Sunday, November 23, 2014

Immigration action, part 2

I am more sympathetic to John Boehner's plight than a lot of my liberal friends. He has an almost impossible job holding his fractious caucus together. He can't make alliances with the Democrats, or the right wing elements of his caucus will depose him, and he can't give in totally to those elements either, or else they will force him to do crazy things like defaulting on the national debt or impeaching the president. Democrats should be more sympathetic to the Speaker's position than they are, because there have been times in our history when Democrats were as fractured as Republicans are now. Remember the civil rights movement or Vietnam?

But on the issue of immigration, I have a hard time feeling sympathy for Boehner's predicament. The Senate has already passed a bi-partisan immigration reform bill. All Boehner has to do is call the bill up for a vote and it would most likely pass, with support from both parties. If more people recognized this, they would understand just how false ring the complaints of president's opponents, who are moaning all over cable news about overreaching executive action. If they wanted to stop President Obama taking unilateral action to limit deportations, they could fix the problem in about two days.

Just call the Senate immigration reform bill up for a vote. If Speaker Boehner wants to keep the Tea Party caucus in line, the best way to do that might be to simply call the immigration bill up for a vote, so those Tea Party members will understand how outnumbered they are. If Boehner wants to do something to prevent the Republican Party from limiting its support to a declining base of angry old white men, he should call the immigration bill up for a vote. And if he gives a thought to securing a place in history for getting something important done during his term as speaker, he should just put the Senate immigration bill up for a vote.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Immigration action

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Gruber tapes

The Affordable Care Act passed Congress after one of the most grueling series of hearings, debates, and votes in American history. House committees and Senate committees held record numbers of hearings. The bill was in the news practically every day. The debate could not have been more public. And if people wanted to find out what was in the bill as it worked its way through both houses of Congress several times, that information was available.

Of course the law is complicated, and few people, even members of Congress, bothered to become familiar with every detail. But if they did, they would have understand such features as the tax on "Cadillac" health care plans, or the medical device tax, or the individual mandate, or the many other features that, taken in isolation or out of context, were made to sound threatening.

So why are people so stirred up by the comments of some MIT professor, who thinks that some of the features of the law were downplayed or obfuscated in order to gain the support of the American people? To be cynical for a moment, which I think is appropriate, it's an opportunity for the president's opponents to feed into an assortment of conspiracy theories about this law in particular and the Obama administration in general. What's ironic is that the people peddling these conspiracy theories are the same people who had no problem with misleading the American public about the reasons for going to war in Iraq, or the giveaways to the pharmaceutical industry in Bush's Medicare prescription drug benefit, or about the effects of tax cuts on the deficit, etc., etc. Not to mention all the distortions they promoted about the health care act itself ("death panels," "government takeover," etc.) These are major perpetrators of misleading information in the service of conservative causes.

So the proponents of the Affordable Care Act might have wanted to present that bill in a way that people would support. This is news? Those trying to make it news know or should know that it was up to the bill's opponents, and they were legion, to point out any distortions, and they had ample opportunity to do so.

I think the central distortion was always this: The Affordable Care Act was sold, in large part, as a means of solving the enormous problem of the tens of millions of uninsured in this country: those who are not provided insurance by their employer, those who are unemployed, those who were turned down because of pre-existing conditions, those who simply couldn't afford health insurance. This law was touted as a way to help those millions of uninsured get insured. And it does that. That's why liberals supported it. That's why conservatives, who are suspicious of that kind of government help, opposed it.

In fact, however, although the Act does contain a lot of subsidies to help people afford health insurance, it does that by forcing a lot of free riders on our health care system--those who can afford to pay but don't or won't get insurance because they can always rely on the "free" services of emergency rooms or hospitals in case of catastrophe--to pay their fair share into the system. To gain the support of conservatives, maybe the bill should have been called the Personal Responsibility for Healthcare Act, or the Hospital Reimbursement Act, or something like that. The political problem was that even though Obamacare always had some great moderate and conservative bona fides (it was based on Governor Romney's health care plan in Massachusetts for crying out loud), conservatives were never going to support the president's bill anyway. So it had to be sold to liberals as a way of helping the uninsured. (Which it does. And it also makes the uninsured pay what they can for their coverage.) Was that misleading? Only if you don't take the trouble to understand the law in the first place.

It's ironic that conservative heads are exploding now at revelations that the White House might have strategized about downplaying features of the health care law that had a more conservative bent. Are they suggesting that they might have supported the law if they had only better understood these aspects? Seems doubtful. But then, it's also ironic that John Boehner wants to sue the president (if he can only find a law firm to take the case) for delaying the implementation of a law that the House voted 50 times to repeal. Politics!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Post-midterms press conference

Perpetual conflict

Adopting a magnanimous tone in his victory speech Tuesday night, the presumptive future Majority Leader of the Senate had this to say on conflict in the political system:
“We do have an obligation to work together on issues on which we agree . . . .  I think I’ve shown that to be true in critical times in the past. I hope the president gives me the chance to show it again. . . . Just because we have a two-party system doesn’t mean we have to be in perpetual conflict.”
Senator McConnell's emphasis on finding common ground with political adversaries sounds commendable, and seems to represent a break from the strategy he pursued as Minority Leader. I'm not sure I would agree, however, that the two parties in our system do not have to be in perpetual conflict. It seems rather that perpetual conflict is built into the system. That is the whole point of having two parties. It's hard to think of any times in our country's history when the political parties have not been in conflict, and it seems unrealistic to expect that such conflict will end anytime soon.

The real question, and one I'd love to hear Senator McConnell expound upon at greater length, is how to deal with that perpetual conflict. How do two political parties, always at loggerheads, find a way to move forward together? Do the Republicans, now that they are assuming the majority, need to manage the Senate differently from the way the Democrats did when they were in the majority? Do the Democrats need to act differently as the minority party from the way the Republicans acted when they were in the minority? Do individual Senators from both parties need to abandon the kind of party discipline that McConnell himself attempted to enforce as Minority Leader?

Does McConnell have some ideas in mind for reaching agreement even when the views of the two parties differ, or was he only talking about making agreements in cases where the parties already agree? As Senator McConnell assumes the title of chief cat herder in the Senate, let's see if he can show us how to work together with the opposition and break the gridlock.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Election eve prayer

Tomorrow is the day for voting in the midterms, and may everyone get the chance to exercise that power. Potential voters ought not be turned away because they forgot to bring their driver's license, or because their name is spelled differently thereon than on the voting rolls. Or at least they should be allowed to cast a provisional ballot.

Deliver us an election day filled with a spirit of hope and the will to participate in the political process. And let us not give in to despair and cynicism. Let us remember that our votes count.

May the voters erase from their minds all political advertising, especially that one featuring a smiling pig castrator. And may they instead pay attention to the endorsements of enlightened newspapers like the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Allow us to remember the dark days before the 2008 election, when the economy was crashing and wars were raging, and let us appreciate the positive changes that moved us away from those dark times. Let's remember that the deficit is down; the stock market is up; and everyone has access to affordable health insurance.

And finally, may election day not turn into a debacle for the Democrats. We do not need another 2010, for that election did not bring us any blessings.