Nation editor-at-large and host of MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes.
There's been some very interesting back and forth about the right-wing disruptions of health care town halls in the Twitterverse and Blogosphere (oh God, did I just type those two words back-to-back?). One of the fascinating aspects of a political culture in which governmental control has flipped, in a relatively short period of time, from the right to the left, is that each side now finds itself making arguments the other side was making only a little while earlier. The Left accused (rightly!) Bush of using fear-mongering to push the nation into pre-emptive war. During the stimulus debate, the Right turned around and used the same talking points, accusing Obama of using fear-mongering to push through $770 bn in public spending.
I don't want to create a false equivalence here. There are very real differences between the rhetoric and approach of left and right, but it's certainly the case that we often use formal arguments (so and so is fear-mongering) as a way to widen the possible appeal for our substantive, ideological pre-commitments. In the case of the Iraq war, it was a terrible idea no matter how it was sold, and I think the right-wing would say the same about the stimulus.
I'm on a team in American politics: I'm proudly, vigorously on the left. So there's no need to bend over backwards to be formally consistent. That said, intellectual honesty requires one to separate out one's formal objections from substantive ones and I've been given pause by the remarks of some right-wing activists like Jon Henke. He and others have been saying: wait a sec, when the left shows up and makes noise somewhere it's activism, but when the right does it it's thuggery and mob rule?
So after discussing the issue on Maddow last night, I've been asking myself, aside from the deep substantive opposition I have to the tea-baggers' ideological agenda (and the insane hypocrisy of people on Medicare screaming about the dangers of government-run health care), what, exactly, my beef is?
I don't think there's anything "wrong" with the tactics of those people who, with the facilitation of large monied interests, are organizing and shouting down their opponents at town hall meetings. But one thing should be clear: these are the tactics of a small, motivated, enraged and engaged minority. The footage of recent town hall scrums remind me, actually, of ACT-UP actions back in NYC when I was growing up. ACT-UP, the AIDS and gay rights group that flourished in the 1980s and 1990s, was impassioned and angry and used dramatic confrontational action to great public effect. They were a vanguard. They were a small, tightly coordinated impassioned minority. And they were fundamentally on the right side of history.
What frustrates me, however, is that no one in the press confused ACT-UP with broader public opinion. No pundits said "the public is clearly feeling rising unease about government inaction on AIDS, as evidenced by the latest ACT-UP protest." Why? Because they were gay, and they had AIDS and they didn't look like "average citizens" or "heartland" voters.
At their root, the town hall protests are a very similar phenomenon. I think these people, unlike ACT-UP, are wrong. Deeply wrong. (They're also not literally fighting for their lives because of a homophobic and indifferent government, but that's neither here nor there). But they're a small, tightly coordinated, enraged minority. They want to scream and fuss, it's a free country, as they say.
The problem is the overwhelming instinct on the part of pundits and the MSM to look, and see old white men in overalls and Legionnaire hats and think they are watching someone give voice to the sentiments of broad swaths of the electorate. And it's just not true. What we're seeing at these events are the voices of radicals, extremists and zealots.
I come from a family of organizers (my dad and my brother), so I'm intimately familiar with just how much work good organizing is. I also have a lot of guilt about the fact I'm not one. As hard as writing can sometimes be, it's orders of magnitudes easier (not to mention confers a lot more recognition and praise) than the unglamorous job of calling through lists, finding suitable meeting places, negotiating personalities, motivating busy and harried volunteers, etc...
For that reason, I'm always reluctant to use my writing platform to urge other people to organize. It feels cheap and easy. But with that disclaimed out of the way, I have to echo what Josh Marshall says here.
If you want health care, then do something about it. We are now in the middle of a fight. Fights are good. Democracy is fundamentally about the non-violent resolution of conflict, and we've got conflict. There is a small but very mobilized constituency of people and interests that want to kill health care reform. They have the advantage of being on the attack, or tearing down and criticizing and expressing their outrage. The job of advocates of reform is trickier, but unless there is a mobilization and concerted organized attempt to push elected representatives in a progressive direction they will succumb to the braying and bullying of tea-baggers. Find out if your congressman is having a town hall, and go. Find others to go with you. Let them know you will punish them if they don't support real reform. Call their offices. Show up at their offices.
The House has already hit the road -- gone until September -- so the Senate has the joint to itself. I asked one Senate staffer what the rationale is behind the House taking off a week earlier?
"What is this thing you call a 'rationale?'" he replied.
The Senate will vote to confirm Sonia Sotomayor -- the only mystery there is how many deadbeat Republican votes she will pick up along the way.
Today there is debate on the $23.7 billion FY10 Agriculture Appropriations bill-- $2.3 billion more than FY09. CongressDaily reports that the bill provides $124 billion when mandatory spending is taken into account, including $61.4 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps). That funding is desperately needed. In April nearly 39 million people received food stamps -- more than 1 in 9 Americans.
The Senate will also take up the Cash for Clunkers program which exhausted its first $1 billion in less than a week. The House voted to extend the program with $2 billion taken from previously approved renewable energy loan guarantees in the stimulus bill. The GOP will (surprise) attempt to filibuster.
Max Baucus and his five friends on the Senate Finance Committee say they need more time to come up with their uninspired and underwhelming health care bill. His Herculean effort to please Chuck Grassley, Mike Enzi, and Olympia Snowe has successfully alienated Democrats on the committee who have been relegated to the sidelines during negotations. (That's good news, maybe the Baucus bill will be scrapped since 3 House committees and the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions committee are in general agreement on a public option…. Has Baucus made Olbermann's Worst Person in the World list yet?)
Hearings this week…. Senate Banking hears from FDIC Chairwoman Sheila Bair tomorrow when it looks at streamlining bank supervision. On Wednesday the Committee holds a hearing on proposals for regulation of credit card agencies…. Sheila E. will be in town tomorrow, testifying in support of legislation which would end the royalty exemption for AM and FM radio. Here's hoping for a drum solo…. This morning, Senator Ben Cardin looks at protecting and restoring the Chesapeake Bay -- the nation's largest estuary….
President Obama will travel to Elkhart, Indiana on Wednesday to talk health care. Hopefully he'll modify his pitch -- less jargon, more urgency.
Sebastian Jones catches some under-the-radar shenanigans from two house Democrats and a Republican on behalf of Big Pharma:
At a North Carolina town hall yesterday, the President went out of his way to mention a brewing legislative battle on Capitol Hill: the fight over how long to grant drug manufacturers monopolies on a new class of drugs called biologics and when to allow cheaper, generic alternatives.
The current proposed legislation--HR 1427 introduced by Representatives Waxman (D-CA) and Deal (R-GA)-- would grant biologics the same 5-year period of exclusivity traditional pharmaceuticals receive now and would limit a manufacturer's ability to get an extension of that monopoly, requiring, for example, a "significant therapeutic advance."
However, Representatives Eshoo (D-CA), Inslee (D-WA) and Barton (R-TX) are planning to introduce an amendment which tows the brand-name industry line that a 12-year monopoly is needed and waters down the criteria for a given biologic's period of exclusivity to be extended. The practice of getting extensions for small tweaks to the original product--things like shifting the delivery method from a pill to an injection or changing the dosage from twice a day to once a day--has been labeled "evergreening" by consumer groups. This month, the European Union's antitrust regulator said she would begin to monitor the practice closely.
In a copy of the amendment obtained by The Nation, the conditions under which a drug's exclusivity may be renewed are numerous and strikingly vague:
"A change…that results in a new indication, route of administration, dosing schedule, dosage form, delivery system, delivery device or strength; or a modification to the structure of the biological product that does not result in a change in safety, purity, or potency."
This essentially grants big drug manufacturers the ability to wait until the 11th hour to make slight adjustments and receive a substantial extension.
These prolonged monopolies, preventing the production of generics and keeping drug prices high in a healthcare system fraught with increasing costs, might explain why the President has expressed concern about the issue.
Full text of the Eshoo, Inslee and Barton Amendment is below. Also, for more information on the biologics issue, check out this recent editorial from the Post.
Today's the 44th anniversary of Medicare, the single payer health insurance program that provides care for millions of senior citizens. It is the nightmare come true! Forty-three million of our citizens groaning under the yoke of socialism! I kid of course. The program, while not without its flaws, has displayed significantly less cost inflation than private insurance, has lower administrative costs and very high satisfaction among its participants. It's so politically popular that when red-state elected representatives go to town halls they hear things like: "keep your government hands off my Medicare" (!) from angry constituents. Yes.
This has got me thinking: Republicans opposed Medicare when it was created. They hate socialized medicine, government-run health care and the public option now. So why don't they put their money with their mouths are and propose scrapping Medicare? Any bills like this been introduced? If not, why not? I seriously think every single conservative and Republican caught railing against government run healthcare needs to be asked if they support disbanding Medicare.
The following comes from a reader and frequent correspondent. This is not someone with particularly progressive politics. In fact, he only very recently has come to identify as a Democrat. No radical lefty, he.
I don't get the democrats on this one. Even if Charles Grassley and Olympia Snowe vote for this deal, the Republicans will still run against it as the Obama/Pelosi plan. Why not stick to your guns, treat the problem from a parliamentary perspective, and put through a plan that you actually think is optimal. The current attempt won't protect their downside at all and may limit the upside. Very frustrating.
More than frustrating. Enraging.
The House leaves town at the end of the week, the Senate one week later, and hopes for a health care bill before they vacate are all but nil. (Tell Congress to stick around and get the job done here.) They won't return until the second week of September, and meanwhile 14,000 people a day are losing their healthcare.
This week, Chairman Waxman continues negotiating with the conservative Blue Dog (pseudo)Democrats to try to get the House health care bill through his Energy and Commerce Committee. Even if the House could bring a bill to the floor for a vote, it probably won't until it knows where the Senate is headed. House Dems don't want to take a tough stand only to be left hung out to dry by Senate Dems as they strip the bill of a public option and a surcharge on the wealthy.
Over in the Senate, God only knows what Max Baucus is up to as he continues to try to woo brofriend Chuck Grassley. He's now working with just six members of the Finance Committee -- three Democrats (including him) and three Republicans. Majority Leader Harry "I'm no LBJ" Reid hopes to have the Baucus health care bill by the August recess so they can spend that month merging it with the decent Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee version.
Since the Senate won't have a health care bill to vote on, it will take up the FY10 $34.2 billion Energy and Water Appropriations bill which -- according to CongressDaily -- includes $27.4 billion for the Energy Department, $5.4 billion for Army Corps of Engineers, and $1.1 billion for the Interior Department.
The House will consider the $636.3 billion FY10 Defense Appropriations bill. The Senate voted last week to discontinue the F-22 fighter jet (after the current 187 already authorized) and the House is expected to follow suit. It's a small victory, but a very necessary one. If we couldn't get this cut then we can't get anything. Now other cuts remain possible.
The House will also need to address the Highway Trust Fund which will run out of money during the recess if no action is taken.
The House Financial Services Committee takes its first stab at the financial regulatory overhaul, with a markup tomorrow of the Corporate and Financial Institution Compensation Fairness Act of 2009 "to provide shareholders with an advisory vote on executive compensation and to prevent perverse incentives in the compensation practices of financial institutions."
The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor on Tuesday. The only Republican who has announced his intention to vote for her is South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.
Other notable hearings: Senate Foreign Relations examines the Internally Displaced Persons Crisis in Pakistan on Wednesday, and a Comprehensive Strategy For Sudan on Thursday. (House Foreign Affairs also looks at Sudan and a Comprehensive Peace Agreement on Wednesday)…. Chairman John Tierney's National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee holds a hearing tomorrow on The Plan for Withdrawal of US Assets from Iraq…. On Wednesday, House Armed Services examines "Psychological Stress in the Military: What Steps are Leaders Taking?"…. Keith Ernst, director of research at the Center for Responsible Lending, will testify tomorrow at a Joint Economic Committee hearing on preventing foreclosures…. On Thursday, House Judiciary looks at Reforming the Military Commissions System.
Finally, for US soccer fans -- all 17 of us (and I count myself as one) -- President Obama meets with FIFA President Sepp Blatter today, and CongressDaily reports that he will lobby for the US to host the World Cup in 2018 or 2022. Here's hoping for some Obama magic.
From crack DC intern Sebastian Jones:
During last night's primetime press conference, Christi Parsons of the Chicago Tribune asked President Obama a pointed question about the transparency his administration had often promised during the campaign and seemingly failed to deliver once in power. The President's response, short and direct, was also relatively misleading. Examining the record, we fact-check his remarks.
1) Meeting Health Care Executives
Obama: "Well, on the list of health care executives who've visited us, most of the time you guys have been in there taking pictures, so it hasn't been a secret. And my understanding is we just sent a letter out providing a full list of all executives. But frankly these have mostly been at least photo sprays where you could see who was participating…"
Fact-Check: Until yesterday, that the Obama administration was having meetings with health care executives and lobbyists at the White House as early as February 4th was not public knowledge. When Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a freedom of information request last month for records pertaining to visits by 18 industry executives and lobbyists, their request was denied. An earlier FOI request in May for information on Coal industry executives and their White House visits was similarly denied, both using the same legal arguments that the Bush administration employed to keep Dick Cheney's energy task force meetings out of the public eye. CREW has filed suit in both cases.
Also worth noting is that yesterday's letter released by the White House did not affirm (or satisfy) the FOI request from CREW, but rather was an "exercise of [presidential] discretion"--basically the White House saying that while they believe the public is not necessarily entitled to this information, they'll provide it anyway.
2) Putting Health Care Negotiations on C-SPAN
Obama: "With respect to all the negotiations not being on C-SPAN, you will recall in this very room that our kickoff event was here on C-SPAN, and at a certain point you start getting into all kinds of different meetings--Senate Finance is having a meeting, the House is having a meeting. If they wanted those to be on C-SPAN then I would welcome it. I don't think there are a lot of secrets going on in there."
Fact-Check: Regarding C-SPAN, Obama told a crowd at an August 11, 2008 town hall, "What we'll do is, we'll have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents, and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies." With regards to there not being "a lot of secrets going on" in congressional meetings, this article from today's Roll Call describing the secrecy surrounding Sen. Max Baucus' bipartisan talks would suggest otherwise.
3) TARP transparency
Obama: "And the last question with respect to TARP. Let me take a look at what exactly they say we have not provided. I think that we've provided much greater transparency than existed prior to our administration coming in. It is a big program. I don't know exactly what's been requested. I'll find out and I will have an answer for you."
Fact-Check: Testifying before congress the day before the President's presser, TARP Special Inspector General Neil Barofsky told lawmakers that "although Treasury has taken some steps towards improving transparency in TARP programs, it has repeatedly failed to adopt recommendations that…are essential to providing basic transparency."
For a comprehensive list of Obama White House transparency short-comings, check out this post from Glenn Greenwald.
Just got back from an hour-long interview Speaker Pelosi gave to a few journalists on healthcare. I've interviewed the speaker a number of times, and it always strikes me how vast the gap must be between Pelosi's public persona as a kind of gentle earnest liberal grandmother, and her behind-the-scenes role as an incredibly effective vote wrangler. At one point she said that she's always called Washington DC "the city of the perishable. When you got the vote, you take the vote." And at this she pounded her fist into her hand with relish and a smile that made me think about just how much she seems to like her job.
She seemed confident about the House being able to pass a healthcare bill with a "strong" public option, the importance of which she repeatedly stressed. "That's gonna happen," she said flatly. She also said that for all the stories about Democrats rebelling over the Ways and Means proposed surtax on the rich, she's gotten very little push back from members of her caucus.
And unlike Democrats in the Senate, Pelosi didn't seem overly concerned with getting a bipartisan bill. "This is bigger than anything we've done in our political lives," she said of passing healthcare reform. "It's the most noticeable initiative that Congress can take that improves the lives of Americans." Republicans, Pelosi said, know just how politically potent the issue is and how much successful reform would benefit Democrats. And that's why they're devoted to killing it. Jim DeMint's comments that defeating healthcare would "break" Obama, "blew their cover." Pelosi said. "They will do anything to stop it."
All of that said, Pelosi, who urged forward momentum and no delay, wouldn't commit to a firm time line. And she was restrained and diplomatic in responding to questions about members of the Blue Dog caucus that have sought to slow things down. While she suggested the house would pass their version of the bill before August recess, she stopped short of promising it. She clearly feels the urgency, however. "Ideas can melt in the sun," she said, "especially in August."
UPDATE: Ezra Klein has some more excerpts from the interview here.
At the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, I think it's incredibly important for anyone even vaguely on the center-left to understand what's at stake in this healthcare fight. Talking to an immigration reform activist a few weeks ago he described healthcare reform as the "front end of the wedge. If we can't get that through, forget immigration reform." That's true for pretty much every other item on the left's agenda. Jim DeMint was speaking the truth.
Since Washington lives on drama, and the 24 hour news cycle exacerbates that tendency, it's very easy to lose perspective. But this letter from a reader at TPM summed up how I'm feeling pretty well:
if this country cannot pass a bill which insures that every citizen has access to medical care, which every developed country has managed to do (and got done many many years ago), there is something very fundamentally and structurally wrong with this country.
Such an event, in my mind, would confirm that we live with a completely corrupt and dysfunctional form of government. Forty nine states, each with bicameral legislative bodies, some of which have distinguished themselves recently with unabashed levels of incompetency and cluelessness. Then, graft a federal government over that, which is also bicameral, the non-representative portion of it being filled with officials who are certifiable morons and/or who are bought and sold like whores by wealthy contributors.
Talk about a Waterloo.
This is a defining moment in our history. Do we fulfill our supposed status as a "shining city on a hill" or continue our long slow decline into a second rate oligarchy?
The defining feature of this decade thus far has been elite failure and oligarchic corruption. If there's going to be a pivot onto a new path of progress this is it.