Tuesday, February 16, 2010

“If the Sen. health bill is all a progressive can aspire to w/ a historic Dem maj in Congress & a Dem Pres., the only Q to ask - is that all there is?

By TalkLeft's Big Tent Democrat TL

Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is

Today, in the United State of America, the Democratic Party controls the House, the Senate and the Presidency. In the scheme of things, after 12 year of GOP control of the Congress and 8 years of GOP control of the Presidency, you would expect significant changes. Especially after the landslide result of the 2008 election. But it just has not happened.

Let's be clear -- Democratic governance is better than GOP governance. But let's face it, how could it be worse? The question is this - is this as good as it gets? Is this all that the Democratic Party can deliver in terms of progressive governance? If so, then David Broder has won. The choices we have as Americans are between a Center Right government and a Far Right government. This despite the fact that the American electorate is supportive of progressive ideas. Why is this? I'll think about that on the flip.

Charles Blow places some of the blame on President Obama:

President Obama wanted to change Washington. It changed ... for the worse. And it’s now holding his agenda hostage. The question is: How much is he willing to change himself in order to save it?

On Feb. 9, 2009, at the first prime-time press conference of his presidency, Obama said: “I am the eternal optimist. I think that over time people respond to — to civility and rational argument.”

Since then, the right has tried to block him at nearly every turn, and the far right has formed a movement fueled by irrational anger.

[. . .] Yet, there he was again this week, a year to the day after the prime-time press conference, saying almost exactly the same thing: “I am just an eternal optimist. ... And all I can do is just to keep on making the argument about what’s right for the country and assume that over time, people, regardless of party, regardless of their particular political positions, are going to gravitate towards the truth.” So stubbornly sweet. So simply naïve.

If Obama is still clinging to this quaint concept after the year he’s had, it’s easy to understand why he’s in trouble.

I, of all people (who has spent years railing against the PPUS), take Blow's point. But I have to ask, when and what has Obama been offering in the way of "civil and rational argument" anyway? In terms of his argument to the American People, what has he argued for? Nothing coherent in most cases, or even intelligible. If you can figure out what Obama has projected as his principles, you have one on me. This approach ended up having its virtues during the 2008 campaign, as it allowed many people to project their views on to Obama. His personal charisma is incredible.

But as President? It has simply failed. Everyone in the Democratic Caucus had the chance to argue they were with Obama while holding diametrically opposing views. There was no coherent Democratic message because there is no coherent message from the Democratic President.

And as Village Blogger Ezra Klein has become shocked to discover, Republican interests do not lie in successful governing when they are in the minority, rather it comes in improving their chances for winning the next election.

The structural problems of the Senate are often pointed to as the obstacle to the progressive Democratic agenda. Of course this is true, but not new. And yet it is not the full story. At least a part of the progressive Democratic agenda could be passed through reconciliation. And the Democrats spent much of 2009 with 60 votes in the Senate. And still, despite these historic majorities, very little that one could think of as progressive has been done. And even that was of the layup variety (renewing S-Chip, Lily Ledbetter Act.) Some claim the stimulus was progressive. If so, it was thin gruel - too small and too lardened with tax cuts. If that is the supreme expression of Democratic progressivism, then the point is made - when it comes to governing, we are forced to choose between Center Right and Right programs.

If this is the best we can do at this time. If this is all there is in the progressivism of the Democratic Party, then we are surely sunk. For the path of the Nation is not good. And as in 1932, tranformational progressivism is badly needed. But unlike in 1932, no where is it being offered.

Take health insurance and health care for instance. A NYTimes editorial today says:

When Republican Congressional leaders come to the White House’s health care summit meeting on Feb. 25, don’t expect them to bring any big ideas with them. Instead, they will press President Obama to scrap his ambitious health care reforms and focus on modest proposals.

That may make political sense. Americans have certainly been spooked by all of the Republican hype about government takeovers.

But the small ideas the Republicans are championing would barely make a dent in the most critical problems threatening the health care system: the huge number of Americans without insurance and the ever-escalating costs of health care.

The assumption of the editorial is that the de facto Democratic plan, the Senate health bill, has the big ideas necessary to tackle the problem. This conceit is almost as harmful as the the GOP proposals. The Senate health bill is a failure. It does not address the fundamental problems of health care reform. It does not even implement the proper framework for addressing the problem.

It relies on the delusions that a regulatory framework that depends upon state based regulatory bodies, "competition" in tiny state based exchanges, and a funding mechanism that taxes health benefits is the path to the big ideas solutions. This is absurd

The NYTimes, like the Village Dems, has decided to believe that the solutions lie in what is deemed "politically possible" in the Village (irony abounds in that they do not even consider the fact that their "politically possible" solution can not pass the House.)

Of course actual big ideas were available for passage by this Democratic government. It involved pushing the one proven reform in the health care area - public insurance. Let's say that instead of the Rube Goldberg contraption that is the Senate health bill, Democrats had instead insisted on shoring up and expanding the one part of the system that was working at controlling costs. Indeed, let's make the bill simple, with no new programs.

Suppose the Democratic plan for health care had been instead to expand Medicaid (to its credit, the Senate bill did this) and to nationalize it (no more need for Cornhusker Kickbacks.) And suppose it was done to the House proposed level of 150% of FPL. And let's also suppose that Medicare coverage was expanded to those 55 and older. Finally let's suppose that we placated the Republicans with a sliding scale voucher system for those who fell below a certain level of income, to be applied either to purchase private insurance or to buy public insurance.

Now who would argue that this plan would not do more to reach the progressive goal of universal health insurance coverage? No one.

But how to pay for it? The obvious progressive answer would be with taxes on the rich. Who opposes taxes on the rich? Not most Americans.

I can hear the Villagers screaming now - "but what about cost control?" But the cost control is right there - it is the expansion of public insurance. No one disputes that public insurance is the most effective form of cost control. No one.

But what about the mandate? I do not object to it. Put it to a vote and see if it will pass. Oh, you need 60 votes for that? Well, that's on you then. The plan I outline above required only 50 votes.

I'm not against mandates and putting on paper the idea of banning discrimination based on preexisting conditions(the reality of such a ban seems remote to me.) But what I am against is cutting out the heart of a progressive approach to health care reform for that. Put it in a separate bill.

But the Democratic Party in power today would not do that. Perhaps could not do that. That would require governing a tick or 2 further to the progressive side than is allowed in the Village.

The Villagers have been running around screaming that "the Senate health bill is the most progressive since 1965." It always struck me as ironic that they make this claim, when the Senate bill creates nothing that resembles what was created in 1965.

Because the 1965 bill the Villagers are referencing -- that bill created public insurance programs - Medicare and Medicaid. If the 1965 bill were progressive, and they were, the Senate health bill rejects that form of progressivism. Where the 1965 bill rejected a market solution to the issue of health care, the Senate health bill embraces it and reject a public insurance solution.

In some ways that is the epitaph of the health care debate of 2009 - that Village Democrats could make the claim that the Senate bill was the most progressive since 1965 (BTW, this is a flat out lie - the Clinton Tax bill of 1993 was clearly much more progressive, and it is not even close.)

If the Senate health bill is all a progressive can aspire to with a historic Dem majority in the Congress and a Dem in the White House, the only question to ask is - is that all there is?

Speaking for me only