HEALTH CARE: In the wake of Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts on Tuesday night, Democrats could have come back with a unified message: we lost because we have lost touch with voters, the voters expect us to deliver for them, and we need to get to work for the American people. They could have saved the squabbling and strategic decision making for private conversations. Instead, Democrats are acting like chickens with their heads cut off. I've been absolutely astonished at how the Democrats have acted since Tuesday's loss, most notably on the issue of health reform.
In my book, Congress has a reasonable and relatively easy path to achieving health care reform in the very near future. The House could pass the Senate version of the health care bill, and then both chambers could take up a package of changes as part of a reconciliation bill, which would only require 51 votes in the Senate. That plan, requires that 218 out of 256 Democrats cared more about the people of this country than their own egos or political futures. That does not seem to be the case. Progressive Democrats have ruled out voting for a bill that covers 30 million people because they're upset about a few odds and ends, and they're bitter at what happened to reform in the United States Senate. Some liberals have gone on TV and declared reform dead. Conservative Democrats are going out in public and questioning their President's ambitiousness and the scope of his agenda. House leaders have openly admitted that they don't have the votes to pass the Senate bill, yet they seem to making no effort to win over their members. President Obama has thus far been silent on the subject.
This is just a disastrous response, and it is callous considering how many lives are at stake.
Some Democrats are discussing paring down the bills and passing only the "popular" items to try and get bipartisan support. There are two glaring problems with this. One, no matter what you do, Republicans will not support a health care bill. Period. Their strategy of opposing this bill vociferously is working wonders. Why stop now? Two, the bill only works when the parts make up the whole. If you simply prohibit companies from denying coverage for a preexisting condition, a bunch of sick people will come into the system, and premiums skyrocket. That's why you have an individual mandate, so that healthy people can come into the system and pool the risk. If you're forcing people to buy insurance, you want to make sure they can afford it, so you give them subsidies. (And so on and so forth). This approach just makes no sense to me.
This is gut-check time for House Democrats. They have the option of doing great good for the American people. They can all go around and say "we don't have the votes" or "not happening," but they have the power to make it happen. They have a power to save thousands of lives per year, and they can't bring themselves to act.
As many others have noted, if this died, the Democratic base has no legitimate reason to show up at the polls in November. If huge Democratic majorities can't pass our major priorities, what's the point of electing a huge Democratic majority in the first place? And that's my health care rant of the day.
SUPREME COURT DECISION: As if this week couldn't get any worse, the Supreme Court issued a devastating decision overturning rules that prohibit corporate (and union) contributions to political campaigns. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that campaign finance laws violate the 1st amendment right to free speech. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion, and he was joined by the conservative block of Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito. Justice Stevens wrote strongly-worded dissent, and he was joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor (yay Sonia!).
This decision is pretty simple. It pretty much gives corporations more influence with politicians than they already have. It will help undermine the basic tenets of democracy, that everyone should have an equal voice in government. It disgusts me that people and entities with more money now have access to more "political speech." The Democrats should start a grassroots movement to overturn this decision with a constitutional amendment. I won't hold out hope for that happening any time soon.
TOUGH TALK: There is one piece of decent news today! The President has introduced some populist proposals that would represent major advances in financial regulation. The President is proposing, based on advice from former Fed Chair Paul Volcker, would propose new restrictions on what banks do and how big they can get. Let Dr. Ezra Klein explain:
The early reports aren't so clear on how the administration will handle size (some imply it's just the bank tax while others focus on vague, new regulatory powers), but the new limits seem pretty defined: Banks that have both a commercial banking division (where they take your money) and a proprietary trading division (where they invest in things like sub prime mortgages to increase their money) will no longer be able to use the cash from their commercial accounts to finance the trades in their proprietary accounts.
THIS AND THAT:
-In Congress today, the House passed a few land management bills. They also passed a few suspension bills, including one offering condolences to Haiti. Ron Paul voted AGAINST that.
The Senate is working on a bill to increase the debt limit through the end of this year so that the government doesn't default on its loans. Republicans know that we can't actually default on our loans, but they will vote against increasing the debts so that the Democrats must incur the burden of a tough vote. True patriots they are! The first vote today was an amendment offered by Senator Thune (R-SD) that would end the TARP program. Republicans have tried variations of this amendment several times, and it has failed every time. This time, the amendment, which needed 60 votes to pass, failed by a vote of 53-45. Democrats taking the political bait to end TARP were Bayh (IN), Begich (AK), Bennet (CO), Feingold (WI), Feinstein (CA), Lincoln (AR), Nelson (NE), Nelson (FL), Pryor (AR), Tester (MT), Udall (CO), Webb (VA) and Warner (VA).
-Republican Bob McDonnell, the newly sworn-in Governor of Virginia will give the Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union address. This is a very strong choice for the GOP. McDonnell was a very attractive pragmatic conservative candidate in the VA-Gov race this past fall.
That's it for today, everyone. Try to keep your spirits up.