Sunday, August 16, 2009

Last Call

Nate Silver games out where health care reform goes from here with the public option all but dead.
Is the public option really dead? Probably.

Perhaps the better question is whether the public option was ever really 'alive', meaning that it ever had enough votes to pass both the House and the Senate. We estimated based on committee votes that a bill containing a fairly weak public option -- like the one approved by the House's Energy and Commerce Committee -- would be a favorite to pass the House but probably only by a slim margin, with between 220-225 votes for passage (a minimum of 218 are required). And arguably, the conditions have worsened somewhat for health care reform since the Commerce Committee's compromise passed on July 31st.

It's the Senate side, though, where the public option was encountering most of its difficulties. Only 37 Senators, according to the whip count at Howard Dean's website, were firmly on board with the public option, whereas at least a few Democrats (Mary Landrieu, Joe Lieberman, Kent Conrad) had stipulated their opposition to it. There were nevertheless a number of scenarios under which one can imagine a bill with a public option having passed -- Lieberman, Landrieu, et. al. might be nominally opposed to a public option, but is their opposition so firm that they would vote to filibuster any bill that contained one?

The White House has evidently concluded that this is a real threat. I don't see any real obvious reason to doubt their assessment. For those who have come to a different conclusion, I'm all ears -- give me a detailed, practical (not theoretical) scenario by which a bill containing a public option passes both chambers and gets the President's signature. But I don't see it.
I don't either, and the Democrats have gotten crushed in the PR battle. So now what?
Is a bill without a public option worth passing (if you're a Democrat)? From a near-term political standpoint, almost certainly yes. Bill Clinton suggested on Thursday that the President's approval rating would get a five-point boost the moment that health care legislation passed with his signature. I don't know if that's exactly right, but this is certainly a better scenario for Democrats than the world in which health care reform fails and they're getting blamed by pretty much everybody and have nothing much to run on in 2010.

From a long-term political standpoint, some of the less effective versions of the House and Senate bills could create problems for Democrats down the road. For example, I've argued that the compromise floated by Max Baucus's Senate Finance Committee could wind up making quite a few folks upset, since it contains rather ungenerous subsidies and an individual mandate but no public option and no true employer mandate. If your employer drops your health coverage a few years hence and you have to buy an expensive plan on your own without much help from the government, you're probably going to be fairly peeved about the country having spent $900 billion to put you in this predicament. Hopefully, if the Democrats are giving up on the public option, they're at least getting something for their willingness to compromise, such as a stronger employer mandate and more aggressive regulations on insurance premiums.

Forget politics for a moment -- what about from a policy standpoint? The fundamental accomplishments of a public option-less bill would be to (1) ensure that no American could be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition or because they became sick; (2) subsidize health insurance coverage for millions of poor and middle-class Americans.

These are major, major accomplishments. Arguably, they are accomplished at too great a cost. But let's look at it like this. The CBO estimates that the public option would save about $150 billion over the next ten years -- that's roughly $1,100 for every taxpayer. I'm certainly not thrilled to have to pay an additional $1,100 in taxes because some Blue Dog Democrats want to placate their friends in the insurance industry. But I think the good in this health care bill -- the move toward universal-ish coverage, the cost-control provisions -- is worth a heck of a lot more than $1,100.
I can see that. Nate goes on to say that progressives still need to fight for a solid bill that has no public option, but that's going to be all but difficult. As I've said time and time again, the goal for Republicans here is no bill whatsoever. They will not stop until it's dead, and it behooves Democrats to remember the reality of the situation.

But the Republicans and the insurance industry have proven they can definitely damage the bill, if not wound it badly. Getting it back on track is going to take a hell of an effort, and so far the Democrats have not shown they have what it takes.

We'll see. At this point something has to pass or Obama's done and so are the Dems. But if something DOES pass, the Republicans are ruined.

The real battle is about to get underway.

Naming Names

The US and Swiss banking giant UBS have struck deal where American officials will get about 5,000 names of Swiss bank account owners, so that the IRS can start going after tax shelters and loopholes set up by these accounts.
The landmark deal, ending a dispute in which the U.S. tax authorities had sued UBS to disclose 52,000 U.S. clients suspected of tax evasion, dispels a big cloud hanging over the world's second-biggest wealth manager.

It also formally leaves Switzerland's cherished banking secrecy intact, although many Swiss private bankers say it has been badly damaged.

NZZ am Sonntag, citing its own researches and reports in the U.S. press, said the deal would be based on the existing U.S.-Swiss double taxation agreement of 1996, and therefore not require any changes to Swiss law.

As a result, the Swiss cabinet will be able to implement the deal directly, without going through parliament, it said. UBS will also escape having to pay a fine, it said.

The deal will probably be signed this week, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters on Friday.

A spokesman for the Swiss justice department declined to comment, noting that the two sides had agreed not to release details of the deal until it is signed. A spokesman for UBS also declined to comment.

5,000 is only a fraction of the 52,000 tax evaders out there, but it's more than the zero the IRS can do anything about now.

Still, you have to wonder how many Swiss accounts are going to be lost because of this. Tax evaders will simply find another country's banking system to use.

A Case Of Fatalism Versus Reality

Reality says the public option is dead, but that real reform can still be passed and will need to be passed.

Fatalism says the Republicans and the Village will never allow the Democrats to pass a health care reform bill at all.

The question now is, who is right? I'm not sure anymore. I believe that there is still enough to get a bill passed, especially in reconciliation. I also believe that having been completely vindicated by their efforts so far, the GOP effort to kill Obamacare will now attempt to strike a fatal blow.

We'll see who is right rather soon, I'm thinking.

Some Folks Still Know What Journalism Is

Like Lawrence O'Donnell here (via BooMan.) It's the argument the Dems should have been making six months ago, however.

It's just a matter of how much the Dems drop from the final bill, and I'm almost dead sure that enough truly progressive Dems will revolt without the public option and the final bill that it will crash and burn.

Your ODI Update

The ODI is getting worse, after narrowing last week, Rasmussen's number is at -9 and the President's approval ratingas are down to 51.4% at, still leaving the ODI at -10.4%.

Not good.

Death Panels

Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad is basically saying at this point there's no way a public option will pass and that Obama should just simply drop it.
A key Senate negotiator said Sunday that President Barack Obama should drop his push for a government-funded public health insurance option because the Senate will never pass it.

Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota said it was futile to continue to "chase that rabbit" due to the lack of 60 Senate votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

"The fact of the matter is there are not the votes in the United States Senate for a public option. There never have been," Conrad said on "FOX News Sunday."

And of course, the only acceptable health care reform to Republicans is no health care reform whatsoever. The Village has convinced America that no reform is better than anything the Democrats have. And Democrats like Kent Conrad aren't about to develop a spine and fight it.

Murtha's out. Conrad's out too. More and more Dems are jumping ship. They've been convinced that voters will reward them for stopping health care reform. Voters will do so by replacing them with Republicans.

My kingdom for a spine.

[UPDATE 1:48 PM] Add HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to the growing list of Democrats and administration officials offering to drop the public option, along with the President himself. No matter what remains in the plan, the Republicans running Congress and the Village will kill it.

At what point do we start asking who killed Obamacare?

In Which Zandar Answers Your Burning Questions

Tim at Balloon Juice wonders what the purpose of putting a story on the front page of the WaPo that a family with an income of $300,000 is having rough times in this economy happens to be.
I do not doubt that it hurts a parent to tell a little girl that she cannot have a designer cell phone like her friends at school. The problem is that highlighting these stories as preeminently important, which both WaPo and the Times do irritatingly often, facilitates the perspective that the people with ‘good enough’ insurance are fine and therefore America is fine. As much as my heart warmed when the article’s protagonist straightened her dark Armani suit and declared, “I can ride this out”, a lot of poor and uninsurable people are not riding this out. They are sick, young and broke, and the current crisis has put a lot more in that position than ever before. The state of America will be perceived as a crisis that we need to solve to the degree that major newspapers treat their plight as a bigger deal than Susie’s generic brand cell phone.
Well, let's take a look at the article's message about the single woman and her three kids:
Laura Steins doesn't mind saying that she is barely squeaking by on $300,000 a year. She lives in a place where the boom years of Wall Street pushed the standard of living to astonishing heights. Where fifth-graders shop at a store called Lester's that sells $114 tween-size True Religion jeans. Where a cup of fresh spinach and carrot juice called the Iron Maiden costs $7.95.

By local standards, Steins occupies the lower rung of affluence -- the rung where every dollar now matters.

As a vice president at MasterCard's corporate office in Purchase, N.Y., she earns a base pay of $150,000 plus a bonus. This year she'll take home 10 percent less because of a smaller bonus. She receives $75,000 a year in child support from her ex-husband. She figures she will pull an additional $50,000 from a personal investment account to "pick up the slack."

The nanny and property taxes take $75,000 right off the top, but Steins considers both non-negotiable facts of her life and not discretionary. When she bought out her husband's share of the house after their 2006 divorce, she assumed the costs of keeping it afloat -- $8,000 to $10,000 a month. There's a pool man, a gardener and someone to plow the snow from the quarter-mile-long driveway.

As tight as money is, she has decided that living in a 4,000-square-foot house on three acres is the practical thing to do. "A), I couldn't sell the house right now," she says, citing the slow real estate market. "B), this is where my kids go to school. And C), it's where my job is."

The answer is simple: you're supposed to feel sorry for this single mom and think to yourself "Boy, Nancy Pelosi wants to tax this poor woman an extra $3,000 a year to help pay for health insurance for people that don't have it. That's a terrible thing to do to a single mom. I don't like the Democrats or their health care plan, no sir."

Laura Steins is the poster mom for the Down And Out In Beverly Hills crowd. You don't want to raise taxes on the rich, the article is saying. The rich are just as broke as you and I are.

Oldest story in the class war book. Get the single mom making $30,000 a year to relate to to the one making $300,000 a year and say "Yeah, we can't afford health care reform right now." Sympathy for the Devil, indeed.

And it's working perfectly. Gotta love our liberal media.

The beltway movers and shakers and staffers and lobbyists in that income bracket already (or aspiring to be) are the targets of this article. This article's to remind them of The Way Things Are. The people making decisions in Washington and the people making decisions in the Village, they're letting you know not so subtly that they're not going to pay for health care for poor people, dammit.

They have nannies and poolboys and designer cell phones to worry about, after all. And that's what the Beltway thinks. They want you to think this way too...and more importantly, they want Congress to think this way.

What's Gone Wrong?

Looking over the evidence from an objective 30,000 feet perspective, I have to say that the health care fight is all but over, as is the President's entire agenda. Thing may change should the economy improve, but the Republican Party has won this battle by going straight to the fears of the middle-aged, middle class White American.

And that group still determines America's policy path for now. Yes, the future demographics show that group is becoming a smaller and smaller part of the American electorate. But for now, they still run the show, just as they always have in modern politics.

The Republicans have won this battle because President Obama is unable to offer them what the Republicans are offering them: control of the country. They see Obama reaching out to African-Americans and Hispanics and white liberals, and more conservative whites just don't see where they have a place in the Democratic Party anymore. They're aware of the fact the Republicans screwed up and put the country in this mess. They hated George Bush. But they see no future for themselves with Barack Obama, either. That's Barack Obama's fault.

They remember the "bitter" remarks from the campaign. They remember his white grandmother and mother. They remember he's not like them. Does that make them racist? No, actually, far from it. For the first time we have a President that's not like the majority of the voting populace. Of course that's going to make people uncomfortable.

Only now has the President decided to address that part of the country today in an op-ed in the NY Times, and while it's a good piece, it's too late.

Republicans have expertly mined that fear and mistrust. Obama's one real effort to address race in this country turned into the Skip Gates fiasco. What Obama said I believe needed to be said, but the political reality of the truth is that it hurt him badly. America has never had to deal with this before. The Republican Party is attacking on this angle with everything they've got, and it's paying off.

It's sunk in for a lot of Americans now that change is coming, and they don't want it. I have people telling me all the time two things: "I like my health care plan now" and "You can't trust the government to provide health care." A full 30% of America has government-provided health care already and it works, and they are the people most hostile to allowing the rest of the country have it.

They're afraid of Barack Obama and what he'll do. They don't trust him. We're out in uncharted waters. As I pointed out Friday, the only thing that saved American from John McCain was the fact he refused to go the full birther route. If the Republican Party had done they what they have done in the last two months of the election, John McCain would have won easily. McCain, for some reason, refused to try to win that way.

The rest of the Republican Party leaders learned the appropriate lesson. The Democrats continue to stumble around wondering why there's so much hatred and mistrust of the President right now, why there are such strong negative emotional feelings. The Republicans have taken this to an existential level. They are fighting for the status quo.

And there's a hell of a lot of people out there who are perfectly happy with the way things are. Republicans have played this perfectly. The Democrats refuse to stoop to that level. Because of that, they'll lose. They are more afraid of change then they are losing their health insurance or getting sick. It'll be the same story on education reform and immigration reform and climate change.

At this point it's all over but the shouting. And the shouting will go on for another 39 months.

[UPDATE 10:49 AM] The Too Long, Don't Read Short Version: Republicans are defining the battleground and the battlefield. Democrats really can't believe this white fear thing is working. It is. Average white guy drives down to the mall, on the way from his house he passes a bodega, Korean BBQ joint, Indian grocery store, Thai noodle shop, 2 foreign car dealerships, Japanese restaurant, 3 Mexican restaurants, the Jeep place is going out of business and the Starbucks and McDonalds has a black President on TV. None of this crap was here ten years ago. He sees the mall has big, empty spots in it. He's scared as hell. He blames Obama for it all.

Yeah, that works for him.
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