Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Daily Strike-12/17/09-Hostage Taking

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. It's gonna be a wild ride for health care reform in the Senate for the next week. Let's get to it.

HEALTH CARE: There wasn't much actual news on health care today. Democrats have laid out a timeline of votes that would result in passage of the bill on New Year's Eve. The timeline includes votes in the middle of the night, starting this evening with a cloture vote on the Defense Appropriations bill. Senator Reid (D-NV) will file cloture on his manager's amendment, the substitute amendment, and the bill itself on Saturday, which would set off a series of votes starting Monday morning. Each of these votes to advance the bill will require 60 votes, of course, and even with the seemingly endless concessions we've give to moderates, we're not quite there yet. Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) is still threatening to vote against advancing the bill because he doesn't think the bill does enough to ban public funding for abortion. Senator Sanders (I-VT) is threatening to vote against the bill (but not necessarily cloture!) because the bill is not liberal enough. Other Democratic Senators seem to be mostly in line behind the bill, despite the fact that almost none of them like the bill at this point. If Nelson doesn't get in line, the Democrats will have to turn to Olympia Snowe (R-ME), whose main demand at this point is that the process be extended into January.

The reason this bill has been so difficult is that with no margin of error, every Democratic Senator knows that they have the power to bring this bill down. Several of them are not afraid to use this power. Many progressives have openly wondered why the White House and Democratic leaders kowtow to the demands and threats of conservatives like Nelson, but not of liberals like Sanders. The answer, in my view, is that liberal Senators really really want to pass a health care bill (many of them have spent careers working on this issue), while centrists, worried about their political futures, wouldn't mind seeing the bill go down in flames. The Big Picture sums it up nicely:

The essential leverage problem remains, in that liberals really want this to pass, and not to fail, while centrists would be happy to have killed the bill, so we always have to give in so they'll play along. Whenever I've been in "negotiations" like this in real life it is incredibly frustrating to be the person with no leverage, no "hand" as Kramer and George from Seinfeld would say. Classic case is trying to get my roommate to clean up with me, but he would just say "I don't care if it's clean or not" so it would always fall on me because I (somewhat) cared. But lots and lots of other situations. Also I often get into these situations because I almost always am very obvious about how I feel and what I want, so the cunning can take advantage of that while masking their own goals.

I think we've all been in those situations, and we know how frustrating they can be. We'll keep you posted on the hostage taking as the Senate continues its health care marathon through the weekend.

There were no votes on amendments today, though we did have one unbelievable moment on the Senate floor. Most of us in the last week have wanted to tell Joe Lieberman to shut up. Al Franken actually did! While presiding over the Senate, Franken broke "sacred" Senate custom and objected to Lieberman speaking for an extra minute. John McCain came to the floor to defend his best friend, saying that he fears "what has happened to comity in this institution." Which party again was it that wants to delay bills by forcing the clerks to read them out loud for twelve hours?

JOBS: Before I go for the night, here's what The Big Picture's response was to my entry last night expressing frustration that House Democrats voted against the jobs measure. We'll see you tomorrow night when we'll discuss health care and the President's trip to the climate summit in Coopenhagen.

The main thing is that people simply don't understand that government spending on aid to states, jobs programs, actually produces jobs. We thought that would be obvious but clearly it's not. Obama's greatest strategic mistake was not using his honeymoon period with the unchallenged bully pulpit to explain the basis of his economic thinking, to explain that we were suffering a massive loss in total spending in the economy, and that's what was driving businesses to fail and people to lose their jobs, and that it's a spiral, that can only be corrected by smart government spending with good multipliers, and explain what that is. As a key part of this he could have explained what the deficit is caused by, and how his plan to spend was the best way to not have a deficit, and explain why. He would say that government spending isn't bad or good, it depends on what it's for, and how it's paid for. He could say that you wouldn't say spending isn't automatically bad for the country just like you wouldn't say eating isn't automatically bad for you, but it depends: if you eat junk food and don't exercise, that's bad; just like it's bad how under Bush we spent money in ways that didn't help the economy, and we didn't pay for it so now we have huge deficits. But if you eat healthy and exercise, then that's good; that's what we're doing, we're spending in the best way to keep businesses from failing, to keep people employed, and we're also going to tackle the deficit in ways A, B, and C which will actually help people. And just explain that over and over, pre-empting the criticism which he should have anticipated would come.

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