Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Friday, April 24th, 2009.

Good News

Congress, Health Care

First, one more reminder that tonight at 9 pm EST I’ll be on web radio at Buzz Tok. You can participate in the show by going here. You can also call in at 724-444-7444; call ID is 35186#. The planned topic is the politics of torture.

That wasn’t the good news. Eric Kleefeld writes at TPM Cafe that the NY-20 special election is now officially over, and the Democrat won. Scott Murphy takes over in the seat once occupied by Kirsten Gillibrand, who was appointed to replace Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Senate.

But here’s the real good news — Jonathan Cohn writes,

It’s been in the works for a while and now, according to senior Capitol Hill staffers, it’s a done deal: The final budget resolution will include a “reconciliation instruction” for health care. That means the Democrats can pass health care reform with just fifty votes, instead of the sixty it takes to break a filibuster.

Here’s why this is a big deal: Under Senate rules, it takes the votes of 60 Senators to close debate and actually vote on a bill. Thus, the 41 Republicans in the Senator can filibuster away and stop a bill from passing by not allowing it to come to a vote. Senate Republicans have been very clear that’s what they intend to do with a health care bill.

However, the Senate Budget Committee can add language to the budget bill, called reconciliation language, that instructs specific other committees to produce certain bills with specified spending targets. The committees send the bill back to the Budget Committee, which makes the bill part of an omnibus bill. The omnibus bill gets 20 hours of debate and then is voted on by the full Senate, where it needs a simple majority to pass. A simple majority should not be a problem in either the Senate or House.

The House version of the congressional budget resolution contains the reconciliation language. Until tonight, however, the Senate version did not.

Republicans frequently used the reconciliation language to forward their legislative agenda from 2003 to 2006, while they were in the majority. You might remember that some tried to end the filibuster altogether for judicial nominations in 2004 and 2005. Now, suddenly, some of these same senators speak of the filibuster as the last bastion of democracy. Typical.

Anyway, this step makes it much more likely that a health care reform bill will actually get written and passed in Congress this year.

According to Cohn, the reconciliation language gives the Senate until October 15 to pass a bill in a bipartisan way. But if there’s no bill then, the reconciliation language kicks in, and a bill can be passed without obstruction from the 41 Republicans.

Possible bad news: There is speculation that in order to get the reconciliation in the budget bill, a deal was stuck that would allow conservatives to mess around with Social Security. For this, see Matt Y. and Ezra.

However, right now I would think mucking around with Social Security–especially to privatize any of it–would be slightly less popular than prostate cancer. I am not too concerned, yet.

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Bush Administration, Middle East, Obama Administration, Terrorism

I apologize for writing short posts the past couple of days. I’m kind of swamped right now.

Also, a reminder that tonight at 9 pm EST I’ll be on web radio at Buzz Tok. You can participate in the show by going here. The planned topic is the politics of torture.

On to Pakistan — Apparently the Taliban have overrun large parts of Pakistan. There is genuine concern that Pakistan — nuclear-armed Pakistan, mind you — will devolve into a territory of warlord-led fiefdoms, sort of like Somalia.

The resurgence of the Taliban in Pakistan is not a new thing. This has been unfolding since the end of 2001, when much of al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan were able to escape into Pakistan. I remember sitting in on a panel at the Clinton Global Initiative in 2006, and Thomas Friedman and President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan talked about the Taliban, and how it was a really bad problem for Pakistan, and getting worse.

If you want to say that Pervez Musharraf also was a really bad problem for Pakistan I hear you, but the point is that events in Pakistan now have been building since 2001, at least (some would say you have to go back about 50 years to find the beginning of the story) and what’s happening now is the fruit of more than seven years of failure to deal with it realistically.

And if I had the time I would love to write a long analysis of how and why the Taliban problem wasn’t dealt with realistically. However, the short version is that the Bushies’ simple-minded worldview caused them to sort everyone into two piles, labeled “Evildoers” and “BFFs,” and Musharraf was in the BFFs pile. This in turn led to all kinds of misjudgments and miscalculations about Pakistan. As I said, I wish I had more time to go into it.

Today I noticed some rightie sites expressing new alarm about Pakistan, as if everything in Pakistan had been just hunky-dory until recently. But I also notice leftie sites aren’t dealing with it much at all, yet. Yes, it’s complicated enough to give one a headache, but it’s important.

A few days ago I was chatting with someone with a large presence on the left side of the Web — I won’t name names — and when I mentioned the Taliban in Pakistan he brushed my remark aside — oh, the Taliban are not a problem, he said. I don’t believe this is a majority view on the Left, but I don’t think it’s an uncommon one, either.

Listen, folks, just because the Bush Administration said the Taliban is dangerous doesn’t mean it isn’t.

What should the Obama Administration do? I don’t have a clue. There may be little we can do, at this point.

An aside — many news stories coming out of Pakistan mention Swat or the Swat Valley. I have some historic background on Swat on the other blog.

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