h/t: Talking Points Memo.
Consensus of the Washington talking heads: Obama will "move to the center" following the debacle in Massachusetts.
If he does, Obama will go down in history as another Jimmy Carter, a very intelligent and well-intentioned fellow who just didn't get it in his one term as president.
May I recommend some reading this dreary Sunday in January? First, Frank Rich in The New York Times:
The Obama administration is so overstocked with Goldman Sachs-Robert Rubin alumni and so tainted by its back-room health care deals with pharmaceutical and insurance companies that conservative politicians, Brown included, can masquerade shamelessly as the populist alternative.
After that, read this piece on DailyKos about Abraham Lincoln and fighting for a cause. For Lincoln and the Union Army circa 1862, think Democratic Party and its massive advantages circa 2010 -- if only it would use them in the great causes of today.
In the spring of 1862, the vast army of the United States was gathered on the Virginia Peninsula. Landed by a massive and lengthy amphibious operation that was a testimony to the North's military and industrial might, the army had been brought to this swampy ground with the stated intention of "leaping" up the peninsula to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond. The army's commander, General George McClellan, had trained and equipped his troops like no force in history. They were by far the largest, best equipped, best prepared, most formidable army on the face of the earth.
But McClellan (think Max Baucus) didn't want to fight. He dithered in hopes a centrist solution could be found.
So Scott Brown wins in Massachusetts, and all of a sudden the Democrats don't have a filibuster-proof 60-vote supermajority in the U.S. Senate to pass health care legislation. Nooze flash: They didn't have one before. Joe Lieberman is not a Democrat. (Google up some video of him at the '08 National Republican Convention).
I haven't written a word about health care of late because there was nothing to say that wasn't going to be disproven within a day by the clusterf--k that is the Democratic party in Washington circa November-January, 2009-10. But now, I think, the dust sh-- is settling in and the truth of the fact that the Democrats have never been in a position (given the ridiculous rules of the Senate) to stop a GOP-plus-Lieberman filibuster is beginning to filter through. Which means nothing worthwhile can be accomplished except by using the budget reconciliation process.
But remember, using reconciliation was always the preferred approach, always made sense, and always was what President Obama should've been doing but wasn't for reasons best known to, uh, maybe Rahm Emanuel? No-drama Obama? Equals No-fair health care.
Using reconciliation, Medicaid can be expanded to cover everyone who's poor or low-income; S-CHIP can be extended to every child; and a Medicare buy-in can be offered to everyone over age 50 or 55 or 45 -- or everybody. What a concept: Cover everybody. Universal coverage! Why didn't anyone think of that?
And later, put a bill in to ban insurers from dodging pre-existing conditions, dumping clients when they're ill, and/or loading on super-premiums (use the limit in the House-passed bill -- no more than double the youth rate for your older customers), and dare the Republicans to oppose it. And/or the House passes the Senate's passed bill after reconciliation supercedes all the bad stuff in it, which is a lot.
It's a formula kicking around out there now. Best short summary is offered by Jon Walker at Firedog Lake.
This thing ain't over 'til it's over, and it's not over until we achieve universal coverage. Obama's stepping back? OK, as long as it isn't for more than the weekend. How about stepping up at the State of the Union?
The U.S. Supreme Court decision today green-lighting unlimited corporate spending on political campaigns (and labor, too, to the extent that America still has any) does one of two things, or maybe both. It (1) shreds the distinctions made in the law between free speech -- the First Amendment idea that we can say what we think without fear from the government -- and buying airtime so you can bombard the public with your message. And it (2) removes the tissue wrapping from the fiction that the distinctions made in the law are actually enforceable in practice (let alone actually enforced in practice).
So now we confront the reality: Big Money is at the center of the American political system, and the right and the left. It owns both political parties, in whole or part. (How else to explain Max Baucus?) The only answer to it -- I started to say alternative to it, but there's no way of eliminating Big Money's power, only of off-setting it), is to offer a "clean money" option to candidates who agree not to take Big Money's money. That means public financing of the kind North Carolina currently offers to judicial candidates and candidates for a few statewide offices (Auditor, Insurance Commissioner, Schools Superintendent).
Here's Bob Hall's take. He's our state's foremost voice on cleaning up government:
It's in The New York Times.
Anyone have something they need to say about it? I don't.
(An update from Faulkner Fox, who's helping to raise money following Rhonda's seizure yesterday:
TO DONATE TO A FUND FOR RHONDA'S MEDICAL EXPENSES: please send a check made out to "Southern Coalition for Social Justice" with "Rhonda Robinson fund" written in the note line on the check to:
115 Market Street
Durham, NC 27701
IF ANYONE HAS IDEAS ABOUT HOW TO HELP RHONDA GET HEALTH INSURANCE,
please contact Faulkner, email@example.com
TO SEND A NOTE OF SUPPORT TO RHONDA,
please write to: Rhonda@durhamforobama.org)
I can't help you on the subject of what they're doing with health care reform in Washington. I recommend Talking Points Memo and Firedog Lake as reasonably up-to-date sources (as up-to-date as they can be when nobody knows wtf to do about Joe Lieberman). I can help you -- or Jon Parker, the Durham filmmaker-activist, can -- as far as what's important to think about as you try to follow the bouncing bills. Here's a link to Jon's post on DailyKos -- it concerns Rhonda Robinson's setback yesterday, humanity, and why we just can't give up on this thing as much as we may be tempted to:
Eventually, the doctor with the white lab coat comes in to check on Rhonda. After perusing the file, the doctor asks the attending physician "Why is there no neurologist report in the file?"
The attending physician says "She is uninsured."
She is uninsured...
SHE IS UNINSURED!
So let’s get this straight. Rhonda has epilepsy. Rhonda is having seizures despite taking her prescribed anti seizure medications. Rhonda lives in constant pain. Rhonda needs to see a neurologist. Rhonda is uninsured. Rhonda could die!
Rhonda is asleep or unconscious or whatever in Exam Room #43. I rummage through her purse to find her cell phone and the cell numbers for her kids. And there in her purse is the blue index card with the notes for her never delivered speech for what it means to be uninsured in the United States of America.
If there is a god, how about a blessing for Jon and Rhonda Robinson. And read Jon's post.
Perhaps that reader was you? In any event, the complete text of the bill, H.R. 3962 is available for your perusal on Congressman David Price's website (h/t Lenice Williams), should you care to attempt it. Also, links to an overview of the bill, section-by-section summaries, and a helpful piece of propaganda from the House Ways and Means Committee, "Top 14 Provisions that Take Effect Immediately."
I've been following this thing pretty closely, and I didn't know six of them.
Did you know, for example, that the bill creates a long-term care program, financed by voluntary payroll deductions, for adults who become functionally disabled? I didn't.
The House vote on H.R. 3962 could come as early as Saturday evening, or may be delayed until Tuesday depending on how much flack the Republicans throw at it. (There's not a single GOP vote for it, apparently.) Democratic leaders say they're closing in on the 218 votes needed for passage, according to Talking Points Memo.
The American political system is resistant to change, and it undertakes reform -- progressive reforms, I mean -- incrementally if at all. So no one should be foolish enough to think that the health care reform legislation coming out of Congress this year, or perhaps early next year, will produce immediate improvements to health care delivery, either in terms of coverage, quality or cost. And lord knows, the reforms on the table are at least two decades overdue, if not five or six. (Truman wanted universal health care, after all).
Nonetheless, the announcement today by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that the "blended" bill he will bring to the floor will include a public option is a major breakthrough. It's the "opt-out" version of the public option, meaning that it's not the "robust" option (with rates tied to Medicare's rates), but it's not the weak-as-pond-water "trigger" version either, nor the also-weak "opt-in" version. This one will create a national insurance option available in every state unless your state's leaders are so dumb they opt out of it -- kind of like turning down federal stimulus money when 1o percent of your state's population is unemployed.
This public option won't change anything immediately, and it will be four, five, six years or more before its impact even starts to be felt. But if it works as it should (famous last words?), it will make good health care coverage available to a limited number of consumers at rates 20 percent (or more) below what private insurers are charging, forcing the private companies to respond or else watch as Congress gradually expands the number of people allowed to choose the public plan.
The public option was a must-have for progressive organizations; Washington pundits considered it unlikely from the get-go, "knowing" as they do how politics works; and it was pronounced dead by the in-crowd about three weeks ago. But now, it's back, it's in the Senate bill, it will be in the House bill, and it's odds-on to be in the bill that Congress sends to the President, assuming that it will send something to the President -- and I do assume that.
The reason for its rebound is simple: Without the public option, the costs of reform -- especially with all the side deals that Congress and the White House have cut with Big Pharma, the American Medical Association, the hospitals and the rest of the industry -- were projected to be north of $1 trillion over the next 10 years, with little hope of off-setting cost reductions. With the public option, cost reductions become possible in amounts that should be equal to or greater than the costs. The public option will "bend the cost curve," as the President says.
Give President Obama credit -- he stuck with the public option without shoving it down anyone's throat, letting the debate play out so that advocates could make their case and opponents demonstrate that they had no case to make. Give the public credit -- they listened, and the more they heard, the better the public option polled. (Obama's statement is below the fold.)
It ain't over 'til it's over, of course, so knock on wood and all that. But this is big.
Results are coming in -- and they're not close. In Raleigh, Meeker, Baldwin, Stephenson, McFarlane, Crowder, West re-elected; Bonner Gaylord in, John Odom back, Rodger Koopman out. Cary: Robinson-Bush not over (quite), but Robinson ahead; Smith in, and Robeson.
School board: Malone, Tedesco, Goldman, Prickett in; diversity out.
Our story this week about ACORN's work in North Carolina contrasted its tiny budget (in this state, between $400,000 and $450,000 a year, according to state director Pat McCoy) with the "crime of the century" treatment ACORN's national operations have been getting from Fox News, other media and the Republican Party. Today we learned that ACORN's eight N.C. employees -- that's right, this dangerous organization employs all of eight people in a state of 8 million -- have been working sans paychecks for about three weeks.
McCoy told us this afternoon that the cutoff began because private fundraising had fallen fallen short, with foundations and other givers continuing to hold back expected contributions while ACORN worked to strengthen internal accounting controls in the wake of the discovery last fall that a fiscal officer embezzled $950,000 from the national office a decade ago. At first, he thought the cutoff would be short-term; then the new scandal hit, with staffers in ACORN's Baltimore office caught on videotape in a conservative sting. You probably know the rest.
He's still working, McCoy said, as are the other seven employees, either full-time or part-time. "We're still very much working," he said. They don't know when, or if, they'll be paid again, McCoy acknowledged, but he expressed some hope that it won't be long. ACORN had already shut down operations in some other "red" states -- he mentioned South Carolina and Idaho -- where it tried unsuccessfully "and probably unwisely" to establish new chapters in recent years. They were big money drains, he said.
Elsewhere, ACORN may be paring operations, McCoy said, but he doesn't know of another state where all the staffers' pay was halted.