Sunday, March 21, 2010

Healthcare Is Passed! [UPDATED with link]

And I was the first caller on C-SPAN! (Yes, yes, I know, the real credit goes to President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, and Majority Leader Reid, for their historic leadership, but let me have my blogger's day in the sun! I'll have more thoughtful reactions later when I've calmed down...)

Apparently my performance was loved by some (or at least one!)...

"Im loving this first caller into #CSPANright now, 'I think this will go down as a wonderful day in American Legislative History'"

UPDATE: Link to video here - call starts just before the 35-minute mark.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Getting it Wrong on Reconciliation

Megan McArdle doesn't seem to grasp the details of the current discussions over reconciliation and the healthcare bill, but she sure does enjoy "dismantling current liberal talking points!"

In a post that I'm kind of baffled by, McArdle admits that she doesn't care that much about the legitimacy of using reconciliation to pass healthcare reform, but still, liberals are wrong and they're doing something really crazy with it. Just sayin'.

To that end, she cites a post by Prof. Joyner at Outside the Beltway noting that just over half of the major bills passed by reconciliation had supermajority support. This, Joyner says, shows that historically, reconciliation hasn't been used "as an end-around to avoid a cloture vote," so using it to bypass a filibuster and enact major legislation "is exceedingly rare, having happened at most 7 times since 1980." Joyner concludes, "using reconciliation to avoid a supermajority on health care reform would simply be unprecedented."

In response, McArdle wrote, "The word "unprecedented" doesn't strike me as all that troubling--we're not in court. But to the extent that you care, this use really does seem to be novel." So to sum it up: she doesn't care. But if you care - which, just to remind you, she doesn't - Democrats are totally wrong and are tossing historical precedent out the window. Again: just sayin'.

There's just one problem: both McArdle and Joyner have their facts completely wrong. The Senate already passed healthcare with a supermajority. Does anyone else recall the massively important 60-39 vote to pass healthcare on Christmas Eve? Or the constant reminder that both the Senate and the House have already passed bills, and the only remaining task is to reconcile the two bills? Does Megan McArdle not understand this, or did she simply forget that the bill has already been passed?

No one - no one - is talking about using reconciliation to pass comprehensive healthcare reform. The only use of reconciliation would be to make changes in the Senate bill's taxing and spending provisions in order to reconcile it with the House bill. This really isn't that complicated, but Megan McArdle is apparently not alone among major journalists in failing to understand it. Jon Chait recently banged his head against a wall trying to explain it to Politico's Mike Allen. "In the grand scheme of things," Chait wrote, "the changes in the reconciliation bill will be minor [...] I understand perfectly well how intelligent people who don't follow this debate closely might not catch on to the distinction. But this is what Mike Allen does all day -- and, as I understand it, much of the night and the wee hours of the morning as well. How can anybody still not understand this?"

I wonder the same thing myself - but here's a stab at an answer: lots of people don't want to understand it. Having a clear grasp of the facts makes the bill's (impending?) passage more difficult to criticize.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A New Direction? [Updated]

The story here is still coming together, but it seems that Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, who I criticized in a recent post about this very issue, may be changing his stance on workplace protections for LGBTQ Virginians:
After a day of legislative maneuvering and protests, Gov. Bob McDonnell issued an unusual executive directive saying workplace discrimination, including bias against gays, is prohibited in Virginia.

McDonnell’s pronouncement doesn’t make the anti-bias statement law, but says it must be obeyed in Virginia because such discrimination would be against the state and U.S. Constitutions.

When taking office, McDonnell stopped short of signing the executive order that previous governors signed - one which would have banned such discrimination. And it's not clear that he's actually calling on the legislature to make the change into law. Additionally, his statement is meeting with some opposition from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who was on his ticket and shares a solid Christian right background. We'll see what happens, but it's a positive sign. Hopefully McDonnell will press forward with this welcome change. I argued that he was and remains a culture warrior, but I'd be happy to be proven wrong.

UPDATE: Marc Ambinder explains the "executive directive" as carrying less force than an executive order, but nonetheless directing the state to treat McDonnell's earlier executive order as if it did protect gay workers. Ambinder notes that the decision seems to have been motivated, at least in part, by fear of appearing like too much of a culture warrior - and he adds that "it does say something that the very conservative Republican governor of Virginia understands that it does not look good to be seen as endorsing discrimination against gays." It's pretty revealing that Republicans are just now realizing this, but there you have it.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The President's Ear

There's a lot of argument right now about who has it. Some of the more liberal members of the party are convinced it's Rahm Emanuel and that he is cynically destroying the Obama presidency by caving on every liberal goal. Steve Clemons has been making this argument in a series of increasingly obnoxious, uncharacteristically fact-free posts that seem to add up to - well, I couldn't really say. His most specific piece of advice is this head-scratcher:
Set up a Team B with diverse political and national security observers like Tom Daschle, John Podesta, Brent Scowcroft, Arianna Huffington, Fareed Zakaria, G. John Ikenberry, Brent Scowcroft, Joseph Nye, Rita Hauser, Susan Eisenhower, Katrina vanden Heuvel, John Harris, James Fallows, Chuck Hagel, Strobe Talbott, James Baker, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and others to give you a no-nonsense picture of what is going on.
What does this even mean? Is there going to be a "Team B" room where respected academics team up with publishers of an internet tabloid to tell Obama that Guantanamo should be closed by now, as if he didn't know that? And besides, nearly all of these people are either writing blogs, regular opinion columns, academic papers, or magazine pieces - or appearing regularly on TV. Is there any reason to think their opinions aren't already known, or that they're not in contact with the White House already? (If you think Tom Daschle's not communicating with the White House right now...) This is exactly the kind of gimmicky nonsense that the White House doesn't need.

Anybody can read my complaints about this presidency right on this site, but one thing you won't see me claim is that this president is indifferent to progressive causes. He might not always go as far as I would like, but I simply cannot see this portrayal of Emanuel as a cynical, unprincipled Machiavellian running the White House into the ground and abandoning all progressive goals as nothing more than a lazy caricature. Ezra Klein seems to agree with me, and he offers some helpful perspective:

In fact, what appears to be happening is that Barack Obama is listening to his policy people. He didn't scale back the health-care reform bill because they convinced him that the different pieces didn't work on their own. He's trying to close Guantanamo because a lot of people who work on this stuff think we should close Guantanamo. That's the thing about electing a smart technocrat as president: He's swayed by smart, technocratic arguments. The political people are being used to help sell and shepherd the policy, and to figure out how much of the policy can pass Congress, but they seem to be losing the major arguments over what that policy should be.

The obvious counterargument here is the stimulus debate, but as Michael Tomasky has noted, the limits on the size of the stimulus appears to have come from the House of Representatives (and then, later in the process, from the Senate). Maybe Rahm and the White House didn't do enough to break through those limits, but they also thought the recession would be a lot milder than it actually was, and so didn't act with quite the urgency that better information might have furnished.

The point about the stimulus is well-taken. And I'd add to the domestic policy part of this argument that Obama has very publicly staked a massive part of his presidency on the success of comprehensive healthcare reform. And he has not backed down from the goal of a comprehensive bill. The period immediately following the Brown election was disheartening, but people who thought the White House would give up or scale back their efforts were wrong. Obviously, a lot depends on what happens in the next few weeks - we'll see if we get the bill (and it's now appearing that we will). When healthcare is done, people will come back to their senses. The process has been wrenching, and liberals faced some agonizing moments when Obama's approach seemed excessively cautious and pragmatic. But I expected caution and pragmatism, and that's what Obama promised in the campaign. And after a long, grueling process, he still hasn't abandoned the healthcare effort. He kept that promise too.