Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Daily Strike-8/20/09-The Two Bill Solution?

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. I hope you've enjoyed some of our August musings. Back to a more traditional Daily Strike tonight:

HEALTH CARE: President Obama did something he really needed to do today: rally the army that elected him. Obama spoke today at an event at the DNC to discuss health care reform strategy with core supporters. The President told supporters that getting elected was the easy part; achieving change is more difficult. I think all of his supporters have had that reality set in this summer. He talked a lot about how difficult it is to sell reform with all that misinformation out there, and said that to get that information, one simply has to "pick up a remote and turn to a certain channel." A Fox News reference is always good way to fire up a liberal crowd. On substance, it seems that he still hasn't quite learned his lesson. He said that the public option will be a good way to "keep insurance companies honest." But he again insisted that it is only one small part of reform. He may be right substantively, but he needs to know what fires up his base. Liberals care about the public option because it helps fulfill a longtime progressive dream of the government recognizing health care as a right and not a privilege. Sure, opposing gay marriage was just a "sliver" of Bush's compassionate conservative agenda, but he talked about it a lot, because he knew it would fire up his base. Plus, a new poll out today shows that if you present the public option as a plan you can "choose" under health reform, it gets extremely high approval. How about going around the country explaining that every single day? Support goes way down when people are asked directly whether they support a "public option."

Meanwhile, there is a very interesting procedural idea coming out of Democrats in Congress. As you know, Democrats have the power to pass (at least parts) of health care reform via reconciliation, an arcane rule that only requires 50 votes in the Senate instead of the 60 needed to break a filibuster. Because of the so-called Byrd rule, only measures directly dealing with the budget can be part of a reconciliation bill. Coincidentally, the budget-related measures in health care, like raising revenue, subsidies, and the public option, also are the most politically contentious. So Democrats have floated the idea of doing health care in two parts. One bill will contain the more popular parts of reform, like new rules on insurance company practices, and the creation of the health insurance exchange. This bill would pass through regular order and would be subject to a 60 vote threshold. The controversial parts of the bill would be passed under reconciliation.

On its face, this seems like a pretty good idea. Nervous centrist Democrats could still support the popular parts of the bill, while not having to walk the plank on the less popular parts. The Big Picture wisely notes that this is an optimum solution for nervous Democrats, because they almost certainly want something to pass, they just don't want to be responsible for it because they might take a short-term political hit. Republicans would be forced to vote against the popular portion of the bill, and won't have the excuse that they were actually voting against "government-run health care." Numbers guru Nate Silver estimates that there are 43 solid votes for the public option in the Senate, with about 15 or so Senators undecided. It would be a lot more difficult to whip 17 votes than it would to whip 7. There are a couple of reasons why I think this scheme may not work. First, its success depends on the procedural prowess and fighting spirit of Majority Leader Reid, both of which are severely lacking. Secondly, you might get a couple of Democrats who are so upset at this procedural maneuver that they vote against the 60 vote bill. One of them almost certainly will be the increasingly intolerable Kent Conrad of North Dakota. We would need the support of every Democrat to get this done, assuming Senator Kennedy could show up to vote. If Democrats don't agree to this, we would have to make them filibuster the popular bill. I would love to see Ben Nelson on the floor, dehydrated and about to collapse, holding up a health care bill because of procedural objections. Does Harry Reid have the guts to do this to his own members? Probably not, but it's worth a try. This would increase the chance that we'd get a bill that actually works instead of one that's been watered down to appease the wafflers. I'm sure we'll get some "you can't do that's!" from Republicans and the good-government-firsters at elite media institutions like the Washington Post. But if it helps to deliver better health reform, you have to do what you have to do.

CHARLIE COOK: I came home today feeling pretty good, getting ready to cook a nice dinner, when I read this terrifying prediction from political prognosticator Charlie Cook. He seems to think the Democrats have lost control this summer, and that they're destined to lose a lot of seats in the next Congressional election. He seems pretty exuberant about this possibility. The Democrats have had a tough few weeks, for sure, and their approval ratings have gone down, as have the President's, but I think Cook's prediction is pretty excessive at this stage of the game. Democrats still lead Republicans on most generic congressional ballot polls I've seen, and Republicans remain deeply unpopular, despite the sinking popularity of the Democrats. And while Obama's approval rating, which stands at a new low of 51% according to Gallup, is not superb, it's not that bad either. Bush had approval ratings at this level in 2004, and Republicans made gains in both Houses of Congress.

Democrats should be concerned about declining popularity numbers, but they need to react to these concerns in the right way, which is to DELIVER for people. I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times, if we continue infighting and we can't come through for the American people, we will get clocked in 2010. If we come together and pass strong legislation, we may take a short term hit, but our long term prospects will be vastly improved.

That's it for tonight, see you tomorrow!

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