What a week!
Into the cake mix that was this week went triumphant House votes, Senate votes, and then even another House vote, just for good luck. Well whipped, it went into the oven of overheated Republican rhetoric, but came out just fine in the end when the buzzer dinged (or the dinger buzzed?). It was finally served up to President Obama for his signature, complete with the tasty, tasty frosting of Democratic schadenfreude (from watching the Republicans have such a public hissy fit).
Heh. More on cake in a moment.
No matter how you slice it, President Obama and the Democrats in Congress have achieved a stunning legislative accomplishment -- one which had been pronounced dead over and over again for the past year by the punditocracy. Obama has now delivered upon one of his signature campaign issues, and (by doing so) dramatically improved his party's chances in the upcoming midterm elections.
Personally, I spent much of the week wandering around in a daze, mumbling "I can't believe they actually did it." After all, these are Democrats we're talking about. And Democrats simply haven't been known (for quite a while) for such cohesion and legislative muscle.
Looking forward, President Obama needs to regain the speed which marked his first few months in office. During the period before we all started debating health reform (yes, there was a time before, even though it's hard to remember it now), Obama and the congressional Democrats were getting so many things done so quickly that it rocked Republicans back on their heels. Republicans literally didn't have enough time to stoke up the boilers of their outrage over one issue, before the next one was coming down the pike. By throwing so many things up in the air at once, several bills got through which would have (if they had had enough time) normally gotten a huge Republican pushback.
It is now time to recapture this intensity. It's a tall order, because it is an election year, and normally not a whole lot gets done in election years in Washington. But Democrats need to put their noses to the grindstone and start moving forward on issues big and small in the next few months. There's certainly no shortage of things requiring Congress' attention. Jobs legislation, energy legislation, Wall Street reform, and a whole host of smaller issues should all be front and center when Congress returns to work (they're taking a few weeks off, which they do about every month or so).
If Obama can manage to get one more large item checked off his list of things to do (and a few smaller ones for good measure) before the election season really gets going at the end of the summer, then Republicans may be surprised to find that running on the idea of repealing a law signed months ago isn't going to get much traction with the voters. If Democrats continue to move their agenda forward, then they'll be seen as the party looking towards the future, while Republicans want to drag us into the past.
We've got a lot of time to go until the election this November. What a lot of people (even people paid to opine about this stuff) always seem to forget is that things change. At this point in 2008, Iraq was the overriding issue on the campaign trail. By the time the election rolled around, the economy was the key issue. The conventional wisdom right now (especially from the Right and the media) is that the health reform law Obama just signed is going to be the biggest issue to voters in the upcoming election. I doubt that will be the case. It may still be an important issue, to be sure, but I bet that between now and then some other issue will rise to the public's awareness, and wind up being even more decisive. The public's got a pretty short attention span in America. And November's months and months away.
So, while Joe Biden was indeed right, and signing this law was a "big [expletive deleted] deal," Democrats can't simply rest on their laurels and coast for the rest of the year. Let's have more of these bills actually arrive on the president's desk to be signed in the next few months. President Obama has already achieved -- in less than a year and a half -- more tangible results from Congress than most presidents achieve in their entire terms. But that is no reason to stop here. We can't afford to stop, or to coast. Thankfully, Democrats seem to have received the wake-up call from the Massachusetts election, and are poised to do so.
Let's give Republicans even more reasons to get apoplectic in the next few months, what do you say?
The leadership of the Democratic Party -- across the board -- wins the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award this week. Democrats in the House, Senate, and White House worked together like the well-oiled gears of a precision machine all week long. Each had their job to do, and each did their job well. So, for the first time in this column's history, the MIDOTW award goes to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, President Barack Obama, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
I've given Harry Reid a lot of grief over the years, but I have to admit that the man had a good week. Nancy Pelosi herself showed how little many Democrats trust Reid, by demanding a letter signed by over 50 of Reid's fellow Democratic senators (promising to vote on reconciliation), before she would even bring the original Senate bill up for a vote in the House. Reid delivered both the letter, and the vote. To be fair, Reid has to play by Senate rules, which give him a lot less overall control than the House rules give Pelosi. But Harry, even with these constraints, got the job done. Reid showed his mettle by holding the Senate in session until after 3:00 A.M., and by fending off lots of political mischief from Republicans. Well done, Harry!
President Obama had a good week as well. While he didn't have as much to do with the passage of the two bills through the two houses of Congress as Reid and Pelosi did, he deserves the award this week for his performance over the past two months. Since the Massachusetts election, Barack Obama has been the driving force behind not only getting something done on health reform, but also refusing to go the incrementalist "chop it into little pieces" route that some were strongly pressuring him to do (cough, cough... Rahm Emanuel... cough). Obama saw that Democrats were going to get beat up about health reform on the campaign trail anyway, and knew that their best chance of countering this was to actually pass something meaningful. Passage was by no means a safe bet, and could have blown up in Democrats' faces. Obama did not back down (to be fair, he's not up for re-election this year himself). Obama had one last media event to show America that bipartisanship just wasn't going to happen, and then he marshalled his party to do something brave, even in the face of losing an election as a result. People say about Barack Obama that he rarely makes the same mistake twice, so here's hoping he has learned from the past two months how to get things done in Washington, and that we never see a repeat of his lackluster performance of last summer and fall.
But the most impressive of a truly impressive trio this week is none other than Nancy Pelosi, who is now being spoken of as the most powerful Democratic Speaker since Tip O'Neill, which is high praise indeed. Pelosi was always going to go down in history, since she's the first woman to hold the job of Speaker. But now, this may appear as a mere footnote to her legislative record in the history books, instead of the heading for her entry. Pelosi is an old-school politician's politician, who learned the trade at her Daddy's knee in Baltimore. She knows how to get things done, and how to deliver the votes she needs. She saw what a big deal the Republicans were making of the "deem and pass" tactic, and wisely forged ahead with two votes instead of one. Then Pelosi truly shocked the Republican Party by passing both bills last weekend -- you could see it in their faces and hear it in their strident voices. Republicans really didn't think Pelosi could get the votes she needed, and they were overconfident right up until the voting happened. Part of the reason Republicans are flailing around so much now is that they really, really didn't expect Obama to win this legislative victory. But Pelosi delivered. As she has been putting it in recent interviews (Newsweek has a good article up, if you want to read more details of how instrumental Pelosi was in this fight): "If the door to passing the bill closes, you go through the gate. If the gate is locked, you climb over the fence. If that doesn't work, you pole-vault over the fence. If that doesn't work, you parachute in."
So Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards go out to Harry Reid and Barack Obama, but Nancy Pelosi gets special mention as well this week. Because not only has it been a mighty impressive week for her, today is also her seventieth birthday (see, I told you there'd be more cake...). Happiest of birthdays, Madam Speaker!
[Congratulate Majority Leader Harry Reid on his Senate contact page, President Barack Obama on the White House contact page, and please wish Speaker Pelosi a happy birthday on her Speaker contact page, to let them all know you appreciate their efforts.]
I'm sorry, but it was just too good a week to award anyone a Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. No Democrat was all that outstandingly disappointing, in what was a very impressive week for Democrats. So we'll have to put the MDDOTW statuette back on the shelf until next week.
Volume 117 (3/26/10)
For once, Democrats aren't acting afraid of their own shadow. No, really!
They all seem to have collectively realized that getting the health reform bill passed was the only way they'd have a chance in November, and instead of acting defensive, they have all (the ones I've seen, at any rate) been out there extolling the new law's virtues. And aggressively challenging Republicans to try to take it away from the American people.
That's right -- in the same week, Democrats not only got something done, they not only worked smoothly together, they not only passed historic legislation -- but they are actually out there framing the issue intelligently for the voters. OK, that's a wee bit sarcastic, but Democrats just haven't shown they're all that good at making their own case to the public. It doesn't even matter what issue, Democrats rarely get out in front the way they've been doing all week.
And the difference shows. The media has picked up on their language, and Republicans will likely soon realize that shouting for "Repeal!" means taking some good things away from voters. If they say they want to repeal the whole bill, they will be seen as throwing several babies out with the bathwater. Democrats have been pounding this message home, and (hopefully) will continue to do so -- which is going to (for once) put Republicans on the defensive themselves, as they attempt to explain why they're against (for instance) tax breaks for small businesses.
Kicking off this campaign was President Obama, who returned (for a victory lap) to the town in Iowa where he first unveiled his health reform plan on the campaign trail. His speech laid out exactly how Democrats should run (if they're smart, that is) on the subject of the health reform they just passed.
So, instead of my usual weak attempts at framing, this week I'm turning the talking points over to President Obama. The whole speech is worth reading, but was too long to include here. So instead of my amateur efforts, instead please enjoy these soundbites from the president, who (as we all know) makes coming up with this stuff look like a piece of cake.
I promised that by the end of my first term in office, I would sign legislation to reform our health insurance system.
On Tuesday, after a year of debate, a century of trying, after so many of you shared your stories and your heartaches and your hopes, that promise was finally fulfilled. And today, health insurance reform is the law of the land all across America.
. . .
Three years ago, we made a promise. That promise has been kept. Of course -- of course, over the last year, there's been a lot of misinformation spread about health care reform. There's been plenty of fear-mongering, plenty of overheated rhetoric. You turn on the news, you'll see the same folks are still shouting about there's going to be an end of the world because this bill passed. (Laughter.) I'm not exaggerating. Leaders of the Republican Party, they called the passage of this bill "Armageddon." (Laughter.) Armageddon. "End of freedom as we know it."
So after I signed the bill, I looked around to see if there any -- (laughter) -- asteroids falling or -- (laughter) -- some cracks opening up in the Earth. (Laughter.) It turned out it was a nice day. (Laughter.) Birds were chirping. Folks were strolling down the Mall. People still have their doctors.
From this day forward, all of the cynics, all the naysayers -- they're going to have to confront the reality of what this reform is and what it isn't. They'll have to finally acknowledge this isn't a government takeover of our health care system. They'll see that if Americans like their doctor, they'll be keeping their doctor. You like your plan? You'll be keeping your plan. No one is taking that away from you. Three months from now, six months from now you're going to look around. You're going to be sitting in a doctor's office reading through the old People magazines. (Laughter.) And you'll say, hey, this is the same doctor, same plan. It wasn't Armageddon.
. . .
But here's what the bill does. It finally tells the insurance companies that in exchange for all the new customers they're about to get, they've got to start playing by a new set of rules that treats everybody honestly and treats everybody fairly. The days of the insurance industry running roughshod over the American people are over.
So if you already -- if you already have insurance, this reform will make it more secure and more affordable. If you can't afford insurance right now or if you've been denied coverage -- and I'll bet there are some folks here who don't have insurance or can't afford it or have been denied coverage -- you're going to finally be able to get it. Costs will come down for families, and businesses, and the federal government, reducing our deficit by more than $1 trillion over the next two decades. That's what reform is going to do.
. . .
And meanwhile, there are a set of reforms that begin to take into effect this year, so I want to talk about this. This year, millions of small business owners will be eligible for tax credits that will help them cover the cost of insurance for their employees. This year, millions of small businesses will benefit.
. . .
So starting now, small business owners like Ryan and the folks at Prairie Light, they're going to have the security of knowing that they'll qualify for a tax credit that covers up to 35 percent of their employees' health insurance. Starting today, starting today, small business owners -- so, starting today, small business owners can sit down at the end of the week, look at their expenses, and they can begin calculating how much money they're going to save. And maybe they can even use those savings to not only provide insurance but also create jobs. This health care tax credit is pro-jobs, it is pro-business, and it starts this year, and it's starting because of you.
Starting this year, tens of thousands of uninsured Americans with a preexisting condition and parents whose children have a preexisting condition will finally be able to purchase the coverage they need.
. . .
This year, insurance companies will no longer be able to drop people's coverage when they get sick, or place lifetime limits or restrictive annual limits on the amount of care they can receive.
This year, all new insurance plans will be required to offer free preventive care. And by the way, for all the students who are here today -- starting this year, if you don't have insurance or if you're about to graduate and you're not sure what your next job is going to be or there's a little gap between getting that job with insurance, all new plans and some current ones will allow you to stay on your parents' insurance policy until you're 26 years old, starting this year. Because as you start your lives and your careers, the last thing you should worry about is whether you go broke just because you get sick.
This year, for the seniors who are in the audience, if you fall in the coverage gap known as the doughnut hole, you're going to receive $250 to help pay for prescriptions, which will be the first step toward closing that doughnut hole, that gap completely. And I want seniors to know that despite what some have said, these reforms will not cut your guaranteed benefits. In fact, under this law, Americans on Medicare will receive free preventive care without co-payments and deductibles.
. . .
And once this reform is implemented, then health insurance exchanges are going to be created. This is the core -- the core aspect of this bill that is going to be so important to Americans who are looking for coverage. Basically, we set up a competitive marketplace where people without insurance, small businesses, people who were having to pay through the teeth because they're just buying insurance on their own, maybe you're self-employed -- you're finally going to be able to purchase quality, affordable, health insurance because you're going to be part of a big pool -- by the way, with members of Congress. So you will be able to get the same good deal that they're getting, because if you're paying their salary, you should have health insurance that's at least as good as theirs.
That's what's going to happen in the next few years. And when this exchange is up and running, millions of people are going to be getting tax breaks to help them afford coverage. And the credits add up to the largest middle class tax cut for health care in history.
. . .
Thirty-two people -- 32 million people are going to have health insurance because of this legislation. That's what this work is about. So that's what's going to happen.
Now, I want to just make this point. This legislation is not perfect, as you just heard. This young man is dissatisfied with an aspect of it, which is fine. I mean, that's part of what democracy is about. But what this is, is a historic step to enshrine the principle that everybody gets health care coverage in this country, every single person.
And it's absolutely true -- it's absolutely true this is a middle-of-the-road bill. This isn't single-payer, which some people wanted. It's also not what the Republicans were looking for, which was basically to deregulate the insurance industry, arguing that somehow this would cut down costs -- something that defies the experience of everybody who's dealt with an insurance company out there.
. . .
This is the reform that some folks in Washington are still hollering about, still shouting about. Now that they passed it -- now that we passed it, they're already promising to repeal it. They're actually going to run on a platform of repeal in November. You've been hearing that. And my attitude is: Go for it.
If these congressmen in Washington want to come here in Iowa and tell small business owners that they plan to take away their tax credits and essentially raise their taxes, be my guest. If they want to look Lauren Gallagher in the eye and tell her they plan to take away her father's health insurance, that's their right. If they want to make Darlyne Neff pay more money for her check-ups, her mammograms, they can run on that platform. If this young man out here thinks this is a bad bill, he can run to repeal it. If they want to have that fight, we can have it. Because I don't believe that the American people are going to put the insurance industry back in the driver's seat. We've already been there. We're not going back. This country is moving forward.
. . .
What this generation has proven today is that we still have the power to shape history. In the United States of America, it is still a necessary faith that our destiny is written by us, not for us. Our future is what we make it. Our future is what we make it. Look, this is not the end of difficult times for America. From creating jobs to reducing deficits to making sure every child has a decent education, we still face enormous challenges in this country. And as we meet those challenges, we're going to face more resistance. We're going to face more doubt, we're going to face more cynicism. We're going to hear more voices who will warn us that we're reaching too far, that we're going too fast; who are going to tell us that we can't, who are going to just make wild accusations about what we're trying to do.
And when that happens, we've got to remember the promise that we have already fulfilled, and the people who fulfilled it, and the generations before us who made it possible. We're going to have to respond with the creed that continues to define the character of this country we love, and it's my favorite memory of Iowa, that creed that says: Yes, we can.
Chris Weigant blogs at:
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