Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Wednesday, January 24th, 2007.


Barnburner

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Bush Administration, Congress, Iraq War

Hagel is shrill.

You can read the transcript at TPM Muckraker.

Bill Brubaker, Debbi Wilgoren and Howard Schneider write for the Washington Post:

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee today passed a nonbinding resolution opposing a troop surge in Iraq, rebuffing the key element of President Bush’s new strategy to end the 46-month-old war, which has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 U.S. service members.

The 12-9 vote came after committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) urged his colleagues to approve the bipartisan measure, calling it “an attempt to save the president from making a significant mistake.”

Yeah, I know, it’s nonbinding.

Hagel was the only Republican to vote for the measure.

You think Dems are timid? Suddenly the Republicans are even wussier. They don’t like the war, they say, but a nonbinding resolution against it is going too far.

The ranking Republican on the committee, Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), urged committee members to oppose the resolution drafted by Biden and Sens. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) and Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine). …

… In debate this morning, Lugar warned that passage would be “the legislative equivalent of a sound bite,” would allow Congress to wash its hands of responsibility for the war and would weaken America’s standing in the eyes of foreign observers.

“We don’t need a resolution to confirm that there is broad discomfort” with the war, Lugar said. “If Congress is going to provide constructive oversight, they must get involved in the weeds” of the policy.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) also opposed the resolution because, he said, it would not be binding on Bush and “will have absolutely zero affect on the administration.” But Corker said he was “not persuaded” the troop surge is “the right thing to do.”

Wusses, I say. They can’t even stand up to put the White House on notice that the Senate disagrees. Does Senator Lugar think the White House is going to invite him over to “get involved in the weeds”?

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Health Care and Poison Pills

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Bush Administration, Health Care

Awhile back Harold Meyerson wrote a column called “Master of the Poison Pill” in which he outlined the Karl Rove method of taking an issue away from the opposition. For example, in 2002 the Dems were getting traction on their proposal for a cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security, which the White House opposed. When the Bushies decided to flip-flop and create the DHS, they inserted a union-busting poison pill into the bill. Dems balked, and the Bushies promptly claimed the DHS as their own invention, accusing Dems of being opposed to national security.

Sometimes it’s more than just a pill being used to poison a debate. Wingnuts still equate opposition to the war in Iraq with being “soft” on national security, even though Iraq ain’t doin’ a bleeping thing on behalf of national security except draining resources that could be put to better use elsewhere while causing more people to hate us. The Bushies tried to pull something like this with Bush’s Social Security “reform”; Dems were accused of being unwilling to “fix” Social Security because they didn’t back Bush’s plan. Fortunately the American people realized the “plan” was ridiculous.

I’m already seeing signs that the Right is going to use Bush’s utterly absurd health care proposals to claim that Democrats aren’t serious about health care reform. There are two columns in the Washington Post today that say Dems are poopyheads for not even listening to Bush’s “ideas.” One is by the already mentioned and cognitively challenged Ruth Marcus, whom Brad DeLong and Ezra Klein skewer a lot better than I did. The other is business columnist Steven Pearlstein:

… the most surprising and encouraging development is that a president who for six years has only nibbled around the edges of health-care issues has weighed in with some bold ideas to expand coverage, rein in costs and bring some fairness to the tax code. And get this: It actually involves raising taxes on the rich and lavishly insured and giving the money to the working poor and the uninsured.

Given that, you’d think Democrats would have welcomed a politically courageous proposal to put a cap on one of the biggest and most regressive features of the individual income-tax code. But instead, they’ve shifted reflexively into partisan attack mode, mischaracterizing the impacts of the proposal and shamelessly parroting the propaganda from the labor dinosaurs at the AFL-CIO.

“Dead on arrival,” declared Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), chairman of a key health subcommittee in the House, hinting at a dark conspiracy to kill off employer-sponsored health insurance.

In fact, Pete Stark’s web site proudly states:

I’ve introduced a Constitutional Amendment to establish a right to health care for of equal high quality for every American. If ratified, this would force Congress to make health care coverage available to all Americans. My preferred approach to universal coverage is to build on the success of the Medicare program, which provides universal health care for our nation’s seniors and people with disabilities.

Sounds to me as if Rep. Stark has already moved beyond the employer-based health insurance model, and that Steven Pearlstein is parroting propaganda from the policy dinosaurs at the Heritage Foundation.

Pearlstein goes on to sing the praises of Bush’s proposal while accusing Dems of “class warfare.” He also says,

Almost every health economist agrees that the tax subsidy for employer-paid health insurance is not only unfair but that it also encourages people to buy too much insurance, consume too much health care and pay too much for both. Bush deserves praise for having the political courage to confront the issue.

Mr. Pearlstein, meet Paul Krugman.

Some nameless dweeb at Opinion Journal credits Bush for initiating a discussion on health care:

The U.S. has long needed a debate over health care and tax subsidies, and President Bush got ready to rumble last night with his proposal to make insurance more affordable for most Americans.

That was bad enough, but in the very next sentence the dweeb actually wrote “Americans have the most advanced health care in the world,” meaning the dweeb plans to rumble with his head firmly planted up his ass. That should be a sight. Although notice he wrote “most advanced” instead of “best,” and it’s possible he could make an argument for “most advanced.” Years of “market forces” have given us a system that is grand at delivering state-of-the-art, boutique health services to the wealthy, even as poor women lack basic prenatal care and emergency rooms close.

The dweeb puts forth more howlers, such as:

These new [private health insurance] products are also likely to be policies that put individuals directly in charge of more routine spending. That’s because removing the tax advantage would mean it will make less financial sense to “insure” for predictable expenses like several annual office visits.

In other words, he thinks insurers should not be covering preventative medicine, meaning people are less likely to indulge in those gold-plated, frivolous office visits to get their cholesterol monitored or their hearts checked or some such. Unfortunately, skimping on preventative care is a sure way to drive up costs overall.

That in turn could put pressure on health care providers to post–and actually compete on–prices. Such new price awareness might even generate pressure for states that overregulate their insurance markets (New York, Massachusetts) to ease their costly mandates

The “costly mandates” prevent insurers from refusing insurance to people who have pre-existing health problems. In states without these “costly mandates,” insurers can refuse to insure people with health problems. That reduces the insurers’ costs but doesn’t exactly solve the health care problem.

It’s true that additional subsidies might be needed for some people with chronic illnesses who might have a harder time finding private insurance in this kind of world. And we’d also like to see a more national insurance market, with companies able to sell policies over the Internet free of the worst state mandates.

You see the problem. While the dweeb casually acknowledges that a lot of people will need “additional subsidies,” he goes ahead and endorses the very policies that create the pool of people who need “additional subsidies.”

Insurance works by pooling risk. The premiums paid by people who don’t file claims help pay for the claims that are filed. It’s true that many kinds of insurers charge more for people who have higher risks, such as a teenage driver. But essentially what the private health insurance industry wants is to insure pools of healthy people and force those with chronic health problems onto the mercy of taxpayers. If taxpayers are going to be stuck paying for the high-risk pool anyway, one wonders why we need private insurers at all. One big national system that puts everyone into the same pool would be more cost-effective for taxpayers, obviously.

The dweeb concludes,

This status quo won’t hold, and the political race is going to be between those who want to move to a more genuine market and consumer-based health care, and those who want to move toward Canada, Europe and more government control. The Bush plan ought to jump start that debate.

Many nations have devised national health care plans in which people are free to choose their own doctors, make their own decisions, and keep their medical records private from the government. See Ezra Klein’s Health of Nations series for details on what works and what doesn’t. But what we have here is even worse than government control, because citizens still (although barely) have some say in what government does. Instead we have control by the private insurance industry, meaning people with no medical licenses right now are shuffling papers and deciding who gets treatment and who doesn’t.

See also: MaxSpeak, The Carpetbagger, Kevin Drum. Brad DeLong thinks the whole proposal is a bluff:

I believe it is overwhelmingly likely that this is, in fact, a bluff. And it is not clear to me why anybody should be in the business of welcoming things that are not “real solutions.”

We should certainly welcome real solutions. But otherwise it seems to me that we are still in the standard Bush administration game of Dingbut Kabuki. The administration has made no effort to convince us that this will do more good in terms of redistributing income and increasing access to health insurance than it will do harm in magnifying adverse selection problems.

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About Last Night

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Bush Administration, DMIsotu2007

Jonathan Alter is impressed. The speech was powerful, he says. It was tough minded. The speaker has a sense of narrative and drama. Yes, Jim Webb did a great job. Bush, not so much.

Something unprecedented happened tonight, beyond the doorkeeper announcing, “Madame Speaker.” For the first time ever, the response to the State of the Union Message overshadowed the president’s big speech. Virginia Sen. James Webb, in office only three weeks, managed to convey a muscular liberalism—with personal touches—that left President Bush’s ordinary address in the dust.

Alter actually speculated about a place for Webb on the 2008 ticket. Webb is said to be a bad campaigner, but I have to admit it’s a tempting idea.

Webb was given a speech to read by the Democratic leadership. He threw it out and wrote his own.

Good man.

Webb is seen as a moderate or even conservative Democrat, but this was a populist speech that quoted Andrew Jackson, founder of the Democratic Party and champion of the common man. The speech represented a return to the tough-minded liberalism of Scoop Jackson and Hubert Humphrey, but by quoting Republicans Teddy Roosevelt (on “improper corporate influence”) and Dwight D. Eisenhower (on ending the Korean War), he reinforced the argument that President Bush had taken the GOP away from its roots.

And I think Webb could help take the Democratic Party back to its liberal roots. It’s way past time to remind people that conservatism and liberalism are not defined by laundry lists of issues, like being for or against raising taxes or legal abortion. These words are defined by what you think government is for, and how you think a people and their government relate to each other. But that’ll have to be another post.

If you missed Webb’s speech, you can watch the video here or read the transcript here.

The consensus on the SOTU itself was that it was tepid and far from the barn-burner Bush needed to deliver to revive his presidency. For detailed analysis of the President’s “proposals,” see the Drum Major Institute.

At The Agonist, Sean-Paul Kelley brings up something I missed — that at one point Bush dropped the “ic” from “Democratic.”

Dropping the “ic” from the word “Democratic” may seem insignificant, but it was almost certainly a deliberate move by Bush, who has used the phrase “the Democrat Party” for months as a way of needling his opponents. … Such a little, little man. So unable to rise above his small mindedness.

See also Media Matters.

At Sisyphus Shrugged, Julia pounces on the proposal to double the current capacity of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Meet David Koch. Mr. Koch is a Bush pioneer, a huge Republican donor, and a founder, funder and board member of the Cato Institute.

Mr. Koch has the contract to fill the SPR on a cost-plus basis. The price you pay for heating oil and at the pump would be based on competition between you and Mr. Koch for the available oil.

Think about it.

Steven Thomma writes at McClatchy Newspapers about Bush and “bipartisanship”:

George Bush tried to go home Tuesday night.

His goal was what he thought he left behind in Texas when he was a Republican governor with a Democratic legislature. But the mythical bipartisan place he tried to reach out to in his State of the Union address Tuesday was never like the one he romanticized in Texas. It’s not what he’s built in six years in Washington. And today it’s as elusive as Oz. …

… the chasm between the parties is wide and deep, the politics between them are poisonous and Bush bears much of the blame.

After reaching out to Democrats his first year, Bush governed after the 2001 terrorist attacks as the leader of a one-party state.

In Congress, his party locked Democrats out of negotiations, then hammered votes through without chance of input.

From the White House, Bush tacked “signing statements” onto bills he signed and used the threat of terrorism in three successive elections to attack Democrats as weak or, worse, aiding the enemy. Last fall he warned that if the Democrats won control of Congress, “terrorists win and America loses.”

That makes it hard for Democrats to take his olive branch Tuesday without looking for thorns.

Then Thomma mentions the real speech.

The Democrats signaled in response that they’re not in the mood for compromise either – on Iraq or at home. They want Bush to get U.S. troops out of Iraq and shift the government away from the wealthy and toward the poor.

“If he does, we will join him,” said Sen. James Webb. D-Va., who gave his party’s formal response to Bush’s speech. “If he does not, we will be showing him the way.”

Webb’s da man.

The New York Times‘s editorial on the SOTU also points to Bush’s phony “bipartisanship.”

The White House spin ahead of George W. Bush’s seventh State of the Union address was that the president would make a bipartisan call to revive his domestic agenda with “bold and innovative concepts.” The problem with that was obvious last night — in six years, Mr. Bush has shown no interest in bipartisanship, and his domestic agenda was set years ago, with huge tax cuts for wealthy Americans and crippling debt for the country. …

… When Republicans controlled Congress and the White House, Mr. Bush’s only real interest was in making their majority permanent; consultation meant telling the Democrats what he had decided. …

…Now that the Democrats have taken Congress, Mr. Bush is acting as if he’d had the door to compromise open all along and the Democrats had refused to walk through it.

The Times editorial also explains Bush’s health care proposal succinctly:

Last night, Mr. Bush also acted as if he were really doing something to help the 47 million people in this country who don’t have health insurance. What he offered, by the White House’s own estimate, would take a few million off that scandalously high number and shift the burden to the states. Mr. Bush’s plan would put a new tax on Americans who were lucky enough to still have good health-care coverage through their employers. Some large portion of those are middle class and represented by the labor unions that Mr. Bush and the Republicans are dedicated to destroying.

At WaPo, Ruth Marcus accuses Dems of “knee-jerk opposition.

Listening to Democratic reaction to Bush’s new health insurance proposal, you get the sense that if Bush picked a plank right out of the Democratic platform — if he introduced Hillarycare itself — and stuck it in his State of the Union address, Democrats would churn out press releases denouncing it.

She admits that the Dems’ antipathy to Bush is largely of Bush’s making, but she actually thinks that Bush’s “health care plan” is reasonable, which is proof she’s an idiot. Even Kevin Drum recognizes it’s a dumb plan.

You know a Bush SOTU has failed when the righties are downplaying SOTUs generally as non-events.

Again, for fact-checking and detailed analysis of the SOTU, see the Drum Major Institute. And here are links to more analyses:

Fred Kaplan, Slate: Bush still doesn’t understand the war

Gerard Baker, Times (UK): Analysis: Bush tries to be a uniter, not a divider

John Dickerson, Slate: Lame Duck Soup

Joshua Holland, AlterNet: Nixon would have been proud

Walter Shapiro, Salon: Two long years to go.

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