“Panic Is Just What Republicans Want”: Democrats Shouldn’t Take GOP’s Bait On Obamacare Implementation
The notion that Obamacare’s implementation could become a major liability for Democrats in 2014 is gaining widespread currency, and today it’s the subject of a big New York Times piece reporting on confident predictions by Republicans that implementation problems will give them a powerful weapon against Dem candidates. Obama is set to do a series of events designed to educate the public on the challenges of implementing the law, beginning with one on Friday where he’ll promote the law’s benefits for women.
It strikes me that GOP Obamacare implementation triumphalism is a tad premature.
Here is how the Times characterizes the sentiment in Dem circles about the coming war over implementation:
Democrats are worried about 2014 — a president’s party typically loses seats in midterm years — and some have gone public with concerns about the pace of carrying out the law. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, told an interviewer last week that he agreed with a recent comment by Senator Max Baucus of Montana, a Democratic architect of the law, who said “a train wreck” could occur this fall if preparations fell short.
The White House has allayed some worries, with briefings for Democrats about their public education plans, including PowerPoint presentations that show areas with target populations down to the block level.
“There’s clearly some concern” among Democrats “that their constituents don’t yet have all facts on how it will work, and that Republicans are filling that vacuum with partisan talking points,” said Representative Steve Israel of New York, head of the House Democrats’ campaign committee. “And the administration must use every tool they have to get around the obstructions and make it work.”
Quotes like these are widely held up as evidence that Republicans are right that Obamacare implementation is shaping up as a major problem for Dems. But this amounts to a fundamental misreading of what it is these Dems are actually saying. Democrats are simply doing exactly what they should be doing — that is, calling for care and caution in the implementation of Obamacare, and calling for a serious effort to educate the public about the challenges and potential pitfalls it entails. This is not tantamount to running away from the law wholesale; nor is it a concession that implementation will amount to a major political albatross.
As Jonathan Cohn has detailed at length, it’s very possible there will be real problems with the health law’s implementation. If that happens, Republicans will relentlessly try to tie Dem candidates to those difficulties, in hopes for a rerun of 2010. But in 2010, public reactions to the new health law were largely suffused with deep anxiety about the severe economic crisis and uncertainty about the new president’s ability to cope with it. Republicans and allied groups made the assault on Obamacare central in 2012, in the presidential race and in many Senate contests, with absolutely nothing to show for it.
Will implementation make things different in 2014? By all means, the problems could be very real, particularly with Republicans intent on subverting implementation wherever possible. Dems should remain vigilant and prepare for turbulence. But they needn’t fret this too much. For one thing, as Josh Barro has noted, implementation is likely to be most keenly felt among those who currently lack insurance, who will naturally see getting insurance as a preferable outcome to nothing at all, even if it proves logistically difficult.
Dem candidates can strike a balance here: They can call for careful implementation and criticize it when it goes awry, while standing squarely behind the law’s overall goal of expanding coverage to the millions of Americans who lack it. What’s more, they can continue to remind the public that Republicans are offering no alternative of their own and simply want to return the country to a pre-reform free-for-all that nobody, particularly the large ranks of the uninsured, wants. This position is the correct one to take, substantively and politically, and it shouldn’t be that hard to get the balance right. After all, whatever the unpopularity of Obamacare, offering nothing in the way of reform isn’t exactly a winning message, either. Major reforms are not easy, and Dems can say so, while pointing to the endless GOP drive to repeal the law to reinforce the notion that Republicans have no interest in actually addressing the country’s most pressing problems.
Dems should refrain from displays of political panic, since panicking is exactly what Republicans want them to do. “A lot of this is psychological warfare,” is how Dem strategist Doug Thornell recently put it. “I would tell Dems not to take the bait.” So would I.
By: Greg Sargent, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, May 7, 2013
“Rejecting The 60-Vote Senate”: Vote Your Conscience On Merits Of Bills, Don’t Vote Against Allowing A Vote
In discussing the handful of senators—quite a few of them Democratic—who hold the fate of gun legislation in their hands, WaPo’s Greg Sargent makes a crucial point that is all too often forgotten:
it needs to be restated that these Senators have the option of voting Yes on breaking the filibuster, while voting No on the final vote. In that scenario, the proposal would likely pass with a simple majority. And so, if these Senators continue to hold out, they need to be pressed on whether they really think a proposal that has the support of eight in 10 Americans doesn’t deserve a straight up or down vote, at a time when the Newtown slayings have focused public attention on a problem that continues to claim the lives of thousands of Americans per year. Whatever their final vote, there’s no excuse for them to enable and participate in GOP obstructionism of a proposal with near universal public support.
Amen to that. But I’d go further, as I argued at The Democratic Strategist back in 2009
My personal feeling is that supporting a filibuster against your own party and your own party’s president should be treated as a serious and rare measure on major issues of conscience where the sacrifice of some of the prerogatives of seniority are a small price to pay. So maybe that price really should be paid. But at a minimum, the practice of thinking of cloture votes as identical to substantive votes, and tolerating defections on the former as just the same as the latter, needs to come to an end. There is no sixty-Senate-vote requirement for the enactment of regular legislation in the Constitution or in the Senate rules. We don’t need lockstep Democratic unity on policy initiatives. We just need unity on the simple matter of allowing the Senate to vote.
If we are not going to have genuine filibuster reform—and apparently we aren’t so long as Harry Reid is the Democratic leader in the Senate—then at least Reid and others, including the president, should begin making this distinction in every communication with or about senators on significant legislation: vote your conscience on the merits of bills, but don’t vote against allowing a vote, or there will be consequences.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, April 16, 2013
“Sabotaging Gun Control”: Fighting For His Political Life, Mitch McConnell Has Wayne LaPierre’s Back
I owe Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell a minor apology. I said he was being very silly when he demanded an FBI investigation into the recording of a meeting at his campaign office. In fact, the meeting actually was surreptitiously recorded by his political enemies, or at least by a guy who operates a useless “super PAC” that has, thus far, spent a total of $18 on defeating McConnell. McConnell probably didn’t lose much sleep awaiting my apology, though, because the recording, and the news of its provenance, are just about the best things that have happened to the guy since the D.C. circuit court gave McConnell veto power over all of President Obama’s appointments.
McConnell’s very good week might not end up meaning very much, though, if the United States Senate manages, somehow, to pass major legislation on gun control and immigration any time soon. Because whenever the United States Senate manages to accomplish anything, conservatives get very irate with Mitch McConnell for allowing it to happen.
McConnell is reviled by the right-wing activist base, for reasons that, honestly, I don’t quite get. McConnell is up for reelection next year. He is working right now to prevent the possibility of a serious primary challenge. He’s succeeding, so far, but candidates have until next January to make up their minds. That’s a lot of time for some “Ron Johnson type” to emerge.
(It is a bit unusual for a Republican Senate leader to be in such a precarious electoral position. Republicans are generally smarter than Democrats when it comes to selecting leaders who aren’t under the constant threat of losing their next election. Harry Reid has proven himself to be a competent Majority Leader in some ways, but the fact that he answers to Nevada voters makes him quite willing to ignore liberal priorities on any number of issues. McConnell, like many Republican members of Congress, is more vulnerable to a primary challenge than a Democrat, though he’s unpopular enough to need to fear both.)
With 2014 in mind, it’s easy to see why McConnell refuses to meet with Harry Reid, even in private. (That’s also news that McConnell will not mind seeing reported.) And it’s why McConnell is going to do everything in his power to derail the gun control compromise currently being negotiated by Sens. Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey. Politico has a special preview of the horrible amendments McConnell will add in order to blow up the bill:
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is drafting an alternative gun bill that could peel away GOP support, and McConnell may attempt to force votes on allowing guns in federal buildings and national parks, or the creation of a national “concealed carry” standard.
If McConnell wins, if recent history is any indication, he won’t get much credit from the right. If he loses, and a gun bill passes the Senate, he’ll get pilloried. Even if the bill goes nowhere in the House. Doing the (nationally) unpopular thing and sabotaging this very popular bill is basically a no-brainer for McConnell, which is likely why gun control advocates never even bothered to lobby him.
Everything McConnell is doing is about a potential primary election. As Roll Call says, a big part of McConnell’s strategy is to act as much like Rand Paul as possible, because Rand Paul is quite popular. On guns, it’s quite easy for McConnell to back Paul. It’s harder to say, though, what McConnell will do about the immigration reform compromise. Paul supports citizenship opportunities for currently undocumented immigrants. Right-wingers used to call that “amnesty,” and they hate it. McConnell has not yet given any hint of what he’ll do once the “Gang of 8″ finally unveil a proposal.
If you understand McConnell’s actions as purely, nakedly political, and basically devoid of “principle” or even ideology — his purpose in obstructing all Senate business during Obama’s first term was defeating Obama, not advancing conservatism — immigration reform will be an interesting experiment. He could win conservative cred by opposing it — right-wing darling Ted Cruz is making himself the face of opposition to the proposal for a reason — but he may not want to appear in any way opposed to Rand Paul, his most important political ally. (Paul could make McConnell’s decision easier and come out against the proposal. We’ll see!)
So, for the next year and change, the primary goal of the Senate minority leader will be avoiding or winning a primary against a very right-wing challenger. Which is why this bit of news, reported in Roll Call, is so curious. Apparently McConnell gave a secret speech last week to the National Urban League, the venerable black civil rights community organization.
McConnell’s address to the National Urban League, for example, sounded a lot like Paul’s at Howard. According to a source familiar with McConnell’s speech, the leader told the room of black business leaders: “I want to see a day when more African-Americans look at the issues and realize that they identify with the Republican Party.” That message echoed Paul’s at the historically black university.
McConnell also dedicated time to talking about Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., telling the crowd in the Kennedy Caucus Room of the Russell Senate Office Building that Scott is an African-American who has realized the strength of GOP politics. It doesn’t hurt McConnell’s case with the right that Scott also happens to be a tea party conservative.
If the point was to imitate Rand Paul’s speech at Howard University, keeping it so quiet is confusing. (Or maybe it wasn’t a secret and actually it’s just that no one cared to cover it until now.) Conservatives do love it when their heroes tell “hard truths” to unfriendly audiences (like racial or ethnic minorities) but this sounds like a very uneventful address. Maybe Mitch McConnell does care about more than just maintaining his grip on power! Just don’t expect him to demonstrate any other interest when it comes to all Senate business conducted between now and May 2014. The silver lining to that news, though, is that he could end up killing any grand budget bargain.
By: Alex Pareene, Salon, April 15, 2013
The Senate has voted 68-31 to open a debate on compromise gun legislation that expands background checks. The bill will be based on a compromise between senators Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), both of whom currently have an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA) gun lobby.
The NRA threatened to “score” Thursday’s vote against lawmakers’ ratings, hoping to kill the bill before it was even written. But 17 Republicans joined all the Democrats in the Senate except Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Mark Begich (D-AK) for cloture to prevent a filibuster from derailing the debate. The Washington Post‘s Ed O’Keefe points out that 21 of the “aye” votes came from senators with NRA ratings A- or higher.
Several family members of those killed in the Newtown massacre four months ago were on hand to witness the vote in the Senate chamber.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (R-NV) took to the floor after the vote.
“The hard work starts now,” he said.
“There are powerful feelings about each of these proposals — both strong support and strong opposition,” Reid said. “But whichever side you are on, we ought to be able to agree to engage in a thoughtful debate about these measures.”
He added that he hopes ”a few senators don’t spoil everything,” referencing the threat by 14 senators including Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY) to filibuster the bill.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is one of those senators. On Thursday he said, ”This bill is a clear overreach that will predominantly punish and harass our neighbors, friends, and family.”
The debate is expected to last for weeks, with the NRA continuing to score even procedural votes.
Though about one-third of the Senate voted against even having a debate, polls show that around 90 percent of Americans support expanding background checks.
“Those two leaders stepping up is a very good way to start,” said Mary Landrieu (D-LA), who is seeking re-election next year in red state Louisiana. “How it ends, I don’t know.”
This morning, Congressman Peter King (R-NY) told The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent that he thought the bill had a chance of passing the House of Representatives if it makes it out of the Senate.
By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, April 11, 2013
“It’s All About Me”: Rand Paul Criticized By Fellow Republican For Threatening To Filibuster Gun Bill He Hasn’t Even Seen
Thirteen Republican senators have pledged to filibuster a senate debate about new gun safety measures, insisting in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that they will “oppose any legislation that would infringe on the American people’s constitutional right to bear arms, or their ability to exercise this right without being subjected to government surveillance.” The threat, which Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) first made last week without seeing the bill, comes just days before the body prepares to consider the first comprehensive gun legislation in the aftermath of the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The package will expand restrictions against gun trafficking, invest in school safety and provide for universal background checks of all gun purchases.
But one top Republican, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), is speaking out publicly against the group, questioning the wisdom of promising to filibuster legislation that lawmakers have yet to finalize:
After Mr. Coburn was asked multiple times an identically worded question about whether he would join Mr. Paul’s effort to block gun legislation as he traveled around Oklahoma in recent days, Mr. Coburn bristled at the idea that Mr. Paul would threaten to filibuster a bill before its contents were made final.
“Is that about filibustering a bill to protect the Second Amendment, or is that about Rand Paul?” Mr. Coburn said at a town-hall meeting at the Oklahoma Sports Museum in Guthrie, Okla., on Wednesday. “I’ve done more filibusters than Rand Paul is old,” Mr. Coburn said, but he added that he doesn’t announce such moves before he understands the bill.
Coburn is working on compromise legislation that would expand background checks to all gun purchases, but would not require private sellers to keep a record of the transaction, which gun safety advocates say would ensure that checks are being properly conducted and allow the entire chain of custody to be reconstructed in the event the gun is later recovered in a crime.
Should the Republicans proceed to filibuster on the motion to proceed to the gun package, Reid could take advantage of a new Senate rule “by promising each party two amendments on the legislation.” “Under that scenario, Paul and his allies would still get a chance to raise their objections on the floor for hours on end, but they couldn’t stop the Senate from starting debate on the bill,” Politico reports.
By: Igor Volsky, Think Progress, April 6, 2013