Monday, December 21, 2009

Health care reform and grumpy Jacksonian Democrats

Old Hickory battles the Money Power

I'm definitely one of the grumpy Jacksonians. The country was basically a one-party state in the 1820s, with the Democrats being that party. Actually, it was generally referred to as the Republican Party in those days, which can get confusing. John Quincy Adams became President in 1825, following the established succession up until that point of becoming Secretary of State and then President.

Adams was a decent guy. But as President he was pretty much the willing servant of what the Jacksonians called the Money Power. And it was because Jackson and the movement behind him, which included the early labor unions, took on the Money Power in the form of the Bank of the United States and won that the Democratic Party still holds "Jefferson-Jackson" dinners, Jackson being considered a co-founder of the Democratic Party, which started calling itself that during Jackson's Presidency.

Given what the health care debate to this point has shown about today's Democratic Party, they should start calling those dinners the Adams-Cleveland Dinners, after John Quincy Adams and Grover Cleveland, the most conservative of the post-Civil War Democrats. Cleveland once explained his veto of some bill that might have benefited someone other than rich people by saying, "Though the people support the government, the government should not support the people"!

We're at a stage now where the Obama administration and the corporate Democrats are in full-stage pressure mode against the disgusting hippie liberals (to demand that they all support the bill because otherwise 30 million people will suffer. If I had seen them bring anything like that kind of pressure on Harry Reid and Joe Lieberman to get with the program, I might take them seriously.

It's impossible to completely separate policy and politics in a bill like this. But I actually do think in the form of the Senate agreement as we know of it today, this is a bad bill. And in an up-or-down vote on the Lieberman-Nelson-Senate version, I would much prefer to see it voted down on policy grounds alone. Apart from the likely disastrous political results for the Democrats, requiring people to buy insurance at a cost of up to 8% of their incomes without minimal consumer protections is just unfair. If what I understand about the provisions for allowing insurance companies to sell nationally is correct, a "rush to the bottom" on state regulations on health insurance could follow passage of the bill and leave consumers with even fewer protections than today. And because there is little or no protection against exorbitantly high deductibles, in practice it can't reach the goal of coverage for all or bringing costs under control.

Republicans and corporate Democrats know that negotiation requires that if your side's bare minimum demands are not met, you're willing to walk away from the negotiating table. After Obama made it clear by coming down hard for the Lieberman Predator State approach to health care reform, it's difficult to know how much of Lieberman's grandstanding was just political theater coordinated with the White House. But what is clear is that Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson and Bart Stupak can make demands against the public interest and get their ideas incorporated in the bill.

It seems that no liberal Senator at all is willing to block the Predator State version of the bill in the Upper House the way Lieberman and Nelson were evidently willing to block the public option which was the key to making this whole program work.

Rahm Emmanuel is practically sneering at Senate liberals in public because he rolled them on an issue this critical to the country and to the future of the Democratic Party. If he can roll them this badly on health care reform, he can roll them on pretty much anything important. The White House doesn't respect the Senate liberals' opposition to Predator State approaches because they know they don't have to.

I'm not doing "whip counts", so I don't know if every member of the House who promised not to vote for a health care reform package without if that would be enough to block passage. But if they don't follow through and vote against it, the White House will know it doesn't have to take them seriously either.

If they can succeed in voting it down in the House, then let Obama and Harry Reid and Joe Lieberman explain why they are willing to oppose a measure that has so many positive features and would provide health insurance to 30 million more people. After all, it would be wrong of them to "make the perfect the enemey of the good" and, after all, "this is only the beginning" and "we'll have plenty of time to fix it later".

The White House deal puts a new light on a couple of things from this past summer's Netroots Nation national convention in Pittsburgh. Bill Clinton was well received. But he made it a point to say that "the left" should not desert Obama the way they (supposedly) deserted him on health care reform. Historical questions aside, even though Clinton encouraged people to fight for the public option which the Progressive Caucus had already clearly established as their bottom line requirement, he seemed to think that the final result would likely be very displeasing in some way to the Party base.

Then there was White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, who did an interview-style presentation with the feckless Baratunde Thurston asking the questions. In response to a badly-worded question by Baratunde, she said flat-out that the White House had no intention of bringing political pressure on the Blue Dog Democrats to support the public option. The evidently star-struck Baratunde apparently didn't realize what a stunning admission that was and didn't press her on it.

It's clear in retrospect that the White House message to the netroots was, yeah, we're going to flush the public option in the end and we expect you peons to support the result anyway. By the way, I'm real sorry the rightwingers are trashing Valerie Jarrett. I hope she doesn't do anything dumb like thumbing her nose at the very people in the Party base most likely to defend her.

I assume that it's publicly available: at the Netroots Nation Facebook page on August 15 I bitched and moaned about what a lousy job Baratunde did interviewing her. Someone named John McDade responded: "Bruce: Are you frightened by the truth. You dno't know the woman or the man. Start thinking for yourself!" Yeah, I guess I didn't know the woman or the man, the latter of whom is presumably Obama. I thought they might actually be in favor of the public option like they said they were and like he campaigned on in 2008.

I just posted this on the Netroots Nation Facebook wall:

Back on August 15 after Valerie Jarrett's presentation at Netroots Nation, I put some comments on this Facebook page criticizing both her presentation and Baratunde Thurston's feckless approach to interviewing her. I didn't mention the most jaw-dropping comment she made, which was that the White House had no intention of putting political pressure on the Blue Dog Democrats to support a public option for health care reform. I guess now we know why she said that: the White House never wanted the public option in the bill in the first place. Everyone still happy that star-struck Baratunde didn't follow up and press her on that amazing comment?
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