You wouldn't like him when he's angry.
Watch this through to at least the third minute, by which time a Republican has pulled a parliamentary maneuver to stop Weiner and give him a chance to take back his words, and Weiner substitutes his words for, uh, other words. Comity is not reigning in the U.S. House of Representatives on the eve of the bipartisan summit.
Click on Klein's link above. Wow.
Today, I blogged about Republicans using philosophical language to obscure political differences; a world in which President John McCain attempted health-care reform; Republican Senator Judd Gregg's impassioned defense of reconciliation; and Jim Bunning's decision to be the Manchurian candidate for Senate reform.
Here's what I missed:
5) I'll be on Rachel Maddow tonight at the beginning of the program.
Democrats and Republicans spent seven hours talking about whether to wish you a good weekend, but did not come to an agreement.
The dangers of demanding consistency
My colleague George Will is not very impressed with the concern over Senate rules. "Such talk occurs only when the left's agenda is stalled," he writes. "Do you remember mournful editorials and somber seminars about 'dysfunctional' government when liberals defeated George W. Bush's Social Security reforms?"
Actually, I sort of do. "If Senate rules, exploited by an anti-constitutional minority, are allowed to trump the Constitution's text and two centuries of practice," wrote one conservative commentator in 2003, "the Senate's power to consent to judicial nominations will have become a Senate right to require a supermajority vote for confirmation. By thus nullifying the president's power to shape the judiciary, the Democratic Party will wield a presidential power without having won a presidential election."
That commentator, of course, was George Will. As he says, "both parties have been situational ethicists regarding filibusters," and that's to be expected. If we insist on consistency in Washington, no one will ever be able to do anything, of any sort. The point here is not that both parties have flipped on the filibuster, but that both parties have been able to make a very strong argument that the filibuster and other sundry rules of Senate obstructionism are posing a larger problem than they did in the past. And both parties are right about that. The minority must protect its interests while it's out of power, but that shouldn't stop us from thinking hard about a bipartisan pact to set rules to govern the Senate six or eight years from today, when no one knows who will hold power.
Finally, Will accuses liberals who are not sufficiently respectful of the Senate's undemocratic nature of believing the Founders either "dolts or knaves." This is nonsense. The Founders were trying to entice large states and small states alike into an uncertain union. They solved it as best they could. And as part of their solution, they decided that the Senate should be appointed, not elected.
But just as we have reversed that judgment in recent years without sacrificing our respect for the Founders, so too do we have the ability and the responsibility to think hard about the problems that face the nation and ensure our government is equipped to handle them in he future. That's what the Founders did with the messy compromise that constructed the Senate, and it will be what we do with ours.
Graph credit: By Norm Ornstein/The American
Jim Bunning's campaign to end the filibuster
On Sunday, unemployment insurance and COBRA benefits will expire for millions of laid-off workers. The Senate is expected to pass a package extending the help in a month or so. In the meantime, an emergency extension was proceeding smoothly through the process. That is, until Sen. Jim Bunning objected.
Bunning is holding up the unanimous consent needed to move the process forward. His objection is that he wants the package funded through unused stimulus funds (which means the projects those funds are meant to pay for will go dark). Harry Reid allowed that this was a reasonable argument: He promised Bunning he'd bring up his amendment for a vote. Not good enough, Bunning replied. Why not? "I was not ready to risk voting on a bill," he explained. "I knew it would not get the amount of votes necessary to pay for it.”
In other words, Bunning would lose the vote. Even with the filibuster, he'd lose the vote. But his play isn't to win the vote. His play is to win the clock. Breaking his hold would require a cloture vote, which would mean two days to let the cloture vote "ripen" and then 30 hours of post-cloture debate. That means benefits will run out.
Democrats in the Senate are obviously upset about this, but there's not, in practical terms, much that they can do. The Senate rules are making it possible for Bunning to push the package past the deadline, even though he doesn't have the votes to uphold his position. But don't worry. Bunning is suffering, too. In one of the finest "let them eat cake" moments in recent political history, Bunning whined that his obstructionism meant he had "missed the Kentucky-South Carolina game that started at 9, and it was the only redeeming chance we had to beat South Carolina this year."
Oh, poor muffin.
Senate reform, however, could have no better friend than Bunning. Last year, ending the filibuster was a quixotic blogger obsession. Now it's the subject of a petition by the Senate majority whip. Former Republican majority leader Bill Frist says his colleagues are "overdoing" the filibuster. This is how change begins, and without Bunning making clear exactly what the problem is, it would be impossible.
What do we want?
Justin Fox was annoyed to hear Sen. Tom Coburn claim that "We all want the same thing." In response, Fox lists 18 separate, and occasionally contradictory, things that various people want out of health-care reform, and comments:
If all you care about is reducing health care spending as a share of GDP, then the best solution might be complete privatization — no tax deductions for health care, no taxpayer-funded health programs, no nothin'. But that would of course leave lots of individuals — sick ones, especially — much, much worse off. If all you care about is making the populace healthier, you might want to focus on campaigning for a $3-a-gallon gas tax and a ban on the sale of high-fructose corn syrup. But that wouldn't help flax-eating triathletes who come down with cancer (or a lot of other people). And so on.
In fact, hardly anybody (apart perhaps from some Washington lobbyists) is really that single-minded. We understand that there have to be tradeoffs. Which is why making all our differing health care reform priorities explicit, and trying to put them in some kind of order, seems like it would be a better way to go than either approaching the health care debate as a Manichean struggle or pretending that our priorities are the same.
Judd Gregg: 'If you've got 51 votes, you win'
"The point is this," Sen. Judd Gregg says in this 2005 defense of the Republicans’ use of the budget reconciliation process. "If you've got 51 votes, you win."
The idea "that it is outside the rules to proceed within the rules," Gregg laughs, "is a very unique view on the rules." He's right! Sadly, he has now adopted that unique view on the rules, complaining that reconciliation is "running over the minority, putting them in cement and throwing them in the Chicago River."
Obviously, Democrats were similarly hypocritical at the time, arguing that reconciliation was a terrible abuse of power. And so it goes: People start from their preferred outcome and then make up principles that support it. But at all times, the most convincing argument is the one Gregg uses above: Elections generally work on the principle that if you have 51 percent of the vote, you win. That's how we ratified the Constitution at the Massachusetts Convention. That's how we elected Scott Brown and Ronald Reagan. That's how the House of Representatives passes legislation. And it's how the Senate should work.
Reconciliation is a limited and strange process with problems of its own, however, and it would be far better for Democrats, Republicans and the country if we just dismantled the filibuster. Instead, we're left with a situation in which the minority uses a rule that wasn't supposed to be the way the Senate generally votes to impose a 60-vote requirement and the majority uses a process that wasn't meant to be the way the Senate debates to restore a 51-vote rule. Loser? The country, which gets worse policy made under worse circumstances.
during the POTUS state of the union, he said that if someone had a better idea for HCR than what was being proposed, then they should let him know. Has anyone come forward with a different possible plan? If so, what are the changes/differences?
Ezra Klein writes:
I'm not particularly taken with that bit of president rhetoric. There are better ideas than the Senate bill out there. Wyden-Bennett is one. Pete Stark's Medicare-for-most is another. Both would cover more people at a lower cost, but neither has the support to pass. So far as I know, there's no better idea with even near the required number of votes.
Is it true that you're working on a short story featuring superheroes?
Ezra Klein writes:
Sadly, no. I'd like to know where that rumor started, though.
GOP Healthcare Solution
After watching the "highlights" from yesterday ... I still don't know what the GOP's solution for healthcare is? Although I did see 3 attack ads during CNN's 8pm show last night ... good to see the insurance companies still have money left to spend.
Ezra Klein writes:
The GOP argued that this isn't the time for solutions to the health-care problem. As Lamar Alexander said in the morning, "We don't do comprehensive well." The divide right now is between Democrats who think we need something close to a solution and Republicans who would content themselves with much, much smaller interventions.
This is not a contest of solutions so much as a disagreement over whether Congress should solve problems.
Is reconciliation being 'seriously' considered?Continue reading this post »
Koalas have a reputation as adorable little balls of coziness. That's undeserved, as you can see in this slightly unsettling video of two of them fighting. No one gets hurt, but the battle cries are fierce.
Re: Philosophy and politics
Reader JS is more cynical than I am:
I think your 'philosophical vs political divide' gives far too much respect to what Republicans say and too little to what they actually think in healthcare reform.
What they say: They have proven time and again that say anything to meet their policy and political goals. Every time someone 'catches' them in inconsistencies, they are missing the point.
What they think: From a policy perspective, Republicans really shouldn't like this plan. If you leave decision-making in the hands of the patient (through deductibles, copays, unregulated insurance, increasing uninsured) health care costs will slow and free choice will prevail. Mortality will increase, but that's because the purchaser valued something higher than the treatment. It's a horrible, heartless argument, but more coherent than acknowledged. And it's happening by attrition - no super-majority, no majority, no law needed!
I disagree with them, strongly. But right now you, and the entire Democratic party, are confusing political tactics with policy memos.
A government that works well is a government that taxes easily
Eric Felten makes the conservative case against government efficiency: The easier the government is to use, the less resentful people will be over its costs.
Make it easier and more convenient to collect fines and fees, and soon you'll be collecting more fines and fees. Take Montgomery County, Md. Last month it started a new program that lets motorists pay at parking meters with their cellphones. How easy! How convenient! How civilized! No more digging around the ashtray for dimes and quarters. No more pestering passersby to change a dollar. Of course, when you have to scrounge for coins to feed the meter, you're painfully aware of just how much the parking regime is costing you. Not so with the mobile-phone parking app. According to a demonstration on the Web site of the company powering the service, you just key in how long you'd like to leave your car, and you're on your way. The pesky question of how much you've just paid doesn't come up.
No doubt you can find out later from your online statement, and surely there are some savvy and well-organized folks who do. Yet for most of us the cost fades toward invisibility, and that's when fees go to town. Policymakers have long understood that the less visible — or "salient," to use the economist's term of art — a tax is, the easier it is to raise. Which is why Milton Friedman, looking for ways the federal government could collect more money during World War II, recommended the creation of income tax withholding (an innovation he was not proud of). It's also why "value-added taxes" act like steroids when it comes to bulking up government.
Technologies sold on convenience can prove to be awfully convenient for those setting prices. Consider electronic toll collection systems such as E-ZPass that let drivers blow past highway tollbooths. How wonderful to no longer have to wait in infuriating lines to pay our traffic tribute. And yet, zipping past the toll plaza, how many of us give a thought to how much we were just charged? Could it be that our new electronically induced ignorance gives a green light to those who would super-size the fees? That's the question that MIT economist Amy Finkelstein asked in a recent study of toll-collection nationwide. She found that there was "a strikingly lower awareness of the amount paid in tolls by those who pay electronically," and thus, not surprisingly, that "toll rates increase after the adoption of electronic toll collection," usually by 20% to 40%.
This also underlies the preference some conservatives have for income taxes over consumption taxes. Paying your income tax is a horrible experience that ends with an unexpectedly eye-popping sum. Paying a sales tax or a value-added tax is a mostly automatic process that happens in affordable increments. The income tax is much better for keeping people angry about taxes and mistrustful of the state.
Live chat today
It's at noon, and the tech people tell me it's using some awesome new interface. V-forum rather than Z-forum. Submit questions here. If you don't, I'll make you watch another seven-hour health-care summit.
Could Crist bolt?
The big political news today is that Florida's Charlie Crist might be readying to leave the Republican Party and run for Florida Senate as an independent or a Democrat. That would be a huge coup for Democrats.
The best possible storyline for them going into the 2010 election is that the Republican Party's apparatus has been captured by extremists and ideologues. If Crist leaves -- which will follow Arlen Specter's defection and the Republican mess in New York's 23rd District -- that'll go a long way towards cementing the impression that the modern GOP is no place for moderates.
Conversely, it would be bad for Democrats -- and I'd say for the country -- if Crist simply loses to Marco Rubio in the Republican primary. The better conservatives get at mounting effective primary challenges against moderate Republicans, the more impossible it is for moderate Republicans serving in Congress to act like anything but hardline conservatives. The result isn't party discipline so much as ideological rigidity, and it ensures that compromise on pretty much anything will be totally impossible. The only way to stop that trend is to convince Republicans it's bad for them: New York's 23rd already went for a Democrat, and now if Specter leaves and wins, and Crist leaves and wins, that'll really discredit the effectiveness of the primary approach at electing conservative alternatives.
Photo credit: Chris O'Meara/Associated Press
Imagine that John McCain had won the 2008 election. Confronted with a Democratic majority and interested in recapturing his reputation as a politician far above partisan politics, he decided to co-opt a longtime Democratic priority and reform the health-care system. After a series of long and grueling meetings with Democratic leadership, he settled on a plan they felt able to support. The plan looked like the Senate plan. Not exactly, but enough for the purposes of this hypothetical. Remember that Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham, McCain's main Senate allies, were both Wyden-Bennett sponsors. Compromise that plan down a bit and you're left with something a lot like the Senate bill: private insurance, government regulation, public subsidies, some taxation of benefits, individual mandate, state exchanges and all the other major features.
Put aside whether you think that proposal would've been the likely outcome. What would the vote be? How many Republicans would support the bill if it were their party that looked likely to benefit? How many House Democrats would stick with the plan if it was taxing some benefits and had no public option and a Republican president had his name on it? And if you think that the differences in vote composition would be dramatic -- and I do -- then what does that say about the usefulness of evaluating legislative fights on grounds of policy disagreements?
Tom Toles is worth a thousand words
Political differences masquerading as philosophical ones
"There's a philosophical difference in how we do this," Sen. Tom Coburn said at the Blair House Summit. "It does have to do with the philosophical difference," Rep. Eric Cantor agreed. "There are very deep philosophical differences in how we approach health-care reform," Rep. Marsha Blackburn emphasized. "There really is a difference between us," explained Rep. Paul Ryan. "And it's basically this. We don't think the government should be in control of all of this."
It's true, of course, that there are some philosophical differences between Democrats and Republicans. But Republicans did something interesting yesterday: They turned a lot of policy differences into questions of first principles. And it's harder to compromise on a first principle.
When Cantor pointed out his philosophical differences, for instance, he was talking about how "the Secretary defines what a health benefit package should be." That overstates the role the secretary of health and human services has in setting a floor for insurance in the exchanges, but nevertheless: When Republicans created health savings accounts, they had the government define what the package would be. And when they created the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit, they had the government define what the package would be. And when Rep. Paul Ryan created his proposal, he set the minimum value of a benefit package. "You need to define what insurance is," Ryan told me. "I agree with that."
Marsha Blackburn was saying that Americans "want us to give them the ability to hold insurance companies accountable. One of those ways is through very robust competition." Her solution, and the GOP's, was "across-state-line purchasing of insurance." Other methods of competition -- from exchanges to a public option -- were not included.
But even purchasing across state lines is not always a matter of philosophy for the GOP. In 2009, the Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights passed the House, with Blackburn voting for it. The bill preempts many state regulations on the credit card industry and replaces them with federal regulations. So even if you could get a credit card cheaper from a state that allowed companies to increase rates in the first year of a card, or apply payments to the lowest-interest balances first, you're no longer allowed to. The philosophic appeal of letting South Dakota decide the regulatory standard for the rest of the nation collapsed in the face of the practical problems.
The charge here is not hypocrisy, exactly. The GOP surely supports the policies it says it supports, at least at the moment. But they have elevated a variety of policies that they're willing to compromise on in other contexts to the level of philosophical difference. That makes compromise very difficult. After all, if you believe in purchasing across state lines (which means the national standard is equal to that of the laxest state) and I believe in federal regulation, a compromise could be that each state handles its own regulations (which is what we have now), or that states can choose to enter into compacts with one another that will allow insurers in one state to sell to all participating states (which is what is envisioned in the bill). But if this is a philosophical difference, well, too bad.Continue reading this post »
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