Health Care Reform Critical But Not Dead

The prognosis for health care reform is rather guarded at the moment. House majority whip James Clyburn is saying that the House will pass the Senate bill if there are assurances that fixes will be made through a separate budget reconciliation bill. It is far from certain that the Senate will be able to do this. Reports coming out of the Senate do not sound like they are prepared to make such an arrangement to pass such fixes even though only 50 votes (plus Joe Biden as tie breaker) are needed.

Two conservative Democrats, Blanche Lincoln and Evan Bayh, have already stated they will not support a reconciliation measure. The two Senators from Connecticut, Chris Dodd (Democrat) and Joe Lieberman (Schmuck) are suggesting that President Obama use the State of the Union Address to “re-invite” the Republicans back to negotiate on health care legislation. So far the Republicans have not shown any interest in negotiating, preferring to block any legislation trying make the Democrats look like failures regardless of how much they harm the country. So far their strategy might be working.

While I am extremely pessimistic about the Republicans being willing to negotiate in good faith, if they should shock us all there could even be one benefit. Perhaps a deal could be made in which the Democrats do concede one point to the Republicans and proceed with malpractice reform. This will have a far smaller impact on health care costs than Republicans typically claim but we should not overlook any source of savings such as this which does not require reductions in care provided.

Quote of the Day

Tyler Cowen on the spending freeze:

There’s not much to say in terms of the economic issues, the real lesson is that politics is more constrained than many people think.  Berating Obama for his lack of courage or his “failure to get tough” is simply denying or postponing this fundamental realization.

All policy recommendations need to be analyzed within this framework.  How will your preferred policy (this includes deregulation and the like, by the way; I am not aiming this barb in any particular direction) play out when, in the middle of the action, government turns out to be extremely constrained in a way you do not like.

Who is Ellie Light?

Yesterday I posted a letter being sent to several newspapers by someone signing their name “Ellie Light.” My guess is that she was an Obama supporter who was sending the same letter around to multiple newspapers. Conservatives thinks there is a plot in the White House to plant a letter written there. The Cleveland Plain Dealer has been trying to unravel this.

Initially it appeared they had the answer as they spoke with a nurse claiming to be the Ellie Light who wrote the letters.  Then things got more complicated:

A woman in Texas named Barbara Brooks – who knows a lot about this whole scam, whose information turns up in some of the above-mentioned records, now says the person with the husky voice is actually a male acquaintance.

He sent letters to newspapers using the name “Ellie Light” – one of the pseudonyms he has used over several years – and now, is using Brooks’ name, she said.

“He’s making up all kinds of garbage,” said Brooks.

Asked why he would claim her identity, Brooks said he apparently is afraid of being harmed by “right-wing crazies” in California as the real story emerges.

“He just doesn’t want anybody to trace him because he’s afraid of the right-wing crazies up in Bakersfield,” Brooks said. “It’s not right for him to lie,” she added, but he’s afraid.

This conversation with Brooks was followed by yet another call with the husky-voiced individual, who was adamant that “she” really is Barbara Brooks.

Gawker says this may be “Ellie Light” aka Winston Stewart:

The actual identity of Ellie Light remains uncertain. There remains on evidence of the conspiracy theory popular in the right wing blogs that this all originates at the White House. I imagine they won’t be satisfied until they see Ellie Light’s birth certificate.

Protests Over Profiteering At Tea Party Convention

The Tea Party movement is a scam–both intellectually and financially. Intellectually the tea baggers spread the talking points of the far right with simplistic views on the issues based upon a lack of understanding of the facts. Besides taking advantage of the ignorance of the tea baggers to promote their political agenda, some leaders of the movement are also using this for financial gain as I recently discussed. Even some in the Tea Party movement are catching on:

A Tea Party convention billed as the coming together of the grass-roots groups that began sprouting up around the country a year ago is unraveling as sponsors and participants pull out to protest its expense and express concerns about “profiteering.”

The convention’s difficulties highlight the fractiousness of the Tea Party groups, and the considerable suspicions among their members of anything that suggests the establishment.

The convention, to be held in Nashville in early February, made a splash by attracting big-name politicians. (Former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska is scheduled to deliver the keynote speech.) But some groups have criticized the cost — $549 per ticket and a $9.95 fee, plus hotel and airfare — as out of reach for the average tea partier. And they have balked at Ms. Palin’s speaking fee, which news reports have put at $100,000, a figure that organizers will not confirm or deny…

Philip Glass, the national director of the National Precinct Alliance, announced late Sunday that “amid growing controversy” around the convention, his organization would no longer participate. His group seeks to take over the Republican Party from the bottom by filling the ranks of local and state parties with grass-roots conservatives, and Mr. Glass had been scheduled to lead workshops on its strategy.

“We are very concerned about the appearance of T.P.N. profiteering and exploitation of the grass-roots movement,” he said in a statement. “We were under the impression that T.P.N. was a nonprofit organization like N.P.A., interested only in uniting and educating Tea Party activists on how to make a real difference in the political arena.”

Mr. Glass said he was also concerned about the role in the convention of groups like Tea Party Express, which has held rallies across the country through two bus tours, and FreedomWorks, a Tea Party umbrella. He called them “Republican National Committee-related groups,” and added, “At best, it creates the appearance of an R.N.C. hijacking; at worst, it is one.”

Erick Erickson, the editor of the influential conservative blog RedState.com, wrote this month that something seemed “scammy” about the convention. And the American Liberty Alliance withdrew as a sponsor after its members expressed concerns about the convention’s finances being channeled through private bank accounts and its organizer being “for profit.”

“When we look at the $500 price tag for the event and the fact that many of the original leaders in the group left over similar issues, it’s hard for us not to assume the worst,” Eric Odom, the executive director of the American Liberty Alliance and an organizer of the tax day rallies last April, wrote on the group’s Web site.

More commentary via MemeorandumThe Atlantic Politics Channel, Washington Monthly, Top of the Ticket, Mother Jones, Wonkette, The Politico, Politics Daily and The Monkey Cage

Spending Freeze And Good News on the Deficit

While it is not surprising that everyone is talking about the proposed spending freeze, I’m not sure that this is the biggest economic news of the day. I still want to see more details on the freeze, but as it comes down to decreasing spending in some areas in order to increase spending in others it largely sounds like a PR attempt to point out the fact that Obama is hardly the big spender the right makes him out to be (and some on the left wish he was). Those who paid attention to what Obama was saying while campaigning before the crash should not be surprised by his desire for fiscal restraint.

The more significant news today might be that the Congressional Budget Office has improved its estimates as to the size of the deficit this year:

The deficit will come in at $1.35 trillion in the fiscal year that ends on Sept. 30, the Congressional Budget Office said, a slight improvement over the $1.38 trillion figure it predicted last August.

That’s also slightly lower than the record $1.4 trillion posted in the last fiscal year.

But at 9.2 percent of gross domestic product, the deficit still hovers at levels not seen since the end of World War Two.

Other reports attribute the lower estimates to a combination of  less money spent on the bank bail outs and the economy improving more than expected. While there is still a long term problem to be dealt with, this news sure contradicts the tea-bagger narrative.

I suspect that the goal of announcing the freeze is to try to change this narrative. We will have to see how this plays out but I’m not very optimistic this will work. There has already been overwhelming evidence that the conservative meme that they are more fiscally responsible than the democrats is outright false. Conservatives prefer to exaggerate the effects of the stimulus on the deficit and ignore the Republican record. Adding talk of a freeze is unlikely to change this. Rather than acknowledging that the Democrats have shown greater fiscal restraint in recent years than the Republicans, conservatives will point to any areas where spending does increase as signs that Obama was lying while ignoring any offsetting cuts.