Tuesday 13 October 2009

Four things for Obama to do

1. Herd the Blue Dogs.

The two guys supposed to herd the conservative Democrats are Reid and Durbin, but now Reid is whining that he doesn’t want a bill that will split the Democratic caucus. Emanuel needs to slap him around and remind him that a huge majority of the Democratic caucus wants the public option, and it’s time for the other side to start making concessions the way they have.

Likewise Durbin. Senate Democrats rank themselves by seniority, but Republicans do it by party loyalty: this gives the GOP a huge advantage, because they know their troops will always follow their leaders on procedural votes like cloture. In effect it gives them 10 extra votes, the difference between 50 and 60. The petition to have the Democrats do what the Republicans do – strip the committee chairs of Senators who don’t follow their leaders on cloture – has almost 80,000 signatures, but Reid’s deputy Durbin has already said they won’t strip committee chairs. So he needs slapping around too.

A key thing to watch for is whether the Blue Dogs are coordinating behind the scenes. Nobody wants to be the one guy who kills health reform, but if there is a little posse of three or four, obstruction becomes easier – treachery loves company. So far, no Democrat has publicly expressed willingness to support a filibuster, but we need to keep it that way.

Another thing to watch the Blue Dogs for, is hiding behind Snowe’s skirts. They could agree to vote for a bill she likes, which could be good, but they could also refuse to vote for a bill she does NOT like. This is pusillanimous and they should be crushed without mercy if they do so.

People to watch include the Democrats who opposed the public option in the Finance Committee, including Lincoln who said her vote on the Baucus bill doesn’t guarantee a “yes” vote on the floor bill, and Conrad, who interestingly has stopped bashing the public option and now is only bashing the ROBUST public option, the most liberal version of it. Carper, author of the opt-in plan, is also considering the opt-out plan, and if he likes it he could also sway guys like Ben Nelson and Bayh who also like it. Collins could conceivably back the Baucus bill – could she back a public option too?

Now the HELP bill and the Finance bill will be merged; once they merge the bills and send the new composite bill to the floor (they’re shooting for the last week of October), the decision on the public option won’t change on the floor: it would take 60 votes to take it out, or to put it in. The people who will decide this will be Baucus and Dodd, who will cancel each other out, Reid who will defer to the White House, and the real “decider”, the White House. Obama wants the public option – Rockefeller publicly reiterated that today -- but a great deal depends on (a) whether Obama has obtained commitments from the Blue Dogs to support cloture, and (b) whether he really wants to go the reconciliation route. If the answer to both questions is “no”, then something other than a full-bore public option may happen. Obama will not allow a bad bill even to be voted on, let alone reach his desk, so that rules out the Baucus bill, the trigger option (unless it is strengthened a great deal), and the coop. Two other options might be: reconciliation (messy), leaving the public option battle until the conference (risky), the opt-in plan (risky), and the opt-out plan. The opt-out is perhaps the best option; even with 22 Republican governors, 13 states with Republican legislatures not including nonpartisan Nebraska, and 9 states that are all GOP run, few states would really opt out.

House leaders are maneuvering for maximum advantage, trimming their plan down from $1.2 trillion down to $900 billion. They are talking about passage of a House bill by Thanksgiving, but they might do better to slow down, wait for Obama to get whatever he can from the Senate, and then vote for it in the House as is, so that no conference is needed.

Speaking of the conference: Obama has clearly read the Senate rules – that’s why he slid the reconciliation instruction into the April budget bill, to open the door for reconciliation later. One key provision: according to Senate rules, if both the House and Senate bills have the public option in it, the House-Senate conference can NOT remove it. But it can still be filibustered.

2. Spank Lieberman and Baucus

Lieberman was saying that the opt-out plan is worth looking at, but now he is actually to the right of the Republican, Snowe, on the Baucus bill, and parroting the discredited insurance-industry talking points from AHIP. Keep in mind that when Bush was pushing the Alito nomination, Lieberman voted for cloture and then against Alito – if he is unwilling to extend the same courtesy to Obama that he extended to Bush, Reid absolutely must throw him out of the Democratic caucus. Lieberman may try to take the lead on repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, hoping to buy himself a reprieve by arguing that he supported his party on one out of two initiatives, but sorry, not good enough. You don’t get to be a Democrat only when it’s convenient. Thomas Paine called guys like that “sunshine patriots”, who flee for the hills when it starts raining.

Astoundingly, Baucus, after stage-managing the three-month disaster in the Finance Committee on health reform, wants to take charge of the legislation climate change and clean energy.

No. Way. In. Hell.

Not only do we need to keep him away from climate change, we still need to remind people why his health reform bill sucks. His formula for coops was slammed by the CBO, who said hardly anyone would use the coops, and it contains way too many provisions which leave us at the mercy of the insurers.

3. Watch for some fakery by the Republicans.

Don’t you think it’s a little odd that, right after sources leak the “fact” that the Republicans threatened to strip Snowe of a key committee seat if she votes for the Baucus bill, she votes for it anyway? Ya think maybe Snowe, who still disapproves of the public option, is setting Reid up for an impassioned speech – Oh, Harry, Harry, Harry, I have thrown aside my Republican friends for you! Keep the Baucus bill as is, lest my tragic sacrifice be in vain!” Then she clutches her pearls and flings herself on a divan or a settee with a case of the vapors. Reid is just the guy to fall for such nonsense.

Of course, having made this threat against Snowe, the GOP will now look foolish if they don’t follow through.

4. Keep stomping the AHIP report to death

The AHIP report, sponsored by the insurers, is backfiring badly; now that they have publicly threatened to raise all our rates, a public option is even more likely. They essentially made the case for the reform better than the reformers have, and gave top cover for some liberals who feared that the Baucus bill would be seen (understandably) as too far to the right. The accountants who prepared the AHIP report admitted that they cherry-picked the data, only looking at four provisions that are expensive. So it was all bullcrap anyway.

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