Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

Move-On wants progressives to try to kill the health care reform bill.

MoveOn has decided that since the health care bill coming out of the Senate doesn’t have the label “public option,” the best thing to do would be to kill it, or threaten to kill it.

Here’s the email I got, with the header “Unacceptable”:

Dear MoveOn member,

How could they?

Senate Democrats have just announced a tentative health care deal that doesn’t appear to include a real public health insurance option.

Instead of pulling out all the stops, they’ve bargained away the heart of health care reform—allowing conservative senators like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson to hold the process hostage and protect Big Insurance.

And sure enough, the insurance companies are reportedly thrilled with these terms. “We WIN,” one industry insider said during the negotiations. “No government insurance competitor.”

If the health care bill doesn’t include a public option, it’ll be a huge giveaway to the insurance companies. But the deal isn’t final yet, so we need to send an immediate message to Congress and President Obama that any health care bill without a real public health insurance option is simply unacceptable.

So we’ve set a goal of making 524 calls to Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer’s offices from people in Los Angeles. Can you call and tell them that reform must include a public option, and urge them not to give into conservatives and Big Insurance?

Then, please report your call by clicking here:

Details are still emerging about this new deal. According to The Washington Post, “the government plan preferred by liberals would be replaced with a program that would create several national insurance policies administered by private companies.”

But half-measures simply won’t cut it: we desperately need a real public option in order to hold private insurance companies accountable. That’s far more important than appeasing Joe Lieberman and his friends in the insurance industry.

And this fight isn’t over yet, no matter how many times the media tries to declare the death of the public option. It’d only take one or two senators to unravel this deal, and progressive senators Russ Feingold and Bernie Sanders both indicated last night that their support can’t be taken for granted.

So to win, we’ve got to send a powerful message to congressional Democrats and President Obama that we won’t accept this deal. Instead of giving up on the public option, they ought to show real leadership and ratchet up the pressure on Lieberman and any Democratic senators who are threatening to filibuster.

Thanks for all you do.

“Unravel this deal”?!

I don’t expect activists to be policy wonks, but I do expect a certain amount of political savvy from them. I’m not sure whether the Move-On leadership thinks this is really smart tactics, or whether they figure that stirring up trouble keeps their membership active and happy.

In either case, it seems to me that killing the bill would be terminally stupid, and encouraging the Democratic netroots base to regard what would in fact be a great progressive coup – something that ought to energize them as we go into the coming election year – as instead a defeat wouldn’t be much smarter.

So instead of signing the petition, I unsubscribed from the Move-On list, and sent an email saying why.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

41 thoughts on “Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory”

  1. I'm certainly not informed enough to qualitatively address the level of strategery from liberal democrats. But I do wonder whether a large portion of the left is about ready to cut off its nose to spite its face here. If the reality is that a big tent party gives you a handful of conservative democrats, you ought to consider yourself lucky to have them in the first place. This is a freaking democracy, not partisanland.

  2. Meh, if you think a poor job at health care reform will poison the well and that this is a poor bill then it makes sense to oppose it.

  3. I guess all our comments at Mark's post on the "infantile" David Himmelstein, MD, Physicians for a National Health Plan, meant nothing. Oh well…I wish you guys would look at the provisions and tell me how this helps us in 2010 elections. The insurance company lobbyist who said the insurance companies won, especially with the mandate with no premium cap, understands what folks like understand.

    Better to pull the rug underneath the Blue Dogs, set up a vote of 51 in the Senate, and tell Pelosi to defang the Dogs in the House by stripping them of committee seats of any power until they cry "robust public option" or heaven truly help us, "Medicare for All." Of course, that is a pipe dream because Reid would not be Reid, Pelosi would not be Pelosi if they came at negotiations from a position of strength with the Blue Dogs.

    I'd unsubscribe to the DNC like Mark did with But you know, that would be…infantile. Of course, I did curse out the Obama email that says how they stood up the powerful interests. That was admittedly a verbal vomit at the atrocious cave in by Obama and the Dem leadership in the Congress.

  4. If health care reform is killed, then 45,000 a year will die for many more years. After the Clintons blew it, it took a decade and a half to be considered again. If health care reform becomes law with no public option, and works well, then it won't be long before we can add a public option to it.

  5. I'm not entirely sure if Obama approached this situation from the best angle possible from the very beginning. Its easy to second guess, its easy to say that Obama should've had a less compromising and more forceful approach, but its ultimately impossible to prove that the outcome would've been any better had he done so. I'm not a policy wonk, but I am a realist. I can understand why it might greedy to go for the jugular here. The bottom line is that progress towards the ultimate goal of achieving reasonable health care for all has been made, maybe not as much as you'd like to see (certainly not as much as I'd like to see), but its something. I don't know if anyone else could've done what Obama has done. I think what people lose sight of here is that this isn't simply an "X's and O's" (to use a football analogy) type of reform, but largely a cultural reform as well. There is a deep seeded mistrust and misunderstanding of government's role in our society. It took a long time to change people's minds about what a woman should be allowed and able to do in our society (and there still exists room for improvement on that front). Similarly, I consider this to be another battle in the cultural war of trying to get people to change their perception that more government is inherently evil. I know the women's rights movement doesn't exactly make for an apples to apples comparison, but that shouldn't draw attention away from the point-that it takes time to achieve fundamental social change. You can't expect to ever reach the top of the ladder if you never climb the first rung.

  6. Yes, of course. The other side gets a veto, we get some crumbs and say thank you.

    Obviously, this has nothing to do with the fact that the other side never backs down, while anyone who so much as urges our side to stand firm is immediately excommunicated.

  7. Folks, let's try it one more time. The mandate requires people to purchase insurance from private companies, with cap on premiums or co-pays or deductibles. It places no real incentives on insurance companies to contain costs nor anyone else up and down the line of delivery. The prohibition on denying for pre-existing conditions is maybe 2011, but I still see 2014 in some discussions. But again, if the private companies can charge market rates for people with pre-existing conditions, we are putting undue pressure on people who are unlikely able to afford the mandated insurance. And Medicare gets the worst off people which will further burden Medicare without giving them a healthier population to insure–something Medicare for All advocates understand better than most people who want to sign up for this monstrosity.

    This is not the perfect defeating the bad. It is not snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. It is a defeat worse than the 1957 Civil Rights Act, far worse. I would be on Mark's side if this legislation were only as weak as that legislation. And yes, I mean 1957, not the far better 1964 Civil Rights Act. Hmmm…do I see a useful analogy here?

    Also, see Josh Marshall's TPM headline about how Democratic strategists recognize this plan the group of 10 approved as not political smart at all, and likely to be a drag on Democrats next year. Danger, Will Robinson, danger!

  8. Is the appropriate response to scuttle the bill that's being negotiated right now, or is it to push for more progressive Democrats in the next round of Congressional elections?

  9. When I got this same email from MoveOn, I just decided not to sign the petition, unsubscribing seems like an overreaction to me. I think I'd like to understand more about the details of the compromise before going after it just because it doesn't have a "public option". However, I also don't see where Mark gets the idea that we're looking at "a great progressive coup – something that ought to energize them as we go into the coming election year". Really? You think the bill is that good? Why? Do you know the details of what's in the compromise? Is it a "Medicare buy-in" with no subsidies, open to only a select few people who may well not be able to afford it, and with "Medicare" defined as a separate pool with negotiated rates rather than Medicare rates, as some are reporting? If it is, do you still think this bill is a "coup"? Or doesn't it matter, it's a "coup" regardless of what's in it? I'm just going to wait and see.

  10. Oh, and my interpretation of what's in the bill besides the PO or the Medicare buyin compromise is pretty much what mitchel freedman describes above. So I think there's some burden on the compromise to be good enough to make the whole thing a net positive. The version with the impotent public option that just got negotiated away seemed like a loser to me.

    @Karlos: I agree that "There is a deep seeded mistrust and misunderstanding of government’s role in our society." Unfortunately, this whole process may be making it worse, not better. It seems to be working that way for me, anyway. If our government is the wholly owned subsidiary of various corporate interests that it increasingly seems to be, I have no choice but to mistrust it, and I sure didn't think that was supposed to be its role in our society, so I guess I misunderstood that, too.

  11. @eb: It has more to do with the other side's ability to break away and form a coalition with the Republicans (a remote threat, but a threat nonetheless). Your side has nowhere to go.

  12. BBA

    We all know that there's no difference between the parties, and that the best way to forward the progressive agenda is by refusing to compromise with the center and the right. This is what we did in the 2000 presidential election, and everyone agrees that was a huge victory for progressive values. Go team.

  13. I have been in a politics a long time and consider myself fairly pragmatic, but I have to say this deal pushes me to the edge of outright opposition. I don't think every liberal who is upset is necessarily being self-defeating. It's more a matter of trying to decide when compromise goes too far. I'm amenable to persuasion, but I have profound worries that an individual mandate with insufficient subsidies and weak cost controls could alienate voters and actually set the cause of health care reform back, rather than advancing it. I don't think it's a sign of unrealism to have a somewhat different calculation than you on where the line is. In addition, Moveon's pressure can only help keep the bill from moving too far to the right. If we let the congressional leaders take liberals for granted, how can we expect to have any influence?

  14. It's not just a question of when compromise goes too far, it's also a question of what tactics one should adopt to achieve the compromise one wants. There still aren't 60 votes for a damn thing, and without a credible threat from the left it's not at all clear how far the moderate bloc of the far right will go to make us regret every having brought up healthcare reform in the first place.

  15. This is an important question – right now (as far as we can tell) a half-dozen right-wing Senators are basically holding things up, with repeated demands. Satisfying each demand has merely led to another.

    When one faction is playing *sshole, and getting their way, nobody has a right to be mad when another faction decides to play *sshole.

    Back in '93-94, some commentator said that Clinton's biggest problem was that he had no stick; he had to pay off opposition in Congress (note, opposition primarily from Democratic politicians). After a while, people noticed that those who opposed got paid, while supporters got shafter. This led to more opponents and fewer supporters.

    IMHO, Obama is in that position, and had better get his stick on. There's an acronym, BATNA, Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. Right now, the right-wing Senators BATNA is 'tough sh*t, prez; looks like the GOP will pick up a bunch of Senate seats and screw the Democratic agenda for the rest of your one term in office" (and yes, I think that these guys think of the Democratic Party as something that they'd sell out in a minute). Obama's BATNA right now is – well, jack and sh*t, and Jack just left town.

    If Obama was to pull out reconciliation, then he would have a credible threat. He couldn't pass everything, but he could pass something, and he'd only need 50 Senators + Biden for the job. And if he were smart, he'd strive to put some unplease payback in those somethings for the guys who opposed him (starting with Big Pharma and the Insurance Gang, and then moving on to the allegedly centrist six).

    If he does that, then he can negotiate with the 'centrists' from a position of strength; without it, he's self-castrated.

  16. I should add; IMHO the big thing from a purely self-interested Obama viewpoint is that these 'centrists' don't want any real healthcare reform. All summer and fall they've been delaying, and every demand that they get satisfied leads to another demand and more delay. What they want is to (a) stuff as much money into the pockets of the pharmaceutical and insurance companies, (b) make sure nothing liberal like really healthcare reform ever happens and (c) embarrass Obama for the mid-terms.

  17. Mark:

    With respect, I read the MoveOn letter not as an attempt to scuttle health care reform altogether, rather to force the Senate into reconsidering Reconciliation. Snatching Defeat, however, is very much what's in the cards if the Senate bill is the final form of the legislation; it has let down the base enormously, and will result in serious losses in 2010, due to a demoralized base deciding there's no reason to support the party which has reneged on its promises. The public as a whole is hugely in favor of a public option to provide actual competition. The Democrats are letting 4 Senators push the other 56 around. That's already a monumental demonstration of defeatism. Reconciliation is hardly perfect, but it would result in better legislative particulars and it would signal the base that the Democrats don't always cave in to the Right. Nobody is further left than Chris Bowers, and he has made a forceful case for supporting a final bill if it follows the terms of the Senate's version, yet he hasn't completely abandoned all hope of making the final bill better. That's all MoveOn has tried to do.

  18. I'm curious to know if there is any health reform that Kleiman wouldn't support in order to gain the victory he's after? Was he in favor of Medicare Part D which the Republicans pushed a few years ago? No cost controls, massive tax money funneled to pharmaceutical and insurance companies, massive unrestrained increase in the public debt?

    Surely there must be some line that he's not willing to cross? Or is the prospect of political "victory" on health care reform so all consuming that it outweighs the merits of the bill under consideration? Is this about creating a good public program or handing a win to Democrats?

    If the latter, then of course this post makes perfect sense. But if it is rather the former (and I would hope that would be the aim of everyone in Congress), then why shouldn't groups like Move On draw bright lines that they are not prepared to cross?

  19. People here are being clueless. Even if reconciliation is possible, the resulting bill wouldn't be better than the one we have on the table. The things you would gain by needing only 51 votes aren't as valuable as the things you would lose because of the parliamentary requirements of the Byrd Rule. No community rating. No coverage for pre-existing conditions. No ban on recission. How does that sound to you? Reconciliation is not the answer. Beyond that, I'm not sure that you'd get the votes on reconciliation; you will lose Byrd, given his attachment to his rule. You will lose several other centrist Senators that are too committed to process to go for it. You folks don't seem to understand the risks to overall passage involved.

    The bill currently being considered is better than the 1994 bill. It's better than anything that's been seriously contemplated until very recently. It's much, much better than the status quo. As someone with multiple pre-existing conditions, it is hard to picture a bill that dealt with those that I wouldn't support. This is too important to me not to accept incremental change if that's all that's available.

    There is also a fundamental lack of awareness of the political calculations at work. If nothing passes, that is much worse for progressives than any sort of compromise bill. That will doom the Obama presidency. We're staring at the potential loss of 5-6 Senate seats next year, admittedly partly of the result of a bad strategic calculation by Obama in promoting safe Senators to the Cabinet. If it doesn't pass now, it certainly will not pass in the next Congress. That means that Obama has to go to the polls in 2012 without passing his signature issue. That won't lead to a fired up base that will successfully send a more liberal contingent to Washington. I will lead to a perception of weakness and a lack of turnout on the left and an energized right. The only scenario in which I can see Sarah Palin becoming President starts with no health care bill getting passed.

    Will accepting a compromise bill so demoralize the base that they stay home, or vote for Nader again? Maybe, but that's because the Democratic base is not only clueless, but they also don't seem to have any capacity to learn. The bill we wanted to see is getting chopped up not because Obama isn't committed to it, but because, so long as the Senate operates on a 60% basis, we have a fundamentally weak hand. You are correct, there aren't 60 Senators that really want to see strong health care reform pass. The consequence is pretty simple: strong health care reform can't pass. You can rail at that all you want, but doing so won't change reality. The votes aren't there. You can't pass legislation that can't get the votes. Complaining about the strategy Obama chose won't get you anywhere, because there isn't a strategy that would have led to a different outcome. You aren't going to get Ben Nelson or Joe Lieberman to vote for something they don't like.

    Someone mentioned the 1957 Civil Rights Act without seeming to realize its importance. Yes, it was not nearly as good a bill as what would come in a few years. Note, though, that passing a weak bill directly led to passing a stronger bill not long after. Killing the 1957 bill would have been a setback, not a triumph.

    As for the insurance companies, there seems to be a lot of misreading of what is going on. They are saying that they won, because the compromise bill is better than what they were afraid might pass. If they really thought that the bill was better for them than the status quo, they wouldn't be lining up a court challenge to its constitutionality. Beyond that, focusing on whether the insurance companies think that it's a win is focusing on a complete irrelevancy. I don't really care whether the insurance companies think that they are better off under reform or not. I wish we were getting a bill that they would hate, but that's because I think that such a bill would be better on the merits, not because the insurance companies would hate it. I really couldn't care less whether they like reform or not. If good reform would also make them happy, then I'd be in favor of making them happy. If a weak reform that makes them happy is better for the rest of us than sticking with a status quo that makes them unhappy, I'm taking the weak reform.

    The reason for taking what we can get is because it's what we can get. End of story.

  20. I mentioned the 1957 Civil Rights Act. Does anyone quote it in any litigation today? No. Did it actually help any African-Americans? No. What made way for the 1964 Civil Rights Act was JFK getting assassinated, LBJ taking the reins, and pushing it through with his legislative ability, threats to the right people in the right places, and playing on the martyred president's memory. And there was, even more important, the strong Civil Rights movement where people were killed, protested, marched and sat in lunch counters defying unjust laws. King's speech in August 1963 was a culmination of that, which is why Taylor Branch, the historian, calls the presidents of those years people who were following in the shadow of King.

    Health insurance is not basic civil rights, unfortunately in the sense that people won't do what those mostly young African-Americans did in terms of a movement. Again, however, the 1957 Civil Rights Act was essentially irrelevant. And this health care bill is worse as it will not kick in for years, and people will be pissed as Republicans say, "It's just gonna be a big bill–and you got nothin'!" Yeah, try running for re-election on that! That is why Blanche Lincoln et al are scorpions who are going to poison the Democratic Party.

  21. In response to J. Michael Neal:

    If we were debating whether to vote on the final legislation coming out of conference, there's not so much disagreement with your argument. But that's not what we're debating. The question is whether the Senate bill can be made better. And you don't know what can be included in reconciliation (and neither do I) because the parliamentarian has not been asked to rule on anything yet. You appear to have already given up the fight and caved – alas that's precisely what "good" Democrats are always expected to do, often prematurely and most always unnecessarily.

    People who are not so clueless – actual members of Congress in both House and Senate – are still willing to fight to make a bill as good as it can be (Sanders, Merkley, Brown, the House Progressive Caucus).

    It's just not the "end of story" yet.

  22. bz:

    By the time you ask the parliamentarian to rule on it, you have already given up the chance to use the non-reconciliation route. You are then staking the entirety of the bill on his ruling, and you aren't going to get to walk back from that precipice. If you think that there is a reasonable likelihood that he isn't going to allow those critically important things into the bill, then you think that there is a reasonable likelihood that going the route of reconciliation will kill them. Given all of the problems with reconciliation, including the fact that I'm not sure you get 50 Senators to vote for it (I think that, at a minimum, you lose Tom Carper, Kay Hagen, Robert Byrd, Bill Nelson, Kent Conrad, and Mark Pryor, if you try to push it through using reconciliation, even if they would have voted to end a filibuster on the exact same bill; that means that any other defection and it goes down), that's a terrible risk to take. Doing so is exactly the same thing as fighting over what comes out of conference, because it's the end if it doesn't work. The fallacy of your position is demonstrated by the fact that, on your list of progressives still willing to fight for the bill, you've pretty much misrepresented the position of two of them. Sherrod Brown is one of the ten Senators that negotiated the current compromise that you hate so much, and Bernie Sanders has endorsed it. Beyond that, I don't think that history indicates that Democratic legislators have any good sense of whether they can successfully fight for something.

    The reason for "caving" is simple. The votes do not exist for anything more. If you think that they do, you're living in a fantasy world, and you're going to end up with nothing. This isn't a case of compromising prematurely. No matter how hard and long you argue, you aren't going to get to 60 votes for the bill you want. It won't happen. Continuing to do so is far more likely to kill it altogether. The reason we have to act like we have a weak position is because we are in a weak position; Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman would be sufficiently happy to end up with no bill passed that they don't have any reason to compromise. Blanche Lincoln is, quite frankly, too clueless to have any idea what's in her best interest, let alone ours. It's a travesty of justice that the US Senate enforces rules that have put us in a spot where we need 60% of the members representing 70% of the population to pass anything, but that's the reality. We can deal with it, or we can pout and let this opportunity to pass something go by.

    mitchell j. freedman,

    And you think that getting to run on a platform of, "You elected us, and we did nothing," is somehow not a lot worse position to be in than the one you describe? Good luck with that. Whether Blanche Lincoln is a scorpion is irrelevant; whatever her species, she is also a US Senator.

  23. J. Michael Neal:

    I think your argument is well-reasoned, but what I keep wondering is whether the "mods" are negotiating in good faith at all. It looks like even the medicare buy-in is unacceptable to Lieberman and Snowe, which means that there aren't 60 votes for that either. So if we abandon the public option or anything like it entirely, what are the chances that they next go after the Medicaid expansion? Or weaken the exchanges further? In addition, I think what frustrates many of us is that those opposing meaningful health care reform who purport to be in our political party are paying absolutely no price for their obstruction. None whatsoever. You may be correct that there aren't the votes for reconciliation, but wouldn't we then have a situation in which those who claim to be on our side (Rockefeller, etc.) can be put under enormous pressure to go along? What's wrong with splitting the bill in half and doing the public option through reconciliation? If the parliamentarian looks to be knocking the option out, why not just replace him? It's what the Republicans did under similar circumstances.

  24. IMHO, at this point the supporters of the current bill have to give reasons why 60 votes in the Senate are at all reasonable; as I've said before, the reaction of ~6 Democratic Senators to each concession is to demand another concession, and to set higher standards.

    The biggest thing that worries me is that Obama is being seriously punked.

  25. arbitrista,

    I wonder if they are negotiating in good faith, too. It's also irrelevant to my point whether they are or not. The point isn't to find that out. The point is to pass the best bill possible. Whether what the moderates are saying is the most they are willing to give is, in fact, the most they are willing to give doesn't have much bearing on what they are, in fact, willing to give. Whatever they are willing to give is what it is, no matter whether they are negotiating in good faith or not. The goal is to find out what that is. Will they go after Medicaid expansion? Maybe; I don't know. Step back, though, and Medicaid expansion is either able to pass or it isn't. It would be nice if the moderates would just be up front about what they will support, but the end result is going to be the same whether they go straight to their bottom line or hem and haw to get there.

    As for paying a price, just what price are you thinking about? I assume you mean the loss of committee chairs and such. I agree that we would be much better off if the Democratic Party were more willing to enforce party discipline, but it isn't. I would be surprised if you could get 20 Dem Senators to vote for that. The problem is that too many of them are more interested in the perks of the position than they are in really addressing the underlying problems. I am all in favor of excoriating them for that, but until you figure out a way to elect Senators who aren't a bunch of egomaniacs, we're stuck with what we have. All of the complaining in the world doesn't change the fact that you have to pass legislation through the Senate you have, and not the Senate you wish you had. The question for those of us on the outside is whether or not we are prepared to live with what we have, or are going to decide that we would rather that the Senate we have pass nothing and hand it back over to the Republicans because we don't like the current crop of Democrats. If you decide to oppose health care reform altogether because of these objections, that's what you're going to achieve, and I don't think the likelihood of getting better Dem Senators in the long run goes up much. It's an institutional problem, not one tied to the specific current crop.

    Splitting the bill in half isn't an option. Those opposed to reconciliation aren't stupid, at least most of them. They'll recognize the tactic for exactly what it is, and you won't get their votes on either half. As for simply replacing the Parliamentarian, I object to governing through the tactics the Republicans used. It was wrong when they did it, and it doesn't become less wrong if we do it. Those sorts of tactics may pass legislation, though I doubt it would in this case, because you'd lose even more votes, but it fundamentally weakens the idea of honest governance. The Republicans are all in favor of that, because they aren't in favor of honest governance. We, on the other hand, depend upon it.


    I don't know that I'd say that he's being punked, because that implies that he's being foolish. He doesn't have the votes. He never has. Sure, they keep demanding concessions, but that doesn't mean that they would ever have voted for fewer concessions than they are getting.

  26. J. Michael Neal:

    So basically what you're saying is that we should hand Ben Nelson and Joseph Lieberman blank pieces of paper and ask them to write on it whatever they like? That's a guarantee that nothing whatsoever will happen. Your statements on what wise strategy is sounds suspiciously like fatalism.

    Of course I personally don't have the ability to make any individual Senator do anything. But how does it help craft a good bill if liberals say "Hey man, whatever you think can pass, we don't care as long as it has it's called health care"? Doesn't that just guarantee a worse bill? There has to be some point in which liberals say "this far and no further." One of the reasons for sticking with the public option is that we already drew the line there. We said that without it we wouldn't support any bill, that it was the minimal acceptable provision. The "mods" are gambling that our desire for a bill will make us back down. If we prove them right, then why will they ever listen to anything we say ever again? They will own us and they will know it.

    There is more than one kind of pressure. Senators like their little projects. Senators like their little perks. And Senators don't like it when they face primary challenges and have to explain why they opposed a bill supported by the vast majority of their primary voters.

  27. Hurrah. Reasonable Democrats won benefit caps today. A bill without allowing annual benefit caps would have been a truly crappy bill. I'm so pleased with this bill and the wonderful benefits it will bring to so many.

  28. J. Michael Neal says:


    "I wonder if they are negotiating in good faith, too. It’s also irrelevant to my point whether they are or not. The point isn’t to find that out. The point is to pass the best bill possible. …"

    Do you hear the words coming from your keyboard? If people are not negotiating in good faith, you gotta problem unless you both realize it, and come up with some counterpressures.

  29. Sorry, Mr. Neal. Obama is being punked. The simple way to avoid having to kow-tow to Blanche Lincoln is the rule of 51. You then take the reins out of the Nelson brothers (brothers in spirit), Blanche, Landrieu, Lieberman and one or two others–and you put the pressure on Carper to go along or get the hell out of the way. This we need 60 shit is what has brought us to this mess.

  30. Anonymous,

    We have a problem. I know that. That's not really in question. What we need to figure out is what to do about it. The problem is that we don't have any counterpressures to use. What do you suggest? The votes aren't there to strip them of committees; that's a complete pipe dream. With Nelson, the idea of running a primary opponent has no credibility; if anything, it would make him more likely to get re-elected. For the same reason, he is pretty much immune to any attempt to publicly shame him. He's completely rogue, because no one has any leverage over him. That's pretty much true of Lieberman, too. I don't think that Blanche Lincoln is subject to pressure, either, but that's largely because I think she has badly miscalculated her own political interests; she's a dead Senator walking, and is going to lose next year no matter what anyone does. That makes her pretty much immune to any pressure, too, and if you are counting on her to recognize that and do the right thing, you're going to be waiting a long time.


    No one needs to write Nelson and Lieberman a blank check. They already have one, thanks to the idiotic rules of the Senate. Is that fatalistic? Maybe. I'm interested in salvaging what is salvageable, and demanding purity from anyone at this point is not helpful. The public option's last chances died when Harry Reid insisted on having this fight now. The administration's plan was to get the Senate to pass something, anything, just so long as it wasn't controversial and didn't force anyone to take an inflexible opinion and just get 60 votes. Then rework into something more like the House version in conference committee. It would be much easier to win this fight then, because no one can offer amendments to what comes out of conference. It's take it or leave it. The ability of anyone to showboat would have been greatly reduced. Faced with a simple choice of up or down, there was a chance it would have passed. I'm not convinced that it would have, but it was possible. Reid panicked, because clowns like you guys decided to threaten him and he's fundamentally weak. To try to win you back over, he insisted on having the fight now, when he was on the weakest possible grounds. Obama tried very hard to get him to wait, but he didn't. That right there is one of the results of your insistence on purity. Your fingerprints are all over this mess. Sure, it would have been nice if Harry Reid had enough sense to think more than one week ahead and realize that his chances of survival were better if he ignored you for the moment, but he didn't. Maybe in the future, the Democrats will stop making people from swing states the caucus leader. It was a disaster with Tom Daschle, despite the fact that I think he's fundamentally on board for good policies, and it's a disaster now.

    The moment you pull the "This, and no further" tactic, the game is over, and you'll lose. Issuing ultimatums when you have zero leverage is foolhardy. It doesn't even have the value of making you look strong. All it does is demonstrate that you have no leverage. When you are the majority party, that perception is fatal. It doesn't matter that the only reason you have no leverage is that the Senate rules mean that you don't really have a majority. That sort of subtlety is lost on the voting public.

    mitchel j. freedman,

    Yes, the need to get to 60 votes is what has put us into this mess. Recognizing that doesn't change the fact that we need to get to 60 votes. Reconciliation isn't a viable strategy. The chances of winning are slim. It involves hoping both that the parliamentarian rules in our favor, and getting fifty Senators to vote for it. The latter is a longshot. Start from the obvious fact that no Republicans are going to support it. That gets you down to 60. The four that are already opposed will stay that way. That gets you down to 56. Robert Byrd has a long history of being more committed to his parliamentary wizardry than good policy, and this is his rule. That's 55. Kent Conrad is gone. That's 54. Kay Hagan has made it clear that she'd be gone. That's 53. Bill Nelson is hopeless. That's 52. I find the odds of Mark Pryor staying on board to be minimal. That's 51. Carper has been looking for the exits, and I think he's less than 50/50, at best, to vote for a reconciliation bill. If my reading is right, that's the magic number of 50. Now you need every single one of Max Baucus, Mark Begich, Evan Bayh, Mark Warner and Jim Webb. Each of them would have a veto over passage. If you think the need to compromise is big now, wait until you need all of those votes. Do you think they are any less prone to hold passage hostage to whatever attempt at fame they want to engage in than Nelson and Lieberman? Evan Bayh? Seriously? Do you really think that leaving this up to his overinflated ego is any better than where we are now?

    Yes, it's ridiculous that, in a democracy, we need to get 60% of a legislative body representing better than 70% of the country's population to agree on something in order to get it passed. Welcome to the farce of a world we happen to live in. I'd laugh about it if there were any way I could get individual health insurance or hadn't been unemployed for four years. As it is, all I can do is be thankful that I live in Minnesota, which has actually fully funded its pool for providing insurance to those of us who can't get it. It has made it impossible to take advantage of some opportunities that would have involved leaving the state, though. I'm stuck here until something passes. Pardon me if I don't want to let my very real outrage at all of this get in the way of making some improvements.

  31. J. Michael Neal:

    As an aside, I think this debate is an important one to have. I'm not so sure as you are that Reid made a mistake in putting a public option in now, or that liberals made a mistake in applying pressure to him. It's just as probable that the public option would have been dropped in conference, if for no other reason than the press and Blue Dogs in the House have been treating the Senate as the "real" bill. I don't think it makes much difference between the decisive vote coming now or later – those opposed to competitiveness in the insurance market of cost controls would face identical incentives. And I think it's also very likely that it's the progressive who would come under the most pressure to accept a watered-down bill, given what's happened in the past. Also, I don't think one has any leverage if one puts no boundaries on what one is willing to accept. If the "mods" really don't want any reform at all – if they aren't willing to meet liberals at least part of the way – then we really are in a situation in which breaking the filibuster is the only way to get anything done. And dumping the filibuster becomes much easier if we know that a) the mods are not operating as coalition members, and b) the move to end the filibuster is about something as important as health care.

  32. Shorter J. Michael Neal: You're screwed at 60. You're more screwed at 51.

    Sorry, that does not compute. Warner, Webb, Carper, Bayh and Pryor are more malleable when that pressure is on them. The people in their states support a robust public option for example, and even Begich knows he needs DNC backing. You're slowly getting to my point. Tough tactics on the side of reform will finally stop the pressure coming from the tail of Blue Dogs that are wagging this dog.

    What is really sick is hearing that the Obama (new slogan: "No, you can't") administration working with Blue Dog Dems to kill Dorgan's (Senator-D-ND) amendment to be allowed to import medications from Canada. I love it how they got one Dem operative to say about Dorgan that it's all about him. As if that is anyway to describe a guy who is anything but a player-publicity hound. Dorgan is and always was one of the good guys. Unlike players like Obama.

    My one nod to Mr. Neal is this: The reason the solution I and others propose is not done is not because it's can't be done. It's not done because Obama and his pro-banker cohorts don't want it to be done. Therefore, we have no choice but to support and keep pushing them to the point where we hope to make them do what needs to be done. We do have some semblance of a republic left…

  33. mitchel j. freedman says:

    "Shorter J. Michael Neal: You’re screwed at 60. You’re more screwed at 51.

    Sorry, that does not compute. Warner, Webb, Carper, Bayh and Pryor are more malleable when that pressure is on them. The people in their states support a robust public option for example, and even Begich knows he needs DNC backing. You’re slowly getting to my point. Tough tactics on the side of reform will finally stop the pressure coming from the tail of Blue Dogs that are wagging this dog."

    I would generally support this – also, a shorter J. Michael Neal in general (a tip – logorrhea doesn't improve an argument).

    Also, here is the current situation, as far as we can tell (my *hope* is that Obama/Reid have things more under control than appearance says, but they don't have a good record on that):

    1) At best, Obama's got 1 GOP Senator – Snowe.

    2) Obama has ~6 Democratic/Independent Senators who oppose healthcare reform and apparently, him. They've spent months delaying it, watering it down, and stuffing it full of things beloved of the insurance industry (reform gets turned into 'reform'). Each and every demand that he's satisfied leads to one or more additional demands by these guys. This is a problem, because (a) all evidence points to them not wanting actual reform, and (b) they seem to regard Obama as an opponent, not a President from their own party.

    3) Right now their BATNA (barring reconciliation) is that they do some combination of sticking healthcare reform up Obama's presidential *ss and producing healthcare 'reform' which will go down in history alongside of the Medicare Part D bill produced by a GOP Congress and President. Either way, Obama's in the sh*t: the GOP will scream about 'socialism', and the bill will range from not much to a net negative. This would mean that very few Americans see any benefict, and any liberal Americans who follow the news will realize that they've been screwed, while some Americans experience an immediate hit (e.g., mandates).

    Ordinarily, I'd figure that these Senators wouldn't do this, from practical party loyalty reasons, but these guys seem to figure otherwise. And after 1993-4, I'm no longer surprised by Democratic Senators screwing over a Democratic President. This means that the present course, as far was we can tell leads to defeat for Obama, and a worse 2010 midterm for the Democrats.

    4) A bad 2010 midterms will make Obama's life much, much, much rougher. He'll be facing a Senate with up to several more GOP Senators. On top of the Gang of 6. Instead of likely vote totals between 50 and 60, he'll be doing very good to reach 50+Biden. In addition, the GOP will be remoralized, and even more eager to fanatically oppose Obama than now. Adding on to that will be the likelihood that some more Democratic Senators will be unwilling to oppose GOP Senators, since they're more powerful (note that this doesn't work symmetrically).

    5) Reconciliation might fail. But right now Obama is failing, and reconciliation will also offer him a BATNA bat to use on the Gang of 6. If he can pass some items that hurt them, and hurt the insurance industry, he'll have credible power. The most important things is that right now he has very little power; the Senate is quite happy to block the living crap out of him. He needs to break that status quo.


  34. Hear Hear J. Michael Neal. Keep up the great work. This is the "reality based community" after all.

    When you have to rely on people like Lieberman and Nelson, there's not a whole lot you can do.

    Many folks are acting as if it is not in President Obama's interest to get as strong of a bill passed as possible.

    Of course it is. The whole frickin reason we're this far along is because Obama has used nearly ever ounce of his capital to get in this far. You don't suddenly have a prone-to-doing-nothing congress passing similar bills out of 5 committees passing extremely similar bills without some serious work behind the scenes. We can thank Obama for that. What we really need to do is start organizing in places like Nebraska.

  35. BTW, let's not forget that Moveon has bills to pay like any other organization.

    They have to distinguish themselves somehow to raise funds.

    Unfortunately, they've decided they'll do so by lumping Obama together with co-obstructionists like Lieberman.

    As if this confers on them some type of authenticity or toughness!

    The psychology here is becoming more transparent by the day: people belief Obama is like the untouchable star high school athlete cool kid. All you have to do to gain cred with all the "losers" is attack the cool kid. Unfortunately this is our cool kid and you're no going to make him any better at winning by pulling him down.

  36. Yeah, well, here's a reason to kill it: "As currently written, the Senate Democratic health care bill would permit insurance companies to place annual limits on the dollar value of medical care, as long as those limits are not "unreasonable." The bill does not define what level of limits would be allowable, delegating that task to administration officials." So, no public option, AND payout limits. Just exactly what the f@#k is Progressive about this bill again?

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