Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Stand and Deliver

Since the arguably tepid advocacy for health care reform in Obama’s State of the Union address the President’s resolve to stake his political fortunes, and by implication those of his majority legislators, on the passage of a health care reform bill has become clearly evident.  And even in that speech his message to his Congressional party was unequivocal, “To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills.”

After the tortuous ebb and flow of national debate and painful legislative horse-trading of the past nine months we have reached a point of no return for Obama’s administration, our Congressional majorities and our political prospects in the upcoming 2010 midterm elections.  Either the bill passes or fails.  Obama gets it:

GLENSIDE, Pa. – President Obama challenged wavering members of his own party on Monday not to give in to their political fears about supporting health care legislation, asserting that the urgency of getting a bill through Congress should trump any concern about the consequences for Democrats in November.

President Barack Obama told a crowd of students at Arcadia University, in Glenside, Pa. on Monday that there should be an “up or down vote on health care.”

In a high-octane appearance that harked back to his “Yes we Can” campaign days, Mr. Obama jettisoned the professorial demeanor that has cloaked many of his public pronouncements on the issue, instead making an emotional pitch for public support as he tries to push the legislation through a final series of votes in Congress in the next several weeks.

Helene Cooper – Obama Warns Democrats of Urgency of Health Bill NYT 8 Mar 10

President Obama’s willingness to make an all or nothing bet on this legislative reform has leveraged Congressional Democrats into a position where they soon must consider Benjamin Franklin’s sage advice, “We must all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang seperately.”

And the prospects are daunting.  There is no clear indication that Democrats can muster the numbers in the House in the next few weeks:

To prevent a Republican filibuster in the Senate, Democrats are planning to include the final revisions to the health care bill in a budget reconciliation measure, which can be adopted by a simple majority in both chambers.

But first, House Democrats must approve the Senate’s health care bill, originally adopted Dec. 24. This is where the legislative heavy lifting will take place.

Many rank-and-file House Democrats are deeply uneasy. They disliked the Senate bill on both policy and political grounds.

David M Herszenhorn – A Handy Road Map for the Final Weeks NYT 8 Mar 10

In an effort to rekindle public support for this legislation the Obama White House has taken unprecedented steps in recent weeks, convening a publicly televised ‘bipartisan’ summit and drafting a straight-forward summary of the essential policy of health care reform he is advocating.  The summit failed to elicit bipartisan support, as expected, but it cleared a political roadblock in the path of using reconciliation to amend the existing Senate bill.  Everyone can see that Republicans are committed to obstructionism as a political strategy.  Since then Obama has commenced stumping around the country at televised town-hall events in support of this legislation.  

So how does public opinion stack up on this signature Democratic legislation?  Not so good, apparently:

PRINCETON, NJ — Americans are skeptical that lawmakers will agree on a new healthcare bill at Thursday’s bipartisan healthcare summit in Washington, D.C. If an agreement is not reached, Americans by a 49% to 42% margin oppose rather than favor Congress passing a healthcare bill similar to the one proposed by President Obama and Democrats in the House and Senate. By a larger 52% to 39% margin, Americans also oppose the Democrats in the Senate using a reconciliation procedure to avoid a possible Republican filibuster and pass a bill by a simple majority vote.

The poll shows that American public opinion tilts against this option.

Not only are 49% of Americans opposed to passing a bill similar to the one proposed by Obama and the Democrats in the House and Senate, compared with 42% in favor, those “strongly” opposed outnumber those “strongly” in favor by 23% to 11%.

A follow-up question asked specifically about the use of a parliamentary procedure that would allow the Democratic leaders to avoid a Republican filibuster. Again, Americans are opposed by a slightly larger, 52% to 39% margin, and those opposed are more likely to feel strongly about their opinion than those in favor, 25% to 11%.

The survey question defines the legislation in question as being similar to that proposed by President Obama and the Democrats in the House and Senate.

Frank Newport – Americans Tilt Against Democrats’ Plans if Summit Fails Gallup 25 Feb 10

Some of the opposition is no doubt due to Republican narratives, ‘death panels’ and ‘socialism,’ not to mention frustration with legislators and the sausage-making demonstration provided by the Democratic majorities in both houses over the past year.  But nevertheless a core question must be asked:

Which would you rather take into the midterm elections?  The President/Congress that succeeded where Clinton, Truman, etc had failed in the past by passing healthcare reform – but without the support of a majority of the population – or divided, incompetent, failure?  Now I’m not saying that the fate of this bill will significantly impact who controls the House or Senate after the 2010 elections one way or another, but it seems to me that if it did, then not passing your most meaningful domestic policy objective would ultimately be more damaging to your political prospects then passing it with the support of only 40% of the country.

Joshua Tucker – What’s Worse Politically? Passing a Bill … or Looking Weak and Incompetent? The Monkey Cage 1 Mar 10

How is it that Democrats seem to be in a lose-lose situation on this policy issue?  The rationale for reforming health insurance is sound, we are in an unsustainable cycle of rising costs and sharp premium increases in an almost monopolistic marketplace.  Something clearly must be done but the political climate, for a variety of reasons, is toxic and the militancy, not to mention the outright misrepresentation, of the opposition framing of this legislation has had an impact on the attitude, and apprehension, of the American public.

Nevertheless, at this point there is diminishing wiggle-room for reluctant Democrats and Obama has come down on the side of daring to win and letting the chips fall where they may.  There are arguably even harsher assessments of the potential failure of the Democratic majorities in both houses which might emerge:

In my view, at this point, you cannot blame the president if this bill fails to pass. And you cannot even blame the Republicans, although they will do all they can to bugger up the reconciliation process. In the end, this is about whether the Democratic Party can govern, whether it is a functioning political party, or whether it deserves to die. If it had one tenth of the discipline of the GOP, this would not be a question. But frankly, if it cannot pass this bill after the last election with this president at this moment, then it should be put out of its misery.

Andrew Sullivan – Would You Rather? The Atlantic 7 Mar 10

Are Democrats going to deliver or not?  The ethos of our party will be significantly altered in either case, at least for the remainder of the current election cycle if not beyond.  And short-term electoral considerations notwithstanding it seems we have little choice.  Pass.  The.  Bill.

[Update]  “I’m kind of fired up,” Obama said at the beginning of his remarks:

“Let’s seize reform. It’s within our grasp,” the president implored his audience at Arcadia University, the first outside-the-Beltway appearance since he vowed last week to do everything in his power to push his health care plan into law.

The president’s pitch was part denunciation of insurance companies – “they continue to ration care on the basis of who’s sick and who’s healthy,” he said – and part criticism of his Republican critics. “You had 10 years. What happened? What were you doing?” he taunted members of a party that held the White House for eight years and control of Congress for a dozen.

Julie Pace and David Espo – Obama Health Care Push: Back To His Grassroots AP via Huffington Post 8 Mar 10

“So I need you to knock on doors. Talk to your neighbors. Pick up the phone,” he urged them.  Yeah, and ring you’re Democratic representatives.  Man, what a party.


  1. HappyinVT

    It was full-on campaign mode.  The crowd was younger (no duh! given that it was at Arcadia University) and they were pretty fired up.  The president was fired up, too.  He was quite comfortable; obviously in his element and loving it.

    I don’t know what, if any, strategy has been in play from last January until this January.  I don’t know if the administration got into the White House and saw what a giant clusterf*ck the previous administration left behind.  Or, Obama and Co misread how purely obstructionist some of his former colleagues were going to be (including some Dems).  I do not buy that this is some new Plouffe-inspired strategy; I’m pretty sure David could have picked up the phone at any time and called either Axelrod or Obama and said, “Dudes, you’re screwing this up royally.  Here’s what you need to do.”  But, anyway, whatever happened in the last year, the president has (finally) come out swinging.

    There was one thing the president didn’t say that I wish he had; after he talked about the best ideas of the Republicans that were incorporated I was exhorting him to point out that no Republicans would commit to voting for the bill.  I think he could have driven home how the Republicans were not looking for any meaningful compromise but really a “do it our way or else.”

    Apparently, he also told the progressive caucus last week that he sees this as only the first bill, something to build upon, FWIW.

  2. fogiv

    if the country gets nothing of benefit from it apart from this, it will be worth the effort anyway:

    Hate radio host Rush Limbaugh has been one of health care reform’s most vociferous opponents, warning that “[h]uman beings will die earlier than normal” under the “freedom killing” and “life threatening” plan, and calling for it to be “aborted.” Yesterday, Limbaugh put his money where his mouth is, saying that if health care passes and all his fears are realized, he’ll leave the country:

    CALLER: If the health care bill passes, where would you go for health care yourself? And the second part of that is, what would happen to the doctors, do they have to participate in the federal program, or could they opt out of it? […]

    LIMBAUGH: My guess in even in Canada and even in the UK, doctors have opted out. And once they’ve opted, they can’t see anybody Medicare, Medicaid, or what will become the exchanges. They have to have a clientele of private patients that will pay them a retainer and it’ll be a very small practice. I don’t know if that’s been outlawed in the Senate bill. I don’t know. I’ll just tell you this, if this passes and it’s five years from now and all that stuff gets implemented – I am leaving the country. I’ll go to Costa Rica.

    Someone really should warn Costa Rica.

  3. …and I hope I don’t have to explain to anyone here how I think the US constitution is a precious ornament of all nations, especially democratic ones….

    But something appears broken in American democracy.

    How can a minority of Senators block major legislation like this?

    And how can important house representatives defy the democratic mandate of the election, and vote against the bill, because it’s not interventionist or too interventionist for their taste?

    This is undemocratic, and unrepresentative. It allows obstructionism and inertia to become the main forces in US political life, not to mention the role of money, lobbying and pork barrel pay outs to become the norm.

    Not so long ago – in fact only 17 months ago – Americans voted with a clear unequivocal mandate for change, and particularly reform of the healthcare system.

    So some polls find more or less against public options. Some polls find more or less against HCR as it stands.

    For godsake, you’re the world’s leading representative democracy. You don’t work by plebiscites and constant random sampling of small portions of the population. You are the model of democracy the world looks up to. Leadership is no good without some residual notions of solidarity, loyalty, and giving a party the chance to make some changes while it is in office.

    This is much more worrying moment for me than Bush and all his tawdry reactionary ways. This is the chance for the democrats to prove they are incapable of government, and that there is no way other than increasingly shrill versions of republican ideological opportunism combined with electoral efficiency.

    This is the moment to rally round, and find out what democrat really means, rather than pass the buck for failure…

    An all too common theme already appearing on a lot of US blogs.  

  4. Shaun Appleby

    Along with the impressive and vocal demonstration outside the AHIP conference today came a not-so-thinly veiled threat from organised labour:

    In a series of conversations with the Huffington Post, many of labor’s leading voices pledged to launch a massive, arm-twisting effort to help persuade skeptical lawmakers to pass health care legislation into law. And in addition to their traditional ammunition — from email campaigns to town hall events — talk also centered on exacting electoral revenge against those who end up voting against reform.

    “I hope this sends a message to Congress,” Gerald McEntee, president of 1.6-million-member AFSCME, told the Huffington Post. “I think we have to demonstrate that we are not going to stand aside, that we are going to take them out if they don’t help us at all.”

    Sam Stein – Labor On Dems Who Block Health Reform: We’ll ‘Take Them Out’ Huffington Post 9 Mar 09

    So there.  The health care industry have been taking a few well orchestrated hits lately as a consequence of statements and events picked up even in the mainstream media.  Somebody’s getting their messaging sorted out, it seems.

  5. HappyinVT

    Congressional Democrats are under increasing pressure to finish up health care reform, but they’ve had enough of the White House dictating deadlines to them.


    “I was at a meeting with Rahm Emanuel and he was certainly informed that we don’t feel that we want any deadline assigned to us,” House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman told a few reporters outside of a Democratic caucus meeting this evening. “We want to pass the bill, we want to make sure it’s the way it should be, and soon as possible, but we don’t feel that we have to have any particular deadline.”


    I asked Waxman how Emanuel reacted to the pushback?

    “He said he would pass it on,” Waxman said with a smirk.


    Sorry, but what the fuck are they waiting for?  Pass the damn bill and move the fuck on to something else and/or (preferably) reconciliation.

    It’s going to be Easter recess, then some other recess, then Memorial Day recess, then some other fucking excuse.

    Yes, these people are pissing me off.

  6. Shaun Appleby

    From a reader at Sullivan’s Daily Dish:

    Since Nixon, it’s been governors or vice presidents, people ingrained with the authoritative executive.  Obama is bringing back the separation of powers, letting legislators legislate, and for most people, they’ve never been alive to see a President act with this sort of deference and constitutional understanding (it probably doesn’t hurt that he was a Constitutional Law professor either).  What he’s doing now is what a President should do.  He let the legislative process largely play out, now’s the time for the President to advocate and make sure it gets done.  It’s the bottom of the 9th, and the Closer is coming in.

    Anonymous poster via Andrew Sullivan – The Closer The Atlantic 9 Mar 10

    Works for me.

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