Friday 30 October 2009

Playing chicken with the Blue Dogs

Word has it that there are 55 Democrats ready to go with the public option, and five who will hold out until the end for maximum leverage, apparently some combination of Lieberman, Lincoln, Landrieu, Conrad, Bayh and Nelson (Baucus hasn’t surfaced in these machinations).

Lieberman is mooing that the Senate bill will cost taxpayers money, drive up premiums, increase the debt, and so forth. The media doesn’t have the guts to call him out on his lies, but Gibbs pointed out that even the CBO has refuted Lieberman. This yutz doesn’t believe in reform now, but he bragged about his health-reform cred during his race with Lamont. He doesn’t believe in voting for cloture on bills he dislikes now, but he did it plenty for Bush, including the Alito vote. He doesn’t believe in spending money now (forgetting that the Senate bill actually saves money), but he voted for all of Bush’s big-ticket bills on tax cuts and fighting wars (to include the gigantic sub contract for his home state). He’s all Mister Integrity now, although he took $3 million in bribes from the health sector and another million from the insurers. And it’s complete bullcrap to say he won’t filibuster, wait for Reid to announce the bill, and then say “oh, wait, I meant I won’t filibuster on the first vote, but I’ll definitely filibuster the final vote – gotcha!” What a craphound. Lieberman’s proposal that people like him could vote to allow the debate but not pass the bill itself is actually destructive, because it could give the Republicans just what they want, months of wasted time.

You have to wonder why Lieberman is screwing Reid over like this.. Playing chicken? Angling for changes in the bill? Seeking attention? Hoping to start a stampede of Blue Dogs away from the bill? The problem is that he has changed his coat so often that it is impossible to see what he really stands for.

Gibbs said flat-out that Connecticut will hold Lieberman accountable, and the state does favor the public option by a whopping 68-21 – but what if he isn’t running for reelection? If he does run, remember that last time it was Republican voters who put him over the top, but he still can’t completely screw the Democrats over.

As for the other Blue Dogs: Lincoln, whose constituents support the public option to the tune of 80 percent and who could toss up a primary challenger for her, still says she doesn’t like the opt-out.. Nelson wants to read the bill and see the CBO score; Conrad is also reading the language and said Reid scored points with him by including the coop idea, although his commitment to allow cloture on debate does not extend to committing to cloture on the final bill.

Bayh says he will vote to put the bill on the floor, but isn’t saying he will support cloture on the final vote. His colleagues are condemning him for claiming that the cloture vote and the vote on the bill are the same – particularly since he himself voted yes on one and then no on the other in the past. Happily, he is not angry about the public option although he is concerned about the deficit (a worry which the CBO will assuage); he is also okay with reconciliation. His own state supports the public option, like the other Blue Dog states.

Specter, annoyingly, says he’s okay with reconciliation only as a last resort. Good God, are we going to have these clowns mooing and moaning and deliberating endlessly over THAT too? After letting Bush use the same tool over and over?

Reid, the Senator from Las Vegas , is quite the gambler: he never claimed to have the 60 votes nailed down but he rolled the dice anyway (perhaps because without a win on this he might be doomed down in Vegas anyway, at election time). So he was gambling, and possibly acting to flush out the treacherous Blue Dogs earlier rather than later. And now he seems bent on calling Lieberman’s bluff. In his back pocket he has the reconciliation option: he was talking about that option even before Lieberman tried to sandbag him, and both Reid and Durbin say that reconciliation is the fail-safe. Threatening reconciliation now might keep some of the Blue Dogs in line, particularly since reconciliation would mean that the Blue Dogs would not only lose in their power play but also lose any chance at getting bribes from Reid; using reconciliation would be much easier if it was used only for the public option itself – leave the rest of the reform package for the regular bill, and dare the Blue Dogs to filibuster THAT.

Snowe is still pretty steamed: when asked what Reid would need to change in the bill, to get her back, she barked “the whole thing”. But they might think about taking Snowe’s temperature again – if she can get on board for anything at all, it gives coverage for the Blue Dogs who cooperate and puts pressure on the ones who don’t. She (and Conrad) are still talking about triggers, and might be interested in Carper’s suggestion that a public option be used in states where only one or two insurers control the market (which is most of the country), although Snowe’s trigger formula would need to be strengthened considerably in the process.

The Senators will also be looking over the House bill. The House package not only reduces the deficit by about 10 billion a year (take that, Lieberman), but it also has a big basket of goodies for the voters for 2010, while they wait for the public option to kick in later on: closing part of the doughnut hole, interim help for the uninsured, bans on lifetime limits, bans on dropping customers, extending coverage for children to the age of 27, helping low-income Medicare patients, protecting Medicare Advantage patients from getting screwed, blocking price gouging, helping displaced workers, helping early retirees, helping community health centers, and increasing number of primary care doctors.

One hazard: Kyl, on the Republican side, is dangling before us a possible compromise on the opt-in formula. Don’t get sucked in – he just wants us to make more concessions before they pull the football away again. Perhaps he is trying to launch this nonsense because the Republicans, even now, still cannot gain any political traction. House Republicans are hollering at their own leadership for failing to deliver their own health plan as promised months ago. New poll data shows that 72 percent of Americans want the choice of the public option, twice as many Americans approve of Obama’s handling of health reform as they do for the GOP’s performance, fundraising for Blue Dog candidates is dropping like a rock, and the insurers made matters worse with a disastrous gaffe in North Carolina – Blue Cross sent the locals at gigantic rate increase while simultaneously urging them to write their Senator to denounce health reform. D’oh! Mitch McConnell is hollering all over Washington that anyone who votes for cloture is really voting for the bill itself, which is nonsense -- and by the way, Senator, you can stop screeching that the Democrats should be able to pass anything they want: we have 58 Democrats, not 60, as the antics of Lieberman the extremely Independent have reminded us.

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