Sunday, February 21, 2010

Rally time!

As far as Republicans are concerned, it's already over: the GOP will gain control of both Houses of Congress in 2010. Certainly, current polls do show that the House is in play, and that the Senate could be if everything continues to break the GOP's way.

In a stunning development, Congressional Democrats seem to have stumbled on a possible solution to their problem: actually keeping some of their campaign promises!

We may yet see a jobs bill in 2010. Huge strides in the war in Afghanistan show progress towards the exit strategy Democrats have been demanding. (For a short list of Democratic campaign promises that will probably never be kept, see this Think Progress post.) But here's the big news: health care reform, with the public option, is back.

Democrats will attempt to pass an updated version of the health care reform bill in the Senate through the process known as reconciliation, in which a contentious budget bill can be passed with only 51 votes and not be subject to possible filibuster by the minority party. Republicans are feigning shock that Democrats would resort to using the reconciliation process to bypass the GOP's filibuster-everything policy, but of course when they themselves had a small majority in the Senate, the Republican caucus used reconciliation to pass major legislation all the time. For example, they used it to pass Bush's tax cuts for the rich in 2001 and 2003, the result of which is a loss of $2.3 trillion in revenue in the first decade following their passage.

The importance of putting the public option back on the table cannot be overstated. A 2009 poll showed public support for health care reform with a public option at 77%, while a recent poll showed only 44% support for the current, public-option-free version of health care reform that was on the verge of passage before Senator Scott Brown's election in Massachusetts took away Democrats' filibuster-proof supermajority in the Senate.

If Democrats can take advantage of this last, best chance to pass health care reform, I firmly believe it will be a real shot in the arm for them come this fall's elections. At the same time, it will be a stunner for conservatives who thought that they had already buried health care reform for yet another generation. As Jonathan Chait of The New Republic notes:

"You can imagine how this feels to conservatives. They've already run off the field, sprayed themselves with champagne and taunted the losing team's fans. And now the other team is saying the game is still on and they have a good chance to win. There may be nothing wrong at all with the process, but it's certainly going to feel like some kind of crime to the right-wing. The Democrats may not win, but I'm pretty sure they're going to try. The conservative freakout is going to be something to behold."

This week, the White House will publish its final vision for health care refom. On Thursday, Obama will invite congressional leaders from both parties to Blair House for a half-day meeting. There, he will describe and advocate for his proposal, then offer Republicans to do the same. And that meeting may well be what decides what happens. Let's go!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Congess doesn't deliver; Democrats walk away

The Republican base is energized. They've successfully convinced themselves that the country is governed by a President born in either Kenya or Indonesia, despite irrefutable evidence to the contrary. They're also sure he's a socialist, even though advocates of single-payer health care are the only group who was never allowed a seat at the health care debate. And they're convinced that he's responsible for the budget deficit, even though the last fiscal year of the Bush presidency ended just four months ago.

But it takes more than that for the Republicans to win a Senate seat in Massachusetts. After all, it's usually the case that the party out of power does well in off-year and mid-term elections. More is needed for the kind of really big sweep that the Republicans may get this year. Specifically, what is required is a serious loss of confidence by the Democratic base in the President and Congress.

James Hohmann of has a pretty good summary of why Democratic voters are deeply disappointed in the current Congress, and thus may stay home in the fall's election. Labor unions are a pillar of Democratic support, providing not just votes and campaign dollars but also a lot of the party's most hard-working activists and organizers. Yet despite helping to elect a Democratic President and large Democratic majorities in Congress, labor has failed to see any of its major legislative goals become law. Hohmann writes that,

"The Senate’s failure to confirm labor lawyer Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board was just the latest blow, but the frustrations have been building for months.

"Here's labor getting thrown under the bus again," said John Gage, the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 600,000 workers. "It's really frustrating for labor, and a lot of union people are thinking: We put out big time in money and volunteers and support. And it seems like the little things that could have been aren't being done."

The 52-33 vote on Becker — who needed 60 to be confirmed — really set labor unions on edge, but the list of setbacks is growing."

Hohmann also notes that:

"The so-called “card check” bill that would make it easier to unionize employees has gone nowhere. A pro-union Transportation Security Administration nominee quit before he even got a confirmation vote. And even though unions got a sweetheart deal to keep their health plans tax-free under the Senate health care bill, that bill has collapsed, leaving unions exposed again.

"On health care, unions found themselves in a defensive posture. They worked in early January to carve out an exception from an excise tax on so-called Cadillac insurance policies, only to see the package fall apart, with recriminations about just the kind of back-room deal making they had engaged in.Obama said he would push for greater unionization at the Transportation Security Administration, but it hasn't happened."

Labor isn't the only Democratic constituency to be tremendously disappointed in the current Administration. Environmentalists are fuming that the Senate has abandoned plans to pass legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And it seems that virtually all Democrats and Independents who supported Obama's election are angry with him for his refusal to fight for the public option on health care reform.

Did Democrats ask for too much? After all, when Obama and other Democrats standing for election in 2008 were drawing up their agenda three or more years ago, they weren't aware that by 2009 that the country would be facing its greatest economic crisis since the 1930s. The economy, at least, has been a success story. When Obama took office, the economy was shrinking at a staggering minus 5.4% annualized growth in GDP, with the banking and domestic automotive industries both on the verge of collapse. One year later, the economy is growing at the brisk 5.7% annualized growth in GDP. On other fronts, the Administration has put in effective plans to wind down the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and it has restored America's tarnished image abroad. And oh yeah, we stopped endorsing torture.

Rather than judging whether the Democratic base has become too cynical too fast, I want to conclude with a different thought. That is, if Democrats do give in to apathy this year because they haven't gotten what they want out of Obama and Congress, they will have done so a lot more quickly than Republican do when they control Washington and it happens that their base doesn't get what it wants.

Thomas Frank commented brilliantly on this phenomenon in 2004 in his classic What's the Matter with Kansas?. Frank observed that at election time conservatives always seem to back their leaders with the same fervency, despite the fact that,

"Their grandstanding leaders never deliver, their fury mounts and mounts, and nevertheless they turn out every two years to return their right-wing heroes to office for a second, a third, and twentieth try. The trick never ages; the illusion never wears off. Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital gains taxes. Vote to make our country strong again; receive deindustrialization. Vote to screw those politically correct college professors, receive electricity deregulation. Vote to get government off our backs; receive conglomeration and monopoly everywhere from media to meatpacking. Vote to stand tall against terrorists; receive Social Security privatization. Vote to strike a blow against elitism; receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our lifetimes, in which workers have been stripped of power and CEO’s are rewarded in manner beyond imagining."

In conclusion, my hope is that we can somehow turn out the Democratic base in this fall's election despite our many disappointments. Because if we didn't learn this lesson from the Administration of George W. Bush, we never will: There is absolutely nothing worse than letting the Republicans run this country.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Your Republican party, ladies and gentlemen

I keep telling myself that the Democratic party's fortunes are going to stop deteriorating sometime before the November elections. Maybe this new insanity from Senate Republicans who are now holding up 70-plus Obama nominations so that they can get their pork-barrel earmarks will sour the public on them a bit.

In the meantime, Chris Bowers of has made a prediction that I've been dreading: the GOP will capture the net 40 seats they need to take over the US House. Charlie Cook is only slightly less sanguine about Republican chances in the House, currently predicting a gain of 25 to 35 seats.

So if we're going to hand the country back to the Republicans, why not take a good look at who they are?

A new poll of more than 2000 Republicans tell us... wow, I'm not sure what to say. Why don't I let the poll speak for itself?

Should Barack Obama be impeached, or not? Yes 39 No 32 Not Sure 29
Do you think Barack Obama is a socialist? Yes 63 No 21 Not Sure 16
Do you believe Barack Obama was born in the United States, or not? Yes 42 No 36 Not Sure 22
Do you believe Barack Obama wants the terrorists to win? Yes 24 No 43 Not Sure 33
Do you believe ACORN stole the 2008 election? Yes 21 No 24 Not Sure 55
Do you believe Sarah Palin is more qualified to be President than Barack Obama? Yes 53 No 14 Not Sure 33
Do you believe Barack Obama is a racist who hates White people? Yes 31 No 36 Not Sure 33
Do you believe your state should secede from the United States? Yes 23 No 58 Not Sure 19
Should Congress make it easier for workers to form and join labor unions? Yes 7 No 68 Not Sure 25
Would you favor or oppose giving illegal immigrants now living in the United States the right to live here legally if they pay a fine and learn English? Favor 26 Oppose 59 Not Sure 15
Do you support the death penalty? Yes 91 No 4 Not Sure 5
Should openly gay men and women be allowed to serve in the military? Yes 26 No 55 Not Sure 19
Should same sex couples be allowed to marry? Yes 7 No 77 Not Sure 16
Should gay couples receive any state or federal benefits?Yes 11 No 68 Not Sure 21
Should openly gay men and women be allowed to teach in public schools?Yes 8 No 73 Not Sure 19
Should sex education be taught in the public schools? Yes 42 No 51 Not Sure 7
Should public school students be taught that the book of Genesis in the Bible explains how God created the world? Yes 77 No 15 Not Sure 8
Are marriages equal partnerships, or are men the leaders of their households? Men 13 Equal 76 Not Sure 11
Should women work outside the home? Yes 86 No 4 Not Sure 10
Should contraceptive use be outlawed? Yes 31 No 56 Not Sure 13
Do you believe the birth control pill is abortion? Yes 34 No 48 Not Sure 18
Do you consider abortion to be murder? Yes 76 No 8 Not Sure 16
Do you believe that the only way for an individual to go to heaven is though Jesus Christ, or can one make it to heaven through another faith? Christ 67 Other 15 Not Sure 18

Whew, that was exhausting! Ok, I do actually have a couple of observations about these numbers. First, Nate Silver, one of the best polling data gurus in the business, points that these the views of Republicans on these questions show, "essentially no difference based on age, gender, race, or geography -- once we've established that you're a Republican, these differences seem to be rendered moot. Take, for instance, the statement that "Barack Obama is a socialist", which 63 percent of Republicans agreed with in the poll. How do the responses to this question break down by demographics? Well, they don't -- the percentage is just about the same for all groups."

Second, not too many conservative have commented on the poll, but Bill O'Reilly pretty much went nuts over it, saying, "The survey says 39 percent of self-identified Republicans believe President Obama should be impeached. Sixty-three percent believe he is a socialist. Only 42 percent of GOPers think the president was actually born in the United States. And 31 percent believe he hates white people." Bill's conclusion? "The poll is a fraud."

The thing is, O'Reilly failed to provide or even suggest a reason why the poll is "a fraud." Does he actually think that Republicans don't believe that Obama is a racist and a socialist who was not born in the US? If that's the case, O'Reilly must not be watching his network, because the people on FOX news say that stuff all the time.