Which side are they on?

What does Bernie Sanders think he’s doing?

Howard Dean, Bernie Sanders, and approximately one gazillion left-bloggers have now decided to join Joe Lieberman, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, the teabaggers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Murdoch media empire, and all the health insurance companies to defeat health care reform.

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: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

31 thoughts on “Which side are they on?”

  1. At this point, I can't see how going back to the drawing board could possibly be better than pushing a total turd through (sorry.) Unless you're playing some REALLY long game, in which the Dems failures compound, get routed in '10 & 12' (President Palin), then slowly start to squeak back on the heels of a – who knows, Tea Party V. Republican Birchfest, thus possibly putting majorities back in the running for a shot at a '16 presidency: at which point you face the prospect of trying yet again to fix a by-then-completely miserable and bankrupt system.


    If they really want to pressure anyone they need to start hammering the blue dog senators on their home turf. Not as sexy, blog-wise.

  2. What do you expect? People respond to leadership and Obama has offered precious little of it. Maybe if liberals believed he fought for them they would respond in kind. But he hasn't done so, hasn't tried visibly to exert any pressure on the "centrists" and charlatans. Instead it's just a series of concessions from one side to the other.

    You have to have a stick. If he has no stick, truly, to threaten Nelson and Lieberman and Snowe and Collins — if he & Reid won't leverage his popularity in Maine or send the signal that Lieberman and Nelson will wind up the junior senators on the Senate Aging Committee for the remainder of their careers as Democrats, if he & Reid won't keep reconciliation on the table as a last option in which all of these obstructionists will clearly get screwed and Dems will get at least a pyrrhic victory, then he and Reid and we will keep getting rolled. People look at the situation and see all these possible sticks, but instead O & R insist that the only alternative is to give up the left's priorities again and again and again.

    Most people don't go in for complex calculations of long-term political interest. They want a leader and thought Obama was it, and now they're pissed. He won't fight for us, so now the left has to fight not just the right but our own president to try to get what we want.

  3. I don't agree with much here in this post's comments, but I do think that there was too much of this letting Congress work out a deal stuff. Big Insurance/pHrma then porked up the bill so much that they in effect made it horrible legislation. I don't know what to think at this point and am disgusted with our decision-making process the last few years. We cannot solve our problems and continue to slide downhill as our treasure slips away…

  4. I agree that Obama has shown very little fight — at least in public. Taking reconciliation off the table was a mistake as well. But going back to the drawing table would be a colossal mistake. Here's the thing: given the length of the timeframe for some of the more onerous aspects of reform (mandates) there is still time to tweak, or even make big changes, and some of those can be effectuated through reconciliation, or, God willing, an enhanced D majority. I think the Senate has to change for the future of the country. In any event, the principle of universal (nearly so, anyway) access is a game changer and we need to get that before anything else will ever be on or off the table. Lieberman and Snowe deserve to burn in hell at this point, mostly because they actually claim to care, unlike Collins and Nelson who have always been stooges.

  5. As far as I can tell the health insurance companies are still in favor of this legislation (and I think they're still spending advertising dollars in favor of it). Which I'm sure will reassure the other commenters.

  6. How dare people who actually have access to the bill be against it when technocratic bloggers who haven't seen the final bill are for it!

  7. Bernie Sanders' reluctance to support the Senate health care bill I can understand, but Howard Dean should have known better than to go from being Dr. Jekyll a few days ago in his support of the Senate bill to being Mr. Hyde in total opposition to it now, especially given how it's better than the reforms Dr. Dean himself proposed back in 2004 when he was running for President.

  8. Mark,

    You are being dangerously reductive. Apparently, taking a stand against a very bad bill that is labeled "health care reform" is in your eyes nihilistic and on a par with Lieberman. That is wrong. This is a very bad bill. Worse actually than nothing. And the "kill the bill" crowd are not aruing for nothing. We are arguing for something very different from the Nelson-Snowe-Landrieu-Lieberman-pleasing heap of faces that is currently on the table in the Senate.

    The current iteration of the bill — based of course on reports, but we have a very good idea of the broad outlines — is this: Everyone is required to buy insurance from private-sector providers which are immune from the antitrust laws and are very lightly regulated. The regulations ban certain standard practices that insurance companies use to contain costs (and maximize profits), yet does nothing to contain premium prices. It also does nothing to contain the costs of care or of prescription drugs (by design).

    You may call forcing people to buy bad insurance, which many can't afford, from private insurers "health care reform"; that doesn't make it a policy worth passing. This bill is a disaster, in terms of policy and politics. It will not contain premium prices or the costs of treatment and drugs. It will be enormously unpopular among those forced to buy from Big Insurance as well as those with decent private insurance through their employers (which will be taxed, which runs contrary to an Obama campaign promise).

    If you have a substantive defense of the bill — i.e., something other than using a label "health care reform" to engage in simple hippie-bashing — I'd like to see it.

  9. You know, when people like Howard Dean and Bernie Sanders talk, I think the rest of us should really turn down the hysterics and listen to what they have to say. I figure either one of them knows more about health care legislation than anyone on this or any other blog, so if they say that the bill as it is now shaping up will do more harm than good, I sit up and take notice. Yes, it contains some real reforms that will do some people some real good. NO ONE is saying that it won't. The problem is that, as it now stands, it also contains a time bomb — an individual mandate with no cost-control measures. About 50 million working-class people are going to be seriously hurt by this — far more than the number of poor who will be helped. And the response of every one of those 50 million people is going to be "You know what? Those tea-baggers were right after all!" And with that, you can say goodbye to progressive politics in the US for a generation.

  10. Mark,

    I think you're off base here. It is fine to think that this is a bill worth passing, if that's indeed what you think. It is also fine to think it isn't. Which is in fact what I think, and at least some of the other progressives you disparage here. Different people weight things differently, and implying the folks like me are no different than the tea baggers is plain rude. You may think a massive gift to insurance in the form of a mandate without meaningful cost controls worth passing; that's fine. I don't. Others don't. Claiming that we're incoherent, obstructionist, or whatever is juvenile and ignores the very real policy complaints.

  11. No, sorry, but you and your commenters have it wrong. This is not a question of Bernie Sanders joining a Republican filibuster to kill the bill. He still insists on it being brought to a vote — he HATES filibusters. He might threaten to vite against it — I doubt if he would if his vote was necessary for passgae, but the problem is not getting it passed, but getting an actual vote on final passage — which takes 51 votes — instead of being stuck getting the 60 votes necessary for cloture.

  12. spandrel says:

    "What do you expect? People respond to leadership and Obama has offered precious little of it. Maybe if liberals believed he fought for them they would respond in kind. But he hasn’t done so, hasn’t tried visibly to exert any pressure on the “centrists” and charlatans. Instead it’s just a series of concessions from one side to the other. "

    Well, UCLA public policy professors apparently don't understand leadership – sorry, Mark, but you've demonstrated no understanding of the fact that Obama has fouled this one up big-time. Ya f*ck the base too much, too publicly, and ya lose the base. Of course, this is no problem, because Respectable Centrists can now spend their time talking about how the Evul Leftists trashed it.

    And as for being against it, Mark, why do you assume that we have a bill? Have Lieberman and Nelson publicly announced that they're for it? If they did, would we trust them? If they have played a 'slap Obama and giggle' game for the past several months, why would they stop now, when Obama, Rahm and Reid have demonstrated absolutely no ability to do anything other than get hit?

  13. Yes, these DFH types just refuse to surrender on command. Traitors! Suggest you un-subscribe from the lot of them.

  14. Well…I will say this, this brief moment in time where real change was/is possible, is quickly coming to a close.

    I hate this bill. But…it's better than no bill; just barely. I think it's morally wrong to deny coverage to someone who can more than pay their premiums. It's also wrong to drop someone when they are sick. For these two reasons alone, I want it to pass.

    But quite honestly, all the arguments, all the town halls, and the time I volunteered…I now see was a waste. Yeah, a total waste. I'm not picking up the phone or pressing anyone to make a donation for Obama or OFA for the rest of his term. Obama can count on me to just stay quiet, so he can feel free to let Larry Summers and Geitner cut unilateral deals with big banks and let them run the Treasury in effect. He can also feel free to not twist the rating agencies (Moody's, et. al) for rubber stamping CDOs and other things they didn't really understand. In fact, Obama can feel free to let Citi run the Treasury, because as we all know by know, if BofA and Citi are onboard, then it's okay.

    Obama can go ahead and agonize over a decision for weeks, and come to a totally unrealistic conclusion of upping the ante and then folding in 18 months.

    So go ahead, pass this bill, or don't, it's clear that this whole process won't change until SSA goes broke, and all we have to make ourselves feel better are piles and piles of depreciating and obsolete weapons. Because god forbid some other country should ever have more missiles than we do, but if we score 80th in the world in mathematics, that's okay.

  15. I generally agree with spandrel on this. The White House was incompetent, or worse.

    I'd also add that the health care legislation is kind of the last straw. I was willing to let Obama take his time with DADT, Afghanistan, and other policies. But a lot of other progressives found his actions on those issues a disappointment. So now here rolls in an extremely flawed health care bill – that has no sign of carrots or sticks being used by the White House. What do you expect people to do? Sit back and take it?

  16. Barack Obama is an embarrassment. The Democrats are an embarrassment. And the Left is dead in America. Thanks for doing your part.

  17. "Well, UCLA public policy professors apparently don’t understand leadership…" Maybe they do and maybe they don't. But with their gold-plated health care program and platinum-plated pension system, what difference does it make to them (until the Gropenator presides over the complete destruction of the University of California System anyway)? Sorry for the ad hominem comment, but here's the thing. We DFHs are not disappointed in the result so much as we are disappointed that the result was preordained by Obama's complete lack of leadership on this from the start. Secret "negotiations" do not count, especially since the evidence indicates they were really capitulations. The President may be taking the Clenis's advice that a bill, any bill, will redound to his benefit. He would be wrong. Upthread Hugo is right. I'll not vote for a GOPer. But I won't go out of my way to encourage anyone else to vote, period. Which is quite a change from 2008 and 2006.

  18. I'm going to keep saying it – has a bill actually passed the Senate yet? If not, why are the respectable people assuming that one will?

    If I were Liebermand, Nelson or a couple of these DemsWhoFeelLikeRepublicans, I'd be happy to continue this game. It's fun and profitable.

  19. I ask you this, are liberals going to be expected to accept the Stupak amendment as well? If you think the pushback from caving into Lieberman is bad, just wait.

  20. This may or may not apply to the US and the Democratic Party; it’s just a little observation from my past in Germany:

    At the end of the 1970s there were voices in the then mighty Social Democratic Party, which had successfully integrated the protesters of the 1960s into the political mainstream, of the need to pay more attention to ecological issues. The reasonable people in the party and the party elders told people who took that position that they needed to suck it up because of the big, bad conservative wolf out there. And for a while that worked, even though there was constant grumbling.

    But when the political pendulum made one of its cyclical swings, and power fell to the conservatives anyway, there came a point when the ecological wing had had enough, and thus the Green Party was spawned. The Social democrats initially couldn't stand the Greens and for years refused to even talk to them. So both parties had to spend a decade and a half in the wilderness of powerless parliamentary opposition, until they finally realized that they could only gain power together.

    Ecological positions suddenly became acceptable policy starting points for the leadership of the Social democrats, the two parties concluded a coalition and managed to form a government. Everything was well for a while, but then the economy deteriorated and the Social democrats decided that in order to right the ship of state, the government needed to take away from the masses and give more to the well off. To which the union wing of the party objected, but the reasonable people and party elders again told them to suck it up because there was no alternative. Not surprisingly, some among the party membership felt that this was no longer their party. And so they left and joined a fledgling left-wing coalition, which until then had been struggling mightily to gain sufficient acceptance among the electorate to make it into parliament.

    When the last election came around, significant swaths of the electorate which previously had supported the Social democrats were disaffected and decided that if they wanted to empower conservatives, they might as well vote for the real thing, or that if they wanted their party to pursue left-leaning policies they better join up with the new left party. Some of those who considered themselves too moderate to do either of these two things just simply defected to the Green party. And so the once mighty Social Democratic Party came in at an abysmal mid twenties of the vote and at a minimum is now looking at another decade, or more likely two of them, in the political wilderness. At worst they may have become obsolete, but just haven't realized that yet.

    As I said, this may or may not apply to the Democratic Party in the US. I’m also familiar with the Nader experience of the year 2000. In addition, going through with 'insurance reform' as it now is may well be the least bad option. But my conclusion from the little historical example I recounted nonetheless is that the really serious people in a party or a political movement better realize that it is only so often that they can tell their activist base to suck it up because there is no alternative. And it also seems to me that the Obama administration is doing a lot of that kind of telling. So, if that comes back to hit them in the face in 2010 and 2012, they at least should have the decency not to be surprised.

    Sorry for indulging in such along comment for what may well be a minor point.

  21. My late father was a campaign consultant/manager, lobbyist, and business owner. Very pragmatic, wise, and knowledgeable of the political process. And I can hear him echoing SRW1's experiences. And many other things as well that are apropos to these times.

    Nonetheless, before folk start drifting into despair and careening to the winds, cast your minds back to the distant past of, oh, 12 months ago and the results of the 8 years of s— swindle and theft and wasting of treasure and delay and on and on (remember the 'Lord! save us from outrage fatigue!' cries??).

    The country was left in tatters by the last crew, pushed ever closer to edge by the work (or not-work) of many shills and crooks over the past several decades. It's coming to a head in these times. There's a lot to do. People are out of work, lots of jobs not coming back. Actions long delayed are coming due now.

    It's a lot to freaking DO. Who here would get it right? Anyone?

    Anyone at all?

    There's work to do and who's stepping up? No one is going to do anything and just let it swirl down the bowl?


    Just great.

    Is this sort of thing an indicator of our accelerating decline?

  22. I'm not convinced that Sanders has joined McConnell. Sanders said he will vote against the bill if it is changed. He didn't say he would vote against cloture. He sure isn't working for delay. He withdrew his single payer amendment so that Republicans couldn't force delay by requiring that it be read allowed.

    Your claim that he has joined McConnell is obviously absolutely totally false.

    Take a few deep breaths. Calm down. Voting against the bill is not the same as obstructing it.

    I also think that some of Dean, Sanders and the gazillion left bloggers are acting. Some may have concluded that so long as they say yes, Lieberman will say no. So they say no to convince Lieberman to vote yes on cloture. Reverse psychology.

    I actually honestly suspect that this is what Dean is doing. Even if he has gone sincerely nuts, it's a lucky thing that he has. Nothing could improve the chances of the health care bill more than Howard Dean screaming at the Senate to vote no.

  23. The House bill is worth fighting for. The Senate bill is worth fighting.

    The House bill will help citizens. The Senate bill will help Insurance companies.

    The House bill will get progressive elected again. The Senate bill will get republicans elected again.

    How much more of this do you need to see?

  24. @SRW1, I gotta wonder if you could be right about the future evolution of the Democratic party and U.S. left.

    I do want to say, though, that despite my post earlier I *do* think we should pass the bill, and I think failure to do so will be a disaster. But boy, I'm holding my nose, and I can't blame others who come to a different conclusion. With legislation this complex, very few of us can really evaluate the bill's impact. Instead we go on faith that our leaders are making the right choices, that the fine print won't undermine the whole effort and leave us screwed, that the folks in the closed-door meeting have our back.

    Obama has blown off just about every significant chance to build that trust with the Dem activist base this year. Where once he spoke with some moral clarity about things like the financial sector, gay rights, torture and state secrets, since inauguration he's largely enforced and protected the status quo. People elected him to change things, and we knew it would be hard to change things, but we don't see him trying. Instead we get unfulfilled promises coupled with some outright slaps to the face like that DOJ DOMA brief this summer.

    So when it comes time to tackle something as mammoth and complicated and frankly bewildering as health care, we don't trust him anymore to stand up for us in those closed-door meetings. Because from what we see in public, on the issues we *do* understand, he hasn't proven worthy of that trust.

  25. Mark, you are a terrible negotiator. I would not let you negotiate anything for me if I was a colleague of yours. This health insurance bill sucks. Most people such as Robert Reich, Howard Dean and others who know far more than you do about this subject know it, too. It's time to stop trying to convince anyone who has actually looked at the bill to make us think failure is success.

    If Reid would just go with the vote of 51 Senators, and then do reconciliation in the House, we defeat Lieberman, the Nelsons, Blanche Lincoln and the few other scorpions, and we get a bill you and me both want to see.

    Again, however, your negotiation skills suck as bad as Obama's. Time to get our act together and if it means knocking down this bill in its present form, so be it. It is not the end. That is the negotiation of weakness.

  26. The thing we need to remember is that to the Republicans (and their corporate-owned enablers in the Democratic Party) this fight is not about health care. They couldn't care less how many people get subsidized insurance. They couldn't care less how many people get coverage despite pre-existing conditions. That's why there has been no controversy over those provisions. Because THEY DON'T CARE. The one and only thing they care about is how many people come away from this feeling like they have been so screwed by this bill that they will never vote for any progressive again. And that's exactly what is going to be the result if large numbers of people feel like they're being forced (to quote another commenter I read) to "buy shitty insurance they can't afford". The hard political reality is that given the two goals of universality and affordability, affordability MUST come first. Achieve that, and the vast middle of the populace will no longer be afraid of universality. Go for universality first, at the expense of making it unaffordable for the middle, and we will end up losing both.

  27. One has to trust regulators to do their job to make it worth passing. I don't trust the Administration that appointed Geithner, Bernanke and Summers to "regulate" finance and the Obama administration complete capitulation to big Pharma and insurance says I can't trust them in health either. If they had shown some spine I'd hold my nose. But they have done almost nothing to fight powerful corporate interests. Why would they this time?

    In addition, a big portion of the insurance expansion is predicated on States coming up with matching money for the Medicaid expansion. Where is that going to come from?

  28. 'Teabaggers'? Mark you aren't stupid enough to not know that thats a sexual slur, so i'll just assume

    you're no better than glenn becks of this world.

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