Browsing the archives for the Congress tag.


Katrina in Slow Motion

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Health Care, Obama Administration

Steven Pearlstein, business columnist for the New York Times Washington Post, writes,

Among the range of options for health-care reform, there’s one that is sure to raise your taxes, increase your out-of-pocket medical expenses, swell the federal deficit, leave more Americans without insurance and guarantee that wages will remain stagnant.

That’s the option of doing nothing, letting things continue to drift as they have for the past two decades as we continue to search in vain for the perfect plan that would let everyone have everything they want and preserve everything they already have while getting someone else to pay for it.

So the next time you hear someone throwing a hissy fit because health reform might raise taxes on some people, or steer people into managed care, or require small businesses to contribute $2 a day for each employee’s coverage, just remember to ask yourself: And that’s compared with what?

I’ve seen projected costs for the status quo that are much higher than the projected costs of what the Right derides as “Obamacare,” yet somehow the people one sees on cable news are not worked up into a lather about the status quo costs. Just the costs of reform.

Meanwhile, one in six adult Americans have no health insurance. That doesn’t tell us how many millions more have insurance policies that will fail them if they get sick. I read about the Blue Dogs in Congress and Democratic obstructionists like Max Baucus, dithering around and picking the President’s plan to death because they are afraid of political fallout, and I want to break heads.

It’s like New Orleans after Katrina, when people were waiting on roofs to be rescued and the Bush Administration was preoccupied with how the hurricane might be used for political advantage. The lives of millions of Americans are forfeit to the whims of the insurance industry, and Baucus worries about “bipartisanship.” There are parents who daily watch their children struggle with health impairment without proper treatment, and the Blue Dogs dither. People are stuck in dead-end jobs and even marriages because they’re afraid of losing health benefits. And the Republicans scream that a national health care plan would deprive people of “liberty.”

It’s Katrina in slow motion, and we’re all New Orleans.

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The Default Norm

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Congress, Supreme Court

I’ve used the phrase “default norm” a number of times, so it was nice to see Michael Tomasky (or at least, the headline writer at Comment Is Free) pick it up. Maybe somebody’s reading The Mahablog?

Tomasky’s headline is “Because ‘white male’ equal default human ‘normal,’ see?” I regret I didn’t have time to watch the Sotomayor hearings yesterday, but from the commentaries and videos I take it that the Senate Republicans made thorough asses of themselves and might as well have grilled Sotomayor wearing Klan hoods.

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Craig Crawford asks, “Does the Republican senator [Lindsey Graham, in this case] think it is amusing that he and his party’s condescending tone toward the Hispanic woman was costing them ethnic votes with each passing hour of Tuesday’s Judiciary Committee hearing?”

I wrote in an earlier post that the old white guys in the Senate consider white maledom to be the default norm, and that in their view “bias” is deviation from the default norm. You get that doubly from conservative old white men, who whine incessantly about “judicial activism,” which they define as judicial rulings based on the judge’s ideology instead of precedent and statutory law. However, one soon understands by paying attention to to the Right that the real definition of “judicial activism” is “any judicial opinion that doesn’t align with right-wing ideology.” If a judge narrowly applies statutory law and comes to a decision they don’t like, it’s “judicial activism.” However, if an opinion breaks all precedent and sits in an entirely different ball park from statutory law, it isn’t “judicial activism” if they agree with it.

Thus, as Dahlia Lithwick writes,

But even when Sotomayor is being questioned about her judicial record, the focus isn’t on her legal approach or process but on the outcomes. So when she talks about her Ricci decision, Jeff Sessions asks her why she didn’t apply affirmative action precedents that had no bearing in a case that was not an affirmative action case. When she speaks about Didden, her eminent domain case, Republican Chuck Grassley asks why she didn’t analyze the Kelo precedent in a case about timely filing. Nobody wants to hear how she got to a result. They want to know why she didn’t get to their result. Time and again she is hectored for deciding the narrow issues before her. It’s like a judicial-activism pep rally in here.

There’s another interesting dynamic going on here. The Los Angeles Times convened a panel of legal scholars to comment on the hearings. Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, spoke for the rest of the panel when he said,

She repeated the slogan that “judges apply, not make the law.” Although I understand why this is said, I find it frustrating that nominees find it necessary to say something so clearly incorrect and that gives the public such a misleading picture of what the Supreme Court does. Every first-year law student knows that judges make law. In a common law system, like the United States, most of tort, contract, and property law is judge-made law. Everything the Supreme Court does makes law. To pick an example from a recent Supreme Court case, the Court would have made law whether it allowed or prohibited strip searching of a student suspected of having prescription strength ibuprofen. Whether the Court found a constitutional right to abortion in Roe v. Wade, or rejected such a right, it would have made law.

But, you know, after weeks of hysterical shrieking from the Right about an off-the-cuff comment from Sotomayor on making law, she has to say she won’t make law. Everyone still has to tiptoe around the tender sensibilities of the Right, no matter how ridiculous they are.

Mike Madden writes that Sotomayor said, “I want to state upfront, unequivocally and without doubt, I do not believe that any ethnic, racial or gender group has an advantage in sound judging.”

Nevertheless, barely 10 minutes later, Sessions was asking her this: “Do you think there’s any circumstance in which a judge should allow their prejudices to impact their decision-making?” Sotomayor — who didn’t get to the point where she was virtually assured a seat on the Supreme Court by being born yesterday — knew how to answer that one. “Never their prejudices,” she told Sessions. But he kept at it. “Aren’t you saying there that you expect your background and — and heritage to influence your decision-making?” he asked. “That’s troubling me. That is not impartiality.”

This is rich:

The obvious point — that the background and heritage of old white guys influences their decision-making all the time, too — would not have been the politically sound one to make. So Sotomayor played it cool. “My record shows that at no point or time have I ever permitted my personal views or sympathies to influence an outcome of a case,” she said, and would wind up saying again and again, in more or less the same words, throughout the day. “In every case where I have identified a sympathy, I have articulated it and explained to the litigant why the law requires a different result. I do not permit my sympathies, personal views, or prejudices to influence the outcome of my cases.” A few hours later, Sessions flat-out told reporters he didn’t care what she’d said. “I don’t know — this is the confirmation process, so we got a statement from a day of the confirmation process that contradicts a decade or more of speeches.”

In other words, to Sessions, his biases against Sotomayor speak louder than what she actually said in the hearings. Madden continues,

That was more or less how the whole day went; Republicans hurled increasingly pointed questions at Sotomayor, the nominee calmly parried them, and the Republicans mostly ignored her.

This is old, familiar behavior to me, although not something I’ve had to deal with personally for several years. But I can remember in the 1960s and 1970s, when I was a much younger woman and second-wave feminism was still new, I very often found that men projected opinions and qualities on to me that I did not possess. And it didn’t matter what I said about my opinions or myself. They knew what I thought and who I was because I was female, and those females are all alike. I could say, “I sincerely understand grass is green,” and they’d flash me a condescending smile and continue to lecture me why grass was green and not blue. Their biases overruled what I said. Happened all the time.

As I wrote in an earlier post, we all have biases. Generally being “fair” is not losing one’s biases, but perceiving one’s biases as biases. If you recognize your biases as biases, you are in a position to overrule them as the facts dictate. But if you are so unconscious of yourself that you don’t recognize your biases as biases, then your “thinking” generally amounts to casting around for support for your biases. Then you put the biases and the cobbled-together “support” together and call it “reason.”

The unconscious crew of Senate Republicans who grilled Sotomayor yesterday brought up her “wise Latina” remark several times. It must have struck a nerve. Several of them at various times have said that had they said something like that, it would have been the end of their careers.

We can see plainly from the hearings yesterday that they can put on public displays of flaming racism and still hang on to their jobs, but never mind. As Mo Dowd said, “After all, these guys have never needed to speak inspirational words to others like them, as Sotomayor has done. They’ve had codes, handshakes and clubs to do that.”

Meanwhile, a right-wing group called Committee for Justice has created an ad that ties Sotomayor to Bill Ayers and the support of terrorism. The group is trying to raise money to put the ad on television. If I had any money I’d send it to them. Let the world see the absurdity, I say.

Update: Rush Limbaugh said of Judge Sotomayor, “She doesn’t have any intellectual depth. She’s got a — she’s an angry woman, she’s a bigot. She’s a racist.” That’s got to be an all-time high-water mark of psychological projection.

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The Roller Coaster

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Congress, Health Care, Obama Administration

I honestly don’t know what’s going on in Congress with health care reform. Here is Ezra Klein’s latest and Brian Beutler’s latest. The sticking point at the moment appears to be financing.

At The Guardian, Rose Ann DeMoro writes that the government sure as hell had better do something. If you want to be thoroughly depressed, however, read the comments to the article, in which American dittoheads tell Europeans how much better the U.S. system is to theirs. It’s embarrassing.

However, see also P.M. Carpenter, “Healthcare Reform and the Lure of Despair.”

I’ve been among the guiltiest of prejudgers of coming health-care legislation, essentially, or even explicitly, on occasion, declaring a robust public option doomed before birth. I now question the wisdom of that prejudgment, although, obviously, it may well prove to have been deadly accurate.

The chief cause of my self-questioning is not some pollyanish, utopian epiphany that has befallen my brain. Rather, it has been the overwhelming totality of like-mindedly negative prejudgments I’ve repeatedly encountered from around the Web.

And they’re downright depressing — premature tossings in of the towels; emotional declarations of it’s all over before it’s actually over; black, foreboding, self-righteous brayings of I told you so, again, before there’s even anything of substance on the Congressional table for us to be told about.

These are the Sarah Palins of online progressivism: the whiners, the quitters, the inactive activists, the incurably discontented voices of departure from Washington’s camp of Valley Forge before the first snowflake descends. And I’m embarrassed and ashamed to confess that too often I have had one foot in the retreating camp.

Normally I’d be with P.M. on this, but right now I’m feeling pretty bleak about it all. I still say if there’s no public option, they might as well not bother. And the public option still seems like an uphill struggle.

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Chicken Littles on Cap and Trade

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Congress, environment

The American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) passed narrowly in the House with the help of eight Republicans, who are being soundly demonized by the Right blogosphere today. This morning I saw a headline about “The Biggest Tax Increase in History.” This was from the Wall Street Journal, so naturally the rest of the Right picked it up and ran with it. Just so you know, the nation will be destroyed.

On the other hand, Joseph Romm writes,

The definitive analysis of ACES by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found the cost to the average American household in 2020 of ACES would be about a postage stamp a day — despite repeated claims of conservatives using dubious industry-funded research that this bill would devastate the economy.

Also, Romm says,

The GOP arguments against the bill, which included calling global warming a hoax, were so lame that one Democrat, Lloyd Doggett of Texas, who had announced his intention to vote against the bill because it was too weak, switched to supporting the bill after “listening to the flat earth society and the climate deniers, and some of the most inane arguments I have heard against refusing to act on this vital national security challenge.”

Word on the Right is that cap-and-trade was tried in Europe and was a bust. On the other hand, an MIT study says the European cap-and-trade system is working well with little or no effect on the economy.

On the Left, the reaction ranges from general relief that the Dems could get something passed to concern that ACES doesn’t go far enough. For an optimistic view, see Thomas Noyes, “The price of climate change.” He says the Right also is citing an MIT study, possibly the same one:

One source of these spurious numbers, the Heritage Foundation, claims that Waxman-Markey would reduce GDP by a total of $7.4tn and destroy 1.9 million jobs by the year 2035. A family’s electricity bill would climb 90% and natural gas prices would climb 55%, adding $1,500 to the family budget. An even scarier assertion that the bill would cost families $3,100 was purportedly based on an MIT study – a claim that one of the study’s authors, John Reilly, roundly disputed.

Opponents reached these conclusions by exaggerating the downside and ignoring the upside altogether. They have overstated the costs of renewable energy, underestimated the future costs of fossil fuels and left out the cost savings of improving energy efficiency. The Heritage Foundation report projects home energy prices will increase three to four times faster than the Congressional Budget Office or Environmental Protection Agency studies, and doesn’t include any benefits from improvements in energy efficiency or investing in new industries.

As a species, we have to stop relying on fossil fuel sooner or later, if only because the planet isn’t making more of it. This is not a point you can get across to a wingnut, however.

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Life as a Preexisting Condition

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Congress, Health Care, Obama Administration

The must-read new story today is by Lisa Girion of the Los Angeles Times. In “Health insurers refuse to limit rescission of coverage,” we find the clearest case yet why the private health care industry will never, ever, not in a million years, come even close to solving the health care crisis.

In a nutshell — yesterday three big insurance company executives — WellPoint Inc., UnitedHealth Group and Assurant Inc. — told the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations that their business models depended on being able to cancel the health insurance policies of customers who cost them too much money. An investigation by the Committee had found that over a five-year period, these companies had canceled the coverage of more than 20,000 people in order to avoid paying more than $300 million in medical claims.

One of the execs claimed the rescissions — industry jargon for canceling coverage — were necessary to protect the companies from fraud. People lie about preexisting conditions on their applications, he said, and this drove up the cost of insurance for everyone else. I’ll come back to this point in a moment.

In practice, this means insurers target people with high-cost conditions such as breast cancer and lymphoma and direct employees to examine patients’ paperwork for any pretense to cancel coverage. People with innocent mistakes and inadvertent omissions; people who were unaware of a preexisting condition at the time they filled out the application because the symptoms hadn’t developed yet; people whose preexisting conditions were minor and had nothing whatsoever to do with the disease costing the insurer money — such people found themselves dumped out of the health care system at their time of greatest need.

A Texas nurse said she lost her coverage, after she was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, for failing to disclose a visit to a dermatologist for acne.

The sister of an Illinois man who died of lymphoma said his policy was rescinded for the failure to report a possible aneurysm and gallstones that his physician noted in his chart but did not discuss with him.

Karen Tumulty at Time presents several other heart-breaking, and outrageous, examples.

Of course, you might remember that Michael Moore documented this practice quite nicely in Sicko. We all knew this was going on. Members of the House Committee feigned surprise.

But I want to go back to the part about rejecting people with preexisting conditions. Who above the age of 40 does not have a preexisting condition? For that matter, what percentage of young adults freshly cut loose from their parents’ policies find they cannot obtain insurance because they failed to get through childhood without a preexisting condition?

The insurance companies are saying they can’t make a profit unless they deny coverage to people with preexisting conditions. How is this not an admission the private health insurance industry is a big, fat FAIL?

Righties just love to tell us that the reason health insurance is so expensive in some states, like New York, is that those states have (Cue: “Fortuna, Imperatrix Mundi (O Fortuna)”) regulations. And what are those regulations? Chief among them are provisions that limit the insurers’ abilities to deny coverage to people with preexisting condtions.

So, in many states, a middle-aged person with no serious health problems who was once prescribed Lipitor for high cholesterol would be unable to obtain health insurance at any price. In New York, this person can get insurance. Yes, it’s so expensive most people can’t afford it, but it’s obtainable for those who can pay for it.

What this says to me is that relying on a private insurance industry to pay for health care costs is unworkable. A private insurance industry simply cannot do the job of paying for health care, because the only way a private company can make a profit is to deny coverage to people who are actually sick so that they don’t have to pay those bills.

My next question is, how obvious does this have to get before people see it?

I’m sure some people do lie on their insurance applications in order to obtain coverage. But in most industrialized democracies, this wouldn’t even be an issue. You’re a citizen, you get health care. Whether you once had acne treatments or took Lipitor or had a gallstone or even had a life-threatening disease, you get health care. Because the purpose of the health care system in most countries is delivering health care, not making a profit.

And for those worried about the cost to government of providing health care to sick people, let me present this handy chart:

healthcarecostsbycountry

This chart was adapted from a Canadian site calling for health care reform in Canada. The Canadian system has its problems, but I suspect seeing the mess we’re in persuades many Canadians to leave well enough alone. At least Canadians can get health care.

I believe the only way we’ve got a shot at lowering per-capita cost while delivering health care to everyone is to kick the insurance companies out of the picture altogether and going to a purely public system. At least a public health insurance plan would be a step in that direction.

Regarding the recently released CBO estimate of $100 trillion over ten years — see Extra Klein for why the CBO estimate is deeply flawed. See also “The Bright Side of the CBO Snafu.”

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Steve McMahon Is So Wrong

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Congress, Democratic Party, Health Care, Obama Administration, Republican Party

I caught the segment in the video below on Hardball yesterday. If you don’t want to watch, it’s a discussion among Tweety, Democratic strategist Steve McMahon and Republican strategist Todd Harris. McMahon thinks the Democratic Party should cut the public insurance option from the health care reform package and pass a “compromise” bill without it.

McMahon thinks the health care package won’t pass with the public insurance option but could pass without it. He thinks it’s better for Congress to pass something it can call “health care reform” now rather than have the whole effort defeated because of the public insurance option. We have a window of opportunity to pass a health care reform bill, he says, and if we miss this window and pass nothing there may not be another chance for years.

My thinking is just the opposite. If Congress passes a bill without the public insurance option, it will confirm the darkest beliefs of Americans about government being irrelevant to their lives. I sincerely believe that the rest of the legislation might make some marginal improvements in the system. It might make a tangible difference for a few people. But it would do nothing that will make a big, tangible difference in the lives of most American citizens.

So if they pass this bill without the public insurance option, there will be a big whoop-dee-doo in media about how now everybody’s got health care reform. And the days and weeks and months will go by, and most people won’t notice that anything has changed.

This is, I think, the absolute worst thing that Congress could do. It would be better to let the whole thing be defeated, then go to the American people and say, look, we tried to get you this meaningful reform, but Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats blocked it. And, yeah, that’s a lame excuse. But I think rank and file Dems, and many Independents, are sick to death of these pathetic tweaks that Washington mistakes for accomplishments but which don’t make any real difference in the lives of Americans.

In the long run, whether a bill was passed with bipartisan support or not will mean absolutely nothing. If a bill passes that really does relieve many of our fears of losing our insurance and being dumped out of the health care system altogether, that bill will be very popular. Before long, politicians who didn’t support it will pretend that they did. There’s your bipartisan support.

On the other hand, a “compromise” bill passed with everyone in Congress holding hands and singing “Koom By Ya,” but which does not make a tangible difference in peoples’ lives, won’t mean a bucket of warm spit by the time the next elections roll around.

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Pull “The Trigger”

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Congress, Democratic Party, Health Care

Certainly President Obama’s health care proposals fall short of what most of us want — national single payer — but at least there’s a public insurance plan that promises to provide coverage for many Americans now locked out of private insurance, either by lack of money or a “preexisting condition.”

Although I expect many Americans would still fall through the cracks and remain cut off from health care, I believe the public option would be a great help to millions who don’t have health insurance now. If that option is removed from the reform package, however, what’s left will amount to feeble tweaks of the current system that would make little tangible difference to anyone. Well, anyone but health insurance executives.

Naturally Republicans are fighting the public plan tooth and nail. Now there’s a “compromise” option championed by “moderates” that effectively would remove the public plan without officially killing it.

My definition of a “moderate” in this context — politicians who vote against the interests of their constituents not because of lunatic right-wing ideology, but because they’ve just plain been bought off.

“Moderate” Republican Senator Olympia Snowe came up with the idea of a “trigger” that would postpone the public plan to some hazy place in the future unless private insurance fails to meet certain benchmarks. Then the public plan option would be taken off the shelf and put into effect.

This means there never will be a public plan, except on paper. Even if private insurance misses the benchmarks, you know that Congress will come up with fine excuses for them so that the public plan doesn’t happen.

Ryan Grim reports for Huffington Post that a pack of Blue Dog Democrats are backsliding on earlier pledges to back the public plan and are coming out in favor of the trigger. Although the Blue Dog Coalition (click here for member list) hasn’t officially declared support for the trigger, it may be heading in that direction. If enough Democrats sell us out for the “trigger” option, health care reform is dead.

And, once again, the Democratic Party will have failed us, and once again, special interests and not the people will set public policy.

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White Whales and Wingnuts

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Congress, conservatism, Obama Administration, torture

A lot about wingnut behavior begins to make sense if you understand that in their reality, they are Captain Ahab and we liberals and progressives are Moby Dick. They don’t all want to kill us (a disturbing number do, of course), but mostly they are driven to settle the score with us.

What score? you may ask. The score for whatever they imagine we did to them. It’s not clear to me what that is, but clearly it’s the fire burning in their bellies; their raison d’être. For the Right, life is one long, monomaniacal quest to get even with the Left.

Thus, you can count on them not quitting even when they’re ahead, because in their own minds they are never ahead, or at least never ahead enough.

Along those lines — one of the weirder aspects of the ongoing torture scandal is the way the Right has tried to make it a referendum on Nancy Pelosi. I don’t entirely agree with Matt Yglesias that the Pelosi argument is backfiring. Not yet, anyway. But neither do I think anyone who hasn’t signed up to sail on the Pequod, so to speak, cares about whether Nancy Pelosi was briefed about torture or not.

However, I also think Matt has a point that they could have just accepted President Obama’s wish to move on from the torture question and keep their mouths shut. But they couldn’t do that. They couldn’t pass it up any more than a dog can pass up a tree without saluting.

Steve Benen
:

Republicans were getting exactly the result they wanted, right up until they thought to go after Pelosi. Now, the liberal Democratic House Speaker and the conservative Republican RNC chairman are saying the same thing: let’s investigate and get the whole story.

Indeed, Pelosi has been using this to great effect. When the right argues that she’s lying or was somehow complicit in Bush’s alleged crimes, she always responds with the same compelling answer: “Let’s have an investigation and see who’s right.”

As far as the strategy goes, Republicans should have taken “yes” for an answer.

Think Gollum diving into the lake of fire to grab the ring.

Now, I also agree with Steve M that the Right can still control news cycles and still finesse the terrorism question. But the Right does tend to come unglued where Nancy Pelosi is concerned.

See, for example, John Feehery’s “Conditions for a coup in Congress” at The Politico. Feehery’s evidence that House Democrats are on the edge of replacing Pelosi are, um, old. Steny Hoyer ran against Pelosi for Majority Whip in 2001, so he’s a potential rival. The base must be pissed at Pelosi, because Cindy Sheehan ran against Pelosi in 2004.

Yes, a lot of lefties are disenchanted with Pelosi, but a lot of lefties are disenchanted with a lot of people. I think if the base were given the authority to replace somebody in Democratic leadership, the first on the list would be Harry Reid, not Nancy Pelosi.

David Weigel at the Washington Independent calls the Feehery piece a “curious case of media narrative-setting.” Whatever. Feehery is reason itself compared to Mike Huckabee:

Here’s a story about a lady named Nancy
A ruthless politician, but dressed very fancy
Very ambitious, she got herself elected Speaker
But as for keeping secrets, she proved quite a “leaker.”

Which, I submit, says a lot more about Mike Huckabee than it says about Nancy Pelosi. And what it says is damn pathetic. Notice the dig about a woman being “ruthless” and “ambitious.” That’s another tree the Right can’t pass up.

Regarding what needs to be investigated — see Marcy Wheeler’s “The 13 people who made torture possible.” Sorta kinda related — Gary Farber, JAVAID IQBAL.

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Specter Switching Parties?

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Congress, Democratic Party, Republican Party

If this is true, it would be huge — CNN is reporting that Sen. Arlen Specter has switched parties. That means when Al Franken finally takes his seat in the Senate the Dems will have 60 votes.

Here’s Chris Cillizza reporting the same thing. Looks like it’s a “go.”

That means, assuming Dems vote together (a big if), the Dems could break GOP filibusters that prevent vital bills from being brought to the full Senate for a vote.

I take it Specter, who is up for re-election in 2010, made the move to avoid a defeat in his primary next year. Republicans were throwing their support behind the more conservative former Rep. Pat Toomey, even though (I’m told) Toomey has little hope of winning a general election unless he’s running against a mollusk.

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Good News

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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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