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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Obama Can’t Tap Voter Anger Because It's Directed at Him

Posted by: Peter Roff on Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 10:52:46 am Comments (0)

Now that the voters in Massachusetts have put him on the ropes, President Barack Obama is spoiling for a fight. Speaking last week in Elyria, Ohio, the president, the New York Times reported, used some version of the word "fight" more than 20 times as he railed against the big banks, Wall Street, joblessness, and the economic downturn that has hit the nation hard.

As a newly-minted populist, Obama is hoping to win back the support of the independents and the "Reagan Democrats" who, over his first year in the White House, have become steadily less enthusiastic about his performance in office. The president, as the numbers reflect, has been losing the support of the center. On Monday, the Gallup organization released a new survey that shows the nation's first postpartisan president is an extremely polarizing figure despite an average job approval rating of 57 percent for his first year in office. Underneath that, however, is a lot of bad news.

He came into office seeking to unite the country, and his initial approval ratings ranked among the best for post-World War II presidents, including an average of 41 percent approval from Republicans in his first week in office. But he quickly lost most of his Republican support, with his approval rating among Republicans dropping below 30 percent in mid-February and below 20 percent in August. Throughout the year, his approval rating among Democrats exceeded 80 percent, and it showed little decline even as his overall approval rating fell from the mid-60s to roughly 50 percent.

The fact that the president continues to run strong among Democrats, which the White House political operation must certainly regard as good news, is tempered by his poor showing among the overall electorate. The latest Gallup presidential job approval numbers have the streams about to cross, with 48 percent of those surveyed approving of his performance and 47 percent disapproving.

Taking these two sets of data together, the high marks he gets from better than three quarters of Democrats means that, while retaining the support of the left, he is losing the right and, more importantly, the center.

The new populism unveiled in Ohio--which will almost certainly be a key refrain in Wednesday's State of the Union address--is an effort to win back the allegiance of those voters who have been deserting the president in droves. By positioning himself as someone who "fights" and will keep fighting for the little guy, Obama is attempting to tap into the anger among the electorate that helped propel Scott Brown into the Senate. The problem for Obama is that he fails to understand that much of that anger is directed directly at him.

It is now generally agreed that, as a candidate for president, Obama failed to define himself as a liberal--but it is as a liberal he has attempted to govern. He has attempted to tax, he has spent, and he has regulated in ways that threaten livelihoods and which run counter to Main Street common sense. The sense of alienation that produces among voters is not transient; it endures and it is costly.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to govern the country from either the left or the right alone. The center, as political consultant Dick Morris has written, is the "vital" part of the electorate. By losing it, Bush drove the Republicans into minority status. Without the center it is highly unlikely Obama can do much better.

Airbus contract: America’s job growth plan for France

Posted by: Kerri Houston Toloczko on Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 10:24:31 am Comments (0)

Job numbers are still looking bad. Slowing the rate of unemployment may be relatively welcome news, but it is not the same as creating jobs.

And poll numbers show that Americans are more concerned with job growth than any other issue, Washington needs to be focused like a laser beam on how actually to create jobs. Unfortunately, there are troubling signs that Congress and the Obama administration are not treating the jobs issue with the seriousness and clarity of purpose that the country deserves.

Estimates are that only 20 percent of the stimulus money has been spent, even though many in Washington are considering a “second stimulus.” This betrays a lack of focus, competence, and economic understanding when it comes to job creation. In trying to appear as if they are doing something (instead of actually doing it), many in Washington seem more worried about protecting their own jobs than creating jobs for the millions of Americans who looking for work.

President Obama’s plan to tax banks is yet another example of a policy that drains capital from the economy that can no longer be used to add jobs.

Another sign that Washington is not serious about American jobs is their continued appeasement of a French company—Airbus Industries—which is seeking a $40 billion contract to build the U.S. Air Force’s new fleet of airborne refueling tankers. The tanker contract has been through fits and starts. But the latest developments show a Washington, D.C., establishment that is increasingly out of touch with the people they have been hired to govern.

The World Trade Organization has ruled that Airbus has taken billions of dollars in illegal trade subsidies from European governments, whose national policy has been to artificially place Airbus in a one-up competitive posture over its American rival Boeing. Now, Airbus is using those illegal subsidies to challenge Boeing in its home country, threatening to take American jobs and American tax dollars back home to France.

Back in Europe, Airbus is revealing just what kind of a business partner it can be when it comes to defense contracts. Airbus’ promised delivery of cargo planes to European military services have fallen behind schedule and have gone way over budget. Airbus has responded by threatening to cancel the program if those European governments don’t pay Airbus more money.

The German newspaper Die Welt reports: “Airbus wants about 5.3 billion euros ($7.6 billion) more than the 20 billion euros agreed on in 2003 in order to deliver 180 of the [Airbus A400M] military transports.”

If America decides to have the French company build our new fleet of refueling tankers, will we soon find ourselves in the same bind? Will our elected representatives in Washington give a $40 billion military contract to France, sacrificing the American industrial base and high-skilled jobs, only to end up with an ultimatum from Airbus that if we really want them to deliver on the tankers they promised, we will have to pay them billions more?

Trying to create jobs with taxpayer dollars is not everyone’s cup of tea, but the tanker budget is part of military spending designed to keep us all safe. As it is still our money that is being spent, at least Washington should direct it to American companies and American jobs—is there even one taxpayer in the U.S. who rather send his money to France?

Economically, militarily and morally—giving Airbus the tanker contract is a bad idea on all fronts.

Kerri Houston Toloczko is Senior Vice President for Policy at the Institute for Liberty.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Republicans Mustn't Match Democrats' Arrogance in Victory

Posted by: Peter Roff on Monday, January 25, 2010 at 8:44:16 am Comments (0)

President Barack Obama and the congressional Democrats have fallen flat on their face, a victim of their own arrogance. Believing their own press clippings, the Democrats misinterpreted the 2008 election as a realigning mandate in support of fundamental, major changes in the way America is governed as well as an endorsement of the need to grow substantially the size and scope of government. In point of fact it was neither of those things. The 2008 platform on which they ran was long on slogans and concepts and short on actual ideas for governing.

It is true that America voted for change--but not the change that Obama and the Democrats began to offer once elected.

Their failure to understand this has led to stunning political defeats. What made these reversals even more amazing, however, is that they occurred during a period in which the Republicans were at a severe political disadvantage. Control of the White House coupled with a substantial majority in the House and an absolute majority of 60 votes in the Senate should have resulted in a flood of new laws and regulations fulfilling every promise and Democratic dream that had been held in check since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980. Indeed, with the introduction of a pork-laden stimulus bill that passed through Congress easily, it looked like that was the way things were headed. Instead the Democrats, time and again on key issues, came up short.

Voting for Obama allowed far too many people--especially self-described independents--to "exorcise their demons," to vent their frustration at the Bush administration . It was cathartic, but not the kind of action on which a transformational political movement can be built.

 

In an effort to recover the ground they have lost over the last 12 months, the Democrats have announced they will pivot, talking from this point forward about jobs, jobs, and jobs and, in an embrace of a populist agenda that would make William Jennings Bryan smile, taking on anything big--big banks, big oil, big insurance, big medicine--in order to protect the interests of the working man and woman. It's a workable strategy, one that helped keep the Democrats in power in Congress for close to 40 years that touches on perceptions, popularly endorsed, of the economic inequities that exist in America. But this will succeed only if the Republicans agree to play ball.

In the short run, the Republicans must resist the temptation to be positioned in a way that makes it appear they are defending the very real inequities and public concerns that Obama and the Democrats are attacking. In the long run, they must develop a platform that allows them to communicate to the American electorate that they are listening to what the people are saying and is solution-oriented. They must give the people the opportunity to vote for the change they want, not just change for change's sake.

It would be damaging to the party's fortunes if the GOP reads the election results in Virginia, New Jersey, and, now, Massachusetts in the same hubristic manner with which the Democrats embraced the results in 2008. The Republican victories in these three key races were the result of superior candidates combined with a general level of discomfort among the electorate with the way things are going in Washington. It created a "perfect storm" that is now working to the GOP's advantage but may be fleeting. Despite what the poll numbers indicate, the voters are not sold on the Republicans as Republicans, but only as a viable, even preferred alternative to the Democrats now in power. In order to regain the majority, it is not only sufficient but necessary for the Republicans to eschew the "party of no" label in favor of what former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at one time called "an agenda worth voting for."

 

Scott Brown Should Take His Senate Seat Immediately

Posted by: Peter Roff on Monday, January 25, 2010 at 8:42:16 am Comments (0)

The Democrats are in a conundrum. Tuesday's stunning victory by Republican Scott Brown in the Massachusetts special Senate election has changed the mathematics of the future. Previously, with 57 Democrats and two independents behind him, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could overcome GOP efforts to filibuster the healthcare bill.

With Brown in the Senate, Reid's natural coalition becomes one vote short of 60, empowering the Republicans to block the bill--but only if they all stick together. For Reid and for the White House, this creates an almost irresistible temptation to slow the seating of Brown while trying to rush the healthcare bill to President Barack Obama's desk while they still have the votes to override the filibuster.

It's a bad idea.

If the election in historically Democratic Massachusetts was about anything it was about voters expressing their desire to rethink the whole healthcare debate. In choosing Brown over Democrat Martha Coakley the voters were saying--not that they did not want healthcare reform--but that they did not want either version of the healthcare bill being offered to them by the House and Senate.

This is a message that has not been lost on some of the cooler heads in the Senate, including Indiana's Evan Bayh and Virginia's Jim Webb--who said after Brown's election that the Senate should hold off on any further action on the healthcare bill until after Brown is seated.

Webb is perhaps telegraphing his intention to vote against cloture--at least on a temporary basis until Brown joins the Senate. If that is his plan, then even without Brown being seated Reid would still be at least one vote short of what he needs--making the hurry up with the healthcare bill on one side while dragging heels on seating Brown on the other strategy moot.

There is, however, a statesmanlike way out of the box. No one is claiming that Brown was not legitimately elected on Tuesday but before he can take his seat Massachusetts Secretary of State William F. Galvin has to certify him as the winner of Tuesday's election. That process should take about a week to 10 days but could stretch out for a much longer period. If it does, under the long count strategy some Democrats are advocating, it would leave the people of Massachusetts, the Senate and the nation in limbo.

The proper thing then is for interim Sen. Paul Kirk--the former Democratic National Committee chairman who was appointed to fill the vacancy created by the death of Edward M. Kennedy--to resign his seat immediately. By resigning, Kirk creates a vacancy that Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick could fill by appointing Brown to the seat. In that way Brown can begin his service immediately, the process of completing the healthcare bill can move forward and the nation can see politicians from both sides of the aisle behaving, if not like statesmen then like the post-partisans Obama's election promised they would be.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Joe Biden's Filibuster Hypocrisy

Posted by: Peter Roff on Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 5:44:34 pm Comments (0)

Vice President Joe Biden has a short memory.

While speaking Sunday at a fundraising event in Florida, the vice president denounced the Republicans' use of the filibuster to block key Democratic initiatives in the U.S. Senate. "As long as I have served," Politico quoted Biden as saying, "I've never seen, as my uncle once said, the Constitution stood on its head as they've done. This is the first time every single solitary decision has required 60 senators." Adding, "No democracy has survived needing a supermajority," Biden described the parliamentary tactics of the GOP as putting what the paper said was "a dangerous new roadblock in the way of American government."

What is truly amazing about the vice president's observation, however, is that he apparently made it with a straight face. Biden, who served in the Senate for more than 30 years, was a longtime proponent of the filibuster as a way to block Republican presidential appointments and legislative initiatives. He was also an active opponent, on philosophical grounds, of the so-called nuclear option, a Republican effort to change the rules of the Senate to end the filibuster as a way to block judicial nominations. 

Speaking on the Senate floor in May of 2005, Biden said, "At its core, the filibuster is not about stopping a nominee or a bill, it's about compromise and moderation. The nuclear option extinguishes the power of independents and moderates in the Senate. That's it, they're done. Moderates are important if you need to get to 60 votes to satisfy cloture; they are much less so if you only need 50 votes. Let's set the historical record straight. Never has the Senate provided for a certainty that 51 votes could put someone on the bench or pass legislation." 

When the Senate was considering President George W. Bush's nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the United States Supreme Court, Biden held out the prospect of a filibuster to block it. "If he really believes that reapportionment is a questionable decision … then clearly, clearly, you'll find a lot of people, including me, willing to do whatever they can to keep him off the court," Biden said, adding, "That would include a filibuster, if need be." 

During his years in the Senate, Biden could be counted on to routinely join Democratic efforts to support filibusters of Republican programs--from the second President Bush's energy bill to the first President Bush's effort to cut the tax on capital gains in order to stimulate the U.S. economy and blunt the impact of the early-'90s recession. Now that he is vice president, and the entire Obama agenda is imperiled, he has changed his mind in an apparent deathbed conversion. It won't last. 

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Obama Massachusetts Campaign Swing Could Backfire, Help Brown

Posted by: Peter Roff on Saturday, January 16, 2010 at 10:12:51 pm Comments (0)

The special election to fill the seat left vacant when Massachusetts Democrat Edward M. Kennedy shuffled off his mortal coil is coming down to the wire. In a state not known for competitive contests, Republican State Sen. Scott Brown is giving Democrat Attorney General Martha Coakley more than a run for her money.

• A one-day poll conducted for Pajamas Media of nearly 1,000 likely Massachusetts voters out Friday showed Brown ahead by an amazing 15 points, well outside the slightly better than three percent margin of error.

• Suffolk University has Brown up by four--50 percent to 46 percent--in its Thursday poll of 500 registered voters.

• Monday's poll of 1,000 likely voters by Scott Rasmussen had Coakley up by two but, importantly, under 50.

Pollster.com now has the average at 50.3 percent for Brown and Coakley at 46.8 percen, with almost all the late polls show Brown gaining and Coakley fading. Even the Democratic Blue Mass Group/Research 2000 poll of January 13, which shows Coakley leading 49 to 41 among 500 likely voters surveyed over two days, has Brown winning half the independents versus 39 percent for Coakley. 

The poll numbers are now driving the race, with the GOP cautiously optimistic and the Democrats already looking around for someone to blame if Coakley loses. Both sides are ratcheting up their activity, with Brown reportedly raising nearly $4 million over four days via the Internet and Coakley rolling out the big guns, including President Barack Obama—who heads there Sunday—and the senator's widow Victoria who, in an effort to personalize the race and win it for the Democrats, is asking people to go to the polls to honor the work and memory of her late husband.

Whether Obama is a help or a hindrance at this stage is anyone's guess. The most important consideration in the race now is just how the support each candidate is showing in the available polling data will translate into voters showing up at the polls.

Karl Rove, the political consultant who served as deputy chief of staff in the Bush White House, observed earlier this week that "All of the polls show Republicans significantly more energized than Democrats and more likely to vote next week in what is likely to be a low turnout election. In this respect, the Massachusetts special election may resemble last fall's New Jersey gubernatorial race, where Republican Chris Christie, buoyed by an energized Republican base, pulled out a late victory over Gov. Jon Corzine in a heavily Democratic state."

What Rove fails to mention is that a last-minute campaign visit by Obama to New Jersey, if it moved voters at all, moved them away from Corzine. By going to Massachusetts, Obama may again encourage those who disapprove of the job he is doing as president to go to the polls and send him a message while doing little to improve turnout on behalf of the Democrat.

The stakes in this race are high, higher than usually is the case in a special election. That's because both the GOP and the Democrats realize the addition of just one Republican to the ranks of the U.S. Senate would deprive Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of his filibuster proof 60-vote majority and that, in turn, could derail the healthcare bill. But that's only if Brown is seated before the critical final cloture vote—and that's a pretty big if.

What is going on in Massachusetts—the bluest of the blue states—has a lot to do with what is happening in Washington. The strong support Brown is showing among independents is a direct reflection of their unhappiness with the one-sided way in which the healthcare debate has unfolded, the latest example of that being Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's determination that the final version of the healthcare bill be the product of backroom negotiations rather than open debate. And that has led to the transference of the electoral energy shown across the country by the tea party movement into active support for Brown.

It may, however, not be all sunshine and flowers for the GOP, especially if seating Brown becomes the last opportunity the Republicans have to stop the healthcare bill.

William Galvin, who as Massachusetts' secretary of state is the official in charge of certifying the election results, made the papers recently when he reminded folks that state law requires town and city clerks to wait at least 10 days for absentee ballots to arrive before they can certify the local results and that they have to wait five more days to file the returns with his office. This means Brown, even if he wins a clear victory, will not be seated right away, in sharp contrast to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's rush to swear in two new Democrats elected just before the House voted on the healthcare bill last fall.

Another problem the GOP faces in its race against the clock is the issue of a clean victory. The statutory timetable Galvin outlined assumes everything else goes smoothly and that no one challenges the election results in court. As the Wall Street Journal's John Fund has pointed out on more than one occasion, the provisions of the Help America Vote Act and other election law reforms enacted after 2000's presidential long count facilitate the bringing of suits that challenge election results, especially when plaintiffs are willing to claim someone was disenfranchised.

Any delay may help Reid and Pelosi get a healthcare bill to President Barack Obama's desk if Reid's 60-vote coalition holds together, something that is not at all certain at this point. But delay, while a potential political ally, is not necessarily a long-term friend.

There is a downside, one that should be obvious to the Democrats but which may be obscured by the heat and smoke of the healthcare battle: Any effort to keep Brown out of the Senate if he is the winner next Tuesday will look, especially to the independents who are deserting the Democrats in droves, like cheating. And that would have profoundly negative consequences for the party in November. 

Shameless, Democrats Buy Covert Healthcare Propaganda

Posted by: Peter Roff on Saturday, January 16, 2010 at 10:11:11 pm Comments (0)

When USA Today first reported nearly five years ago that conservative commentator Armstrong Williams had been paid nearly a quarter of a million dollars to promote the No Child Left Behind law in his columns and in his media appearances, senior Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives wrote to President George W. Bush expressing their outrage. In one of those letters, then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Reps. Henry Waxman, George Miller, David Obey, and Elijah Cummings denounced the payments made to Williams under a government contract--along with two other public relations initiatives undertaken by the Bush administration--as "illegal covert propaganda" intended to influence the American electorate.

"It would be abhorrent to our system of government," they told Bush, "if these incidents were part of a deliberate pattern of behavior by your Administration to deceive the public and the media in an effort to further your policy objectives."

Their outrage was understandable but, as at least one recent revelation has made clear, it had a limited shelf life.

Earlier this month, in a story that first appeared in the blogosphere, it was revealed that Jonathan Gruber, an economist and professor at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had failed to disclose he was under contract with the U.S. Department of Health of Human Services as a healthcare reform consultant at the same time he was making approving noises in the media about the Democrats' healthcare bill.

Gruber's contract, which reportedly runs until February 2010, called for him to provide "technical assistance" to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. And he was rewarded handsomely for his efforts, being paid nearly $300,000. At the same time, however, as Fox News reported on January 8, Gruber was also busy "fending off healthcare reform critics in the media," most notably as one of few analysts willing to rebut an October 2009 insurance industry report produced by PricewaterhouseCoopers that concluded health insurance premiums would shoot up if a healthcare bill passes. "And he has recently written columns defending specific provisions in the House and Senate bills, particularly the 'Cadillac tax' on high-cost insurance plans," the network said.

If there is a difference between what Williams did and what Gruber may still be doing, it is a mystery to everyone but, apparently, Pelosi, Waxman, and the others who signed the letter to Bush and who have been curiously silent about this latest example of "illegal covert propaganda."

Among those who see no difference are Grover Norquist, the ubiquitous activist who heads the pro-taxpayer group Americans for Tax Reform, and Sandra Fabry, the executive director of ATR's Center for Fiscal Accountability and a leader in the transparency in government movement.

In a January 11 letter to Gruber, Norquist and Fabry insisted he give the money back, saying, "Your engagement with the government to publicly tout a massive spending program is akin to public lobbying campaigns for which consulting firms are being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars on behalf of their (private-sector) clients. The fact that in your case the client was the Administration paying you hundreds of thousands of dollars makes your actions highly unethical.

"More than anything, though, you owe taxpayers, whose hard-earned tax dollars were used for dubious political propaganda an apology as well as an amount of $297,600 which you should swiftly return to them."

So far, Fabry tells me, Gruber has failed to reply--nor have Pelosi, Waxman, and the others publically raised the issue with President Barack Obama or HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Their level of outrage, it seems, depends entirely, as has been written before, on whose ox it is that is being gored.

Health Reform Drags Obama's Poll Ratings Down

Posted by: Peter Roff on Saturday, January 16, 2010 at 10:08:58 pm Comments (0)

Support for President Barack Obama continues to decline, fueled in no small measure by an increase in the public's dissatisfaction over the progress of healthcare reform.

A poll released Tuesday by CBS News shows the decline to be continual, with 54 percent of the more than 1,200 adults surveyed saying they disapproved of the way in which Obama was handling healthcare. With only 36 percent now indicating their approval, those responding to the latest poll were 11 percent more dissatisfied with the president than they were in October of last year and 6 percent more dissatisfied than they were in December, when the poll was last conducted.

The marks given to Congress are even worse, with 57 percent of those surveyed registering thumbs down to the way the Democrats are handling the issue and 61 percent saying they disapproved of the Republicans' conduct on healthcare.

Of particular importance, from a political standpoint, is that the CBS poll fails to demonstrate that there is anything approaching a consensus that Obama and Congress are on the right track. "Only about one in five Americans thinks the reforms strike the right balance when it comes to expanding coverage, controlling costs and regulating insurance companies," the poll shows while the public remains divided "on whether the reforms go too far or not far enough in providing health coverage to as many Americans as possible."

It's an odd turn of events for something that was the Democrats' signature issue during the 2008 presidential campaign. Survey after survey led politicians in both parties to conclude that healthcare reform was something the American people were demanding but, as has been the case before, they clearly do not like what they are being offered.

Partly, the process is to blame. Rather than focus on maintaining, even improving, the quality of care available in the United States, the White House and the Democrats who control Congress have labored to produce a hodgepodge of reforms that threaten the continued existence of the system as we know it while providing little in the way of guarantees that the parts of the current system people like will not be adversely affected by the proposed reforms.

This last piece likely explains why so much of the healthcare negotiation has been conducted in secret and behind closed doors. Rather than wave the victory flag, the White House, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are all behaving like, when it comes to healthcare, they have something to hide. Which no doubt explains why the public's support for reform is dropping like a stone. They will not buy what they cannot see.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Grim News Will Hurt Democrats’ Fundraising and Recruiting

Posted by: Peter Roff on Monday, January 11, 2010 at 8:57:33 am Comments (1)

Political analyst Charlie Cook, who is not known for being overly friendly to the Republicans, has some bad news for the Democrats

"Come November, Senate Democrats' 60-vote supermajority is toast. It is difficult, if not impossible, to see how Democrats could lose the Senate this year. But they have a 50-50 chance of ending up with fewer than 55 seats in the next Congress."

Cook added: 

"As for the House, we at The Cook Political Report are still forecasting that Democrats will lose only 20 to 30 seats. Another half-dozen or more retirements in tough districts, however, perhaps combined with another party switch or two, would reduce Democrats' chances of holding the House to only an even-money bet. We rate 217 seats either 'Solid Democratic' or 'Likely Democratic,' meaning that the GOP would have to win every single race now thought to be competitive to reach 218, the barest possible majority. But if Democrats suffer much more erosion in their 'Solid' and 'Likely' columns, control of the House will suddenly be up for grabs." 

Whether Cook is right has yet to be determined, but the shift in his forecast is likely to have a profound effect on the ability of both parties to field quality candidates and, more importantly, to raise money. The more the numbers look like they are moving away from the Democrats and toward the Republicans, the harder it becomes for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team to play the expectations game. Likewise, it makes it even harder for her to keep her most vulnerable colleagues--ho generally happen to be the more moderate members of the Democratic caucus--in line on tough votes, like the one coming up on healthcare. 

Democrats’ Secrecy Fuels Health Reform Disapproval

Posted by: Peter Roff on Monday, January 11, 2010 at 8:42:36 am Comments (0)

The healthcare endgame will involve a game of legislative ping-pong between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who have separately indicated the strategy they intend to use to pass the final bill is intended to box out not only the Republicans, but some Democrats who may have last-minute objections. Pelosi and Reid have apparently determined that private negotiations between leading Democrats on Capitol Hill, coupled with input from the White House, is the only way to write a final bill that can pass both chambers and that President Barack Obama will sign. This process for moving forward—know as "ping pong"—eliminates the need for the kind of formal negotiations that C-SPAN's Brian Lamb recently requested be made open to the media.

Those requests, by the way, have been rejected by Pelosi and Reid.

As reported Monday in The Hill, senior Democratic aides said the decision to go with ping-pong had been made "out of concern that Republicans in both the House and the Senate would employ a series of procedural delaying tactics."

The first set began formally with healthcare meetings held Tuesday at the White House. Unlike a game of real ping-pong, however, no one can be sure who is playing because the matches are being held in secret. Once the negotiators agree on language that all parties involved can live with and Speaker Pelosi believes she has the votes to pass it, the legislation will be brought to the floor of the House for a vote.

Senior aides believe this will be done without giving members the opportunity to offer any amendments, which could mean trouble if the final version includes the weaker "Nelson" language on abortion funding from the Senate bill rather than the "airtight" prohibitions included in the earlier House bill over Pelosi's objections.

If the legislation is approved in the House it would then go to the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid would be able to bring it up immediately. This second set begins, say several top Hill staffers, with Reid "filling the amendment tree by himself," thereby making it impossible for any of his Senate colleagues—Democrat or Republican—to offer language that changes in substance any part of the bill.

If the Senate made any changes, the bill would have to then go back to the House in a third volley. The House would then have to pass it again and send it back to the Senate, hence the "ping-pong."

If the Senate adopts the House bill—and with Reid blocking all substantive amendments, it is hard to imagine the Senate voting the final version down—it would then go to the White House for Obama's signature. Game over.

This closed-door process is a stunning display of political hardball mixed with considerable amounts of hubris that has even some Democrats complaining. U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, who is challenging Arlen Specter for the Democratic Senate nomination in Pennsylvania, Thursday fired a blast at congressional leaders and the White House over the way the whole business has been handled.

"They said it would be transparent. Why isn't it?" Sestak said in a meeting with editors and reporters at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "At times, I find the caucus is a real disappointment. We aren't transparent, not just to the public but at times to the members."

Sestak was in part referring to the at least eight times candidate Barack Obama promised while running for president to put all the healthcare negotiations on C-SPAN but also to the way in which the leadership—all of whom occupy safe seats, at least as far as the House is concerned—is using the ping-pong process to shut the congressional rank and file out of the final deliberations.

The decline in public support for healthcare reform is no doubt being fueled by cynicism over the process under which is has been debated. These secret endgames will only increase that cynicism, stoking the fires of an anti-incumbent sentiment that is already permeating the American body politic.

Opposition Mounts to Democrats' Secret Health Reform Deals

Posted by: Peter Roff on Monday, January 11, 2010 at 8:33:16 am Comments (0)

Despite the fact that it is as cold in Washington as it has ever been, the heat is rising over the news that congressional Democrats and the White House are planning to play "ping-pong" with America's healthcare system. As reported Monday by a variety of blogs, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have spent the congressional recess trying to devise a plan that will allow them to get legislation through Congress to create a wholly revamped U.S. healthcare system in a way that minimizes the risk of the bill being stopped in either the House or Senate.

Typically, when the House and Senate pass different versions of the same legislation, a bi-cameral conference committee is conveyed, where senior members of the House and Senate negotiate on the language of a bill until both sides come up with something they can agree on. On healthcare, as many senior Democrats now concede, going to a conference committee would be equivalent to opening up the whole can of worms all over again, putting its final passage in jeopardy.

By playing "ping pong" with the bill, Pelosi and Reid hope to minimize the chance that any single change will provide the impetus for the bill's defeat, something that is easily possible given how difficult it was to get the House and Senate to pass the bill in the first place.

The secrecy attached to such a strategy is not going down at all well. Brian Lamb, the head of C-SPAN, sent a letter to Pelosi and Reid—as my bloleague Doug Heye wrote about here earlier today—asking for the conference proceedings to be opened to cameras from his network.

That proposal was quickly seconded by GOP congressional leaders, including Ohio Republican John Boehner who told Lamb, "As House Republican Leader, I can confidently state that all House Republicans strongly endorse your proposal and stand ready to work with you to make it a reality."

Playing up on the popular complaints about the bill, which the latest polls indicate a majority of Americans now oppose, Boehner added, "Hard-working families won't stand for having the future of their health care decided behind closed doors. These secret deliberations are a breeding ground for more of the kickbacks, shady deals and special-interest provisions that have become business as usual in Washington. Too much is at stake to have a final bill built on payoffs and pork-barrel spending."

Others, like Indiana Republican Mike Pence, the House's No. 3 Republican leader, continue to reference Barack Obama's campaign commitment to televise all the healthcare negotiations.

"More than a year ago, President Obama promised voters that health care negotiations would be televised," Pence said in a statement released by his office. "In a mad rush to get a health care bill to the president's desk, that promise has been broken time and time again. The recent request by C-SPAN provides the president one last chance to make good on his promise for openness in the health care debate. The American people deserve a seat at the table."

Democrats’ Secrecy Fuels Health Reform Disapproval

Posted by: Peter Roff on Monday, January 11, 2010 at 8:31:01 am Comments (0)

The healthcare endgame will involve a game of legislative ping-pong between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who have separately indicated the strategy they intend to use to pass the final bill is intended to box out not only the Republicans, but some Democrats who may have last-minute objections. Pelosi and Reid have apparently determined that private negotiations between leading Democrats on Capitol Hill, coupled with input from the White House, is the only way to write a final bill that can pass both chambers and that President Barack Obama will sign. This process for moving forward—know as "ping pong"—eliminates the need for the kind of formal negotiations that C-SPAN's Brian Lamb recently requested be made open to the media.

Those requests, by the way, have been rejected by Pelosi and Reid.

As reported Monday in The Hill, senior Democratic aides said the decision to go with ping-pong had been made "out of concern that Republicans in both the House and the Senate would employ a series of procedural delaying tactics."

The first set began formally with healthcare meetings held Tuesday at the White House. Unlike a game of real ping-pong, however, no one can be sure who is playing because the matches are being held in secret. Once the negotiators agree on language that all parties involved can live with and Speaker Pelosi believes she has the votes to pass it, the legislation will be brought to the floor of the House for a vote.

Senior aides believe this will be done without giving members the opportunity to offer any amendments, which could mean trouble if the final version includes the weaker "Nelson" language on abortion funding from the Senate bill rather than the "airtight" prohibitions included in the earlier House bill over Pelosi's objections.

If the legislation is approved in the House it would then go to the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid would be able to bring it up immediately. This second set begins, say several top Hill staffers, with Reid "filling the amendment tree by himself," thereby making it impossible for any of his Senate colleagues—Democrat or Republican—to offer language that changes in substance any part of the bill.

If the Senate made any changes, the bill would have to then go back to the House in a third volley. The House would then have to pass it again and send it back to the Senate, hence the "ping-pong."

If the Senate adopts the House bill—and with Reid blocking all substantive amendments, it is hard to imagine the Senate voting the final version down—it would then go to the White House for Obama's signature. Game over.

This closed-door process is a stunning display of political hardball mixed with considerable amounts of hubris that has even some Democrats complaining. U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, who is challenging Arlen Specter for the Democratic Senate nomination in Pennsylvania, Thursday fired a blast at congressional leaders and the White House over the way the whole business has been handled.

"They said it would be transparent. Why isn't it?" Sestak said in a meeting with editors and reporters at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "At times, I find the caucus is a real disappointment. We aren't transparent, not just to the public but at times to the members."

Sestak was in part referring to the at least eight times candidate Barack Obama promised while running for president to put all the healthcare negotiations on C-SPAN but also to the way in which the leadership—all of whom occupy safe seats, at least as far as the House is concerned—is using the ping-pong process to shut the congressional rank and file out of the final deliberations.

The decline in public support for healthcare reform is no doubt being fueled by cynicism over the process under which is has been debated. These secret endgames will only increase that cynicism, stoking the fires of an anti-incumbent sentiment that is already permeating the American body politic

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