Call it the calm before the storm. Democrats in Washington are going through one of those "It's quiet out there... too quiet..." cliché moments, as everyone holds their breath in anticipation of the beginning of the end of the health reform debate in Congress.
What everyone's waiting on is for Congress to leap into action. But, in a surprising twist, this time it might actually happen.
OK, that was a cheap shot, I freely admit. What we're really all waiting for is the Congressional Budget Office (C.B.O.) to "score" (put budget numbers on) Nancy Pelosi's reconciliation bill. Nobody knows exactly when this will happen (they're an independent agency, after all), but it will be the starting gun on the sprint to the finish.
There are three procedural hurdles left to be crossed. The first vote will be in the House, on the bill the Senate passed last Christmas Eve. This bill cannot be changed, or else it would have to go through the Senate again -- which is now impossible, due to Democrats no longer having the 60 votes to pass it (thanks, Massachusetts).
The second hurdle is also a House vote, on the "sidecar" bill which will fix some of the problems with the Senate bill. This is the bill the C.B.O. is looking at currently, and will then be posted online for the required 72 hours, while it winds its way through the committee process. Hopefully around next Friday (just my estimate, which I base on nothing concrete, merely gut feeling), the bill will hit the floor of the House and squeak out a majority.
Then this bill moves over to the Senate, which will be a death-match cage fight. The Senate only needs 50 votes to pass the bill (with Joe Biden present), because it will use budget reconciliation rules. Republicans will be throwing everything including the kitchen sink into this fight, in an effort to kill the bill. If Harry Reid is smart, he will schedule this floor fight right before the Senate's planned Easter break. Nothing like the threat of reduced vacation time to motivate senators!
Then President Obama signs the bills (actually, he will sign the Senate Christmas Eve bill earlier in the process) and the issue is forever finished, and health reform happiness reigns o'er the land for all.
Well, no. Not really. I hate to be the bearer of bad news to an exhausted audience, but health reform is going to become an issue where the fighting just goes on and on for years to come. Sorry to break it to you, but there it is. Republicans are going to attempt repealing everything, and are going to campaign on this very issue. Some Democrats are going to keep pushing single-payer and the public option (and abortion restrictions, for that matter) as separate bills. And then in less than a decade, Medicare is going to need fixing again, only this time the whole debate will be around containing costs, to save the system from bankruptcy.
But this week has been relatively calm, so I don't want to rain too much on the parade before it gets going. The big fight that took place this week, which got the attention of the Left (but not many others) was the final nail in the public option's coffin.
Pressure had been mounting to add the public option to the reconciliation bill, led by a Progressive Change Campaign Committee website (whipcongress.com) that tracked which Democrats had signed onto a letter (or made a public statement in support of the idea) promising to vote for the public option via reconciliation. A few weeks ago, a handful of senators had signed on. This number kept growing, until it finally hit 41 senators who had voiced support for the idea. While getting 41 Democratic senators on board the effort is impressive, 41 is not 50. And time's running out.
This seemed to bear out what the conventional wisdom had been saying -- there just aren't enough votes to pass the public option through the Senate -- even with reconciliation.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin seemed to confuse the issue, by people reading too much into his remarks. Durbin was basically passing the buck to Nancy Pelosi, and saying (in essence) that the Senate would have to pass the House's bill with no amendments at all -- even good ones, as a matter of procedure. He said if the House bill had a public option in it, he'd whip Democrats to vote for it as is. If it didn't contain a public option, he'd whip for Democrats to vote for it as is. This was misread by many into some sort of support or opposition to the public option, which it wasn't.
Today, Nancy Pelosi did her best to whack the ball out of her court, but in doing so admitted that the bill she had sent to the C.B.O. had no public option in it. Meaning it just isn't going to happen in this legislation. Both the House and Senate are walking a tightrope, trying to corral votes within the caucus, and the public option was deemed a bridge too far (OK, maybe that tightrope/bridge metaphor kind of went crashing into the corral below, but you get my meaning, I hope).
Prosaically, that's where I think we are. The other side is girding their loins, the cavalry is mounting up to come charging over the hill, and a grand battle is guaranteed for everyone's bemusement. America is actually pretty sick of this battle already, and Democrats (especially in the House) need to finish it sooner rather than later, so they have at least something to show their constituents for the enormous effort this has all taken, in the hopes of getting re-elected this fall.
But, for now, it's quiet out there... this calm will likely last this weekend, and the storm will likely break early next week.
There were some minorly impressive things which happened this week, but not a lot that rose to the level of winning a MIDOTW award. Senator Chris Dodd made some news by stating that the time for attempting bipartisanship on financial reform is now over, and he will now proceed to write his own bill which he'll unveil Monday. This may be excellent news, and then again, it may just be a feint designed to win him a little favor with Democrats pushing for strong Wall Street reform, and the creation of a strong and independent consumer finance regulator. The proof will be in the pudding, so while we'll be watching for what, exactly, is in Dodd's bill. We have been disappointed by Dodd in the past, so we're going to wait until we see the bill before we consider handing Dodd an award for it.
David Obey, who chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee over in the House, also made some news with his political gambit of banning some earmarks. I wrote about this for the past two days, so if you're interested, check it out. The Republicans upped the ante yesterday, and so far, no word from Obey about whether he'll match their pledge to ban all earmarks (and not just ones to for-profit corporations). Obey should one-up the Republicans at this point by offering a permanent ban on the practice of earmarking, and deride their one-year pledge as meaningless election-year sloganeering. It's certainly worth a try. But Obey did not immediately raise the stakes in such a fashion, after the all-too-predictable Republican response. Until he does so, he has lost the political momentum he was trying to achieve with the gimmick, and so narrowly misses out on a MIDOTW.
Representative Alan Grayson gets a special "Roll With The Punches" award this week, for bouncing back from the news of the public option's demise, and immediately pushing a separate House bill (H.R. 4789 -- "The Public Option Act") which would go even farther. The bill is only four pages long, and would allow anyone to buy into Medicare at cost, if they wanted to. It wouldn't impact the budget at all, because "at cost" means revenue-neutral. It's a simple concept -- "Medicare for all" -- in a simple bill (again, four pages). Grayson explains the bill in detail himself in his article, and he encourages everyone to visit his website (www.wewantmedicare.com) to show your support for the idea. He's already got 50 cosponsors in the House, so we'll see where this idea goes in the future. But for being so quick off the mark with a standalone public option bill, Grayson certainly deserves acknowledgement this week.
But the real winner of the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week was the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, who managed to get 41 Democratic senators to sign on to their pledge to vote for a public option through reconciliation. Although they weren't completely successful, at this point getting 41 Democratic senators to agree that the sky is blue is a worthy achievement, much less getting them to sign a pledge to vote for anything. Outside groups try to pressure Congress all the time to get what they want, but most of them fall far short of making any sort of impact while doing so. PCCC's effort was one of the most impressive of these efforts ever seen, and they deserve to be spotlighted for their impact. Their effort grew slowly, from just a handful of senators who had signed their letter, until it stalled at 41. Technically, their award should read "of the past few weeks" rather than just "of the week," for their persistence. By pulling together this whipcount -- and by forcing Democrats to pledge their support for a public option -- PCCC has done an impressive job of outsider advocacy, much more impressive than most. For this, the PCCC is awarded the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.
[Congratulate the Progressive Change Campaign Committee on their website, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]
For the second week in a row, ex-Representative Eric Massa walks away with the prize in the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week category. After Massa's self-immolation on (of all places) the Glenn Beck show, nobody else even comes close.
This hourlong cringefest was so bad that Beck himself apologized for wasting America's time at the end of it. In a turnabout of their usual roles, the mainstream media (outside the Beltway) quickly got tired of the story, but the inside-the-Beltway crowd (normally sneering at salacious "news" and scandals as "unserious") just couldn't get enough. "Naked Rahm Emanuel! Tickle parties! Living with male staffers! Groping! Being forced out! Or not! Whatever! Give us more!" ...screamed the normally staid political chattering class.
The "money quote" that Massa will be long remembered for happened on Beck's show, and for this quote alone Massa wins this week's MDDOTW award:
"Now they're saying I groped a male staffer. Yeah, I did. Not only did I grope him, I tickled him until he couldn't breathe and then four guys jumped on top of me -- my 50th birthday -- it was 'kill the old guy'."
Um, OK. Don't really think I can add to that at all. Eric Massa's second Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award will be in the mail soon, as we deemed it impossible to schedule a time for him to pick it up in person. Ahem. Sorry, but it's a rather ticklish situation.
[No current public contact address for Eric Massa is available, sorry.]
Volume 115 (3/12/10)
We're taking the talking points in a new direction this week, which hopefully won't have to be repeated too often. Normally, I provide this snippets of spin for Democrats everywhere to use, especially those holding office who are about to be interviewed this weekend.
This week, instead, I am providing talking points from The People to those Democratic officeholders. Because while we've all spent a year having lots of political fun with health reform, there are a few other things which require some attention. Coincidentally, passing this stuff will dramatically improve any chances Democrats may have for being re-elected this year. Because the voters sent you Congressfolks there to get some stuff done. Now, you did managed to get a few things done last year, before sinking into the morass of health reform, but seeing as how we may be close to dragging ourselves out of that swamp one way or another, it's time to review what else is bubbling away on the back legislative burners.
And, in doing so, the Voice of The People (or, if you're some sort of ay-LEET-ist, "Vox Populi") is going to say the same exact thing for each and every one of these talking points. It is what we're all saying currently over health reform: "Get it done!"
However, we must also give a nod to Larry the Cable Guy here, and put it even more forcefully (and less ay-LEET-ist, of course) by phrasing it: "Git 'er done!" Just to give credit where it is due.
Here are seven issues waiting for some congressional action. Democrats waking up from the daze of health reform might just consider passing a few of these (or else they won't have such decisions to make very much longer).
This one is kind of obvious. The House and the Senate have both acted on jobs bills, but they haven't combined the bills yet in conference committee. Because there are unemployment benefits and other calendar-dependent issues contained within, this one already has a ticking clock, so it'll likely be first out of the gate. Hopefully, this will set a fast pace for other bills to follow. Democrats desperately need to show that they're doing something on the jobs issue. They've made progress already, so the only thing left to do is...
"Git 'er done!"
Wall Street reform
Dodd's action next week will be crucial on this issue, which is why we'll be watching him closely. Nancy Pelosi actually did a good job of framing this the other day, in insisting on calling it "Wall Street reform." So, Democrats, for once, please use this wonderful term that everyone can understand and get behind, instead of some more dry technical language to describe what you're trying to do. This is a wildly popular effort, and forcing Republicans to vote on the side of Wall Street banks, and against changing the rules that almost destroyed our economy will be a vote-getter for Democrats in the fall. It's really a win-win proposition. So nothing should stand in the way, and Democrats should immediately...
"Git 'er done!"
Comprehensive immigration reform
Some Democrats may want to shy away from this one (in an election year), but it would actually benefit the Democrats if tackled correctly. Republicans can almost always be counted on to "cross the line" in terms of language during any debate on immigration, for starters. And Democrats need to follow through on the promises they've been making to Latinos for a while now on the issue. Latinos have been voting in record numbers for Democrats, but this could change if they don't see any legislative action as a result of their support. While Latino voters may not switch and vote Republican if they become disappointed in Democrats, they may decide to stay home and not vote. And there's already too many Democratic voters who will do so this year, so we don't need to add more. Instead, tackling immigration would actually provide some enthusiasm out there in the Democratic electorate. So, Democrats, don't be scared, just...
"Git 'er done!"
This one may not succeed this year, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth trying. If pitched correctly -- "let's stop sending all of America's money to countries that don't like us, and kick the foreign oil habit!" -- this could be a potent issue for Democrats. Progress has been made on the issue, but not nearly enough. "We can do nothing, and sit around and wait until gasoline is ten bucks a gallon, or we can start planning for that day right now!" would probably work as well. While the issue may get watered down from the sweeping plan of marching into a green future in order to accommodate incrementalist compromises which may have to be made along the way; again, this doesn't mean it's not worth attempting. So, (everyone, all together)...
"Git 'er done!"
Allow gays to serve
It's time. The Pentagon isn't exactly thrilled about the concept, but they are what I would call resigned to it. It is time to overturn "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and let patriotic Americans serve their country in the military without discrimination. Some version of this will likely come up for a vote in the military budget this year. Coupled with President Obama telling the Pentagon to come up with a plan to implement the new policy by the end of the year, Congress needs to give the Pentagon and the president the leeway to throw this policy on the scrapheap of history. In other words, stop stalling, and...
"Git 'er done!"
Another place the president's hands are tied in dealing with the military is the subject of Guantanamo Bay. The prison at "Gitmo" is seen around the world as a Bush-era legacy which harms America's image. Obama promised to close it by now. Congress has pushed back. Democrats need to give the president the leeway to close Gitmo and transfer the prisoners to a secure location elsewhere, by not tying his hands in the military budget. Gitmo needs to close. And Congress has to allow it.
"Git 'er done!"
Kill the Bush tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy
This is an enormous issue that few people have even noticed at this point. The Bush tax cuts were passed in 2001, by reconciliation. This means that they are not "permanent" but rather sunset (or "disappear") after ten years. That ten years is almost up, meaning Congress has to figure out what to do about this situation this year. This is going to be a huge battle in Congress this year, unless they all decide "...eh, it's an election year, we'll punt it to next year." But Democrats should be out there making the following case: "Don't like the deficit? Don't like our national debt? Then remove all Bush tax cuts for anyone making over a million bucks a year. That'll solve a healthy chunk of the deficit right there." Congress doesn't even have to actively do anything on the issue, other than saving the few middle-class tax cuts in the package. If they do nothing, then the Bush tax cuts will automatically expire next year. So the law Bush signed will "raise taxes." Democrats need to make this case, and (once and for all)...
"Git 'er done!"
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