Christopher Hayes | The Nation

Christopher Hayes

Christopher Hayes

Nation editor-at-large and host of MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes.

More Deficit Idiocy: Politico Edition

The discussion about deficits and debt in Washington is so colossally stupid and disingenuous that even engaging it makes me despair. But today's Politico so expertly packages together every conceivable Beltway Establishment inanity about "spending" and "deficits" into one glib little piece of analysis that I can't help myself. (Well, I could help myself but was bullied over Twitter into writing about it here.)

There's one big maddening conceptual error at the heart of this piece (whether committed in good faith or bad I can't say) which is to confuse relatively substantial pieces of domestic legislation with a spending "binge." See, a government, like any organization, institution, or firm has expenditures and revenues. Miraculously, it can increase its expenditures, without increasing its deficit, if it also increases its revenues. This is called "deficit neutral" and it's what the current health care bill, in all its incarnations, is. It is what the cap and trade bill will also be. Now consider this paragraph. 

For starters, the White House has not dropped plans for an aggressive global warming bill early next year that will be loaded with new spending on green technology and jobs – that would be paid for with tax increases. Democratic lobbyist Steve Elmendorf says the White House focus on deficit reduction could easily kill the cap-and-trade effort. "I think this means cap-and-trade has to go to the backburner," he said.

 It's an absolute and total non sequitur! The White House is pushing ahead with it's plans for a bill that won't increase the deficit. And Elmendorf says that a focus on deficit reduction means that this deficit neutral bill just won't fly. Huh?

Now cap and trade should actually be more than revenue neutral, it should raise revenue. (Indeed, that's the central attack on the bill, that it's a tax, ie, a revenue raiser) But in order to get the thing passed we'll have to pay out so many bribes to so many industries, it won't represent much of a net benefit to government coffers.

You may object to government doing the things it's doing. You may think the working poor should just suck it up when they get sick, or that we should subject Bangladesh to a horrific future in which it is plunged into the sea, but you can't say that the motivation for your objection is accounting.

This disingenuousness drives me bonkers, particularly since, as I and others have noted ad nauseum, military spending is simply never considered a relevant part of the balance sheet. (It's mentioned once in passing in the Politico article)

I raised this point in my feature about Blue Dogs. Blue Dogs really like to call themselves "fiscally conservative" but they're not: they're just conservative. In fact, one of their major agenda items is permanent repeal of the estate tax, which would enlarge the debt, and they generally oppose the public option, which would reduce the cost of the health care bill. And of course they all vote for every last defense bill that comes their way. Ask Parker Griffith of Alabama, who recently voted against health care, what he thinks about cutting spending for the military installation in Huntsville.

Fiscal conservatism and deficit concern is nearly always code speak in Washington for something else: sometimes it's class warfare, or just a cheap partisan attack. Most often, when someone in Washington says they're concerned about the deficit, what they're really saying is "I would like to make sure we have a government that focuses maximally on blowing people up."

The Public Option Lives! Big Victory for Progressives

Harry Reid just announced that he'll include a public option (with a provision that allows individual states to opt out of it) in the version of the health care bill he brings to the floor of the senate. This is a huge (though still partial) victory for progressives. Over the weekend there was a flurry of reporting over whether Reid would include the opt-out provision, or the "trigger" provision favored by Olympia Snowe, which would not create a public option unless and until some time in the future when health insurance costs had not diminished. The fact of the matter is, as David Sirota wrote here, the trigger is simply a way to kill the public option. Had Reid included it in the floor bill, progressives would have had to muster 60 votes to pass an amendment to strip the trigger out and replace it with the opt-out language. There's no way they would have been able to do that.

But with the opt-out public option included in the unamended floor-bill, opponents of the public option will now have to get 60 votes to pass their own amendment killing it, and they don't have those votes either. This means that the opt-out public option will almost certainly be in the final bill that comes up for a vote in the full senate. That's huge, since the house will also have a public option (an even stronger one, without the opt-out provision).

Reid is essentially calling the bluff of recalcitrant senators like Nelson, Lincoln and Landrieu, because the only way they can defeat the public option now is to join a Republican filibuster, something that I think Reid is gambling they won't do.

As I said on Maddow on Friday night, if you can't get members of your own party not to filibuster your single most important domestic policy priority, it's hard to understand why you even have a party to begin with.

Rural Health Care, the Public Option and the Opt Out Compromise

The latest health care legislative compromise being floated is one in which states would be allowed to opt out of offering a public option. Chris Bowers lists the problems with the proposal here. Ezra's more sanguine.

I suppose if someone put a gun to my head and the options were no public option or an opt-out compromise, I'd opt for the latter. (I should point out we're not at the gun-at-the-head stage yet). But it's also important to point out just how perverse the results of this compromise would be.

Red, rural states would almost all probably opt out and yet it's rural America that needs the public option the most. As the Center for Community Change points out in a new report [PDF] people who live in rural areas are a) more likely to be underinsured, because fewer people receive insurance from their employers and b) live in markets where there is essentially no competition. In Alabama one health insurance company has 90% market share, in South Dakota, it's two companies. It's under these circumstances where the public option is most needed. In fact, I was talking about this issue with a health care wonk (who works for the government and so can't go on record) and she went so far as to put it this way:


My point is that the public option is probably valuable in this debate, but not for the people fighting for it--precisely for the people not fighting for it. This is important for rural areas where there is little or no managed care in the health insurance exchange (since the public option would be offered within the exchange anyway).


Would be nice if folks like Kent Conrad, Ben Nelson and Max Baucus could be made to understand this.

Wade Rathke Speaks Out

This comes from Nation DC intern Eric Naing:

Just a few weeks ago, a book talk by ACORN founder Wade Rathke wouldn't have drawn much press attention, but the organization's recent notoriety as a conservative boogeyman has thrust Rathke back in the spotlight.

At an event on Tuesday to promote his book Citizen Wealth: Winning the Campaign to Save Working Families, Rathke drew the attention of major media outlets ranging from The Washington Post to National Review. Notably, a reporter from biggovernment.com, the Web site that brought us the infamous pimp and prostitute videos, was there with a cameraman to get another bite at the proverbial, um, ACORN.

Rathke, who resigned as ACORN's chief organizer last year after news that his brother embezzled nearly $1 million from the organization surfaced, chose not to criticize the current leadership of ACORN but acknowledged that the group "didn't do right."

When pushed about his decision not to fully disclose his brother's actions, Rathke said his brother was reprimanded, he stepped down and the money had been paid back. He also defended his secrecy saying the group worried the news would be "weaponized" to hurt ACORN."

Any misstep within the organization might become a threat to its very survival," he said. "That's what's happening now."

Rahke believes much of the vitriol aimed at ACORN stems from opposition to the group's mission to give a voice to lower income people (the pimp in the original video admits his stunt was motivated by his anger over ACORN's attempt to help a foreclosed-on homeowner break into her own house) and he worries that mission is being jeopardized by "a rising neo-McCarthyism" coming from the right."

After the election, ACORN announced it wasn't going to register voters in the future. Now it's announced that it's not going to help people who are poor do taxes. Now it's announcing it's not going to help people buy houses," said Rathke. "Those are huge voids."

Rohrabacher to Iraqis: Be More Grateful!

This dispatch comes from brand new crack DC intern Eric Naing

The House Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight met today to discuss issues of sovereignty and stability in Iraq ranging from the country's longstanding financial obligation to neighboring Kuwait to its even longer-standing issues with the Kurdish people. But Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) seemed mostly interested in berating the Iraqis for their lack of gratitude 

At the hearing, Saleh al Mutlaq and former Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, both members of Iraq's Council of Representatives, spoke about Iraq's future and the importance of the country's upcoming elections. 

Mutlaq called for a "moral and responsible" withdrawal of U.S. troops saying that the invasion of his country was "irresponsible." 

Worried that violence and intimidation from Iraq's ruling party could distort the outcome of the January election, Allawi stressed the need for election monitoring from institutions such as the United Nations, the Arab League and other NGOs along with the United States. 

Then Rohrabacher opened his mouth. 

"I have never heard one word of gratitude from the Iraqi people about the 4,300 Americans who lost their lives," he exclaimed. 

"We went to Iraq to try and free your people and now we're being blamed for sectarian violence," he said. "Don't blame us because that type of bloodlust exists in your society." 

A defiant Mutlaq responded, "You were the ones who pushed your troops. We did not invite you." 

It was at this point that an exasperated Rohrabacher threw up his hands and stormed out of the room. 

It was only in the aftermath of Rohrabacher's tantrum that Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-MA) quietly stated that weapons of mass destruction, and not Iraqi freedom, were the reason the U.S. invaded Iraq.

Does Joe Wilson Believe the President Was Actually Lying?

First of all: I'm back! Somewhere in the Bible it decrees that blogs must be left fallow in August, which explains my absence.

Like everyone else I watched the speech last night. (Quick review: deft explanation of the policy, a few unnecessary political concessions, extremely aggravating lefty-bashing, and genuinely fantastic inspirational finish). And like everyone else I've been following the Joe Wilson "You Lie!" flap.

Now here's what I think is most fascinating about the incident: It's pretty clear to me that Wilson's outburst wasn't calculated grandstanding but a genuine moment of rage and frustration. Just look at the photo. That's a genuinely pissed off dude.

But the thing is: Obama wasn't lying. Illegal immigrants are explicitly barred from the provisions of the legislation.

Here's what I find fascinating. There's been a ton of viral emails floating around the right-wing making the claim that the bill covers illegal immigrants, and talk radio has been whipping up the fervor as well. Wilson clearly thinks that is, indeed, the case. But he's a sitting member of Congress! One would imagine he gets his information about pending legislation from reading it itself or being briefed by his staff, not from viral emails in his inbox.

But that sums up the House GOP caucus. By and large it's made up of absolute and total wingnuts, people who are in ideology disposition and even function much more like talk show hosts or RedState commenters than they are legislators.

Your Questions About Health Care Reform Answered

Ok, so there's been a lot of misinformation about proposals to reform the health insurance industry and provide (near) universal coverage. Understandable! It's complicated stuff. Herewith, I'll try to answer some questions

1) Is it true that all of the bills currently proposed would end the practice of "rescission," whereby health insurance providers refuse to treat customers who've paid their premiums simply because they've become ill?

No! That's a common misunderstanding. Actually, all of the bills would ban incisions, that is, they would legally bar surgeons from performing surgery until a panel of twelve gay illegal immigrant government bureaucrats unanimously signed off on the procedure.

2) Is it true that health care reform would ban insurers from refusing to insure people because of pre-existing conditions?

Wrong again. To get rid of health inequality, the bills actually mandate that every American be given a pre-existing condition. A National Illness Commission, with academics appointed from Harvard, Reed College and Berkeley, will evaluate each citizen, and based on their demographic profile, choose their malady. Each disease or syndrome is scored on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most severe. White christian men will receive pre-existing conditions of 8 or higher. Black people, "wise latinas," and ACORN members will be exempted.

3) I heard the proposals currently under consideration provide seniors with option of free counseling sessions under Medicare, where they can discuss a living will and end-of-life care.

That's a huge misconception. The bills require all senior citizens (who are non union members) be euthanized on their 70th birthday. Under section 278(c)ii all last rites will be performed by Jeremiah Wright using a Q'uran.

4) I've heard the bills being proposed would require insurers to provide preventative care, like mammograms, free of charge.

No, but all lactating mothers will be forced to breast-feed poor children.

5) Will the current bills plug the "donut hole" in the Medicare prescription drug benefit so seniors don't have to pay exorbitant out of pocket expenses for their medication?

Absolutely not. The legislation will ban donuts.


Healthcare Disinformation: A Case Study

Ezra Klein links to some interesting polling today that shows a (slim) plurality saying Obama's health care reform proposals are a "bad idea," but a strong majority supporting the actual content of the bill when "when the interviewer read an accurate, neutrally phrased description of the main features of the plan."

The reason for the difference, of course, is the tremendous amount of lies, distortions and misinformation being thrown up by opponents of reform, the most extreme of which would be funny if they weren't so macabre: the government is going kill off the elderly! They'll mandate you give up your organs when you turn 67! You'll have to pay for gay married couples' abortions!

I recently got to see first-hand how this happens. A few weeks ago I was on Al Jazeera English debating health care reform with a conservative named Josh Trevino. Josh was a nice enough guy, genuine and polite, if extremely conservative. We went back and forth about the degree to which the current system is broken, whether healthcare is a right, and why it is that the US spends so much more per capita on healthcare than any other industrialized nation. When I noted that this year the US will spends more than 17% of GDP on healthcare, Josh shot back with a pretty amazing statistic. He said that, sure we spend a lot on healthcare, but 5.6% of GDP, or a third of all healthcare spending, is spent on pharmaceutical research. That's way more than any other country he said, and in fact, our research dollars find the drugs the rest of the world uses. If you take away all that high-minded spending on research, then US healthcare costs are totally in line with the rest of the world.

At the time I heard this I was surprised I'd never encountered the stat before. It certainly didn't sound right: one out of every twenty dollars in the US economy is spent on drug research? So I tweeted Josh and asked for a citation. To his great credit, Josh went looking and realized he'd made an error. Actually, biomedical research accounts for 5.6% of all healthcare spending. That means it's less than 1% of GDP. Josh was off by a factor of six.

Now, Josh made the error in good faith and he had the integrity to fess up and post a correction on his blog. And we were talking on Al Jazeera which, ahem, doesn't exactly have a wide domestic audience. But it goes to show just how easy it is for misinformation, particularly about a technical and complicated subject like healthcare, to get out to the public. Presumably I could just go on TV and start saying that Republicans want to raise the Medicare eligibility age to 85 or that health care premiums will go up 30-fold in the next year, and however many readers there at conservative blogs that call me out for my falsehoods, it will be a tiny fraction of the TV audience that saw me utter it in the first place.

How the Tea-Baggers are Like ACT-UP

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.

If We Want Health Care We Have to Fight For It

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.

It's on.

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