Posted by: mutantpoodle | January 22, 2010

Gut Check

I’ve waited two and a half days to write about Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts, mostly because my inchoate rage was necessarily not at all coherent. Plenty of others have commented on the immediate reaction in the Democratic Party to Brown’s election, which has been, essentially, to head to their panic room and lock themselves up until 2011.

I won’t go into all the people who should be drawn and quartered for letting it come to this: Max Baucus, for carrying the Gang of Six charade on for months past its sell-by date; Harry Reid, for miscalculating on the Public Option in the Senate and delaying a Senate bill by at least 6 weeks, and to Ben Nelson, for throwing his abortion hissy fit into the mix.

And a very special fuck you to Joe Lieberman, who may be the least principled man in the Senate, which is, as we have seen, a very low bar.

But that’s the Senate, which, in reality, had only 55 reliable cloture votes even before last Tuesday (Nelson, Lieberman, Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landrieu, and Evan Bayh being wobbly at best). One could argue, and I would, that what the Senate passed is about as good as you could do, even with the mythical “supermajority” the Democrats allegedly possessed.

And lets not get into the lunacy that a 100,000 vote majority in one state where the losing candidate was cover-you-eyes awful negates nearly 70 million votes cast – a 10 MILLION vote margin – less than 18 months ago for a guy who promised to enact something very much like what the Senate has passed.

They’d barely finished counting the votes in Boston when Jim Webb called for a time out on all things health care until Brown was seated. Jim Webb was a fucking Admiral, for crying out loud.  Does he really cave that easily?

Worse still, the next day, Barack Obama said virtually the same thing. “The Senate certainly shouldn’t try to jam anything through until Scott Brown is seated,” Obama told the ABC, according to a partial transcript. “The people of Massachusetts spoke. He’s got to be part of that process.”

Really? What, exactly, has he got to add to the discussion?

Scott Brown isn’t an expert on health care. He has no coherent position on the Senate’s current healthcare reform package, no history of working on the issue, and other than saying he was opposed to what the Democrats in the Senate had passed, no real record on the issue.

Except, of course, for supporting virtually the same concept in Massachusetts.

Furthermore, the Senate debated this issue ad nauseum – not terribly productively, for the most part, because the Republican argument was, essentially, death panels and socialism – but Brown hasn’t shown he is bringing anything to Washington to move the process forward.  He’s there to kill it. Why should he be part of the process?

Here’s what’s so wrong about this message.  It ignores that 60 Senators voted (a) to end debate on health care and (b) to pass a bill.   Brown’s election changes the Democrats ability to do the first of those two things, but not the second. So what Webb, and Obama, and, sadly, other Democrats are doing is accepting the GOP frame that you really need 60 votes to do anything in Washington.

Now, that may be the practical reality, but part of the Democrats’ message should be that it’s a sign of the GOP’s reactionary radicalism that they will do anything to stop the will of a large majority of Senators, who represent an even larger majority of Americans.

How large?

Well, if you give Senators credit for the state population they represent, whether their Senate colleague is of the same party or not, then the Senate composition is fairly reflective of that metric.

If you assume states with split Senators are a wash, and look only at states where a single party controls both Senate seats, the difference is dramatic.

And 40 of them can bring most legislation to a screeching halt.

OK, so the Senate is undemocratic.  We knew that.

Still, there’s a bill the Senate passed fair and square, and all the House has to do is pass it. Right?

Not so fast.  The major impediment to that happening is the opposition of the Progressive caucus, whose co-chair, Raul Grijalva, has ruled that action out:

I favor a two-part approach. Part one would be to pass a clean reconciliation bill requiring only 51 Senate votes that would include many important budget-related elements. This would not merely amend the Senate bill; it would pull the best budget-related items supported by the vast majority of American people from the existing reform bills and create a single transparent piece of legislation. Part two would be to send a separate handful of popular regulatory measures to the Senate, where they enjoy bipartisan support. These would include insurance cost controls, portability between jobs, ending the use of preexisting conditions to deny coverage, prohibiting lifetime and annual limits on benefits, prohibiting age and gender discrimination, establishing essential benefit standards, and ending the practice of rescission.

Great.  I’m sure the Senate GOP will get right on that.

Now, I get that progressives have to compromise all the time, because they are at one end of the policy spectrum, and they want to get things done.  If you don’t want anything to ever happen in Congress, and you have the power to stop it, you never, ever, have to compromise.  That sucks, but there it is.

So here’s my message to those progressives who can’t compromise their principles to pass the Senate bill, most of whose substantive issues can be repaired using reconciliation.

Get over yourselves.

You don’t like compromising? Neither do I.  But I do it nearly every fucking time I go to the polls and pull the lever for a Democrat. Is Dianne Feinstein my cup of tea? No. But she wasn’t running against Barbara Boxer.  She was running against Michael Huffington. Or Tom Campbell. Or Richard Mountjoy. So, as is so often the case, I choose the lesser of two evils.  And although I happily vote for my other Senator, and am largely happy with my Congressman (Howard Berman), I know that, as part of a larger Democratic party, they will not do everything I would want them to do.

I just know they’ll do better that the Republicans, and it’s not even close.

Democrats are missing the real choice here.  They should imagine there are two bills in front of them.  One allows insurance companies to reject people for pre-existing conditions, practice rescission without consequence, leaves many lower income families in the country struggling to buy health insurance, and essentially allows people to go bankrupt if they get sick, even if they DO have health insurance.

And one takes steps to fix all those problems. Quick: which one do you support?

Is it perfect? No. Was the process ugly? Sure.  It was made ugly by the requirement that Democrats get 60 votes, instead of 51, to pass a bill.  Without the filibuster threat, Senators Nelson, Landrieu, Bayh, Lincoln, and Lieberman would have been virtually irrelevant, and the bill would have been much cleaner.

Is it a step forward? Absolutely.

Back in December, in a post called Grow Up, I suggested that one important element of the Senate’s bill was that it established health care as a right.  I don’t know if I can overstate how important that is.  How is it that this country is more protective of its citizens rights to own guns than of their access to basic, affordable healthcare?

So here’s my message to the Democratic Party: Grow a pair. Pass the Senate bill in the House. Ram through as many fixes as you can through reconciliation. And let the Republicans whine.

When the fall comes around, don’t run away from it, BOAST about what you’ve done. Tell your constituents that you have taken a step toward reining in insurance companies.  That you have passed legislation that will help reduce the deficit.  That you have protected generations of Americans from losing everything if they get seriously ill.  And tell them that you believe it was the right thing to do, even if it means you lose the election.

Any Democrat who does that gets my vote and my respect.  And I am sure I’m not the only one.


  1. From your mouth to Anthony Weiner’s ears. Well said.

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