Friday, January 22, 2010

Last Call

My generation is giving up on the political process after just a year and change.
It appears there is a potentially huge problem for Democrats going into the 2010 election cycle: young people simply are not voting. Part of Martha Coakley’s problem in Massachusetts was the incredibly low turnout among voters between 18-29. The findings of a Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement poll state:
About 15% of Massachusetts citizens between the ages of 18-29 turned out to vote.* For citizens age 30 and older, turnout was about 57%.
For comparison: 25% of young citizens (age 18-29) voted in the 2008 Massachusetts presidential primaries, and 47.8% of young Massachusetts citizens voted in the 2008 presidential elections, according to CIRCLE’s analysis. Seventy-eight percent of under-30 voters in Massachusetts chose Barack Obama in the 2008 general election; 20% chose John McCain.
This was not a one-time event. Youth turnout in the 2009 gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey was similarly very low.
The optimist in me says we need to give the younger generation a reason to vote.  All they have known is the post-1994 Republican Party of partisan stupidity, bigotry, hatred and racism.  They reject it soundly. They are the embodiment of hope.

Of course, the cynic in me says all they have known of the Democratic Party is the spinleless losers who fail to get things done even with huge majorities, only to get crushed at the polls and leave us with the Republicans running the show.  In the end, the greedy bad guys win, and the alternative is a bunch of losers. Why bother?

Here at 34, my entire adult political experience has been watching Clinton's '92 election in high school turn into a nightmare in college as the Republicans decimated them in 1994, six years of triangulation followed by impeachment, the dot-com bust, then Bush's stolen election, 9/11 and eight years of suck, and now Obama's Democrats are falling apart again after one year in power.

Literally any time anyone in my generation has seen a green shoot of political hope, it has been beaten with a sledgehammer and set on fire, then the ashes collected and rubbed into the wounds of puppies flayed open with strips of dead baby seal leather studded with broken glass.

Why Bother?

That's the advice of National Journal's Ronald Brownstein, who thinks in a world of sixty vote supermajorities that the best course of action is nothing at all.
Obama's first year demonstrated once again that in this deeply polarized political era, big legislative crusades aimed at big national problems produce only big political headaches. President George W. Bush learned that when his failed drive to restructure Social Security helped trigger his precipitous second-term political collapse. And now, like President Clinton, Obama is at risk of cracking his presidency on the immovable rock of health care reform. Democrats control the White House, the House, and, even after the Massachusetts vote, 59 Senate seats, more than either party has held since 1980, except during the past several months. Yet much of Washington assumes, probably correctly, that Democrats are now condemned to gridlock.

Republicans believe that Obama's problem is that he's pushing so much government intervention in the economy. That's undoubtedly part of the story. But Obama's larger difficulty is that he's pushing so much change at a time when filibuster threats are so common that it requires 60 Senate votes to pass almost everything -- and the minority party won't provide the president votes on almost anything. We are operating in what amounts to a parliamentary system without majority rule, a formula for futility.

Republicans would likely be facing equivalent troubles if they had the power to advance their goal of retrenching government. Does anyone imagine that a President John McCain would be flourishing if he had spent 2009 attempting, over unified Democratic resistance, to impose his campaign agenda of eliminating the tax incentive for employer-provided health care and reducing the growth of Medicare spending? Or that House Republicans would be thriving if they could enact their 2009 budget proposal to literally end Medicare for Americans now younger than 55 and replace it with a voucher to buy private insurance?

In that alternate universe, Democrats would almost certainly be the ones celebrating off-year upsets. The common thread is that it's extremely difficult to sell this country on big change, in any direction, without at least some bipartisan validation. That's especially true in today's communications maelstrom, where overtly partisan media sources tirelessly incite the opposition party's base against the president.
 Ahh, good old moral equivalency.  Because ending Medicare for those under 55 is exactly as insane as trying to cover the 50 million Americans without health insurance, and both are equally silly goals for America.

59 votes in the Senate is now gridlock.  That can't possibly be the problem, can it?

Grab Them By the Wallet

And their hearts and minds will follow.
A highly influential labor leader Friday suggested congressional Democrats might not the full support of unions in the upcoming midterm elections due to their struggles passing healthcare reform.

Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern chided House Democrats for contemplating scaled-back healthcare reform in favor of passing the Senate bill through the House. 

“It’s gonna be incredibly difficult to stay focused on national politics if by the end of 2010 we have minimal health care and minimal changes on what’s important to our members,” he said in an interview with liberal blogger Greg Sargent.

Stern said the House Democrats' apparent new plan as "fear masquerading as a strategy."
Here's the wacky part:  this week's Supreme Court ruling basically throwing out limits on campaign finance reform renders Andy Stern's threat much less effective that it would have been just days ago.  The influx of corporate cash in 2010 will simply drown anything the labor unions can come up with anyway.  Which ever side has the corporate money will win in 2010, and that's going to be the Republicans.

The real panic you've seen in the last 48 hours on health care is the insurance industry and financial industry going "You will kill this agenda or we will have you replaced by people who will.  We can outspend your campaign 100-to-1 now if we have to in order to do so."  The Dems are running scared because the lobbyists now have unlimited cash to decide elections, and Scott Brown's campaign showed the Republicans how to do it.

I'm surprised nobody's glomed on to this.  It's perfectly obvious.

Return Of The GOP Plan

Remember what I've been saying for a year now:  The GOP will never allow a health care plan to pass if the Democrats can take credit for it.

But if the Republicans can take credit for it?
On Thursday, House Democrats debated two ways of getting a health care reform bill passed. The first is to pass the Senate's bill -- though only on the condition that additional reforms would be tackled in a separate filibuster-proof bill, to be passed through a process called reconciliation. The second approach is to pare down the package -- stripping it to its unobjectionable core (insurance regulation, money to help people buy care, etc.) -- and use that as a building block for future legislation.

That the latter strategy is being seriously considered by progressive lawmakers is a testament to how large an albatross health care reform has become for the party. But the worry, for some, is that it could lead to Republicans claming victory.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell "will have his whole caucus vote for it and make it a political win for the Republicans," one well-connected Democratic health care strategist said. "They'll say, 'This was the Republican plan from the beginning. We're glad the Democrats joined us.' And take all the credit for passing reform."

Lo and behold, on Thursday, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich suggested that the Republican Party do just that, arguing that it would be "clever" for the GOP to pass non-controversial reform measures with "huge bipartisan majorities."

Alternately, some Democrats might welcome such a move. "Hell yeah," a Democratic congressional aide said. "We would have created a bi-partisan bill. We would have shown leadership. And we'd get credit for that."
No you wouldn't.  The Republicans would.  And you would get annihilated in 2010. Completely.  Hell, I would vote for them just because they would prove they could actually get things done.

If the Dems fall into this little black hole in a box, we really do deserve the GOP majorities in Congress from a simply Darwinian perspective.  The Dems would be too stupid to allow to live.

Just A Question Of How Many They Lose

Nate Silver's new Senate rankings show a deadly grim picture for the Dems, with almost zero chance of any Democratic pickups outside of the five open Republican seats, and a lot of Dem carnage much more likely.
Right now, the program is showing that Democrats will retain an average of 54.7 seats in the 112th Congress. The distribution, however, is slightly asymmetrical, so the median number is 54, and the modal number is 53.

And things could, potentially, get a whole lot worse than that; the program recognizes that the outcome of the different races are correlated based on changes in the national environment. Between the surprise in Massachusetts, and races like California and Indiana which are potentially coming into play, there's about a 6-7 percent chance that Republicans could actually take control of the Senate, and another 6 percent chance or so that they could wind up with a 50-50 split. On the other hand, there's still a 7-8 percent chance that the Democrats could regain their 60th seat if the national environment shifts back in their direction.
Not good odds, especially if you factor in the very real possibility that Evan Bayh, Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman especially could jump parties/caucuses if the Republicans pick up 7 more seats, and Bayh's seat is frankly in real play now by itself.  Nate's top seven flips are all Dem seats, followed by the open Missouri seat that the Republicans are defending and then Bayh's seat.  If all of those break the GOP's way, that's 51-49 Dems, and Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson looking for the exits.

Even Barbara Boxer and Russ Feingold's seats are in play according to Nate.  Knocking out those guys and defending all 5 open seats would be a hell of an order for the GOP.   But it would give them 51 seats.

Scott Brown has changed the math, whether I like it or not.  And the Dems are on the verge of simply surrendering anyway.

Start The Bus, Baby

In the immortal words of Dick Vitale, "It's over baby, start the bus, get it warmed up, cause you're gonna be driving home wondering how you lost this game and it's a long trip home."
There was some talk among Senate leadership on Thursday of putting together a letter signed by 51 Democratic senators pledging to pass a cleanup bill if the House would pass the Senate bill. But that effort fizzled when support for it didn’t materialize, insiders said.

“The Senate moderates’ viewpoint is, ‘We passed our bill. We’re not going to spend three weeks on some other bill,’” said a Democratic lobbyist who represents clients pushing for reform.

“There’s a real possibility it doesn’t get through,” said another Democratic lobbyist.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said one possibility involved having the Senate pass the cleanup bill first. But there’s a question as to whether the Senate can amend a bill that is not yet law, officials said. Reid would also want some assurances ahead of time from the parliamentarian that key elements of the cleanup bill would not be struck from the bill, officials said.

House Democrats are angry with the Senate for passing a bill that divided their base, angering labor unions with a tax on expensive health plans and progressives by abandoning the public option. House members are frustrated that the Senate assumes they will roll over whenever the upper chamber demands it and that they took until late December to pass a bill.
 Unless something magical happens between now and the SOTU address, health care reform is dead and gone.

And so are the Dem majorities in Congress.  We need leadership.  We're getting "change is haaaaaard.  We don't wanna do it."

If this truly, really is over, then the Dems deserve what they get.  Obama says he'll never stop fighting, but it's irrelevant if the Dems in Congress have already given up.

[UPDATE 2:43 PMChris Dodd is calling for a break until March on health care reform.  Sure, that'll make it easier to pass, six weeks of Village hit jobs and GOP attacks!

A Friend In Need

TBogg did me a huge favor linking my blog many months ago and I owe the guy, on top of the fact that he's the funniest dude at FDL.  He just lost his basset hound Beckham, and just wanted to pass on condolences.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

January tornadoes are, you know, weird and scary.

Because It Worked So Well In 1994

The stupidity continues:
In a painful conclusion for many progressives, top Democratic strategists said in interviews Thursday evening that their party must now give up on comprehensive health care reform and press for a limited bill that can be quickly passed.

"I don't think that the comprehensive health care reform that passed the House and Senate can be signed into law this year," said Tad Devine, who has advised congressional and presidential campaigns. "The sooner we recognize the reality that a super majority was necessary to achieve this, the sooner we'll be able to win back voters."

"We can all dream but the reality is that they couldn't do it when we had 60 votes and we are not going to do it with 59," said Joe Trippi, a strategist long aligned with Democrat's liberal wing. "It's not what I want. I'd love to wave a wand and get comprehensive reform. But I think that they didn't go for that, when they could have."

The consultants have to by trade reconcile themselves with what agenda can win elections nationwide. That realpolitik has brought them to a place they could have hardly imagined one year ago when Barack Obama was inaugurated.

Until this week, as Devine put it, "the White House felt they would sustain the political damage in the short term because [health care reform] would be such a remarkable achievement in the long term."

But now many Democrats believe the scale has changed. The health plan's near-term political cost outweighs the party’s long-term policy goals. To Devine and others: less is now possible, too many other causes are being pushed aside and the party's future is now also at stake.

"We have not seen enough progress to justify the sweeping power voters gave to our party in the last two elections and they are demanding it, that the progress occur, and occur now!" Devine said. "And if we act on that, I think they will give us a lot of leeway. And if we don't deal with it we will lose important House and Senate seats, and ultimately I think it's a threat to the president's reelection."
To recap, the Dems haven't gotten health care reform done.  The people are angry at them for not making progress on this.  Ergo, the smart thing to do is to give up and punt a decade or so down the road.  The voters will understand and reward the Dems for failure.

It's like 1994 never happened for these people.  What could go wrong with that strategy?

In Which Zandar Answers Your Burning Questions

John Cole asks:
I love the fiction we are ever going to alter what is going on during Wall Street. Does anyone here think the Goldman boys and their friends would flinch at the notion of dumping a couple billion in advertising to save their 150 billion in bonuses? Anyone?
Not me, said the Zandar.  I think a couple billion may in fact be lowballing it.

I'm Afraid You May Have a Toomey, Pennsylvania

If the you believe the lesson of Scott Brown is "There ain't no safe seats for the Dems" then this Rasmussen poll may be worth looking at.
Republican Pat Toomey now leads incumbent Senator Arlen Specter 49% to 40% in Pennsylvania’s race for the U.S. Senate. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Pennsylvania voters also finds Toomey with a 43% to 35% lead over Democratic challenger Joe Sestak.

A month ago Toomey led Specter by four and Sestak by six. In the state’s Democratic Senate Primary race, Specter now leads Sestak by 21 points.
But here's something I overlooked however out of the Rasmussen camp this week that may be far more interesting from Rasmussen analyst Larry Sabato:
With Tuesday night’s upset by Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts, the GOP gained more than just a 41st vote to disrupt the Obama agenda. As attention turns to the midterm elections in November, the Republican Party has strong momentum. A few months ago, even GOP leaders said that taking over the Senate was a pipe dream, and it is still not probable. But as some independents sour on the Democratic Party, the possibility for a GOP majority can no longer be dismissed out of hand. More likely, next year’s Senate will still have a Democratic majority but be much more closely balanced between Democrats and Republicans.

In fact, it is likely that the Republicans will gain at least 3 to 5 Senate seats in November. Even more startling, in the aftermath of the Massachusetts special election, Republicans would do even better IF the general election were being held today. The Crystal Ball projects that the Democratic majority in the Senate would be reduced to just 52 seats if November’s contests were somehow moved to January. 
Luckily for the Democrats, the election is not today. By November the economy may be in much better shape, and some of the current controversies may appear less significant. Contests that would tip to the GOP today could easily wobble back to the Democrats (such as Missouri and Pennsylvania). That is why we still classify them as toss-ups overall.

At the same time, given Tuesday’s Bay State results, the Republican Party will search for, and possibly find, credible challengers for some Democratic senators believed to be safe until now. Imagining themselves as Scott Brown (on the victory stage, not in a Cosmo photo spread), a few “A” list Republicans might take a second look at the Senate and decide to jump in.

Among the senators who could be endangered by a new wave of Republican entries are Evan Bayh (Indiana), Kirsten Gillibrand (New York), Patty Murray (Washington), and Russ Feingold (Wisconsin).
Now that's interesting.  Rasmussen believes the Republicans would pick up 7 more seats:
Blanche Lincoln (AR)
Harry Reid (NV)
Mike Castle (DE)
Mike Bennett (CO)
Arlen Specter (PA)
...would all lose, and Obama's old seat and Byron Dorgan's seat in ND would flip to Mark Kirk and John Hoeven respectively.

48 Senate Republicans would put heavy pressure on Evan Bayh, Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman to flip parties like Specter did last year and give the Republicans 51, is the unsaid message.

I do indeed have to wonder.

Back To The Buckeye State

President Obama returns to Ohio again today to revisit the city he launched his jobs campaign in two years ago as candidate Obama: Lorain.
Ted Fenik worked for National Gypsum for nine years before the plant went idle. "I definitely don't blame Barack Obama for me losing my job," Fenik said. "When the housing industry took the slide down, you know, that's what killed us."

"We just need to bring more manufacturing jobs back to America," Fenik said. "You know, it just seem like they're all going overseas."

Ken Sauvey, 55, still hasn’t found work and has been without benefits for more than a year.

"We're trying to save our house," Sauvey said. "We don't want to lose our house.  Everything we make goes towards the house and pays the bills and just to stay about ground.  When that runs out I may have to leave the state.  I don't know.  That's just a scary situation."

He's been looking for work for two years. "They just don't hire a 55 year old man.  I'll put it that way.  And so, it is frustrating."

Sauvey told us he would ask President Obama "to keep up his work for the working man, the people that need it the most.  I know he's got a lot on his plate."
He does.  But so do millions of other Americans.  And if Obama folds on health care, they're not going to buy anything else he's selling either.

Many in Washington the Village want Obama to just throw everything under the bus and work on jobs, which of course means cutting corporate taxes like Republicans want.  The Republicans have already shown that Obama will get the blame if they block programs the GOP doesn't like that might benefit the working class or the president's numbers, so if he does propose a new jobs program, the Republicans fully expect to win that battle by blocking it.  41 is more than 59.

Obama can break the cycle and do some real good.  But right now he's on the sidelines. Health care doesn't seem to matter if your unemployed, but on the contrary it becomes far more important.

The Helicopter Ben And Timmy Show Blows A Rotor

Three items taken separately may not amount to much.  But taken all in the same week, it may finally spell out that Obama is serious about changing the game on banks.  First, the Volcker Rules look like a major restoration of the firewall between bank and investment house.  Second, is this article from Reuters that Timmy doesn't like the Volcker Rules or Obama's TARP fee one bit.
Geithner is concerned that the proposed limits on big banks' trading and size could impact U.S. firms' global competitiveness, the sources said, speaking anonymously because Geithner has not spoken publicly about his reservations.

He also has concerns that the limits do not necessarily get at the heart of the problems and excesses that fueled the recent financial meltdown, the sources said.
Really?  Privately the SecTreas is pissing all over the President's new economic proposals and he is taking the line that the Wall Street banksters he's supposed to be regulating are right after they lost trillions?  I have said Tim Geithner was the wrong man from the very beginning and it's looking more and more like I was right.

Number three is the news today that Helicopter Ben doesn't have 60 votes in the Senate to beat the numerous Senate holds on his reconfirmation.

"The American people are disgusted with the greed and recklessness of Wall Street," Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said in an interview with The Associated Press last month. "People are asking, 'Why didn't the Fed intervene at the appropriate time to stop the casino-type activities of large financial companies?'"

Sanders, Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Sen. David Vitter, R-La., have all put holds on Bernanke's nomination, requiring 60 votes to proceed to a vote.

Voter anger is of heightened concern to members of Congress given the surprise victory of Sen.-elect Scott Brown, R-Mass., who rode a tide of voter discontent and economic anxiety to an upset victory in a special election earlier this week.

Last month, the Senate Banking Committee voted in favor of Bernanke's nomination by a vote of 16-7, not exactly a reflection of overwhelming positive feelings towards the Fed chair given the fact that he was first appointed in 2006 by President George W. Bush and nominated by President Obama for a second term last August.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., at one point was planning on scheduling a vote on Bernanke for Friday, but the Senate is currently in the midst of a debate over raising the debt limit and the vote has been pushed.
Like Salon's Andrew Leonard, I'm thinking Volcker should be offered Timmy's job and Helicopter Ben should get the boot too.  Maybe this is a turning point for Obama's econ team.


Five Guys With A Side Of Corporatism

Reaction to yesterday's Supreme Court decision killing campaign finance reform limits has been equally brutal and depressing.  Making the rounds, we start with Slate's Dahlia Lithwick:
But you can plainly see the weariness in Stevens eyes and hear it in his voice today as he is forced to contend with a legal fiction that has come to life today, a sort of constitutional Frankenstein moment when corporate speech becomes even more compelling than the "voices of the real people" who will be drowned out. Even former Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist once warned that treating corporate spending as the First Amendment equivalent of individual free speech is "to confuse metaphor with reality." Today that metaphor won a very real victory at the Supreme Court. And as a consequence some very real corporations are feeling very, very good.
Over at They Gave Us A Republic, Blue Girl is pissed off.
Today five Supreme Court Justices shat all over the Constitution and turned us into the United States of Exxon-Mobile.

Corporations are not people, and money is not speech. Period. The Founders never envisioned this, and everyone who has taken American History knows it. And none of us ever want to hear any of those five corporate cock-suckers - Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy and ole "balls and strikes" himself, the biggest corporate cock-sucker of them all, the one with the sloppiest chin in America tonight, John mother-fucking can't-wait-til-he-siezes-during-arguments-and-flops-around-on-the-bench-like-a-fish Roberts.

I knew he was a lying snake when he made his now-infamous "balls and strikes" comment during his confirmation.

If today's decision is not grounds to impeach the sons-of-bitches, I don't know what it would take.
And she's right.  Bob Cesca sees an opening for the Donks.
Of course the Republicans are. Because they're all about populism, right? Not only are the Republicans against taxing the banks to recover the TARP funds, but they're also against re-regulating Wall Street, and they're in favor of allowing corporations to spend unlimited cash on political campaigns (that is, unless that corporation is run by George Soros, right?).
But it's Dave Weigel who tells it like it is:

And so it goes.

Wanted: Leadership

With Congressional Dems in full panic mode, the White House is showing backing off completely, according to TPM.
Our sources suggest to us the White House has been hands-off since the fate of the health care bill went from nearly done to unbelievably uncertain this week.

Obama's health care message has been to say he hopes Congress tries to "move quickly to coalesce around those elements of the package that people agree on," a signal many took as backing away to let leaders do what they think is most politically viable.

A White House aide insisted Obama is "engaged" on health care and that "active" discussions are happening in an around the Oval Office.

Obama has been speaking with Congressional leadership including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Leader Harry Reid.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel also is talking to members, though aides say he's not advocating for one position, but is listening to their thoughts on health care.
The White House is waiting on the Senate.  Meanwhile, the Senate is punting to the House.
The preferred way forward for unions and the reform campaign Health Care for America Now (not to mention the preferred solution of many members) is for the House to pass the Senate bill along with a separate package making what they see as a variety of necessary changes to it. (Given the math in the Senate, many of those changes would have to be passed via the filibuster proof budget-reconciliation process.) But the House isn't willing to take anything for granted. And for the promise of a fix to be worth the paper it's printed on, members will want some assurance from the Senate (among others) that the Senate will be willing to act. With just about every Democrat in the Senate saying they've moved on to other, newer priorities, it's safe to say they're not getting that.
And the House? They're looking for the White House to back them up on making the bill better through reconciliation.
In a statement released this afternoon, Rep. Raul Grijalva, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said he can't support passing the Senate bill through the House.

"I cannot support the Senate bill for the same reasons I could not before," he said. "It is a collection of unfair elements, including last-minute deal-making with certain individual senators in exchange for their votes, that has incensed voters across the country. It does not add up to an improvement in our health care system."
But of course, health care reform has now become Somebody Else's Problem.   The House wants to improve the bill, the Senate wants to kill it, and the White House is on the sidelines waiting to see who wins.  As the Kroog says this morning:
A message to House Democrats: This is your moment of truth. You can do the right thing and pass the Senate health care bill. Or you can look for an easy way out, make excuses and fail the test of history.
Right now the Dems are set for complete failure.


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