The Huge Freudian Slip That Tells All

Stockholm Syndrome comes to Talking Points Memo.

Josh Marshall is up with a piece today about how filibuster reform “isn’t all-or-nothing” — a fact that some of us were saying a while ago.  He notes — as I did here — that the real culprit is the so-called “silent filibuster” that allows the obstructionists to filibuster and not pay any price for it.  But then he unleashes what seems to me to be this whopper:

Given what’s happened over the last four years, it’s probably a bit rich to expect Dems to make a good faith effort to reform or limit the use of the filibuster. Indeed, it’s probably unrealistic to expect the minority ever to do so. And frankly I don’t even think abolishing it outright is even a good idea. It probably makes sense to have some brakes on simple majority votes on the Senate. But some brakes, not absolute brakes, which is what the Republicans have brought it to now.

(Emphasis seriously added).  Now, the passage is a little unclear, but do you catch the problem?  Marshall seems to be assuming that the Senate Democrats are a minority when in fact they are not!  In the 112th Congress, they will hold a 53-47 edge.  Harry Reid will be the Majority Leader.  But Democratic impotence has become so common, Democratic inability to get it way so typical, that a Democratic majority is assumed to be a minority!

After Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts, I think it was the Village Voice that led with a headline something like: “Republicans seize Senate majority, 41-59.”  It was funny.  It was also telling.

It’s time to end this nonsense: get rid of filibusters for executive appointments, and end the silent filibuster.  The Dems will chew up time filibustering Medicare cuts, and the Republicans will chew up time ensuring tax cuts for billionaires. I’ll take that.

President Obama, Prove Me Wrong

Now that the House has passed middle-class tax cuts, this is President Obama’s chance to change the conversation. Will he take it?

Readers of this blog might have guessed that at times I get a little dyspeptic at our Commander-in-Chief.  Well, here’s his chance to prove me wrong.

Under the leadership of outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who will go down in history as one of the best Speakers ever, the Democratic majority has just passed a bill extending the Bush tax cuts only up to the first $250,000 of income.  All Americans get a tax cut, but the wealthy do not get the extra, budget-busting tax cut that Dubya gave them.

So will Americans see the benefits of this?  No, because Senate Republicans along with such as Steaming Piece of Senator Kent Conrad will probably filibuster it.  But at least President Obama can make them pay for it and change the national conversation.

Now, today, Obama should hold a press conference demanding Senate action.  Then he should take the show on the road, going to, say Massachusetts, and Maine, and Ohio, demanding that the Republicans allow the Senate to vote on this plan.  He’s got the biggest megaphone in the country.  He can fill arenas.  Now, today, he needs to ask:

Why are the Republicans intent on raising your taxes?  Why are they holding your tax cut hostage so that they can reward billionaires?

For the rest of the session, Obama needs to elevate this issue to highest possible pitch.  This is an opportunity to damage the Republican brand: Democrats have cut your taxes and the Republicans only care about millionaires.  The only reason why the GOP is taking him for a ride here is that they and he assume that if the tax cuts are not extended, the public will blame him, and not them.

The Democrats’ fear is that the public won’t get it; the Republicans’ fear is that they will get it.  Obama can change that calculus.  That would even be change I can believe in.

Hello?  Anybody home?

Time to Unsubscribe from Organizing for America

If Obama insists on unsubscribing from us, we can unsubscribe from him.

Well, that didn’t take long: it’s only nine days after the election, and Obama is back to insulting his base.

It’s not clear whether the Axelrod interview is actual policy or just a trial balloon; I certainly hope it’s the latter.  If it’s the former, it reflects the White House moving into the Mother of All Defensive Crouches; with the biggest megaphone on the planet, Obama doesn’t think that he can blame the Republicans for holding middle class tax cuts hostage.

What to do?  First, you can sign the PCCC petition, here.  Second, as soon as you get the next fundraising letter from either the Obama campaign or Organizing for America, unsubscribe with a message explaining why.

In a perfect world, we could organize an “unsubscribe” day, where hundreds of thousands of people would unsubscribe at the same time.    In this world, we can still send a signal: Mr. President, we can also play this game.

All right, Mark: get out your pom-poms.

GOP Health Care Smash-Up: Part One

The GOP has promised its base that it will defund the individual mandate, and it has promised health insurance companies that it will strengthen the mandate. Something has to give.

Robert Pear’s NYT story the other day about Republican efforts to repeal health care reform contained this evocative nugget close to the lede.  The Republicans acknowledge that they cannot repeal the Affordable Care Act because of a Presidential veto, but will try to do it indirectly in other ways:

Republican lawmakers said, for example, that they would propose limiting the money and personnel available to the Internal Revenue Service, so the agency could not aggressively enforce provisions that require people to obtain health insurance and employers to help pay for it. Under the law, individuals and employers who flout the requirements will face tax penalties.

I’d like to see them try.  Really: I’d like to, and here is why:

Yes, the Tea Party is outraged by the individual mandate.  Yes, politically ambitious GOP state attorneys general are suing over its constitutionality. 

But you know who loves the mandate? Health insurers.  And they poured millions into GOP coffers during the campaign, mainly because they think that they have persuaded the GOP to strengthen the mandate.

And you know who doesn’t love the mandate?  Barack Obama. Recall that during the presidential campaign, he criticized Hillary Clinton’s plan for including one.  Apparently, he was (is?) concerned that we’ll get a mandate without adequate subsidies.

If Obama and the Dems play this right, this could leave the House GOP in a bind:

1)  They insist on defunding mandate enforcement, and they cut off a big contributor constituency; or

2) They back off from defunding mandate enforcement, enraging the Tea Party and generating dozens of primary challenges; or

3) They insist on defunding mandate enforcement and Obama agrees.  If there is an agreement, that’s the worst of all possible worlds — any agreement will tick off the Tea Party, and defunding mandate enforcement will tick off the insurers, sticking them with antidiscrimination regs but no mandate.

So obviously, the GOP will try to make their appropriations riders as unappetizing as possible for Obama.  But then Obama can use his megaphone, saying that he’s ready to back off the mandate and the GOP won’t let him, again splitting the base.  And why won’t they let him?  Because they insist on defunding the popular parts of the ACA, like anti-discrimination and anti-rescission provisions.

The weak link on this is that the GOP will try to couple defunding the mandate with defunding the exchanges, which will help working people but no one understands, and thanks to Steaming Pile of Senator Kent Conrad, don’t kick in for a while.  Still, Obama can say he’s ready to stop the mandate if the GOP is, which it won’t be because the insurers won’t let it.

In all, it will be interesting to see how the GOP will try to continue to serve the insurers while at the same time keeping Tea Partiers off its back.  It will be able to count on key support from the media, which will lap up its spin.  But still, it’s hard to promise two key constituencies two diametrically opposed things.

The other weak link is the requirement that Obama and the Dems play this right.  As someone said the other day, these guys couldn’t sell cocaine to Charlie Sheen.  But the GOP has a problem with this, and Obama’s strategy should be to ensure that as many people as possible know about it.  Besides, if we get rid of the mandate, then this might actually put enough pressure on the system that we’ll have to have a public option, which would be a great and ironic outcome down the road.

McConnell thinks he’ll fail. Let’s not prove him wrong.

McConnell’s speech at Heritage contains and astonishing admission: as long as Obama’s in the White House, the GOP agenda will go nowhere.

McConnell’s speech at the Heritage Foundation yesterday has gotten a lot of attention. The New York Times’ reading is Broderist: alas, McConnell didn’t promise bipartisan cooperation and said the key to his agenda is defeating Obama. (I’m shocked.) Talking Points Memo’s “Shellacked and the Furious” video suggests the same thing in more partisan form: here Obama is sounding all conciliatory* while McConnell is declaring political warfare.

But there’s a totally different way to look at McConnell’s admission that his agenda requires defeating Obama: with Obama in the White House, the Republican agenda will fail and McConnell knows it. And in a speech to his strongest supporters, he’s trying, a bit desperately, to avoid blame when it does fail.

McConnell says:

“if our primary legislative goals are to repeal and replace the health spending bill; to end the bailouts; cut spending; and shrink the size and scope of government, the only way to do all these things it is to put someone in the White House who won’t veto any of these things”

Translation: Obama will veto attempts to overturn his policy victories (even if they pass the Senate) and his vetoes will be sustained.


“By their own admission, leaders of the Republican Revolution of 1994 think their greatest mistake was overlooking the power of the veto. They gave the impression they were somehow in charge when they weren’t. And after President Clinton vetoed their bills, making it impossible for them to accomplish all their goals, they ended up being viewed as failures, sellouts, or both. Today, Democrats not only have the White House. They have the Senate too. So we have to be realistic about what we can and cannot achieve, while at the same recognizing that realism should never be confused with capitulation.

Translation: Due to the veto power, Republicans didn’t accomplish what they wanted to in 1994—while suffering with their base in saying they could—and they are in a much weaker position now.


“On health care, that means we can — and should — propose and vote on straight repeal, repeatedly. But we can’t expect the president to sign it. So we’ll also have to work, in the House, on denying funds for implementation, and, in the Senate, on votes against its most egregious provisions. At the same time, we’ll need to continue educating the public about the ill-effects of this bill on individuals young and old, families, and small businesses.

“And this is why oversight will play a crucial role in Republican efforts going forward.

Translation: defunding won’t work either since it would require shutting down the government—which is why all I can promise is to hold some biased hearings.

People: the modern Presidency has enormous powers. We will preserve the great gains of the last two years as long as Obama is in the White House, and will be in a position to expand them when he wins re-election. Our position can’t be taken by storm—only by surrender.


*I’m not saying that the President has any intention of meeting the Republicans halfway on policy. His press conference on Wednesday made that very clear. But his rhetoric has been conciliatory—and as I’ve said before, while that might frustrate progressives eager for a donnybrook, it’s outstanding politics in a country where everyone is raised on civics-book bipartisanship and a huge majority of voters wish Washington politicians would “stop bickering” and “get things done.”

The First Order of Business: Filibuster Reform

The Dems still have one House. They need to clean it up.

Now that the Democrats have held the Senate, they need to get their own house in order, and that means filibuster reform.  This time is now: the Senate can change its rules by simple majority at the beginning of a Congressional session, i.e. this coming January.

I’m assuming that Bennet wins in Colorado, as the Denver Post has already called it, and that Murray wins in Washington, since most the outstanding ballots are in Democratic King County (which includes Seattle).  That leaves the Dems with 53, including Holy Joe.  (Whoever wins in Alaska — either completely crazy Joe Miller or basically crazy Lisa Murkowski — will caucus with the Reps).

Is this majority enough to transform the filibuster?  No.  But it could be able to do one big thing, and maybe another.

First, end the filibuster for executive branch appointments.  It is simply unconscionable for the minority to prevent the President from filling his or her administration — regardless of which party is in power.  You don’t like Obama’s Czars?  Fine.  Give him up-or-down votes.  This really is a good government thing: the government has to run, and it has to be staffed.  No danger here of locking in political appointees past their time.

Will these 53 Dems do it?  I hope so.  You can always count on them to cave, and people like Mary Landrieu have tried to use these holds over appointees in order to extract concessions.  But this is so basic that it is really a requirement. 

Second, make them actually filibuster.  Many — including myself — were initially furious with Harry Reid for not making the Republicans actually filibuster, but there was a reason he didn’t: he couldn’t.  Under current rules, silent filibusters rule: all the minority needs is one Senator in the chamber to “note the absence of a quorum” to bring up a quorum call, and prevent cloture.

Now, most Senators might reject general abolition because they don’t want to give up that weapon if it’s really important.  Fair enough, I suppose — if it’s really important.  Put another way, making them actually filibuster could force them to disclose what some economists call their “reservation price” for something.  Right now, filibustering is costless.  It shouldn’t be.

The question is whether the Democratic caucus actually cares about helping their country (and their party), or whether they are more interested in their personal perks.  Heretofore, it has been the latter.  But they need to know that if they maintain the current system, they will lose the majority in 2012 — the 2012 Democratic Senate map is pretty ugly (defending Tester, Webb, MacCaskill, Cantwell, Stabenow, both Nelsons, and steaming pile of Kent Conrad).  They have to show that they can govern their own institution.