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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Alabama Democrat Switching Parties in Blow to Obama, Pelosi

Posted by: Peter Roff on Wednesday, December 23, 2009 at 1:34:55 pm Comments (0)

U.S. Rep. Parker Griffith dropped a big lump of coal in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's Christmas stocking Tuesday when he announced he was joining the GOP. Griffith, a practicing physician and former member of the Alabama State Senate, came to Congress in 2008 by defeating Republican Wayne Parker 51.26 percent to 48.2 percent in a district where Republican John McCain beat Barack Obama by nearly 2-to-1. Griffith's decision to cross the aisle gives the Republicans a much needed boost, handing them control of a seat --across Alabama's northern tier--they have long coveted but never won.

The switch comes at a particularly bad time for Pelosi, who is busy trying to persuade the members of her caucus to once again vote in favor of a healthcare bill that the public neither likes nor, according to the latest polls, very much wants. In fact Griffith himself says what Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Pelosi want to do to the U.S. healthcare system is one of the primary reasons he is changing parties, according to a report that appeared in Politico.

There will be those who say that a switch of one seat--when the Democrats already have a roughly 40-seat majority in the House--is not that big a deal. Others will point to Griffith's record of voting against Pelosi on healthcare, the stimulus, the cap-and trade energy tax and the recent financial services regulation bill as a way of explaining this is not entirely unexpected and that Griffith was not a real Democrat. And some will breathlessly point out this seat--and no bets on who goes first here--is in the heart of the Old Confederacy and--wink, wink, nudge, nudge--draw your own conclusions.

All these are interesting observations--and all of them are beside the point.

With each congressional seat now costing in the millions to win or retain, losing one is always significant--but especially when it is the result of an act of conscience rather than vote totals. As they used to say about the folks who lived in East Berlin before the wall went up, Griffith's "voting with his feet," making a public declaration as to the party with which he wants to be associated.

Unlike the handful of congressmen and two senators who left the Democrats for the GOP after the 1994 elections, Griffith is not obviously leaving the losing side to join the winners. No one is as yet predicting the Republicans will regain control of the House at the next election. The GOP, under the leadership of Ohio Republican John Boehner may be on the bubble, but it's still an uphill fight for them to win back control and, at this point, every seat counts.

As to the point about the confederacy well, that's just a tired old argument from people who don't understand the new South and whose vision of victimization remains locked on to the times when that particular region of the country was reliably Democratic in its voting patterns. The people who make this argument, frankly, need to find some new observations or just go home.

Whether Griffith is "the canary in the coal mine," warning other Democrats that its time to get out, has yet to be seen. On paper he was doing everything required of him to be re-elected as a Democrat. His repeated votes against Pelosi, rather than make his re-election more difficult, actually should have benefited him next November. The district, which centers on the university town of Huntsville, is not a rural conservative seat. It is moderate and "new South" and, as political scientists Merle and Earl Black show in The Rise of Southern Republicans, moderate-to-conservative Democrats in the South--like Griffith and retiring Tennessee Reps. Bart Gordon and John Tanner--more easily win re-election in suburban districts by voting against the national leadership, not with it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Data Shows that the Stimulus Package Was a Waste of Money

Posted by: Peter Roff on Monday, December 21, 2009 at 11:16:16 am Comments (0)

To put it kindly, the stimulus package that President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rushed through Congress at the beginning of his presidency has been a flop. It is not just that the $789 billion package has not had the effect the White House promised it would; it's that it may actually have been counterproductive, actually lengthening the recession by effectively taking money out of the private economy, where it could have been used to create jobs and for investment purposes. Instead it has been parceled out by the government, which has been unable to track where it has gone or what impact it has really had on job creation. And that has led to any number of fallacious statements by senior administration officials about jobs "created or saved."

There is really no way to assess the number of jobs "saved," which has been the principle rallying cry of the White House over the last few months. Moreover, as data released Friday by the Republicans on the House Committee on Ways and Means makes clear, payroll employment has declined in every state except North Dakota and in the District of Columbia in the nine months since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has been law. Likewise the national unemployment rate, which Obama promised would not exceed 8 percent if the stimulus became law, has reached a 25-year high of over 10 percent.

As the table below indicates, in no state has anything like the promised job creation occurred. In Alabama, for example, the White House estimated that the stimulus package would generate 52,000 jobs by the end of calendar 2010. Yet the government's own figures show the state has lost a net 30,700 jobs through the end of November 2009. In Illinois, which sent Barack Obama to Washington back in November 2004, the White House estimated a net increase of 148,000 jobs but the state has lost more than 150,000 thus far.

In California, the home state of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the prediction was that 396,000 new jobs would be created by the end of next year. So far it has lost just over 340,000. In Nevada, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is in the fight of his political life as far as his 2010 re-election bid is concerned, the estimates predicted 34,000 new jobs would be created. So far this year, since the stimulus has been enacted, it has lost more than 50,000. 

From the House Committee of Ways and Means Republicans Website

All told, the nation has lost 2.6 million jobs since the "shovel ready" stimulus dollars started to flow, rather than create the promised 3.5 million, putting the Obama administration 6.1 million jobs in the hole. That's a lot of jobs to make up in twelve months, and at a pace that would outstrip even the Reagan Recovery, which ultimately created 20 million new jobs by the end of his eight-year presidency.

It is now abundantly clear, even as rumors of a third stimulus package continue to circulate, that a new approach to job creation is needed. 

Catholic Bishops Weigh in Against Abortion Compromise in Health Reform Bill

Posted by: Peter Roff on Monday, December 21, 2009 at 10:38:34 am Comments (0)

Last-minute efforts to craft a compromise acceptable to Senate healthcare holdout Ben Nelson of Nebraska on the issue of abortion were dealt a blow late Friday when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops weighed in against it. Daniel DiNardo, the archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Texas, and chairman of the conference's Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said in a statement that the proposed compromise being pushed by Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Bob Casey was insufficient to fix the problems in the healthcare legislation currently being debated in the U.S. Senate. The current bill, DiNardo said, would continue to be "morally unacceptable unless and until it complies with longstanding current laws on abortion funding such as the Hyde Amendment."

"Senator Casey's good-faith effort to allow individuals to 'opt out' of abortion coverage actually underscores how radically the underlying Senate bill would change abortion policy. Excluding elective abortions from overall health plans is not a privilege that individuals should have to seek as the exception to the norm. In all other federal health programs, excluding abortion coverage is the norm. And numerous opinion polls show that the great majority of Americans do not want abortion coverage," DiNardo said.

Casey's effort to improve the bill, the Catholic clergyman continued, "do not change the fundamental problem with the Senate bill: Despite repeated claims to the contrary, it does not comply with longstanding Hyde restrictions on federal funding of elective abortions and health plans that include them." DiNardo urged the Senate to include language in the bill that would block federal funds from going to elective abortions and promised continued opposition to the legislation until their concerns were addressed.

Health Reform's Dirty Little Secrets: Rationing and Arbitrary Medical Decisions

Posted by: Peter Roff on Monday, December 21, 2009 at 8:53:36 am Comments (0)

One of the few practicing physicians in the United States Senate, Dr. Tom Coburn should be considered something of an authority on the state of healthcare in America. In Thursday's Wall Street Journal, the Oklahoma Republican makes a persuasive case as to why the Obama-Reid-Pelosi approach to reform, so-called, deserves the fisheye. The dirty little secret of healthcare reform is that it is not at all about improving the quality of healthcare, as Coburn hints in his op-ed and as President Obama explained more directly to ABC's Charlie Gibson. The real objective of healthcare reform, the dirty little secret if you will, is to bring the cost of healthcare under control.

Now by the cost of healthcare that doesn't mean how much you and I pay for medical care or even insurance (and most people will see their premiums go up under the Obama-Reid-Pelosi-backed proposal) but the costs the U.S. government incurs, now and in the future if the if the grand plan redesigning the U.S. healthcare system becomes law.

The Reid bill—as initially offered—includes a section responsible for creating new comparative effectiveness research programs which, as Coburn writes, have been used by other countries as de facto rationing commissions. "CER panels here could effectively dictate coverage options and ration care for plans that participate in the state insurance exchanges created by the bill," he says. These are not "death panels," per se. But relying reliance on them to determine who gets what care, or at least the care that the public system or the publicly approved plans will pay for, amounts to nearly the same thing.

Likewise a cause for concern—Coburn points out—is the dependence of the Reid approach on the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which is identified in more than 10 places in the bill. These are the folks, lest we forget, who said women under the age of 50 did not need annual mammograms and who discouraged self-exams because of the false positives they produce. As the Reid bill allows for coverage for services approved by the task force then, by implication, coverage for those services they did not specify were necessary might be denied. "This chilling provision represents the government stepping between doctors and patients," he says. "When the government asserts the power to provide care, it also asserts the power to deny care."

Coburn is right, but he doesn't go far enough. It is not simply that the government is asserting the power to provide care; it is that the government is assuming the responsibility for controlling costs, and not in a market-based way. The Obama-Reid-Pelosi vision of cost control is one in which decisions are made in a seemingly-arbitrary manner, with the quickest pathway out of the red and into the black to deny people the opportunity to receive the care and drugs they need and, of equal importance, that their physicians recommend.

Health Reform Politics Proving Hazardous to Democrats

Posted by: Peter Roff on Monday, December 21, 2009 at 8:37:57 am Comments (0)

President Obama invited the 60 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus down to the White House Tuesday for a healthcare pep talk. Apparently, it didn't do much good. The president's advice, according to sources inside the U.S. Senate, was for his fellow Democrats to try to have more fun trying to get the bill through; so much for the teleprompter. And so much for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is seemingly on his own now that senior White House communications personnel are putting out the word that the bill needs to be done before Christmas or it won't get done at all.

Reid has, for some time, been announcing that he has a deal, an agreement on language the 60 senators who are not Republicans will support, dislodging the bill from limbo and freeing it from a filibuster--but that's not really true. The senior senator from Nevada has talked about concepts and asked the Congressional Budget Office to figure out how much certain approaches will cost, but he has not been able to come up with a solution that satisfies his party colleagues on what now appear to be the three key problems with the bill: the tax hikes, the increase in insurance premiums, and the cuts in Medicare that are needed to pay for it. For every Democrat and independent he appears to win over, he seems in danger of losing one or two more.

Even as Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman says his comfort level is rising, moderate Democrats like Missouri's Claire McCaskill and Virginia's Jim Webb are starting to speak out about their concerns particularly that the current approach Reid wants to use will cost too much. At the same time others, like temporary Illinois Sen. Roland Burris, have been emboldened enough to threaten to vote against any legislation that does not include a public option.

All of this obviously frustrates the liberal partisans, particularly those who insist any deal include some kind of public option and individual insurance mandates, which are necessary prerequisites for the Canadian-style single payer system many of them really want. And it's leading to dissention among the ranks, and dissention from all sides.

For the Democrats, it's potentially very damaging politically.

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, who helped build the liberal grassroots that were central to Obama's election, is calling the Senate bill a bailout for the insurance companies that should be defeated. On the other side are the folks at MoveOn.org who are now taking out after Lieberman, saying in an E-mail sent Wednesday to supporters that the former vice-presidential candidate "has been one of the biggest obstacles to real healthcare reform with a public option all year."

"First, Joe Lieberman helped President Bush invade Iraq, and the Democrats in Washington forgave him. Then, he endorsed John McCain, and they forgave him again. Then, he personally attacked Barack Obama at the Republican National Convention, and still the Democrats forgave him," the group says. "Now, Joe Lieberman is single-handedly gutting health care reform. The time for forgiveness is over. It's time to hold Senator Lieberman accountable."

While the criticism of Lieberman is somewhat hollow--MoveOn.org did play a role in his defeat in the Democratic primary the last time he stood for re-election, after all--it is an example of the absolutely hair-pulling frustration the liberal community feels over the failure, thus far, to pass something through the Senate. And it looks like it's only going to get worse.

The latest polls show a majority of the American electorate rejects the framework of the Reid bill, which is all there really is. Reid's decision to "buy" the vote of Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu has other senators standing around with their hands out. And, if the recent statements coming out of McCaskill and Webb and others are any indication, the smart political move may now be for a senator to make disapproving noises about the bill to satisfy the concerns of the folks back home--especially for the senators from "red states"--even if they intend to eventually vote for it.

This represents a considerable shift in the politics surrounding the bill that may produce even more problems for Reid and the White House. No one can be sure right now where anyone stands.

President Obama has counseled the members of his party to vote for the bill so they can make history. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, on the other hand, is advising senators that if they vote for Reid's healthcare bill, they will be history. When you look through the polling data in the individual states where there will be Senate races next year, it's starting to look at lot more like McConnell may be right.

As Obama's Approval Rating Sinks, His Hubris Grows

Posted by: Peter Roff on Monday, December 21, 2009 at 8:18:15 am Comments (0)

The lower President Barack Obama's approval numbers go the more certain he seems to be about his vision for the country. In the Rasmussen Daily Presidential Tracking Poll for December 15, 41 percent of those surveyed across America give Obama's performance as president a highly negative review.

On healthcare, the issue that is at this moment at the forefront of the debate, 56 percent of those surveyed by Rasmussen now say they oppose the bill working its way through the Senate. Yet he continues to press ahead with signature issues like healthcare as though the sentiments of the electorate mattered not at all to him, never once pausing to admit that he has been wrong about anything or that he has failed to live up to the promises he made during his presidential campaign.

Much has already been written about how he has already violated his pledge not to raises taxes, any kind of taxes on families making less that $250,000 per year. The bill currently making its way through the Senate contains at least six, a fact he has yet to mention. Nor has he fulfilled his promise to put the healthcare negotiations—any of the healthcare negotiations—on C-SPAN so the American people can see the wheeling and dealing and horse-trading that has obviously been going on, the latest being the watering-down of the public option provision to satisfy the demands of Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman.

The president's approval ratings have fallen farther faster than any of his predecessors. Perhaps because the critical bloc of independent voters that backed him in 2008 have been turned off by what could be called Obama's arrogance in office.

A perfect example of this is White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer's comment to Politico that it would be "hard to imagine another president ever taking on (the) Herculean task" of healthcare reform should Obama fail to pass it this year. As though somehow Obama is the only one capable of meeting the challenge, an expression of political arrogance on par with wondering if he could create a budget deficit so big that he himself could not spend it.

The hubris that led him to accept the Nobel Peace Prize for what he might accomplish and to claim credit for an economic recovery because of the jobs that might have been saved thanks to his stimulus package, among other things, is off-putting—and beginning to sink in.

Healthcare Reform Meets Standstill on Medicare Issue

Posted by: Peter Roff on Monday, December 21, 2009 at 8:13:15 am Comments (0)

Every time Harry Reid manages to get a step ahead on healthcare reform the members of his caucus force him to take two steps back. Last week's announcement that a deal had been struck—whatever that meant, since Reid would not make the details public—was accompanied by Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman telling CBS' Bob Schieffer they couldn't support the bill, at least not in its present form.

These objections, in and of themselves, are apparently enough to stop healthcare reform cold, especially if all 40 Republican senators remain united in their opposition to the Reid approach. In fact, the calculations are growing much more complicated with each hour that passes.

Reid must now contend as well with growing unrest on his left flank. A group of Senate liberals, led by North Dakota's Byron Dorgan and Minnesota's Al Franken wrote last Friday to the majority leader about his proposed "compromise," expressing their concerns that the rumored Medicare buy-in program for Americans aged 55-64 Reid wants to incorporate into his healthcare bill would fail to address "inequities in the current Medicare reimbursement rates."

"Our states consistently lag behind other states on Medicare reimbursement and per capita spending," the 12 Democrats who signed the letter wrote. "While there are provisions in the Senate bill to eventually adjust the geographic disparities in Medicare, possible improvements to the funding formula, if they occur, will be years away," they said, adding, "the current Medicare payment structure penalizes those who provide efficient care, while rewarding those who order unnecessary tests and services."

In short, having seen Reid buy Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu's vote with $100 million, these 12 Democrats are asking for their fair share. According to Phil Kerpen, vice president for policy at the pro-free market Americans for Prosperity, the letter is a sign that senators from rural states are concerned that expanding Medicare without increasing reimbursement rates will drive more and more doctors into retirement.

"As more and more of their patients become Medicare patients and Medicare pays far below market rates," Kerpen says, "at some point it becomes impossible to shift costs to patients with private insurance," which would have the effect of turning large areas of rural states into healthcare deserts where no providers would be available.

Allowing that such an outcome would be a "political and public policy disaster" for the senators who let it happen, Kerpen says the only way to avoid it if a buy-in is allowed would be to boost Medicare reimbursement rates. And that, he says, "would obliterate the mirage of cost-containment in Reid's bill and expose every American to trillions of dollars in higher spending and debt." Which, no matter how you slice it, isn't exactly progress.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Supreme Court, Conrad Black and Joe Biden's Bad Idea

Posted by: Peter Roff on Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 8:56:36 am Comments (0)

Back when he was in the United States Senate, Vice President Joe Biden came up with the brilliant idea of being able to charge people with the crime of "honest services fraud," something that would permit prosecutors to charge public officials with depriving the public of its intangible right to receive the honest services of public servants.

Billed as an anti-corruption measure, the idea that the violation of an "intangible right" can be considered a crime that can send people to jail should send shivers down the spine of every freedom loving person in the land. Imagine, if you will, the concept applied to the nation's highway system—which would then allow the state troopers to pull you over for "going too fast" (rather than exceeding a specific speed limit). The result would not only be chaotic, it would be a direct threat to liberty.

Even existing legal codes are unclear on the subject, providing very little definition or advance notice to anyone accused of this particular crime of what actions, precisely, constitute honest service fraud. Yet the crime itself gives federal prosecutors with bottomless resources at their disposal the open-ended authority to charge almost anyone with fraud or corruption for public or even private activities, as media mogul Conrad Black can now attest.

Black, the former chief executive of Hollinger International Inc., was several years ago convicted of honest services fraud, as the Washington Post reminded in a Friday editorial, as the result of business dealings which involved payments to him as part of a non-compete clause.

Attorneys representing Black argued Tuesday before the United States Supreme Court that the government charge against him was not only in error—because the deals were highly profitable for Hollinger and the government failed to prove the payments were otherwise illegal or defrauded the company—but that the charge itself should not exist.

Seemingly trivial, it is actually a very important case because the charge is so devoid of meaning that it could be applied to anyone in almost any situation and, as we have seen in several recent public corruption cases that have gone awry as far as the Department of Justice is concerned, that person could then be squeezed and squeezed and squeezed until they reach the point where they are willing to say almost anything to get out from under the pressure. The charge is so all encompassing that the only restraint against its abuse are limits prosecuting authorities place upon themselves, something that is in direct contradiction with the idea that America is a nation of laws, not of men.

This may also be, however, its undoing. The Supreme Court is likely to find, and should by the way, that the idea of honest services fraud violates a cardinal democratic principle: that an individual must intend to violate the law—which is not the same as simply knowing the law exists—but must knowingly act in a way that leads to the law being violated. If you cannot know you have broken a law until after you have broken it and been indicted as a result, then the legal system has been turned on its head, unless you see things from the perspective of King George III.

Republicans Want Answers on a Dubious Stimulus Spending

Posted by: Peter Roff on Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 8:22:15 am Comments (0)

As far as the stimulus package is concerned, President Barack Obama has a lot to answer for. Federal records show that nearly $6 million was provided to firms controlled by Mark Penn, a former senior adviser and pollster to Hillary Rodham Clinton. The funds, which records show helped preserve three jobs at public relations giant Burson-Marsteller, The Hill reported Wednesday, paid for work on a public relations campaign to advertise the national switch to digital television and for polling work by Penn's firm, Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates.

The news has Republicans on Capitol Hill, who are already unhappy with the way the stimulus dollars have been distributed, absolutely up in arms. Several of them, led by South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson, are seeking support from the White House and their congressional colleagues for a bipartisan national commission to investigate how the stimulus money was spent, where it went, and how many jobs the stimulus actually saved or created, the website created for that purpose having failed to do its job.

Wilson sent a letter to Obama announcing his intention, if the president did not act on his own by Dec. 1, 2009, to call for an outside, independent examination of spending and reporting inaccuracies of every stimulus dollar appropriated—and was rebuffed.

"The reality of the situation is that Recovery.gov, the official administration website charged with reporting abuse, was its own worst offender," Wilson said Wednesday. "It is full of fake stimulus jobs in fake congressional districts. The Government Accountability Office says that one out of every 10 jobs created by the stimulus are also fake."

Under the Wilson plan, the commission would, following a thorough investigation, make recommendations as to what changes could be made to save or create more jobs and what steps could be taken to prevent the improper allocation of taxpayer dollars.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

EPA Carbon Dioxide Decision Threatens Liberty and the Economy

Posted by: Peter Roff on Wednesday, December 9, 2009 at 4:39:00 pm Comments (0)

As President Obama was busily traveling by greenhouse gas-emitting jumbo jet to Copenhagen for an international conference on the weather, Lisa Jackson, his administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was busy telling the world that the United States government now officially believes carbon dioxide is a threat to public health and welfare.

Jackson's issuance of an endangerment finding, according to Capital Alpha Partners' James Lucier, provides federal regulators "with the basis they need to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act." And, following up on Nobel laureate Al Gore's thesis in his book Earth in the Balance, Jackson also seconded the idea that the internal combustion engine is the greatest threat to mankind's continued existence: "The Administrator finds that the combined emissions of these well-mixed greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles and now motor vehicle engines contribute to the greenhouse gas pollution which threatens public health and welfare."

The potential costs to personal liberty, not to mention the U.S. economy, that could flow from Jackson's finding are enormous. They are also potentially without check, as Jackson is now free to propose through administrative rule-making what Congress is thus far unwilling to pass as legislation.

The effort to now prove the United States is serious about climate change comes at a bad time for its supporters. Unwilling to acknowledge that the output of carbon emissions actually fell during the Bush years, they are pressing ahead at the same time their basic thesis has been called into question. Far from being the "settled science" that Gore and others have proclaimed over the past few years, the manipulation of certain global temperature data points by scientists working on the issue, also known as CRU-Climategate, means the world may in fact not be getting hotter—not that Jackson minds, apparently, telling reporters that the climate data set that has fallen into disrepute as the result of leaked E- mails is just one of several.

Actually, say those who follow the issue closely, it's one of three. And the veracity of the second, which was also produced in the United Kingdom, is no longer attested to by those who developed it. No, they have pulled it back to scrub the data and make sure it is correct, a process that may take as long as two years.

How serious is the Climategate scandal? Well, we've all seen the cop shows where the bad guy walks because all the evidence against him is tainted fruit from a poisoned tree. It's the same thing with the CRU data set. It's tainted—and it's one of three specific data sets that EPA is using to justify its new finding, which could lead to new regulations that could raise costs and prohibit activities we now enjoy, having an impact on everything from backyard barbecues and motor vehicles to the production of electric power.

As the supporters of climate change—like my bloleague Bonnie Erbe—have argued, the fact that the data is now tainted does not disprove the idea of global warming. But it does mean the data in support of the idea is now unreliable, and what Obama and Jackson may try to do through regulation at the EPA is so big—and so expensive—that it should not be based on a maybe, on questionable data. Either way, the stakes are too high to get it wrong.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Abortion in Healthcare Bill Remains a Puzzle for Democrats—and GOP Opponents

Posted by: Peter Roff on Tuesday, December 8, 2009 at 11:41:10 am Comments (0)

Poor Harry Reid. For weeks, his main priority has been to get healthcare legislation through the Senate. And he's pushed hard, using just about every legislative trick available to him. Now, just when it started to look like he was making some progress comes the news that the folks back home have turned against it. In one recent statewide poll, 52 percent of Nevada voters said they didn't want the healthcare reform package Reid has been pushing so hard—and almost half of those said they were "strongly opposed," meaning they are likely to take their anger over the legislation out on their state's senior senator next November when he is once again up for re-election.

Nevada, for all of its Democrats, is not a liberal state. Reid joined the Senate leadership by proclaiming, or at least pretending, that he was a moderate who could help the leadership strike a balance with rank-and-file Democrats from places where liberalism was not the regular order of things. Now, with the House and Senate and the White House in definably liberal hands for the first time in more than a generation, Reid is caught between the national party and the folks back home, only 40 percent of whom say they are at all interested in helping him win re-election.

If he is able to find salvation it will come at the hands of his political opponents, who cannot agree on a strategy for defeating the healthcare bill. On the one hand are those who think the best way to stop the government's takeover of healthcare is to leave the bill largely as the Democrats have proposed it, to make them own every tax increase and spending hike and piece of rationing it creates. On the other are those who, fearful of its eventual passage, think the bill needs to be made as good as possible in order to mitigate the damage it might cause downstream.

Nowhere is this more clear than on the issue of abortion. Over in the House, the anti-abortion language offered by Rep. Bart Stupak, a Democrat, provided the only real hiccup Speaker Nancy Pelosi needed to suppress before moving to the vote on final passage. It made the House bill a pro-life bill by preventing the funding of abortions in the new healthcare regime and started a civil war among Democrats, a near majority of whom say that the final version of the bill going to President Obama for his signature must reflect the "pro-choice" position or they will not vote for it, in effect making the anti-abortion language a poison pill the Democrats will refuse to swallow.

Over in the Senate, the push is on to add similar language to the bill Reid is managing. Some on the right say privately that, with the abortion funding ban in both the House and Senate versions, the bill is likely to be stopped dead in its tracks. Others are not so sure. Larry Hunter, the former chief economist at the United States Chamber of Commerce who now publishes the SocialSecurity.org blog, says the inclusion of Stupak-like language in the Senate bill would actually pave the way for its eventual passage by helping Harry Reid lock in the vote of Sen. Ben Nelson, the Nebraska Democrat who has promised to vote with the Republicans to prevent anything other than an explicitly pro-life healthcare bill from coming to a vote.

Each side makes a powerful argument, but there is little predictive value in either. It is not certain House Democrats will vote down a healthcare package that includes the Stupak language, despite their bluster. They invite a near-permanent civil war on their own side if they do. It is also not certain that Nelson will keep to his commitments to the pro-lifers to vote against cloture on the Senate bill if his amendment is defeated—which leaves the Republicans on and off Capitol Hill divided on their strategy and, unintentionally, giving Reid the lifeline he needs.

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