seriously because they affect our national security."

So, did these four go running to the Sergeant at Arms to launch a witch hunt? No, it seems the lawmakers aren't in a rush.

Four Republican lawmakers have not submitted a request to the House sergeant at arms to investigate a threat that one of the four described as a terrorist-linked group possibly "running influence operations or planting spies in key national security-related offices."

A spokesperson for the sergeant at arms told TPMmuckraker this morning that the office was aware of the charge by GOP members at a press conference Wednesday that the Council on American-Islamic Relations planted Muslim intern spies on the Hill for purposes of subversion. But, says spokesperson Kerri Hanley, the office hasn't received a request for an investigation, and it wouldn't launch any probe until such a request is made.

"We don't have any information to form any kind of opinion to decide whether an investigation is warranted," Hanley says.

Myrick's office believes the formal request for a probe would be delivered to the Sergeant at Arms eventually, but wouldn't explain why the lawmakers haven't acted yet.

Hmm. As far as Myrick, Shadegg, Broun, and Franks are concerned, a dangerous group with terrorist ties has surreptitiously placed covert spies in key congressional posts to shape policy and acquire sensitive information. (None of this is true, of course, but this is what they believe.)

Outraged, they call a press conference and proceed to do ... nothing? With American national security on the line, they can't send an intern to deliver a request for an investigation to the Sergeant at Arms office?

In other words, these far-right lawmakers are paranoid, bigoted, and lazy?

Steve Benen 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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NUTMEGS AND TEA BAGS.... The Wall Street Journal had an interesting item the other day, noting that the "rise of conservative 'tea party' activists," which has "created a dilemma for Republicans." The GOP is, to be sure, glad to have energized far-right activists. On the other hand, the base is increasingly radical, and is expecting right-wing fealty from Republican candidates.

"[T]hese newly energized conservatives present GOP leaders with a potential problem," the WSJ noted. "The party's strategy for attracting moderate voters risks alienating activists who are demanding ideological purity, who may then gravitate to other candidates or stay at home."

Take Connecticut, for example, where President Obama was elected by a 22-point margin, and where the Democratic presidential candidate won literally every county in the state. Sen. Chris Dodd (D) is seeking re-election next year in the traditionally "blue" state, but is considered very vulnerable.

Former Rep. Rob Simmons (R), the leading GOP challenger for Dodd, had an item on his blog on Friday, reversing course on some of his more notable policy positions:

I was wrong about two issues I supported in Congress -- the Employee Free Choice Act (also known as "card check") and "cap and trade." After hearing more from the people who would be most affected by these bills, I became convinced they would cause more harm than good and I would oppose them in the Senate.

This came just a few days after Simmons spoke to some right-wing activists and boasted, "This state and this country needs people like you.... I've made it a habit over the years to carry my Constitution in my pocket as a reminder of what this country and what this country's government is all about. But more recently because of the participation of many of you, I've added something to my Constitution. I've added a tea bag."

Keep in mind, when Simmons was in the House, before his defeat in 2006, he was one of the most moderate GOP lawmakers in the chamber. In the 109th Congress, he was the seventh least conservative Republican in the House. In the 108th, Simmons was the fourth least conservative House GOP lawmaker. For that matter, he knew all about EFCA and cap-and-trade policy, and knew both were worth supporting.

And now Rob Simmons is running statewide in a reliably "blue," New England state, moving sharply to the right on key issues and walking around with a tea bag in his pocket. Instead of reminding voters about his centrist bona fides, Simmons is pandering shamelessly to Teabaggers.

Steve Benen 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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THE BEST SYSTEM IN THE COUNTRY.... In general, even most opponents of health care reform maintain the pretense of concern about the failures of the status quo. It's not unusual to hear Republicans say, for example, that they'd like to support reform, just not the reform proposal on the table. It's a shallow talking point, but it's intended to shield them from criticism that the GOP is satisfied with the broken system that most Americans don't like.

Michael Steele missed the memo.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, in an interview this weekend on Univision, said, "I don't think we need a comprehensive overhaul of our health care system."

"Because our health care system," he continued, according to a transcript posted by Latina Lista, "while it remains the best in the country and while it provides largely the services that people need and the quality of those services are very, very good, there are costs associated with this system that needs to be address more directly."

He explained the Republicans' plan for health care, describing it as "elbow grease" that requires neither regulation or taxation.

"It's common sense solution, it doesn't require a nationalizing of our health care system, and it doesn't involve or require a great government intrusion through regulation and taxation and other confiscatory policies," he said. "What it requires is applying a little, you know elbow grease, to allow those businesses, those Hispanic businesses for example, under the market place and get the health care that they need."

It's hard to know where to start with this, though it's hard to miss the fact that Steele thinks our country's health care system is "the best in the country." I suppose that's true, in a circular kind of way. It's also worth noting that Steele still thinks there are Democratic plans for "nationalizing of our health care system," reinforcing suspicions that the RNC chairman has no idea what he's talking about.

But more important is how badly out of touch Steele is. Even now, after months of debate, he's convinced "a comprehensive overhaul" is excessive, and would prefer to just tweak the system around the edges. That's not where the country is -- the most recent CBS News poll found that 53% of Americans believe "fundamental changes are needed" to the U.S. system, while an additional 31% believe our system "has so much wrong with it that we need to completely rebuild it." That's a combined total of 84% who want, at a minimum, some serious changes to the status quo. What's more, those numbers are even higher than in September, suggesting the appetite for an overhaul is growing.

As for the "elbow grease" plan to fixing the broken system, there's a reason Steele has insisted, "I don't do policy" -- the poor man is clueless. Does he even realize there is no Republican reform alternative?

Earlier this month, there were reports that Steele was read the riot act by GOP congressional leaders who wanted him to stop talking about substantive issues altogether, and focus solely on party building and the upcoming elections. Maybe they need to have another chat with the RNC chairman?

Steve Benen 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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LIEBERMAN APPLIES STRICTER STANDARDS TO OBAMA THAN BUSH.... A couple of weeks ago, Greg Sargent reported that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) was considering holding a hearing on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on President Obama's "czars." Dave Weigel reports today that the senator is going through with it.

Lieberman ... will preside over a hearing on presidential "czars" in his Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. The hearing will be this Thursday, and the scheduled witnesses are Tom Ridge, George Mason University Prof. James Pfiffner, former OLC Lee Casey, and Harold Relyea, formerly of the Congressional Research Service.

There are a couple of relevant angles to keep in mind. First, the Senate Judiciary Committee just held a hearing on the "czars" earlier this month with a bunch of credible experts, and we learned what we already knew: there's nothing problematic about the president's team of advisors. There's no reason at all to hold another hearing in another committee, unless the goal is to further validate the baseless, paranoid fears of right-wing activists.

Second, Lieberman was chairman of this committee in 2007 and 2008, when George W. Bush had 36 so-called "czars," and the Connecticut senator never said a word. More the point, Lieberman didn't hold any oversight hearings on questions surrounding the Bush administration, deciding not to hold the Republican president accountable for anything.

In other words, Lieberman, who caucuses with Senate Democrats, is playing favorites: going easy on Bush and going after Obama, believing in oversight of a Democratic White House after rejecting it for a Republican White House.

This is, by the way, exactly what some of us predicted when the caucus decided, with the president's blessing, to let Lieberman keep his gavel.

And as for those who claim Joe Lieberman stands with Democrats on everything except foreign policy, the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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MONDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* The Washington Post editorial board endorsed Creigh Deeds' (D) gubernatorial campaign over the weekend: "[I]f he has not always been the most adroit advocate for astute policies, that is preferable to Mr. McDonnell's silver-tongued embrace of ideas that would mire Virginia in a traffic-clogged, backward-looking past. Virginians should not confuse Mr. McDonnell's adept oratory for wisdom, nor Mr. Deeds's plain speech for indirection. In fact, it is Mr. Deeds whose ideas hold the promise of a prosperous future."

* In New Jersey, Gov. Jon Corzine (D) won endorsements over the weekend from both the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

* Speaking of New Jersey, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Chris Christie has been frustrated by independent candidate Chris Daggett's growing support, which is splitting the anti-incumbent vote. With that in mind, Christie has begun going after Daggett and Corzine.

* Making matters more challenging for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D), the Progressive Change Campaign Committee is launching an ad campaign in Nevada this week, challenging Reid to pass a public option. The spot is titled, "Is Harry Reid Strong Enough?" and features a constituent who explains she'll "only be voting on one issue"" next year: whether Reid is able to "pass a public health insurance option into law."

* Rep. Corrine Brown (D) had launched a Senate exploratory committee, but decided late last week to forgo the Senate race and instead seek re-election to the House.

* Connecticut Democrats are continuing to make an issue of GOP Senate candidate Linda McMahon's leadership of World Wrestling Entertainment, and some of the "racier" content her company aired on television.

* It's long been assumed that Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) would cruise to an easy victory in his Senate primary race against former state House Speaker Marco Rubio. Those assumptions are being challenged more and more all the time.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (5)

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FOLLOWING THROUGH ON A SANE DRUG POLICY.... Literally just 48 hours after President Obama's inauguration, the Drug Enforcement Administration raided a medical marijuana dispensary in northern California. The move was at odds with Obama's policy, at least as it was articulated during the campaign, prompting questions about whether the White House would follow through on its stated goals.

We've seen considerable progress since. In February, Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters that the Justice Department will no longer raid medical marijuana clubs legally established in states. The announcement fulfilled a campaign promise Obama made during the campaign.

Today, we see the next step towards a sane federal drug policy.

The Obama administration will not seek to arrest medical marijuana users and suppliers as long as they conform to state laws, under new policy guidelines to be sent to federal prosecutors Monday.

Two Justice Department officials described the new policy to The Associated Press, saying prosecutors will be told it is not a good use of their time to arrest people who use or provide medical marijuana in strict compliance with state laws.

The new policy is a significant departure from the Bush administration, which insisted it would continue to enforce federal anti-pot laws regardless of state codes.

Fourteen states allow some use of marijuana for medical purposes: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

There's often a sense that those states that have approved medicinal use of marijuana have been free from DEA crackdowns. That hasn't been the case at all -- throughout the Bush era, federal authorities ignored the states'-rights argument and went after state-authorized marijuana distributors, on the argument that federal law trumped state law.

Under Obama, federal law still trumps state law, but authorities will simply shift its priorities -- in states where use and distribution of marijuana is legal, the administration will put their law enforcement energies elsewhere.

Update: Glenn Greenwald called the Obama administration's new policy guidelines "one of those rare instances of unadulterated good news from Washington."

Steve Benen 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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CIRCUMVENTING THE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE.... The fall has not been especially kind to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It's lost some high-profile corporate members; its membership ranks have been exposed as exaggerated; and its leadership has been embarrassed on national television. Eliot Spitzer called the Chamber "wrong on virtually every major public policy issue of the past decade," and quite a few relevant players found the observation reasonable.

Matters may get worse still for the Chamber of Commerce. The White House, which has waited for the Chamber to begin playing a more constructive role, has decided to pursue a different approach going forward.

The White House and congressional Democrats are working to marginalize the Chamber of Commerce -- the powerful business lobby opposed to many of President Barack Obama's first-year priorities -- by going around the group and dealing directly with the CEOs of major U.S. corporations.

Since June, senior White House officials have met directly with executives from more than 55 companies, including Chamber members Pfizer, Eastman Kodak and IBM.

"We prefer the approach -- particularly in this climate -- where the actual people who are on the front lines, running businesses, trying to create jobs, come and advise us on policy," senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett told POLITICO in a not-so-subtle effort to portray the Chamber as out of touch with business reality.

Chamber officials say the White House is scapegoating the Chamber and other trade associations as a way of dividing the business community, a move that could help the administration made headway on health care reform, climate change legislation and regulatory reform.

To a certain extent, there's something to this -- the administration does have an interest in driving a wedge within the Chamber's membership. With many in the business community sympathetic to the White House's agenda, and many more finding new opportunities for profit in the changing policy landscape, it only makes sense for the administration to prevent a monolithic "Big Business" from derailing its agenda. We're already seeing this start to play out on energy policy, where producers have begun "battling one another."

Historically, the Chamber of Commerce has served as something of a gatekeeper: if powerful policymakers wanted to make headway with business leaders, they had to go through the Chamber to get to them. The White House prefers to simply go around the gatekeeper and engage the community directly.

Since this summer, senior administration officials have held at least 11 meetings with CEOs and executives from more than 55 companies, according to data provided by the White House. The sessions usually involve half-a-dozen attendees representing companies in all different fields, from finance to pharmaceutical, soft drinks and real estate. Job creation, tax policy, climate change and health care reform are discussed.

"The intent there is simply to make sure we are getting accurate, timely feedback from the wide cross-section of the private sector and that we aren't going to therefore rely solely on the Chamber or any other group," explained Jarrett. "[These CEOs] are like ambassadors to other businesses."

Instead of letting the Chamber serve as the gateway to business leaders, the administration is building gateways of its own. It is a potentially huge structural shift for the nexus of politics and business.

For its part, the Chamber has crafted a $100 million "free enterprise" campaign, which is principally about defeating regulatory reform.

Valerie Jarrett talked a bit about a conversation she had with Chamber president Tom Donohue about the campaign.

"He came in and we chatted and he said, 'I think that, for example, your financial regulatory reform might have a chilling effect on business growth.' So I said well you supported the Recovery Act, yes. You support the federal taxpayer subsidy going to the banks, yes. You supported the subsidy going to the auto industry, yes. So now suddenly you want the free market system? I couldn't reconcile those two positions."

"He said, 'Well, I don't think we need those checks and balances.' And I said yes you do, we have concrete evidence that you do because without them the taxpayers ended up carrying the burden."

Good for the White House.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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'DELAY, DEFINE AND DERAIL'.... Roll Call reports today on what we can expect to see from the Senate GOP caucus as the debate over health care reform enters the final stretch.

Senate Republicans, acknowledging they lack the votes to block a health care reform bill outright, have implemented a comprehensive political strategy to delay, define and derail. [...]

Senate Democrats are rejecting Republicans' demands to slow things down, charging that the GOP isn't interested in working with the majority to craft a bipartisan health care bill. Rather, Reid said repeatedly last week, the Republicans' primary goal is to sink reform in order to undercut President Barack Obama.

It seems safe to say, then, that the Republican strategy for the next several weeks is identical to the strategy of the last several months. As long as the majority appreciates the tactics for what they are, the process will proceed nicely. (In late July, Harry Reid told reporters, "Working with the Republicans, one of the things that they asked for was to have more time. I don't think it's unreasonable." We probably won't hear that one again.)

Of particular interest in the Roll Call piece, however, was a take on GOP expectations.

Earlier in the year, Republicans were hoping that Democratic divisions would do to Obama's health care agenda what the GOP can't, but they no longer expect moderate Democrats to stand in the way of passage -- even one that includes a public insurance option.

Now, the piece didn't attribute a specific quote to anyone on this, but if it's true, it's extremely encouraging. Indeed, at this point, it's the single most important procedural angle to the larger debate: will members of the Democratic caucus side with Republicans and block consideration of the bill. This article suggests Republicans expect all 60 members of the majority caucus to, at a minimum, let the bill come up for an up-or-down vote.

This echoes an observation Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) made last week: "No Democrat wants to be on the wrong side of history and vote on a procedural vote to kill the most important domestic vote of their careers."

All the more reason to bring as strong a bill as possible to the floor.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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KYL'S CALLOUS CONFUSION.... There's ample evidence that thousands of Americans die each year as a result of lacking health care coverage. Indeed, the United States is not only the sole industrialized democracy burdened by health-related bankruptcies, we're also the only industrialized democracy that tolerates deaths among the uninsured.

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), however, isn't "sure" this is actually happening.

On "Meet the Press" yesterday, host David Gregory asked Kyl a very good question: "[Y]ou and other Republicans have said this healthcare reform should be opposed, and one of the major reasons you cite is how much money it costs, how much it could potentially add to the deficit, although the president says it'll be deficit-neutral. And yet when you talk about the war in Afghanistan and the commanders should have more of their troops, I've never heard you say that that should be deficit-neutral, that war costs should somehow not break the bank. Why is that disparity there?"

Kyl responded by saying we can't "scrimp and save or try to win a war on the cheap," adding that the conflict in Afghanistan "is a war of necessity," because of 9/11. Gregory followed up, asking whether it might also be a "necessity" to address the fact that "more and more Americans who die because they don't have access to health insurance."

Kyl replied, "I'm not sure that it's a fact that more and more people die because they don't have health insurance; but because they don't have health insurance, the care is not delivered in the best and most efficient way."

A month ago, Harvard Medical School researchers published a key study that found nearly 45,000 people die in the United States each year -- one every 12 minutes -- because of a lack of health insurance. CBS News reported, "After factoring in education and income, smoking, drinking and obesity, researchers found that the uninsured had about a 40 percent higher risk of death, linking 45,000 American deaths a year to lack of insurance. In 1993 it was 25 percent."

Maybe Kyl's constituents should send their senator a copy of the report. Apparently, he hasn't seen it.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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ANOTHER PRIMER FOR JUDD GREGG.... Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) appeared on CNN yesterday to discuss the latest deficit numbers, and the network described him as "a leading fiscal mind on Capitol Hill." I wish they wouldn't do that -- lending him unearned credibility suggests to the public that Gregg knows what he's talking about.

That's a dubious proposition, at best.

"You talk about systemic risk [caused the federal budget deficit]. The systemic risk today is the Congress of the United States," the Ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King, "that we're creating these massive debts which we're passing on to our children. We're going to undermine fundamentally the quality of life for our children by doing this."

"Now you can't blame that on [former President] George [W.] Bush," Greg said, noting that using the Obama administration's projections the budget deficit for the next ten years is $1 trillion per year.... The figures, Gregg told King, "mean we're basically on the path to a banana-republic-type of financial situation in this country. And you just can't do that. You can't keep running these [federal] programs out [into the future] and not paying for them. And you can't keep throwing debt on top of debt."

This isn't the first time Gregg has appeared on national television to repeat bogus talking points about the budget, but that doesn't make it any less annoying.

First, Gregg says we can't blame the deficit on Bush. Of course we can. The largest driving factor behind the $1.4 trillion shortfall is Bush administration policies. Those were policies, not incidentally, that Gregg supported enthusiastically for eight years.

Second, Gregg mentioned Obama projections over the next decade. What he neglected to mention was the key detail: "[P]roperly accounted for, the deficit actually goes down when you compare Obama's budget proposals to current policy, not up."

And finally, why Gregg thinks he has any credibility on this issue is a mystery. Policymakers are "creating these massive debts which we're passing on to our children"? What a convenient time for Gregg to notice. It was, after all, Judd Gregg who voted for massive tax cuts the country couldn't afford. It was also Judd Gregg who voted to finance two costly wars entirely through deficit spending. Judd Gregg also didn't hesitate to put Medicare Part D and No Child Left Behind on the national charge card, left for some future generation to worry about.

All told, Gregg supported policies that added $5 trillion to the national debt in just eight years. He did it all with a smile, never once running to CNN to complain about "the path to a banana-republic-type of financial situation in this country."

A "leading fiscal mind on Capitol Hill"? For all our sake, here's hoping that's not true.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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October 18, 2009

TAKING THE FOX PROBLEM SERIOUSLY.... Tensions between the White House and the Republican cable news network have been evident since Inauguration Day, but it wasn't obvious that the president's team intended to do something about it until a month ago, when Obama appeared on five networks' Sunday morning shows, and decided to exclude Fox News.

The strategy became clearer two weeks ago with an interesting piece from Time's Michael Scherer, which quoted Communications Director Anita Dunn describing Fox News as "opinion journalism masquerading as news." Pressed to defend her remarks last week on CNN, Dunn didn't hesitate, accurately characterizing Fox News as "a wing of the Republican Party."

I'm delighted to see that the White House isn't backing down on this. Today, White House senior adviser David Axelrod shared his thoughts with ABC's George Stephanopoulos. "It's really not news -- it's pushing a point of view," Axelrod said of the Republican network. "And the bigger thing is that other news organizations like yours ought not to treat them that way, and we're not going to treat them that way. We're going to appear on their shows. We're going to participate but understanding that they represent a point of view."

Also this morning, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told CNN that Fox News is "not a news organization." He added, "[I]t's important not to have the CNN's and the others of the world being led and following Fox, as if what they're trying to do is a legitimate news organization."

Slate's Jacob Weisberg not only approves of this approach, he explained why it's time for the rest of the political world to reevaluate its approach to Fox News.

There is no longer any need to get bogged down in this phony debate, which itself constitutes an abuse of the fair-mindedness of the rest of the media. One glance at Fox's Web site or five minutes randomly viewing the channel at any hour of the day demonstrates its all-pervasive political slant. The lefty documentary Outfoxed spent a lot of time mustering evidence about Fox managers sending down orders to reporters to take the Republican side. But after 13 years working for Roger Ailes, Fox employees don't need to be told to help the right any more than fish need a memo telling them to swim.

Rather than in any way maturing, Fox has in recent months become more boisterous and demagogic in rallying the opposition against Obama. The "fair and balanced" mask has been slipping with increasing frequency -- as when a RNC press release was regurgitated so lazily that it repeated a typo on air or when a reporter wondered why other networks weren't doing PR for "tea parties" that Fox covered the way the Hearst press covered the Spanish-American war. On Fox, fact-checking about the president's health care proposal is provided by Karl Rove. For literary coverage, it features the bigot Jerome Corsi's rants about Obama and John Kerry. Meanwhile, the crybaby Glenn Beck has begun to exhibit a Strangelovean concern about America's precious bodily fluids, charging the government with trying to invade our bloodstream by vaccinating us for swine flu. With this latest misinformation campaign, Fox stands to become the first network to actively try to kill its viewers.

That Rupert Murdoch may skew the news rightward more for commercial than ideological reasons is somewhat beside the point. What matters is the way that Fox's successful model has invaded the bloodstream of the American media.

And that's precisely why the White House's media strategy matters. Fox News' model makes a mockery of American journalism, and poisons the larger discourse -- in part by encouraging mimicry (Weisberg said CNN's Lou Dobbs has become "a nativist cartoon"), and in part by pushing nonsensical stories that legitimate news outlets pursue because they're aired on Fox News.

For Murdoch, Ailes, and company, "fair and balanced" is a necessary lie. To admit that their coverage is slanted by design would violate the American understanding of the media's role in democracy and our idea of what constitutes journalistic fair play. But it's a demonstrable deceit that no longer deserves equal time.

Whether the White House engages with Fox is a tactical political question. Whether we journalists continue to do so is an ethical one. By appearing on Fox, reporters validate its propaganda values and help to undermine the role of legitimate news organizations.

The question isn't why the White House is treating Fox News like a partisan propaganda outlet. The questions are a) why it took so long; and b) why others aren't following the White House' lead.

Steve Benen 12:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (77)

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THE ORIGINAL KING OF IRONY STRIKES AGAIN.... Karl Rove is just outraged that the White House would snub a news outlet it considers partisan. He complained incessantly about the Obama team's disdain for Fox News this morning.

"The administration is making a mistake for itself," Rove continued. "But more importantly, it is demeaning the office of the president by taking the president and moving him from a person who wants to be talking to everybody and communicating through every available channel the same, if you oppose me, you question me, if you are too tough on me, by gosh, me and my people are not going to come on, we are going to penalize you. That is just wrong, fundamentally wrong."

Now, one can debate whether the White House's decision to treat Fox News like a partisan propaganda outlet is wise or not. I believe it's the right call. But putting that aside, let's pause to appreciate the comical irony of Rove's whining.

It was, after all, George W. Bush who became the first modern president to refuse literally every interview request from the New York Times over the span of nine years. The NYT's Sheryl Gay Stolberg explained about a year ago, "[Bush] White House officials are quite open about the fact that we have not gotten an interview because they don't like our coverage."

Did Rove find this decision "demeaning" to the presidency? Was Rove in the West Wing, arguing at the time that the president should be "talking to everybody and communicating through every available channel"?

For that matter, the Bush White House went after NBC News in May 2008, accusing the network of deceptive editing and blurring the lines between "news" and "opinion." Officials from the Bush team began treating NBC and MSNBC as political opponents.

Did Rove find this "fundamentally wrong"? I don't recall him complaining at the time.

I can appreciate the fact that Karl Rove is an embarrassingly partisan hack. It's been his role for so long, it's entirely expected. But it's the kind of attacks he launches that I find interesting.

Rove ran a White House that embraced a "permanent campaign," so he's accused the Obama team of embracing a "permanent campaign." Rove embraced the politics of fear, so he's accused Obama of embracing the politics of fear. Rove relied on "pre-packaged, organized, controlled, scripted " political events, so he's accused Obama of relying on "pre-packaged, organized, controlled, scripted" political events. Rove looked at every policy issue "from a political perspective," so he's accused Obama of looking at every policy issue "from a political perspective."

It's hard to launch political attacks that are ironic, hypocritical, and examples of projection, all at the same time, but Rove is a rare talent.

Steve Benen 11:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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THE ELUSIVE GOP PLAN FOR DEFICIT REDUCTION.... It's always been rather amusing to hear Republicans suggest they have the moral high ground on fiscal issues like the federal budget deficit. The modern deficit problems began in earnest under Reagan/Bush. Clinton eliminated the Republican deficits altogether, and handed off a huge surplus to his GOP successor. Bush, we now know, was "the most fiscally irresponsible president in the history of the republic."

But now that the deficit for the just-completed fiscal year was $1.4 trillion, the GOP has decided it cares about deficit reduction again. Indeed, they're hoping to see President Obama blamed for the mess he inherited.

Yesterday, A.L. had a good idea. Let's say the GOP was handed the reins of government immediately, and could do as they pleased. What would they do to lower the deficit? Party leaders have said tax increases of any kind are out of the question, so if Republicans have any intention of moving the budget back towards balance, they'll have to do the opposite of what they did when they were the governing party: find a way to cut spending. A lot.

One idea that some Republicans have suggested (safe from their position in the minority) is to cancel the rest of the stimulus bill. The near universal consensus among economists, however, is that stimulus spending in the coming year will be crucial. Moreover, the states, including most red ones, are very much counting on this money. I find it hard to believe that the GOP -- even with a larger majority -- could garner anywhere near enough votes to cancel the stimulus bill. Moreover, doing so would only improve the deficit numbers for one year (after that, the stimulus spending is done). Even if it didn't harm the economy, it would do nothing whatsoever to improve the long term deficit numbers. [...]

[T]he largest source of potential spending cuts is in the defense budget, but the GOP has always been fiercely opposed to any cuts in defense spending, and it's hard to see that changing any time soon. [...]

So that leaves us with entitlement spending. Would the GOP make major cuts to Medicare? It's possible, but they are currently opposing efforts to rein in wasteful Medicare spending and promising to protect seniors from any cuts whatsoever. It seems highly unlikely that the GOP would make any real effort to reduce spending on Medicare.

So what about Social Security? Well, for starters, Social Security is a much smaller program than Medicare, so even drastic cuts would not make much of a dent in the overall spending picture. Moreover, the last time the GOP tried to "reform" Social Security (by converting it into 401k-style individual accounts), their plan involved massive up front transition costs that were to be paid for by borrowing. In other words, if they passed Bush-style Social Security reform, it would massively inflate both the deficit and the debt, both in the short term and long term.

So what does that leave us with? Not much.

Quite right. Once one takes tax increases, defense spending, and entitlements off the table, serious efforts to reduce the deficit are a fantasy. Given that Republicans actually want to cut taxes and increase military spending, the GOP plan is fairly obvious: take the enormous deficits they created, and make them worse.

I'd just add one thing to A.L.'s analysis. In June, in a story that was largely overlooked, the White House asked GOP lawmakers to come up with some recommended budget cuts. Republicans had spent months saying how much they'd like to trim from the budget, so the president invited them to submit their ideas in writing. The GOP caucus came up with a "bold" plan that would cut federal spending by about $5 billion a year for five years -- far less than the White House plan to reduce spending.

But I suggest giving them another shot at this. Republican policymakers turned a massive surplus into a massive deficit, but they claim they now take fiscal discipline seriously. Let's take them at their word, and invite them to put a plan where their rhetoric is. I'd love to see what they come up with.

Steve Benen 10:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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MORE MOVEMENT ON DADT.... It looks like we may finally see Congress move to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" early in the new year. That's not soon enough for the servicemen and women whose careers are being needlessly cut short, but it's evidence of some movement on the issue.

Congress could move early next year to repeal the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays serving in the military. [...]

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), a leading proponent of gay rights and close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), earlier this week predicted the House would move on the issue.

"Early next year we will be moving on 'Don't ask, don't tell,' " Frank told Headline News.

In the House, Rep. Patrick Murphy's (D-Pa.) H.R. 1283 now has 181 co-sponsors, including five who signed on in the last week or so. There have been other bills to overturn DADT, but none has come close to generating this kind of support.

In the Senate, we learned this week that White House officials have begun working with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), a key member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, on advancing a repeal. While the independent senator has been a stunning disappointment on a variety of issues, Lieberman has always opposed DADT and may be positioning himself as the primary sponsor to undo the law.

The White House, in addition to engaging Lieberman on this directly in the hopes of generating some momentum, is also filling the key Pentagon slot for the implementation of the new policy. Ben Smith reported the other day, "The appointment of retired Marine General Clifford Stanley as Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness is being hailed by a key group that represents gay soldiers as a major advance toward repeal -- suggesting the White House is moving closer to backing legislation that would reverse the measure."

There was some talk this week that addressing the issue in 2010 may prove problematic because it's a controversial measure in an election year. I tend to think that's a ridiculous reason to put off the effort. For one thing, governing can't stop every other year, just because lawmakers are scared of upsetting people. For another, the Democratic majorities are likely to be much smaller in 2011, so there's no time like the present.

And perhaps most important, it's to stop thinking about a DADT repeal as "controversial." It's not -- most of the American military and most American civilians both support ending the nonsensical policy.

Steve Benen 9:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (4)

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AN OVERWHELMED SECRET SERVICE.... There was a report in August that threats against the president have increased 400% since the Bush era. A couple of weeks ago, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele dismissed the reported surge, and questioned the validity of the claims.

Steele probably ought to take the matter more seriously. The threats against President Obama and other U.S. leaders are putting a strain on the Secret Service that's overwhelming the agency.

The unprecedented number of death threats against President Obama, a rise in racist hate groups, and a new wave of antigovernment fervor threaten to overwhelm the US Secret Service, according to government officials and reports, raising new questions about the 144-year-old agency's overall mission.

The Secret Service is tracking a far broader range of possible threats to the nation's leaders, the officials said, even as it also investigates financial crimes such as counterfeiting as part of its original mandate.

The new demands are leading some officials, both inside and outside the agency, to raise the possibility of the service curtailing or dropping its role in fighting financial crime to focus more on protecting leaders and their families from assassination attempts and thwarting terrorist plots aimed at high-profile events.

Even as the size of the Secret Service's staff and budget grow, the agency is struggling to keep up with demands on its time. On the one hand, the Secret Service is still in the business of investigating financial crimes, searching for missing and exploited children, and possibly even expanding its role in probing mortgage fraud. On the other, domestic threats against U.S. leaders, most notably the president, have escalated considerably.

Threatening language has also found its way into talk radio broadcasts and social networking websites, raising fears that individuals not normally considered threats to the president could be incited to violence.

For example, the Secret Service in recent months has investigated a poll posted on Facebook about whether Obama should be killed. It has interviewed a Florida radio talk show host after a caller mentioned ammunition, target practice, and the president, and federal officials have raised concerns about several instances in which protesters carrying weapons showed up at Obama events, including a man at an August town hall in New Hampshire.

"The racist extremist fringe is exploiting themes that strike a chord in the mainstream more than we have seen in the recent past,'' said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University-San Bernardino, citing several elected leaders who have questioned whether Obama is a US citizen eligible to be president.

The next step is reevaluating whether the Secret Service can continue to take on everything on its plate. One official said, "This is a discussion going on not only in some quarters in Congress, but inside the Secret Service. Should there be a re-look at the mission?''

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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WORST. COMPARISON. EVER.... As a rule, the right should probably try to steer clear of Martin Luther King comparisons. I don't think they're especially good at it.

This week, for example, National Review's Andy McCarthy said Rush Limbaugh treats people "in the Martin Luther King aspiration that the content of one's character is what matters, not the color of one's skin." I think he was serious.

The next day, politician turned infomercial salesman turned CNN correspondent J.C. Watts went even further.

At a recent fundraiser in Tulsa, former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts compared Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) to Martin Luther King, Jr. While it is not uncommon for people to compare those they admire to great historical figures, Watts' reasoning behind the comparison is somewhat questionable:

Watts praised U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn as "a threat to the system" and said that "God is going to have a special place in heaven for Tom Coburn." He compared the senator to Martin Luther King Jr., saying that, like King, Coburn could not be threatened or bought off.

That's the standard for King comparisons? Coburn, one of the most right-wing Republicans on the Hill, is similar to MLK because he isn't easily intimidated?


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

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October 17, 2009

'A WORLD APART'.... The more one hears from far-right activists about their fears and beliefs, the more it seems as if there's a parallel universe of sorts that doesn't quite line up well with our own. And if you've ever been tempted to ask, "What's the weather like in their reality?" the answer, it seems, is cloudy with a strong chance of paranoia.

On a conference call with reporters just now, Democracy Corps' James Carville, Stan Greenberg and Karl Agne went over their focus group study of Republican base voters and their worldview that President Obama is out to destroy the country -- and the pressure this puts on Republican voters to make no compromises with the Obama administration.

"I don't know if we'll say we were startled," said Carville, "but if you take the position that these Republican voters take, it's easy to see why it leads to this, but they really believe that Obama has a secret agenda here. And our view is this is a dominant view in the Republican Party."

The study described self-identified far-right Republicans as "a world apart from the rest of America." It added, "They believe Obama is ruthlessly advancing a 'secret agenda' to bankrupt the United States and dramatically expand government control to an extent nothing short of socialism. While these voters are disdainful of a Republican Party they view to have failed in its mission, they overwhelmingly view a successful Obama presidency as the destruction of this country's founding principles and are committed to seeing the president fail."

Phrases like "Obama Derangement Syndrome" apply extremely well to this segment of the GOP base. They are absolutely convinced, not quite nine months into Obama's presidency, that the Commander in Chief has hatched a deliberate scheme to destroy American democracy. They're paranoid, and creative in their wild conspiracy theories. They're deluded, and have a pathetic kind of persecution complex.

It's one thing to believe the president's agenda is a bad idea, but these folks believe the White House has a literally dictatorial scheme in the works. Also from the report: "Conservative Republicans do not oppose Obama's policies simply because they think they are misguided or out of partisan fervor. Rather, they believe his policies are purposely designed to fail. When they look at the totality of his agenda, they see a deliberate effort to drive our country so deep into debt, to make the majority of Americans so dependent on the government, and to strip away so many basic constitutional rights that we are too weak to fight back and have to accept whatever solution he proposes."

As David Corn added, these Republicans believe there's an "underground movement" assembling to resist the coming dictatorship, and believe Fox News and the Tea Parties are "manifestations of this nascent uprising."

In the larger context, it's not exactly shocking to know a sizable portion of the Republican Party's base has gone stark raving mad. What's of greater interest, though, is what the Republican Party is going to do about it. As far as the GOP base is concerned, constructive cooperation and/or negotiation with the White House is intolerable. Indeed, the report suggests the activists are annoyed with their party -- it isn't nearly unhinged enough for their tastes.

For a party that believes base mobilization is the key to electoral success, it poses something of a challenge -- follow the un-medicated whims of enraged nihilists who stand "a world apart from the rest of America," while pretending to be a mainstream political party that has the capacity to appeal to a broad national audience. I don't envy them.

Steve Benen 2:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (55)

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'TAKE ONE OF THESE, AND CALL US IN A DECADE'.... Watching President Obama's weekly address this morning, it seems the White House has had just about enough of the insurance industry's antics in opposition to health care reform. As presidential weekly addresses go, this was the equivalent of dropping the gloves.

After noting recent progress on the legislative process -- the president said the debate is "draw[ing] to a close," adding that we are "closer to reforming the health care system than we have ever been in history" -- and reemphasizing why reform is so desperately needed, Obama turned his attention to the insurance industry, which is marshalling its forces "for one last fight to save the status quo."

"They're filling the airwaves with deceptive and dishonest ads," the president said. "They're flooding Capitol Hill with lobbyists and campaign contributions. And they're funding studies designed to mislead the American people.

"Of course, like clockwork, we've seen folks on cable television who know better, waving these industry-funded studies in the air. We've seen industry insiders -- and their apologists -- citing these studies as proof of claims that just aren't true. They'll claim that premiums will go up under reform; but they know that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found that reforms will lower premiums in a new insurance exchange while offering consumer protections that will limit out-of-pocket costs and prevent discrimination based on pre-existing conditions. They'll claim that you'll have to pay more out of pocket; but they know that this is based on a study that willfully ignores whole sections of the bill, including tax credits and cost savings that will greatly benefit middle class families. Even the authors of one of these studies have now admitted publicly that the insurance companies actually asked them to do an incomplete job.

"It's smoke and mirrors. It's bogus. And it's all too familiar. Every time we get close to passing reform, the insurance companies produce these phony studies as a prescription and say, 'Take one of these, and call us in a decade.' Well, not this time. The fact is, the insurance industry is making this last-ditch effort to stop reform even as costs continue to rise and our health care dollars continue to be poured into their profits, bonuses, and administrative costs that do nothing to make us healthy -- that often actually go toward figuring out how to avoid covering people. And they're earning these profits and bonuses while enjoying a privileged exception from our anti-trust laws, a matter that Congress is rightfully reviewing.

"Now, I welcome a good debate. I welcome the chance to defend our proposals and to test our ideas in the fires of this democracy. But what I will not abide are those who would bend the truth -- or break it -- to score political points and stop our progress as a country."

It's not the first time the White House has signaled its displeasure with the insurance industry, but this is by far the hardest-hitting rhetoric we've heard from the president on private insurers.

This is also a reminder of the value in having a principal enemy to focus on. TNR's Suzy Khimm noted the other day, "Activists on the left have long insisted that insurance companies aren't to be trusted. But up until now, it's been hard to make the charge stick, since the insurance lobby -- a.k.a., America's Health Insurance Plans -- has been cooperating with the White House and its allies. AHIP's new paper, though, may have changed things."

That change is reflected in this presidential weekly address. Reformers disagree on a variety of policy details, but their common foe is now obvious.

Steve Benen 11:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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THIS WEEK IN GOD.... First up from the God Machine this week is a new ad from the American Values Network, hoping to promote health care reform from the perspective of the religious left.

The progressive faith group, led by Hillary Clinton's former faith outreach director, uses the thousands of people who waited in line for free health care in Los Angeles this August to make their case.

"For eight days in August, thousands of uninsured Americans waited to receive treatment at a free health clinic." In Los Angeles County, where an estimated 22% of working-age adults lack health insurance, an overwhelming number of adults made their way to a free health care clinic providing free care from volunteer doctors and dentists. These visitors are "not numbers or statistics," the ad says. "They are God's children and they have a face."

"While politicians bear false witness, they wait... While special interests reap the profits of fear, they wait." For the American Values Network, health insurance reform is not a political or partisan debate, but an issue of faith.

"Our new ad reminds us all why we began the debate in the first place: our neighbors are suffering and our current system must be reformed," the group says.

It's a strong, compelling pitch, but the ad is a minute long, and it's unclear whether the American Values Network will have the resources necessary for a significant ad buy.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* There are new rumors in right-wing circles that President Obama won't have a Christmas tree at the White House. Apparently the White House Historical Association has been receiving quite a few calls and emails about this. It's a bogus urban legend, though it's unclear if reality will make any difference.

* The Rev. Sun Myung Moon, owner of the far-right Washington Times, held his first huge mass wedding in a decade this week. Moon's "blessing ceremony," the largest since 1999, married some 40,000 people in dozens of international cities simultaneously.

* And in Philadelphia, Herbert and Catherine Schaible will stand trial on manslaughter charges after they prayed over their two-year-old dying son instead of seeking medical treatment. When police asked the parents why they neglected to get care for the toddler, they said, "We believe in God for healing." The Philadelphia judge who upheld involuntary manslaughter, child endangerment, and conspiracy charges this month against the Schaibles called them "loving'' but "misguided.''

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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CHENEY BITES THE HAND THAT FEEDS.... Liz Cheney's new political outfit, ironically named "Keep America Safe," got to work this week, promising to rally opposition to the Obama administration's effective national security policies while promoting the painful failures of the Bush/Cheney era.

The group's first project? A new web ad blasting MSNBC.

A source sends over a new Web ad just produced by Ms. Cheney's group, which is devoted to making the case that Obama's reversal of Bush policies is radical and dangerous. The ad bashes Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews as "afraid" to debate her on the "substance" of national security policy:

The ad airs footage of Olbermann, Matthews, and Ed Schultz mocking the recent announcement of her group, and concludes: "Why don't they want to talk substance? Why are they panicked? Why don't they want to debate the issues?"

The implication being, of course, that the MSNBC gang is running scared from Ms. Cheney. If memory serves, though, Ms. Cheney has repeatedly been granted a platform on ... MSNBC, again and again and again, to defend her pop's legacy and champion policies that don't even exist anymore.

Looking forward to the lily-livered liberal network crew's response to this one. Maybe they'll invite her on again a bunch more times to discuss her contempt for them.

Earlier this year, Liz Cheney spent so much time on the cable news networks, I think she had her mail forwarded to the green rooms on N. Capitol. At one point, the "liberal media" had the former State Department official on 22 times in 24 days. Not only were many of these appearances on MSNBC, but when people like me started complaining about the news networks turning Cheney into a right-wing celebrity, Liz Cheney's biggest defender was ... MSNBC.

And now Cheney wants to turn the network into a punching bag?

Also, I couldn't help but notice that Liz Cheney's ad targets Olbermann, Matthews, and Schultz, but seems to have left out one high-profile MSNBC host: Rachel Maddow. Indeed, Rachel has invited Liz Cheney onto her show many, many times, and yet, Cheney has declined every opportunity.

To borrow a phrase, why doesn't Liz Cheney want to talk substance? Why doesn't she want to debate the issues?

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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KEEPING THE PITY PARTY GOING.... Investors hoping to purchase the St. Louis Rams football franchise decided this week they didn't want to hang out with Rush Limbaugh anymore. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed this morning, the right-wing radio host is still complaining about it.

It's an odd piece, which follows some strange reasoning. Limbaugh's defense, such that it is, begins by bashing Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, because they bashed him. It's a weak strategy -- the pitch, in essence, is, "They think I'm racist? Well, Tawana Brawley and Hymietown. So there."

Limbaugh then notes that several news outlets used a bogus quote to highlight his record of racism. "Numerous sportswriters, CNN, MSNBC, among others, falsely attributed to me statements I had never made," he wrote. That's true, but it overlooks the fact that news outlets used plenty of legitimate, verified quotes that also made the radio host look awful.

But putting all of that aside, here's the crux of the defense:

The sports media elicited comments from a handful of players, none of whom I can recall ever meeting. Among other things, at least one said he would never play for a team I was involved in given my racial views. My racial views? You mean, my belief in a colorblind society where every individual is treated as a precious human being without regard to his race? Where football players should earn as much as they can and keep as much as they can, regardless of race? Those controversial racial views?

No, Rush, these controversial racial views.

Limbaugh's record of racist commentary ... includes not only a habit of comparing black athletes to gang members but a general hostility toward black people. Limbaugh only recently suggested that having a black president encouraged black children to beat up white children -- he's also compared President Obama's agenda to 'slavery reparations,' used epithets to reference his biracial background, and compared Democrats responding to the concerns of black voters to rape."

The WSJ op-ed concludes that there is an effort underway "to keep citizens who don't share the left's agenda from participating in the full array of opportunities this nation otherwise affords each of us."

Yes, The Man is always trying to keep the white conservatives down. It's nice of this multi-millionaire who managed to avoid jail time after a series of drug felonies to explain this to us.

Limbaugh seems rather desperate to characterize himself as some kind of victim. It's a rather sad display.

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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THIS LAND WASN'T MADE FOR YOU AND ME.... Last week, we talked about religious right leader Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, who condemned health care reform in unusually offensive terms. "What they are attempting to do in healthcare, particularly in treating the elderly, is not something like what the Nazis did. It is precisely what the Nazis did," Land told an audience in Florida on Sept. 26. In the same remarks, Land compared Dr. Ezekiel Emmanuel to Josef Mengele.

Initially asked to defend his comments, Land refused to walk them back. Specifically on likening Emanuel to Nazis, Land insisted "the analogy is apt and I stand by it."

The Anti-Defamation League's Abe Foxman contacted Land to express his concerns: "While we understand there are deep convictions and passions regarding the healthcare reform, whatever one's views are, the Nazi comparison is inappropriate, insensitive and unjustified."

This week, Land finally expressed some regret.

"It was never my intention to equate the Obama administration's healthcare reform proposals with anything related to the Holocaust," Land wrote. "Now that I have had the opportunity to speak with you personally and reflect on my words, I deeply regret the reference to Dr. Josef Mengele," Land added. "I was using hyperbole for effect and never intended to actually equate anyone in the Obama administration with Dr. Mengele. I will certainly refrain from making such references in the future. I apologize to everyone who found such references hurtful. Given the pain and suffering of so many Jewish and other victims of the Nazi regime, I will certainly seek to exercise far more care in my use of language in future discussions of the issues at stake in the healthcare debate."

I suppose it may be ungracious to criticize someone trying to show regret, but this isn't much of an apology. Land didn't "intend" to equate reform with "anything related to the Holocaust"? He said Democratic efforts are doing "precisely what the Nazis did." What, exactly, did he "intend"? He "regrets" the Mengele reference? When given a chance to walk it back, Land said "the analogy is apt and I stand by it."

What's more, Alex Koppelman noted, "Land didn't apologize for the substance of his comments, and reiterated allegations about the Obama administration's proposals that are demonstrably false. And he doesn't seem to have apologized to Emanuel himself."

Steve Benen 8:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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THERE THEY GO AGAIN.... The lead overnight story on Mark Halperin's "The Page" features a photo of President Obama alongside U.S. currency. The text reads, "Red Ink Nation: Obama presides over $1.4 trillion deficit."

The front page of the Washington Post tells readers, "Record-High Deficit May Dash Big Plans; $1.4 Trillion in Red Ink Means Less to Spend On Obama's Ambitious Jobs, Stimulus Policies." The New York Times' front page says, "$1.4 Trillion Deficit Complicates Stimulus Plans."


Let's set the record straight here. The Treasury Department officially announced that the federal budget deficit for fiscal year 2009 was $1.4 trillion. While that's hardly good news, it's worth remembering that the Office of Management and Budget had projected a deficit for FY09 of $1.8 trillion. As Dean Baker explained, "Given the new information about the deficit, a more reasonable headline would have been, 'Lower Than Expected Deficit Leaves Room for Stimulus,' since the government can now spend $200-$400 billion and still have a lower debt than what was projected just two months ago."

Second, while a $1.4 trillion deficit is unprecedented in size, as Paul Krugman explained in August, "it's not horrific either by historical or international standards." This chart, published by the WaPo today, shows the debt as a percentage of GDP, and adds some helpful perspective.

Third, let's give credit where credit is due. Halperin's report makes it seem as if the Obama administration deserves blame for the huge budget shortfall. That's demonstrable nonsense. The Center for American Progress' Michael Ettlinger and Michael Linden recently explained, "The policies of the Bush administration, which included tax cuts during a time of war and a floundering economy, are clearly the primary source of the current deficits. The Obama administration policies that are beginning to give the economy a needed jumpstart -- the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in particular -- place a distant third in contributing to the 2009 and 2010 deficit numbers."

Specifically, 40% of the fiscal deterioration we're seeing -- the single largest contributing factor -- can be attributed to Bush policies. Another 12% comes from Bush's financial rescues, while 20% are the result of the economic crisis. What's President Obama's share? Just 16% of the total, most of which is the result of new spending that was necessary to prevent a depression. Indeed, blaming Obama is backwards: "[P]roperly accounted for, the deficit actually goes down when you compare Obama's budget proposals to current policy, not up."

And finally, let's also not forget that it only makes sense to run large deficits given the circumstances. We're dealing with an economic collapse and two wars, following eight years in which we were led by "the most fiscally irresponsible president in the history of the republic."

Bush inherited the largest budget surplus in American history and turned it into the largest deficit in American history. Obama, in contrast, found a fiscal fiasco waiting on his desk on his first day on the job. Before anyone blasts the president for the mess, perhaps they ought to grab a mop.

Steve Benen 8:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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October 16, 2009

FRIDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Pakistan: "A trio of suicide attackers, including a rare female bomber, set off two blasts outside a police station in the northwest Pakistani city of Peshawar on Friday, killing 11 people in the latest bloodshed in an unrelenting wave of terror plaguing the country."

* The CBO numbers on the House health care reform bill look good, but keep in mind, it's pretty preliminary, and today's reporting is outdated. We'll know more when there's a final House bill.

* Is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) working the inside game for a public option?

* Despite reports to the contrary this week, Reid will not invite Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) to closed-door negotiating sessions on shaping the Senate's health care reform bill.

* Another possible compromise on the public option is in the mix, this time in the House.

* Is the AMA's unexpected support for reform about to take another unexpected turn?

* The bizarre right-wing accusations against the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) have apparently produced at least one death threat.

* The pro-SAFRA YouTube video, with a takeoff on Beyonce's ubiquitous "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)." Informative or cringe-inducing? Or both?

* Rachel Maddow vs. Americans for Prosperity's Tim Phillips. Go watch.

* Glenn Beck's Mao hysteria actually came up during today's briefing with the White House press corps. (Why those guys follow Beck's lead remains a mystery to me.)

* Anita Dunn responds to Beck's tantrum.

* On a related note, during his tirade, Beck probably should have skipped that Hitler reference.

* Another Bush administration official is heads to jail.

* The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a bad week.

* House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has spent over $10,000 for the services of professional speaking coaches? Doesn't that sound a little high?

* Remember when House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he hadn't heard from a single American outside of Congress or the White House who supports a public option? I don't imagine he'll be saying that again.

* Best comment I've seen today on the "balloon boy" coverage: "[W]hether or not the drama was staged, it certainly served as a perfect metaphor for cable news: America spent hours riveted by a powerful and gripping story that turned out to be totally meaningless, and will have no significant impact on anybody's lives going forward."

* Good news: John McCain will not be on a Sunday show this weekend. Bad news: he'll be on Jay Leno tonight instead.

* President Obama was asked by 9-year-old Tyren Scott yesterday, "Why do people hate you?" I found the president's answer pretty compelling.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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QUOTE OF THE DAY.... Politico asked a variety of television talk-show hosts who their favorite guests are. MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski apparently had no trouble quickly naming her choice. (via Dave Weigel)

Brzezinski jumps at the chance to name Pat Buchanan "because he says what we are all thinking."

Um, Mika? Have you heard the kind of things Buchanan says?

If Buchanan's remarks reflect what the "Morning Joe" team is thinking, that's a problem.

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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SPEAKING OF 'DYING QUICKLY'.... Just two weeks ago, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) generated widespread Republican outrage with a speech on the House floor about health care reform. "It's a very simple plan," Grayson said about the GOP agenda. "Don't get sick. That's what the Republicans have in mind. And if you get sick America, the Republican health care plan is this: die quickly."

GOP lawmakers were incensed. Rep. Jimmy Duncan (R-Tenn.) called Grayson's comments "about the most mean-spirited partisan statement that I've ever heard made on this floor." Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) immediately began work on a resolution condemning Grayson for his remarks.

Maybe Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) missed the story?

Speaking on the House floor last night, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) became the latest Republican lawmaker to play the "death card," suggesting that reform advocates would allow seniors to "die off more quickly":

"I was talking to a senior that I consider a very wise individual, and this weekend she said, 'You know what concerns me about the 500 billion in cuts to Medicare? Maybe not, but I can't help but think they know that as seniors we've been through World War II, we've seen the evils that lurk in this world, we have gained great wisdom from our years, and they're willing to let us die off more quickly so that we're not around to try to get our wisdom across to the young people of what is at risk by this government takeover.'"

Now, Gohmert has already proven himself to be ... how do I put this ... a rather dim lawmaker. About a week ago, during a speech that was supposed to be about "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," Gohmert seriously argued that expanding hate crimes protections would lead to a legalization of necrophilia, pedophilia, and bestiality. He then compared those who disagree with him to Nazis.

But this speech about Democrats wanting to kill off senior citizens is just blisteringly dumb, especially after Republicans just threw a fit about Grayson.

For what it's worth, a spokesperson for the NRCC argued today that Gohmert's remarks weren't that bad, because he was simply "relaying a concern of his constituent to his colleagues."

For goodness sakes. Do you suppose Gohmert was relaying the comments because he disagreed with them? Is he prepared to denounce the absurd concerns of his constituent?

Steve Benen 4:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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THE NOTION OF A DEAL-BREAKER.... Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is fighting pretty hard for a public option as part of health care reform, and seems fairly confident that about the provision's prospects. But Harkin realizes that some in the Democratic caucus are not yet on board.

"The vast majority of the Democratic caucus is for the public option that is in the HELP bill," he said. "Should the 52 [in favor] give in to the five, or should the five come along with the majority?"

The answer depends on just how much someone hates the idea of a public plan competing with private plans. It's not uncommon to hear center-right lawmakers say they support health care reform, but can't support a plan with a public option. Matt Yglesias had a good item this morning, arguing that it's a position worth pressing.

So far there's been basically no pressure in the media on members who take this position to justify their extreme level of opposition. I get, for example, that Kent Conrad supports the Finance Committee version of health care and opposes adding a public option to it. But suppose a public option does get added. Does that suddenly take a vast package of reforms that he played a key role in crafting and turn it into a terrible bill? Why would that be? Surely Conrad is as aware as anyone else in congress that in order to pass a large, complicated health reform bill many senators are going to have to vote "yes" on a bill that contains some provisions they oppose. After all, the health reform bill contains hundreds of provisions!

Are moderate members really so fanatically devoted to the interests of private health insurance companies that they would take a package they otherwise support and kill it purely in order to do the industry's bidding on one point?

Good question. The onus tends to be on progressive lawmakers who insist on a public option. The typical question for them is straightforward: are you really willing to kill health care reform over one provision? But Matt's suggestion turns that on its head, and redirects the question to lawmakers who ostensibly support reform, but think the idea of a public plan is the wrong way to go: is the idea so offensive that it's worth killing the entire initiative, decades in the making, letting this once-in-a-generation opportunity pass?

Take Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), for example, who's worked in good faith to find a reform compromise she can support. She's said, more than once, that she wouldn't support a bill that includes a public option, but she could support a reform bill with a "trigger."

But using Matt's framework, Snowe's position is that much more difficult to understand. She wants a reform bill and is prepared to support one, despite party pressure. But as Snowe sees it, her vote is conditional on a public option later vs. a public option sooner?

Really? She opposes public-private competition that much?

Steve Benen 3:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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ADVENTURES IN POLL QUESTIONS.... Greg Sargent finds a gem in the new Fox News poll:

The Obama administration is criticizing FOX News Channel for its coverage of the administration. If the disagreement between the Obama administration and FOX News Channel continues, who do you think will come out on top?

Administration 39%

Fox News 43%

Greg adds, "Fox finds more think Fox will defeat the White House! I wonder if this will persuade the White House communications team to drop its crusade."

It does seem unlikely. That said, I'm not even sure I understand the poll question. Fox News is criticizing the White House because the president is a Democrat, and the White House is criticizing Fox News because it's a propaganda outlet. Who do we think "will come out on top"? What does that mean, exactly? How would we know who's "won" the showdown? Check again in a year to see who has higher approval ratings, Obama or the Republican cable network?

Fox News seems to think of itself as a political player, on par with a party or public official, engaged in some kind of partisan showdown with those of a different worldview. In the larger context, perhaps that's part of the problem.

On a related note, Matt Corley had a good item yesterday, noting that the Bush White House went after NBC News in May 2008, accusing NBC of deceptive editing and blurring the lines between "news" and "opinion." At the time, a variety of Fox News personalities thought this was a great idea, and suggested that Republican officials should avoid appearing on NBC News.

Now that it's Fox News under fire from a different White House team, they have a very different perspective. "It is extraordinary that the White House would go and target a news channel," Steve Doocy said, before comparing Obama to Hugo Chavez.

Steve Benen 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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IF THIS IS THEIR IDEA OF A MODERATE.... Rep. Mark Kirk (R), currently running for the Senate in Illinois, has come under some fire from the right for his alleged moderation. His decision to vote for a cap-and-trade bill in June, for example, led to widespread outrage in conservative circles. (Kirk has since changed his mind and now opposes the bill he voted for.)

The Illinois Republican is also known for moderation on social issues, most notably gay rights. Kirk, for example, was the lead GOP co-sponsor on an expanded hate-crimes bill, and is on record supporting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. This, of course, is also anathema to the Republican Party's base.

So, as his Senate campaign gets underway, Kirk feels it's necessary to abandon the moderate image he worked hard to cultivate. (thanks to reader G.K. for the tip)

He supports continuing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays serving in the military.

"I think it's worked out well," he said. "Keeping that all out of the workplace makes common sense."

I have no idea what this means. For one thing, as Matt Finkelstein explained, DADT hasn't "worked out well" at all. Just the opposite is true -- it's become an inexplicable embarrassment.

For another, for someone who's endorsed ENDA to say it's "common sense" to "keep that all out of the workplace" is truly ridiculous.

By the way, in the same interview, Kirk endorsed sending tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan because Illinois is home to "the tallest building in North America."

As far as the House Republican caucus is concerned, Mark Kirk is a "moderate"?

Steve Benen 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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EYES ON LIEBERMAN.... This week, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) raised a few eyebrows by expressing his opposition to the health care reform plan passed by the Senate Finance Committee. To bring a reform bill to the floor, Dems are looking to have 60 votes, and one of them is expected to come from Lieberman. How big a problem is this likely to be?

It seems to depend on who you ask. One of the senator's home-state papers, the New Haven Register, reports today that Lieberman is prepared to vote for cloture, even if he intends to vote against the bill.

U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn., whose vote could be crucial to breaking an expected GOP filibuster on health care legislation, Thursday said he would consider voting to move the bill forward, even if he ultimately casts his ballot against the reform package. [...]

Lieberman said he was "inclined to let the motion to proceed" (or cloture) go forward, but "I haven't decided yet."

That he's "inclined" to let the Senate vote on the legislation is at least somewhat encouraging, but Lieberman's overall inclinations are still anything but clear. He was also asked this week about whether he'd join with Republicans to block consideration of the bill. "Well, uh, we'll see," Lieberman said.

Lieberman was then reminded that filibustering reform would be unprecedented, and that, as a Gang of 14 member, he has a history of supporting cloture. Shouldn't health care reform get an up-or-down vote? "I think it's early to ask that question," he replied, smiling.

Ezra noted the other day, "I could be proven wrong on this, but I'm not that worried about Lieberman. His name hasn't come up in any of the conversations I've had with Senate staffers about wavering members. And Democrats actually have a lot of leverage over Lieberman.... Lieberman has too much to lose, too little to gain, and hasn't proven himself irrational thus far."

I'm not as optimistic about Lieberman, but it's an angle worth keeping an eye on.

Steve Benen 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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OBAMA TELLS DEMS: 'I'M NOT TIRED; I'M JUST GETTING STARTED'.... For all of President Obama's high-minded rhetoric, policy remarks, and bipartisan appeals, it's nice for Dems to occasionally hear the president put on his partisan hat once in a while. And his remarks last night in San Francisco at a DNC fundraising reception suggested Obama is hardly blind to the larger political context of his presidency.

"[I]t's important for all of us to remember, even though it's been almost a year [since the inauguration], what was happening in this country when we walked through that front door," the president said. "Because, you know, people seem to have a sort of selective memory. People seem to forget, they seem to think that suddenly I was sworn in and there was this big financial crisis.

"So let's just do a little walk down memory lane. We were facing an economic crisis unlike any that we've seen in our times. We were losing 700,000 jobs a month. Our financial system was on the brink of collapse. Economists of every political stripe we're saying we might be slipping into the next Great Depression. And that's why working with Nancy Pelosi and working with Harry Reid we passed boldly and swiftly a Recovery Act that's made a difference in the lives of families and communities in every corner of the country."

Obama also spent a little time talking about his detractors. "I want everybody to know we believe in a strong and loyal opposition," he said. "I believe in a two-party system where ideas are tested and assumptions are challenged -- because that's how we can move this country forward. But what I reject is when some folks decide to sit on the sidelines and root for failure on health care or on energy or on our economy. What I reject is when some folks say we should go back to the past policies when it was those very same policies that got us into this mess in the first place.

"Another way of putting it is when, you know, I'm busy and Nancy is busy with our mop cleaning up somebody else's mess -- we don't want somebody sitting back saying, 'You're not holding the mop the right way.' Why don't you grab a mop, why don't you help clean up. 'You're not mopping fast enough.' 'That's a socialist mop.' Grab a mop -- let's get to work."

But the heart of the speech was an appeal for supporters to stay engaged, fighting for the agenda after having fought for the campaign.

"I hope that the election was not just a fad," the president said. "I hope that people didn't just think, 'Well, that's done, that was fun, I really liked those posters.' I need you guys to understand that what we're trying to do is hard. And I want you to be excited by that. I want you to be energized by that. Because if it was easy it would have already been done. If it was easy it wouldn't have been worth all the effort to get here.

"And I want everybody to know who are standing in the way of progress: I'm not tired. I'm just getting started. You can throw whatever you want at me -- keep it coming, we're going to get this done."

One of the disheartening part of post-election governing -- and this applies to practically every administration -- is the familiar pattern. Presidents take office with high hopes, governing proves difficult, supporters get discouraged and start to walk away. This occurs instead of seeing activists stay in the fight, engage in activism, and leaning on Congress.

To keep Democrats motivated and in the game, my sense is the president should probably deliver more speeches like this one.

Steve Benen 12:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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FRIDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP....Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Who's leading in New Jersey's gubernatorial race? It depends on which poll you read. The New York Times has incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine (D) leading Chris Christie (R) by three (40% to 37%), while SurveyUSA has Christie up by one (40% to 39%), and Rasmussen has them tied at 38% each.

* How can we tell that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) is worried about re-election in Nevada next year? He's already running TV ads, including a bio spot long-term incumbents rarely find necessary.

* Yesterday, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden (D) said he's thinking about running for the Senate next year. If he does, it'll be quite a match-up -- a new Research 2000 poll for Daily Kos shows Rep. Mike Castle (R) leading Biden by just one point, 46% to 45%, in a hypothetical general election contest.

* In Iowa, a new Research 2000 poll for Daily Kos shows Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) leading Christie Vilsack (D) in a hypothetical match-up, but the margin was more competitive than I expected -- 51% to 40%.

* On a related note, the same poll found a close gubernatorial race in Iowa next year. Former Gov. Terry Branstad (R) leads incumbent Gov. Chet Culver (D) by five, 48% to 43%.

* It looks like Sen. John Ensign's (R-Nev.) sex scandal is having quite an effect on his fundraising.

* House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) may face more than one primary challenger next year.

* Florida Republicans have finally found someone ready to take on Rep. Alan Grayson (D) next year. There's just one small problem: the GOP challenger lives 300 miles from the district.

* In California, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Meg Whitman has been embarrassed by her lack of a voting record. Looks like Republican Senate hopeful Carly Fiorina is in the same boat.

* And while the conventional wisdom suggests Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) is in deep trouble in Arkansas next year, a new DSCC poll offers the incumbent some encouraging results.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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THE MAN HAS 'PILES AND PILES OF BLACK FRIENDS'.... It's the 21st century, but apparently no one's told Keith Bardwell.

A white Louisiana justice of the peace said he refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple out of concern for any children the couple might have.

Keith Bardwell, justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish, says it is his experience that most interracial marriages do not last long.

"I'm not a racist. I just don't believe in mixing the races that way," Bardwell told the Associated Press on Thursday. "I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom. I treat them just like everyone else."

Is that so. Bardwell lets black people use his bathroom and he has "piles" of black friends?

Well, in that case, I suppose there's nothing objectionable here at all.

Apparently, couples that want to get married will call Bardwell to make arrangements. He'll ask if they're a mixed-race couple, and then refuse to help them if they answer the "wrong" way. As Bardwell sees it, society won't accept their kids: "I think those children suffer and I won't help put them through it."

What a good point. The societal stigma on kids from mixed-race couples is so overwhelming, those kids would never have an opportunity to, say, grow up and someday seek the presidency of the United States. Oh wait.

The couple that Bardwell turned down last week intends to consult the U.S. Justice Department about filing a discrimination complaint. They've already received some support from the ACLU, which has sought an investigation from the Louisiana Judiciary Committee.

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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THE 'CONFIRMATION WARS' AREN'T QUITE OVER.... Back in March, President Obama nominated David Hamilton for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Given Hamilton's record of moderation, the White House said the nomination was intended to send a signal that the process of filling judicial vacancies need not be contentious. "We would like to put the history of the confirmation wars behind us," one aide said.

Did it work? Not even a little. Republicans and far-right activists flipped out and seven months later, the Senate still hasn't voted up or down on Hamilton's nomination. Conservatives, in other words, have sent a very different signal: the confirmation wars aren't even close to being finished.

As Michael Fletcher reported today, it's part of a larger problem the White House would be wise to address.

During his first nine months in office, Obama has won confirmation in the Democratic-controlled Senate for just three of his 23 nominations for federal judgeships, largely because Republicans have used anonymous holds and filibuster threats to slow the proceedings to a crawl.

But some Democrats attribute that GOP success partly to the administration's reluctance to fight, arguing that Obama's emphasis on easing partisan rancor over judgeships has backfired and only emboldened Senate Republicans.

Some Republicans contend that the White House has hurt itself by its slow pace in sending over nominations for Senate consideration. President George W. Bush sent 95 names to the Senate in the same period that Obama has forwarded 23.

"I commend the president's effort to change the tone in Washington," said Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. "I recognize that he is extending an olive branch to Republicans on the Judiciary Committee and in the Senate overall. But so far, his efforts at reconciliation have been met with partisan hostility."

There are 90 judicial vacancies waiting for confirmed judges, and the political delays are having predictable real-world consequences: backed up caseloads nationwide. There's also the ideological shift to consider -- given that Bush stacked the courts as aggressively and as quickly as he could with the most conservative jurists he could get away with. Obama's desire for a less contentious process risks missing an opportunity to move the judiciary in a slightly more progressive direction.

White House officials expect things to pick up soon, and here's hoping they're right. As the Alliance for Justice's Nan Aron noted, "It is incumbent on the Democrats and the White House to push as hard as they can to confirm judicial nominees, given that next year Republicans will make an all-out effort to block candidates as a means to gin up their base before the election."

The Senate Democratic caucus has 60 members, and the Senate Republican caucus hopes to block or delay every judicial nominee. There's no excuse for failing to get the process moving quickly -- Dems may not get a chance like this one again for a long time.

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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RED-BAITING GONE HORRIBLY AWRY.... Glenn Beck picks the strangest things to get hysterical about. Yesterday, for example, he nearly had a breakdown discussing a speech interim White House Communications Director Anita Dunn delivered earlier this year. Dunn noted comments from "two of my favorite political philosophers: Mao Tse-Tung and Mother Theresa." She jokes, "Not often coupled with each other!"

In the video of a speech to high school graduates earlier this year, Dunn cited Mao's response to skeptics who pointed out that their party was facing steep disadvantages while fighting the Nationalist Chinese: "You fight your war, and I'll fight mine." After asking the audience to "think about that for a second," she said, "You know, you don't have to accept the definition of how to do things, and you don't have to follow other people's choices and paths, OK? It is about your choices and your path."

Likewise, Dunn cited Mother Teresa's response to a young person who wanted to work at her orphanage in Calcutta: "Go find your own Calcutta." Dunn then reiterated: "Go find your own Calcutta. Fight your own path. Go find the thing that is unique to you, the challenge that is actually yours, not somebody else's challenge."

It doesn't sound especially shocking. That is, unless you're Beck, who insisted on the air yesterday that Dunn "worships" "her hero" Mao Zedong. At one point, referencing Dunn, he gets up and attaches a communist hammer and sickle to a blackboard, right around the time he tries to connect Dunn to the deaths of 70 million Chinese: "This is her hero's work! 70 million dead!"

In reality, Mao references aren't especially unusual in American politics. In last year's presidential campaign, for example, John McCain quoted Mao on the campaign stump, and Beck didn't seem to mind. A few years ago, George W. Bush encouraged Karl Rove to read a Mao biography. Media Matters found prominent conservatives like Barry Goldwater's "alter ego" Stephen C. Shadegg, Cato Institute president Edward H. Crane, and GOP strategist Ralph Reed all referencing lessons from Mao Tse-Tung.

Now, I suppose it's possible that McCain, Bush, Reed and others are secret conservative admirers of Mao's reign, and should hereafter be featured with hammers and sickles, but it's probably saner to assume that they, like Dunn, have simply used Mao as a historical reference.

There is a larger context here. Dunn recently trashed Fox News, describing the Republican network as "opinion journalism masquerading as news." She followed up over the weekend, accurately describing Fox News as "a wing of the Republican Party."

Yesterday's hour-long tantrum was, in all likelihood, Beck's form of payback.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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THE OPPOSITION PARTY DECIDES TO OPPOSE.... The New York Times has a piece today on the Republican Party's deliberate decision on the Hill to reject pretty much everything on the Democratic agenda thus far. As the congressional minority sees it, the strategy will pay electoral dividends.

Congressional Republicans ... are certain that the politics are on their side. Dismissing Democrats' attacks on them as "the party of no," they point to polls and other signs indicating that high unemployment and deficits have created vast unease with Mr. Obama's agenda as the 2010 midterm elections approach. [...]

"I just don't think that there's a downside to voting no -- I really don't," said Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota. "That's quite aside from whether you should or shouldn't, or whether the country needs it or doesn't need it. The basic rule is you rarely pay a price at the polls for being against something."

Republican incumbents "have far more to lose," he said, "by having the Republican base conclude that they're just throwing in the towel and compromising on a big-government agenda."

This makes plenty of strategic sense. Republicans want to motivate their base, and their base doesn't want to see the GOP cooperate with Dems. There's also a basic calculus at play -- if President Obama and his congressional allies succeed, voters are likely to reward Democrats anyway. Better to oppose and obstruct, and then hope for the best (or, in this case, hope for those in power to fail).

The NYT's Jackie Calmes added that the Republican strategy on this exposes the party "to criticism that they have become political obstructionists with no policy agenda of their own. And that could keep them from extending their appeal to the centrist voters who are essential to rebuilding the party's strength nationally."

Perhaps, but the GOP seems willing to take the risk. The hope is that frustrated voters will just oppose the majority, regardless of whether Republicans have been intellectually-stunted obstructionists with no ideas of their own. For all I know, that may very well work.

But here's the point that the article overlooks: the more Republicans adopt an attitude of "whatever it is, we're against it," the less reasonable it is to expect the White House to forge bipartisan majorities. The minority is the opposition party, which is, as its name implies, supposed to oppose what the majority wants. What's wrong with that? Nothing.

But there's something very wrong with the idea that the president and/or his allies are somehow failing in their responsibilities if they come up short on convincing those who don't want to be convinced, and prefer a scorched-earth strategy to constructive cooperation.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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WHAT IS AL FROM TALKING ABOUT?.... Al From, the founder of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today, urging Democratic policymakers to give up on the public option now, to help ensure passage of the rest of the health care reform bill. As one might have guessed, it's an unpersuasive pitch.

In a nutshell, From argues that by pursuing a public plan, Democrats would make it easier for Republican obstructionists "to cloud the prospects for reform," by diverting attention from the rest of the debate and focusing on a public option that "Americans disagree on."

It's hard to know where to start with something like this. Dems should drop the popular idea that would save money and help consumers because Republicans, who can't block reform by themselves anyway, are putting insurance company's interests at the top of their priority list?

Of particular interest, though, was From's specific advice to President Obama. From recommends, among other things:

[M]ake one more effort to bring moderate Republicans along. Transformational reforms, such as civil rights legislation and Medicare in the 1960s, have always been passed with bipartisan majorities. Health-care reform should be no exception. The president promised a post-partisan politics. What better place to forge it than on his most important initiative?

No, no, no. For one thing, the president never "promised a post-partisan politics." Obama assured voters he'd reach out to Republican lawmakers in good faith, and he has. But "post-partisan politics" is a media creation/buzzword. For another, the White House has gone out of its way to try and secure GOP support for reform, but the president's hand has been consistently slapped away.

But it's especially frustrating to see From talk about the "bipartisan majorities" on major bills from bygone eras. It's a popular observation among conservatives, and it's foolish.

Scott Lemieux recently explained, "Of course Medicare and Social Security had lots of Republican support: There were lots of northern liberal Republicans in Congress, whose support was often needed to counterbalance the reactionary segregationists in the Democratic caucus. In the current context, conversely, the liberal northern Republican is virtually extinct, and the few remaining ones are 1) subject to much stronger party discipline than was the case in 1937 or 1965, and 2) are more heterodox on social than fiscal matters. So thinking that the same kind of legislative coalition was viable would be silly."

When Congress took up "civil rights legislation and Medicare in the 1960s," moderate and center-left Republicans were still fairly common. Democratic leaders had no trouble finding sensible GOP lawmakers who were anxious to work on progressive policy goals. President Obama, however, is stuck trying to find common ground with a right-wing reactionary party that not only opposes common-sense reform measures, but is running a scorched-earth campaign to destroy his presidency.

Nicholas Beaudrot put it this way: "[I]t's simply not meaningful to compare the present circumstances to those faced by Lyndon Johnson or Franklin Roosevelt when it comes to bipartisanship.... Barack Obama faces partisan polarization not seen since Woodrow Wilson was President."

Is From not aware of this?

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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ATTACKS ON JENNINGS INTENSIFY.... A few weeks ago, in the wake of Van Jones' resignation from the administration, the right turned its proverbial guns on Department of Education official Kevin Jennings. The smear campaign against Jennings has now incorporated a significant chunk of the House Republican caucus.

Fifty-three House Republicans have signed a letter to the Obama administration asking for the ouster of Kevin Jennings, an official charged with promoting school safety, because of his career as an advocate of teaching tolerance of homosexuality.

"As the founder of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, Mr. Jennings has played an integral role in promoting homosexuality and pushing a pro-homosexual agenda in America's schools -- an agenda that runs counter to the values that many parents desire to instill in their children," the lawmakers write.

The ringleader of this lynch mob is Rep. Steve King, a right-wing Republican from Iowa, who yesterday accused Jennings of "ignoring the sex abuse of a child" when he was a young schoolteacher. The charge is false, but of particular interest is the fact that King's office knows the charge is false, but made it anyway.

The campaign against Jennings is getting uglier, driven by anti-gay animus, cheap efforts to embarrass the administration, and the odd notion that Jennings may be a "czar" of some kind, which necessarily makes him a target for the right. For what it's worth, Jennings wrote a book 15 years ago, and shared an anecdote about a student he met while teaching in 1987. The student, a 16-year-old young man, told Jennings he was involved with an older man in Boston. For the lynch mob, that means Jennings was aware of statutory rape and didn't report it. In reality, the student was of the age of consent in Massachusetts.

As Jed Lewison noted, "Steve King's attack doesn't tell us anything about Kevin Jennings or the Obama Administration, but it tells you everything you never wanted to know about the vivid imagination of King and 52 of his GOP colleagues."

By all indications, the White House is ignoring the far-right cries, and Jennings' job is secure. Here's hoping it stays that way.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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October 15, 2009

THURSDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Pakistan: "Teams of militants dressed in police uniforms simultaneously attacked three law enforcement agencies in Lahore on Thursday morning, the fifth major attack by militants in Pakistan in the last 10 days.... More than 30 people were killed, including 19 police officers and at least 11 militants, police officials said."

* The foreclosure crisis continues: "The number of homeowners pulled into the foreclosure process increased by 5 percent during the third quarter as a government program to help borrowers stay in their homes struggled to gain traction, according to RealtyTrac data released Thursday."

* A runoff if Afghanistan's presidential election appears likely.

* Good: "Handing President Barack Obama a partial victory in his effort to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, House Democrats on Thursday repelled a Republican effort to block transfer of any of the detainees to the U.S. Instead, by a 224-193 vote, the House stood by a Democratic plan to allow suspected enemy combatants held at the controversial facility in Cuba to be shipped to U.S. soil -- but only to be prosecuted for their suspected crimes."

* Money well spent: "President Barack Obama signed legislation Thursday providing an additional $7.5 billion in assistance to the Pakistani government."

* The president was in New Orleans today, recommitting his administration to rebuilding the Gulf Coast. "I promise you this," Obama said during his first visit to the city as president. "Together we will rebuild this region and we will build it stronger than before."

* Seems encouraging: "A key House committee on Thursday passed legislation reining in the multitrillion-dollar market for financial derivatives. The House Financial Services Committee passed the bill on a 43-26 vote, with only one Republican, Rep. Walter Jones (N.C.), siding with all Democrats."

* Senate Republican opposition to extending unemployment benefits is a real problem.

* Even Greenspan seems to get it: "U.S. regulators should consider breaking up large financial institutions considered 'too big to fail,' former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said."

* Progress towards a nuclear deal with Iran?

* For now, the Senate Republican caucus is not prepared to punish Olympia Snowe for having voted for health care reform in the Finance Committee.

* The right's sexist attacks against Sens. Snowe and Collins begin.

* Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was hospitalized overnight after an apparent adverse reaction to medication.

* CNN scuttles an anti-Dobbs ad.

* The right-wing writer the Republican National Committee hired to write content for its new website has an interesting background.

* How did yesterday's hearing on for-profit colleges go? It could have been worse.

* I'd love to see this gain some traction: "A group of 10 Democratic senators today reintroduced legislation designed to end the sentencing disparity between powder and crack cocaine -- a long-standing push that never quite seems to get enacted."

* In the 21st century, it's not okay for interracial couples to be denied marriage licenses.

* And finally, Sean Hannity still isn't happy that President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. His alternative? "[F]rankly," he said, "I would've given it to George Bush." Of course he would have.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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