Wednesday 7 October 2009

Five stunning developments

The CBO slams Baucus' coop plan, the Democrats have a fiendish plan to pass health reform, the Democratic leaders are growing some balls, the Godfather of GOP Obstruction on health care has switched sides, and the GOP wingnuts plan a revolution next week.


FIRST: the CBO says the Baucus bill is so bad that people will turn down free money

As Baucus, ever so slowly, completes his work on the Finance bill, he’s just having a rough time of it. He is now facing attacks from his home-state Democrats, just like Nelson and Conrad, in no small part because nobody wants a crappy bill with watered-down coverage (Obama feels the same way). His troubles are not surprising when you look at all the people Baucus has offended: Rockefeller, the health care subcommittee chairman who wasn’t included in the Gang Of Six (whom Baucus isn’t even talking to these days), Wyden who was double-crossed on his amendment (Baucus gave the CBO the time to score his whole bill but not Wyden’s tiny amendment, which is bullcrap), plus angering liberals, Democrats, reform advocates….

Baucus’ bill may not have the supporters he needs. Some believe the Baucus bill could lose Rockefeller, Wyden, Lincoln and Snowe, although losing Snowe might actually help: if Snowe votes against the Finance bill, her preferred language (like the trigger) may not be in the floor bill -- the logic being that if she can’t even support Baucus’ bill, she certainly won’t be on board for the more liberal floor bill, and can safely be ignored. The whole purpose of the arch-conservative Baucus monstrosity was to win over people like Snowe, and if that fails, the Baucus bill has no further relevance: the next task is merely to figure out which public option can get 60 for cloture.

Things got considerably worse for Baucus when the CBO took at look at his bill. The bill will leave 25 million uninsured, and if there is a year in which coverage bumps up the deficit, coverage gets cut the following year.

And here’s the amazing part. The CBO didn’t just say that the coops are a lousy idea that will have no impact on the market (i.e. the entire bill is a waste of time since the coops are the whole point). The CBO said the market penetration would be so pathetically small that, out of Baucus’ tiny $6 billion seed-money fund for the coops, only half the money would even be claimed – people wouldn’t even take the free money to set the coops up!

Also amazing – Baucus doesn’t even realize that the CBO slammed his bill – he claimed the CBO score was very good news. Even in Montana – how did this guy get to be Senator?

SECOND – an fiendish, evil, ingenious plan to pass health reform

As we move toward a Senate floor bill, we’re seeing more trial balloons. The Wall Street Journal is trying to push the Carper plan for state-run insurance systems – each state either opts for a coop, a public option, or an expansion of state employee plans for everybody. Allegedly the plan would allow states to band together; they can’t, however, link it to Medicare rates, which would cost them a lot of Democrat votes on the Hill. It makes HHS the arbiter – regardless of which party controls the department. Ben Nelson likes the idea. Conrad called it “constructive”. Stabenow and Menendez could accept state option. Guys like Schumer hate it. Snowe also dislikes it.

Again, there are so many problems with a state-by-state approach. Coverage would be a patchwork mess, with good care in some places and lousy care in others, the kind of crappy plan Obama can’t approve. Some states are broke; most states aren’t equipped to run an insurance system; some states are run by Republicans who don’t want to do anything (so the wingnuts who want gummint to go away in their red states may get their wish); some states could just put up an “exchange” that is nothing more than a website, or an exchange that doesn’t actually work to get people covered, negotiate, collect data; and as we know all too well, all state governments are susceptible to bribes from deep-pocketed insurers.

So where’s the amazing part? A new scheme that’s floating around Washington – pass a public option, but give the individual states the power to opt OUT of the plan. In other words, instead of the Carper plan, which potentially would start with zero states covered and then go upward as states approve health plans, the new scheme starts from 50 states covered and then goes DOWN only when state legislatures and governors KILL the health coverage. This way, Blue Dogs like Nelson can vote for the public option (or at least for cloture) and then kick the real decision back to the state legislature, where the local legislators would have a very hard time voting to cancel coverage for all their constituents. Some worry that liberals might fight this idea, but that would be stupid and already Schumer, who knows an ingenious scheme when he sees one, said he likes it.

THIRD – the Democrats grow some balls

The liberals are becoming more vocal. The House bill will be quite liberal: Pelosi tried to talk the liberals down from the Medicare-linked public option to the negotiated public option, and even then liberals were furious. So going even further to the right in conference – say, no state-run plans, coops, triggers – won’t happen. In the Senate, Boxer is now insisting publicly that the bill have the public option, and liberal Senators are reportedly pressing Reid to commit publicly to putting the public option in the original floor bill (of course Reid might at least want to wait until Finance is done before throwing their bill in the trash). Democratic leaders are pushing the moderates to back cloture, and the moderates are beginning to realize that it’s a good idea to vote for the final bill even it it means a bit of trouble back home – because at root they are still Democrats. Few want to take that active step of voting to kill reform and destroy their president.

The centrists pull right, the liberals pull left. One reason why the centrists seem to have the upper hand in this tug of war, pushing the reform bill ever further to the right, is that people believe centrists when they say they could vote down a reform bill, but nobody believes any liberal threat to do the same – everyone believes that in the end liberals will accept half a loaf. That’s another reason why the floor bill must be right from the start: get the public option in the merge bill as soon as Reid has trashed the Finance committee bill.

But even if the liberals accept half a loaf, they can exact revenge later.

And that’s the amazing part: Democrats with balls. Senate Democrats are now talking openly about punishing Democrats who violate party discipline on cloture in the health care effort, by stripping them of their committee chairs. Baucus would undoubtedly be the first one to get tumbrelled to the guillotine.

And what makes this even more amazing? Joe Lieberman. Lieberman is already living on borrowed time. He switched from Democrat to Independent and even backed McCain for President. Obama still let him keep his job as chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. But now, when he’s not obstructing Obama’s health care effort, he is making ugly noises about using his position as chair of the aforementioned committee…to investigate Obama’s mythical czars. Yes, the word you’re looking for here is chutzpah. Or perhaps meshugenah. Right after we pass health care reform, look for Lieberman to be the first chairman to be stripped of his chair.

FOURTH – the GOP leader who killed health care in 1994 has recanted

The GOP argument against reform is leaking even more air. Critics are pointing out that the GOP is arguing, simultaneously, that the government must not be involved in health care, and that Medicare must never be cut, which are mutually contradictory. People are noticing that the biggest critics of health care outside Washington are people who (a) don’t understand the issues, or (b) are worried because reform means that their own government-run Medicare will be cut, so they’re not exactly die-hard foes of Big Gummint. And GOP leaders are beginning to realize that if the plan passes, they will be forced to show the American people how Big Gummint Care failed, and they won’t be able to.

But where’s the amazing part? Bob Dole! He was the guy who crafted the strategy to kill health reform in 1994. Of all the people who speak out for health reform....He is now saying that the opposition to Obamacare is rank partisan politics and that Congressional Republicans should STFU and get with the program. He even panned his own 1994 effort: “Politics took over, and you lost”.

FIFTH – wingnuts demand Obama resign in a week, or the revolution begins

The loony right is still talking violent revolution. The wingnuts have a new internet threat against Obama: resign in a week or there will be war. “Our Dear Leader and co.…leave now and give us our country back…If you stay, ‘We, The People’ will systematically dismantle you, destroy you and reclaim what is rightfully ours. …We are angry and we are ready to take back the rights of the people. We will fight and We will win. …Dead line for your national response: October 15, 2009…Thank you to all patriots who support our cause. … Be prepared for when the fateful day of the declaration of war is nationally announced.”

Well, I guess the abject, dangerous insanity of Republicans isn’t so stunning, is it? So, four stunning developments, then.

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