Stop Negotiating with Republicans

Contra Ben Nelson, there is no need for Senate Democrats to negotiate with Republicans to craft a health care bill that they will vote for. But what does negotiating with Republicans look like? It involves taking key parts of the legislation, watering them down or eliminating them to the point where that specific issue might be acceptable to some cohort of Republican Senators. But what is compromised in that specific policy case has no bearing on the larger question of whether Republicans will vote for health care reform.

Steve Benen puts it aptly, “The Senate is considering a variety of Republican-led changes to a bill that Republicans intend to reject anyway.”

Continuing to do this is functionally pointless. There may need to be steps taken to weaken a bill to attract conservative Democratic support. But weakening the legislation beyond that, which is what negotiating with Republicans does, means that we are doing it solely to make the bill worse. The Democratic Party gains nothing from this. The American people gain nothing from this. Republicans, on the other hand, get to go home and brag about how they suckered their Democratic colleagues into caving on another critical policy piece, which still didn’t earn their vote.

It’s simple – Republicans don’t want health care reform at all. Or, as Rep. Alan Grayson put it yesterday, the GOP plan for health care is a two-pronged prescription of “Don’t Get Sick” and if you do, “Die Quickly.” The Republicans have not taked a reasoned position that Democrats can negotiate with — they just want to kill health care reform. It’s time for Dems to stop negotiating with Republicans.

And let’s be clear about another thing: The law is the law is the law. In the Senate, it takes 51 votes to pass a bill. Legitimacy is not at issue if a bill lacks some kind of super super majority in the Senate. Legitimacy is determined by Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution and by the rules of the Senate. Nelson is making shit up and the weak-kneed Democratic leadership is seemingly more than happy to go along with it. First 60 was an excuse. Now, in some quarters, 65 will be an excuse. But excuses don’t have any weight when it comes to the actual legitimacy of a law and health care reform cannot be an exception to that rule.

“Inequality of Accountability”

Chris Hayes of The Nation has an excellent piece on the rightwing assault on ACORN, aided by the United States Congress. He closes with these powerful lines:

The disparity in the treatment of Blackwater et al. and ACORN is part of a larger American problem, what might be called the Inequality of Accountability. We diligently apply the principle of accountability to the poor and the powerless, and the principle of forgiveness to the wealthy and powerful.

Even before it was punked by a couple of right-wing twenty-somethings, nobody knew that better than ACORN.

After all, their members see it every day.

Rebutting GOP Smears of Dodd on Countrywide

David Fiderer of the Huffington Post again provides a thoughtful and comprehensive rebuttal of the last round of bogus smears being hurled at Chris Dodd by Republicans who choose to ignore that Dodd was already exonerated of any wrongdoing related to Countrywide mortgages. Congressional investigation showed that Countrywide was not offering bargain rates for VIPs:

Overall it appears that the VIPs were often offered quicker, or more efficient loan processing and some discounts. However, it also appears that all VIP loans, including all [Friends of Angelo] loans, were required to meet the same underwriting standards and conditions for resale on the secondary market and non-VIP loans.  Furthermore, there is evidence on the record that the discounts offered to VIPs and FOAs were not the best deals available at Countrywide or in the marketplace at large. In sum, participation in the VIP or FOA programs did not necessarily mean that borrowers received the best financial deal available either from Countrywide or from other lenders.

Fiderer’s whole piece is worth a read. It’s clear that this vacuous crap is the most that Rob Simmons and other GOP challengers (or the particularly gullible and lax Michael Moore) are throwing at Dodd.

Dodd, Leahy, Feingold, & Merkley to Repeal Retroactive Immunity

It’s about damned time.

Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Russ Feingold (D-WI), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) announced today that they will introduce the Retroactive Immunity Repeal Act, which eliminates retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that allegedly participated in President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program.

“I believe we best defend America when we also defend its founding principles,” said Dodd. “We make our nation safer when we eliminate the false choice between liberty and security. But by granting retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies who may have participated in warrantless wiretapping of American citizens, the Congress violated the protection of our citizen’s privacy and due process right and we must not allow that to stand.”

Senator Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said, “Last year, I opposed legislation that stripped Americans of their right to seek accountability for the Bush administration’s decision to illegally wiretap American citizens without a warrant. Today, I am pleased to join Senator Dodd to introduce the Retroactive Immunity Repeal Act. We can strengthen national security while protecting Americans’ privacy and civil liberties. Restoring Americans’ access to the courts is the first step toward bringing some measure of accountability for the Bush-Cheney administration’s decision to conduct warrantless surveillance in violation of our laws.”

“Granting retroactive immunity to companies that went along with the illegal warrantless wiretapping program was unjustified and undermined the rule of law,” Feingold said. “Congress should not have short-circuited the courts’ constitutional role in assessing the legality of the program. This bill is about ensuring that the law is followed and providing accountability for the American people.”

“During the previous administration, telecommunications companies were granted retroactive immunity for violating the rights and privacy of millions of Americans,” said Merkley. “I am proud to join Senator Dodd and co-sponsor the Retroactive Immunity Repeal Act to help restore accountability and increase oversight to protect the privacy rights that have been central to our nation since its inception.”

There is more work to be done to roll back the FISA Reauthorization Act of 2008. But this is a key part of that work and is certainly commendable.

The Importance of the Underlying Bill

There has rightly been a lot of attention given to the New York Times article, in which anonymous senior Senate aides float the idea that Harry Reid will not include the public health insurance option in the combined bill that is brought to the floor for a vote. Reid’s office has denied that this is the case, but the proof will be in the pudding. We will likely know in the next week or two what the bill Reid brings to the full Senate for consideration is and the contents of that bill will almost certainly be determinative of its outcome.

The reason for this is that we are approaching the point in time where substantive changes to the content of the legislation are able to be made. The big ticket item is obviously the public health insurance option, though there is no doubt the fate of provisions relating to access, affordability, and employer responsibility will be determined by the contents of Reid’s bill, too.

The reason that Reid’s decision is so crucial is that any amendment on the floor to controversial parts of the bill will likely require 60 votes to pass. This is not because it is in the Senate rules that controversial provision take 60 votes. It is not. But what has been the rule since Lyndon Johnson’s tenure as Majority Leader is that unanimous consent agreements are used to set ground rules for debate, amendments, and voting. To make a deal so things move forward, anything controversial like amendments which would add or remove the public health insurance option, will require 60 votes. And such, any amendment is almost certainly doomed to failure.

Chris Bowers highlights this in a run-down of the legislative state of play on health care reform:

No good strengthening amendments will pass on the Senate floor. If there is no public option in the bill that passes through Kent Conrad’s Budget committee, don’t expect one to emerge from the Senate via amendments. The 60-vote culture will be in effect for all amendments to the health care bill when it arrives on the Senate floor, and so there won’t be enough votes for the public option–or any other significant strengthening amendment-if it is not included in the bill that comes out of the Budget committee.

Republicans will not find 20 Democratic votes to strip the public option and while there are certainly more than 51, it is doubtful there are 60 votes to insert the public option in via an amendment.

The Times article reports on Reid’s decision making process:

“None of these decisions are going to be made without significant presidential input,” said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Mr. Reid.

And so, it is up to Harry Reid and, on the tough calls, President Obama. They will determine what the Senate votes on later this year. If the public health insurance option is in the bill, it is because Reid and Obama have decided that they want it to be, for they will know that it will not be stripped via amendment. And if it is not, it is because Reid and Obama expressly decided that they do not want it to be part of health care reform legislation. It is that simple.

What’s worse is the inevitability of it all. The inevitability of Reid and Obama refusing to wrangle conservative Senate Democrats to force them to stand up for the party and this presidency…and the expressly right policy. The inevitability of advocates of the public option trying to put a bright sheen a bill without it. I can see Schumer, Rockefeller, Brown or Dodd saying now, “We will get a chance to vote on it via an amendment and that’s the best we could have hoped for.” As if leadership could not have made a different choice…

At the end, though, there’s something reassuring about this process. If it goes as predicted above, with the public option sent by Harry Reid and Barack Obama to die the death of a failed amendment to a crappy bill then I will know exactly what I can expect when it comes to leadership from Obama and Reid. But if they do the right thing, if they push for policies that will literally affect every single American, then I can look forward to having a real Democratic presidency, after all. As I keep saying, time will tell.

Dodd on the State of Health Care Reform

Via CT Blogger of My Left Nutmeg, here’s Senator Chris Dodd talking about the state of health care reform. Of particular note is Dodd’s take on the notion that the Democratic Party has been unable to maintain caucus discipline generally and the importance for their to be caucus discipline on the procedural vote to move to debate whatever legislation comes forward in the Senate. Dodd suggests that all 60 members of the Democratic caucus should vote for cloture to overcome the expected Republican filibuster of health care legislation. Dodd says he’s repeatedly told the caucus that is unique. He tells his colleagues that “you may not get another chance to do something as significant as you will in the next fifteen weeks.”

We shall see if Senate Democrats follow Dodd’s lead and stand as one to give the Senate the chance to debate health care reform.

Sirota on Obama & Primaries

David Sirota identifies a crucial problem with President Obama’s engagement on behalf of incumbents in Democratic Senate primaries: he’s stymieing primaries of people that are holding up his legislative agenda. Or, more specifically, he’s squashing primaries that would have the effect of either moving the incumbent to the left or replacing him with a more liberal Senator.

So, again, why is the White House trying to crush primaries? I’m not expecting him to back primary challengers…but why is he trying to crush them, instead of simply staying out of the races entirely? I mean, I get why incumbent Senators or House members don’t want to face primaries – they just want an easy ride. The vexing question is why the president would try to help them crush primaries, when those primaries would help it pass its legislative agenda?

In Sirota’s column on the same subject,  he gives a very harsh critique of Obama’s justifications for trying to crush these primaries.

Hence, in trying to prevent or weaken primaries against incumbents, Obama is not merely signaling a royalist’s disdain for local democracy. He is exposing a corrupted pol’s willingness to prioritize country club etiquette over policy results. If his agenda ends up being killed, that cynical choice will be a key cause of death.

It’s what the Democratic elite does – protect the members of their club from the indignant Democratic rabble. It’s unfortunate that a President who waged a successful primary campaign as an outsider with little experience would so quickly slide into the mold of the people he came to Washington to change.

Arguably the best thing that happened to the chances of Obama’s agenda succeeding, at least on health care and labor reform, was Joe Sestak’s decision to primary Arlen Specter from the left. In the course of this year, Specter moved from opposing a public option to supporting single-payer health care. That would simply not have been possibly if Specter wasn’t fighting for his political life in a Democratic primary. He moved from being an opponent to the health reform policy package Obama supports to being an advocate for one even stronger than what is under debate in Washington.

That is what makes Obama’s efforts to quash primaries in Pennsylvania and Colorado and New York so odd. It undermines his agenda to have more conservative Democrats in the Senate, especially ones that are not being challenged to move to the left by primaries. Even if the liberalism of Specter, Gillibrand, and Bennett is temporary, it is better than nothing, as it ensures that at lest 25-50% of Obama’s first term is spent with these people behaving like liberal Democrats and not moderate Republicans.  The only explanation that I see is that Obama doesn’t believe in primaries; he supports “kicking away the ladder” after he and his peers have climbed up it. Who knew that the President would have such an aversion to democracy in the Democratic Party?