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.

Media Continues To Exaggerate Problems For Democrats

Predicting an election months ahead is risky, but the pundits will certainly keep trying. As I also noted on Tuesday, the media also likes to make matters look worse for the Democrats than they actually are. There are more examples, such as The Note claiming that Democrats Are Dropping Like Flies.

This year is likely to be a bad year for many incumbents of either party, but the media is paying more attention to Democrats who are dropping out than Republicans. Steven Benen notes that fourteen Republicans and ten Democrats are not seeking reelection to the House. Six Republicans and two Democrats are not seeking reelection to the Senate. Three Democrats beyond those prevented by term limits are not running while four current Republicans (and five if we count Sarah Palin) are not seeking reelection.

While often harmful to a party’s chances, sometimes it even helps if the incumbent does not run. Byron Dorgan’s retirement will make it very difficult for the Democrats to hold on to the North Dakota Senate seat. On the other hand, Chris Dodd dropping out makes it very likely the Democrats will hold onto his seat, with Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal leading all Republican candidates by at least thirty seats.

The effects are more difficult to call in Colorado where Bill Ritter has decided against running for reelection as Governor. Ritter has divided the Democratic Party in the state and the party’s chances might be better without him running. Among those considering running is Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. The Denver Post reports that the White House is fine with the idea of him leaving if he chooses to run.

The anti-incumbency mood has also led Michigan Lieutenant Governor  John Cherry to drop out of the race to replace Jennifer Granholm. A member of the Granholm administration would have a tough time getting elected. Granholm inherited a weak economy in Michigan when she became governor, and national economic conditions have limited the possibilities for a recovery. It might be tough for any Democrat to win this race, but turning to an outsider as opposed to the sitting Lieutenant Governor should increase the chances.

Political conditions can be very different by November. Unexpected events such as 9/11 and Katrina resulted in rapid changes in how the parties were viewed. Democrats might be at their lowest point now while engaged in a difficult fight over a controversial health care reform measure. It is unlikely they will take up such controversial matters this year.

Republicans do benefit from being the party out of power, especially considering the historical trend for such parties to do well in off-year elections. Republicans, however, might have a problem due to cash problems after spending so much money in 2009. The tea baggers have made a lot of noise (further amplified by the right wing media) but they are not contributing much money to either political party.

Chris Dodd Cleared on Ethics Complaint

Chris Dodd has been cleared of ethics violations by the Senate ethics committee but he was chastised for not doing enough to avoid the appearance of impropriety. The Hartford Courant reports:

The Senate ethics committee today dismissed a complaint against U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd after determining that he and his wife, Jackie, did not violate ethics rules when refinancing their home mortgages in 2003.

However, in a letter to Dodd, committee members chided the Democratic senator for not doing enough to avoid the appearance that he was receiving special treatment.

For more than a year, Dodd has been hobbled by allegations that he benefited from improper VIP treatment when now defunct mortgage giant Countrywide Financial gave him and his wife $781,000 in loans on homes in Washington and East Haddam. Dodd repeatedly denied that he received favorable treatment.

“I’m pleased and gratified that the Democrats and Republicans on the ethics committee have dismissed this complaint and found that the underlying accusations simply were not credible,” Dodd said in a statement. “I’ve said all along that I welcomed a close examination of my mortgages, and I’ve also said all along that Jackie and I received the same mortgages that anyone else could have received.”

The committee spent more than a year investigating the charges, outlined in a July 2008 complaint by Citizens for Responsible Ethics in Washington. The group cited allegations first made in Portofolio magazine.

“[T]he committee does believe that you should have exercised more vigilance in your dealings with Countrywide in order to avoid the appearance that you were receiving preferential treatment based on your status as a senator,” states the letter, which was signed by committee Chairwoman Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and other members.

The committee also cleared U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota, saying there was also “no substantial credible evidence” that he broke Senate ethics rules.

Republican Opposition to Subprime Lender Regulations

Republicans have no ability to govern, but they sure are good at two things–smearing their opponents and placing the blame for their mistakes on others. These two skills, along with blocking a recount in 2000 and capitalizing on fears of terrorism for several years after that, allowed them to remain in power far longer than they otherwise would have. (Hillary Clinton’s health care plan also gave the Republicans quite an assist in coming to power but fortunately the Democrats dodged that bullet this year. The Democrats have not been perfect–just far better than the Republicans.)

Since the financial crisis began there have been numerous videos and other pieces of misinformation which have tried to place the blame on Democrats despite the fact that the Republicans have been the ones in power. One bogus argument has been to claim that the Republicans wanted to do something about the problem but the Democrats prevented them. Matthew Yglesias debunked some of these arguments in a post which is most directly debunking claims from Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss:

When the Fed proposed some lax regulations on subprime lenders, Chris Dodd called them inadequate and called for new legislation to put tighter regulations in place. Chuck Schumer offered a bill in March 2007 to regulate subprime lenders. In fact, exactly as you would think it’s conservatives who’ve been blocking regulation, not only opposing federal efforts to crack down on predatory lending, but using federal regulators like the Office of the Comptroller of Currency to prevent states from regulating subprime lenders Note that in April of this year, Chambliss voted to kill Dick Durbin’s amendment that would have allowed bankruptcy judges to help families facing home foreclosure.

Dodd and Feingold Plan to Filibuster FISA Bill

Senators Chris Dodd and Russ Feingold have announced plans to filibuster the FISA bill:

This is a deeply flawed bill, which does nothing more than offer retroactive immunity by another name. We strongly urge our colleagues to reject this so-called ‘compromise’ legislation and oppose any efforts to consider this bill in its current form. We will oppose efforts to end debate on this bill as long as it provides retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies that may have participated in the President’s warrantless wiretapping program, and as long as it fails to protect the privacy of law-abiding Americans.

“If the Senate does proceed to this legislation, our immediate response will be to offer an amendment that strips the retroactive immunity provision out of the bill. We hope our colleagues will join us in supporting Americans’ civil liberties by opposing retroactive immunity and rejecting this so-called ‘compromise’ legislation.

Harry Reid has announced support:

“Unfortunately, the FISA compromise bill establishes a process where the likely outcome is immunity to the telecommunications carriers who participated in the President’s warrantless wiretapping program. Sen. Reid remains opposed to retroactive immunity, which undermines efforts to hold the Bush Administration accountable for violating the law. Thus, he will cosponsor the amendment offered by Senators Dodd and Feingold to strip out the immunity provision, and support their efforts to strip immunity on the floor. “

While I support both their plans to filibuster and their opposition to retroactive immunity, I will mention once again that I am far more concerned about the provisions which provide for insufficient protections of civil liberties in the future than I am about what happened in the past. I hope that drawing the line on retroactive immunity we don’t wind up winning on this while giving everything else away. If faced with the choice of a good FISA bill which adequately protects civil liberties in the future but which also contains retroactive immunity or the current bill minus the retroactive immunity, I’d go with the first choice. Maybe enough Democrats will stick together, being in the majority after all, to prevent both negative aspects of the bill from being passed. I sure wouldn’t mind seeing the telecommunications companies lose out on what appears to have been an effort to buy votes.

With regards to Democrats sticking together, this means you, Barack. The Senate is a deliberative body. Should, as a consequence of hearing such deliberations, you change your mind, I certainly will not think any less of you. Changing one’s mind when they have made a mistake is only a sin to the small minded people on the far right who are obsessed with flip-flops.

Sure, I’ll vote for Obama regardless of what he does on this bill, knowing that the alternative is far worse, but I would sure respect him more if he stood firm on this civil liberties issue. I’m sure he is looking at the political ramifications, but with a second poll now showing a double digit lead, he can afford to stand up for principle.

As long as the Democrats act as if they are afraid of being labeled as being soft on terrorism, the Republicans will be able to use this against them. Ultimately the Democrats need to stand up for liberal principles, and this is the year in which voters appear to be most receptive to listening.  By going along with this compromise, the Democrats are allowing the Republican line to go unchallenged, perpetuating the illusion that the Republican approach is effective in defending the country when they are actually both undermining civil liberties and pursuing policies which are not necessary for our national security. Ultimately the only way the Democrats can end their problem of being portrayed as being weaker on national security is to face the Republicans head on and make respect for civil liberties a bigger part of the pubic discussion.

Obama Wins Superdelegate and Takes Lead in Senate Endorsements

Earlier in the race it was about delegates. Currently the Clinton campaign stresses the popular vote. At one time Hillary even jokingly suggested gong by bowling scores. Although the Clinton campaign changes the metric by which they claim Clinton should get the nomination there’s one measure which they won’t be using for now–endorsements from their fellow Senators. The endorsement today by New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman now gives Obama the lead (14 to 13) over Clinton.  In endorsing Obama Bingaman wrote:

Our nation faces a daunting number of critical challenges: reasserting America’s leadership in the world, meeting our needs for energy independence, addressing global warming, making healthcare accessible and affordable, positioning our economy to effectively compete globally, and extricating ourselves from the war in Iraq, to name a few.

To make progress, we must rise above the partisanship and the issues that divide us to find common ground. We must move the country in a dramatically new direction.

I strongly believe Barack Obama is best positioned to lead the nation in that new direction.

The race for Senate endorsements will continue as eighteen Senators still have not made an endorsement. The endorsements to date are under the fold.


More Senators Back Obama, Including Key Endorsement in Pennsylvania

Endorsements have not had much of an impact in the nomination battle, but this one might be a sign that more Senators are fed up with Hillary Clinton, and possibly that Obama might be able to narrow the gap in Pennsylvania:

Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey plans to endorse Sen. Barack Obama for president today in Pittsburgh, sending a message both to the state’s primary voters and to undecided superdelegates who might decide the close race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Dan Pfeiffer, deputy communications director for the Obama campaign, confirmed that Casey would announce his support during a rally at the Soldiers and Sailors Military Museum and Memorial and that he would then set out with the Illinois senator on part of a six-day bus trip across the state.

The endorsement comes as something of a surprise. Casey, a deliberative and cautious politician, had been adamant about remaining neutral until after the April 22 primary. He had said he wanted to help unify the party after the intensifying fight between Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

This could be a sign that party leaders are deciding to rally around Obama as presumptive nominee. Yesterday Chris Dodd virtually declared Obama to be the nominee.  Another Senator, Patrick Leahy, has now made a similar statement and urged her to withdraw:

There is no way that Senator Clinton is going to win enough delegates to get the nomination. She ought to withdraw and she ought to be backing Senator Obama. Now, obviously that’s a decision that only she can make frankly I feel that she would have a tremendous career in the Senate.

There has been an increasing sense this week that Democrats realize that Hillary Clinton might continue to harm Obama but cannot win the nomination.  Howard Dean is also giving indications that he wants this to be wrapped up by the beginning of July:

I think the superdelegates have already been weighing in. I think that there’s 800 of them and 450 of them have already said who they’re for. I’d like the other 350 to say who they’re at some point between now and the first of July so we don’t have to take this into the convention.

Mike Gravel and Bob Barr Considering Running as Libertarians

The Republican nomination is all wrapped up. The Democrats are still fighting but, as Chris Dodd said, “I think it’s very difficult to imagine how anyone can believe that Barack Obama can’t be the nominee of the party. I think that’s a foregone conclusion, in my view, at this juncture given where things are.” The Libertarian Party has a wide open race.

Besides a number of people only known to libertarian activists, there are two somewhat well known politicians who might seek the nomination–and neither one of them is Ron Paul. Mike Gravel has joined the Libertarian Party.

“I’m joining the Libertarian Party because it is a party that combines a commitment to freedom and peace that can’t be found in the two major parties that control the government and politics of America,” Gravel said in a statement. “My libertarian views, as well as my strong stance against war, the military industrial complex and American imperialism, seem not to be tolerated by Democratic Party elites who are out of touch with the average American.”

Some of his views, such as universal health care, might not go over very well among libertarians.

Bob Barr is also thinking of running. I noted last April that he had quit the Republican Party and joined the Libertarian Party. If Barr runs for the presidential nomination, he would also make opposition to the Iraq war a major issue:

“There’s been a tremendous expressed to me both directly and indirectly on the Internet. I take that support very seriously, and I think it also reflects a great deal of dissatisfaction with the current candidates and the current two-party system. So it is something, to be honest with you, that I’m looking very seriously at.”

Barr said a Libertarian candidacy would essentially be an extension of the Ron Paul campaign.

“Ron Paul tapped into a great deal of that dissatisfaction and that awareness. Unfortunately, working through the Republican party structure, it became impossible for him to really move forward with his movement. But we have to have ….a rallying point out there to harness that energy, that freedom in this election cycle,” Barr said.

On Iraq:

“What we’ve fallen into in recent years — not just since 9/11, but particularly since 9/11 — is this notion that, in order to protect ourselves, we have to preemptively go into and — in the case of Iraq — occupy another sovereign nation,” Barr said. “Simply saying, ‘Gee, it’s better to fight over in this other nation and destroy another nation, so we’re not potentially attacked here, is the height of arrogance.”

As for the Bush administration’s refusal to define waterboarding as torture, Barr referred to the practice as “sophistry of the worst and rankest order.”

Chris Dodd Endorses Obama

Chris Dodd has endorsed Barack Obama:

Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut has endorsed Barack Obama, his former rival in the Democratic presidential race.

“He’s ready to be president and I am ready to support him in this campaign” Dodd said at a joint news confernece with Obama.

He said Obama “has been poked and prodded, analyzed and criticized, called too green, too trusting and for all of that has already won” more than half the states and millions of votes.

The Significance of the Michigan Primary

Today’s Michigan primary is primarily a Republican event as most of the Democratic candidates have had their names removed from the ballot due to the primary being held early in violation of party rules. This means that Democratic voters might influence the Republican results should many Democrats vote in their primary. John McCain, who win in 2000, is most likely to benefit from a cross over vote. I doubt it will have much impact but Daily Kos has recommended a vote for Mitt Romney to keep as many candidates as possible alive in the race. The theory is that the longer the nomination battles goes on, the more Republicans are tied down attacking each other. This logic could also backfire as an active primary battle also provides the party more news coverage. Some Democrats plan to vote for Ron Paul in protest of the war. Personally if I was to vote in the Republican primary I would do so only to vote for the Republican that I thought would make the best president, and not solely to cause trouble as Kos recommends.

Most likely the winner will be whoever did the best at convincing voters they could improve Michigan’s economy. Romney’s chances are helped by having been advertising heavily in Michigan for several weeks. Some see this as Mitt Romney’s last chance to save his campaign after losing in the earlier high profile events. I’m no longer so sure of this. We might be beyond the point where one candidate can get the momentum to dominate the race with early high profile wins, especially with different winners in Iowa and New Hampshire. It might be possible for the candidate who repeatedly wins the silver to ultimately accumulate more delegates than the other candidates.

If anyone can get the momentum to dominate at this point it would be John McCain. Possibly a win in Michigan could give him the momentum to continue to win through Super Tuesday and wrap up the nomination, but he still faces obstacles due to opposition from many in the party’s base. This opposition to McCain might keep Mitt Romney’s chances alive should he be able to get the base to support him over McCain, even if he comes in second in Michigan.

Mike Huckabee makes it difficult for anyone to dominate the Republican base as he receives the bulk of the votes from the religious right contingent of the GOP. Huckabee concentrated on both immigration and Christian values as he concluded campaigning. (Personally I’ve never been too worried about illegal aliens crossing the border from Ontario.) If he can do better than expected in Michigan, especially if he pulls in many votes from the non-evangelicals, Huckabee would give his campaign additional credibility.

The results of the Democratic primary probably won’t mean anything unless Uncommitted does extremely well against Clinton. Write in votes won’t be counted, making an Uncommitted vote the only means for supporters of Obama or Edwards to oppose Clinton. I had originally planned to vote for Chris Dodd as the best alternative to Clinton who is on the ballot. The night of the Iowa caucus, when Obama won and Dodd dropped out, my wife and I quickly filled out our absentee ballots by writing in Obama’s name, hoping others would do the same. Later in the week the newspapers began reporting that write in votes for those not on the ballot will not even be counted, so if Clinton should only beat Uncommitted by two votes I will be quite upset by our wasted ballots!