AP makes absurd and futile attempt at balance on filibuster reform

On the 19th, the AP’s Jim Abrams published a piece on efforts to limit or reform the filibuster.  There’s some decent information in there on efforts by McCaskill, Bennet and Udall each of whom have their own particular reform effort going.  In what I attribute to an attempt at balance, the piece includes a skeptical quote from the Senate Historian, Dave Ritchie (and I have to ask, should he be allowing himself to be quoted in a way that appears to take sides in Senate matters?) and this far more irksome bit:

Supporters of the 60-vote supermajority say it helped prevent Democrats from attaching a government-run public option – an idea unpopular with many Americans – to the health care law. And growing national sentiment that Congress should quit adding to federal deficits was reflected when Democrats needing Republican votes to reach the 60-vote threshold were forced to cut future food stamp benefits and an energy program to pay for a $26 billion jobs bill this month.

Aside from the view-from-nowhwere “supporters say” construction here (Which ones?) the big problem is the vague and misleading statement “an idea unpopular with many Americans” about the Public Option.  This is technically true, “many” Americans did disapprove but the implication is that a public option was net unpopular.  I’m not aware of any poll which found the public option negatively popular. Quite the reverse actually.  The consensus of numerous polls was that it was popular, in some cases strongly and under other formulations with only a plurality in favour.

Then there is next sentence about how the filibuster is working to limit the deficit.  It might be worth mentioning that the CBO scored at least one version of the public option as deficit reducing to to the order of about $53B by 2019.  So this is the best that AP’s unnamed “supporters” can say in defence of the filibuster:  It saved America from a deficit reducing, popular legislative proposal and took food out of the mouths of the hungry.  Hooray!

The saddest part about this attempt for balance, is that it predictably failed to impress the right as Newsbusters shows in its flailing and bizarre attempt to claim that a factual article about 3 Senators’ reform ideas is “praise” of the effort to eliminate the filibuster.  Abrams went out of his way to find some scintilla of good policy outcome that could be credited to the filibuster, straining credulity to do so, and it wasn’t enough.  We know this is because organizations like Newsbusters and the Media Research Center only exist to work the ref, but still AP strives to appease the unappeasable.  

Despite Spending $46 Million, California Rejects PG&E

I’ve been a political campaign junkie for years.  And the frustrating part about this job is that after going to Election Night parties, I have to go home and write about it for readers to view the next morning.  So if a particular race takes the whole night to resolve, I could be up very late.  But I had no problem sticking around the “No on 16” campaign party last night until 1:00 a.m. – monitoring the results with Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, State Senator Mark Leno and our good friends at TURN.  Because last night’s defeat of Prop 16 was one of the most historic victories in California history.  Outspent over 1,000-to-one by a monster utility company, consumer advocates defeated by a 52-47 margin an odious measure that would have cemented PG&E’s monopoly. To call this a David & Goliath victory does not give it justice.  As my friend Robert Cruickshank wrote at Calitics, it’s like “an ant taking down an elephant.”  Oh, and Prop 17 failed too.

PG&E is desperate to stop community choice aggregation – where local governments can purchase energy to offer their constituents a “public option” to the company’s monopoly.  Proposition 16 would have required a two-thirds vote of the electorate before cities can do community choice aggregation, and cynically dubbed it the Taxpayer’s Right to Vote.

Never mind that taxpayers already have the right to vote out their elected officials – if they don’t support community choice aggregation.  Never mind that ratepayers were not given the chance on voting for PG&E as their energy provider.  Public power is not even one of my top “issues,” but I was outraged that PG&E would try something like Prop 16.

PG&E shattered campaign spending records with $46 million to pass Prop 16 – ratepayer money that we give them every month when we pay our energy bills.  The only organized opposition was TURN (the Utility Reform Network), who only raised $90,000.  Bloggers got creative by making “No on 16” videos, and a hilarious Twitter feed.  But the campaign often seemed like a rag-tag army tilting at the windmills.

When I arrived at the “No on 16” party at Otis Lounge around 9:30 p.m., the results were looking bad.  We were down by about three points, but the night was still young.  Having watched statewide campaigns for years, I knew it would ultimately come down to Los Angeles County – so I quickly went online to check how we were doing down there.

Not good.  The early absentees had Prop 16 winning L.A. County by 13 points, far worse than where we were statewide.  If this kept on during the night, it was going to be painful.  The public power entity in Los Angeles had just raised rates, and folks at the party said it may be why Prop 16 was doing so well.  Small comfort for the largest county in the state.

Mark Toney of TURN was saying we should be proud that we held PG&E to such a close margin, after having been outspent nearly 1,000-to-one – but I cringed when I heard that.  We were losing.  Sure, we were doing pretty well in Northern California – where people know and hate PG&E, but we were getting creamed down south.  Where the votes are.

But as the night wore on, some folks pointed out how well we were doing in counties like Fresno, Madera, and Mariposa.  These are conservative places in the Central Valley, but PG&E had alienated these customers with “smart meters.”  I checked how we were doing in San Benito County – which political junkies often say is the bellwether of California state politics.  We were slightly ahead in San Benito County, but only by about 50 votes.

And the L.A. County numbers were trickling in – slowly, but surely.  We were still losing there, but the margin was noticeably trending in our favor.  By now, everyone at the party was huddled around a small number of laptops – while I double-checked the Secretary of State’s website with what individual counties were saying.  Places like San Diego and Orange County were coming in where we were behind, but we were not losing ground.

Pretty soon, our three-point loss became a one-point lead – and there was a palpable sense in the air that we could win it.  I wasn’t convinced yet – scouring the L.A. County numbers to see if this positive trend in our favor was not going to start reversing itself.

When 58% of L.A. County had been counted, we were ahead there.  I got up, and boldly shouted that we had won.  It reminded me of the scene in Milk, when Jim Rivaldo tells Harvey Milk not to worry about the Briggs Initiative.  L.A. County had just come in, and we were going to win.  By now, I was sure that we had slain the Prop 16 dragon.

During that whole time, Proposition 17 – Mercury Insurance’s scam to rip off consumers – had been ahead by a wider margin than Prop 16.  As we were all fixated on the Prop 16 results, it became apparent that Prop 17 results were following similar trends.  By the end of the evening, Prop 17 had likewise had the same fate – it also lost by about five points.

As of 4:00 this morning, Prop 16 is losing 47-53 – with 91.6% of all precincts reporting.  Not only is this a stunning rebuke of PG&E, but it is a strong mandate for public power.  Californians want a choice in the energy marketplace, and are ready for a “public option” that provides them with competitive rates and renewable energy sources.

And PG&E will deserve every share of anger, rebuke and humiliation coming at it.

Paul Hogarth is the Managing Editor of Beyond Chron, San Francisco’s Alternative Online Daily, where this piece was first published.

Reminder: Blanche Lincoln lied about choice, card check, and the public option

The media narrative around the Arkansas Democratic Senate primary is that labor and the netroots opposed Lincoln because she wasn’t progressive enough.  However, that is not exactly correct.  Labor and netroots groups are largely piling on against Lincoln because she broke public promises on key issues that had previously earned her the support of various progressive groups.  To put it more bluntly, she won the support of many groups by lying, and now it is payback time.

Unfortunately, Lincoln’s betrayal of progressive groups is largely absent from the media narrative on the campaign.  For example, take this write-up on today’s primaries from The Hill:

But the spotlight will shine brightest on Lincoln, who earned union scorn for opposing a public option in the healthcare bill and refusing to back card- check legislation championed by the labor movement.

The campaign dynamic present here is a simple left-right spectrum: Lincoln is being opposed because she is not sufficiently left-wing.  This is actually a narrative that Lincoln is pushing in her own ads.  In a recent TV spot, Lincoln says to the camera:

The labor unions are spending millions of dollars against me because I won’t vote with them 100% of the time.

However, Lincoln did not simply oppose card check and a public option.  She made public commitments of support for both policies, before flipping when it was crunch time.

On November 21st, 2009, Blanche Lincoln stood on the floor of the Senate and declared that she would filibuster any health reform bill that included a public option.  However, earlier in the year she signed a document stating that she supported the public option.  Further, even as she spoke, her Senate website said that she still supported a public option, she is still cool with the public option:

Health care reform must build upon what works and improve inefficiencies.  Individuals should be able to choose from a range of quality health insurance plans.  Options should include private plans as well as a quality, affordable public plan or non-profit plan that can accomplish the same goals of a public plan.

And here’s a screenshot:

She told progressive groups that she supported their priorities, but then she completely flipped her position when it came time to actually vote.

The same dynamic took place on card check.  She voted for an Employee Free Choice Act with card check in 2007, but cimply flipped her position in 2009 once it had a chance to pass:

In the Ozark Mountain town of Rogers, Ark., more than 250 business owners gathered for lunch at a construction company last month to focus on what they saw as a major threat — a proposal in Congress to make it easier to form labor unions.

At each place setting, attendees found pre-stamped postcards and pre-written letters to be sent to Arkansas’ U.S. senators, Democrats Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln, who had supported the labor bill in the past. After lunch, the business owners were ushered to computers to send e-mail messages as well.

Five days later came the good news: Two Senate votes had been stripped from the pro-union bill. Lincoln said she would oppose it outright, while Pryor declared the current version “dead” and said he would look for compromises.

It isn’t just the public option and card check, either.  EMILY’s List had also previously supported Blanche Lincoln, but did not do so in 2010 because Lincoln lied to them.  From Ellen Malcolm, EMILY’s List chair

In 1998, EMILY’s List helped elect Lincoln to the U.S. Senate. We believed her when she told us that that, if and when the Senate took up right-wing Senator Rick Santorum’s bill to ban what he called “partial birth” abortion, she would insist on a health exception that protects women.

Our members gave generously to her campaign, believing that she would steadfastly stand by the pledge she made to us to protect women’s reproductive freedom.

She took our members’ hard-earned money to get elected. Unfortunately, when the Santorum bill came up for a vote, Lincoln voted for it even though it provided no exception to protect women’s health.(…)

Since she wasn’t there for us, we won’t be there for her.

Sure, there is an ideological element to this campaign.  Sure, there is an anti-incumbent mood.  Sure, it is unusual to get a primary challenger as strong as Bill Halter.  However, to ignore Blanche Lincoln’s repeated betrayals on key issues to progressive groups who had once supported her ignores a central dynamic of this campaign.

Blanche Lincoln brought this primary challenge on herself by going back on several important public commitments she had made in order to win organizational support for her previous campaigns.  She simply would not be in this sort of primary trouble if she hadn’t lied and if groups like EMILY’s List and labor unions were still supported her.

Vermont legislature passes bill that could pave the way for statewide public option or single payer

Crossposted at DKos

Once again, the states are leading the way on health care reform.  This past week, the Vermont House and Senate passed two versions of a bill that would essentially get a consultant to design three systems for health care in Vermont: something similar to Canadian single payer, something similar to a private system with a public option, and something similar to the recently passed federal health insurance bill.

The bill, S.88, has been passed by both houses of the legislature, but a different version was passed in each house.  It was first passed in the Senate, then amended in the House.  According to a press release, this means that the Senate will now vote on the House version.  Sometimes bills like this go to kind of conference committee like a blog post at the Vermont Progressive Party’s website suggests, but in an email Progressive State Representative David Zuckerman said that, although a committte is “the usual event,” he “would presume they [whoever issued the press release] know more than we do.”

What’s definite is that the bill does not go straight to the governor’s desk from here.

What the bill would actually do depends on which version you’re reading.  According to that same press release, which was clearly issued by supporters:

The bill charges the Health Care Reform Commission with hiring a consultant to create least three designs and implementation plans for a new health care financing system in Vermont.  The designs must include a “single-payer” system, a “public option,” and one based on state and federal reform initiatives.  The final report will be issued February 1, 2011…

S. 88 takes steps to lower health care costs.  It calls for statewide expansion of the Blueprint for Health, an innovative program for strengthening primary and preventative care, which was a model for the recent federal reform.  A community health systems pilot program is also established to coordinate how different institutions care for their patients and get paid for their work.

The Associated Press reported it as,

The House version calls for that as well as a parallel design of a system with a public option for health insurance, meaning a system in which a health insurance program offered by the government would compete against those offered by private companies. The House’s version also would expand previously enacted reform efforts…

The Senate focuses on single-payer as the goal, but also calls for two alternative designs. Differences will have to be worked out in a conference committee of three members from each chamber, and it’s not clear what Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican, will do with the bill…

…provisions to expand existing efforts to control costs and slow hospital budget increases, Tringe said. He [Gov. Douglas] does not like a provision requiring drug companies to disclose to the attorney general when they provide free samples to doctors’ for distribution to patients, she said.

The bill may or may not have the support of Republican Governor Jim Douglas at this point, although he is not in favor of single payer or, as the AP story notes, every provision of the bill.  While it was not a partisan vote – partially because of the six Progressives and two independents in the Vermont legislature, but also because of supportive Republicans – there were Republicans that were strongly opposed to the bill.

Another supportive perspective comes from the Brattleboro Reformer’s opinion page, where Democratic State Representative Carolyn Partridge wrote (although this part of the piece is not necessarily dependent on whether or not she supports the bill),

The bill creates a framework for reform by laying out principles and goals.

The first principle includes the following: “It is the policy of the state of Vermont to ensure universal access to and coverage for essential health services for all Vermonters. All Vermonters must have access to comprehensive, quality health care. Systemic barriers must not prevent people from accessing necessary health care. All Vermonters must receive affordable and appropriate health care at the appropriate time in the appropriate setting, and health care costs must be contained over time.”

The bill creates the Joint Legislative Commission on Health Care Reform, the members of which will be appointed by the Speaker of the House and the Senate President Pro Tempore, with two non-voting members appointed by the governor.

But many people who strongly support single payer either reluctantly supported the bill or opposed it based on the differences between the House and Senate versions of S.88 mentioned in the AP piece.  The aforementioned post at the Progressive Party’s blog states:

This week S.88 debuted in the House Health Committee and they took the 21-page straightforward bill and turned it into a 104-page disaster…

It is too complex…

They have combined a plan for studies (as laid out in S.88) with a plans for implementation. This will effectively render all studies useless…

…focused on quality of care and delivery instead of costs and accessibility…We need to find an affordable way to pay for this.

Embedded in the Blueprint for Health are too many regulations that are worrisome and that doctors do not support including serious issues of patient confidentiality.

In an email exchange with Progressive State Representative David Zuckerman, who was absent for the final vote because he knew “our caucus would be voting yes” and he “had to get out to the farm” because his wife is currently somewhat incapacitated, he said that it’s a complex issue.  On the one hand, S.88 was a wonderful bill when it was in the Senate and is not without its merits even as the House passed it (otherwise, the Progressives wouldn’t have voted for it unanimously).  And before that final unanimous vote, the Progressives worked against making it more convoluted and supposedly less effective.  On the other hand, in Zuckerman’s words,

My thoughts during the debate (and I spoke them on the floor) is that we have discussed universal healthcare since I have been in the legislature (14 years) and probably longer than that… Unfortunately in implementation, the single payer bits somehow keep getting forgotten.  Whether they are removed from debate (Gov. Dean) or removed from implementation (Gov. Douglas) the end result is the same.  Tweaks to the system, but relatively mild progress in the big picture…

As one legislator said to me, “if this bill helps just one person then I can not see how anyone can vote against it.”, my reply was “that there are 40,000 people without insurance (and many more without actual adequate care…but that is another topic).  If we help get one more covered each year then it will be 40,000 years until eveyone is covered…”

So as Progressives we generally voted against the House version to add a lot of complication to the bill.  However, once we lost that, we voted for the bill to keep moving forward.  Because while we would rather the focus be put on the larger overhaul, we are not obstructionist and we do want to see whatever progress can be made.

A former Progressive State Representative, Terry Bouricius, told me that he feels the House version of this bill isn’t even going to lead to single payer, and that was even dubious in the Senate version.  He emailed to me an exact copy of what he sent to his current representative, and the general idea of the message was that piecemeal reforms like this don’t lead to single payer.  In fact, he says, they just prevent it ever being implemented:

When I was in the House in the 1990s and pushing for single-payer, the cautious (though well-intentioned) said, no, let’s focus on “managed care” as the way to contain costs and improve care. We had to wait years for everyone to see that HMO’s weren’t going to solve the problem…

I recall when I was on the Commerce Committee (charged with reforming health insurance), a lobbyist from the Golden Rule Insurance Company was giving testimony. When asked, why the state couldn’t simply put everybody into one big insurance pool, she responded…”That isn’t insurance. Insurance exists to protect the assets of individuals who have assets to protect in case of tragedy. What you are talking about is providing health care to everybody. That isn’t insurance. If you wanted to do that, you’d just raise a tax and pay for everybody’s health care.”

By PRETENDING to deal with the health care crisis through all these other little “fixes”‘ in the House Committee version, I can practically guarantee that no real effort toward single payer will take place for years to come.  Vermont needs to MOVE on single payer while Obama is still in office (we can’t assume he will get two terms), as we will need various waivers that only a Democrat will allow.

Another person who completely opposed the House bill was Deb Richter, a doctor in Montpelier and former president of Physicians for a National Health Insurance Program.  “The over-loaded House version is about changing the delivery of our health care by adding layers of costly bureaucracy,” said Richter.  “The House Health Committee’s claims that this will save money are disingenuous. No evidence of cost-saving exists.”  The story continues in the Barre Montpelier Times Argus:

Richter supports the Senate version of S.88, the bill that began in the committee of Sen. Doug Racine, D-Chittenden, a gubernatorial candidate, and would hire a consultant to design at least three new health care models – including a single-payer system – for Vermont.

So opinion is divided on the bill, although it did end up passing with a fairly large majority.  What effects the bill has in the long run – or, in the short run, what it will look like if and when the governor signs it – remain to be seen.  Either way, it’s just more evidence that the health care fight is not over in any way, and that strong movements for single payer at the state level are leading the way.

Could 2010 Be a Good Year for Democrats After All?

After months of watching Teabagger protests and a weak and ineffectual Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, it was clear that Democrats were going to get creamed in November.  But with Congress having finally passed health care reform, pundits are saying President Obama has gotten his “second wind” – and the conventional wisdom is being revisited.  Could it be the 2010 midterms will be a good election for Democrats, and Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts was just their low point?  And was the media simply too eager to declare victory for Republicans, a premature pronouncement that will make them eat crow in November?  Granted, there’s a lot Democrats have done – and can do now – to be in a better or worse position when voters have their say in seven months.  But in a rush to report a “rise-and-fall” story, the media ignored the demographic shifts which indicate we are now in a new progressive era – ending what had been a 40-year nightmare.

Back in August, I attended Netroots Nation – the annual conference of liberal bloggers – and was taken aback at how defeatist this normally resilient bunch were at the Democrats’ chances in 2010.  Even polling wunderkid Nate Silver had dire predictions for the midterms, but it seemed to me that bloggers were listening too much to Charlie Cook – as conventional of a Beltway pundit as you can get.  “You guys have had a great run,” said Cook – referring to the 2006 and 2008 elections, but now progressives should brace themselves for defeat.

Cook didn’t really give us much of a reason why we should expect a Republican ascent 16 months later – except for some folksy football analogies about a shift in momentum.  But it set the tone for the whole conference, and we all went home with a sense of defeat.

Granted, the next six months suggested that Cook was onto something.  The Republican base was energized, Democrats were on the defensive while their base was depressed – and Obama was quickly losing support from independents.  Health care reform – which the President had given Congress an August deadline to pass – was stalled.  Organizing for America, designed to transform Obama’s campaign team into a formidable lobbying power, refused to go after the obstructionists with real power – Blue Dog Democrats.

With nothing to vote for, Democrats stayed at home in November – losing both Virginia and New Jersey, states that had been getting progressively bluer.  Obama then took a dangerous turn to the Right, and by December the public option had been killed – just to stroke Joe Lieberman’s ego.  In January, the unheard of happened – they lost Ted Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts.

But despite all the doom and gloom that progressives were in – at one point, I even urged Howard Dean to “save the Democrats from themselves” – the media ignored the obvious.  2008 gave Democrats a mandate to govern with or without Republicans, they still had that majority largely intact, and using that power could help turn things around.  Thanks to Nancy Pelosi, they passed health care reform – and we are seeing a sudden and sharp reversal of fortunes.

At Netroots Nation, while others were predicting trouble in 2010, Bill Clinton advised us not to worry about poll numbers now.  “The minute the President signs a health care reform bill,” he said, “approval will go up because Americans are inherently optimistic.”

Granted, the final health care bill did not have a public option – but the resilient move that activists took to keep it alive suggests that it’s not going away.  Progressives must work with liberal Senators like Tom Harkin and Jay Rockefeller, who insisted this health care bill was only the first step.  Killing the bill would have fallen into right-wing hands, and opened the floodgates for another 1994.  Passing it gave us breathing room to keep fighting for a public option in the near future.

President Clinton said other things that night worth repeating.  After a 40-year struggle, where the Republicans had exploited fear and resentment to win from Governor Reagan to President Bush, we are on the verge of a new progressive era.  2008, he said, was “the first election in my lifetime where the country was self-consciously communitarian.”

Demographics have played a role.  Latinos are an increasing share of the electorate, and the Republican Party’s racist immigrant bashing is turning them away in droves.  Young people are heavily Democratic – creating a whole generation that will go on to dominate politics for decades, in much the same way those who came of age during the New Deal became lifelong FDR Democrats into the 50s, 70s and 90s.  While youth turnout dipped precipitously in 2009, it’s not like these voters have turned to the Tea Party movement.

The Right has been hoping for months that 2010 will be another 1994, but it’s easy to see how that analogy falls apart.  Democrats lost Congress that year – because they had to defend more open seats, especially in the South which had been trending Republican for decades.  For 2010, we have more Republicans than Democrats are leaving Congress – and there are so few Southern Democrats left the GOP has less “low-hanging fruit.”  A recent article in National Journal summed up the current situation very nicely.

In 1992, Bill Clinton won the White House with 43% – leaving the Democrats vulnerable to losing seats in 1994, because a majority of the country had not voted for him.  Obama won a clear majority in 2008, and most Democrats in Congress represent districts where he remains popular.  While it’s certainly true that some Democrats will lose in 2010, they are mostly Blue Dogs from districts that John McCain won.  But Republicans from places Obama won – eight in California alone – should also be vulnerable, which could cancel out any losses.

Some Republican elders are starting to get nervous – that 2010 may not be as good of a year for them as many had hoped, and now their party has been taken over by the Sarah Palin wing.  While the health care bill was unpopular before it passed, polls now show repealing it would be even worse.  In 1936, a year after FDR passed the Social Security Act, his GOP rival Alf Landon campaigned on the platform to “repeal” Social Security.  Landon got creamed – losing every state in the union except for Maine and Vermont.

After a year that saw “hope” and “change” fall prey to despair and backroom deals, progressives must realize that they still have the upper hand going into the midterms.  As long as we learned from the lessons of health care that bipartisanship is a fool’s errand – and Congress moves on to pushing financial reform, climate change and immigration reform – 2010 does not have to be the terrible year that progressives have dreaded.

We are on the verge of a new progressive era.  We should go into 2010 acting like it.

Paul Hogarth is the Managing Editor of Beyond Chron, San Francisco’s Alternative Online Daily, where this piece was first published.

16M low-income Americans receiving public health insurance is a progressive accomplishment

You won’t find me claiming that the health reforms that passed into law this week are great triumphs over corporate interests.  Also, I agree with David Dayen that the student loan reforms that passed into law this week are clearer-cut victory for progressives than the health reform bill.  Those reforms they effectively nationalize the student loan industry, by cancelling tens of billions in public subsidies to private student loan companies and replacing them with a student loan public option.

However, the claim that there is nothing progressive about the health insurance reforms that passed into law doesn’t add up.  Because of this legislation, it is estimated that 16,000,000 additional low-income Americans will receive public health insurance than they would have under previous law (CBO report, PDF, page 21).  Millions of low-income, uninsured Americans received public health insurance is a straight-up, undeniable progressive victory.

Further, by moving much more of the cost of Medicaid to the federal level, the program becomes much more stable, and difficult for right-wing state governments to cut, over the long-term.

Yet further, the $11 billion in additional funding, over five years, for Community Health Centers in the legislation will, at current rates of service, provide primary health care to an additional 17.8 million low-income patients a year. (Current funding of $2.5 million a year (PDF, page 6) treats 20.27 million patients, so funding of $4.7 billion annually projects to 38.11 patients).

It can be reasonably argued that giving private health insurance companies an estimated 16,000,000 to 21,000,000 new customers in the health insurance exchanges (24,000,000 minus the 3,000,000 people who will drop off private employer insurance, minus some of the 5,000,000 people who will drop off non-group / other insurance) is not a progressive victory.  Also, the setbacks from reproductive rights, and the deals for drug companies, completely  stink.  However, it takes a pretty contorted argument, with a very odd definition of progressive, to deny that getting 16,000,000 additional low-income Americans public health insurance, and nearly 18,000,000 additional low-income Americans public health care, is not a big progressive victory.

Health reform process update

Reconciliation bill changed, still expected to pass today

As has been reported widely this morning, including by David Sirota, the Senate parliamentarian changed the reconciliation bill earlier today.   This will require another vote in the House of Representatives.

The final vote in the Senate is expected at 2pm today.  Steny Hoyer expects the House to vote on the bill today as well, a few hours after that.

The argument that any changes to the reconciliation in the bill would have defeated the bill does not appear to be holding up.  However, these are minor changes, and so it could be argued that any substantial changes to the bill would have caused a more serious problem.

Public Option

As far as the public option is concerned, there are good reasons to be cynical right now.  Either the Democratic leadership doesn’t care about it all that much, or they are actively working against it (I choose the former).  House Whip James Clyburn says they have the votes to pass the public option.  However, Speaker Pelosi said during a meeting last week with progressive bloggers that she was told the Senate did not have the votes (I was in attendance at that meeting), and as such did not try to add one to the reconciliation bill.

On the Senate side, Harry Reid has promised a vote on the public option, but all Democratic Senators have ruled out any strengthening amendments for this reconciliation bill, including a public option.  So, the public option is therefore not allowed into the bill, and there is no public vote to verify the claim that there are not enough votes in the Senate.  We are just supposed to believe that there are not enough, without any names ever being named.

Whether there are actually 50 votes in the Senate for the public option as a stand alone amendment is a debatable point, as here at Open Left we only ever proved there are 50 votes for a health reform bill that included a public option.  What is not debatable is that the Democratic leadership did not try very hard, or possibly even at all, to include a public option in the reconciliation bill.

Republicans still taking process to the extreme, Democrats need to respond in kind

During most of March, Republicans declared that passing legislation with only 51 votes in the Senate was THE MOST TOTALITARIAN MOVE EVAH.  Now, to no one’s surprise, Republicans are voting to allow only 51 votes to change the reconciliation bill in many ways, including non-budgetary items that run afoul of the Byrd Rule, as long as they believe those changes help defeat the reconciliation bill.  To put it bluntly, Republicans are willing to use any procedural means necessary to achieve their goals.

As such, the best move for Democrats is try and get reconciliation instructions for as much as possible in the budget bill that will be passed next month.  This includes reconciliation instructions for health reform that will allow for a public option to pass in a new reconciliation bill, but it should also include things like energy and education, too.

These reconciliation bills are just about the only way Democrats can still govern.  For example, Tom Coburn is going to “pull a Bunning” and filibuster an extension of unemployment and COBRA benefits.  The popularity, and immediate necessity, of such benefits far exceeds anything in the health reform package.  If Democrats can’t even get that done on time because of frakked up Senate procedure, the budget bill needs to leave Democrats with an option to pass as much legislation as possible with only 51 votes in 2010.

Republicans are using whatever procedural options they have to achieve their ends.  At this point, Democrats have to respond in kind.

Dr. Margaret Flowers – Grassroots Response to Health Care Reform

cross-posted from Sum of Change

(This segment was recorded live on Ustream on 3/24/2001 at 12:00pm EST)

I was privileged to have the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Margaret Flowers of Physicians for a National Health Program today. We talked about the health care bill that passed, the general movement for health care reform, and the lessons we learned during this struggle.

This is part of a concerted effort we at Sum of Change have undertaken to reach out to grassroots folks who devoted a lot of energy to fighting for health care reform. We want to use the microphone we have to get the feedback of voices from the grassroots. Part of this involves reaching out to a wide array of activists so as to hear different views from the fight for reform. Feel free to contact us if you would like to suggest someone for us to interview.

Dr. Flowers said that she was “disappointed” with the reforms passed and criticized the bill for not including some type of national “health system that guarantees that every person in our country can get health care.”

With this legislation we’re forcing people to purchase private insurance, and that moves us to further privatizing the financing of our health care which is kind of the opposite direction of where we were hoping to go…

What we saw over the past year or so is a very powerful influence from the industries that profit off of the current health care situation, the health insurance companies and pharmaceuticals companies. And this legislation is going to further enrich them. So our concern is that that power that they’ve had is going to grow and that will make it more difficult to push for the types of reforms we need to have…

This was a very tightly scripted kind of process… The administration and the leadership knew before going into this what they wanted to see and they drove the whole process in that direction. And what we had wanted to happen was a real kind of open honest debate about what’s best for our country and will improve our health outcomes. And we found that we ran into a lot of roadblocks with that. But we were successful in some ways of getting our message out. And now I think many people have heard the term single-payer.

When asked whether or not she thinks it was a good decision to rule out single-payer before negotiations began, she had this to say:

I think part of the problem with the public option movement is that the public option was a very vague concept and people didn’t really understand what that was all about or how that was supposed to work. But our experience of talking to people of all different bakcrounds is that when you describe what a national improved medicare for all system is, not only do they get it, but they really, they like it…because it saves money, it makes sure that you can get health care that you need, you know, if you need to change jobs or go back to school you don’t have to worry about not being able to get health care if you need it. So, it’s a very appealing concept, it’s a simple concept to explain.

Q: What lessons did you learn from this process?

The biggest lesson that we learned from this process is that we can’t leave it up to our leadership right now to do what we consider to be good evidence-based health reform, there’s too much influence from the industry. And so, tying ourselves to particular political parties or legislators leads us to always compromise in the end, you know, to save their political career. What we need to do as a people is to say that this situation is not acceptable to us, that we want a national health system that provides real health security and build an independent movement, an independent social movement that will push our legislators in that direction…

It was an interesting year, this was a really new experience for the American people and at this point we’re just saying don’t stop, don’t give up… It was, I think, new in that there was so much energy around this issue. There’s so many more people, you know, if you look at compared to the 90’s, the effort that went on in the 90’s, I think so many more people now get it or are feeling the situation that we have and so many more peole did get involved from both sides, there was a real heated and involved discussion.

On progressive groups supporting the President and not the policy:

As it came down to the wire they were throwing out kind of all their constituents. Women’s reproductive rights and the labor unions who didn’t want to have the excise tax and, and the people that wanted the public option that all got compromised away.

Q: Do you feel like the compromises were one-sided?

Yeah, yeah, I think they were all really done, at the end of this deal what it came down to was that the President had staked his future reelection on this reform and that whatever was passed, they needed to have something passed just to say that they did it. And so the content was no longer important the closer it got down to the line. And we’re a different movement. Physicians for a National Health Program has been around for 22 years. We do the research, we look at other systems, we look at what works here and so we’re very, very strong on, you know, what our beliefs are because we want evidence-based reform and so we don’t compromise away from that. I think that attracts people to our cause because they know that if they’re gonna fight with us that we’re gonna fight for something real.

Q: What is the one big lesson we learned?

The biggest thing, I think, is to kep in mind that the people are the ones that push the politicians to do what we want them to do and that this has gotta be about the issues. We need to be really clear on what we want and educate ourselves on, on why that’s important and stand up, you know, for what we need…If you look at us compared to people in other industrialized nations, we, we settle for so little and, and we don’t have a strong social infrastructure that supports us as a people because of that and I think that really needs to change.

Dr. Margaret Flowers, Physicians for a National Health Program, and several other progressive groups are looking forward and continuing to push for single-payer systems at the State level. The doctor urges non-physicians to join Healthcare-Now!

Senate moving onto the vote-o-rama–plus, new reconciliation bill coming soon

The debate on the reconciliation bill has ended in the Senate.  Voting is now underway.  CSPAN2 has live coverage.

The Wonk Room catches Senator Baucus saying that there will be 23 votes, and it should take about 7-8 hours.  This is a bit confusing, as it seemed as though 36 amendments had been filed by 11:20 a.m. today.  Perhaps either some were withdrawn, or ruled out of order.

No matter what happened, expect a final vote either late tomorrow, or early Friday.  This is not going into the weekend again.  Huzzah!

Also, no matter what happens, Democrats are going to vote, as a bloc, against all amendments.  This includes any amendments that would strengthen the bill, such as a public option.

However, on a positive note, Tom Harkin has said that the next reconciliation bill, which will come pretty soon, could contain some strengthening amendments.  Notably, Harkin indicated this includes the possibility of a public option (emphasis mine):

The Senate this week is debating a reconciliation bill that would modify the healthcare reform law President Barack Obama signed Tuesday. The bill on the Senate floor was written based on the current budget resolution, which will soon be replaced. Harkin indicated that the new budget could also allow for a reconciliation bill, which he believes could be used to enact the public option.

Harkin supports the public option and said the House and Senate advocates would “begin working on that immediately” but, like other Senate Democrats, rejected amending the current reconciliation bill because such a move would force the House to pass it again. Because of centrist Democratic opposition, the public option may not have enough support to pass the House. “The greater good is getting the bill passed,” not waging a fight this week over the public option.

With another reconciliation bill coming up shortly, there is another opportunity to pass some good, progressive stuff.

While I wouldn’t blame anyone for being dubious and cynical about actually getting a public option in the second reconciliation bill, Senate Demcorats are showing increasing weariness with Republican obstruction tactics, and Harry Reid did promise a public option vote sometime this year.  I wouldn’t call passing a public option in the next reconciliation bill likely, but it is an opportunity.

Public option for student loans in reconciliation bill

Although it has gone largely unnoticed–and perhaps because it went largely unnoticed–a public option did end up in the reconciliation bill.  It is a public option for student loans, however:

The student aid initiative, which House Democrats attached to their final amendments to the health-care bill, would overhaul the student loan industry, eliminating a $60 billion program that supports private student loans with federal subsidies and replacing it with government lending to students. The House amendments will now go to the Senate.

By ending the subsidies and effectively eliminating the middleman, the student loan bill would generate $61 billion in savings over 10 years, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

This is exactly what we wanted for the health care bill.  Instead of just subsidizing the purchase of private insurance, cut out the middleman and have the government sell insurance directly.  It would save a ton of money, and reduce the cost of the insurnace.

Hell, for health reform, we only wanted a public option like that in addition to, and as one alternative to, providing subsidies to purchasing private insurance.  The plan was never to just eliminate the subsidies to purchase private insurance at all.  The health reform public option was a smaller ask.

But, it didn’t happen.  Part of me thinks that it didn’t happen explicitly because all the dirty frakking hippies were the ones pushing for a public health insurance option.  And, if we had been pushing for this student loan public option, it probably would have been defeated, too.

Because that’s how politics works: defeat the dirty hippies, no matter what they are asking for, simply for the sake of saying you defeated the dirty hippies.  Thus, you can claim victory over the dirty hippies, and show you stoof up to their freakishness. Then, tell everyone that if you didn’t defeat the dirty hippies, Democrats would lose everything.  From the leadership to the rank and file, the Democratic ecosystem is rife with that belief.

That a public option ended up in the reconciliation bill, just not the public option we were looking for, is as clear proof as there can be that the health reform public option campaign was winnable.  But, perhaps what killed it was that the DFH’s were the ones asking for it.