Sunday, January 31, 2010

The State of the Union Under Obama and the Democrats: Partisanly Gloomy

What a crazy political week! First, Pelosi bashes Obama over the "spending freeze" before the State of the Union Show, then Obama slaps the Supreme Court to their faces at the Show! Let the Dems bash each other, and the Supreme Court, and see how that goes over with the public. Bashing the GOP is not helping, either. They stated their positions credibly at the Baltimore debate, and the President looked weak at times. If Obama, Pelosi and Reid are trying to sell "bipartisanship," nobody's buying it, especially independents. People who are sick of "party loyalty" creating "bad government" vote on the policies, not the politics.

It's ironic then, that the President is trying to use party loyalty to pass legislation that is turning policy-minded independent voters against his party. It's political suicide, but "they've got Me," the President told retiring Dem Congressman Marion Berry, regarding his legislative agenda's political prospects. Let's face the facts here: "Cap and Trade" is dead. Health Care is as good as dead, but will become a "zombie" issue for the Dems this year. It won't die, and it will hurt them, including Obama, politically.

Something else that independent voters don't like are all of the bailouts, and especially the "stimulus" package. It is beyond belief that this president would ask for a second "stimulus" bill, when the opposition wants to put the unspent part of the first one back into the treasury. The idea is to call the second stimulus a "jobs" bill, which had Speaker Pelosi in total "clapping seal" mode at the show. She was totally "Planet Pelosi," as out of touch with Earth as ever! With so much of the first stimulus unspent, this "jobs" bill is superfluous, and politically risky. It will expose the Dems further on deficit spending, and expanding the public sector at the expense of the private sector workforce.

Wanna know what's really crazy? The OA's policy on homeland security, and being at war with terrorist groups. They get credit for the ramping up of drone strikes, but they screwed up the security review, and didn't fix the combat engagement policy in Afghanistan. Add to that the intel failures leading up to Ft. Hood and the failed Christmas bomber, and "presto!" More political resistance from within the party. Subsequently, the 9/11 plotters will not be tried in NYC. Anyone want to take bets on when GITMO closes? Overall, a huge political negative for the Obama Administration, that they have time to fix this year. Moving the trial out of Manhattan is a tiny step in the right direction, but they need to reform the whole national defense policy, for more than just political reasons.

The President did something unprecedented, in this State of the Union Show: He verbally browbeat the United States Supreme Court members who accepted his invitation to be honored guests. He had them at a disadvantage, and bullied them in front of the world. If this is how Obama treats "guests," he has no honor in the "independent" world. This is crazy on so many levels, I'd have to write a whole post to analyze it. I appreciated Justice Alito's viceral reaction, and wasn't surprised that it got more media coverage than the president's remarks, initially. Fortunately, people started to realize that Alito's mouthing "not true" had much more recent precedent (Rep. Joe Wilson) than Obama's attack, which, if it has a precedent, it's so negative that no media outlet wants to dig it up. This one should stick in the craw of liberals, conservatives, and independents, alike.

All of these are real issues, as well as political ones. It would be nice to fashion a compromise on health care that includes tort reform, interstate competition, as well as pre-existing conditions, portability, and expanded access for the poor. I'd like to see us find a responsible way to cut the deficit, and grow the economy. Both of these look like "long shots" right now, and it's not because of the GOP saying "no." It's the Obama administration, Speaker Pelosi, and Majority Leader Reid who are refusing to accept any "free market" solutions.

Think about this: some Dems were ready to give up the "public option" for extra Medicare funding for their states, but none of them could be "bought off" to accept tort reform? How hard was the leadership trying to "reach out to the other side?" Nothing positive will get done under this president until the GOP controls at least one house of congress. I predict the people will make that move in this year's elections, if the Dems "double down" to the left. The other possibility is an explosive split within the Democratic Party, pitting "rank and file" representatives and senators against the "leadership." Either way, it's a gloomy outlook on the Democrats' political horizon...

...also see Whither Obama's Agenda?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Does Scott Brown's Election Seal Health Care Reform's Defeat?

Senator-elect Scott Brown of Massachusetts ran on a promise of being the forty-first vote to kill the partisan "health care reform" bill, ironically named after the late Senator Kennedy. Independent voters rallied to give him a huge victory in Tuesday's special election. While the vote margin wasn't "huge," the victory itself was. That much is beyond debate, though there will be much finger-pointing on how and why it happened. More on that later.

Looking forward, what impact will this have on the health care reform legislation, which is currently in conference? Many are talking about different "gimmicks" that the majority can use to push it through before Brown is seated in the Senate. Some are suggesting using the "reconcilliation" process, which only requires fifty-one votes. None of these will work, for a number of reasons.

First, there are no grounds to delay seating Brown. If the vote were closer, a recount would be understandable. However, Coakley has conceded, and the margin was signifigant enough to preclude any such shenanigans, at least from Massachusetts officials. In the Senate, several prominent Democrats have said moving forward before Brown is seated would be inappropriate.

Second, the House will not accept the Senate version of the bill. This was already evident, before Brown's election. Speaker Pelosi got the House version passed with a small margin, and had to accept the Stupak "anti-abortion funding" amendment, which is not in the Senate bill. All of this adds up to little chance for her to "twist arms" any harder, for a bill that many liberal House members don't like, either.

Third, almost every time the majority has tried to rush this bill through, they have failed to meet their deadline. Both houses passed their respective bills on late night weekend votes, over the holiday season. Considering they wanted to get to that point before the August recess, they couldn't brag about getting it done by the end of the year. Even if Coakley had won, this wouldn't have been ready for the President to sign for weeks, if not months. There were still many sticking points between the two bills, as noted above.

Finally, there are the national implications of Brown's victory. When the Massachusetts senate seat occupied by Ted Kennedy for over forty years is taken by a Republican, there's more than local politics at play. Democrats in both the House and Senate have to be looking over their shoulders, even in solidly "blue" states like New York and California. Suddenly, those screaming people at last Summer's "town hall" meetings and "tea parties" don't seem like the butt of a joke, anymore.

Whatever the fate of this health care reform bill, there is an undeniable political wave, moving throughout the nation. Call it "populism," "anti-incumbent backlash," or whatever, it's currently aimed squarely at the Democrats. Remember, they've held the House majority since 2006, and the Senate for almost as long. So when they say the anger is about "the last eight years," they were deeply involved in the latter half of that period.

There's a lesson here for Republicans, as well. These independents were the same people who withdrew support for the GOP, starting in 2006. They are not going to support any pol who gives "lip service" to tax and spending cuts, but doesn't back it up with actual votes. The GOP may ride this wave back into the majority this year, but it could turn around just as quickly. The "tea party" people will be watching, and holding their feet to the fire, which is the way it should be.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Health Care Reform Should Die In Conference: Better Chance Next Year

Reconciling the House and Senate reform bills is not going smoothly. There are numerous issues that can't be agreed on, from union opposition to the so-called "cadillac" tax, to abortion funding colliding with the House's "Stupak amendment." Conventional wisdom says that the final bill will be closer to the Senate version, which barely got a filibuster-proof sixty votes. Not so, according to Rep. Charles ("what taxes?") Rangel, who is demanding the final bill be closer to the House version, where it passed with a three vote margin.

Meanwhile, former supporters are jumping ship left and right. New York Governor Paterson (D), and California Governor Schwartznegger (R) both have come out against the bill, saying it piles unfunded mandated on their states. One wonders what took them so long to realize this, after the same thing happened with the stimulus bill. That bill extended unemployment benefits, but only funded the first year's worth, leaving the states to pick up the tab in the future.

Also worth noting is that the bill doesn't contain any of the "big fixes" that the Dems wanted. There's no "public option," and it will leave millions without health care coverage. With public opinion turning strongly against the bill, why are so many Dems willing to suffer the political price for it's passage?

I've heard President Clinton, among others, claim that failure to pass this bill is the greater political danger. Baloney. As was the case during Clinton's first term, the political writing is on the wall for the Democrats, regardless of how they vote on the health care bill. Blaming GOP "obstructionism" will ring hollow, considering the size of the Dem's majority. This bill will pass or fail on their heads, alone.

It didn't have to be this way. Had Obama, Reid, and Pelosi designed a truly bipartisan bill, they could have split the Republican votes, and given the bill a better chance of passage. Instead of saying Republicans have "no ideas," they should have included tort reform, and allowed interstate competition. Both of these ideas have wide Republican support.

Instead, they've painted themselves into a corner, with nobody to blame but themselves. The bill is now yet another unbelievably expensive "crap sandwich," following the pattern of the "bailout" and "stimulus" bills. The difference is that this bill will have a direct impact on more Americans than any of the previous ones, and the public anger over them is still growing. Do they really want to force this on the public, in an election year?

There is an opportunity for Democrats here, as well. Those who really want to "reform" health care, and insurance in a beneficial way can listen to their constituents, who are saying "no, thanks" to this bill. They can run on a platform of "doing it right" in the next session of Congress. Promise to focus on cutting the costs of health care, instead of promising to pay for everyone.

There are reasonable compromises that can be made, on both sides. At this point, it's going to take a "profile in courage" for any Democrat to stand up and kill the current bill. With so many of them already seeing the "graffiti politti" and retiring, I have to think that some of them want to stick around, and be part of the solution, rather than compounding the problem. Let's hope they're listening.