The Inevitable Tantrums

Okay, healthcare reform passed – the Senate bill was passed by the House and gets signed into law. And then come the promised fixes – the House was told that the Senate would pass the changes they sent over the same evening, which cinched the deal. But it gets complicated, as the Senate will use the reconciliation process for this – where you adjust the details of legislation already passed. It’s reserved for financial matters, passing a budget when you’re in a crunch, but otherwise for nothing big, like social security or anything. And passage is by simple majority – you need fifty one-votes and no one is allowed to filibuster the thing. You don’t need the new-normal sixty votes for cloture – on a reconciliation vote no one can say let’s talk about this some more, or let’s put this aside and vote on it later, like in fourteen years or so. You just vote. Reconciliation is for getting done what needs to get done.

The catch is that if the Senate changes anything in this secondary fix-it rider to the original Senate bill, then any change, or amendment, has to go back to the House for a vote. And on this secondary healthcare fix-it bill the Republicans see an opening. If they can get anything changed, or add some apple-pie amendment no one can vote against, it has to go back and the House will have to vote again. If they can do that they can delay any of this legislation taking effect – do it again and again and they can stretch this out for years. It’s pretty clever – sure the House will pass it all again, and the original bill has been signed, but they can stop all the reforms from starting because nothing is quite settled yet. Yes, the Senate Democrats, with their majority, can vote down any change and any amendment to the fix-it rider – again and again, to stop this nonsense – but you can wear them down, and that’s a victory of sorts.

But their best shot is getting the Senate Parliamentarian to decide that what’s in the fix-it rider is not any minor matter, but a big deal – so big it doesn’t qualify for the reconciliation process. So the claim has to be that the rider affects Social Security, thus falling foul of reconciliation rules, and Igor Volsky provides the details:

The most substantive and immediate GOP challenge could occur as early as Tuesday, when the Senate plans to take up the bill. Republicans will try to send the reconciliation package back to the House by citing a rule that prohibits reconciliation measures from making “recommendations” about Social Security. “The Congressional Budget Office found that the bill would have an ancillary effect on Social Security’s trust funds, and GOP lawmakers will argue that such a finding constitutes a ‘recommendation.'” They’ll be arguing that since the excise tax on high cost plans “would cause some employers to reduce the cost of their workers’ insurance and pay them higher wages,” workers would have to pay higher Social Security taxes, which would also have the effect of extending the life the life of the Social Security trust fund by $53 billion.

What? Kevin Drum takes this up:

Seriously, the chain goes like this: (1) rider affects excise tax, (2) excise tax pushes down insurance costs, (3) lower insurance costs lead to higher wages, (4) higher wages lead to higher payroll taxes, and (5) higher payroll taxes affect the Social Security trust fund.

This is mind-bogglingly convoluted. It means that anything that ever had even the smallest and most roundabout effect on wages would be ineligible for reconciliation. Using logic like this, I doubt that any budget bill ever passed has met reconciliation rules.

And he adds this:

Honestly, if this is the best Republicans can come up with, they’re just desperate. I can’t believe there’s the slightest chance of the parliamentarian upholding this. And besides, what’s the point? If Republicans force Democrats to ditch the excise tax, they’ll just pass the rider and send it back to the House with some other tax in its place. Labor unions will be ecstatic. The House will be ecstatic (they didn’t like the excise tax in the first place). And Republicans will be responsible for killing one of the key cost control provisions in the bill.

But other than that, it’s a great plan.

And on Monday, March 22, the parliamentarian sent the Senate Republicans an email – no, guys. That five-times-removed but really, sort of, if you think about it, about Social Security argument, such as it is, just won’t do. And that was their best bet. Now they get to try to add changes and amendments that will get shot down, one after another. They may have an arsenal of ten thousand of those by some accounts. But debate is limited to twenty hours. All they can do now is demonstrate to the American public that they tried to block healthcare reform – they really did. People will remember they said NO – and reward their party for the noble effort. At least that’s the plan. They can paint the Democrats as arrogant bastards – tyrants, really – who do anything they damned well please, ignoring the will of the American people, the Real Americans, who they represent, not the fake Americans the Democrats represent. It’s an outrage.

And down the way in Santa Monica, Digby notes that something strange is going on here:

The teabaggers are all upset that the Democrats passed a bill without any Republican votes. Evidently, this makes it illegitimate and unconstitutional. I’m not surprised they think this. They get their constitutional instruction from Glenn Beck. But what can you say about the front runner for the 2012 presidential nomination?

That would be Mitt Romney with A Campaign Begins Today:

America has just witnessed an unconscionable abuse of power. President Obama has betrayed his oath to the nation – rather than bringing us together, ushering in a new kind of politics, and rising above raw partisanship, he has succumbed to the lowest denominator of incumbent power: justifying the means by extolling the ends. He promised better; we deserved better.

What’s this unconscionable abuse of power and treasonous betrayal of his oath of office?

He calls his accomplishment “historic” – in this he is correct, although not for the reason he intends. Rather, it is an historic usurpation of the legislative process – he unleashed the nuclear option, enlisted not a single Republican vote in either chamber, bribed reluctant members of his own party, paid-off his union backers, scapegoated insurers, and justified his act with patently fraudulent accounting. What Barack Obama has ushered into the American political landscape is not good for our country; in the words of an ancient maxim, “what starts twisted, ends twisted.”

Yeah, and that skinny guy can’t even stop smoking. Mormons don’t smoke.

But Digby is just amazed:

I can’t help but recall hearing a whole lot of patronizing advice from these same people a few years back when anyone breathed that President Bush might not have legitimately taken office since he lost the popular vote, his brother manipulated the system in Florida and he was installed by a partisan Supreme Court decision. Back then it was all “get over it,” and “I’ve got political capital and I’m gonna spend it!” Now, these same people are all screaming that it’s a usurpation if the Democrats win the majority and then pass legislation that they don’t like.

She suggests it’s fairly clear that Republicans don’t understand how democracy works:

You campaign, people vote, you win elections, you get a majority, you pass legislation. They seem to think Democracy means that elections are irrelevant, majorities are meaningless and that all legislation is contingent upon the permission of the Republican Party.

I’m sorry these people are so unhappy. I know how they feel. I used to hate it when the Republicans passed some disgusting initiative that went against everything I believe in. But I don’t recall having a mental breakdown at the notion that they could do it even though I didn’t want them to. The idea that they were obligated to do my bidding didn’t actually cross my mind.

Obviously she doesn’t think like a Republican. It’s that entitlement thing that she, and many of us, just doesn’t get:

As they used to say repeatedly, “elections have consequences.” If the people don’t like this bill, they have every right to turn the Democrats out of office and repeal it. But screaming hysterically that it’s cheating to pass legislation with a majority just proves that these folks’ great reverence for the constitution is based more on their love of wearing funny hats than anything that’s written in it.

This is how the system works. If you don’t like it, start pressing for a constitutional amendment that requires that all legislation be approved by every tea-bagger in the land before it can be enacted. Or start campaigning to put your teabaggers in office so they can have a majority and enact the legislation you like. In either event, stop the whining about “abuse of power.” They passed a bill you don’t like, for crying out loud, it’s not like they seized office with a partisan decision by the Supreme Court and then invaded a country that hadn’t attacked us or anything…

Of course Romney was getting ahead of himself. Perhaps he only meant to say that Obama had promised to try to end all the partisan back-and-forth that was gumming things up – that’s an oath of sorts – and look, we decided to vote against everything proposed about anything, in a bloc, and he couldn’t stop us from doing that. So, you see, he broke his promise.

And the New York Times takes that up in an item that uses a less loaded verb, solemnly Obama lost his “promise” by failing to turn all the guys who decided to play nasty into calm, deliberative statesmen:

But there is no doubt that in the course of this debate, Mr. Obama has lost something – and lost it for good. Gone is the promise on which he rode to victory less than a year and a half ago – the promise of a “postpartisan” Washington in which rationality and calm discourse replaced partisan bickering.

Never in modern memory has a major piece of legislation passed without a single Republican vote. Even President Lyndon B. Johnson got just shy of half of Republicans in the House to vote for Medicare in 1965, a piece of legislation that was denounced with many of the same words used to oppose this one. That may be the true measure of how much has changed in Washington in the ensuing 45 years, and how Mr. Obama’s own strategy is changing with the discovery that the approach to governing he had in mind simply will not work.

“Let’s face it, he’s failed in the effort to be the nonpolarizing president, the one who can use rationality and calm debate to bridge our traditional divides,” said Peter Beinart, a liberal essayist who is publishing a history of hubris in politics. “It turns out he’s our third highly polarizing president in a row. But for his liberal base, it confirms that they were right to believe in the guy – and they had their doubts.”

Digby is having none of that:

The last three presidents have been polarizing? I suppose you could put it that way. The other, more accurate, way to put it is to admit that the Republican Party has gone bat-shit insane and so the country is polarized between their freak show and the normal people.

Clinton ran as a centrist and governed as one and the Republicans impeached him for his trouble. Landslide Bush turned the executive branch into an imperial office, invaded countries without reason and tortured people. I suppose you could call that “polarizing” but perhaps it’s more accurate to say he was a manifestation of his political party – which is, as mentioned, bat-shit insane. Obama just passed a market friendly health care bill that was originally proposed by Bob Dole, largely against the will of the left. And the right wing, as usual, is apoplectic to the point of near mass insanity.

It’s not like the two Democratic presidents of the three did anything that can logically be construed as so liberal that the other side can’t support them. It’s simply that Republicans believe no Democrat can possibly have a legitimate claim to the presidency at all.

She says she only wishes that Obama, in an act of sheer “hubris,” decided to govern as a radical left winger “in defiance of the country’s clear desire for a post-partisan healer.” But that wasn’t to be either.

And she cites Amanda Marcotte making this observation about the right’s seeming inability to accept the idea of democracy:

Well, it’s simple, really. They assume, if they don’t state it outright, that large numbers of American voters shouldn’t have the right to vote. That’s the implicit argument when Sarah Palin praises white rural voters as “Real Americans,” when Birthers obsess over the idea that the first black President simply can’t be eligible for office, when tea-baggers yell racist and homophobic slurs at politicians, and when they insist that you eliminate black voters from the count if you want to find out how popular a politician “really” is. When Bart Stupak laughed out loud at the very idea that nuns have opinions worth listening to – and listed a bunch of men whose opinions were the ones that counted – you had a similar sentiment being expressed. Universal suffrage seems like a fundamental part of democracy to liberals, but it appears that conservatives think it de-legitimizes the results of elections. And that if you do something without Republicans on board, you’re eliminating those who represent the only people who count.

For that you might want to glance at What It Means to Be White – Thomas Rogers interviews Nell Irvin Painter about her new book, The History of White People. Who is real and who is not is an interesting social construct, but that’s a secondary matter. The matter at hand is the Republican plan to run against healthcare reform, and now having lost, to screw things up as much as possible, for as long as possible, and then blame Obama for not making them stop. You know – it’s not my fault I wrecked the car and set fire to the cat and maxed out those credit cards that weren’t mine – you should have stopped me. Anyone with kids knows the drill, even if the kids at least grow up and give that up.

But this shift in blame – you should have stopped us from being assholes – may not fly. That’s what William Saletan argues in this item in Slate:

How badly will health care reform hurt Democrats in November? That’s the question being raised in headlines around the country. “Democrats could pay a price,” warns the Washington Post. “A Major Victory, but at What Cost?” asks the New York Times. “After healthcare vote, Democrats turn to damage control,” says the Los Angeles Times. They “face a potentially devastating backlash in the midterms,” says Politico.

Maybe. But why not ask the opposite? How badly will opposition to health care reform hurt Republicans?

That might depend on how you feel about the little kid whining that it’s not his fault, you were supposed to stop him. And Saletan says there are two ways to look at this:

There are good reasons to think Democrats will suffer. Midterms are generally bad for the incumbent party. Polls have been grim. The Tea Party has become more angry and visible than the left. Americans often rebel against major legislation, at least temporarily, especially when it extends the reach of government. And much of the anxiety about November is coming from Democrats themselves.

But there are also significant factors on the other side. Health care now becomes a policy story rather than a legislative sausage-grinding story. Tales of death panels and warnings about losing your doctor can now be falsified. (That’s what happened to the early scare stories about Social Security and Medicare.) And Republicans who denounce the program and promise to repeal it will no longer be bashing an abstraction. They will be proposing to take away existing, tangible benefits.

And those are nothing to sneeze at – tax credits to small business to provide insurance, a ban on insurance exclusion for pre-existing conditions, a ban on lifetime coverage caps, and letting kids stay on their parents’ policies and so on.

But Saletan sees something else is possible now:

Obama argued that these provisions make the bill easier to defend. But his political advisers are hinting at a more aggressive strategy: portraying Republicans who oppose the legislation as opposing all of its benefits.

In the Bush administration, this was standard practice. Any Democrat who resisted any component of a bill was accused of opposing the bill’s objective. If you complained about labor provisions of the bill to establish a federal department of homeland security, Republicans said you were against homeland security. If you objected to part of the “Patriot Act,” they said you were unpatriotic. If you criticized Bush’s execution of the Iraq war, they said you were undermining our troops.

Obama has avoided this scorched-earth style of politics. But his advisers seem ready to try it.

And Saletan offers some examples. David Axelrod – “Let them tell a child with a pre-existing condition, ‘We don’t think you should be covered,'” and David Plouffe with this:

We’re going to go out there and not just talk about what we’re for, but what the Republicans are voting against. They are siding with the insurance companies over people who are denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, siding with the insurance companies over saving seniors money. So this isn’t just about us being a piñata here in the election. Elections are about choices. They are voting against an enormous tax cut for health care for 40 million middle-class families and 4 million small businesses.

Saletan says that’s the way Karl Rove used to talk about Democrats. Cool. But they backed themselves into this:

Critics argue that health care reform, once enacted, won’t generate the breadth of support that Social Security and Medicare generated, because those bills passed with significant Republican support. But why assume that lockstep Republican opposition will discredit the health care program? Maybe the opposite will happen: Lockstep opposition will discredit Republicans.

The same can be asked about partisanship.

All they have left is their effort to repeal the bill.

John Boehner is big on that – and Matthew Yglesias is amused – “With repealing health reform the right-wing fetish point of the day, it’s worth observing that it’s literally not possible for Republicans to win enough Senate seats in 2010 to pass anything over Barack Obama’s veto.” That would require the Republicans to hold sixty-seven Senate seats, but even if they won every single election this couldn’t happen before 2012, if then. But they can dream.

Or they can let it sink in – democracy is where you have elections and the guys with the most votes get to be in charge. And they are not obligated to do your bidding because you say so. And one other thing – tantrums don’t help.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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2 Responses to The Inevitable Tantrums

  1. Doug Day says:

    Too bad Nell Painter was not up to Steven Colbert’s efforts to give her a forum… while taking a bigger one himself, of course.

  2. Doug Day says:

    Thanks for focusing on the way the politics works. One can read everything and not have a clue as to what’s going on.

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